Self-Censorship and the Post-Modern Tyranny

Economic tyranny is no different from political tyranny

I received a call from a former college student of mine the other day. I use blogs in my college courses to inspire discussion and interaction. I allow students to express opinions so long as those opinions are supported with data, sound, logical thinking, and sociological perspectives. In this case, the student contacted me and asked to have her blogs removed from the site. She was one semester from graduating and feared that the opinions she had expressed on my class blog-site would paint her as a, “right-wing extremist” and handicap her ability to get a job in her chosen profession (I do not know what that profession is).

Of course, I followed through with her request, and eliminated the “offending” blogs. In fact, her opinions were well thought out and supported with data. They were what I would call right of center opinions, but far from “extremist.” Also, I’m not really convinced that these posts were a threat to her profession.

Regardless, this student perceived that her opinions made public would lead to serious negative consequences. Rather than take that chance she chose to censor herself. This is an example of governmentality at work. In other words, no force or coercion from the state was needed. Only the perception of negative social consequence was required to convince this young woman to censor herself. That the threat may not have been real is of no consequence. This student was, in Foucault’s words, bound by the chains of her own ideas.

If this was a case of a bright young woman fearful of government reprisal for exercising her right to free speech we would call this tyranny. That this is the consequence of economic power, however, makes this no less tyrannical. In the United States we pride ourselves on the assumption that we will not be persecuted by the state for expressing our opinions, that we have a Constitutionally protected right to free speech.

Of what value is this freedom, however, if it can be squelched by those who control the purse-strings. How many thoughtful young people are out there, preparing to enter into one of the harshest marketplaces in our history, afraid to speak their minds lest they lose what little opportunity is left in this, the wealthiest nation ever?

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