The Internet, Neo-Luddites, and Christians, O MY…

Christian Post, a publication I frequently read, has published a piece about big technology. There is certainly room for faith and technology to intersect, as faith should rightly intersect with every aspect of our lives. To be frank, it annoyed me, and since I have the ability to voice that annoyance, I shall. Take the time to read through the piece as I will only deal with a couple of sections here. Just so I am clear before going into all of this, yes, you can be a Christian and a Libertarian. Now, let’s get to it.

From the text: “These men are heavily influenced by Ayn Rand—the libertarian patron saint of hyper-individualism and winner-take-all darwinian capitalism. This libertarian ideology erodes relationships and hollows out the middle, it knows nothing of sacrifice or seeking the good of others and the glory of God.  Concepts of love, giving, and sacrifice are completely foreign to it.” One of my biggest pet peeves are people who do not understand a topic, yet feel the need to rail against it. The first thing that is important to understand is that the single biggest topic of disagreement among Libertarians is who and what is a ‘real libertarian’. To say that Syn Rand is the patron saint is a misnomer at best. Any number of individuals have had more influence into modern Libertarian thinking than her including, but not limited to, Frederick Bastiat, Lysander Spooner (one of my personal favorites), Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises, Murry Rothbard,, Rose Wilder Lane, and Thoreau. This is a far from exhaustive list. Libertarian thought has anarchists, socialists, communists, and everything in between. There is no “patron saint” because there is not a monolithic philosophy behind it. The political party has a platform of course, but even then, candidates run against it. Republican ideology knows nothing of sacrifice and seeking good. Neither does Democratic ideology. Neither does any ideology. The Christian faith knows these things, but unless your theology is severely damaged, Christians can be Libertarian, Democratic, Republican, Green Party, etc. Now, do Libertarians believe in the free market? Yep. Unless you are an advocate for centralized planning, and government ownership of the means of production, so do you. You may favor more, or different regulation that any particular Libertarian, but you believe in the free market of private people can own and operate a business. I know nothing of the author, but I am confounded by his distorted dislike of Libertarians, especially in light of the comments to follow.

“And it is this libertarianism that is baked into the platforms themselves. Amazon, Google, and Facebook have repeatedly prioritized profits over people and now are seeking the power once reserved for nations.” Let’s be honest here. Unless you work for, or own and operate, a small family style business, then it is likely that you prioritize profits over people. The goal and purpose of a business is to make a profit. Yes, that can be done more ethically than many do it to be sure. The average salary for a Facebook employee is $119,143 a year. That’s not to shabby. Seems they are taking care of those who work for them at the very least. Amazon has announced a $15 minimum wage for it’s employees. That’s what everyone has been clamoring for right? Google pays it’s employees $112,849 a year on average. Yes, the crazy idea of making a profit is ingrained in these companies to be sure, just as it is ingrained in any company. “And finally the loneliness and opioid epidemics, the proliferation of “fake news,” and the aforementioned withering trust in institutions and each other, are all, to some degree, the fruit of the “move fast and break things” model employed not just by Facebook, but by many of the the biggest companies in Silicon Valley and Seattle.” I have to admit, this is the first time that I have heard of big tech being blamed for the opioid crisis. Last time I checked you could not order them on Amazon, but I may be wrong. The simple truth of the matter is that the company does not have a requirement to it’s consumers other than to provide the goods or service that is promised. They are doing that.

“A call to personal responsibility divorced from a call for Big Tech companies to take on greater corporate, design, and philosophical responsibility is a false dichotomy. In reality the former could and should be used by Christians and others to leverage the latter to make the changes that need to be made.” Here is where he really starts loosing me. The idea that Christians should expect an individual, or a business that makes no claim to Christ to act as if they do is simply silly. What changes really need to be made? The platforms in question are providing the services that they promised. There has been competition, but it was lacking and faded away, or has found it’s niche and is making a profit. That is how the market functions. The market is no moral, or immoral, it is amoral. Expecting it to be something different is folly.

“There are probably millions of Christians throughout the country and world who would do well to quit Facebook, Twitter, and switch to Duck Duck Go or another search engine until the tech titans radically alter their exploitive business model that is predicated on maximizing “time on device.”  A subscription model would instantly end the twisted incentive tech companies have to keep our eyes glued to our screens.” He is correct in part of this. There are likely a large number of Christians that would do better without these platforms. The thing is, that is not the fault of the platform. Christianity is both a personal and a corporate faith. If we, as Christians, see that a particular platform is harming our brother or sister, then we certainly should speak to them and advise them in a better way. If not, then so be it. There is nothing inherently against the faith in the platforms themselves. Oddly enough, he offers an alternative that he prefer to google, namely Duck Duck Go, which is great! I am all for it. That is how the market works. Frankly, it is a very Libertarian idea in that it gives a personal choice to those involved. As for maximizing time on device, of course they try to do this. That is what makes their money. Grocery and department stores do this also. They seek to maximize the time in the store as the longer you are there, the more likely you are to spend money and they make a profit. Television stations do this. So do movie theaters. It’s pretty standard. For all of his railing against the platforms, suggesting a subscription model is the most Libertarian idea he has, though he likely doesn’t realize it. I am fairly positive that they have thought of that and if they believed it would create profit, they would do it. I think it would be great if the author tried such a thing to see.

“Of course that currency is starting to wane. “Move fast and break things” was a much cooler mantra before Facebook broke democracy and turned public discourse into a hostile war zone.” Facebook did not break democracy. We did that. It did not turn public discourse into a war zone. We did that too. For all of the angst the author seems to have he misses the one common denominator…imperfect people. Yes, we should be better on line, and yes, the visibility of discontent has been increased. There is no denying those two things, but if you think this magically began with the information age, you are not only sadly mistaken, but you are following in the footsteps of General Nudd screaming for the automated looms to be destroyed. This whole piece mimics, in many ways,  the things said at the beginning of the industrial revolution by the group who came to be known as the Luddites. Talking about responsibility on the information age is all well and good. We should likely do it more, but the idea that big tech is bad, Libertarians are soulless heathens, and that capitalism somehow is to blame is not the way to do it. Especially from a guy who runs a blog that asks for people to pay to read it (that’s capitalism) on the very platforms and internet that he so detests. To be honest, he’s a pretty great Libertarian that way as he has found a way to make money by trashing the platform that makes him money. What could be more innovative and entrepreneurial than that?

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