Friday, March 25, 2016

Friedersdorf at the Atlantic--on the Emory situation and the weirdly totalitarian tilt of some people concerned about chalk politics

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/a-letter-to-emory-please-stop-fueling-trumpism/475356/
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Can you imagine how campus progressives would have reacted if a university president threatened to have someone punished or charged with trespassing for chalking “Obama 2012” or “Bernie 2016” on campus sidewalks? But these students see no need for viewpoint-neutral standards about politicking in presidential elections.

The shortsightedness of all involved is staggering. Set aside the brazen illiberalism of their actions and briefly consider this from a consequentialist perspective.

For starters, leftist activists are far more likely than anyone else to use sidewalk chalk and should be pushing to dispense with existing, rarely enforced campus regulations. The medium is unusually suited to the powerless, too: It is cheap, easy to use, and very hard to suppress. Yet they’re signing on to surveillance and punishment for chalk-wielding activism, as if it hasn’t even occurred to them that their allies stand to lose the most from future crackdowns, whereas Donald Trump 2016 could foreswear sidewalk chalk forever without suffering from it at all. I don’t know whether these students have an incoherent theory of how power works, or haven’t thought the matter through, but future leftist activists may rue their behavior.

What’s more, if the sidewalk-chalker is unmasked and punished, the effect will be to fuel the popularity of Trump 2016, not to undermine it. This is so obvious to everyone outside the bubble of campus leftism that I begin to wonder if activists at Emory don’t understand that, or just don’t actually care about outcomes beyond their bubble. [emphasis added]


At ages 18 to 22, many of us were less able to see the world through the eyes of others than in earlier or later years. I find it easy to forgive college students, whether activists or otherwise, when they display that quality. It doesn’t make them bad people. Still, good people can harm important causes. I wish the ideological cohort that makes privilege so central to their analysis would expend more effort reflecting on this fact: Those on track to earn degrees from prestigious universities are unusual in their ability to indulge rhetoric and actions without reflecting on how they will be perceived by fellow citizens or undermine the rights of the powerless.

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Increasingly it seems that there's a constituency of some kind on both the left and the right that seems, ultimately, to have no problems whatsoever with totalitarian repressive gambits just so long as those activities are made within the ideological spectrum.  This kind of gets back to something Jacques Ellul warned about with respect to the long-term effects of propaganda as a political weapon wielded in any society, regardless of whether that society might be construed as capitalist, socialist, democratic, or otherwise.  When democracy has shifted from being a mode of governance to an etiological myth, Ellul wrote, it fundamentally ceases to be truly democratic in means and ends.  That was what he wrote back in 1965. 

If Ellul were around today he might well conclude that propagandistic aristocrats (i.e. innovators and owners in mass and social media) have finally solved the problem of the production of what Ellul described variously as "horizontal" (peer generated and distributerd) and "sociological" (in the water, so to speak) propagandas.  In the era of Twitter and Facebook Big Brother doesn't need to waste time with too much careful orchestration of propaganda if you'll voluntarily do it at your own expenses on your own time through Facebook.  There's nothing like this year's election cycle to reveal how readily people disseminate whatever propagandas they are for. 

At this point it strikes me that Revelation 17-18 described Babylon as a shorthand for the Roman empire, the greatest military and economic empire of the known world for that era.  The United States has the role of Babylon now.  If you want to ask who the antichrist may be then just ask yourself who YOU plan to vote for this year and THAT is your answer.  Neither capitalism nor socialism can save an empire if it is in decline.  There's a point at which the cumulative injustices can't be rectified by sharing a wealth that is the result of generations of fractional reserving banking of fiat currency and money lent at interest.  There may not be any real-world wealth to distribute after all.  There are partisans on the left and right who want to either make America great again or make it the kind of great they believe America ought to be.  There are civic religions that are blue state and red state but it is not necessarily for a Christian to swear loyalty to either capitalism or socialism.  Babylon will inevitably fall at some point.

Meanwhile, it seems as though some want to embrace what would be considered tyranny if it were deployed by someone else, wehther left or right.  Ellul seemed concerned that this dynamic was going to eventually saturate the United States and it would sure seem as though those concerns were well-founded.

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