Liberalism, Diversity and Social Cohesion

by Kevin Currie-Knight

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I am not as sure as I once was, and I suppose that means I’m doing this “getting older” thing right. What am I not so sure of? For the last ten years or so, I have been convinced that the technological and cultural inertia toward increased diversity and pluralism is a good thing. We are increasingly able to customize how we want to live, choose from an increasing array of media, etc. While I still think this sort of diversity is a net positive, I worry that I’ve overlooked some of the negatives that come with it. Particularly, I wonder whether social fracturing – the loss of some common culture that enabled us all to communicate and coexist – doesn’t in some sense thwart the very condition of tolerance that enables diversity to flourish. Conversely, if we want a world where diversity and pluralism doesn’t just mean the freedom to exist in warring tribes, do we have to sacrifice some liberal freedoms, like the freedom to associate only with certain people or receive information solely from sources one chooses?

In what follows, the ratio of questions to answers will be quite low, and I might apologize if there was any other way to do this. If it helps, think of this less as an opinion piece than a sketch by a person groping for a new opinion after a crisis of confidence regarding the old one.

We live in exciting times, or so I once thought and still try to think. As anthropologists, sociologists, and technologists point out – often enthusiastically – these are times of increasing diversification and individuation. In the days of retail stores, movie theaters, and local papers, we had options from which to choose but they were markedly limited by things like floor space. Thus, we all had to conform to some degree to that range of choices. In today’s age of online retail, streaming services, and internet media, our options and abilities to find/create what is right for us – to diversify and individuate our lives – has expanded exponentially.

Add to this the decrease in what economists call information costs. If I had niche or taboo interests – say, in Wicca, swinging, the Church of Scientology, or the Libertarian political party – in pre-internet days, it would have cost me significant time and energy to seek out and find (let alone regularly communicate with) such networks. Now, it is as simple as a web search. Diversification isn’t just more possible than before, but it is cheaper to exercise than ever before.

Then, of course, there is what the internet, the upsurge in options, and the decrease of information costs have collectively done to media. These phenomena have democratized, demonopolized, decolonized [whatever you want to call it] media spaces by making it significantly harder for any “dominant players” to wrest and retain much control. As technologist David Weinberger notes, “old knowledge institutions like newspapers, encyclopedias, and textbooks got much of their authority from the fact that they filtered information for the rest of us.” And in the world of the internet, not only have those authorities lost authority, but authority itself has proved harder to monopolize and solidify. In the days where any given town had a handful of newspapers, those just were the authorities for everyone. Now, it is easier for each of us to choose the authorities that have authority for us. And in this type of space, it makes good economic sense for media outlets to gain and retain viewers primarily by flattering them.

I get giddy even rehearsing this narrative. As I was when I first discovered these lines of thought ten-plus years ago in the works of techno-optimists like Clay Shirky, David Weinberger, and Chris Anderson. Part of the reason is that I am admittedly a sucker for diversity and a libertarian “live and let live” ethic. I like diversity for aesthetic, moral, and political reasons. These techno-optimists sketched a view of a beautiful internet that would increase diversity by increasing our options and ability to find niches that served a variety of interests.

So, what is the problem? When I was reading David Weinberger glowing about what the internet would do to the idea of shared knowledge in the 2010’s, I was dismissing critics like Cass Sunstein, who warned that this newfound ability to customize and diversity experience may come at the cost of social cohesion and ironically [though it just seemed contradictory at the time], tolerance for the very diversity this new landscape was creating.

I re-read Sunstein in late 2020 and having now seen late 2020 close up, his argument seems a lot more plausible and vivid. Earlier I said that my own ethic is a libertarian “live and let live ethic,” and that second part (after the “and”) is just as important as the first. In fact, that second clause about letting live is arguably a necessary condition for the workability of the part about living. I admire diversity but equally, I admire making sure we live in a society and world that is safe for it.

Here is the best expression of the dilemma that I can offer: I want a world where diversity can flourish, but this would require an ability and desire on the part of the citizenry to tolerate difference. Ironically, it seems to me that the very mechanisms which lead to the flourishing of diversity – such as the ability to customize one’s experience and locate/carve out one’s niche – also work against the public’s ability and desire to tolerate interpersonal difference. The more we can block and unfriend on social media, the more we can curate our own spaces, and the more we get used to never having to tolerate different others. A classic double-edged sword.

