Saturday, 15 December 2018

Leftists: Do NOT Support Corporate Censorship!

"Tim Squirrell" embodies everything wrong with the mainstream left of the current year. Viewing his twitter feed, I'm not seeing a whole lot of working class or marginalization here. From his personal website:
I started at the University of Cambridge in 2011, after finishing school in Cyprus. I began studying Medicine, but quickly realized that it wasn't for me, and switched into Natural Sciences, focusing on the History and Philosophy of Science. I graduated with a BA and MSci in 2015, having written my first Masters dissertation on the problem of moral responsibility when delegating medical decisions to cognitive computers.
Good stuff. With a guy like this in our corner, how can we lose? He looks like just the kind of guy I'd expect to meet at a $10,000 a plate Clinton Foundation fundraiser, positioning himself as the "resistance" against the ascendancy of "fascists" such as your typical incel on Reddit or 4chan troll. 

I'll not begrudge a fellow his education, but a look at his twitter feed suggests someone rather full of himself:
We’re not harassing you! You’re harassing us!” the anime avatars scream in their dozens and hundreds
I guess i would be scared of being deplatformed too if my income and indeed the only reason anyone knew or cared about me were all derived from  being arrested for being an edgelord
Regret to announce in a disappointing plot twist i was controlled by the russians all along
Yuk yuk yuk! What a card! Oh Tim, you're just so witty!  Which can be tolerated and ignored. The real problem with this fellow is here:
My mentions are blowing up bc the alt-right have found my attempts to aid in their deplatforming and are Very Upset. Please keep me and my mentions in your prayers at this difficult time.
And in case you missed it:
@slpng_giants another deplatforming success 
In case you don't know, this refers to a group called Sleeping Giants. "A campaign to make bigotry and sexism less profitable." Presumably active in attempts to lean on advertisers and boycott media outlets that host so called "hate speech" or "the alt-right" or whomever. Well, I suppose that's their right. But I have just one request for my fellows on the left who quite rightly want to oppose bigotry and hate but quite wrongly think deplatforming people who aren't really that right wing, bigoted or hateful is the way to do it:

Can we please stop doing this?

Or at the very least, can we at least try to be somewhat intelligent and judicious about what we consider "hate speech?" Last time I checked, Sargon of Akkad and Count Dankula, while not loyal card carrying progressives, were light years from the far right in terms of their actual beliefs. It's not exactly a secret that highly educated professional activists on college campuses and in Silicon Valley willfully smear their opponents as "Nazis" - in a kind of counterpart to the right's long tendency of red-baiting their own political opponents. Indeed, the "hate speech" for which Sargon was apparently deplatformed from Patreon was supposedly satirizing the kind of talk that alt-right clods engage in. Sargon has in fact had notorious quarrels with alt-right leaders, and is generally disliked by them.

This is why resorting to censorship over political disagreement is always a bad idea. Ideologues on one side of the spectrum tend to lump everyone on the other side into a single monolith. By similar rationale, if Sargon is a "Nazi" then I must be a raging SJW with my own set of gender pronouns forever calling on white males to check their privilege while donning the black bandanna to head out to "bash the fash." I am alt-left, after all. What stops the Proud Boy types from coming after me at some point, assuming this ever becomes a revenue source for me? After all, the Sleeping Giants and their ilk legitimized such tactics.

And that's the problem with all of this. And doubly so for the left, who've always been the advocates for the small players in the market.

Unless you are going after an institution or truly powerful person abusing their power, you have no business crawling into bed with corporate power and using that power to attack the livelihoods of your political opponents if you call yourself a leftist. Our whole project is built around the securing of the rights of the "little guy" - the common people in the face of the potential for corporate oligopoly to abuse the power that their strong position in the marketplace gives them. Boycotting a corporation over some malpractice or another is one thing. Calling for the ending of an otherwise powerless person's livelihood over a political disagreement is quite another. Doesn't the left typically emphasize the difference between punching up and punching down?

Even if it were the case that this "alternative influence network" really does universally promote far right reactionary views (some of them certainly do, but they're no more a monolith than the left is) what really constitutes the furtherance of the far right's true agenda: allowing reactionaries on social media to speak their minds, or empowering capital to silence those the strongest players in the marketplace, either singly or in concert, do not like?

