Belmont Club

Suppose It is a Black Swan?

The election of Donald Trump rather than starting the process of healing seems to have widened divisions.  Relationships are ending. People’s writings are ‘disappeared’ without the victims of censorship even being aware they are targets of powerful efforts to shut them down. Tech giants are actually developing a blacklist technology and  working with government to identify what and who should be banned from social media.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Web giants YouTube , Facebook , Twitter and Microsoft will step up efforts to remove extremist content from their websites by creating a common database.

The companies will share ‘hashes’ – unique digital fingerprints they automatically assign to videos or photos – of extremist content they have removed from their websites to enable their peers to identify the same content on their platforms.

“We hope this collaboration will lead to greater efficiency as we continue to enforce our policies to help curb the pressing global issue of terrorist content online,” the companies said in a statement on Tuesday.

Signs of the fracture inlude 53 progressive organizations led by J Street and MoveOn publicly denouncing Trump nominee Michael Flynn as an “unfit” and “frightening” choice for National Security Advisor. LeBron James won’t stay at a Trump-owned hotel with his teammates.  Some people are so upset about the 2016 election result their romantic life has been shut down.

Though the evidence is anecdotal, many similar stories depict a world gradually breaking up into groups some might call “echo chambers” or affinity groups which are at odds with each other.  It is as if a kind of internal secession were taking place that could be part of a larger trend.  Tony Blair for one has stopped regarding the “populist revolt” as an aberration and come to see it as ominous challenge to the world order.  Gradually the Left is starting to think recent events are not a freak confluence of rogue trends but a deliberate counterattack against it of the sort it has not seen in a long time.

It is that self-awareness which is so frightening to the Left.  It did not worry much when conservativism had no counterprogram beyond caution, when it never reached for the steering wheel and only pleaded for an occasional touch of the brakes to still their shattered nerves.

The one exception to its serene confidence was the time it was challenged by Hitler’s fascist heresy; a heresy sprung from themselves and like them had an apocalyptic plan. That collision with a self-aware opposition left them so shaken they have been on the lookout for a similar foe ever since. The challenge now emerging seems to fulfilfill the nightmare  because it is alarmingly self-aware, fed by social media and nurtured by the Internet.  One threat estimate is provided by Jedediah Purdy of Politico who see in Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel  purveyors an “illiberal theory of politics”.

What is emerging may not be the foe the Left fears. Because it is conscious like themselves they are afraid. Perhaps they are right to be frightened.  As Ken Watanabe noted in Godzilla, nature often creates one monster to destroy another. Monsters are bad for everyone.

But it is also unlike them.  The old frameworks assumed that threats would be mirror images of each other but with different agendas. Yet as Dilbert’s Scott Adams notes the reliable strategems of the past are failing because they have unintended consequences in the 21st century. The costs of closed, elite systems pursuing closed ideologies are now very high compared to the available alternatives.  Consensus is no longer adequate for pronouncing on the truth and bureaucracies are no longer capable of enforcing edicts from on high.  Echo chambers are no inherently unstable without some form of interaffinity group cross fertilization and trading of ideas to keep them from become inbred and decadent.  The once all powerful conspiratorial cell has become an airless prison, its advantages no longer worth the loss of connectivity.

The Vanguard of the proletariat — of any social movement — is as obsolete as the standalone computer.

In other words the new challenge to the Left may not be based on envy but the realization that imitating progressives is a recipe for failure.  The strategy of keeping the outsiders from out the castle fails when the outsiders don’t want a castle.  Thus the anti fake news campaign could ironically lead to affirmation by negation, to the creation of entire outlets consisting entirely of forbidden content desirable in itself; in boycotts which might give rise to groups whose hash tokens of banishment are turned into passports of admission. The exclusionary process now being mooted by the fact checkers can become an act of self-banishment.

If people are no longer afraid of Talking Points, no longer desirous of a place in the Union Hall, if the answer to the adage “you can’t beat City Hall” becomes: City Hall ain’t what it used to be, then the bets are truly off.  The conclusions don’t hold when the assumptions have changed.  The Left expected a rival like itself, but in an age when elites are losing their grip on an disintermediated society, there may be no King Kong come forth to challenge their Godzilla.

What they do not expect is an ideology of non-ideology to emerge; something which far from regarding history as the fulfillment of some human plan wants to set people free to explore the next valley that leaves us ever alone with wonder and reminds us we are small things trying to make sense of a big universe.  In other words, what if the sentience the Left fears in its new rivals is emergent rather than prescribed?  Suppose it is asking itself questions rather than supplying answers?

The great wellspring of liberty was  the frontier, both in its inward and outward aspects. In the last century both the inner and outer frontiers closed and that set the stage for man to imprison man.  But perhaps the frontier is opening again and that fact will have consequences which we are now beginning to feel.  The two great enterprises of the 21st century will be the exploration of the planets and the liberation  of human potential.  The first will be made possible by technological development and the second will emerge from the transformation of communication from instruments of bondage to highways of inquiry.  Those will necessarily have devastating disruptive effects but also potentially huge benefits.

In which case the emerging challenge to the Left will consist not of something like itself, but different from it.  They have been conditioned to expect a like of themselves because that is what 19th and 20th century technology could support.  What they unprepared for is something disinterested in its vanities or the insusceptible to its old categories; something now viable because there is now the technological means to support it.

That would be the ultimate strategic surprise to ideologues.  But nothing is forever.  Not even Talking Points.

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