Censorship, Misinformation, and Democracy
American society is in the midst of a vigorous meta-debate concerning censorship, free speech, and democracy. This debate is, at times, difficult to follow because of the apparent contradictions and double-speak that it produces. It may be useful to make some distinctions that are inherent in this discourse.
The first such distinction is in what different parties mean by the term "democracy." There is a progressive faction that insists that, for example, social media suppression of certain views is essential to "our democracy." Free speech is therefore a potential threat to democracy, a counter-intuitive claim.
The progressive view of democracy is that people are granted the ability to choose among limited possibilities that are acceptable to globalist elites. The concept is familiar to parents who influence their children's behavior by providing only acceptable choices: rather than asking if the child wants to brush his teeth, the parents ask if the child wants to use a blue or red toothbrush. The progressive uses the same tactic: do you want increased immigration from lax border enforcement or reform of legal immigration laws, or both? Do you want to eliminate fossil fuels with carbon taxes or subsidies for renewable energy or both? And so on. "Democracy" in this context is the illusion of choice provided by choosing among the options acceptable to elite opinion.
When progressives claim that free speech is a threat to "democracy," they are not contradicting themselves; they are merely being selective about what they mean by "democracy."
The classical liberal view is that democracy allows the people to choose among all available alternatives, not merely those preselected and acceptable to elite opinion. Dispute about this point is why progressives accommodate outright censorship. They do not want the people to be informed of possibilities and alternatives other than those favorable to a progressive agenda. For example, elite opinion wants everyone to be vaccinated against COVID, therefore any information that might raise questions that are inconvenient to this goal must be suppressed, whether it is legitimate questioning of vaccine efficacy and side effects, the availability of treatments, the virulence of variants, etc.
In order to understand the role of censorship and misinformation in public discourse, it may be useful to make a simple distinction between facts and truth. In simple terms, facts are observed, and truths are inferred, or alternatively, facts are evidence, and truth is the conclusion drawn from the evidence.
This relationship between facts and truth is found throughout science and human progress. For example, Tycho Brahe made detailed observations of the motions of planets — i.e., recorded the facts — and Johannes Kepler used these data to derive the laws of planetary motion — i.e., the truth. The key characteristics of facts and truths in this simple model are that facts must be accurate descriptions of observations, and truths must represent the realities that facts illustrate.
This schematic distinction between facts and truths illustrates the difference in worldview between progressives and classical liberals. One practical example of this principle is that crime rates before and after the enactment of bail reform laws and the election of progressive prosecutors are facts, and the people are quite qualified to assess those facts and determine if the theories of experts and elite ideologues are valid.
One of the premises, as well as benefits, of true democracy is that the people possess collective wisdom, reason, and common sense to derive truths from facts if those facts are accurately presented, particularly with regard to political questions. The progressive view is that only experts or self-styled elites are qualified to do so. This latter view results in the claim that any proffered facts or inferences drawn from them are "misinformation" if they conflict with progressive opinion.
Progressives try to control discourse in various ways. One is by limiting dissemination of facts so that the people are not tempted to draw disfavored conclusions from them. This tactic is commonly seen in crime reports, where the race of the suspect is known but not reported. It was also seen in Pfizer's attempt to prohibit inspection of clinical data regarding COVID vaccines for 75 years and social media companies squelching any COVID-related discussion of ivermectin. The result of this tactic is the censorship found on Twitter and Facebook.
Another progressive tactic is to explicitly limit analysis of facts to selected experts or to permit journalists to substitute subjective determinations of what they think is the truth for objective information. The evening news was once fifteen minutes long and consisted mostly of facts, without the presumptuous need to have someone explain what those facts meant. The role of journalists was understood to be to report facts accurately and without bias, and opinions were clearly identified as such. "Fake but accurate" was an oxymoron. Favored opinions are now presented as truths, and anything that questions or contradicts them is derided as misinformation and "dangerous." The goal of this tactic is to create doubt in people's ability to evaluate, discuss, and draw conclusions from the facts so that the only opinions open for discussion are "approved" opinions.
A third tactic of progressive information management is to hinder popular evaluation and discussion of facts by resorting to euphemisms and neologisms. Thus, "facts" are presented in language such as "birthing person," "mostly peaceful," "Putin's price hike," etc. The implication of such language is that it is irrefutable that men can give birth, that it is Putin to blame for inflation, etc. These are opinions presented as facts, with the intent to inhibit, by altering basic assumptions, people's ability to objectively analyze and draw independent conclusions from them.
The above observations permit understanding of the seemingly dystopian and surreal discussions around misinformation, censorship, and democracy. In a nutshell, elite opinion believes that ordinary people should not be trusted to make an independent evaluation of facts in order to ascertain truths, nor make informed, independent decisions about their individual lives and the societies in which they live. Furthermore, the elites believe that if people are allowed to evaluate and discern among all possible alternatives regarding a particular issue, they might make the wrong decisions, and therefore the choices with which they are presented must be limited to a narrow, approved range. This is not democracy; it is paternalistic tyranny, and it is stupid and destructive.
This left-wing enterprise is currently vigorous and pernicious. It manifests in such things as the New York Times claiming that James O'Keefe is not a legitimate journalist, or social media platforms deciding among themselves what are "approved news sources" or "independent fact-checkers."
The validity of facts does not depend on who reports them. This leftist enterprise can and will do a significant amount of damage, but it is destined to fail in the long run, because the truth is not a matter of opinion, and the people are better judges of their own interests and welfare than are tech oligarchs and cherry-picked experts. The reality of the world, ignored at one's own peril, is that facts are stubborn things, and as Shakespeare observed in The Merchant of Venice, "the truth will out."
Image via Pixnio.