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Monday, June 19, 2006

Elitism = Paternalism

Rand Simberg links to this MArsblog post, which remarks on American media attitudes toward the general public (emphasis added to this and all following excerpted material):
Bluntly put, there is an elitist expectation [among the media] that the intolerant and easily-led dupes in flyover country might rise up in violence if told the whole truth...that -- like children -- the ignorant public at large must be protected from the unpleasant facts, since they cannot be trusted to integrate such information rationally and formulate a response which these elitists would approve of as sensible and reasonable. The press must therefore act as a gatekeeper, concealing the truth lest the redneck mob draw the "wrong" conclusions and be roused by some jingoistic demogogue to the pogroms and crusades which are its nature.
I was reminded of an incident during the 1992 presidential debate in Richmond, which I quoted in a recent comment thread at Samizdata:

The most notorious example of this [debate] format lending a platform for people who seek to be pampered by the nanny state was that pony-tailed guy from the 1992 presidential debate in Richmond who got up and asked then President George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot: "[H]ow can we, symbolically the children of the future president, expect the two of you – the three of you – to meet our needs."
I also recalled something I once read in a tale told by John Fund, which fortunately I was able to find documented here. He describes an encounter with several teenage girls in a department store during a 1984 trip to East Germany:

"We [Fund and his traveling companion(s), unnamed in the article] showed them our passports; they showed us their identity papers and told us a little about what it was like to live in a small town in East Germany. One of the girls told us, for example, the economy was so run-down that, when she lost an air valve on a bicycle tire, there was no way to replace it. People didn't have much money, but what was worse, there was nothing on which to spend it.

"Our travel visas expired at midnight, so by dusk we were on our way back to the glittering lights of West Berlin. The girls came along to the train station to bid us farewell. They had never seen the Berlin Wall, but they knew it was close. They gradually slowed their pace and stopped on a street corner just before we reached the railyard. One said, "You know, we really shouldn't go any further. We are not Berliners. If we are stopped, the guards will ask us why we are so close to the border zone.

"As we stood in the growing darkness, a feeling of incredible sadness came over me. here I was, in my mid-twenties, free as a bird. I wasn't rich, but I could go anywhere in the world from that street corner. They could not go another one hundred yards. Their world ended at the Wall. They could not go any further.

"... I asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. One said a beautician, one said a nurse, and one said a teacher. But the oldest and wisest, whose name was Monica, looked up at me with the most sorrowful face I have ever seen and said very slowly, 'It doesn't matter what we become when we grow up. They will always treat us like children.'

"... That sentence really defines Soviet communism in its waning years. There were very few knocks in the dead of night; people were rarely taken away to the gulag. There were very few summary executions. Instead, there was an insufferable and widespread paternalism. It was a dark cloud hanging over citizens. It weighed down their spirits and prevented them from maturing. Worse of all, it kept them from becoming that which was best within them.

"We parted almost tearfully. Monica and I exchanged addresses, and every year or so a postcard would come from her, and I would send some little trinket in the mail. She wrote that she had applied to a university, but she was rejected for her unacceptable views. She managed to get a job in a veterinarian's office."

Monica eventually came to the US, and Fund arranged for her to speak to some high schoolers:

"I swallowed my doubts and arranged a talk for Monica. It was a disaster. The students weren't openly disrespectful, but they whispered constantly during her remarks and now and then a spitwad would rocket across the room. Even the quiet students were simply uninterested.

"Finally, Monica opened the session up to questions. A girl asked, 'Why in the world would someone want to build a wall in the middle of a city?' She clearly had no understanding why this had happened or what historical forces were at work, even after Monica had told her story.

"As we walked out of the classroom, I tried to explain to Monica that not all young Americans were like this. She looked at me, and once again I saw that same sad, pensive face I remembered from a street corner in East Berlin. She said, 'John, please don't explain anymore. I've been in America for three weeks now, and I've learned that this is a great and wonderful country. But because you have never lost your freedom, because you have never been conquered, because you have never had all your possessions taken from you, you are now willing to surrender your freedom, independence, and autonomy by inches. You simply don't notice it, but, one inch at a time, it slips away.' She continued, 'Those students in there -- I feel sorry for them. No matter what they do when they grow up, many of them will always be acting like children.'"

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