Glenn Loury being interviewed by Lex Fridman:
LEX FRIDMAN: If I can get your comment, maybe you have ideas. Because it does seem that this kind of attack works, of being called a racist, being called, maybe not sexist, but somebody—we’re going through a Johnny Depp trial now, right? It’s a defamation trial, and the reason it’s a defamation trial is because all it took was a single accusation of Johnny Depp being somebody who sexually and physically abused Amber Heard, and all it took was just a single article. No proof was given except the accusation itself, and the world believed it. So it’s effective.
I detect a potential empirical problem with this theoretical exemplar. Can you spot it?
It goes downhill from there.
GLENN LOURY: I once read this book by a German political scientist called Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. That was the writer’s name, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. The book was called The Spiral of Silence. And the argument was, there can be some views, some issues in society that get defined in such a way that it’s inappropriate to hold those views. And as a result, people who don’t want to be shamed, who don’t want to be ostracized, don’t express those views. And when they don’t express them, anybody holding the view, because they don’t hear it said by others, think that they’re the only one or one of the few who hold the view, and so they don’t want to be the only one out there saying something. So they keep it to themselves.
Now here’s a mind-blowing question for all the brave Free Speech Warriors of the Intellectual Dark Web: Is the spiral of silence is bad thing or a good thing? Spoiler alert: It totally depends!
It totally depends on whether the views that aren’t being expressed because of the spiral of silence are true and valuable or false and pernicious. The social — not governmental but social mind you — censorship of false and pernicious views is a good thing! Isn’t that just the wildest idea you’ve ever heard? I know it sounds super crazy and counter-intuitive, but we (we meaning non-fascists) think it’s a good thing for, to give a trite and banal but all too currently relevant example, Holocaust deniers to feel “censored” in this way.
Hey Glenn, how about people who hold the view that the racial/ethnic group to which you belong are as a group naturally inferior to white people, because their genetic makeup makes them dumber and also more crime-prone and lazy, although admittedly good singers and dancers? Do you want the people who hold that view to feel “censored” in this way? Or do you want them to feel no awkwardness whatsoever about screaming from the rooftops that the [clang] are ruining everything because we have to pretend that they’re just as good as white people?
Wow, that’s a real head scratcher! Social theory is tough, as Barbie did not say.
You think we’re done here? Not by a damn sight:
It’s fascinating to think that there’s an ocean of common knowledge that we’re waiting for the little kid [who points out the emperor has no clothes] to wake us up to, different little parts of it.
That’s correct. And the little kid, by the way, could be somebody like Donald Trump, only more effective than Donald Trump. Somebody who is smarter than Donald Trump, somebody who is shrewder than Donald Trump, somebody who figures out that when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee at a football game and says, “I’m not going to stand for this pledge of allegiance,” that a vast number of people are very unhappy about that, somebody who understands that when a Black Lives Matter activist stands up with his balled fist and says, “Burn this bitch down,” about a city in the United States of America, that a lot of people are upset about that. A lot of them. A person, a shrewd politician, a shrewd manager of public image, could build on and create a circumstance in which more and more people will feel safe to express that view. And the more who express it, the safer those who have yet to express it but who hold it will feel in expressing it.
And to the extent that the view is very widespread but is kept under wraps, an explosion could happen, and you could look up tomorrow and have a very different country than you had today because the conspiracy of silence, the spiral of silence, ends up getting unraveled by somebody who steps out away from the consensus, dares to take the slings and arrows of exposing themselves as a naysayer, but taps into a sentiment that’s very widespread. I fear that with respect to many racial issues, this is the situation that we actually confront, that it could unravel in a very ugly way.
Can you believe this? Can you believe that highly intelligent, highly educated people talk this way in the Year of our Lord 2022 in these United States of America?
I mean imagine if somebody like Donald Trump were to take the racial resentments of white people over things like uppity Colin Kaepernick — whose career was actually cancelled, for real for once, because of his political views – and the intemperate statements of Some Guy Somewhere during a Black Lives Matters protest, and the moral panic over elementary school kids deciding they identify as the other gender or genders or cats or whatever the fuck they’re talking endlessly about on Fox News tonight, please excuse my French, and use all that resentment and panic to take over the Republican party and become president of the United States? I mean can you even begin to imagine such a thing?
Imagine further if the nation’s most popular cable news network, along with a billion similar subsidiary media sources, were all dedicated to amplifying such resentments and panics, until you had to be a yak farmer in Outer Mongolia not to have heard of uppity Colin Kaepernick Disrespecting Our Flag or the Democrats who are making transgender surgeries on 10 year olds mandatory in San Francisco, where by the way the cops are cooperating with the Democrat (((Media Cartel))) to cover up the real story of what happened to Nancy Pelosi’s gay prostitute frequenting husband . . .
I’m sorry but I just can’t any more.