I'm starting to think that perhaps one can stop the signal.
What Joss Whedon meant when he had Mr. Universe say "You can't stop the signal, Mal," in his movie Serenity, is that it's ultimately impossible to achieve absolute repression of an idea.
Trying to suppress an idea is like trying to hold water in your hand--if you suppress the idea by trying to prevent its expression. You can gain a lot of control (as the USSR and Nazi Germany demonstrated), you can do a lot of damage to people who refuse to be suppressed, but in the end, you can't prevent an idea's expression. Not altogether.
But if you work at the other end, it becomes far from certain that you can't stop the signal.
The way to stop the signal is to stop its reception.
You can do that two ways.
One is to exhaust the populace. Make sure they work long hours for little pay. Assault them with dangers and problems that affect their basic survival, so that they have little energy left for other considerations, such as talking to their neighbors, or listening to the news with a critical ear. Then, if the signal comes by, they'll be too tired to listen.
The other is cultural sabotage. Wreck the education system. Spew propaganda nonstop. Change the rules of how people talk, how we decide if something is proved to be true, how you "win" a debate. And never neglect the opportunity to use a political moment to alter people's basic ethical principles to your advantage.
Well, we're here.
Last May, I said this about our elections:
These are the times that try men's souls. And my soul, too.
These are times when you must ask yourself what your basic principles are, and how much you care about them. Which principles matter so much that you would not give them up even if it gave you a profound advantage over your most hated enemy?
Back when Bush was in office (before everyone decided that he's a nice guy, really) most of the Democratic electorate, and all of the independent left, excoriated the right for having a personality-driven, emotion-driven politics. We criticized the right for being willing to dispense with the fundamental moral principles of the Republic because they had been traumatized by Osama bin Laden's attack--or else, because their partisan avidity led them to blindly support any right-wing strongman--or right-wing fool--who attained a leadership position in the Republican party. At the same time that they were embracing authoritarianism, and abandoning our basic values, they were shouting that we were seditious traitors and had no place in America.
Well, we thought that was wrong, and we took our stand on rationalism, empiricism, and the core principles we all learned in Civics class. Those principles were not really at the core of the United States, the actual political entity, but they were at the core of American culture. In other words, people believed that a certain set of moral principles were what America was *supposed* to be about. We planted our feet on those principles.
No one, not even the President, is above the law. I may hate what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. The people do not owe loyalty to politicians; politicians owe service to the people. Due process of law, exercised by the government within well-defined parameters, is how we restrain wrongdoers; informed public discussion and debate is how we decide what the laws that restrain wrongdoers should be. It is the business of politicians to represent those public opinions and embody them in law. Government belongs to all the people, not just the local rich man. Power should be checked and restrained by being dispersed, rather than being unfettered and concentrated into few hands. People have the right to vote for whom they want, and nobody has the right to attack them for it. The vote must be counted with impartial accuracy, so that the people can fulfill their function of conferring authority on their representatives. The duties of a citizen trump partisan loyalty, or ideological preference. The duties of a citizen are defined by these (and other) principles we all hold. If a party, a person, or an ideological faction attacks these principles, we are all being attacked. These principles apply to all equally, and are not commodities to be bought, sold, or monopolized.
I'm sure you all can come up with many more such principles.
For the past little while, the purpose of politics has been to bludgeon us with ugly images, toxic words, and brutal behavior; to force us to choose between two monstrosities over and over again, sacrificing some moral principle each time to the exigencies of the moment, much in the same way that the right wing sacrificed the Bill of Rights to the moment that planes crashed into the Twin Towers. The right wing saw a threat from an evil man, and decided that their moral principles were luxuries they could not afford. In this same way, Democrats and even some leftists have sacrificed everything from our opposition to extrajudicial assassination to our preference for peace over continual war, to our commitment to universal healthcare, because we see a threat from an evil man which makes these moral values seem like luxuries. Yet somehow, no matter how many of our principles we sacrifice, we are still accused of valuing ideological purity over the well-being of our fellow citizens. Eventually, I suspect the only moral value we will have left is loyalty. We will need that to maintain our partisan obedience.
It's particularly easy to get people to sacrifice such principles when you have an asset like Donald Trump. I've said elsewhere that I think Trump is the best gift a propagandist could wish for. When you judge everything according to whether it benefits Trump or hinders him, all propagandists have to do to destroy an idea is to identify it with Trump. That's happening with freedom of speech now, even though, if Trump has incited violence against the government, which I think he has, freedom of speech should not be the issue. As I recall, there were three limits on freedom of speech we all accepted, once upon a time:
1) Using speech in a way that would cause immediate harm (shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater).
2) Using speech in a way that would imperil the standing of an ongoing criminal investigation.
3) Suggesting that people should commit specific violence against the government. This does not apply to generalized statements about guillotines, or how making peaceful reform impossible makes violent revolution inevitable. It is saying that you will, or that someone else will, or should, commit acts of physical violence against government officials (the example was always threatening the life of the President).
In fact, if Trump has incited people to violence against the government, he should be facing, not censorship by a private firm, but legal action: the kind of careful legal action we don't see a lot of nowadays. Because sedition is serious business: if real, it threatens the existence of society; if the accusation of sedition is false, it could encourage the exponential growth of tyranny. Our country has an ugly history of claiming that people are being seditious when they're actually merely opposing the powerful, which means that if there's a case for sedition--which I believe there is--it needs to be dealt with legally and prosecuted with extreme care. Not so much for Trump's sake, but for the sake of all the people who are going to have to live under the legal precedents and cultural expectations that are set by any such action.
Shutting down Trump's Twitter account does not hold him accountable for incitement to sedition. In the first place, it's an entirely inadequate response; in the second place, it's not Twitter's job to administer justice in the matter of sedition and incitement to riot--that is the purview of the courts; in the third place, the timing of the gesture casts doubt on Twitter's good faith in this matter, since, if Trump's words are seditious, violent and dangerous, Twitter should have banned him long ago (h/t Liberal Moonbat).
I know several people have brought up that the well-known exceptions to the rule of free speech, such as shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, are not actually part of the law. But they were part of the culture we lived in, and, in my opinion, they were not unreasonable limits. If you accept those limits, the moment Trump incites people to sedition, or riot, or a combination of the two, his speech ceases to be protected, and that's when he should be silenced. But he wasn't. He was allowed to incite people to violence on Twitter for quite some time. Then, just as he's on the way out, he's suddenly banned, with great fanfare. That makes it look like a publicity stunt with an ulterior motive. Clearly the motive isn't stopping Trump from inciting violence, since he already did that. Twitter could have done something about that, and still stayed on the side of the angels when it comes to free speech (in my opinion, anyway).
Why does this matter? Because it is far more likely that this incident has been staged, not because Jack Dorsey suddenly figured out Trump's words are bad, but because it's a prime chance to get the American people used to the idea of corporations silencing bad political actors, and used to the idea that media corporations are the ones who get to decide who the bad political actors who need to be silenced are; in short, to get the American people to wholeheartedly accept that private media corporations own public discourse.
Electoral politics is about changing the assumptions and moral principles of the American people, moving them downward and to the right, no matter who wins.
Still here. Still broadcasting.