Mass Hysteria: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
A look back…
Who will ever forget the film based on Jack Finney’s novel…
As John Clute said of it: Horrifyingly depicts the invasion of a small town by interstellar spores that duplicate human beings, reducing them to dust in the process; the menacing spore-people who remain symbolize, it has been argued, the loss of freedom in contemporary society.
This came at the tail end of the Red Scare years of McCarthyism. In which several states had enacted statutes against criminal anarchy, criminal syndicalism, and sedition; banned from public employment or even from receiving public aid, Communists and “subversives”; asked for loyalty oaths from public servants, and severely restricted or even banned the Communist party.
During those few years the victims of the House Un-American Activities Tribunal imprisoned hundreds, and some ten or twelve thousand lost their jobs. Some of those black listed were prominent in culture and the arts:
Nelson Algren, writer
Lucille Ball, actress, model, and film studio executive
Leonard Bernstein, conductor, pianist, composer
Bertolt Brecht, poet, playwright, screenwriter
Luis Buñuel, film director, producer
Charlie Chaplin, actor and director
Aaron Copland, composer
J. Robert Oppenheimer, physicist, scientific
and hundreds of others…
Is a new Inquisitorial House Un-American Actives Committee in the offing? One that unlike the McCarthy era is now attacking not the Left or Communism, but rather the extreme Right and Fascism? Are we manufacturing a new mass hysteria against a supposed hidden enemy in our midst, a body snatcher of the political kind? Are the members of the extreme Right from alt-Right, 4chan, NRx, etc. become the new scapegoats of a dark age of Left political correctness?
The hatred of the Left in that era had dire consequences in America…
In our era it is the hatred of the extreme Right, and the polarized hatred of the Progressive Left, and anyone who even appears to voice in discourse or speech politically incorrect ideas on both sides who are now being shaped into a mass hysteria against Fascism, the other totalitarian terror of the early twentieth century. Yet, as in that time, the innocent are being victimized along with the perpetrators in our time… Anyone who voices an off-color politically incorrect view or statement is being hounded and criminalized in present day America to the point that just like then they are losing their jobs… is actual imprisonment and a new Inquisitorial House Un-American Actives Committee in the offing?
Companies like Facebook Inc. are banning a number of controversial far-right figures, including Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer, for violating the social-media company’s policies on hate speech and promoting violence. The company is also blocking religious leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for sharing anti-Semitic views; Paul Nehlen, a white nationalist who ran for Congress in 2018; and conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson. All of these individuals and accounts that represent them are also banned from photo-sharing app Instagram.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook representative said Thursday in a statement. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.” (see: Bloomberg)
As Nadine Strossen tells us the epithet “hate speech” has been used to stigmatize a wide array of controversial speech, including “fake” news, advocacy of terrorism, burning the American flag, “revenge porn,” and anti-abortion demonstrations. Ultimately, what links all the variegated expression that has been attacked as “hate speech” is that the attackers disfavor—indeed, often hate—its messages, and for that reason seek to suppress them.1
Censorship and political oppression are as old as humanity. Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or “inconvenient”. Censorship can be conducted by a government private institutions, and corporations.
In our age of Snowden and Assange State surveillance has entered the issue. Surveillance and censorship are different. Surveillance can be performed without censorship, but it is harder to engage in censorship without some form of surveillance. And even when surveillance does not lead directly to censorship, the widespread knowledge or belief that a person, their computer, or their use of the Internet is under surveillance can lead to self-censorship.
Censorship has been criticized throughout history for being unfair and hindering progress. In a 1997 essay on Internet censorship, social commentator Michael Landier claims that censorship is counterproductive as it prevents the censored topic from being discussed. Landier expands his argument by claiming that those who impose censorship must consider what they censor to be true, as individuals believing themselves to be correct would welcome the opportunity to disprove those with opposing views.2
As Neil Gaiman the Urban Fantasy author suggests: “The people who are looking out for your best interest and want to save you from the things contaminating you mind, they are out there and determined to save you from anything, and popularity to them generally means nothing.”3
Even bad boy Brett Easton Ellis has recently entered the fracas on political correctness hysteria. White is Bret Easton Ellis’s first work of nonfiction. Already the bad boy of American literature, from Less Than Zero to American Psycho, Ellis has also earned the wrath of right-thinking people everywhere with his provocations on social media, and here he escalates his admonishment of received truths as expressed by today’s version of “the left.” Eschewing convention, he embraces views that will make many in literary and media communities cringe, as he takes aim at the relentless anti-Trump fixation, coastal elites, corporate censorship, Hollywood, identity politics, Generation Wuss, “woke” cultural watchdogs, the obfuscation of ideals once both cherished and clear, and the fugue state of American democracy. In a young century marked by hysterical correctness and obsessive fervency on both sides of an aisle that’s taken on the scale of the Grand Canyon, White is a clarion call for freedom of speech and artistic freedom
Another extreme Right writer Michael Savage has a book on mass hysteria. Stop Mass Hysteria: America’s Insanity from the Salem Witch Trials to the Trump Witch Hunt. In his new book, Stop Mass Hysteria, #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Savage not only deconstructs the Left’s unhinged response to traditional American values like borders, language, and culture, but takes the reader on an unprecedented journey through mass hysteria’s long history in the United States. From Christopher Columbus to the Salem Witch trials to the so-called “Red Scares” of the 1930s and 40s and much more, Dr. Savage recounts the many times collective insanity has gripped the American public – often prompted by sinister politicians with ulterior motives.
