About ‘Disinformation’

Those critical of Communism often highlight how it’s underpinned by Envy; But I think supporting Communism is first and foremost a result of the Sin of Pride: there’s immense hubris in believing one can design a centralised economic system that beats evolutionary forces. In “The Road to Serfdom” F.A. Hayek contends that government control of economic decision-making, even with good intentions, inevitably leads to totalitarianism. Hayek was a visionary: a lot of intellectuals persisted in their love for Communism even after the horrors of the Soviet Regime became apparent.

While at the moment outright advocacy for Communism may not be widespread among intellectuals, there remains a latent affinity for top-down control – a kind of ember of ideology that, though subdued, is still smouldering, waiting for the right conditions to reignite. Often, the catalyst for such a resurgence is the perception of a looming threat (that might very well be a justified worry in itself), such as the recent concern over misinformation. The same pride that made intellectuals believe in centralised control over the economy now leads them to often support a form of epistemic control to fight off misinformation.  (emphasis added)

The above is from Ruxandra Teslo’s substack post The Road to (Mental) Serfdom.  It is very well done–read the whole thing.

There is no human or set of humans qualified to act as ultimate judges of what is true.  Sometimes, even the most well-meaning and brilliant individuals get it wrong: see for example the case of Vannevar Bush and ballistic missiles.  Bush, who was FDR’s science advisor during WWII, was an unquestionably brilliant and creative man who, along with his many other contributions,  invented the mechanical analog computer and envisaged the concept of hypertext, long before the Internet and the World Wide Web.  Yet, regarding the prospect of intercontinental ballistic missiles, he wrote in 1945:

The people who have been writing these things that annoy me have been talking about a 3,000-mile, high-angle rocket, shot from one continent to another, carrying an atomic bomb, and so directed as to be a precise weapon, which would land exactly on a certain target, such as a city. I say, technically I don’t think anybody in the world knows how to do such a thing, and I feel confident it will not be done for a very long period of time to come. I wish the American public would leave that out of their thinking.

If Dr Bush had had complete control over American defense and aerospace research, it is likely that the US would have been much later in ICBM deployment than it in fact was.  We cannot know what the consequences of such lateness would have been, but it’s safe to say that they would not have been good.

The people and entities who demand to be the gatekeepers of truth are not generally anywhere as intelligent and accomplished as was Dr Bush.  And their track record does not inspire confidence.  Yesterday marked the 120th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Only 9 weeks previous to that flight, the New York Times mocked the idea of heavier-than-air flight.  In 1920, Robert Goddard’s rocket experiments were dismissed by that newspaper in an almost unbelievably arrogant manner.   And just recently, the NYT published a highly misleading headline about what had happened to a hospital in Gaza.  Any information-management regime is likely to be run by the kind of people who run the NYT…or worse.  Consequences of forcing information conformity can be very severe, as I discussed in my post Starvation and Centralization.

From Ruxandra’s post: “Just like a free market allows disparate individuals and companies to try and fail and then maybe succeed at creating a product, freedom of thought leads to institutions and opinion makers trying to get at the truth. It’s from this constant hum-drum of people trying their best, that something resembling Truth emerges, and never from top-down control or blind application of some rule.”

This point was once better-understood in the United States than it is today, I believe: even people who were not big fans of the economic free market were often fans of the intellectual free market.  But the whole idea of discussion and debate…even of the adversary system in the courtroom…is  now rejected by a disturbing numbers of people.

In a rather meta way, the idea that there are no safe judges of ‘disinformation’ is apparently itself considered misinformation by some people  If you click the link to Ruxandra’s post on her X/Twitter feed, you get a message Warning: This Link May Be Unsafe.  The likelihood is high, I think, that the message is there because somebody or some set of somebodies filed false reports about the link being harmful.