Freedom, the Village, and Social Media

This rerun (retitled from the original) inspired by Glenn Reynolds’ decision to deactivate his Twitter account.

I’ve reviewed two books by German writer Hans Fallada: Little Man, What Now?, and Wolf Among Wolves (the links go to the reviews), both of which were excellent. I’ve also read his novel Every Man Dies Alone, which is centered on a couple who become anti-Nazi activists after their son Ottochen is killed in the war…it was inspired by, and is loosely based on, the true story of  a real-life couple who distributed anti-Nazi postcards and were executed for it.

I thought this book was also excellent…the present post, though, is not a book review, but rather a development of some thoughts inspired by a particular passage in the story.

Trudel, who was Ottochen’s fiancee, is a sweet and intelligent girl who is strongly anti-Nazi..and unlike Ottochen’s parents, she became an activist prior to being struck by personal tragedy: she is a member of a resistance cell at the factory where she works.  But she finds that she cannot stand the unending psychological strain of underground work–made even worse by the rigid and doctrinaire man (apparently a Communist) who is leader of the cell–and she drops out. Another member of the cell, who has long been in love with her, also finds that he is not built for such work, and drops out also.

After they marry and Trudel becomes pregnant, they decide to leave the politically hysterical environment of Berlin for a small town where–they believe–life will be freer and calmer.

Like many city dwellers, they’d had the mistaken belief that spying was only really bad in Berlin and that decency still prevailed in small towns. And like many city dwellers, they had made the painful discovery that recrimination, eavesdropping, and informing were ten times worse in small towns than in the big city. In a small town, everyone was fully exposed, you couldn’t ever disappear in the crowd. Personal circumstances were quickly ascertained, conversations with neighbors were practically unavoidable, and the way  such conversations could be twisted was something they had already experienced in their own lives, to their chagrin.

Reading the above passage, I was struck by the thought that if we are now living in an “electronic village”…even a “global village,” as Marshall McLuhan put it several decades ago…then perhaps that also means we are facing some of the unpleasant characteristics that–as Fallada notes–can be a part of village life. And these characteristics aren’t something that appears only in eras of insane totalitarianism such as existed in Germany during the Nazi era. Peter Drucker, in Managing in the Next Society, wrote about the tension between liberty and community:

Rural society has been romanticized for millenia, especially in the West, where rural communities have usually been portrayed as idylic. However, the community in rural society is actually both compulsory and coercive…And that explains why, for millenia, the dream of rural people was to escape into the city. Stadluft macht frei (city air frees) says an old German proverb dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century.


Consider: an assistant manager at a Wal-Mart store recently lost his job because of a post he put up on his Facebook page, in which he made some negative and slightly obscene comments about Muslim women wearing niquabs. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) complained, and the man was fired. (Having demonstrated their power, CAIR then kindly asked that he be rehired–don’t know whether he ever was.)

If, in the pre-Facebook era, a Wal-Mart manager living in a large city had made negative comments about some group to friends in person, the odds that it would have resulted in his firing would have been pretty low. On the other hand, if a store manager living in a village were to repeatedly express opinions hostile to the deeply-held beliefs of the majority of the villagers–say, if a rural store manager in 1955 became well-known as hostile to religion–it might well have had an adverse effect on his employment. The electronic village has to some extent re-created the social pressures of the traditional village.

Of course, the village culture doesn’t always reinforce and serve the values of a society’s political overlords. During WWII, for example, the people of Chambon-sur-Lignon, a town in the French Massif Central Range, saved more than 5000 Jews from the Holocaust. The village community can act as a bulwark for civil society against the over-reaching power of distant tyrants, and in some cases–as with Chambon-sur-Lignon–the community culture will be of a nature that can accept and respect people whose belief structure differs from their own.

Certainly, the ability of the Internet to facilitate the distribution of information and opinion, beyond the control of the media gatekeepers, has been and is of tremendous value in preserving liberty. Without it, we as a society would be in even more trouble than we currently are. But the erosion of privacy, and the resultant fear of expressing oneself or acting in “unapproved” ways that might “harm your permanent record” are factors whose influence in undeniable.

