Gongol.com Archives: February 2024

Brian Gongol

February 21, 2024

Threats and Hazards Repression and civilizational consequences

Foreign Policy editor James Palmer muses, "[I]t's remarkable how little art and culture we get out of modern China proportional to its size and wealth, and it isn't for a lack of creativity or intelligence on the part of the people there"; "Never underestimate how all-pervasive, self-protective, and petty censorship becomes in authoritarian regimes." ■ Arts, letters, and culture on many historical occasions have emerged or endured, whether taken underground or carried out as acts of resistance against oppression imposed by others. The spiritual songs of enslaved people in the American South are a widely-known example. Jewish art under tsarist Russia and the Korean Language Society formed under Japanese occupation serve to illustrate the universality of the phenomenon. ■ A people living under occupation can turn to their arts as a means of finding unity: Bonding under stress is what drives prisoners of war to tap in code through prison walls to one another. But the quashing effect seems to be more pronounced when the repression comes from what seems like "within": When oppressor and oppressed start from the same cultural background, it's harder to distinguish one from the other. ■ And it is impossible as a result to know just how much potential cultural output is being lost because of self-censorship under the Chinese Communist Party, for one example. We know that artists are punished, even for the mildest of transgressions against a hyper-sensitive state: Exile seems to be the only source of freedom. The number of movies un-filmed, songs un-recorded, canvases un-painted, and books un-written under the CCP is flatly unquantifiable. ■ Domestic censorship and repression have civilizational consequences. The entire world is made poorer when the humanities are silenced within any culture. We learn from each other, influence other styles, and blend unexpectedly as we share. That colossal self-censorship is taking place among two out of every eleven people living now on planet Earth, all because of an inflexible and hyper-sensitive regime, ought to be a cause for alarm to us all.

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