Of course those on the Left, just as full of hate for the Right, have been opting for the polarized vision as well. Francis Fukuyama in his latest, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, tells us that the demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism. Populist nationalism, said to be rooted in economic motivation, actually springs from the demand for recognition and therefore cannot simply be satisfied by economic means. The demand for identity cannot be transcended; we must begin to shape identity in a way that supports rather than undermines democracy.4
On the far Left those such as Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in In Defence of Political Correctness suggest that individual rights cannot always take precedence over collective, social responsibility. Without self-moderation, our streets, schoolyards, public transport, waiting rooms and restaurants would turn into bear pits. Most citizens understand that. Some, however, seem determined to cause disorder in the name of free speech. Powerful, machiavellian and wealthy individuals are leading this disruption and breaking the old consensus. Thus, anti-political correctness has taken over the UK and US, spearheaded by some of the most influential voices in media and politics. Invective, lies, hate speech, bullying, intemperance and prejudice have become the new norms. Intolerance is justified through invocations of liberty. Restraint is oppression. A new order has been established in which racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are proudly expressed.5
In The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility by Jeffrey M. Berry tackles the media pundits: the mechanics of outrage rhetoric, exploring its various forms such as mockery, emotional display, fear mongering, audience flattery, and conspiracy theories. They then investigate the impact of outrage rhetoric-which stigmatizes cooperation and brands collaboration and compromise as weak-on a contemporary political landscape that features frequent straight-party voting in Congress. Outrage tactics have also facilitated the growth of the Tea Party, a movement which appeals to older, white conservatives and has dragged the GOP farther away from the demographically significant moderates whose favor it should be courting. Finally, The Outrage Industry examines how these shows sour our own political lives, exacerbating anxieties about political talk and collaboration in our own communities. Drawing from a rich base of evidence, this book forces all of us to consider the negative consequences that flow from our increasingly hyper-partisan political media.
Noam Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media had already detailed the power of media to shape ideology and mass opinion. Detailing the myriad ways in which the mainstream media internalize the propaganda system of corporate and US government voices by (consciously or not) subtly and insidiously reframing the debate and the ethics that shade those debates. Using two main examples of wars in the 70s/80s in IndoChina and Central America, the authors present a coherent and detailed argument that the “spreading of democracy” is often genocide, but by failing to objectively report events or by dividing casualties into “worthy” and “unworthy” groups, the media is complicit in the fallout of US aggression: genocide, famine, the suppression of democracy in client states (while claiming to spread freedom!). Almost invariably the US sides with a wealthy elite in any given country, and the poverty-stricken population fights back. We fund the suppressors with money and weapons, eradicating as much of the local population as we can even (into the hundred of thousands) until there’s no dissent left. But you’d never read it that way in the newspapers of the day.
We live in a world where for the most part the corporate news, the corporate media, the corporate magazines, and corporate controlled and funded academic community and universtities shape our American ideology, values, myths, belief systems, etc. We live in a illusion, a false world of manufactured realities, bombarded by false news and reports, false science and politics. We’ve been told by academic pundits that we live in a post-truth era, a world where the outcome of Nietzsche’s Last Man, the ultimate nihilist and resentment based moron is the mass man of consumer society.
With both and Opiod Epidemic and Meth-Amphetamine Crisis in the major metropolitan and country villages America is slowly eroding into an absolute dystopia of mad leaders, lying media, academic dumb down, out of work workers, where the old dreams of a bright future for the American Dream have given way to its abject Nightmare twin. Those like John Michael Greer in Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America prophecy saying: “America’s global empire will fall; the second is that those who rule it will not let it fall without a struggle.”6
Chris Hedges in his America: The Farewell Tour ironizes the dark days ahead:
A population beset by despair and hopelessness finds an intoxicating empowerment and pleasure in an orgy of annihilation that soon morphs into self-annihilation. It has no interest in nurturing a world that has betrayed it and thwarted its dreams. It seeks to eradicate this world and replace it with a mythical one. It turns against institutions, as well as ethnic and religious groups, that are scapegoated for its misery. It plunders diminishing natural resources. It retreats into self-adulation fed by historical amnesia.7
Is ours the Age of the Great Retreat? A time when democracy gives way to Authoritarian tyranny? When the world falls into war, famine, disease, pandemic, chaos and humans become the victims of their own false beliefs, born of Oligarchic and Plutocratic mad designs of security and survival, riches and power? Whatever happened to “We the people…” anyway? What do we the people want? More to the point: What will you do? Will you just fall into that sink hole of cultural amnesia, or seek out the dark truths of history and begin day by day in the “courage of hopelessness” struggling to regain your freedom along with others? What will you do?
- Nadine Strossen. HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship (Inalienable Rights) (Kindle Locations 408-411). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
- “Internet Censorship is Absurd and Unconstitutional“, Michael Landier, 4 June 1997
- Neil Gaiman on Censorship and the Perception of Comics as a “Gutter Medium”. National Coalition Against Censorship. You can listen to the podcast with Gaiman here.
- Fukuyama, Francis. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 11, 2018)
- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. In Defence of Political Correctness. Biteback Publishing (September 28, 2018)
- Greer, John Michael. Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (p. 107). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.
- Chris Hedges. America: The Farewell Tour (Kindle Locations 1011-1015). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.