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E-Pluribus | December 6, 2022
Liberalism and power; disinformation and UFOs; and free speech and the U.K.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Shadi Hamid: It's the Liberalism, Stupid
From our founding, Pluribus has recognized the importance of defining the terms of a debate. At Wisdom of Crowds, Shadi Hamid makes the point that, as much as we might desire to keep meanings as static as possible, this like many other areas of life comes down to power, and that means politics.
When we talk about liberalism, we’re talking about an ideological orientation as well as a tradition: the classical liberal tradition. Like all traditions, it has a history and a lineage. As a result, there is something approaching a consensus about its basic contours. For example, the U.S. Bill of Rights is a rather impressive encapsulation of liberal values and ideals. I’m unlikely to encounter much pushback when I say that liberalism, unlike democracy, puts its emphasis on personal autonomy, civil liberties, freedom of conscience, the primacy of reason over revelation, and the prioritization of the individual over the collective. As part of this basket, though, I often also include (to make things a bit more tangible) “gender equality” and “minority rights.” But of course, the great liberal theorists were not liberals by this standard.
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This problem of projecting contemporary morality onto the past arises whenever we speak of “universal rights.” What is it that makes a universal right universal, particularly if such a right is not universally held? Do such rights need to be universal across time or place, or both? Can something be right and moral in one time period but not in another?
Read it all here.
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Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.: The UFO Bubble Goes Pop
In the Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins examines the recent UFO revival and finds that rather than life from beyond the stars, the explanation is more likely all too human - misdirection and deception. While intentions behind the government’s newfound interest in UFOs may be rooted in national security, Jenkins says that misleading the public in the process is wrong and ultimately dangerous.
Last year’s first mandatory intelligence report in what now seems a misdirection claimed several sightings “appear to demonstrate advanced technology.” A procession of current and former officials in the media hinted at secret and disturbing knowledge. The public was listening, with academics speculating that the long history of such now-validated sightings means aliens have been among us for decades if not millennia. America’s allies and adversaries were listening too, and reasonably wondered if our military pilots were actually recording encounters with secret U.S. super-capabilities that might tip the military balance.
A year ago NASA’s Bill Nelson was enjoying the frolic, telling the press, “Who am I to say that planet Earth is the only location of a life form that is civilized and organized like ours?” More recently, he seems to have recognized that matters were getting out of hand and launched a NASA research project with the implicit purpose of delivering to the American people the non-hysterical truth that our intelligence agencies, for some reason, were withholding.
Former Obama CIA chief John Brennan, who by now should be recognized as a reliable font of disinformation, told a podcaster two years ago that the evidence indicated “some type of phenomenon that . . . constitutes a different form of life.” If the Times is right, he and colleagues have known this was bunk all along. UFOs were a smokescreen.
Read it all.
J. D. Tuccille: U.K.'s Awful Internet Bill Becomes a Bit Less Hostile to Free Speech
So much of the news about free speech is bad these days, so even a mild victory seems worth mentioning. J. D. Tuccille of Reason finds reason for at least one cheer for some provisions being dropped from the U.K.’s proposed Online Safety Bill.
With European Union officials threatening to ban Twitter unless the social media platform throttles online conversations to the satisfaction of the continent's political masters, it's encouraging to hear slightly less-authoritarian news from other sources across the Atlantic. Having severed ties with the E.U., the United Kingdom is accordingly drifting a bit from that supranational body's terrible policies on speech. The latest version of the country's proposed internet regulatory bill, while still intrusive and controlling, steps back a bit from the censorious brink.
"Controversial measures which would have forced big technology platforms to take down legal but harmful material have been axed from the Online Safety Bill," the BBC's Chris Vallance and Shiona McCallum reported this week. "Critics of the section in the bill claimed it posed a risk to free speech."
Yes, you read that right. For a long time—the proposed bill has been in development for years—British lawmakers proposed to force online services to remove some perfectly legal speech of which the government disapproved.
Read the whole thing.
Wesley Yang is nonplussed by the woke Millennial manner of speaking as exemplified by former Twitter employee Yoel Roth (click on the third tweet below, or here, for the video):
Excerpts of a discussion between Mustafa Akyol and Shadi Hamid on democracy (click on the Tweets below to navigate through other parts of the discussion):
And finally, a short video. Educator and entrepreneur Ian Rowe on race, agency and true diversity: