PATRICK LAWRENCE: Enforcing Orthodoxy

To censor is an act of deprivation, a taking away. To enforce an intolerant orthodoxy is an act of imposition. The two cannot be understood separately from one another.

At the abandoned Atlanta Prison Farm in Georgia, U.S. (RJ, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

YouTube’s decision to remove a Consortium News CN Live! segment on Feb. 24 formidably takes its place among many such incidents involving numerous social media carriers and the enterprises that use them to disseminate information.

The video-sharing platform, which has been a Google property since 2006, subsequently rejected an appeal lodged by Joe Lauria, editor of Consortium News. Lauria has since published extensively on these events, and his commentaries are readily available. The webcast in question is not: Silicon Valley technicians of no discernible qualifications in such matters still prevent you from seeing it.

There is a lot of this around, and by all indications there is a lot more coming.

It is time, then, to sit up and look squarely at the grave threats with which a creeping, apple-pie authoritarianism now faces us. Censorship and its sibling, official propaganda, have lately come to imperil our civil liberties, our civil rights — especially our right to express ourselves freely— and altogether our right to knowledge, our right to understand the world we live in and the events that shape it, and at last our right to shape those events.

Compared to these, the supposed threats of the Jan. 6 protests on Capitol Hill and the running, no-evidence business of the Russians having intruded into hundreds of corporate and government computer systems are nothing.

Numerous are the voices raised in opposition to this menacing, corrosive drift in America. But too few grasp the gravity of our shared predicament. Complacency — complacency induced by propaganda, indeed — is another of our urgent problems.

The Past Is Another Country  

One can read in any history book about suppression and repression and the incessant repetition of officially approved perspectives to the exclusion of all dissenting views. But the past is another country in the American mind, ever distant.

Such circumstances are supposed to befall others but never Americans. We customarily identify grim polities of this kind and blighted public space with the Soviets, or the Latin American dictators, or the too-numerous-to-name despotic regimes that fill history texts.

This is our exceptionalist consciousness at work: “It can’t happen here,” as Sinclair Lewis titled the anti-fascist novel he published — note the date — in 1935. It has not happened here — let us not succumb to language inflation — but we are now on notice that it can. Overcoming exceptionalism, even among those who purport to reject its ideology, is where the project must begin.

When we are sitting up, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to get up. If we are to defend our rights as just enumerated, it is up to each of us to act. And taking part in a patently broken electoral system — this is my personal view —can no longer be considered acting: It amounts to acquiescing. “Aux armes, citoyens!” is a thought I leave to other sorts of columnists. My salutation is simpler: “Arise!” will do. We had better wake up, this is to say, if we are to avert a very dark age and reinvent the country and its institutions—which, forget about reform or restoration, is what must be considered the imperative now.

If the CN Live! incident is one among many, it is entirely indicative of the censorship regime social media platforms now impose upon us. In the Feb. 24 segment, Lauria interviewed Greg Palast, a journalist who covered the hotly contested Senate run-off elections in Georgia not long earlier. The topic was the efforts of Republicans to suppress minority voters to tilt the outcomes. As part of this campaign, these Republicans brought 60 lawsuits contesting the November presidential results, all of which were thrown out of court.

We Can No Longer Report

This was straight reporting and a discussion of same, nothing more. There was no question of condoning or validating those who attempted to subvert the November or the Georgia polls. Lauria, a longtime correspondent for many mainstream dailies, would have it no other way. We find ourselves, then, in a circumstance wherein one can no longer even report on newsworthy developments if they require reference to other-than-orthodox points of view.

Lauria has reproduced YouTube’s policy covering these matters in his commentaries. It is worth quoting again:

“Content that advances false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches changed the outcome of the U.S. 2020 presidential election is not allowed on YouTube.”

Problems, instantly.

The Lauria–Palast exchange had nothing to do with the presidential elections, but this seems to matter not at YouTube.

A screenshot of Greg Palast speaking on the CN Live! episode banned by YouTube.

The more important question here is raised everywhere censorship is now imposed. According to whom are this, that, or the other claims, theses, or narratives false? According to whom are some other claims or narratives the true and only claims and narratives? Who is the arbiter in all such cases? Nobody ever asks, for to ask this would lead us precisely to the question we truly must not pose: On what grounds do mainstream media, the Silicon Valley social media, and the liberal elites of the Democratic Party propose to possess unassailable truths and to have the right to impose them on others?

