Elon Musk and the Peril of Free Thinking

Joy Reid and Anand Giridharadas took to the MSNBC airwaves to condemn exemplary US citizen Elon Musk, the successful African-American engineer who just purchased the social media platform Twitter for $44 billion, characterizing his play as motivated by fear of “a future of abundant, equitable speech.” Giridharadas told Reid, “This future in which there would actually be more abundant and equitable speech terrifies the crap out of people like Elon Musk.” Giridharadas did not explain how he knew Musk was terrified or what the term “equitable speech” meant. The author of the 2018 Winners Take All instead went on a rant about all the awful things that might happen now that Twitter is in the hands of capitalist elites—as if it wasn’t before Musk bought out the company.

MSNBC’s Musk Twitter graphic

Progressives are so paranoid and biased—so sure they have the truth—that they’re asking questions about Twitter now after being purchased by Elon Musk that they could have asked about Twitter before Elon Musk bought out the social media platform (like “They might rig elections!”), but didn’t ask because Twitter under old management was doing for their side what they think Elon Musk is going to do for his side now that he owns the company—whatever his side is. To clarify, I am not saying questions they did not think to ask. Grievance-operated human woke machine Sunny Hostin filled in the missing information, telling the audience of The View that Musk bought Twitter for “straight white men.” As I will show in a moment, the concept of “equitable speech” informs Hostin, as well.

Back over at MSNBC, Nicolle Wallace deployed the Hitlerian term “the big lie” to reframe vote rigging in the 2020 presidential election to segue into a rant about “disinformation,” reporting that Musk, with his “more expansive views on speech than Twitter’s current management, has sent shock waves through much of the anti-information political universe.” She warned about the “power and peril of rampant disinformation,” citing examples provided by The New York Times, namely the 2016 US president election, in which the wrong candidate won, and the Brexit vote that same year, which resulted in the wrong choice being made. These bad outcomes occurred because, according to the Times, social media companies opted not to “wade too deeply into what people say on their sites.” What people said on their sites polarized the American and British electorate and caused them to make bad choices.

The Trump experience, which the establishment nobly disrupted from start to finish, and COVID-19, which failed to convince the masses to demand Chinese-style totalitarianism, had social media companies realizing that, for the sake of the agenda, they had to fix the problems of open systems, reframed by the Times as “anger, lies, distortions and division that left some people feeling exhausted and cynical about the world around them,” “some people” referring to those who make bad choices. Wallace cites the elation on the right and the panic on the left as the metric determining the degree of horror in the moment, already determining for her listener what is evil and what is good, her empathic voice clearly identifying which side she is on. Wallace laments (with a touch of snark) that, even if Trump is busy with Truth Social, the social media company he established to get around his Twitter ban, his wicked followers will make good use of Twitter and this, she more than implies, is a terrible thing because it enables Trump.

This is partisan sides-taking in superficial terms—Democrats versus Republicans, progressives versus conservatives, left versus right. But this not about that. It’s about democratic-republicanism and liberalism versus technocracy and authoritarianism. The point is not whether capitalist elites own Twitter. This is a capitalist society managed by the institutions they control. It is what it is. The question is whether we want elites owning Twitter who believe in the core Western values that make us free and independent people, such values as cognitive liberty and critical discourse, or, over against that, elites owning Twitter who despise those values and use exclusive control over information networks to dismantle Western civilization. The project of managed decline of the American Republic proceeds by disrupting free and open spaces. To be sure, it matters which class is in control. But it also matters which capitalists are in control. The capitalist class is not a monolith. It’s fractional.

For the establishment, it’s not really the fear that Musk will do to them on the new Twitter what progressives did to liberals and conservatives on the old Twitter. Free speech advocates are rarely hypocrites even if they warn about authoritarians making whips for their own backs. The smarter progressives know this. And that is what scares them; it is precisely the promise Musk has made to allow Twitter users to do now what they were not allowed to do before, and that is to speak more freely.

This is why the European Union moved quickly to remind Musk that the peoples of Europe do to enjoy the same levels of cognitive liberty and free expression Americans do. Musk must comply with EU regulations on policing online content or face severe penalties. In an interview with the Financial Times yesterday, Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for the Internal Market, told Musk that Twitter must cooperate with the EU’s rules on content moderation, including the pending Digital Services Act, which will require large tech platforms to remove illegal content, such as “hate speech” (see The Guardian). This situation should alert everybody to the inherent problem with globalization: if a US-based corporation in charge of an effective public utility is required to bow to European Union rules, and these rules concern fundamental rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, then the rights of Americans are potentially violated by an outside entity. Are you still unclear about what motivated the pro-Brexit vote?

