BY DANIEL KLEIN MAY 31, 2023
The policing of “information” is the stuff of Naziism, Stalinism, Maoism, and similar anti-liberal regimes. To repress criticism of their dicta and diktats, anti-liberals label criticism “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Those labels are instruments to crush dissent.
This paper offers an understanding of knowledge as involving three chief facets: information, interpretation, and judgment. Usually, what people argue fervently over is not information, but interpretation and judgment.
What is being labeled and attacked as “misinformation” is not a matter of true or false information, but of true or false knowledge—meaning that disagreement more commonly arises over interpretations and judgments as to which interpretations to take stock in or believe. We make judgments, “good” and “bad,” “wise” and “foolish,” about interpretations, “true” and “false.”
On that understanding, the paper explains that the projects and policies now afoot styled “anti-misinformation” and “anti-disinformation” are dishonest, as it should be obvious to all that those projects and policies would, if advanced honestly, be called something like “anti-falsehood” campaigns.
But to prosecute an “anti-falsehood” campaign would make obvious the true nature of what is afoot—an Orwellian boot to stomp on Wrongthink. To support governmental policing of “information” is to confess one’s anti-liberalism and illiberality. The essay offers a spiral diagram to show the three chief facets of knowledge (information, interpretation, and judgment) plus a fourth facet, fact, which also deserves distinct conceptualization, even though the spiral reminds us: Facts are theory-laden.
Writing at Discourse, published by the Mercatus Center, Martin Gurri describes “disinformation” as follows:
The word means, ‘Shut up, peasant.’ It’s a bullet aimed at killing the conversation. It’s loaded with hostility to reason, evidence, debate and all the stuff that makes our democracy great. (Gurri 2023)
That is from Gurri’s excellent piece, “Disinformation Is the Word I Use When I Want You to Shut Up.” The piece prompted the present essay, the title of which is a variation on his.
With such titles, Gurri and I are being polemical, of course. Not all usages of “disinformation” and “misinformation” come from people intent on shutting someone up. But a lot are. The “anti-misinformation” and “anti-disinformation” projects now afoot or in effect are about shutting up opponents.
In 2019 the Poynter Institute for Media Studies published “A Guide to Anti-misinformation Actions around the World.” There you survey examples of anti-misinformation and anti-disinformation projects and policies, which have no doubt soared further since 2019.
The policing of ‘information’ is the stuff of Naziism, Stalinism, Maoism, and similar anti-liberal regimes. In my title “Misinformation Is a Word We Use to Shut You Up,” anti-liberals are the “We.” To repress criticism of their dicta and diktats, they stamp criticism as “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Those stamps are Orwellian tools that anti-liberals wield in the hope of stamping out Wrongthink—for example, on climate, election integrity, the origins of the Covid virus, therapeutics such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, the effectiveness of masking, the effectiveness of the Covid injections, the safety of the Covid injections, and the effectiveness of lock-downs. “Anti-misinformation” could be deployed in keeping with whatever the next THE CURRENT THING might be, with associated slogans against, say, China, Putin, Nord Stream, racists, white supremacists, MAGA Republicans, “deniers,” et cetera. And then, of course, there’s all that “misinformation” disseminated by “conspiracy theorists”.
In speaking of “policing,” I mean government throwing its weight and its coercion around against “misinformation” or “disinformation.” And, besides government coercion, there are allies. These allies often enjoy monopolistic positions, stemming either from government handouts, privileges, and sweetheart deals, as with broadcasters, universities, and pharmaceutical companies, or from having cornered certain network externalities, as with certain huge media platforms. Allies of various sorts sometimes do the bidding of the despots because they themselves are threatened and intimidated. The ecosystem leads to their debasement.
To support governmental policing of “information” is to confess one’s anti-liberalism and illiberality. Even worse, it is to flaunt them. The motive is to make and signal commitment to anti-liberalism, in a manner parallel to how religious cults sets up rituals and practices for making and signaling commitments (Iannaccone 1992). Vice signals vice, the ticket in some spheres to promotion and advancement.
Also, vicious action spurs more of the same to defend against exposé and accountability for past wrongs. In protecting their rackets, the wrongdoers verge upon a downward spiral…
Read the rest HERE.