The most effective form of censorship is also the quietest. It operates not by actively proscribing speech but by rendering certain topics hors de combat, literally undiscussable. It does this by propagating an atmosphere of revulsion and taboo. Ordinary censorship prohibits the dissemination of particular opinions or bits of information. The more subtle engine of silence I have in mind goes further. It stanches not only the flow of speech but also the flow of thought. Ordinary censorship occupies itself with the results of human curiosity. What I am talking about attacks human curiosity itself.
One example would be the genetic basis of human intelligence. It’s not simply that, in many walks of life, you cannot express certain opinions about that subject; you are not even allowed to raise any questions about it. Questions admit doubts; and about certain subjects doubts are tantamount to heresy. This is something that Larry Summers discovered when he had the temerity to suggest that maybe, just possibly, there were fewer women than men at the pinnacle of mathematical achievement because women as a group were less adept at mathematics than men. Mr. Summers asserted nothing: he merely raised it as one hypothesis among many. That was his tort, for which he paid, and continues to pay, dearly.
Another example concerns the nativity of Barack Hussein Obama. It’s not just that you are not allowed to express certain opinions about the subject. You are not even allowed to publicly entertain any questions about it. This is something that Diana West has explored with her customary force and insightfulness in a disturbing column called “Silence of the Lapdogs.” “Have you, “ Ms. West asks,
read in your local paper about the technical evidence that led . . . three retired criminal investigators and two attorneys to conclude that the birth certificate image White House officials uploaded at the White House website on April 27, 2011, did not originate in a paper format, but rather was created (forged) as an electronic file on a computer?
Have you seen on network or cable news the video clip (one of six . . . at YouTube) re-creating exactly how an additional fraud might have been committed to forge the president’s Selective Service registration card? Heard even conservative talk radio discussing the posse’s discovery that immigration files in the National Archives recording overseas arrivals into Hawaii are missing from the week of Obama’s 1961 birthday?
The answer, as she points out, is no, of course not. You have heard nary a peep because the subjects themselves are verboten. “1984-style,” Ms West observes, “we mustn’t question. We mustn’t look. We certainly mustn’t look at questions that cross the narrative of authority.”
Ms. West predicted that many of her usual outlets would refuse to run her column. Apparently, she was right. Fortunately a few stalwart web sites have bucked the trend and have risen up against the conspiracy of silence that has surrounded the subject of the President’s place of birth. As Thomas Lifson noted yesterday on American Thinker “One does not have to believe that Obama was born in Kenya to be disturbed by the evidence of a digitally-constructed birth certificate being passed off as authentic by a president. Those who are more worried about their public image and about being attacked by the media and political establishment than about getting at the truth will in the end be judged by their actions.”
Ms. West alluded to 1984. There is something Orwellian about the hear-see-and-speak no evil consensus that has been silently promulgated and enforced on this subject. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole spectacle is that we have, most of us, subconsciously internalized O’Brien: its not what is done to us that keeps us silent. It’s what we’re doing to ourselves.