Think about how the media works in our present landscape. There are obvious advantages to having an array of sources to choose from: we get to consume different perspectives, are not forced to put all our proverbial eggs in one interpretive basket, etc. But to Matt Taibbi’s point in his wonderful book  Hate Inc., this just isn’t how people consume media in the internet age. Rather than considering and listening to different voices, we more often choose the one or two sources that reflect our existing biases and stick with them. And financially, those sources – which have to compete for attention like never before – have everything to gain by stoking narratives among their consumers that work against a society that tolerates diversity.

I never thought I’d say this, but part of my dilemma also revolves around notions of a shared culture as a prerequisite for toleration between groups. I know that sounds contradictory, and if I’m being honest, the idea of a shared culture among a heterogeneous population makes me uneasy. It evokes images of North Korea, the USSR, China, and of swathes of people being forced into some sort of nationalism. But on the other side, there is the question of whether groups can be so different that they can hardly communicate with each other and just don’t see the point. In other words, can a society make significant space for Black Lives Matter, Qanon, Antifa, the 1619 Project, and the 1776 Project (feel free to think of more examples yourself) and contain enough common frames of reference to have the types of conversation that respect for diversity requires? I used to be more confident in a “yes” answer,” but reflecting on why, I realize that my emphasis on “let live” assumes that different groups will be content to “let” each other live. I am no longer convinced that this is always a good assumption.

Lastly, I am concerned about the possibility that these problems can only be solved at the expense of certain cherished liberal values. I’ve written before that I think “cancel culture” is a problem that can only be solved by an illiberal curtailment of free association and free speech. I am similarly worried that solving some of the above problems means taking illiberal steps. If the pluralistic media succeeds by fracturing the social order and selling “us versus them” narratives, I can’t see a solution that doesn’t involve either illiberally limiting what outlets may report and say, or curtailing consumer freedom of access to diverse sources. If coexistence turns out to depend on societally shared norms or senses of reality, I can’t see a possible solution that doesn’t make the US a bit more like China.

This isn’t the way I want to end this essay. As said, I’m uneasy about the high question to answer ratio. But as also said, I have no good answer to give. And yeah, maybe that means I am doing this “getting older” thing right. Or maybe not.

33 comments

  1. So many fascinating and important threads here.

    One that I have been interested for some time has to do with the relative merits of size and quality as they intersect with curation.

    The following is from the YA novel I’ve been working on for about a decade. It’s a fictional version of a conversation I have with my students every year. [Mr. Fortunato is the teacher in a class in an experimental high school that is replicating a typical suburban high school of the 1980’s in meticulous detail]

    =============================================================================================

    David: I dunno’…seems to me that this is the sort of thing that the internet is actually good for. Beyond all the porn and worthless, gossipy crap, it also gives you access to practically unlimited information.

    Mr. Fortunato: The key word being “unlimited.”

    David: How can unlimited information be bad?

    Mr. Fortunato: [Smiles] You haven’t been grading student papers for the last twenty years.

    Righteous D: They’ve gotten worse…

    Mr. Fortunato: Much worse. And you can date it…mark the beginning of the slide…and it’s when internet access became ubiquitous.

    Myron: Now, that’s hard to understand…not that student papers have gotten worse, but that it’s because of kids’ access to unlimited information.

    Righteous D: What if you tried to learn Kung Fu that way?

    Myron: What way?

    Righteous D: By going on the internet. Googling “Kung Fu”…clicking on the links that come up…watching YouTube videos…

    Myron: [Laughs] That wouldn’t work. You gotta’ learn it from a Master.

    Liz: [To Mr. Fortunato] Your point is that “unlimited” also means “indiscriminate.”

    Mr. Fortunato: Bingo. Unless you already know a lot about your subject, internet searches are more likely to provide you with garbage than with good information.

    Vicky: [Her eyes narrowing] But, even if there is more crap on the internet, there’s also more good stuff. I mean, we have one library, here, at the school. But with the internet, you get access to every library on the planet, as well as every other possible resource.

