modernheretic

A blog that critiques U.S. political culture from a radical left perspective and opposes illiberalism.

The Need for a New Political Typology

Many Americans, especially those on the left, are overwhelmed by a stark feeling of political homelessness. Did the left change over time or did we? If we are now consistently allied with conservatives on major issues, does that mean we are now conservatives? Or libertarians? Many conservatives also seem to feel disenchanted with their political options. I suggest that a political realignment is underway such that the 20th Century political spectrum no longer applies.

Conflation of Political Ideologies With Political Attitudes

The usual political typologies are severely flawed in two respects. First, they conflate political attitudes with political ideologies. Americans are mired in the day to day political trivium but give little thought to the larger, overarching questions of political philosophy that encompass political ideologies. Our two-party system results in continually being stuck between two reductionist choices that only allow for the most shallow political expression, like only having the choices of French vanilla and vanilla bean in an ice cream shop and not realizing other flavors exist. Not only does our American ice cream shop fail to offer other ice cream flavors, but heaven help the patron who prefers cake or pie to ice cream!

Most patrons in America’s ice cream shop have no idea such options exist because shop management has a duopoly that quashes any possible competition. People’s political foundations encompass much more than just the sum of their views on the isolated topics of guns, abortion, climate change, health care, civil rights, and immigration. By focusing on just these few hot button issues all the time and forcing people into one of two camps, our society blunts political discourse and discourages people from developing a more nuanced and sophisticated appraisal of the entire political system. A typical political typology is too superficial to explain why, of two individuals who support abortion rights on the basis of bodily autonomy, one supports mandated vaccines and the other does not despite the fact that they are both supposedly on the same side.

Think of political ideology as the structures and rules of a game, and political attitudes are the personal strategy for how one should win within the rules of the game. In the United States, Liberalism as enshrined in our Constitution determines the rules for political engagement. Just as a Monopoly player is entitled to $200 on every turn around around the board and the option to buy whatever available property she lands on, every player in the game of American politics gets certain inalienable rights that include the right to political representation, the right to think and speak freely, and protection from unreasonable government interventions. Within that framework, people develop political attitudes about how to interact with government in a way they hope will contribute to a fulfilling life.

People today are so focused on winning the game for their side that they are are not paying attention to the fact that the rules of the game have been changing mid-play. One cannot win a game if the rules are unknown or constantly changing. The way you plan to win may no longer even be possible once the rules have changed. Returning to the example of Monopoly, if the banker unilaterally decided to pay himself $1,000 on every turn around the board and to deny other players the chance to buy property, the other players focus would quickly shift from trying to win the game to trying to reestablish the rules for fair play.

Similarly, the rules of American society have been changing over time. The freedoms guaranteed to Americans slowly eroded as the federal government grew ever more expansive, local governments were seduced by the financial incentives offered by the federal branch, the power of voting was diminished by the emphasis on lobbying and campaign contributions, much of the policymaking process was replaced by closed-door deals and executive orders, and digital technology co-opted the public forum. But most of us are continuing to try to play the game by the old rules instead of confronting the fact that the game itself is changing without our input.

That is why political ideology is important. If you are not asking and answering basic philosophical questions about our political system, then you could be suffering severe political losses without even realizing it. By only fixating on political attitudes, many people are trading in their long-term interests in political governance for superficial wins on short-term issues. People are allowing the two major parties to use their positions on short-term political issues to obliquely shift the political ideology of the United States towards a more authoritarian future.

This is what is driving the feeling of political homelessness for many on the left. The reason for this feeling of alienation is the gradual realization that those people who share our political attitudes do not necessarily share our ideologies. We can agree with our close friends that civil rights are a laudable goal but if we cannot agree that a person has a right to speech without punitive measures or that government must follow certain procedures to enact policy, then we are not working towards the same future.

The New Political Compass

The second problem with political typologies is that they are outdated. Technology rapidly changes society, and the changes over the past 20 to 30 years happened at a breakneck pace. Any political metrics that do not include technology as a factor are going to be severely flawed at understanding responses to current events (Thanks to David Cayley for inspiring me with this suggestion on the Accad and Koka Report podcast.). Accordingly, the axes for this new political compass are government power and technology. Views on government power range from personal sovereignty on the left to authoritarianism on the right. Views on technology range from humanism at the top to technocentrism on the bottom.

I excluded an economic axis because questions of economics tend to be extensions of the more central question of how much control the government should have over individuals and private property. I excluded the commonly used social freedom axis for the same reason. The person who supports freedom for gun owners but wants the government to outlaw abortion is often in the same ideological camp as the person who wants abortion to be unrestricted but wants the government to ban guns. They both want to use the government to restrict the individual freedoms that they personally disagree with. It is only their political attitudes within their shared ideology of government paternalism that differs.

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Humanism (Top Half): These people are focused on individual autonomy and self-reliance. They believe there are uniquely human qualities that should not be obstructed by society. They are more communal and less dependent on bureaucratic institutions. They find technology alienating and limit it to intentional use. Because of their focus on self-reliance and community, they are less fearful of risks. They try to live in harmony with the natural order as they see it, which tends to mean a slower, more reflective pace of life with robust social connections.

They feel an intrinsic sense of meaning in life and have a higher sense of personal efficacy. They are generalists who are grounded in the material reality of their world. People in this half tend to prefer relationships with technology that model ecocentrism (nomadism or pre-industrial agrarianism) or anthrocentrism (industrialism or post-industrialism).

Technocentrism (Bottom Half): These people prefer the civilized and artificial to the natural and find social constructs more profound than the material world. Technocentrists see technology as an absolute positive and desire few to no limits on its use. They believe it is incumbent on humans to adapt themselves to technology. Rather than individuals following an intrinsic sense of purpose, goals are imposed in a top-down fashion by highly specialized experts. They see humans as tabula rosas who can be engineered to become better members of society.

Technocentrists are highly dependent on technology and institutions for survival, which results in a low sense of personal efficacy and a more atomized and isolating society. Consequently, they are very risk averse and security-oriented. They can be fearful of nature, which they see as risky and too uncontrolled.

They believe in a faster paced life with a lot of conveniences to maximize human performance and financial profit. At the extreme, they may believe that humans have a duty to be electively “improved” with technology. People in this half tend to prefer relationships with technology that model anthrocentrism (especially post-industrialism) and technopolism (digital modernism and transhumanism).

Personal Sovereignty (Left Half): These people accept a very grudging use of limited government, if at all. The focus is on the individual pursuit of happiness. The government exists to serve individuals in a decentralized fashion with little to no authority over their actions. Government, to the extent it exists, should be limited to macro functions like foreign relations, printing currency, and possibly limited police powers.

People on this end of the spectrum desire government to have little regulatory power, and the individual’s inalienable rights to speech, religion, association, and movement trumps government power in all or most instances. What private property exists cannot be seized by the government ever or, if it can, it is rare and requires due process.

People are free to assess and assume risks for themselves. There is no expansive bureaucracy and people have minimal to no contact with government in their daily lives. The relationship between citizens and government is an adversarial one, and the people have the power to check and change government through their participation in the political system. This includes anarchism, tribalism, confederalism, and classical liberalism.

Authoritarianism (Right Half): A very centralized government has minute control over individuals’ lives. Political culture tends to be more collectivist, with citizens serving the state and living according to objectives set by the government. An expansive bureaucracy surveils and regulates what people can and cannot do in their daily lives. Consequently, people have daily contact with government; their housing, work, food, education, utilities, purchases, etc. may all be regulated, taxed, or sponsored in some way by the government.

It is up to government to decide what risks are acceptable. There is compulsory participation by individuals in various social and economic programs, and it may not be possible for a person to opt out of the system. At the extreme end, individual speech is highly controlled and there are limited due process rights, if any, so it is difficult to criticize or oppose government. The relationship between the people and the government is a paternalistic one in which people can be penalized for disobeying government. The government may be too behemoth and complex for meaningful participation by citizens.

This encompasses modern liberalism, socialism, unitary states, and totalitarianism. While communism and socialism are typically considered on the “left,” they would likely fall on the authoritarian side of this compass because of society's high level of control over the individual that is inherent in such theories when operated on a mass level for a large, heterogeneous population.

The Quadrants of the New Compass

Q I: Radicals

1. What is the purpose of human life? To achieve health, happiness, love, and fulfillment in accordance with one’s values and natural inclinations.

2. What is the good life? To live in accordance with natural laws and to have the time and space to form community, engage in fulfilling activities, and enjoy life.

