Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Orwell in the Age of Free Speech

I hear many people talking about the Russian control of the news during the invasion of Ukraine. Usually, they say something about it being Orwellian. 

They're not wrong. 

What's become really interesting to me, though, is not what Orwell predicted, but what he didn't. He was absolutely correct about people in authoritarian countries not being able to determine truth because they were flooded with disinformation.

What he didn't foresee, though, and I'm not sure anyone did, is how even societies with free speech can become unable to determine the truth, at least for large numbers of their citizens. 

The marketplace of ideas, in short, looks pretty dilapidated right now. 

Remember when free speech was what protected us? Now it's used to promote conspiracies--endless, infinite conspiracies. In theory, people should be rational enough in a free information society to know they're not real. 

For many people in this country, though, that's not the case. 

The election. Vaccines. And a whole slew of other conspiracies so completely insane they sound like something out of really bad pulp novels. It used to be that cranks were just that--cranks. They didn't have any real power. Now, though, cranks are leading certain segments of the country. 

So what exactly do we do when free speech itself becomes a powerful weapon of disinformation? I don't have an answer, but I do think that we have entered a very dangerous time for our country. 

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