There are other features of this incident worth noting as common to other cases. By any serious definition of journalism, the suppression of the video segment in question was erroneous. What YouTube initially issued as a “warning” was without explanation redefined as a “strike,” as in three and Consortium News is banned from YouTube altogether. No explanation for this has been forthcoming. Since YouTube rejected Lauria’s appeal, Consortium News has had no further means of connecting with the platform’s content police.

Does the dehumanized aspect of a process that is preposterous to begin with strike anyone else as redolent of the Soviets or East Germans or Czechs at their worst? I am damned if it does not read like some edited-out passage in The Joke, Milan Kundera’s mid–1960s novel about fun and games in a Soviet satellite. It couldn’t happen there either, you see.

A paranoid columnist, some will say. Kundera was subjected to state-imposed suppression of dissent and wall-to-wall censorship, and there is none of that here. No comparison.

Well, then, let us now praise infamous men (and women).

Silicon Valley 

Army cyber training in 2017 during a “surge week,” a type of systems functionality testing developed in Silicon Valley to gather user feedback. (U.S. Army)

If it is not obvious that the Silicon Valley people now making America a censored society are wholly incompetent to weigh in on the moral, ethical, and constitutional questions at issue, it should be. These are post-adolescents who appear to be poorly educated in anything other than computer science. They know nothing of history, so far as one can make out—and certainly not the history pertinent to what they are doing.

Silicon Valley techies and algorithm managers are merely doing the wet work, so to say. Readers ought to know this, too. The chief executives of Google, Twitter, Facebook, and the like have been hauled into Senate hearings rooms three times over the past six months, during which the campaign to legitimize censorship in a nominally free society has gained much of its momentum. Senators such as Diane Feinstein, the frightening California Democrat, have made their point plain: Get this done, young men. We will not leave you alone until you do.

Anyone who thinks this does not net out to official censorship has an internalized censor at least as effective as those walking around on Capitol Hill and in Palo Alto.

To censor is an act of deprivation, a taking away. To enforce an intolerant orthodoxy is an act of imposition. The two cannot be understood separately from one another. This is why the campaign to censor dissent coincides with an onslaught of official propaganda every bit as rigorously prosecuted.

Mainstream media, in this latter case, assume the complementary role: While social media platforms suppress dissent, corporate media purport to wage a war against “disinformation” that — as proven in case after case— is propaganda replete with disinformation.

Jacques Ellul published Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes in 1962 (1968 in English). It is a searing, exhaustive critique in which the French philosopher and Christian anarchist described propaganda as most powerful when used to manipulate domestic audiences.

Jacques Ellul at home in Pessac, France. From the 1990 documentary “The Betrayal by Technology.” (Jan van Boeckel, ReRun Productions, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

“Effective propaganda can work only inside a group, principally inside a nation,” Ellul wrote. “To make the organization of propaganda possible, the media must be concentrated, the number of news agencies reduced, the press brought under single control, and radio and film monopolies established.”

Ellul, it is to be noted, was also a critic of technological societies. Technology, he asserted, is not a neutral means of delivery, empty of content. It shapes minds to conform to the society that produced it and has everything to do with imposing the power of that society’s orthodoxies (which we euphemize as the wholesome notion of “values”).

These are our circumstances. Ellul considered propaganda the gravest danger facing advanced societies. Our condition in 2021 ought to bring readers over to his side on this point.

The mainstream of the Democratic Party wages its war by censorship and propaganda to impose precisely the “soft despotism” Alexis de Tocqueville warned us of 190 years ago. Mainstream media, perfectly on board in this pursuit, are also fighting a rear-guard action against the loss of a monopoly on public discourse that has endured for centuries. Do we wonder that it is mainstream media, from The New York Times on downward, who cheerlead the censorship brigades loudest?

This imposes a tremendous new responsibility on independent media such as Consortium News. It is they who threaten the just-noted monopoly. The responsibility that now comes to them is outsized to their resources, but in the best outcome, these media will prove increasingly effective in assuming it.

In this connection, let us hold up the intensifying censorship and propaganda campaigns that now beset us as mirrors to reflect back upon us. Would the concentrated monopolies Ellul described be waging this war were their positions secure? In my question, as so often, lies my answer.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. Follow him on Twitter @thefloutist. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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16 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: Enforcing Orthodoxy

  1. Fran Macadam
    March 10, 2021 at 11:15

    Totally with you my friend. Former SV exec banished to the provinces.

  2. Moi
    March 10, 2021 at 06:23

    There’s propaganda, censorship and spin.

