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.

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