The widespread distribution and sharing of information enabled by technology becomes particularly dangerous when the national government is in the hands of people who lack respect for individual liberties–and when the administrative discretion granted to individual bureaucrats is high. Can anyone doubt the high likelihood that information from the Electronic Medical Records being implemented as part of Obamacare will at some point be used to destroy political opponents of the whatever Administration is in power at the time? Can anyone doubt that, with the ideology of “progressivism” becoming increasingly intolerant, ever-larger numbers of people will be denied jobs, promotions, college admissions, based on opinions that they have expressed in a Facebook post or a blog post at some point in their lives?…and that expressions of opinion will–unless the climate changes markedly away from one of “political correctness”–tend to become much more guarded, just as a village merchant might be reluctant to say anything to offend the small group of people on whose goodwill he is permanently dependent for his livelihood?

Special musical bonus

I changed the title of this rerun from that on the original because the on-line mobbing problem is really largely a function of social media, rather than of the Internet in general.  See related post from Bookworm…thoughts about how social media companies should be dealt with from a legal standpoint.

I haven’t read it yet, but Roger McNamee’s book Zucked is subtitled Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe.  The author is a well-known VC and was himself an early investor in FB.

25 thoughts on “Freedom, the Village, and Social Media”

  1. “… if a store manager living in a village were to repeatedly express opinions hostile to the deeply-held beliefs of the majority of the villagers …”

    The interesting point is that the great majority of the electronic villagers are either ambivalent or outright opposed to the deeply-held beliefs of the self-appointed guardians of discourse, like CAIR. There was a recent poll showing that something like 4 out of 5 Americans are opposed to Political Correctness, for example. But Political Correctness (or, to be more accurate, in-group peer pressure) reigns supreme in academia, the media, the bureaucracy, and the politically active.

    The fact that our would-be rulers are out of touch and unrepresentative shows up only occasionally — the astonishing level of support for Ross Perot’s run for President, the election of President Trump, UK separation from the EU, the demonstrations in France against Macron. The Mandate of Heaven is dissolving. In time, the beliefs of the majority of the electronic global village will prevail.

  2. From _You Call This Living?_, A Collection of East European Political Jokes:

    – Is there any advantage to a one-party system?
    – In principle, yes. It would be so much more complicated to watch out not to say or do anything wrong if there were several parties.

  3. All of this going on seems to me to be a publicity campaign for Kurt Schlicter’s Novels, like “Peoples’ Republic.”

    America’s growing political and cultural divisions have finally split the United States apart. Now, as the former blue states begin to collapse under the dead weight of their politically correct tyranny, a lethal operative haunted by his violent past undertakes one last mission to infiltrate and take out his target in the nightmarish city of Los Angeles, deep in the heart of the People’s Republic of North America. National Review’s Jim Geraghty calls Kurt Schlichter’s “People’s Republic” “a surreal, fast-paced journey through a dramatically different America but less than a generation away.

    That was from the Amazon blurb.

    Schlichter has the terminology down perfectly. He lives in west LA and knows the language.

    Also, I notice kids reading and watching TV series like “Game of Thrones” and “Hunger Games.”

    Two of my daughters were reading and watching these things. One loaned me the “Game of Thrones” book. I haven’t read it.

  4. This makes me sad. I have never had any inclination to join social media, although I did join Instagram to share my stupid pics though.

    I knew it would just be a torrent of stupidity from almost everyone who thought their thoughts on everything had some value, the twits, and I was down with that. Not that I wanted to be part of it, but its been very rewarding indeed over the years as entertainment.

    Its sad to see the smarter ones catching on, but hey. ;)

  5. I know people who have dropped Facebook and limited their posting to Instagram (which is of course owned by Facebook)….I believe political unpleasantness is driving people off FB; they may not consciously know why they’re tired of it, but the anger and hostility leave their marks.

    Not clear that Instagram can be nearly the $$$ generator that FB is.

  6. I like blogging as a medium because the comments, if any, are there to read and respond to.

    I used to comment at Cathy Seipp’s blog. The commenters were a sort of fraternal group and we went to lunch a couple of times. I got to know Cathy and through her I met Mickey Kaus and Andrew Breitbart. When she had her cancer recurrence, a group of us met at her apartment and had a little party although we all knew it was a goodby party. I went to her funeral.

    After that I began my own blog and commented at Ann Althouse’s blog. Her commenters are more a mixture of left and right and several are really obnoxious. The sort of obnoxious that I ran into with commenters at leftist blogs, like Washington Monthly blog where commenters would go to my personal blog and use items from there for nasty slurs.

    Fortunately, I was invited to post here and so this and my own blog are where I post things. I quit Althouse’s blog although I scan it most days to look for good items or links.

