Censorship and the Costs & Casualties of our Government's Information Total War
If pariahs can be censored, it behooves the government to designate all critics pariahs.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,”
This phrase, misattributed to Voltaire, has largely come to dominate—and confuse—our understanding of the importance of free speech in a free society. That misunderstanding seems to be at the heart of the very lukewarm response elicited by the exposure of “the most massive attack against free speech in United States' history" un-earthed through discovery in Missouri v. Biden now before the Supreme Court.
The trouble with this framing of free speech is that it focuses on hateful speech, framing the imperative to defend the utterance of hateful speech as a form of polite, reciprocal tolerance, necessary for the smooth functioning of a liberal society. If ever there were a framing that caused one to miss the forest for the trees, this is it.
The primacy free speech enjoys here in the U.S. has nothing whatever to do with some dewy-eyed ideal of tolerance. Rather, it owes its primacy to pragmatism. Freedom of speech is the best tool we have to ascertain the truth of any given matter. Like a sculptor transforming a shapeless piece of marble into a work of art, free and open debate chisels away at the falsehoods and misapprehensions in which the truth lays embedded. Restrict debate, and the gradual emergence of that truth will be delayed or deformed, with the result imperfect at times to the point of monstrosity.
The reason we must “defend to the death” the right to utter “intolerable speech,” is that failure to do so results in the swift and certain condemnation as “intolerable” all speech that diminishes the power or legitimacy of those in power. More succinctly, we must defend the pariah’s right to speak or everyone who crosses the regime, conveniently becomes a pariah. You either do as the ACLU did in 1978, defend the nazi’s right to speak, or you have an explosion of government-designated “nazis.” You may perhaps have noticed an exponential rise in the prevalence of “nazis” and an ever-expanding panoply of -ists since our country’s commitment to free speech faltered? Yeah, me too.
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No matter the political leanings or the content of the criticism, all those who have dared to critique the diktats of those in power for the last several years have been swiftly moved outside the pale, designated often times literal nazis. It is this that explains the awesome scope of the censorship exposed in Missouri v. Biden, now before the Supreme Court.
Government says “lockdown,” you say “wait, what about…” “Shut up, nazi!”
Government says “mask-up,” you say “wait, what about…” “Shut up, nazi!”.
Government says “keep the schools closed,” you say, “wait, what about…”“Shut up, nazi!”
Government says “inflation’s not real,” you say, “wait, what about…” “Shut up, nazi!”
Government says “get the shot, the booster, the second booster,” you say, wait, “what about… and … and …” “Shut up, shut up, shut up, nazi!”
Government says “close the nuclear plants,” you say, “wait, what about…” “Shut up, nazi.”
Government says “women aren’t real,” you say, “wait, what about…” “Shut up, nazi”.
We’re experiencing an information total war, resulting in blanket shutdown of any and all debate on each and every topic the government would prefer not to discuss. The cost to truth from this censorship carpet-bombing has been enormous. Lacking the refinement that comes from criticism and debate, the policies issuing from this informational hellscape are brutal and barbaric.
This information total war has been largely successful. Regime critics have been swiftly censored, defamed, and marginalized. The result is that most of the population continues to believe that the criticisms of government policies and actions over the past several years were levied by a bunch of cranks whose objections were largely based on gut level assumptions, political affiliation, or knee jerk reactions. That many of those criticisms and warnings ended up being accurate is attributed to dumb luck. Thus, the public has little sympathy for the targets of government censorship, precisely because of the success of the censorship, and its complement, the propaganda generated to fill the vacuum left by the disappearance of truth. However, the public itself is harmed in myriad ways by this censorship, and not in any abstract fashion.
First and foremost, this censorship regime has harmed the public because the suppression of dissenting views resulted in the creation and deployment of a whole host of truly awful policies. Certain of its omniscience the government repeatedly censored, defamed and marginalized those who raised objections to its policies. Contrary to the propaganda narrative used to justify its censorship, the arguments against various of the government policies were based on sound reason, science, and data, the opponents often highly credentialed in the relevant field.
How many people know that one of the first critics of our maximalist approach to COVID was one of the most well-respected, frequently-cited scientists in the world, Stanford’s John Ionnidis? Or that his criticisms mirrored the guidance of the U.S.’s actual extant pandemic plans?
How many people know that even from the very first, the opposition to masking was in fact based on its known futility, citing research from the CDC itself, published in May of 2020 (and recently vindicated by another systemic review by Cochrane)? Or that the most vocal opposition came from industrial hygienists (1, 2, 3) and others whose explicit job is to create specifications for safe work environments, including PPE?
How many people know that the opposition to the hysteria around hospital capacity was based on acknowledgement by hospital executives that 30% of COVID patients were in the hospital with COVID, versus for COVID? Or that this inflationary mis-characterization was incentivized by government payouts? Or that they were using HHS’s own data showing hospital capacity to have been no issue whatsoever in the U.S. except in extremely localized areas and for extremely short periods—and hence easily remediable.
How many people know that the opposition to vaccine mandates, beyond being based on the obvious, and perfectly reasonable objection that there was no long-term data on their safety, was also based on published research showing no relationship between vaccination rates and disease transmission?
Or the concern that “original antigenic sin” could lead to mass vaccination resulting in negative efficacy, and that early published researched was demonstrating exactly that trend? Or that one of the those who opposed vaccine mandates on ethical grounds was the director of medical ethics at one of the largest UC campuses?
The answer to all of these questions is, far too few. The sole reason for this widespread ignorance is government censorship. We have censorship to thank for the creation and implementation of divisive, harmful and unjust policies. Lockdowns, school closures, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, vaccine passports all find their origins in the truth-starved, debate-deprived offices of our behemoth bureaucracies. Their continuance well after their futility was demonstrated empirically, and the harms they would cause already beginning to manifest can likewise be attributed to the same benighted bedfellows.
In addition to being harmed by the content of these censorship-protected policies, the public was further harmed by the division they created. Because these policies were propped up by censoring dissent and defaming dissenters, the debate was no such thing. Instead, framing it in Manichean terms of good and evil, the censors cast large groups of the population as enemies of the people, effectively engaging in a government-executed hate crime targeting tens of millions of people. This censorship-fueled division didn’t just tear the country apart, it cut straight through the center of families, yielding countless divorces, and many millions of families estranging loved ones--all due to government-promoted lies. The polarization that has so demoralized us was a feature, not a bug, of the policies implemented by our politicians and bureaucrats.
Through the pervasive action of this wide-ranging government censorship/propaganda effort, vast swathes of the American people have been and continue to be weaponized against their fellow Americans. The faith these people had in institutions has been perverted to serve the institutions, not the people. This credulity-weaponization encompasses not just Joe Schmoe on the street, but extends all the way to the Supreme Court, where in oral arguments last year, several justices made claims whose easily verifiable falseness would have made them blush, if they weren’t so wholly taken in by the censorship and propaganda operations of the broader U.S. government.
By acting as the witting or un-witting dupes of this vast censorship/propaganda operation, the credibility of virtually every civic institution in the U.S. has been eroded possibly to the point of no return. Those whose credibility can be salvaged will be decades in the doing. Unfortunately, many, if not most, of our institutions and their denizens remain the censor’s reliable handmaidens, now seeming to hope the censors might somehow hide the gushing efflux of their credibility.
Among the harms that have been visited upon the American people through this censorship operation, vaccine injuries must also be counted. Our government not only censored questions and concerns, it acted as the marketing department for the vaccine manufacturers. However, there was one very important difference—if the manufacturers had been doing their own marketing, each ad would have had the long list of potential side effects and counter-indications that is required of all other pharmaceuticals. These risks were simply not communicated, except at the time of injection in the form of a long list of contra-indicated conditions. However, if at that time one were to realize that one had one of the contra-indicated conditions, in many parts of the country, one would still have had no choice but to get the shot. Doctors who granted medical exemptions were threatened by the state to such a degree as to make exemptions virtually inaccessible, regardless of a doctor’s medical judgement. Vaccine mandates made getting the shot a requirement for engagement in public life and countenanced no exceptions. This coercion effectively nullified informed consent for the entire American public, and thus, any adverse reaction ought to be considered fair game for redress. But it is the young and those who had already had COVID who present a picture of unalloyed harm. For these groups, the vaccines provided no benefit—only risk. Thus, every single adverse event incurred in these groups must be viewed as direct, personal harms caused by a government-sponsored censorship operation. That this particular strain of censorship benefited private companies at the same time that it harmed the American people adds grievous injury to the ongoing insult.
It is particularly demoralizing to realize that the polarization deliberately fomented by our government seems likely to protect its perpetrators from accountability. Everywhere, we see polls and articles about how fatigued people are by politics. And yet we have no other recourse to address this vast “censorship leviathan”. It is now the go-to tool with which our government effects policy. The only way to change it is to remove from power those people who support this censorship regime and to dismantle the regime’s complex apparatus. Ultimately, government censorship reduces our society to just two groups of people: the censors and the censored. While it remains in place, the ranks of the censored will be ever-expanding as the censors require ever more censorship to ensure people continue to disbelieve their lying eyes.
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