Casablanca: Freedom through Song, Part I

After entry of the US into WWII, Warner Brothers released the classic Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  One scene in Casablanca offers a magnificent juxtaposition with the Bavarian pub scene from The Mortal Storm (1940) discussed in the last post.  The place is similar:  another restaurant– Rick’s Cafe Americain.  Also similar is a cast of Nazi officers, stirring up song (this one “Die Wacht am Rhein.”)   But the similarities end there, when one man, Victor Laszlo, tells the orchestra to play the “La Marseillaise.”  A thrilled and grateful clientele all rise spontaneously and triumphantly, drowning out the Nazis’ song.

Watch here:

If Laszlo hadn’t done what he did, what then?  Chances are everyone would just sit around sulking.  Until the Nazis could stir up enough folks to sing along with them to the point that theirs seemed the majority view.  Morale would continue to plummet.

It’s the little acts of resistance that add up to make the biggest difference.  These acts plant seeds in others, creating a cascade effect.  Sad to say, it’s the power mongers of the world who seem to know this better than the rest of us do.  That’s why they insist on our silence as a way station on their road to total control.  So let’s not hide our light.

“The Mortal Storm:” First, Imposed Silence, then Mandatory Enthusiasm

When power elites are pushing an agenda, the first step is to silence the opposition.  Political correctness is a tool that manipulates the universal human fear of being socially smeared in order to squash dissent.  PC begins by teasing out a spiral of silence that causes people to perceive majority approval for an agenda — even when it doesn’t exist — so that they remain silent instead of expressing opposition.

But that’s just the first step.  PC agendas cannot withstand scrutiny or open debate.  They get poor mileage and need lots of fuel.  So, at a certain point the silencing of dissent is just not enough to keep the illusion going.  That’s when power elites will ratchet it up and enlist your enthusiasm and approval.  And it’s mandatory.

A fascinating illustration of mandatory enthusiasm is in the clip below from the 1940 movie “The Mortal Storm,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

Begin watching at the 2:00 mark:

When faced with this type of cascade of human madness, we have two choices, according to the story:

1. Safety through retreat, which is really a trap, because it only feeds the cascade and makes the problem worse;

2. Courage, which forces us to confront the evil, and allows us a fighting chance in defeating it.

Part of the fallout of PC is that it tears apart families and life long friendships.   At one point in the movie, the character Freya says to Martin: “You’re the only friend I have left and the only one I can talk to.  I’ve never felt so all alone in  my life.”

And that’s the aim of  any power-mongering force:  to separate dissenters from any source of support — from friends, from family.  To make sure they have no one they can talk to.  That message from the “The Mortal Storm” is timeless and urgent.

By the way, during the 1930’s Hollywood bowed to pressure from Nazi Germany and avoided any negative portrayals of the Nazis.  “The Mortal Storm” was the first time this pact had been breached before US involvement, and it resulted in a German boycott of MGM.   (If you’re planning to watch the whole movie, here’s a quickie review of its shortcomings: I wish it was more cohesive and had more natural dialogue in several of the scenes.)

Another interesting aside is that after WWII you’d be hard pressed to find an average German who claimed to be a willing member of the Nazi party.  It seems the old line about being “on the right side of history” can often serve as a manipulative and empty slogan.

On opinion cascades and marriage, read Doug Mainwaring today

If you wonder how the whole issue of genderless marriage took off so fast — from fringe issue to public policy in just a few years — read Doug Mainwaring’s excellent article in today’s American Thinker:  “Manufacturing Consent on Same Sex Marriage.”  You’ll find in it a fascinating discussion that goes beyond Marketing 101.  In fact, you’ll wish that that there was an insightful “Propaganda 101″ course readily available to all.   What has been happening is as confusing to folks as the current understanding of marriage seems to be.

Some of us thought that the public square was for talking through issues that were controversial.   Then after we reasoned things through, we’d talk some more just to be sure.  We’d argue.  We’d debate in a civil society that allowed all views to be heard.  We’d vote on public officials or referenda.  We’d try to learn.  To think independently.   And so on . . .

Silly us.   All the while, “availability cascades” were being tweaked and organized and used to create an illusion of consent for things that seemed implausible, rendering them “plausible” as more and more people were sucked into the spiral of silence that political correctness demands of dissenters.   As people feared social ostracism, they complied.  What passed for “debate in the public square” was manipulated and rendered predictable.

I plan to write more on this subject myself, especially since the frenetic pace of genderless marriage policy provides such an excellent illustration the mechanics of opinion cascades, and the understanding of how fragile they really are.  (Doug and I also co-authored a piece on this last year, which you can read here.)

