Friday, 09 June 2023 10:23

In a Marketplace of Ideas, Censorship is Always Bad Even if Done for the Right Reasons.

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One thing that has always bothered me is the concept that censoring or hiding certain types of speech, thought, information etc., is somehow going to change minds and make society better. Simply put, this approach is myopic and bankrupt in such a fundamental way it is staggering how many highly educated people fully believe in it. The concept that you can hide the truth, or shape reality by editing out things you do not like does not exist. The Turth (yes with a capital T) is immutable. It exists outside of any desire to hide or change it regardless of any political affiliation or thought.

However, this is what we see being pushed by large organizations, tech companies, universities, and of course governments. All these agencies push the remove of “bad thought” under the guise of Democracy. What is odd about that is that Democracy does not exist in any form where speech and ideas a regulated. It is a logical fallacy to think you can somehow protect Democracy by controlling what people do (that is an Authoritarian government by the way).

Still, we see academics and Universities pushing for more and more control to ensure “the potential to create stronger, more enduring democracies worldwide.” This latter quote is from Sanford University who is partnering up with the oddly named Liberty Project to build “a network of collaborators focused on technology, governance, and social good”.

Project Liberty has been identified by some as a pivotal playing in the Censorship Industrial Complex. They are a think tank that is pushing for more control over what can and cannot be published on the internet based on their concept of equity and inclusion. Project Liberty uses the term “For the Common Good” a lot in their marketing material. When I hear that I cannot help but think of books and movies where a villain justified their goals, but claiming it was for the greater good, or in the interest of peace. (Grindelwald from Harry Potter and the Emperor from Star Wars leaps to mind). All manner of sins have been hidden behind someone’s idea of the common or greater good.

To accomplish this, they are plainly stating that they want to inject their ideas into the training and teaching of the next generation of technical minds to create a “culture shift on campus”. They are very focused on getting their message across in universities for this which is of some concern as it is promoting a myopic and potentially narcissistic way of thinking. To explain a little deeper; if you are teaching a single-minded philosophy, you create a closed loop system. It is one that is not open to outside ideas and may become hostile to any that show up. If, instead, you teach people to view things with an open mind and debate new concepts instead of just rejecting them you build a more open and accepting society. Everyone gets a seat at the table by default, and no one is left out because all ideas are important. Through civilized debate and conversation truly harmful ideas tend to fall by the wayside as they are logically dismissed.

Instead, what groups like the Liberty Project and their academic cohorts are doing is creating more division, less inclusion (because wrong think is discouraged and censored). This will not eliminate those ideas or truly subversive ways of thinking; it drives them underground where they fester and become even more malignant. This even happens to ideas that have no malicious intent just because they are in opposition to what someone else has decided is “right”. It takes entire groups of people and ostracizes them based on superficial characteristics. It creates the exact thing it claims to want to avoid.

To quote Erik Brynjolfsson (one of the Project Liberty participants “Our focus must be on designing and implementing social and technical systems that promote truth, insight, and cooperation while mitigating those that amplify misinformation, confusion, and polarization. We want to engage a broad collective of stakeholders in this work, generating the insights, ideas, and information necessary to address these challenges and shape a new digital society for the world.”

I hate to tell Erik this, but there is no way to do that without censorship of ideas and speech. There is nothing to address who gets to decide what misinformation of than “a broad collective of stakeholders”. That means that someone’s bias and political ideas on what is an is not misinformation is going to shape what is and is not allowed on the internet. THAT is not how you create an equitable and inclusive digital space. It is, on the other hand, exactly how you create a controlled and authoritarian space and one that not only allows censorship of ideas that a small group disagrees with, but also one that MUST have methods of monitoring what you say and do on any digital service. In the name of Democracy, the badly named Liberty Project is looking to create a fully monitored and controlled space out of the internet. This idea must be opposed by anyone that wants a seat at a free and open table where everyone has not a right to be there and can openly share ideas and thoughts without fear of being persecuted for “wrong think. After all, you do not have a right to control or prevent ideas you do not agree with just as no one has a right to control yours.

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