Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fascist Governments and the Freedom and Self-Expression of the Arts

Celebration of throwing hats during Marine graduation

Any fascist government, regardless of ideological background has been wary or downright hostile toward the arts. Whether it is the Nazis burning books, the Communists banning and prohibiting works, or any other government or organization that actively censors works of art on the grounds of ideology, art is seen as a subversive threat to their hegemony, while the artist and intellectual are the marked and targeted enemies of such societies.

Nonetheless, such governments have used the value of art for their own sake as a tool of propaganda. They ensure tight control on materials, their hand poised over the censorship button to select what kinds of messages may be transmitted, at the same time ensuring that their own standpoint is presented in a clear and visible manner.

In other words, they take away the original and creative expression of artists and use the same method to fabricate their own brand of stifled and limited art to win over or rather to brainwash and lull the hearts of minds of their citizens. When it does not work through “positive” means, such as reinforcement and rewards, the flag of punishment is waved and those who step out of line in their behavior or thinking shall meet the iron rod of discipline.

In fact, the goal of any fascist state is uniformity. It builds on the premise of a false and strongly deluding sense of equality through identification. The trump card of fascism has always been blaming scapegoats but mainly on the basis that they are the unwanted “other,” the ones who stand out, the ones who are different, whether in appearance, lifestyle or belief system.

The strange and unknown is often perceived as a threat and these totalitarian manipulators ruthlessly exploit this fact. On the other hand, cultures that are multicultural, tolerant and accepting of other people and lifestyles are more resistant to the fascist disease.

In societies where self-expression is encouraged, it becomes easier to see the other person's point of view. This is one of the great achievements of literature and the humanities. In our ordinary consciousness we can never know what the other person is thinking and feeling. We get glimpses through their behaviors and words, but we can never fully put ourselves in the other person's shoes so-to-speak.

In literature, however, the expressive and courageous writer can expose herself. It is like a cosmos that is opened up for all to see. We learn about the plights of people through fiction and biographies. We see that they, whether gays, foreigners, Jews, Muslims, are essentially human beings who want, desire and feel exactly the same things we do. Strip away the outward differences and practices and you will end up with a person exactly like us.

This is what the totalitarians cannot stand. They prefer you think in simplistic black-and-white terms. It is easier to go to war when you believe that the other side is not only wrong but downright evil. You think yourself a hero because you are under the impression you are doing a moral deed by killing the "bad guys."

The so-called enemy is then singled out and many other facts are blocked out. They are stripped of their humanity and are not sons of other people; they are not husbands and caregivers of their family, not somebody's brother or friend or loved one. They are just militants that have come to destroy your nation because they personally hate you. This kind of thinking is encouraged by both sides of the conflict and most of the populace is ignorant and bounce around empty slogans and subscribe to bankrupt ideologies.

But as long as there is freedom of self-expression, when media is allowed to show both sides of any conflict, when everyone gets a chance to speak up and ask tough and probing questions, only then do we have a chance to break through the walls of ignorance and fanaticism. Otherwise, look out your window because the next fascist group is parading just around the corner.

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