    Australian academic, Dr Moore-Gilbert, was imprisoned for spying in Iran for 2 years during which she was involuntarily sedated once and got beaten up once.

    The MsM made it seem like brutal treatment yet how many times would a prisoner get beaten up in 2 years in an Australian or US prison?

    Spin in this instance amplifies the propaganda meme that Iran is bad even though it appears that the West is worse. Exactly the same is happening regarding Xinjiang where, for example, free childcare is misrepresented as the State separating mothers from their children.

    Censorship is the Orwellian system whereby no dissent is permitted. Big Brother has well and truly arrived.

  3. C. Parker
    March 9, 2021 at 20:17

    Thank you for this brilliant article.

    The noticeable complacency of the American people following the censorship of a sitting U.S. President from Twitter seemed like an eerie sign of this country’s future challenges to hold onto our republic. As Ben Franklin warned, “Those who give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty or Safety.”

    The horrific event at the Capitol conveniently handed Twitter the excuse to censor. The explanation that private companies can censor whomever-whenever, again seems unethical; un-American, or, is this the new American idea of ethics.

    Again, thanks for this thought provoking essay.

  4. maxine
    March 9, 2021 at 18:15

    “The Dems don’t want widely known the sheer amount of Republican Party cheating”, because they wish to hide their own equally appalling cheating from the public.

  5. Ron Linker
    March 9, 2021 at 15:38

    Reagan repealed the legislation that mandated broadcasters give equal time to the other side on the same show. If Fox tells tall tails then Fox has to allow for the other side to counter the propaganda on the same show. Those were the days before Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones turned the airwaves into money making propaganda machines.

  6. DW Bartoo
    March 9, 2021 at 14:47

    Patrick Lawrence informs us that certain entities are engaged in censoring views deemed by these entities as being, essentially, a threat to the status quo.

    Lawrence properly terms such censoring “a deprivation a taking away”.

    It is also a rebuke, a censure, with quasi “”official” standing,considering who the censoring entities are, big tech, their platforms, the media, and the political class, and also, as Lawrence says, enforcing an orthodoxy is an act of imposition.

    In general, the unquestioned acceptance of orthodoxy results from the narrative, the propaganda these very same entities spout daily, almost religiously.

    However, are either censorship or propaganda something new to this society?

    Or, were various institutions and systems
    of the U$ian Way also designed, from the beginning, with the purpose and intent of protecting the status quo, to keep the monied and powerful elite safe from the jibes and vulgarities of deplorable hoi paloi?

    We might, for ready example, look at the U$ healthcare system which, despite an ongoing pandemic, protects profit over people, or note that the FED gave far more pandemic “aid” to the 1% than to the rest of the human beings in the nation – upping the massive transfer of wealth upwards this past year.

    Yet it is the U$ “legal system” that makes things perfectly clear.

    The U$ legal system is premised on money: those with money have, a priori, a crushing advantage over those who do not.

    Yet it is the issue of “standing” where power has the true advantage.

    The power of outright dismissal prohibits ANY substantive challenge to the status quo, ensuring that certain questions cannot be raised.

    Pathology and hypocrisy thrive in such a climate as distrust and suspicion are embraced to save “our” sacred buildings and the brave, selfless political class who “represent” our “rights” and “freedoms”

    Frankly, “freedom”” simply means that the “ambition” of the most pathological among us must prevail … and rule.

    However, in order to understand the manipulation, of which censorship and propaganda are major parts, people must be aware of and practice, a process known as “critical thinking”, which ought to be encouraged in an educational system.

    Obviously, an informed and truly aware populous would be, and is, a threat to the status quo.

    As the mood of our time, call it “Full Spectrum Dominance”, both domestically and abroad, hardens, as the war and money empire of the day crumbles, the pressure to censor (or disappear) thoughts and ideas which might tend to offend the Lords of Wisdom and Truth will only increase.

    Even the best of “alternative” sites will feel that pressure to choose articles (and authors) with care.

    Those sites which support comments may well more vigorously edit or reject broader ranges of opinion or perspective.

    Indeed, comments may well come to be perceived at many sites as a dangerous nuisance and, most assuredly, not an attractive one.

    As we sink ever more deeply into the hostile regions where thought becomes treason and risk seems without reason, as the empire fades and conformity with prurient mythology becomes an attractive survival tactic, will most U$ians come to prefer the relative “safety” of going along without question?

