Come, the Flight of the Heterodox

Those of us who find ourselves outside of the intellectual orthodoxy need to actually stand up for what we believe in. We have spent too many years now helplessly winging about encroaching censorship, suppression of dissenting opinions, and corporate “social-justice” policy dismantling once popular and free platforms. We complained, yet continued to use their services thinking someday they might see the error in their ways and backtrack. This just showed tech companies that we are obedient little drones — all talk, no walk.

Personally, I am a rather boring intellectual. Nothing about my ideas is particularly controversial, nor do I cling to them with much vigor. Yet there are some standards that appear indispensable to me, but which have lost popularity in the mainstream. “Hatred can never put an end to hatred,” reads an opening verse of the Buddhist Dhammapada, “love alone can.” This is my mantra; though I often fail, I try to adhere strictly to this rule.

But it is hard even to be a pacifist in the modern intellectual landscape. Political violence, bloody revolutions, theft, and simply mean and vitriolic language has become the standard — with the proponents of such ideologies hiding behind a faux moral superiority, delusional in their pride. “Don’t you understand why they are rioting and looting?” they ask, “Aren’t you disgusted at the way wealth is hoarded in our country? Do you really want to defend white-supremacists being attacked?” They speak like manipulative abusers, and I do not wish to join their cult. You never have to look far to find a justification for hatred and violence, but it takes real strength to resist such vicious temptations.

And it really does resemble psychological abuse. The term “gaslighting” is thrown around a lot nowadays, but perhaps there is a genuine reason? When tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have continued to openly collaborate in suppressing dissenting ideas and promoting false information only to testify that their algorithms are “completely neutral,” one needs to wonder in what other ways we are being manipulated. Netflix’s recent documentary The Social Dilemma gives a particularly dramatic depiction, and I recommend The Coddling of the American Mind (2018) by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt for those interested in learning more about the negative psychological effects of social media algorithms.

Why should we continue to subject ourselves to this abuse? For the same reasons people in abusive relationships do. Most of us are simply addicted to social media for one reason or another. For many it is their only form of social interaction in a day. This may have been liberating for social outcasts in the early days of the internet, but now everyone is insecure and hooked. It should be disturbing that we spend more time online than speaking to genuine humans. But social media is designed to enforce this, so who can blame us? Intentional or not, it has had terrible psychological consequences for us in the West — and the tension is finally spilling into the “real world.”

It is not too late to fix this problem. I was born in 1999, meaning that I am among one of the first generations of kids whose childhood was dominated by the internet. When you are raised on a Wi-Fi connection, it can be hard to finally disconnect. But it is possible, most people just don’t know why or accept that it is important. They see the benefits of these platforms and are unconcerned with the broader implications. But we who are concerned need to lead by example.

Many creators are concerned about moving to platforms without a large userbase, where they might be incapable of making an income — but it has been less than a decade since it became viable to make a living online. It will be very difficult at first, but with the internet’s massive population now and constant growth and innovation in monetization, it will be a much smaller hill to climb than it was several years ago when many of the current creators began. There are also plenty of platforms to choose besides the big three (Twitter, Facebook, and Google), not to mention the ease of hosting one’s own content on a personal website. YouTube specifically has made it increasingly difficult to grow as a small creator, to the point where it is nonviable for all but the most popular channels to make a sufficient income. Many of the creators I used to watch have returned to their day jobs, even with outside sponsorship to help. This gives me hope that even small and casual creators will wake up to these problems, and finally abandon ship.

One of the largest problems in this movement has been the user makeup of new social media sites like Gab, Minds, BitChute, Parler, and Thinkspot. Because of the bias against them on larger platforms, they are disproportionately populated by conservatives and people from the political fringes. This can be extremely off-putting and hard to enjoy as a new and casual viewer. But the very thing these websites require to thrive as an alternative to the big sites is diversity of creators. My suggestion to those creators who are concerned about this problem but are afraid of abandoning the mainstream sites altogether is to simply mirror your videos elsewhere, so that viewers can still consume them — but with the choice of where to do so.

For my part, I have attempted to pull myself off social media as best I can. It has been very slow and difficult, but I am managing it incrementally. I am subscribed to very few channels on YouTube at this point — but I plan to change my viewing habits so that I am watching more mindfully and viewing everyone I can on other platforms. Although I use Twitter, I never check the news tab and aggressively moderate my feed. I have been using other websites like Parler and Thinkspot (where I’ve also posted this essay) recently. Facebook is reserved for personal friends and family, and all I do on Instagram is look at clothes. I have managed to stop using Reddit altogether. Mostly, I use the bookmarks feature in my browser as my feed; anytime I find a website or creator I enjoy, I add them to my bookmarks and visit periodically. Usually this just amounts to a few minutes in the morning, watching or reading whatever content piques my interest. It feels primitive like the early days of the internet, but there is something liberating in finally taking control of my feed again. I suggest you do likewise.