Jacob Siegel on the Technocratic Brave New World: Part 2

The Tablet senior editor talks mass censorship, counterinsurgency, and how not to be like China.
Jacob Siegel on the Technocratic Brave New World: Part 2
Jacob Siegel, a senior editor at Tablet Magazine, in Washington on Aug. 21, 2023. (Alejandro Heredia/The Epoch Times)
Jan Jekielek

We are facing a "whole of society" attack on truthful information, deemed dangerous by a ruling class that treats democracy with "utter contempt," says Tablet magazine editor Jacob Siegel.

Mr. Siegel spoke with EpochTV's "American Thought Leaders" program about the censorship effort, which he says is being used by a technocracy to retain power.

He addressed the concept of "disinformation," which he called a tool of technocratic officials to manufacture consensus and lead a counter-insurgency-style war on truth.

“The single, most significant whole-of-society initiative carried out by the counter-disinformation enterprise was the 2020 Election Integrity Partnership," he said.

The partnership was a "nonpartisan mis- and disinformation research consortium" of four organizations—Stanford University, Graphika (a company funded by the Defense Department), the University of Washington, and the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab.

It was put together with the backing and approval of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a government agency.

The four groups worked together to censor public information, Mr. Siegel said. Their function was disclosed after the fact through lawsuits and the Twitter files.

“We know that the government counter-disinformation agencies were looking to offload their censorship duties because of the obvious constitutional problems,” he said.

Stanford's Alex Stamos admitted in an internal briefing, which was later released to the public, that the consortium existed "to do things that the government kind of can't do for legal reasons," Mr. Siegel said.

“It's a very offhanded admission of their role both as a para governmental entity—that is to say that they're not a private civic organization, they exist to carry out the responsibilities of government—and that those responsibilities are not legal."

The Election Integrity Partnership has censored more than 22 million pieces of information, according to Mr. Siegel.

“They say that they only flagged them. But of course, flagging content was a way of marking what was supposed to be censored, as much of it was later censored by the social media companies."

“There is no such thing as a mass censorship that is not also hostile to democracy and to free and fair elections,” he said.

Inability to Recognize 'Nakedly Authoritarian' Behavior

Ironically, people are capable of recognizing censorship in every context except this one.

“The people who defend it would never defend similar actions being carried out in China or in Russia. They would know exactly what it was there.”

Somehow, however, in the United States, because of the perceived threat of former President Donald Trump, the COVID epidemic, the so-called climate emergency, the so-called denial of transgender rights—"or whatever the sort of human rights and political emergency that's being cited at the moment is"—many people, irrationally, turned a blind eye to the reality of mass censorship,

In every other context, these same people would understand these government efforts as being “nakedly authoritarian,” Mr. Siegel said.

The Tablet editor talked about the infamous February 2021 Time magazine article titled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election." The article described a "conspiracy to save the 2020 election," in which “the forces of labor came together with the forces of capital to keep the peace and oppose Trump’s assault on democracy.”

Time quoted Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, as saying "It's massively important for the country to understand that it didn't happen accidentally. The system didn't work magically. Democracy is not self-executing." Protect Democracy was one of a number of groups involved in the "alliance to protect the election."

Most people who were involved in the conspiracy to interfere with the 2020 election believed they were good people and doing something good, Mr. Siegel noted. "The clear majority thought that they were safeguarding democracy."

To understand how those people came to approve of mass censorship, he said, it's important to understand that "to them, democracy means 'we stay in power.' ... Democracy means a political system that benefits us."

There were also some intellectuals, even before 2016, who started criticizing democracy as a rule of the mob, and saying that freedom of speech should not be allowed because it might be abused by so-called racists, or trolls, according to Mr. Siegel.

That argument "for why democracy is dangerous" is important to grasp, he said, because it creates the "intellectual rhetorical framework for elevating a class of information regulators above the public."

'The Internet Is Ours'

Mr. Siegel pointed to the close relationship that had been cultivated between the Democratic Party, the “neoliberal, neoconservative, centrist 'uniparty' of the United States,” and the social media companies.

“Let's not forget that Obama led the Facebook campaign and was bragging about the role of social media in getting himself elected.”

“This was the consensus worldview, that the internet is ours,” Mr. Siegel said, with “ours” meaning that the internet was "inherently allied with politically progressive forces."

When they saw that this tool could be used by President Trump and the many Americans who did not support the "uniparty," those forces felt betrayed, according to Mr. Siegel.

“Clinton was nothing, if not the candidate of sort of oligarchic neoliberal consensus,” he noted.

President Trump’s use of social media showed that he was an exceptional communicator. It also showed that there was a lot of resistance to a candidate like Hillary Clinton—as there would have been to an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush, according to Mr. Siegel.

“When in the end, the social media companies didn't directly intervene in the election in 2016—whatever the euphemism might be—when they didn't reduce visibility, reduce amplification of Donald Trump and his supporters, the Democratic party’s officialdom ... viewed that as a betrayal of their alliance with Big Tech.”

This was then used to pressure Facebook, according to Mr. Siegel.

“That launched this campaign to blame Facebook for the election of Donald Trump, which was an incredibly effective weapon in bringing Facebook to heel and forcing Facebook to really go along with the commands of the Democratic Party machine and of the larger sort of uniparty machine from that point forward.”

“Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg would have preferred to stay more neutral. They didn't want to alienate either side as long as they could play both of them.”

Educating 'the Natives'

Comparing these “counterinsurgency” efforts to what happened in Afghanistan, Mr. Siegel believes we are in a situation where there is a perpetual attempt to get the so-called "natives" to have the correct view of the world.

