Monday, January 18, 2021

The Achilles Heel of Democracy

(This is the latest entry in D-Jay's ongoing series.)

The Deprogramming Dilemma – 9

The Achilles Heel of Democracy

By D-Jay

Democracy thrives on two things – freedom of speech and respect for the truth.

Herein lies our strength…and our greatest weakness, our Achilles heel.

As the storming of the Capitol by the mob of Trump terrorists has made perfectly clear, democracy can be destroyed by those who use the freedom of speech to divorce a large segment of the population from the very concept of objective truth and their ability to distinguish it. 

If we can’t find an effective way to stop the flow of toxic disinformation that has inundated our society, while still preserving our basic right to free speech and self-expression, our democracy project will fail.

Some would say it already has.

Such full-blown pessimism here on Cannonfire is the job of our host, however, so let me start with the assumption that all is not yet lost - or at least that the jury is still out on the matter – and offer a few thoughts on how the forces of right (as opposed to the right) might still prevail.

First, freedom of speech doesn’t necessarily have to mean freedom to disseminate and promote said speech.  This is an especially important concept in this age of social media and the Internet.  Just because Donald trumpets out his fantasy that he won the election doesn’t mean that Facebook, Twitter and the rest have to spread the delusion to the four corners of the universe.

Thanks to the retired security experts now appearing daily on CNN and MSNBC, we have learned that “deplatforming” (the banning of disinformation artists from social media and Internet platforms) is a thing and has been one of the most effective tools for fighting international terrorist groups such as ISIS. 

At least for the time being, it also seems to have been quite useful in giving the country and the world a much-needed respite from the incessant thousand-decibel rants of our current terrorist-in-chief to which we have been so accustomed. 

And which have caused so much harm.

Turns out, after all, that this deplatforming is actually quite an easy thing to do since said platforms are all private companies in this capitalist paradise of ours.  Free speech rights don’t even really apply.  They are under no obligation to spread the lies.

What IS needed, however, is motivation for the owners of these firms to put the good of the country – and the world – ahead of the short-term profits churned out by the chaotic clown show provided by Trump, QAnon and the like.

For having provided that, we might actually owe the MAGA mob which stormed the Capitol a big debt of gratitude.

Going forward, drastic reform of the way social media operates is absolutely essential.  Fortunately, some good ideas are out there, but that will be the subject of another post.

There are two other things we desperately need, however.

First, a way to distinguish between the 99.99999% of speech that ought to be fully protected (no matter how much it might offend some other members of society) and that tiny bit that constitutes disinformation that is genuinely threatening to our democracy.

Second, a way to go after the bad actors who deliberately create and promote it.

My own humble suggestion is that both of these could be provided as part of a very well-thought-out and carefully crafted domestic anti-terrorism law. 

The critical point would be that information and psychological warfare techniques aimed at the American people be included in the list of prohibited activities - specifically, big lies and manufactured conspiracy theories aimed at undermining our democratic form of government and the basic shared objective truth on which it depends.

Of course, these two things would need to be defined as narrowly as possible, so as to limit the potential harm to our freedom of expression.

For this purpose, for a definition of a “big lie,” I would suggest something to the effect of, “a verifiably false statement that is repeated over and over, even when proven to be untrue, and which has the potential to cause serious damage to our society or system of government.” 

Donald Trump’s “I won the election” would be something that obviously qualifies, whereas something like “Biden is a socialist” might not.

For conspiracy theories, the key would again be that they appear to be deliberately manufactured and disseminated for the purpose of undermining our society or system of government.

Here, things like, “Most of our technology comes from a UFO which crashed in Roswell” probably wouldn’t qualify, but the QAnon quackery definitely would.

Once it was determined under the statute – perhaps by something like a FISA court or  some sort of panel of experts – that the big lie or conspiracy theory showed signs of being a deliberate psyop against the United States, it could be properly investigated by law enforcement and intelligence services, even if no foreign actors were involved.

For a start, they would be able to conduct a proper investigation into QAnon, reveal who is actually behind it, and if it is only a case of domestic terrorism or if it was an attack on the U.S. by a foreign intelligence service.

Of course, such a domestic anti-terrorism law would also make it much easier for law enforcement to target and disrupt violent groups like the Boogaloo Boys and the plethora of well-armed right-wing militias now infecting our country.

The critical thing, though, is that genuine information warfare - as opposed to more innocent crackpot opinion – be included in the statute.

Any doubt that both Donald Trumps along with Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson,  Sean Hannity and Rupert Murdoch would be among the guilty?


Contributing factors to our democratic decline:

From the Right

Truth Decay – Destruction of the Ability to Distinguish Fantasy from Reality

Ever Worsening Demonization of the Media

Manufactured Distrust of Science and Expertise

The Iron Bubble of Disinformation

The Dark Money Conspiracy

Information Warfare Aimed at Us

Domestic Terrorism

Emergence of a Full-blown Cult of Personality

Ongoing Voter Suppression and Gerrymandering

Election Security

Continued Weaponization of Social Media

Toxic Right-wing Pseudo-Christianity


Sexism and a Pseudo-Macho Mentality

Putinism and the International Neo-Fascist Movement

Lack of Education in Civics and Critical Thinking Skills

Destruction of Crucial Democratic Norms

The Collapse of Good Manners and Propriety



From the Left (and Sometimes the Center)

OTT PC (Over-The-Top Political Correctness)

Inept Messaging

Lack of Media Investment


Surrender of Rural America Without a Fight

Failure to Call Out and Counteract Toxic Right-Wing Christianity

Failure to Call Out Right-Wing Racism, Sexism and Fascism for what it is, and Counteract it in Time

Framing Too Many Issues as Being Rooted in Race Rather than Economics and Class

Failure to Recognize Just How Bad Things Can Really Get

Forever Bringing Beanbags to a Knife Fight

Failure to Protect Critical Norms




CambridgeKnitter said...

Do you have an opinion about the reporting on the podcast Reply All ( that claims to have uncovered the origins of QAnon and strongly suggests who Q is? It's been cited in generally reliable media.

Anonymous said...

I've been giving a lot of thought to this myself and frankly, I don't see any way to allow a statement like "America got advanced technology from crashed UFOS" while forbidding Trump from claiming "I won the election by a lot." If you completely forbid conspiracy theorizing then you rob life of much of its flavor, and you also make it easier for people in power to get away with actual conspiracies.

One idea that makes sense to me is to follow the UK example and to make libel and slander cases easier to pursue in court, which would make it harder for a foreign nation to fund a demonization campaign.

a female Faust said...

this video is well put & apropos