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E-Pluribus | April 1, 2022
All government propaganda is a problem, how important is cancel culture, and why even the undebatable must be debatable.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Abigail Hall Blanco and Christopher Coyne: Government Propaganda Threatens Democratic Self-Governance
Russia’s inexcusable and horrific invasion of Ukraine has provided an opportunity to see how an authoritarian government uses propaganda both internally and targeted at the global audience. But Abigail Hall Blanco and Christopher Coyne at Discourse Magazine say democratic governments are not innocent when it comes to propaganda, and sometimes a war provides excuses for such governments to undermine the truth in ways that may not work under normal conditions.
Propaganda is relevant because it influences the behaviors of both the general populace and the political elite. As we are witnessing right now, Russian propaganda is playing an important role in the government’s invasion of Ukraine, by—among other things—calling their attack on their neighbor a “special military operation” and providing disinformation about the specifics of the conflict. Government propaganda is often associated with authoritarian regimes, and rightfully so. These governments actively use propaganda as a tool of control and influence. Given the nature of authoritarian governments, this is not surprising.
But democratic governments also employ propaganda, especially in matters of national security, despite their stated commitment to transparency, accountability and the rule of law. As journalist John Basil Utley noted, “Official Washington and those associated with it have misrepresented the facts numerous times in the service of military actions that might not otherwise have taken place. In the Middle East, these interventions have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Arab civilians, brought chaos to Iraq and Libya, and led to the expulsion of a million Christians from communities where they have lived since biblical times.” As this makes clear, propaganda can produce policies in democratic countries that have devastating consequences on people around the world. But these effects aren’t limited to those abroad.
A major concern with the use of propaganda in democratic societies is that it changes the nature of the relationship between citizens and the state. A defining feature of liberal democracies is that citizens are the source of power, with those in government being subservient to the citizenry. The adoption of government propaganda flips this relationship. Citizens are viewed as an inconvenient barrier to the political elite achieving their desired goals. The elite use their political power to control the citizenry in the name of the “common good.”
Read it all here.
Eric Kaufmann: Cancel Culture Is More Important, and Less Important, Than You Think
Pundits and politicians are all over the map on cancel culture: some say it’s all an illusion, other frame the issue in apocalyptic terms. At Heterodox Academy, Eric Kaufmann of the University of London and the Manhattan Institute uses the results of a survey he recently conducted to suggest neither extreme is accurate.
Cancel culture and political correctness were once internal affairs of universities, but they are a growing issue that is starting to decide elections. At the same time, the wider political environment increasingly shapes what happens on campus. Florida governor Ron DeSantis recently passed the Stop WOKE Act to ban critical race theory in schools, but there are concerns the ban could spill over into college classrooms. We face a vicious cycle where cancel culture threats in education and in society operate in both ideological directions, undermining liberalism.
For some, cancel culture is everywhere, limiting freedom and instilling fear in the population. For example, when popular podcaster Joe Rogan apologized after coming under fire for inviting an anti-vaccine guest on his show and using the N-word in previous episodes, Donald Trump and other conservative critics accused him of caving in to cancel culture.
[ . . . ]
[C]ancel culture is clearly not an imaginary phenomenon among the public. Echoing previous research, more than 6 in 10 Americans say that “the political climate these days prevents me from saying things I believe because others might find them offensive.” As with the oft-cited Hidden Tribes report, nearly 8 in 10 people said political correctness had gone too far. Trump voters were 20 to 30 points more likely to agree with these statements than Biden voters, but a majority of the latter also concurred.
Read the whole thing.
Jill Filipovic: In Defense of Debate
Yesterday’s Around Twitter included Tweets from pro-life activist Alexandra DeSanctis Marr and abortion rights supporter Jill Filipovic regarding an upcoming debate between the two women at Notre Dame. Though Filipovic believes these rights she asserts should be beyond debate by this point, she writes at her Substack that public conversations such like these are too important to ignore and that everyone benefits from questioning and defending the most deeply held beliefs.
Debate is not particularly en vogue at the moment. In progressive circles, there’s an understandable exhaustion with the debate me, bro brand of right-wing point-scoring. Many on the left argue in favor of deplatforming or refusing to feature those who hold ugly, dangerous, or hateful views, particularly although not exclusively on college campuses. The latest example comes from the University of Virginia, where the student newspaper editorial board argued that the school should not have welcomed a talk from former Vice President Mike Pence, because “dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform.”
The questions of who deserves a platform and which issues should be up for debate are not simple ones. No matter how much of a free speech absolutist someone is — and I’m a pretty staunch one — just about everybody agrees that there are some issues that are so beyond the pale that they are not, and should not be, up for discussion. So the question really isn’t whether debate is good or bad. One question is what falls inside the circle of what we debate and what falls outside of it. Another is whether agreeing to debate an issue validates that issue as justifiably contested. In other words, if I agree to debate abortion rights, isn’t that conceding that abortion rights should be up for debate?
[ . . . ]
When it comes to the contours of what is or is not up for debate, where I’ve landed is this: For those of us who are paid to think through issues in public, there is value in publicly discussing and debating questions that are actually being litigated in the public and political spheres. Whether I like it or not, abortion rights are being litigated (quite literally). Affirmative action is being litigated. Trans rights are being litigated. There are other issues that some reactionary knucklehead may want to debate that are not actually subjects of any real potential legal or policy change — for example, whether women should have the right to vote, or whether slavery was really that bad. Don’t get me wrong: There are people out there who make those arguments. But the answers to those questions are not being written into law at this particular moment. Debating offensive questions with no real political stakes does have the effect of legitimizing them, and potentially creates real political stakes later on. I feel very good about ignoring the provocations that are intended to open or reopen questions long since resolved.
Read it all.
Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze, on the Justice Department’s letter “reminding” the states that the federal government will not tolerate state efforts to regulate “gender-affirming care” for children:
Germany’s response to those who might be inclined to support Russia over Ukraine has some free speech advocates concerned:
Can Disney be “cancelled”? Some debate over Florida’s response to Disney’s public opposition to recent legislation:
And finally, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on April Fools Day: