Home/Rod Dreher/Red-State Scare: The Blacklist Arrives

Red-State Scare: The Blacklist Arrives

Ben Shapiro

If you’re not part of Twitter, and media Twitter at that, you will be blessedly ignorant of a HUGE controversy today. The political news and commentary website Politico asked conservative commentator Ben Shapiro to guest-edit today’s edition of its morning Playbook feature. Shapiro is completely within the conservative mainstream, but that did not stop the Politico staff from freaking out. Erik Wemple is the Washington Post media columnist:

I said “blessedly ignorant,” but really, you should be aware of stuff like this. This is the new world that we live in.

First, this shows that we live in a world in which left-dominated institutions (e.g., media) are so intolerant that they believe they should not have to have anything to do with conservatives in their line of work.

Second, it shows that their rage suppresses internal dissent (nobody will give a tinker’s damn about the Politico staffers who have been intimidated into silence).

Third, depending on how Politico‘s management reacts, it might reveal that staff have veto power over editorial decisions — in other words, that, as in events last year at The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, the staff mob effectively runs the paper.

If you think this is going to be confined to media, you are very wrong. In other institutions dominated by the Left — including companies whose Human Resources departments are — conservatives are going to have a hard time getting in the door. There’s a move underway by faculty and students at the University of Michigan to get a Republican regent of the system dismissed not because of anything he said, but because of what he has not said (that the presidential election wasn’t stolen). If you have been active in the College Republicans or any other conservative group in college, better not put that on your resume. We are well on our way to an actual blacklist. It won’t simply be conservatives, but leftists who fail to be radical enough. News reached me that a Democratic political professional I follow on social media was fired this week because as a progressive who values free speech, he voiced concern over giving corporations the right to punish people for political dissident (I reached out to him, and he confirmed the firing).

You want to hear something even crazier? Tech Crunch reports on a new Stanford University study:

Researchers have created a machine learning system that they claim can determine a person’s political party, with reasonable accuracy, based only on their face. The study, from a group that also showed that sexual preference can seemingly be inferred this way, candidly addresses and carefully avoids the pitfalls of “modern phrenology,” leading to the uncomfortable conclusion that our appearance may express more personal information that we think.

The study, which appeared this week in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, was conducted by Stanford University’s Michal Kosinski. Kosinski made headlines in 2017 with work that found that a person’s sexual preference could be predicted from facial data.

You might think this is nuts — twenty-first century phrenology! — but Kosinski’s team found that its software could guess correctly nearly three out of four times. Far from perfect, true, but it turns out humans guess correctly only 55 percent of the time. The algorithms are seeing something that is really there. Scientists working on the project don’t yet know what variables are the key ones. But getting this result does not require investing in sophisticated software:

The algorithm itself is not some hyper-advanced technology. Kosinski’s paper describes a fairly ordinary process of feeding a machine learning system images of more than a million faces, collected from dating sites in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., as well as American Facebook users. The people whose faces were used identified as politically conservative or liberal as part of the site’s questionnaire.

The algorithm was based on open-source facial recognition software, and after basic processing to crop to just the face (that way no background items creep in as factors), the faces are reduced to 2,048 scores representing various features — as with other face recognition algorithms, these aren’t necessary intuitive things like “eyebrow color” and “nose type” but more computer-native concepts.

What is to keep a corporation in the future from running a facial image of employees or applicants through this algorithm to make sure no conservatives are hired or promoted? All for the sake of making the workplace a safe space, of course.

We have had a Red Scare in this country’s history. Now we are going to have a Red State Scare. On his webcast today, Ben Shapiro quoted CNN’s Don Lemon saying that all Trump voters — 70 million of his fellow Americans — are in league with the KKK and the Nazis. Lemon really said that — the clip is there.

Here’s a really good essay by Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet, called “Everything Is Broken.” Excerpts:

The internet tycoons used the ideology of flatness to hoover up the value from local businesses, national retailers, the whole newspaper industry, etc.—and no one seemed to care. This heist—by which a small group of people, using the wiring of flatness, could transfer to themselves enormous assets without any political, legal or social pushback—enabled progressive activists and their oligarchic funders to pull off a heist of their own, using the same wiring. They seized on the fact that the entire world was already adapting to a life of practical flatness in order to push their ideology of political flatness—what they call social justice, but which has historically meant the transfer of enormous amounts of power and wealth to a select few.

Because this cohort insists on sameness and purity, they have turned the once-independent parts of the American cultural complex into a mutually validating pipeline for conformists with approved viewpoints—who then credential, promote and marry each other. A young Ivy League student gets A’s by parroting intersectional gospel, which in turn means that he is recommended by his professors for an entry-level job at a Washington think tank or publication that is also devoted to these ideas. His ability to widely promote those viewpoints on social media is likely to attract the approval of his next possible boss or the reader of his graduate school application or future mates. His success in clearing those bars will in turn open future opportunities for love and employment. Doing the opposite has an inverse effect, which is nearly impossible to avoid given how tightly this system is now woven. A person who is determined to forgo such worldly enticements—because they are especially smart, or rich, or stubborn—will see only examples of even more talented and accomplished people who have seen their careers crushed and reputations destroyed for daring to stick a toe over the ever multiplying maze of red lines.

