May 16, 2012

Has the internet benefited dissidents or the thought police more?

A recent comment somewhere at Steve Sailer's blog stated a widely held view about the power of the internet to give dissenting voices a megaphone, so that dissidents are better off in the online age.

And yet here we are, with political correctness worse than you could've imagined even as recently as the early '90s. The President is black and endorsing gay marriage -- didn't see that one coming. Quite plainly the internet hasn't empowered the anti-PC people very much, and perhaps has even undercut what little power they used to have.

I haven't heard anyone touch on that before -- that the internet allows not only the dissidents but also the thought police to more effectively reach their targets. True, you're more exposed to dissenting viewpoints now than in 1990, but you were exposed enough to them back then that they weren't secret. Of course the homos brought AIDS on themselves, of course blacks commit crime at higher rates than whites, and of course part of what makes someone more successful is being smarter. You could've heard your neighbor make these observations in casual conversation.

In the social psychology literature on conformity, people tend to go along with the wrong answer, unless there is even a single dissenter. For example, you're asked which of two lines is longer, everyone else says the short line is longer, and you tend to go along by saying the short line is longer. But when one other person says the long line is longer, suddenly you go with the right answer -- "So I wasn't crazy after all, someone else thought that the others were nuts, too!"

If the internet had in that way brought us some dissenting voices where zero had reached us before, it would have been beneficial to dissidents. I don't really see that, though. Like I said, who never heard someone say out loud that blacks are more violent than whites?

Since it seems to be more of a change in the degree of exposure to dissenting voices that we'd already heard, we also have to look at how much more we get exposed to the thought police via the internet. It's the net effect of those opposing forces that tells us what the internet has done for dissidents.

Well, just like in the offline world, the orthodox viewpoints have more megaphones, louder ones, and ones that are cross-linked or teamed up with one another. In the good old days, you had to search out a propaganda forum like the op-ed pages to find the thought police reminding you what the official story was.

These days online, it sets up base wherever you might go. You may just be doing a casual google search, and up pops a post from a discussion forum, one of those yahoo question/answer pages, blog posts, ad nauseam, that shout out some bit of PC orthodoxy. Not to mention the endless stream of bullshit from Twitter and Facebook feeds. It's also a lot easier for the foot soldiers of the Establishment to link to an op-ed or whatever by the mainstream media, which propagates it much faster than when the same pipsqueak would have had to clip out or xerox the article and paste a bunch of copies up around the office, student union, or wherever, like a jackass.

You shouldn't jump too quickly to praise some new bit of technology just because you see some way that it could make you better off. You need to think if it will make your enemies even better off. In a contest, it's only the relative gain you make against your adversary that counts, not your absolute gain seen in isolation.

20 comments:

  1. An example of how internet benefited dissidents: the Ron Paul movement (afaik, the libertarian movement in the recent years was largely build via websites, like lewrockwell.com).

    I think that the weak point in your thesis is that it seems to me that you are equating "dissident" with a particular type of dissident (un-PC social conservative, or something similar); but attending that there are zilions of possible (and mutually contradictory) ways of being anti-"orthodox thinking", the weakness of a specific type of dissidence is not, in itself, a sign of strength of the Establishment.

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  2. Being in favor of same-sex marriage would have been considered a "dissident" position in most quarters only decades ago. I don't know that the Internet facilitated the change in public sentiment on that subject, but it doesn't seem to help your case.

    If you're simply equating "dissident" with "PC," I would point to Charles Murray's less-than-poisonous presence in contemporary public discourse as evidence of more intellectual tolerance. I remember the Bell Curve wars well, and current PC reaction is nothing compared with the furor that attended the book's release in the mid-90s. And we don't have to go back much further to find instances of genuinely violent protest directed at dissident scholars such as Arthur Jensen and E.O. Wilson, both of whom were physically attacked for their views. That's the sort of thing that doesn't happen these days. Has the Web helped? I don't know for sure, but it can't be a bad thing to have the contentious data redundantly available for people to review and consider in the privacy of their own nests.

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  3. Anonymous11:29 PM

    It's not exactly a novel observation, but people cocoon on the internet. Maybe they stick their head up here and there, but then it's right back to home base to point and chuckle about how stupid the other side is. Have you seen Abagond.wordpress.com about race in the US? Read a few posts and comments there to get a taste for how debate looks on the other side. They have honest to goodness debates wondering if whites are too evil and corrupted to save, or just evil and corrupt. Welcome to the internet version of the market of ideas.

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  4. "afaik, the libertarian movement in the recent years was largely build via websites, like lewrockwell.com"

    I don't know about other countries, but in America the Libertarian movement re-emerged during the 1960s and peaked in the '80s or early '90s. It wasn't a full libertarian utopia (thank god), but the past 20 years have seen the renewal of corporatist, big government intervention. The Second New Deal.

    "but attending that there are zilions of possible (and mutually contradictory) ways of being anti-"orthodox thinking", the weakness of a specific type of dissidence is not, in itself, a sign of strength of the Establishment."