    Liz: Don’t think about how much there is, in total, Vic. Think about how likely it is you’re gonna’ find the good stuff.

    Mr. Fortunato: [Paces] You’re researching the structure of DNA, for Bobbie Novak’s Honors Bio class. There are two rooms, both filled with books. In the first room, there are a hundred books, handpicked by a group of molecular biologists. In the second room, there are ten thousand books, which include those hundred books, plus nine thousand, nine hundred other books, selected indiscriminately. So, it’ll include stuff written by mediocre biologists, science popularizers, Young Earth Creationists, and other assorted cranks of every variety. You have a limited amount of time and know nothing about the subject yourself. In which room are you more likely to find a greater number of good sources on DNA?

    Vicky: [Her eyes widening] The first room.

    Mr. Fortunato: [Nods] An academic library, like ours, is the first room. Every book in it has been hand-selected by experts. The history teachers pick which books on history the school buys. The science teachers pick which books on science the school buys…and so on. But a Google search…

    Vicky: …is the second room.

    Mr. Fortunato smiles broadly.

    1. Great scene and very well put. I hope you plan on publishing this book one day.

    2. That is the argument for book burning and the inquisition. That doesn’t mean it is a bad argument. It certainly has a point that can be raised in its favor. Of course, you can argue that the “experts” on Christianity (giving rise to the inquisition) is different than being an “expert” in other fields like politics or ethics. But these fields that effect how we live do have significant differences of opinion that as a practical matter make them very similar to theology in many ways.

      As for fields that talk about how we evolved, or how old the earth is, I don’t think false beliefs there are all that important. I might be off by 2 billion years on how old the earth is. It doesn’t really matter to me, should it? Of course for some people it does matter. But when we get into that question about whether and how much it should matter I think the notion that we have experts that should be telling us instead of people thinking on their own starts to gets back to the inquisition type arrangement.

  2. With regard to the matter of authority, this little gem from Robert Nisbet’s “The Twilight of Authority’ [1975] is apt:

    “There is no form of community that is without some form of stratification of function and role. Wherever two or more people associate, there is bound to be some form of hierarchy, no matter how variable…or how minor…Our gravest problem at the present time, in many respects, is the disrepute into which this word, this unavoidable necessity, has fallen as the consequence of the generalized philosophy of equalitarianism…We have seen institution after institution weakened or crippled in the social order…in the name of a vain and vapid equality.”

  3. Society changes and Kevin is probably right that it’s more diverse, with less tolerance and less social cohesion.

    I’m older than most of you (about to turn 75) and I’m even more out of it in this new world than you are.

    Maybe 25 years ago my parents, now deceased, visited us in Chile and after they left, I asked my son, Pablo, then about age 10, his opinion of them. He had seen them before but in previous visits he was too young to form an articulate opinion. My mother, he said, was hard to take, while my father, he said, was boring, but ok to be with.

    I asked him a few more questions and realized that what bothered him in my mother was her tendency to compete with the younger generation, to try to show that her values and tastes, those she was raised with, were somehow superior or better than those the kids had. My father, on the other hand, just accepted that he was out of it, smiled and more or less agreed with everything that the kids had to say, from time to time putting in a wise word to steer them on their course, without questioning their course.

    I’ve decided, in my old age, to follow my father as a model. There’s no rational reason for that besides the fact that I have no interest in making problems for myself with the younger generations.

    So unless I see that society is about to turn into Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Russia, I accept things as they are. Most of you write from the United States, where Trump, possibly a genuine fascist menace, was just defeated and Biden, who seems like a fairly sane fellow, was elected. So the real danger in your society, that of Trumpism, has been avoided for now. Obviously, you all have every right in the world to keep complaining about where society is going, but I’ll not join you on that trip for the reasons outlined above.

      1. I never claimed that newer is better. That’s not my point at all.

        1. “My father, on the other hand, just accepted that he was out of it, smiled and more or less agreed with everything that the kids had to say, from time to time putting in a wise word to steer them on their course, without questioning their course.”

          = = = = =

          This strikes me as contradictory.

        2. If your point simply was that young people require guidance and stewardship, but that it needs to be applied cleverly and with care, I agree.

          1. First of all, by “young people”, I’m not talking 5 year olds who do require guidance and stewardship.

            Let’s say we’re talking about teenagers and young adults.

            I believe that young people can profit from and learn from older adults, but not all of them will and there’s not much that can be done about that. Older adults should be open to offering what they’ve learned from experience to young people if young people seek it, but if they don’t seek it, why bother? Why not let them learn from their own mistakes and find their own path in life? With care you can size up a young person to see if they want to hear what you’ve learned from experience and if you find that they do, share it with them, for sure.

            Once again, I’m talking about most cases. If a teenager is becoming addicted to heroin or to crack, you have every right to intervene. That’s a metaphor.

          2. Why bother? Because we have invested an enormous amount — risked; sacrificed; labored; etc. — to create the world that young people are purporting to change. It is our world as much as it is theirs. You don’t just get to come along and fuck up what other people have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into. And it’s stupid to want to.

            The issue is one of basic gratitude; well-earned deference; and overall respect. I learned this at a very young age, and the lesson was not optional as it shouldn’t have been.

            This is entirely separate from the question of mentoring/teaching/parenting tactics of which “learning from your mistakes” is one of many. But the basic situation is one of an inheritance, of which the first duty is always not to blow it.

      2. I had a conversation with a good friend of mine about what things we believe now that future generations will think us rubes for believing. My conclusion is that they will think us very silly for believing that we should give reasons for our beliefs. Note: part of the reason I think this will be their conclusion is that I don’t think it at all obvious that people in the future will be less foolish than we are. There’s just as much reason to think they will be *more* foolish.

    1. This certainly is one way to look at the possession of greater experience. It is not mine.

      Of two people, one of whom has had experience of both A and B, the other who has only had experience of B, the former is clearly — demonstrably — in a better position to evaluate the quality of B.

      Civilizations that understand the value of wisdom flourish. Those that do not, do not.

      1. Fortunately we don’t live in a world of only septuagenarians and youth. The give and take along the age gradient and the power and historical differential towards the older established, allows for a rather consistent transference of knowledge while allowing room for change. After all, our youth are of our own doing combined with the exuberance of new eyes that question the status quo. The sixties come to mind and now the old hippies are facing the music.

        Traditional societies remained static for millennia till a technological genie or an exceptional individual was released. Those days are lost forever.

        I think Wallerstein is saying Kerry-Knight is being too pessimistic with the ushering in of a new era. That these type of alarmist sentiments visit every shift in generations yet seem to work themselves out. It’s been doomsday since Gutenberg and Newton Minnow.

        When Americans stop watching the Super Bowl , gorging on hotdogs, rock and roll and hip hop, and hating North Korea, I’ll also be worried. There is still a lot of American glue holding us together.

        1. This reminds me of something author Sandra Newman tweeted recently: “Amazing how people assume that, if they disagree with their parents about politics, the parents are wrong because the parents are old, but when they get older and their kids disagree with them about politics, they assume the kids are wrong because the kids are young. This happens generation after generation without any change and every single generation thinks it’s the chosen one. I still think I’m right about politics though.”

          1. “Amazing how people assume that, if they disagree with their parents about politics, the parents are wrong because the parents are old, but when they get older and their kids disagree with them about politics, they assume the kids are wrong because the kids are young.”

            I have always taken politics to be an area where we can disagree without seeing the other person as wrong.

  4. What I didn’t realize until I got older was how vulnerable civilization is to sudden economic downturns, and how this contributes to irrationalism and authoritarianism. Cultural diversity is great, it makes life more interesting, but it threatens certain people, especially in economic hard times. I look to the similarities between the United States now and Germany one hundred years ago. In both situations conspiracy theories are rampant and people are so motivated by an overwhelming sense of grievance and mistrust towards the government and academic elites that they are willing to believe obvious lies and blindly follow a dangerously amoral leader. People are gravitating to polarized internet and social media bubbles partly because of the political atmosphere of culture wars that has been deliberately stoked over decades by the Republican party in order to motivate their base. When the last economic meltdown occurred in 2008, militias, and white supremacists began to metasticize and social media became a gateway drug for extremism. Trump capitalized on this by riding on the coattails of Birtherism – the racist lie that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. For those who are interested the philosopher Hannah Arendt has a very complex analysis of the roots of anti-semitism and totalitarianism that is worth getting lost in. I do her an injustice by summerizing the book, but anyways, she seems to be saying that people who are economically or politically displaced, who have lost touch with their cultural roots are particularly prone to the temptation to believe racist myths and blame all their problems on outsider (meaning: “not from around here”) elites. Sara Palin with her championing of “real” Americans is a perfect example.