3. What is the relationship of the individual to government? Government, to the extent it exists, should be extremely limited so that individuals and communities can pursue the good life. Citizens have inalienable rights that cannot be abridged. Preservation of these rights are paramount, and Radicals also often seek to limit the coercive effects of monopolistic, private entities and institutional “solutions” as well as government. Radicals tend to be anti-establishment and will question the utility and undue influence of institutions that the establishment-minded feel are necessary.

4. What is the relationship of the individual to technology? Technology is used intentionally and sparingly only to the extent that it helps achieve the good life. The emphasis is on controlling technology as tools for specific, limited purposes and disdaining technologies that could have a controlling effect on the individual and community. Each person must be free to reject any technology offered. Humans have an intrinsic wisdom or genius that cannot be supplanted by technology.

While Radicals often tend to have primitivist tendencies, they are not necessarily stuck in the past; they make use of modern technologies whenever they personally find that the usefulness outweighs the alienating effects on their growth and ability to form community.

Technology is peripheral to culture, not central. Radicals will make use of expertise, but do not support having a formal, entrenched, expert class that individuals must submit to.

5. How do they assess security versus freedom? They accept risk as a normal element of life and feel competent to deal with risks. To them, true security comes from having the freedom to develop resilient individuals and communities who can confront risks head on, which results in further growth. Thus, risk is viewed as something constructive to be embraced, and freedom is what ultimately insures against harm.

Examples: Henry Thoreau, anarcho-primitivists, Ivan Illich, the Nearings, Wendell Berry, ecocentrists

Q II: Traditionalists:

1. What is the purpose of human life? To serve one’s community by following tradition and the authority figures who are the keepers of the tradition.

2. What is the good life? To live in a close, regimented community and follow the values and dictates prescribed by the community even if it means sacrificing individual fulfillment or happiness.

3. What is the relationship of the individual to government? Traditionalists support government to the extent that government honors tradition and seek to use government to enforce traditional values for the entire populace, often with disregard for whether all the individuals in the populace subscribe to the same tradition. It is acceptable for government to regulate the activities of the individual directly if the exercise of power is in furtherance of upholding tradition.

4. What is the relationship of the individual to technology? Similarly, they accept technology to the extent that it does not undermine their traditional values. They are comfortable adopting modern technologies, but will eschew certain medical procedures, forms of media, and other technology that are seen to violate their belief system or have a corruptible influence on community members. They seem humans as divine creations who do not need to be improved by technology.

5. How do they assess security versus freedom? They strive for the security to maintain their way of life and beliefs, but they are not totally risk averse. Like the radicals, they find a sense of security in their close-knit communities. They are more concerned with existential threats than practical threats, and will limit freedom substantially to prevent those risks that threaten tradition.

Examples: The Vatican, the Taliban, the religious right, Anthony Comstock, the Hasidim

Q III: Libertarians

1. What is the purpose of human life? To live a productive and happy life in accordance with one’s own wishes.

2. What is the good life? To freely and individually determine one’s own course of action and to freely associate with others of one’s choosing in order to maximize one’s potential.

3. What is the relationship of the individual to government? Government, if it exists at all, should be extremely limited and not have control over individuals’ actions except perhaps in the most extreme emergency situations. Government may handle some collective societal tasks like garbage collection and air traffic control, but should avoid regulating day to day affairs of the citizens. Libertarians prefer solutions that result from private cooperation to state actions.

They differ from radicals in that they see private businesses as an extension of the individual and are less concerned with mitigating harms caused by powerful, private entities. As long as government is not involved in an action, Libertarians assume the individual is free from duress and empowered to respond appropriately.

4. What is the relationship of the individual to technology? They often support technology whole-heartedly as a way to increase growth, productivity, and efficiency. Technology is a positive tool that can aid the individual in his goals. They assume that if a given technology’s costs outweigh the benefits, people will not use it; thus, the popularity and ubiquity of any technology is proof that its value outweighs its costs.

Libertarians also prize experts and specialists and see such expertise as objective and value-neutral. Though not usually required, it is prudent for the individual to defer to expert judgment.

5. How do they assess security versus freedom? They believe that individuals should be free to decide what risks they feel comfortable accepting and handle the consequences accordingly. Government has no business trying to keep the individual “safe.”

Examples: various anarchist theories, the Libertarian Party, 19th Century United States, John D. Rockefeller

Q IV: Progressives

1. What is the purpose of human life? The individual exists to serve government and society. Outside of government prescribed goals and regulations, the individual can make use of any freedom that remains to achieve fulfillment.

2. What is the good life? To live a materially easy, safe, and comfortable life through active regulation and management by government and other bureaucratic institutions.

3. What is the relationship of the individual to government? Government is an expansive, centralized, paternalistic figure with direct control over the day to day lives of citizens. Government is responsible for providing and ensuring education, child care, health care, safety, nutrition, shelter, conflict mediation, transportation, and employment. It is easier to ask what doesn’t government control. Government essentially has a monopoly on most aspects of life. There is little community because people are conditioned to rely on government for support rather than each other.

Government sets overarching goals, and it is the individual’s duty to help fulfill those goals. Because government has such an outsized role, its actions dominate the news and social discourse. Consequently, the citizenry often cannot conceive of a non-institutional, non-bureaucratized life. Being dependent on institutions, Progressives are strongly attached to upholding the establishment and see questions and challenges to the establishment as dangerous.

As I noted in earlier writings, Progressives are increasingly illiberal. At the extreme, Progressives may desire to subject the entire world to the totalitarian control of one global governing body.

4. What is the relationship of the individual to technology? Technology is central to culture. They see technology as unquestionably beneficial, and they often do not believe that people should have the option to resist or opt out. They believe digital life is an adequate substitute for the material world and have little concern for privacy, assuming only guilty people have something to hide.

There are few to no bounds to what they think technology should try to accomplish, and they do not worry about possible collateral damage or possible alienating effects. Playing god with nature is the highest aspiration, not a sin or folly. In fact, combining humans and technology so that humans become an extension of technology thrills them. Humans are deficient until improved with technology. They view transhumanism as a positive aim.

They see experts as completely objective and infallible, and they believe that every person has a duty to obey experts even to one’s own detriment.

5. How do they assess security versus freedom? Nearly all risk is to be avoided, and freedom is a threat to society and government. Consequently, government is called upon to make society safer by restricting the ability of individuals to take risks. The goal is ultimately to create a perfectly safe world where no one is ever harmed or killed by natural causes nor is the establishment threatened by dissentious viewpoints.

Examples: contemporary Democrats and Republicans, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, People’s Republic of China

The Future

Currently, our political leadership and major media output exclusively endorse the Progressive ideology to the point that most people do not even realize that the ideology can be questioned or dissented from. I suspect that most people would reject many elements of Progressivism if they were given the space to question it and think through for themselves what they believe the proper relationships of people to government and technology should be. But because they are force-fed Progressive ideas on a daily basis and alternate ideological viewpoints are strenuously censored, many people are going along with agendas that are not necessarily in their interests.

We need to inject political philosophy back into the political discourse so that today’s political issues can be seen in the context of the bigger picture. If our social contract is being renegotiated to make a more hegemonic government, then such renegotiation needs to be performed openly and directly with the appropriate due process and constitutional amendments to allow citizens to assent to the proposal, if indeed that is the way they are inclined, with full informed consent.

For years white Progressives colonized and warped the civil rights movement beyond recognition, and the more privileged and indoctrinated black people let them do it in exchange for self-aggrandizement and a few crumbs of attention. Charlatans co-opted civil rights rhetoric and transformed it into an empty, regressive, status symbol, something trendy they could post on social media to proclaim their supposed moral superiority while doing nothing for black people or other minorities. I repeatedly cringed in horror as they replaced our stories of strength and resilience with a narrative of weakness and victimhood.

To my Progressive friends: banding together with your mob buddies online to force people into adopting your rhetoric and hollow symbols of support is not civil rights advocacy. Accusing anyone who disagrees with you of hate speech and trying to silence them is not civil rights; it’s despotism. Stop performing your tyranny in the name of black people. We do not need to be negatively associated with your pathological desire to dominate others. Black people can no longer meaningfully discuss our sense of racial identity because you cheapened the civil rights language and robbed it of all meaning. It is you who are threatening our civil rights by making the civil rights movement as repressive and unpalatable to the masses as possible.

I am tired of trying to absolve you of wrongdoing as you pretend that your self-righteous, social justice displays are anything more than self-interested virtue signaling that you use to get others to fall in line with your pet goals. I tried to see the good in you, to tell myself that your heart was in the right place, but this past year disabused me of that excuse.