    Well it's all types of dissidence. When I worked on the Ralph Nader presidential campaign in 2000 (he was for the Green Party), we couldn't get him into the presidential debates, even though we had the internet available to us.

    Just 8 years earlier, Ross Perot (another third party candidate) got into the presidential debates with the two juggernaut parties.

    Far left socialist types used to have a certain amount of visibility (for better or worse). But in the internet age, that's just about gone. I mean political and economic leftists, not the feminist, anti-racists, and pro-homosexual groups.

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  5. "Being in favor of same-sex marriage would have been considered a "dissident" position in most quarters only decades ago."

    A dissident position is one that is against the orthodoxy, and an orthodoxy must be overtly stated. "Here's how to think and what to believe..."

    Favoring homo marriage would not have been dissident because there was no orthodoxy about marriage being the province of normals. Natural arrangements like that are just taken for granted, not promulgated as the right way of thinking.

    I'm glad Charles Murray has been allowed back into the conversation, but only on the condition that race and IQ never come up (not that they were his focus in the Bell Curve anyway).

    The Jensen and Wilson incidents were just signs of a more physically confrontational period. Their views were still allowed into the mainstream. Sadly, sociobiology has only re-surfaced in the mainstream by restricting its focus to "what variables about chicks do dudes find hot?"

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  6. "They have honest to goodness debates wondering if whites are too evil and corrupted to save, or just evil and corrupt. Welcome to the internet version of the market of ideas."

    Yeah, that kind of blatant attempt to shut up The Other Side of a debate was rare before. The average person had to try to shout others down vocally, and that's not as easy as spewing out a million blog posts, comments, articles, Twitter / Facebook updates, etc., to drown out the other side.

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  7. liaIt's difficult to establish cause and effect. My impression is that the Internet had a causal role in spreading religious skepticism, and significantly altered sexual behavior (with oral and anal sex becoming more standard parts of the repertoire).

    But simply eyeballing GSS questions, there are not a lot of uneven jumps, or distorted trendlines after 1994 or 2000 suggesting an Internet New Man.

    The question about black "in-born ability to learn" shows a plateau through the Internet era, although the most intelligent respondents seem to be rejecting that position more strongly than ever since the 2006 survey.

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  8. Dahlia6:54 PM

    Agnostic,

    Once in a blue moon, I'll find something said in a post of yours a little randy and I skidaddle for a little while...

    But from the bottom of my heart, I can't imagine how differently I'd view so many things if it weren't for you. This blog brings me such joy and stimulation.

    Why you aren't more widely read and quoted, but purveyors of pop evo-sci can be revered for giving voice to "forbidden truths", I'll never understand. Well, my head understands, but my heart doesn't.

    I mean, your reasons for baldness post was a classic and by far the best theory I've ever come across. Everyone should have been discussing it.

    I don't know what to make of your theory here, but it made me think of who and what we read, listen to, etc.

    Life would be pretty perfect now if Jason Malloy and Paul Ewald started their own blogs.

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  9. Too bad that blogs don't have dusk jackets, or that'd make a great blurb.

    I think it's probably style and presentation that keeps me less "read and quoted." People (employers, students, parents of students, etc.) tell me I communicate very well face-to-face. And if I want to, and put in the time, I can write well, but I'm really more of a people person.

    Depending on how long you've been reading, you may have noticed a major shift in tone. When blogs were new, and also when I was frankly just eating more sugar, I had a real hyperactive aggressive tone. After going low-carb, plus beginning to just not give a shit about attracting readers through tone of voice, I think that's not as prevalent.

    Also, the more I've looked into how much things have changed, the harder it's been to look at the present in a favorable or optimistic light -- other than to note that these things have cycled over the centuries, giving me hope that we'll see another Jazz Age or New Wave Age in our lifetimes.

    Still, it's hardly a cheerful tone, and must burn most readers out over time, even if they get it. But I'm doing this more to get information out there, document what happened before and is happening now, etc., and not so much to prophesize. That's really something I'd rather do in real life with speech, not in writing on the internet.

    (When the crime rate shoots up again and people are more willing to listen, maybe I'll start a cult and preach then.)

    I've tried to lighten up the mood by posting on the musical and visual culture. It's just hard to do those because it takes a long time to search for images, or link to a bunch of YouTube videos.

    That's what lifts me up out of myself on a daily basis -- mostly music, but also sublime-looking movies. It's a chore, though, to put that down in writing afterward, proofread it, etc.

    Glad you've been enjoying what I've been doing.

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  10. I wasn't exposed to nearly as much heterodoxy before getting the internet.

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  11. "Aki no kure" for best blog.

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  12. "I wasn't exposed to nearly as much heterodoxy before getting the internet."

    You were born in '87 or '88, though, right? So you don't have any personal experience with how easy heterodox ideas were to come across before the net was mainstream.

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  13. Close, but earlier.

    Before the internet I don't know where I would have been exposed to holocaust denial, antinatalism, stirnerism, reactionary monarchists and apologias for things ranging from bestiality to the khmer rouge. Loompanics I suppose would be the best bet, but I certainly hadn't heard of that and my folks would have noticed strange books being delivered. I dropped my religious beliefs in large part due to sites like gnxp and ideas like bayesian probability. In school my textbook treated "Mismeasure of Man" as the final word. Now when Charles Kenny tries to cite it at foreignpolicy.com commenters directly below him point out his error.

