The Social Media Revolution–An American Spring?

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Regular readers know that I–an irregular contributor here–have long said that the power of the internet is as-yet poorly understood and mostly untapped. Sure, we’ve seen the Arab Spring, but what is the internet really going to do in America beyond providing us endless hours of cat videos?

Well, Scott Adams [of Dilbert fame] suggests that it’s broken down our electoral politics and is turning us into a direct democracy:

The media has led you to believe that this is a presidential contest between Democrats and Republicans. But Sanders is barely a real Democrat and Trump is barely a conservative Republican. If Bloomberg jumps into the race, we will have three candidates with ambiguous party affiliations. So maybe there is a more helpful way to frame this contest.

Naval Ravikant calls it The American Spring, and points out that social media has become the real conduit to power. That’s a revolution. We the People are on the brink of replacing the entrenched powers and their monied interests. If the patriots in Iowa, New Hampshire, and the other early primary states put both Sanders and Trump in commanding leads, they will be – in effect – firing the government. But they would also be firing the system of government that was created by the Founders. Direct democracy via social media – chaotic and ugly – is about to replace the Republic. No longer can a strong leader ignore the will of the people when it is pounding on every door and tapping on every window. The Republic was designed to give elected officials the power to decide for the people. But the elected elites have lost their legitimacy and The People are on the brink of taking back power.

I’ve said before that technology has led America to an increasingly centralized society, culture, and government.

  1. The printing press itself was the first step in creating durable broadsheet dissemination of information to a wide audience. The pen is mightier than the sword, but owning a printing press is like being the general of an army of penmen.
  2. Newspapers have followed an overwhelming consolidation and much of their news-gathering is centralized via the AP. And they had real power, because you “never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
  3. The introduction of radio enabled a true real-time broadcast to allow single voices to reach much more widely than ever before.
  4. TV came along, and video truly killed the radio star. Because of the expense, consolidation into the “big 3” networks meant that the largest corporations could filter and control the presentation of information to the masses.

"Television". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“Television”. Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.


Each step increased the flow of information. But each step also drove the control of which information would flow into a narrower and narrower group of people. But technology marches on, and the filters of broadcast media are increasingly being sidestepped, democratized, and subsumed. It started with Cable, as the cost of getting into the television business dropped dramatically, and the appearance of the 24-hour cable news station widened the number of voices in the market. But nothing has come close to becoming relevant as quickly as the internet and social media. We now see major news productions no longer driving the reporting, but rather highlighting the tweets of feet on the ground. And Presidential primary political debates are taking questions from YouTube “stars”.

The internet has been around the “mainstream” less than 20 years now… Since then, it’s basically broken or fundamentally changed multiple business models in all sorts of industries, as any unemployed former travel agent will tell you. Politically, by 2004, blogs had changed the political landscape enough to give us Rathergate. But 2004–a mere 12 years ago–only brought us the first inklings of the social media future with MySpace. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, all of these hadn’t even been invented yet. Essentially the “modern” social media landscape was built in ~2006, with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and integrated with the “computer in a pocket”, the iPhone and Android devices, over the following few years. We’ve been living with it for only a decade.
popery
The first decade of television was exciting, but raw. Everyone could tell that this was something new, and something important. Much like they can tell with the internet and social media now. It created new stars and obsoleted many former ones. It changed the world of politics. Much like internet and social media has done since. And now, as streaming video is replacing broadcast video for more and more households, and with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu becoming production companies in their own right, the traditional hold of the TV networks is breaking with it.

The “out of the blue” appearance of Ron Paul and now Bernie Sanders? Voices who have spent decades with no “mainstream” platform are now finding their audience. The growth of “outsider, anti-establishment” candidates gaining real traction? This is due to media conglomerates no longer being able to control the message and marginalize them. These candidates, rightly or wrongly, stand in stark contrast to the politicians who have been screwing us over for years while growing their own power. And can you imagine the quick changes in public opinion on the gay marriage, medical/recreational marijuana legalization fights, and civil liberties issues without a democratized communication platform like the internet? And the internet is not only domestic–it’s making these changes on a global scale.

