By Richelle Wagner
A response to Jonathan Haidt’s Atlantic article, where he argues for criminalizing online anonymity, for the sake of “saving democracy,” aka protecting the system from accounts like LibsOfTikTok.
Jonathan Haidt, in his article “Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid,” is nostalgic for the past before social media allowed us plebs to freely communicate with each other on social media. Our propensity to form mobs of like-minded political communities, share news stories that outrage us, and, shockingly, affect the outcome of elections. How dare we? Who do we think we are? We are obviously too stupid to be allowed such power. After all, we even share dangerous information about vaccines, not that the information is inaccurate, but that it leads us to behave in ways the ruling elite don’t approve of.
According to Haidt, we need the government to regulate social media to…save democracy. What does that even mean? What is democracy, and why does it need saving, and why should we save it? Democracy is the principle that the population should be allowed to vote for things, sometimes referendums, but usually for lying politicians. In order to “save democracy” our beliefs need to be carefully controlled by manicured media so that we don’t make the wrong decision in the voting booth, aka voting for Donald Trump.
If we are actually talking about democracy, nothing needs to save it, as long as we continue to have the right to vote. Unfortunately, hardly anyone is suggesting we do away with democracy. So what does he really mean? Well, he means the old order needs to be saved, and the establishment elite needs to be protected from the whims of the unwashed masses. After all, people are stupid, too stupid to think about the long-term consequences of their political decisions, and far too foolish to discern fake news. We need to stick to the tried and true way of sitting quietly all facing the front while a teacher/professor/news anchor/etc tells us what the truth is. Unapproved facts may lie in large tomes collecting dust on bookshelves, but the masses can’t be permitted to put those heretical notions into easy-to-consume soundbites and share them with each other. That would be dangerous.
The ruling elite has had this problem before. They used to deal with Tavern culture, where men got together and drank and debated politics. And during the day intellectuals got together in coffee shops to do the same. The invention of the printing press allowed anyone, regardless of credentials, to write a pamphlet and it could be printed and reprinted by any unregulated printing press. The pamphlet “Common Sense” was published anonymously and went viral, leading to the revolutionary war. The Monarchy needed saving from the press. Luckily they got us to adopt the social norm that it’s taboo to talk about politics. “Don’t talk about GRAPE: Guns, religion, abortion, politics, economics.” the old adage goes. My grandparents remind me of this on Facebook often. Even with family, the older generation clams up about these issues, an effective way to get people to self-censor. This allows for the illusion that the approved opinion on TV and in the newspapers is universally accepted.
The current order allows our ruling elite to operate in an ivory tower of top universities, media companies, and government agencies. They don’t actually want democracy, the peasants are not educated enough to be trusted to rule the country, they only want the illusion of democracy. They want citizens confidently going about their lives content that their society is ruled by the people, for the people. That’s why Haidt keeps harping on how people need to have trust in the institutions. He’s not concerned with the institutions actually being trustworthy, no, just that they have the illusion of trustworthiness. And when we communicate with each other, without an official talking head filtering reality, that’s when they get nervous.
If the ruling elite actually did a good job ruling us, we wouldn’t really care. We would let them shave a percentage off the top, making themselves wealthy, but as long as our lives were also improving, and society operated more or less smoothly, we would find less contentious things to spend our time talking about. But they didn’t keep up their end of the social contract. They took advantage, got cocky, brazenly bailed out big corporations, made costs of necessities skyrocket, and badly mismanaged every aspect of civilization. The pandemic shows how little they actually care about us, and how they are not only malicious but also terrible at hiding it.
Podcasters like Joe Rogan are now more influential than major TV channels like CNN and newspapers like The New York Times. They are freaking out about their loss of control of the population’s minds, and rightfully so. They are headed to some dangerous territory. We saw a glimpse of it on Jan 6th. They want to exert CCP levels of control over our media, but they need to get our buy-in first because we do have some democracy that isn’t completely fake. So they use Jonathan Haidt, a champion for campus free speech, to convince conservatives that they need to be calm, rational, and compromise with liberals to bring regulations to social media, to restore order and sanity to society.
Don’t fall for it. We don’t need to restrict people’s access to ideas, we need to do away with coercive government.
Here’s the most important bit of Haidt’s very long article, the hidden nugget of what he’s really trying to persuade you to let them do:
“Banks and other industries have ‘know your customer’ rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises.” Which is mostly to prevent people from avoiding taxes, or paying taxes on money made without government permission. Elites love to justify a new law with an already existing bad law, which violates our 4th amendment right to privacy, by the way.
“Large social-media platforms should be required to do the same. That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym.” Like how “LibsOfTikTok” was an anonymous account? How did that reporter get her name and address, anyway? We need more anonymity, not less.
“It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify…” By obligation, he means they have to do it under the threat of men with guns coming to arrest them and/or confiscate their property. How would the founding fathers have responded to a decree from King George that every printing press verifies the identity of its authors before printing? If the colonists had complied, (they wouldn’t have) Thomas Paine would have probably kept quiet and never sent “Common Sense” to be published, for fear of violent retribution.
