shopping & censorship
rec of the week
In “Twilight of the Ethical Consumer,” fashion journalist Elizabeth L. Cline critiques her life’s work, shifts her mission and clarifies the responsibilities of citizenship under neoliberalism.
With neat cameos by Rachel Carson and Ralph Nader, handy advice and a great little bibliography.
I loved this piece, which (swiftly and legibly) speaks for itself, but wanted to quibble with the brief implication that censorship of online content by corporations is an ethical outcome—that it’s somehow compatible with the checks on corporate power we urgently need.
The prerogative to “regulate” speech and expression—whether by facilitating groupthink or by implementing outright bans and legal actions—can only make big corporations richer, more impenetrable and more dangerous. These massive, rapacious entities should not be arbiters of anything, let alone civic discourse.
Though I share Cline’s desire to castrate the shit out of Big Tech, any kind of government pressure to expand corporate censorship horrifies me, both as a writer and as a leftist. That isn’t a popular stance right now; Democrats are largely applauding Internet censorship at the moment, under the false assumption that it’s only hobbling the right. But my instinct is that harsher censorship will do for QAnon and real progressives what Prohibition did for gangsters and social drinkers, respectively: empower the one and criminalize the other.
We don’t want an even darker, more underground far-right; nor can we afford an even weaker anti-corporate left. On the whole, Cline’s article helped me feel better equipped to support the latter. Hope you enjoy.
It may be a more popular stance than it appears because, as the USSR émigrés at work say, "it's hard to know what people really think under censorship."
I share your view that censorship via amplifying monopolist's power then hoping to guide it through nth party boycotts is a quack cure worse than the disease. I would defend our view differently, though. I don't think the approach is mistaken primarily because it will reduce leftist power in the long run. I think it's mistaken because promoting one's ideas through censorship is a great evil that has been tried before.
Of course it gets complicated fast, but it doesn't start out so complicated: ideas need to be tested by granting agency then earning trust, not by seizing power then denying agency.