In 1968, Lyndon Johnson appointed a National Commission on Obscenity and Pornography to investigate the supposed sexual scourge corrupting America’s youth...
📑 Highlights and Annotations
For the parallels between the fight against harmful and hateful speech online today and the crusade against sexual speech 50 years ago are stunning: the paternalistic belief that the powerless masses (but never the powerful) are vulnerable to corruption and evil with mere exposure to content; the presumption of harm without evidence and data; cries calling for government to stamp out the threat; confusion about the definitions of what’s to be forbidden; arguments about who should be responsible; the belief that by censoring content other worries can also be erased. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:29AM
One of the essays comes from Charles Keating, Jr., a conservative whom Nixon added to the body after having created a vacancy by dispatching another commissioner to be ambassador to India. Keating was founder of Citizens for Decent Literature and a frequent filer of amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court in the Ginzberg, Mishkin, and Fanny Hill obscenity cases. Later, Keating was at the center of the 1989 savings and loan scandal — a foretelling of the 2008 financial crisis — which landed him in prison. Funny how our supposed moral guardians — Nixon or Keating, Pence or Graham — end up disgracing themselves; but I digress. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:40AM
The fear then was the corruption of the masses; the fear now is microtargeting drilling directly into the heads of a strategic few. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:42AM
McCarthy next asks: “Who selects what is to be recorded or transmitted to others, since not everything can be recorded?” But now, everything can be recorded and transmitted. That is the new fear: too much speech. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 08:42AM
Many of the book’s essayists defend freedom of expression over freedom from obscenity. Says Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld (father of Joseph, who would become executive editor of The New York Times): “Freedom of expression, if it is to be meaningful at all, must include freedom for ‘that which we loathe,’ for it is obvious that it is no great virtue and presents no great difficulty for one to accord freedom to what we approve or to that to which we are indifferent.” I hear too few voices today defending speech of which they disapprove. ❧
I might take issue with this statement and possibly a piece of Jarvis’ argument here. I agree that it’s moral panic that there could be such a thing as “too much speech” because humans have a hard limit for how much they can individually consume.
The issue I see is that while anyone can say almost anything, the problem becomes when a handful of monopolistic players like Facebook or YouTube can use algorithms to programattically entice people to click on and consume fringe content in mass quantities and that subtly, but assuredly nudges the populace and electorate in an unnatural direction. Most of the history of human society and interaction has long tended toward a centralizing consensus in which we can manage to cohere. The large scale effects of algorithmic-based companies putting a heavy hand on the scales are sure to create unintended consequences and they’re able to do it at scales that the Johnson and Nixon administrations only wish they had access to.
If we look at as an analogy to the evolution of weaponry, I might suggest we’ve just passed the border of single shot handguns and into the era of machine guns. What is society to do when the next evolution occurs into the era of social media atomic weapons?
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 10:42AM
Truth is hard. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 10:42AM
As an American and a staunch defender of the First Amendment, I’m allergic to the notion of forbidden speech. But if government is going to forbid it, it damned well better clearly define what is forbidden or else the penumbra of prohibition will cast a shadow and chill on much more speech. ❧
Perhaps it’s not what people are saying so much as platforms are accelerating it algorithmically? It’s one thing for someone to foment sedition, praise Hitler, or yell their religious screed on the public street corner. The problem comes when powerful interests in the form of governments, corporations, or others provide them with megaphones and tacitly force audiences to listen to it.
When Facebook or Youtube optimize for clicks keyed on social and psychological constructs using fringe content, we’re essentially saying that machines, bots, and extreme fringe elements are not only people, but that they’ve got free speech rights, and they can be prioritized with the reach and exposure of major national newspapers and national television in the media model of the 80’s.
I highly suspect that if real people’s social media reach were linear and unaccelerated by algorithms we wouldn’t be in the morass we’re generally seeing on many platforms.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:08AM
“Privacy in law means various things,” he writes; “and one of the things it means is protection from intrusion.” He argues that in advertising, open performance, and public-address systems, “these may validly be regulated” to prevent porn from being thrust upon the unsuspecting and unwilling. It is an extension of broadcast regulation.
And that is something we grapple with still: What is shown to us, whether we want it shown to us, and how it gets there: by way of algorithm or editor or bot. What is our right not to see? ❧
Privacy as freedom from is an important thing. I like this idea.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:20AM
The Twenty-Six Words that Created the Internet is Jeff Kosseff’s definitive history and analysis of the current fight over Section 230, the fight over who will be held responsible to forbid speech. In it, Kosseff explains how debate over intermediary liability, as this issue is called, stretches back to a 1950s court fight, Smith v. California, about whether an L.A. bookseller should have been responsible for knowing the content of every volume on his shelves. ❧
For me this is the probably the key idea. Facebook doesn’t need to be responsible for everything that their users post, but when they cross the line into actively algorithmically promoting and pushing that content into their users’ feeds for active consumption, then they **do** have a responsibility for that content.
