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Lena Dunham Epitomizes Our Self-Enforcing Police State


Lena Dunham had a delayed flight and was walking through the airport when she overheard two American Airlines employees having an unapproved private conversation about transgender children. So she did what you naturally do when you are a well-known “liberal” who believes in free speech and distrusts big corporations: she ratted them out to their employer on Twitter.

What took this from being merely bullying and repressive to being creepy and totalitarian in style is that Dunham didn’t just make a general complaint. She then posted what looks like direct messages or text message between her and the American Airlines account, in which she enthusiastically provides detailed information about exactly where the conversation took place.

Saying “I overheard a conversation” but giving no specifics might prompt American Airlines to send out a general notice to its employees to watch what they say while in the terminal—which is a little unsettling in itself. But giving specific information only has one purpose: to help the airline locate, identify, and punish these specific employees for holding politically incorrect views.

It’s the hashtag #acrossfromthewinebar that sent chills down my spine. Dunham is acting like an informant working for a totalitarian police state—but boastfully, in public, on social media. With a hashtag.

Undoubtedly, someone will point out that this isn’t really totalitarianism because these are all voluntary actions by private citizens and organizations, not the government. Dunham isn’t a paid stooge of the police, but a citizen acting on her own initiative. American Airlines isn’t doing this because the government told them to, but because they’re terrified of bad press. (Which they are still going to get, but from the other side.)

Yet somehow this makes it all worse, because it implies we are being trained to internalize the ethos of the police state—and to enact it voluntarily, on our own initiative, without having to be coerced. We’re building a self-enforcing police state.

Recently, I warned that The New York Times is trying to rehabilitate Communism. When the Left finally succeeds in resuscitating totalitarianism, we will already know all about how to inform on our neighbors by way of Twitter.

There are three substantial ways in which this incident shows how we are preparing ourselves for totalitarianism. One of the hallmarks of totalitarianism is that the officially approved truth was capricious and unpredictable, and that was on purpose. They wanted the approved ideology to change so quickly that there was no way to comply with it by sincere personal conviction. The only way to comply with it was out of a habit of obedience.

Now, let’s apply that to the substance of the conversation Dunham was reporting, which she reports to American Airlines in highly specific and intellectual terms: “I heard 2 females attendants walking talking about how trans kids are a trend they’d never accept a trans child and transness is gross.” The idea that “gender identity disorder,” which has now been renamed to the more politically correct “gender dysphoria,” is not a mental illness but instead a valid lifestyle to be encouraged and humored is relatively recent, working its way into the mainstream in the past ten years. The idea of transgender children—of taking a child’s normal confusion about gender roles, encouraging it, magnifying it, and using it as the basis for irreversible medical treatments—would have been considered a form of child abuse to most people until about last year. For many of us, it still is.

But why wait for the process of changing mores and attitudes to work their way through the culture and bring people around to your side? After all, if you wait for people to be convinced, there’s a chance that they won’t be. It’s like what Stalin said about elections: the problem is that you don’t know ahead of time who’s going to win. Intead, people have to immediately update their views to be consistent with the Current Truth, subject to change without notice.

Now let’s look at Dunham’s reaction. She hears two people saying something she disagrees with, and it never occurs to her to talk to them directly, to attempt to persuade them or to listen to their point of view and engage with it. She might have changed someone’s mind or least gotten to understand the reasons for their views. But why wait for persuasion when you can use fear? Why engage individuals directly, as if they are fellow human beings with equal rights, when you can go over their heads and use your fame and influence to pressure their employers?

While reading about this story, I was reminded of this scene from “The Lives of Others,” based on life within the oppressive police state of East Germany.

Apparently, the same rules apply now. Better watch what you say, or powerful person might ask for your employee number and your life will be ruined.

Finally, consider the role of the employer. When the Czech dissident Vaclav Havel formulated his ideas for how to resist Communist tyranny, he noted the role of the small business or employer who agreed to enforce the rules and post the propaganda of the regime out of fear and conformity. Well, that’s exactly what we’re up against now.

If the proper response for Dunham was to converse with those flight attendants directly (or maybe just to mind her own business), then the proper response of American Airlines was to tell Dunham that it is not in the business of policing the private conversations of its employees. But that’s another way we’re being prepared for the police state. While the Left blusters about how they don’t want big corporations to tell us what we can think, their actions say otherwise. They absolutely do want employers to be responsible for the private views and political activity of their employees—so long as the views they are enforcing are politically correct.

So all the elements are being put together. We have a dogma propagated from the top down, a cadre of informants who are proud and eager to report their fellow citizens, and private institutions that are cowed and co-opted, ready to deprive dissidents of their livelihoods.

It’s no mystery why, despite loud protestations that things will be different this time, socialism always ends with the midnight knock on the door. By the time government begins arresting people, the public will already have the mentality needed to accept and cooperate with the police state.

When we talk about and celebrate the fall of Communism, we frequently focus on the positive role of “people power.” When the oppressed people of Eastern Europe chose to reject and resist Communism en masse, it collapsed seemingly overnight. But we don’t like to think too much about the flip side of that coin. Totalitarian regimes came into existence, and maintained their existence, not just because dissenters were killed or kept in a state of terror, but also because the regimes enjoyed the active complicity of a large segment of the population. East Germany’s Stasi, after all, had a lot of employees.

The recent exploits of Comrade Lena are a warning that the new police state will have plenty of its own enthusiastic enforcers.

Follow Robert on Twitter.