Big Tech want to impose upon us all a kind of insane and inhumane conformity. Yet, the critical point is that they do not impose themselves upon us as much as we let them impose themselves upon us. So, the most important thing we can do is exit.
The following essay was originally a presentation given on November 11, 2020, as a part of a faculty panel, chaired by Dean of the Faculty of Hillsdale College, Dr. Mark Kalthoff. The conference dealt with the threat to liberty posed by large technology companies and their platforms.
Good afternoon, everyone. Before I get started, I’d like to thank the speakers for coming and delivering their addresses; the CCA and Matt Bell for organizing all of this. I’d like to thank Dr. Mark Kalthoff, my close friend and dean, for asking me to speak, and I want to thank the audiences (those present and those not) who attended this CCA. Thanks, too, to Roger and David.
Please allow me to make three points.
No. 1, this topic of Big Tech elicited a number of emotions from me.
First, nostalgia. Growing up in the 1980s, I can still see myself sitting, first, at my Commodore 64, and, second, at my Mac, imagining them as great liberating tools—tools which would allow us to become more human and more individual, not less human and less individual.
Second, as I listened to the speakers—especially the one who implied that his wife had been killed for his views—I felt apocalyptic and paranoic disturbings and stirrings as I imagined these big tech companies spying on me, my family, and the good citizens of our republic. As one speaker said, we’re coming very close to implementing Communist China’s Social Rating system.
Third, I felt guilt as I remembered just how much of my last eleven years I’ve spent (well, let me be blunt and confessional, wasted) on various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. It’s true that I more often than not try to leaven these platforms with quotes from scripture as well from great conservative and libertarian thinkers. But this, admittedly, is an attempt to justify behavior and apologize and make excuses for my own addictions.
I did, however, try an experiment on Facebook yesterday [November 10, 2020]. I posted that I was a libertarian conservative and a Roman Catholic, asking folks to respond if they could see my post. 20 hours later, 468 had reacted, and 75 had commented. Clearly, at least in this case, I was not being censored.
My second point—that we brought this surveillance society upon ourselves and have no one to blame but ourselves. Here, let me turn to some classic science fiction. In many of the greatest dystopian novels, tyranny has come from without or, at least, from a government that had become estranged from her people as it oppresses them. In 1984, for example, we see IngSoc ruthlessly imposing the party will upon its victims.
Other dystopian novels, though, give a different reason for the reigning tyranny. In Brave New World, a combination of huge industrial complexes with government ideologues establishes the drug-induced society, genetically manipulated and determined at every level of its existence.
Thinking back on everything our speakers told us, this Brave New World scenario sounds a little too close to our current dilemma to be, any longer, just science fiction. It is, sadly, becoming reality.
But, to me, it’s Ray Bradbury who best identified our current situation in 2020—our great season of unrest throughout society.
What Bradbury taught is that danger came from the Masses and that the government, naturally inept and unwieldy, only coopted and hi-jacked (rather incompetently) the longings of the mob.
In Fahrenheit 451, Fire-chief Beatty and the protagonist, Guy Montag, play a dangerous game of cat and mouse as they discuss exactly why, when, and how the burning of books and the censorship of ideas became the norm. In a rather long passage—well worth quoting—Beatty, though the antagonist of the story, puts Bradbury’s fears into their most articulate form.
Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilization, shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. Don’t step on the toes of the dog-lovers, the cat-lovers, doctors, lawyers, merchants, chiefs, Mormons, Baptists, Unitarians, second-generation Chinese, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Texans, Brooklynites, Irishmen, people from Oregon or Mexico. The people in this book, this play, this TV serial are not meant to represent any actual painters, cartographers, mechanics anywhere. The bigger your market, Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that! All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors, full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public, knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course. There you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from the Government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship, to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick, thank God.
And what did the Masses hate the most? The young genius who thinks independently and must be put in his place.
Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course, it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.
Again, what matters so critically in these passages is that the tyranny comes from the demands of the Masses, not from the central government. In Bradbury’s understanding, the government might very well be wicked and evil, but it would always follow the lead of the Masses and become their tool, rather than the other way around.
Throughout his career, Bradbury spoke bravely and openly against “political correctness,” recognizing it for the evil and the tyranny it is. In 1953, it was against Joseph McCarthy. “Whether or not my ideas on censorship via the fire department will be old hat by this time next week, I dare not predict,” he wrote, but “when the wind is right, a faint odor of kerosene is exhaled from Senator McCarthy.” In the early 1990s, in Chronicles magazine, he stated: “Someone said to me recently, aren’t you afraid [of political correctness]? No, I said, I never react in fear; I react in anger. As with graffiti, you must counterattack within the moment, not a day, a month, or a year later. All the politically correct terrorists must be driven back into the stands. There is no place for them in the open field of democratic ballplaying.”
Frankly, this situation sounds very similar to what we’re experiencing with Big Tech and the kind of insane and inhumane conformity they want to impose upon us all. Yet, note the critical point: they did not impose themselves upon us as much as we let them impose themselves upon us. That is, we are, have been, and will continue almost certainly to cooperate with evil.
My third point. Is there a solution to all of this? Well, to a certain extent, yes. The most important thing you can do is exit. Exit from Facebook, exit from Twitter, exit from Instagram. If you still feel you need social media, then use the privacy-based alternatives (though, they’re fairly glitchy still) such as MeWe and Parler. But continue to exit. Stop using Google in any form—its browser, its docs, its search engine. For an alternative, use Bing or DuckDuckGo as a search engine. Continue to exit. Set all of your devices—your iPhone, your laptop, your iPad, your smart watch—on maximum privacy. It takes a bit to do, and it can be a pain, but it can be done. Finally, put a cover on your laptop camera and never, under any circumstances, use Alexa or Siri. These are all practical and doable.
Let me offer a comparable situation. When I was a kid in the 1980s, no one thought of homeschooling. Then, someone, somewhere—probably some young hippy couple—said enough to the public and private schools that existed. Homeschooling began, and it soon flourished. Today, homeschooling (that is, aside from COVID realties) makes up only a small percentage of education. But those who are homeschooled have made a huge difference. They’re sought after by the Ivy Leagues, they win national spelling bees, and they win national debate tournaments. Most importantly, though, the small but mighty movement has forced competition with government schools, and, in large response to the homeschooling movement, we’ve seen a number of educational alternatives. By its very existence, homeschooling—again, no matter how small in terms of actual percentages—has changed the very face of our society for the better.
An online remnant—determined to remain free—may not retake the internet, but it can certainly shake things up and makes those in power quake… just a bit, if only a bit.
So, back to my main point. Exit when you can. And there are ultimate exits. Exit Facebook, exit Twitter, and exit Google. Then, do the most radical thing imaginable, write an actual letter to someone—yes, with stamps and envelopes and street addresses. Then, do something even more radical. Read a book. You, too, can be a rebel.
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