The Times, They Are A-Changin'

  
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Good morning, everyone! Thank you for returning to the third edition of Bright Morning. Last week, we wrote a heavier piece focusing on the corrupting and sinister ideas at the heart of intersectionality. This week, we will be focusing less on thematic ideas and more on topical issues that we believe deserve more attention. We hope that you enjoy the slight change in structure and we look forward to hearing your thoughts! 

Trouble in Silicon Valley

The Nitty Gritty:
  • In the U.S. the FTC and more than 40 states are accusing Facebook of monopolistic malpractice citing their acquisitions of Instagram (purchased for $1bn in 2012) and WhatsApp (purchased for $19bn in 2014).

  • Google has also been slapped with several lawsuits including an antitrust suit claiming the search giant has illegally protected their monopoly over search and advertising.

  • Microsoft joined the party after being sued by Slack Technologies in a lawsuit that suggests the enterprise software giant illegally bundled their Slack look-a-like into the Office 365 suite of products for free—leaving no chance for free market competition.

It turns out that citizens and governments alike have been growing increasingly frustrated with the God-like influence that tech companies have over our lives. More than 30 states have been added to an antitrust lawsuit filed against Google, with those leading the charge claiming that the company maintains its monopolistic power through anticompetitive business practices and contracts. The lawsuit, as described by the Wall Street Journal, alleges that Google uses personal data in searches to favour ads for companies that are Google-owned. For example, “when consumers search for an electrician or a hotel, Google displays advertisements and other results in a way that favours Google-owned travel or recommendation services, rather than those provided by other companies,” effectively squashing any and all competition. Google, of course, is denying the allegations, claiming that they simply help consumers connect with businesses and that any requested changes to Google-search would interfere with this objective. We shall see what, if anything, results from this lawsuit. Unfortunately, the problems with big tech companies are not limited to shady advertising practices. 

To the amazement of no one, Silicon Valley is overwhelmingly politically left-leaning. But so what, right? After all, freedom of expression is a right and private companies can operate however they choose. Well, the problems occur when policies and speech codes are written through that lens of progressivism. This has resulted in countless examples of individuals being censored, or banned entirely, from social media platforms for voicing right-leaning or even centrist political opinions. The most recent example is YouTube’s announcement that they will ban any video that alleges voter fraud in the 2020 United States Presidential Election. This is alarming, regardless of your opinion on the election outcome. In the age of lockdowns, social media and online videos have become the primary means through which individuals communicate. When companies with clear political biases have enough power to determine what the “truth” is (or should be), it disrupts how we form our own opinions because we are left with few options for debate. What is more, in an era of open distrust and political polarization, we need more open communication, not less. Censorship always results in its opposite intended effect, where those who are censored become more rigid in their beliefs, not less. But what, realistically, can be done? Following the example with Google, would it be unreasonable for governments to launch antitrust lawsuits against YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook? Is it wise for governments to interfere, or would it be the exact type of government overreach that conservatives purport to be against?

Conservatives vs. Conservatives

This brings us, right on cue, to a debate that has arisen between two camps of conservatives. In one group, there are the Ronald Reagan-esque conservatives who believe in a hands-off, limited government. For this group, the role of government is to help facilitate ideal economic conditions and allow for market-based solutions to issues. In the other group, there are populist conservatives, like former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper or Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who take issue with the wealth and influence of “elites.” Conservatives in this camp are much more hands-on and strongly believe that governments should respond to the grievances of working and middle class citizens. These conservatives also believe in a more active approach to the culture, arguing that a pure hands-off attitude effectively cedes the cultural landscape to one side of the political spectrum. This is arguably why our culture is overwhelmingly left-leaning in its current moment - conservatives in the past were too focused on economics and not enough on culture. There are two episodes of The Ben Shapiro Show, one with Tucker Carlson and another with JD Vance (whom we mentioned last week), where viewers can hear the pros and cons of both sides of this debate. Finally, there is some urgency here. If conservatives have any hope of successfully tackling the information monopolies in tech companies, whether it is through antitrust lawsuits or even going so far as to break up the companies, then this debate needs to be taken more seriously. There needs to be a solution that balances the principle of limited government with the need to ensure the cultural landscape does not swing too far in one direction. Otherwise, the issues with censorship will intensify as these companies continue to grow. To clarify, we do not believe the solution lies in conservatives passing laws to compel speech for these companies, but we do recognize how integral these communication networks are to the democratic process and henceforth must determine if they are, in fact, a platform for speech, or a publisher. 

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Vaccines are among us

The Nitty Gritty:
  • As of Monday, the U.S. FDA has authorized two vaccines for distribution: one from Pfizer and another from Moderna.

  • Trust in public institutions is at an all-time low, particularly in culturally West nations after a, well, interesting year.

As of last week, vaccines for COVID-19 officially began to roll out across the world. Like everything else in 2020, they have become a topic of intense debate, specifically regarding whether or not the vaccine should be made mandatory. Some politicians, like Andrew Yang of the Democratic Party, even went so far as to say that “there ought to be” barcodes for proof of vaccination. In Ontario, however, the Progressive Conservative government has stated that vaccines will not be mandatory, but that businesses can ask for proof of vaccination from their patrons, should they wish to do so. According to a CBC article, the law is not clear on how, exactly, this would work. Regardless, the idea of mandatory anything is worthy of some rational skepticism.

The vaccine debate is clearly a sensitive issue and it requires a careful threading of the needle. Everyone wants to move on from the pandemic (save for Gavin Newsom or Eric Garcetti, who seem to experience a sexual thrill from imposing lockdowns). To move on successfully, we cannot dump gasoline on the fire by reflexively demonizing those who are skeptical of the vaccine as “anti-vaxxers,” “conspiracy theorists,” or any other meaningless buzzword. We cannot pretend that the COVID-19 vaccine was not delivered in a short period of time, especially compared to the normal timeframe for vaccine development. Equally, we cannot lose ourselves in a rabbit hole of borderline conspiratorial rhetoric. Thus, it is incumbent for governments, the scientific community, and the companies behind the vaccines to be absolutely transparent in outlining the rewards and potential risks of their products. Individuals do not want to feel strong armed into taking something they regard with suspicion, and so it is not helpful when public figures issue thinly-veiled threats to citizens about having their rights taken away (even more than they already have been this year) unless they present “health passports.” What is more, it is even less helpful when billionaires appear on live television to talk about how it is “appropriate” for businesses to remain closed for another 4 to 6 months, regardless of vaccination, as Bill Gates did in his interview with Jake Tapper on CNN. In fact, it would be best for billionaires not to weigh in at all, seeing as how they have absolutely no skin in the game when it comes to the downstream effects of lockdowns. Alternatively, it would help remediate anxieties about the vaccine when, for example, public figures receive their vaccinations on live television, as Vice President Mike Pence did last week. In a recent interview, philosopher Peter Boghossian stated that we are living in a “legitimation crisis,” where trust in our institutions is at an all time low. Leaders hectoring the citizenry only serves to exacerbate this problem. Therefore, to regain the trust of the population, leaders and institutions must lead by example. Only then can we all move on.

Women’s rights are so twentieth century

The Nitty Gritty:
  • Harvard is really getting their money’s worth with the 280 character limit on Twitter by calling women “birthing people”

Before we close, it would not be an issue of Bright Morning if we did not dip our toes in at least one absurdity from the culture wars, so here we go… 

Remember feminism, everyone? Remember how a generation of second wave feminists were concerned with women’s reproductive rights, the right to leave abusive relationships, breaking down stereotypes about what women could be, and so much more? Well, they are all “problematic” now, and their positions have been crushed under the anvil of radical transgender activism. Now, the mere mention of the word “woman” has become an offence, and if women do not get on board with the trans activist argument that being a woman is entirely performative and has nothing to do with biology, then they can find themselves insulted, berated, and ganged up on by the legacy media. Take, for example, the Twitter page for the Harvard Medical and Postgraduate Continuing Education Program, who this week referred to women as “birthing people,” and later insisted that “not all people who give birth identify as women or girls.” This echoes an incident from earlier this year when author JK Rowling firmly insisted that women exist and are not to be referred to, as one headline did, as “people who menstruate.” For this, Rowling was accused of “transphobia” and had virtually every major news outlet in the western world ganging up on her, accusing her of “erasing trans people.” The irony here is that institutions and activists are treating the word “women” in the same way that people at Hogwarts treat the name “Voldemort” - with a cold shudder. Fortunately, Rowling did not budge, and even took it a step further to defend her position by writing an essay on the importance of holding the boundaries of “woman” around womanhood, as well as the misogynistic underpinnings at the heart of trans activism. It is worth a read.

Anyway, that is all we have for you today, folks. We hope you enjoyed this week’s issue, and as always, we look forward to hearing your comments. Merry Christmas!