Contrary to your empty slogans, we were not all in this together. While you were hiding away in your capacious apartments and vacation homes from a virus that you erroneously believed would kill instantly all whom it touched, you let black and Hispanic people expose themselves to the supposedly fatal risk to pick up and deliver your groceries, take-out food, and Amazon deliveries. Who cared if they died? Suddenly, black lives didn’t matter quite so much, did they?

Now the very black and brown people whom you had exposing themselves on a daily basis to the virus that you feared, the people who are most likely to have natural immunity as a result of running your errands, you seek to punish and segregate from society much like blacks were segregated under Jim Crow.

And while many people lost their jobs and could not pay their rent or mortgage, you were comfortably working from home and continuing to earn your sizeable salaries. Many Americans are now on the precipice of evictions and foreclosures, but you are ready to swoop in with the capital you built these last two years so that you can now buy up their homes as investment properties and vacation homes.

How dare you pretend that we are all in this together? You impoverished classes of people and now you want to add insult to injury by ostracizing from society the very people you continually benefited from. You may have “Black Lives Matter” signs in your windows, but your white supremacist mentality quickly comes apparent when your self-interests are at stake.

As vaccination status becomes your shibboleth, “vaccine hesitancy” is quickly becoming the contemporary version of the White Man’s Burden, though you are, of course, too politically correct to use such language. For seven months now, black people have had to endure Progressive politicians and the media cast black people as ignorant and discuss “educating” us into compliance.

If you think that kind of rhetoric is okay, you are not an ally. If you put up Black Lives Matter signs and blacked out your social media last year but are silent now, you are not an ally. If you assume black people are just too stupid to or ill-informed to get vaccinated instead of as intelligent people with our own innate sense of agency, you are not an ally. If you think that it is acceptable for the government to, in disgraced Governor Cuomo’s words, put us in cars and forcibly inject vaccines into our arms or, as Mayor DeBlasio decrees, segregate us from society until we are vaccinated, you are not an ally.

You are a white supremacist who believes that you are superior and more intelligent than black people and that your supposed superiority entitles you to decide for us black people what we should do with our bodies and to socially engineer us to meet your desires, just as imperialists have done throughout history. And just like oppressors throughout perpetuity, you claim moral righteousness, couching your elitist, self-interested ideas of tyranny in the language about the public good. You made an art out of acting in your self-interest while convincing yourselves that your self-interest is for the good of everyone. The more educated you are, the more adept you are at rationalizing your oppression of others. If you cannot see this problem, that’s because you are part of it.

Simply because we blacks refuse to be obedient to the wishes of the white ruling class, like our ancestors before us, we are disdained as ignorant monsters. Your professed intention to disregard our autonomy and displace our decisions, your low regard for our intelligence, your sense of entitlement to our bodies all show that we are correct to distrust you. Since you were unable to overcome our distrust with propaganda and cheap ploys, your plan is to punish us severely for our disobedience by removing us from society altogether. We are, after all these years, still stuck in the same abusive relationship in which you see us black people as mere accessories to yourselves, not human, just objects to be controlled and removed at your whim.

No, we blacks do not need to be “educated.” We do not need to think like you and blindly trust government like you. You are not better or smarter than us. Just because you are divorced from the natural order and your own bodies does not mean we need to be. Our outlooks are not inferior simply because they differ from yours. Deviation is not deficiency. And, notably, it is your culture’s Progressive values that repeatedly result in inequities, exploitation, dependence, and the destruction of the very things that sustain life and community. No, we absolutely do not need to be like you, Progressives, paving the way to hell with supposedly good intentions.

Do you not see how incredibly offensive it is to assume the inferiority of every black person who fails to be obedient and comply with Progressive goals? And then to use that assumption to displace black people’s own “lived experiences” (in your parlance), wisdom, and beliefs? You don’t see how you are merely continuing the long legacy of colonialism by deeming our experiences and choices invalid simply because liberal elites said so?

You tell yourselves that you are on the right side of history and that this is for the public good, but that is a rationalization that all oppressors tell themselves. Nobody who ever robbed groups of people of their autonomy, disdained them, and forced their beliefs and will on them were ever on the right side of history. No one in history who dehumanized and deprived others of rights and privileges ever had a true claim on moral authority. Expressing glee at the idea of hurting and isolating us could only come from a place of cruelty and evil. Treating a group of healthy people as dirty, diseased, and dangerous is a dehumanizing tactic that has been historically used to justify subjugating that class of people as you are doing to us now. No people who ever engaged in such tactics have been on the right side of history. You are Cotton Mather, Joseph McCarthy, and Hugh MacRae rolled into one, not Harriet Beecher Stowe.

By tolerating or encouraging segregation, especially segregation that you know will have a disparate impact on people of color whom you claim to have sympathies towards, you have become not only hypocrites, but accomplices in evil.

I was delighted to be invited on my friend Frieda's wonderful podcast, Radically Human. Frieda provides an insightful and intelligent outlook on modern culture that is refreshing in today's media climate of reductionist polarization. Check it out:

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Radically Human: Episode 28

She also recently interviewed David Cayley about Ivan Illich, a thinker who has had a great influence on my philosophy. Check it out here: Radically Human: Episode 29

It’s just two weeks. It’s just staying three feet apart. It’s just staying six feet apart. It’s just not going outside. It’s just not giving handshakes. It’s just working from home. It is just non-essential businesses that are closed. It’s just bars. It’s just restaurants. It’s just theaters. It’s just concerts. It’s just dancing. It’s just intramural sports. It’s just choir. It’s just non-essential medical services that you have to give up. It is just non-essential items that you are not allowed to buy. It’s just not being able to exercise. It’s just gyms. It is just the closure of your business for a while. It is just not making money for a while. It is just not being able to pay your bills for a little while. It’s just a minor inconvenience. It's just not being allowed to carpool. It’s just not socializing for a while. It’s just a mask. It’s just not traveling for a while. It’s just not hugging people for a while. It’s just missionary sex that is risky. It is just not seeing your family and friends for a while. It’s just not visiting your grandparents temporarily. It’s just your grandparents not having visitors for their safety. It’s just one birthday you have to sacrifice. It’s just one Thanksgiving alone. It’s just one Christmas without your family. It’s just two birthdays you had to sacrifice. It is just not celebrating any milestones for a year and a half. It’s just temporary. It’s just a safety measure. It is just your ability to pay cash. It is just contact tracing. It is just a health screening. It is just a temperature check. It is just a scan of your face. It’s just a minor loss of privacy. It is just one semester. It is just two semesters. It is just one year out of your child’s life. It is just one more semester. It is just a high school graduation. It’s just the birth of your grandchild that you missed. It is just not being able to be there for your relatives when they are ill or dying. It is just not having a funeral. It is just in person that you cannot grieve with your loved ones. It is just not getting to attend religious service. It is just not getting to practice some parts of your religion. It is just misinformation that is being censored. It is just conservatives that are being censored. It is just some of the science that is being censored. It is just the people who have the opposing opinions that are banned online. It is just the opposition that the White House is targeting for censorship. It is just bad opinions that are being censored. It’s just the economy. It is just small business owners who are suffering financially. It is just poor people who are suffering financially. It is just people of color who are suffering financially. It is just financial suffering. It is just a few small businesses that had to close permanently. It is just a few big businesses that closed. It is just not going farther than a few kilometers from your house. It is just a curfew. It is just a permission slip. It is just being alone for two weeks. It is just being socially isolated for one year. It is just one vaccine. It is just one set of booster shots. It is just regular booster shots every six months. It is just another two weeks. It is just one more lock-down. It is just once a week—twice tops—that you will have to prove that you are fit to participate in society. It is just the unvaccinated that will be segregated from society. It is just a medical test. Pretty simple, no? Just fucking do it.

When you add up all the “justs,” it amounts to our entire lives. For over a year and a half and counting, we have been robbed of the ability to live our lives fully, to make meaningful choices for ourselves, and to express our values the way we see fit. It is “just” the inability to express our humanity and the total negation of our very selves. All of these measures have served as a prohibition of expressing outwardly one’s valid and complex internal reality. This kind of suppression of self does violence to one’s very soul.

All of these supposedly little and supposedly short-lived “justs” have transformed us into totalitarian states from which there appears to be no end point. In New York City, California, Australia, etc., the people have permitted government such control over our daily lives that we have to ask it for permission to control our bodies, to move freely, to practice religion, to educate our children ourselves, to protest, etc. Soon Biden, Trudeau, and other world leaders are going to clamp down on our ability to express ourselves and to associate with each other online so that we can no longer question, object to, or organize against government action. It is the destruction of democracy. It astounds me that my Progressive friends—the same ones who claim to support social justice—are welcoming a fascist society in which government crushes any opposition and individuals cannot make choices about their own lives. I will not comply because I do not want to live in the society that is being created by extraordinary submissiveness to government. I do not want to be complicit in this era’s atrocities.

What is the point of living if one merely exists to obey the elite to one’s own detriment? Is it even living if one lacks the agency to direct one’s life? I’ve already submitted in contradiction of my values to a shameful extent. One might say, “Well, what’s one more compromise,” but it won’t be just one more compromise. It will be just the next cut in a slow death by a thousand cuts. Submitting only validates tyrannical displays of power and ensures that there will be more such displays in the future.

And what does one get for compromising? Merely your continued membership in a society that will only have you if you immolate yourself and become nothing more than a reflection of the desires of the ruling class. If you cannot be truly yourself in a society, is that society worth clinging to? I think not. As much as leaving the stability of my comfort zone terrifies me, staying in it means continuing to silence and shrink myself for a disingenuous feeling of acceptance. In that way, it is more of a discomfort zone.

Each time I expressed my fears about the future direction of society, my friends said “it won’t happen.” Each time it did happen, they shrugged their shoulders and reminded me that compliance was an option. At this point, if the government were to cart me away to an internment camp (which is not a completely far-fetched notion and which has happened in the past) for being a dangerous dissident I am certain that my friends and family would watch it happen and say it was my fault for not complying. They are no longer capable of recognizing the humanity of the opposition or of questioning government. I will not submit because I don’t want to live in a world in which my supposed allies would happily see me persecuted by the government.

I will not comply because the political climate has become so censorial, authoritarian, and generally toxic that my viewpoints will never be represented in the political process here. Without representation, my values and beliefs will be violated again and again by a polity that sees any deviation from itself as invalid. Thus, my compliance will provide zero assurance of any better treatment in the future.

I will not bend because I am not a conformist.

I will not give in because I do not want to reward government manipulation and coercion.

I will not surrender because I could die at any moment, and I do not want my final memories to be ones of craven submission to tyranny and the resultant misery and self-loathing.

I will not comply because it is not government’s first intrusion on my body, mind, and spirit; and if we comply, it will definitely not be the last. All I will accomplish by my compliance is validating the government’s claim on my body and life.

I am not submitting because this is war, and I am not handing the enemy its victories.

I will not comply because the reward for compliance will still be being treated as a second class-citizen by society.

I won’t acquiesce because I am a conscientious objector.

I will not cede because the measures are unnecessary and the only practical effect will be to increase government power.

I don’t comply because I do not want to be a mere slave in the future version of the world they are creating, doing only what I am told to do and having to beg for access to the necessities of life that I am entitled to as a living being on this earth.

I will not yield because their religion is not my religion, and I refuse to worship a false idol.

I will not capitulate because I do not want to betray my ancestors and predecessors who fought for me to be free.

I will not surrender because freedom is more important than convenience and ease.

I will not comply because if I did I would be filled with rage against society, resentment towards my friends and family, and self-loathing that would eat me alive. I would become bitter and closed-hearted, and I don’t want that for myself.

All of this is why I won’t “just fucking do it.”

Illiberalism is the Descendant of Imperialism

There is a lot of talk these days about the increasing trend of #illiberalism or #authoritarianism on what is considered the American Left, but the authoritarian Left are not leftists, not Liberals (in the sense of the Enlightenment philosophy that values freedom and equality) or liberals (in the sense of political attitude that seeks affirmative action of the state in advancing issues of social justice but also remains faithful to the bedrock freedoms of #Liberalism), and not Marxists or Communists. Neither liberty nor economic stratification is central to their outlook on life as it is for those in any of the many ideologies that comprise the Left. They are, rather, proponents of the ideology of #Progressivism, a philosophy that transcends the Left-Right dichotomy.

Progressivism is an ideology that champions limitless growth, unbridled use of technology, and dominion over nature. Under a Progressive model, humans exist primarily to grow the economy by continual work and constant consumption, not for any intrinsic sense of worth or fulfillment. Progressives are trying, largely successfully, to shape the world into a reflection of these ideals and do not care at all that others have different visions that are based in more humanistic values. We all get dragged along on the march of “progress” because Progressives assume any deviance from their values is inferior and not worthy of credit (and because they tend to control the world’s resources). Increasingly, Progressives emphasize specialization, expertise, and conformity, all of which are used to get people to comply with their vision of the world. Progress under this model is linear; the future is always an improvement on the past, and any attempt to resist change or divert course is seen as regressive and unscientific.

Progressives often appear as leftists because they talk a lot about the same things leftists are concerned about like equality, the environment, and social justice. Many of them truly believe in these causes while many others, especially politicians, strategically exploit these issues to gain traction for their own ends. But whether sincere or manipulative, Progressives’ proposals always result in strengthening and expanding the existing, inequitable system and further entrenching the existing, elite class. Progressives always propose band-aid policies rather than measures that would truly allow individuals and families to become more self-sufficient or otherwise reduce inequality because that would undermine the primary goal of unlimited growth. That is why Progressives increasingly take refuge in identity politics; it allows them to talk about changing the system without ever actually having to challenge the exploitative aspects of society that elite Progressives rely on for profit and growth. They then blame the increasing disparities on their opponents and dissenters for resisting “progress.”

Progressivism is the direct descendant of the #imperialism that shaped and dominated much of American history for centuries. While the common narrative of modern history would have us believe that imperialism faded away in the 20th century as military aggression was replaced with international, economic cooperation and democratic revolutions, imperialism never died. There has always been a duality of competing philosophies in the United States, a championing of Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality while simultaneously denying these same values to other groups who were conquered, exploited, or oppressed for imperialist goals of expansion and increased profit. Consequently, both Liberalism and illiberalism have reigned side by side throughout the history of the United States. The legacy of imperialism is just as deeply imprinted on the minds of Americans as Liberalism is, with many people unconsciously carrying on the imperialist legacy that has been handed down to them in their own lives. This is where today’s illiberalism comes from; the authoritarian “Left” fail to espouse the bedrock values of liberty and pluralism because they are embodying America’s alternate ideological legacy of imperialism, which is the foundation for today’s Progressivism.

Attributes of Imperialism

Imperialism is the practice of one group of people forcibly subjecting other groups of people to its authority and control for its own benefit, though imperialists often rationalize their actions as an attempt to save or improve its victims. The history of imperialism in the United States has lent certain traits to its successor Progressivism: an extractive belief system, an antipathy towards the natural world, a rigidly prescriptive mindset, and a pathological feeling of supremacy.

Progressivism, like imperialism, is built on the depletion of natural resources, with little concern for sustainability. This attitude extends not just to the plants, animals, and minerals we consume, but to humans (“human resources” or “human capital”) as well. Thus, the extractive belief system is evident in the slave and sweatshop labor that has and continues to subsidize the American economy as well as the rapacious attitude towards nature. As an acquisition-focused philosophy, Progressivism treats humans as objects to be possessed and controlled, especially for financial profit. Progressives show no qualms about manipulating people or depriving them of freedom or livelihood to coerce them into compliance because they have no respect for personal agency, seeing other humans as just another resource to be mined.

Progressives view humans as separate from the natural environment, treating nature as something merely to be tamed and conquered. Nature is treated as inherently flawed and in need of improvement by humans. Human solutions, especially technological solutions, are always seen as better than letting nature run its course even when the problems are man-made ones.

Progressives have an obsession with data, technocracy, and standardization that creates a false veneer of objectivity that they use to reinforce their belief in the supremacy of their ideas and to discount the viewpoints that are discordant with Progressive ideology, often disdaining opposition as unscientific and false. This is true even where the dissent is something unfalsifiable, like satire, an opinion, or a philosophical objection. Progressive imperialists see their own opinions as absolute truth and fail to recognize their own biases and implicit assumptions. Once a Progressive opinion or belief is treated as fact, any opinion that disagrees is accordingly deemed false or misinformation. Unable to distinguish between fact and their own beliefs due to the dominance of Progressive ideology, they do not recognize the subjectivity of their own beliefs or that their beliefs are grounded in their own self-interest, just like how early American imperialists deemed their own racialized worldview as scientific and used whatever differences they could quantify between whites and blacks as further evidence of their own supremacy.

Imperialists’ belief that they have ownership of truth fuels their belief in their own supremacy. They believe they are better and smarter than everyone else and therefore that their beliefs are also superior. Once their beliefs are established as unquestionable truths, deviants and dissenters are viewed as inferior just by virtue of their deviance from the primary dogma of Progressivism. Progressive imperialists assume moral superiority on all matters and smugly treat opponents as savages that need to be tamed and controlled.

It is this feeling of supremacy that makes Progressives dangerous. Like the imperialists before them, Progressives’ belief in their own superiority is what is used to justify forcing their will on everyone else. They see no problem with censoring criticism, depriving individuals of freedom, and forcing lifestyle choices on others. Imperialists like today’s Progressives are narcissists on steroids; they have no respect for boundaries and fail to differentiate between control of their own lives and control of everyone else’s. They often see forcing a decision on someone else as merely an extension of their own personal choice. They have the hubris to believe that they have an innate right to control other people.

Domestic Imperialism Today

One can recognize Progressive imperialists in the wild because they are the ones who think their own beliefs are facts and opposition is misinformation to be censored. They are the ones who believe there is only one right way to do things and everyone should conform to that belief. They may pay lip service to freedom of choice, but upon further questioning you will find that that they also believe that people who make a choice in contradiction of Progressive orthodoxy should be punished for exercising that “freedom.” They are the ones who increasingly believe that people on the wrong side of Progressivism should lose their livelihoods or be excluded from society because of their heresy. They are the ones who believe they are morally justified in forcing other autonomous humans to bend to their will.

“Vaccine hesitancy” is a great example of Progressive imperialism today. The term itself is a propagandistic tool to pathologize non-compliance with an imperialist vision. Notably, the term implies that there can be no choice on the matter, that it is only a matter of time until everyone gets it. The entire discussion has been framed in starkly imperialist terms—asking how the state can overcome people’s objections and force compliance—rather than in the Liberal terms of personal sovereignty and pluralism (acknowledging that different viewpoints are equally valid and that the decision should be based on personal choice).

I know some will protest that the sacrifice of individual autonomy and the state coercion of vaccination is morally defensible because the intention is ostensibly to save lives. That very response is a perfect illustration of the uniquely imperialist mindset that I am describing. That certainty that one’s position is objectively, morally right; that there can be no room for diversity on the matter; and that one’s superiority of belief is so obvious that it justifies forcing other individuals to submit their very bodies (and, in the case of those who may suffer fatal reactions, possibly their lives) is the epitome of imperialism, the basis from which all oppression in this country has been borne. The assumption of infallibility and the feeling of entitlement to play God with someone else’s health is pure colonization of other humans. The very tendency to assume that someone else’s personal choices about his or her own life should be subordinate to your beliefs is the essence of imperialism. It is an expectation that one can and should dominate others. Such a person is carrying on the storied legacy of the numerous American imperialists before them. Every generation has them, and these people are this era’s imperialist oppressors, though of course, like all imperialists, they see themselves as heroes.

This is particularly salient when you consider the racial dynamics at play with regard to “vaccine hesitancy,” with reluctance to take the vaccine being higher among blacks and other people of color. What could be a more striking example of modern-day, domestic imperialism than today’s rich, white elites assuming that the reluctance of people of color (as well as non-compliant whites) to take the vaccine is invalid, irrational and ignorant and must be overturned? When you see the means that they are employing to entice these communities to comply—using everything from free fast food to hip hop videos—you realize that Progressives think that people of color fail to comply because they are too stupid to appreciate what Progressives believe to be the obvious truth of their beliefs. Progressives do not think people of color are capable of having intellectual and philosophical rationales behind their decisions to opt-out and so rely on cheap attempts to manipulate them emotionally, which leads them, for instance, to believe that black people can be swayed from a profound health decision by merely watching a hip hop video telling them to get vaccinated. It is the kind of patronizing appeal that could only come from people who already assume they are superior and have no respect for the intelligence of any groups they deem inferior. Once again, we see the privileged white upper class acting as missionaries to spread their beliefs as absolute truth to classes of people they deem inferior to themselves, the modern-day savages whom they must tame, control, and manipulate in service of their supposedly objective worldview.

Like the missionaries of old, Progressives rationalize their tyranny by telling themselves that they are doing it for the good of their victims and society as a whole. But make no mistake, the end-goal is their own Progressive cause. That is why, despite claiming that their desires for vaccine mandates are about saving lives, the lives of those people who died after getting these novel technological interventions do not matter to Progressives. Those people died in service of Progressive goals so their deaths do not matter. To a Progressive imperialist, every such death is a righteous one because humans are just another tool to fulfill Progressive ends.

The topic also highlights the Progressive loathing of nature. The idea that someone could want to rely on natural immunity—what humans have relied on for the maintenance of health since the dawn of human history—rather than a completely novel technology is disdained by Progressives as ignorant and pseudo-scientific. We are no longer permitted to live as human beings have lived for millennia because Progressives have decided that such ways of life are outdated and wrong. We cannot opt out of new technologies. Never mind the fact that there has been a consensus on the existence of natural immunity in the scientific community until last year when Progressives censored any scientist and scientific data that failed to corroborate their directives and replaced them with their own dogma. Progressives hate nature and refuse to respect its laws, so we must all fear nature and live in disharmony with it. Progressives will not allow any other philosophy of living but their own. And the fact that people can still get and transmit the virus after getting the vaccine makes it little more than a superstitious ritual that we all must observe as unwilling participants in the religion of Progressivism. It is an example of how adept imperialists are at transforming their own self-interest into moral imperatives for everyone else.

That is why Joe Biden and Progressive politicians around the world are ramping up their rhetoric around the idea of censoring supposed misinformation, which is any information that is even obliquely critical of the Progressive stance on the pandemic. The failure to see dissenters as equal, full-fledged, rational human beings who are competent to make up their own minds is astoundingly condescending but notably characteristic of imperialism. The supremacy attitude and the sense of entitlement to control others and deprive them of rights and privileges are the hallmarks of imperialism, the same qualities that have under-girded all the atrocities of the past and those underway and to come.

It is ironic that the people who are today most vocally outraged by the United States’ imperialist history are the same people who are beholden to the imperialist-oriented mindset. Progressives talk a lot about being on the right side of history, but the right side of history that they are referring to is the Liberal side that recognized and respected the humanity and personal sovereignty of other individuals despite their differences. The Progressives’ failure to adopt that same appreciation for pluralism and autonomy and to instead carry on the illiberal tradition of imperialism is why they are in the standing to be this era’s oppressors.

As I hear more and more about “sensitivity readers”—editors who are charged with screening books in advance of publication to ensure that the content does not result in ignorant or offensive portrayals of minority groups—I am reminded of classic American cinema from the 1930s through the 1960s and of the analogue to sensitivity readers that they had in the form of the Motion Picture Production Code.

Many people see movies from this era as quaint and old-fashioned and picture the quintessential image of the married couple sleeping in separate beds so as not to give even the illusion of sex. What most of them do not know is that such an image was artificially induced due to a minority of the population having editorial control over movie production. From 1934 to 1968, all movies had to comply with an editorial code known as the Hays Code, which forbade profanity (including religious blasphemy), interracial relationships, suggestive nudity, sexual perversion, illicit drugs, etc. Movies prior to the Code era were racy, and, in the well-documented opinion of film critic Mick LaSalle, way more subversive than contemporary films.

When people think of censorship, they think of government, but censorship can occur privately too, as it did with the Hays Code. After a series of scandals and sensational films, Hollywood was facing substantial pressure to reform. Catholics mobilized against the industry and organized a substantial boycott of theaters that resulted in a significant reduction in sales, much like how progressives mobilize today to pressure companies into deplatforming ideas they do not like. At the same time, governments were beginning to propose bills to regulate the film industry. In order to bypass these threats, the film studios banded together to create a private trade association that would regulate the industry. For thirty-four years, filmmakers had to submit their films to private censors who would force them to change any material deemed inappropriate, which often included rewriting story lines to make them more morally righteous in line with Catholic dogma.

As LaSalle observed in his book Complicated Women, the effect of the Code was very regressive, particularly for women. Movies in the early 1930s focused often on women’s stories, and these stories featured emancipated women who had their own careers and ambitions, who pursued sexual conquests outside of marriage, who bucked moral conventions, and who were not content to be reduced to housewives. Once the Code was enforced, these stories could no longer be told, or, to the extent that they were told, the female characters had to be severely punished for their transgressions to teach women across the country that it does not pay to be liberated. LaSalle argued in his book that even after the end of the Code era, women’s roles in film have never recovered the subversiveness they originally exalted in during the pre-Code era of the 1930s.

In addition to the effects on women, black people were virtually erased from film after the Code was enforced. Film companies had to make sure not to give blacks too prominent a role in predominately white films or to portray them as equal to whites. Blacks were relegated to subservient roles. Even a movie about a light-skinned black woman who passed for white was played by a white actress to avoid any actual miscegenation. As a result, we are left with a large body of films from the first half of the 20th century in which black people are almost non-existent to cater to the racist whims of a portion of the population (which, to be fair, was not limited to Catholics). All of this censorship resulted in a distorted view of reality while obscuring the forces at work that actively created that distortion.

Consequently, for almost 40 years, the movie industry was captured by the Catholic contingent of the population. Every movie that came out of Hollywood had to reflect a Catholic perspective. For almost half a century, a religious minority had a stranglehold on the film industry, and the entire population of the country, regardless of religion, was subjected to Catholic morality in their entertainment. During this era, a generation of screenwriters and directors had to shape, limit, and sometimes silence their own voices to gain the approval of the censors.

We inherited many amazing movies from this era in spite of this external and internal censorship. In some ways, we may have gotten better movies because of the censorship, with screenwriters having to resort to more wit and nuance to get their messages across without attracting the ire of the censors. But as LaSalle noted, we lost a lot too in the form of perspectives, stories, and voices that we still have yet to recover. Cinematic history has been changed forever because of the censorship, and the future is still being impacted by the residual effects of the years of conditioning the American public to see the world through Catholic and racialized lenses. It should be noted that, though the Code is dead, the enforcers of the Code still live on as the Motion Picture Association of America, or MPAA.

The rise of sensitivity readers appears to me to be a step back to the Code days, albeit with a different minority controlling the messaging. Trying to ensure fair representation of minorities in media is a laudable goal, but this trend could allow an elite, homogeneous minority to impose their worldview on society just as Catholics did with the movie Code.

Racial and other groups are not monolithic, and its members do not all think the same way. Sensitivity is in the eye of the beholder. Having seen what some people today deem offensive enough to censor, I shudder to think about what characters, stories, and ideas I will miss out on because someone more sensitive than me finds it offensive. Sometimes in trying to walk the impossible tightrope of sensitivity to all, the end result is content that is bland, muted, and safe.

Certainly there have been many movies, television shows, and books that relied on lazy, racial caricatures that could have benefited from adding more nuance and complexity to their minority characters, but I am skeptical that sensitivity readers are an ideal way to accomplish that. We may gain improvements in diversity representation (some of which will be debateable), but, as with the Code, we will suffer collateral damage in the loss of diversity of expression overall, making media output increasingly bland and homogeneous.

But more than that, by creating an artificial veneer of “sensitivity,” we are losing insight into the very times that we live in just as the movies censors did by forcing all films to have a veneer of virtuousness. Censorship, even willing self-censorship, ultimately shrinks the marketplace of ideas and diminishes the ability to discuss certain topics with nuance or at all. And the people who ultimately will be the victims (or beneficiaries, depending on how you look at it) of this censorship will have no voice in these matters and will have to again passively accept being fed someone else’s dogma.

It just goes to show that progress does not always mean moving forward.

The perpetual cycle of outrage in American society is so predictable as to be boring. It hardly takes a psychic to foresee the reactions to the events at the Capitol last week.

Progressives reacted with indignant outrage at the “storming” of the Capitol and the “insurrection.” To them, the protests was a violent riot, a mob attack on our government. They compare it unfavorably to the Black Lives Matter (“BLM”) protests of last summer; to them, last week’s events were an episode of domestic terrorism while the BLM protests were merely a peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected civil liberties. What little violence occurred during BLM events was not representative of the movement as a whole and was overblown by the media. Once the conservative protest was thus distinguished as treasonous, progressives felt, as is becoming increasingly typical, that they had the moral authority to actively censor anyone or anything related to the protests on social media.

Many conservatives see the Capitol protestors as true patriots, the remaining few who are willing to fight to protect the democratic values of the United States in the face of rampant electoral fraud. They blanch at the negative media portrayals of actions they believe to be righteous. To them, last week’s conservative protests were merely a peaceful exercise of constitutionally protected civil liberties, unlike the BLM protests, which were little more than lawless riots. What little violence occurred at the Capitol protest was not representative of the movement as a whole and was overblown by the media. Conservatives bristled at the left’s hypocrisy while simultaneously denying their own and were resentful of yet again being subjected to more censorship from the progressives, all of which reinforce the feeling of persecution.

The familiar and tedious script played out at usual, each side claiming righteousness and accusing the opposing side of being morally bankrupt. Each side rightfully pointed out the hypocrisy on the other side while ignoring the hypocrisy on their own side. Empathy, compassion, and tolerance for differences were once again casualties in this war between the United States’ political constructs of left and right.

What do people get out of participating in this cycle of outrage? No one’s life is made better for it. To the contrary, it seems to make people feel more stressed, fearful, and angry, and it is certainly making our country more divided. Progressives seem attached to the cycle of outrage because it gives them a smug sense of superiority over their opponents and, in this instance, a feeling of victory for their side.

My coworkers derisively deconstructed the events following the protest last week the same way they would the outrageous antics of a reality television show. They indulged in a mocking tone that has become common in the cultural script for assessing political events, a tone that prevents engagement with the other side’s ideas in any meaningful way. Our politics is entertainment, simply another reality show to watch on television.

To my blue state cohorts, conservative Americans provide comedic relief as people too stupid and backwards to see the supposed truth of progressive thought. If a red state American disagrees with a progressive idea, it is because they are too provincial and uneducated to know better or because they are simple-minded bigots. There is no acknowledgment that their different viewpoints could be the result of different values and lifestyles that are equally valid as those borne of coastal, urban life. This worldview is reinforced by the fact that many of the conservatives that we are exposed to in the media are provocateurs who make their fame and fortune by being outrageous and offensive.

This attitude of superiority filters through the news media companies, which are centered in major blue state cities like New York and Washington, D.C., and pervades the news product in the selection and portrayal of news stories and players. As financially struggling news media companies increasingly capitulate to progressive employee and audience demands to be on the right side of “truth,” the problem has gotten worse and the news perspectives more condescending and homogeneous. It is no wonder that conservatives and independents are flocking to alternative media where they can at least get some validation of their values as well as some diversity in perspective.

Progressives are only inflicting injury on themselves and the country by being dismissive of the sizeable portion of Americans, including half of Republicans and 30% of Democrats according to some polls, who believe that the election was stolen. That is tragic, and we should be ashamed at laughing off such a large portion of the population feeling politically disenfranchised. That is a dangerous idea that undermines our very #democracy and should not be written off as the rantings of people too stupid to see the facts. Such dismissiveness will only lead to more “insurrections” down the road.

That so many people believe the election was stolen is indictment of the state of politics and news in this country. The people who believe the election was stolen are not the problem. Online media trafficking in conspiracy theories are not the problem. Trump, though he fanned the flames of the conspiracy, is not really the problem. The actual problem is that there is no longer a universal standard that all Americans trust for reliable information.

The news media and tech companies have lost people’s trust by their choices in recent years. Their obvious promotion of a progressive narrative to the exclusion of all others and their censorship of information and opinion that does not fit the narrative stripped them of their status as objective purveyors of information. Now they are standard-bearers for the Democratic cause and are seen by many as mere propagandists who are trying to shape the way Americans think. Further #censorship, besides being illiberal and anti-democratic, only exacerbates this problem. Rather than changing how people think, it radicalizes them more.

We need more freedom, not less. We need more diversity in viewpoints and more rigorous discussion. It is only when Americans of different political stripes feel that their voices are properly represented in the media landscape that they will also feel a sense of political efficacy.

The framers of the United States Constitution understood the essential truth about humanity: people loathe non-conformity and are given to tyrannical impulses. They cannot stand that other individuals can think, speak, believe, live, and act differently than they themselves do. Groups coalesce around uniformity, so deviance is a threat to the group. It is an intrinsic quality of the group to use its collective power to bend non-conformists to its will. That is why history is replete with certain groups dominating and oppressing other groups, usually on the basis of religion, national origin, ethnicity, etc. Once a majority forms around certain beliefs and behaviors, that group will try to oppress those outside the group.

The framers recognized this problem even as they themselves continued to engage in similar group dynamics in their own lives. Though they did not fully live up to their lofty and novel ideals of equality, they strove to create a form of government that would allow multiple, diverse groups to coexist. They realized that the only way to protect minority groups was to ensure the recognition of #liberty rights endowed in the individual. As long as individuals are free to live, think, speak, pray, and act in a manner of their own choosing, groups can sustain themselves regardless of whether they are in the majority and without persecuting other groups. Thus, individual liberty is essential to preventing tyrannical rule by a majority.

But enumerating individual liberties for protection is only half of the solution. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison articulated the potential problem of a group ascending to such dominance that it can wield the power of government against its dissenters, thereby revoking or ignoring the individual protections outlined in the Constitution. He argued that such factions would not be able to co-opt the federal government because the United States was too expansive and diverse. Even if a faction managed to seize power locally, it would not be able take control over the whole country because the regions are too sprawling and diverse to succumb to distant and foreign influences. Each region could have its own faction, but these factions would be varied enough that the country as a whole would not be overtaken by one group. Any success a group might have in gaining national prominence would simultaneously cripple it; to appeal to such wide swaths of people requires diluting the essence of the group to make disparate peoples feel equally welcome.

Unfortunately, James Madison could not have foreseen the homogenizing effects of future technologies like television and the internet. Whereas in his day the media was consumed from mainly local purveyors providing the information that was most relevant to its own locality in written form, today everyone in the country is tuned into a select few media organizations based out of a handful of cities around the country and which remain viable by keeping their consumers in a perpetual, irrational state of fear and outrage that is not conducive to deep and reasoned thought. Local journalism has been decimated by the internet, so news is now consumed from a mostly national perspective as filtered by a homogeneous collection of college-educated, affluent, urban, coastal progressives who in their delivery of news also unconsciously disseminate the belief systems of their own urban echo chambers. Everyone in the country now gets slight variations on the same overarching narrative, which boils down to a few emotionally charged, national themes that are each divided into exactly two diametrically opposed positions usually aligning with one of the two major political parties. As a result, all Americans regardless of background or geography now receive the bulk of information about the world in the same sensationalized and reductionist format from the same, limited echo chamber, a feat that was not possible in Madison’s time.

Additionally, Americans are almost never disconnected from these emotionally charged narratives since they are plugged into the internet at all times through their smartphones and other devices. Continually and passively receiving information that causes fear and outrage is the default. Absent concerted effort, they never have the space to receive more diverse information, to transition back to a more rational state of mind, or to otherwise think for themselves because 24/7 mainstream news headlines and other online notifications take all their attention. And even where they do make an effort to find information outside the mainstream narrative, it is becoming increasingly common that such information is censored by online media companies. Thus, Americans are being conditioned on a daily basis to see the world from the same, limited perspective; they have in effect been turned into a national faction centered around affluent, urban, elite values.

More troubling still, the major internet media companies are also dominated by highly educated, affluent, coastal, urban progressives, and their control over the most widely used online fora enables them to further project their worldview onto the populace. They openly and repeatedly censor and ban information and opinions that deviate from their personal beliefs. These progressives perform their #tyranny in the name of #science and #inclusivity, but that does not make it any less oppressive than doing so in the name of religious or racial prejudice. They are merely another instance in a long line of persecutors who justify their suppression of opponents in terms of the supposed societal good.

Tech companies put a lot of successful effort into ensuring that almost all functions of speech and association were transferred online, so the public square is now effectively based on the internet. Consequently, they have the power to censor information they do not like, to stop people from associating with other like-minded individuals, and to prevent protests and events from being planned and advertised. With tech companies having private control over nearly all the speech that takes place on the internet and an oft-demonstrated will to exercise that control to shape opinion, Americans no longer have a meaningful right to free speech and association. Tech companies have become leaders of the domineering faction that the founders feared and ultimately failed to protect against. The framers of the Constitution could not foresee that one day there would exist private companies that would have powers of #censorship that could rival government’s power.

The loss of meaningful speech and association rights is an abysmal situation, especially since it augurs a more threatening situation: factious control of the government against dissenters. Already, Americans have been primed by social media to have an authority figure regulate their speech, and they are increasingly comfortable with the idea of centralized authority control so that it is common now to see individuals calling for censorship offline as well as online. These attitudes have already successfully infiltrated and influenced news rooms and publishing companies, which used to be at the vanguard of free speech issues. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have abandoned the civil liberties portion of their missions because of this change in climate. The antagonism towards free speech has become so normalized that university professors, activists, and politicians openly express illiberal ideas and make demands for censorship of those that are deemed to be on the wrong side of progressivism. It has also become common for people to disparage those who continue to assert individual liberty rights.

These are all signs that a faction has ascended to dominance in this country; has achieved a level of collective #groupthink which people are discouraged from questioning; and is attempting to use its power to silence its opponents, amplify favored voices, and further the agenda of the most vocal members. Both sides of the aisle are prone to these same tyrannical impulses, but the left-wing faction is the more imminent threat currently because of their control over nearly all the fora where the majority of speech now takes place.

Politicians and private companies have learned to pander to this faction in order to curry favor with customers and to avoid being the target of ire for upsetting the #progressive group. This tendency to appease the progressive faction has bled into the news rooms of #media companies, with people from without and within now pressuring these companies to take a more activist role in contrast to the neutral stance that was the ideal for many decades. The line between factual news and editorials is now blurred. This of course serves the faction’s intention of indoctrinating more people into its narrative of of the world, but it alienates those who are not inclined toward the faction’s beliefs. The alienated observe all the little ways the news is curated to present a progressive narrative—from word choice to angle selection to omission of facts to outright censorship—and they come to distrust the news itself, recognizing that, whether intentional or not, that dogma is being served along with the facts. This is hugely corrosive to democracy because if one does not trust the fact-tellers, then one does not trust the facts. If Americans cannot even agree on basic facts, then there is no shared reality around which they can be united. Every person will trust only information from his or her own faction, leading to radicalization, polarization, and acrimony over community.

That is why I believe that the lack of resistance to factions rising to dominance is a preeminent threat facing the United States. Factions are a triple threat. Firstly, by controlling the selection and presentation of information they rob the individual citizen of agency and obstruct him or her from developing independent thoughts and conclusions. Secondly, by controlling flow of information to and from the individual, factions manage to artificially manipulate public opinion, possibly leading to political outcomes that do not truly represent the will of the people. And finally, they breed distrust in the news media and government among those who are outside of the faction, which erodes faith in democracy itself and prevents Americans from effectively using the political system to mediate their differences.

Whether the United States survives and remains a beacon of freedom and pluralism will depend on how committed Americans remain to their Liberal roots and whether they can resist the siren song of illiberalism even when they are in the dominant group. In short, Americans need to recommit to protecting individual and minority rights on principle regardless of whether it redounds to their benefit in that particular moment. It is only by ensuring that people in the minority are free to think and live differently that we guarantee the benefits of freedom and democracy for all Americans. If the least powerful among us are not free, then none of us are free.

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 humbled me and made me aware of the echo chamber I exist in and the failures of the media to present in good faith the thoughts and realities of those living outside urban, affluent, college-educated, Democratic enclaves. While I did not understand the appeal of Trump as a politician, I also did not believe as most on the left did that the people who voted for him were just racists and idiots. That explanation, besides being smugly offensive, was too reductionist to explain the motivations of a large, heterogeneous group of people, many of whom, I imagine, felt as frustrated with the lack of options as I did.

Even after Trump was elected, the media failed to report adequately on his policies and continued to this day to focus almost exclusively on the smoke and mirrors that are his tweets and contradictory, inflammatory statements. I was following the gold standard of news—the New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, etc.— and yet I knew little of what was happening policy-wise in the federal government. It took a conservative commentor lauding Trump’s policy accomplishments in response to a derisive op-ed that would have had me believe that Trump was accomplishing nothing that made me realize that I was learning nothing of substance from the news media. I was increasingly frustrated that the media was providing infotainment rather than information, and I was exhausted by the perpetual outrage cycle that the media was constantly feeding into. By focusing almost wholly on sensational click-bait stories, the media was creating a flawed and incomplete narrative of the state of the country, and I lost confidence in the news. Eventually, I cut back my consumption of news and took these revelations as a call to humility, a recognition that I need to try better to understand how others think outside of the narrative that I’d been presented with.

But many of my peers have done the opposite. They are more tuned in than ever into the cycle of outrage, each headline further reinforcing the narrative that the county faced an unprecedented threat in the form of Trump. For years I have watched in horror as purported liberals ironically adopted illiberal ideas in response to their fears that Trump’s term would usher in fascism. Apparently concluding that the ends would justify the means, they turned to illiberalism supposedly to protect against the decline of #Liberalism. Now people arguably on the left actively strive to censor ideas they do not like often on paternalistic grounds and to control the thoughts, speech, bodies, and behaviors of everyone else. Though operating in the name of anti-fascism, they became vocal proponents of fascist ideals.

This shift created a schism between myself and my supposed political allies on the left. The Liberal (in the classical, philosophical sense of ideology, not in the common usage that describes the political attitudes of people who tend to identify with the Democratic party and the left. I will use a capital ‘L’ to denote when I am referring to the Enlightenment philosophy rather than modern political attitudes.) values of liberty,  independence, pluralism, government restraint, and reason that I hold dear—that the country was founded on—used to be values that united the otherwise disparate populations of the United States.

Such cultural values form a creed, or a set of beliefs that the population shares, and creeds act as the nation's and individual's operating system, constantly running in the background of a person's mind so that they may not even be consciously aware of it though it shapes every action they take.  Increasingly, I find myself in a minority by continuing to champion these once bedrock ideals of Liberalism. There has been an ideological shift, and I frequently observe that Americans are disturbingly eager to cede longstanding Liberal ideals in favor of short-term exigencies. Even former champions of Liberalism like the ACLU are now retreating into this new illiberal mode of thought. In effect, many Americans now have a new set of values they operate on, values that are largely incompatible with the old. 

The Ideology Of Illiberalism

This burgeoning, illiberal ideology has the following values attached to it:

Collectivism: The mob rules over everyone. The individual is disposable and can be constrained to accomplish the group’s goals. It is proper to abridge the rights and welfare of the individual whenever the majority wishes it.

The individual is not intelligent or competent. The individual is easily swayed by information deemed dangerous by the group and therefore must be protected from that information through #censorship. There are no protections for deviant minorities.

There is a hollow dialectic of equity that fails to acknowledge that the group’s choices benefit some in the group more than others and a disregard for the harms suffered by those not favored by the group.

Authoritarianism: They believe heavily in expansive government and reliance on the state rather than on individual or local community reliance. Rather than limit government to protect individual freedom, government power should be utilized to the utmost to compel individuals into conforming to the majority. Again, since the majority assumes moral superiority, there are no protections for minority groups. They do not respect the concept of rule of law; rather, they feel the rules should be changed and constitutional rights violated to serve the desired ends. Moreover, general, unwarranted surveillance of the populace is appropriate, and the government should be able to compel individuals to act when it deems it necessary and without any due process.

Because of the jaundiced view of the individual as incompetent and ineffectual, there is a bias towards institutional solutions to every problem, especially government institutions. It is appropriate for the government to expand without limit to meet the goals of safety and conformity.

Further, every aspect of life and area of knowledge is outsourced to credentialed experts who are empowered to prescribe how the individual should act. #Science is reductionist and sacrosanct and, when wielded by authority, can quash non-quantitative, philosophical objections, including Liberal objections. Not complying with authority figures and experts is seen as immoral. Authority figures should be questioned sparingly. Absent state accreditation or other formal certification, the individual is not considered competent to question expert advice, which taken to the extreme means that the private individual should not question or criticize government policy. The lack of recognition of individual competence means the individual’s actions are not legitimate or appropriate when they contradict authority.

Risk Intolerance: They are completely intolerant of risk and discomfort, and they seek to eliminate all risk and suffering at all cost without reason. #Freedom is less important than safety. There is no balancing act, no recognition that some risks provide rewards, that some suffering can be necessary or even positive, or that the costs of eliminating the risk may outweigh the benefit. Anything that could cause pain is deemed an unmitigated evil to be avoided. These people believe that that which does not kill us does not make us stronger, and it is appropriate to employ government to avoid non-lethal risks. Every person is deemed drafted without due process to serve the cause of safety of others even at the expense of one’s own welfare. The collective pursuit of safety trumps the individual pursuit of happiness.

Because risk pervades all aspects of life, extreme risk avoidance coupled with #authoritarianism results in enabling government to police nearly every aspect of a person's life. The government can interfere to make the individual “safe” whether the individual wants it or not. Any person who admits a tolerance for some risk or hardship is deemed foolish, selfish, or malicious. Illiberalism encourages a culture of performative victimhood and discourages personal responsibility. The institutional bias inclines citizens to externalize all of their problems onto others and seek solutions outside of themselves instead of acknowledging their own loci of control.

This creates a cycle of fear; individuals are perceived as increasingly ineffectual in the face of institutional solutions, and that sense of impotence makes the world appear more dangerous in relation to the individual, who now has no sense of control over his own safety. The more risky the world appears to be, the more government and other authority figures are called on to make society safer, further disempowering the individual.

Conformity: There are right and wrong ways to behave and think, and the individual must conform to the group. There is no room for experimentation. Rather than tolerate diverse manners of lifestyles and faiths, the group expects the individual to bend to the majority. Once the group forms a consensus about a thought or action, then any deviance should be punished and eliminated. Dissenters are enemies, and questioning or criticizing the consensus even mildly is not permitted. If you are not with the group, you are against the group. Speech is deemed violence when incongruent with the group consensus. Loss of livelihood and ostracism are appropriate punishments for speech crimes and other deviant acts because it is important to send a message to those witnessing the speech that such divergence is unacceptable, which purposefully chills further such speech.

The marketplace of ideas needs to be highly regulated, and the individual should not be able to judge for him- or herself whether an idea has merit; rather, the group should actively censor supposedly inflammatory ideas and arguable misinformation to avoid allowing the individual, who is incompetent to judge for himself, to be seduced into deviance. The group must take control of the media in all its forms to ensure that only the accepted narrative is presented to the corruptible individual. It is an anti-intellectual and anti-scientific ideology, more concerned with ensuring that every person is indoctrinated into the proper mode of thought as determined by the elite members of the majority rather than trying to better understand the truth of a matter. Once the proper mode of though has been established by the majority (or more specifically the powerful elites who control the majority), it shall not be questioned, not even by disinterested scientists. If any new studies cast doubt on the group consensus, those studies should be censored. #Truth is something decided on by the most powerful voices in the #majority.

Post-Modernism: Nature is inherently flawed, individuals are broken, and technology is necessary to tame and correct both. There is no agreed upon #reality aside from the subjective group consensus dictated by the elite, no self-evident truths. Everything material is socially constructed and therefore not real, but the subjective is real when promoted by the majority. The focus is on fragmentary identities and labels that separate us from one another rather than on those universal truths that unite us. It is society’s and the individual’s job to validate other people’s subjective, internal realities and to constantly keep these subjective realities at the forefront of our existences, which perpetually reinforces the seeds of division that prevent true collective action and mobilization.

Liberalism vs. Illiberalism

Thus, illiberalism is a deeply paternalistic ideology that diminishes individual autonomy, eliminates diversity in thought and action, negates intelligent discourse, and uses government and institutional force to manipulate the populace into complying with the wishes of the elite. These modern values are in violent conflict with Liberalism’s values of individual liberty,  independence, pluralism, limited government, and reason. Americans now seem increasingly hostile to the Enlightenment ideals that provide the foundation for the country’s government. They value conformity more than liberty and diversity and cannot tolerate that their fellow citizens can think and believe differently than they do. And while these illiberal values have been flourishing on the left, many of the same tendencies are evident on the right as well (Although, due to reflexive opposition to the left and the fact that conservatives have become the target of leftist illiberalism, it is common to see those on the right today at least nominally defending Liberal values, unlike many on the left.).

Americans are more than willing to sacrifice freedom if it means they can be the ones dictating how others behave. No longer concerned with defending against illegitimate power, Americans now want to ensure they have the power to control other people's lives, bodies, thoughts, speech, and actions. Modern Americans value power more than freedom. We have regressed to the point that many Americans now openly sympathize with dictatorial appeals rather than the ideas of Enlightenment revolutionaries and philosophers. Consequently, the very rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution are under threat.

This illiberal ideology amounts to a secular #religion that a large portion of the population are attempting to foist on everyone else. The believers of illiberalism see their values as indisputable truth and will deride, police, ostracize, criminalize, and quash anyone who dares to question the new religion. To question or criticize is heresy. Consequently, to be a Liberal in today's society is to be a modern heretic.

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