So, instead of reflecting the diversity of a large country, these institutions have now been repurposed as instruments to instill and enforce the narrow and rigid agenda of one cohort of people, forbidding exploration or deviation—a regime that has ironically left homeless many, if not most, of the country’s best thinkers and creators. Anyone actually concerned with solving deep-rooted social and economic problems, or God forbid with creating something unique or beautiful—a process that is inevitably messy and often involves exploring heresies and making mistakes—will hit a wall. If they are young and remotely ambitious they will simply snuff out that part of themselves early on, strangling the voice that they know will get them in trouble before they’ve ever had the chance to really hear it sing.

More:

This disconnect between culturally mandated politics and the actual demonstrated preferences of most Americans has created an enormous reserve of unmet needs—and a generational opportunity. Build new things! Create great art! Understand and accept that sensory information is the brain’s food, and that Silicon Valley is systematically starving us of it. Avoid going entirely tree-blind. Make a friend and don’t talk politics with them. Do things that generate love and attention from three people you actually know instead of hundreds you don’t. Abandon the blighted Ivy League, please, I beg of you. Start a publishing house that puts out books that anger, surprise and delight people and which make them want to read. Be brave enough to make film and TV that appeals to actual audiences and not 14 people on Twitter. Establish a newspaper, one people can see themselves in and hold in their hands. Go back to a house of worship—every week. Give up on our current institutions; they already gave up on us.

Read it all. These two quotes cannot do it justice.

Events in the past week are making it clear that there is no achievable future for most conservatives within mainstream institutions. In The Benedict Option, I wrote that the day is coming when religious conservatives were going to have to depend on their own networks for employment and sustenance, or take up careers in which one’s political and religious beliefs don’t matter. That day is now here for some people, and the number of those under its shadow is rapidly accelerating.

As Alana Newhouse says, this creates great opportunity. But we don’t want to create a right-wing mirror version of the same fanatical conformity we see on leftist-dominated institutions. Along those lines, here’s an e-mail I received today. I am withholding the name of the author at his request:

Your article on diabolical forces really hit home.  A while back, I wrote you about election fraud.  I’m not going to go on record about the specific place or people because I’ve worked hard to gain the trust of several people in this story, and they are in a delicate state right now.  I want to protect them personally and minister to them truthfully and lovingly and public shame will do nothing good.

Some friends of friends had witnessed some raw and astounding election improprieties at a major city during their time as observers.  I was initially wary since my friend was a hard-core Trumpist.  Like many of Trump’s diehard supporters, he had become socially isolated for a long time, was deeply unhappy, and was increasingly political.  Politics did give him a sense of meaning and purpose in his life.  Nevertheless, I became convinced of some of the fraud allegations when key details of his friends’ stories were being corroborated not just by other Trumpists (I talked with at least seven different primary witnesses), but through video that was released after I had finished interviewing them that confirmed several surprising claims.

I couldn’t ignore that data, and so I began to investigate their claims.  Many of their claims of fraud were legitimate, but extracting the truth was a slow and grueling process.  The reason wasn’t because these witnesses to fraud were lying; it was because many of them were held captive by conspiracy theories and believed their lies.  When I would interview them, I would have to constantly make a distinction between what they witnessed and what was rumor.  To them, the conspiracy theory narrative had become more important than the actual evidence of election fraud they possessed.

We eventually had some success in getting the message of legitimate fraud to the proper authorities, and even some of the witnesses were covered by Fox and other right wing sources–but many of those witnesses didn’t do themselves any favors.  Rather than control their conspiracy impulses, many mixed truth with conspiracy theory in their testimony to make themselves look ridiculous.  The bit of fraud they observed falsely confirmed every conspiracy theory they held dear.

While the article I wrote showed there was a clear and massive fraud, it didn’t show there was enough significant conclusive fraud to change the election’s outcome (I do believe Biden was the legitimate winner of the election).  That was too hard for most of these witnesses to swallow, and they resolved a seeming cognitive dissonance by going further down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theory.  Lately, they have been sending me insane stories—officials being killed or captured in CIA raids in Germany, Trump arresting Biden for treason, crackpot tricks to usurp a democratic election, and lately a conspiracy theory regarding a military coup.  The stories are getting more and more extreme, and given the polls you recently released, we are headed toward a violent and disturbing future.

We must persuade our brothers and sisters on the right to come to their senses and avoid violence, but history says that the prospect of us succeeding will be low.  Nevertheless, now is the time to continue to build up our institutions.  I am fortunate to be part of a church that has been faithful in these evil times and has identified and resisted such evil on the left and right.

If nothing else, we must rejoice that the idolatry of power for people like us has been mostly destroyed.  Though oppression will likely come to us, we are free to love a fallen world and stand as a witness for the gospel.  That is our hope, and that is our joy.

Going forward, living not by lies of the Left or the Right is going to be one of the hardest things for any of us to do. But what choice do we have?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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