 

Communism always means too much power in the hands of too few people. Always.

Cathy Young just published a sterling rebuttal to an all-too-recent apology for communism, the ideology responsible for the brutal murders of over 100 million people.  Please read her article in today’s Real Clear Politics.  You can also read the breathtakingly mindless — or soulless — article to which she responds, which appeared last week in Salon.com.  The latter is a bit less mind-numbing to read once you’ve digested Young’s excellent essay.

When I was studying the realities of communism, especially the crimes of Stalin, I concluded that cruelty and terror are inevitable under that system.   Not just probable or possible.  Inevitable.  Built-in.  It leads to the kind of barbarism that’s probably impossible to grasp even if you’ve lived in it.

As with all totalitarian systems, communism relies on driving people apart by isolating and atomizing them so that they are not able to trust their neighbors or even their family.  It relies on a spiral of silence — the fear of speaking truth.    Just ponder this observation by Pascal Fontaine who wrote about Cuba in the Black Book of Communism:  “The surveillance and denunciation system is so rigorous that family intimacy is almost nonexistent.”

The communist system absolutely requires the centralization of power.  And since personal relationships get in the way of that power, the State meddles ceaselessly, sowing distrust and ill will, often through enforced scarcity of goods and services,.  Think of it as misery with little if any hope for company.

And since the people most driven to raw power are also the most ruthless, in a system without checks and balances power usually ends up concentrated into the hands of one strongman.  Terror is a given because it’s just too much power in the hands of too few people who are invested in perpetuating their power.  Even passive resistance is viewed as a threat.

One can only wonder why there has been a revisiting of communism in recent times.  Why the apologies?  Is it ignorance?  Or is it something else?  Is there a drive for power, a sense of investment in that system that makes it attractive to some?  I’ll explore those questions in future posts.

In the meantime, please visit the Global Museum of Communism, a project of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  It’s an amazing interactive website that helps us to never forget the those who died and suffered so much under communist regimes.

Woody Allen, Nietzsche, and a Spider the Size of a Buick

The Federalist just published my article about Dylan Farrow’s open letter reporting that her father, the acclaimed director Woody Allen, sexually assaulted her when she was seven years old.  This is the first time she’s told her story publicly on a scandal that broke in 1992.

We ought to pay special attention to Dylan’s statement:  “Imagine a world that celebrates your tormentor.”  Because it’s really all about the fallout from our culture of idolatry and celebrity worship.   Whether or not guilt can be established in this case, we can be sure of one thing:  a system that allows elites to control the lives of others is a system that punishes the innocent.  It’s an amoral system that allows some humans to act as gods who may use and abuse others with impunity:

If nothing else, Dylan Farrow’s letter is a wake-up call. It’s time for us to pour a lot of cold water on the notion that the elites   those controlling the media, Hollywood, politics, and academia — are entitled to a separate standard of behavior or a separate moral code from everybody else. The biggest equality gap today is really one of accountability and personal responsibility.”

You can read it in The Federalist here:  http://thefederalist.com/2014/02/05/god-complex-why-hollywood-thinks-sex-crimes-are-no-big-deal/

 

 

 

 

A Yogi Berra Translation

“You can observe a lot by watching” is probably my favorite Yogi Berra quote.

Of course, you can read a list of Yogiisms  if you’re in the mood (and who isn’t?) and find your own favorite. But let’s first explore the meaning of “You can observe a lot by watching.” This is not pure tautology. What I believe Yogi meant — and what we all know in our gut – is that you can learn a lot by paying attention.  We need to pay attention (watch) if we want to absorb (observe) or learn anything. If we don’t connect the dots, then we don’t get the picture.

Some of us try hard to pay attention. We want to learn. We want to use what was once quaintly called “the imagination.” And we believe in Truth, real friendship, motherhood, brotherhood, and all that’s good. So we throw up our hands in despair when the rest of the world’s eyes glaze over in the vortex of all the shiny objects out there: tech toys and stuff, sex’n’stuff, power’n’stuff, “free stuff.” All that stuff acts like tractor beams pulling human minds into a thick fog. It diverts our attention from what we can learn about ourselves and the real world. The sorry state of public education, along with family breakdown and the excesses of pop culture have rendered so many incapable of paying enough attention to learn anything.

Am I losing you now?  If so, my problem isn’t so much with the facts as with how I’ve packaged them.  Yogi understood this sort of thing, even if he didn’t know it.

Yogi doesn’t tell you to pay attention so you’ll learn something, not in those words.  That’s being a nag.  Yogi’s a real friend.  And he knows about packaging.  So, instead, he just makes a friendly suggestion that makes you do a doubletake and laugh:  Just observe by watching!