By analogy image the trusted local bookstore mentioned. If there are millions of books there and the user has choice when they walk in to make their selection in some logical manner. But if the bookseller has the secret ability to consistently walk up to children and put porn into their hands or actively herding them into the adult sections to force that exposure on them (and they have the ability to do it without anyone else realizing it), then that is the problem. Society at large would further think that this is even more reprehensible if they realized that local governments or political parties had the ability to pay the bookseller to do this activity.
In case the reader isn’t following the analogy, this is exactly what some social platforms like Facebook are allowing our politicans to do. They’re taking payment from politicans to actively lie, tell untruths, and create fear in a highly targeted manner without the rest of society to see or hear those messages. Some of these sorts of messages are of the type that if they were picked up on an open microphone and broadcast outside of the private group they were intended for would have been a career ending event.
Without this, then we’re actively stifling conversation in the public sphere and actively empowering the fringes. This sort of active targeted fringecasting is preventing social cohesion, consensus, and comprimise and instead pulling us apart.
Perhaps the answer for Facebook is to allow them to take the political ad money for these niche ads and then not just cast to the small niche audience, but to force them to broadcast them to everyone on the platform instead? Then we could all see who our politicians really are?
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 11:50AM
Of course, it’s even more absurd to expect Facebook or Twitter or Youtube to know and act on every word or image on their services than it was to expect bookseller Eleazer Smith to know the naughty bits in every book on his shelves. ❧
Here’s the point! We shouldn’t expect them to know, but similarly if they don’t know, then they should not be allowed to randomly privilege some messages over others for how those messages are distributed on the platform. Why is YouTube accelerating messages about Nazis instead of videos of my ham sandwich at lunch? It’s because they’re making money on the Nazis.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:07PM
there must be other factors that got us Trump ❧
Primarily people not really knowing how racisit and horrible he really was in addition to his inability to think clearly, logically, or linearly. He espoused a dozen or so simple aphorisms like “Build the wall,” but was absolutely unable to indicate a plan that went beyond the aphorism. How will it be implemented, funded, what will the short and long term issues that result. He had none of those things that many others presumed would be worked out as details by smart and intelligent people rather than the “just do it” managerial style he has been shown to espouse.
Too many republicans, particularly at the end said, “he’s not really that bad” and now that he’s in power and more authoritarian than they expected are too weak to admit their mistake.
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:28PM
Axel Bruns’ dismantling of the filter bubble. ❧
research to read
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:45PM
“To affirm freedom is not to applaud that which is done under its sign,” Lelyveld writes. ❧
Annotated on January 18, 2020 at 12:51PM
We take a walk down memory lane, and ask ourselves some existential questions.
2019 started on a note of fakery, as we made sense of the conspiracies and simulacra that distort our information field. It's ending with a similar air of surreality, with impeachment proceedings bringing the dynamics of the Trump presidency into stark relief. Along the way, we've examined forces, deconstructed narratives, and found the racist core at the heart of so much of the American project. And as we've come to look differently at the world, we've come to look differently at ourselves.
With excerpts from:
- When The Internet is Mostly Fake, January 11th, 2019
- United States of Conspiracy, May 17th, 2019
- Trump Sees Conspiracies Everywhere, October 4th, 2019
- Understanding the White Power Movement, March 22nd, 2019
- Why "Send Her Back" Reverberated So Loudly, July 19th, 2019
- The Scarlet E, Part II: 40 Acres, June 14th, 2019
- Part 1: The Myth Of The Frontier, March 29th, 2019
- Empire State of Mind, April 5th, 2019
- The Perils of Laundering Hot Takes Through History, March 1st, 2019
Masha Gessen, Dean Baquet, Michael McFaul, Marty Baron, Clint Watts, Kara Swisher, Joshua Johnson, Susan Glasser, and Matthew Continetti
A strange chain of events preceded the shoot-down, and people in the intelligence business turned to a rising star in the Defense Intelligence Agency, Ana Montes. Montes was known around Washington as the “Queen of Cuba” for her insights into the Castro regime.
Researchers have long known that local actors—as well as Russia—use manipulative tactics to spread information online. With Facebook suspending a slew of domestic accounts, a difficult reckoning is upon us.
Lies were able to go across the world before the truth had a chance to put on it’s breeches in the past, but it’s ability to do so now is even worse. We need to be able to figure out a way to flip the script.
Trust, Verification, Fact Checking & Beyond
The political scientist argues that the desire of identity groups for recognition is a key threat to liberalism.
I’m also reminded here of Mark Granovetter’s ideas that getting a job is more closely tied to who you know. One’s job is often very closely tied to their identity, and even more so when the link that got them their job was through a friend or acquaintance.
