democracy

Free

The question “Does censorship destroy freedom?” is, of course, impossible to answer yes or no. Certainly censorship can be a tool of tyranny and oppression, as we are seeing in Myanmar and Hong Kong today. But in a society which strives to be “free,” if the censor respects his or her jurisdiction and acts as an instrument reflecting current standards and (perceived) values, then a particular act of censorship can be appropriate and harmless, at least in the long run. The wealthy and powerful tend to enjoy “more free speech” because they have the means to reach a wider audience with a bigger splash, of course.
Academics have written about the “tyranny of iambic pentameter” in English-language poetics, lasting till late in the 19th century. The expression is figurative, though, as there was no actual “tyranny”: only a centuries-old tradition of taste, a vogue, a zeitgeist. Gerard Manley Hopkins (b. 1844) is frequently credited with breaking through and “freeing” the metric line with his technique of “sprung rhythms.” But Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman were writing outside of that tradition as early as the 1830s.
Today, many literary journals refuse to publish, and professors regularly tell their students not to write, rhymed or metric poetry. These practices, too, reflect a current zeitgeist. Still, I have noticed that when editors or poetry professors say “free verse,” they really mean “unrhymed, unmetric, and non-formal.” Verse that is not free to rhyme is not really free verse at all.

The Tyranny of I: Meditation on the Benefits of Censorship

My essay argues that freedom in society cannot exist without censorship. Because censorship is evident in every society, it becomes crucial in identifying where and how it must be usefully applied. For the questions posed by this contest, I explain why it’s tenable a company would allow a foreign dictator accused of mass murder to be part of a media platform, but not a native-born politician who occupies an elected position. I seek to illustrate the existential damage that conspiracy theories and unreality can do to a democracy if allowed to instantiate itself into the elected hierarchy, and that a suitable way to combat this collective poisoning is to allow various public entities to be engaged in censoring their own platforms. Finally, I make the point that cancel culture is a symptom of social mores and civil boundaries shifting, rather than speech
being shrunk or curtailed. I do this while acknowledging that as large shifts in public expectations change, there will always be anecdotal examples that are generated by these shifts, many of which serve the purpose of alarmists on all sides. The obvious fact is, every society engages in censorship. It’s merely a question of how much, and in what way.

A Tale of Two Dictatorships

Do those who live in a democratic state take their freedoms for granted? How does the behavior we exhibit when we travel outside our home country reflect national and cultural values? The following personal history piece is a sketch of life under two brutal dictatorships: François Duvalier (“Poppa Doc)” of Haiti and Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. Vacationing here in 1961, the author narrowly avoided being shot. “A Tale of Two Dictatorships” records a one-day experience with two very strange American tourists. They should be a lesson on how not to behave abroad.

Meditations on Yugoslavia

What experiences shape our life trajectories and sense of self? What roles do family heritage, state formation, and linguistic and cultural barriers have in creating a person? Are we just byproducts of events and nature, both outside our control? The following personal essay focuses on the author’s background as a refugee from the former Yugoslavia and makes the case for why we should think of the ‘refugee experience’ as a distinct category from the larger ‘immigrant experience.’ The author argues that because refugees are forcibly displaced from their home countries, they have a unique relationship both to the places from which they had to leave as well as the places in which they ultimately end up.