It’s been a good, but long, week—I’m still recovering from a nasty cold that’s lingered for almost three weeks now—and the three-day Labor Day Weekend will be a welcome respite. Classes are going well, and my Advanced Placement United States History students seem, in the whole, engaged and eager to learn about our nation’s history. I’m just looking forward to some rest.
So, what better time to skip politics and do a little reading? I occasionally read short stories from Terror House Magazine, an online literary magazine that will publish pretty much anything. They run a monthly prize with a $10 purse for the best submission, but otherwise the submissions are (it seems) completely open.
Because anyone can submit pretty much anything, some of the work is basically smut—be forewarned. But after weeding out the trash, they publish some truly excellent literature.
Such was the case with a chilling little tale, a vision of an America just a blink away: “Das Woke Capital.”
“Das Woke Capital” presents a future United States in which citizens are routinely arrested, presumably, for voicing incorrect—that is, politically incorrect or unfashionable—opinions. Even the most ardent of social justice puppets find themselves swept up into badthink imbroglios for the slights infractions.
The author, T.J. Martinell, relates the story of Julius, a man who resolves to keep his head down, staying out of trouble by pursuing aggressive anonymity. Julius studies constitutional law at the library in his free time, never checking out books lest the authorities grow suspicious. He avoids voicing even the slightest opinion on any matter, no matter how insignificant, to avoid the wrath of government censors.
All is going well for Julius as the purges roll on, until the police show up one evening at his gated home. When he asks them to come back with a warrant—the authorities, Martinell explains, still cling to officious protocol, if not the spirit of the Constitution—he seems to have scored a rare victory for liberty.
That is, until his personal digital assistant, Ari, kicks in. The authorities are unable to enter his property without his permission, but the software assistant—aping the popular Alexis devices from Amazon—begins shutting down Julius’s smart appliances. That’s because his instruction to “come back with a warrant” is a violation of Ari’s terms of service.
You can predict how it ends—trapped in his home, unable to access his groceries (all controlled by Ari, and sealed with magnetic locks), Julius breaks down, caving to the police’s demands to enter the home.
It’s a terrifying little tale, and one that is all too plausible. As Big Tech companies censor free speech with impunity—they are, the libertarians remind us, “private companies, so they can do whatever that want”—and with their unprecedented access to our data, it seems we are letting private companies do what we (in theory) would never allow the government to do.
Tyranny is tyranny, and the case of Big Tech censorship is one that, at least in terms of scale, quite different than the small baker that won’t bake a cake for a same-sex wedding (note, too, the baker in this scenario isn’t limiting anyone’s free speech or free association, but is merely claiming the right to his own).
Of course, we have to care about our freedom—and be willing to give up some convenience—to really do anything about it. Breaking up Google, Amazon, and Facebook would probably be a prudent move, but so would passing legislation to protect free speech on privately-managed public forums.
It’s all quite sticky, but I do know we don’t want to end up like Julius, shivering on the brink of madness because our smart house turns on us for insisting upon our rights. Do you really trust someone with eyes as cold, robotic, and lifeless as Mark Zuckerburg to care about liberty?