The Age of Stupidity (2)
Before deciding on creation, God was really worried with the consequences of pornography. So, prior to creating Adam and Eve, He manufactured a complete wardrobe for them.
P.S. – It’s not just Critical Theory that’s destroying democracy in America.
Not another Chamberlain moment
Jens Stoltenberg recently said that Russia made a strategic mistake by underestimating the strength, will and ability of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian armed forces, to defend themselves and that it also neglected the determination of NATO and its allies and partners to support Ukraine. And about the support that is being given to Ukraine, it is impossible not to mention the European Union (EU), particularly symbolized in the firm conduct of the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, and of the High Representative/Vice-president Josep Borrell Fontelles.
Nonetheless, we should reflect on the reasons for Vladimir Putin’s underestimation of the NATO and EU resolution on supporting Ukraine. Is there any reason why such a miscalculation has happened? To answer this, it is necessary to review what happened in the last 15 years. How can we classify the Western response to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War? A quick and affirmative reaction is not an adequate description at all. The same can be said about Russia’s annexation of Crimea. So, prior to Russia’s Ukraine invasion the Kremlin evaluated us in Georgia and Crimea, and it is highly likely that Putin’s assessment of the West’s stance on what Russia was doing in its so-called Near Abroad was one of indifference or little concern. Since Russia has not been the object of firm international censure for its military actions in Georgia and Crimea, it is understandable that the Russian authorities have interpreted such position as the prevailing one in future acts of aggression within their area of influence. As such, to a point it is plausible that the Kremlin expected little reaction from NATO and EU with its Ukraine invasion.
History is our greatest teacher. We must learn their lessons and avoid repeating past mistakes. For that purpose, it is necessary to remember what happened. From a historical perspective, is it possible to draw comparisons between Hitler’s and Putin’s expansion policies?
We know what Hitler’s tactics were. The pressures and intimidations on the Austrian Government are well known. And it should be remembered that in the case of the Sudetenland, through local supporters (led by Hitler’s trusted man, Konrad Henlein) acts of subversion were carried out with the aim of provoking justification for a German military intervention. Was not the same methodology observable in Georgia and Crimea? Who were the Kremlin’s friends in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoyty. And in Crimea? Sergey Aksyonov. And are there similarities between the arguments presented for the interventions on foreign soil? Without a trace of doubt. In both cases, peace operations, minorities protection, ethnic non-discrimination and genocide prevention were reasons invoked (now the Kremlin added denazification).
In a way, we should acknowledge that the atrocities committed by the Third Reich happened with the acquiescence of the western powers. The concessions made to Hitler had the effect of boosting the creation of the Greater Germanic Reich. And Neville Chamberlain unwillingness to let go his appeasement policy played a role in that outcome.
History may not be on the move again, as Arnold Toynbee would say, but there is no doubt that it has a tendency towards repetition. Once again, we are faced with a simple choice: defend or compromise our values and principles. We have ignored the warnings for too long. All those, including Henry Kissinger, who say that we must find a way to save Putin’s face are wrong. Any concessions given to Putin will only motivate him to go further down the path of absolute disrespect for the international order.
Now that we are finally reacting – both the firmness as the intensity and scope of the sanctions being imposed on Russia are unparalleled to what happened in 2008 and 2014 – the last thing we need is another Chamberlain moment. If our position weakens, Putin will do whatever and wherever he likes. Concerning Europe, this is what the Kremlin desires: Russians want to be in, throw the Americans out and keep the Germans down.
In times of uncertainty, there can be no doubt about the measure of our resolve. There is only one answer against those who uphold totalitarian ideas: an unequivocally reaffirmation of the democratic principles. We must demonstrate our awareness of democracy and freedom costs and our willingness to defend them.
It may take time and it will not be easy. It will require sacrifices. But the price will be much higher if Ukraine falls. There is a difference of substance between knowing the price and the value of anything. Both democracy and freedom are priceless.
If Ukraine falls, we are next.
O Futuro é liberal.
Já o disse anteriormente. Reafirmo-o aqui. Se duvidas existiam, foram completamente dissipadas.
A Iniciativa Liberal, assim como os princípios e ideias por ela representada, não é um projecto político sem substância ou solidez. Também não é uma quimera irrealizável. Antes pelo contrário. Um país mais rico, através do liberalismo, é um horizonte perfeitamente alcançável.
Há uma diferença entre um sonho e uma ilusão.
A prosperidade partilhada sem crescimento económico não é apenas utópica. Também é demagógica.
E Portugal não precisa de mais ilusões.
As quotas fazem tudo menos garantir equidade. Igualdade é o seu objectivo e a igualdade não garante qualidade, nem mérito.
Defender quotas é defender discriminação.
We Shall Never Surrender
Putin evaluated us in Georgia, annexed Crimea, and invaded Ukraine. We are finally reacting. But if our position weakens, Putin will do whatever and wherever he wants.
To describe both Europe’s current circumstances and the measure of our resolve, Churchill’s sentence is the most fitting. Against those who uphold totalitarian ideas there is only one position: an unequivocally reaffirmation of democratic principles! One cannot just say. One must also act accordingly. And yes. Democracy and Freedom have costs!
Furthermore, by evoking Churchill and the context in which such words where expressed, we are remembered to what today is at stake. At the time, the choice was between defend or compromise our values and principles. At the time, despite all the warnings, Nazi threats were ignored.
Chamberlain was not willing to let go his appeasement policy. He was so keen to the idea that even after the Anschluss, Chamberlain went to the point of sanction Hitler’s desire on the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia (1938). Only after intense diplomatic pressure of the British (and the French) Government, did the Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš agreed with the demands for Sudeten autonomy. Later that year, the Munich Conference, classified by Chamberlain as the moment of “peace for our time”, handed over the Sudetenland districts to Germany. This signified the first sign of real concession, and we already know what happened next.
Hitler tactics were simple. Through local supporters, preferably with ethnic ties and endowed with political organization, subversive acts would be carried out to provide a pretext for German military action. Who was Hitler’s trusted man in the Sudetenland region? Konrad Henlein.
History is our greatest Teacher. We must learn its lessons. As such, it is primordial to bear in mind that even after all these events, among the British corridors of power there were those who argued for a peace treaty with Hitler. Imagine how history would have been if such moment had happened?
To have a better understanding of the subject under consideration, we also cannot disregard the consequences of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its Secret Protocol, which defined the borders of Soviet and German spheres of influence across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland.
Neither Stalin nor the Bolsheviks ever got over the territory loss caused by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). The signing of the Treaty was all but peaceful. During the discussion within the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, when Lenin told the delegates that saving the world revolution required validate such shameful peace and if they did not sign, he would resign, he was called a traitor. So, Stalin saw in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact the opportunity to recover Lenin’s lost empire. As we know, in Yalta he went further, and soviet influence reached another level.
The aftermath of the Second World War represented the beginning of a new international framework. Faced with the failure of the League of Nations, the leaders of the Allied countries began a new process of international negotiation that culminated in the creation of a new intergovernmental organization, the United Nations (UN) and with it a new regulation for international law. Key examples are the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The UN Charter codifies the major principles of international relations, varying from sovereign equality of States to the prohibition of the use of force in international relations. One of the objectives expressed in its preamble is “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained” and all UN members are bond to it. Putin’s Russia is no exception.
Danielle Young says that “since its inception, whatever post-war international order that exists has been under siege.” Yes, as we live in a world of nations, we can accept that view. Within the realm of international relations, realism and the importance of power and the balance of power as guarantees of security reigns supreme. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the current international environment is different from the one that prevailed before the Second World War.
Hans Morgenthau in its 1948 book – Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace – enumerated the six principles of realism. Although he had stressed the significance of foreign policy ethic dimension, policy makers paid little attention to it. Today, unfortunately, two of Morgenthau’s tenets – that realism is a perspective aware of the moral significance of political action; and the moral aspirations of a single community or a state may not be universally valid or shared – are almost forgotten.
Throughout history how many times was language, and ethnic population, and “protection” evoked as an argument to disrespect international law? Putin and his supporters have been mimicking Hitler’s tactics.
Relations between Russia and Georgia began to worsen after the 2003 Georgian Rose Revolution, which caused the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze and signal a pro-Western foreign policy aiming a European and Euro-Atlantic integration. By April 2008, relations between both countries reached a full diplomatic crisis, and in August Russia invaded Georgia. How did Medvedev justify this decision? Russia wanted to shield and help the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Concerning the latter Putin also argued that the military intervention was to protect Osseitians from Georgian “genocide.” Who were the Kremlin friends in Abkhazia and South Ossetia? Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoyty.
In 2014, after the Kremlin loss of political influence due to Maidan Revolution and the consequent ousting of Viktor Yanukovych and his government, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Once again, Putin employed Nazi tactics. Pro-Russian demonstrations were held in Sevastopol, masked Russian troops without insignia took over the Supreme Council of Crimea and Sergey Aksyonov, a declared Kremlin supporter, with the presence of the gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket launchers, was “elected” Prime Minister of Crimea.
What triggered Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea? His concerns about the people of Crimea ability to freely express their will. That is why Russian troops occupied Crimea. To ensure freedom of speech and of choice. Curiously, while Yanukovych was in power and Russia maintained influence over the political decisions made in Kyiv, Putin saw no problem with the Crimeans freedom of expression.
Finally, what was the reason given by Putin to justify the invasion of Ukraine? “Denazification.” Intriguingly, the Kremlin gave no justification about the war crimes committed by the Russian troops, the attacks to civilians, and, among other things, the looting and theft of Ukrainian cereals.
Once again, the choice is between defend or compromise our values and principles. Once again, all warnings were ignored. All those, including Henry Kissinger, who say that we must find a way to save Putin’s face are wrong.
We keep neglecting Karaganov’s Doctrine. We keep disregarding Dugin’s concepts. We keep forgetting that Empire is the most enduring idea within all Russians elites, regardless of the epoch. We keep ignoring that Putin’s regime is nothing but a corporativist system. Let me ask you this. Concerning Crimea’s annexation what is more plausible? An act of Russian nationalism or an act of Russian imperialism?
Putin evaluated us in Georgia. Almost nothing was done. Putin annexed Crimea. Again, almost nothing was done. Putin invaded Ukraine. Finally, we are really reacting. But if our position weakens, Putin will do whatever and wherever he wants. Concerning Europe, this is what Putin and his staff desire: Russians want to be in, throw the Americans out and keep the Germans down. Which they will only accomplish with NATO disbanding.
The last thing we should do is save Putin’s face. Neither Putin nor his entourage can be trusted. Obviously, I am not advocating an invasion of Russia to overthrow Putin. That task falls entirely to the Russian people. What is essential to do is to unmask Putin’s lies, to show that he is an autocratic despot and to encourage those who have the courage to stand up to him through democratic procedures.
The latest form of Russian blackmail is the threat of nuclear war. Either they give me what I want, or else. We simply cannot give in. Nothing guarantees us that Putin will stop. In fact, his behavior indicates that what will surely happen are more abuses and demands. If Putin starts a nuclear war, it will not just be our children who will die. Losses will be global.
Circumstances may reveal people’s abilities, but it is choices that bring out character. Both Putin and Zelensky are revealing who they are. So must we. As such, we must be worthy of those who gave their last measure of devotion for us. We must show the same unwavering resolution and do what is right.
That is the only way we will properly honor those who allowed us to be what we are – Churchill, de Gaulle, Roosevelt, Pierlot, Dupong, Adenauer, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, among many others.
Brevemente, num Observador perto de si!
Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid – By Jonathan Haidt (The Atlantic)
What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower “with its top in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:
Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.
The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension.
The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.
Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?
The Rise of the Modern Tower
There is a direction to history and it is toward cooperation at larger scales. We see this trend in biological evolution, in the series of “major transitions” through which multicellular organisms first appeared and then developed new symbiotic relationships. We see it in cultural evolution too, as Robert Wright explained in his 1999 book, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Wright showed that history involves a series of transitions, driven by rising population density plus new technologies (writing, roads, the printing press) that created new possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and learning. Zero-sum conflicts—such as the wars of religion that arose as the printing press spread heretical ideas across Europe—were better thought of as temporary setbacks, and sometimes even integral to progress. (Those wars of religion, he argued, made possible the transition to modern nation-states with better-informed citizens.) President Bill Clinton praised Nonzero’s optimistic portrayal of a more cooperative future thanks to continued technological advance.
The early internet of the 1990s, with its chat rooms, message boards, and email, exemplified the Nonzero thesis, as did the first wave of social-media platforms, which launched around 2003. Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook made it easy to connect with friends and strangers to talk about common interests, for free, and at a scale never before imaginable. By 2008, Facebook had emerged as the dominant platform, with more than 100 million monthly users, on its way to roughly 3 billion today. In the first decade of the new century, social media was widely believed to be a boon to democracy. What dictator could impose his will on an interconnected citizenry? What regime could build a wall to keep out the internet?
The high point of techno-democratic optimism was arguably 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with the global Occupy movement. That is also when Google Translate became available on virtually all smartphones, so you could say that 2011 was the year that humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel. We were closer than we had ever been to being “one people,” and we had effectively overcome the curse of division by language. For techno-democratic optimists, it seemed to be only the beginning of what humanity could do.
In February 2012, as he prepared to take Facebook public, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on those extraordinary times and set forth his plans. “Today, our society has reached another tipping point,” he wrote in a letter to investors. Facebook hoped “to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” By giving them “the power to share,” it would help them to “once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”
In the 10 years since then, Zuckerberg did exactly what he said he would do. He did rewire the way we spread and consume information; he did transform our institutions, and he pushed us past the tipping point. It has not worked out as he expected.
Things Fall Apart
Historically, civilizations have relied on shared blood, gods, and enemies to counteract the tendency to split apart as they grow. But what is it that holds together large and diverse secular democracies such as the United States and India, or, for that matter, modern Britain and France?
Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.
In their early incarnations, platforms such as Myspace and Facebook were relatively harmless. They allowed users to create pages on which to post photos, family updates, and links to the mostly static pages of their friends and favorite bands. In this way, early social media can be seen as just another step in the long progression of technological improvements—from the Postal Service through the telephone to email and texting—that helped people achieve the eternal goal of maintaining their social ties.
But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.
Once social-media platforms had trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting, the stage was set for the major transformation, which began in 2009: the intensification of viral dynamics.
Babel is not a story about tribalism. It’s a story about the fragmentation of everything.
Before 2009, Facebook had given users a simple timeline––a never-ending stream of content generated by their friends and connections, with the newest posts at the top and the oldest ones at the bottom. This was often overwhelming in its volume, but it was an accurate reflection of what others were posting. That began to change in 2009, when Facebook offered users a way to publicly “like” posts with the click of a button. That same year, Twitter introduced something even more powerful: the “Retweet” button, which allowed users to publicly endorse a post while also sharing it with all of their followers. Facebook soon copied that innovation with its own “Share” button, which became available to smartphone users in 2012. “Like” and “Share” buttons quickly became standard features of most other platforms.
Shortly after its “Like” button began to produce data about what best “engaged” its users, Facebook developed algorithms to bring each user the content most likely to generate a “like” or some other interaction, eventually including the “share” as well. Later research showed that posts that trigger emotions––especially anger at out-groups––are the most likely to be shared.
By 2013, social media had become a new game, with dynamics unlike those in 2008. If you were skillful or lucky, you might create a post that would “go viral” and make you “internet famous” for a few days. If you blundered, you could find yourself buried in hateful comments. Your posts rode to fame or ignominy based on the clicks of thousands of strangers, and you in turn contributed thousands of clicks to the game.
This new game encouraged dishonesty and mob dynamics: Users were guided not just by their true preferences but by their past experiences of reward and punishment, and their prediction of how others would react to each new action. One of the engineers at Twitter who had worked on the “Retweet” button later revealed that he regretted his contribution because it had made Twitter a nastier place. As he watched Twitter mobs forming through the use of the new tool, he thought to himself, “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”
As a social psychologist who studies emotion, morality, and politics, I saw this happening too. The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves. The volume of outrage was shocking.
It was just this kind of twitchy and explosive spread of anger that James Madison had tried to protect us from as he was drafting the U.S. Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.” The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.
The tech companies that enhanced virality from 2009 to 2012 brought us deep into Madison’s nightmare. Many authors quote his comments in “Federalist No. 10” on the innate human proclivity toward “faction,” by which he meant our tendency to divide ourselves into teams or parties that are so inflamed with “mutual animosity” that they are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
But that essay continues on to a less quoted yet equally important insight, about democracy’s vulnerability to triviality. Madison notes that people are so prone to factionalism that “where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous. Is our democracy any healthier now that we’ve had Twitter brawls over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax the rich dress at the annual Met Gala, and Melania Trump’s dress at a 9/11 memorial event, which had stitching that kind of looked like a skyscraper? How about Senator Ted Cruz’s tweet criticizing Big Bird for tweeting about getting his COVID vaccine?
It’s not just the waste of time and scarce attention that matters; it’s the continual chipping-away of trust. An autocracy can deploy propaganda or use fear to motivate the behaviors it desires, but a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions. Blind and irrevocable trust in any particular individual or organization is never warranted. But when citizens lose trust in elected leaders, health authorities, the courts, the police, universities, and the integrity of elections, then every decision becomes contested; every election becomes a life-and-death struggle to save the country from the other side. The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer (an international measure of citizens’ trust in government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations) showed stable and competent autocracies (China and the United Arab Emirates) at the top of the list, while contentious democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Korea scored near the bottom (albeit above Russia).
Recent academic studies suggest that social media is indeed corrosive to trust in governments, news media, and people and institutions in general. A working paper that offers the most comprehensive review of the research, led by the social scientists Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, concludes that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.
When people lose trust in institutions, they lose trust in the stories told by those institutions. That’s particularly true of the institutions entrusted with the education of children. History curricula have often caused political controversy, but Facebook and Twitter make it possible for parents to become outraged every day over a new snippet from their children’s history lessons––and math lessons and literature selections, and any new pedagogical shifts anywhere in the country. The motives of teachers and administrators come into question, and overreaching laws or curricular reforms sometimes follow, dumbing down education and reducing trust in it further. One result is that young people educated in the post-Babel era are less likely to arrive at a coherent story of who we are as a people, and less likely to share any such story with those who attended different schools or who were educated in a different decade.
The former CIA analyst Martin Gurri predicted these fracturing effects in his 2014 book, The Revolt of the Public. Gurri’s analysis focused on the authority-subverting effects of information’s exponential growth, beginning with the internet in the 1990s. Writing nearly a decade ago, Gurri could already see the power of social media as a universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere it reached. He noted that distributed networks “can protest and overthrow, but never govern.” He described the nihilism of the many protest movements of 2011 that organized mostly online and that, like Occupy Wall Street, demanded the destruction of existing institutions without offering an alternative vision of the future or an organization that could bring it about.
Gurri is no fan of elites or of centralized authority, but he notes a constructive feature of the pre-digital era: a single “mass audience,” all consuming the same content, as if they were all looking into the same gigantic mirror at the reflection of their own society. In a comment to Vox that recalls the first post-Babel diaspora, he said:
The digital revolution has shattered that mirror, and now the public inhabits those broken pieces of glass. So the public isn’t one thing; it’s highly fragmented, and it’s basically mutually hostile. It’s mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.
Mark Zuckerberg may not have wished for any of that. But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth—with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.
I think we can date the fall of the tower to the years between 2011 (Gurri’s focal year of “nihilistic” protests) and 2015, a year marked by the “great awokening” on the left and the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the right. Trump did not destroy the tower; he merely exploited its fall. He was the first politician to master the new dynamics of the post-Babel era, in which outrage is the key to virality, stage performance crushes competence, Twitter can overpower all the newspapers in the country, and stories cannot be shared (or at least trusted) across more than a few adjacent fragments—so truth cannot achieve widespread adherence.
The many analysts, including me, who had argued that Trump could not win the general election were relying on pre-Babel intuitions, which said that scandals such as the Access Hollywood tape (in which Trump boasted about committing sexual assault) are fatal to a presidential campaign. But after Babel, nothing really means anything anymore––at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.
Politics After Babel
“Politics is the art of the possible,” the German statesman Otto von Bismarck said in 1867. In a post-Babel democracy, not much may be possible.
Of course, the American culture war and the decline of cross-party cooperation predates social media’s arrival. The mid-20th century was a time of unusually low polarization in Congress, which began reverting back to historical levels in the 1970s and ’80s. The ideological distance between the two parties began increasing faster in the 1990s. Fox News and the 1994 “Republican Revolution” converted the GOP into a more combative party. For example, House Speaker Newt Gingrich discouraged new Republican members of Congress from moving their families to Washington, D.C., where they were likely to form social ties with Democrats and their families.
So cross-party relationships were already strained before 2009. But the enhanced virality of social media thereafter made it more hazardous to be seen fraternizing with the enemy or even failing to attack the enemy with sufficient vigor. On the right, the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) was superseded in 2015 by the more contemptuous term cuckservative, popularized on Twitter by Trump supporters. On the left, social media launched callout culture in the years after 2012, with transformative effects on university life and later on politics and culture throughout the English-speaking world.
What changed in the 2010s? Let’s revisit that Twitter engineer’s metaphor of handing a loaded gun to a 4-year-old. A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone; it is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly 1 billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since.
Social media has given voice to some people who had little previously, and it has made it easier to hold powerful people accountable for their misdeeds, not just in politics but in business, the arts, academia, and elsewhere. Sexual harassers could have been called out in anonymous blog posts before Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine that the #MeToo movement would have been nearly so successful without the viral enhancement that the major platforms offered. However, the warped “accountability” of social media has also brought injustice—and political dysfunction—in three ways.
First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. Research by the political scientists Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen found that a small subset of people on social-media platforms are highly concerned with gaining status and are willing to use aggression to do so. They admit that in their online discussions they often curse, make fun of their opponents, and get blocked by other users or reported for inappropriate comments. Across eight studies, Bor and Petersen found that being online did not make most people more aggressive or hostile; rather, it allowed a small number of aggressive people to attack a much larger set of victims. Even a small number of jerks were able to dominate discussion forums, Bor and Petersen found, because nonjerks are easily turned off from online discussions of politics. Additional research finds that women and Black people are harassed disproportionately, so the digital public square is less welcoming to their voices.
Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority. The “Hidden Tribes” study, by the pro-democracy group More in Common, surveyed 8,000 Americans in 2017 and 2018 and identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The one furthest to the right, known as the “devoted conservatives,” comprised 6 percent of the U.S. population. The group furthest to the left, the “progressive activists,” comprised 8 percent of the population. The progressive activists were by far the most prolific group on social media: 70 percent had shared political content over the previous year. The devoted conservatives followed, at 56 percent.
These two extreme groups are similar in surprising ways. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups, which suggests that America is being torn apart by a battle between two subsets of the elite who are not representative of the broader society. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. This uniformity of opinion, the study’s authors speculate, is likely a result of thought-policing on social media: “Those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups may experience backlash from their own cohort.” In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team. In this way, social media makes a political system based on compromise grind to a halt.
Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes. A successful attack attracts a barrage of likes and follow-on strikes. Enhanced-virality platforms thereby facilitate massive collective punishment for small or imagined offenses, with real-world consequences, including innocent people losing their jobs and being shamed into suicide. When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.
Since the tower fell, debates of all kinds have grown more and more confused. The most pervasive obstacle to good thinking is confirmation bias, which refers to the human tendency to search only for evidence that confirms our preferred beliefs. Even before the advent of social media, search engines were supercharging confirmation bias, making it far easier for people to find evidence for absurd beliefs and conspiracy theories, such as that the Earth is flat and that the U.S. government staged the 9/11 attacks. But social media made things much worse.
The most reliable cure for confirmation bias is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counterevidence and counterargument. John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” and he urged us to seek out conflicting views “from persons who actually believe them.” People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain. People who try to silence or intimidate their critics make themselves stupider, almost as if they are shooting darts into their own brain.In the 20th century, America built the most capable knowledge-producing institutions in human history. In the past decade, they got stupider en masse.
In his book The Constitution of Knowledge, Jonathan Rauch describes the historical breakthrough in which Western societies developed an “epistemic operating system”—that is, a set of institutions for generating knowledge from the interactions of biased and cognitively flawed individuals. English law developed the adversarial system so that biased advocates could present both sides of a case to an impartial jury. Newspapers full of lies evolved into professional journalistic enterprises, with norms that required seeking out multiple sides of a story, followed by editorial review, followed by fact-checking. Universities evolved from cloistered medieval institutions into research powerhouses, creating a structure in which scholars put forth evidence-backed claims with the knowledge that other scholars around the world would be motivated to gain prestige by finding contrary evidence.
Part of America’s greatness in the 20th century came from having developed the most capable, vibrant, and productive network of knowledge-producing institutions in all of human history, linking together the world’s best universities, private companies that turned scientific advances into life-changing consumer products, and government agencies that supported scientific research and led the collaboration that put people on the moon.
But this arrangement, Rauch notes, “is not self-maintaining; it relies on an array of sometimes delicate social settings and understandings, and those need to be understood, affirmed, and protected.” So what happens when an institution is not well maintained and internal disagreement ceases, either because its people have become ideologically uniform or because they have become afraid to dissent?
This, I believe, is what happened to many of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s. They got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. The shift was most pronounced in universities, scholarly associations, creative industries, and political organizations at every level (national, state, and local), and it was so pervasive that it established new behavioral norms backed by new policies seemingly overnight. The new omnipresence of enhanced-virality social media meant that a single word uttered by a professor, leader, or journalist, even if spoken with positive intent, could lead to a social-media firestorm, triggering an immediate dismissal or a drawn-out investigation by the institution. Participants in our key institutions began self-censoring to an unhealthy degree, holding back critiques of policies and ideas—even those presented in class by their students—that they believed to be ill-supported or wrong.
But when an institution punishes internal dissent, it shoots darts into its own brain.
