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Who Says Disinformation Is Such a Bad Thing?

              I just listened to part of an interview on NPR with a woman named Barbara McQuade who is promoting a book she just published about disinformation and how it seems to be leading the country to anarchy, political turmoil or worse. McQuade a former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan but stepped down when Trump took over in 2017.

              She now teaches law at the University of Michigan Law School and claims to be an expert in issues relating to national security and worked on some cases involving potential terrorist threats.

              Basically, this book is another attempt to line up behind all the liberal pundits who can’t decide whether Trump is a Fascist, an authoritarian, a promoter of a radical populist agenda, or a combination of all three.

              What bothers her most of all is the extent to which the ‘disinformation’ pushed across the internet by the radical Right is not only believed by lots of people, but the belief then takes the form of active physical threats and assaults, viz., January 6th, the plan to kidnap Governor Whitmer or the invasion into the home of Nancy Pelosi and the attack on her husband’s head.

              When Obama was President, you could walk into any bookstore and would find yourself looking at a display of books which basically portrayed Barack as a threat to the Constitution, a radical Islamicist, a secret Muslim, Communist or worse.

              Now this display case, particularly in the Northeast where I happen to live, contains a batch of books about Trump and all the dangers that he represents. The issue of disinformation has become even more potent because it somehow merges with all the noise being made about AI, particularly when major venues for moving ideas across the internet are now owned by political agenda-bearing entrepreneurs like Elon Musk.

              I am writing this comment sitting in my office which is literally across the street from the Springfield Arsenal, which is now a community college, but used to be where the U.S. Government manufactured its military guns. One of the machinists who briefly worked in the arsenal was a guy named John Brown, who led a band of anti-slavery agitators down to the other federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859.

              Their plan was to get guns out of the arsenal, give the weapons to slaves, and then lead this civilian army through the South, setting slaves free and ending involuntary servitude once and for all.

              The plan didn’t work. Brown and his followers never got away from the arsenal which was surrounded by a local militia and federal troops led by an Army officer named Robert E. Lee. Two months after his abortive invasion, Brown was convicted of treason and hanged on December 2, 1859.

              In the interview I heard today, Barbara McQuade said that the biggest problem with disinformation was that it made people believe that political differences and conflicts could be settled by force of arms, rather relying on the legal system, and settling arguments peacefully through the courts.

              But the problem of disinformation, according to Professor McQuade, is not so much that it motivates individuals to take direct, physical action to express their beliefs and achieve their political goals, but that much of the disinformation which motivates people to take issues into their own hands is simply not true.

              Says who? Who says that what the January 6th rioters believed to be the real result of the 2020 election was covered up by some phony nonsense put out there by the enemies of Donald Trump?

              The real problem is that the word ‘disinformation’ isn’t just some neutral term which can be applied to any political narrative where the facts are in dispute. It’s a very loaded word and it is used by both sides as a shorthand way of holding to the idea that the ‘other side’ is full of shit.

              Which brings me back to John Brown. Because exactly one year and 22 days after Brown ‘s body swung from the end of a rope, the state of South Carolina seceded from the United States and the inexorable slide into a four-year war which resulted in more than 600,000 combat deaths, which would be the equivalent of 6.5 million soldiers killed today. The total U.S. service members lost in World War I and World War II was around 400,000.

              I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now again. If the original Confederate states want to pull out of the Union again, fuck ‘em, let ‘em go. We need to be sending federal tax dollars down to Mississippi and Alabama like we need a hole in our heads.

              If the internet produces enough disinformation to reduce the number of U.S. states from 50 to 37, this will make disinformation a very good thing.

              And if by some chance you’ve picked up the idea that I’m not all that serious about what I just said, you happen to be correct. But how else should I discuss something as stupid and unimportant as the idea that disinformation represents some kind of serious threat?


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