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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Crowdsourcing the End of Free Speech

The end of free speech will not necessarily come when there are soldiers in the streets, secret police in the alleyways and a mustachioed man screaming at you on a television set that can't be turned off no matter how hard you turn the knob or click the buttons.

Some of these things certainly existed in totalitarian countries. But they were there to sweep up the hardened dissenters who refused to be silenced. The vast majority of citizens did not have bugged phones or men in trench-coats following them around.

That was what their friends and neighbors were for.

The first line of offense by a totalitarian society against freedom of speech is crowdsourced to the people in the streets. It begins with the imposition of a social norm, escalates to punishments for violating that norm and concludes with gulags and firing squads.

No secret police force is large enough to spy on everyone all the time. Nor does it need to. That is what informers are for. Some of the informers are committed fanatics. Others do it because they accept whatever they are told. And the worst do it for the pleasure of destroying someone else using the power of the law.

Whatever their varying motives, ideology or malice, such people become even more dangerous in groups where they become a morality mob.

The Two Minutes Hate in George Orwell's 1984 is repeated on a regular basis in our society today with hysterical lynchings like those of of Justine Sacco; one of a long list of disposable victims of opportunity. The Two Minutes Hate was a Pavlovian exercise to stimulate the hate reflex. Modern counterparts like #hasjustinelandedyet with its overt malice are the genuine thing.

The process by which these ugly events happen has a good deal in common with any other form of mob violence. There are familiar elements from Shirley Jackson's disturbing story, "The Lottery". There is a ritual aspect to the whole thing. The crowd knows what is coming. Like many rapists and murderers, it derives pleasure from a victim who does not yet know what is about to happen and eagerly anticipates the moment of shocked revelation when that will change.

"When is Justine landing?" they whisper eagerly to each other. Sadism is no good if the victim doesn't know what is being done to her. The anticipation sharpens their appetite for the revelation.


Behind it all is a moral structure. The crowd in the Two Minutes Hate does not randomly lash out. The very name with its time limit is a demonstration of civilization. For two minutes they will become hateful animals in reaction to a profound ideological offense. And then they will turn the outrage machine off.

Anyone can be a mob, but they are a morality mob. They do horrible things because the ends, such as fighting racism, justify the means. They hate for two minutes and then go back to their daily lives. 

Structure maintains the illusion of morality. Like The Lottery, it has to pretend that it isn't random so that the participants can make believe that they are doing this for some nobler reason than the primal joy of bashing another human being's head in with a rock.

Modern social media is The Lottery. You type things into it. You type them in when you're sober or drunk. When you're on top of the world or miserably depressed. You tweet and get retweeted. You like and are liked in turn. The sentiments you express move beyond your close circles of family and friends.

Sometimes you win the lottery and become famous. Your Twitter feed gets turned into a CBS sitcom. Other times you lose the lottery and your equally stupid tweet gets you picked to be stoned to death.

Each time you participate in the global mass of the internet, you are pulling a ticket out of the lottery. And even if you don't participate, a crazy lesbian waitress can tell the world that you refused to give her a tip, a former friend or lover can make your letter, stripped of context, go viral and what passes for reporters in the new media looking for pageviews can make you a target to fill a daily quota.

The Internet is going crazy for, the headlines on the same sites that create the frenzy say. The Internet is exploding. The Internet lashed out. The Internet lynched someone. But it's not the internet. It's the cowardly individuals in the morality mob hiding behind their collective malice in a hashtag who want to hurt someone from the physical and moral safety of the mob.

The morality mob is attracted to pettiness. It rarely takes on big things because it knows its own weakness. A morality mob is a bully without the courage and it needs easy targets that it knows it can hurt. It attacks individuals for minor social offenses. It targets them for perceived sins against their social consensus, but it is truly animated by the perception that its targets violate these norms because they are elitist, because they view themselves as special and above the rules that apply to everyone.

The modern internet morality mob began in China. A country that is not only Communist, but a place where sticking your head out is its own crime. The Chinese version of the Ugly Duckling story doesn't end with the duckling turning into a swan, but being eaten because he was only a foolish duck who had the ridiculous idea that he was a swan.

"It was just the latest example of a growing phenomenon the Chinese call Internet hunting, in which morality lessons are administered by online throngs and where anonymous Web users come together to investigate others and mete out punishment for offenses real and imagined." That is how the New York Times described it in 2006.

The phenomenon has since spread to America, but it predictably enough began in a collectivist society ruled by the iron hand of the Communist Party.


Totalitarianism relies on harnessing the darker emotions in the human catalog; fear, sadism, hate, contempt and the sense of power that derives from causing harm to another beneath the mask of the self-righteous inquistioner whose moral authority allows him to both inflict and enjoy the torment.

Beneath these responses is a deeper sense of helplessness and insecurity. The anonymous mass of  society has become even more chokingly cramped and anonymous on the internet than in the biggest twentieth century cities. For some of the uglier faces in the crowd, the only way to feel real is to hurt someone. And their leftist ringleaders know exactly how the game is played.

The morality mobs on the internet are mostly of the left. That is because the left is better at organization and rhetoric. It also holds the commanding heights of social morality dictating what behaviors are acceptable and which are not.

Morality mobs crowdsource the left's values enforcement. While its activist groups concern themselves with Phil Robertson, its morality mobs band together to target ordinary people. The organized left can make examples out of famous people while the ad-hoc left can make examples out of ordinary people by making their morality mob lynchings go viral.

The left responded to criticism of its actions in the Phil Robertson case by arguing that they are not violating the First Amendment. And they aren't. Directly. Though indirectly their entire culture of activism and the promotion of their values is funded by the government. But free speech can be structurally suppressed without ever officially involving the authorities in the dirty work.

If the outcome is the end of free speech, then the details of how it got that way become academic. If instead of a top-down solution, the actual death of free speech involves a mid-level intervention by an oligarchy of media and new media outlets, activist groups and fearful businesses banding together to make free speech impossible while the authorities go on smiling and insisting that speech is still free; then the destination is the same. Only the road we took to get there will have changed.

The First Amendment was not just a legal safeguard against government abuses, but a statement that an open society is best. The letter of the law protects the people from government intervention, but the spirit of the law is an argument for an open society in which the freedom to worship, to speak and to protest against the government make all our freedoms possible.

The left aspires to a society in which dissent is suppressed. And a society without dissent is totalitarian whether it is ruled by the hateful mob of the Two Minutes Hate or by Big Brother. 

21 comments:

Naresh Krishnamoorti said...

The archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, once said: "Evil talks about tolerance only when it’s weak. When it gains the upper hand, its vanity always requires the destruction of the good and the innocent, because the example of good and innocent lives is an ongoing witness against it. So it always has been. So it always will be."

Ex-Dissident said...

Again, your post is inspirational and I will likely think about your words throughout the day.

First related thoughts:

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone"

Nasty anonymous complaints appearing at work, just like in the old USSR.

Have to be careful at parties and family gatherings these days, you don't know who is listening and just how brainwashed they've become.

Anonymous said...

Why does a man earn his daily bread? The very people that you speak of don't they collect a check (or are elected by those who don't). My parents and grand-parents have voted for the very people draining away any chance I have at retirement. When you have no responsibility, your moral compass can float. The cure at this point would see millions of American people starve to death. The very compassion taught to me as a child is the weakness that binds so many in refusing to make the hard choice in saying, NO! Every answer that I have looked for doesn't exist. Where in a non centralized commodity Christian value based bank(FDIC free even)? Where is the equivalent of a Rainbow push coalition? Why do we keep feeding money to the artists that actively promote the values we despise? Why am I paying money into a bankrupt Social Security? Where are the Christian organizations paying for good quality people to go to school? Expecting anything more than those that are awake in my generation waiting for a collapse and reset is dreaming for pigs to fly.

Anonymous said...

When I worked in corporate (and may I never have to again) blatant left wingers were golden. The higher ups knew these people were born informers and if given lower management positions willing to give the worst assessments to the hardest and most honest workers and justify anything management did no matter how slimy, tacky or just plain wrong. These causes aren't causes. They are simply flags for a certain type of person to gather around.

Anonymous said...

Daniel,

Another thoughtful essay, thank you. May I suggest a book by Catty Martin entitled "Enemies of the People". Catty and her sister were born in Communist Hungary where her parents were journalistic thorns in the side of the politicos. Returning as an adult she asked to look at the secret police files on her parents.

She found that every enemy and every 'friend' of her father's informed on him. Every single one! More, when her parents were jailed for a time but allowed a single half hour meeting she reports that her father was deeply depressed and that her mother went to him and whispered in his ear, "The Americans will save us." I wept. So many people looked to us for so many decades while the left denigrated everything about our country.

Peter38a

Anonymous said...

Daniel, it isn't freedom to worship but freedom of religion and the reason that is important to point out is this: freedom to worship means one is free to call up one's deity in private or within a designated physical structure. The freedom of religion, on the other hand, involves the right to express that inspiration in the public square and to build institutions on the basis of that belief. Religious people built schools, hospitals, hospices, universities, and far-reaching social service networks INDEPENDENT OF THE STATE. But the state has gradually insinuated itself into these institutions, forcing some of them out of business while dictating others must work under laws that are in direct opposition to the religious tenets of those who built the institution. Forcing Catholic employers to pay for contraceptives or forcing Catholic hospitals to perform abortions doesn't abridge one's "freedom to worship" but it does abridge one's "freedom of religion".

Freedom to worship does not protect one's right to practice or live their religion. That is why it is freedom of religion rather than freedom to worship that is the meaning of the First Amendment.

Elaine

But the state has gradually crowded into the arena of private religious institutions, eroding their reach and freedom. The state has mandated laws that are in direct conflict with the religious tenets of people or dependence on government support has made some religious institutions crippled

meema said...

It’s Daniels’s piercing insight that brings me to this blog daily. But it’s the comments that I come back to check on several times a day. Gives one hope that there are still intelligent thinkers out there. Thank you.

And, yes, the snitches are rapidly growing in number. Almost like reading the script of “How to Implement Totalitarianism”. Personally I think the motive of most snitches is primarily CYA. If you tell on someone to the authorities, you assume that it insures your safety. Of course, this isn’t even close to being true. But then there’s plain ole self-righteousness as well, an affliction most rampant in a declining society. There is almost always the missing info of the direct impact of the snitch in news items about people being raided or shut down. The city inspector showing up at a private home where a few people have gathered for unlicensed Bible study. The volunteers handing out sandwiches to the homeless because eating food not prepared in a licensed kitchen is way worse than dumpster diving. An underaged young man gets in trouble for driving an ambulance to transport a convulsing four year old to the hospital. Two boys get suspended for using imaginary weapons at each other. In each case, a snitch was involved that turned a common sense moment or innocuous, even positive, human activity into a crime.

In late 2008, having a chat with my next door neighbor, he asked if I knew what had happened to a neighbor that lived several blocks over. Apparently, right after the election this poor fellow made some disparaging remarks about the newly elected community organizer in chief to several others in the locker room of his golf club. Several nights later, in the two a.m. range, he got a knock on the door from two FBI agents. He spent several hours answering questions in his own living room. He wasn’t charged with anything but it certainly gave him a new view of how to keep his opinions to himself.

Imagine that we are five years hence from that. Totalitarianism is when everything that isn’t mandated is illegal and dissenters are criminals.

Anonymous said...

Free speech means you have the right to say whatever you want, AND it means that I have the right to point out that what you just said is incredibly offensive. You try to confuse the issue by talking about "angry mobs" or whatever, but really it's clear that you are trying to defend your right to free speech by trying to stop people who disagree with you from having the right to free speech.

Free speech means that people who disagree with you are also allowed to speak. I'm not sure that the writer understands that.

Anonymous said...

