I know it’s hard to see from where you sit, but I’ve been working hard on my big plan. I’ll save what that means for later, but suffice it to say that the big plan requires a lot of technology, because what doesn’t these days? In the process of rifling through all these potentialities, I’ve found a great many problems that extend beyond technology into the social space. Some of those problems are quite terrifying in their implications.
The TL;DR version of this post is that censorship is bad.
Let’s say that there is a point of view that comprises the bulk of current “correct-think.” Those of you who have read my work know that direct socio-politics is not my bag, but the world keeps changing in ways that make my basic set of views “wrong-think.” The issues in place as mere whispers when I first started writing have become shouting and fists to the face. If I set out with all optimism in the rational nature of human discourse to talk about the issues, I would find myself attacked. This is all hypothetical, because my basic practical viewpoint is that taking a side in this day and age is simply a way to lop off half your audience like a gangrenous limb, and frankly I would defend anyone’s right to voice their opinion to an extreme degree.
Unfortunately, there are now opinions that are, in very practical terms, capital offences. They come with social and indeed financial penalties. Money itself has been weaponized.
We all want to draw our world in black and white, because that’s just far easier than dealing with the infinite shades of gray, but no one – not you, not me – is that simple.
You’re a single mom, working the system for the best result for your children. You, by necessity, are forced into tapping the resources of whatever the government offers. Maybe on the inside, this is a matter of profound embarrassment. Maybe your skill with the system is a matter of pride. Can I predict your point of view? If I can’t predict it, can I judge you for your method? Can I simultaneously be impressed with your skill and sad that you need to work the system the way you do? It’s a gray area and every minute of life is filled with them.
What made The Green Book a great movie? It left room for the gray area interpretation. It allowed for “your people” and “my people” in the same story as real friendship. It allowed for the acceptance of “my people” across boundaries and despite the flaws.
On the other hand, the infamous Gillette ad painted all white men with the same toxic brush. Captain Marvel used a pile of hamfisted cliches to remind us of the stupidity of men as a confining force in the world of women, while the lead actress (yes, I used the feminine version of actor because it conveys information) spent too much time reminding us of the same basic concept.
As a man who honors and respects women, and an observer of the state of women in our society, I find the whole train of thought to be ridiculous. Women who could be enjoying the fruits of their innate and cultural advantage are too busy clamoring for victim status. Women who are lacking some of those advantages seem to spend far less time claiming victimhood. I can tell you that the vast majority of men are happiest when they make a woman happy, and are miserable when they can’t. A quick review of the correct-think world tells you that this basic truth is ignored completely.
So, you turn to the technology, which gives all of us more power to express our opinion than ever before. Great, except for the fact that certain opinions are acceptable on those technology platforms, and others are not.
If you run Facebook, or Twitter, you have incredible power to shape the ideology of the public. If you are using this power to twist the public perception in your own favored direction, this is a misuse of technology. Free speech as a concept allows for every point of view. If you are founded in a country that accepts the First Amendment as a core principle, and you decide to adhere to the tenants of the Pakistani government, your platform is compromised. If you allow Chinese cultural standards to dictate your terms of service or even to redesign your platform, having outgrown your Western audience, you are actively engaged in censorship. If you promote one side of the debate and squash the other side, you are misusing technology.
If you happen to run the largest aggregator of movie reviews on the planet, and you want Captain Marvel to succeed, you shut down the negative comments, and that’s just the loudest current example. Comments are being shut down everywhere to bend the dialog into a certain mold. This is the misuse of technology.
Frankly, it’s gotten out of hand. There are no rules. Every boundary of free speech is no longer a slope to agreement or disagreement. It’s a cliff from which anyone could fall without warning. The end result is that smart people of the “wrong-think” persuasion tend to keep quiet, because they know full well they can lose everything from friends to income streams over a single opinion. I’m pretty sure that was not what free speech was intended to mean. It was intended as a safety net against totalitarianism and on the principle that we need the ideas from everyone to create a better result.
Meanwhile, people on the “correct-think” side of the argument are increasingly making no sense. The arguments are circular and inconsistent within themselves, and stretch way out into the edge cases to support minute pieces of society that generally do not return that support to society as whole. Even worse, this group is increasingly pushing loudly for a world in which there can be no dissent from their own views. Anyone who disagrees is now a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic troll by default. This could lead to a case of these groups eating each other in pointless conflict, but if they can agree with many others of the same mindset, free speech is lost.
That statement leads to hard questions. How do we define ourselves? There was a time when being a productive member of society was an internal and external mark of pride. Now being a victim of society carries more weight. There was a time when opinion could be expressed forcefully without half of civilization dropping from the sky. None of that even considers which opinion was “better.” It doesn’t matter. The point is that both sides could express one.
Of course, one of the major pushes of correct-think is revision of everything from history to other cultures into our current set of values. Revising history is dangerous, because it essentially removes the lessons we should learn from it. Things like slavery is bad, and genocide is bad, victimizing anyone is bad… Trying to pretend that history didn’t have its own gray areas is another path to totalitarianism and thought police.
Revising to other cultures – moral relativism – is dangerous for two reasons. One is that it eliminates the possibility of measuring the value of our own culture, which should be done on a regular basis, despite the correct-think efforts to tell us that our culture is completely broken. Two is that it gets people killed. As a fun Google exercise, look up how many people have been harassed, robbed, raped, and killed while wandering the hinterlands as the result of believing that that all cultures have the same basic support and values as our own. Make a person hungry, poor, or desperate enough, and they will kill you for whatever you’ve got. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t be sitting at the top of the food chain.
So, if we stretch our heads around a simple fact, namely that we still live in the most successful social experiment in recorded history, built on the shoulders of a lot of disparate opinions in compromise, we can roll with two concepts. One is that even the most offensive opinions have a place in the gray area of our human discourse, and while we should allow them to be presented, we have the absolute right to reject them. “We” means each of us, not some ideologue at the head of a technological platform. Two is that we can accept the idea that our techno-social overlords have the right to censor and shape what we see, without knowing anything about us individually, or our own motivations and concerns in life. Where this leads is also well documented in history and it’s a place with no remaining shreds of the freedom and independence that led us to the success and comfort that we enjoy today.
I’ve pointed out a couple of examples of censorship as the misuse of technology. On the positive use of technology, we’ve got a few choices.
The easiest choice is to stay out of the fight. Ignore it. Do what you do and let the chips fall. It’s fundamental to human nature to ignore the onrushing train until it plows over you. No one can blame you for this choice. Unless you somehow find a worldview that is immune to attack, commenting on anything will scare up a mob of people who want to destroy you. I can list dozens of examples from the last few months. If enough people read this, I’ll get hammered too. Bizarrely enough, groups that you would imagine supporting each other frequently turn and attack like a terrified dog over the most minute points of contention. The point is that engaging in any social political debate is now dangerous.
Two, you can use the platforms you use now to express your opinion. The obvious examples are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is perfectly fine for sharing family photos and talking about benign life events, but it has shown that it is willing to censor and perhaps more critically that it is selling everything you post to somebody for some purpose. Your Facebook content actually affects your future job prospects. Funny how a simple website has turned into a social credit score with lifelong ramifications.
Twitter has turned into a toxic dump of ideas with very little upside. I have an account to keep track of what I read, but I never post anything. If we’ve learned anything in the past year or so, it’s that your posts can and will be weaponized against you, even if the posts are a decade old. Even those who just use it to make announcements are beginning to shy away. YouTube is working hard to resist outright censorship of ideas, but like every other major resource, they are slowly being compelled to adhere to correct-think and that has subtle effects on what you see on the platform. It also serves as a chilling effect on those who contribute content to the platform, especially as YouTube has complete control over who can make money on their system.
