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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Is Big Tech A Mortal Enemy of the Republic?

Some on the right were critical of Congress for hauling in Zuckerberg last week to give testimony about Facebook's recent scandals.  They argued that Facebook is a private company and is entitled to freedom of speech and property rights.  Therefore, if Facebook, Google/YouTube, Twitter ("Big Tech") want to ban certain users, or sell customer content, that is their right, a view echoed by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in dismissing PragerU's recent lawsuit against YouTube.  Furthermore, they argue, such a proceeding could serve as an ominous precursor to government regulation of content.  While there is certainly merit to these arguments, those on the right that side with or excuse Big Tech merely on this legal premise, are making a colossal error.

Legal Argument
First, from a legal standpoint, this is not just a "free speech" issue.  If these companies had said "we are a left wing platform, and we only allow left wing content, and if you are a conservative you will be shut down," then I would be more sympathetic to the legal argument.  That is not what has happened.

These companies gained users and content providers over many years by adhering to a neutral political policy.  Untold individuals and firms, such as PragerU, built business models around these stated policies and were led to believe the platforms would carry their content if they abided by these policies which only banned content based on "profanity, nudity, or mature content."  As Ben Shapiro demonstrates in this article, and as PragerU demonstrates in its lawsuit, there is overwhelming evidence that these platforms have disproportionately suppressed conservative content that in no way violates its stated policies.  Big Tech's actions in this regard certainly could be construed as a breach of contract if not outright fraud - a massive bait and switch that has caused significant business and monetary damage to a major portion of its customer base.

Further within the legal sphere, some are rightfully arguing that offering customer data to benefit the 2012 Obama campaign was a violation of federal campaign finance laws.  Not only that, but given the ever blurring lines between large corporations and government, how do we know such an in-kind contribution to Obama's campaign was not made with some future quid pro quo in mind?  In this case, where a company is acting as an appendage of a government organization, would not the free speech argument then come back into play?

And, what about the "Christian baker" argument?  Recall that the left believes in forcing businesses to serve customers against the owner's consent.  Why should we politically accede to a double standard in this case?  As long as we advocate freedom of trade publicly, pro-freedom advocates have the moral right to legally challenge enforcement  based on double standards.  Ayn Rand made just this argument in her essay, "A Fairness Doctrine for Education," in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It.

Given this and various other privacy concerns (e.g., Facebook admitted it monitors apps like their Messenger service where users have a reasonable expectation of privacy), and given the size, reach, and importance of these companies, I hold that it was perfectly appropriate to hold a public Congressional hearing to air these concerns and better inform legislators as to the nature and scope of these problems.

Moral Argument
However, focusing only on these legal arguments disregards the far more important moral issues at stake and neglects the larger political context of our culture today. 

These companies are taking action to suppress pro-freedom content which undermines supporters of the American Bill of Rights!  They are part and parcel of a political movement, born in modern universities, that seeks to silence speech that its left-wing proponents deem "offensive,", i.e., violently quash anyone who disagrees with them, particularly conservatives and libertarians who argue for free speech, gun rights, and the American Constitution!  Keep in mind, these companies are not corner grocery stores but are among the largest corporations in the world that control a vast majority of the planet's front end access to the Internet, and they are actively promoting an objectively evil ideology while silencing dissenters.

Note the terms and language these companies use when attempting to justify their crackdown on pro-freedom advocates.  Facebook recently shut down Diamond and Silk, black female Trump supporters, on the grounds that they are "unsafe!"  The insinuation that pro-freedom advocates are "unsafe" or "dangerous" is not a coincidence, but an essential tenet of the modern left in their efforts to crush liberty.

Big Tech has been particularly insidious as they have carried out these attacks without ever pointing their banned customers to exact violations of the stated policy.  In other words, under the guise of a neutral policy, they are declaring pro-freedom content to be inherently "dangerous" or "unsafe."  Such a policy on behalf of the largest curators of information in the world has the effect of normalizing the idea that non-progressive content is dangerous.  By suppressing pro-freedom content under the guise of a neutral policy, Big Tech is purposely conflating pro-freedom content with the concept of danger, which has the effect of ripening the culture to this notion and further serving the movement that has inculcated a generation of students to be anti-free speech. 

The conflation of violence with pro-freedom dissent underlies the modern campus notion of "safe space" and the attempts to shout down or ban conservative speakers.  In this New York Times op-ed,  Professor Lisa Feldman Barret went so far as to argue that speech itself can be a form of violence.  This ideology manifests in curricula and policies that promote critical race theory, a racist theory that criticizes focusing on colorblindness and posits that all white people are guilty of an incurable Original Sin - "whiteness" for which the only cure is confession, repentance, and likely cash payments.  Part of this theory are the concepts of "microagression" and "white privilege" which, again, seek to conflate speech with violence, discussed here.  If you have any doubt these companies are on the vanguard of this intellectual movement, consider Google's firing of James Damore or this recent article which documents how Google instructed managers that "individual achievement" and "objectivity" were examples of "white dominant culture."