I suspect that Fukuyama has a relatively useful thesis, but perhaps it’s not tied together as logically and historically as Menand would prefer. The difficult thing here is that levels of personal identity on large scales is relatively unknown for most of human history. Tribalism and individuality are certainly pulling at the threads of liberal democracy lately. Perhaps it’s because of unfulfilled promises (in America at least) of the two party system? Now that we’ve reached a summit of economic plenty much quicker than the rest of the world (and they’re usurping some of our stability as the rest of the world tries to equilibrate), we need to add some additional security nets for the lesser advantaged. It really doesn’t cost very much and in turn does so much more for the greater good of the broader society.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
Fukuyama’s argument was that, with the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, the last ideological alternative to liberalism had been eliminated. ❧
“Last” in the sense of a big, modern threat. We’re still facing the threats of tribalism, which apparently have a strong pull.
August 27, 2018 at 10:26AM
There would be a “Common Marketization” of international relations and the world would achieve homeostasis. ❧
Famous last words, right?!
These are the types of statements one must try very hard not to make unless there is 100% certainty.
I find myself wondering how can liberal democracy and capitalism manage to fight and make the case the the small tribes (everywhere, including within the US) that it can, could and should be doing more for them.
August 27, 2018 at 10:29AM
But events in Europe unfolded more or less according to Fukuyama’s prediction, and, on December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union voted itself out of existence. The Cold War really was over. ❧
Or ostensibly, until a strong man came to power in Russia and began its downturn into something else. It definitely doesn’t seem to be a liberal democracy, so we’re still fighting against it.
August 27, 2018 at 10:32AM
This speculative flourish recalled the famous question that John Stuart Mill said he asked himself as a young man: If all the political and social reforms you believe in came to pass, would it make you a happier human being? That is always an interesting question. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:33AM
George Kennan, who was its first chief. In July of that year, Kennan published the so-called X article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs. It appeared anonymously—signed with an “X”—but once the press learned his identity the article was received as an official statement of American Cold War policy. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:33AM
Fukuyama’s article could thus be seen as a bookend to Kennan’s. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:36AM
The National Interest, as the name proclaims, is a realist foreign-policy journal. But Fukuyama’s premise was that nations do share a harmony of interests, and that their convergence on liberal political and economic models was mutually beneficial. Realism imagines nations to be in perpetual competition with one another; Fukuyama was saying that this was no longer going to be the case. ❧
And here is a bit of the flaw. Countries are still at least in competition with each other economically, at least until they’re all on equal footing from a modernity perspective.
We are definitely still in completion with China and large parts of Europe.
August 27, 2018 at 10:38AM
Fukuyama thinks he knows what that something is, and his answer is summed up in the title of his new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). ❧
Get a copy of this to read.
August 27, 2018 at 10:39AM
The demand for recognition, Fukuyama says, is the “master concept” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:40AM
Fukuyama covers all of this in less than two hundred pages. How does he do it? Not well. ❧
Now I have to read it.
August 27, 2018 at 10:41AM
Fukuyama gives this desire for recognition a Greek name, taken from Plato’s Republic: thymos. He says that thymos is “a universal aspect of human nature that has always existed.” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:43AM
To say, as Fukuyama does, that “the desire for status—megalothymia—is rooted in human biology” is the academic equivalent of palmistry. You’re just making it up. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:45AM
Rationality and transparency are the values of classical liberalism. Rationality and transparency are supposed to be what make free markets and democratic elections work. People understand how the system functions, and that allows them to make rational choices. ❧
But economically, we know there isn’t perfect knowledge or perfect rationality (see Tversky and Khaneman). There is rarely even perfect transparency either which makes things much harder, especially in a post-truth society apparenlty.
August 27, 2018 at 10:48AM
Liberalism remains the ideal political and economic system, but it needs to find ways to accommodate and neutralize this pesky desire for recognition. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:50AM
Enrollment was small, around twenty, but a number of future intellectual luminaries, like Hannah Arendt and Jacques Lacan, either took the class or sat in on it. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:52AM
For Kojève, the key concept in Hegel’s “Phenomenology” was recognition. Human beings want the recognition of other human beings in order to become self-conscious—to know themselves as autonomous individuals. ❧
This is very reminiscent of Valerie Alexander’s talk last week about recognizing employees at work. How can liberal democracy take advantage of this?
