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Vox Populi, Vox Dei

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Nov. 26, 2022

So this line has become famous lately since Elon Musk has been using it to reinstate banned Twitter accounts in the latest episode of the Birdsite Drama.

I'm not going to get into any opinion piece on what I think of this development but if you haven't joined us on Mastodon yet, do it now!.

I prefer instead to use this real life example to talk about writing great villains. Great not in that they are that oh-so-fun sexy, witty, well-dressed villain that you love to hate. Great in that they look crass and stupid but their villainry is actually quite sophisticated. You can debate whether they do it because they're aware and ruminate dastardly plans or because someone else advises them or simply because they're what in Greek we call “daft but conniving” (there's no English word equivalent for this concept) but you can't debate that Elon Musk is currently dealing the concept of democracy a potentially nasty blow.

So why, supposedly, is Musk reinstating all the banned accounts like the Joker opening the doors to Arkham Asylum?

Because, he claims, the people will it. Vox Populi, Vox Dei (Voice of the people, voice of God).

At first glance, and for people that won't really sit around to think much of it, how does it look? That a mob of rabid users voted to make Twitter a pretty deregulated place (whether the “gates of hell” opened as the article I linked to claims or not is up to you to decide. Fact does remain that a lot of misinformation is bound to exponentially multiply now).

Assuming that people hate this development, what will they think? That democracy = mob rule. It's no accident that Musk uses the phrase “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” because the full quote warns against exactly that: Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit. or in English We should not listen to those who like to affirm that the voice of the people is the voice of God, for the tumult of the masses is truly close to madness..

So what is best? Gag the crowds that are mad and make stupid decisions by vote, and allow the few grounded people of the world decide for everyone else.

It's not an argument that hasn't already been made, after all. However, this is flawed on so many levels it's …beautifully villainous. A great paradigm for a great villain character.

Let's take Musk's poll: How has he made sure troll and sock puppet accounts haven't made it so one person has like a hundred votes? How has he made sure bots don't vote by the thousands? It is said he's been suspending accounts left and right, how about their vote? Did he make this mandatory for every single account in the whole of Twitter to vote? Or even for 70%? How about 60%? Did he make sure each IP only votes once?

Probably not. But even if he had, it still wouldn't be enough.

A poll, any poll, much more his, is not a legitimate voting process. It's not even good enough for a statistics presentation for a college freshman, because it's compromised, with a very biased sample to say just a couple of problems.

Elections, on the other hand, are designed to have integrity (though how easily that is undermined is another story, and not the point right now): only adults can vote, the entire population (or those with full citizenship) can and is encouraged to vote, everyone is ensured to only get one vote, and to cast it in complete privacy even from their family. Or at least, that's how it should be for a minimum baseline to exist for democratic rule.

But even that wouldn't be enough, supposing Musk could magically secure all of that for all the world.

How many people are educated (and when I say educated I mean objectively informed) about the question being asked? Have they been informed about the projected ramifications of option A vs. option B or is it assumed that they'd know or be able to infer it? Are all messages in a controversial topic disseminated equally and with equal signal strength?

There's been a ton of research on this and the answer is no. Twitter is a highly manipulated social medium where violence and hostility is actively cultivated.

Voting is a process that is specifically designed for people to participate in such ways that mob behavior (what the latin quote Vox Populi, Vox Dei warns of) can break down and a person can vote how they want with impunity.

Twitter doesn't have these conditions. On the contrary, it's flawed in every way there is when it comes to democratic discourse. It's a really bad example to use when talking about “the voice of the people”.

But would that be immediately visible to someone not acquainted with what democracy really means, or how elections aren't polls, or how a biased sample works, or how their potential circumstance of only having one account and having voted once in Musk's tweet doesn't mean everyone else did the same?

And how convenient would it be for someone to present this silly procedure as democratic if they were seeking to undermine the value of democracy, in a neoliberal system that seeks to use the state (the stronger the better) for profit of the few at the loss of the many? A neoliberal system that has been very good to them, by the way?

