Way back in the old days, the Left used to accuse conservatives of being against free speech and open debate. They would say the Right was in favor of burning books and heresy laws. When conservatives rose to power in the 1980’s, it was time for them to “own the libs” by pointing out that the Soviets banned books, threw dissidents into gulags and banned speech critical of the state. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn became a celebrity among conservatives, as an example of how the communists suppressed speech.
Regardless of which side was making the case, the basic assumption was that authoritarian government suppressed speech, banned books and threw political dissidents into prison. Democratic governments, on the other hand, permitted a marketplace of ideas, encouraged debate and protected political dissidents. A popular thing to say on the Left was “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll give my life to defend your right to say it.” Even right-wingers would say it on occasion.
That was a long time ago. Today, no one in the political class talks about free speech or the market place of ideas. Instead they rant and rave about hate speech. The “artsy” types are considered rebels because they repeat verbatim from the official catechism and demand greater restrictions on speech. It’s truly bizarre, when you step back and look at what is happening in the context of the last few decades. The man from 1985, transported to this age, would assume some lunacy has suddenly gripped everyone.
Of course, that same time traveler would be puzzled as to how it was possible for a handful of companies to have seized control of the public space. That’s the part no one could imagine thirty years ago. In 1985, a bookstore refusing to sell a book was no big deal, because there were plenty of bookstores that would sell it. The FCC regulated television and radio, but only for smut. The notion of corporations controlling the public space and un-personing dissidents was beyond fantasy in 1985.
Just think about that for a second. The people in charge will go to the mat to defend pornography freely available on-line, but scream bloody murder if Facebook lets someone talk about biology on their platform. Scientist are losing their careers, while pornographers are celebrated. It’s close to a 180 degree change from thirty years ago. In 1985, retailers were still keeping smut in the back room, away from the general public. Video rental places had a secret room for porn. Today, porn is so ubiquitous no one notices.
That’s the truly bizarre thing about this time, relative to not so long ago. The man in 1985 worried about the IRS and maybe the FBI abusing their power. The only worry about corporations abusing their power was the environmental stuff or maybe screwing their employees in some way. Today, you have much more to fear from the banks and tech giants than the government. If the state becomes aware of you, so what? If Google suddenly takes an interest in you, it might be time to go into hiding.
What makes this age even stranger is that it just sort of happened. In fact, it happened so quickly, most people have yet to upgrade their thinking. Conservatives think they are fighting for liberty and opportunity by defending global corporations. Libertarians are literally writing love letters to global business. Progressives continue to think of themselves as the defenders of the middle-class, despite making war on it. Antifa, an anarchist operation, is entirely funded by billionaires and corporate donors.
Again, that time traveler would be completely baffled by the uniformity of opinion among these corporate HR departments that now control society. In his time, there was variety of opinion on the Left. In fact, the main Left used to complain about its fringe screwing things up for them by making crazy demands. The Right was also quarrelsome, with paleos, neos and various libertarians fighting with one another. Today, conservative means lectures on racism and Israel and liberal means more lectures on racism and trannies.
What would really baffle our time traveler is the fact that we ban books now. In America, that has always been the hallmark of authoritarianism and intolerance. It was always the thing that no free person could tolerate. It’s not so much the books themselves, but the motivation behind it. The person who wanted to ban books wanted to control the most private of private spaces, the mind. Today, the idea of having any privacy, even private thoughts, is considered immoral by the people in American HR.
The scary part of this age is that the book burning is the least odious thing being normalized by American HR. Banks are now cancelling accounts, because they have deemed the client to be in violation of their HR polices. Visa and MasterCard are making private war on the gun industry. How long before someone like Jared Taylor finds he cannot get a credit card or bank account? How long before his bank calls his mortgage or his insurance company cancels his policy, because he is a blasphemer?
That was always the scary part of the Soviet Union. The book banning and speech laws were easy to mock. You could not mock the idea of men being sent to camps or facing internal exile. Imagine being in a state where your friends and family fear being associated with you, because the state has declared you an enemy. Now, imagine losing your phone service because someone working in the Bangalore office of Apple does not like your browsing habits. Imagine American HR becoming aware of you.
Probably the strangest thing for our time traveler would be the reality that people and ideas he considered on his side would now suddenly be enemies. To be a defender of a free society means sounding like a Bolshevik, with regards to big business. To oppose tyranny now means demanding the government crack down on the excesses of the corporate HR department. In order to defend your life and your posterity means secretly hoping for an American Pinochet to use the state to crush the enemies of the West.