The end of liberty? 7

“You are all, every one of you human beings living on this earth, threatened by an overwhelming disaster. It is coming for sure. It will mean the end of most of you, a painful end, and acutely difficult conditions for any survivors.”

“Oh, how dreadful! Can nothing be done to prevent it? Can it be mitigated? Can it be postponed? Does anyone have an answer?”

“Well, there are experts who understand this Thing. And yes, they do say that it can be mitigated. But it will take concerted effort. All of you, every single one of you, must join together and agree to take the action that the experts say is essential if you are to stand a chance of surviving and ever finding life tolerable again. Obey the experts implicitly, do what Those Who Know say you must do, tolerate no dissenters, backsliders, rebels, drop-outs, deniers, and there is a chance that the worst effects of this horror can be averted.

“We are the experts. Put yourselves totally in our hands. Do what we say without question. Do that, or suffer and perish.”

“But what is this horror? What is its nature? What is it called?” 

“It is called Global Warming. The earth is heating up and will become so intolerably hot that billions of you will die because YOU have damaged it with your so-called ‘civilized’ way of life, your industrial development, your reckless consumption of resources, your cars and aircraft, your begetting too many children so you have over-populated the planet –  in sum, with your selfish self-indulgence that you like to praise as the freedom to say and do just as you like.

“From now on, put yourselves in our hands, let us rule you, obey us in all things, and we will save you.”

That has been the message from Those Who Know – aka the collectivist Left – for some time now. But it hasn’t worked.

“We don’t believe the earth is burning up. We like our civilization. We still want the freedom to say and do just as we like.” 

But Those Who Know have not finished with their mission to put a stop to that. They speak again:

“We were not telling you everything. There is something worse than Global Warming. There is a Sickness so terrible that it will infect 80% of the world’s population and kill millions. Each and every one of you is threatened by it. You might save yourselves if you all obey us. Now close your businesses. Do not gather together. Keep well apart from each other. If you are sick with any but The Sickness do not seek medical help. If you see any of your neighbors doing anything to defy our rules, inform the police. The police are instructed to arrest the disobedient. Get used to doing what we tell you to do …”

And this time it nearly worked.

We obeyed. We regret that we did. Many among us are the poorer for it, some to the point of despair – and it turns out that The Sickness would not infect 80% of the world’s population. Or even 1%?

So what will be the outcome of this extraordinary historical episode? 

Some of us in America trust President Trump to restore our prosperity.

Some of us in America feel that we have had a taste of totalitarianism, of a police state, of socialism. And it has been horrible. We never again want the heavy hand of tyrannical government holding us down. From now on we want more liberty not less. 

Then there are those – on the Left, of course – who want to build on the success of the Great Obedience. Those Who Know are raising their voices louder than ever.  Only world government will save us, they say. Only socialist world government. A borderless world. The end of the nation-state. The end of the “nuclear family”. The end of private ownership. No great industries. Little travel, only by or with the permission of Those Who Know. The whole Green New Deal. And the end of liberty.

But hasn’t it been shown that not enough can be known for central planning to work?

“Ah,” say Those Who Know, “that used to be the case. Now we can know everything about every one of you. Because we have the Internet.”

Here are extracts are from an article in The Atlantic written by two professors of Law: Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School and a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution [!] who was also an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration; and Andrew Keane Woods, a professor at the University of Arizona College of Law.

The trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.

In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.

Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet, and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values.

Who decides what they are?  Those Who Know, of course – who will be the government.

Ten years ago, speech on the American Internet was a free-for-all. There was relatively little monitoring and censorship—public or private—of what people posted, said, or did on Facebook, YouTube, and other sites. In part, this was due to the legal immunity that platforms enjoyed under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. And in part it was because the socially disruptive effects of digital networks—various forms of weaponized speech and misinformation—had not yet emerged. As the networks became filled with bullying, harassment, child sexual exploitation, revenge porn, disinformation campaigns, digitally manipulated videos, and other forms of harmful content, private platforms faced growing pressure from governments and users to fix the problems.

Actually, there was no crisis of free speech. There can be no such thing as a crisis of free speech.

The result a decade later is that most of our online speech now occurs in closely monitored playpens where many tens of thousands of human censors review flagged content to ensure compliance with ever-lengthier and more detailed “community standards” (or some equivalent). More and more, this human monitoring and censorship is supported—or replaced—by sophisticated [?] computer algorithms. The firms use these tools to define acceptable forms of speech and other content on their platforms, which in turn sets the effective boundaries for a great deal of speech in the U.S. public forum.