This has a political and a technological component, Mr. Siegel said.

Regarding the political component, he said the anti-democratic element “has won out among the liberal establishment in the United States.

“The evidence that this has won out is their unwillingness to accept a whole range of opinions which clearly fall, not only within the realm of constitutionally and legally protected speech, but which fall within the range of common sense.

“The unwillingness to tolerate dissent on masking, on school shutdowns, the attempts to police out of existence whole fields, whole topics of conversation, from Hunter Biden's laptops to gender affirmation for children, this attempt at a kind of information control springs from or is motivated by the idea that only certain ideas are correct and acceptable, and that ideas that fall outside the pale are not simply wrong or tragically mistaken, but are outside the bounds of acceptable political discourse."

Breakdown of the 'Democratic Compromise'

“What exists outside of politics? What is that thing out over there across the horizon on the other side of politics? War. That's the thing, and in much of the world, war is an organizing principle. In America thankfully, we've mostly lived without that.

“We've mostly lived within a democratic compromise where differences of opinion, even strenuous vehement differences of opinion, could be adjudicated peacefully ... But that has broken down,” Mr. Siegel said.

That breakdown is evident in different ways, he said, but they share "the idea that there is an elite class that has not only the ability, but also the right, to determine what information can enter public discourse and what information falls outside of it,” even if this information is true.

“I would argue that the principle [of free speech] demands that we tolerate it even if it's not true. The democratic principle demands that people be allowed to be wrong.

“If you're not endangering somebody else, you can have the most odious opinions in the world, the most incorrect opinions in the world, and that's an expression of your freedom. Without that, you're an automaton.”

The Counterinsurgency

The technological component of this “counterinsurgency” was the emergence of the internet from a number of different military and academic projects that converged, said Mr. Siegel.

"There was a counterinsurgency dimension, really beginning in the Vietnam war, that fueled the creation of the internet, he said, defining counterinsurgency as "an approach to warfare that attempts to manage human populations toward a political goal of some sort.

"In doing so, it presumes that the key to victory is ultimate knowledge of a form, and that ultimate information control, ultimate knowledge, yields, finally, ultimate control ... Counterinsurgency attempts to understand a population, to win over hearts and minds, to bend them toward the will of the counterinsurgency. The internet automated that function and it automated a grand project of social engineering,” Mr. Siegel said.

Counterinsurgency and social engineering are two sides of the same coin, he said. Information control and big data-driven governance are two sides of the same coin as well.

Brave New World

"We're in a brave new world here," Mr. Siegel said.

He thinks that even big, attention-grabbing news such as the suppression of Hunter Biden's laptop will be buried in the future, as the internet will be ruled by artificial intelligence that will be “constantly tweaking and recalibrating the information that is reaching us.”

Mr. Siegel said that “one of the ways to inoculate oneself [against information manipulation] is to consume less news.

“Much of the national news is just a hair off from being hysterical propaganda or pure entertainment. Much of what fills the national news cycle is essentially emotional manipulation of one form or another.”

Mr. Siegel called the total immersion in news “as a primary form of identity” unhealthy, and cautioned that it “lends itself directly to manipulation and to making oneself susceptible to these wild swings in the news.”

Many "pseudo-events" are manufactured and presented in the news, he said. Delving deeper into them to understand what caused them or expose the truth is impossible, as the media will not give all the necessary information. In many cases, it is better to ignore them and "detach."

Another thing he said needs to be done is the breaking of the alliance between the tech companies and the federal government.

“The injunction on July 4th to ban the Biden administration from directly communicating with the social media companies is a good start, but it is only the first shot in what needs to be a much longer, more comprehensive effort to break this relationship,” Mr. Siegel said.

That will require a restructuring of both the government and the tech sector, according to Mr. Siegel.

For example, he said, CISA does not need to exist. “This is an organization that was founded on a kind of lie and on a hoax about the threat to infrastructure from disinformation. It doesn't need to exist. There are enough federal security agencies.”

On the tech side, tech companies are liable to being co-opted not just because of the political leanings of certain tech executives, but because "they are operating private surveillance firms," he said. "These companies collect information that would put most military surveillance operations throughout the world to shame."

The only way to deal with this over-reach, Mr. Seigel feels, is to grant property rights to personal data. "Otherwise, companies will always be able to take data from the public and use them against the people."

Looking to China

Regarding the whole-of-society approach taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in its infiltration operations and social credit system, Mr. Siegel warned that "in competing with China, we become like China.

"Everything that I have just described," he said, "could be simply placed in a single basket [labeled] 'America becoming more like China.'

“The approach to the internet from the American ruling class, which was to enforce an official uniparty ideology over the whole country, to demand that corporations obey that party ideology, to break down the barriers between war and peace, and between public and private, all of that is operating on the Chinese model.”

In fact, "there is an explicit model for the emulation of China along these lines that will only become more powerful," he said.

The head of CISA, Jen Easterly, famously talked about policing the “cognitive infrastructure” of the United States. In a November 2021 interview with Wired Magazine, Ms. Easterly said the ability to "pick your own facts" is particularly dangerous.

The CCP has already shaped the Chinese internet to the communist party’s priorities—the implication is that America needs to do the same.

On the contrary, “America should go the American way,” Mr. Siegel said. “The nation's strength lies in its uniqueness and in its innovative spirit, in its independence, in its ability to absorb different kinds of people with different kinds of ideas and synthesize new things out of that."