    1. I don’t think you are addressing the thrust of K-K’s topic but your analysis is irrefutable. Resource insufficiency is always at the root of modern social upheaval. Formerly it could be pempire, ego, and religion but even the Romans new they could get by without circuses as long as there was bread.

  5. Life in a complex society depends very much on shared social conventions. This seems not as well understood as it should be, with a tendency to reject conventions as knowledge on the view that they have no content. This is a mistake. Our knowledge of social convention is our most important knowledge. Social conventions, which include meaning conventions, are the glue that holds it all together.

    With technological change we have seen changes in these conventions, as needed to support the new technology. The technologists have mostly been very willing to share these changes with others. But there is a significant part of society that is suspicious of technological change and suspicious of technologists. And that’s pretty much the culture wars that we are seeing.

  6. “I never thought I’d say this, but part of my dilemma also revolves around notions of a shared culture as a prerequisite for toleration between groups. I know that sounds contradictory, and if I’m being honest, the idea of a shared culture among a heterogeneous population makes me uneasy. It evokes images of North Korea, the USSR, China, and of swathes of people being forced into some sort of nationalism.”

    If a culture is not shared, it is not a functioning culture. Conservative thinkers (like Robert Nisbit, whom Dan quotes on stratification, or T.S. Eliot) have always known this. The way I see it is that there has been a torrent of propaganda over the last sixty years or so directed not only against stratification of function and role but also against the idea that a common (or shared) culture is a good thing. I am not saying this propaganda caused the social breakdown we are now witnessing. It has accompanied the breakdown, however, and — especially through its influence on educators and the education system — has facilitated it.

    The very fact that for you the notion of a shared culture conjures up images of extreme dictatorships shows the power of the unfortunate intellectual trends of which I speak to obscure a reality which was once widely understood and accepted.

    1. I’m curious about exploring this line of thought.

      At what level of society does a culture operate to be considered shared enough to be functioning? Or at what point does a culture transition from sub-culture to common culture? Am I correct in assuming the common culture can absorb some traits of a sub-culture without compromising itself? (Something like Common American culture absorbing some traits of Irish-American culture.)

      1. The only “Common American culture” for the past 79 years has been television. That already tells you we have a problem here. And now television has been supplanted by the internet. Oops – no more common culture.

  7. The OP ends wondering whether possible solutions would look like China.

    China is a largely homogeneous culture. America has far too diverse a population for that.

    The future of America is India – a nation of many languages, many sects of an all-encompassing religion competing with an imported monotheistic religion. A nation of extremes of ideology and of practice.

    As is well known, Hinduism holds that bovines are somehow sacred and sacrosanct. I suggest researching a video of Gordon Ramsay, who found a Hindu sect that made the eating of beef an initiation. They made this acceptable to themselves by spicing the beef with incredibly hot peppers (Ramsay ends the video by vomiting.) This is America. Some take drugs instead of eating spicy beef, but the cultural implications are the same.

    Discounting this or complaining about it are wastes of time. I may be suspected that I propose Post-Modernism. I simply state what seems obvious to me – the development of the post-modern era, whether I like it or not.

    Nostalgia is irrelevant here. Was the world a better place when I was young? And were bad choices made leading to the mess we live with today/ Sure. But that is a matter for historians. The question is, how do we live with this mess.. First and foremost – we accept that it is a mess, and we will learn to live with it.

    1. I have not been to India so I can’t say whether it is the future as you predict. From talking to people who have been there I certainly hope not.

      I would not call America right now “a mess.”

