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Social media is a laboratory of authoritarianism.
The way it's set up, and the ease with which we can "block" and "ban" each other, is training us all to become little authoritarians.
And our individual choices have set the stage in mass-consciousness for the arising of authoritarian politics in the collective.
The words "authoritarian" and "authoritarianism" have come into vogue in recent years. Everyone says they're bothered by it. Everyone says it's bad.
And yet, most of us are willingly participating in it.
Including, most likely, you.
"Why are we getting authoritarian leaders?"
Because we've become authoritarians ourselves. It's a classic case of "the people get the leaders they deserve."
It can be difficult to look in the mirror. We'd rather blame someone else, outside. It can be humiliating to look within and realize one's own self as the problem.
But that's what we'll need to do, to stop the trend of authoritarianism.
Do you want to stop it?
"But, but... but how dare you suggest -..."
Which is more important: stopping authoritarianism, or protecting your own ego?
"OK, fine. Explain how I'M an authoritarian. Go ahead. This should be fun."
So, for the first question: What is the one thing that all authoritarians have in common?
"Ummm... hmmm... let me think... Uhhh....
They don't tolerate dissenting thoughts and opinions?"
Yes! Intolerance for dissent is not only a shared trait of all authoritarians, but actually the thing that defines them.
Intolerance for dissent
is the definition of authoritarianism.
So it stands to reason, that if you want to be against authoritarianism, then you must be for the thing that's its opposite. You must stand for the ability to dissent.
And support it in all contexts. Whenever you see someone attempting to express dissent, and another person trying to forcefully suppress their ability to do so, you must defend the dissenter, and rebuke the authoritarian who's trying to suppress them.
"But I DO do that! I'm dissenting against the regime of Donald Trump! I'm part of the resistance! He's an authoritarian, and I'm resisting him! I'm standing up for the right to dissent!"
Well of course you are... in that scenario... because you're the dissenter!
Of course you support dissent in situations where it's your own freedom of expression on the line!
That's entirely within your self-interest. That requires no courage, no intelligence, no foresight. Nor any genuine commitment to the principle of dissent. This only shows your commitment to a side, not a principle.
Your true feelings about dissent can be seen only when it's you in the position of authority, and it's someone else attempting to express dissent against your ideas, and you have the power to suppress them.
That's the only time we can see your real feelings about the topic.
That's the test of where you really stand on authoritarianism.
"Uh, OK, but what situations does that apply to? Where and when am do I have power to suppress others' dissent?"
On social media.
Do you use social media?
"Of course I do."
And how do you treat people who say things you disagree with?
"I respectfully disagree with them..."
What if they disagree about your core beliefs? Not just outer details, but the foundations of your identity?
What if you're religious, and they're pointing out flaws in your religion?
Or vice versa? What if you're a scientific materialist, and they're speaking "pseudo-science"?
What if you're a capitalist, and they're a socialist?
Or vice versa?
What if you think your country is the greatest, and someone points out how it's less great than you thought?
What if you're a feminist, and they're not?
What if you're #BlackLivesMatter and they're #AllLivesMatter?
What if you're a nationalist, and they're a globalist?
What if you're a hamburger-eater, and they're a vegan telling you why it's immoral?
What if you think gender and biological sex are two different things, and they think those are just two words for the same thing?
What if you think Donald Trump is horrible, and they think he's great?
What if you think he's great, and they think he's horrible?
"I get the picture."
So, what do you do in those situations?
"I usually stop talking about the subject we disagree on."
What if they want to keep talking about it?
"I... well... I make it clear that if they keep talking about the subject, I'll stop talking to them."
And if they keep talking about it?
"I stop talking to them."
How so? Do you politely request that they stop contacting you?
"No. I hit the "block" button."
And what can they do after that?
Do they have any recourse, whatsoever?
So, you suppress dissent.
"Oh come on! A private, one-on-one conversation is not a public forum! I have the right to choose how I spend my time, and whom I spend it with!"
Alright then. So how do you behave in public forums?
