Over the years Nash Montana has done yeoman’s work for us translating Swiss dialects and German. In the following essay she expands her repertoire with a look at the dark heart of the Culture Wars.
From Fahrenheit 451 to Cancel Culture: Bradbury Predicted People Would Demand Tyranny
by Nash Montana
Even if it has been a while since you read Fahrenheit 451, you might remember Ray Bradbury’s classic for its portrayal of a dystopian future in which an authoritarian government flies drones to control the people, and burns books.
Read Fahrenheit 451 again to discover why people wanted their tyrannical government to burn books. Bradbury wrote the book in 1953, yet the parallels to today’s social climate for censorship are haunting.
Bradbury’s protagonist is Guy Montag, who, like all firemen in Bradbury’s future, burns books.
In Bradbury’s dystopia, firemen became “custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors.”
Today’s mainstream and social media are “custodians of our peace of mind” as they filter out “conflicting theory and thought.”
Captain Beatty is Montag’s boss. Beatty explains, “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.”
If you don’t want people debating questions such as COVID-19 policy, Beatty has the ticket: “Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving.”
Today, millions listen daily to reports of case counts of COVID-19. Like Bradbury predicted, listeners can recite the numbers but have no context to make sense of the numbers.
Many have little idea that important scientists and doctors have advocated alternatives to lockdowns that could save lives and abate catastrophic impacts on economies.
As in Bradbury’s world, many are working tirelessly to disparage and censor alternative views.
In Bradbury’s dystopia, thinking was not welcome. Even front porches were eliminated. One of Montag’s young neighbors explained why:
“People sat there sometimes at night, talking when they wanted to talk, rocking, and not talking when they didn’t want to talk. Sometimes they just sat there and thought about things, turned things over… they didn’t want people sitting like that, doing nothing, rocking, talking; that was the wrong kind of social life. People talked too much. And they had time to think.”
Social distancing is today embraced as a way to keep us safe from COVID-19. Social distancing also keeps us safe from “conflicting theories and thoughts.” Chairs have been removed from social gathering places. Hallways are quiet. Nobody stands around the water cooler. People have few places to talk with each other. The parallel to porches is haunting.
Perhaps you are sensing a shift in social norms undermining parental rights and the sanctity of the family. Bradbury foresaw a push for government-funded pre-school. Captain Beatty explains, “The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle.”