Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Onward Into Darkness

When Donald Trump reversed course and signed the pork-ridden spending bill that Congress sent to him, it was perhaps the strongest signal yet that Trump finally knows it's over for him.

Trump cited needed relief to those devastated by the lockdowns as his reason for signing the bill, which includes throwing hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign governments and their pet programs, including gender studies in Pakistan and water resources in Tibet -- all while Americans are losing their jobs, food banks are being overwhelmed, drug abuse is up, domestic abuse is up, suicides are up.  

Nothing in recent memory laid bare the utter contempt that Congress has for the American people. And Trump signed it.

Yes, he made noise about redlining the parts of the bill he wanted removed, citing his ability to do so under the 1974 Impoundment Control Act. But all that does is potentially freeze the money he doesn't want spent for up to 45 days. In 45 days, Trump will be out of office. The bill has already passed, so all Congress has to do is enact its own version of a pocket veto -- wait 45 days, do nothing, and then Pakistan will get its gender-studies money.

I'll give him credit where it's due, as he pushed for larger relief checks for American citizens hit by the fallout from the ongoing C-19 hysteria. In this effort he was joined by Democrats and populist-leaning Republicans. But Mitch McConnell and other establishment Republicans blocked the way for the larger checks, laughably citing concerns over the deficit when the nation is already trillions of dollars in debt, and the fact that people "undeserving" of the money might get some of their own tax dollars back. By tying passage of the larger checks to demands for an election-fraud commission and a repeal of legal protections for online tech giants, McConnell has essentially poison-pilled the proposal. Democrats won't agree to an election-fraud commission, even if one is sorely needed, and since they love the social-media censorship from Silicon Valley, they'll never agree to a move designed to punish Facebook and their cronies for the politically biased silencing of their users. 

So Trump is left looking as if he did the right thing for the American people, when in reality it cost him nothing and his demands will have no effect. It feels a lot like all his election challenges. While the rampant election fraud was glaringly obvious even to a half-witted child, I think Trump must have always known his efforts wouldn't go anywhere. He continuously fed his followers promises that something big was just around the corner that would remedy the fraud, but the "something big" never materialized. The fact is that the 2016 election was an aberration, and the establishment proved this year that it was determined to go to any and all lengths to make sure it never happened again. In signing the pork-infested spending bill that he vowed not to sign just days earlier, I think Trump is signaling that he finally knows his fight for the presidency is over. 

In reflecting on his presidency, I recently thought back to the days of the United States Football League. Trump bought the New Jersey Generals when the USFL was enjoying moderate success as a new springtime football league. But several of its franchises were struggling financially, and Trump convinced his fellow owners that the solution was to take on the NFL directly by moving the USFL to a fall schedule -- and launching an antitrust suit against the NFL. 

Trump had long wanted to be an NFL owner. He'd already been denied the chance to buy the Buffalo Bills. So if you're rich and you want to force your way into an elite club, what do you do? You sue. Trump didn't really care about bringing down a monopoly in the name of justice and fairness. No, he just wanted to win the suit so he could force a merger with the NFL and finally break into the league.  

Turns out the jury saw through the ruse. The jurors did find the NFL guilty of monopolistic practices on 27 counts. However, they also decided that the USFL's financial problems were a result of its own actions, not the NFL's market supremacy. Thus, the court awarded the USFL legal damages totaling a whopping $1. One dollar. Because antitrust damages were tripled, the league walked away with a grand total of $3. 

When then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle heard the news, he arrived at the courthouse to see Trump receiving his comeuppance:

Trump, already there, was sitting alongside John Mara, the son of New York Giants owner Wellington Mara. When the words "one dollar" emerged from [the judge's] lips, the younger Mara pulled out a $1 bill from his wallet and handed it to the Generals' owner. Trump's sunken expression was worth the price.

Undaunted after bringing a promising football league to an untimely death by using it to fulfill his own ambitions, Trump set up shop in Atlantic City, where his casino dreams also fell flat. 

The point is not that all of Trump's business ventures crash and burn, because not all of them do. The point is that they're always self-serving. And if one of his ventures looks doomed to fail, Trump has a lifelong habit of claiming to put up a hard fight, blaming other people for his own failures, and then moving on to the next venture with nary a thought about the destruction he leaves in his wake. 

So don't feel too sorry for Trump as he fades into the presidential sunset. For him, the presidency was just another personal ambition. Now that things haven't worked out in his favor, he's blamed everyone else and put up half-hearted fights that don't live up to the bluster of his tweets.  

Don't get me wrong. I would have rather seen Trump win the election than Joe Biden. But that's not because I like Trump. I've never liked him. In fact, I voted third party in both 2016 and 2020. 

The thing that so many of his detractors don't understand about Trump is that his movement has never really been about him, but about populist politics. He was popular for exactly the same reason Bernie Sanders was popular -- they both appealed to a working class that had already been gutted long before the virus came along. The people who used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party, the hard-working people of the American heartland that Woody Guthrie once sang about, were sold out and left without a voice when the Democrats first made corporate alliances under Bill Clinton and then jettisoned class politics in favor of woke identity politics. The result has been a desperately flailing underclass of workers characterized as racists and "deplorables" by the same party that used to represent them. When the Dems abandoned them, along came Trump, promising them better times ahead. Whether he was sincere or not, they were happy to have someone finally listening to them and their concerns, and he rode their hopes to a surprise victory in 2016. 

Again, I'll give him credit where it's due: He saved American labor from the disaster the Trans-Pacific Partnership would have wrought, and he hasn't launched a single war during his time in office. 

But on the whole, I think Trump was never fully up to the challenge of being president. He was the wrong person for the job. He could never get out of his own way. He could never articulate a convincing argument. Name-calling your opponents in tweetstorms full of all-caps and exclamation points is not a sufficient argument, let alone one befitting a president. 

In fact, I think another person with a greater gift for reasonableness, thoughtfulness, and articulation could have steered us away from the mess we've ended up with in regard to the virus. Pundits, governors, and mayors alike have made persuasive arguments for why our reaction to the virus has been so disastrous -- why masks don't work, why lockdowns make things worse, why Sweden (and, closer to home, South Dakota) had the right idea all along. 

A lover of liberty and common sense could have made a convincing argument for the horrible slippery slopes we were creating. But because the ruling class was so infected with Trump Derangement Syndrome, it could only act in knee-jerk fashion and oppose any idea that came from Trump's mouth, merely because it came from Trump's mouth. 

Trump questions the efficacy of masks, and the media doubles down on its propaganda telling you to wear them. Trump mentions hydroxychloroquine, and the media instantly demonizes a decades-old generic drug that numerous physicians said they used on their own patients with great success. Most notably, Trump, after catching the virus himself, urges Americans not to fear COVID or let it dominate their lives -- and the media went into full meltdown mode, revealing their hand in the process that they want you to live in fear of a virus with well over a 99% survival rate. 

I think those words from Trump, after he was discharged from Walter Reed following his illness, were the most presidential of his entire administration. If we had heard more inspirational words like that, rather than so much self-aggrandizing rage, who knows how different things could be right now. 

But things are what they are, and Trump has proved himself to be not a great leader. What's important, though, is that the movement he energized won't soon go away. Because, again, this was never about Trump, but about something much bigger. Even now in the halls of Congress we're seeing Republicans take sides -- the establishment hacks who think you're not entitled to a $2,000 check while they sign off on handing over billions of dollars to Pakistani gender studies and every other special interest under the sun, and the populists who believe hard-working Americans deserve a fair shake in these unprecedented times. This is a movement that won't disappear with Trump, and it may just be what unites working-class Democrats and Republicans against the two-party establishment that spits in the faces of the average American without a second thought. 

None of that is to say we have easy times ahead. Joe Biden is likely to make COVID rules far more draconian than they already are, and he represents a party that supports greater online censorship, embraces cancel culture, politicizes language, insists that everyone believe "man" and "woman" are not biological realities but interchangeable feelings, and thinks that the solution to having pushed blacks to the back of the bus is not equal protection under the law but pushing whites to the back of the bus instead. Biden promised us a long, dark winter, and I have no doubt he and his party will deliver in abundance.

I'll be watching the ever-unfolding developments, and I'll be doing what I can to help push against the nightmares to come, mostly for the sake of my daughter. I want her to live in a world where she's free to move about and free to express herself without fear of reprisal. We're rapidly losing that world, and I don't know if it can be saved. 

I'll probably blog less in the year to come. I have only so much time in my day, and I have to prioritize my own work, help my wife with homeschooling our daughter, and attend to my own mental and physical health. It's tiring to have to fight on so many fronts all the time. I'll continue to do what I can, but I fear that 2021 will be far darker than 2020 -- and I'm not convinced there's a whole lot we can do about it. Not with so many things aligned against us, and with so many people obeying and complying with the madness, either out of ignorance or fear.

In short, it feels like a losing battle. I can only hope the world proves me wrong. 

Sunday, December 27, 2020

VK, Tommy Robinson, and the Narrowing Window of Online Free Speech

If, like me, you've been looking for a social-media platform that values free expression, your semi-viable options are few. For a Facebook replacement, you have Gab, MeWe, and Minds. For Twitter, you have Parler. For YouTube, you have Bitchute, Odysee, and maybe Rumble.  

I have accounts at most of those sites. In addition to those, I signed up at VK as another Facebook alternative, as VK had a reputation for leaving people alone. Even though VK never explicitly claimed to be a haven for free speech, English-speakers, being a minority on the platform, tended to fly under the radar. 

Well, that's all changed now, as VK appears to have succumbed to the woke rage mobs in canceling Tommy Robinson and his Britain First page.  

I don't always agree with Tommy Robinson, but I can safely say that his commentary has never risen to the level of "hate speech," which is what his page was ostensibly taken down for. 

For those unfamiliar, Britain First is just that -- a nationalist group that strives to uphold and protect English and British tradition and culture. Tommy Robinson doesn't have kind things to say about unfettered immigration, or about Islamic extremism -- but note that those criticisms are aimed at policies and positions, not at people.

For context, an American parallel to Robinson and Britain First might be something along the lines of Ammon Bundy and his tireless work to defend individual liberties against the encroachments of intrusive government, or James O'Keefe's Project Veritas, with its undercover journalism that likewise aims to expose government corruption. In fact, for his efforts on behalf of his native land, Robinson won the 2020 Sappho Award from Denmark's International Free Press Society, given to uncompromising journalists.    

Meanwhile, VK, for those not in the know, is basically Russia's Facebook. Many people who have been kicked off Facebook, or are just sick of being fact-checked and shadow-banned in favor of pushing a leftist political narrative, have ended up there. Mainstream media outlets, predictably, have characterized VK as a haven for Nazis, just as they've done with Parler and Gab. People sick of Silicon Valley's censorship are flocking to these sites, and the media, not wanting you to go someplace where they can't keep you from freely discussing the events of the day outside of the confines of their "official narratives," are working overtime to demonize alt-tech with outright lies, in hopes that you won't go there and enjoy, much less exercise, your freedom of speech.

I've been trying to beat the drum for VK as a good alternative to Facebook. For one thing, it functions almost identically to Facebook, so there's virtually no learning curve. For another, it's one of the 20 most visited websites in the world -- which means that, unlike these much smaller startups that may or may not make it, VK isn't going anywhere. Plus, being based in Russia, it's beyond the reach of whatever whims U.S. politicians might cook up in an attempt to control online communications.

Those factors, combined with its generally laissez-faire attitude toward free expression, made using VK a no-brainer.  

Not that VK has ever taken a completely anything-goes approach to its platform, mind you. In the time I've been there, I've seen several accounts taken down for actual TOS violations, like spamming and harassment -- the kind of things you couldn't even do at the likes of Gab or Minds. Those are legitimate take-downs.  

But this was no TOS-based ban. It appears that a small handful of woke anti-free-speech crusaders set up shop at VK with the express purpose of taking down Tommy Robinson and his page. As so many do, VK appears to have bowed to the pressure of the rage mob. 

Seemingly key to the attack was a user who goes by the handle of "Bless Uzo," who's been gloating about the takedown, admits to using multiple accounts -- which surely made the volume of complaints to VK look more widespread than they actually were -- and otherwise uses his or her page to celebrate censorship, the latest (as of 12/27) being the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the U.S. Capitol building.  

That these modern-day witch-hunters have nothing better to do than seek out and attack people and viewpoints they dislike would be disturbing enough in itself. But when institutions bow to their demands, they only magnify the threat to free speech.

What these puritanical woke zealots fail to understand is that canceling other people creates a slippery slope that will eventually be turned around on them. That's why you fight to defend the views even of people you dislike. As Noam Chomsky once observed, "If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, then we don't believe in it at all." And the woke intolerance for opposing views can inevitably lead in only one direction -- toward authoritarianism and tyranny. 

So, to be clear, this isn't specifically about Tommy Robinson or Britain First. This is about what happens when institutions begin to justify silencing voices for arbitrary reasons. It starts with so-called fringe extremists like Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos, but the definition of "extremism" and "hate speech" always expands ever wider, until the net of censorship begins to scoop up those who have done nothing more than utter an opinion contrary to someone else's ideology.  

And that's why you fight. Not because you're necessarily endorsing someone else's point of view, but because if you have a right to express your point of view, then others have a right to do the same, even if you might find the opposing point of view distasteful.  

After all, living in a free society means that other people get to do and say things I might disagree with. History has shown us where the alternative leads.

And so I bid farewell to VK, as I refocus my efforts on the smaller alt-tech startups that actually claim to champion free expression. May their efforts prevail in a climate that's growing increasingly hostile to free expression.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

It's a Wonderful Life, Huh?

On this Christmas that doesn't feel like Christmas at all, let's revisit an old tale that once brought light to a dark world. For a world in which there is no light, only dark, enjoy this updated telling that sums up our times all too well.

Bedford Falls, recently renamed BLM Falls, is in its third month of lockdown. Most businesses have gone under, forcing everyone to buy from the bankrupt stores Mr. Potter has bought up for pennies on the dollar. 

Storefronts are boarded up from the summer's riots. Historical statues, deemed racist, have either been toppled or removed. 

Lockdown protestors are told to shut up and go home, lest they kill Grandma. 

The people are sick of Potter, but they feel helpless to do anything about him. They tried voting in a town council that would favor the people over Potter, but he rigged the election in his favor. 

"Cases Spike," the papers scream, as they have for months, as George Bailey walks by the newsstand. He's tried writing letters to the editor, but they always get returned, with the paper's editors rejecting his views as dangerous misinformation. They've been threatening to go to Potter to get George canceled if he doesn't stop. 

Not that it would matter: George lost his job at the building and loan -- not for doing anything wrong, but because the board decided it needed more persons of color representing the business. He was losing his livelihood in the name of justice and equity, they told him. But justice and equity don't feed hungry kids. 

Wondering how it's come to this, George wanders helplessly through the darkened streets. No bars or restaurants are open where he could duck in for a drink to help take off the edge. 

Bert and Ernie, the cops, working in cahoots with Potter, stop George and ask him where his mask is. Tired of explaining that masks don't do anything and the virus has over a 99% survival rate, making all the panic pointless, he takes his latest fine from the cops, thumbs his nose at their threats of arrest and their attempts to guilt and shame him into compliance, and stumbles aimlessly through the snow, dark, and cold. 

George thinks about the family dinner that was canceled, after Potter ordered no inter-family visits. "It's just one Christmas. Shut up, you peasants," Potter demands, as he prepares to fly out of town for a maskless celebration with his friends, family, and rich cronies. 

With a sigh, George shuffles toward the bridge. He leans over, looking at the cold waters far below. Surely, he thinks, there must be some reason to go on. Maybe it's not as bad as he's made it out to be. Maybe things will get better. Maybe there are still some decent people in the world who will help him fight for freedom and reason. 

Just then he hears a voice. He looks over to see a man -- safely six feet away, of course. Human contact is a thing of the past and is to be feared and avoided at all costs. 

Maybe this man is an angel, George thought. Maybe he'll be my lifeline. Maybe he'll literally talk me down off the ledge. Maybe he'll help make the world better at last. 

"Can I help you?" George asks. 

"Where's your mask, you selfish bastard?" the man screamed. "Do you want everyone to die?" 

Shaking his head, George jumps. 

The end.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Four-Sided Triangles and Other Woke Absurdities You're Expected to Believe

So what’s going on in the world today? Oh, not much…

Except a female actress claims now to be a he/they, and you’re canceled if you don’t deny the plain evidence in front of your own two eyes. The Party demands no less of you. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5.

Meanwhile, in New York City, after letting woke rioters run rampant, undercover cops are finally going after the real criminals — arresting a bar owner who refused to obey the city’s useless lockdown edict.

And The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher warns us of the creeping corporate totalitarianism that will work with government to deprive you of your ability to participate in society and the economy if you hold the wrong opinion. First, a sponsor of a professional cyclist orders her to recant, Inquisition-style, of liking Twitter posts that expressed unwoke opinions. Software is being used to identify “hate” so you can avoid posts without ever reading them. (And who decides what “hate” is?) And in Australia, credit card companies are working with the state to track citizens’ movements to catch lockdown violators.

I would hope that reasonable people can see what’s happening here. There is a movement afoot to censor more and more speech on the basis of stopping “dangerous misinformation” that “causes real-life harm.” What started as social-media “fact-checks” that aren’t fact-checks at all but narrative control has metastasized very quickly into what’s beginning to look like China’s social credit system, whereby you’ll be frozen out of society — from social media to bank accounts — for not bowing to woke leftist dogma.

I’ve personally been “fact-checked” on at least four occasions on Facebook merely for reporting on COVID data that opposes the constant fear narrative. Not wild conspiracy theories, but rather CDC data on survival rates (well over 99% for anyone under 50 and 98.5% for those under 70), the fact that 85% of those who caught the virus had been mask-wearers, the fact that 94% of COVID victims had comorbidities but were declared to have died from the virus anyway, and a Danish mask study of nearly 5,000 participants that showed no statistical difference in infection rates between those who wore masks and those who didn’t. All facts, and all “fact-checked.”

This is the same thing the media did with hydroxychloroquine, of course. The propaganda machine went into overdrive, both silencing the doctors who had success using the drug and demonizing the drug itself as dangerous. HCQ has been around for ages as an effective treatment for malaria. It’s not some cutting-edge high-risk experimental drug. And that’s exactly why it had to be demonized. The establishment media couldn’t let you stop fearing the virus itself (remember how they melted down when Donald Trump told everyone not to let the virus dominate your life?), because then they’d lose their ability to get you to consent to ineffective lockdowns and mandates.

But even more than that, if a cheap decades-old generic drug were shown to help people, then the big pharma companies working couldn’t make millions off a new vaccine. Just think of how many pharma ads you see on TV and ask yourself if Big Pharma doesn’t have a vested interest in letting the media propagandize you.

So this is where we are — with media monopolies defending their growing censorship by claiming it’s for the common good, which is what every tyrant in history has used as an excuse to silence opposition and demand ideological conformity. Just like we were expected to hand over our liberties after 9/11 as the media spread fear of rampant terrorism, now we have to hand over our right to speak in the public square if we bring attention to rampant election fraud or even dare to suggest that maybe COVID isn’t the black plague. The claim that the truth is “disinformation” is itself disinformation — but again, we’re living in a world where Orwell’s warnings are becoming reality with unsettling speed. War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

How bad is it? Look at this video of numerous local TV news outlets, parroting the exact same language about how allowing “disinformation” (i.e., facts that oppose the establishment narrative) to be spread is “extremely dangerous to our democracy.” This was happening a few years ago, and it’s only gotten worse since.

Borg-like groupthink demanding the suppression of free speech, from people whose jobs are made possible by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press. How has it come to this?

Well, in large part it’s because we’ve allowed it to happen. We don’t think for ourselves. We believe what the media tells us. We don’t push back. And we end up in a place where we’re expected to believe absurdities — and face severe consequences if we don’t comply.

G.K. Chesterton predicted the condition of our time way back in 1926:

We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green.

Just remember: The people who demand that you pretend that a woman is a man or be canceled are the same ones who insist there was no election fraud and that COVID is the black plague. There’s a theme here. They’re not defending the truth. They’re forcing their delusional narrative on you.

Don’t fall for it. It’s OK to speak up when you can see that the emperor has no clothes.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Lord of the Rings vs. 2020

My wife and I have had a longstanding tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings film trilogy over the Thanksgiving holiday. We’re both serious Tolkien nerds — she more than I originally, but I think we’re on fairly equal footing now. She was the one who’d been playing Dungeons & Dragons since the ’80s, after all — she only got me on board within the past year or so — though we have been playing Magic: The Gathering pretty much ever since we met. So I suppose it was inevitable that we’d get to the point of making a LOTR marathon an annual tradition.

There’s no link between Thanksgiving and the movies for us; it was just that having Thursday and Friday free gave us a rare opportunity to watch the entire trilogy straight through. The tradition went on hiatus for a while when our daughter was younger, but now that she’s 9, she enjoys watching the whole thing with us — and then playing with her Lord of the Rings Funko Pops afterward. She likes being called a nerdling — our little fantasy-roleplaying nerd in training.

Anyway, I was wondering how I’d react to the themes in the story this year, when so much in the real world has changed, both outside our front door and in my own heart and mind. On a personal level, I’ve abandoned my long-held pacifism, my cynicism has gone into overdrive, and I’ve finally let go, once and for all, of the Catholic faith I was raised in, after being in and out of the church and struggling with belief for most of my adult life.

Tolkien himself was a devout Catholic, and I could see the way he incorporated the tenets of his faith into his characters, the storyline, and the entire creation and history of Middle-earth. To most casual fans, Tolkien’s tale is probably nothing more than a great fantasy story of good triumphing over evil. But without using overt Christian symbolism, as Tolkien disliked allegory, his mythological world actually does incorporate ideas of the Fall, redemptive suffering, and the constant push and pull of good and evil that exists in the hearts of all Men. So while his faith informed how the story was told, the story does not set out to make deliberate analogies to Christian theology.

This is how the author himself put it:

“The Lord of the Rings” is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like “religion,” to cults or practices, in the imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.

I think that’s another way of saying that the truly faithful person doesn’t separate the sacred from the mundane. You don’t go to church on Sunday and set your faith aside as you go about your daily life the rest of the week. Instead, your faith informs everything you do at all times. That doesn’t mean you have to stand on a street corner with a bullhorn, waving a Bible at passers-by and condemning all the sinners to hell. It simply means that you practice what you preach and set an example for others to follow.

Like Frodo, we dutifully climb up the hill, in hopes of relieving ourselves of our burdens for the sake of ourselves and those dear to us. And if, like Frodo, we’re guided by the values of humility, compassion, and love, we make such great sacrifices without ever counting the cost.

Like Sam, we support our friends on their personal journeys, even to the point of picking them up and carrying them when they’re at their lowest.

Like Gandalf, we dispense the advice, wisdom, and encouragement we’ve accumulated on the many paths we’ve traveled.

Like Aragorn, we bravely press on in support of our friends, even when all hope seems lost.

The problem is just how agonizingly hard it is to put those noble values into practice on a daily basis. Everyday heroism in real life is the exception, not the rule. Most of us succumb in some way to the lesser angels of our nature — fear, doubt, egotism, selfishness, despair.

We may think poorly of Denethor, the steward of Gondor, for giving in to his anguish, deciding it best to die now than to fight on and face the inevitable anyway. We might even see Theoden, king of Rohan, as a weak leader for his pride that manifests in a stubborn refusal to both seek aid or help others in times of need, or for his unfounded arrogance that springs up at the worst times, or for making overly conservative and ultimately fear-based decisions that end up hurting more than helping.

Yet we are all Denethor and Theoden much more frequently than we are Aragorn, Gandalf, Frodo, or Sam.

In fact, a few scenes stuck with me from this year’s viewing a little more than in years past, and one of them involved Theoden leading his people to the fortress of Helm’s Deep for protection against the enemy. The king thinks they’ll be safe there since it has saved them in the past and its walls have never been breached. But Gandalf protests that Theoden is leading his people into a trap, even as the dwarf Gimli rightly states: “They flee to the mountains when they should stand and fight. Who will defend them if not their king?”

The battle inevitably comes to Helm’s Deep, and the enemy does indeed breach the walls, eventually reaching the entrance to the caves where the women and children are hidden away. And all Theoden can do as the battering ram hits the door is to proclaim that “It is over.” Aragorn is forced to step in and help arrange for the women and children to escape through a passage into the mountains, while the king can only stand and say, to no one in particular:

“So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?”

Aragorn, somehow keeping his composure, tells the king: “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.”

Theoden, still not getting it, replies, “For death and glory?”

“For Rohan,” Aragorn says. “For your people.”

For me, it’s one of the most infuriating scenes of the entire film trilogy. In the darkest of moments, when all appears lost, the leader of his people folds like a cheap lawn chair and doesn’t even understand why he should ride out to face the enemy. He thinks it’s so that history will remember him for one last act of personal valor, going down in a blaze of glory, while the man who isn’t even the king of Rohan has to set him straight.

Aragorn is one of the beloved heroes of the Lord of the Rings saga, and for good reason. We see him undergo a remarkable transformation, from a mysterious ranger who lives in the shadows and resists his claim to the throne of Gondor, into a noble, brave, and selfless warrior and leader of men who fights for the sake of his friends, even if there appears to be no chance of victory.

I like to think of myself as being like Aragorn, fighting tirelessly against the insanity that’s taken over the world — when in reality, I’m not out there engaging in great selfless acts for me or my family. Sure, I often write as an act of protest, but I know I’m probably not doing anything to help. In fact, I usually feel much more like Theoden, wondering how anyone can possibly withstand the constant assault on our liberties and our common sense. It feels like too much to bear most days. I get it. I criticize Theoden for letting his people down, but most of us in real life aren’t much different — myself included.

Another scene that hit me this year was when Frodo and Sam found themselves in the city of Osgiliath, waylaid from their mission. Frodo, feeling exhausted, doubting whether he can complete his task to destroy the ring, asks Sam what it is they’re holding on to when all seems lost. Sam’s answer: “That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it's worth fighting for.”

That exchange isn’t in the books, at least not word for word. But it does touch on one of the things that makes Tolkien’s stories inherently Catholic: the belief that people are basically good. That idea stands in opposition to some of the more fundamentalist strains of Protestantism, which hold that humans are inherently bad.

Both Catholics and Protestants would agree that the fallen nature of mankind leaves them in need of a redeemer, that they can’t fully embrace their goodness on their own. But at least in my experience, Catholics don’t start from quite such a dire place as many Protestants. Consider Martin Luther, who likened God’s saving grace to snow covering a dunghill: You might look nice on the outside, but on the inside you’re still a pile of disgusting filth, through and through. The Calvinist idea of “total depravity” stems from this notion.

Catholic theology, in contrast, sees the process of salvation as one in which we always struggle against the damage caused by Original Sin, yet the struggle is not in vain, as with God’s grace we find the ability to refine and purify ourselves, little by little, over the course of a lifetime. We will stumble along the way, but we always have the chance to get up, dust ourselves off, start again, and do better. The Orthodox arguably take this idea even further, as theosis teaches that through cooperation with God’s will, we are able to purify and mind and body and transform ourselves into a kind of union with God.

I love the inherent optimism of the Catholic and Orthodox views. If we have some good within us, then why would we not fight to cultivate it and share that goodness with our world?

Yet the more I’ve seen of the real world this year, the more I think this view — along with Sam’s hopeful outlook — is nothing more than a happy lie. Is there really anything good worth fighting for? We might fight for the betterment of our immediate friends and family members, but the battles we win will ultimately be fleeting. Even Tolkien understood that evil never rests, and that victory over the darkness is never guaranteed.

In fact, it’s notable that even in Tolkien’s Catholic-informed universe, there is no promised Second Coming that will set things right for all time. Maybe Tolkien was more of a pessimist than we might think at first glance. After all, he left unfinished a dark sequel to Lord of the Rings in which the shadows were beginning to work their way back into Middle-earth.

Perhaps the good professor knew in his heart, then, that all victories for good are ephemeral. Considering he saw the worst of humanity in the trenches of World War I, only to see with the rise of the second war that humanity hadn’t really learned a damned thing, it would be understandable if he ultimately defaulted to pessimism.

With the events of this year, I feel as if I was deluding myself with false ideas of hope for a future that will probably never arrive. For example, my favorite song for many a year has been “The Gates of Delirium” by Yes, as much for its amazing musicianship and the emotional roller coaster it takes the listener on as for its hopeful lyrical message. Based loosely on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the epic track follows a band of fighters setting off to do battle.

At first they speak in noble terms, convincing themselves that they’re fighting for a good and righteous cause. But as the battle nears, the mood darkens as the warriors speak of demons and clashing metal, moans in the air, and a determination to burn the laughter of their enemies’ children all the way to hell. Following a fierce musical depiction of battle, the dust settles, and our narrator sings us a beautiful song of hope for a better future, where the sun will rise again and humans will find better ways to settle their differences.

But like Sam’s speech at Osgiliath, I now find it all to be little more than a hollow, comforting lie. If 2020 has proved anything, it’s that humans seem incapable of improving their lot. We appear to be moving backward, devolving, becoming more violent, more irrational, more fearful, more superstitious. It feels as if the Enlightenment is drawing to a tragic end and the Dark Ages are closing in around us again.

What other conclusion can one draw when violent riots are described by those in power as “peaceful protests,” while armed patriots who defend the peace are depicted as dangerous and violent racists?

Or when social media “fact-checks” you for citing factual data about the virus that goes against their narrative, or for talking about obvious election fraud?

Or when people elevate masks to the level of religious talismans, thinking them some kind of magical protection against a virus, when there’s never been a shred of evidence that they do anything to prevent viral spread?

Or wanting to cancel people who point out that biological sex is real and you can’t just wish yourself to be something you’re not?

Or demonizing independent voices and opinions as “dangerous disinformation” as a pretext for censoring them?

Or when destroying lives and economies is more important than running the risk that people contract a virus with a 99%-plus survival rate?

Or promising eternal tracking of your whereabouts, and demanding proof of vaccination to participate in the economy?

Or deplatforming people for having the wrong views, to the point of denying them access to banking and credit services?

It all feels like the Scouring of the Shire, when the hobbits come back (in the book version) to find their home despoiled and polluted, all joy gone, a shortage of essential goods, and misery all around. Because when you strip the joy out of life, replace it with fear and a litany of arbitrary rules, and forbid anyone from even criticizing it, that’s what you’re left with. It was their world then, and it’s our world in 2020.

One thing Tolkien understood well was the corrupting influence of power. The ring that the dark lord Sauron poured his life force and wrath into, after all, was a Ring of Power. Little wonder, then, that Tolkien had a low opinion of those who would wield power over others:

The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.

Just look around you today for examples: Gretchen Whitmer, instituting lockdown and mandate edicts in defiance of her own state Supreme Court. Gavin Newsom, ordering churches closed and telling people to put up their masks between bites of food. Andrew Cuomo, welding park, playground, and cemetery gates closed. Jay Inslee, doubling down on mandates and lockdowns after the first round didn’t work, in the process turning his state into an open-air prison.

They aren’t protecting you from a virus that will leave most people with mild symptoms. They’re power-tripping on you and justifying it with the media’s constant scaremongering. You’ll die of the plague if you don’t mask up and lock down, and we’ll fine and jail you if you don’t comply. Don’t ask questions. Just do what we say.

This is why we should always be wary of central planners who insist they know what’s best for you. They don’t. You only end up sacrificing control over your own life to those who think you’re too stupid to make your own choices. In the end, you can either have their rules or your freedom, but not both.

Lao-tzu, the legendary founder of Taoism, knew that and made his choice accordingly when he hopped on the back of a water buffalo and went off into the mountains, leaving society behind. So did Henry David Thoreau, who knew that “‘that government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.”

Even Tolkien got it. That much should be obvious through his characterization of the free people of Middle-earth as opposed to the ugliness and darkness that came from the love of power and control. In a letter to his son, he put it this way:

My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs) — or to “unconstitutional” Monarchy.

Most people today think of anarchism as unrestrained terror, like Antifa goons flinging Molotov cocktails in the streets of Portland. But Tolkien’s view of anarchism was basically hobbit society, where people lived simply, in communal harmony with one another, connected to the natural world, freely cooperating with their neighbors, without anyone telling them how to live their lives. The only elected office was a largely ceremonial one — that of a mayor whose most important job was to preside over banquets. In a society where people ruled themselves, no more was needed. That is what anarchism — self-rule — would really look like.

But for such a world to exist, people would have to be willing to take responsibility for their own lives, rather than hand them over to the power-tripping Gretchen Whitmers of the world. Granted, many feel they have no choice but to cede control to these little tyrants, either because of social pressure or their own fears — fear of a virus, fear of punishment, fear of death.

Most of the mindless compliance we see comes from fear, of course, because fear is a powerful motivator. Like Gollum with the One Ring, these are the people who seek security in something outside themselves. The ring, in our world, is the false comfort of bureaucrats and politicians who promise to keep you safe from whatever imaginary hobgoblin (in the words of H.L. Mencken) they’ve cooked up. They’ll even protect you from yourself. The trade-off, of course, is a loss of personal autonomy, as your love of the ring becomes an addiction, a dependence, until you feel you can no longer live without it. Life is too scary to make it on your own, without the ring to protect you.

And because the world is filled with billions of Gollums, we will most likely never be free from the grip of authoritarian do-gooders who always lead us to hell on earth in the name of the common good.

I understand that it’s not easy to stand up and say I will take the ring to Mordor when everyone around you is either telling you it’s a hopeless task or they want the ring for themselves. But it’s those who listen to their own inner voice, rather than to the masses that would have them comply, who change the world… even if only for a little while.

And of course, that’s why we fight — in the naive hope that we can fix the world. It will never be fixed permanently, but maybe we can make it better long enough so that our children might have a chance at a more decent world.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that, but it’s also important to understand that evil will always rise up again. Tolkien was right that evil is never totally vanquished in this world, because the conditions for its rise come together so easily. Maintaining the good is hard work. Slipping into the bad is comparatively simple. All it takes is for ignorance and fear to take hold, and for opportunistic, selfish, power-hungry autocrats to take advantage of the situation.

Lao-tzu probably had the best idea when he decided to turn on, tune in, and drop out. Fed up with society, he simply left it behind. His parting gift was the Tao Te Ching, a guidebook for living a simple, hobbit-like life in harmony with nature.

Notably, his book also described how the best leaders are invisible, like water seeking its lowest point: They do what needs to be done, in service to the people, and no more — and they do in such a way that the people think they’ve done it all on their own. No egomaniacs drawing attention to themselves. No petty tyrants enacting outrageous edicts and demanding you sacrifice your way of life to them. That’s not guiding the people. That’s controlling them. And control almost always leads to ruin, in the same way that trying to tame nature inevitably leads to catastrophe.

Ask Saruman how that worked out, when the Ents arrived and saw that he’d torn down the forest to fuel the fires of his weapon and breeding factories. The great shepherds of the forest broke the dam, released the river, and let nature wash away the filth of Isengard.

We don’t have a magical race of tree-people to fix things for us. In fact, one of the saddest things about the Lord of the Rings trilogy is that the end of the Third Age largely marked the end of magic in the world, as the elves and the great wizard Gandalf sailed off to the Undying Lands, leaving Middle-earth forever. Left behind was the race of Men, with all our hatred, selfishness, insecurity, violence, greed, and small-minded tribalism.

Maybe what we need is a return of some extrahuman magic to fix our world. But since that’s not going to happen, all we can do is try to patch things up the best we can, for as long as we can. As Gandalf said to Frodo when he wished he hadn’t lived to see such dreadful times, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”

We can do something, or we can do nothing. In the end, maybe it doesn’t really matter all that much. And maybe Gandalf knew that, too.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

We Can Be Free, or We Can Be Fearful Control Freaks. But We Can't Be Both.

Employees of Penguin Random House Canada are aghast that the company they work for is going to print a book with opinions in it. Some of them were even crying over it.

I’m not joking. Penguin will release Jordan Peterson’s latest book in March, and the execs had to take time out of their schedules to coddle a few fragile adults who can’t bear the thought that someone else may have an opinion different from their own. Peterson is “is an icon of hate speech and transphobia” and also “an icon of white supremacy,” according to one of the aggrieved.

Do you remember how The Incredibles made the brilliant point that if everyone is special, no one is special? The same thing applies here. When you call everyone you disagree with a racist, a bigot, a “white supremacist,” whatever, you dilute the words to the point that they lose any meaning, and you therefore lose the ability to call out genuine bigots because you’ve spent so much time crying wolf. But you also widen the net of allowable censorship when you throw around the labels so recklessly. Who would want to give a white supremacist a platform, anyway?

Peterson’s new book is called Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. It’s a follow-up to his popular 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. Must be some really provocative rules from this dangerous white supremacist, right? Well, here are the 12 rules from the original book:

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

  2. Treat yourself like you are someone you are responsible for helping.

  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.

  4. Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today.

  5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

  8. Tell the truth — or, at least, don’t lie.

  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

  10. Be precise in your speech.

  11. Do not bother children when they are skate-boarding.

  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

Edgy, huh?

Peterson, a former psychology professor at the University of Toronto, rose to public prominence when he stated his refusal to use preferred pronouns in the classroom. His stance wasn’t rooted in “transphobia” but rather in a refusal to submit to compelled speech. Ever since, Peterson has been the star of the Intellectual Dark Web, a group of thinkers from across the political spectrum who have one thing in common — an embrace of classical Enlightenment values in the face of growing intolerance from the Woke Left.

The Woke won’t let you have your own point of view, and they will do their best to cancel you if you dare oppose them. The meltdown among Penguin’s employees is just the latest example. It’s astounding that someone so opposed to differing points of view would work for a publisher, let alone have the audacity to even suggest Peterson’s book should be pulled. And yet here we are, in a world where grown-ups are so fragile that they weep when confronted with ideas that challenge their own.

I struggle to understand how we’ve created an entire generation of people who need safe spaces and trigger warnings to get through their day. It’s as if their bodies grew up but their brains remained infantilized, unable to cope with the friction of living with people who are ideologically different and demanding to be protected from foreign ideas.

This impulse is indeed not an anomaly. It’s the prevailing view among the media elites, and it’s widespread in academia, the entertainment business, and elsewhere in our culture. Bari Weiss spoke to the situation in her resignation letter to The New York Times. She says she was harassed by co-workers when she dared to take a viewpoint contrary to the prevailing ideology in the newsroom. She offered three rules for anyone wishing to survive in such a hostile climate:

Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.

Pursuit of the truth and thoughtful discussion of the issues are no longer considerations for most journalists, it seems. What matters is promoting an ideology and marginalizing anyone who disagrees with it. For evidence, just consider how the media has reacted to the last two presidential elections.

2016: Russia hacked the election, even though we have no evidence of such a claim.

2020: The election was not at all fraudulent, even though there are mountains of evidence to suggest otherwise. And if you disagree, we’ll “fact-check” you into silence.

It therefore didn’t matter whether The New York Post’s Hunter Biden quid-pro-quo article leading up to the election had any factual merit: Rather than let people read and discuss it, which is what we’d do in a normal society that valued free and open debate, it was almost immediately banned on Twitter, suppressed on Facebook, and dismissed as “Russian propaganda” by the mainstream media.

Forget the facts: We won’t consider a story that makes Joe Biden look bad on the eve of the election. This is what passes for journalism now.

Even worse is the way the media is categorically dismissing any and all claims of election fraud as false. We’ve all seen the headlines like “Trump Repeats False Claims of Fraud in Michigan.” That’s not reporting. That’s editorializing. Because what if it turns out there is incontrovertible evidence of election fraud? Just as with the Biden-Ukraine story, the media are passing judgment without even examining the information and therefore making a claim they can’t hope to support if pressed. They’ve painted themselves into a corner, so now their only choice is to perpetuate the claim they’ve already made or else risk losing even more public credibility than they already have.

This kind of narrative-control propaganda is what led Glenn Greenwald to leave The Intercept, an organization he co-founded, and come to Substack. The editors at The Intercept wouldn’t let him publish an article examining the Biden-Ukraine story and the media’s orchestrated suppression of the article. Greenwald said he was told he would have to first remove all criticism of Biden from the article. Unwilling to do that, he quit.

After all, Greenwald helped create The Intercept as a place where journalists could report without compromise. Now he says the company holds no resemblance to the one it originally was:

The current iteration of The Intercept is completely unrecognizable when compared to that original vision. Rather than offering a venue for airing dissent, marginalized voices and unheard perspectives, it is rapidly becoming just another media outlet with mandated ideological and partisan loyalties, a rigid and narrow range of permitted viewpoints (ranging from establishment liberalism to soft leftism, but always anchored in ultimate support for the Democratic Party), a deep fear of offending hegemonic cultural liberalism and center-left Twitter luminaries, and an overarching need to secure the approval and admiration of the very mainstream media outlets we created The Intercept to oppose, critique and subvert.

Andrew Sullivan, likewise, came to Substack after the editors of New York magazine showed him the door, apparently for not bending the knee to woke groupthink:

They seem to believe, and this is increasingly the orthodoxy in mainstream media, that any writer not actively committed to critical theory in questions of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity is actively, physically harming co-workers merely by existing in the same virtual space. 

Once again you have grown adults feeling “unsafe” in the presence of someone with opposing points of view. And it’s not even as if Sullivan is a conservative. At most, he’s an anti-Trump moderate. Like some of us, he entertains viewpoints from across the political spectrum and doesn’t always fit neatly within ideological lines. As such, he says he misses the more freewheeling days when his audience was a mishmash of left, right, and other — “before all these dreadfully earnest, humor-free puritans took over the press.”

That’s exactly what we face from the Woke: a joyless, rigid puritanical mob that will burn you at the stake unless you recant of your ideological sins. The Woke believe in their cause with as much fanatical religious fervor as the Inquisitors did.

And although conservatives seem to be the primary obsession of the Woke, perhaps spurred on by a bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome, they’re not the only ones being targeted. As Matt Taibbi reports, even those on the left who lack ideological purity are being silenced. Andre Damon, editor of the World Socialist Web Site, found that Google was throttling search results for WSWS, along with other progressive sites, including Democracy Now!, Alternet, and Common Dreams.

If you struggle to understand why, think of how Bernie Sanders was by turns ignored and smeared by establishment Democrats. Like Democracy Now! and the rest, Sanders held to classical liberal ideals like equal protection under the law and defended the economic interests of the working class. Those ideas fly in the face of a woke movement that sees working-class whites as irredeemable racists and wants to tweak the laws to favor certain identity groups over others. (California actually tried to remove the anti-discrimination clause from its state constitution to do just that. Fortunately, voters said no.)

As Damon pointed out, WSWS, by working with a number of historians, debunked the underlying premise of The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which was that the primary goal of the American Revolution was to perpetuate the institution of slavery. Think what you like of socialists, but as Damon explained, “The slogan of Marxists, going back to the Communist Manifesto, is ‘workers of the world, unite!’ not, ‘races of the world, divide.’”

The Woke want to divide us by race and other immutable characteristics. So by debunking the idea that American blacks and whites have always been at odds, WSWS showed that it was possible for working-class people of all colors, sexes, religions, and nationalities to work together in mutual economic self-interest. That flies in the face of the Woke agenda. Therefore, WSWS is just as much an ideological enemy as, say, QAnon or the NRA.

When asked what he thought of the tired refrain that, in regard to censorship, private companies can do whatever they want, Damon hit it out of the park:

Well, legally speaking, private companies do not have the right to do what they want. A restaurant owner can’t throw a patron out of his restaurant because of the color of his skin. UPS can’t say they won’t deliver your packages because they don’t agree with your political views. Technology companies provide a vital social service, just like private municipal waste collection companies and private package handling companies. They do not have the right to discriminate against people based on their political views.

When massive corporations with virtually unlimited power and money function as the modern equivalent of the town square, then those corporations have a public obligation to treat their users fairly and equally. When it becomes obvious that they’re actively policing what people say — by using phony “fact-checks” that are a thinly disguised method of narrative control, by shadow-banning, or by kicking people off their platforms altogether — then it’s either time to break up the monopolies or regulate them like utilities.

Unfortunately, neither is likely to happen anytime soon. As Damon said, left-leaning legislators have repeatedly leaned on social-media executives to ramp up their censorship. Big Tech thereby offers a sort of end-run around the First Amendment, doing what leftist legislators are constitutionally unable to do. Meanwhile, right-leaning legislators complain about online censorship but never do anything constructive about it.

What is it that drives the Left’s desire to control what people can say in a public setting? I think it’s the same thing that drives so many leftist governors and mayors to micromanage people’s movements and choices in the face of COVID-19. They feel the need to control us because they don’t think we’re smart enough to assess the facts and make our own choices. In short, they fear their own people.

Or consider this. Jonathan Haidt, another member of the Intellectual Dark Web and a professor of social psychology, posits that humans work from six basic moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression. Where conservatives tend to treat each foundation more or less equally, liberals are off the chart on care and fairness. Thus, “care” becomes the driving factor for people like Andrew Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer, even if it means subverting civil liberties, constitutional rights, and economic well-being.

These are the quintessential people who would destroy the village in order to save it, and they’re also the ones ordering you not to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas, telling you to wear a mask even though there’s no evidence masks work, and demanding you shut down your small business and deprive you of the ability to feed your own family. They’re also the Karens who treat masks like a religious object and will scold you personally or snitch you out if you aren’t complying with your local muzzle edict.

They may be driven by care, or they may just be insufferable busybodies or power-tripping petty tyrants. Either way, a free society can’t tolerate them and their insane edicts and expect to remain free. Life involves risk and must go on. In the midst of a virus with well over a 99% survival rate for the vast majority of the general population, that’s not an unreasonable ask.

Fortunately, we’re seeing small pockets of resistance. Weld County, Colorado, refuses to enforce lockdowns on its citizens. And in my neck of the woods, where four unelected bureaucrats recently issued a mask mandate on the 250,000 residents of five counties, one county sheriff has already come out and proclaimed that he won’t enforce the edict. These are the everyday heroes who will give us a chance to hang on to our hard-won liberties if this hysterical madness ever ends.

Live your life. Speak your mind. Our freedom of speech, thought, and movement is going to depend on it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Fighting "The Man," 21st-Century Style

I’m not good at doing what I’m told.

It’s always been that way for me, for as long as I can remember. When you cut your teeth on anti-authoritarian works like Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and find-your-own-path books like Hesse’s Siddhartha and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, and then you continue into adulthood embracing solitary rebels like Edward Abbey and societal drop-outs like Lao-tzu, perhaps that’s to be expected. Walt Whitman’s call to “resist much, obey little” is just about the best piece of life advice I’ve ever come across.

Yet I was never an outwardly rebellious kid. Instead, I learned how to be invisible — no easy feat growing up in a small town — while marching to the beat of my own drum. And for better or worse, I think I’ve carried that ability into adulthood. Put me in a big liberal city, and I can blend in enough to keep people off my back, whether by saying or doing something or not saying or doing something. Same deal if you put me in rural conservative America.

I tend to identify more with the rural conservative folks, even if I can relate to some of the idealistic goals of the lefty city-dwellers. One group wants a better world, while the other wants to preserve the world as it is, or perhaps restore a world that’s slipping away or long gone. I can appreciate the goals that drive both points of view.

What I don’t appreciate is the emotionally driven propaganda that whips people up into a fact-free frenzy and demands that I follow suit. Doesn’t matter if it’s demonizing some foreign leader to manufacture consent for war, or infringing on personal liberty in the name of fighting the latest terrorist bogeyman, or ordering me to wear an ineffective medical device to protect me from a virus with a nearly 99.9% survival rate, or insisting that I accept the results of an obviously rigged election.

The mass media is good at creating narratives and getting most of the population to buy in. Me, I’m suspicious of every “official” narrative almost by default, because I realize there’s always something in it for those promoting the narrative. In the case of the mass media, the goal is obviously to protect the interests of the ruling elites.

That’s why the media has been in meltdown panic mode for the past four years: Donald Trump was a political outsider who didn’t give a damn about the entrenched interests behind the scenes. That meant the ruling class wasn’t in complete control anymore. He threatened their hegemony, and he used a populist appeal to the long-ignored rural poor and working class to build a movement in opposition to the elites who have lurched the country leftward and given rise to a nation that, to Trump’s so-called Deplorables, doesn’t look much like America anymore.

As much as I don’t like Trump personally, I’m happy that he gave voice to a forgotten people. The rural working poor, Woody Guthrie’s people in a time long past, were once the backbone of the Democratic Party. But the Democrats, starting in earnest with the Clinton administration, threw them under the bus when it became more politically and financially advantageous to help corporations move manual-labor jobs overseas, killing off the small towns in Middle America where families may have worked at the same mill or factory for generations. Once that was done, the Democrats had no choice but to abandon class-based advocacy, thereby giving rise to the woke identity politics we face today.

I’m also pleased that Trump drew attention to how the Woke Left has taken over every major American institution, from science and medicine to academia, from the entertainment industry to the news media, from the corporate boardroom to practically every level of government. When one ideology has that much control over the culture, it’s due for some checks and balances. Woody’s son, Arlo Guthrie of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame, understood that back when he told The New York Times that he’d become a Republican because “we needed a loyal opposition.”

Hippies like Arlo challenged “The Man,” the staid conservative culture that held sway in their time. Today, “The Man” is the Woke Left.

The Man is every HR drone or corporate middleman who ordered you to an “antiracist” training session, and every self-styled intellectual who wanted you to self-flagellate for the pigmentation you were born with.

The Man is every media talking head telling you that a violent riot is a mostly peaceful protest and that a corrupt election is totally legitimate.

The Man is social media silencing you when you present data challenging the COVID narrative, which social media then conveniently labels as “disinformation.”

The Man is Andrew Cuomo welding shut the gates to a public park, Gretchen Whitmer shutting down your small business, and Gavin Newsom ordering you not to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The Man is the rage mob that gets you fired for saying men can’t be women, and the politicians and pundits who want you jailed or killed for supporting the wrong candidate.

The Man is the credit card company, payment processor, or fundraising organization that denies you service for holding the wrong opinion or supporting the wrong cause.

The Man is every petty tyrant forcing a mask on your face.

So the question is, are you going to fight The Man or not?

Trump has never been up to the challenge of taking on woke culture — it takes more than self-aggrandizing and angry tweets, after all — but Paul Joseph Watson was spot-on when he said that conservatives are the new counterculture. He made heads spin when he made that statement, but purely by definition, he was right. Conservatives lost the culture wars. Therefore, they no longer control the culture. Therefore, they are literally the counterculture.

But you don’t have to be a conservative to fight the intolerant neo-Bolshevism of the Woke. You just have to be willing to resist, to stand up and say no. Conservatives can do that, but so can libertarians, populists, old-school pro-Enlightenment liberals, pro-working-class old-school Democrats like Bernie Sanders, you name it. That’s a motley assortment of people, but it may just turn out that wokeness becomes the new dividing line in contemporary politics.

As things stand, woke culture lacks a significant check on its power. That’s a problem, because the Woke Left needs to be called out, both for the witch-hunting intolerance of cancel culture that’s risen out of its insistence on safe spaces and trigger warnings, and the authoritarian impulses that have led to destructive lockdowns and useless health mandates that pose a serious threat — far more serious than any virus ever could — to individual liberty, mental and physical health, and economic well-being.

And that’s not to mention the institutional censorship that grows worse by the day on social media.

It’s the censorship, more than anything else, that recently led me to Substack. As I've mentioned, I started kicking the tires at quite a few alternative media sites ever since it became obvious that the Silicon Valley social-media monopolies were going to use ever flimsier excuses to continue ramping up their censorship of opinions they dislike. While my blog is still stuck here at Google's Blogger for now, for social-media engagement I ended up taking a shine to both VK and Minds. I was less impressed with MeWe and Parler, which are the proclaimed destinations of a lot of people in my Facebook universe. Gab isn’t as bad as the pearl-clutching legacy media would have you believe, but I also don’t think CEO Andrew Torba does himself any favors by being so combative toward his opponents.

There are loads of other social-media alternatives out there besides those I’ve mentioned here, but for various reasons, I don’t think any other current challengers have a long-term chance of success.

I’ve been blogging at VK and Minds, but their audiences are limited. People are squeamish about going to VK, I guess because anti-Russia propaganda is fairly successful in the West. And Minds just can’t seem to gain any, well, mind share, even now that people are leaving Facebook and Twitter in greater numbers over the endless “fact-checks” and bans. Not that I expect any kind of mass following at Substack or elsewhere — it hasn’t happened in eight years of blogging — but I guess I’d rather not be writing at a site that readers don’t want to visit in the first place.

Substack may not survive in the long term, either, but at least for now, it’s where the cool kids are going — the cool kids being those who’ve sacrificed their high-level media gigs when the Woke Police tried to stifle them. Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan, I’m looking at you (and follow you both). Matt Taibbi, the only Rolling Stone writer worth a damn, is there too. So is Rod Dreher from The American Conservative. That’s four writers I’ve long admired — Dreher ever since he released Crunchy Cons way back in 2006, and Greenwald ever since he helped transform Edward Snowden into a hero. So it seems like a no-brainer place to be for now.

And naturally, since Substack is gaining traction, the legacy media is accelerating its smear campaign, claiming that Substack is becoming some kind of unseemly hive of conspiracy theorists, racists, right-wingers, and privileged white men — the same way they constantly characterize the likes of Gab. But the all-too-predictable smears only point to the reason places like Substack need to exist in the first place. Someone needs to challenge the establishment narratives, and those who do it need a platform. Not that that’s Substack’s mission. Substack just happens to be one of the most prominent places where alternative viewpoints have a home online.

For someone like me who lacks the time, expertise, and disposable income to create and host his own corner of the internet just to shoot the breeze, a place like Substack is about as good as it’s going to get. Maybe I’ll eventually monetize it, but that would necessitate an investment of time that I don’t currently have. Full-time work, a kid, home repairs, and crappy health put pressures on me that would make it a challenge to write quality high-level stuff on a regular basis to fulfill the expectations of paying subscribers. Having cut my teeth in journalism, I know the kind of commitment necessary for pulling something like that off. But my journalism days are long behind me. Nowadays, I’d rather write for personal enjoyment and share it with the few who care to read it. I’m under no illusions that I’m gonna change the world anyway.

Quite the contrary: The world is on an express train to hell, and there’s not much I can do about it, except maybe to leave behind a written record showing that I had no part in it. Actually, it depresses me to think of how much things have changed for the worse in my lifetime. For instance, I was a fairly early adopter of the internet. I got online around 1995, and I remember thinking what tremendous promise the internet held for the future of free speech and the widespread dissemination of ideas. Then the big corporations moved in, as they always do. And now we have a tiny handful of massive monopolies, with virtually unlimited power and money, acting as gatekeepers, controlling what services people can use and what can be said on them.

Even worse, we have one political party that decries the censorship but won’t do anything about it, and another political party that thinks social media should engage in even more censorship than it already does. With hosts and domain registrars increasingly deplatforming websites for the crime of sharing wrongthink, things are only going to get worse.

That’s why I hope sites like Substack survive and don’t cave in to the woke scolds. Free speech, after all, isn’t a frivolous luxury. It’s a necessity for the continued survival of a free and open society.

Fight woke censorship. Fight The Man.