    If I was going to date the "second new deal", the 60s/70s would be the best bet. Social Security was expanded, there was Medicare & Medicaid, and the E.P.A. Even affirmative action began under Nixon. Among new big government initiatives I'd say most of those in my lifetime have been related to terrorism/national security.

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  14. "Before the internet I don't know where I would have been exposed to holocaust denial, antinatalism, stirnerism, reactionary monarchists and apologias for things ranging from bestiality to the khmer rouge."

    Although I agree with TGGP that Internet make the scenario better for political dissidents, a Portuguese borne in 1973 could easily have been exposed to several of these ideas before the Internet; in a book fair or even in an ordinary bookshoop was easy to find books with ideological positions from anarcho-syndicalism and "council communism" to "Integralismo".

    However, Portugal had a much more turbulent 20th century History than the USA, what probably explains much of the difference.

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  15. Dahlia6:44 PM

    My guess, and just a guess to throw out there is that the internet, which I see as freedom (a kind of wealth), allows one to become more of whom one really is already, or at least one evolves faster.

    The fact is, most people are liberal. Their dislike of some tenets is not enough to make them overthrow their core philosophy. Where they gravitate to and what they avoid is thus reflected.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is, we were going to become more liberal, but freedom allows this to happen more rapidly. I understand Mickey Kaus always talks about some faster theory of the internet (I don't remember its name).
    I'm not familiar with it, and my logic follows from the maxim that, again, wealth allows one to become more of whom one really is, especially on a base level.

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  16. Anonymous8:06 PM

    It seems to be both answers. The Internet has exposed me to a wide range of info I would have never discovered without it, such as racial taxonomy, anti-feminist viewpoints, etc. But at the same time, I agree with your point that, for the majority of people, the 'Net leads them to conform.

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  17. Dahlia1:56 PM

    About Jason Malloy's comment earlier about the internet altering sexual behavior.

    Me, and others like Mangan, are beginning to wonder the same thing: that many of us can't handle it. Razib had a recent post chiding the "moral panic", however.

    *Facebook was mentioned in over 1/3 of divorce filings last year.

    *Mangan pointed to a not-for-profit site about porn addiction whose tag line is, "Evolution has not prepared your brain for today's Internet porn."
    Talks a lot about dopamine. Pretty exhaustive from the little I've seen.

    http://mangans.blogspot.com/2012/05/behind-falling-japanese-birthrate.html

    *Philip Zimbardo gave a TED talk called "The Demise of Guys?" He discusses what he calls "arousal addiction" from excessive internet use.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/zimchallenge.html

    Even more off-topic... It is so disconcerting to see so many people with their faces stuck in computer screens (lap tops, cell phones) everywhere in public and not communicating with each other.

    I've told my children that they are "pod people". A recent luncheon of young families I attended had about 1/4-1/3 of the participants, adults and children, zoned out (that's kind of a class thing, too, as this is just rude and tacky).

    I feel so sorry for these people.

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  18. One of the strongest signals of the vanishing of fellow feeling is that most people's fingertips crave a keypad to press against, or a touchscreen to caress, yet when it comes time to take a picture with other people, they only allow their wrist to rest on someone's shoulder, with the hand limping in dead space and the arm jerking away from the person's back.

    How long can it be before the public pushes for the right to marry their gay iPad?

    Sing it, Rick!

    "Human Touch"

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  19. "Before the internet I don't know where I would have been exposed to holocaust denial, antinatalism, stirnerism, reactionary monarchists and apologias for things ranging from bestiality to the khmer rouge."

    In 1978-79 Robert Faurisson, a French Holocaust denier, published letters denying the existence of Nazi gas chambers -- not in some kook mag, but in Le Monde.

    Antinatalism was part of the widespread focus on population growth during the 1970s. The Limits of Growth was covered all over, not just in dry journals, but even Time magazine.

    As for wacko political views, any used book store would've done. And if you lived near a college, it would have been hard to avoid people of all stripes handing out literature or preaching orally.

    Ngram shows "bestiality" on the rise in Google's digital library at least since 1860, so books and newspapers must have talked about it.

    Plus long enough before the internet, you would've lived on or near a farm with animals, and somebody or other would've defended it as not so terrible -- I mean, c'mon, you've never done it? And you can tell if they don't like it, right?

    Never underestimate the kind of stuff you'd be exposed to only from spoken face-to-face interactions...

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  20. Dahlia3:13 PM

    Agnostic,
    That video was too perfect; sent it to hubby.

    I remember coming upon reactionary monarchism when checking out a book from the library by Florence King (she called herself a Royalist and I was intrigued). And I knew of her by reading National Review, which I read because I admired William Buckley so much and read a couple of his books as well.

    Agnostic is right; it only appears impossible. I just think the internet gets us there faster, but perhaps keeps us more shallow??

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