Essay
07.24.2020

Woke aggression won’t stop with speech.

The digital world is a new world. An entirely new internet economy has built an entirely new category of billionaires and other oligarchs. Now we are also building a new politics—a politics of power and fear. On the internet, you can destroy people’s lives, jobs, and reputations. You can drive them to suicide or perhaps, in future, even incite murder. All this is done without consequences for the mobs or their elite conjurers, with the support, enthusiastic or tacit, of the oligarchs of Silicon Valley—and perhaps soon with legal or police complicity.

In the digital era, the media have to find some new way to get attention, be persuasive, and make money. Fact-checking was their first idea: they reasoned that the internet is knowledge and journalists are Enlightenment elites, so they tried to establish their role as arbiters of truth. This proved a very stupid bet, since the internet is really a lot of people—all of us, almost—so it is full not just of disembodied minds seeking truth but also of all sorts of passions. We are hungry not just for intellectual satisfaction but for the exercise of our other faculties, too: our imagination, our memory, etc.

Fact-checking as an industry is obviously biased, but it is also short-sighted. Our elites are too stupid to understand that they, too, can be fact-checked. This is no way to gain the upper hand as the authority on opinion, and therefore fact-checking failed both the prestige and the money tests.

So the media moved on to checking people instead—the kind of mad policing we call cancel culture. Of course, our liberal and woke elites also fact-check cancel culture by denying that it’s happening, even as they call for us to be canceled for even noticing it. I recently wrote about how cancel culture is coming for very online America. Now, it’s time to think through the problem of this new power—just think of the thrill, the excitement, and the demonic temptation to ruin a human being through clicking keys in front of a screen. It’s magic, it’s irresistible, and our wokies are not paragons of moderation.

The Fight is for Our Souls

The ongoing digital revolution was always going to hit politics. Computers are not some kind of saving power that will remove us from our nature. We are still political animals, and we are still dealing with the promises and dangers of our democratic beliefs. But we have created a new temptation—everything about us is being doubled up in machine memory and distributed, accessed, searched in various ways in various databases online—and anyone who can control that can reach into our very lives and destroy us.

Our belief in equality might turn out to mean we are all equally in the power of elites that control whether we can have freedom of speech, bank accounts, or jobs. But of course, the aspiring tyrants above us would decide which of us deserve which freedoms and for how long. So as the internet is remaking the American economy, our rights are continuously under attack.

Meanwhile, our boring, institutionalized conservatives are too cynical and stupid to notice that the economy Reagan saved somehow means all the new wealth is in the hands of people who want conservatives dead! The free market is apparently now an oligarchy that enforces woke morality, and conservatives are paralyzed. They ignore the people destroyed every day, the human sacrifices bleeding on the woke altar.

So we cannot rely on the bankrupt and flaccid ideology of post-Reaganite fusionism—which cannot even win Republican nominations anymore, much less national elections. But we cannot be political without a party, and that means turning the Republican Party into the American party. We need to persuade a new electorate to join us, too, and most obviously that means we need the hearts and the votes of the very online young men to replace zombie Reaganism. The young bear the brunt of all social experiments, and young men are the ones under harshest attack by our aspiring tyrants. This makes them our natural allies.

Everything that currently makes a billionaire a billionaire is built on gambling with the souls of our young men. Our social media corporations drive consumption of increasingly insane products at the price of making our young miserable, weak, and clueless. This is how we are generating the fake economic growth we see in the valuations of these corporations.

The typical critique of this dynamic is to say that on social media, customers are the product. But young men are not even the product. They are grist for the mill, their souls eviscerated so the rest of us can watch and benefit. Their tastes, desires, and natural inclinations are mocked and suppressed so that the woke can benefit from the cultural and actual capital that comes with fake virtue. 

We have to start taking this problem under moral-political control. If we don’t, this dynamic will reach the natural conclusion it is already reaching: as many woke tyrants frequently complain (loudly), castigating young men is tough work. They will soon outsource it to bots, as they already have done to correctional facilities with horrifying, dystopian results.

Our young men are not human resources for Silicon Valley elites. They are angry at a new socio-economic situation which reduces them to savagery in the hope that they’ll submit in despair to a diet of bugs, porn, and weed, or else commit suicide. We have to remind them they’re not powerless or alone, and we have to teach them to claim their property rights along with their free speech rights. They need institutional protection and guidance for their ambitions. This is the perfect moment to do it—since they now see how institutional elites have destroyed their future.

Facebook, Twitter, and Google cannot be allowed to tyrannize every aspect of their lives. It’s time to remember that America is more important in our lives than these corporations. The beginning of wisdom here is James Madison’s statement that a man has a right to property, but also a property in his rights. Men have the right to form friendships, look for work, and do all the stuff they do on the internet in order to form communities. This cannot be subject to oligarchy—we cannot all live in the new company town, the “global village.” That’s over. We have to return to the real world.

