Confessions of a Former Liberal: Part 2. (They’re Boring)
The second in an occasional series about Pohutu’s confusing journey into the political wilderness.
But of course it’s much worse than just being boring. Excuse the wait for Part 2 of The Confessions (here’s Part 1), but these posts have a timetable of their own, waiting till enough pressure builds up that I explode all over the page. Anyway, back to liberals being “boring”, which is a stand in for dishonest and intellectually bankrupt.
It starts with being boringly certain about how right they are, which leads to no interesting analysis of anything anymore from the liberal side. (Note 1: I used to at least say “left liberal” or interchange “liberal” with “left”. Boy was that stupid. Lately the only decent analysis of what’s going on in the US that I’ve read has been in the communist newspaper the Militant, to which I proudly subscribe.) This certainty simply leads to liberals endlessly making the same statements over and over again about how right they are, and then, if they’ve done a little more thinking, they start in on who’s to blame for it. It’s the latter that prompted me to write this, in particular a piece in The New York Review of Books headlined “The Autocracy App” about the evils of Facebook, by Jacob Weisberg. (The books he’s writing about in the piece are: “Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy,” by Siva Vaidhyanathan, Oxford University Press; and “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier).
Let me get this out of the way first: I loathe and despise Facebook and am a serial account deleter (I’ve done it three times over the past 5 or so years, most recently last month) so I’m always eager to read a Facebook takedown. This piece thinks it’s a takedown, but for the most part is another example of liberal whining about, yet again, how everything is turning to shit but none of this is our fault, as humans, as citizens, as liberals because…well, Facebook!
Weisberg’s main claim, per the headline, (and perhaps Vaidhyanathan’s, if Weisberg is to be believed) is that Facebook is “a better tool for autocrats than for revolutionaries”. Which is actually an interesting claim, and I was semi-eager to read his/their arguments for it. It turns out that in this piece at least, there are none — arguments, that is. Yes, there are a lot of statements that Facebook is implicated in everything liberals don’t like, but no serious argument that it is in itself the cause of these things.
Non-Argument No. 1
Here’s one of the non-arguments: while Facebook was apparently a key organising tool for the revolution in Egypt that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, it was an early enthusiasm that (and Weisberg is quoting Vaidhyanathan here) “blinded many to the ways social media — especially Facebook — could be used by authoritarian governments to surveil, harass, and suppress dissidents”. So Facebook was good and/or neutral when “our” side was using it to overthrow a dictator, then bad/evil when the tables were turned? Doesn’t that speak more to Facebook being a platform, a thing that can be used and is used both in the services of good and evil? Think about all the other things that “could be used by authoritarian governments” for nefarious means: radio, TV, newspapers, weapons, police force, army…the list is as long as a piece of string. And as for being “blinded many to the ways social media — especially Facebook — could be used by authoritarian governments to surveil, harass, and suppress dissidents” — really, all one can say is, “duh!”
Non-Argument No. 2
Which is really just another case of Non-Argument No. 1. Fast forward to the 2016 US election, and Facebook as the “disinformation” machine, because liberals (and only liberals, apparently) know what’s true, no one else does.
Here, Weisberg writes (and he’s still talking about Vaidhyanathan’s book) that Facebook “not so inadvertently assisted the Trump campaign.” He outlines how Trump’s digital operation relied heavily “on Facebook employees who were provided to the Trump campaign as embedded advisers. Facebook supplies these technical experts to all large advertisers, (note 2: that’s creepy! and interesting! would love to know more!) and in Trump’s case it made sure to find ones who identified as Republicans (similar advisers were offered to the Clinton campaign but turned down).” The article then goes on to detail all the clever, devious, inflammatory ways the Trump campaign used Facebook to help it steal the election (I’m not going to get into Russia-gate here, which I don’t buy).
So, again, the evidence for Facebook’s inherent evil is that the Trump campaign utilised it a whole lot better than the Clinton one did.
Non-Argument No. 3
The next indictment is even more of a liberal fail: Weisberg recounts how newspaper and other publishers flocked to Facebook to get more eyes for their content, but then “under pressure to stop promoting fake news (note 3: I’m not going to get into fake news gate here, but I definitely don’t buy the MSM version of it), Facebook began downgrading published content as a whole … Since January, a new emphasis on what Facebook calls ‘trusted’ sources has had perverse effects, boosting traffic for untrustworthy sites, including Fox News and The Daily Mail, while reducing it for more reliable news organisations like The New York Times, CNN and NBC. The reasons are unclear, but it appears that Facebook’s opaque methodology may simply equate trust with popularity.”
Yes, you read that right, and I’m hoping everything that’s wrong with that argument is obvious. Oh, what the hell, let’s state the obvious: ‘the MSM outlets read by people who disagree with me are untrustworthy and should be shut out by Facebook.’ It’s not far from that to making the case — and liberals have actually been making this case for a while — that monopolistic corporate giants like Facebook should be given the job of regulating content, and should regulate it This way. That a monopolistic corporate giant is not regulating content to our liking = it’s evil, tool of autocrats, etc. etc. I might add here that a bunch of alt sites I read should, according to liberals (in this case, The Washington Post) be “downgraded” by Facebook. See WaPo’s Propornot story for more on that.
Just to make clear, I’m no fan of Fox News or The Daily Mail, but at this point, I’m also not a fan of The New York Times or CNN or NBC or any MSM outlet pretty much anywhere. (See addendum to this post for my latest explosion re the NYT.)
You might be wondering how this relates to liberals being boring. Well, like I said, I used “boring” as a more pleasant catch-all than words I’d use to describe how I really feel.
But, yeah, boring because so many of them have nothing interesting to say politically, theoretically, philosophically. It’s just, I’m right, you’re wrong, things are going badly but that’s nothing to do with me. No, it’s Facebook or Russia or, I guess, Fox News and The Daily Mail. But think back to the last part of that quote about ‘trusted’ news sources: “Facebook’s opaque methodology may simply equate trust with popularity.” Isn’t there more to investigate and be said and be analysed here, at the very least about why these outlets are more popular than apparently more “trustworthy” outlets? What’s going on here? Is it really all because…Facebook! The Russians!
To reiterate, per the start of this post, I do think Facebook is evil. It’s evil because, yes, it’s part of the surveillance state (since the states we live in are corporate run) and part of surveillance capitalism (tracking everything, pushing tracking ads, selling personal information, having monopolistic control over what is now the globe’s major information outlet etc.). On a more personal, perhaps intimate level, I find it evil because it’s deliberately addictive (most often appealing to the less angelic parts of one’s nature) and full of trolls and swamp creatures and blowhards and skites and bores (i.e. humans) and because it’s monopolising a lot of communication that should not be in private hands, that should be a common good (for example, if you’re studying, you’re obliged to join the class Facebook page to get class notes or information etc.). I could go on. I think all of us should #DELETEFUCKINGFACEBOOK, sorry, #DELETEFACEBOOK and this time I’m hoping my own deletion will stick. (See how I sound like an addict trying to hold on until she gets her one-month sobriety chip…Jeez, it’s pathetic!)
But liberals, my former tribe, for whom I still have a lot of love (possibly a mistake), you need to apply more intellectual rigour to your arguments, at least to make them worth reading. Because all this holier-than-thou certitude is as boring as fuck.
I get online summaries of the books sections and the ‘bits’ (computery stuff) sections from the NYT — these come with story headline and a wee summary sentence so you can try to work out if it’s worth clicking and using up one of the free articles. I got this one yesterday:
‘Made and Distributed in the U.S.A.:’ Ahead of the midterm elections, false and divisive messages of social media — once the specialty of Russian-linked operations — are now increasingly being created and spread by Americans.’
Oh, COME ON!!! I’ve already said I don’t buy Russia-gate, but even if I did, really? Americans have only recently started spreading “false and divisive messages” via social media? This is propaganda, there’s no other word for it. True, I didn’t click, I suppose I should so as to not judge the article unfairly. But I can judge the summary paragraph either way, and I call total bullshit on that shit. Because before Trump, the whole country was in peace and harmony and kumbaya, right? Oh, I go all misty eyed remembering how, all through the Obama years, when Americans all got along and loved one another. Before the rise of … you know … Facebook and Russian trolls.