If they wanted the voice of the people, they'd let them unionize. They'd let them think for themselves by avoiding emotionally charged language and questionable rhetoric. They'd give them the time to think, the time to listen to all arguments, the time to evaluate what is good for them. The energy and feeling of safety required to sit down and do all this thinking (try thinking like that after working two jobs and returning to a house where you need to clean up or see to the children).
They'd teach critical thinking in schools.

Yes; Vox Populi, Vox Dei.

So best shout over it. ;) What's more perfect than a villain that says they do exactly what they are fighting against? Make villains like that in your comic.

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The doodler at 8:06AM, Dec. 3, 2022

So, bit of a tangent, but I'd like to hear your (plural) thoughts. I was reading about the history of using the First Amendment of the US Constitution and there have been some rulings (PruneYard Shopping Center v. Robins, Marsh v. Alabama, etc.) that use it to limit the private sector. In Marsh vs Alabama, there was a company town (a privately-owned town) and a woman was arrested for trespassing because she was giving out JW pamphlets that (presumably) the corporation owning the town didn't like. The supreme court ruled that because the company town functioned as a public space, it would have to act like one legally. Their argument was that it was about scale -- you could throw out a guest for being rude to you from your house, but when your corporation owns all the houses in the city it changes qualitatively. Is there anything to that idea? If there is, does it apply to the internet? What size, if any, does it kick in at? I'd like to hear from people smarter than me!

InkyMoondrop at 3:32PM, Dec. 2, 2022

Well, it's obviously none of my business, but since things were taken personally and the conversation got heated, are we sure we want more or maybe the participants can spend a relatively insult-free day on the Duck? I personally would not mind if they could manage to let go of whatever grudges they still have and just enjoy using the site, but posting anonymous means others cannot challenge you discreetly (neither apologize in private if they feel that's in order) and I don't think forcing a public one would help anyone feel better at this point. Just my two cents, now I stfu. :)

DylanTale Comics at 9:37AM, Dec. 2, 2022

I agree. Why do you feel the need to rip him apart with 5 paragraphs just because of where his beliefs stand?

anonymous at 9:33AM, Dec. 2, 2022

(Different person here) I think you're being a bit harsh on him. After all, we're all allowed to have our beliefs as well as the ability to speak about them. And to be honest, a lot of your research seems to be one-sided.

Amelius at 4:17PM, Dec. 1, 2022

And finally, anyone still reading this, this person crying and pleading for civility, just right down the middle/both sides have points, said that people who disagree with them are BITTER, HATEFUL, *ANIMALS*, and then has the chutzpah, the utter NERVE, to beg for civility and accuse me of not being "open minded", pretends to be above it all, simply because I object to their political party's (the party they self-ID as) loudly proclaimed objective of outlawing homosexuality, dismantling democracy, obliterating voting rights, dismantling medicaid and social security, whitewashing history, banning books, pushing puritanical censorship and censoring political dissent! I have to be open minded about the reasons the MAINSTREAM GOP is racist, misogynist, and homophobic just because some of them are a "little" bigoted, as a treat? No sir, I refuse to compromise with that, not even a little when it comes to my rights and yours.

Amelius at 3:36PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Anyway, I'm not naive enough to believe that someone like you could have their mind changed from years of GOP gaslighting and fully expected your condescending response, don't tell me "no hard feelings", spare me your virtue signalling you cry-bully. There was a time where I actually took Conservatives at their word that they weren't as hateful, racist and bigoted as the Left claims they are. You know what changed that? Actually educating myself on the history of the Conservative party, what policies it pushed, and where those policies lead. Fence sitters voted segregationists into office even if they didn't hate black people, today is no different. Also, I made a distinction between Republican voters and the party, you still took offense.