How long before these kinds of tactics get used on corporate whistle blowers, environmental activists and union leaders? Today, those calling for less globalism and immigration are greater threats to the power and interests of capital (specifically unlimited access to cheap labor) than socialist union militancy is. Hence the far right rather than the left being public enemy number one. For today. But can this be counted on to last indefinitely?

It's especially galling when supposed leftists seem to suddenly start channeling the spirit of Ayn Rand when the subject of corporate censorship and the firing/deplatforming of right wing commentators is raised. "It's not censorship" when private entities do it, they claim. That's funny, because by that rationale, it shouldn't have been "discrimination" when employers, landlords, banks and so on discriminated against gays, racial minorities, atheists and socialists either. We don't get to pick and choose based solely on convenience dictated by political allegiance. And believe me when I say that anti-discrimination laws intended to bring marginalized groups into equal footing were resisted via very similar kinds of claims for a very long time. Segregationists had a long history of opposing "government telling business who they can and can't hire."

It was the left who dealt with blacklisting and persecution during McCarthyism and various red scares. In an increasingly conservative political climate, do we think ourselves immune to such tactics in the future? What happens to our capacity to credibly call it out when we in fact endorse such methods as Tim Squirrell is doing?

It is left wing people who should know that modes and relations of production are fundamental, and that the ideological climate flows from that. It should therefore be of greater import to us to protect smaller dissident voices online that we may disagree with than to call upon the real force for reaction - monopoly capital - to silence those voices.

We have in social media something that generations of leftist media critics could only have dreamed of: a means by which people with little capital and institutional clout can potentially reach a mass audience. A Carl Benjamin would have been unthinkable in the days before social media. So too would a host of leftist outlets: think Jimmy Dore, Kyle Kulinski and the like. Yet today's democratic centralist vanguard of highly educated professional activists chooses to use it to silence others. They are pretty much doing the Atlantic Council's work for them.

I think it says a great deal about just how "left" the Tim Squirrells and Sleeping Giants of this world really are when they have the ears of the corporate oligopolies and opt to use their influence in this manner. If they were leftists in any authentic sense, they should use their influence to advocate for better wages and working conditions in Silicon Valley, clean water in Flint, Michigan, greater protection for renters in Arkansas ... I could go on. On and on and on. There's real social injustice out there to fight. Let's use this powerful new social media tool to truly empower the poor and marginalized, rather than silence those only a tier or two up from the bottom. Even if they do have some genuinely odious opinions. The best way to fight fascism is to embed social democratic principles directly into the fabric of our political and economic structures. Calls for social media censorship push in exactly the opposite direction. Why do I get the feeling that future generations fighting to improve the lot of the poor and working classes will regret the precedents these pseudo leftists are setting?

But then, that would mean it would have to stop being about the egos of the Tim Squirrells of this world. It would have to stop being about what heroes he and Sleeping Giants are, and start being about actually addressing the real roots of marginalization. Which is a mode of production that's working out quite well for the likes of Mr. Squirrell, thank you very much. Must be nice being a professor in an elite educational institution. Check your privilege, good sir!

In short, they are not leftists at all. They are the voices of power and privilege, made all the worse by their adoption of a "progressive" veneer.

Of course, you, dear reader, may do business with whomever you like. You're under no obligation to patronize an outfit who likewise does business in some way you object to. Boycotts are a potentially powerful means of challenging corporate power. But let's be judicious when we employ this strategy, and let's use it to actually challenge rather than uphold corporate power. Let's reserve it for use against corporations that abuse their workers, spoil the environment, or engage in other shady business practices. Giving a platform to someone like Sargon of Akkad simply isn't something that we on the left should be objecting to.

As a bit of an aside, "extrordanormalguy" on twitter asked me this question:
I appreciate your principled view on this issue, but how can you align with the left as a whole anymore. The have largely become an authoritarian group hell bent on stifling free speech, and killing freedom for anyone who disagrees with them. Truly evil people.
Simply because the right will not, and can not deal with this issue effectively. The right's whole history has been about entrenching corporate power. Their recent concerns about free speech are more opportunistic than they are genuine. It wasn't so long ago it was the religious right playing these kinds of games with businesses that sold rock music records and role playing game books. Donald Trump is notoriously no friend of press freedom, however partisan the press has also been in their opposition to him. Furthermore, the right's individualistic framing of social and economic relations mitigates against the impetus to organize, or to see what they're engaged in as a struggle for power wherein their opponents see the need to win at all costs, as opposed to a mere clash of ideas to be resolved through honest and open debate. For a number of reasons, debacles such as these make quite clear the serious limitations of libertarian and conservative thought for all except those rich and powerful enough to benefit from them.

We Live in Strange Times
Moreover, the mainstream right simply doesn't care. That's all there really is to it. Republican leaders in America or prominent Conservative Party politicians in Canada and the UK may occasionally pay lip service to the importance of free speech, but it's not a priority for them, and certainly not for the broader institutions in which they operate. Free speech for YouTube's "alternative influence network" doesn't entail tax cuts for the top 1% of 1% of income earners. Therefore, it's off the radar as far as conservative power is concerned.

More mainstream kinds of conservatives are a heavily programmed and ideological lot, and this issue simply doesn't fall into their constellation of hot button issues. It's not about guns, it's not against abortion, it's not idolizing the flag, it's not in favor of middle-east power projection, it's not demonizing some or another Liberal or Democrat party politician: Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Justin Trudeau or whomever. And above all, it's not about tax cuts. Ergo, invisible to the right, with some exceptions, of course.

It's worth noting that the kinds of "reactionaries" and "bigots" that are the targets of these kinds of deplatforming campaigns are themselves strident advocates of free market capitalism, a fact the likes of Tim Squirrell are only too happy to point out. Strange that the so called left seems to be doing a better job than the right of leveraging market power in this scenario. Would that the left used this influence to demand and uphold worker's rights. Likewise, being on the receiving end of this kind of corporate maleficence should hopefully suggest to these libertarian and reactionary social media personalities that unlimited corporate power might not be such a good idea. While I don't condone the right being deplatformed on corporate social media, it bears mentioning that they have no real basis to protest it given their most cherished ideological principles.

Besides, I wonder whose idea of a "leftist" Tim Squirrell really is anyway?

Were I in a position to counsel the "Alternative Influence Network" in any way, I'd suggest the following:

You've been called the so called intellectual dark web. It's time to leave the dark web behind. Stop hiding. It's working against you. You need to make yourself known to the social media outlets who are hosting you. You actually represent their interests better than the social justice crowd does. You want them to pay less taxes and deal with fewer regulations, after all. Why not try to have a dialogue with them and establish a relationship with them? You say sunlight is the best disinfectant, start with yourselves. You know what you believe and why - don't fear. Use marketing strategies devised by the capitalist system you so love and publicly position yourselves as free speech advocates. Make certain you represent yourselves as promoters of something most people think are good. Don't come out against political correctness. Come out in favor of free thought and open dialogue. Know your values and frame the debate.

You've spent most of your time creating ideological content for consumption by like minded viewers out there in YouTube land. While important, this isn't enough. Now you're paying the price for your policy of isolationism. You need to start an outreach program to capture the hearts and minds of the political mainstream. Otherwise the Tim Squirrells of this world will represent you and will control the narrative around who you are and what you stand for. Your recent misadventures with Patreon and SubscribeStar show what the end result of that is.

Take a lesson from the SJWs you despise. The SJWs who figured out that positioning themselves as a radical counter culture was of limited efficacy, and found ways to work within the systems they professed to dislike to advance their agendas and thrust their narratives into the mainstream. They didn't like mainstream media and academia any more than you do now, but the hard truth is that the bulk of the population isn't abandoning legacy media any time soon. It has gravitas and credibility with both the bulk of the population, and policy making elites in positions of influence. It's how the feminist social justice crowd got to where they are today. Study their success and learn from it.

Above all, be you left or right leaning, do NOT spam Tim Squirrell, Sleeping Giants or similar people with threats, insults or hate speech. It only makes you look bad and lends credence to their narratives.

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