After the 2016 election debacle [the alleged interference by Russia], for example, the tech platforms took aggressive but still imperfect steps to fend off foreign adversaries. YouTube has an aggressive policy of removing what it deems to be deceptive practices and foreign-influence operations related to elections. It also makes judgments about and gives priority to what it calls “authoritative voices”. Facebook has deployed a multipronged strategy that includes removing fake accounts and eliminating or demoting “inauthentic behavior”. Twitter has a similar censorship policy aimed at “platform manipulation originating from bad-faith actors located in countries outside of the US”.  These platforms have engaged in “strategic collaboration” with the federal government, including by sharing information, to fight foreign electoral interference. …

Facebook, for example, also takes down hate speech

A “crime” invented by the Left and applying only to speech antagonistic to itself …

… terrorist propaganda, “cruel and insensitive” speech, and bullying speech, which are harder to identify objectively and more controversial to regulate or remove.

Yes. But objective judgment is not wanted by Those Who Know.

All these developments have taken place under pressure from Washington and Brussels.

From Washington? From the Trump administration? Or from the Deep State?

In hearings over the past few years, Congress has criticized the companies—not always in consistent ways—for allowing harmful speech. In 2018, Congress amended the previously untouchable Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to subject the platforms to the same liability that nondigital outlets face for enabling illegal sex trafficking. Additional amendments to Section 230 are now in the offing, as are various other threats to regulate digital speech. …

Against this background, the tech firms’ downgrading and outright censorship of speech related to COVID-19 are not large steps.  ..

 As in other contexts, Facebook relies on fact-checking organizations and “authorities” (from the World Health Organization to the governments of U.S. states) to ascertain which content to downgrade or remove.

The iniquitous, corrupt, lying WHO – obedient to the Communist Party of China – relied on as a trustworthy fact-checker!

What is different about speech regulation related to COVID-19 is the context: The problem is huge and the stakes are very high. But when the crisis is gone, there is no unregulated “normal” to return to.

We live—and for several years, we have been living—in a world of serious and growing harms resulting from digital speech. Governments will not stop worrying about these harms.

Which governments?

And private platforms will continue to expand their definition of offensive content …

“Offensive” according to the prejudices of the owners …

… and will use algorithms to regulate it ever more closely. The general trend toward more speech control will not abate.

And in addition to the Internet, “we have many other mechanisms for watching you”.

Over the past decade, network surveillance has grown in roughly the same proportion as speech control. Indeed, on many platforms, ubiquitous surveillance is a prerequisite to speech control.

The public has been told over and over that the hundreds of computers we interact with daily—smartphones, laptops, desktops, automobiles, cameras, audio recorders, payment mechanisms, and more—collect, emit, and analyze data about us that are, in turn, packaged and exploited in various ways to influence and control our lives. We have also learned a lot—but surely not the whole picture—about the extent to which governments exploit this gargantuan pool of data.

Police use subpoenas to tap into huge warehouses of personal data collected by private companies. They have used these tools to gain access to doorbell cameras that now line city blocks, microphones in the Alexa devices in millions of homes, privately owned license-plate readers that track every car, and the data in DNA databases that people voluntarily pay to enter. They also get access to information collected on smart-home devices and home-surveillance cameras—a growing share of which are capable of facial recognition—to solve crimes. And they pay to access private tow trucks equipped with cameras tracking the movements of cars throughout a city. …

The harms from digital speech will also continue to grow, as will speech controls on these networks. And invariably, government involvement will grow. At the moment, the private sector is making most of the important decisions, though often under government pressure. But … the firms may not be able to regulate speech legitimately without heavier government guidance and involvement. It is also unclear whether, for example, the companies can adequately contain foreign misinformation and prevent digital tampering with voting mechanisms without more government surveillance.

The First and Fourth Amendments as currently interpreted, and the American aversion to excessive government-private-sector collaboration, have stood as barriers to greater government involvement. Americans’ understanding of these laws, and the cultural norms they spawned, will be tested as the social costs of a relatively open internet multiply.

COVID-19 is a window into these future struggles. …

And a door into world socialist totalitarian government?

Which will force a reversion to primitivism? A highly sophisticated, technological primitivism. Primitivism-plus-the-internet. The simple life, highly regimented, constantly surveilled by Those Who Know.

The loss of civilization.

The end of liberty.