      America is “a mess” compared to what? If we compare it to an ideal society we can imagine ok. But was it better in the past? In some ways maybe but in others it is better now.

      If we compare it to other countries then I think it would be odd to say America is a mess.

  8. Let me make this perfectly clear. Some write as if through proper reasoning we can change the trajectory of which I wrote in my comment. *That is not possible.* There are particular issues that can be modified through reasonable discourse and politics. But the general trend is clear, decisive, and inevitable. I suggest a conversation about how to live with it, not about whether we want to live with it or not.

    1. Absolutely a conversation worth having. I’ve seen religious types propose a “Benedict option” but what of those of us with no such beliefs or institutional support?

  9. That’s an interesting piece, Kevin. You write: ‘If the pluralistic media succeeds by fracturing the social order and selling “us versus them” narratives’. Is it the fault of the pluralistic media? Perhaps it is the atomisation of society, which started a while back? Maybe ‘the common good’ could be an antidote?

    Alternatively, we could try to counter the me-cult and the we-cult (identitarians) by focusing on one particular domain: school (primary school and high school)? There we should learn about how to assess information and sources of information, and not to vilify people (online) who don’t agree with us. I don’t think education has caught up with these phenomena yet – it may take a couple of years.

    Even academia hasn’t caught up with it. Recently, hundreds of philosophers signed an open letter, condemning a fellow philosopher, without checking the facts [https://sites.google.com/view/trans-phil-letter/]. The organiser of the open letter, who hadn’t checked the facts either, subsequently had to add an erratum.

    A couple of years ago a philosopher from the North of England highlighted an upcoming conference in Brazil on Platonism (on her influential feminist blog), which featured male philosophers only – a ‘manference’. I clicked on the conference link and noticed one first name ending in ‘a’ – female names in Romance languages often end in ‘a’: Maria, Teresa, Romina, etc. And it turned out that this was indeed a female professor from Brazil – true, there was an imbalance, but it wasn’t a manference. I notified said philosopher and pointed out that there was one female presenter after all. No reply. I wrote again after 3 days and then the post was taken down, still without any acknowledgement or even a ‘thank you’. The poster failed in two respects: she didn’t check the facts and she couldn’t bring herself to admit that she had been wrong. But by then the damage was done. The organiser of the conference was bewildered by all the negative comments.

    Rawls argued that political stability requires ‘an overlapping consensus’ about the political conception of justice in a society – its set-up. You could still have competing conceptions of the good (e.g. different religions/world views), but you agree on certain things (e.g. freedom of religion, including the freedom to be an atheist). Only things which endanger the overlapping consensus would need curtailing: e.g. a party aiming to overthrow the current system by establishing a dictatorship. But there also needs to be a consensus on how to treat each other and to have the grace to admit when you are wrong. One definition of philosophy is: the art of thinking clearly. But even philosophers sometimes fail in this respect.

  10. Mr. Currie-Knight, what are your thoughts regarding French Laïcité? Does this policy chafe against your preferred notions of freedom? Or is it a necessary remedy against the rise of religious forms of intolerance? Or both?

  11. A practical problem in a society without a common culture is that everything has to legislated. Otherwise, nobody knows what is allowed or forbidden. The legislative process in going to be an unpleasant slog, and will in itself create division. And the result will be an unpleasant society, because all these laws and regulations must be enforced.

  12. Great article because regardless of differences in conclusion it frames issues we should think about.

    “These phenomena have democratized, demonopolized, decolonized [whatever you want to call it] media spaces by making it significantly harder for any “dominant players” to wrest and retain much control. As technologist David Weinberger notes, “old knowledge institutions like newspapers, encyclopedias, and textbooks got much of their authority from the fact that they filtered information for the rest of us.” And in the world of the internet, not only have those authorities lost authority, but authority itself has proved harder to monopolize and solidify.”

    The lesson of the inquisition for many non-religious people is simply that religion/Christianity is bad. But as a Catholic I tried to see if there was another principle we could avoid this problem with. And certainly as I read about the inquisition or other horrible Church actions against heretics I found I had to at least grant they may have been well intentioned. People did believe eternal souls were at stake. I myself believe in an afterlife so I don’t just entirely discount this. Although I have to say although I think religious views play a role I am happy to leave the specifics to God as to how we get into heaven.

    The concerns you outline in the above quote are the concerns of the medieval Popes. The church was the authority that filtered information. So where did they go wrong? Before the printing press they had more control over what people believed and it seems they could enforce a single view. There were plenty of heresies in the early church but they were shut down. But then the printing press basically meant that beliefs could no longer be controlled as easily and the costs of trying to control belief soon outweighed the benefit.

    It may seem cynical to state that the problem of the inquisition is a merely practical one. But that does not mean it is any less insurmountable or horrible. After the printing press let alone the internet, trying to control what people believe or their ability to express their beliefs will *always* be worse than just dealing with their right to do it. That is the lesson of the inquisition and post printing press world.

    I don’t think it is only a practical problem though. I do think there is a moral principle as well. It is just wrong to try to coerce an adult to hold certain beliefs. It was wrong before the printing press even if it could be done without as many practical problems.

    Of course, this doesn’t even address problems stemming from the fact that those with authority to coerce often don’t understand what is true to begin with. They also have biases and are sometimes plain evil. This is not just true of the Medieval Church or the Soviet Union. It is true about human beings. Who is to be this authority?

    Now the main authority is the state. People like Bernie Sanders are clear about this. They do not pretend to be liberals they are progressives. That is the difference. And the progressive agenda is similar to the agenda of the inquisition.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lv7iflHYx_E

    Even if you like the Catholic or a certain progressive agenda everyone should understand that giving some institutions powers to try to control beliefs and expressions of those beliefs is a horrible idea.

    “But to Matt Taibbi’s point in his wonderful book Hate Inc., this just isn’t how people consume media in the internet age. Rather than considering and listening to different voices, we more often choose the one or two sources that reflect our existing biases and stick with them. And financially, those sources – which have to compete for attention like never before – have everything to gain by stoking narratives among their consumers that work against a society that tolerates diversity.”

    This is of course happening. And again the lesson from the inquisition is apt. After the reformation we have about 30,000 Christian denominations. They all think the other churches have insurmountable problems that is presumably why they split. Churches often try to teach what people want to hear in order to fill the pews and the coffers. And the reasons we can give for catering to the crowd can be justified in innumerable ways.

    Sad situation but it is better to leave it as is than impose another inquisition.

    We have all gotten frustrated with a website and left it. When you post online with opinions that are not favored in the group you can expect a certain amount of abuse and no one likes that. And that community won’t like you. But I do feel some obligation to share views with those who disagree with me. I think this is important. On the flip side we should be especially welcoming of those who disagree with our internet community. We should understand that they can help us with our own biases and they will also be important ambassadors of what our community believes.

    In other words I think we can recognize what is happening with multicasting as opposed to broadcasting and address it in a productive way in our own lives. I think this works pretty well. It may not work as quickly as the soviets shutting down churches in order to hurt the church there but it avoids lots of other bigger problems.

    “I’ve written before that I think “cancel culture” is a problem that can only be solved by an illiberal curtailment of free association and free speech.”

    I think people can and should speak out against cancel culture (like Dan Kaufman and many other are doing) and it will be reduced. It shouldn’t be defended or rationalized as many do. I am not sure “solving” cancel culture is the goal. But we can certainly reduce it without using the state or coercion. When you suggest amazon should be forced to carry a book or people should be forced not to boycott I think that is a strawman. Dan and others are not saying anyone should have their freedoms of association or free speech curtailed. They are just expressing their disapproval of cancel culture and if more people did that (instead of rationalizing it) the problem would be reduced.

  13. “In other words, can a society make significant space for Black Lives Matter, Qanon, Antifa, the 1619 Project, and the 1776 Project (feel free to think of more examples yourself) and contain enough common frames of reference to have the types of conversation that respect for diversity requires?”

    You may find it interesting that Joseph Uscinski (who studies conspiracy theories) said that the evidence does not support the view that conspiracy theories are believed more now than earlier.

    https://remnant.thedispatch.com/p/triple-barreled-questions

    Listen at about 12:00 he addresses this.

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