But we have an obstacle in our path. A relentless therapy and pharmacology has emerged to tell us our young men are racist, sexist monsters corrupted by an oppressive patriarchy, that they are systemically bigoted and white supremacist, etc., and therefore they need to be drugged out of being men. This is not something we can countenance or have an academic discussion with—this is not a matter of debating the niceties of historical scholarship—this is our lives and our souls, our pride in being American and our only chance to learn how to live like free citizens.

Nor is it an accident that in the last six years, woke madness has intensified. It’s an attempt to humiliate our past and destroy our confidence, to make us submit in shame to people who think not just that they are our betters, but that we are not even human beings. There’s nothing worse you can call an American than racist. But these days, wokies do that instead of saying “hello”! We won’t stop this abuse with good intentions or reasoned debate. We will only stop it by recovering our pride as Americans and the teachings of our founders, who would never have tolerated such madness.

Madison, Property, and You

Nowadays, we worry about the right to free speech because we are too cowardly to worry about the right to property, which is the one that cancel culture really threatens. Were there no careers or jobs involved, there’d be few complaints about the attacks on the right to free speech. But reformulating private property rights in a digital age with corporate behemoths is hard, because the internet is now the world—there’s no more separation between your job and the bar you go to afterward to shoot the breeze.

Our natural rights are under attack precisely because liberals have realized that the internet is their best chance to create new systems of control enforced by terror, more or less at random, until no one can dissent anymore. If liberals can get wokies to destroy the few people who dare speak up against them through the internet, then it doesn’t even matter that we have laws, rights, and elections—just look around and see who is even willing to stand up to this advancing tyranny now.

The internet can be a new beginning for our communities, for freedom, and for renewed American greatness—or it can be the end of America through despotism. This depends on whether we fear our oligarchs or they fear us. That in turn depends on whether politicians serve us or betray us. And that, finally, depends on whether we organize to recruit great talent and strengthen the great American middle class—or we allow a few extremists in mobs and among our elites to use institutions to silence us.

This conflict is what we have long been waiting for, because it reveals to all the great threat to destroy our very nature—to destroy our political freedom and make us all obedient servants of elites who hate us. This is a test of the natural rights teaching our founders bequeathed us—a teaching now slandered as mere white privilege or oppression. We can now behave like citizens and teach our young men to do likewise—or all become slaves.

Madison said that property

in its particular application means “that dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in exclusion of every other individual.” In its larger and juster meaning, it embraces every thing to which a man may attach a value and have a right; and which leaves to every one else the like advantage.

In the former sense, a man’s land, or merchandize, or money is called his property. In the latter sense, a man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them. He has a property of peculiar value in his religious opinions, and in the profession and practice dictated by them. He has a property very dear to him in the safety and liberty of his person. He has an equal property in the free use of his faculties and free choice of the objects on which to employ them. In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights.

Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions. Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho’ from an opposite cause (emphasis original).

This excess of power is what our elites want; the excess of liberty is our own irresponsibility so far. Everything now depends on whether we believe we have a property in our rights and whether we grasp our rights adequately for organization, political action, and defense against wokies and the liberal elites who have loosed them on us. This is what we must teach our young men, if they are to have a chance to really become men.

For a long time, we’ve been unserious about politics, to the extent that Republicans believed nothing is at stake except tax rates for the rich. That’s why when we have to defend our lives, property, and civil peace from riots, murders, and chaos, our politicians are cowards, they want to sell out our past, patriotism, and citizenship, and they fear the lawless and those who think they’re above the law far more than they love us.

Property doesn’t matter if we don’t also have property in our rights. That means we have to learn that our rights are not mere fantasies or whims—they are our understanding of what it means to be human, how to live with other people, and how to act politically. We will make the most of them or lose them. Our rights and the teaching about them are not hobbies for antiquarians or jobs for opportunists—they are our way of life, our only chance at justice and happiness.

We quickly need the money and institutions to teach young men how to think and act in defense of their rights. We also need to force our politicians to enforce the laws to defend our rights by exposing them to the just anger of the electorate—to use digital technology to reveal to the American people what’s happening instead of the fantasies they get on TV or social media. We have to show that justice can be done and persuade our young that it must be done, if they are to have any future.

Our property in our rights is the only way to remember we are not cowards, but citizens, we are not alone but can organize together, and we are not clueless, but prepared to understand the laws, partisan politics, and our technologies of political communication to make our case and ask for votes. Only this dignity of citizenship can help us identify who’s willing to fight for our rights and who’s looking to sell us out.

Titus Techera is executive director of the American Cinema Foundation.

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