An anonymous commenter over on Ypsidixit.com pointed me to a very disturbing film strip from Encyclopedia Britannica Films. You should definitely go watch this. It is a short educational film from 1946 that warns of the dangers of creeping despotism. This film was created in the wake of world war 2. There are some very interesting and disturbing warning signs. One brief segment that will definitely irritate a lot of today’s christian fascists is the absence of the words under god when a group of people are saying the pledge of allegiance. Of course this film was made eight years before congress added those unconstitutional words to the pledge during the height of the red scare.
The film discusses four scales for judging whether a country is moving toward despotism, power, respect, economic distribution, and information. In each case the scales vary from mass distribution, to concentration. The more the particular scale moves toward concentration, the greater the risk of despotism. The fewer people who control power, the fewer people in a society who are shown respect the more chance there is of despotism. Here clearly, there has been increased concentration, with politicians being entrenched in office for decades at a time, and power positions seemingly being passed on withing families. Just look at the Bush’s, first old Prescott, then George H.W. then George W. and Jeb and on down the line. Respect is also being concentrated particularly among certain religious fundamentalists. With demands to strip away civil rights protections from gays, blacks, poor people and people of other faiths or no faith, the only ones who get respect are born-again christians.
The more that economic power is concentrated in the hands of the few at the top the greater the odds of despotism. As incomes have stagnated causing a loss of real income the middle and lower classes have lost ground but the wealthy have moved even further away. The income gap has grown dramatically in the past five years. And of course information has in many respects been dramatically concentrated in recent years. As big media and communications companies have continued to consolidate, the number of voices at the highest levels has shrunk dramatically. The questioning and criticism of government policies by the major news media has almost completely dried up as it has been consolidated and subsumed into huge corporations whose only diving force is profit.
One point that was made in the film was that when the education system emphasizes accepting what is taught without question and discouraged from critical thinking it also dramatically increases the chance of despotism. There are two major forces at work here. One is the home schooling movement. Many of the people who home school are christians who don’t want their kids exposed to dangerous ideas like evolution, or the thought that the earth may be more than 6000 years old. The other is the Leave No Child Behind act. With the obsession with standardized testing every year, teachers often spend an inordinate amount of time teaching students how to pass that years test, instead of teaching them the real skills needed to learn in life and advance both themselves and society as a whole.
The one positive thing I can see that may be pushing at least the information scale back toward the democracy side is the growth of grassroots media. The digital revolution has allowed more people than ever to easily create and distribute their own media. Thanks to digital cameras (still and video), people can create remarkable images for very little money. With personal computer based sound, photo and video editing people can make music, and films that would have cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars just one or two decades ago. Through the growth of voip, blogging and podcasting people can write ideas and distribute all kinds of media over the internet and communicate to the entire world at remarkably little cost. If we can avoid having it all snuffed out by the efforts of big phone and cable companies to kill network neutrality we could be on the verge of a major renaissance. I certainly hope so and I continue to write here because of that hope. If not we are all at the mercy of the fascists (be they islamic or christian, equally dangerous in my eyes) and we are all fucked.