Amelius at 2:47PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Also, you assume I DON'T have problems with the left, like Biden forcing rail workers back to work without sick leave? I can bring up actual policies, things that are happening RIGHT NOW. What do you have but vague gestures toward "shady things" so you can attempt to both sides this argument? Sounds like you're the one who needs education. It's not a "moderate" position to fight against public health-- the fact that you were against covid mandates reveals a hell of a lot more about your priorities than you think. Hey guys is it hateful to assume things from things people say they do and actions they take? Sorry that if offends you that your elected GOP officials are credibly accused child predators and insurrectionists, I guess that bothers me slightly more than insider trading. Different priorities, man.

Amelius at 2:30PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Left wing political leaders are being attacked in their homes, poll workers are being ATTACKED, because of the big lie YOUR political party spreads. Even my lifelong Conservative in-laws, whom I live with, and love and cherish by the way since you seem intent on painting me a spiteful brainless harridan; are reluctant to ID as repuplican because of the actions of mainstream GOP. We are well past the questions of civility, the right wing has made clear they do not wish to be civil or peaceful. The far right might be extreme but they are NOT fringe. Their thought leaders and elected officials are the beating heart of the Republican party. Just go look at who its #1 fundraisers are, they are not moderates. MTG, Kari Lake, and Boebert are not "moderates". The days of Kasich and McCain are long behind us. Look at the conga line of Rs who have been primaried out of their own party. If this was the party of Mitt Romney we'd be having a very different conversation.

Amelius at 2:19PM, Dec. 1, 2022

I feel NO SHAME, especially not from someone so condescending and deeply hateful. I am not hateful I am righteously angry. The only reason you would read my response as "hateful" is because that is how you view the world. You would shame people for fighting Nazis the wrong way. How can you expect nuance when you are painting your opponents in the broadest brush possible? The "left" if made up of corporate democrats, conservative ex-republicans, centrists, left-of-center socially progressive, social democrats, socialists, tankies, anarchists, to name just a few. MAINSTREAM republicans are out there platforming actual Nazis, Crowder was out there carrying water for Ye's antisemitism with the thinnest veneer of respectability. Tucker Carlson and Matt Walsh are out there every night calling trans folks groomers and pedophiles and saying people should "do something about it". I will not be shamed by someone this egregiously ignorant of what goes on in his own political atmosphere.

Amelius at 2:11PM, Dec. 1, 2022

The Right is electing extremists, even if you claim to be a "moderate", the Republican party are being led and are supporting extremists. The results of your actions have stripped rights from women, disenfranchised voters, stripped rights from LGBTQ people, and they are on the record saying they want to come after contraceptive, gay marriage, interracial marriage, and reproductive health. YOUR philosophy matters little to me, the affect of your ACTIONS are what impact my life and the lives of those around me. Right in this state GOP are trying create as many barriers as possible to the public creating referendums on the ballot after seeing the will of the people in actions and other states where referendums protected people's rights. What good is your milquetoast philosophy if you support a party that is stripping away democracy?

anonymous at 12:47PM, Dec. 1, 2022

Let me educate you on the difference between moderate right wing people and extreme right wing people. All of what you described is a right wing extremist, yet you assume that every Republican is like that. Shame on you for assuming that I would EVER want people dead or that I hate people based on what they believe in. Neither political party is perfect, not even the left. I absolutely disagree with the idiotic right wing extremists who do not think at all about the consequences of their actions and I do not condone said actions against the left. I'm all for freedom and equality, but the left have done many shady things over the past few years. Does that mean that the right haven't? No. Tantz, I apologize for this whole argument, this website is merely intended for creative freedom through comics, which is where my main focus will continue to be. Amelius, no hard feelings towards you, despite your hateful tone. Hopefully, you can learn to be more open minded towards the other side.

Amelius at 9:09AM, Dec. 1, 2022

Thank you InkyMoondrop, my condolences for the state of your government too. Yeah, having been to places like Reddit you are right that people aren't looking to go scorched earth with people over minor things here, mainly because it's a very small community. I try to be very diplomatic myself but I can't deny, the patronizing and dehumanizing language being used by 3 of the commenters here is really upsetting.

