The pandemic sets the table for a one-party nation-state, but there is one problem…

Quite a few lessons abound from this pandemic. The one I believe is most overlooked is how easy it is to erode our personal freedoms. Since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, our awareness of the consequences stemming from the attack seems to be waning. The aftereffects of the attacks resulted in the erosion of our public freedoms. This erosion is referred to by Professor Orlando Patterson as a reinvigoration by political conservatives of privatized freedom where public freedoms ie free speech, privacy, etc., are compromised by wiretapping and surveillance, and attacks on habeas corpus where extra-judicial detentions interfere with due process while private freedoms, i.e. shopping, what we wear, who we love, etc., are left untouched.  Patterson defines public freedoms or liberties as freedoms going beyond interpersonal relations, that “guarantee equal access to the nation’s public powers, laws, patrimony, and all other rights and obligations of citizenship…”

The pandemic presents a different narrative. Covid poses a threat to private and public freedoms.  On the private side I am seeing threats to freedom of speech where common folk or medical experts find themselves hesitant to express their misgivings about how the virus is spread, the efficacy of vaccines, and whether the virus has actually caused 200,000 deaths in the U.S.  Interpersonal relations have taken on a different look.  People now have to consider whether friends can come over for dinner, sex, or both.  There is only so much lovemaking you can do via Zoom (I think). 

The impact on public freedoms is just as apparent.  When I took my son to college last month to start his freshman year, we had to let the state of New York know where we would be and how long we were staying during our visit.  He was forced to quarantine; I had to inform New York about where I was staying and that I would be out of the state in 24 hours.  My access to New York’s rights-of-way, if you will, were being severely regulated.  The issue of wearing masks has been so politicized that the presidential candidate camps of Donald Trump and Joe Biden have had a brief tug-of-war over the issue of a national mask wearing mandate.  Such a mandate would create an assault on both private and public freedoms.

While we hope the pandemic will be over soon, uncertainty about a second spike in virus and disease contraction or deaths, or concerns about the virus morphing into a deadlier and more virulent strain could result in a new approach to or a new excuse for governance.  An approach that restricts both private and public freedoms under the guise of keeping the public safe from an invisible enemy could reduce the philosophical gap between liberals and conservatives.  Closing this gap could result in making the two major parties, Democratic and Republican look increasingly less distinguishable.

Linking the two types of freedom under a single regulatory umbrella would require more underlying work on America’s culture.  America is racially polarized and the country would have to see itself as one people deserving of universal protection before its political ideologies fuse in the face of a common invisible enemy.  I see an emerging “one-people” narrative in this regard.  For example, the media promotes mask wearing as an obligation that one citizen has to protect other citizens.  The Black Lives Matter movement has as its core message that whites must recognize existential rights of blacks and contribute to the inclusion of blacks into America’s economic structure.  America’s leftist political elites want to see America move to being more beige than black or white.  So prevalent is this move that even the term, “black people” is being pushed aside by the term “people of color.”

A beige or “Mulatto Agenda” may sound appealing to political or social elites on both sides of the racial spectrum.  America is already “browning” with ethnic minorities set to be, as a group, a larger percentage of America’s population.  Also, interracial marriages may add to the beige-ing of America as racial taboos continue to disappear and lineage becomes less important. 

There is the problem of capital allocation in the United States, however.  Descendants of Western Europeans will still control the majority of capital and wealth in the United States and political factionalism may realign along the resulting capital fault lines.  And as long as liberals and conservatives place different weights on public and private freedoms, the implementation of a narrative that pushes America toward a one-party nation-state will face difficulties.      

 

Watching “X-Men: Days of Future Past” through the civil rights movement’s civil war …

I have heard some commenters refer to Stan Lee’s “X-Men” as a treatment of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  I have never taken to the comparison of black people to “mutants.”  While I acknowledge that Mr Lee may have had a noble cause in starting a discussion on equality, diversity, and the inclusion of different cultures, ethnicities, and creeds into the American melting pot, but to be likened to a plant or animal with inheritable characteristics that differ from those of the parents, leads to questions such as, “Did Mr Lee and the good people at Marvel take a look at the definition?” “Who exactly are the parents that blacks differ from?” “Should we get rid of our inherited and unique characteristics in order to be equal?”

I won’t harp on the above questions too much because for the average movie goer the bandwidth may not be available for considering such social questions beyond the need just to get away and watch an exciting movie for a couple hours.  On the other hand, anyone who has read the comics as a kid or has delved deeply into the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends not to be too put off by the social observations.  Besides, lasting imagery and coming away from each viewing having observed different angles on the characters or the message are characteristics that push a movie toward the classic realm.

I hadn’t seen “X-Men: Days of Future Past in a couple years so revisiting it tonight on the FX channel gave me a chance to go a little deeper into the messaging.  The story was set in two time periods: in 1973 with the central event being the Paris peace talks to bring the Vietnam war to an end; and fifty years later where mutants are brought to the brink of extinction by an army of mechanical sentinels.  The X-Men must reach back telepathically to the past to stop an event that that, if left unchecked, will contribute to the start of the global war on mutants.

Three principal characters stood out such that they caused me to unpack the possible civil rights connection.  “Charles Xavier”, played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy; “Erik Lensherr”, played by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender; and “Raven Darkholme”, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr are trying to prevent Raven Darkholme from killing the man who would eventually create the sentinels responsible for near annihilation of mutants.  Raven represented to me the militant arm of the civil rights movement, an arm led by leaders such as Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, and Bobby Seale.  Raven, at one point during the story, expresses to Charles her anger and disappointment stemming from his apparent abandonment of his fellow mutants particularly during the period of crisis where mutants were facing an existential threat. This anger and disappointment was also expressed by the more militant arm of the civil rights movement where they saw the non-violent, peace first approach of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King as ineffective.

I saw Charles as representing the more moderate arm of the civil rights movement.  He did not see violence as the way to forge any peace with non-mutants but did not display to me any naivete of kumbaya and hand holding with non-mutants.  Charles’ preferable approach was to connect all mutants and teach them how to see themselves as great individuals.  While it could be easy to liken him to a Dr. King, Charles’ realism kept him slightly to the right of Dr. King.

Erik was the separatist. And yes, the civil rights movement did have separatists most notably Malcolm X.  Erik’s degree of pragmatism altered with changes in the facts on the ground.  He would have gladly took up arms against non-mutants, but if Raven’s assassination attempt today meant extinction of mutants tomorrow, then neutralizing Raven in the short term in order to secure a separate but strong mutant nation in the long run was the logical play.

This to me has always been the beauty of the science fiction/fantasy genre.  It provides an alternative backdrop for taking a look at ourselves.  The “X-Men” movie franchise has been able to paint that canvas by using the time machine and taking us back to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, using events from those decades to provide us with teachable insights.  Using mutants as an analogy for race is not perfect.  As I discussed earlier I don’t particularly care for it and I would digress a bit and say I don’t care for the term “race” either, but in this specific space it works.

Social media: Democracy takes a back seat to the need to control political messaging …

Narrative is a public resource and it should be expected that political factions will try to exercise control over a narrative in order to validate their authority to administer other public resources and implement policies for society.  Arguably China is among the most stringent in controlling expression of thought while pursuing a path of collective prosperity for its citizens.

The American model for expression places an emphasis on the individual and places the onus to pursue prosperity on the individual with certain safety nets in place to take care of the individual should she fail to capitalize on the opportunities provided by a predominantly capitalist and democratic society.  But is the promotion of individual expression and pursuit of prosperity more façade than reality in American society?  I think the attack on social media is peeling the onion on that façade with a suspect business model providing the knife for a brutish peeling of this tear causing bulb.

President Donald Trump and conservatives have made no bones about their perceptions of treatment by social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.  They believe that Twitter and Facebook have used their algorithms to divert or silence conservative messages exchanged on their platforms.  Conservatives have been building the narrative that these platforms silence free speech and the narrative has fed the idea among the conservative rank and file that their free speech rights are being violated.

On this point the conservative rank and file should take a quick read of the United States Constitution and stay consistent in their support of the private sector.  Facebook and Twitter are not the government.  They are not state agencies.  The right to free speech is a restriction on government behavior and private sector agencies such as Facebook and Twitter are free to associate with and facilitate the inclusion on their platform of the type of subscriber of their choosing pursuant to the behavior they prescribe in their subscriber agreements.

Sections 230(c)(1) and (2) of the Communications Decency Act provide Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms additional protections by holding them harmless for any indecent or libelous content produced on their platforms by their subscribers.  This code was birthed by a policy to encourage commercial growth on and use of the internet as a communications medium.

As a medium for exchanging political messages, it should really be no surprise that political factions would target the applications that run on internet infrastructure and enable the exchange of information to a global public.  If political messaging is managed properly, the most potent narratives could be created that shift political power from one faction to the next.  Conservatives, who already perceive social media platform owners as liberals, are wary that stifling conservative messages as policy serves to weaken their ability to acquire, expand, and maintain political power.

What Americans should be mindful of is that the end game of a political faction in the United States is no different than the end game of a political faction in China, The Gambia, Ghana, or Italy.  The end game is to control the matrix of narratives that validate a political faction’s authority over public resources and speech is one of those resources.  Democracy introduces inefficiencies in the end game strategy, but these inefficiencies are the costs incurred from maintaining a social policy of freedom of expression.

What the politician must constantly be mindful of is maintaining the strategic position of controlling the narrative and ensuring that position via tactics that disclose a preference for squelching public opinion.  I have heard this concern expressed by administrators and regulators behind closed doors.  This is the reality of democracy and its relationship to free speech and media.  It’s a front and the best politician paints the best narrative to maintain this front.

Unfortunately for social media, it has unwittingly become the target for the front …