“It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally.” I love how he lumps racist speech and trolling in with death and rape threats. Don’t worry folks, they won’t start passing speech laws like in the UK, Australia, and Canada and start arresting people for things they say online. We can totally trust them.
“In any case, the growing evidence that social media is damaging democracy is sufficient to warrant greater oversight by a regulatory body, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.” Remember, “damaging democracy” is newspeak for upsetting the established order. Doesn’t that seem like a violation of the 1st amendment?
It’s funny to imagine Jonathan Haidt, with his professor suit, going door to door collecting IDs from internet users and verifying their online accounts. Even if he asked very nicely I can’t imagine many people would hand over their driver’s license for scanning “for the good of democracy” like good obedient citizens. No, he would get the door slammed in his face. That’s why he wants the government to do it.
It’s not good PR for government enforcers, with bulletproof vests, packing heat, to go door to door doing ID checks. That would lead to an outrage mob of Facebook shares and Twitter retweets! The horror! No, they can’t do that, that’s why they want to compel the tech companies to do it for them, making the coercion less obvious.
What if Elon Musk succeeds in buying Twitter, and then a law like this is actually passed? It could happen, the Republicans also want this in the name of protecting children. Would Musk comply? Or would he risk everything to go toe to toe with the federal government? He has a lot to lose, would he be willing to risk his mission to Mars to fight for his free speech principles? The government could take away his special rocket launching privileges as Florida did to Disney.
The more the people realize they are being oppressed, the more control the government needs to exert to maintain control, making it even more obvious to people that the ruling elite is not doing this for our benefit. They really really want us to believe they’re just trying to help us, that it’s “for the children” or “to save democracy” and a good number will go along with that because they are so brainwashed by legacy education and media. But the mask is slipping, and the man behind the curtain will be exposed. These people are not that smart, they aren’t that capable, and the only thing they have going for them is their willingness to use violence against peaceful people, which will ultimately be their undoing.
On the surface we are supposed to look at democracy as a feel-good, let’s hold hands and sing kumbaya moment where informed citizens vote, giving their consent to be governed by a benevolent state. But the reality is that voting is a proxy for a battle, waged for control of a super-powerful state that can throw anyone in jail for almost any reason, including protesting with a mask in January 2020 and for protesting without a mask in September of the same year. The more dangerous this institution becomes to us, the more money and energy we’re willing to put into fighting for control over it.
The answer is to call a truce and agree to stop throwing each other in prison for stupid reasons. We need to learn to tolerate each other and stop going to daddy governments to solve every problem. But Haidt isn’t honest enough for that, he’s part of the establishment and has vested interests in keeping his ivory tower still standing. He wants us to just settle down and put on the yolk like good little domesticated tax cattle. Let him and his friends decide what information is safe for our tiny little heads.
“But what will we replace it with?” concerned citizens inquire. A system where people are free to choose which government they want to be a part of, not collectively like in democracy, but individually like church membership. If you want to join you can, if you don’t that’s cool too. Nobody should be forcing you to fund education, healthcare, or welfare systems you don’t agree with. Nobody should be forcing you to comply with a set of rules so long and invasive people need teams of lawyers to even figure out what they are. People tend to forget that citizens comply with these demands because they are afraid to be thrown in prison and/or have their property confiscated, not because they agree with their goodness.
That’s why people get so upset about politics. We can’t just have a dispassionate conversation about which set of rules would work better like we can discuss our favorite flavor of ice cream. No one is going to arrest us if we eat the wrong ice cream unless we lick it and put it back. If we take medication without permission from the government we will be arrested. If a doctor says something the government doesn’t like he will lose his license, and if he continues to practice medicine anyway he will be arrested. The spa is legally compelled to permit the registered sex offender to flash “her” penis to women and girls.
These elections are serious business that determines who has nominal control of the leviathan that affects all aspects of our lives. Obviously, we’re going to get upset about it, share news stories that outrage us, stories of the opposing political party behaving badly. It is only logical that we are concerned with what our fellow citizens believe politically. The anti-free speech people do have a grain of truth to their argument, most political speech is, at its core, incitement to violence, it just uses the government as the aggressor. There is a twinge of self-defense in stopping the speech of your political enemies.
Why are we even sharing a society when we don’t agree on very basic things? We’ve had it drilled into our heads via the pledge of allegiance “One nation…indivisible” after the civil war decided that states shouldn’t be allowed to secede from the union. But why? Why do we all have to be under the same system? We don’t share anything in common except for our geographical location, which is freakishly large, by the way. If it’s good to break up monopolistic companies, why shouldn’t we break up a monopoly on violence from sea to shining sea?
I propose we break up into two, or 50, or thousands of separate, self-governing communities; a national divorce. You do your thing and I’ll do mine, we can do business, but don’t coercively impose your culture on me. Doesn’t that sound nice? Sounds better to me than putting the blinders back on, like the workhorses they think we are.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Liberty Block or any of its members. We welcome all forms of serious feedback and debate.
Read more of Richelle Wagner’s work at MoralGovernment.Substack.com