Fight Big Tech Censorship With Low Tech Retail Policy
January 6th was a turning point not only for the United States but also for the Western world. The Capitol Hill uprising was preceded by weeks of political fantasies, dreams of some decisive action that would lift the US political system out of a quagmire that Donald Trump had neither created nor proven capable of changing. But like a wish on the monkey’s paw, what followed after the riot showed a cruel but altogether fitting irony. Someone had clearly prepared to cross the Rubicon in the time before this event. It just wasn’t a much smaller Donald Trump.
The merger of “bright” large companies, professional “knowledge workers” and political actors within the Democratic Party had already been brazen, a declaration of war in the sight of their alleged opponents. How to defend in war shows priority, while how and where to attack shows intent. With that in mind, a lot can already be said about what the new forces will have in store in the months and years to come. A new breed of widespread censorship is already in place amid calls for a “war on terror” to be launched against domestic adversaries, enemies lurking among the American people themselves.
The carp of libertarians in the free market now actually sounds empty, because “just shut up and start your own social media platform” is no longer a serious suggestion, even in theory. Indeed, Parler’s fate is illuminating. Not only has the platform been denied hosting of servers by Amazon, but it has also been completely frozen by polite society. She couldn’t find anyone willing to offer them any kind of service, not even legal counsel. Elsewhere, Gab is told to suffer the same fate, and companies line up to reprimand various “enemies of democracy,” including Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, whose aptly named book appears The tyranny of big tech was recently dropped by the publisher Simon & Schuster after protesting the certification of votes by the electoral college. Only the hopelessly gullible would consider this some sort of temporary condition before returning to political normalcy. Rather, this is the new normal as what is happening equates to a growing political and economic coalition that flexes its muscles during the grueling workout behind the scenes. These muscles will only get stronger and more hypertrophied in the years to come, and as their functionality increases, they will be used over and over again.
All of these are depressing and none of them bode well for the future. But here you should avoid missing the forest for the trees. This censored anger and burgeoning political oppression cannot be understood as a sign of overwhelming strength, but as a surprising demonstration of the weakness and vulnerability of the emerging regime. This new political order certainly has the power to censor political thinking from all social media platforms, and it is in the process of removing any remaining moral and cultural restrictions on the use of that power. But accepting the idea that exclusion from TikTok equates to political destruction means (stupid!) Joining the Silicon Valley hype.
Political ideas, like religious ideas in general, propagate through deep social connections between living people rather than through anonymous, impressionistic interactions, whether they are online or not. In addition, the main instrument of anonymous political communication is not a soon-to-be-banned Twitter user called “RonPolPot420” who tries to shake the foundations of society with racist jokes, but the humble brochure. The brochure, whether via a basement press, a stencil machine, or more recently an electronic printer, has been the cornerstone of one-way written political communication for hundreds of years and will remain so for centuries.
In the face of this humble technology, the ultimate weakness, not the strength, of this new consensus coalition is revealed. In a time of tech monopoly, Parler is easy to ruin and conservatives are banned from appearing on social media. But Parler didn’t exist at the time of Tsar Nicholas II, saying the Tsar could hardly hope to keep liberal Democrats or socialist revolutionaries in check by simply referring to Facebook’s community guidelines.
Dealing with decentralized printers that produced political material in the age of the Tsars required enormous police forces and real repression, and in the end it failed anyway, and an entire political dynasty was wiped out by the revolutionaries who replaced them. To attempt this at a time when printers are household appliances rather than bulky industrial machines, a totalitarian apparatus would be required, not corresponding to tsarist Russia, but to today’s China or mid-century Eastern bloc states such as the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic .
This point about leaflets versus social media may seem anachronistic and more than a bit naïve, but it does get to the heart of the dilemma that conservatives face. This new combination of technology-based censorship and rampant repression is likely strong enough to deny conservatives a place within the current political establishment. As we are now learning, it’s easy to slowly (and not so slowly) eradicate even the most establishment-friendly Republican dissidents like Hawley and Cruz from polite society. In fact, that’s obviously the plan. We are already seeing platforms under attack, companies being urged to deny basic services, including payment services and email, and donors shifting their funding preferences and becoming even more active. This in turn creates one Cordon Sanitaire about the “wrong” kind of Republican politician – who, unfortunately, are all but the leaders of their most distinguished country club elites, lovable losers historically represented by longtime party leader Robert Michel, who spent 38 years in Congress but not a single year as Part of a Congressional majority, and now owned by Mitt Romney and other politically obsessed RINOs.
No one can deny that this regime has the power to do all of this. However, it has no power to refuse the right to use the brochure and other tried and tested anti-establishment policy tools. Outside of polite society, the consensus coalition’s writing is not going on, and neither the technology nor the technology of dissident politics has changed much in the past hundred years.