Three, you can check out the alternatives to the alternatives. Social media is the alternative to traditional sources like newspapers and TV news, all of which have become a social engineering opinion machine. Now that the machine has infected the big social media platforms, alternatives have arisen and have been repeatedly attacked by the established players. Most of those alternatives place a high value on uncensored content, which means that using them will expose you to stuff you probably don’t want to see, but it comes down to the value of free speech versus top-down censorship that doesn’t have your personal values in mind. Being an adult has always meant that you have to deal with unpleasant stuff, and among those is the responsibility to keep tabs on what your children see.
Bitchute is the alternative to YouTube, and most You-tubers who speak about politics mirror their content to Bitchute as a hedge against censorship. I don’t consider it a necessary replacement at this point in time, but the trend is heading towards a far more censored correct-think version of YouTube.
Minds.com is an interesting alternative to Facebook. Aside from the censorship angle, it has a built in economy to make it easy for for contributors to monetize their content. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but it’s a very interesting concept pulled right out of 90’s era cyberpunk.
Gab.ai straddles the Facebook/Twitter line. It’s front and center on the censorship debate because it just introduced a potentially game changing system known as Dissenter. To understand Dissenter, you first have to understand that one of the primary methods of censorship is to disable comments on specific stories all over the internet. Dissenter creates a network overlay that allows Dissenter users to comment on literally anything, outside of the control of the website posting the story. Needless to say, the sites that use comments to control the discussion will try to find ways around it, but so far, Dissenter is impressive. You can work through the Dissenter website, or more easily add a plugin to your browser to allow you to add comments to whatever you are viewing on the web. You’ll know it’s really working when people try to kill the browser extensions.
Finally, to dive hard into the dystopian end of this pool, it’s worth saying that there have always been methods to control our thinking. A politician using rhetoric, a President behind a podium, a professor with radical views, a newspaper with a hard slant, a good looking talking head on TV, an actor with a speech, peer pressure… In this world, the information blows our hair back in a nonstop hurricane. It’s hard to decide what is important, or rational, or true in any sense, but that’s what we must do.
Critical thought is key, but it’s a fine balance. If you assume everyone with a voice is trying to sell you on something, you can always say no. If you assume that everyone is out to get you in some way, it’s war, and you will prepare for the fight. Some people spend their lives prepped for battle on a hill that doesn’t exist. It’s a spectrum of thought that ranges from obliviousness, through varying degrees of concern, to outright attempts to destroy the enemy. At this point in time, that’s as good as the measuring stick gets. If you see someone trying to destroy the enemy, it’s time to engage the old critical thinker and try to figure out what they want. If you really don’t want that thing, the next question is: What should I do?
Opinions could be considered the fruit of ideas. Ideas are organic. Bad ones wilt in the shade and good ones spread everywhere like weeds until a better idea comes along. The catch is that this only applies in the wild. In the forest, fast growing trees shade out slower ones in a race to the sunlight. Walk in that forest a hundred years later and you see the blend of only the strongest plants, the ones that dominate the resources and thus have the best opportunity to spread their seeds. The result is a chaotic and hearty system that supports thousands of species. An individual plant or species may succumb, but the forest stays strong. This is the wild west of free speech.
Meanwhile, in the industrial mono-culture forest two miles away, all the trees are the same. The same species, the same age, the same spacing between them, the same lack of habitat for animals, and ultimately the same problem will wipe out the entire forest. If it survives until harvest, it is the result of of meticulous planning, rigorous management, and ongoing effort. In terms of spreadsheet results, this method makes sense. In terms of long term health, as should be applied to forests and cultures, it’s a losing proposition. This is rigid single-minded control, with life rather than words.
Which brings us back to censorship. The more it is applied, the less you know to answer that big “What should I do?” question. Being treated as if you, member of the general public, are not capable of forming a solid opinion is no excuse at all. The more censorship is applied, the fewer the options you have, both in thought and deed. There’s a reason that shame and banishment have always been very effective behavior controls. Both are in full technological use today. No matter where you lie on the broad gray spectrum of opinion, opposing censorship is worth the fight.