The “Happy Medium” Imperative

I greatly respect writers and analysts like Chris Hedges and Caitlin Johnstone.  They have the courage and the savvy to speak truth to power.  They outline in fine detail the encroachment of the oligarchs on the societies of the world, particularly in the United States.  They rightly warn about the increasing disparity between the uber-wealthy — along with their government tools — and the struggling remainder of the population.  Suffice it to say that I generally applaud and agree with their views.  And as you might guess, there’s a “but,” coming here.

I count myself a Progressive in most areas, but very few sets of views are monolithic.  As could be easily inferred from my latest posts, I’ve been deeply affected by the invasion of the Capitol last week.  I objectively knew that various right-wing factions were becoming more strident and more militant.  I was aware of the existence of white supremacist groups and several flavors of the Orange One’s disciples.  I knew there were ripples of tough talk permeating the ether.  But I never imagined I’d see people with Confederate flags and horned hats breaking into and defacing the halls of Congress.  Never dreamed I’d see it in real time, in broad daylight, on live TV, in front of the entire world.  It also never occurred to me that anyone heading our government would be egotistical enough, deranged enough, and….let’s face it:  stupid enough to incite such a mob scene.  Against all logic and sanity, however, it happened, and the demented perpetrators are bragging that it will happen again on Inauguration Day next week.

In response to the blatant violence of the mob, the calls to “Hang Pence!” (accompanied by the display of a gallows and noose), the stated aim of one invader to shoot Speaker Pelosi, and the threats to return to complete the process, the country and the government are shaken.  Twitter and Facebook, as two examples, have at last blocked the official Orange accounts and are taking steps to delete the worst of the hate speech on their platforms.  Also, President-elect Biden is talking about new anti-domestic-terrorist laws.

Mr. Hedges and Ms. Johnstone have come out with comments criticizing these measures (see above links) and warning of slippery slopes wending down into a police state, or at least a second Patriot Act.  They fear extreme censorship of even left-leaning platforms, then much tighter regulation of protests, elimination of forums, and other strictures. 

In broad terms, they may be correct.  After all, almost two decades after 9/11, we still have to suffer the inconvenience and hassles of intense scrutiny at airports, for example, which arguably doesn’t do much to deter would-be attackers and hijackers.  As with any precaution, a dedicated professional will find a way to circumvent it.  And the Patriot Act has led to our surveillance state (see:  George W. Bush and FISA).  One could debate, though, whether the true purpose of whole-body scans at the airport and indiscriminate wire-tapping are genuinely results of 9/11, or whether they’re part of ginning up fear so as to justify the endless — and lucrative — Global War on Terror.  Whether the TSA and wiretaps everywhere are logical consequences or pretexts, though, Hedges’ and Johnstone’s arguments against extreme reactions are well taken. 

Where do these warnings against stepping on the public’s rights leave us?  I would posit that anyone who wants this country to have a future would acknowledge that chaos can’t be the norm.  Physically attacking our legislative bodies isn’t acceptable.  The necessity for the deployment of 20,000 National Guardsmen at a “peaceful transfer of power” is not only an oxymoron, it’s an outrage.  In short, we can’t give the actions of the mob last week a pass, and we can’t just talk nicely to the insurrectionists and hope they won’t do something worse next time.  When there will be high alerts at all 50 state capitols, something is dreadfully wrong, and that state of affairs cannot stand.

To the question of censorship, Facebook and Twitter are individual companies that voluntarily acted.  Their venues are not government controlled, nor did the government demand the closing of, for instance, QAnon accounts, along with the deletion of plans for attacks on institutions and individuals.  Therefore, the First Amendment has not been violated.  In fact, the FBI went so far last week as to not issue warning bulletins about certain online chatter because they anticipated repercussions by free speech advocates.  I see that as a mistake, but many people do not, the theory being that protected speech is just that:  no matter what is said, it’s not legally actionable.  In my opinion, it’s entirely reasonable, even desirable, to elevate the dissemination of details about logistics, meeting places, weapons caches, and so on, in connection with assassinations or other attacks, to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s threshold of shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  If an explicit threat is made, especially by a known extremist, not only should law enforcement be empowered to stop that person, but his access to any platform should be eliminated.  There’s a big difference between disagreeing with this or that policy, and announcing plans to kill someone.  Certainly, there would be instances of ambiguity, slivers of difference between one utterance and another, but I would maintain that a situation doesn’t devolve into fascistic overreach if the powers-that-be take commensurate precautions. 

As for a second Patriot Act, I’m not necessarily in favor of some of the kinds of regulations that might be contained therein.  Conversely, those who openly vow to overthrow the government, attack officials, disrupt peaceful assemblies, or otherwise cause mayhem don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Three months ago, I wondered why militias and other extremist groups get so much leeway.  Military-type drilling and formations are illegal across the country.  How can such groups, having openly announced their intent and beliefs, be issued permits to assemble at times when and places where they represent a direct, tangible danger to the public or to selected individuals or groups?  For example, at the Michigan capitol, when known agitators marched in with assault weapons on full display, to protest pandemic lockdowns.  Granted, the state has an open-carry law, but countenancing such a threat is tantamount to putting a target on every legislator’s back.  In the aftermath of the revelation of the plot to kidnap and possibly assassinate Governor Whitmer, Michigan has banned guns in its capitol, which would seem to be a minimal commonsense response.  Similar responses should be standard procedure when it comes to any armed civilian show of force.  It’s long past time that domestic terrorists — individuals or small armies — are called out for what they are, and treated accordingly. 

There have been some 16 permits granted for demonstrations in Washington, D.C. at or around the time of the inauguration.  Mayor Muriel Bowser has asked that those permits be publicly revoked.  Would that be an abridgment of the First Amendment?  Perhaps, technically.  Is it an abrogation of rights to try to stop anticipated violence or lawlessness?  Have we entered Minority Report territory?  Given the levels of the threats being starkly broadcast in online right-wing extremist venues, I don’t think Mayor Bowser is being paranoid OR overly restrictive.  For the six people who died as a result of the Capitol invasion last week, it’s too late.  Those who come down on the side of no restrictions on speech or on unapologetically aggressive behavior, who are afraid of slippery slopes, would likely cite Ben Franklin’s dictum:  “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” (the variant being, “…and will lose both.”).  My answer would be, “Ben Franklin never met Timothy McVeigh.”  No, we don’t want to crack down every time three people get together in the square and shout, “The government sucks!”  But neither do we want to sit back and watch as armed thugs parade down Main Street with assault rifles amid their flags and threaten the populace, or anarchist plotters swap online tips about the best places to buy bomb materials.