The political scene in Sweden offers several instructive examples. The Sweden Democrats (SD) have developed over the past twelve years from a tiny and powerless political formation to command over almost a quarter of the electorate, breaking a century of social democratic hegemony. Meanwhile, SD has faced exactly the same kind of political, social, and economic oppression that is in the US in the early stages. From antifa-style violence tacitly supported or at least tolerated by the state to overwhelming media hostility to political parties, activists and members are routinely fired or banned from professional institutions for not even being able to book hotels or conference rooms … SD has it all and seen more.
Similarly, the Örebro Party (OP), named after the city of Örebro, serves as another practical example of the feasibility of non-establishment politics at another point on the political spectrum. The party chairman of the ÖP, Markus Allard (grandson of the well-known social democratic parliamentary president Henry Allard), has a background within the Swedish left, but now describes himself and his party mainly as populists. ÖP was founded in 2014 and makes it instructive to build functioning local political machines and representations. As such, it managed to get 3,000 votes in the 2018 municipal elections for the recognition of national names and the rapid creation of a number of other municipal branches within a couple of years. And all of this on a tight party budget that not even a Martha’s Vineyard summer home for the indispensable expert elite of D.C. would buy!
These two very different parties together illustrate a fundamental point: Politics is a low-tech business. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you a barrel of hogwash in lieu of actual political services that at least promise concrete, quantifiable municipal and civic reforms. In all respects, the Sweden Democrats have already outlived the not-so-tender graces the new consensus coalition is preparing to unleash their American populist cousins. In fact, the party has not only “survived” but has thrived and grown to become a dominant role in the political scene. This success is not in spite of, but because of, its complete exclusion from mainstream politics. Both SD and PP owe their political dynamism to their trust in a low-tech and inexpensive political “conscription army”, a political yeomania, and not in well-paid and well-heeled advisers and fundraisers.
It would be risky to ask whether American conservatives and populists, who have already been excluded from the digital community, are ready for this kind of politics. The answer is so obvious that it hardly needs to be phrased. The real question is whether the Republican Party would be ready for this, and by and large the answer to that question is still no. Just like curing malaria, there just isn’t enough money on the job to make it through to completion.
Compare printing brochures at the local print shop to building Joe Biden Island in an online video game that kids can play on their smartphones. The latter option will always appeal to policy-makers because the former is cheap and has been shown to work when accompanied by grassroots efforts, while the latter is politically worthless but expensive and open to all types of transplants. Some policy makers might argue that in times of endless lockdowns and protection orders, leaflets and face-to-face communications will wither on the vine, making the digital frontier the only area they can easily “organize” in, but this denies the reality: American ones States and regions where face-to-face communications and brochures might work are already de facto, if not de jure, open to business, and no population of this size can stay at home permanently, a repressive surveillance apparatus the size of that operating in China. In other words, the lame way of “doing the job” favored by the sly speaking Slacktivist politician is still not up to the actual work of party building and engineering.
The many diseases inherent in Conservatism, Inc. are neither new nor necessary to study deeply. But it is precisely these diseases, in the end, that are the real reason why these new democratic attempts to destroy or cripple the GOP, at least in its present form, are likely to prove successful. For a not insignificant section of the Republican Party, being kicked out of the infamous “swamp” and excluded from the Beltway is synonymous with social death. So better to find another well-paying sinecure elsewhere, or even join the winning Democratic team if they are likely to find a use and paycheck for your skills.
For many professional soldiers in Western politics, the point is the absolutely dying, politically useless, socially destructive, and economically predatory institutions they belong to – these are the places where you wear the lanyard and “do the job” of moving grain from sand with a dropper or counting the angel on the head of a pin. For them, the coming progressive censorship will truly represent hell on earth, a terrifying offensive that attacks all of their weaknesses and undermines the status, money and access they trade in. In this area, as in many other areas, a balanced view of the Trump phenomenon should honestly deal with the continuity shown, not just the differences. For more than a few intrepid politicians, “populism” has emerged as another limit to the incessant grip.
For the rest of you, however, we have some good news. Friends, the old gods of retail and machine politics – Boss Tweed, Huey Long, Mark Hanna, the Daleys of Chicago – are not dead yet, and the old ways are still as strong as ever. The American heartland is more than capable of lending its dormant power to confuse the censors and defeat the new consensus coalition. The challenge is not whether it is possible, as it is certainly possible, but whether people actually want to do it. And if uncontacted, swamp-drained Republican leaders and activists, displaced from a rapidly narrowing World Wide Web, unwilling to aid voters in these strained communities in their political struggles, they may soon bend over to get back among them to live .
Oliver Bateman is a journalist and historian living in Pittsburgh. He is the author of Ringer, MEL Magazine, and Splice Today. He is also the co-moderator of “What’s Left?” Podcast.
Malcom Kyeyune is a freelance writer based in Uppsala, Sweden. He also sits on the steering committee of Oikos, a Swedish Conservative think tank founded in 2020 by former SD deputy party leader Mattias Karlsson.
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