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E-Pluribus | April 11, 2022
Liberalism in the crucible, satire is just satire, and how propaganda, disinformation and misinformation are used in a world buried in information.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Ross Douthat: Can Liberalism Thrive Without a Wolf at the Door?
There is an old saying that we learn more from opposition and failure than from support and success, and Ross Douthat writes at the New York Times that the same sentiment may well apply to our modern societies structured on classical liberalism. Though not all the signs are positive, Vladimir Putin and other authoritarians pushing back against the spread of liberal democracy may prompt the introspection needed to bring about a revival in the West for the principles and ideals that have opened freedom’s doors to so many over the last century.
[T]he Ukraine war could help the liberal establishment in the long run, by encouraging an internal reassessment of what liberalism itself should seek to be.
For example, a writer who seemed overly hopeful about the liberal-revival scenario in the first days of the war, Francis Fukuyama, has now written a searching essay for Foreign Affairs on why “liberalism needs the nation” arguing that the heroic resistance of the Ukrainians should teach liberals a lesson about the virtues of national identity.
“With their bravery,” he writes, the Ukrainians “have made clear that citizens are willing to die for liberal ideals, but only when those ideals are embedded in a country they can call their own.” The war has thus been a partial rebuke to the fantasy of a pure cosmopolitanism, of a liberalism that transcends borders, languages and specific histories. And it’s offered a case study in how the nation-state, its loves and loyalties, can unite a disparate population around a common cause in a way that no supranational institution has ever been able to achieve.
The challenge, though, is that the “sense of national purpose” Fukuyama is praising in Ukraine conspicuously depends on an external enemy, a wolf at the door, and you cannot simply will such an enemy into being. (Nor should you wish to!) Whereas most of the peacetime sources of national solidarity he cites, from food and sports to literary traditions, are somewhat thinner things. And one of the potentially thicker forces, a sense of religious unity within a liberal order, Fukuyama rules out: In a pluralist society, “the idea of restoring a shared moral tradition defined by religious belief is a nonstarter,” leading only to sectarianism and violence if applied.
Read the whole thing.
Rikki Schlott: It's Not 'Bullying' To Satirize a Student Organization
Sticks and stones may break our bones but, increasingly it seems, words do hurt us and even prompt some to respond in ways that undermine free expression. Rikki Schlott at Reason relates a recent incident at Catholic University of America that ended well but raises concerns over initial reactions to one student’s efforts to use satire to make his point.
When the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter at the Catholic University of America (CUA) debated the participation of transgender athletes in women's sports, sophomore Rory O'Connor leaned into the conversation by posting a barrage of critical memes on social media.
To his surprise, the satirical posts prompted the university to investigate him for "disorderly conduct."
[ . . . ]
"My intention in making the posts was to criticize and satirize the Catholic U YAF for, what I believe at least, was a blatantly exclusionary and disrespectful event," O'Connor tells Reason. "I meant this in good humor." But not everyone saw it as a joke.
Representatives from the YAF chapter filed a complaint to the university, writing to administrators about "a variety of Instagram stories all tagging @catholicuyaf, each of which are misrepresentative of our views, our tabling, and us as individuals." The complaint alleged harassment, asserting, "A Catholic University student should never threaten, harass, or bully other people including other CUA students."
In response, the university launched an investigation into O'Connor. In a March 29 letter, administrators notified him of charges of violating the student code of conduct and engaging in "disorderly conduct" due to allegations that he "threatened representatives of Young Americans for Freedom with bodily harm via [his] Instagram post." He was then summoned to a student conduct conference—potentially facing suspension or expulsion, according to school policy.
Read it all here.
Martin Gurri and Weifeng Zhong: Misinformation, Disinformation and Propaganda
Martin Gurri and Weifeng Zhong, both fellows at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, recently held a Twitter Spaces discussion about propaganda and other forms of misuse of information. Both Gurri and Zhong bring their expertise and personal experience to an issue that has relevance both in the international context of the war in Ukraine and in domestic battles over “misinformation” and “fake news.” (transcript via Discourse Magazine.)
It’s one thing to say you can control people’s minds by controlling, restricting the information they can get. But another way is actually, even if you could have access to a lot of information potentially—I think that modern-day China, people have more access to information than, say, they used to in the ’70s or ’60s under Mao—but it’s another method to say, if you have very strong propaganda machinery, you could potentially manipulate their minds in how they perceive those information, right?
If you think about, even in the United States, we are hooked on media that are to our liking. So there’s a reinforcement mechanism there that drives the public to more and more a deeply divided state. People who are more liberal-minded, they would tend to discard the information coming from the right even though there is information available to them.
I think the information or propaganda control in China now is that despite the fact that they could see a lot of information—if they see a reporting about the Uyghur forced-labor camps, for example, in China, or the protest in Hong Kong—I’ve seen a lot of people in China during the couple of years where Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were protesting.
Mainland Chinese residents would say, “Well, they were just trying to destroy our country, destroy the economy. Hong Kong, they’re just dragging us in terms of our progress to a better future.” Because the mindset was already changed by the government, despite the fact that they could see people on the street in Hong Kong.
Read it all.
Via Wesley Yang, the latest trend from transgender advocates, “transition closets,” to facilitate hiding students’ behaviour from their parents:
Via Heterodox Academy, a few thoughts from Jon Haidt’s recent Atlantic article on the hijacking of public discourse by the extremes:
Some very disturbing video from Shanghai, China, where the Communist Chinese government has instituted a total lockdown:
And finally, via Jesse Singal, turning language on its head: