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E-Pluribus | September 12, 2022
A race to the bottom in the fight over DEI, more of what's wrong with social media, and more secondhand censorship.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Cathy Young: The Battle Over Diversity Training
Whatever the good intentions of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, more often than not it seems to generate Division, Enmity and Intolerance. Writing at The Bulwark, Cathy Young says there’s fault to be found on both sides, but exposing the problems with DEI is not the same as addressing those issues reasonably.
DEI training is also one of those issues on which the right and the left tend to get trapped in a mutual cycle of escalating culture-war follies. The right seizes on a real problem, blows it up into an imminent threat to Civilization As We Know It, and demands ham-handed—and often unconstitutional—action to root it out. The left circles the wagons and ferociously argues that whatever the right is complaining about is either nonexistent or actually a good thing. The right attacks even more forcefully. Rinse and repeat.
While [Christopher] Rufo’s dispatches from the culture-war front definitely need to be taken with a grain, or maybe a shaker-full, of salt—as I noted last year, he’s prone, at the very least, to exaggeration and cherry-picking—some of the corporate documents he has collected should give cause for concern.
[ . . . ]
So far, Manji and Allison Gerard, the direction of education for Moral Courage College, are the only two people who have conducted Diversity Without Division workshops; but more mentors are in training, and the first eight are expected to be certified in the next few weeks. Manji says there is tremendous interest in what she has to offer: “More and more, organizations are looking for this approach.” But, she adds, “People who reach out to us are still afraid—afraid that they’re the crazy ones. There have been many, many calls during which I or one of my team members had to play some version of therapist”—holding people’s hands through the fear that they have of doing the wrong thing by choosing an unconventional approach to DEI.
Manji is highly critical of conventional DEI—many of today’s antiracism activists, she has said, actively undermine Martin Luther King’s ideal of judging people without regard to color—but she also has extremely harsh words for the anti-CRT, anti-DEI, anti-“wokeness” campaign on the right led by Rufo and his ilk. “It is utterly hypocritical,” she says. “They preach a good game about freedom, about individual liberty, about combating ‘indoctrination.’ But the way they conduct that campaign is at least as authoritarian, at least as toxic, at least as fear-mongering and fear-inducing, as tribalistic as anything that they accuse the other side of indulging in. It feeds reactionary behavior on the part on the left, which of course fuels [the right’s] own campaign. It’s the perfect self-reinforcing mechanism.” She’s not even particularly inclined to credit Rufo with exposing bad diversity programs, pointing out that people like New York Times reporter Michael Powell have been doing a fine job of exposing the excesses of social justice activism without Rufo’s toxic baggage.
Read it all.
Talia Barnes and Luke Hallam: How Social Media Destroys the Things That Matter Most
While it’s rather fashionable these days to beat up on social media and its impact on society, Talia Barnes and Luke Hallam at Persuasion say this growing reputation is well deserved. The two write that social media offers, among other things, false freedom, false structure and a disconnect from reality.
Social media warps autonomy by selling us the idea of freedom, while providing none of the conditions that incentivize authentic self-expression.
[ . . . ]
For those of us who spend a significant amount of time on social media, this disorienting dance of engaging and recoiling—fueled by an alternating sense of autonomy and shame—will sound familiar. It happens every time we check our phone. By cropping, coiffing, and curating the persona we display, signaling allegiance to popular causes, and publicly casting judgment on others who transgress unspoken social rules, we objectify ourselves with others’ judgment in mind. LinkedIn perhaps embodies the logical endpoint of this process: in theory, a site for making business connections; in reality, a space where people post little more than “on message” platitudes under the guise of celebrating identity and individuality.
Of course, curating your online presence is not alarming in and of itself. We are social creatures after all, and picking up on social cues can help us forge relationships and avoid conflict. We should, however, be concerned when our efforts to fit in come at the cost of our sense of self.
When we’re confronted with a near-endless array of signs, memes, and fads with which to construct an “identity,” it’s no surprise when our own inner voice gets drowned out. Sartre would say that on Twitter and Facebook we are forever turning ourselves into an “object” to be judged, thereby participating in an endless cycle of self-curation and shaming, all while being told that our unique identity is the most important thing about us and that it’s “ours to make.”
We are forever peeping through the keyhole—we cannot help ourselves. At the same time, we are forever adjusting ourselves to the condition of being seen—with all the pathologies that entails.
Read the whole thing.
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Wall Street Journal Editorial Board: How the Feds Coordinate With Facebook on Censorship
Last week our round-up included a Jacob Sullum piece on government “censorship by proxy.” The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal picks up on the theme and questions the appropriateness of back-channel communications between Facebook and the White House to (allegedly) fight “disinformation.”
Many of the email chains read like good-faith interactions between public officials and internet companies worried about clearly false information. What raises eyebrows in some communications, though, is an oozing solicitousness toward top White House advisers. This week the judge granted additional discovery, meaning more emails soon.
[ . . . ]
More worrying are a few tense emails involving high political appointees who had the White House imprimatur. On July 16, 2021, a reporter asked President Biden about Covid misinformation and his message to sites like Facebook. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
That day, a person the AGs describe as “a very senior executive at Meta” sent an email to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward,” the executive says. Oh, is that why it’s called the bully pulpit? In a text message soon after, the exec added: “It’s not great to be accused of killing people—but as I said by email I’m keen to find a way to deescalate and work together collaboratively.”
A week later, the AGs say, “that senior Meta executive” sent a follow-up email. “I wanted to make sure you saw the steps we took just this past week to adjust policies on what we are removing with respect to misinformation,” it says. “We hear your call for us to do more and, as I said on the call, we’re committed to working toward our shared goal of helping America get on top of this pandemic . . . . You have identified 4 specific recommendations for improvement and we want to make sure to keep you informed of our work on each.”
Read it all here.
Colin Wright reacts to some rather off-the-mark criticism of his February Wall Street Journal opinion essay on pronouns:
It’s almost as if J.K. Rowling decided as long as she’s out of favor with progressives anyway, she might as well pay tribute to the “colonialist” Queen Elizabeth and let the chips fall where they may:
And finally, while the sentiment may be worthy, file this under Metaphors We Hope We Never Read Again: