President Barack Obama on Thursday decried America’s “wild, wild west” media environment for allowing conspiracy theorists a broad platform and destroying a common basis for debate.
Obama talks about the Wild West as if it’s a bad thing. The metaphor implies that external authorities must step in and, whether by regulation or stern lecturing, contain and control the “Wild West” of Internet and free expression. This is NOT how America developed and grew, and it’s not the way of a free society. Obama clearly does not get this, or perhaps does not care.
In listening to the rants, personal attacks and insults hurled by progressives (since they rarely reason), I have learned several things. One is that anything with which a progressive disagrees is considered hate speech. This includes taxes, trade policy, socialized medicine, you name it. Two, hate speech should be considered a crime, just like murder or theft are crimes. And what progressives are unable to silence by name-calling and insult-hurling, they’re more than ready to utilize government agencies to enforce, however underhanded the way they go about it.
Recalling past days when three television channels delivered fact-based news that most people trusted, Obama said democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions.
We have here disturbing hints of what future rationalizations for censorship might look like.
The rationalization goes like this: “Democracy” depends on rationality. Many websites and forums are not rational, according to Obama and other progressives like him, including Hillary Clinton. Therefore, we have to “do something” to foster more reasonable thinking in the culture.
“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” Obama said at an innovation conference in Pittsburgh.
Who are “we” in this equation? Does he mean willing, voluntary parties? Or are government authorities and politicians to be in the mix? Aren’t they already in the mix, by virtue of the President of the United States calling for a different kind of approach to media? Isn’t this what Nazi and Communist overseers (Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, etc.) did?
“There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world,” Obama added.
Again, it’s “we.” When government authorities speak of “we”, they don’t mean you or me, at least not if we disagree. They mean them. Will these officials handling the “truthiness” tests Obama wants consist of Republicans, Democrats, independents or what affiliation? Will they include people critical of the current government’s policies? If so, what will the limits be? Why is a U.S. president even talking about this in the first place?
“That is hard to do, but I think it’s going to be necessary, it’s going to be possible,” Obama added.
“The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
People can be factual, and still be wrong. Facts are a necessary condition for truth, but not a sufficient one. For example, I could say, “Look at these people going hungry in a capitalist country. That proves capitalism is bad and wrong.” Obama wouldn’t have a big problem with the truthiness of this statement. But what about all the other facts? The fact that capitalism (which we no longer fully have) lifts the standard of living for everyone? And that while capitalism does not mandate charity, people who live in an economically free country tend to be the most generous people because they have the most to give, after all. Prosperity tends to put you in a good and generous mood, and while it does not guarantee such attributes, it certainly makes them possible and likely. What about the millions more going hungry—the majority, not the minority—in totally non-capitalist countries like North Korea, Cuba and Russia/China before they pulled back from these policies?
It’s just one little example of how facts, by themselves, do not give us the full truth. It’s the full context of facts that matter. That’s why there’s so much differing opinion, not only about politics and government, but a whole host of issues.
Obama is setting the table for censorship, even though he claims to oppose it. Instead of trusting that people will eventually get to the truth on their own, via freedom of speech, objective reasoning and thought, he feels the urge to weigh in and talk about how democracy requires a certain kind of truth. Given how hostile most progressives tend to be to any version of the truth other than their own, Obama’s impatience with the “Wild West” of the Internet at least makes psychological sense.
Democracy, by the way, has nothing to do with rights. Democracy refers to the method by which we elect politicians into office. Freedom of speech and thought refer to the sovereignty of individuals over their own minds and lives. About this right, there can be no opinion or debate. The moment we subject freedom of speech to democratic vote is the moment it’s all over.
The “Wild West” is not automatically a bad thing. America grew into a great civilization out of the Wild West. It evolved naturally and gradually, primarily due to the actions of free-thinking and economically free individuals, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Social engineers like Obama and Hillary Clinton are certain they can do better than we can on our own. They have moved from the realm of health care, business and education to the last area where they may gain full control: Free speech.
Good-bye, Internet. Unless we’re ready to fight for it.
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