Categories
Politics

On Trump’s Twitter Ban

President Trump has been banned from Twitter as a result of the January 6th putsch, and I gotta say something, because what I’m seeing on my twitter timeline here has gotten both absurd and toxic.  It isn’t as simple as some are making it.  I am not a free speech absolutist, and if there is any time for censoring someone, it is when that person is using a public platform to organize a fascist coup.  Moreover, on a personal level, it is hard not to feel a certain glee, both at how frustrated it must make him, and because I will no longer see people I follow quote-tweeting him in order to express pointless (if deserved) obscenities about his tweets.

But there are things we must not forget: He is being censored—this notion that its only censorship if carried out by a government ignores the entire history of censorship.  Are any of you old enough to remember when television networks would bleep out anything entertainers said against the Vietnam war?  If there is a term for that other than censorship, I’ve never heard it. Maybe censoring Trump is the right thing to do, as I said above, but let’s at least call it by its right name.

Second, he is being censored by a multi-billion dollar corporation, and anyone who thinks such a corporation has the same interests as the oppressed and exploited is being foolish at best.

Censorship, whether by government or corporation, is guaranteed to be used against the most oppressed layers of society—after all, it is those layers who carried out the fight for free speech in the first place.  So long as we live in a world controlled by an elite, that elite will use censorship as one of the tools to maintain their privileges. And it is harder to fight for the right of the oppressed to speak when the reactionaries can say, “Hey, you didn’t have a problem with censoring so-and-so just because you don’t agree with him.”  Can we please keep that in mind?

Another point is when those who call themselves leftists justify the action by saying, “But Twitter is a private corporation.”  There’s a term for this: it is called placing property rights above human rights. Are you really okay with that?  It is also answering the question, “Is it wrong?” by saying, “it’s legal.” Are you okay with that?

We are already seeing the worst aspects of this: There are attacks on the ACLU from those calling themselves leftists, there are attacks on the entire concept of free speech. There is mockery—mockery—of what the oppressed fought and died for. This is not healthy.

I want to repeat that: People identifying as leftists have mocked the very concept of free speech, and do not see anything wrong with that.

If you’re certain your speech will not be suppressed, it can only mean that you have no intention of challenging the powerful.

Once again, we are seeing the chronic disease of the political dilettante: the refusal to think things through, to examine consequences, to, as Sturgeon said, “Ask the next question.”

Bottom line: Yes, I think, under these conditions, Trump’s ban was necessary.  The right to speak is a human right, but under extraordinary conditions, human rights, even the right to life, must sometimes be set aside, and a fascist coup is an extraordinary condition if anything is.  But we need to be very careful about celebrating it, and even more careful about the generalizations we draw in order to justify it, and about when censorship is appropriate, and we need to be aware that these measures some are so pleased with will be used to muffle leftists, and anyone who takes aim at the status quo.

Categories
Politics

A Brief Thought on Disbanding the Police

First of all, I’m not going to say much about the cry to “defund the police” because I’m not sure what it means. If by “defunding” they mean entirely removing its budget, that’s identical to disbanding; if not, it means they’re talking about what they did in LA, which is reduce it’s budget by a tiny fraction, probably causing them to drop their “community outreach” programs that never did anything anyway.

What struck me about the other demand, to disband the police, is its contradictory nature.

When it is put forward by capitalist politicians, it means, “We are going to totally remove the police department and replace it with one that is identical except for cosmetic changes and we hope this will make you people shut up and quit trying to actively change things.”

But when it is put forward by masses of outraged protesters, it has a revolutionary content.  They are not thinking cosmetic change, they are talking—no matter to what degree they consciously realize it—about striking at the violent coercion that permits the existence of class society, particularly capitalism.

The danger, then, is obvious: that the desires of millions of protesters will be harmlessly funneled into a dead end producing apathy and hopelessness.  But simultaneously, the opportunity for true revolutionary change—worldwide, as are the protests—has never been greater.

Categories
Politics

The Pandemic and Changes in Thinking

Covid-19 has thrown a stick of ideological dynamite into my social media feeds, and I’m still looking at all the debris and trying to make sense of it. Never before have I seen, from people who I’d previously thought of, even dismissed as, liberals, so much contempt, disdain, and outright hatred for capitalism itself. I’m seeing this from the most unexpected sources. To be sure, there are plenty of comments that are relatively tame—people pointing out the importance of grocery store workers, delivery drivers and others who actually do the work that keeps society functioning. But a surprising number have taken longer steps, questioning or even attacking capitalism itself—that is, a system in which profit for a few individuals is prioritized over human lives.

