Censorship can come in many forms that can range from governments to individuals. It is usually a derogative term to describe the action of a person, either voluntarily or by force, to act, think, or create based on the dictates of another. The most common form of this is self-censorship. We behave, and alter our behavior to fit into a situation or set of circumstances that are within the learned social norms of the society where we live.
An example of this would be if we disagree with politician X, or their platform. We may privately say, “If I ever meet politician X, I’m going to give them what for. He/she is a jerk, and deserves a punch in the nose!” This may be your feeling, and certainly, you are entitled to it. However when you are confronted with the situation of being in the same room as politician X, you will probably not behave in a manner that would be contrary to your upbringing, or the situation at hand, and you certainly aren't justified in assault or battery.
I encountered this situation once. I was once asked to work a political protection detail as part of my job as an EMT. The politician in question was the Vice-President of the United States. For about a day, I would follow his every move, and stand quietly behind the scenes in the event that I was needed. I wasn’t. My personal feelings toward this man were not positive. I didn’t much care for this individual, or his politics, but that wasn’t my job. My job was to insure that I would do my very best if he needed me. When it came time for him to leave, we all stood in a line next to the plane to shake his hand. When he got to me, I politely shook his hand, and told him it was an honor to meet him. I had my picture taken with him (still haven’t ever seen it), and he left. I didn’t tell him I thought he was a jerk, or what I thought of his politics. I did what every decent person should do, and treated the situation appropriately. It wasn’t the time for a political discussion, or debate. It was a photo-op for my benefit, because I’m certain he neither knew or cared who I was.
This was my own self-censor to keep my attitude, and behavior in line with acceptable norms. Unfortunately, the line between what is and isn’t acceptable seems to be forgotten in today’s society. People (including myself) seem to have become so polarized that we have forgotten the art of tact, and decency. We have become polarized to a degree that I’ve never seen. It is commonplace to see people willing to go on offensive rants, use obscene language, belittle, behave outrageously, use caustic and hate filled words, personal attacks, demand retribution, servitude, and intolerance for opposing views. People don’t seem to be interested in debating topics; they simply attempt to be louder and more obnoxious than their opponents are. This attitude is detrimental to the continuation of a civil society, and leads only to one place...tyranny.
You don’t have to be Kim Jong Un, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, or Fidel Castro to be a dictator. Tyranny can come from mobs or small groups, just as easily as a single man can. Tyrants, in all forms, seek to silence dissent by any means necessary. Soon you live in a place where you no longer have the freedom to object, or debate. You live the way the tyrants want you to live, think the way they want you to think, talk the way they want you to talk, and act only as they wish you to.
This type of closed-minded system is inherently counterproductive. It is as caustic to society and politics as it is to science. This is not saying that people can’t have differing opinions, or that facts aren’t possible in a discussion. I am saying that when people use censorship to silence all objections, bad things happen.
In January, my uncle passed away. He was a soil physicist specializing in nuclear waste interactions with soil and groundwater. Until his funeral, most of his relatives knew virtually nothing about his life’s work. Based on what I’ve learned, every person in the world should be eternally grateful for this unsung hero. The reason — he was confronted with withering censorship, and won.
My uncle worked at a large facility in Washington State that stored high-level radioactive waste left over from the production of nuclear weapons. It is the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation. That’s pretty stiff competition considering they detonated over a thousand warheads in various sites in the US, with most occurring on the Nevada Nuclear Test Range. He was concerned that the radioactive material could leach into the soil and contaminate the groundwater, and eventually contaminate the Columbia River.
The reason for his concern was the policy of the US Department of Energy of burying the waste in the deserts of Washington State, just in the ground. This would be seen as an obvious DUH to us now, but back in the 40’s through to the 70’s it was no big deal. Discussing it was taboo, and anyone questioning the policy was fired and blacklisted...until my uncle showed up.
Using his tact and knowledge, he was able to convince his superiors that dumping highly radioactive waste into the ground and hoping it would just disappear wasn’t going to work, and would actually make things worse. He was able to help mitigate the issue, and begin to solve the problem; unfortunately, it probably came too late.
This attitude isn’t limited to science and politics. Recently, Entertainment Weekly devoted TWO articles to the controversy surrounding the author Orson Scott Card; specifically the book and movie “Ender’s Game”. BEFORE you all start jumping on the comments with hate filled trolling, I AM NOT taking a side on anything. I don’t think my political view, or lack thereof, is anyone’s business but my own. I don’t advocate, or publicize my feelings on issues. What I take issue with is: the mob centric censorship being used to silence his personal view is just as ignorant and counterproductive as the censorship used to silence early nuclear scientists.
In Mr. Card’s case, he has deeply held religious beliefs that conflict with the prevailing sectarian belief. This has caused people to compare him to Hitler. Somehow, I don’t think a mass-murderer has ANY comparison to an award-winning author who hasn’t killed a single person. The idea of censoring someone for advocating religious convictions in a peaceful legal way cannot compare to genocide. I could see an argument made for chastising an author for advocating his beliefs as part of his literary work, but Ender’s Game doesn’t have anything to do with the politics in question. Even with that situation, he still has a right to write, and produce material related to that opinion.
I could care less about a person’s personal beliefs, or if they mirror my own. I know that there are people who disagree with me on many topics. There are people who insist the pyramids were built by aliens, the world is flat, little green men crashed at Roswell, the Earth is the center of the Universe, God doesn’t exist, black/white/brown/yellow/pink/purple people are better than black/white/brown/yellow/pink/purple people, and that they are always right and I’m always wrong. What should be respectful, calm, and reasoned discussions have turned into shouting matches that need to have an absolute winner.
What we need to remember is that civil discussion, and a respect for the freedom for the thought you hate are more important than seeing who can shout the loudest, and have the most polar opposite opinion. Considering that, your beliefs could cause considerable unintended harm (i.e. dumping toxic waste in the desert), it is more profitable to discuss and learn than to think you’re right without changing anyone’s mind.