We find ourselves in an overlap of classical free-speech abstractions, editorialized-media discourse, and algorithmic-social media diatribe. Each of these is a product that cannot reproduce the stability of the system that produced them. And yet, these platforms—print, electronic and social media—represent disruptions that fill in a vacuum felt in the other system.
Besides, we tend to think that the IT revolution’s transformations with our iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter, are without a parallel, but think of what urbanization brought to the rural life, what the railway brought in the nineteenth century or the telephone in the early twentieth. Disruptive innovations that increased transportation speed in the past couple of hundred years have not lowered commuting time but instead increased commuting distances. The size of an average individual’s ‘extended family’ cluster is an approximate invariant—it doesn’t change with city size. In a village, we are limited to a community by proximity, whereas in a city, we are free to choose our own “village” by our likes and dislikes.
Similarly, social media tools have not brought us closer the way we intended it would. Instead, they have allowed us to construct our “internet villages.” These internet villages are scaled-up, combustible derivatives that cannot reproduce the stability of offline, real-world social interactions that produced them. Instead of free-speech, they cater to our preconceived notions by exposing us to algorithmic-speech that makes each of us a volatile, motivated political actor outside the legal institutions born out of civil society. Their extreme negative externalities include conspiracies, real-world riots, and unrest. Nonetheless, in a primal way, internet populism coming out of these internet villages is gesturing at the real-world rifts created by liberal legalism’s parchment antidotes on the one end and lack of upward mobility on the other end.
As Tyler Cowen points out in his book, The Complacent Class, in our digital realm, the word “disruption” is no longer violent but the peaceful label for an ingenious upheaval of an established business order. Taking a cue from this digital paradox, it is not unreasonable to assume that a radical improvement in our physical realm may occur when we volunteer to act with moderation on social media platforms. If we don’t act with moderation, someone else will moderate it for us. Responsible self-regulation can preclude complicated centralized government regulation.
- One nation’s heroes are another’s war criminals (statues) Clare Mulley, Spectator
- Unraveling the mindset of victimhood Scott Kaufman, Scientific American
- The rage machine comes to St. Louis Jerry Taylor, Niskanen Center
- Morals, politics, and evolutionary drift Federico Sosa Valle, NOL
I’m glad you highlighted the Ilya Somin/Will Wilkinson debate [here – bc], but I just found the whole thing so damn confused. I’m not a libertarian (or an Objectivist) but I ended up leaning more toward Somin than toward Wilkinson. But the real problem is that the terms “moderation” and “extremism” are left undefined throughout. Extremism in the pursuit of clarity is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of muddle is no virtue.
In that respect, at least, I think Ayn Rand’s analysis of “extremism” makes more sense than anything that either Somin or Wilkinson are saying. As she puts it, “‘extremism’ is a term which, standing by itself, has no meaning. The concept of ‘extreme’ denotes a relation, a measurement, a degree….It is obvious that the first question one has to ask, before using that term, is: a degree–of what?…Measurements, as such, have no value-significance–and acquire it only from the nature of that which is being measured” (Rand, Capitalism, pp. 196-97). The nature of what’s being measured is the one thing that neither Somin nor Wilkinson discuss (though Somin certainly comes closer). Which is why the debate they’ve having is relatively pointless.
Wilkinson treats his youthful encounter with Ayn Rand as nothing more than that. If he took a closer look at what she said, I think he’d find that there’s more there than he remembers.
That’s from the infamous Dr Khawaja, who does his blogging at the always excellent Policy of Truth group blog. You can find a link to Rand’s Capitalism here. I think Dr Khawaja is wrong to suggest that this debate is relatively pointless, though, at least to libertarians who care about electoral politics. I do agree with him that Wilkinson should revisit his familiarity with Rand’s work, though.