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How to be an Anti-Extremist 

As we live more and more of life online, deplatforming is coming for your wallet next.

One either allows wrongthink to persevere, as an extremist, or confronts wrongthink, as an anti-extremist. There is no in-between safe space of “not extremist.” The claim of “not extremist” neutrality is a mask for extremism.

That’s a very slight paraphrase of a line from Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist. In Kendi’s telling—his version is about racists and antiracists and racial inequities—it’s the air-tight justification for an “anti-racist constitutional amendment” and a consequent “Department of Antiracism” (I wonder who should be in charge of that?). It is also the syllogism that justifies increasingly aggressive deplatforming measures in our digital world. Who wouldn’t want to kick the “extremists” off social media, right? These spaces can’t be neutral about something as dangerous as wrongthink. You’re not an extremist are you?  

But at least social media isn’t “real,” or mentioned in the Constitution, the author of “The Conservative Case for Depersoning Everyone to My Right” will say. Twitter and Facebook are private companies, platforms for entertainment. A censor is a government position. Besides, they made fun of me.

But as our digital world increasingly displaces physical space, so that we do in fact live in it, that propositional bit of logic at the top, taken not just as valid but also as true, can be used to justify more and more interventions into “real” life. And by that logic, then, exactly as they are used by our liberal international elite to intervene abroad, ideological non-governmental organizations can take on the role of government here at home. Indeed, it is already happening. 

As the Washington Free Beacon’s Santi Ruiz has reported, the online payments system company PayPal and the Anti-Defamation League are partnering with undisclosed nonprofits “to track and disrupt payments” by parties they label extremists. Ruiz writes,

The two groups announced that they would work together to research “how extremist and hate movements” are transferring money online and that the initiative would involve “the establishment and expansion of a coalition with other civil rights partner organizations.” But PayPal and the ADL refuse to disclose the other nonprofits involved beyond the left-wing League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

What we have here are the foundations of a social credit system run not only by unaccountable bureaucrats, but by unaccountable bureaucrats at unnamed nonprofits and NGOs, who can eliminate American citizens’ ability to participate in civil society without their recourse to electoral politics. The legal abyss between what you and I say at the ballot box and what the ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt decides is appropriate for the public square is impassable. Indeed, that seems to be much the point of NGO status. 

In the midst of terrible religious conflict, upon her ascent to the English throne Queen Elizabeth I is reported to have said, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” Even as she standardized and regulated public piety, refining the Protestantism of the Church of England, she recognized a distinction between the performance of mandated religiosity and the convictions of conscience as regards human beings’ eternal destinies. In our secular post-Christian society of today, however, not being much believers in souls, we find such an endorsement or allowance of hypocrisy unsustainable and unwanted. 

Why should we not? We seat the self in the mind, and if the brain, with its synapses and chemistry, can be mapped, then why cannot windows be made in it? There is a sense in which the voluntary installation of a viewport to the deepest self is the essence of digital social media. You are on Twitter or Facebook to perform, and the more you perform online the less distance there can be between the character you play and the character of your self. The ADL, LULAC, and friends see, then, in this ever-growing capacity for self-exposure and self-construction, an opportunity to eliminate hypocrisy. You, good citizen, must think, now, as you do—rightly. 

These are exceptional circumstances, and there are decisions to be made. We face two choices, one of simple policy and the other of existential import. Our first: Will we by weakness and silence consent to the further expropriation of arbitrary governing powers by corporations and non-governmental organizations—will we let ideologues who hate us de facto rule us—or will we fight? The de jure political sphere (local, state, and federal) is the only domain we have a chance of winning in, and so acquiring a weapon to wield against dominant cultural and economic forces. Our second: Will we continue to eliminate the space for toleration and hypocrisy, for the cultivation of a private self, by becoming ever more imprisoned spirits of the digital, or will we turn inward again, to our hearts, our families, our friends, as creatures of flesh and blood?

about the author

Micah Meadowcroft is managing editor of The American Conservative. Before joining TAC he served as White House Liaison at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and assisted in speechwriting there. He holds an MA in social science from the University of Chicago, where he wrote on political theory. Previously, he worked as associate editor of the Washington Free Beacon. This is his second stint at TAC, as not so long ago he was an editorial assistant for the magazine. His BA is in history from Hillsdale College, where he also minored in journalism. Micah hails from the Pacific Northwest, and like Odysseus hopes to return home someday after long exile in the East.

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