The stupefying process plays out differently on the right and the left because their activist wings subscribe to different narratives with different sacred values. The “Hidden Tribes” study tells us that the “devoted conservatives” score highest on beliefs related to authoritarianism. They share a narrative in which America is eternally under threat from enemies outside and subversives within; they see life as a battle between patriots and traitors. According to the political scientist Karen Stenner, whose work the “Hidden Tribes” study drew upon, they are psychologically different from the larger group of “traditional conservatives” (19 percent of the population), who emphasize order, decorum, and slow rather than radical change.
Only within the devoted conservatives’ narratives do Donald Trump’s speeches make sense, from his campaign’s ominous opening diatribe about Mexican “rapists” to his warning on January 6, 2021: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The traditional punishment for treason is death, hence the battle cry on January 6: “Hang Mike Pence.” Right-wing death threats, many delivered by anonymous accounts, are proving effective in cowing traditional conservatives, for example in driving out local election officials who failed to “stop the steal.” The wave of threats delivered to dissenting Republican members of Congress has similarly pushed many of the remaining moderates to quit or go silent, giving us a party ever more divorced from the conservative tradition, constitutional responsibility, and reality. We now have a Republican Party that describes a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” supported—or at least not contradicted—by an array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations.
The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter.
The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.
Liberals in the late 20th century shared a belief that the sociologist Christian Smith called the “liberal progress” narrative, in which America used to be horrifically unjust and repressive, but, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes, has made (and continues to make) progress toward realizing the noble promise of its founding. This story easily supports liberal patriotism, and it was the animating narrative of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is also the view of the “traditional liberals” in the “Hidden Tribes” study (11 percent of the population), who have strong humanitarian values, are older than average, and are largely the people leading America’s cultural and intellectual institutions.
But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.
The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.
You can see the stupefaction process most clearly when a person on the left merely points to research that questions or contradicts a favored belief among progressive activists. Someone on Twitter will find a way to associate the dissenter with racism, and others will pile on. For example, in the first week of protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of which included violence, the progressive policy analyst David Shor, then employed by Civis Analytics, tweeted a link to a study showing that violent protests back in the 1960s led to electoral setbacks for the Democrats in nearby counties. Shor was clearly trying to be helpful, but in the ensuing outrage he was accused of “anti-Blackness” and was soon dismissed from his job. (Civis Analytics has denied that the tweet led to Shor’s firing.)
The Shor case became famous, but anyone on Twitter had already seen dozens of examples teaching the basic lesson: Don’t question your own side’s beliefs, policies, or actions. And when traditional liberals go silent, as so many did in the summer of 2020, the progressive activists’ more radical narrative takes over as the governing narrative of an organization. This is why so many epistemic institutions seemed to “go woke” in rapid succession that year and the next, beginning with a wave of controversies and resignations at The New York Times and other newspapers, and continuing on to social-justice pronouncements by groups of doctors and medical associations (one publication by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, for instance, advised medical professionals to refer to neighborhoods and communities as “oppressed” or “systematically divested” instead of “vulnerable” or “poor”), and the hurried transformation of curricula at New York City’s most expensive private schools.
Tragically, we see stupefaction playing out on both sides in the COVID wars. The right has been so committed to minimizing the risks of COVID that it has turned the disease into one that preferentially kills Republicans. The progressive left is so committed to maximizing the dangers of COVID that it often embraces an equally maximalist, one-size-fits-all strategy for vaccines, masks, and social distancing—even as they pertain to children. Such policies are not as deadly as spreading fears and lies about vaccines, but many of them have been devastating for the mental health and education of children, who desperately need to play with one another and go to school; we have little clear evidence that school closures and masks for young children reduce deaths from COVID. Most notably for the story I’m telling here, progressive parents who argued against school closures were frequently savaged on social media and met with the ubiquitous leftist accusations of racism and white supremacy. Others in blue cities learned to keep quiet.
American politics is getting ever more ridiculous and dysfunctional not because Americans are getting less intelligent. The problem is structural. Thanks to enhanced-virality social media, dissent is punished within many of our institutions, which means that bad ideas get elevated into official policy.
It’s Going to Get Much Worse
In a 2018 interview, Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump, said that the way to deal with the media is “to flood the zone with shit.” He was describing the “firehose of falsehood” tactic pioneered by Russian disinformation programs to keep Americans confused, disoriented, and angry. But back then, in 2018, there was an upper limit to the amount of shit available, because all of it had to be created by a person (other than some low-quality stuff produced by bots).
Now, however, artificial intelligence is close to enabling the limitless spread of highly believable disinformation. The AI program GPT-3 is already so good that you can give it a topic and a tone and it will spit out as many essays as you like, typically with perfect grammar and a surprising level of coherence. In a year or two, when the program is upgraded to GPT-4, it will become far more capable. In a 2020 essay titled “The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite,” Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, explained that spreading falsehoods—whether through text, images, or deep-fake videos—will quickly become inconceivably easy. (She co-wrote the essay with GPT-3.)
American factions won’t be the only ones using AI and social media to generate attack content; our adversaries will too. In a haunting 2018 essay titled “The Digital Maginot Line,” DiResta described the state of affairs bluntly. “We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality,” she wrote. The Soviets used to have to send over agents or cultivate Americans willing to do their bidding. But social media made it cheap and easy for Russia’s Internet Research Agency to invent fake events or distort real ones to stoke rage on both the left and the right, often over race. Later research showed that an intensive campaign began on Twitter in 2013 but soon spread to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, among other platforms. One of the major goals was to polarize the American public and spread distrust—to split us apart at the exact weak point that Madison had identified.If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse.
We now know that it’s not just the Russians attacking American democracy. Before the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, China had mostly focused on domestic platforms such as WeChat. But now China is discovering how much it can do with Twitter and Facebook, for so little money, in its escalating conflict with the U.S. Given China’s own advances in AI, we can expect it to become more skillful over the next few years at further dividing America and further uniting China.
In the 20th century, America’s shared identity as the country leading the fight to make the world safe for democracy was a strong force that helped keep the culture and the polity together. In the 21st century, America’s tech companies have rewired the world and created products that now appear to be corrosive to democracy, obstacles to shared understanding, and destroyers of the modern tower.
Democracy After Babel
We can never return to the way things were in the pre-digital age. The norms, institutions, and forms of political participation that developed during the long era of mass communication are not going to work well now that technology has made everything so much faster and more multidirectional, and when bypassing professional gatekeepers is so easy. And yet American democracy is now operating outside the bounds of sustainability. If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.
What changes are needed? Redesigning democracy for the digital age is far beyond my abilities, but I can suggest three categories of reforms––three goals that must be achieved if democracy is to remain viable in the post-Babel era. We must harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust, reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive, and better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.
Harden Democratic Institutions
Political polarization is likely to increase for the foreseeable future. Thus, whatever else we do, we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.
For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.
Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district. One example of such a reform is to end closed party primaries, replacing them with a single, nonpartisan, open primary from which the top several candidates advance to a general election that also uses ranked-choice voting. A version of this voting system has already been implemented in Alaska, and it seems to have given Senator Lisa Murkowski more latitude to oppose former President Trump, whose favored candidate would be a threat to Murkowski in a closed Republican primary but is not in an open one.
A second way to harden democratic institutions is to reduce the power of either political party to game the system in its favor, for example by drawing its preferred electoral districts or selecting the officials who will supervise elections. These jobs should all be done in a nonpartisan way. Research on procedural justice shows that when people perceive that a process is fair, they are more likely to accept the legitimacy of a decision that goes against their interests. Just think of the damage already done to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy by the Senate’s Republican leadership when it blocked consideration of Merrick Garland for a seat that opened up nine months before the 2016 election, and then rushed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. A widely discussed reform would end this political gamesmanship by having justices serve staggered 18-year terms so that each president makes one appointment every two years.
Reform Social Media
A democracy cannot survive if its public squares are places where people fear speaking up and where no stable consensus can be reached. Social media’s empowerment of the far left, the far right, domestic trolls, and foreign agents is creating a system that looks less like democracy and more like rule by the most aggressive.
But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”
Those who oppose regulation of social media generally focus on the legitimate concern that government-mandated content restrictions will, in practice, devolve into censorship. But the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.
Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.
Banks and other industries have “know your customer” rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises. Large social-media platforms should be required to do the same. That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym. It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify (perhaps through a third party or nonprofit) that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform. This one change would wipe out most of the hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms. It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally. Research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable.
In any case, the growing evidence that social media is damaging democracy is sufficient to warrant greater oversight by a regulatory body, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission. One of the first orders of business should be compelling the platforms to share their data and their algorithms with academic researchers.
Prepare the Next Generation
The members of Gen Z––those born in and after 1997––bear none of the blame for the mess we are in, but they are going to inherit it, and the preliminary signs are that older generations have prevented them from learning how to handle it.
Childhood has become more tightly circumscribed in recent generations––with less opportunity for free, unstructured play; less unsupervised time outside; more time online. Whatever else the effects of these shifts, they have likely impeded the development of abilities needed for effective self-governance for many young adults. Unsupervised free play is nature’s way of teaching young mammals the skills they’ll need as adults, which for humans include the ability to cooperate, make and enforce rules, compromise, adjudicate conflicts, and accept defeat. A brilliant 2015 essay by the economist Steven Horwitz argued that free play prepares children for the “art of association” that Alexis de Tocqueville said was the key to the vibrancy of American democracy; he also argued that its loss posed “a serious threat to liberal societies.” A generation prevented from learning these social skills, Horwitz warned, would habitually appeal to authorities to resolve disputes and would suffer from a “coarsening of social interaction” that would “create a world of more conflict and violence.”
And while social media has eroded the art of association throughout society, it may be leaving its deepest and most enduring marks on adolescents. A surge in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among American teens began suddenly in the early 2010s. (The same thing happened to Canadian and British teens, at the same time.) The cause is not known, but the timing points to social media as a substantial contributor—the surge began just as the large majority of American teens became daily users of the major platforms. Correlational and experimental studies back up the connection to depression and anxiety, as do reports from young people themselves, and from Facebook’s own research, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Depression makes people less likely to want to engage with new people, ideas, and experiences. Anxiety makes new things seem more threatening. As these conditions have risen and as the lessons on nuanced social behavior learned through free play have been delayed, tolerance for diverse viewpoints and the ability to work out disputes have diminished among many young people. For example, university communities that could tolerate a range of speakers as recently as 2010 arguably began to lose that ability in subsequent years, as Gen Z began to arrive on campus. Attempts to disinvite visiting speakers rose. Students did not just say that they disagreed with visiting speakers; some said that those lectures would be dangerous, emotionally devastating, a form of violence. Because rates of teen depression and anxiety have continued to rise into the 2020s, we should expect these views to continue in the generations to follow, and indeed to become more severe.
The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.
More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.
Hope After Babel
The story i have told is bleak, and there is little evidence to suggest that America will return to some semblance of normalcy and stability in the next five or 10 years. Which side is going to become conciliatory? What is the likelihood that Congress will enact major reforms that strengthen democratic institutions or detoxify social media?
Yet when we look away from our dysfunctional federal government, disconnect from social media, and talk with our neighbors directly, things seem more hopeful. Most Americans in the More in Common report are members of the “exhausted majority,” which is tired of the fighting and is willing to listen to the other side and compromise. Most Americans now see that social media is having a negative impact on the country, and are becoming more aware of its damaging effects on children.
Will we do anything about it?
When Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed by the American habit of forming voluntary associations to fix local problems, rather than waiting for kings or nobles to act, as Europeans would do. That habit is still with us today. In recent years, Americans have started hundreds of groups and organizations dedicated to building trust and friendship across the political divide, including BridgeUSA, Braver Angels (on whose board I serve), and many others listed at BridgeAlliance.us. We cannot expect Congress and the tech companies to save us. We must change ourselves and our communities.
What would it be like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? We know. It is a time of confusion and loss. But it is also a time to reflect, listen, and build.
“In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.“
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.
In a way, we always had. What isn’t understandable is our incapability to learn the lessons of history. As such, from time to time, evil, with new faces and through new forms, regains what it had lost.
I wonder if “we must” is sufficient.
It’s not about trying. It’s about being.
We cannot be indifferent to others nor undemanding of ourselves!
Aucun des maux auxquels le totalitarisme (défini par le parti unique et la suppression de toute opposition) prétend remédier n’est pire que le totalitarisme lui-même.
Albert Camus – Le Socialisme des Potences (1957).
None of the evils that totalitarianism (defined by the single party and the suppression of all opposition) claims to remedy is worse than totalitariansim itself.
Socialism of the Gallows (1957)
Nenhum dos males que o totalitarismo (definido pelo partido único e pela supressão de toda a oposição) pretende remediar é pior que o próprio totalitarismo.
O Socialismo da Força (1957)
Apesar de ambos serem seres humanos, quis o acaso que Fábio Guerra fosse branco e que Cláudio Coimbra fosse negro. Ambos tinham sentido de missão. Um tinha-o para o serviço na polícia, o outro no âmbito das forças armadas.
