modernheretic

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

I did not comply with the unjust and tyrannical vaccine mandates imposed by politicians in New York, and as a result my life has dramatically changed, mostly for the better. As soon as the mandates were announced, I knew compliance would not be an option for me and that I would lose my job. I also knew that I would be unable to get another job in my field in New York due to the mandates and that I could not afford to live in New York City without a job. Consequently, I immediately worked on an exit plan and ultimately relocated to a more free locale.

Escaping New York’s Traumatizing New Normal

Life has been so much better since leaving New York City, where the climate is still oppressive with Covid hysteria. The people who claim that New York City today is back to normal are proof of how normalized the Covid culture has become in that city, even among the critics. Sure, New York City is “normal” compared to everything being shut down by the government in spring 2020, but it is nowhere near what it used to be.

Even if you yourself are not anxious about Covid, you cannot escape the multitude of people in New York City who are masked (double-masked even, and outside at that!), the pop-up testing sites on every other corner; being excluded from numerous, privately segregated, social and recreational events; the slavish ebb and flow of fear and hygiene theater among the locals in response to the news cycle; the masking requirement on the subway (albeit unenforced); the social distancing announcements and signage at every indoor location; the outdoor dining sheds that serve as a reminder of the 2020 lock-downs in which local businesses were decimated and are still struggling to recover; the increase in violence and filth on the streets; the commercials from the New York City health commissioner that constantly appear on streaming services; interacting with friends who proudly and demonstratively engage in inane hygiene theater rituals and who would gladly live like this forever; the numerous vacant storefronts; the increased number of junkies in public spaces; the risk of social and business repercussions if you are too outspoken in your criticism of the government; the ubiquitous fearmongering propaganda from the government that is displayed on posters and digital kiosks all over the city, a visible step in the direction of 1984; and continual reminders that the government could easily bring restrictions back at any time. New Yorkers became so adapted to this atmosphere of hysteria and minute government interventions that they no longer remember what normal is like. Because these changes were so insidious and pervasive in New York City, it is hard to believe that normalcy can still exist when you are mired in hysteria.

The culture has not improved since I left. The minds of my remaining New Yorker friends are addled by Covid culture. Every interaction I have with them continues to be permeated with Covid anxiety. Some of them still have vaccination frames on their social media, profile pictures. One friend recovered from mild illness and proceeded to test everyday until he got a negative result, which is not an unusual thing to do in New York City. Another friend tells me of how he got a booster just so he can go to a social event. Another friend sends me a masked selfie from Grand Central station. And yet another friend asks whether I will demand visitors to my new home provide a negative Covid test to enter. They all know my critical stance, and yet they are so mired in groupthink that they cannot conceive of my inability to relate to these rituals. All of this is completely normal to them because nearly everyone they know in New York talks and acts like this, a product of the mass hysteria they cannot seem to escape. By contrast, no one in my new hometown has mentioned Covid to me in the two months I have been here.

While the onerous and punitive government restrictions on business were, I believe an unconstitutional atrocity that led to increased impoverishment and wealth inequities, the worst part of New York City’s Covid culture is the trauma that it has inflicted on residents for two plus years. Imagine the worst Covidian Reddit commenter you can think of, and now imagine they are the majority and hold the political and economic power to ruin other people’s lives. It is hard to articulate the anxiety you feel in such an environment, the constant dread and fear you feel every time you step outside your home that someone is going to attempt to police your body and the angry confrontations that might ensue. It is hard to make people understand the dehumanizing effect on your soul when you have to deal with other people who are scared of human contact and are strenuously trying to avoid you or of the numerous “temporary” barriers that were erected to minimize human contact. And dating in New York City was hard enough when people were not scared of human contact; now you also have to negotiate Covid protocols as well (or be summarily dismissed once your critical stance is revealed). How can someone who has not been in this mass formation culture understand the worry you feel when the fear-inducing headlines about Covid and monkeypox start ratcheting up, a fear of what your neighbors are capable of and of what they might do to you if the politicians and news media provoked them? It left me traumatized, and I feel the anxiety start to rebound when I simply hear about the continued hysteria in New York.

But, safely ensconced outside of New York City, I can tell my fellow New Yorker critics that normal living does continue on outside of New York, and not just in Florida. I cannot overstate the relief at leaving that city and getting to feel again like a human being instead of merely a perceived vector of contagion and, for us critics and unvaccinated, social pariah. You do not realize just how much you have maladapted to the stressful conditions in New York City until you are free of them. Living somewhere where I am not constantly reminded of the pandemic and where the people around me are not suspicious of human contact is incredibly healing. I implore all remaining heretics in New York to get away from that forsaken city, even if it is only a brief sojourn to restore your mental well-being.

Why Testing Mandates Are Not a Compromise

As for the personal fall-out from the mandates, my employment was terminated to punish my non-compliance. I was the only one at my job who directly objected to the mandates. The mandate I faced was a vaccine-or-test requirement in which individuals who failed to provide the employer with proof of vaccination had to submit Covid testing results each week. Faced with an alternative of compulsory vaccination, most people see the testing option as a palatable compromise. Even many critics of the mandates treated testing as a reasonable option, and there was almost no discussion about the implications of a requirement that employees be tested regularly. While forcible vaccination is a clear violation of bodily autonomy, a testing mandate, though less invasive, is equally sinister in its ramifications. The following are reasons why a Covid testing mandate for employees is objectionable:

Why Not Just Comply With a Testing Mandate?

  • Such a requirement is overbroad and underinclusive, which belies its true punitive intent. It catches persons like myself with natural immunity while excluding the vaccinated employees who are perfectly capable of catching and transmitting the virus. If reducing transmission was the true goal of mandated testing, all employees would be subjected to the requirement. Further, a person can test positive for SARS-CoV-2 without actually being contagious. For instance, people who recovered from Covid and who are no longer contagious can continue to test positive in the following months.
  • I refuse to provide genetic samples to for-profit companies that will sell my data without my consent or ability to control the information.
  • The tests are conditioned on emergency-use authorizations, and I have a right to withhold consent to such devices. Threatening my livelihood effectively negates my statutory right by creating a coercive condition.
  • For those who are employed by government, mandated Covid tests are government searches without a warrant, probable cause, or even any type of individualized suspicion.
  • It is retaliatory for people like myself who have medical conditions that contraindicate Covid vaccination.
  • It violates my due process rights.
  • I do not use medical devices that offer no medically therapeutic benefits.
  • Because after coming to the office for over a year and putting myself at risk for contracting the virus during the height of the pandemic (including when no vaccine was available), it begs belief that I suddenly became unreasonably dangerous overnight.
  • This is an egregious, unilateral incursion on workers’ rights that will forever change the employer-employee relationship to the detriment of employees.
  • I do not want to validate a precedent in which employers can unilaterally add required tasks that the employee has to perform on the employee’s own, personal time without pay. An expectation is being created (as with daily health screenings) that permit the employer to take greater incursions on the employee’s private time and expense without recompense. All employees, vaccinated or not, will be harmed by this precedent in the future.
  • I do not believe the government or an employer should be able to control my body or make medical decisions for me. My body is my own. If we let them have that power, there is no end to what they might compel us to do with our bodies in the future.
  • I do not want to encourage treating illness as a moral fault or treating healthy people as though they are sick. We are coming dangerously close to treating human life as a medical condition unto itself. This shaming, punitive attitude around illness embodied in mandates such as these erodes public health by disincentivizing people from seeking medical attention, disclosing potential contagion, fully convalescing, or otherwise taking the proper precautions that could alert others to the fact that they are contagious and otherwise prevent further transmission.
  • The testing requirement has a disparate impact on various protected classes and is therefore discriminatory.
  • Because I am not perpetually sick and will not be treated like I belong to a dirty and diseased subclass of humanity. I will not submit to such blatantly dehumanizing, disparate treatment.
  • I believe nature and the body are sacred, and having to beg permission from the government to continue existing as I am is spiritually degrading.
  • I refuse to supplant my own faith with the personal, religious beliefs of politicians.
  • Letting government interfere with personal medical decisions on the grounds of public health paves the way for the further erosion of reproductive rights, among other integral personal rights.
  • Being that humans are covered in viruses and bacteria by default, these mandates are creating a new system of medical totalitarianism in which any healthy person can, with the right test, be deemed by the government a health risk at any time for indefinite periods without due process without even being sick or contagious. Innocent people are being stigmatized and penalized by this system for simply existing.
  • It is a punitive measure solely intended to penalize people who do not submit to the government’s political whims. I am not inclined to reward the government’s unethical and cruel use of coercion and duress.
  • I know compliance will not end the government’s persecutorial stance, but rather will further embolden it, and I fear what will come next.
  • Such mandates are the beginning of a new relationship with the government in which an individual’s control over her body and beliefs is subordinate to politicians’ political agendas. I do not wish to be in a toxic relationship with the government in which I have no agency.
  • Such measures are priming the populace for the implementation of a continuous bio-surveillance state, which I am vehemently opposed to.
  • These mandates are irrational and undemocratic, and we have been unable to have a full and honest discussion about them due to the heavy-handed climate of censorship and groupthink that currently pervades society, especially here in New York.
  • Because such mandates violate the rule of law. One does not dispense with the rule of law in an emergency; it is precisely in an emergency that adherence to the rule of law is most necessary. When we abandon our values in times of emergency, we get abominations like Japanese internment camps, McCarthyism, and the fraudulent invasion of Iraq. After it is all over, people wonder how these things could happen. This is how it happens: by forsaking our long-term political values to address short-term fears and exigencies. We should not let fears about Covid cause us to undermine our constitutional norms.

Collateral Beauty

In light of these objections, there was no way I could comply with the mandate and feel good about myself. No matter what happens from here, it will remain a decision I am most proud of rather than a source of regret.

I do not know where I will go from here, but I am using this as an opportunity to reset my life. I don’t want to over-romanticize it; I am starting my life over from scratch and facing a lot of uncertainty, especially financial uncertainty. But I think this is a positive step.

When the lock-downs began in 2020, I found myself totally alienated. None of the people in my social network or everyday life understood my position or were willing to accept my deviance from the crowd. It was a wake-up call as I realized that no one in my life shared my values or was willing to accept me as I am. I could only conclude that ending up in such a hostile situation was the result of not fully living my values. I was living my life all wrong, and this situation forced me to take stock of my life and correct course. Now I feel happier than I have been in years and am finally pursuing some long-held dreams of mine. As horrific as these last couple of years were, the collateral beauty is magnificent.

Technology as Ideological Driver of Culture

As Neil Postman noted in the nineties, tools are not ideologically neutral. Each technological advancement brings with it new values and norms and alters how we experience knowledge and truth. As Postman stated in his book Technopoly, “A new technology does not add or subtract. It changes everything.” Accordingly, digital technology is upheaving our culture and displacing the traditions and norms we were accustomed to, leaving many of us feeling unmoored and undermining our political values.

Culture is shaped to fit our tools rather than the reverse. Both print and film technologies, in creating a market of personal consumption of media, allowed individuals to participate in the exchange of potentially esoteric information without a central authority figure like a priest or a king to filter the content. As a result of this seismic cultural shift, individuals were treated as competent to manage their own consumption of information as well as that of their families. This information autonomy gave individual and family units an increased ability to direct their own lives.

Digital technology seemed at first to be expanding on the individual’s ability to receive information in a decentralized manner, but the anarchic nature of the internet created a glut of information that resulted in a backlash that ushered in centralized controls. When the private citizen went online in the early days of the internet, they were confronted with a new freedom—the ability to not just receive information but to also publish their own expression around the world. It was an exciting revelation, but one that came with a significant cost—information overload. Instead of simply receiving a highly edited, professionally curated package of content from a publisher or production company, the average person was suddenly bombarded with information and opinions of varying quality from other average persons like themselves.

It was exciting but also discomforting because people were rapidly facing an unprecedented exposure to an overabundance of information, and the responsibility of filtering that information created a new dilemma that led to a new form of control.

The Internet as an Incubator of Cultish Thinking

Online conversations quickly developed controls in the form of moderators—authoritarian figures who established the rules of engagement and who got to decide what speech was worthy and what was not. Early moderation mostly followed the formula of free speech that people were used to offline, simply restricting the low-quality items that interrupted the flow of dialogue: spam, bots, unsolicited pornography, and threats of violence. But this was not enough.

People were exposed to ideas that were too novel too quickly. The New York City liberal would end up in the same chatroom as a Texas conservative, and both of them would also be exposed to people with completely different ideologies that did not fall on the mainstream American left or right. These individuals whose windows of thought had been almost exclusively shaped by their limited, local surroundings had to suddenly confront challenges to their preconceived worldview from strangers from around the world, and heated debates would ensue. Forum users, unable to reconcile these marked differences in worldview, quickly tired of what they viewed as their opponent’s stupidity or maliciousness. There was a resultant demand for more controls. Ignore buttons popped up and were quickly used for individuals who espoused ideas that the user disagreed with, limiting their exposure to different ideas and establishing the pattern for the silo-ization of the internet that is dominant today.

The moderators, first installed to deal with harmful materials like spam links and violent threats, were soon called upon to handle other information increasingly seen as equally harmful: minority opinions. Unlike the offline world in which people were judged through personal knowledge, direct observation, and reputation, individuals online could only be judged by the content of their digital output, which reduced them to flat, dehumanized vectors of information to be categorized as good or bad. To an unprecedented extent, ideas themselves were now viewed on binary metrics as good or bad, moral or immoral, dangerous or safe. That determination was then applied to the person, because in the digital realm the person posting and their ideas were experienced as one and the same. Thus, the new controls spawned by the digital realm to deal with information overload involved the establishment of a binary, ideological filter to judge whether information—as well as the poster of that information—should be included or excluded in a particular community.

Unfortunately, once the ideological binary is established as the moral paradigm, group discourse becomes a never-ending witch hunt. Group leaders and members are on constant lookout for potential immorality as represented by supposed outsiders to the group. Anyone who disturbs the group harmony with deviant thoughts can find themselves the sudden target of paranoiac suspicion. If your thoughts deviate too much from the group consensus or if your contributions result in too much robust debate, you may stand accused of being an infiltrator—a troll, double agent, or other villain whose supposed raison d’être is sowing discord in the group. Every conversation becomes a purity test of sorts, and the only way to prove that you are one of the “good” guys is to make your expressions a reflection of the group’s worldview. In such a paradigm, it is beyond conception that a person’s dissentious views could be legitimately held and borne of different but equally valid life experiences. Significant deviance is assumed to be a sign of moral deficiency. As every person contorts their self-expression to stay in the good graces of the group leaders, the Overton’s window of thought becomes narrower and narrower.

In effect, people naturally strove to make internet forums reflect the values that they were accustomed to in real life but in so doing spawned a now-entrenched system of viewpoint discrimination and groupthink. Whereas all were on equal footing at first, now a pro-life woman in a feminist forum or anti-gun advocate in a conservative forum would be deemed beyond the pale of good discourse and be ousted as an enemy or supposed troll. Just having a contradictory opinion on one particular matter could be sufficient to deem someone harmful. Groupthink became the norm, and anyone who deviated from the group too much would be seen as a danger to the group who needed to be punished or eliminated. The exclusion of the independent thinker was and continues to be framed in a benign manner as a need to keep the group united, protect vulnerable members from discomfort, protect weak-mined individuals from misinformation, eliminate trolls, stay on topic for the good of the group, and to eliminate “attacks” and “hate.” Thus, thanks to the internet, intolerance for dissent and demands for censorship arose as aspirational values of a new moral order.

Consequently, the controls that developed in response to digital technology were exactly those controls that are used in the formation of cults and totalitarian regimes, tools to ensure that every person falls in line with the orthodoxy as determined by the leadership of the group. These forms of management include: 1. control of information within an environment (moderation, fact checks, content warnings, removal of information, prioritizing certain viewpoints, etc.); 2. demands for purity in thought to assure that everyone conforms to the group (Perhaps best exemplified by Reddit, where members are often preemptively banned from sub-reddits solely for having participated in other sub-reddit topics that are considered wrongthink by the moderators, but it can also be as subtle as accusing someone of not being a true believer of the ideology under discussion (e.g. a real conservative or a real feminist) because of an opinion the person expressed); 3. sacred truths that cannot be questioned without some form of reprisal, usually removal from the group or platform (e.g. “the vaccine is safe and effective,” “trans-women are women,” etc.); 4. the reduction of complex ideas to trite slogans and memes (often cliches used to terminate dialogue—“trust the science,” “I am not going to educate you,” contextually pejorative labels: anti-vaxxer, anti-science, racist, etc.—when these lines are used, the recipient is on notice that they are engaging in wrongthink and should fall in line with the group or expect to be censored); 5. control over who belongs to the group and who does not (the mere knowledge that removal from the group is possible is sufficient to encourage self-censorship); and 6. the subordination of the individual to the group (a member’s self-expression and experiences are sacrificed for the sake of group cohesion).

These totalitarian controls are quotidian at this point, and anyone who participates in discourse on the internet is exposed on a daily basis to enormous pressure to conform their thoughts to the narratives that are perpetuated by those in control of the internet fora. Without realizing it, we slowly brainwashed ourselves over time with our uncritical and pervasive use of digital technology. Essentially, by participating in these fora and submitting to their rules of engagement, which include strident viewpoint discrimination, we have been conditioning ourselves to believe that free speech is a dangerous thing and that anyone who dissents is a bad person who deserves to be ostracized and punished. It was therefore inevitable that once we accepted these digital values as normal, they would then infiltrate our offline interactions.

Exportation to the “Real” World: The Unsavory Redditification of Society

While we think of ourselves as using digital tools to change our world, in reality digital technology is changing us. The more we consume digital technology, the more we become subsumed within its values of polarization, sanctimony, lack of empathy, dehumanization, irrationality, ostracism, the desire to control others, and disdain for minority views.

The past two decades were far more than enough time to change our culture. People are now accustomed to having third-party, authority figures govern their private speech and personal conversations, a sharp departure from the pre-internet days. The previous “live and let live” cultural paradigm was slowly displaced by cultural norms formed online in which individuals associate majoritarian orthodoxy with moral authority, disdain minority rights as inherently suspect, and feel entitled to control and punish those who fail to conform to the majority. Most people in the Western world are never disconnected from the totalitarian culture of the internet. That is why digital cultural norms are now dominating our society.

In effect, the digital controls that developed in order to control the overabundance of information on the internet led to polarized, cultish thinking and conditioning people to believe that totalitarianism is a necessary form of regulation in today’s world. Unfortunately, as more and more of our lives are practiced online, individuals are becoming less free to express themselves as people become more unaccustomed to confronting dissentious viewpoints. Dissent is now treated as a danger that needs to be eradicated. Worse still, this cultish conditioning is bleeding into the offline world so that anti-democratic, authoritarian measures are increasingly seen as normal in the “free” world.

In the resultant culture in which a person’s character is measured by their beliefs rather than by their deeds, ditching a friend for thinking differently is considered a virtue, not a flaw signaling intellectual immaturity, as it once was. It is commonplace these days for people to cast aside friends for espousing unpopular viewpoints; to conceal one’s true thoughts from one’s friends to avoid being cast aside; to disinvite intellectuals from speaking panels because their opinions on various topics, even if unrelated to the subject at hand, are deemed too heretical; to terminate an employee for engaging in self-expression on their own unpaid, personal time; to call for a book or movie or even a whole person to be banned on the basis of purportedly offensive content or speech; to terminate a professor for engaging in what used to be considered academic freedom; and to de-fund or de-platform an artist for engaging in the self-expression that is vital to their craft. All of these actions that are commonplace today would have been rare to unthinkable two decades ago.

In all of these instances, a full-fledged human being is reduced to the value of a single idea, robbed of their humanity and sometimes their livelihood for expressing one small part of a complex persona. The result of this new digital tendency is that, though we technically have the greatest ability to share our voices with others around the world, we have a largely diminished freedom to express those ideas. This trend renders independent thought dangerous because one idea too far removed from the group consensus can result in social isolation, a condition that humans are not wired to tolerate. Many people are chilled from speaking, not just online where they may end up banned by a tech platform, but offline where they face the possible consequences of losing jobs, networking opportunities, and friendships. Forced to choose between thinking for oneself and social inclusion, people are prone to prioritize social inclusion and to therefore censor themselves for the sake of continuing to fit in. The urge to self-censor has become so common and extreme that Saturday Night Live recently performed a sketch that satirizes how afraid people are to speak openly with their friends about the societal response to COVID. The universe of ideas that is acceptable to be expressed is rapidly shrinking and people are exposed to fewer ideas that challenge their views, which further reinforces their intolerance for differences of opinion in a cyclical manner.

Much like George Orwell’s doublespeak, people in contemporary society are pressured to conceal their true thoughts and dilute their public messages to the point that they become anodyne and meaningless enough that the mob will tolerate them. This is what people feel has to be done to avoid being stigmatized, censored, or outcast. Progressives’ dismissiveness—often on the illiberal grounds that having the freedom to speak does not mean one should not be punished for exercising that freedom (in which case, one effectively does not possess “freedom”)—reveals the troubling trend of assigning moral value to a person based on the ideas that they express, with value being judged not by the quality or validity of the thoughts expressed, but solely on how closely those ideas conform to existing orthodoxy. In their stance that purportedly “bad” speech deserves to be punished, progressives are setting conformity as an aspirational value and punishing those in the minority simply for being in the minority. This is problematic because new ideas always start at the fringes of society, propelled by those individuals who dare to question those in the majority. A society cannot progress without allowances for minority viewpoints.

Therefore, whereas literary norms involved a celebration of the reason of each person and encouraged the development of an individual’s critical thinking skills, digital culture replaces those norms by enshrining the logical fallacies of appeals to authority and bandwagon as the successor to critical thinking. Once it becomes immoral to deviate from the group, independent thought and reason are disincentivized because such traits lead to pluralism and divergence from the group. This shift in culture is exemplified by the New York Times, a former bastion of literary ideals, unironically running a piece about the dangers of trying to think for oneself or NPR affiliate WNYC producing a show entirely devoted to the evils of free speech and the need for more stringent controls.

Thus, facts, transparency, and rationality are inimical to digital culture. Conformity, not truth, is the driving force of digital culture. Digital technology has changed our relationship with truth and knowledge. Whereas before each individual was deemed competent to find her truths for herself in a relatively unbridled market of information no matter how those truths might deviate from the consensus, today the individual is viewed through the jaundiced lens of digitalism as too incompetent to recognize truth for himself, as a person who is corrupted by more information rather than aided by it and who needs to be protected with totalitarian controls.

How Digital Norms Threaten Democracy

The Diminishment of Free Speech

By programming individuals to become accustomed to totalitarian regulations on a personal level, it was inevitable that these digital norms would also pervade the political realm. As individuals become more and more immersed in digital technology, society on the whole becomes more antagonistic towards free speech, more intolerant of pluralism, more polarized, and, as a result, ultimately more unstable. There is perhaps no bigger sign of this illiberal paradigm shift in the United States than bedrock institutions that were previously the defenders and beneficiaries of free speech suddenly supporting the idea that free speech is dangerous.

The ACLU that exists today—the former proponent of nearly absolutist free speech values and the organization that once defended the First Amendment rights of Nazis to demonstrate—seems to disdain free speech. Notably silent during the past two years of increasing government hostility to free speech, it recently filed a legal brief suggesting that the government has a right to compel speech when that speech would cause offense. One of its highest profile attorneys Chase Strangio tweeted in support of censorship, “Also stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is a hill I will 100% die on.” And in an example of the digital morality transitive property, Strangio followed up by tweeting a comment that suggested free speech was the province of bigots, imbuing the once-lauded concept of free speech with a negative connotation. Because under digital values, if a group already deemed immoral by its avowed ideas on one matter also expresses support for a second idea, that second idea must also be immoral by virtue of the moral status of the speaker. Thus, in Strangio’s digitalized mind, free speech has no intrinsic value and becomes immoral when favored by one’s ideological opponents. Clearly, the ACLU would be on the opposite side of its landmark Skokie case if it had the same choice today.

The ACLU is not unique in adopting the new, illiberal, digital value system. The New York Times published a piece in 2021 advising readers that their critical thinking skills were outdated and that they should first determine whether a speaker is “trustworthy” before engaging with the information. In this way, the New York Times sought to further entrench the digital norm of evaluating individuals on a binary, moral scale based on other ideas the person expresses rather than assessing the quality of the idea currently expressed on its own merits. In the new digital world, the quality or validity of the idea is irrelevant; all that matters is that the speaker pass the purity test of conforming to the mob establishment. Truth in the mouth of a speaker deemed immoral automatically becomes a falsehood in such a paradigm, and the search for truth is rendered into a mere popularity contest.

And that attack on Enlightenment ideals was not a one-off. The New York Times routinely engages in viewpoint discrimination in moderating its comments, frequently censoring those that express dissent from progressive orthodoxy. It reportedly also refused to publish an ad for a Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s book about Anthony Fauci on the grounds that the book was “misinformation.” This is not anomalous. Booksellers are also increasingly giving into a culture in which ideas themselves can be immoral and therefore the books that contain those ideas must be censored (See exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, and K. And, as noted above, NPR affiliate WNYC recently produced an entire hour-long show that discussed why free speech is harmful without any rejoinder.

Anything that could allow a person or group to express an unorthodox idea is suspicious, and therefore in digital culture, the concept of free speech is inherently dangerous. Undergirding all of these actions is the implicit idea that the private individual is not competent to think for himself and should not have the opportunity to do so. The paternalistic notion that individuals must be protected from corruption by bad ideas has taken hold of our culture. And this type of milieu control of information enables independent thought to be supplanted by majoritarian propaganda just as it does in other totalitarian environments.

The supposedly benign reasons for viewpoint discrimination were extended offline, with accusations of hate speech and a supposed need to protect the vulnerable used as thin pretexts to ban viewpoints that are inconsistent with progressive orthodoxy. More alarming than the fact that such viewpoint discrimination is regularly practiced today is the reality that many Americans are accepting of such discrimination, a sign of how conditioned to censorship they have become. The assumption that the individual is neither competent to judge the quality of information nor strong enough to be exposed to information of allegedly dubious quality now reigns supreme, bolstering the new flourishing culture of censorship.

Arisen from such fertile, censorial grounds is a perpetual mob that is constantly on guard for potential wrongthink (i.e. ideas that deviate from progressive orthodoxy) and feels no compunction about harshly punishing a person for engaging in such heterodoxy. The ends—eradicating all dissentious viewpoints and forcing each individual to submit to the progressive narrative—is seen as a noble cause that justifies the means, no matter how harmful to individuals. The ideological binary is in full effect in the offline world, and a person who expresses a supposedly dangerous idea is considered a dangerous person who needs to be punished to set an example to others who might also be tempted to stray.

Increased Polarization

Progressives are frequently dismissive about concerns of censorship and “cancel culture,” arguing that the high-profile celebrities who have been “cancelled” still have the technical means to express themselves. However, they ignore the fact that such censorship demands increasingly target private individuals, not just public figures, and that private speech is increasingly being censored in a way that was not possible before the rise of the internet. Moreover, they also overlook the chilling effect such actions have on the speech of private individuals, who have less resources to cope with such threats and are therefore more likely to self-censor. They are dismissive because they actually want a world with limited speech, where the window of permissible thought is narrow enough to exclude all the speech they disagree with.

Frequently lost in the debate is the effect that censorship has on society at large rather than just the effect on the individual. The more censorship and cancelling that occurs in society, the more people are taught to censor themselves to fit within the bounds of acceptable discourse. The more people self-censor, the more society descends into a cultish groupthink that forbids nuanced ideas and novel solutions to problems.

There is no acknowledgement under digital norms that there can be any positive intent or benefit in the exchange of ideas between people with opposing viewpoints, and the result is that society as a whole is becoming increasingly polarized as individuals confine themselves to echo chambers where everyone else thinks exactly like them. Accordingly, people are becoming adept at applying the standards of the new digital morality, viewing people who dissent from orthodoxy as immoral or inhuman and being unwilling to engage with those who think differently. This ultimately undermines our political culture since the interchange of ideas is vital to a functioning democracy.

This ultimately leads to purity seeking of the sort the left frequently engaged in after Trump was elected. Under digital norms, a person’s moral standing has to be sufficiently established before you can align with them, meaning they cannot have a history of engaging in any wrongthink, such as having voted for Trump. One’s allies have to be in agreement on all issues. Digital morality would discourage, for instance, an alliance between women on the issue of domestic violence if all the women were not also in agreement on the topic of abortion. Transcending political boundaries in digital culture is a sign of immorality. In essence, that means one cannot ever build coalitions across aisles and instead must rely on the small minority of people who already think exactly like you on all issues for all your political support. The result is a fragmented society that is unable to unify around common causes and instead leads to groups becoming more insular, which leads to extremist thinking that dehumanizes opponents and creates further impediments to societal unity. Consequently, digital morality’s emphasis on social cohesion actually has the reverse effect of creating systemic disunity in society.

Without exposure to mitigating ideas, the polarized factions of society lose their ability to empathize with others as well as their willingness to find compromises. Every political issue becomes a high-stakes, zero-sum game because the insular thinking prevents consideration of a middle ground, which is tantamount to defection in the polarized mind. The inevitable outcome of such polarized thinking is that each group feels it has to win at all costs. When a group feels that the only options it faces are a binary, win-or-lose situation, the group is more willing to play unfairly to win, seeing the ends as justifying the means of their purportedly noble cause. Violating due process, rule of law, and minority rights can all be seen as moral when the alternative is to let the opponents win, which, in the addled mind of a political cult member who no longer sees the opposition as human, is the same as letting evil win.

Intolerance of Pluralism

Decades of internet engagement—entire lifetimes for some generations—conditioned people to see other people’s exercise of freedom as an existential threat and to see their own attempt to infringe on others’ freedom as morally heroic. That is why many people now see citizens exercising their democratic right to political expression as dangerous and see nothing sinister about limiting political expression.

As harmful as the erosion of free speech is to the individual, it is indicative of an even greater harm to political culture. The persecutorial mob complex ingrained in digital culture has as its target unorthodox groups. Thus, society’s inability to tolerate divergent thought in the individual is indicative of a more systemic intolerance for the existence of minority sub-populations. If the individual is not free to deviate from the majority, then the individual cannot exist as a member of a minority group. Minority groups can only exist at the pleasure of the mob, and anytime the minority group conflicts with mob orthodoxy, it is the minority group that must bend to keep the peace. Thus, while digital culture proponents often nominally claim to want to protect minority groups, their insistence on conformity to majoritarian standards ensures that genuine diversity cannot exist in the new moral order.

Speech is an outward expression of inner beliefs, and the loss of freedom of speech is dangerous because it is a threat to the ability to hold and practice a belief system that differs from the orthodoxy. This means unorthodox group members cannot speak, believe, love, and live in a manner that diverges from the mob. If they cannot express themselves freely, then they cannot effectively organize, represent their political interests, or secure legal protections for practicing their lives in a different manner. Without freedom of expression for the individual, the very existence of the minority group is threatened. Consequently, digital morality is a direct attack on minority rights.

Social Instability

By engaging in strenuous viewpoint censorship and infringing on minority rights, adherents of digital morality are cultivating political frustration that undermines societal stability. The resulting polarization and intolerance for divergence is creating a landscape of media consumption that is completely fragmented. Progressives, being at the forefront of adopting digital culture, ensure that legacy media companies do not reflect the perspectives of anyone critical of progressive orthodoxy, so people who want an outlet for their own worldviews have to seek out independent media. The end result is that there are no longer any shared truths or narratives; each group has its own narrative, and there is no universally shared basis from which people can build a consensus on.

Additionally, the tension between the new digital culture and the old Enlightenment culture is exacerbating the situation. People are straddling two very different, incompatible cultures. Our old values and traditions are being diminished while many may not be ready or willing to adopt the new digital value system. The shifting landscape causes people to feel unmoored from reality. Without a stable, cultural foundation from which to make sense of the world, people can come to believe anything, accept anything—even ideas and values that directly contradict the norms that they previously supported. That is why today people in the “free” world barely blink when totalitarian measures are proposed as political solutions and why many on the left today hold political positions that are the antithesis of the values the left used to hold.

Most people do not even notice that we are living through the clash of two opposing cultures—the old, “real” world culture that emphasized reason, pluralism, and individual sovereignty and the new, digital culture that demands conformity, surveillance, and centralized control. Without a fixed cultural foundation to filter information and discern for themselves real from unreal and true from false, people are extraordinarily dependent on authority figures to tell them how to think. Deprived of the context and order that the previous cultural stability provided, people are struggling to make sense of the world and to find shared purpose. Without individual integrity at the personal level to decide for oneself what information to be exposed to and how to interpret that information, the very basis of our once Liberal society is unraveling.

The Return of the Roaring Twenties

Recently, a New York event organizer who fashions his events in the style of Prohibition Era speakeasies sent out an e-mail blast in which he expressed concern about the supposed risk posed by “the unvaccinated,” who apparently no longer merit consideration as human beings worthy of compassion; we’ve become in the minds of people like him just a filthy amalgam of contagion and stigma. After promoting vaccine-segregated events and advertising on-site, rapid COVID testing as an attraction of an upcoming New Year’s Eve party (Segregation and COVID testing… Do these people know how to party or what?), he exhorted his subscribers to get vaccinated. He concluded that he believes that we are entering what he hopes will be the new Roaring Twenties (complete with segregation!).

Apparently the irony of promoting blind obedience to government while celebrating an era that basked in civil disobedience and undermining the government at every turn was lost on this professed lover of the Prohibition Era. He and the attendees of these events spent years role-playing at being dangerous and subversive, but now that they actually have the opportunity to break the rules and resist government, they submit without hesitation. Not only do they lack the slightest backbone in their own relationships with government, they get off on policing everyone else into obedience as well. They are not, as they have styled themselves in their own delusional minds, the hip Cagney-esque mobster with a heart of gold making gin in the bathtub or the wild flapper dancing the charleston on the roof with a skirt short enough to scandalize the matronly landlady below; they are the scandalized landlady who will snitch to the police the first chance she gets or the sanctimonious politician who is building his profitable career on compelled temperance.

Their appreciation of the era is completely superficial. They think putting on a fedora or carrying a hip flask captures the spirit of Prohibition when in fact the essence of Prohibition was disobedience and resistance. Indeed, we may be entering a new Roaring Twenties, but it will not consist of government-sanctioned parties with rapid COVID tests; as in the original, the era will be defined by the underground activities of the daring resisters who are willing to flout the rules and thumb their noses at government. As the saying goes, “good girls [and boys] don’t make history.” They are not the heroes of this story. History will not relive their tales of obedience and compliance except as cautionary tales of sociological curiosity. There is nothing sexy about empty conformity. These conformists will ultimately fade into obscurity like the other good boys and girls before them because no one wants to relive a story about people lining up to take a medical test at a party in which safety, not fun, is the main objective; but people will love to follow the story of the scrappy outcasts of society who defied the law and faced an assortment of risks to create their own modern-day speakeasies.

Rebels and Posers

Despite lusting after subversive non-conformity, these mere re-enactors are content to live in the shadows of their rebel icons, resigned to merely creating the palest imitation of the lives of truly adventurous people from the past instead of having the courage to live their own adventures today. With their obsession for safety, these people can only infuse their lives with the adventure they still crave by living vicariously through others more daring than themselves.

That is why when finally faced with the opportunity to rage against the machine, these imposters got behind the machine and helped push it along instead. Lacking the moral courage to stand for their supposed convictions, they sublimate their own desire to be deviant into movies and make-believe. From the punk enthusiast with a shaved head and ripped pants to the John Waters fan who identifies with the Drapes in Crybaby–many of these people who lust after subversive non-conformity and style themselves after countercultural icons are ironically, laughably, pathetically devoted to fitting in.

When it comes to the dichotomy of maestro versus tribal character types, they are tribal people through and through. In essence, the tribal personality is the conformist who is conventional, strives to fit in with others, and is great at tasks requiring unity and standardization. The maestro is the aloof non-conformist who is comfortably on their own wavelength, who is not afraid to think outside the box, and prefers to work independently. According to a popular career guidance book, the vast majority of the population are tribal types, and maestros comprise a tiny minority.

It is easy to see this dichotomy illustrated in the pandemic. We see it amply demonstrated in mask compliance, with tribal individuals basing the strictness of their mask-wearing, not on any supposed concern about germ prevention— but solely based on what others around them are doing. They are stringent about mask wearing when around others who also appear to be strict in their compliance. But when around others who defy the custom, they let their masks slip down to their chins or even take it off altogether because they know the risk of social ostracism is low. For most people, the mask serves as a social tool rather than a tool of supposed hygiene.

Tribal people’s sense of values is relative and changes based on their social environments. All the societal evils that have taken place in the United States (and elsewhere) have occurred by the hands of an establishment with the consent and complicity of masses of otherwise good, tribal-minded people who lacked the independence and courage to be deviant. If it looks like the majority are going along with something, even something in retrospect that would clearly be deemed wrong or evil, the tribal person will go along with it as well by rationalizing their guilt and responsibility away. These rationalizations, collectively, become mass delusions that are later used to excuse the complicity in the wrong-doing. “We did not now any better,” or “it was a different time,” they will say. Hogwash. They knew exactly what they were doing, but they lacked the courage to stand apart from the crowd. For every mass atrocity that was committed, there was a strident minority that not only knew better but tried to hold the majority to task for its actions. These minorities were historically and are currently dismissed, ignored, laughed at, socially ostracized, or even penalized.

Progressive ideology teaches that we are better than previous generations, that we have learned our lessons from past mistakes, and that we will not repeat those mistakes. This is a load of crock, and the past two years have shown that humans are no more evolved now than they were at any previous period, that they are more willing than ever to persecute others for their differences and to subjugate people into conformity. If nothing else, the pandemic revealed that most people today have no deep understanding of why various past persecutions were wrong, and if persecution today does not look exactly like a persecution of yesterday they cannot recognize it for what it is. Their understanding of persecution as a moral wrong is a reductionist list of rote memorization rather than an innate value borne of an underlying moral philosophy.

Today’s technocratic establishment seeks to persecute those who disagree with it, manipulate, and experiment on the masses, and butcher children. When the dust finally settles and the evil is recognized for what it is, today’s complicit masses will have to reckon with their own role in all of this. These tribal-minded people, these supposed lovers of rebellion and subversion, are going to rationalize their culpability and cowardice away. They always do. They will say that they were operating on the best information they had at the time, that no one could have known, that even the experts were fooled, that they simply followed the leaders and experts.

We cannot let them get away with these lies. This essay stands as a testament to the resistance and acknowledges that the truth was evident from the beginning for anyone who chose to see it. Many people, myself include, were critical at the outset as we realized the narrative did not make rational sense, and others gave the establishment the benefit of the doubt at the beginning but kept an open enough mind to question the inconsistencies rather than belittle the people who pointed them out. There is no excuse but cowardice and conformity for not being critical. When we skeptics and critics tried to express our doubts and criticisms, the tribal-minded purposefully silenced us in every way they could— censoring us, banning our accounts, shaming us, deplatforming us, shutting down our events, and generally trying to keep us isolated from each other and the majority so that our subversiveness would not spread. Democratic thinking, not a virus, is what they are truly trying to stop from spreading. Their complicity was not an innocent mistake as they will try to make us believe, but a willful effort to persecute the rebel opposition.

New York’s Superficial Democracy

The tribal tendency towards superficiality is not limited to parties and play; it is a defining feature of New York’s City’s political establishment. After all, a vote in a New York City general election is nothing but a completely symbolic act. We all know that the Democratic candidate will win. They are practically appointed, which is probably why last month the media was able to declare Eric Adams the winner of the mayoral race early in the night with only a sliver of the precincts counted.

Personally, I have been unable to keep up the charade of voting in New York City these last couple of elections, and neither apparently can most other people in this city. In a city of almost nine million people, Adams won the election with just 753,801 votes. Why do we even pretend anymore that the election represents some kind of mandate and that the politicians have any relationship at all to the will of the people?

A few weeks ago, Gothamist reported on the low voter turnout and quoted a political science professor who explained that voter participation was low because the race was not competitive and voters feel like their votes do not matter. And that is more or less where the analysis of the report ended, no further investigation or analysis of why voters feel disempowered or what to do about it. The fact that races are not competitive and people feel like their votes do not matter is not a problem to be solved to the establishment. What matters to them is merely the percentage of people who vote, the higher the better. Voter turnout is a symbolic representation of democratic participation without having to delve into whether that participation is even meaningful. Style over substance, as usual.

It is astounding that Gothamist would even begin to question the integrity of New York City democratic process without acknowledging that residents’ lives are currently being regulated to a severe degree with dictatorial rule-making that exists wholly outside the democratic process. Similarly, how can Gothamist dare to grade Mayor de Blasio on his campaign promise to “End a Tale of Two Cities” in New York without mentioning that his legacy will be defined by the very explicit segregation that he unilaterally ushered in to bar a sizeable portion of the population from employment, dining, fitness, recreation, and socializing, turning us into second-class citizens overnight on top of the de facto segregation that already existed? Can they really assess economic inequality under de Blasio without mentioning all the small businesses that closed in the past year or are struggling to survive due to his actions? How can they ignore all the jobs lost and all the people’s whose jobs are callously being threatened now in the midst of the holiday season? The answer is that progressives in New York City are political posers who only care about the veneer of justice and equality, not the reality of these supposed aspirations.

Emergency Powers and the Slide into Autocracy

The question the media should be asking is why would people feel it worthwhile to vote when their lives are being upended by government actions that take place fully outside of the democratic process? For two years, individuals’ lives have been shaped, micromanaged, and harmed by executive branch politicians using emergency powers to bypass the more limited scope of their constitutional powers and dispense with the legislative check on executive power. Overnight the democratic process became a mere side note; a sudden irrelevancy; a mere, symbolic nod to the country’s democratic origins. There is no point in participating in democratic rituals that have little bearing on how policy is actually made.

If the media truly cared about the state of our democracy, it would question and criticize the ongoing abuse of emergency powers in New York City and State. New York City has been operating under a continuous state of emergency for almost two years now. And while New York State ended its state of emergency after more than a year of having it in place, Governor Hochul just reinstituted a state of emergency this month.

Declared emergencies are the most expedient way for governments to seize power and the method by which many military dictatorships come into existence. A medical dictatorship is a new twist on an old classic. Emergency powers enable politicians to do things they otherwise do not have the power to do and to severely trample on the rights of the citizenry, as is happening in New York City with the mayor’s outrageous interference in the interactions between private individuals and private businesses to enforce his vaccine mandate.

Without the declaration of emergency, the mayor would be forced to get the city council to pass a bill to establish his program through legislation. The legislative process would provide notice to the citizenry and an opportunity to lobby their representatives to pass, change, or kill the bill. It would give disparate groups of people—whom the mayor’s office probably never considered—the ability to voice their differing needs and interests, thereby helping to shape the final outcome. The resulting bill, if passed at all, would be a compromise that reflects the varied interests of the populace. That is democracy—each person having some ability to express their interests in the political process and to thereby affect the resultant outcome.

The executive’s use of emergency powers, in bypassing this process, is inherently anti-democratic. Every journalist and every lover of democracy should be up in arms at the idea that a politician can at his own whim and for an indefinite length of time—years, as we are now experiencing—dispense with constitutional, political processes to to do things he would never have the power to do otherwise. These powers rob the citizens of their inherent right to participate in government policy-making.

There is no good excuse for exercising emergency powers for years on end. An emergency, by definition, is unexpected. Days or weeks of emergency powers may be justified in some instances to enable a swift response to the circumstances at hand. However, once the surprise and novelty wears off, the continued use of emergency powers becomes tyrannical. After a month or so, the conditions are sufficiently stabilized and information adequately obtained to empower the legislature to respond thereafter.

These last two years have shown us how easily emergency powers can be abused and how few checks there are on executive emergency powers. Segregationist mandates are the immediate, short-term crisis, but the long-term problem that is enabling all of this chicanery is the lack of meaningful limits on emergency powers. If the resistance wants to fight despotism in the long run, the place to start is to push for hard limits on executive emergency power.

Time and time again we are reminded that that we cannot rely on the legislature to act as a check on executive emergency powers. To preserve our democracy, we the people need to ensure that there is an automatic sunset clause in the instruments that grant these powers with no option to renew without the involvement of a true democratic process.

So if you are the type to mark the changing of years with resolutions, then resolve to rein in the government’s emergency powers. And until then, may the true rebels and free spirits continue to raise hell and subvert authority in these Noveaux Roaring Twenties!

New York politicians are wickedly devious. Bill de Blasio, Andrew Cuomo, and Kathy Hochul are intentionally instituting their discriminatory mandates in an incremental fashion to undermine efforts at organized resistance. And they are succeeding. First, they used a combination of pressure, shaming, and incentives to get vaccination rates up past a critical mass of the population. Once enough of the population was vaccinated, they knew they could institute mandates with less of an uproar. What persons might have balked at a vaccine mandate prior to getting vaccinated simply felt relief once a mandate was instituted. They internalized the government’s morality and projected it onto their fellow citizens: “I ignored my objections and got vaccinated, so why shouldn’t you?”

These sinister New York politicians knew that if they instituted all-encompassing, categorical mandates all at once, there would be mass uprisings. To prevent that, the enacted their mandate programs little by little. Health care workers were required to get vaccinated or test regularly. Then a vaccine passport was required for large entertainment and sporting venues and events. Next, health care workers had to be vaccinated with no testing option. Then city workers had a vaccination or test mandate. Suddenly, vaccination was required to enter restaurants, gyms, museums, and other places of entertainment. Then state workers were subjected to a vaccination or testing mandate. Subsequently, de Blasio decided that all city workers had to be vaccinated with no test option. Last week he announced that vaccination would be required for nearly all private employees in New York City. Hochul then announced that a mask mandate was being reinstituted for all businesses in the state unless those businesses banned unvaccinated persons.

It is a seemingly never-ending slope to a two-tiered apartheid state. New Yorkers are the proverbial frogs slowly being boiled to death. We see the detention camps in Australia, Germany locking down only unvaccinated individuals, and Austria fining persons who are unvaccinated thousands of dollars. We see it happening, but we continue to live in denial, thinking “that can’t happen here” even as our politicians strip away our rights and privileges one by one and make clear their intent to create a medical apartheid state. We tell ourselves that we do not have to stand up yet because someone else with more courage and less to lose will save us.

Each of these mandates is destabilizing and fear-inducing, and the result is that with each wave of panic, more people submit to a vaccination that they otherwise would refuse. This is the point for the politicians, to overcome consent by force, which is typically known as duress and is traditionally not a valid means of obtaining “consent.” With each wave of submission, the pool of resistance shrinks. Sure, these people might still talk about being against mandates, but with the threat of personal harm to themselves eliminated, there is no urgency, no personal need (aside from conscience, which was already compromised when they decided to get vaccinated against their own wishes) to stand in solidarity with their unvaccinated fellow citizens. These people were too scared to stand up for themselves; they are unlikely to stand up for others. That is the point of these slow, incremental steps— to whittle down the opposition until what little remains can be crushed with brute force.

But it does not have to be this way. We in New York City are now at our best and perhaps final moment to turn this all around, and all it would take is cooperation. Now that all employees in the city are facing a vaccination mandate, this is an excellent time to unite and push back. These people who sat on the sidelines thinking they were safe now have a stake in the game. They can join the healthcare workers, teachers, firefighters, police, restaurateurs, gym owners, and city and state employees who were already battling the previous mandates. If we all stand together at once, we would be unstoppable. But can we trust each other to have our respective backs?

The Covid Prisoner's Dilemma

We are in essence facing a prisoner’s dilemma. The concept of the prisoner’s dilemma involves two prisoners from the same crime organization who are separated and cannot communicate. Law enforcement does not have enough evidence to convict either of them for the principle charge, so they need one or both of the prisoners to confess to prosecute the case. However, they have enough evidence to convict both of lesser charges, so they try to induce them to confess by playing them against each other.

Each of the prisoners will serve only one year in prison for the lesser charges if they are not convicted of the principal charge. If convicted of the principle charge, they will serve at least three years in prison. The catch is that if one prisoner betrays the other, that prisoner will be set free while the remaining prisoner will be convicted and serve the longer sentence. However, if both decide to betray each other, they each will be convicted and receive the longer sentence. The best outcome for the prisoners collectively is the one in which they both remain silent because then the combined total number of years in prison is the lowest possible outcome.

But since the prisoners cannot communicate, they both see it in their personal interest to betray the other in hopes of walking free. The end result is that they both end up implicating the other and both serve longer sentences, which is the worst possible outcome for each of them. The prisoners both lose in that instance, and it is law enforcement that wins. The trick, then, is for the prisoners to somehow put their faith in each other above their immediate self-interest and cooperate without being able to communicate. Their true self-interest lies in mutual cooperation.

A similar phenomenon is playing out with these mandates. If every person banded together in the face of the mandates, the government would lose immediately and have to retreat from the mandates. The people would win. While people are not physically separated like the prisoners in the hypothetical, the staggered nature of the mandates and the culture of shaming and censorship has a similarly isolating effect that undermines cooperation. Every person I speak to who is against mandates feels isolated and is convinced that no one else will stand with them. Like the prisoners, they are convinced that their compatriots will betray them and comply with the mandates, leaving them on a limb alone. Once a person is so isolated that he feels like he cannot count on others to cooperate, it seems more rational to act solely with his own interests in mind, which is what he believes everyone else is doing. In that instance, compliance in violation of his own conscience seems like the best option.

When your job is on the line, when you have a family to feed, when you just took out a mortgage, when your health insurance is tied to your job, when you don’t know how you’ll make rent—the risk of betrayal by others appears too great. No one wants to be the lone person who stands up to power and gets fired. The problem is that everyone is thinking the same thing, and, by engaging in defeatist thinking, each person betrays everyone else. Everyone thinks that they will be the only one to stand strong, so there is no point in trying to resist. They give up without even trying and immediately start to sacrifice what they truly want.

I hear people rationalizing their compliance by saying, “I’ll submit to weekly testing because at least I can keep my job without getting vaccinated,” “At least if I wear a mask, I won’t have to get vaccinated,” or “I’ll get the first shot(s), but I won’t get the boosters.” In their heads, they have drawn a line in the sand which will not be crossed, but how long will that last? Politicians like de Blasio and Hochul know that people are drawing these boundaries, and the politicians are crafting their mandates to gradually overcome them. They are moving the goalposts slowly with intention. With each new measure, there are new people submitting and therefore the pool of potential resisters grows smaller. If you feel too isolated now to stand up to government, how will you find the strength to stand up over the next months as the opposition is further whittled away by these mandates? If you are too scared to risk your self-interest now, why do you think you will be less scared to do so if and when the government decides to enforce more draconian measures?

Finding Hope in Cooperation

We have to find a way to overcome this feeling of isolation and get people to have faith in each other. We need people to see that when we all cooperate with each other in resisting these mandates, we all win. To do this, first of all, we need to get rid of the defeatist thoughts; nix all fear that no one else will cooperate in resistance even if it feels hopeless. The politicians are banking on you feeling overwhelmed, alone, and hopeless.

Secondly, mobilize those around you. Many of us have been in the closet because we are scared of the reactions we will get from our Covid cultist friends, but maybe it is time we speak out and put a human face on the discrimination that is occurring. You don’t need to debate or try to convince anyone to change their positions; in fact, it is probably better if you do not. What you want to do is make your friends, family, and co-workers confront the pain they are inflicting on you and other unvaccinated people. When you are invited out to a segregated restaurant, do not hide the reason why you cannot go. Let your peers see that this is the cost of these segregationist policies and that real human beings are being affected, not “anti-vaxxer” caricatures. Or next time your coworkers are discussing the latest Covid news, try to find a way to gently plant a seed of empathy in their minds (e.g. “Yeah, the new variant is scary, but I feel bad for the employees who are going to lose their jobs during the holidays because of the latest mandate. It is an especially hard time to be without a job.”).

Finally, do not write off potential allies just because they are vaccinated. Vaccinated people can join the in resistance, and we need their support (And if that is you, dear reader, welcome!). Whether they fully endorse the Covid vaccines or just resigned themselves to get it to avoid trouble, vaccinated people can push back against the mandates. Contrary to media narratives, being opposed to mandates does not render one an “anti-vaxxer.” Whether you endorse a particular vaccine is an entirely different question from whether you think government should force people to be injected with a vaccine without their consent. The idea that consent is necessary and that people should be able to exercise control over their own bodies is one that has historically carried the day in the United States, so leave your personal theories about Covid to the side and focus on the sympathetic, unifying argument of health freedom and bodily sovereignty.

This is our moment, so let’s get out there and build up that spirit of cooperation so that we all win!

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.

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