    Or, might the many determine that their lives, aspirations, families, hopes, and “little” ambitions matter quite as much as those of the elite?

    Will the majority be accused of ODD, of Oppositional Defiance Disorder, for daring to question authority?

    ODD is usually applied to children.

    Children who question and disrupt.

    Note what Wikipedia has to say about the children being assessed as having this disorder, those … ” with Oppositional Defiance Disorder are not aggressive towards people or animals, do not destroy property, and do not show a pattern of theft or deceit.”

    Authority demands instant compliance.

    Reason just might be more tempered.

    Which way do you think we are headed?

    • DW Bartoo
      March 9, 2021 at 15:42

      Puerile not prurient.

      Chell speck strikes again!

  7. TimN
    March 9, 2021 at 13:04

    It seems to me that the reason CN was censured is not purely out of stupidity and ignorance on the part of You Tube post-adolescent censors though many of them are likely that. Greg Palast’s research and reporting is deeply disturbing to the Dem Party. Even a loyal Dem Party apparatchik like the radio host Thom Hartmann has been saying for years that the Dems don’t want widely known the sheer amount of Republican Party cheating because the voters will lose faith in the system. They’re fine with a system like we have, where things are always close. That way there’s never a supermajority that would force them to actually govern. But there’s another thing Palast thinks: the Dem Party ultimately doesn’t mind the massive disenfranchisement of Black voters because they don’t want Blacks to have too much political power in their Party.

    • Ron Linker
      March 9, 2021 at 15:41

      twos company, threes a crowd, let’s keep it that way, that’s the capitalist way – money first, democracy next.

    • maxine
      March 9, 2021 at 18:12

      “The Dems don’t want widely known the sheer amount of Republican Party cheating”, because they wish to hide their own equally appalling cheating from the public.

  8. March 9, 2021 at 12:04

    Thank you for describing todays central issue so eloquently If we don’t know the truth we cannot discern the lies and are manipulated through ignorance This is rapidly making our culture a totally controlled environment

  9. Anne
    March 9, 2021 at 11:59

    Indeed, Mr Lawrence, one only has to listen to the BBC World Service as broadcast over here on NPR and then to NPR to be fully aware that propaganda is their purpose in large, with soft stuff in between to sugar the dosage. And the propaganda is both by Commission – this is “the truth” because this is what we want you to believe (usually bad about Russia, China and Iran especially), and this is what we do not want you to know, want you to ignore, (usually Our human rights abuses over the many decades up through nowadays, those of our allies especially those of that one we fund in the Middle East)…And we will fabricate stupid set ups in order to ruin those we consider our competitors (the usual countries) and get the majority of our population to believe these fantasies…

    It is all enough to make one want to puke…

    • Gene Poole
      March 10, 2021 at 14:20

      Brava and thanks.

  10. David Otness
    March 9, 2021 at 10:59

    It seems to me we’re getting “truth-bombed” from all sides of the Establishment now with the largely under the radar “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016” having been working its special brand of magic on us in the ensuing years.
    The original $160 million in seed money included offers to select bloggers and commentators of consequence to toe the government line and this was long before Big Tech got into this (publicly) in such a grand and overtly repressive style. Conversely, look how easy it is for Facebook to have inserted a quarter into David Brooks’ jukebox slot and have him come out singing their tune via the Aspen Institute.
    The game is ON!
    It’s been particularly evident since the DNC invented Russigate and now it’s next to impossible to avoid it in daily encounters with most Western msm dispensing it via coloring the ‘news’ as egregiously as anything I’ve ever noted since Cold War 1.0.
    As has become usual for us, Walt Kelly ushered in the meme for our age back in the day with Pogo’s observation: “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

    Here’s Rick Sterling’s take on it from January of 2017 in Consortium News.


    • Anne
      March 9, 2021 at 12:01

      Oh aye, David…whenever NPR still mentions Russiagate (less than last year, grace a dieu) to speaks of it as if it were the gospel truth fully proved…

  11. Buffalo_Ken
    March 9, 2021 at 09:41

    Excellent piece. Much thanks.
    Lots of great ideas come from France. Can’t deny that. Same goes for Russia. Honestly. Read the history of the 19th century in particular. Their movements were stifled, but I think we truly now have an incredible opportunity for a better future because the “tools” being wielded by the “oppressors” are getting more obviously pathetic as each days goes by.
    I have a lot of hope even when others can only see potential war and misery ahead…..I disagree with those others because I have hope in the “human spirit”.
    Thanks again for this excellent article.

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