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E-Pluribus | January 20, 2023
Even "voluntary" censorship is still censorship; revenge of the nerds; and the Defund the Police movement wasn't entirely a bust.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Brent Skorup: Censored
Government censorship doesn’t always involve an explicit threat. Brent Skorup at Discourse Magazine explores government “voluntary” censorship over the years, particularly in wartime, and how it compares to what is happening today.
Free speech advocates and courts must be alert to modern voluntary censorship. Some methods have not changed, including the use of private, unrecorded communications between government and media representatives and government representatives’ conflation of censorable speech (such as troop movements and fake election information) with slanted but legal speech. But the government has lost its most powerful weapon—loss of mailing and broadcast privileges. Social media and tech companies don’t have licenses to threaten.
While their tools are less powerful, congressional investigations, drawn-out administrative agency investigations, government contracting decisions and antitrust scrutiny can all be used to penalize and perhaps even bankrupt recalcitrant company officials. Troubling new tactics have emerged from the recently revealed documents, however: encrypted communications between government and social media employees, online portals to fast-track government agencies’ content takedown requests, and a growing “misinformation” industry—nominally private organizations developing censorship guidelines, often funded by and working closely with U.S. government agencies. Given the vagaries of “misinformation,” mission creep is a constant risk.
Extending voluntary censorship methods further seems imminent. Too many U.S. government officials view American minds as a theater to which their authority extends. As a director of a DHS cybersecurity agency put it last year regarding “rumor control” among Americans, “We are in the business of critical infrastructure. …And the most critical infrastructure is our cognitive infrastructure….”
Read the whole thing.
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Christian Schneider: Nerd Immunity: How the Outcasts Seized Control of Our Politics
At some point, “nerd” morphed from a somewhat derogatory term into a self-styled compliment. At National Review, Christian Schneider writes about how those out of the mainstream use their “nerd” status to hijack the dialogue for their own political ends.
The toxic stew of condescension and bullying has now spilled into politics, where extremists fully invested in the myth that they are oppressed are now using all the same tactics to get their payback.
For instance, while its members might not adopt the label, what is QAnon other than a group of theatrically aggrieved nerds who believe that only they know the secrets the government is hiding? Who abuse and banish those who don’t buy into their conspiracies? Who are willing to charge the U.S. Capitol as if Donald Trump’s reelection was as valuable as Szechuan sauce?
The same phenomenon exists in equal measures on the left. Members of the “woke” movement believe they are the ones who have truly been ostracized, and it is time for payback. Their mission to make Americans use trigger warnings, to force everyone into equity workshops, and to ban the use of gas stoves isn’t because doing any of these things will actually help a single person. These people feel they have been persecuted, and they now want to show everyone what they can make us all do. Perhaps they are nerd bullies not in name, but they certainly are in deed.
Even Congress has seen more of its members use the trolling tactics of the modern nerd. Whether it is Democratic California congresswoman Katie Porter playing to C-SPAN cameras by reading a profane book on the floor of the House of Representatives or Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida donning a gas mask to mock people worried about a virus that would go on to kill over a million Americans, elected officials are now mirroring the worst impulses of the dork army.
Read it all here.
Leighton Woodhouse: America’s Police Exodus
While “Defund the Police” was largely rejected as a policy choice with some jurisdictions even going in the opposite direction, Leighton Woodhouse reports for The Free Press (Bari Weiss) that the movement was not without effect. Across the country, law enforcement agencies have suffered a personnel drain as well as low recruitment numbers, results Woodhouse says are at least partially due to perceptions of the public’s attitude towards police.
A 2021 survey showed that police departments nationwide saw resignations jump by 18 percent—and retirements by 45 percent—over the previous year, with hiring decreasing by five percent. The Los Angeles Police Department has been losing 50 officers a month to retirement, more than the city can replace with recruits. Oakland lost about seven per month in 2021, with the number of officers sinking below the city’s legally mandated minimum.
The list goes on: Chicago has lost more cops than it has in two decades. New Orleans is backfilling its shortfall of officers with civilians. New York is losing more police officers than it has since such figures began being recorded. Minneapolis and Baltimore have similar stories. St. Louis—one of the most dangerous cities in America—has lost so many cops that there’s a seven-foot-tall, 10-foot-wide pile of uniforms from outgoing officers at police headquarters called “Mount Exodus.”
[ . . . ]
“That was a lot of talent for us,” McCray said. “They were great, bright new cops. A couple of them were born and raised in the city.” These were the kind of officers that advocates for reform say they want more of: cops from the communities they police, black cops, Latino cops. “All of their roots they had here,” she said. “They just up and left.”
A big part of what’s prompting police to leave America’s big cities is the perception the public has turned against them. A 2020 poll showed that only seven percent of police officers would advise their kids to go into law enforcement. Eighty-three percent of those who wouldn’t recommend it cited “lack of respect for the profession.”
Read it all.
A thread from the Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression on the Chicago mayor’s aborted attempt to ask teachers to volunteer for her campaign:
And finally, when the federal government gives states “stimulus” funds, don’t those funds actually have to be spent to stimulate?