Do you participate in any discussion groups? You know, like "Groups" on Facebook? Reddit? Twitter? Any place where people can post about topics, and others can discuss them?
"Yes, I participate in some of those."
And how do you treat dissent?
"Everyone is free to say whatever they want, as long as they follow the group rules. You know, like no harassment, no porn, no violence, no personal attacks, no hate speech, no trolling. Basic stuff. As long as they avoid that, they're good."
And what exactly is "trolling"?
"Huh? You don't know what trolling means?"
How does trolling differ from dissent?
"Dissent is when people disagree within the normal range of debate. They believe in the fundamental premise of the group, and support its goals - but they just have a different strategy for getting there.
Trolling, on the other hand, is when someone comes into a group where they don't even believe in the same basic goals - they're not even on the same team. They disagree with the group's fundamental philosophical or ideological premise."
What if they do it respectfully? Without personal attacks, without violence, without hate, without spamming, without getting emotional? What if they stay entirely calm and respectful of others?
"Well, then we let them stay... for a little while. But really, if they disagree with the basic mission of the group, then why should they even be there? There's no real reason for them to be in the group, and they don't last long."
Why don't they "last long"?
"Because they get banned."
And who does the banning?
"The admins. Me, if it's my group. Or whoever's running it."
So you suppress dissent.
"Um no, it's not "suppressing dissent" if the person is a TROLL!"
It seems you're confused about the meaning of "troll."
This is because the definition has changed.
Some of you might remember the internet before Facebook - when all we had were "chatrooms." Remember those days? If not, that's OK.
Back in those days, a troll was someone who went into a chatroom or forum, and posted long strings of Copy+Pasted messages, to drown out whatever discussion was taking place, making it impossible (or very difficult) for others to continue conversing. Perhaps they pasted Nazi symbols and H1tler pictures a hundred times. Perhaps they inserted 100 copies of a dick pic.
The purpose was to force people to scroll through huge strings of repetitive (and usually disgusting) messages, to discourage them from continuing to talk. If you were trying to have a conversation, you had to scroll through all of that. Again, and again, and again.
And the person you were talking to might have posted a reply to you, but it was somewhere sandwiched in between a string of dick pics or "He1l H1tler"s, HUNDREDS of messages long.
So you had to scroll slowly, to make sure you didn't miss the reply. If you scrolled too fast, you might miss it, and think, incorrectly, that the person didn't reply to you. But, by scrolling slowly, you had to focus your eyes on "Heil H1tler"s and dick pics for several minutes at a time, each time you checked the message board.
THAT'S a troll.
But the definition has changed. Nowadays, a "troll" is someone who doesn't try to prevent conversation - they're someone who tries to HAVE a conversation. Their "crime" is simply that they share an opinion that diverges from the group consensus. They join a group to try to discuss something. And when admins ban them, they're doing so to PREVENT the discussion.
Do you see how warped this is?
Troll: Someone who PREVENTS
others from having a conversation.
Responsible Admin: Someone who
bans the troll to allow others to
continue to HAVE the conversation.
Troll: Someone who wants
to HAVE a conversation.
Responsible Admin: Someone who
steps in to PREVENT the conversation.
The admins have BECOME THE TROLLS.
"But this is standard practice. Every group has admins who ban people for being too far outside the group's consensus!"
So you're saying every group is authoritarian?
Perhaps that's why our governments are becoming authoritarian.
"But the admins made the group... It's theirs... So they get to run it however they want!"
So they're the boss.
And the boss has the right to do absolutely whatever he/she wants to do, to anyone, at any time, for any reason?
And that's authoritarianism. RIGHT THERE.
"Well, maybe I don't agree with the heavy-handedness of the admins. Maybe I actually think trolls - or, dissenters - should stay. But it's not my choice - it's the admin's choice. I can't DO anything about it."
Well, what do you do when you see dissenters getting banned?
Do you stand up? Do you say anything? Do you rebuke the admins for being authoritarian? Do you reprimand them? Admonish them in front of their group? Do you say anything in support of the banned dissenter's right to dissent?