InkyMoondrop at 11:15PM, Nov. 30, 2022

I wouldn't call The Duck a very restrictive site when it comes to what we're allowed to talk about / create about. It's probably the least restrictive site I've seen so far for a community and yet, it's just so very constructive, because people don't usually come here to make each other feel like shit for their views, we create, read and enjoy what values the other one has to share, if it's not our cup of tea, there's always another that might be. So I think this is generally a good direction in how lots of different people with lots of different views just live and let live. I'd say most people I've encountered here so far can be mature and responsible when it comes to their speech. It'd not be realistic with millions of active users, but I still think this is a good little place to grow and coexist without all the drama we'd get on twitter, with or without Musk.

InkyMoondrop at 11:04PM, Nov. 30, 2022

I do get it, Amelius. The government where I live is shamelessly pro-Trump, pretty much pro-Putin, they're in power for more than a decade, yet everything bad is someone else's fault. If a young student speaks up in defence of her teachers and the LMBT+ people whose rights were taken away, much of the public opinion sides with the teacher who drives her away from her school, turning her classmates against her, because "the girl used profanity" and "the left brainwashes our children", and of course "everyone on the left is getting paid by powerful liberals from outside the country looking to destroy our values". These things cannot be properly challenged anymore, specifically because people are afraid to lose their jobs, they're afraid to get harassed, including by the police. So most of the public discussion is just yelling and throwing insults at each other over social media. But we have the people here who still think that the current threat to free speech is posed by the left.

Amelius at 7:41PM, Nov. 30, 2022

I'm sorry for another rant Tantz, you did a great post and I should have said so. I'm just sick of these punch-down bozos screaming about their rights being taken away while they vote again and again for the "take my rights away" party. At some point even nice people (and I try like hell to be nice) are sick of a demand for civility from people who will absolutely not return the favor.

Amelius at 7:57AM, Nov. 30, 2022

And one more thing that nobody will read/notice on a thread leaving the main page: relevant XKCD about Freeze Peach: Also, if you people actually gave a crap about censorship and free speech you'd be screaming about SESTA, Texas HB 20, and the Don't Say Gay bill, (since you people pretend to care about rights of "people you don't agree with") and the recent KOSA that is a MASSIVE surveillance/censorship push that will yet again NOT protect children and has proved to do the opposite. Admiring Elongated Muskrat for breaking Twitter on fundamental levels with catastrophic incompetence, purging left-wing accounts unless they're visible enough to be noticed (all of Sam Seder's staff but not Sam himself, the Antifa accounts, that means anti-FASCIST btw) just makes you look foolish for thinking this a W for free speech. Blatant hypocrisy, head in the ground ignorance.

Amelius at 11:26AM, Nov. 29, 2022

My aunt has completely cut herself off from our family, not even her daughters and grandchildren have seen her in years, because she loves Trump more than her family. She used to be a loving, kind woman and now she is a different person entirely-- YOUR GOP ideology did this. My sister is a nurse who saw Republicans die in Covid ward with clotted blood "like something you've never seen before" still in denial because YOUR party told them it was a hoax. I have been accosted by Republicans while out in public over perceived political allegiance. I'm tired of Republicans acting like victims because people who aren't in the GOP cult are sick of their lies and hatred and stochastic terrorism getting people killed. People are DYING because of GOP rhetoric, do you not get this? I don't hate common people who vote Republican, I just feel pity that you fall for it. Republicans don't believe in Democracy anymore, they've said it out loud and they back that up with every action they take.