Really interesting Daniel, thanks​!​

I think that you would be really interested in some recent research that I have come across explaining crowds and citizen science.​ ​In particular I feel you may find these two emerging pieces of research very relevant:

- The Theory of Crowd Capital
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2193115

- The Contours of Crowd Capability
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2324637

Powerful stuff, no?

Anonymous said...

Destroying someone's reputation is easy today, because it can be done anonymously and to a large and anonymous audience. If someone that doesn't like you or is a business competitor they can simply publish lies about you on online ranking sites, which can have distastrous affects on both your business and your personal life.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Free speech means you have the right to say whatever you want, AND it means that I have the right to point out that what you just said is incredibly offensive. You try to confuse the issue by talking about "angry mobs" or whatever, but really it's clear that you are trying to defend your right to free speech by trying to stop people who disagree with you from having the right to free speech.

Free speech means that people who disagree with you are also allowed to speak. I'm not sure that the writer understands that
Ano, there is something you don't seem to understand. Allow me.

Viktor Frankl having lived through a concentration camp came out wondering why some survived and some did not, penned the famous tome "Man's Search for Meaning". Among myriads of insights one always stood out for me, "No matter your circumstance, no matter what anyone does to you, you always retain one freedom; the freedom to choose your own attitude". Without this you would have to claim the status of a spoke in some kind of cosmic wheel, hostage to forces beyond control. But I digress.

So to keep the conversation honest, I may speak as I wish and you may object by saying, not that what I say IS objectionable but that you CHOOSE to find it objectionable. To which I am free to respond, "And I don't CHOOSE to give a damn my dear". Now where have I heard that before??

Peter38a

Anonymous said...

Meema: you are so right about snitching. The government via the Patriot Act is creating a snitch culture. A culture that is increasingly dangerous. A single tip to a fusion center, a single Suspicious Activity Report can land a person on a watch list and community notifications about a terrorist in their neighborhood.

Snitches and harassment flourish, not to mention the concerned citizen who feel it is their patriotic duty to keep tabs on those unfortunate enough to be placed on a watch list, not to mention government surveillance and tactics.

Take a look at what the DHS considers suspicious. Everyone on the right and left can be targeted.

Trust me, I know about this. I KNOW:(

Keliata

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be evasive. There is a reasonable to strong possibility that I've been placed on one of those damned watch lists and being harassed to the hilt with vehicular surveillance, and other much more intrusive surveillance. Not to mention harassment, trespassing, and a home invasion.

The neighbors...smh
This country is not becoming a police state it is one.

*****

Back on the topic of this article:

The PC left are always at the ready especially online. I replied to a comment on You Tube video a while back. A man posted a video and used the name Ibrahim. He got shot down because he used that name and not Abraham. So my response was that it was simply a Muslim version of the name.

Someone chastised me because I used the word Muslim and not Arab. Well, considering the star and crescent the You Tube user that posted the video and use of the word Ibrahim I assumed he was Muslim. Nothing more nothing less. I wasn't slamming the guy.

My reply wasn't slamming the video or that the man was Muslim (which he said he was and the myriad Muslim videos on his channel indicated);

So for a mere observation of why the man used the name Ibrahim and not Abraham this person that replied to me all but called be anti-Muslim.

Geez, I was just defending the guy that posted the video, not slamming Muslims. The Muslim guy wasn't offended by my comment but leave it to the left to turn a simple observation and helping a guy out into something bigoted.

Keliata

meema said...

Peter38a, I agree about Frankl's books being must read, especially Will to Purpose.

I was hoping someone would respond to Anon’s “free speech” comment. But I have to add this: Anon argues that free speech goes both ways and then quickly employs the most common tactic of those who hate genuine free speech by accusing those who claim the right to free speech as being hypocrites.

But closer examination, blowing away the smoke, always exposes two distinct approaches to the debate. True free speech advocates focus on the right to have an opinion and to be able to freely express it. Period. There is no accompanying call to punish or otherwise inflict consequences on someone for believing and openly verbalizing an opposing opinion. No pronouncement of limiting free speech to only those in agreement.

