E-Pluribus | August 31, 2021
The race to victimhood, Twitter with another COVID-related ban, and Australia's flirtation with self-imposed authoritarianism.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Tomasz Witkowski: The Victims’ Race
No, not “race” in that sense of the word. As Tomasz Witkowski frames it, there is a “race for compassion” in the victim culture that has developed alongside the bullying and vitriol that are all too common in social media. Witkowski explores the attraction and impact of victimhood, especially on adolescents.
On August 2nd, 2013, 14-year-old Hannah Smith of Leicestershire, England, took her own life. She had been receiving cruel messages on the social networking site Ask.fm for months, and her parents concluded that cyberbullying was the main cause of her suicide. But then evidence emerged that the hatred Hannah had been receiving came from … herself—98 percent of the messages were posted from the IP address of the computer she was using.
This was not an isolated incident. In his book Hate Crime Hoax, political scientist Wilfred Reilly analysed 346 alleged hate crimes and found that fewer than a third were genuine. He provides detailed descriptions of almost a hundred high-profile cases that never actually happened, most of which were supposed to have taken place on university campuses. Reilly concludes that, contrary to popular belief, we are not experiencing an epidemic of hate crimes, but an epidemic of hate crime hoaxes perpetrated by people searching for public attention and sympathy.
Victimhood may confer ancient and effective advantages, but researchers are nonetheless alarmed by the scale of digital self-harm in adolescents, and the recent recourse to false accusations more generally. In the past, adopting the mantle of victimhood was usually a situational strategy—apart from professional beggars, people tended to avoid being permanently identified as a victim. But in modern culture, victimhood is increasingly becoming an attractive life choice.
Read it all.
Robby Soave: Banning Alex Berenson From Twitter Is a Mistake
For those who followed Alex Berenson on Twitter, it was apparent he was begging for the social media giant to ban him. Last weekend, he got his wish. Robby Soave of Reason, while acknowledging the challenges someone like Berenson presents to Twitter, contends that banning someone like him does more harm than good.
Twitter has finally had enough of Alex Berenson, the former New York Times reporter who has spent the pandemic being extremely wrong about both the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and, more notably, the efficacy of vaccines. On Saturday, the social media site confirmed that it had permanently banned him for "repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation rules."
There are good reasons to be troubled by this decision—even though Berenson is indeed a serial spewer of misinformation.
First, while Berenson is a uniquely misguided COVID-19 pundit, he is far from the only person to mislead the public about some aspect of the pandemic. Social media sites have taken great pains to purge so-called misinformation from their platforms, but they have largely taken their cues from government-approved sources of information, which have huge blind spots. It was the government's own health officials, after all, who cast doubt on the idea that COVID-19 could have possibly emerged from a lab and encouraged Big Tech to crush any dissenting views on this subject. But neither Twitter nor Facebook have banned any mainstream media accounts for wrongly deriding the lab leak theory as an unfounded and completely impossible conspiracy theory.
Similarly, White House health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have changed their minds on masks, the herd immunity threshold, and many other topics. Their recommendations, projections, and forecasts routinely turn out to be less than reliable, but they suffer no formal reprisals. Social media moderators appear to be especially deferential to the mainstream media; examples of misinformation that speak to the media's bias against contrarian news sources are treated as critically important, while the government's own mistakes get a pass. The difficulty of evenly enforcing misinformation bans is probably a good reason for Big Tech to take a cautious approach; social media sites can avoid charges of hypocrisy by taking a broadly permissive view of what sort of content is allowed on their platforms.
Read it all here.
Arthur Chrenkoff: No Liberty? No Problem
At City Journal, Arthur Chrenkoff looks at Australia’s COVID response and the apparent toleration for draconian mitigation measures a significant majority of the population seems to possess. Chrenkoff ponders how long a society can subject itself to authoritarian rule, even voluntarily, and not suffer long term consequences. ```
To those half-jokingly tweeting about invading and liberating Australia, I have some bad news: Australia does not want to be liberated. Strong majorities support the harsh measures. Several state elections over this time have seen incumbents comfortably reelected on platforms of acting tough against Covid, amid messaging that those advocating a lighter touch want to kill your grandma. In Victoria, where the left-wing Labor government has been by far the harshest and most trigger-happy—Melbourne has been under “hard” lockdown for more than 200 days so far—polling suggests only a small dip in support, not nearly enough to unseat the administration. The consensus can be distilled into the following: Look at the rest of the world! Our government has kept us safe so far. We can’t allow what has happened in the United States or Europe to happen here.
This leaves a minority of Australians driven to despair by isolation, lockdowns, travel restrictions, and the disappearance of their livelihoods. Service industries, particularly hospitality, have been hardest hit by forced closures and other restrictions. The economy continues to chug along, as the money printer in Canberra churns out tens of billions in handouts. The open federal money tap has allowed state governments, mostly in the hands of the opposition center-Left, to go to extremes; in any case, the center-Right small-business constituency is suffering the most. This is not a sustainable strategy, even if the governing center-Right has largely given up on fiscal responsibility.
The success in suppressing Covid comes with other price tags. The single-minded obsession that no one get sick and die from Covid is being paid for by a slowly unfolding mental-health crisis. Social isolation and dislocation are taking their toll in terms of rising suicide, depression, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Physical health suffers, too, as treatable conditions don’t get treated in the health system that now seems to have only one goal.
Read the whole thing.
A First Amendment victory for a Christian public school teacher in Virginia:
Ed Whelan @EdWhelanEPPC.@xan_desanctis: Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Christian Public-School Teacher https://t.co/zsCcQZVQmv
Megan McArdle, commenting on an Anne Applebaum column: why are we letting the “young people” run the show?
The National Religious Broadcasters fired its spokesman, Dan Darling, for not adhering to a position of “neutrality” on the COVID-19 vaccines:
Bob Smietana @bobsmietanaSome breaking news: @dandarling urged his fellow evangelicals to be vaccinated. Today he was fired by the National Religious Broadcasters https://t.co/cSYFsmFIAS
And finally, the fallout continues for Mike Richards who recently lost his hosting job in the Jeopardy! debacle: