Elon Musk’s Free-Speech Thunderdome
If you’d never heard of democracy, if you lived in a parallel universe where voting required proven expertise or years of study or a urine test, you’d think “one person, one vote,” was an insane way to run a society.
“Wait a minute,” you’d say, “you want to give everybody, no matter how ignorant or incompetent or incontinent they are, an equal say in selecting our government? You’re suggesting we stake the future of our country on a fickle, lobbyist-funded popularity contest?!”
You wouldn’t be alone in your skepticism.
Winston Churchill believed “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
Emil Cioran called democracy “a festival of mediocrity.”
And my personal favourite, H. L. Mencken, described it as “the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.”
You’re not supposed to say this out loud, but the average person (and the vast majority of above-average persons), has nothing like the economic, sociological or geopolitical knowledge needed to make political decisions. And even if they did, almost none of the people clamouring for their votes do.
Most of us are too busy and increasingly disillusioned to fully understand who and what we’re voting for.
And yet, democracy persists. Because deep down, and against all logic, we want to believe in our fellow citizens. We tell ourselves that if enough of us agree, we’ve made the right decision. We convince ourselves (to borrow another of H. L. Mencken’s aphorisms) that collective wisdom can be born from individual ignorance.
If nothing else, it’s fascinating experiment to be a part of.
I’ve been trying to figure out why Elon “The Richest Man in the World” Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has generated so much angst (I mean, aside from the apparent “surge” in hate speech and the advertiser exodus and the comically mismanaged layoffs).
And I think it’s because he’s trying to do something even more insane than political democracy; he’s trying to democratise speech.