Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower is an excellent and complex examination of historical hierarchies and a very useful tool in the analysis of a good number of ways historians have traditionally operated. Taking away one simple argument, understanding the nature of networks is a great antidote to the construction of conspiracy theories. What Ferguson has revealed is that networks, not secret cabals, explain what had heretofore been inexplicable causes and effects in history.
I have taken it upon myself to get a more solid grasp on the major thrusts of postmodernism following Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsey into the origins of Critical Theory and the newish themes of Social Justice. I have famously (among my readers) declared that “Social justice is crowdsourced law, the whining little sister of mob rule.” But social justice has ossified into something a bit more structured since I made that declaration and therefore needs a bit more explication. This is not only because there are harder targets that need taking down, but because I find it absolutely fascinating to see how ideas and concepts propagate through society. Critical Race Theory and Black Lives Matter are evolutions of networked organizations that “don’t exist”. We have seen these sorts of leaderless movements before in Occupy Wall Street, and the Tea Party. As well we have seen militant auxiliaries such as Proud Boys and Black Bloc Antifa which cannot be formally associated with either party or popular new media channel yet aligned with ideologically identifiable voices within them. These deniably-led organizations are enabled by social media and our open society. They are not conspiracies and they are not part of the x-archy. And they are not communities, but they are what we are. They are comprised of us. We the people are distributed networks. It’s not as chaotic as it seems.
In my defense of the rationality and responsibility that I sense to be slipping away and eroding confidence in American institutions, especially that of the mainstream media and recently of the Humanities, I have found light in the tunnel of history. Although I don’t seek to be a man out of time, it is the understanding of historical thought and concepts that allows me to explore outside of contemporary discourses, which seek to capture me in their dumbed down terminology. I am not some BIPOC pinned onto a velvet pillow in a glass case in the museum of multicultural curiosity. Nor am I some rare black unicorn galloping freely in the fields of corporate power. Don’t ask me what I am; I hate that question. Nevertheless I think what holds very strongly is the idea that each generation and each community is only expected to make sense of the world by identifying (ick) with a specific subset of knowledge and experience. These frameworks of reference are supposedly insuperable and incompatible. This is why Americans see themselves in a Culture War. In my own way I am disowning that as well, because it is an excuse. Boomers are expected to conflict with Millennials. The X community is expected to conflict with the Y community. Everyone is expected to explicitly identify and engage in a highly apologetic manner, as if we were all broadcast journalists who have been processed through the indemnifying power of politically corrective makeup. We are not, nor should we seek to be so. We should be free to bring our own ideas and values forward without apology and face our critics directly without intermediaries.
So when it comes to ideas and values, I wish to disabuse myself, and you, from the use of these terms. No generations, no races, no ethnicities, no genders, no nationalities, no communities. Posterity, humanity and mankind will suffice. If whatever is to be proposed is not good enough for those entities why are you telling me? You see, in this postmodern soup we are all expected to be living in our own Matrix, with Agents policing the boundaries. Your actual or assumed demographic profile will narrowcast what good for you and your ilk through specialized media channels. At the moment we are in the middle of the great shakeout such that anyone who defies these community rules will be cancelled. Then we can all live happily in our respective intellectual hidey-holes policed by Leviathan forces for our own ignorant good. Yeah right.
The good news is that this purification of our postmodern hives runs contrary to the liberal tradition of individualism and the open society and there are millions of defenders of liberty who can make sufficient noise to defer and derail this process. The bad news is that the Agents of the Matrix will spend prodigious amounts of effort to label this dissent in terms familiar to all culture warriors.
Who are these Agents? They are those who speak in narrow conventional terms to the broadest audience possible. Recall that if you cannot appeal to ‘us’ and only to ‘them’, our political system doesn’t accept you. Let us remember that if you cannot command an audience of 1 million or better, you will not remain on broadcast TV. Its business model cannot sustain you. You are relegated to the bush leagues of YouTube. Ironically, YouTube makes more money than any broadcast TV network, and of course they are no longer an open platform. They make editorial decisions. So alternative networks will have to grow and thrive. I’m watching the Darkhorse guys to see how that might materialize through Odysee.com. And who knows, maybe even Rogan’s deal with Spotify might blaze a new trail. In the meantime, we must beware of the MSM’s tendency to conventionalize fairy tales at the level of teenagers who believe they can save the planet by shaming modern industry.
If we are not a community, what are we? We are posterity, humanity and mankind. And we have evolved some standards that are excellent. For example, it was patiently explained to me by a judge in criminal court this week as I stood in voir dire, that a defendant needn’t say anything. The entire burden of proof is on the prosecution and the individual has a right to be entirely silent. The defense can say something, but it is not required. That is a very civilized and well-thought out standard of justice, and we monkey with it at our peril. The judge and the prosecutor took extra time to point out to us that we should not consider anything special about the ‘community’ of police officers who will be called to testify. We should not consider anything special about the ‘community’ of defendants accused of the crimes charged in this case. That is because we have a standard of the reasonable man, it is the standard of the individual and the implicit reason they are capable of applying to matters of evidence. These are not community standards. They are individual capacities inherent in our liberal system’s proper understanding of posterity, humanity and mankind.
It is possible, of course, that liberalism itself is wrong, but that’s not a bet I’m willing to take. I am convinced that there are satisfactory ways and means of sustaining Enlightenment liberalism, the scientific process and the open society. They will survive culture wars, they will survive cold wars, they will survive civil wars, they will survive shooting wars, all of which can be avoided if we can remember our individual liberty hangs in the balance of resisting communitarian ideologies and postmodern moral relativism. If you asked me 15 years ago, I would have gladly have taken this paragraph to be a declaration of conservative thought. I would have stepped into that Matrix. In fact, I did, but with the explicit understanding that I was a traveler on a journey of discovery, not a pilgrim seeking a holy mountain.
I retain my network of conservative friends. I retain my network of progressive friends. I retain my network of IDW, Stoic, first responder, black nationalist, corporate, gamer, shooter and all other friends. It is decentralized, overlapping and complex, but I know their names and who they are and how we interact. I don’t try to represent them or define them in a community, and I probably annoy a few of them for that reason. Nevertheless our bonds, strong and weak, long and short remain. We are nodes with variant connections. Each is special and unique and I expect that they will not be transcended or broken by Agents who will try to block us off into planned communities.
We are the people. The same sentence has been said by all of humanity since the beginning. That suffices.