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Displaying posts with tag Censorship.Reset Filter
Life and Liberty
Public post

Optimism for Liberty

Browsing through a single day’s worth of articles on the libertarian website is enough to confront one with a smorgasbord of despair:
  • The bankruptcy of Western nations and their collapsing economies;
  • Increasing wars and overseas intervention;
  • Desperation to maintain Western-led hegemony;
  • Increased state censorship and invasion of privacy;
  • The dangers of state-sponsored medicine and disease control;
  • Digital enslavement;
  • The lack of integrity of the political class; official lies and corruption.

The website – amongst the best read of all libertarian websites in the world – is almost unique in its unfailing commitment to draw attention to many of these important aspects. But it is difficult to quell a swelling of pessimism when faced with this kind of line up.
Nevertheless, it is vital not to lose optimism in the face of such adversity. And while it may seem that the noose of retrogression into tyranny and oppression is tightening its stranglehold on the average citizen, there are several key reasons for us to remain optimistic.
The first is that – in spite of the increased efforts of censorship and “cancel culture” – it is far easier to disseminate alternative ideas and information today than it was just a generation ago. True enough, the dominance of “big tech” and traditional media outlets may mean that such ideas seldom come to the direct attention of the masses. But they can can be obtained within seconds from any corner of the globe by those who are prepared to look for them.
We must remember, of course, that technological development is not the be all and end all. After all, digitisation and instant communication in particular are in the process of being deployed in the service of regimentation and control as much as freedom. Moreover, a specific problem with the internet is that people can go looking for the answers they want rather than for the truth. Ultimately, whether technology is beneficial depends upon whether the people that use it are motivated towards good or towards ill.
Nevertheless, now that it is out of the bag, it is unlikely that the relative increase in the freedom of information will ever be brought entirely back under the thumb of the establishment/mainstream in quite the same way as it was before. Indeed, the very reason that the state and its big tech minions have had to resort to beavering efforts at censorship is because the truth is now something that they are struggling to keep a lid on. In fact, these efforts often have the opposite effect from that intended. For instance, anything debunked by a comical “fact checker” is fast becoming a marker for something that the state doesn’t want you to know.
The second and more important reason, however, is that – in spite of an accelerating cost of living crisis – we are still enjoying an extraordinarily high standard of living. In spite of the plunder and pillage of more than a century of marching statism, we are clearly not living in the Stone Age. Indeed, it is reasonable to characterise the relative descent of Western civilisation as being one into a state of “luxury barbarism” – cultural and spiritual depravity in a milieu of relative, material prosperity.
The achievement of this level of prosperity is unique in human history. Whereas pre-industrial generations could only accept their meagre lot in life, it is difficult to comprehend how this attitude could be repeated today. For the average Western citizen in 2022 lives far more luxuriantly than did a king of the Middle Ages. Not only is our time that of the PC, the iPhone, and other gadgets but also of such "humbler" wonders such as cars, refrigerators, supermarkets stacked full of food, clothes shops, and an almost endless array of products that can be bought from some outlet somewhere for a relatively modest (if now increasing) price. Critically, however, these items are not viewed as luxuries. Rather, they appear to us almost as a phenomenon of nature, a given. Indeed, the common suggestion that people should have “rights” to food, housing, healthcare, clean drinking water and so on is, however misguided, a demonstration of this attitude.
This standard of living requires the maintenance and growth of its underlying capital structure – all of the machines, tools and factories that are used to produce everything that we want to a buy at a high enough volume to make them affordable. As we know from "Austrian" economics, this structure can be produced and nurtured only under a regime of private property and free exchange. In spite of an assault from all sides, both practically and ideologically, it is because this order has remained relatively intact that its productive tendency has often been able to mask much of the statist rot. During the 1920s, for instance, productivity was so high that prices still managed to decline in the face of excessive increases of the money supply. And even today the fact that the world still holds together suggests that capitalism and freedom are, for the most part, still working as best as they can.
The upshot of this is that the elites’ room to manoeuvre in effecting grand, societal transformations towards some kind of different order may be altogether rather limited.
For one thing, it is doubtful that building and maintaining the infrastructure required to run their own digital gulag could be accomplished without leaving the productive capacity of the economy relatively intact.
Second, their own standards of living are now dependent on goods and services which, in turn, rely on a high degree of capital accumulation stretching back through many stages of production. Corporate jets aren’t assembled out of nowhere (Leonard Read’s I, Pencil shows how even the simplest of goods relies upon a fiendishly complex chain of production). It cannot simply be the case that they could achieve a transition to a more centrally controlled economy while guaranteeing that their own luxuries would remain easily available. Indeed, one of the reasons why socialism has always been born out of capitalism is because it is only when free individuals are able to become so productive that the state has a source of wealth for it to confiscate. Once that wealth runs out, even the state’s apparatchiks can become disillusioned with the system.
And finally, when people have become accustomed to living as they do, then it is difficult for the power hungry to tread a path that would severely diminish that standard of living. This does not mean to say that such a policy will be not be pursued, nor does it suggest that people will not clamour to the existing elites for “solutions”. But it is an extremely risky path to tread, not because people will necessarily storm the parliament buildings with pitchforks and torches, but because it makes people receptive to other ideas that could solve the problem. As such, the elite control over the narrative becomes vulnerable, particular if people are willing to search for other answers. Indeed, we have seen this happen twice already before the present crises even got going: with the vote for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President.[1]
In fact, it is each of these events that likely led to elite panic, waking them up to the fact that they are not as in control as they thought they were. There is no reason why, as things get worse, these kinds of victory cannot be repeated. It may be the case that these elites have a stranglehold over the top echelons of government, industry and commerce so as to ossify the official business of public policy making. But in the long run, every regime, at any time and place, cannot survive without at least the passive acceptance of the majority of the population it claims to rule.
For this reason, therefore, I remain a relative, if cautious, optimist for the cause of freedom and prosperity in the long term. Cautious because, even though any plans for global socialism will not succeed in the long run, the attempt to make them work can cause a terrifying amount of damage in its own right. But I am optimistic in that the capitalistic structure of the Western world is still mostly all there, and that - fingers crossed - our "leaders" will be forced to abandon plans for any radical transformation long before any major collapse.

[1] Such a search is not limited to alternative economic ideas. It is quite possible that the entirety of secular liberalism will be brought into question, prompting something of a religious or spiritual revival. Indeed, such a revival may be essential to secure a firmer foundation towards the rejuvenation of a freer world.
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Life and Liberty
Public post

The Timeless Yearning for Censorship

Excerpted from Socialism [1], by Ludwig von Mises:
Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Lord and Lady Passfield) tell us that 'in any corporate action a loyal unity of thought is so important that, if anything is to be achieved, public discussion must be suspended between the promulgation of the decision and the accomplishment of the task'. Whilst 'the work is in progress' any expression of doubt, or even of fear that the plan will not be successful, is 'an act of disloyalty, or even of treachery'. Now as the process of production never ceases and some work is always in progress and there is always something to be achieved, it follows that a socialist government must never concede any freedom of speech and the press. 'A loyal unity of thought', what a high-sounding circumlocution for the ideals of Philip II and the inquisition! In this regard another eminent admirer of the Soviets, Mr. T. G. Crowther, speaks without any reserve. He plainly declares that inquisition is 'beneficial to science when it protects a rising class', i.e., when Mr. Crowther's friends resort to it. Hundreds of similar dicta could be quoted.

In the Victorian age, when John Stuart Mill wrote his essay On Liberty, such views as those held by Professor Laski, Mr. and Mrs. Webb and Mr. Crowther were called reactionary. Today they are called 'progressive' and 'liberal'. On the other hand people who oppose the suspension of parliamentary government and of the freedom of speech and the press and the establishment of inquisition are scorned as 'reactionaries', as 'economic royalists' and as 'Fascists'.[2]

These words were penned the best part of a century ago. When surveying the persecution of those who deviate from the official and accepted narratives of today while fighting for traditional rights, perhaps our current era is not so unique.
The man who clings to Socialism will continue to ascribe all the world's evil to private property and to expect salvation from Socialism. Socialists ascribe the failures of Russian Bolshevism to every circumstance except the inadequacy of the system.[3]

Decades later, communism is still the noble experiment that just happened to go wrong.

[1] Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, Yale University Press (1962).
[2] Ibid., 539-40 [footnotes removed].
[3] Ibid., 507.
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Life and Liberty
Public post

Fake News and Fake Facts

Getting to the Heart of "Misinformation"

