Every once in a while, a post or series of posts comes along that captures why conservatism never amounted to much. This post in the ironically named American Conservative is a good example of the genre. The topic is how to deal with the privatization of authoritarian power, primarily in Silicon Valley. The argument put forward is that using the state to tame these rogue companies is morally wrong, so we have to find some new way to contend with these out-of-control tech firms.
The first thing you should notice is the style is exactly what we get whenever the topic of immigration in on the table. The obvious answer is dismissed. In the case of immigration, that means shutting down the border and cracking down on employers who use helot labor. The open borders crowd always says that is impossible or harmful in some way. Instead, they offer a collection of overly complex solutions that have no chance of succeeding but will keep the punditry busy.
In the case of Big Tech, we have laws on the books to put an end to this reign of terror, but enforcing those is socialism, according to the usual suspects. We cannot have that, even if it would work. Instead, let us have a twenty-year series of international commissions to study technical standards and pass a bunch of laws that no one reads, but have cool names like “Data Portability Act”. In other words, the people who cannot build a wall along the border are going to fix the internet.
Interestingly, the rodents from Conservative Inc. always use the same trick the Left is so fond of using, which is the false dichotomy. “We can shut ourselves off from the world or embrace globalism” is how they frame trade. “We can become a hermit nation or remain a nation of immigrants” is how they frame immigration. Now it is “We can choose central planning or preserve an open internet” with Big Tech. It is the same partisan game the Left plays, just tailored for a middle-class white audience.
The fact is, enforcing Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act as intended puts a halt to the most egregious violations of our rights. Twitter can choose to be a publisher or an open platform. If it is the former, they can censure their platform however they like, but they are accountable for the content. If they choose to be an open platform like Gab, then they get the protection of Section 230. There is no need to reinvent the internet to solve the biggest problem with Big Tech.
Similarly, the obvious collusion that goes on with these big firms could be crushed with the use of existing law. There are plenty of examples of the tech companies colluding with one another to ban people from their platforms. If we can give a cop 20-years on civil rights violations for shooting a fleeing suspect, we can give the harpies of Silicon Valley a few years for violating the civil rights of Alex Jones. One lawsuit is all that would be required to end that practice and restore some sanity.
Of course, the author of the AC piece is clearly trying to strike the libertarian position, which is a blend of hiding under the bed and shilling for global capital. This is what is wrong with the libertarian-conservative commentariat. They are not interested in advocating conservative interests. Instead, they are focused on making sure their corporate donors are free of government interference. If that means the rights of conservatives are trampled, well “whoopsie!”
The writer of the AC piece is someone calling himself Zach Graves. He is head of policy at the Lincoln Network. You always have to be suspicious of any group using the name Lincoln and this is no exception. As we saw with the Lincoln Project, these groups tend to attract the very worst people. In this case, this is a not-for-profit located in San Francisco, conveniently near Silicon Valley. A Loren Graves, presumably the same guy as the writer, is a paid staffer for the group.
Before signing on with the Lincoln Network, Mr. Graves was with something called R Street Institute, which is neoconservative front group. The founder of the Lincoln Network is a man calling himself Garrett Johnson. He popped out of college into a job on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then into a position as the founder of something called SendHub and now the founder of Lincoln Network. Nothing strange about this at all. There is no reason to suspect anything hanky.
This is the problem with conservatism in a nutshell. It has always been infested with pens for hire. This bit of corporate marketing posted at American Conservative is just a paid advertisement masquerading as commentary. To their credit, the site does acknowledged that they were paid to run it by Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which is a pro-business non-profit in Missouri. There is a good bet that they bankroll the R Street Institute to some degree, given their location.
This is the problem with subjecting everything to the marketplace. When the highest bidder gets to determine public morality, no one can ever question the morality of the highest bidder. Public opinion becomes another commodity to be traded, rather than a genuine exchange of ideas. The founder of The Lincoln Network would be happy to promote communism if that pays better than shilling for Big Tech. He is just face purchased on the market to make the brochure look good.
Similarly, the writers and “policy wonks” at these shops are just pens for hire, with a set of specialties. “Need generic libertarian babble about technology? No problem, we have Zach Graves. That is his specialty.” R Street puts him on the UPS truck and ships him off to a Silicon Valley non-profit. Like the economy as a whole, the marketplace of ideas has become a pirate’s cove. Everything is for sale and everything can be purchased, if the price is right. The consequences are for the suckers to bear.
This is what conservatism should oppose. One basic tenet of conservatism is that there is a transcendent moral truth. That means it is indifferent to the marketplace. it also means that truth itself is not up for bid. Once you concede this point, you are no longer on the Right, but just another kiosk in the bazaar if increasingly bizarre ideas. The way to end the pirate’s cove is to shut it down and hang the pirates. That’s the starting point for conservatism, if it is to be anything more than another grift.
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