Social censorship and repression

The introduction of Michel Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality suggests there may be a connection between legislative repression of sexual behavior and increased criminal behavior. Foucault, who’s writing in the 1980s, is reflecting on the repression of sexual expression that was normalized before the movement for sexual liberation in the 1960s. He argues that there was a time when people were unapologetically open in their discussions about sex, so open that it was normal for children to be present during these conversations (Foucault, 4). Once social liberty was suppressed, and discussions about sex became taboo, people needed a place to go to full express themselves. This was when brothels and prostitution became cultural staples. Foucault says this is because repressing sex is like repressing a language (6). When a person is told that the way they express themselves is against the law, it’s not surprising that those people will seek illegal avenues for expression.

It is easy to see how this argument could be applied to current discussion on censorship and social issues. In depth surveillance of personal information and legislation restricting people of certain sexual orientations are two contemporary issues that come to mind. The difference here is that most people marginalized in these cases aren’t seeking illegal avenues comparable to the use of brothels or participation in prostitution. However, people are still going to live their lives and express themselves the way they wish regardless of the illegality of their actions.

Foucault brings up the issue that, in both the 16th century and the present, the practices of repression are so ingrained into our society that they become hard to undo. This is the issue we face now. Old arguments that weren’t justified to begin with have been repeated for so many years that they start to make sense (or at least cause doubt) for a demographic that didn’t previously agree. Hope is not lost, however, because just as some people reverted to old, misguided ways of thinking, others have broadened their world view and accepted new ways of thinking – something I’m not sure Foucault truly believed would be a reality.

An impossible exercise may help us understand polarized political views

Rawls’ concept of the Original Position requires that individuals, in order to get a full and well-rounded understanding of a political or philosophical issue, shed all of their biases and predispositions.

The reality, however, is that it is impossible for a person to completely shed their biases – especially according to Rawls’ specifications. He states that a person would need to forget their race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, educational experiences, etc. in order to have true perspective. It does pose an interesting challenge for all democratic citizens, but especially for those interested in being politically active and engaged.

Personalization has become an integral part of the American digital experience. Social media sites suggest people, companies, and other accounts for you to follow based on the content of your own posts and the content of the accounts you chose to follow on your own. Additionally, social media sites, along with search engines, monitor and store information detailing what you search, what kinds of websites you visit, and what topics you search most often to allow them to plaster ads on your social media or down the side of your search engine site for products/services they have determined you are more likely (statistically) to interact with.

We are also currently battling the progressing normalization of “personalized facts.” With the introduction of social media, the integration of social media into the news business, and the increasing number of political commentary shows marketed for/to a biased audience people are able to hyper-personalize their news intake to only include content that supports their established bias. For example, watch as Bill Maher – a TV personality known for his liberal-leaning political comedy – talks about the dangers of personalized media content.  

Rawls’ solution – adopting a completely unbiased lens through which social and political issues can be examined – alludes to a potentially new and beneficial way of examining taboo topics. Simply creating a political culture in which making an effort to understand a point of view contradictory to your own is both expected and practiced could change the way a lot of issues – and by extension, people – are understood. The starting point towards an eventual implementation of this cultural adaptation is beginning to talk to people who exist outside your own worldview.