By Jan Jekielek and Naveen Athrappully
America’s intellectual class has been given so much power by the public that their misuse of such power is threatening the fundamental freedom of speech in the country, says scholar and author Tom Harrington.
“It’s absolutely remarkable how easily we’ve gone from free speech to asking, ‘How can I make my way around the censorship that’s here?’” Harrington said in a recent interview with Jan Jekielek on “American Thought Leaders” that premiered on May 11. “Sometimes, there’s this idea that reality just is. That’s partially true but in the cultural realm, there’s always someone developing it and distributing it who has more access to power.
“Those people generally are well-educated people who we hold up as exemplars of knowledge. They have a lot of power and they are deferred to quite readily.”
Harrington warned that people are delivering a lot of their power into the hands of “experts” who tend to have a “flipness” with which they have used such power.
“Worse than flipness, there seems to be almost a perversion and a joy in making us obey and be compliant for compliance’s sake. This is very troubling in a society.
“You need the intellectual class or the credentialed class to have the reality of their status back up the title of their status. It seems to me these two things have separated in these last few years, and that’s really troubling to me.”
Harrington pointed out that censorship and cancellation are “two cudgels” used against the public.
“We’re beginning to see that a lot of this hooting down is not as spontaneous as many of us would like to believe. With the recent ‘Twitter Files,’ and the case that the attorney generals of Missouri and Louisiana are trying now, we’re finding out that this was anything but spontaneous. There were a number of government actors working in concert with private actors to achieve a censorship that, frankly, for those of us of a certain age, is unimaginable.”
On March 17, investigative journalist Matt Taibbi released a version of the so-called “Twitter Files” exposing the alleged collusion between Twitter and Stanford University’s Virality Project (VP) to censor what they deemed to be misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. VP is also found to have colluded with the U.S. government.
“Though the Virality Project reviewed content on a mass scale for Twitter, Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram, Medium, TikTok, and Pinterest, it knowingly targeted true material and legitimate political opinion, while often being factually wrong itself,” Taibbi stated on Twitter.
The initiative “accelerated the evolution of digital censorship, moving it from judging truth/untruth to a new, scarier model, openly focused on political narrative at the expense of fact.”
Reliance on Experts
Harrington, who is a Hispanic studies emeritus professor, pointed out that true experts do not impose their reality on anyone. Experts must be able to keep their ego impulses in check and ensure that they are using their power to help the people. “It seems that that line has been crossed,” he said.
“There’s a lot of ego gratification that is interfering with what should be a real sober taking of responsibility for a gift of power,” he said about the nature of today’s experts.
“Power is a gift in a democratic society. It’s not something you own, and it’s not something there to make people obey you. It’s a gift you have that hopefully you can use in constructive ways that preserve the dignity of those who don’t have as much power as you do.”
The premise of democracy, as it formed in America in the 18th century, was that lawyers, workers, and farmers were all citizens of equal measure. Even though there may be a pecking order, no one was “inherently better” or in a place to tell someone else how they should live their lives.
“Now, there seems to be among the credentialed class an attitude that says, ‘Yes. I’ll be polite to people. I’ll be polite in a basic social sense. But in my heart, I know that poor person really doesn’t know what’s good for them. After all, I have nice degrees. I went to the right schools. I’ve really thought a lot more about things than other people,’” Harrington said.
“That is very irksome to me but it’s something that I see and feel all around me. If you carefully watch our credentialed elites, it oozes out of them.”
In the interview, Harrington says that he was against using the terms disinformation and misinformation, noting that these are just ways to cover up censorship.
“The existence of misinformation presumes the existence of pure information that is unambiguously understood. No information is ever unambiguously understood, simply because of the incapacity of people to see it in exactly the same way. We’re all different. The idea of misinformation depends on a very primitive idea of information.”
“All inquiry is torturous. All inquiry takes a path … What may seem self-evident at one stage of the process of inquiry might turn out to be completely false later on. And yet, you have someone intervening and saying, ‘No, that’s definitely nonsense.’”
Harrington says that the American public has become “infantilized.”
“We allow these experts to say, ‘Don’t go near that. Don’t go near that man behind the curtain, because it might not be good for you’. ‘Huh? I’m an adult. I have thinking capabilities. Do you? Why am I being asked to not even go near what is clearly a complex problem that I, like many other people, have the ability to think through?’”
In an interview with The Epoch Times in December, former White House COVID adviser Dr. Scott Atlas revealed that Twitter had taken down his November 2020 post in which he argued that mandating masks was not an effective solution to curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Facebook and Twitter also removed a video from former President Donald Trump in which Trump said that children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.
Several studies have shown that children and teenagers are at a lower risk of contracting or dying from COVID-19. However, the online censorship of 2020 had already done the damage, Atlas said.
“When decisions were being made in 2020 and imposed upon the public, that’s when censorship counted the most.” The lack of alternative viewpoints ended up manipulating the public as well as government officials, he stated.
Harrington believes the people of the United States are facing “information warfare” being waged by multiple sources, including by the U.S. government.
“One of the things that’s self-evident over the last three years is that many of the information warfare techniques that were used on other people during our imperial missions have been brought home to be used on the American people. That’s a very threatening and disturbing idea.”
Harrington said that democracy is at risk when people excessive rely on the views of experts.
“I don’t see any way you can preserve democracy when large swaths of the population are outsourcing their critical faculties to supposed experts who have their own institutional interests, and not necessarily your own, at heart,” he said.
“We’re at a turning point. Those of us that have the time and energy to do so, we have to say, ‘No. I’m not going to swallow their mediated realities. I’m going to go back as much as I can to the source and make my own decisions.’”