One of the most disturbing consequences of Edward Snowden’s revelations is the self-censorship that has begun to take hold in what was once called the ‘freest nation in the world.’ For Colombia’s El Espectador, columnist Juan Gabriel Vásquez cites a recent survey of American writers, and explains why going along to get along with surveillance makes a mockery of some of the West’s most cherished ideals.
For El Espectador, Juan Gabriel Vásquez writes in part:
The PEN survey brought some disturbing revelations. Twenty eight percent of writer-respondents said they had curtailed their activities on social networks; 24 percent took pains to avoid certain topics during their telephone conversations and in e-mails, and 26 percent had avoided writing about certain topics. The New York Times mentioned the case of Charles J. Shields, a biographer who has stopped writing about the history of civil defense in the United States because that would have forced him to put into his search engine and conversations words that would raise the red flags at the NSA. This can mean only one thing: writers are self-censoring. They are leaving certain areas untouched, especially if writing about them involves using certain terms in their communications. So it has come to this: the reality of life in the most powerful democracy in the world has achieved what has been impossible for the worst totalitarian systems and the worst theocracies – mind control over individuals.
No, this isn’t science fiction: if religion and dictatorship have something in common, it is their open striving to legislate our mental activity. “Bad thoughts” are a routine part of the Catholic confessional; and few stop to ponder the obscenity of a ritual that obliges them to describe to a priest their secret desires, even if those desires don’t exist in the real world, and even if they haven’t acted on them nor plan to do so. The very fact of harboring them is punishable.
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