10 thoughts on “The “Happy Medium” Imperative

  1. Our leaders in the halls of power are elected into a broken system that is formed on a foundation of limited perspective. So they are trying to repair this manifestation of “our society” by piecing and patching temporal solutions year after year administration after administration. This is why lasting effective healthy results never come to the body politic. Simply put, we are treating symptoms instead of the root cause of our disease.
    Unfortunately so many folks have enriched themselves investing in the creation and applications of these limited solutions that
    in-effectively remedy the symptoms. Through their inventions that they have invested their time and energy into, they have created a life of luxury that exists on a whole ‘nother level for themselves only. But, they fail to understand the powerful tug of invisible forces, an allure that they cannot perceive with the physical senses; a deception that manifests through the power and wealth their limiting solutions have brought to their doorstep. It’s s that age old root of evil that has corrupted not only themselves; but the world in which we all live together as citizens of THEIR synthetic creation. To come down off their throne is the most difficult of human tasks; it is seldom mastered. The billionaire Chuck Feeney, recently accomplished this; but he is a rare brave soul.
    It will be extremely difficult to relinquish the stations that this lifestyle has produced for these power brokers. It’s hard to let go of the comforts acclaim brings. So this is why permanent solutions never seem to arrive. They cannot understand the unifying principals that every aspect of creation has been formed through. To let go of the notion, there is no independent individual “I” in any aspect of our perceived experience is the true heroes quest. To see that we are all so intimately connected; they will have to journey back the way we came. That means questioning everything and giving up these concepts of limiting perspective that plague all ideologies outside of the understanding that we are all one, a unity within the diversity of manifested creation. This is the most liberating of freedoms; not the cheap counterfeit that has been mounting and on display by the pageant patriots of our last half century.
    We all must eventually take this journey, individually and collectively. I pray for the day our elected officials begin to slow walk us back to this liberating foundational principle. Until then we will just be “patching the cracks” (see how I did that); and limiting life’s freedoms by …only some presence here, only certain speech there, limited actions in walled off zones of compliance.
    Dis-Ease is evident in every level of our life on planet earth. Everything is currently poisoned. We have been mismanaged with great skill. But; we can all regenerate a healthier outcome. The creation is designed to perform these transformational functions. Two of my favorite teachers have ideas on how to fix life’s conundrums.
    One: Find out who you are; you are not the mind and you are not the body.
    Two: Go back the way you came….
    Here’s today’s gift an enlightening teacher sent across my feed to ponder…
    Once you experience all life forms as a part of yourself, you cannot help but fall in love with everything around you.
    What a wonderful world it would be…
    Always remember how much you are appreciated
    This world is better because you came here to be a healing presence. Keep writing from your heart, it’s making a difference.

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    1. It sounds as if you’ve been reading the Upanishads?
      A measured and very reasonable response from Denise.
      I’m not American but I understand legally the First Amendment only protects the citizen from restrictions on free speech imposed by Congress?
      I think what Caitlin and others are saying is that neither a de-ranged President nor anyone else worldwide should be silenced permanently at the behest of a monopolistic American corporation.
      I declined signing a petition here in the UK imploring Twitter to ban Trump permanently for precisely that reason.
      The worst is when these corporations silence people across the world at the behest of the US government.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nope, no Upanishads for me. although I’d like to delve into the material.

        I have no problem with a platform, be it public or private, that chooses to banish someone with a free subscription who continually traffics in hate speech and incitement. That’s the prerogative of the platform, and although I’ve never read Twitter’s terms of service, I’d venture to guess that the Orange One and many of his followers have violated those terms. As it’s required to agree to the terms to gain access to the platform, then Twitter is doing nothing wrong (ditto for Facebook). Since the pandemic began, there’s a phrase about individual rights that has regained popularity, to the effect that any person’s rights end at another person’s nose. I would apply that to the internet, as well: people can express their bigotry as much as they like, but when they begin to advocate for harming others, they’ve crossed the line. Words matter, and they all too easily turn into actions. After all, yelling, “Fire!” in a crowded theater doesn’t directly harm anyone. Rather, it creates a perception that leads to action, which may in turn cause harm. A straight line can be drawn from utterance to injury.

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      2. Yes, I suppose that’s true. But the point about companies like Facebook and Twitter is that they are virtually monopolies and close to being a public utility – there’s therefore a case for nationalising them and turning them into public utilities as has very sensibly been suggested for Amazon.
        At the very least they should be appropriately regulated – as they would be in France or the EU.
        I choose not to be on Facebook and will probably migrate from WhatsApp soon.
        Twitter is a tricky case as it’s so widely used by politicians and journalists etc.

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  2. I can’t imagine that Zuckerberg and Bezos would be too keen on having their companies taken away and nationalized. Near-monopolies they may be, but is that due to their “predatoriness,” or because they’re the best at what they do? Not a rhetorical question, as I don’t know the answer there.

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  3. Serious stuff and yes, shock waves beyond your shores. It is a tough call but our journalist George Monbiot wrote an interesting article about ‘Viral Lies’. He makes the point that it is illegal here to sell a product that says it will cure your cancer but mis and disinformation about Covid and vaccination is costing lives too.

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