Even the least contentious online spaces require moderation

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The moderators kindly ask you not to debate the health benefits of this product

In much the same way that a virus will mutate over time to increase its immunity against various treatments, so too do bad internet arguments.

Realizing how quickly the “big tech censorship” narrative crumbles under scrutiny, some defenders of Donald Trump and the “anything goes” social media app Parler have refined their case. Sure, they say, it’s not technically a First Amendment issue. The government isn’t trying to censor anybody (in fact it’s the head of government being booted in this instance). But it’s still a free speech issue, insofar as letting these big companies set and enforce their own rules is a slippery slope. If these bigwigs can just block or delate content, or remove users who directly threaten public health and safety, what’s to stop them from simply deleting everything and de-platforming every person that they happen to find objectionable? Surely, this will have a chilling effect on civil discourse. …


Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

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The Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot.” More credible than most of the president’s claims.

There’s a group of people I used to hold in contempt, for whom I now feel a higher degree of respect and sympathy. I’m talking about Bigfooters, or “Squatchers,” or whatever you want to call the folks who passionately hunt for the elusive cryptid. I owe them an apology.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still not a believer. In fact, I’m an obstinately skeptical person by nature. If I were walking through an old Civil War cemetery at night and suddenly saw a mustachioed Union commander standing before me, my first thought would be that I was hallucinating, not that I was actually witnessing the apparition of a dead soul. I used to have a framed, autographed picture of Agent Scully hanging in my bedroom (purely because I admired her skepticism, of course). …


Add “free markets” to the far-right’s long list of enemies

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Getty Images

There’s a growing disconnect between the more academic definitions of “Left” and “Right,” and what these labels are commonly understood to mean. If you ever attended a university and took an intro-level Poli-Sci class, you were probably taught that the political Right supports things like free markets, fiscal restraint, and property rights, while the Left tends to support more government intervention in the economy. But as is often the case, academia may be a bit out of touch with the real world here.

Even before last week’s armed insurrection on Capitol Hill, the American Right’s relationship with the free market was already on the rocks. Sure, the Republican Party passed some massive tax cuts for the wealthy, but they were also turning sharply against free trade, and taking a much more aggressive, interventionist tone towards companies that dared to stand in the way of their agenda. …


Encourage supporters to act crazy, stupid, and bigoted, then play the victim when critics call you crazy, stupid, and bigoted.

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Source: Philedelphia Inquirer

After a week of surprising victories followed by (sadly less surprising) chaos and violence, there has been some renewed speculation about the future of the Republican Party and the American Right more broadly. Following the election, the conventional wisdom had been that while President Trump was on his way out, the authoritarian populist movement he invigorated was here to stay. After the attempted violent overthrow of the government on January 6th, however, some are clinging to hope that maybe the GOP will finally distance itself from Trump and his ilk. I’m hopeful but pretty skeptical.

Victimhood is a huge part of the modern GOP’s identity. When Trump told his supporters following the insurrection that they, “will not be disrespected,” it clearly struck a chord with people who believe themselves to be victims of… something. What that something remains a little vague. Are they “victims” because their party lost an election and their leader refuses to accept it? Are they “victims” because their party’s own policies have left many rural parts of the country struggling? Are they “victims” because American culture has become more socially accepted in a way that they don’t care for? Or are they “victims” because mainstream media makes fun of them when they behave in destructive or retrograde ways? Who the hell knows. But the narrative is clear. The GOP base has been “disrespected” in some way, and they’ve had enough of it. …


Contempt for the other side has little to do with policy

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It’s almost become a cliché to state that we are living through unprecedented times. As Covid-19 continues its merciless resurgence, and the soon-to-be former president desperately tries to overturn a democratic election in what can only be described as a dictatorial coup attempt, it’s understandable that many of us would like to simply take a break from politics, unplug and unwind over the holidays as we hope for a return to relative normalcy under the incoming Biden administration.

Yeah… that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Ousting the orange authoritarian was a big deal — an incredible amount of needless human suffering will likely be prevented as a result, and it may well have saved the project of constitutional democracy as we know it — but it isn’t necessarily going to put us back on track towards a more free, just, and prosperous future, given the damage that has already been done. …


What really has a chilling effect on speech?

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Everyone has that one uncle…

There’s a term that originally comes from the field of social psychology, but has since been co-opted by right-wing internet people. The term is “virtue signaling.” It’s typically used to mean something like “political correctness,” or the act of being sanctimonious about a particular social issue so that one can feel morally or intellectually superior to others. While I can see why some people might find this kind of thing annoying, I tend to worry much more about the opposite extreme, or what I guess you’d call “malice signaling.”

This is the act of being the most obnoxious, mean-spirited jerk you can possibly be, going out of your way to offend people and hurt their feelings, mostly online. Why? Maybe just for the hell of it. Maybe out of genuine prejudice and resentment towards others. Maybe because it makes insecure men feel like tough guys (and yes, it is mostly guys who do this). …


Vote for the one who will do the most good

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A person who plans to raise your living standards (left) and a person who plans to lower them (right). (Source: AP)

What if the way we’ve been conditioned to judge presidential candidates is all wrong?

U.S. presidential politics leans heavily on personality. This fact was on gross display during the last debate (if you can even call it that), where an old man and a preteen boy in an old man’s body rambled, yelled, and scoffed at each other for 90 minutes while hardly saying anything of substance. Joe Biden was able to land a few rhetorical jabs on the president. But why does this matter?

There are understandable reasons why someone might not love Joe Biden the man. Despite his campaign’s consistent efforts to portray him as the epitome of wholesome decency and integrity, there’s still no getting away from the fact that he is a career politician with a mixed record, both in terms of politics and personal character. …


If the latter isn’t settled, the former is irrelevant

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Photo by Lucas Franco

The fundamental question Americans face at the ballot box this year is whether the United States should continue the project of liberal democracy, or if we should follow in the footsteps of Russia, Hungary, Venezuela, and other nations run by authoritarian strongmen. I sincerely wish this were an exaggeration. Unfortunately, the Trump presidency has only continued raising red flag after red flag. The world leaders Trump admires, and the policies he’s attempting to replicate, are overwhelmingly authoritarian.

In light of this, it’s time we started paying more attention to where our politicians sit on the liberal-authoritarian continuum, rather than how far “left” or “right” they happen to be. …


When people need help fast, ideological fervor falls by the wayside.

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Here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic, trying to convince people to take precautions for the sake of public health. Unfortunately, we’re living in a society where proven statements of fact — the earth is spherical, vaccines don’t cause autism, humans are primates, anthropogenic climate change is happening, etc. — have been politicized, and putting trust in experts is decried as “elitist.”

Once this happens, when public trust erodes and factual statements are seen as signals of tribal identity, trying to persuade people often becomes counterproductive. …


The Democrats have finally embraced social democracy

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When Bernie Sanders launched his first presidential campaign back in 2015, he told one of his supporters, “I’m not doing this believing I’m going to be the next president. I’m doing this believing we can build a movement.” Along those lines, Sanders has been extremely successful. For all the exasperation among internet leftists that Joe Biden could well be the 2020 nominee, a quick look at Biden’s platform will reveal just how influential Sanders’s insurgent movement has been. Joe Biden, the quintessential moderate Democrat, is now running on a platform that includes:

About

Chris Dobro

Volunteer organizer. Humanist. Pragmatist. Public health advocate. Global citizen. Living that ADHD life. Part of the Greatest Generation (Millennial).

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