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Saturday, January 09, 2021

Censorship is collapsing the information economy

We used to talk about property rights. We ought to be demanding the right to know and speak the truth

T his month everything seems to have fallen apart. In earlier times we might have attributed it to the anger of some deity. Maybe the Great Programmer who wrote the script we think we are living is toying with us. Or maybe the laws of nature are taking their inevitable revenge. Or maybe it was always this way and we just noticed it.

Nearly the entire liberal arts half of our universities is now based on obvious falsehoods. In medicine we have an epidemic of misdiagnoses—not just with some virus but throughout medicine. Nothing our news media or our politicians tell us can be believed. Internet corporations openly censor opinions based on their political views.


It is hard to overstate the danger of this. In a world where opinions are censored, we cannot know what anyone really thinks. Nor can we believe what anyone says. Now that our news media have lost what little credibility they once had, we also have no way of knowing what is really happening in the world. Yet the survival of our information-based economy depends on our knowledge.

On one side people believe the virus is fake, the vaccines are too risky, and it is all a scheme to restructure the world order. They believe these things because they have been lied to so often they automatically search for an alternative explanation. On the other side people believe that expressing an idea they disagree with is dangerous and ought to be against the law. Just as the language of equality turned into an argument for racism, the language of safety has now turned into an argument for government censorship.

There is only one reason why people censor: they intend to lie to you. When it happens, the inevitable result is that we lose our trust in what anyone says.

If people believe falsehoods, how long before they believe the streetlights and law enforcement and our political system are working when they are not? How long can a civilization survive without an imaginative culture, where no one can trust what anyone says because they must censor themselves to avoid being fired and blacklisted?

We used to talk about property rights, where we have assurance that our government will defend our right to own things on which our productivity depends and prosecute those who steal them. Now our top economists advocate for a wealth tax that would annihilate what remains of personal initiative.

We ought to be demanding our right to the truth. Without it, we have no basis for trust and society gradually falls apart. Is your doctor honestly diagnosing you or is he is being paid to diagnose people with some particular disease? Are our clinical trials done fairly, or are researchers deciding the conclusion in advance for political reasons? Are our corporate executives truthful when they claim their planes are safe or are they making cost-benefit decisions, offshoring their software to save money and pocketing the savings?

Without trust, we have no assurance that our elections are fair or that our leaders will tell the truth when they promise to fix them. Even less do we have any assurance that the press will report it, or that the riots that ensue are covered accurately or at all.

In such a world, humans can neither do business nor socialize with each other. If everything people say is a lie there is no point in talking. We become atomized animals, hunkered down silently in impregnable buildings, hoping for someone to come along and replace the chaos with order. A society can be based on trust, or it can be based on brutality and the threat of force. We are at a point where we have to decide which we want.

When I was a kid, I used to ask myself a hypothetical question: suppose a scientist discovered a cure for cancer while working in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. If he reveals the cure, it might save millions from cancer but, by gaining praise for his country, condemn the world to live forever under totalitarianism. What should he do?

Now we scientists have a different quandary. If we know that science will eventually fall to censorship and political correctness and all our discoveries and inventions will be lost, how should we react? Maybe we ought to chisel them into stone for the benefit of whatever species comes after us.

jan 09 2021, 4:25 am

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