Here’s what is at stake for corporate state elites. The establishment needs to control the narrative in order to control the population in order to perpetuate the conditions that perpetuate the status quo—the status quo that protects their power and privilege. Perpetuating the status quo requires censorship because knowledge of how the system works raises awareness about whose interests the system serves. If you want people to stand in line for vaccines that don’t confer immunity but generate billions for pharmaceutical companies that make the big media buys, then you don’t need people on social media talking about how vaccines don’t confer immunity and generate billions for the pharmaceutical companies that make the big media buys.

We were provided an example of this in today’s news. National Public Radio (US state media) reports that antibody studies have confirmed what I have been saying for months now: Most Americans have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. However, “CDC officials stressed that people should still get vaccinated, because vaccination provides the strongest, broadest protection against getting seriously ill.” There is evidence to this effect, but the reporting skirts the central problem with the vaccine narrative, namely that the vaccines do not confer immunity. They are not, in fact, vaccines, but anticipatory or prospective therapeutics. Those who consult scientific work ignored by the establishment media and actively censored by social media platforms have known this for more than a year. But most people don’t make the effort to consult scientific work that lies beyond that which is selected for them by the corporate state. As a result, they are unaware that the vaccines do not confer immunity (but they are starting to become suspicious). Without this knowledge, many do not reach the logical conclusion: why are business firms and governments mandating vaccination if these vaccines do not confer immunity? It’s not that there is no public health interests in products that reduce risk of severe illness. However, metabolic disorder (obesity, etc.) is the single greatest risk factor for severe illness and business firms and governments are not mandating strict diets for fat people.

Capitalism is not intrinsically illiberal (capitalism is a liberal value). But capitalism in the grip of progressivism is like an animal with a parasitic infection of the brain; it means the thing is not acting right. Progressivism is the antithesis of liberalism; it stands opposite to liberalism’s chief values, among these autonomy, humanism, and individualism. And progressives have never been more authoritarian than they are right now. They don’t even try to hide their disdain for freedom; today’s progressive openly portrays liberal values as racist and rightwing. Very bad people believe in free speech, they tell us. Free speech makes bad things happen—like Trump and Brexit. Yet it’s the woke demagogue who is zealously committed to realizing in practice the anti-democratic ideology of the corporate state. We cannot trust woke elites with our freedoms precisely because they reject the very foundation upon which those freedoms stand.

The woke today are coding their need to censor and cancel speech with which they disagree as virtue promoting “equitable speech.” What does that mean? Greenwald is right that it is a euphemism for “content moderation.” But it goes deeper that this. It hooks up censorship to the greater social justice enterprise. The equitable distribution of some thing presumes that the present distribution of that thing is unfair. In the world of social justice that means that somebody because of skin color or some other demographic characteristic has something somebody else doesn’t have because of that demographic characteristic. Insert the progressive stack and asymmetrical power relations here. The corollary of equitable speech is “inclusive speech,” which presumes that some speech can make some people feel excluded, and so speech must be constrained by the feelings of others. Not just any others, but others who have been shorted in the distribution of some thing or another. Equitable and inclusive speech seek one thing: to murder diverse speech. Substituting diversity of skin color, gender identity, etc., for diversity of thought and expression, the social justice logic confuses rights with privileges.

Not that the organizers of social justice campaigns are confused. They want stuff. But not everybody can have the stuff the woke influencers claim for them. It is a capitalist society, after all. The influencers instead mean to get the attention of the corporations who need influencers to do the street-level work of securing hegemony for corporate rule so they can get the stuff for themselves. So when we’re instructed to go look up the meaning of woke in the dictionary (Sunny Hostin tells us to do this), the expectation is that we will find no more than a word describing concern for injustice and oppression. Who is not for that? But woke is not about awareness of injustice and oppression. Woke is about shaping mass opinion and perception to disrupt class consciousness and worker solidarity and justify ever greater technocratic control over people’s lives. Manufacturing grievances is a means to these ends.

The woke progressive is the new fascist. He does not want a free and open society where people have access to ideas good and bad, right and wrong. Fascists do not trust the masses. To the fascist mind, people are the problem. The fascist seeks to order a tightly-managed network of systems that control what people think—that align the public mind to a narrative beneficial the central authority. The fascist does not genuinely care about the normative order that sustains the traditions of a free society. That he loathes traditions and norms in obvious in his actions. He decouples institutions from that order and turns the major institutions of society into weapons to advance his political-ideological agenda. Societal institutions—culture, family, etc.—are seen only in those instrumental terms. This explains what you see happening all around you.

Do we have a popular social movement to overthrow this fascist power? No. Not yet. Probably not for a while. But we do have Elon Musk. He’s no savior. (Who needs saviors?) But right now, he may be the best we got. At the very least, the ability to speak freely will allow us to help other see what we already see. And building mutual knowledge—while disrupting the prevailing narrative—is essential to building the mass-based movement necessary for overthrowing corporate rule. This is why elites fear and loathe Elon Musk. They cannot trust him.

Published by

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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