August 27, 2018 at 10:53AM
Kojève thought that the other way was through labor. The slave achieves his sense of self by work that transforms the natural world into a human world. But the slave is driven to labor in the first place because of the master’s refusal to recognize him. This “master-slave dialectic” is the motor of human history, and human history comes to an end when there are no more masters or slaves, and all are recognized equally. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 10:55AM
Kojève’s lectures were published as “Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,” a book that went through many printings in France. ❧
Maybe it was Kojève and not Covfefe that Trump was referencing?! 😛
August 27, 2018 at 10:56AM
Encouraged by his friend Saul Bellow, he decided to turn the article into a book. “The Closing of the American Mind,” which Simon & Schuster brought out in February, 1987, launched a campaign of criticism of American higher education that has taken little time off since. ❧
August 27, 2018 at 11:00AM
In 1992, in the essay “The Politics of Recognition,” Taylor analyzed the advent of multiculturalism in terms similar to the ones Fukuyama uses in “Identity.” ❧
August 27, 2018 at 11:03AM
Fukuyama acknowledges that identity politics has done some good, and he says that people on the right exaggerate the prevalence of political correctness and the effects of affirmative action. ❧
There’s a reference to voting theory about people not voting their particular views, but that they’re asking themselves, “Who would someone like me vote for?” Perhaps it’s George Lakoff? I should look this up and tie it in here somewhere.
August 27, 2018 at 11:05AM
He has no interest in the solution that liberals typically adopt to accommodate diversity: pluralism and multiculturalism. ❧
Interesting to see an IndieWeb principle pop up here! How do other parts dovetail perhaps? What about other movements?
August 27, 2018 at 11:06AM
Fukuyama concedes that people need a sense of national identity, whether ethnic or creedal, but otherwise he remains an assimilationist and a universalist. ❧
Is it a “national” identity they need? Why not a cultural one, or a personal one? Why not all the identities? What about the broader idea of many publics? Recognition and identity touch on many of these publics for a variety of reasons.
August 27, 2018 at 11:08AM
He wants to iron out differences, not protect them. He suggests measures like a mandatory national-service requirement and a more meaningful path to citizenship for immigrants. ❧
What if we look at the shrinking number of languages as a microcosm of identity. Are people forced to lose language? Do they not care? What are the other similarities and differences.
Cross reference: https://boffosocko.com/2015/06/08/a-world-of-languages-and-how-many-speak-them-infographic/
August 27, 2018 at 11:10AM
Wouldn’t it be important to distinguish people who ultimately don’t want differences to matter, like the people involved in #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, from people who ultimately do want them to matter, like ISIS militants, Brexit voters, or separatist nationalists? And what about people who are neither Mexican nor immigrants and who feel indignation at the treatment of Mexican immigrants? Black Americans risked their lives for civil rights, but so did white Americans. How would Socrates classify that behavior? Borrowed thymos? ❧
Some importatnt questions here. They give me some ideas…
August 27, 2018 at 11:12AM
History is somersaults all the way to the end. That’s why it’s so hard to write, and so hard to predict. Unless you’re lucky. ♦ ❧
This is definitely more of a Big History approach…
August 27, 2018 at 11:12AM
In his bestselling The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of the Cold War would also mean the beginning of a struggle for position in the rapidly emerging order of 21st-century capitalism. In Trust, a penetrating assessment of the emerging global economic order "after History," he explains the social principles of economic life and tells us what we need to know to win the coming struggle for world dominance. Challenging orthodoxies of both the left and right, Fukuyama examines a wide range of national cultures in order to divine the underlying principles that foster social and economic prosperity. Insisting that we cannot divorce economic life from cultural life, he contends that in an era when social capital may be as important as physical capital, only those societies with a high degree of social trust will be able to create the flexible, large-scale business organizations that are needed to compete in the new global economy. A brilliant study of the interconnectedness of economic life with cultural life, Trust is also an essential antidote to the increasing drift of American culture into extreme forms of individualism, which, if unchecked, will have dire consequences for the nation's economic health.
Given the large number of “Trust” and “Truth” related books being released this year, most in reference to Donald J. Trump’s administration, this might be an interesting read which takes him out of the equation and potentially better underlines the bigger problem we’re seeing in a growing anti-scientific leaning America?
The photo above was taken by my Wellesley College Freedom Project host, Mustafa Akyol, just after we came out of my lecture last Tuesday night. I’m the person second from the right. Everyone else was apparently there to protest my speaking.
Seeing this remarkable scene, I asked Mustafa if he would take that photo for me, and if we could please stay and talk with these folks rather than just leaving, and he said of course. When I then asked these students what they wanted to talk about, the apparent leader said they all didn’t want to talk to me. I asked why they’d be there if they didn’t have something to say. The leader responded with something like, “We don’t owe you anything!”
I stayed anyway, and students started to talk, to question, to challenge. We ended up staying and talking with them for about 45 minutes.
With a series of brilliant essays, the legendary book critic has crafted the first great piece of literature on the Trump administration
Most presidents try to be sure their speeches to Congress adhere closely to the facts. Not Donald Trump.
In the conservative media, we conditioned people not to trust facts or mainstream news outlets.
The president-elect seems to feel threatened that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton.