Cometh the Censor
Birth of What Will Prove a Short Siege
By Fred Reed
I see with no surprise that Washington is stepping up its campaign to censor the internet. It had to come, and will succeed. It will put paid forever to America’s flirtation with freedom.
The country was never really a democracy, meaning a polity in which final power rested with the people. The voters have always been too remote from the levers of power to have much influence. Yet for a brief window of time there actually was freedom of a sort. With the censorship of the net—it will be called “regulation”—the last hope of retaining former liberty will expire.
Over the years freedom has declined in inverse proportion to the reach of the central government. (Robert E. Lee: “I consider the constitutional power of the General Government as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Yep.)
Through most of the country’s history, Washington lacked the ability to meddle, control, micromanage, and punish. In 1850, it had precious little knowledge of events in lands such as Wyoming, Tennessee, or West Virginia, no capacity to do much about them, and not a great deal of interest. People on remote farms and in small towns governed themselves as they chose, not always well but without rule by distant bureaucracies and moneyed interests.
For a sunny few years, local freedom rested substantially on principle, a notion inconceivable now. The Thomas Jeffersons, George Washingtons, and Robert E. Lees genuinely believed in freedom, and worried about the coming of tyranny. Justices of the Supreme Court often upheld the tenets of the Bill of Rights. As human affairs go—poorly, as a rule—it was impressive.
As time went by, however, it became clear that incapacity, not principle, was the only reliable brake on the rise of dictatorship. In 1950, the government could put a mail cover on anyone, quite possibly illegally if the FBI were involved, but steaming envelopes open required time, effort, and manpower. Mass surveillance was impossible, and so didn’t happen. Without surveillance, there can be no control.
Fora long time it was due to principle that freedom of the press remained, no matter how much the government hated it. During the war in Vietnam, “underground” papers, which of course published openly, were virulently critical of the government. The mainstream media of the time published shocking photographs of the war, much to the fury of the Pentagon. The courts allowed it.
Today, that has changed. Washington has learned to avoid dissent from its wars by using a volunteer army of men about whom no one of influence cares. The use of “drones” further reduces public interest, and today the major media, owned by corporations aligned with arms manufacturers and manned by intimidated reporters, hide the results on the battlefield. For practical purposes, today’s press is an arm of government.
The old checks and balances, however modest in their effects, have withered. The Supreme Court is now a branch office of Madame Tussaud’s, Congress a two-headed corpse, the Constitution a scrap of moldering parchment remembered only by hopeless romantics, and Washington a sandbox of unaccountable hacks inbred to the point of hemophilia. Obama has discovered that he can do almost anything, calling it an executive order, and no one will dare challenge him.
In its rare waking moments, the Supreme Court has shown little inclination to protect the Bill of Rights, which Washington regards as quaint at best and, usually, an annoyance to be overcome by executive order and judicial somnolence. The obvious reality that having the government read every email, record every telephone conversation, monitor every financial transaction and so on is a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment bothers neither the Supremes nor, heaven knows, the President. It is clearly unconstitutional, but we do not live in constitutional times. Governments aggregate power. They do not relinquish it, short of revolution.
Today the internet is the only free press we have, all that stands against total control of information. Consider how relentlessly the media impose political correctness, how the slightest offense to the protected groups—we all know who they are—or to sacred policies leads to firing of reporters and groveling by politicians. The wars are buried and serious criticism of Washington suppressed. That leaves the net, only the net, without which we would know nothing.
Which is why it must be and will be censored, sooner if Washington can get away with it and later if not. The tactics are predictable. First, “hate speech” will be banned. The government will tell us whom we can hate and whom we cannot. “Hatred” will be vaguely defined so that one will never be sure when one is engaging in it and, since it will be prosecutable, one will have to be very careful. Disapproval of favored groups, or of their behavior, will be defined as hatred. National security will be invoked, silencing whistle-blowers or, eventually, anything that might make the public uneasy with Washington’s wars.
The next step probably will be to block links to foreign sites deemed to transgress. China is good at this. The most likely avenue will be executive orders of increasingly Draconian nature, about which Congress and the Dead—the Supreme Court, I meant to say—will do nothing.
At that point, coming soon to a theater near you, the United States as it was intended to be, and to an extent was, will be over. Our increasingly characterless young, raised to ignorance and Appropriate Thought by government schools, will question nothing. They will have no way of knowing that there is anything to question.
I suppose it can be debated whether the current enstupidation of the rising generations is deliberate or merely the consequence of a return to peasantry inescapable in a democracy. The petulance and immaturity running through so much of society may be inevitable in a spoiled people who have never had to do anything and have never been told “no.” Certainly things today resemble the end games of other once-dominant cultures.
Mental darkness facilitates authoritarianism, and darkness we have. Many college graduates can barely read. Their ignorance of history, politics, and geography (and practically everything else) is profound, and they see no reason why they should know anything. They seem not to suspect that there might be things worth knowing.
I am hard pressed to think of a society in such internal decline that has turned itself around, and I cannot imagine how ours might do so. One sure thing is that, once the internet is gelded, there will be no hope at all. And the assault has begun.