Pop quiz: which of the following scenarios doesn’t belong?
Scene One: a social gathering in Canada, 2015.
Dinner Guest: “Well, it’s obvious the Prime Minister is a puppet of the US oil lobby, and his policies are solely designed to serve the corporate elite. He’s determined to take away our liberty. Oh, and the mainstream media won’t report it, of course, but he also has a secret plan to dismantle the secular state and replace it with a Christian theocracy. The gullible masses who support him sure have been brainwashed by propaganda and lies. By the way, this is great poutine.”
Scene Two: a social gathering in America, 2015.
Dinner Guest: “Well, it’s obvious the President is a radical Muslim socialist who wasn’t really born in the country. He’s determined to take away our liberty. Oh, and the mainstream media won’t report it, of course, but he also has a secret plan to outlaw the Christian faith and herd believers into giant concentration camps. The gullible masses who support him sure have been brainwashed by propaganda and lies. By the way, these are great burgers.”
Scene Three: a social gathering in Germany, 1942.
Dinner Guest: “Well, it’s obvious the Fuehrer is a madman who has contrived this war out of his psychopathic delusions, with the compliance of the national business class. He’s determined to take away our liberty. Oh, and the mainstream media won’t report it, of course, but he also has a secret plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. The gullible masses who support him sure have been brainwashed by propaganda and lies. By the way, this is great strudel.”
Not sure of the anomaly? Here’s a hint: While each of these speakers claims their country has fallen into the hands of an evil cabal, and each is posing as a courageous dissenter, only one of them isn’t wildly exaggerating. Still stuck? Two of these situations should be pretty familiar to us – casual chatter about tyrannical government and glib pronouncements on the suppression of free speech – but the other probably never occurred, because the government actually was tyrannical and did in fact brutally suppress free speech.
Anybody? Anybody? Another clue: Our trio of dinner guests clearly aren’t stirred into active resistance here, yet their offhandedness sounds absurd with just which one? In the other two, the superficiality of the conversations betrays the weakness of the central point. People living under genuine dictatorships (of which there are numerous historical examples) do not have the luxury of openly griping about authority and blithely entertaining fantasies about their leaders’ hidden agendas. Those are indulgences of liberal democracies. And notice how all three folks confidently distinguish themselves from a duped majority, but don’t seem to feel much responsibility for whatever disaster they predict for their fellow citizens. In which instance here would that smug sense of exclusivity be fatally naive? Who alone of these rebels is risking anything by rebelling? Whose object of complaint isnʼt being ridiculously demonized? Do we know of any places where civil society and basic human rights were indeed eliminated by an all-powerful autocratic regime? Not just in dinner party rhetoric, but in the tangible daily affairs of the entire nation? Has anyone heard the aphorism that conspiracy theories are the sophistication of the ignorant? No?
Think about your responses; this may be tricky. The paradox is that the more lightly made the accusation of totalitarianism, the less truly totalitarian the system accused. Talk is cheap, at least in places where you can invent the most simplistic or far-fetched indictments of your politicians, out of sheer pretentiousness, and be assured of offending almost no one. Of the three imaginary quotations given, two are likely to be repeated in countless other discussions around the water cooler, in the classroom, and on clever Facebook memes, but the third – in the unlikely event that it was uttered to begin with – would have only been cited once more, by the Gestapo executioner just before he pulled the trigger.
Oops. Gave the answer away.
I remember those tin foil hatters used to squeal about governments listening in on their phone calls and monitoring their internet usage – what deluded moon bats… oh wait, never mind.
But no worries, I’m sure your NSA/CSEC meta data profile is a thumbs up, compliant consumer all clear.
As the world becomes incrementally more evidently dystopian the eye rolling, finger wagging defenders of the status-quo will be the front line propaganda heroes of the security state.
Huzzah for you champ, you’ve got the gold medal for self congratulatory pretentiousness all locked up. Those conspiracy nuts can’t touch your gold medal status for mundane authoritarian follower personality navel gazing.
Your pompous postulating has all of the gravitas of a hot air balloon in a hurricane.
My pompous postulating…etc. – so why bother to comment on or even read my blog?
What is the problem?
Do you only want people who will bolster your haughty, narrow, self- congratulatory world view and reaffirm your intellectual superiority complex to read your spiel? Personally I enjoy reading views from along the whole spectrum of thought, even vainglorious self-anointed “critics”.
I was directed to this blog by somebody who knew you when you were young. He told me that if I was looking for a cringe worthy circle jerk of one that George Case, “cultural essayist” would be the ticket. As somebody who enjoys marginal kitsch and stilted prose I had to look you up. You do not disappoint.
Your former friend gave me his copy of your self-published autobiography saying (now I’m paraphrasing here as it was a while ago) ,
“This guy is his own biggest fan and he does the best he can to character assassinate everybody who was ever tolerant of his boring, self-indulged ass. I’m not sure where George Case “cultural essayist” came from because in his youth he was a constant source of pop culture quotes, cliches, tropes and toilet humour.”
I must say I can understand why that person no longer considers you a friend. I tried to return it and he told me,
” Keep it. It’ll look great over your fireplace just before you use it to light your next fire.”
I forced him to account for some of what was written in that book and enjoyed hearing the accounts described from a radically different, far less self-serving point of view.
I hope to enjoy your blog for the foreseeable future and will continue to toss in my two cents. Why not? Even self important “critics” needs critics.
So, you were actively looking for a cringe-worthy circle jerk of one? Glad to have helped you out. Feel free to torture yourself with my pretentious self-indulgent posturing as often as you like. And my autobiography Arcadia Borealis, though not self-published, is available for sale and makes great firewood, so buy as many copies as you need (oddly, other readers have found it to be a decent read, with sympathetic portraits of friends from my youth, but hey, no accounting for taste). I’ll look forward to more engaging comments and non-embittered personal attacks from you. PS What did you think of the Black Sabbath reunion essay?