Updates on the State of Public Discourse
This morning I noticed two news items that tell a very consistent story, a story that would seem ominous, were we not all resigned by now to the irreversible trajectory of our civilizational decline. Since, on the other hand, we all know (I presume) that we are currently and inevitably cascading into the darkest night — though not necessarily the longest one — that our race has ever experienced, these two news items may simply be filed away in the daily “Sign of the Times” folder.
The first item concerns stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle, a foul-mouthed but not unintelligent comic of the culture critic variety, who has gotten himself in hot water with the radical left by making jokes about transgenderism. The latest headline in this artificially manufactured “controversy” informs me that Chappelle’s performance at a Minneapolis theater was cancelled (an appropriately suggestive word) “after the club faced criticism for booking the comedian who has been accused of making transphobic jokes.”
“Faced criticism”? How much criticism? By how many people? More than the number of people who wished to see Chappelle’s performance and were willing to pay big money for it? Of course not. The difference is not to be measured in size, but in levels of intimidation. Leftist radicals are very intimidating to people who fear the losses of profit or other material advantages that well-funded public smear campaigns can bring. And so any prior commitments to Chappelle’s audience, to Chappelle himself, and to the principle of free speech, go out the window, disposable victims to the spirit of the age, i.e., mindless ideological conformism buttressed by self-immolating terror in the face of coercive mob irrationality. (As it happens, another local theater was happy to scoop up the profits and host the relocated performance on the fly, successfully.)
The first rule of all activism, of course, is that humor is not permitted. An activist is, as a matter of essential identity, a person constitutionally incapable of laughing at himself, let alone of allowing others to look at him with an ironic smirk. Faced with any hint of amusement at the expense of his great cause (which is always, in the end, himself), the activist’s immediate instinct is to hate, silence, and preferably kill the offender. Irony, the great underminer of civil discord and defuser of radical bombs, is thus no laughing matter for the activist. On the contrary, to the extent that irony and satire serve as a razor wherewith to shave the indignation and anger off the thin skin of modern politics — and thus to deradicalize the audience — the comedian brands himself a public enemy, which is to say an enemy of the zeitgeist, of progress.
The second, related news item I found this morning informed me that YouTube (i.e., Google) has “decided,” at the urging of several progressive members of the United States Congress, to begin deleting or otherwise purging “videos spreading abortion falsehoods.” Falsehoods of what nature? Defined by whom, and according to what standard of truth? The article linked above offers the following hints: “YouTube said its crackdown will expunge content promoting unsafe at-home abortions, as well as misinformation about the safety of undergoing the procedure in clinics located in states where it remains legal.” (Emphasis added.)
In short, Google, responding to the whip-cracking of its masters, is now in the business of limiting and reshaping the terms of “legitimate” discussion of the abortion issue, right at the moment when, were we living in a halfway-civilized world, open dialogue would seem to be most needed.
I steer clear of the word “censorship” here, for I believe that a private entity has every right to restrict the use of its facilities in any way it likes. However, given the reality of today’s social media world, and the extent to which the largest social media companies have made themselves the handmaids of political parties, and of the most extreme ideological factions within those parties, there is something extraordinary about the speed and ease with which platforms that allow the most absurd and inflammatory nonsense to be posted and monetized on a daily basis will nevertheless go for the daggers against mainstream and ongoing political discussion the moment a progressive politician or lobbyist cries, “People shouldn’t be allowed to say that in public!” This increasingly common practice, and our increasing public acceptance of it, was most obviously exemplified by the comprehensive Chinese-Communist-Party-style attack on “pandemic misinformation,” which served, in this as in so many other ways, as the greatest public obedience experiment and totalitarian trial run of our time. Think of the past two and a half years as the Milgram experiment carried out on a global basis, and with even more shockingly persuasive results — shocking to the civilized, that is, but to the tyrannical, thoroughly encouraging.