The war on so-called “misinformation” has been ramped up lately with the (mercifully short-lived) introduction of what has been dubbed the Biden Administration’s “Ministry of Truth”. Across the pond, the UK’s Online Safety Bill – which would require social media firms to police “legal but harmful content” – recently received its second reading in the House of Commons, while the EU’s Digital Service’s Act is also threatening to break out of its chrysalis. The big irony, of course, is that the state itself is the biggest purveyor of falsehoods. The only reason it needs to curb the free dissemination of ideas is not to crush lies but to crush inconvenient truths.
Many readers are likely to be under the impression that the essence of fake news is the misreporting of facts. Such a view is amplified by the beavering of so-called “fact checkers”, whose purpose seems to be to smother any statement that the regime happens not to like.
Facts can, of course, be disputed. It would be a mistake to assume, however, that outright lies are the most insidious sources of false impressions. If uncomfortable, undeniable facts happen to crop up, the state and its big tech minions are just as likely to ignore and censor them rather than to lie about them. What matters more is the fostering of false narratives. Such an endeavour depends not on the accuracy of facts themselves but on how those facts are selected, presented, ordered and described. Indeed, the same set of agreed facts can be used to tell completely different stories.
To take a simple, fictitious example, say that US President Joe Biden – for a reason that cannot be established – is unable to accept a phone call from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Now consider the following, possible headlines with which media outlets could report this occurrence:
  • “Communication Difficulties Hamper Biden and Boris Talks.”
  • “Biden Hangs Up on Boris.”
  • “Has BoJo been Snubbed?”
  • “White House Falls Out with Downing Street?”
  • “Bumbling Biden Latest: Can President not Even Pick up a Phone?”

Each of these hypothetical headlines is reporting essentially the same fact, yet they are each designed to convey an entirely different impression.
The first – the most apparently neutral of the five – suggests that the cause was technical in nature. But the author is still attempting to instil a particular stance: that the leaders are eager to work with each other but their mutually agreed ambitions have simply been frustrated. Thus, what appears impartial with regards to the individuals concerned is still trying to lend its readers a specific impression.
Headlines two and three, on the other hand, are eager to put Boris Johnson in a bad light. Two is feigning neutrality, given that there could be any number of reasons for one person to “hang up” on another. However, highlighting the fact that Johnson was the one denied a hearing is clearly designed to put him at a disadvantage. Headline three is more blatant, suggesting that Johnson has managed to fall out with the American president, or – worse – is simply not worthy of the latter’s time.
The fourth and fifth headlines, though, focus the spotlight on Biden and why he was not able to take the call. Once again, the first of these is attempting to appear neutral. However, by making the “White House” the subject of the sentence, the impression created is that it is the American who has angered the Briton. Thus it is the latter who is calling the shots. Headline Five pulls fewer punches, speculating upon Biden’s physical and/or mental infirmity as the reason for the missed phone call – highlighting the possibility that this is the “latest” in a long series of mishaps.
Narratives are also as dependent on what is not said as much what is actually stated. Indeed, each of the headlines quoted above skirts around the fact that no one has established the precise reason for the failure of the phone call, inviting the reader to fill in the gaps. In other instances, we have seen that entire stories can simply be ignored if they are inconvenient to a particular narrative (such as Hunter Biden’s laptop). Consider also, however, the following headline:
President was ‘Sober’ at Summit”
Such a statement will almost certainly be true in a strict, factual sense – we do not expect our political leaders to be inebriated at their plush conferences (or at least not while the cameras are rolling). What matters, however, is not the truth of the statement: rather, it is that such a fact was thought worthy of attention. Clearly, the impression being conveyed is that, for the rest of the time, the President is a drunkard.
These characteristics of narrative creation shouldn’t necessarily be ascribed to explicit bias (although that very often will be the case, of course). Rather, the presentation and description of any set of facts will be influenced by a particular world-view. If, for instance, Donald Trump happens to have a meeting with Vladimir Putin, it is impossible for pre-conceived notions of these two figures to remain excluded from the reporting of the occasion. To take the most extreme possibilities, should you believe that the first figure is a threat to democracy while the latter is a dictator, then you will, naturally, approach the phone call with suspicion. In fact, it is most likely that you will be looking for something nefarious about the conversation. If, on the other hand, you start from the notion that they are responsible statesmen railing against the globalist establishment, then you are likely to be far more positive. Each point of view will lead to a different selection, description and emphasis of particular aspects of the dialogue.
If it is not facts that are necessarily in dispute, but, rather, their presentation, then seeking confirmation of accuracy and veracity from so-called “fact checkers” is a waste of time. For all they will be able to do is to repeat the exercise of narrative creation from their own perspective, producing a result which could be equally open to dispute. If this is true of relatively simple matters, it is even more so for complex issues of history, law, science and ethics.
To avoid misunderstanding, we are not suggesting that one narrative is as good as any other, nor are disputes over particular narratives purely subjective. Clearly some narratives convey a more accurate depiction of reality than others. Merely that, if we wish to grasp essence of what constitutes “fake news” and “disinformation”, we need to dig much deeper than the facts of a particular case. All of this, moreover, is true even if the reporters are striving to being honest. Should you throw dishonesty, or a particular agenda, into the mix, then the problem will be far, far worse.
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