Num momento, duas atitudes. E da agressão adveio uma morte.
Porém, o mais criticável é o desrespeito dos auto-proclamados arautos da igualdade e dos assuntos raciais.
O sectarismo da esquerda, alimentado por uma suposta superioridade moral que manifestamente é desprovida de qualquer ética, está aqui perfeitamente exposto. São incapazes de demonstrar respeito. São incapazes de atitudes humanistas. Sem ganhos políticos permanecem em silêncio.
Martin Luther King, Jr., sonhava com um mundo onde as pessoas seriam julgadas pelo seu carácter. Pessoas como o Louçã, a Martins, as Mortáguas, o Sousa, o Tavares, o Mamadou, a Joacine e afins são a negação desse sonho.
Por isso, a escolha é simples. Continuarei a defender os princípios de Gandhi, King e Mandela enquanto combato o discurso de ódio, radical e tendencioso, daqueles que só se indignam quando os assuntos são favoráveis aos seus objectivos políticos.
Breve reflexão sobre alguns cenários
O resultado das legislativas de 30 de janeiro vai alterar vários pontos na dinâmica política que tínhamos como adquirida. O vector de todas essas mudanças está na maioria absoluta alcançada por António Costa. Não tenham a menor dúvida que o exercício do poder será pleno, ou seja, será praticado maximizando toda a abrangência possível.
Como tal, a probabilidade de se verificar uma deslocação do centro da importância das questões legislativas, e das votações a elas adstritas, para o debate e as discussões dos diplomas é altíssima. Isto significa que o parlamento, que é um fórum de discussão e de debate desde tempos imemoriais, vai passar a ser ainda mais o centro de excelência do debate político. Isto significa que a comunicação dos conteúdos em discussão será fundamental.
O tempo do conseguimos fazer isto acabou. No caso da IL, para exemplificar concretamente, “o conseguimos acabar com o cartão do adepto” acabou. Com a maioria socialista e a previsível utilização desse poder acrescido – note-se que António Costa foi capaz de tomar conta da maioria dos reguladores, ou melhor, partidarizar os reguladores, sem essa maioria – será a discussão política que poderá potenciar a afirmação política da oposição. Para esse efeito, os “debates quinzenais” serão estruturais para a IL retirar dividendos políticos.
Os condicionalismos da segunda circunstância são substancialmente maiores. O escrutínio ao poder executivo é fundamental. Num contexto governativo com maioria absoluta é essencial que exista uma efectiva capacidade de escrutínio parlamentar. Mas como fazê-lo?
Sabemos que a primeira função de um deputado, como titular do poder legislativo, é escrutinar o governo por este deter o poder executivo. Porém, a prática demonstra que os primeiros a desrespeitar essa função são os deputados do partido que governa. O PSD anda à deriva e não é verdadeira oposição. A esquerda extremista não conta. Só vão procurar estancar as feridas e continuar a comer algumas migalhas. Como o Chega não tem projecto político, a oposição será meramente de protesto (não creio que o PS altere a sua estratégia de comunicação contra o Chega).
Tudo indica que a capacidade de escrutínio vai ser menor. Para além disso, como referi acima, se o foco vai passar a estar na discussão, ter meios para divulgar e comunicar as posições políticas da IL vai ser primordial. Sabendo-se que a comunicação social é fundamentalmente de esquerda e que é praticamente controlada pela geringonça (pouco se alterou neste âmbito), será vital desenvolver ou criar formas de ultrapassar um bloqueio mediático para potenciar e maximizar a visibilidade política da IL.
(Há outros pontos a considerar mas, como são sobre a realidade interna da IL, não os abordarei aqui).
Da necessidade do Estado
O Estado não existe à-priori. Resultou, paradoxalmente, de uma consciência de limitação da liberdade impossível de forma a concretizar a liberdade possível. O Estado é a convenção à-posteriori que previne a arbitrariedade enquanto assegura a liberdade.
Reencontrei hoje esta relíquia. Fazia parte das notas de pesquisa para um trabalho de investigação académica que fiz na altura. As coisas que se escrevem aos 20 anos.
Acabei por também a incluir nesta colectânea de pensamentos:
VFS, Livro dos Pensares e das Tormentas, 57, 1987.
Liberdade e Responsabilidade
Manuel Carvalho acaba de evidenciar o seu desconhecimento sobre a Iniciativa Liberal. Manuel Carvalho devia ter tido o cuidado de ler o programa político da IL.
Os liberais não defendem apenas a Liberdade. Os liberais defendem liberdade com responsabilidade. Por essa razão, não podem apoiar o vergonhoso processo de desresponsabilização política que o Governo de António Costa classifica como “descentralização”, processo esse que não contempla autonomia de decisão política na gestão nas competências que o governo pretende transferir para as autarquias. Daqui resultará a incapacidade de alguém assumir responsabilidades e não é difícil perceber que tanto o governo como as autarquias recusarão assumi-las. O governo dirá que transferiu as competências, as autarquias dirão que não lhes foi dada autonomia política. E a culpa morrerá solteira.
Nenhum liberal apoia a desresponsabilização da política.
Sim. Os liberais apoiam a descentralização. Sim. Os liberais também apoiam a subsidiariedade. Contudo, não apoiarão ambos se dos mesmos decorrer a impossibilidade de assumir responsabilidades.
Não somos socialistas.
Para nós, a culpa não morre solteira.
Quem nos livra do socialismo do PSD?
No universo físico, tudo é uma questão de escala; no universo humano, tudo é uma questão de opção. A política não é excepção.
Na vida não é possível agradar a gregos e a troiamos. E mesmo que fosse, alguém perguntaria pelos persas. Também aqui a política não é excepção.
Note-se igualmente que nunca na III República, tanto o PS (de António Costa) como o PSD (de Rui Rio) estiveram tão à esquerda.
O PSD é um partido que se afirma reformista, mas quais foram as reformas defendidas por Rui Rio? Acabar com os debates quinzenais? Promover alterações à lei para prejudicar a participação dos cidadãos às autarquias? Apoiar as restrições do Estado de Emergência? E que dizer da posição do PSD na questão das CCDRs? Em boa verdade, o PSD também é um partido estatista.
Nada disto é consistente com o que defende um liberal.
Quem nos livra do socialismo do PSD?
Tentam sumarizar a questão ao afastamento de Medina. Mas, Carlos Moedas não é um candidato independente. É o candidato do PSD. Reduzir a IL ao papel de um mero instrumento de conveniência do PSD é algo com que estou em profundo desacordo.
A IL tomou a decisão acertada. Esta decisão terá consequências? Certamente. Veremos o que o futuro reserva. Até lá, e seja como for, a IL deve seguir o seu caminho.
Que não haja enganos e, para o efeito, reafirmo o que há dias expresso no meu mural facebookiano: Sou contrário a entendimentos pré-eleitorais com o PSD. Na minha opinião, a IL não pode perder a identidade. A possibilidade de acordos pós-eleitorais é outra história. E acordos idênticos ao dos Açores não são de descurar.
Foi esta posição que defendi internamente.
O regresso da censura?
Não é compreensível que um documento com um artigo destes esteja a ser discutido no Parlamento. E vai ser aprovado.
A liberdade é uma dádiva. É algo a que todo e qualquer ser humano aspira.
Ainda bem que os partidos que defendem a repressão e a obediência se expressam livremente. É fundamental sermos relembrados do valor da liberdade.
Não podemos esmorecer, nem dar a democracia como adquirida. É mais fácil conquistar a liberdade do que a manter.
4 anos de liberalismo
têm mais significado
do que 100 anos de comunismo
Mais promessas por cumprir
Mais uma vez, o Primeiro-Ministro dá com a cara no chão. Promete, promete, promete, mas quase nada se concretiza, Após sucessivas garantias de que o plano de vacinação ia correr bem, incluindo com a sua garantia pessoal a Miguel Sousa Tavares – “vai correr bem (…) tem que correr bem (…) só pode correr bem” – a realidade, com um forte contributo dos camaradas socialistas, voltou a desmentir António Costa. Os abusos às regras sucedem-se e, apesar do que o Primeiro-Ministro afirma, não deve haver quem realmente tenha uma certeza concreta sobre o número real de vacinados. Mas oxalá esteja enganado.
O que se está a passar é absolutamente crítico. O próprio governo reconheceu a importância do plano de vacinação para combater a pandemia. Assim, o seu sucesso era fundamental para que gradualmente fosse mitigado o esforço a que estão a ser sujeitos todos os meios de saúde do país e que o retorno à normalidade acontecesse o mais depressa possível.
Apesar do Ministério da Saúde e das entidades dele dependentes, como a Direcção-Geral da Saúde (DGS) e a sua Directora, o Governo tem autonomia para criar Task Forces para coordenar assuntos específicos. Contudo, ao delegar esta competência num organismo autónomo, sem o devido acompanhamento e apoio institucional, a probabilidade do não reconhecimento de autoridade é alta. Foi o que se passou neste caso.
Perante os abusos, a Task Force pouco conseguiu para os contrariar. Para além disso, este tipo de delegação também esvazia de razão o papel da DGS. Isto não é de somenos e deve ser objecto de reflexão. Neste ponto, igualmente deve ser questionado o desaparecimento de Graça Freitas. O Governo perdeu a confiança na sua gestão? Seja como for, não é aceitável que a responsabilidade pelos erros recaia apenas sobre a Task Force. E se o Ministério da Saúde não está disponível para o efeito, terá de ser o Primeiro-Ministro a fazê-lo.
Vejam as diferenças
Já ouviu falar na CICDR – Comissão Para a Igualdade e Contra a Discriminação Racial? Devia informar-se sobre esta comissão e sobre o papel do Mamadou Ba na mesma.
Transparência e presunção de inocência
Há poucos dias foi notícia uma investigação ao Ministro de Estado, da Economia e da Transição Digital, Pedro Siza Vieira, e ao Secretário de Estado Adjunto e da Energia, João Galamba, por suspeita de favorecimento do consórcio EDP/Galp/REN no projeto do hidrogénio verde para Sines. Quando partilhei a notícia afirmei que só faria comentários após o fim da investigação. Porquê? Porque, conforme expressei num segundo post, a presunção de inocência deve ser dada a qualquer pessoa. Contudo, gracejei sobre o tema, gracejo esse que não aguardou a todas as pessoas e é natural que assim seja.
No caso em questão, a investigação aconteceu por causa duma queixa anónima. Ora, a queixa anónima é uma espécie de zona cinzenta. Tem tanto de bom como de mau. Por um lado, pode ser instrumentalizada para atingir pessoas sem qualquer fundamento ou substância, visando apenas o denegrir da sua reputação. Por outro lado, parece-me ser indesmentível que sem as denúncias anónimas muitos casos, de manifesta gestão danosa da coisa pública, não teriam conhecido a luz do dia.
Infelizmente, é usual os decisores políticos portugueses serem acusados de práticas ilícitas. Eu penso que tal acontece porque a maioria dos nossos decisores não divulga a totalidade da informação referente aos assuntos que estão sob a sua responsabilidade. Por outras palavras, devia haver mais transparência. E este é o ponto em questão como veremos a seguir.
Na sequência da divulgação desta investigação, tanto Pedro Siza Vieira como João Galamba reagiram à mesma. Ontem (7 de Novembro), o gabinete do Secretário de Estado Adjunto e da Energia, fez sair uma nota explicativa onde detalha exaustivamente todos os passos tidos durante a discussão da Estratégia Nacional para o Hidrogénio e sua implementação. Para esse efeito, na nota explicativa lê-se o seguinte: “(…) foram realizadas várias reuniões, com diversos interessados, que são, agora, tornadas públicas”.
Ou seja, aquela que deveria ser a prática normal e habitual, a divulgação e o acesso público a toda a informação, a qualquer momento, só é excepcionalmente tornada pública após estes acontecimentos. Se esta excepção fosse a norma, a probabilidade do Ministro de Estado, da Economia e da Transição Digital, Pedro Siza Vieira, e do Secretário de Estado Adjunto e da Energia, João Galamba, terem sido, ou virem a ser futuramente, alvo duma queixa anónima teria diminuído substancialmente. Para além disso, é conveniente não esquecer os comportamento dos portugueses. Os portugueses gostam de ser juízes de rua e as explicações de pouco valem. Mesmo após uma validação de inocência em tribunal, as suspeitas, apenas por uma questão de preferência pessoal ou afiliação ideológica, perduram. E esta constatação só reforça o argumento da transparência.
Perante o exposto, é indubitável que se deve retirar daqui uma uma lição. A defesa e a prática da transparência é algo que me distingue, e à Iniciativa Liberal também, dos socialistas. A transparência não é um instrumento de conveniência. É, pelo contrário, um valor que deve ser praticado diariamente.
Dito isto, reitero o que anteriormente afirmei sobre a presunção da inocência e reafirmo que é indiscutível que politicamente, e não só, a prática da transparência é a melhor solução.
As práticas sobre transparência e de acesso documental utilizadas na União Europeia servem de exemplo e poderiam ser facilmente implementadas no nosso país.