On Gatekeeping

You either believe in the Marketplace of Ideas, or you don't.

The Intellectual Dark Web is slowly deflating. I believe this is in large measure because its explanatory power is self-limited.

The "Whoah, these wokies are out of control! Somebody better throw an emergency podcast into the marketplace of ideas, stat" record has been played, remixed, and reanimated in countless configurations. Reality keeps on a steady warp trajectory, and it seems nobody is showing up to save Western Civilization. For many of those peeling off the podcast loop, the 'bloody postmodern neo-Marxists’ explanation for our decline leaves a lot to be desired as a boogeyman, especially given pre-1900s aberrations like the French Revolution. 

Though factionalism is hard to avoid simply because of human nature, the gatekeeping and respectability politics that the fading IDW/"new classical liberalism" is trying to retire into are effectively nuking its core premises. And this shows in the quality of thinking it evokes in the movement's followers. 

The few people who made the arduous journey into Hades to confront me during my recent spat about the origins of our discontent had very little to offer besides proof of the friend/enemy distinction. I was the enemy.

Few arguments were made because very few even know there was an argument to be made. I don't fault them because I believe this is a critical lens to understanding politics overall. Yes, people follow clear in-group/out-group patterns all over the so-called marketplace of ideas. They like their friends and cheer on their victories, however faint, and they hate their enemies and cheer on their demise, however brutal. It's the eternal force that's keeping the lights on at Twitter HQ and all over Silicon Valley. 

The norm that many of those opposed to censorship, silencing free speech, and moral crusades, aka 'classical liberals,' want to uphold seems to be: "My current opinions represent the legitimate extent of the Overton window, framed by "woke insanity" to my Left and "leads to Hitler" to my Right."

Woke insanity has major tells and is easy to frame through dunks and "can you believe these people?". They're the gift that keeps on giving, and they throw new delicious, but ultimately inevitable, absurdities into the IDW grinder every day. 

"Leads to Hitler" is a trickier area because it involves at least alluding to a darkness that needs to remain nameless. The implication usually is, "we have read that stuff, so you don't have to, and we promise, it's bad." Don't trouble yourself, friend. 

I do think this gatekeeping is often well-intentioned. The idea that we hit a sweet spot of social and market liberalism sometime around 1992 and that we can saber-rattle, podcast, and own the libs until we somehow RETVRN to the year when Dr. Dre released The Chronic feels like comfort in these unsettling times, especially because it seems relatively easy. We remember 1992 (or insert centrist singularity year of choice) - it feels possible. But gatekeeping around this perspective does a disservice to both the people in the movement and the principles it is supposed to represent. 

"There be dragons" and "They are bad people" are not equivalent to equipping people with arguments. Very few of those calling themselves classical liberals understand the basic tenets of their supposed ideology, not to mention any serious critique of it. To most, it means "anti-woke," "of-the-owning-the-libs-faction" or "Hey, I'm not woke, and I have no idea how else to signal this outside of this phrase I learned watching Dave Rubin."

To quote an old-timer with a dog in this fight, J.S. Mill: "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that." How about those who know little about their own side of the case? Are they well served by the marketplace of ideas, or are they being corralled into yet another tribal identity, subsumed under another metanarrative masquerading as the lack of one? 

If the marketplace of ideas, a core notion of the liberal project actually is functional, then let's look at these arguments. If it does not, and truth does bend to prestige, power, and metanarrative, let's look at that. And if the marketplace of ideas is the true clearinghouse of good ideas, we don't need the gatekeepers - if we do need the gatekeepers, there may be a flaw in our model. 

We really can't have it both ways, and many people are waking up to this contradiction. 

This piece by Benjamin Roberts makes for good company to this post. 


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