Elon Musk has purchased Twitter, and I have immediately started to use it. Partly it’s because I can’t use Reddit anymore, scrolling through reddit comments is more stressful than my job, but it is also, obviously, due to the promise of free-speech on the platform and my desire to support this move with my custom. It has always been my opinion that these platforms must protect free speech, they are now too integral to the political conversation. These platforms tend towards monopoly by their nature; whichever site has the most users has more content, and is therefore often more entertaining than the others, encouraging yet more users to flock to it. The USP marked out by twitter has an even stronger tendency towards this than, say, reddit or Instagram, that are to a certain extent governed by trends in culture. Twitter has become the platform for politics; politicians and other establishment figures are hugely active on it, which in turn encourages mainstream media to use it as an important source, finally encouraging normal people to turn to it in order to keep up to date with local and global affairs. This is very difficult to change. The claim that ‘conservatives should make their own twitter’ is unfair; the effort required to move a significant enough proportion of powerful people to a new platform makes it very unlikely and, even if it were to happen, two sites with similar functions would struggle to coexist. Eventually, activity would trend towards one and the market would be left in basically the same condition it currently is. Even if this were possible, back in the heady libertarian days of the young internet it was sold to us as a solution to hate and division, purely because it would pull us all together. Not only has the opposite already happened, but the tendency of these platforms, on which we now receive most of our news and discuss all of our opinions, to split into ideological bubbles cannot be good for our democracies. This opinion has been shared many times by many people. The argument of the left is, of course, that it is ‘hate speech’ that is being banned, hate speech being whatever they define it to be. I have addressed that point elsewhere. So, this article isn’t about that. Instead, what struck me most about this whole thing was the dangerous tribalism that this argument has highlighted, and how that tribalism is used, intentionally or otherwise, to make us blind to the real issues.
It must have come to the attention of many leftists of the more literally ‘liberal’ persuasion that for the last couple of years, maybe longer, the Right has put up a stronger defence of free speech, free expression and freedom from tyranny than the Left (at least in terms of popular ideology; I’m not speaking for Trump, the Republicans or the Conservative party here). This will be most shocking to them, as it seems to be for the likes of Bill Maher, because a lot of these literally ‘liberal’ types began describing themselves as Left wing purely because the right represented stuffy, conservative values and the duty of society to stifle free expression for the good of maintaining the moral-order. It is now entirely on its head; the current moral order is a liberal one, based on individualism, gender/sexual identity and race. Contrary to what Leftists may think, it is entirely the same as the old conservative order, but with a new scripture. Christianity has been replaced with post-modern liberalism. The reason this is important is that it puts a spotlight on a sad fact about human nature. When the liberals were outside of moral acceptability, they demanded freedom of speech and expression. The conservatives wanted it limited for the sake of decency. Now power has swapped hands, and so have the opinions on personal freedoms.
This is the basic pattern. No one seems to believe in the value of free speech when it is not their speech at risk. And this, I think, is also the basic pattern of most of the major issues of our time, highlighted perfectly by the Elon Musk buy-out of twitter. For years conservatives were being banned from social media, or disempowered by the algorithm, unable to get the same audience as their peers. This disadvantage led them to take a rare position against the free market, a position I think is correct in this case. These social media platforms were too powerful, too important to our democracy to be left in the hands of billionaires and private companies, who had their own agendas, both in business and in personal politics, that could skew representation on the new public square, especially coming up to major elections. They had to be regulated to ensure neutrality. The liberals scoffed at this; until now of course, when all of a sudden they are taking an interest in this issue with an embarrassing dearth of self-awareness. The conservatives, however, also seem to be letting the cat out of the bag. Their desire to ‘win’ the political debate has led them to immediate accept this takeover as a positive, and seemingly abandon the issue they were very rightly campaigning against for years previously, right when the evidence that they were right all along falls directly into their hands. And this is because tribalism counts more than values. Liberals are so dangerous that I will support my side no matter what; if I point out the flaws or the inconsistencies in a conservative’s argument, I undermine our ‘side’.
Where do we go from here? If no one cares about ideas, and only about their ‘side’ winning, we will never make any progress because there literally cannot be any middle ground on which to meet. We now stand on the precipice of finally breaking the power of big tech on the political narrative, and in general. The Right have been arguing in favour of this for years and, in one fell swoop, Mr Musk has demonstrated to the left why we were correct all along. Maybe now, on this issue at least, we could all finally be in one voice. But I don’t think that will happen. If Mr Biden’s government acts now, the conservatives will call foul, when actually, as long as they hit all the platforms equally and hold them to the same laws of free speech that the nation is held to, we should all support the move and regard it as a victory against the rapid slide of Western civilisation into technocracy. Instead, it seems we’ll all ride our civilisation into that technocracy, picking our own favourite technocrats and supporting them against their rivals due to an affinity for their public persona. Similarly to how the democratic system only offers a number of different flavours of Whig at any election, so you never really have any choice over the direction of your country, we will live in a world run by unelected billionaires, and have no option to change that, but we’ll be kept engaged in the system by the prospect of a greater share of power for the one we hate the least.
Conservatives should not celebrate the hostile takeover of the public square by a private individual whether he proports to agree with our ideas or not. We should continue to push for greater regulation, or we’ll come to regret it when it eventually goes against us. This issue is only one of the many cases where people are made blind to larger issues, purely because it swings in their favour now. An obvious one is the left and the free speech debate, but the right are particularly prone to giving up their principles if it helps the ‘side’ in the short term. One of the main things that Christianity has taught me as I have slowly and unconvincingly reverted to the Church is that the ends do not justify the means. In fact, we have no real control over the ends, only the means. Moral action is only doing right at every opportunity. Ignore the larger picture and do right in your own life, be true to your own beliefs, and the ends will take care of themselves. Conservatives need to rise above the culture war and strive for the victory of our values, regardless of the position of the opposition, or the way the election race is looking in the polls. Why can the left seem to do this on occasion, while the right cannot? In the five hundred years since the reformation, in all the elections and battles the right have won, they have never been able to redirect the course of Western progress. Why? Because to achieve those victories, all values were sacrificed. Win or lose, we always lose. Only we can change that, and we can only change it with loyalty to ideas and not our ‘side’.