Here is a small exert from a recent article that I found interesting. Though I have been questioning the effectiveness of the whole “open marketplace of ideas” for a while, this author takes it on from a very different perspective than I. That point of view being a typically oppressed racial minority in American society.
Far from abolishing limits in the arena of speech, however, the naivety of this view actually encourages, however unintentionally, an oppressive limiting of free expression.
Because this ideal of a naturally free and open exchange of ideas, in which the best ideas automatically rise to the top, ignores the fact that the real world is not an ideal flat surface. The real world has power imbalances. Good ideas do not naturally rise to the surface; in the real world, we often have to be fight to hear the most important voices, and it’s hard for them to be heard above the dominant voices that are constantly shutting them down.
For example: If you were an American slave in the 18th century, you would not have as much of a say regarding what went on in this country as a white landowner. Obviously. Now, the white landowners can talk about the free exchange of ideas all they want. The fact is that the exchange is not free. If you talk back to your master, you may be whipped or otherwise punished. If you try to express yourself through voting, you will be denied. If your master asks you, in front of his guests, whether you think you should be free, your response — if you want to stay in your powerful master’s good favor, is “No, sir. I’m happy here.”
It’s not an equal playing field. It took the bloodiest war in our history, the Civil War, to even remotely attempt to even out that discourse. Free speech was limited for the slave. And sure, you could disagree — but you wouldn’t be heard. Instantly, if you said “Yes, sir” the whites at the table might laugh at you or dismiss you, and say that you didn’t know what was good for you — after all, slavery was beneficial to the blacks, or so the lore went. And you would be demeaned and face negative consequences at the plantation.
The essay goes much more into the details after this. It’s worth the read. The perspective is an interesting one, no matter the validity.
While I had not thought of the generations of bias argument as presented by the author, my problem with the so-called free marketplace of ideas was more in the lack of quality controls (for lack of a better way of putting it). To put it one way, being charismatic and camera-friendly goes a long way. Even a terrible (or debunked) idea can be made to sound damn good with the right representation. Otherwise known as, a huge chunk of so-called online intellectual content. Or as I called, pseudo-intellectual content. It’s hard to find anything BUT this at this point.
And another aspect to consider is the financial motive, as enabled by crowdsourcing. In a word, Patreon.
Many popular content producers of all stripes utilize (or rely on) the platforms as a source of income. And this is not always a trivial matter either. Dave Rubin (host of the popular Rubin Report) brings in just under $28,000 a month from just under 4,500 patrons (contributors). While I imagine that to be on the higher end of the spectrum, its a perfect illustration of the problem posed by money.
People like Dave Rubin claim to be open to anything and everything that comes their way. I will take them at their word since it’s hard to prove otherwise. Call it innocent until proven guilty.
I do have a concern, however. If an idea ever came along that end up uprooting the status quo that has been so good for them financially, would they openly admit it? Even at the cost of possibly losing the monthly windfall?
Indeed, it’s a difficult thing to consider. You can not really make accusations since the burden of proof is impossible on both sides of the coin. You can’t prove deception, and they can’t ever really DISPROVE it. Nothing short of the ability to read minds would enable that. So we must give the benefit of the doubt.
But at the same time, knowing how self-serving (and at times deceptive) humans can be, its a question that should not be ignored.
Something that came to mind last night (in relation to this topic) was money in politics. I was pondering which was worse. This, or money in politics.
In discussing this with a friend, I ended up concluding this to be worse, in a sense. Political donations are generally at arm’s length, so there is a bit of a buffer to self-interest. However, funding flowing (essentially) right into one’s bank account has no such buffers.
Money in the political system has more far-reaching consequences than moneyed free speech (for lack of a better descriptor). However, many wrong or harmful ideas can go a long way when they originate on a fairly popular and well utilized digital source. For example, the now infamously torn apart term Classical Liberalism. Despite seeing it effectively written off by more than one source, it still persists.
I guess I should note that I have highlighted what is technically 2 problems. One is lack of quality controls in terms of what ideas become mainstream. And the other being potential financial conflicts of interest of the loudest promoters of such ideas.
It’s a hard nut to crack, really. Had I not had an academic close by, I would never have realized that much of what passes for intellectualism online is trash (or close to it). Yet, most people don’t have the time (or the desire) to run everything they hear from an often trusted intellectual, though the ringer. In fact, the thought would not even occur to them, because the people they get the information from should know. Even I can’t really fault that attitude because that was essentially me 2 or 3 years ago.
What I can say however is that a good start comes in realizing that intellectual status does not necessarily guarantee that every idea or conclusion presented by said person is valid. Particularly if the person is speaking from outside their area of expertise (VERY common).
Do some digging with some creative search queries. The fanboy material is often overpowering when it comes to these guys, but other stuff is often available. Reddit (oddly enough) can be a good place to try.
A bit baffled and unsure what to think of much of anything you come across anymore?
Welcome to my world. Have a cookie.