Holy Smoke

Is this the dawn of a new totalitarianism?

20 min listen

In This Episode

This week’s Holy Smoke podcast is about the strange and unstable world created by digital technology: one in which distinguishing between truth and falsehood is becoming almost impossible.

It’s a follow-up to an article I wrote in The Spectator last week in which I argued that, trapped between populist conspiracy theories and liberal media bias, and confronted by thousands of sources of dubious information on YouTube, people are discovering that ’the more we know, the less we know’.

This is the environment in which the churches are trying to survive – and failing miserably, because they don’t understand the Internet and don’t know how to talk to people.

But this episode is more about civil society than religion. My guest is the American journalist and businessman Robert Wargas, who lives in Washington and has experience of both the ‘elite liberal bubble’ and DC’s Catholic conservative bubble. He was surprised to discover that they had quite a lot in common – chiefly, an obsession with political minutiae that was not shared by their respective constituencies, voters and Mass-goers.

I found this an eye-opening discussion – alarmingly so. Robert is adamant that, despite the largely uncensored babble of social media, the boundaries of what it’s permissible to say in public are shrinking all the time. Every week creates a new, short-lived YouTube ‘celebrity’, but meanwhile the policing of conversation in public spaces – in which the churches are active participants – is becoming ever more intimidating. And this, he says, contains the seeds of a new totalitarianism.

‘You can calll me crazy and I don’t care,’ he says at one point. But I think that if you listen to the episode you’ll conclude that there’s nothing crazy about his thesis.


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