George Orwell wrote of a world run by unaccountable Ministries that told people the words to use and the thoughts to think, that controlled behavior, and punished dissent ruthlessly and mercilessly. “Orwellian” has entered our lexicon, and we find example after example of his prophecies coming true, despite living in a nation that placed freedom of speech first among equals in its governing document.

Orwell’s prescience is remarkable, but for one major disparity. That disparity is found in a lesson of history:

Government lags culture.

That which is codified into law usually emerges from changes in societal attitudes and mores, both positively and negatively. On the positive side, we witness the repeal of slavery, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Act, to name the biggies. On the negative side, we witness the countless expansions of government that have eroded our liberties, complicated our lives, and indebted our descendants.

Last week, the New York Post started running a series of articles about Hunter Biden’s financial ties to Ukraine and China, sourced from a laptop reportedly abandoned by Biden at a repair shop. This reporting set off a firestorm of controversy, heavily stoked by the decision by Facebook and Twitter to deliberately reduce dissemination of the articles and block the newspaper’s accounts on those platforms. As I type this, the New York Post, the fourth largest newspaper in the nation, still has its Twitter account locked.

With us a mere two weeks from the most contentious election in my recollection, it’s no surprise that everyone had an opinion on all this. Those of the Left chose to either ignore the reports or dismiss them as ‘Russian agitprop’ or some such aspersion. Those on the pro-Trump Right are screaming bloody murder about double standards and at the mainstream press’s failure to pursue these allegations, noting that they’d be plastered in 144 point font across front pages were these about Trump’s family. Those on the Never-Trump (NT) right are following the Left’s playbook to some degree, with whataboutisms and “doesn’t change my mind about Trump” demurrals.

Attitudes towards the social media platforms’ actions align well with those divisions. The Left is happy that Facebook and Twitter are on their side, and excuse the platforms’ bias (and, please, don’t try to assert they’re not biased) as being OK because they’re private entities (and blah blah about it being their duty to use their power for Good). Right-NTs echo the latter point about private entities, and Trumpers are incensed by what they consider electoral meddling.

Nestled into all the excuse-making is some gobbledygook from the social media platforms about the information being from ‘unauthorized’ or ‘improper’ sources, and therefore not to be shared. See: Orwell (again).

The libertarian angle on this would be that the platforms are indeed private-sector entities, and as such can do as they wish subject to the usual carve-outs re criminality, libel and slander, incitement, and the like. That’s the free market view.

If they were operating in a free market, that’d be where it would end. They’re not. They’re operating in a government-regulated space, thanks to such things as election laws, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and so forth. This matter warrants its own in-depth treatment, which I shall forego today and revisit at a later time. Suffice to say I’m of a mind that they can do as they wish, but that any special protections should be removed so that they can be properly “judged” via market forces.

The concern at hand is the cultural shift that has excused and even applauded this censorious curation of information by so many entities in today’s society. The de-platforming of unfavored speakers at liberal universities went unchallenged and unchecked by people who should have known better, and it metastasized into the the broader “cancel culture” that has many who hold opinions outside the progressive orthodoxy thinking twice about sharing them publicly, for fear of personal ruin. Some words, we are now told, are “violence,” while actual violence that can be shoehorned into a social-justice category is excused or condoned. More and more words are being added to the “do not use” list, by a small sub-set of the populace that has taken over the public dialogue by managing its biggest forums. Those forums have chosen to put their fingers on the electoral scale, eager to tip it in favor of their preferred party and their chosen ideology.

Great swathes of the public are perfectly OK with this because, in typical transactional fashion, it moves near-term events in a direction they favor without consideration for the long-term impact. That they don’t consider the potential negatives and pitfalls of such advocacy is also typical. People tend to lean towards starry-eyed optimism when it’s their side that’s doing things they’d decry were they done by the other side, and rarely examine their complicity when those negatives emerge.

The negatives, in this case, are doozies. The happiness with private-sector censorious behavior is already leaking into the public-sector sphere. Proposals have been floated that would give government discretion in determining who qualifies as “the press.” Academics are calling for China-style control and censorship of Internet traffic. Politicians routinely want “political speech” regulated by the government, with the government deciding what qualifies as political speech. Social media platforms are being told to act as information arbiters, rather than as uncensored public forums.