Now, if we had a largely free society, and some little company somewhere decided to try and amend its policy to suppress its political opponents, it would largely be merely a legal or contractual issue.  However, in the modern political context, where the academic left is engaged in a political struggle to overthrow the Bill of Rights, by attacking free speech, promoting "speech codes" and lobbying to repeal the 2nd Amendment, where all of Europe and Canada have succumbed to legal speech restrictions and dissenters are being jailed, and where we are already seeing legal attempts to censor content (like this bill to require "fact-checking" of websites), we should regard attempts by major corporations to aid and abet this cause to be morally despicable and a threat to our country! 

Big Tech Hearing Likened to HUAC
The current scenario could be likened, at least in principle, to the late 1940's when Ayn Rand was one of the friendly witnesses who cooperated with the HUAC committee investigating communist infiltration in the United States. At that point in history, communism was a mortal threat to the American Republic as communists sought to spread their evil throughout the world and had state sponsorship in the Soviet Union and throughout Asia.  The 1930's were known as America's "red decade," and, as a Russian emigre, Rand understood the threat posed by communism first-hand as she observed the spread of communist propaganda throughout Hollywood. Although when "[a]sked years later about the hearings, Rand said that they were a "dubious undertaking," "futile," and "nothing but disappointments" she regarded the purpose and goals of the committee to be legitimate.
She did believe, however, that it was acceptable for the committee to ask people whether they had joined the Communist Party, because the Party supported the use of violence and other criminal activities to achieve its political goals, and investigating possible criminal activities was an appropriate role of government. "I certainly don't think it's any kind of interference with anybody's rights or freedom of speech," she said.
Here we can identify a core principle with respect to free speech.  One can say he advocates the overthrow of the government without legal repercussion, but taking action towards that end puts him in legal jeopardy.  Similarly, one could say that they'd like to commit a crime, but if you take action towards that end by plotting with conspirators you leave the realm of "free speech" and enter the realm of criminal action.  Analogously, you cannot acquire weapons in order to overthrow the government and then claim property rights.  You cannot swing your arm into someone's face and claim that their face just got in the way of your freedom of movement.  There is always a context within which individual rights exist.

So, is it ridiculous to suggest that Big Tech is a threat to America in the same way that communism was a threat?  After all, the communist countries had nuclear weapons and large armies.  It's true that Big Tech does not have an army, and, in isolation, it seems silly to suggest that Big Tech is likely to unilaterally overthrow America.  It's not silly when you consider Big Tech as part of a broader intellectual and political movement in which it serves a major role.

Recall, the communists didn't physically attack America - they first worked with intellectual allies in western universities, media, business and arts, to spread propaganda in an effort to ripen the culture and create sympathy for communist political policies - and it worked (see the 1930s)! So, the better question is how is a political movement that seeks to end freedom of speech, suppress dissent, and disarm the populace functionally, legally, or morally different than any other political organization that seeks to overthrow individual rights in America?  The two main criteria for posing an actual threat to undermine or even overthrow America or western precepts of liberty and individual rights, are ideology and means, both of which, like the old communists, are possessed by Big Tech and its allies today.

Whether left wing political movements gain power by force or by vote, the end result will be the same - dictatorship.  Today, there is a real political movement seeking to overthrow the American system that has already had a massive affect on our culture, institutions and legal policies and is actually being implemented throughout the west in once free countries like Britain and Canada. To the extent that these companies use their resources to aid and abet this cause, they are actively seeking to undermine individual rights in this country.   While the legal principles and strategy involved could be debated, at best, Big Tech is engaged in a morally despicable cause that should provoke outrage among advocates of individual rights.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Founding Fathers on Immigration: Further Arguments Against "Open-Borders"

Immigration and the American Founding, a paper written in 2012 by Dr. Kevin Portteus, is an excellent analysis of some of the moral, legal, and practical issues related to immigration originally considered by America's Founding Fathers, and, in my opinion, serves as a necessary complement to my recent posts on immigration in a free society. 

Dr. Portteus notes that both sides of the immigration debate have sought to appropriate the Founding Fathers for their own purposes concluding:
The elements of America’s original understanding of immigration have been brought into conflict. There is only one way for America to reconcile American exceptionalism with the preservation of that exceptionalism. The key to resolving the immigration problem is for Americans to readopt the principles of the American Founding as their first principles and as the best practical guide for their politics and policy.
In arguing for sovereignty and against the so-called "open borders" position, I argued that those who claim "people have the right to immigrate" or the "right to movement" commit the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale.  They base such a view on a rationalistic conception of individual rights, a topic I explored in-depth in this post.  In contrast to these types, Portteus never drops the historical context of how and why the American government was formed in the first place.  For example, in discussing Jefferson's "radical new conception of the relationship of the British crown and her colonies," he summarizes:
No one has an inherent right to rule, and no one has an indefeasible obligation to submit to rule. Political obligation is the consequence of the voluntary consent of individuals. The 1780 Massachusetts Constitution holds that “The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact.” The formation of political society is thus predicated on the assent of those, who will compose the society. 
The idea, "that each individual must consent to the government, under which he
lives" was "an attack on the English understanding of political obligation, which
was a legacy of European feudalism."  And while proponents of individual rights should rejoice that the American Founders rejected the notion of "feudal obligation," Portteus makes an important distinction:
 In arguing that the principles of the American Founding conferred a right to emigrate from the land of one’s birth, one should not make the mistake of assume that the principle of consent also conferred an inherent right to immigrate to any place of one’s choosing. If “all men are created equal” then consent must be reciprocal among the parties involved.
In other words, people are not obligated to stay in a country, but that does not mean anyone can enter a country.  In a prior post, I argued that since a particular group of people form a government for the expressed purpose of providing for their own common defense, they must elect and grant power to government to represent them in dealing with foreign nations or foreign nationals. Here, Portteus cites the argument that citizens must voluntarily consent to new entrants:
Return to the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution: “The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.” Every member of a political community must consent to live, not just with the laws of that political community, but with the other members of the community. Failure to do so would mean that no political community is formed between the parties.  
He puts it succinctly: "Just as the individual must consent to live within the community, the community must consent to the membership of each individual. Once this is accomplished, each of the contracting parties becomes a citizen." In other words, "Mutual or reciprocal consent is dictated by the principle of natural equality. If an immigrant can successfully impose himself on a political community, in violation of its laws, then the relation between the immigrant and the community is not a relationship of equals." Furthering this argument, Portteus writes:
It follows from this theory of consent that the whole people must consent to each individual’s membership in that society. As Gouverneur Morris argued in the Convention, “every society from a great nation down to a club had the right of declaring the conditions on which new members should be admitted.” The United States Constitution grants to Congress the power “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” The people have delegated to Congress the power to fix the terms under which America will consent to an immigrant become a member of the American political community. If the immigrant wishes to become a citizen and chooses to abide by those conditions, then citizenship shall be conferred upon him. The American people are collectively represented by their government, which speaks for them, through the law, in deciding who shall be admitted as a new member of the political community.
In relation to the idea that there is not an inherent right to immigrate, Portteus considers Madison, in Federalist 43, who dealt with the very real possibility that some colonies would not join the union as at that time, since North Carolina and Rhode Island had failed to ratify, asking "what if one or more states refused to ratify? What would be the relationship between the nation under the Constitution and the refractory states?" Although Madison states that in dealing with non-ratifying states "the rights of humanity must in all cases be duly and mutually respected" he recognized that "no political relation can subsist between the assenting and dissenting states." Portteus concludes:
Moreover, refusal to admit a person into a political community does not constitute a violation of his rights. A person who is denied entrance into a country is not denied any inherent natural right. He is perfectly free to go elsewhere, or even to form his own political community, and to take any necessary and proper measures to secure his own rights." 
In other words, while an individual has the right to leave a country if he does not assent to its terms, he does not have a positive right to enter or immigrate to another country without the approval of the citizens of that country. 

In my posts, I argued that merit-based immigration is an objectively essential component of the government's function in securing the rights of its own citizens.  Portteus turns to this topic noting that "not only do the Founders’ principles confer a right to restrict immigration, they also confer an obligation to do so under certain circumstances. As a self-governing regime, America must be particularly concerned about the character and beliefs of its citizens."  He writes:
Not only must Americans share a common set of fundamental political principles, they must also be possessed of a certain character. Madison asserts in Federalist 55 that “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”
He discusses Jefferson's concerns that "admitting persons who are not prepared poses a fundamental problem for the American experiment. Jefferson continues: “They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty.”

In general, we can say that the Founders regarded the immigration of virtuous and oppressed people to be desirous and beneficial to America.  Washington once said that he “had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong..  But note, here and in other instances, they qualify their desire to take in immigrants to those who merit entry, i.e., the "virtuous."  And while each Founder certainly differed in degree, they certainly recognized it was a necessary and appropriate function of a sovereign government (legally, morally, and practically) to regulate immigration, i..e, they rejected the concept of unlimited immigration or so-called "open borders" as it's referred to today.

A full analysis of this paper is beyond my scope, but  I recommend reading the entire piece to better achieve a balanced understanding of important historical facts and principles offered by the most brilliant political thinkers in history.