Or do you just sit there and accept it?
"I don't say anything about it."
So then you're complicit.
That's what that's called.
When you're not the admin, but still part of the majority consensus, and you use your safe position to sit idly, watching, while others get banned for dissenting - if you side with the suppressors, against the suppressed - then you're complicit in the rise of authoritarianism.
You are complicit in the rise of authoritarianism.
"But internet discussion groups are such a small matter... Who cares what happens there?"
Making excuses for authoritarian behavior is supporting authoritarianism.
That's how it starts, and that's how it gains a foothold in societies.
Because of people making excuses like those. And the more excuses, the more it grows.
"But there's no actual POWER in those groups. Power lies with world leaders on the world stage - not in Facebook Groups."
But you DO have power there.
"What power do I have?"
The power to stop others from expressing themselves.
That's enormously important.
You have the power to shut down other people's speech - the power to intrude into a conversation between two other peoploe, and tell them that they are not allowed to discuss something among themselves. And stop them by force.
How is that not power?
And even if you're not the admin, and thus not calling the shots, you still have the power to choose between sitting there and watching as someone else's ability to speak is suppressed, or standing up and rebuking the authoritarian behavior.
"I'm still not seeing how such a trivial matter, in such a trivial space, can determine long-term trends in society-at-large, or in world leadership. I don't see how I'm "causing" Donald Trump and his ilk."
It doesn't matter how much power you have. All that matters is what you do with whatever amount you have. Even if you have no more than 1 / 1,000,000,000th of the power of a president, whatever you choose to do with that power determines where you stand on the issue of authoritarianism.
Think of it like voting. You only have one vote, in an election. But your choice of how to cast it shows your intention and your desire for what kind of world you want.
When you act in an authoritarian way - in any setting, big or small - you are voting for authoritarianism to grow.
You don't need the power to suppress thousands or millions of people, in order to be an authoritarian. All you need is the power to suppress one.
And if you use it to suppress dissent, or tolerate the suppression of dissent in your midst, then you are contributing to the development of authoritarianism in your society.
"Maybe I'm complicit in authoritarianism in SOME contexts, but I also stand up against it in others!"
It doesn't matter if you "oppose" the authoritarianism of those in power, if you turn right back and around and become authoritarian when you're the one in power.
This is the difference between a tribal position and a principled position.
With principle, certain actions are right, and certain actions are wrong - no matter who is doing them to whom.
But with a tribal position, the question of whether something's right or wrong depends entirely on who is doing it, and whom they're doing it to.
With the so-called "#Resistance" to Trump, what we see is not an opposition to Trump's authoritarianism - just an opposition to Trump himself, and his "tribe." The very same people who decry him for being authoritarian turn right back around and become authoritarians themselves in any situation in which the power dynamic favors them.
If this is you, then you don't oppose authoritarianism - you just oppose the other side.
True, principled opposition means you recognize that:
1. Authoritarianism is not a group - it's a behavior.
2. Authoritarian behavior is bad - even if it's coming from your group.
"I understand all this. But why *now*? Why, after decades of liberal democracy throughout the developed world, why are we *now* experiencing so much authoritarianism?"
Because of social media.
Electronic social interactions are intrinsically more authoritarian than physical ones.
In a physically-present interaction, if you don't like what someone is saying, you can't exactly shut them up that easily. If they're crying, you have to listen. If they're unhappy, you know it. You feel it. You can see their body language, look in their eyes, hear their voice. The experience activates your empathy.
Empathy means you feel what they feel. Your mirror-neurons give you a taste of what they're going through. You have to deal with them, and address them, and talk to them in some way. You have to hear their grievance against you, whatever it may be. If you refuse, you don't get left alone so easily.
But social media dis-empathizes our interactions. You can't see the person, nor hear them. Your mirror-neurons don't activate. It's very hard to empathize. They're not really a person anymore - just a name, a number, a concept.
