Self-censored: about the new collection
Updated: Sep 6, 2020
George Orwell's seminal novel '1984,' written in 1948, three years after the defeat of Nazism and Stalinist Communism's victory, was a warning. It portrayed a future run by a totalitarian government that sustained its power by force and mind-control. The Party controlled what people said with the aim of influencing what they thought. The Party's official slogan, emblazoned on the Ministry of Truth, was:
war is peace
freedom is slavery
ignorance is strength
The contradictory statements are what Orwell called "doublethink." Doublethink was a central part of the Party's method of mind control.
"To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink."
-- Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 1, chapter 3, pp 32
In the novel 1984, the Party had to enforce its credo. In the early 21st century, people in free societies submit voluntarily to doublethink not by force under a totalitarian government, but, according to Professor Emerita Shoshana Zuboff, in exchange for the free products offered by the tech companies' as they practice 'surveillance capitalism.'
“Surveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour."
-- Zuboff, Shoshana (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (1st ed.). PublicAffairs. ISBN 1610395697
According to Zuboff, this was not inevitable but was hastened by Western governments' relaxation of privacy norms after 9/11 in the interests of security, which coincided with the tech companies rise, and brought about what she terms 'surveillance capitalism.'
"What is the society we wish to protect? Is it the society of complete surveillance for the commonwealth? Is this the wealth we seek to have in common - optimal security at the cost of maximal surveillance?"
-- Tom Stoppard, State surveillance of personal data: what is the society we wish to protect?, The Guardian, 10 December 2013
We surrender our most intimate details to the tender mercies of our internet gods, who can do anything they like with our digital exhaust, because we signed away our rights without reading the acres of fine print written in block capitals and tiny fonts, for the marginal utility of randomly distributed dopamine highs. They have enticed us into becoming trapped in an exquisitely-crafted Skinner Box.
So what? If you've nothing to hide, why worry, because free directions, maps, keeping up with the family and email are useful? Is there a cost to the loss of privacy that surveillance capitalism demands (apart from the obligation to be bombarded with targeted advertising that despite its creepiness, never seems to get it quite right)?
Those who have lived under authoritarian regimes know the cost.
"The worst evil is - and that's the product of censorship - is the self-censorship, because that twists spines, that destroys my character because I have to think something else and say something else, I have to always control myself."
-- Professor Milos Forman, Czech-American film director (1932-2018), The George Washington University Interview, nsarchive2.gwu.edu. January 18, 1997. Directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Increasingly, we artists censor ourselves lest we infringe their so-called community standards, which would lead the gods to expel us from their Garden of Eden. We are forced to deny the reality of our bodies.
We are forced to deny our nature.
But not in this art gallery. See the 'Self-censored' collection.
"Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice.”
― Henry Louis Gates Jr (1950 - ), American literary critic, teacher, historian, filmmaker and public intellectual