Compare this to the other view that not only sanctimoniously condemns a counter opinion but demands (pick one) retraction, apology, public denouncement, loss of employment–and in the extreme–imprisonment. The focus is not on free speech but rather to shut down, by any means, and claim victory over a silenced opponent. The simple definition of free speech is lost in the indignant rhetoric of one who chooses this stance and is usually, dare I say it, one who is left-leaning.

Keliata, I know what you mean, first hand. I have a secret defense mechanism though, faith. I'm also a history buff and I know that the dark side, even when it has the upper hand, always has weaknesses. In a high tech world - think low tech. I once posted my observations about my respect for Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. I think I might have been too subtle and my point was missed. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I got your point, it wasn't missed:)

and thank you:)

Keliata

Anonymous said...

I have that secret defense mechanism, too, out in full force. For some reason, this guy Jacob Appelbaum is inspiring as well. He's not religious but he seems to have a deep understanding of what is going on in the world.

I'm watching virtually everyone of his videos because I know there is wisdom in what he says, even if I disagree on particular issues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW8lRCqYI6U

(Jake)

(suggestion to Daniel...it would be interesting to have your opinions in an article on why DHS lists so many basic American freedoms and people (including the Right) as suspicious or potentially dangerous. I watched a DHS video about suspicious activity reporting. Some of the behaviors are definitely worth reporting but virtually every suspicious behavior in the video is committed by a white person.

Keliata

Here is a link to IMO a bigoted DHS commercial. I mean really? So many white perps?

Anonymous said...

Shoot. I forget to include the link. Please watch and consider an article

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jAV1dbGPB4

Anonymous said...

Daniel, Many good points, but blaming the "Left" alone will not preserve or restore our freedoms. There were plenty of snitches and plenty of government repression of speech in the Eisenhower Fifties, too.
Jerry.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, a wonderful discussion. The Left has been expoused for its endless witch hunts and abuses of not only free speech but the media and legal system. Today we see Hollywood, the unions, academia making MCCarthy look like a paragon of virtue. The extremism of the Left has created a whirlwind that they have created.

Anonymous said...

I have never been fired or even disciplined for what I said in an e-mail or on social media, let alone been the subject of a schadenfreude-filled trending hashtag relishing the demise of my career. All this time I had pretty much assumed it was because I applied some basic principles that have been around since, oh, I dont know, the 19th century, if not earlier, about realizing that I can still be recognized as a representative of my company even in communications outside of my time at work, and another basic principle of avoiding vulgarity, crude jokes about sensitive topics, or inflammatory discussions of race, politics, religion or sex in any communications or dealings that might be traced back to, and give a bad impression of, my employer. You know, basic principles of business and communication that existed well before the Internet, or for that matter, George Orwell, that someone claiming to work in "public relations" should be far more familiar with than you or I.

Of course now thanks to your article I have realized how wrong I was, and it doesn't matter whether you are someone who uses social media for business and always thinks about avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing, or whether you are a hairdresser in Peoria who uses social media exclusively to play Farmville and post funny pictures of your cats, or whether you are a "PR expert" who tweets vile jokes about AIDS and race from a public account with your real name, face pic and company name all plastered right there, you have bought a ticket in the new world order lottery from hell and have pretty much an equal chance of being totally randomly selected for a stoning. I guess it's much wiser just to jettison any notions of personal responsibility and just all say whatever the hell we want, if it's all totally random and we all have an equal chance of being the subject of the 2 minutes hate, at least may as well have some fun before the rocks start flying.

That lesbian waitress was fired and probably has almost as tough of a row to hoe as Justine Sacco in terms of rebuilding her reputation. I had thought this was deservedly so, but how can you be so sure she is not also a victim of this lottery? She was just also exercising her right to free speech in spinning some yarns to the media about a receipt, how dare that totalitarian restaurant fire her for making them look like a horrible place to eat?

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

I'm not talking about the actions of a company in firing its employee, but the actions of a morality mob continually playing out its lynchings

It's like confusing the contention that women should be careful when getting drunk in public places with the argument that rape is legitimate

one does not justify the other

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