Friday, April 06, 2018
The bad karma of free content -- and how it feeds the new cultural wars begging for authoritarianism
Once again, we ponder one big problem with user-generated content from gratuitous speakers like me – karma. That is, using a "free" (more or less) platform that could not exist if it couldn't allow bad behavior of others. This gets down to personalizing the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" We could wind up telling speakers that they must be so, or else they become thieves. Yup, it sounds a little Commie, even if it comes from the far right as well as the left.
No, I don’t spam, recruit people, or gather user information, or traffic anything, display porn (I do get into PG-13 territory), and so on. I also don’t support specific candidates in elections – which is both good and bad. I am not very partisan and not tribalist. I try to use reputable sources. On something like the gun debate, there really are two sides – and the opposing camps serve different positions in life on this planet. So what I try to do is remind visitors of the nuances on so many interrelated policy questions (even if this all started with “don’t ask don’t tell” two decades ago). With some issues, like DADT, my approach has been influential. With some others, maybe I'm "in the way".
And I am able to do this without joining anyone else’s “intersectional” movement and screaming (with "solidarity") in a crowd about oppression (particularly without carrying somebody else's picket signs). In my case, such claims for myself would make no real sense.
What’s bad is that I depend on an Internet (including social media and Facebook) infrastructure that needs a business model to pay its way, and that business model could not exist without some actors doing bad things. So we’ve needed Section 230 to protect providers from downstream liability, because there is no way from them to tell bad from innocuous prospectively. Furthermore, the most recent news stories on the Facebook scandal suggest that these platforms could not pay their own way without the “bad actors” using them and driving ad revenue (and share prices).
I remember Donald Trump’s December 8, 2015 (post here) proposals to “shut down those tubes” and even Hillary Clinton hinted at that, to curb the gratuitousness that has led, for example, to so much cyberbullying, trafficking (FOSTA), terrorist recruiting and instructions on how to build weapons (which are out there in print anyway).
Then Trump (despite his distrust of computers and now his hatred of Amazon) went the other direction, using Twitter to announce his policies (like the half-transgender ban in the military) and his grievance against his own version of the improperly privileged. He seems to have much more gripe against established media companies (except Fox, and now OANN and Sinclair which are getting more prominent) than individualistic and perhaps libertarian oriented speakers (me, even Milo).
Could the “bad karma” lead to some kind of edict shutting us all down? We can imagine that war happens first – a nuclear blast (or more than one) somewhere from North Korea, or an EMP level one attack that might shut down tech companies unless they had caged their data (there is some evidence they are doing just that, not talked about much).
As a Milo-Dangerous thought experiment, we can imagine that no free content is allowed: everything that is available to the entire public has to pay its own way. Free blogs (like this one) are gone. Of course, you can say, you can pay for hosting. Or you can pay to self-publish a book. But even that goes. Anything out there has to meet a real “need” or “want” that a consumer will pay for. That could mean that even a self-paid book has to sell minimum volume or it is speaker is shuttered, maybe forever. Then at least you solve the karma problem of the business models. Milo has recently made most of his content paid subscription, which I first thought was curious, but could that be his point? I can think of a lot of obvious problems with this idea – starting with porn (when Congress has just cracked down on supporting sex trafficking and prostitution, remember?)
Of course, spontaneous user-generated content backs up a free press (the Fifth Estate backs up the Fourth) and is a check on authoritarianism. It’s a little harder for potential dictators to get away with things. On the other hand, hyperindividualsim can, if challenged, lead to a reaction that causes a desire for authoritarianism and “rules consistency” to bubble up from the bottom, and lead back to fascism.
I do wonder if we’re entering a war on introverts and sophists (certainly schizoids and aspie-types -- and all the Rosenfels "subjective feminines"). The simple idea of “personal responsibility” that libertarians articulated so well late in the Clinton years (until 9/11) has become layered. Now, your immediate community as a whole means something, which is a way to giving less competitive (and more tribally minded) people in that community more meaning. That means everyone has to lean to take care of their own first – including the childless - everybody must "belong" to some group. [Right off the bat, I wonder about the incredible generosity to strangers I do see online, like the willingness to undergo intrusive organ donation procedures, an idea unthinkable in the more closed culture that I grew up in.] You see that in the talk of “demographic winter” and in authoritarian leaders’ (like Putin’s) idea that the gay community is discouraging other people from procreating. We may well be heading toward a culture where you are not heard from until you have your own skin in the game – like having your own children first.
What seems so shocking is that a lot of people around the world want this kind of culture back. But it isn’t as surprising as we think.