    I never got interested in Twitter and Facebook is for grandkids.

  7. It’s a mystery to me why hotair destroyed their old comments section. They used to get hundreds, even thousands, of comments, with vigorous discussions. Overnight they were getting maybe a dozen, most of whom were lefty trolls. I think they wanted to veer in a different editorial direction, but they destroyed what had been a worthwhile site.

  8. I started to comment, but when I got to four paragraphs I decided I needed to create a post of my own. I also included that Cal Newport article David mentioned. I will probably cross-post it here in a day or so, but wanted the comments to play out here in a coherent conversation first. It’s hard to run a discussion that has two comment sections, as my eldest always reminds me.

  9. As far as Facebook is concerned, Nobody is willing to listen and to participate and that dialogue only gets my blood pressure up. If it weren’t for the Neptunus Lex group I wouldn’t waste my time there. As someone in that group stated “if you are not paying to use a service, then you are the product”.

    I don’t even give them by birthday.

    I have finished posting the Neptunus Lex Posts, and while I think my “final post” about him was too long, (7,000 words) I quoted a Frenchman from the condolence posts saying that he had little in common in belief with Lex – or the Navy – or the commentators, but everyone was respectful and the discussions spirited. He said that there were many like him who stayed – the old Neptunus Lex blog must have been an oasis in the Internet jungle.

    Although I have been a regular here for some time – I will always be grateful for David Foster for pointing me to Lex after his accident – look what transpired – anyway chocagoboyz seems to tolerates people of different views as long as they are civil.

    But these kind of blogs are few and far between.

    Which is a pity.

    Lex had a lot to say on the matter –

  10. BTW Mike / David – I post occasionally on the Lexicans site, and while I get very few if any comments (I think you have to post daily to build an audience), it is amazing, through search engines, how many people eventually come to read one’s posts. I have one, on the SR-71, that over 25,000 have read. Although it seems to be linked from a popular aviation website. I’ve had lots of interest in old travel pictures I have posted, a few political opinions….and hardly any comments at the time.

    You never know where a post will go.

  11. Another pending development in the Left’s crusade to Weaponize Social Media: NY State is considering new added law requiring a review of social media as a condition for new/renewed pistol license. Tyranny is coming to California East, now that few remaining opposition Republicans were wiped out in the midterms.

    So potentially writings will enable denial of a pistol permit in NY State. FYI, NY State doesn’t need a reason to deny a license—it is a “May Issue” State. So denial might not come with any reason.

    Same people who are litigating Exxon for fraud for not accepting Global Warming as an investor risk. Toe the line…or else.

  12. Synchrosanct*

    As a black turban tilts in Qom
    A hundred million men in the East
    Kneel to kiss the ground

    As prayers emanate from Rome
    A hundred million echoes in the West
    In unison resound

    For high above, satellites roam
    That faithfully synchronize and test
    Faith, in light and sound

    Boghos L. Artinian MD

    * The synchronization of sanctity in Christianity and in Islam by satellites.
    In a similar manner all functions on the globe are being synchronized.

  13. It’s interesting too me to see how many comments site are now linked to Facebook through Disqus. I have been trying to avoid Google and quit using the Chrome browser but I cannot comment at many sites like Powerline, except with Chrome. I am mostly using Safari now but have looked at Brave.

  14. Mike…Brave seems to do better at ad suppression than the other browsers.

    Many sites are now so flooded with ads as to be basically unreadable, absent strong suppression.

  15. I had a beta version of Brave but it is such a pain to change browsers as I have lots of passwords memorized by the browser.

    I had Adblocker Plus on Chrome but the Safari version doesn’t seem to work well.

  16. If you’re just browsing and not commenting, disable javascript. That kills 99%+ of ads and everything is so much faster.

  17. Actually, Chicago Boyz seems to allow commenting without enabling either cookies or javascript. That’s uncommon these days.

  18. Mike: you might consider Game of Thrones worth it. Martin himself has stated that he believes he’s writing an examination of what makes one “fit to rule”.

    Near as I can tell, so far, that means “stand by your word, even when it’s inconvenient”. Most of the “losers” in the game are people who violate an oath they’ve freely given…

  19. As to adverts, the first extension I add to Chrome is U-Block Origin. It’s rare to find a site that rejects ad blocks. And you can allow that lone site if you desire access enough.

Comments are closed.