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Brownstone Institute

The Global War on Thought Crime

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From the Brownstone Institute

BY David JamesDAVID JAMES  

Laws to ban disinformation and misinformation are being introduced across the West, with the partial exception being the US, which has the First Amendment so the techniques to censor have had to be more clandestine.

In Europe, the UK, and Australia, where free speech is not as overtly protected, governments have legislated directly. The EU Commission is now applying the ‘Digital Services Act’ (DSA), a thinly disguised censorship law.

In Australia the government is seeking to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with “new powers to hold digital platforms to account and improve efforts to combat harmful misinformation and disinformation.”

One effective response to these oppressive laws may come from a surprising source: literary criticism. The words being used, which are prefixes added to the word “information,” are a sly misdirection. Information, whether in a book, article or post is a passive artefact. It cannot do anything, so it cannot break a law. The Nazis burned books, but they didn’t arrest them and put them in jail. So when legislators seek to ban “disinformation,” they cannot mean the information itself. Rather, they are targeting the creation of meaning.

The authorities use variants of the word “information” to create the impression that what is at issue is objective truth but that is not the focus. Do these laws, for example, apply to the forecasts of economists or financial analysts, who routinely make predictions that are wrong? Of course not. Yet economic or financial forecasts, if believed, could be quite harmful to people.

The laws are instead designed to attack the intent of the writers to create meanings that are not congruent with the governments’ official position. ‘Disinformation’ is defined in dictionaries as information that is intended to mislead and to cause harm. ‘Misinformation’ has no such intent and is just an error, but even then that means determining what is in the author’s mind. ‘Mal-information’ is considered to be something that is true, but that there is an intention to cause harm.

Determining a writer’s intent is extremely problematic because we cannot get into another person’s mind; we can only speculate on the basis of their behaviour. That is largely why in literary criticism there is a notion called the Intentional Fallacy, which says that the meaning of a text cannot be limited to the intention of the author, nor is it possible to know definitively what that intention is from the work. The meanings derived from Shakespeare’s works, for example, are so multifarious that many of them cannot possibly have been in the Bard’s mind when he wrote the plays 400 years ago.

How do we know, for example, that there is no irony, double meaning, pretence or other artifice in a social media post or article? My former supervisor, a world expert on irony, used to walk around the university campus wearing a T-shirt saying: “How do you know I am being ironic?” The point was that you can never know what is actually in a person’s mind, which is why intent is so difficult to prove in a court of law.

That is the first problem. The second one is that, if the creation of meaning is the target of the proposed law – to proscribe meanings considered unacceptable by the authorities – how do we know what meaning the recipients will get? A literary theory, broadly under the umbrella term ‘deconstructionism,’ claims that there are as many meanings from a text as there are readers and that “the author is dead.”

While this is an exaggeration, it is indisputable that different readers get different meanings from the same texts. Some people reading this article, for example, might be persuaded while others might consider it evidence of a sinister agenda. As a career journalist I have always been shocked at the variability of reader’s responses to even the most simple of articles. Glance at the comments on social media posts and you will see an extreme array of views, ranging from positive to intense hostility.

To state the obvious, we all think for ourselves and inevitably form different views, and see different meanings. Anti-disinformation legislation, which is justified as protecting people from bad influences for the common good, is not merely patronising and infantilising, it treats citizens as mere machines ingesting data – robots, not humans. That is simply wrong.

Governments often make incorrect claims, and made many during Covid.

In Australia the authorities said lockdowns would only last a few weeks to “flatten the curve.” In the event they were imposed for over a year and there never was a “curve.” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020 and 2021 had the lowest levels of deaths from respiratory illness since records have been kept.

Governments will not apply the same standards to themselves, though, because governments always intend well (that comment may or may not be intended to be ironic; I leave it up to the reader to decide).

There is reason to think these laws will fail to achieve the desired result. The censorship regimes have a quantitative bias. They operate on the assumption that if a sufficient proportion of social media and other types of “information” is skewed towards pushing state propaganda, then the audience will inevitably be persuaded to believe the authorities.

But what is at issue is meaning, not the amount of messaging. Repetitious expressions of the government’s preferred narrative, especially ad hominem attacks like accusing anyone asking questions of being a conspiracy theorist, eventually become meaningless.

By contrast just one well-researched and well-argued post or article can permanently persuade readers to an anti-government view because it is more meaningful. I can recall reading pieces about Covid, including on Brownstone, that led inexorably to the conclusion that the authorities were lying and that something was very wrong. As a consequence the voluminous, mass media coverage supporting the government line just appeared to be meaningless noise. It was only of interest in exposing how the authorities were trying to manipulate the “narrative” – a debased word was once mainly used in a literary context – to cover their malfeasance.

In their push to cancel unapproved content, out-of-control governments are seeking to penalise what George Orwell called “thought crimes.” But they will never be able to truly stop people thinking for themselves, nor will they ever definitively know either the writer’s intent or what meaning people will ultimately derive. It is bad law, and it will eventually fail because it is, in itself, predicated on disinformation.


Author

  • David James

    David James, PhD English Literature, is a business and finance journalist with 35 years experience, mainly in Australia’s national business magazine.

Brownstone Institute

Censorship and the Corruption of Advertising

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From the Brownstone Institute

The most powerful companies in the world have united against free speech, and they’ve deployed your tax dollars to fund their mission.

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee released a report on the little-known Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and its pernicious promotion of censorship. GARM is a branch of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), a global association representing over 150 of the world’s biggest brands, including Adidas, British Petroleum, Nike, Mastercard, McDonald’s, Walmart, and Visa.

The WFA represents 90% of global advertising spending, accounting for almost $1 trillion per year. But instead of helping its clients reach the broadest market share possible, the WFA has appointed itself a supranational force for censorship.

Rob Rakowitz and the Mission to Supplant the First Amendment

Rob Rakowitz, the leader of the WFA, holds a particular disdain for free speech. He has derided the First Amendment and the “extreme global interpretation of the US Constitution,” which he dismissed as “literal law from 230 years ago (made by white men exclusively).”

Rakowitz led GARM’s effort to boycott advertising on Twitter in response to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the company. GARM bragged that it was “taking on Elon Musk” and driving the company’s advertising income “80% below revenue forecasts.”

Rakowitz also championed the unsuccessful effort to have Spotify deplatform Joe Rogan after he expressed skepticism for young, healthy men taking the Covid vaccine. Rakowitz attempted to intimidate Spotify executives by demanding to hold a meeting with them and a team that he said represented “P&G [Proctor and Gamble], Unilever, Mars,” and five advertising conglomerates. When a Spotify employee said he would meet with Rakowitz but not his censorsial consortium, Rakowitz forwarded the message to his partner, writing “this man needs a smack” for denying his demands.

The WFA extended its efforts to direct manipulation of the news market. Through a partnership with the taxpayer-funded Global Disinformation Index, GARM launched “exclusion lists,” which created de facto boycotts from advertising on “risky” sites, which it described as those that showed the “greatest level of disinformation risk.” These lists included the New York Post, RealClearPolitics, the Daily Wire, TheBlaze, Reason Magazine, and The Federalist. Left-wing outlets, such as the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed News, were placed on the list of “Least risky sites,” which facilitated increased advertising revenue.

GARM, the WFA, and Rakowitz is the latest scandal demonstrating the destruction of our liberties at the hands of consolidated power. Like the Trusted News Initiative or the Biden White House’s censorship efforts, the aim is to remove all sources of dissent to pave the way for the further corporatization of the oligarchy that increasingly replaces our republic.

The WFA’s Attack on Democracy

Just as Rakowitz could not hide his contempt for the First Amendment, WFA CEO Stephan Loerke demanded that his conglomerate overtake the democratic process.

In preparation for the Cannes Lions Festival (a gathering of billionaires and multinational corporations in the South of France every June), Loerke released a statement demanding companies “stay the course on DEI and sustainability.” According to Loerke, these policies must include responses to “climate change” and the promotion of “net zero” policies,” which have already wreaked havoc on Europeans’ quality of life.

Loerke wrote: “If we step back, who will push for progress on these vital areas?” Though he suggests the answer must be nobody, traditionally self-governing countries would charter their own courses in those “vital areas.” And in that paradigm, the corporation would be subordinate to the state.

But instead, the WFA has inverted that system. Through its clients, the trillion-dollar behemoth extracts money from governments and then deploys those funds to demand that we accept their reshaping of our culture. The parasite becomes the arbiter of “progress,” eroding the society responsible for its very existence.

As the WFA sought to punish any groups that criticized the Covid response, its client Abbott Laboratories received billions of dollars in federal funding to promote Covid tests in the US Army. As Loerke demands “net zero” policies that will unravel the Western way of life, WFA patrons like DellGEIBM, and Microsoft receive billions in revenue  from the US Security State.

The organization is fundamentally detached from traditional advertising, which aims to connect businesses with consumers to sell products or services; instead, it is a force for geopolitical and cultural manipulation.

Perhaps no WFA client better represents this phenomenon than AB InBev, the parent company to Bud Light, which destroyed billions of dollars in market value last year after selecting Dylan Mulvaney as the icon for its advertising campaign.

On its surface, the selection of Mulvaney as a spokesman appeared to be the result of an executive class detached from their clientele. But Rakowitz and the WFA reveal a deeper truth; they don’t misunderstand the public, they loathe them.

The organization is a force designed to punish them for their unfavorable, unapproved belief systems. It is an attack on the freedoms written into our Constitution as “literal law from 230 years ago,” as Rakowitz scoffed. The mission is to eviscerate “the right to receive information and ideas,” as our Supreme Court recognized in Stanley v. Georgia, and to make our republic subservient to its corporate oligarchy.

The stakes here are very high. The economic revolution of the 15th century and following was about a dramatic shift in decision-making, away from elites and toward the common people. With that came a wider distribution of property and rising wealth over many centuries, culminating in the late 19th century. Along with that came a shift in the focus of marketing, away from elites and toward everyone else.

The consolidation of advertising and its control by states strikes at the very heart of what free economies are supposed to be about. And yet, states that desire maximum control over the public mind must go there. They must gain full hegemony and that includes advertising. It should be stopped before it is too late to restore freedom over corporatism.

Author

Brownstone Institute is a nonprofit organization conceived of in May 2021 in support of a society that minimizes the role of violence in public life.

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Brownstone Institute

Imagine Life without Fossil Fuels

Published on

From the Brownstone Institute

By Thi Thuy Van Dinh

At 4 am on Tuesday 9th July in Seville (Spain), I woke up alerted by a text to my phone. “We had a bad night with Hurricane Beryl. Your house still stands and the critters are safe, two big trees down, no electricity, no Internet, and poor phone service.”

My children and I were visiting Andalusia, one of the oldest and most gorgeous European regions, blessed with the best food and the warmest people. This is one of my favorite places on earth, but for now, my family and I are calling South of Houston (Texas, US) home.

I panicked, being instantly seized by maternal instinct. Our entire house is run by electricity. On our return in a few days, there would be no warm food, no milk, no air conditioning, no TV, no running water, no toilet flushing. In town, neither kid activities nor story time at local libraries. These conditions are undoubtedly hard for young children who have only known comfort so far, although hundreds of millions of children are growing up in such circumstances daily.

Then I calmed down. The first thing to do should be thanking God for protecting human lives there, and for our wonderful friends and community.

I understood what happened immediately. Trees have fallen everywhere, taking down most of the grid and affecting more than a million people. It would take a few weeks to fix it. Houston would be first, of course, the crowded and business-minded urban areas will be rightly prioritized and rural areas follow after. After such largesse provided for the solar industry by successive American administrations, why has there been no money to put wires and cables underground in hurricane-prone regions?

