The astute power to persuade is more potent than the brute power to silence. Plus, Bengals ascend.
By Gary Abernathy
In a free country, deplatforming people is cowardly
When it comes to separating good information from misinformation — on topics from covid to elections — the question people on all sides should ask is, “Who gets to decide?” That’s the key.
Some, mostly from the left, will say we should trust scientists on covid — but only certain scientists — and, essentially, the mainstream media on elections. Others, mostly from the right, will say that on covid there are many opinions from different scientists, that the Constitution still applies even during a pandemic, and that when it comes to elections the mainstream media is often wrong or untrustworthy, especially considering the obvious contempt in which they hold Donald Trump.
The effort to establish what amounts to a de facto Ministry of Truth and to permit no information to exist on our biggest communication platforms unless it passes muster with said Ministry is truly frightening. The notion that only those things deemed “true” — by whoever at a particular moment in time gets to decide “truth” — is a relatively new concept in our society, and a dangerous one.
To reiterate my frequent personal disclaimer: I believe the 2020 election was fair and accurate, and Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump for the presidency. Trump lost my support after his post-election actions, including fanning the flames that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. I’m also a believer in the covid vaccines. I’m fully vaccinated, including with a booster, and if they say I should get another booster I’ll roll up my sleeve.
But I’m completely opposed to vaccine mandates. And I’m completely supportive of people who want to question the need for vaccines or their efficacy or raise any other doubts they want to express about covid or the election. This is America, not communist China. Right?
Last week’s frankly hilarious threat from singer Neil Young — followed by Joni Mitchell and a couple of others — to pull their music from Spotify unless the service canceled the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast shows how completely insane we have gone on the topic of freedom of expression. Artists who were once considered part of the counterculture are now the biggest advocates for conformity.
Let me clarify that I’ve spent as much time listening to Joe Rogan as I have intentionally listening to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell — none. One of my favorite memes or jokes on the internet last week was the suggestion that Young and Mitchell were trending on Google, as in people asking, “Who are Neil Young and Joni Mitchell?” Very likely. But it’s not necessary for me to be big fans of any of them to understand that two of them were trying to silence the other one, and it wasn’t Rogan trying to silence Young or Mitchell.
Most disturbing of all is to see journalists and columnists — people who should be defending a wide diversity of thought — support the notion of banning people from popular digital platforms. Don’t they understand that they’re standing in that same line waiting for their number to be called? Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls — it soon tolls for thee.
Oh, but, “We deal in truth,” the journalists will insist. “What’s dangerous are the lies being spread by others.” Nonsense. Americans have dealt with a constant flow of truth, lies, half truths and all the other gray areas of information since the dawn of time (added editor’s note: well, maybe not quite that long), somehow sorting it all out for themselves. We do not need people appointing themselves our protectors from misinformation.
And no, the internet and its mammoth reach don’t make misinformation, or disinformation, more dangerous than ever. The truth has as much reach as the lies, and the two have always been neck and neck in this world. The playing field is as equal as ever.
Despite what many people claim these days, much of what we call “truth” remains subjective. Yes, two plus two equals four. Water consists of two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Those are hard truths. But so much of what we insist are “facts” are, in reality, opinions.
For example, is it true that over the past two years covid has been a “deadly pandemic?” It depends on how bad you want it to seem, or how much you want to blame someone (usually Trump) for the deaths, or whether you want it to be shrugged off as a bad cold.
If you consider that before long it will have killed — by the official count as of this writing — about 900,000 Americans (being particularly deadly for older Americans with preexisting conditions), that seems to qualify as “deadly.” But if you look at it from the standpoint that in the U.S. more than 98 percent of people who got covid recovered from it, that’s not a “deadly pandemic” — not compared to, say, the Black Death of 1665, which killed about 15 percent of the population of London — that’s 15 percent of the entire population of London— or Ebola in West Africa, which from 2014-2016 had a death rate of about 40 percent. Compared to high mortality rates of these and many other diseases, covid was quite survivable even before the vaccines.
So referring to covid as “deadly” can be justified based on a high total number of deaths, but calling it “not deadly” is justifiable based on covid’s very high survivability rate. No one is lying either way. And yet, we want to claim “misinformation” and ban people from digital platforms or from the airwaves if they don’t line up and repeat, like mindless robots, the exact same things.
One of the biggest casualties from covid — and from the controversies over Donald Trump and the 2020 election — has been freedom of expression. Many people, with the unfortunate help of too many media organizations, have used the excuses of “health and safety” or “protecting democracy” to quash voices that don’t conform. In fact, it’s the unhealthiest thing for democracy I can imagine. The big tech giants and their cheerleaders — often their drivers — in government and media are silencing dissent by labeling it “misinformation.”
There are many voices out there — on the left and the right — saying things I don’t like, and making claims I think are false or even dangerous. But I’ll defend their right to have a platform to say them. Countering them with better information — and having faith in the power to persuade rather than relying on the brute force to silence — is the answer. Deplatforming people is, frankly, cowardly. We’re losing that perspective in this country, and the road we’re following is unhealthy and undemocratic.
Not a typo: Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl
Having grown up in southwest Ohio and living now in the Cincinnati area, yes, it’s pretty exciting that the Cincinnati Bengals are playing in this year’s Super Bowl.
It’s also hard to believe. NOBODY predicted this when the season started. Most people hoped for a bit of an improvement, and maybe a playoff appearance this year.
People are gaga over quarterback Joe Burrow. He certainly has a great story. A couple of years ago I wrote a Post column about Burrow’s commitment to his southeast Ohio roots. I pointed out that Ohio is a diverse state, and people from the different corners of Ohio don’t necessarily relate to people from other parts of the state. Ohio residents are usually very specific about which part of Ohio they’re from.
Burrow understands all this. When he won the Heisman Trophy last month, his moving acceptance speech got a lot of attention, deservedly, for his shout-out to kids in his home county and the poverty many of them face each day. Burrow was very specific. He didn’t refer broadly to kids in Ohio, or even just southern Ohio. He said, “Coming from southeast Ohio, it’s a very impoverished area, and the poverty rate is almost two times the national average. There’s so many people there that don’t have a lot. And I’m up here for all those kids in Athens and Athens County that go home to not a lot of food on the table, hungry after school. You guys can be up here, too.”
You can read the column at this link.
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