So, what is the point? Well, it remains to be seen. We are witnessing the greatest social transformation the world has seen since at least the invention of television, but probably since the creation of “mass media” at all. We’re seeing the replacement of “broadcasting” with “narrowcasting”, or “sidecasting”, or “targetedcasting”, or “peercasting” or whatever you want to name it. But the fact is that information no longer only flows downhill from the powerful to the rest of us. Now, while each of us may individually be no more powerful than we ever once were, all of us are collectively more powerful than any individual media magnate or opinion-maker on the globe. While much of Scott Adams post goes into suggesting an idea that I don’t think will ever come to pass, the question of demolishing our system of government is well under way, whether the visible structures of government change or not.

Is this a good thing? Will it advance liberty? I’m not sure. But it’s certainly different, and the world–be it politicians, media folks, leaders of industry, etc–hasn’t quite figured out the implications of that yet.

Quote of the Day: MLK Day Edition

MLK
(Re-post)

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is unquestionably one of the most famous speeches in American history. In listening to the speech today, I found the following passages that aren’t as often quoted to be some of the most powerful lines in the speech.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

America has come a long way since King delivered this speech. Racial and ethnic minorities have made great strides thanks to courageous individuals like King who made a stand for liberty and justice (and in King’s case, paid with his life) and we are all better off for it.

Here is the rest of the speech. Listen and be inspired.

The Growing Cult of the Imperial Presidency

His Highness the President

Yesterday, President Obama used executive orders to further burden the fundamental right of self-defense. On the same day, in an effort to defend his Senate absenteeism, GOP candidate Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the concept of the imperial presidency.

Let us consider Obama’s action on gun control first. His executive orders grow the size of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), commit taxpayers to additional spending on programs he likes, and purport to expand the scope of existing background check requirements.

This did not constitute circumventing Congress, according to Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarett, because Congress “made it very clear they are not going to act.”

It is unclear what practical effect will be achieved by the expanded background checks. The existence of a loophole seems to have been exaggerated in the first place. Any change likely would not have made a difference in the high profile shootings supposedly motivating the President. As Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run noted:

[The President] recited a litany of horrific, headline-grabbing mass shootings while proposing policies that would have done nothing to prevent them. Anticipating that his non sequitur would draw criticism, he boldly proclaimed that good intentions matter more than actual results…

The Obama faction of the cult-of-the-president does not care. They conceive of rights as things we get from parent-like leaders. Like well-behaved children, we ought to be grateful for the privileges we are permitted—not whining over the prerogatives of adults.

But if they are upheld (by the very courts GOP candidates like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee insist should defer to the political branches) Obama’s orders will have at least one meaningful impact, even if it is not on the homicide rate. The impact will be on the structure and scope of government power—and its increasing centralization in a single individual: an imperial president with the power and mandate to act where the people’s elected representatives have refrained from doing so.

As Bonnie Kristian, a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty, writes at Rare:

In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”

He’s the doer.

Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.

Even this misses the target.

We are the deciders.

Rights are not things we are given, not privileges handed out to children by benevolent parent-kings. Rights are ours for the having unless and until we yield them. The only way to do that is via elected representatives. Even then our ability to give away rights is limited by the Constitutional framework our founders had the foresight to put in place.

It is not meant to be easy to give rights away.

Jarett and Obama are therefore wrong to lay blame on Congress’s “failure to act.” It is not that Congress has failed to act. It is that we, the people, have not in sufficient numbers directed our elected representatives to infringe further upon our fundamental rights of self-defense.

Use of executive orders to circumvent the collective will of the people’s representatives fundamentally alters our constitutional structure. The left might embrace this trend now, while their man is at the helm, and his target is guns. But how will they feel when it is a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump circumventing Congress? When the executive power is used again to send troops to fight undeclared wars?

Incidentally, last year, Obama was the biggest seller of arms in the world, servicing buyers like Saudi Arabia and Syrian rebels (even though Congress has not declared war).

I wonder if he does background checks…

It is disappointing that on the same day Obama issued his executive orders, Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the idea that Congress is of secondary import to the will of the President.

His comments came in the context of his chronic Senate absenteeism, including for the end-of-year spending and tax bill vote, which has provoked criticism from other GOP candidates, including Rand Paul.

Well, you know, the difference between Marco Rubio and I is, I show up for work. And we had the biggest vote of the whole year, voting on a trillion dollars worth of spending, and he didn’t show up. So, yes, I think he ought to resign or give his pay back to the taxpayer.

When asked yet another question on the issue, Rubio’s attempt to defend himself was a big, depressing fail implicitly endorsing the growing cult of the imperial presidency.

I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because … only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.

Perhaps Rubio could point us to where in the Constitution the power to “set the agenda” is granted exclusively to the President.

I checked Article II and didn’t see it.

You know how everyone has that thing? The thing drives them crazy? Like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Maybe it is baristas misspelling names. Or your when it should be you’re. People who use literally to mean figuratively.

That song from Frozen.

For me, it is people talking about “our leaders.”

U.S. citizens don’t have leaders. We have representatives. They don’t tell us what to do—we tell them how to voteSee Article I, The Constitution.

We also have a chief executive. His job is to execute the laws passed by Congress, deal with foreign countries, and provide information to Congress. He also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

But not of us.

To the contrary, we pay him for his “Services.” See Article II, The Constitution.

No one commands us. No one leads us. And no one rules us. That is what it means to be free.

The number of people who react with hostility and defensiveness to this notion is bizarre to me. It is as if they want to be led, like when I first left home and missed having my parents tell me what I should do. Being leaderless means being responsible.

So maybe deep down, those who would rather not shoulder such burdens harbor an unconscious longing for the days of monarchs. When the best-born among us led the way atop magnificent horses, swords and armor flashing in the sunlight, obliterating responsibility by demanding complete allegiance—leaving we lesser souls to imagine ourselves as scullery-maid-turned-princess from the safe distance of our own servitude.

Easier to daydream of being transported to the prince’s ball in an enchanted pumpkin wearing a gown made of magic than to actually climb up on a horse of one’s own.

But the willing subjects are as dangerous as the would-be kings.

How Anarchists Should Confront the Enemy Within

The Challenge

In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a commenter calling herself Mrs. Lemuel Struthers on Reason’s Hit and Run threw down the gauntlet:

What I’d really like to hear is a libertarian/classical liberal approach to approaching this problem of a minority of anti-liberals within a society engaging in war-like behavior (murder) while using the values of the society they live in to promote their ideology. The enemy within – if you will. While at the same time demographic and immigration trends tend to support the likely enlargement of populations who will tolerate and even encourage that ideology.

And, just to be clear, I was really asking how France should address its issues from a an-cap perspective, not the USA.

I take up her challenge with this post.  The post actually contains two mini essays. One about France like she asked. But first, I will start with an essay about Ancapistan… the one she said she wasn’t interested in (because the essay about France would be incomprehensible without it)! ;) » Read more

Quote of the Day: ‘Constitutionalist’ Inconsistency Edition

The poster child for faux Constitutionalism

From Mike Maharrey’s post: The Constitutional Inconsistency of Many “Constitutionalists”

This short statement sums up many people’s views on “constitutionalism” and “limited government” in a nutshell. It goes like this. If the government tries to do something ‘limited government guy’ disapproves of – regulating light bulbs or soda consumption – he will scream “limited government” and point at the Constitution. But when the federal government does something ‘limited government guy’ deems necessary, he makes excuses for it, and supports it, whether authorized by the Constitution or not.

The federal government lacks the constitutional authority to do any of these things. But ‘limited government guy’ wants the feds to enforce airline security because he finds it “a good idea.” Here’s the thing: a lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ how many ounces of soda he can drink is a good idea. A lot of people think telling ‘limited government guy’ what kind of light bulb he can screw into his fixture is a good idea.

So, why exactly should the federal government implement the things ‘limited government guy’ likes (airport security) and not those others things he dislikes? He really doesn’t have any basis to object, other than his conception of “good ideas.” He’s already tacitly admitted the federal government can do pretty much anything. Now it only comes down to whether it should.

[…]

Of course, this is all pretty much moot in 2015 because Americans don’t really give a crap about what the Constitution says or means any more – unless it relates to abortion, porn, gay marriage or keeping somebody from slapping the 10 Commandments up in a public space.

By the way, I bet ‘limited government guy’ thinks it’s a great idea for the feds to meddle in some of those things too.

I’ve encountered quite a bit of these “constitutionalists” and “limited government guys” recently. For example, there are actually “limited government” people in my social media feeds who think anything related to Islam should be banned (burkas, mosques, “Sharia Law” in private family matters, the very practice of Islam itself etc.). “Islam isn’t a religion, it’s an ideology (or cult, or philosophy, or…). Even if I were to concede that point (which I don’t), banning Islam or any other expression of conscience which does not violate the rights of others would still be a flagrant violation of the First Amendment. A true “limited government” person supports the rights of people with whom s/he disagrees.

Mike Maharrey is definitely onto something here. Most people aren’t really in favor of liberty for “others” but only for themselves.

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