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Transcript Arlene Goldbard: Bottom-up Self-Censorship, Top-down Consensus Reality

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storycon.org H2'ed 7/13/14
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How we make our collective stories about what's happening to us as a society really matters in this way. Remember C. Wright Mills, he said that one of the problems in America is the privatization of public issues. That when someone loses their job we tend to blame that individual and look at his or her short comings as the reason that bad thing has happened. When actually it's often, almost always, an expression of a larger public issue that's been privatized so that we don't have to address the underlying question.

So what is our collective responsibility? Create a big story about what's happening in terms of unemployment in this country right now that inspirits individuals to understand themselves as part of a larger story and gives them more choices for the future. You know there's other sections that talk about-

R.K.: Well I like that section that you're referring to: " The prohibition against pointing these things out, or to be more specific against naming the beneficiaries and culprits and showing how much of the expense of their self-serving actions is borne by the rest of us, is powerful. Some people may stop reading what I've written on account of the discomfort this triggers. What's required to see things clearly in the face of such prohibitions is refusal to accept the inoculation". What do you mean by the inoculation? Talk a little bit more about that.

A.G.: In that section I talked about this history of not just censorship but powerful discouragement to free speech as being a series of inoculations. So for example, you know you can start back with the Spanish Inquisition and look at the numbers of how many people were executed in order to begin that inoculation against having a different understanding in the world than the most powerful ideological institution at that time, the Catholic Church.

And came up to the McCarthy era, looked at how many people lost their jobs, their livelihoods, went to prison, and so forth in order to create a strong, strong prohibition against pointing out the true power of money in creating social power and distorting democracy in this country and how that was a really strong inoculation that lasted for a long time. There were decades in which people were afraid to use certain words, you know words like socialism, it just wasn't part of the conversation.

Because of the shot in the arm that people had gotten during the McCarthy era. And I trace how it takes less and less to produce the same result over time. The result being that self-censorship is probably the most decentralized aspect of our social policy. We hardly have any overt censorship in this country because we all obligingly do it on behalf of the people who want us to be silent.

R.K.: Wait, you're saying that this is a decentralized thing?

A.G.: I think, what happens is we as individuals end up carrying water for the people who want us to be silent and compliant because we've been inoculated with the idea that there are big consequences in speaking our truth, we start to censor ourselves.

R.K.: Man it's true. So your answer is the arts. How does, do you have to be an artist to do it? Do you have to have a degree in fine arts or in dance or play an instrument to do it?

A.G.: No, no absolutely not although it's amazing how many people do. The arts is such an abstract concept, I always try to look for another way to talk about it, although I don't always succeed.

I have a friend who every time he gets on a bus sits down with some people and does this little test, do you participate in the arts and everyone says no, no, no. And then he says do you sing, do you play an instrument, do you do needlework, do you take photographs, do you make YouTube videos? And everybody says yes.

So almost universally every one of us, we're singing in the choir, we're knitting in a circle, we're beautifying, we're gardening, we're humming to ourselves in the shower, we're all partaking of these methods of expression and communication. You don't have to be certified if there's any way to do that. There are particular roles for people who do define themselves as professional artists and who have chosen to place their artistic skills at the service of the development of justice, democracy, and so on.

There are certain key social roles, back in the 1930's, we had the WPA. That was one of the biggest programs resulting from the New Deal. It put all kinds of artists to work in community, making plays about the issues that people cared about, creating amphitheaters and post office murals that you still see today. And a lot more. Right now, today, we really have a level of unemployment and a need for investment in social infrastructure that would justify a new WPA. But even if we couldn't mobilize the political will to do that right away, we have allocations in every local state and federal government department for PR, you know?

Leaflets nobody reads or for public processes that are meaningless. You know, meetings where citizens can come and testify for one, two, or three minutes to a bored group of people who aren't really listening to what they're saying. Those things all cost a lot of money and they're supposed to be creating a connection between the agencies that sponsor them and the larger public, the larger citizenry and all of that money could easily be redeployed right now to employ artists.

To make theater about social goals. To engage with people in story telling workshops where they connect the public health challenge that we're trying to respond to to their own lives and in a more meaningful way. To create beauty in their communities that connects them to larger questions of social healing. We could be doing that right now.

So I think there's definitely lots of roles for professional artists and many, many of us are enacting those roles around the country but to take part in this, no. You just, you need to go to the theater and sit there and allow yourself to notice what is happening to you as you enter into the story. And take in the alternate reality of people portrayed on stage and then ask yourself whether this capacity has some application in your life when you leave the theater.

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