Zuckerberg is Insufficiently Totalitarian

This MSNBC segment “Early Facebook investor: Zuckerberg has ‘lost the plot’” is surreal. Not because of a needlessly masked journalist (it’s Ali Velshi in there) editorializing in front of the burned out remains of a city block in Minneapolis. To be sure, that scene is absurd. Pestilence and rampage in the same shot. What is more disturbing is how the normality of contempt for democracy and liberty in a free and open society is just assumed as given. The segment is organized around anti-human sentiment, corporatist propaganda of the highest order, perfectly illustrating the shift to the corporate state from the republican government established by our forefathers, without any dissimulation of power. That is surreal.

Have you watched the clip yet? Here are three ideologues complaining about the United States president going around the corporate media and using social media to speak directly to the public. Imagine complaining about radio stations bringing FDR’s Fireside Chats to millions of Americans in a time of crisis. The social media, the audience is told, must censor and label the president’s speech. What took them so long? How dare the one government official elected by all the people speak directly to the people about matters of urgent concern. Corporations should interpret for the people what their president says, not the people themselves. Corporate elites and their functionaries have decided that this president has no legitimacy—nor do those who support him—and for the good of the order of things the people must have no inherent right to hear their president unfiltered or unframed. Rights are conditional in the postmodern view of the world, distributed on the basis of institutional power and political correctness. Donald Trump is politically incorrect. And it’s not just the president who needs censoring. Everything progressives disagree with—what they characterize as “hate speech,” “disinformation,” and “conspiracy theory”—needs censoring and labeling.

Roosevelt’s use of the radio to directly reach the US population is instructive. Radio emerged in the 1920s and there was a debate about whether it should be a public utility or commercially owned. The compromise was national control over bandwidth, reserving the 88–92 megahertz band for non-profit and educational programming, formally without advertising (although corporations sponsor and thus control content), and licensing the rest to commercial enterprises. Television broadcasting followed this scheme. And there is public access television narrowcast through cable. There are rules and regulations, but these are developed and administered by government. In the case of the Internet, which is also regulated by government, the danger is the enclosure of the commons established at its inception. Thus the Internet faces the same challenges as radio and television but in the era of near total corporate governance. See my article “Defending the Digital Commons: A Left-Libertarian Critique of Speech and Censorship in the Virtual Public Square.”

The call being made in this MSNBC segment, for corporations to establish networks of commissars and gatekeepers, to develop and position propagandists, real and robotic, charged and programmed with and for political education and organization, with the express purpose to control and shape what people think and say, is an expression of totalitarian desire. By omitting the fact of government regulation, the piece leaves the impression that corporations have an inherent right to censor and label. Beyond the assumption of right, corporate elites and functionaries aren’t hiding the agenda anymore. They are up in our grill with it, openly advocating the end of democracy and describing as progress and justice its replacement with systems analogous to those operated by the Chinese Communist Party.  This is the Orwellian nightmare world depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four made concrete, albeit technological elevated and dressed in more fashionable Huxleyan garments. It’s Debord’s Spectacular Society. I talk about this as if it is coming, but these systems already exists and we are now seeing powerful corporations going to war with our republic. And because they control the airwaves, the corporations are reporting the war from their side of the battlefield. Their enemy is the sovereign people and their republic. They are using Trump to legitimize their claim to virtue.

It’s not the institutions of republic government that needs smashing. Workers need that machinery for advancing the struggle to control their destiny. It’s corporate power that needs its collective head dashed upon the rocks. The corporation is our enemy. When they win, what I am writing at this moment will vanish into the ether, assuming I am even allowed to have a WordPress account.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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