Now, Robert Reich, his Trump Derangement Syndrome in full bloom, is calling for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to be established after a presumed Biden victory. Sounds nice, and sounds even nicer if you’re of a mind that Trump and his clan are beyond-doubt corrupt and need to be punished, no matter that the relentless, multi-pronged, and ever-morphing “throw him out of the White House” effort produced nothing of import. Reich, apparently still rabid-foaming over the failure to “annul” Trump’s presidency, wants him keel-hauled after the fact, and I’d speculate he’d be in favor of a Trotsky-like erasing of the history books as well. His rage is palpable.

To the last I grapple with thee! from hell’s heart I stab at thee!

Gulags and Uighur re-education camps only happen elsewhere, apparently.

Imagine a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic White House, drunk on the power of a sweeping victory, and egged on by the yapping terriers of the Angry Left, using the unchecked power of government to go after someone who’ll no longer be of any power or consequence, for vengeance sake. Imagine a passel of Commissions whose mission is partisan supremacy. Imagine a public that is increasingly dismissive of truths and facts that don’t conform to their preferred narrative urging the punishment of their political enemies, simply for having the temerity to side with someone they loathed. Imagine those who, to this day, haven’t accepted the results of the 2016 election, “mandated” by their sweep to “take down” the orange usurper and his family, as well as all those who supported him.

The Right isn’t doing much better. Some in Congress are looking to have Facebook and Twitter honchos stand tall before the man, alleging “election interference.” Trump loves free speech, except when it’s speech he doesn’t like, and has thumped a censorious drum of his own). Yet they are neither the cultural drivers nor a reflection of the cultural mood. The Left has won the culture war.

A few years back, I had a conversation about free speech with an acquaintance of a “party-line Democrat” inclination. He, straight-faced, professed belief that some words should be flat-out prohibited because of their offensiveness. As has been [misattributed][10 to Voltaire countless times, the essence of a belief in free speech is “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” This principle, blithely dismissed by the aforementioned acquaintance, is rapidly disappearing from our cultural landscape. In its place we have a collective Wild Hunt, a scouring of the digital landscape for anything that can be used against a political foe, flipping the notion of free speech and free exchange of disparate ideas on its head.

The mythological Wild Hunt was thought to presage catastrophe. The modern day equivalent, this combination of “get ’em!” witch hunts, deep-dives for decades-old political fodder against those of insufficient conformity, dismissal of censorship when it provides political benefit, and a seemingly infinite desire to exert political dominance over others, speaks of a cultural shift away from individual liberty and toward a ruthless authoritarianism. As I noted above, government lags culture, and a culture that tolerates or favors illiberal attitudes towards speech and the free exchange of ideas empowers a government that will do the same.

Even the Constitution’s protections against such behaviors are only as good as the people who enforce them, and the last bastion against the erosion of rights – the Supreme Court – is already in the target-sights of those who’ve shown no affinity for individual liberties that they don’t care for. The potential seating of a jurist of likely greater affinity for individuals over government to replace one who showed more deference to big government has them howling, and has the Democrats threatening to add seats to the Court in order to circumvent a pro-liberty Court’s resistance to government infringements of liberty.

History, literature, and culture are awash in forms of “be careful what you wish for,” from the literal (genies, lamps, and wishes that never turn out as desired) to the hubristic (pride goeth before the fall) to the pragmatic (power corrupts). All this talk of cleaning the orange stain out of the White House ignores the actual outcome: a foursome of cynical careerists who care only about their own power and who have not the slightest fealty to the nation’s guiding principles. Trump, for all his flaws, bad ideas, bad policies, mis-steps, moral failings, and endless Twitter garbage, still represents a rejection of this Wild Hunt and the cultural lunacy on which it rides. With an opposition House or Congress (the former is certain, the latter is more probable than not), everyone’s worst impulses will be restrained.

Election Day is two weeks out. Living in New York, where my Presidential vote won’t affect the outcome in the slightest, I’m clicking Jo Jorgensen on my ballot. But, I’m rooting for a Trump win (or, as a consolation prize, a GOP congress), because the Terrible Tetrad that is Biden, Harris, Schumer and Pelosi terrifies me.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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