In his short story, “The Library of Babel,” Jorge Louis Borges imagined a library in which every possible combination of letters and punctuation existed in book form. It’s a wonderful story and everyone should read it, it takes about 10 minutes. Not only does the Argentine master predict, in a sense, the Internet, he creates a library in which all possible things are written, including the true and myriad false accounts of our own deaths.
One aspect of Borges’ library has always stood out: the inability to censor. In Borges’ library, you can burn a book, but an almost identical book missing one comma still exists. If you burn that one, a similar book with two commas in that place still exists. You get the idea. One current application of that idea is that even if social media companies are trying to suppress conservative ideas, they will never have enough fingers to plug the holes in their dams.
It is absolutely clear that social media companies, particularly Facebook and Twitter, show enormous bias against conservative posts. This has been laid out in several articles, including in these pages. It’s not awesome and the companies should look to fix it.
But the over the top reaction from some on the right has at times been unhinged. One Fox News host went so far as to suggest that these companies be run by the government as public utilities, a position more easily at home in the socialist playbook than the American conservative one.
Conservatives Have Always Been Fringe
When William F Buckley Jr., the father of movement conservatism, wrote “God and Man at Yale” in 1951 he wrote it for the very reason that traditional conservatism had become a fringe position in academia. When he founded National Review and vowed to stand athwart history, what he meant was that liberals had such hegemonic power over every lever of education, communication, and news that a powerful rebuttal was needed.
Years later, Generation X grew up with George Will and occasionally Pat Buchanan as the lone conservative on panel after panel. Theirs was an obscure and curious commitment to less government and more capitalism that was always presented as the “other” position. Of course, most “right-thinking” people disagreed with them, but now and then they would slip a bit of rhetoric past the liberal goalie and viewers and would nod gravely and say, “Huh.”
The conservative was the rogue, the one slyly slipping a saboteur’s sandal into the well-worn cogs and gears of accepted liberalism. They did not get even a quarter of the coverage, but they got much more than a quarter of the converts. By the 1990s, Republicans marched to electoral victories unheard of in the previous decades.
Volume Isn’t Relevance
The basic concern among conservatives is that if social media companies give them less bandwidth, their message will unfairly die on the vine. While for any individual conservative being punished by social media can be quite harmful and unfair, for the movement as a whole, it’s a blip. Just as in Borges’ story, another feed, site, account or profile will slip into place, like soldiers on a Civil War battlefield.
Our current paradigm is that progressives hold disproportionate power in culture and conservatives hold disproportionate power in politics. That’s basically true, and it proves that while culture may be upstream, it is by no means dispositive. Conservative ideas writ large are not being kept from Americans, and ultimately if 500 people are screaming for one thing and only 100 are screaming for the other, most people will still decide based on the content of the argument, not its volume.
Don’t Play the Victim
One of the reasons Buckley and his successors were so successful is that they refused to play the victim. Buckley didn’t organize sit-ins. Will didn’t call out the media as biased sycophants. Both had Orwellian (in the best sense) smiles from knowing that no massaging of message could keep their plain sense from resonating with the American people.
Playing the victim, alleging you lack success because the big bad powers that be are stacked against you, is the progressives’ game. It has no place in conservatism. There are times when disparate treatment of conservatives needs remedy, when ugly and dangerous attacks on them are ignored while slights against liberals are punished. But none of this new.
We draw too bright of a line between social media and plain old media. They aren’t as distinct as we think. Both employ similar gatekeepers who monitor what can be said. It’s as old as Buckley and Will, and it has not stopped conservatives from racking up incredible electoral success. When a conservative is targeted or shut down by a social media company, sure, complain about it, and bring in others to aid you. But in the grander scheme of things, don’t freak out.
We don’t need more regulation of media companies, social or otherwise. If we use that lever of power today, it will come back to truly shut us down when we inevitably lose power. That would be a true disaster. It would shut down criticism of climate alarmism, ban people for spurious accusations of racism, and make us all stay silent in the face of all manner of absurd and dangerous progressive ideas.
Rather than that, just stay strong knowing that conservatives win by having better ideas, not by controlling culture and media. It was true in 1951, and it is true today.