And yet, for many of these people, illusions remain in the Democratic Party. To them, the fault lies entirely with Republicans, as if things would be materially different with a Democratic administration. But their own expressed opinions contradict this.

Let me make it plain: To be an office holder, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, requires swearing an oath to “uphold and defend the Constitution,” which means an oath to defend private property in the means of production, which means defending the system that is now openly proclaiming private profit of more value than human life. It matters nothing if some particular politician says, “human life is more important than profit” if that politician then supports a system that places profit over human life; that merely means that particular politician is either foolish, or (more likely), duplicitous.

And so the difference between Republicans admitting profit matters more, and Democrats claiming human lives matter more while continuing to support a system that says the opposite is, in practice, no difference at all.

The antidote for capitalist barbarism is socialism, and the path to socialism does not go through a capitalist politician who claims to be “nicer.” If a person or political party supports private property in the means of production, that puts that person, whatever rhetoric accompanies this support, on the side of Wall Street, and against those who, as more and more people are observing, are actually necessary for society to function—that is, the overwhelming mass of humanity.

Agree, or disagree. What cannot be argued is that the pandemic is causing major shifts in the thinking of millions of people, and these shifts are not inclining them to support capitalism. However much one is inundated with propaganda insisting our only way to change things is through the ballot box, and the only choices there are D or R, and thus we must accept capitalism as permanent, the experience of millions upon millions is convincing them that such a “choice” is intolerable.

Categories
History Politics

Lincoln and the Coronavirus — A Parable

One of my favorites of the stories Lincoln used to tell is the one about the farmer who had a magnificent old oak of which he was terribly proud. One day, while looking at it, he saw a squirrel appear to vanish into it.  He went out to take a look, and, thanks to the squirrel, discovered the whole tree was rotten, hollow, and needed to be cut down. He said, “Damn that squirrel anyway.”

Supporters of capitalism are saying, “Damn that coronavirus anyway.”

 

Categories
Politics

Woody Allen: Issues and Principles

This is the sort of post that costs me vast numbers of Twitter followers, so if that’s going to happen, I want to at least see if I can express my position clearly.  I’m not going to review the case; if you want to know what it’s about, google “Woody Allen  Hachette Book Group.”

1) Presumption of innocence in the courts is the legal reflection of the principle that we need to be certain someone is guilty before inflicting punishment, that, “it is better 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished.” The principle pre-dates its legal reflection, which, in Western society, we can find in sixth Century Rome, as well as both Talmudic and Islamic law. The principle has always been fought for by the oppressed, and for good reason: it is the oppressed who are most vulnerable, and most likely to be abused both by the legal system and bourgeois public opinion. Those who want to chuck the presumption of innocence, whether in law or in the public arena,* are doing the work of the oppressors.

2. In this case, it goes beyond presumption of innocence, however, because the innocence has been demonstrated. Two separate investigations into Mr. Allen have determined there are no grounds for the accusation.

3. Those who triumphantly cry that this isn’t a legal matter never take the next obvious step: no, it is a matter of media. In other words, the case is being tried in The New York Times and The Washington Post, who are under no legal obligation to fairness. If you accept that an individual should face punishment for what appears in the Times, are you prepared to face punishment for what appears on Fox News? Maybe it would be better if we just didn’t go there.

4. One of the problems we face today is the immense power of corporate finance to determine access to information. Exerting pressure on a major capitalist institution to exercise more control—whether by demanding Facebook give itself the job of determining what is true, or by demanding publishers respond to political pressure in what they publish—is pushing in exactly the wrong direction, and the odds that this will be turned against the most easily silenced groups approach 100%. Please, think things through.

5. Even were we to presume guilty until proven innocent, and even if we ignore that the investigation showed no grounds for the accusation, by denying the individual a public platform after trying that individual by public media, you are denying the individual the opportunity to prove innocence.  If you support that, the word “justice” ought to stick in your craw.

6. And even aside from all of that, it is always the right-wing who says, “I don’t like your opinion, or what you’ve done, so I will target your career or livelihood.” On the left**, we believe every human being has the right to a career. To work to harm someone’s livelihood is both morally repugnant and tactically foolhardy, as we are a million times more vulnerable to such attacks than our enemies.   I’m sure Mr. Allen is well-to-do, and this will not damage him financially; will this be true of the next person who, after this precedent, is denied publication because of a scurrilous accusation? Will this be true of you if someone goes on the internet and claims you have done something repugnant?

 

*I should add that, given the media’s profound effect on jury pools (see the history of racism in the US), these are not as completely separate as I’m making them sound.

** This has caused some confusion. To clarify, I’m talking about what is traditional on the left, not the current crop of pseudo-left posers, who I have a lot of trouble considering leftists.