The Dark Side of Internet Liberation

David Gelernter wrote:

It’s really East European Jews you mean.

Quite correct. I had almost inserted that qualifier myself. It’s impossible to read any history of the American Old Left without noticing the preponderance of Litvak, Galizianer, Ukrainian, and Polish family names.

I guess my underlying error here is that when somebody says “Ashkenazim” I tend to automatically think of shtetl country rather than Vienna or Berlin. I suspect this is a common tendency among goyim who know the word “Ashkenazim” at all. Blame “Fiddler on the Roof” for it. :-)

Gelernter:

Nonetheless you are right, and it’s a matter of history: Jews played a disproportionately prominent role in pushing American intellectuals and universities to the Left. That this never created any sort of anti-Semitic backlash (or hasn’t so far) is one of the most extraordinary, noble facts in modern American history.

Now that you mention this, I wonder why it never did. My best guess is simply that the Holocaust put Jew-bashing so far beyond the pale for a generation after the war that anti-Semitic nativism couldn’t get any traction even when there were historical facts on the table to motivate it.

Today, American politics does have a still minor but troubling problem of anti-Semitism. Curiously, in view of those historical facts, it isn’t a right-wing phenomenon but a left-wing one. I’ve sometimes wondered if, among the many suicidally stupid things American leftists have done, driving away the Jews that have provided them with most of their intellectual firepower will be the one that finally drops them in the dustbin of history.

The dark side of Internet liberation slapped me in the face as I was researching these issues yesterday. If you google for “jews communism” the top hit will give you facts about the dominance of Eastern European Jews in the Old Left. They’ll even be true facts, or at least consistent with what I’ve gathered from respectable sources. The trouble is, you’ll find these true facts on Stormfront, a site run by evil neo-Nazi scum.

The most disturbing thing about this isn’t that the Internet has enabled Stormfront to peddle glossy lies as propaganda, but that it enables them to present unspeakable-in-polite-company truths in a tempting and tasty format—one which might just bait gullible people into buying their poisonous brew of hatred and racism.

Internet liberation gives more power to the bad guys as well as the good. That’s obvious. The subtler challenge here is that in an information-rich environment, even the quality of facts and argument used by evil scum rises. Neo-Nazis were easier to dismiss as sick jokes when they dealt entirely in obvious falsehoods.

This makes it more important than ever for people to be able to think critically and discriminate—not just to be able to catch lies and logical errors, but to notice even when truth and relatively sound argument are being gradually twisted to support an agenda that is neither true nor sound.

The top “jews communism” hit on Google should be a genuine and dispassionate scholarly study of the Eastern European Jewish Old Left dynasties, but it isn’t because in today’s academia you’re not allowed to go anywhere near that close to noticing that race matters. Before the Internet and search engines, neo-Nazis couldn’t really exploit that willful blindness effectively. Now they can.

The lesson here is that people of goodwill can’t allow any truth to be unspeakable any more, because on the Internet that kind of polite or politically correct suppression just hands a weapon to hatemongers.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • The Gory Antigora: Illusions of Capitalism and Computers by Jaron Lanier

    In our techno-Utopian dreams, the advance of the internet is “a little like a cross between Adam Smith and Albert Einstein; the Invisible Hand accelerating toward the speed of light,” says tech visionary Jaron Lanier in this month’s big-thinking lead essay. Yet, according to Lanier, we chug along saddled by the illusion that the Internet is mainly a technological rather than a cultural phenomenon. Software, Lanier argues, is “brittle” and can continue to function only when backed by what he calls “Antigoras”— “privately owned digital meeting arenas made rich by unpaid or marginally paid labor … tweaking the global system of digital devices so that the bits in the various pieces of software remain functional and meaningful.” Antigoras are indispensable, but “if software stays brittle,” Lanier says, “there will be a huge dampening effect on any hyper-speed takeoff plans of the digital elite.” Takeoff velocity requires a reorientation that acknowledges that the “the Net is precisely the generosity and warmth of humanity connecting with itself.”

Response Essays

  • Reply to Lanier by Eric S. Raymond

    Open source software guru Eric S. Raymond takes issue with Lanier’s characterization of “lock-in,” his antipathy to the command line, and his discussion of ambiguity. Raymond claims that if Lanier’s point was just that the Internet is “a conduit of expression between people,” then he would stop in agreement. But, he writes, “the actual point seems to be to maintain an opposition between capitalism and (gift) culture that I think is … mistaken.”

  • Reply to Lanier by Glenn Reynolds

    Glenn Reynolds – taking pieces from both Lanier and Raymond – argues that small proprietary zones within the big open Internet – “semigoras” in Lanier’s terms – might prove “very fertile places for innovation and growth on the Internet” with the potential to empower individuals and small groups to “achieve the worker’s paradise” through technology and markets.

  • Reply to Lanier by John Perry Barlow

    Ten years after his “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” John Perry Barlow insists that “the Internet continues to be an anti-sovereign social space, endowing billions with capacities for free expression that would have been unthinkable a generation ago.” A liberating future is still ahead, Barlow argues, but we must be on guard against a deep fact of both biology and markets: “New success inspires creativity. Old success tries to kill it.”

The Conversation