When we pay attention we learn that being a scold doesn’t work. Shopworn arguments don’t work, no matter how true. You may believe in the United States Constitution, in reason, and in liberty and justice for all. But if you’re really watching people, you learn that you can’t win when you are competing with so many shiny objects. Today’s culture is saturated with glitter and glam. People can’t let go of it without fearing you’ve come to take that stuff away.

The trick is to make the good stuff look like another shiny object.  Be Tom Sawyer painting the fence.  Come from a whole new angle. Shed unexpected light. Be a friend who says the unexpected, with love. Or just be a happy go lucky truth-teller for those who identify with you and like you.  Sometimes you have to scramble your words to get attention. Sometimes you have to rearrange the furniture when nobody’s looking.

After all, as Yogi might remind us: ninety percent of the game is half mental.*

* Update:  This reference is often attributed to Yogi Berra, but I’ve since learned it is more accurately a quote from Kansas City outfielder Jim Wohlford.  The exact yogism is “Ninety percent of this game is mental.  The other half is physical.”

Watch this film clip: “The Honecker Joke”

Everyone should watch this scene from the academy award winning film The Lives of Others to feel chilling effect of political correctness and where it leads:  the imposition of social isolation and control of our lives and minds.

When friends must meet in secret: Hollywood’s “Friends of Abe”

Here’s something worth reading in The New York Times. The IRS has demanded website access that would expose the membership list of “Friends of Abe,” the only circle of folks in Hollywood who happen to lean right politically.  (The group applied for tax exempt status similar to that of the far-left People for the American Way, founded by Norman Lear.)    Among Friends of Abe who are “out” are John Voight and Kelsey Grammer.  Most of the 1500 members closet themselves to avoid the predictable career and social fallout from being exposed as independent thinkers in Hollywood.

The purpose of the investigation is to make sure it doesn’t have a — are you ready? — a political agenda (unlike all the rest of Hollywood, right?)  Executive director Jeremy Boreing has denied that it’s a political group, stating:  “It exists to create fellowship among like-minded individuals.”

I think this is pretty obviously true.  In Hollywood, there’s apparently no other place to go if you wish to think out loud without being cast into the outer darkness.  Friends of Abe is clearly a place to let one’s hair down and exchange thoughts and ideas.  Freely and without duress.   Kind of like what civil society is supposed to be.  But that’s what is really unacceptable to PC Forces.  The harassment of Friends of Abe is ultimately is an attack on its members’ fellowship.  It’s really an attack on friendship. On freedom of association. For the IRS to probe for an active “political agenda” seems more like cover for a different goal, which is to isolate and separate people.

How to avoid the spiral of silence? First, understand it.

Let’s take in this quote:

“The climate of opinion depends on who talks and who keeps quiet.”

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010) wrote those words in her ground breaking book The Spiral of Silence, which was published 30 years ago. She was a German immigrant and an astute scholar of public opinion at the University of Chicago. Her words continue as follows:

“The hypothesis [of silence] came to me out of the student unrest at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies. I probably owe it to one particular student. I met her one day in the hall outside the lecture room and noticed that she was wearing a Christian Democratic button on her jacket.

“’I didn’t know you were a Christian Democratic supporter,’ I said to her. ‘I’m not,’ she said, ‘I just put the button on to see what it’s like.’

“I met her again at noon. She was not wearing the button, and I asked about the change. ‘It was too awful,’ she said. ‘I took it off.’”

Noelle-Neumann’s student was experiencing the pain of social ostracism. She likely felt she was a minority of one, even though the Christian Democrats in West Germany at the time were equal in numbers to the Social Democrats. Yet, she felt isolated. All alone. Why?

Noelle-Neumann goes on:

“. . . Those who were convinced the new Ostpolitik was right thought their beliefs eventually would be adopted by everyone. So these people expressed themselves openly, and self-confidently defended their views. Those who rejected the Ostpolitik felt themselves left out; they withdrew, and fell silent.

“This very restraint made the view that was receiving vocal support appear to be stronger than it really was and the other view weaker. Observations made in one context spread to another and encouraged people either to proclaim their views or to swallow them and keep quiet until, in a spiraling process, the one view dominated the public scene and the other disappeared from public awareness as its adherents became mute. This is the process that can be called a ‘spiral of silence.’”

If we hope to rebuild a civil society in which we are free to express our opinions and exchange ideas with others, we must first understand this feeling of isolation that causes us to be silent.

Let’s start noticing this spiral of silence when we see it in motion. And let’s not get sucked into this trap. Then let’s learn how to best push back against it.