On Twitter, Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others

“There continues to be meaningful public conversation about how we think about Tweets from world leaders on our service,” begins a post at the micro-blogging service’s non-micro-blog.

In summary, certain Super Very Important Special People (“world leaders”) are exempt from Twitter’s rules, but henceforth Regular Normal Completely Unimportant People (like you and me) are subject to new rules. We can’t like, reply, share or retweet rules-violating tweets from Super Very Important Special People.

“We understand the desire for our decisions to be ‘yes/no’ binaries,” the blog post continues, “but it’s not that simple …. Our goal is to enforce our rules judiciously and impartially.”

Well, yes, it is that simple. Impartiality in rules is the exact opposite of  dividing Twitter users into two classes, one of  them subject to the rules, one of them not.

In their great and unmatched wisdom, Twitter’s owners have over time moved to police speech on their platform in various ways.

They don’t HAVE to do that, at least in the US — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects them from legal liability for user-created content under most circumstances.

There’s not even any particularly good reason to police user content, since the service’s “block” option allows users to ignore (by not seeing) content from other users whose opinions or language offend.

But hey,  OK, fine — Twitter is a privately owned service, not a public square, and its owners are entitled to set any rules they care to set for its use.

On the other hand, it’s neither judicious nor impartial to make some rules, then announce exemptions from those rules for Super Very Important Special People while heaping new rules on Normal Completely Unimportant People to keep us from acting like Super Very Important Special People.

Not judicious. Not impartial. In fact, pretty [insert your preferred non-newspaper-safe expletive here] offensive.

The Super Very Important Special People already have their own bully pulpits from which to yell anything they like and be heard and obeyed. We Normal Completely Unimportant People don’t get to hold press conferences in front of news cameras on the White House lawn in Washington, or on the front stoop at 10 Downing Street in London, or on the steps of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Twitter keeps making itself less useful to most of us in order to curry favor with a few. That’s not just injudicious and partial, it’s a bad business plan.

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Instead of Explaining Greta Thunberg, Debate Her Claims

What is Greta Thunberg’s superpower?

She obviously has one, if not more. Your average sixteen-year-old doesn’t start successful global activist movements,  address UN Climate Action Summits, and have those addresses go viral as death metal videos.

Critics slam Thunberg as everything from “mentally ill” (a claim which got one Fox News guest blacklisted),  to naive pawn in a well-funded propaganda operation, to just plain annoying teenager.

I think those critics miss the point. If they disagree on the facts, they should dispute those facts rather than focus on Thunberg at all. But since the focus IS on her, let’s take a closer look.

Thunberg herself describes her autism-related diagnoses as among the aforementioned superpowers. “I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism,” she said in a TEDx Talk. “That basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.”

Thunberg as pawn isn’t as dismissive as it sounds, but it doesn’t ring very true either. Yes, she and her efforts enjoy support from well-funded organizations and individuals, but there’s no reason to believe they randomly plucked her from the global mass of teenagers and set her in motion.  She attracted their notice by taking action. They didn’t make a winner, they saw a winner and decided to bet big on that winner.

As for her age, that’s a double-edged sword. Her supporters can position her as wise beyond her years, her opponents as too young to yet possess wisdom at all.

Personally, I think Thunberg’s superpower is that she’s a great actor.

No, that’s not intended as an insult. And no, I’m not just pulling the idea out of thin air.

She comes from a theatrical family. Her mother’s an opera singer. Her father’s an actor. Her grandfather’s an actor and director. She’s spent her entire life surrounded by the idea of performance as primary.

Formally trained or not, naturally gifted or not, she’s clearly mastered the art of holding an audience’s attention while she tells us what she thinks we need to hear.

So: IS what she’s telling us what we need to hear? Does she have her facts straight? Is her understanding of the science accurate? Are the models she trusts for climate predictions sound?

With or without Greta Thunberg, those are the questions we need answers to.

Someone hand the lady her Oscar and let’s get back to work.

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Statists Want You to Believe You’re Stupid

Statists want you to believe you aren’t smart enough to know how to solve problems. They say you have to trust the president or congress or the city council to do what’s necessary because you can’t possibly understand the issues. You don’t see “The Big Picture”* and don’t understand “how these things work”.

How convenient for them.

Erich Fromm had something to say about this vulgar lie:

“One kind of smokescreen is that the problems are too complicated for the average individual to grasp. On the contrary it would seem that many of the basic issues of individual and social life are very simple, so simple. in fact, that everyone should be expected to understand them. To let them appear to be so enormously complicated that only a “specialist” can understand them, and he only in his limited field, actually– and often intentionally– tends to discourage people from trusting their own capacity to think about those problems that really matter. The individual feels hopelessly caught in a chaotic mass of data and with pathetic patience waits until the specialists have found out what to do and where to go.” — Escape from Freedom

I see statists use this tactic all the time.

  • You can’t understand why it’s not a good idea to get rid of all anti-gun “laws” because you don’t have the wisdom and experience of the police unions, the BATFEces, the FBI, or federal judges. It’s simplistic to believe you can be responsible for yourself and that an armed populace would deter archation.
  • You can’t understand the nuances of “border security” because you aren’t an expert. You can’t just respect all property rights (including ending all welfare) and respect the right of defense– it would be chaos.
  • You’re not a scientist so you can’t understand the data pointing to Climate Change. Trust the experts to tell you what you’ll have to do to avoid this disaster they say is coming.

Statists need to make you believe the world is too complicated for individuals to understand. Otherwise, you might realize you don’t need their god to save you. So they constantly order you to “leave it to the professionals who know best“. They constantly insult you and your intelligence. They get paternalistic and condescending as they assure you “government knows best”.

Don’t be so uppity as to notice that their “professionals” and “experts” are always on the side of violating YOUR natural human rights and imposing more control over YOUR life.

Yeah, the world is complex. But if the average human can’t understand it, clumping sub-average humans together in a gang you call “government” isn’t going to magically give them superhuman abilities. Quite the opposite. I’ll trust the spontaneous order arising from the self-interested actions of free individuals before I trust the “wisdom” of monopolistic government being imposed on everyone.

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*I once worked for a business that I saw doing really dumb, self-destructive things on orders from the manager. Being a good employee who wanted to see the business thrive, I told this manager what I thought and his standard response was that I didn’t see “The Big Picture” that only he could see.

I swear I didn’t say “I told you so” every time the things I warned him of came to pass.

But I sure did think it a lot.

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The Wheat and Tares Grow Up Together: Morality and Judging Historical Eras

Is the 21st century a time of great moral progress? Or is it a time of decadence? Ask different people and you’ll get different answers. In my view, the answer is “both.”

On one hand, humans are progressing. The internet and software are breaking down barriers between people and people groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other great prejudices (at least in their traditional forms) are losing their entrenched hold on the human mind. Individual humans can be freer, more creative, and more generous than ever before.

On the other hand, humans are regressing. We’re putting more and more faith in centralized governments (contrary to the lessons of the 20th century) and giving up more freedom and responsibility. We’re abandoning our commitments to friends, family, and ideas of honor and the sacred. We’re allowing ourselves to be addicted by digital stimulants from porn and video games to news feeds and notifications.

We like to be able to put simple moral judgments on historical eras, and every era presents difficulties for the person who wants to put simple labels of “good” or “bad”, “progressive” or “regressive” on any time in human history.

Jesus once told a parable which amateur cultural and historical judges (like me) should consider:

He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

Now Jesus wasn’t talking about historical eras, but the metaphor of the wheat and the tares (the King James version of weeds) is a good one.

In any and every time, no matter how much we idealize or condemn, there is always wheat, and there are always weeds. The 16th century had exploration and cultural renaissance, but it also had religious warfare and barbaric tortures. The 19th century had abolitionism and industrialism, but it also had colonialism and imperialism. The 1st century had Stoicism and Christianity, but it also had mad emperors and slavery.

For all of these eras and all times (including our own), it does us good to remember the command to “[Let] them (wheat and weeds) grow up until harvest.” I read this as a metaphor for the wisdom of reserving blanket judgment.

We may one day be able to say that the centuries in our rearview were “good” or “bad.” But the harvest of consequence has not yet happened for the 21st century, and it’s hard to say that the harvests of the 19th and 20th are fully ripe, either. It is too soon to judge. Let time do that. In the meantime, resist the urge either to burn the fields or to swallow the weeds.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Erich Fromm on “The Authoritarian Character”

While reading a couple of days ago, I ran into a passage that resonated with me and seemed very timely:

Not only the forces that determine one’s own life directly but also those that seem to determine life in general are felt as unchangeable fate. It is fate that there are wars and that one part of mankind has to be ruled by another. It is fate that the amount of suffering can never be less than it always has been. Fate may be rationalized philosophically as “natural law” or as “destiny of man,” religiously as the “will of the Lord,” ethically as “duty”– for the authoritarian character it is always a higher power outside of the individual, toward which the individual can do nothing but submit. The authoritarian character worships the past. What has been, will eternally be. To wish or to work for something that has not yet been before is crime or madness. (Added emphasis is mine) ~  Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm

That passage is from a part of the book where he is describing how masochism and sadism are embraced by some as a way to avoid the isolation of freedom*. The authoritarian character, as he calls it, is sado-masochistic. It seeks out ways to suffer to distract itself from the scary aspects of freedom, and it likes to make sure others suffer along with it.

I see the above traits of the authoritarian character, especially the parts I emphasized, in almost everyone who is promoting statism. You can see it in FB posts, in YouTube comments, in comments left on this blog. and anywhere a no-compromise libertarian point is made. I’ve come to recognize and expect this tack, yet was surprised to see it– and see it explained so clearly– in a book from 1941.

I don’t agree with Fromm on everything. I think he made good observations but came to an erroneous conclusion.

He was a supporter of toxic authoritarianism when he obviously– from his own observations– should have known better. Why? Maybe he was just genetically inclined that way. Maybe he wasn’t able to rise above his early brainwashing. But who knows?

You can find truth and wisdom in anyone’s words if you look, even if they are wrong about everything else.

I realize I apparently lack the brain software that makes some fear the “isolation” of freedom. Even though I usually feel isolated due to all sorts of other things, I don’t mistake those things for freedom. That’s like blaming your good health for your fear that you might someday get a disease.

*Fromm uses the word “freedom” (inconsistently, but at least part of the time) for the concept I call “liberty” but that doesn’t alter the truth of these words.

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