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Artist: ‘I’m Terrified To Speak’

It's not even what you say anymore; even your silence makes you guilty of 'violence' (Photo by Ana Fernandez/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A reader responds to my “road to soft totalitarianism” post from yesterday:

Thought you might find this interesting. Daniel Elder is a well-respected choral composer at least until recently.

Here is what Elder posted to Twitter:

Don’t see much wrong with that. It’s understandable. But then, I’m not in the musician community. The reader is, and continues:

While what he said was in poor taste, the mob has been particularly cruel, especially on FB in choral music forums and by fellow musicians. Even after he explained, it wasn’t good enough.

The reader continues:

He will have significant career ramifications, from loss of sales of music to loss of performances and commissions. His pieces will more than likely be blacklisted by many, if not pulled by his publishers.

You are right about soft totalitarianism. It is here and it is terrifying.

As an artist, I’m terrified to speak about anything controversial because of exactly this; that I would be misunderstood or say something stupid in a moment of emotion and be destroyed for it. I keep mostly silent on social media or retweet things. But even posting articles is starting to feel like a landmine.

How are we to move forward when our first instinct is to think the worst of people? Instead of privately correcting someone or pointing out how something might be misconstrued, the best option is to incite the mob to destroy them.

And how in the world do you create art in this environment that is in any way challenging or thought-provoking? Or a critique of the accepted cultural sacred cows? It feels very isolating sometimes and the struggle to create meaningful art riddled with great risk.

Maybe I’m alone in this. I just feel like I’m one misstep away from falling off the cliff.

You can’t create art, or challenge sacred cows, or be creatively free — not in this environment. In the Soviet Bloc, the oppression came from the state. In our soft totalitarianism, it comes from private actors and corporations. Liberals today have the nerve to gripe about Viktor Orban. An artist is more free to speak his or her mind in Budapest than in New York City or Los Angeles.

A society in which you can be utterly ruined by saying a single thing that offends the left-wing mob is a totalitarian society. Hard totalitarianisms have prison camps; soft totalitarianisms have cancel culture. It is going to get much, much worse before it gets better. My forthcoming book Live Not By Liestalks about what to expect, and how Christians (and others) should deal with it. I didn’t expect to be writing so much about the book four months before its publication, but things are accelerating fast.

Not only can you not criticize what the mob favors — even rioting! — but if you are white, then your failure to affirm the mob’s opinion is the equivalent of “violence”. This is totalitarian. In my book, I quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s brave instructions to the Soviet people in 1974, on the eve of his exile. It’s from his essay “Live not by lies!”, in tribute to which I named my book:

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

And from that day onward he:

  • Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
  • Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.
  • Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
  • Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
  • Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
  • Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
  • Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately talk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
  • Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed. Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

You will have to make this choice too. Those in creative fields are already on the front lines. They’ll be coming for you too, though.

Please, readers, if the stuff I write, and that my TAC colleagues write, is important to you, consider making a tax-deductible contribution. We depend on your generosity. I don’t like asking for money, especially when so many people are hurting. But if you are any kind of conservative, you can see how important dissident voices are, and will be, in the future now being born.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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