Friday, January 15, 2021

Policing the narrative

And devaluing your citizenship

Controlling public markers of legitimacy can be a powerful source of social leverage. It is one that naturally rests on devaluing citizenship.

A crucial driver of this process in contemporary society comes from the shifts in social power in modern developed democracies as the so-called ‘professional and managerial class’ reaches a sufficient critical mass to aspire to social dominance.

I do not much like the term managerial and professional class. The term is too specifically modern and so gets in the way of connecting current dynamics to past social patterns.

History does not repeat, but it can rhyme pretty strongly.

I much prefer the term human-and-cultural-capital class. First, because it identifies the group as being possessors of (human) capital, so having distinct differences in interests than does labour. This is particularly strongly so with respect to migration, but that is hardly the only point at which their interests diverge.

Secondly, it connects the contemporary social grouping with past manifestations — notably, every priestly class that has ever existed.

Thirdly, because the phrase more directly identifies their main point of social leverage — controlling, or seeking to control, the public markers of legitimacy.

About elite media

This is particularly obvious with respect to elite (“quality”) media. Once upon a time, journalism was a path for working-class folk to make good. Journalists were overwhelmingly not elite folk, and reported on elite doings in a somewhat interrogative fashion to a mass audience.

Nowadays, the elite media is elite in all senses of the word. It is dominated by graduates of elite universities who very much see themselves as members of the cultural elite and as either talking to other such folk or explaining to the masses what they should think.

While journalism has always tended to be narrative-driven — we humans love stories and having a set of narratives simplifies the presentation of facts and events — contemporary media has become narrative-driven to an increasingly intense degree.

For instance, narratives about the happenings at the US Capitol were being spun by the elite media before anyone who was actually there could have reported back in any serious or informed way.

A media that sees itself as part of the elite, and as controlling or setting the public markers of legitimacy, is a very different beast than a media which sees itself as interrogating elite actions on behalf of the public.

The attacks on Parler, on Gab, on any social media platform which does not go along with the preferred narrative, is this elite-control-of-legitimacy dynamic playing out in front of us.

As Google, Facebook and Twitter (and other platforms such as Discord) have shown themselves to be completely on-board with policing legitimacy, any rivals that fail to “get with the program” have to de-legitimised and closed down.

There is a standard pattern to this de-legitimisation, which is to tie any such platform to anathematised views. So they automatically become “far right” and are persistently labelled as such. Then they are tied to any anathematised events.

Having established that they do not adhere to the required markers of legitimacy, attempts to close them down are therefore also legitimised. (A nice short example of consistent hostility towards the failure to converge is here.)

Networked social credit

Given that so many people have become committed to being seen as members of the morally meritorious, either through genuine belief or through fear of being mobbed and abused as part of the process of anathematising dissent (or a mixture of both), this de-legitimisation strategy generates both active support and passive acquiescence.

Without such willing foot soldiers of conformity and convergence, the strategy would have little hope of succeeding.

In China, the social credit system is being created from the top down, as one would expect in a state run by a Leninist Party. In the West, we can see the equivalent being built in a far more networked fashion. (The Nazis, who pioneered totalitarian control in a market economy, called the process Gleichshaltung, or coordination.)

The meme that popped up after the disappearance from public view of China tech billionaire Jack Ma and Twitter’s ban of Donald Trump touches on this (In China, the President disappears tech billionaires. In the US, tech billionaires disappear the President.)

The Capitol riot and the Twitter ban of Trump provided a field day for Chinese media to denounce US hypocrisy.

Both China’s top-down social credit system and the networked version being constructed in the West are built on the systematic reduction of citizenship to having little status beyond determining which elite gets to control your online life in the name of which legitimating ideology.

(Cross-posted from Medium.)


  1. twitter suspension after inciting a mob to disrupt the certification of an election you lost culminating in the death of five people including a police officer despite and after countless warnings not to do so =/ (potential) murder

    It's to be expected that the CCP couldn't tell the difference, but that you can't too is quite the pitiful display of victimization. Sure, lecture us some more on democracy and citizenship.

    1. (1) Was there any such incitement on his Twitter account? If not, it is an obviously illegitimate suspension. (It is all up on Gab, so feel free to link to any such tweet.)
      (2) Plenty of folk have been inciting violence on Twitter without getting suspended.
      (3) As is perfectly clear from the post, I am not just talking about Trump, but a much wider (and accelerating) pattern of censorship.

  2. It's not true that Trump incited the mob. It was already at the Capitol well before he was done speaking, so his call for calm and peace was lost on them. It's not true that Trump legitimately lost the election. Signs of fraud are numerous and easy to find. It's not true that all the rioters were Trump supporters. That's a lot of falsehoods. Got any truths?