We always have a month of canned meat and dry salami, drinking water, olive oil, lard, animal feed (we have some farm animals,) and 750 gallons of water in storage, candles, matches, and flashlights. For emergency situations like a war or a natural disaster. We have a pool conveniently built for Texan summer heat even though the filter won’t work. I can dig a hole in the garden if I want to give the kids some survival training, or I can use the pool water for toilet flushing. Our hens and ducks give us more than enough fresh eggs daily.

But I should have kept a few solar phone chargers and probably some solar panels for our well pump (solely activated by electricity). My husband should have had a better stock of gas to run our generator through the fridge and the two freezers. At least, I can still grill and the kids can help gather dry branches to make a fire and cook camping meals. After all, it is easier to survive without energy in a hot place than in a cold place.

My situation isn’t probably the worst, and I will be able to help some people around me with food and water. I will entertain the kids with games I used to play under the moonlight and the starry sky. However, with little or no gas (petrol) in town, and likely long lines at available stations, I will have to calculate our car trips well.

I told my 7-year-old what happened. He said he would fry eggs on the car and roast marshmallows on sticks. Young children are such marvelous beings. With only their imagination and innocence, they bring wonders to our world. Who knows, we might be lucky enough to catch some fireflies in a jar – I replied, nurturing his excitement. As his mother, I have the duty to minimize his suffering. Nevertheless, I would like to seize this opportunity to give him and his younger sister some duress training on life without fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil to power modern devices – a bit like how I grew up.

Have the international, national, and non-governmental Net Zero crusaders ever lived a day without using any technology powered or facilitated by fossil fuels and their byproducts?

I would like to invite them to live here with us. I will show them that had I had solar panels on my roof, I would likely be cleaning up all of their dangerous debris around the house. Right now, a Tesla would be of less use than an ox cart in my Texan town.

But life at my homestead after Hurricane Beryl seems rather poetic. Well-prepared, a week or two without electricity might equal an ecological or soul-searching retreat with meditation time, good books on a hammock, bird-watching, simple yet exotic farm-to-table meals, and constellation identification.

For a real experience of a life without fossil fuels, climate leaders and activists should consider signing up for the sustainability internship program offered by Mr Jusper Machogu, a Kenyan farmer who was recently attacked by the BBC for his campaign on X requesting “Fossils Fuels for Africa.” Participants will learn how to grow foods without technologies powered by fossil fuels and live with a minimal impact on nature in rural Kisii.

Ploughing the land with bare hands before planting isn’t fun at all. Watering the crops regularly might well bring people closer to God with spontaneous prayers. Weeding or harvesting by squatting under the sun is tough. Even without factoring in any risk of pests, diseases. and unfavorable weather, what are the chances they would have to get out of poverty and food insecurity without cheap, reliable, abundant, and scalable energy?

Billions of subsistence families are still going through this. Worse, they continue to put their health at risk by cooking with agricultural wastes, wood sticks, and cow dung, while the Western world and their investment funds shamelessly demand poor countries and their populations to adopt intermittent, expensive, and unreliable green energies, instead of supporting fossil fuels (as well as hydropower and nuclear) production and infrastructure.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who repeatedly called to “close the door on fossil fuel era” (on International Clean Energy Day – 26 January 2024), would you live entirely and produce your own foods without fossil fuels?

United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Chief Inger Andersen, who, at the closing of the 28th Climate COP (Dubai, UAE), claimed that “we know the solutions, we know what needs to be done,” would you be able to build a town for your staff without using oil, gas, and their byproducts?

How may we, as voters and taxpayers, demand that decision-makers lead by example, truly adhering to their green agenda first, before they insist that others implement it?

Author

Dr. Thi Thuy Van Dinh (LLM, PhD) worked on international law in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Subsequently, she managed multilateral organization partnerships for Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund and led environmental health technology development efforts for low-resource settings.

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