Amelius at 10:44AM, Nov. 29, 2022

More bloviating BS coming from people who don't live in reality about how WE are "hateful, bitter animals"!? Nobody is more bitter and hateful than the GOP. Every accusation is a confession. You hate women, you hate POC, you hate Jews, you hate LGBTQIA, you hate "Libs". I drive through Ohio I see "F**k your feelings" flags, Confederate & Trump flags, Blue Lives Matter/Punisher Skulls on trucks, "Let's go Brandon/F**k Biden" flying, conspiracy vans covered in hateful right-wing lies, insane screeds about laptops on front lawns, homophobic religious rants-- I have yet to witness the left-wing version of this naked hate. Everyone, left and right, condemned the Bernie fan who shot a Republican-- meanwhile Republicans threaten more violence after several plots, successful or foiled; have been revealed to have Right-wing motivation, and double down on the same rhetoric that lead to violence. You want us DEAD, while we want you to pull your head out your butts.

plymayer at 4:54AM, Nov. 29, 2022

Anonymous is correct. So many "freedom lovers" are violent or rude tyrants, when it comes to others' freedoms or opinions. To those with differing opinions than me, I hope you never have these rights taken from you - I fought and served so you can disagree with me.

anonymous at 12:56PM, Nov. 28, 2022

Hapoppo, thank you for stating what I previously said, but in a better set of words. What Hapoppo said is the reason why I remain anonymous. I've already gotten attacked so many times during the past couple of years for being against the Covid mandates or being a Republican or (God forbid) supporting free speech. I'd rather avoid 20 or more accounts spamming my message board with insults or even threats based on where my beliefs stand. A lot of people say that they're fighting for freedom or democracy, but yet turn into hateful, bitter animals (for lack of a better term) when it comes to Republicans. Enough false claims, if you're going to support total democracy, that means having the wisdom to not jump to conclusions about someone or something. And again, it's not just Twitter that does this shit. Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok have done the same thing where people who have a high following tend to harass those who they don't agree with.

Stahlberg at 6:15AM, Nov. 28, 2022

Populism and referendums usually lead to more or less bad decisions, just look at Brexit and Trump. Here's a better way to make decisions for a community.

PaulEberhardt at 10:39AM, Nov. 27, 2022

Does that make us any safer against demagogues who abuse freedom of speech or against deluded idiots (I'm lumping them together, because they're often so hard to tell apart until it's too late)? Well, that's exactly what the constant debates I mentioned are about, along with endless follow-up debates of who should or shouldn't be shut up and why/why not and the loss of trust each time an unfair decision is made - the stricter the law the more often this will happen, giving the type of villain discussed here another angle of attack. If you ask me personally, I see the same vulnerability to populist parties and Putin's propaganda attacks and general thick-headedness and so on here as everywhere else. Punishing people who glorify genocide e.g. by denying that there ever was a holocaust is still a matter of basic decency, but that's basically it. The only real defence against people who abuse free speech is encouraging people's ability to spot bullshit on their own.

PaulEberhardt at 9:40AM, Nov. 27, 2022

Amazing post, Tantz! Again, you are right at the pulse of our time. Here in Germany this kind of thing is pretty much a constant matter of debate in everyday life, mainly because of our guilt-ridden past. What are the limits of free speech? Should it have any? German law says "yes" in very clear terms, because in a so-called defensive or militant democracy protecting basic democratic values takes priority over individual rights. That's why there are astonishingly long lists of forbidden books, game, films, music albums, forbidden symbols and things that can get you into jail for up to three years if you say them in public.

Tantz_Aerine at 7:42AM, Nov. 27, 2022

plymayer: oh goodness, please let's leave covid out of this. If you want to talk about tyranny, I got better examples for you than having to use PPE and get vaccinated.

Tantz_Aerine at 7:40AM, Nov. 27, 2022

Hapoppo this feels like way too partisan for me. However, saying that Musk approaches anything democratically is laughable, and a great demonstration of how a villainous character could have good people defending them. If that's what you got out of my article btw ("Democracy is a good thing so long as I get the outcome I want") please read it again because I'd say the same thing if the poll outcome was to keep Trump banned. It's a little insulting to accuse me of that but I'll let it slide this once. Beyond that, however, know that democracy is not a plaything. It's serious, HARD TO ACHIEVE, and requires work from everyone involved. Especially work to parse whether the label fits the product. And "democratic" is not something you can slap on twitter or any platform, ffs.

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