No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
You can see the full text of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 here (Section 230(c)(1) is on page 101). Why this is in the news lately is that a case before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) may be deciding whether Section 230(c)(1) ought to be upheld or disposed (namely, in the cases Gonzalez v. Google, LLC and Taamneh v. Twitter, Inc.).
It’s been about a year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine commenced. I wrote an article about the mounting tensions literally the day before Russian forces crossed the border (or, at least, the border as it was at the beginning of 2022). I made some predictions in that post, and a lot of digital ink has been spilled as people balkanized into pro-war and anti-war positions in the world outside Ukraine. Here is a bit of a retrospective on this unfortunate conflict.
Objectivity, also known as value neutrality or impartiality, is one of the highest ideals of science. The principle behind it is that science studies mind-independent reality, i.e., that which continues to exist even if no consciousness is there to perceive or think about it. This mind-independent reality is devoid of all values – there is no such thing as “good and bad” or “useful” or “beautiful” when it comes to, say, galaxy formation or evolution by natural selection. A major criticism of science levied by critical theory is that value neutrality is impossible, even if we are to take the assumption that mind-independent reality exists and that mind-independent reality is value neutral. As such, instead of blinding ourselves to the values and biases that are inextricable from science, we ought to import the “correct” values into science (e.g., feminist science).
A hallmark of conspiratorial thinking is that even disconfirming evidence can be interpreted as confirming the theory. If, for instance, all evidence points to an election having been fair, the theorist will think “aha! That’s exactly what the nefarious conspirators would have us believe!” thus demonstrating, in their mind, the truth of the theory. The Marxist critique of ideology (which, in the Marxist sense, means that part of the superstructure in which ideas that legitimize the current economic order are engineered), and more particular the cynical ideology of Slavoj Žižek, appears to be just such a conspiracy theory.
A recent Munk Debates in Toronto on November 30 examined the topic of whether or not the mainstream news media is trustworthy (the debate is titled “Be it resolved, don’t trust mainstream media”). Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi took the position that the mainstream media is not to be trusted while Malcolm Gladwell and Michelle Goldberg took the opposing position. You can read a transcript of the debate here. As debates usually go, nothing was really resolved, though an overwhelming majority of the audience seemed to favor the Murray-Taibbi position after the debate. As such, the question remains: should people trust the mainstream news media?
Mark Fisher, the author of Capitalist Realism, famously said that “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Yet capitalism is also the bogeyman for a lot of people, especially on the left, though if you go far enough to the right there is a loss of faith in capitalism as well. Just like the libertarian capitalist acolytes can find any way to make all of society’s ills out to be the fault of the government, everyone else have come up with no shortage of ways to lay all our problems at the feet of capitalism. Such intoxicating clarity has aided in simplifying the world for a great many people. But is capitalism as evil as they say?
The COVID19 pandemic saturated the news for a good eighteen months or better. Lately we don’t hear much about it anymore. If topics jawed about by the usual talking heads are to be gauged, everyone is over the whole pandemic thing. Few places still require masks and few people still voluntarily wear them. This, of course, ignores the fact that, with some six-and-a-half million people dead as a result of COVID infection, and ten times that many who got it and lived, there are a good deal of people who had their lives changed dramatically and permanently as a result of the pandemic. But now that the virus is endemic in a seemingly less pathogenic variant, it is a topic that has taken leave of the rapidly shifting zeitgeist of our modern times. Now is the time for postmortems by commentators and historians. That’s what I’m about to do here (as a commentator, not a historian).
Here in the United States, the so-called “Red Wave” that was supposed to have crashed over our legislature and state offices on November 8, 2022 failed to transpire. Prior to the midterm election, grim warnings of rising fascism abounded. “Democracy itself”, we were repeatedly admonished, was going to be strangled by rightwing fanatics before it could die its natural death. Pair this with the dour tidings of Elon Musk purchasing Twitter and Kanye West spouting more of his increasingly deranged brand of asinine attention seeking, and the rhetoric from the left almost painted a picture of the U.S. teetering on the brink of madness, like Germany of 1933.
On the other side of the ledger, prognostications warning of the gathering whirlwind of Woke-ism and Marxism grew ever more vociferous. Schools and universities, we are warned, have been mutated and twisted into Marxist reeducation camps where children are corrupted and groomed by depraved deviants and insidious ideologues, all while leftwing censorious indignation furiously proliferates in every corner of the internet. The “Red Wave” was supposed to be a last-ditch bulwark against the rising red tide of Neo-Marxist totalitarianism. If these dire omens were to be believed, then one might be convinced that the U.S. is in the same precarious position as China in 1966.
In the United States, we have our midterm elections coming up on November 8, 2022. Both “sides” of the election (the conservative and right-leaning Republicans and the progressive and left-leaning Democrats) have an alarming number of people frothing at the mouth with vitriol toward their opposing side. The other side, both argue, are an existential threat to democracy. They’re not just wrong or misguided, but nefarious and cunning. They want to harm [insert group here, e.g., children or minorities]. This is the kind of political divisiveness that heralds an inevitable plunge into authoritarianism and totalitarianism. Here is the problem, though: both sides are not exactly wrong about their opponents.
The word content is used as a catch-all for the various types of online media people consume. Youtube, Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitch, and plenty of others contain videos, podcasts, streams, and many other things that fall under the category of content. Shows and movies on streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, et al. are also considered content. I suppose even blogs like this one could be considered content, too. And boy is there a lot of content out there. But what does it all mean?
Less than a week ago (as of writing this), we had the twenty-first anniversary of the 9/11/2001 attacks that collapsed the World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon, and sent four planes worth of people to their deaths, in addition to those killed in the buildings (2,996 people killed in total). Just over a year ago, the U.S. finally abandoned its occupation and nation-building project in Afghanistan, a misguided enterprise that resulted from the 9/11 attacks two decades earlier. As the image above shows, violence has not yet ended in Iraq, either – a country that had no ties to al-Qaeda, nor possessed any “weapons of mass destruction”, even though those were the casus belli for the U.S. invasion. The violence perpetrated by the 9/11 terrorists is said by some to be religiously motivated, a sort of clash of civilizations, while others say it’s political (as a result of U.S. involvement in the Middle East, it’s support for Israel, and it’s cozy relationship with the Saudi government). The violence perpetrated by the U.S. in 76 different countries (as of 2018) is said by some to be anywhere between a necessary evil and noble. Others argue that it’s imperialist, racist, Islamophobic, and/or no different than what the 9/11 terrorists did. How can we parse these different views?
It’s been in vogue to say that we live in a post-truth society (never mind that this is making a truth-valued statement). Fake news, wokism, QAnon, standpoint epistemology (i.e., “my truth”), distrust of institutions and experts, postmodernism, social media echo chambers, internet algorithms, Donald Trump, bias in mainstream media, secularization, and so on have all been viewed as the death knell of Truth by some subset of the population or another within the past couple decades or so. But what do people mean when they talk about truth or the truth? Are people talking about the same things? Let’s look at this a little deeper.
I’ve said before that I don’t usually like to talk about the news-of-the-day stuff here. I like to make posts that, even if someone stumbles upon it a few years from now, they’ll still find it relevant, or at least interesting. Here I’m going to talk about the recent controversy about Sam Harris and his alleged Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. The reason is that, like it or not, Donald Trump’s ascendancy to leadership (even messianic) status among conservatives, Republicans, and right-wingers is going to have a long-reaching effect within the United States. And, since the U.S. has such a large place on the world stage, this is also something that will have far-reaching effects throughout the rest of the world as well.
In recent years the difference between equality and equity have been discussed more and more. Equality is taken to be the idea that people have equal opportunity while equity is the idea that people (ought to) have equal outcomes. In the former, it means there should be no legal or political impediment to someone entering the market, whether that’s the buying and selling of goods and services or of one’s labor. The latter, equity, says that things like racial, sex/gender, and economic disparities need to be corrected through legal and political policies. But are these the only notions of equality?
The dialectical method, popularized by Plato’s characterization of Socrates, and then updated by Hegel and Marx, is often thought of as a three-step process: person/group A proposes a thesis P, person/group B offers an anti-thesis that contradicts it ~P, and then there is a synthesis of the two that results in a new thesis Y. Hegel introduced the idea that the thesis contains within itself its own antithesis, that a thesis contains contradictions that must be worked out in a process that repeats through multiple aufheben until we arrive at the Absolute. Marx took this and applied it to history: the material conditions of an age contains its own contradictions that must be worked out in a process that eventually leads to a classless, stateless utopia known as communism.
As most of you are probably aware, there has been mounting tension between Russia, Ukraine, the the west (the United States and much of Europe) that has, as of writing this, resulted in Russia invading the Donbas in eastern Ukraine. I call it an invasion, rather than the propaganda term “peacekeeping” because an invasion is what it is. But it’s a fraught situation with many competing interests.