Then, social media platforms pull a one-two punch: After they impair our empathy, they give us absolute power over the people we just dis-empathized from!
We can censor, silence, and ban people, at will. We can banish anyone, at any time, for any reason - even no reason at all. And there is no recourse, no redress, no appeal. No one is informed of why someone was banned - or even that they were banned at all. They just "disappear."
This is a kind of power no one but dictators used to have. Now, everyone has it.
And it's exactly how authoritarian regimes behave. The only difference is that one is physical, the other virtual. But the structure and attitude are the same.
And by accepting authoritarianism in the virtual world, we're training ourselves to accept it in the physical world. The one will eventually lead to the other.
In times past, everyone we talked to was right there next to us. We didn't have the power to immediately remove someone from our presence, unless we were literally a king.
And even then, the person could still shout a few things before getting dragged away by the guards.
But on social media, you just hit one button, and total silence.
That's a power that the rulers and dictators of the past could only DREAM about.
And it's a power social media bestows upon everyone who uses it. And people sure are using it.
Social media is training an army of BILLIONS of little authoritarians.
Social media networks are what we might call "laboratories of authoritarianism."
"So what can I do? How can I fight authoritarianism effectively?"
1. Stop banning and blocking people for expressing ideas you disagree with.
2. Stop tolerating others doing such banning/blocking. If you see them doing it, say something. Call them out. Defend the dissenter - even if you disagree vehemently with their ideas. Be willing to get banned/blocked yourself, for speaking out, if that's what it comes to.
3. Take the initiative to actively assure others that you won't ban or block them for dissent. Promise them that you won't. Tell them they're free to dissent. Invite dissent. And then, stay true to your word.
If the person you're talking to suppresses their own truth due simply to the mere fear of you utilizing your authoritarian power to silence them, then you're doing something wrong - even if you don't actually use that power.
"So how can I actively assure others that I'm willing to hear dissent?"
Introducing... the Throat Chakra!
The Throat Chakra is one of the 7 chakras (energy centers) on the body. Since it's located where the voice comes from, it has a lot to do with honesty, and with having the courage to speak one's truth.
To show others that you support freedom of speech and the right to dissent, put a miniature version of this symbol on your profile picture.
When enough people do this, the symbol will become recognized, and anyone who sees it on your picture will know that they're free to speak their truth, without fear of retribution or isolation.
"But what about hate speech? Should I tolerate that?"
Depends on what you mean by "tolerate." If you mean sitting there, doing nothing, and allowing it to go unchallenged, without saying anything, then no.
When you see or hear hate speech, you should call it out, defend the person who was attacked by it, and explain to the hater why their words are wrong.
"But what about the speech itself? Should it be allowed?"
Censorship does not work. There has never been a single society, anywhere in the world, in all of human history, that was improved by censorship. Not one, ever.
In fact, it's the opposite.
Censorship feeds hate, and expands hate groups. It drives more people into their arms, and cements their ideology. The reason we're seeing more hate and hate groups now is not because we didn't censor them enough. The censorship itself is what's driving them.
This is addressed on our Censorship and Freedom of Speech page.
If you're someone who cares about the rise of racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, and other forms of hate, and you think censorship is the cure, then you are causing this problem, and you need to understand how, before you make it worse. Click that link, please.
"Individual choices can make some difference, and I'll make sure I'll do what I can, in my personal life and interactions, to support the right to dissent. But individual choices can only go so far. What about the systems themselves? Does the Earth Party have any recommendations for changes at the systems level?"
Yes. Even if individuals choose to support the right to dissent, it doesn't mean the platforms will. The platforms are run by corporations, and we all know what their bottom line is.
So yes, a systems change is indeed necessary. And we have a plan for it.
We will planetize the internet - in other words, to make the internet a planetary public utility, under the management of We the People.
With the internet under public stewardship, we can implement the Internet Bill of Rights. This is one of the steps in the Blueprint for a Mature Civilization.
To learn about the process, visit Planetizing the Internet.
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