Censorship and Cultural Survival in a World without Gods

Transposing emblem by Mavi Romano

Of all the benefactors of mankind, my favorite is Prometheus. His audacity provoked the wrath of Zeus when he discovered that Prometheus had given fire to the human race. The latter feared that our mortal species could not defend against the attack of beasts in an inhospitable world without a basic element of survival. Thanks to fire, humans were inventing increasingly precise and sophisticated tools at the same time that their body and brain evolved and created the first cultural forms along with the appearance of language.1 However, Zeus seemed to know that if a mortal race could take possession of technological development, that mortal race would end up stripping the gods of Olympus of their power over the world and would take their place in the form of totalitarianism. Several centuries later, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra shouted to the crowd gathered in the market that God had died and that they should not cling to supernatural hopes. He announced the arrival of a chaotic and uncertain time that humans would have to face by changing the meaning of their own actions on earth.2

When you turn on a television set, it is not difficult to understand why the crowd does not yet get to decode Nietzsche’s metaphors. The mass media are part of the premise that we are all made equal and that we all want the same thing. An elite accumulates a certain economic power, often greater than the GDP of a whole nation, and aspires to dominate the meaning of life of the masses. Most media offer low quality information produced by a corporate elite. Entire populations have disappeared, and governments have been demolished in the name of humanitarianism and democracy since the origin of the concept of “humanitarian war.” That information is provided in a NATO member country and we finance that war by paying our taxes. The collateral civil victims of the wars, the waves of refugees, the tortured and the sex slaves on our televisions – if they appear – are very distant.  In that way, it is not easy to establish a direct relationship between their misfortunes and our tax contribution to the growing budgets of the Ministry of Defense of a NATO member country.

How did we get here? The time of social democratic states has passed. We woke up one morning hearing that public sector debt was increasing and that the accounts were not in balance any more. The Eastern front had fallen, and Western states no longer needed to counterbalance the Soviet system. Although I suspect that the foundations of our modern age are deeper and began to settle when the Western man based the justification for dominating the world on the certainty of their own intellectual capacity (thinking, measurement or control). Cogito ergo sum. After the death of the last Western God and with confidence in the foundation of their own existence, the West has been extinguishing innumerable populations, languages, worldviews, gods, as their will to power extends across the planet. Following human and cultural genocides, the surviving non-Western population is assimilated as a minority and integrated into the imbalance of a global trading system.  

“The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that!”, says Beatty, ironically a well-read man, in Fahrenheit 451 to explain that censorship happened because the people allowed it.4 The current entertainment and social networking industry occupies most of the free time of the masses. Old spatial frontiers have disappeared for most of the physical and digital goods, and the time for reflection has been occupied by an accelerated consumption of prefabricated fiction, oblivious to melancholy and concern. Life accelerates. States and nations have lost their military, cultural, economic and social sovereignty. Fierce football leagues, sado-pornography and immediate pleasure dominate everything after work to liberate the masses from their internal tensions in a semi-forced submission because they do not find other ways to escape. The nostalgic ones of the previous war order – whose only logic is the polarity of “us or them” – are shocked by the growing social and economic uncertainty. The political extreme right is spreading through the central and peripheral countries of the West. In Spain, while state media are distracting their audience from any manifestation of the extreme right, the main central political parties are delegitimizing the critical voices and justifying the suppression of more elemental human rights regarding political prisoners and the persecution of freedom of expression in the name of, ironically, judicial independence and separation of powers.

How can a person with intellectual, environmental, social, political concerns, a creative person or a person endowed with excessive honesty survive in a totalitarian time without gods? Living according to a critical idea that opposes structures of abusive power does not bring any certainty to our very existence. Every year, the number of environmental activists murdered worldwide by paramilitary forces is growing and more than half are from Latin America. Dozens of languages disappear throughout the world each year.

To follow Nietzsche’s recommendations and change the meaning of our actions in life, we would need three things, as Professor Faber explains to Montag, in Ray Bradbury’s novel: quality information, free time to reflect, and the right to undertake actions based on our reflections.3 We can use our free time to think about how to create ways of life that are less dependent on the natural resources of countries at the periphery of our systems, such as permaculture, bioconstruction, renewable energies and the cultivation of a large part of our food in small orchards.

Arts, philosophy, literature and music offer various aspects of the same issue. Like an earthquake, they can cause the ground to move under our feet, making us doubt any certainty we assumed as common sense and possibly a thought acquired through the continuous bombardment of the media. They who seek freedom, seek to know the world. Most of it is contained in books, especially those of the past. Personally, a decade ago, I found a couple of books that allowed me to understand politics and ethics beyond some codes imposed by the logic of domination and war: Politics of Friendship by Jacques Derrida5 and Otherwise of Being, or Beyond Essence by Emmanuel Lévinas.6 Respecting the emptiness in the old place that was occupied by gods allows us to reflect again on the classic question of the limits of our knowledge and understand our identity as an affirmation of the other, of the different, of those who are not like me and thanks to whom I can be defined. From the failed Nietzsche, we get the possibility of understanding relations in the world like some Greek thinkers did before Plato, when the gods had been dead for a short time and humans had not yet dared to take their place. At that time, philosophy had just displaced myths as a way to understand the world, and the immense freedom of thought was enjoyable.

Mavi Romano

1 Vgl., André Leroi-Gourhan, Le Gest et la Parole. Technique et langage, Éditions Albin Michel, 1964.

2 Friedrich Nietzsche, Also sprach Zarathustra, 1883.

3.Ray Bradbury, Farenheit 451, 1953.

4 Ray Bradbury, op.cit.

5 Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 1997.

6 Emmanuel Lévinas, Autrement qu’être ou au-delà de l’essence, 1974.