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E-Pluribus | June 2, 2021
A proposal for Big Tech self-policing, the connection of civil rights laws to "wokeness," and media groupthink.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Susan Crabtree: Group of Tech Execs Takes On Social Media Censorship
Some in the tech industry are taking on their own, pushing back at the reflexive and selective tendency of some of the giants in their field. A new group with the somewhat clunky name of the 1st & 14th Institute is calling for self-policing that will avoid direct government intervention while at the same time holding companies to more predictable and equitable standards of behavior when it comes to free expression.
Over the last year, [Mike Matthys] and two longtime friends of different political persuasions, Brian Jackson and John Quinn -- all of whom work in the tech industry -- have become so alarmed by the steady stream of blatant censorship that they formed a nonpartisan group dedicated to curbing it. They dubbed the group the 1st & 14th Institute after the Bill of Rights’ guarantees of free speech and due process.
“We’re nonpartisan and we like to remind people that if you really dislike Trump or you dislike conservative views, just remember what happened in the 1950s and 1960s when we had the McCarthy era and the Berkeley free speech movement.”
Instead of trying to rip away Section 230 protections, the trio proposes an industry-wide self-regulatory process that falls mostly outside of government -- similar to how the film industry voluntarily created the Motion Picture Association of America’s ratings system in 1968 in response to parents’ calls for common-sense guidelines assessing movies for children’s viewing.
Matthys envisions a quasi-governmental body akin to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority that operates as an extension of the Securities and Exchange Commission and regulates member brokerage firms and exchange markets. FINRA has an $800 million budget, is funded by industry participants, hands out fines and has the ability to disbar individuals from serving as investment advisers if they aren’t operating within prescribed standards.
Read it all at RealClear Politics.
Richard Hanania: Woke Institutions is Just Civil Rights Law
In his Substack newsletter, Richard Hanania documents how many components of present day “wokeness” are rooted in the effects of civil rights legislation, often as interpreted and implemented by government bureaucracy. Confronting this mission creep would inevitably lead to charges of trying to roll back hard won civil rights victories, but in Hanania’s telling, it may allow some real progress to be made as opposed to the sound and fury that characterizes much of the current “wokeness” opposition.
Before proceeding, it is important to clarify what wokeness actually is. I’d argue it has 3 components:
1) A belief that any disparities in outcomes favoring whites over non-whites or men over women are caused by discrimination (Sometimes wokeness cares about other disparities too, like fat/nonfat, but those are given less attention. I’m putting aside LGBT issues, which seem to be at an earlier stage of wokeness in which the left is still mostly fighting battles regarding explicit differences in treatment rather than disparate outcomes, although the latter does get attention sometimes.)
2) The speech of those who would argue against 1 needs to be restricted in the interest of overcoming such disparities, and the safety and emotional well-being of the victimized group in question.
3) Bureaucracies are needed that reflect the beliefs in 1 and 2, working to overcome disparities and managing speech and social relations.
Each of these things can be traced to law. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination based on race and gender. While most at the time thought this would simply remove explicit discrimination, and many of the proponents of the bill made that promise, courts and regulators expanded the concept of “non-discrimination” to mean almost anything that advantages one group over another. An important watershed was the decision in Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971), in which the Supreme Court ruled that intelligence tests, because they were not shown to be directly related to job performance, could not be used in hiring since blacks scored lower on them, and it did not matter whether there was any intent to discriminate. People act as if “standardized tests are racist if they show disparities” is some kind of new idea, but it’s basically been the law in the United States for 50 years, albeit inconsistently enforced.
Read the whole thing.
Bret Stephens: Media Groupthink and the Lab-Leak Theory
Facebook’s recently reversed its ban on discussions of the Wuhan COVID lab leak theory and some mainstream publications are backing away from previous characterizations of the theory as “fringe” or “conspiracy.” Bret Stephens writes how journalism writ large needs a reckoning on how some issues such as the lab leak theory are politicized beyond all reason to the detriment of everyone.
But this possible [lab leak] scandal, which is as yet unproved, obscures an actual scandal, which remains to be digested.
I mean the long refusal by too many media gatekeepers (social as well as mainstream) to take the lab-leak theory seriously. The reasons for this — rank partisanship and credulous reporting — and the methods by which it was enforced — censorship and vilification — are reminders that sometimes the most destructive enemies of science can be those who claim to speak in its name.
The common reaction in elite liberal circles? A Washington Post reporter called it a “fringe theory” that “has been repeatedly disputed by experts.” The Atlantic Council accused Cotton of abetting an “infodemic” by “pushing debunked claim that the novel coronavirus may have been created in a Wuhan lab.” A writer for Vox said it was a “dangerous conspiracy theory” being advanced by conservatives “known to regularly spew nonsense (and bash China).”
There are many more such examples. But the overall shape of the media narrative was clear. On one side were experts at places like the World Health Organization: knowledgeable, incorruptible, authoritative, noble. On the other were a bunch of right-wing yahoos pushing a risible fantasy with xenophobic overtones in order to deflect attention from the Trump administration’s mishandling of the crisis.
Read it all at The New York Times.
A thread on the (apparently) mysterious rise of violent anti-Semitism during the recent Israel-Hamas conflict:
A thread from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on one university’s war on Greek (letters):
Damon Linker on the continuing polarization (and tedium) of political debate:
Some responses to Linker’s statement (and some of his responses to the responses):
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