The Elders are getting at the Protocols

by Henry on December 5, 2003

Unless I want my contribution to this blog to become some sort of Glenn Reynolds-watch, I’m going to have to stop reading him. Quite simply, whenever he posts on something I know about (EU politics; the governance of information technology), he gets it wrong. And not just wrong on details. More often than not, he’s spectacularly wrong, usually because of some conspiracy theory or another that’s rattling around in his skull. It’s really getting on my nerves. “This”:http://www.instapundit.com/archives/012876.php is a particularly outrageous example.

bq. THE NEW CLASS IS THREATENED BY THE INTERNET, with its intolerance for lies and posturing and its openness to alternative voices. Here’s the response:

bq. Leaders from almost 200 countries will convene next week in Geneva to discuss whether an international body such as the United Nations should be in charge of running the Internet, which would be a dramatic departure from the current system, managed largely by U.S. interests.

bq. The representatives, including the heads of state of France, Germany and more than 50 other countries, are expected to attend the World Summit on the Information Society, which also is to analyze the way that Web site and e-mail addresses are doled out, how online disputes are resolved and the thorny question of how to tax Internet-based transactions.

bq. The “new class” types who dominate international bureaucracies can’t be expected to take the threat to their position lying down. And, as I’ve written before, it’s a very real threat to them, and to others who profit from silencing people. As blogger-turned-Iranian-Parliamentary-candidate Hossein Derakshan notes: “We can’t vote, but we can still say what we really want.”

bq. That’s a horrifying notion to some, and you can expect more efforts to put a stop to it.

It’s hard to know where to start. But I’ll try.

Reynolds takes two facts, jumbles them together, and generates a breathtakingly stupid conspiracy theory about the “new class.” The facts are as follows. Some authoritarian countries would like the UN to play a more prominent role in Internet governance, as this would make it easier for them to control its direction. See further, “Dan Drezner”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/000919.html. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is part of the UN infrastructure, would like to play a wider role for its own, quite different reasons. A few years ago, it tried to take control of the Internet domain name allocation process, “and failed”:http://www.danieldrezner.com/research/egovernance.pdf. Now it’s seeing an increasing threat to its international role and swingeing “budget cuts”:http://www.itu.int/newsarchive/pp02/highlights/1610.html, as the Internet transforms conventional telecommunications structures. It’s trying for a second bite at the cherry, in a desperate (and doomed) attempt to ensure its survival as a healthy international institution.

So, we have two, starkly different groups of actors – authoritarian states who don’t like openness, and international bureaucrats, who face the chop if they don’t get control of the Internet. Reynolds conflates the two, to argue that the “”new class” types who dominate international bureaucracies”, “profit from silencing people”, and are “threatened by the Internet with its intolerance for lies and posturing and its openness to alternative voices.” In other words, he seems to be claiming that there is an international conspiracy of bureaucrats, encompassing the UN, the EU, and whoever you like yourself, who are opposed _on principle_ to democratic openness. Cue the black helicopters.

As a thought experiment, go back through Reynolds’ post, and wherever you see the words ‘new class,’ substitute ‘International Zionist Movement.’ The end result will look pretty ugly. But then, it’s an ugly post to begin with.

{ 18 comments }

1

theCoach 12.05.03 at 6:07 pm

Glenn is the Morten Downey Jr. of the ’00s.

2

appalled moderate 12.05.03 at 6:38 pm

Of course, none of the developments cited above are a good thing, either,even if we don’t have an X-files conspiracy going on. An alliance of authoritarians and mission-creep bureaucrats is a pretty nasty thing. My question — what are the chances of these guys accomplishing any part of their mission??

3

Henry 12.05.03 at 7:11 pm

Little to none, I imagine.

4

Sebastian holsclaw 12.05.03 at 7:12 pm

“So, we have two, starkly different groups of actors – authoritarian states who don’t like openness, and international bureaucrats, who face the chop if they don’t get control of the Internet.”

I don’t see them as starkly different in motivation. They are only starkly different in terms actual power. Many UN bureaucrats see themselves as people who ought to be the elite decision-makers of the world. Most authoritarian state actors are the elite decision-makers of their own little worlds. I agree that Reynolds goes too far in conflating them, but I think portraying them as starkly different in this context is an equal error in the opposite direction. So long as we are discussing soley the internet, it is easy to see how these two groups could work together for our mutual detriment.

5

Henry 12.05.03 at 7:41 pm

Sebastian – I enjoy your comments, but I don’t think that this one is especially well thought through. Many, many, individuals believe that they ought to be the “elite decision makers of the world,” including, by definition, democratic politicians. This does not necessarily disqualify them from power. Certainly, the ITU and authoritarian regimes can work together for our mutual detriment – I personally don’t want to see the proposed reforms going through. But that does not mean that ITU types are themselves authoritarians. And it is precisely on this point that Reynolds takes a running jump into tinfoil-hat-land.

6

Cinciphil 12.05.03 at 8:01 pm

France and Germany already censor the internet in their countries. I think it’s a small step for UN bureaucrats to censor the entire internet, if given the authority.

7

appalled moderate 12.05.03 at 9:42 pm

I am going to betray either ignorance or laziness, but here goes. I imagine it would take a treaty to get the results looked for by the authoro-beauro alliance described above. Is it possible that a situation like the International Criminal Court could develop, where the treaty is ratified by lots of people, but not the US, and the treaty applies tolots of nations, but not the United States?

8

boo 12.06.03 at 3:20 am

Henry, your comment is stupid.

First, Reynolds does not use the term “conspiracy.” Everything is occuring quite out in the open.

Moreover the desire to effectively regulate speech on the internet is not confined to “authoritarian” regimes: France and Germany have both taken steps against so-called “hate speech” on the internet. Both Yahoo and Google have been censored by their laws. See these Slashdot stories

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/10/24/120223&mode=thread&tid=153

http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/06/06/1648221&mode=thread&tid=153&tid=99

The EU has also recommended a proposal that would extend similiar laws throughout the whole EU. Reynolds is absolutely correct to imply that European bureaucrats, in league with their friends in the UN, are trying to impose global censorship on the internet.

There is no need for conspiracy theories when they are completely open about their intentions. And it is no “conflation of facts” when two seperate groups with a common interest cooperate to achieve their ends. Really, for you to say there are “two” groups involved here is itself a simple minded. There are dozens of govnerments who censor the net, each for their own reasons, but who nonetheless have a common interest in seeing the UN attain a greater role in the net’s administraion than the US.

9

Andrew Edwards 12.06.03 at 5:04 am

enry:

I don’t know enough to agree or disagree with your specific point. I strongly agree with your general point, that Instapundit can be an at-best-misleading morning read. But this is unfair:

As a thought experiment, go back through Reynolds’ post, and wherever you see the words ‘new class,’ substitute ‘International Zionist Movement.’ The end result will look pretty ugly.

Well, duh. If I go through your post and replace ‘Glenn Reynolds’ with, say, ‘infidel scum’, it’ll sound pretty bad too. That really, really doesn’t mean anything. If you mean something more specific about Glenn, say so.

Andrew Northrup wrote something very good on this type of argument a while back, but I’ve given up trying to find it after about a half hour of looking.

10

Henry 12.06.03 at 7:10 am

Boo – your comment is … well stupid might be too strong a word. But certainly simplistic, and only tangentially related to the facts of the controversy. Bluntly put, you don’t know what you’re talking about; you’re just regurgitating some semi-digested slurry from the trolls at Slashdot, which is at best marginally relevant to the issues at hand. And you don’t seem to have understood the argument of my post either, or else you’re ducking my main point.

Andrew – fair enough as a general point. But I’ll continue to contend that there’s something genuinely creepy about Reynold’s hyperbole regarding a “new class” of international bureaucrats who are out to crush freedom of expression because its intolerance for lies threatens them. He’s imputing sinister and unlikely motives to a broad class of people without providing any evidence to back them up (for the simple reason that there is no evidence to back them up). There’s something wrong there, something rotten. And the closest analogy I can think of is the anti-Semitic wingnuts who rave on about ‘international banking cabals.’ Put it this way – I don’t think that a responsible libertarian (Eugene Volokh, Jim Henley, Tyler Cowen, Julian Sanchez) would dream of making this sort of argument.

11

Richard Vagge 12.06.03 at 9:03 am

Henry,
I disagree with your point, but I’m pretty sure most people could agree that it is wildly overstated.

The reference to the Protocols is to put it mildly nasty. Now you have every right to be nasty but you will be immediately shutting down debate even with the “responsible libertarians”.(Note to Henry: Condescension does not normally bring people around to your point of view.)

Is Glenn really spectacularly wrong on this? Cold fusion – spectacularly wrong. Suggesting that some people acting toward the same thing(which you acknowledge) but with much different reasons might constitute a “new class” is perhaps not quite the nuanced understanding that you have but hardly reaches any level of incorrectness above that.

Let’s all try to be “responsible” members of our various political slants and leave the nastiness at home.

12

Wili Wchendon 12.06.03 at 9:25 am

Andrew Edwards:

Andrew Northrup wrote something very good on this type of argument a while back, but I’ve given up trying to find it after about a half hour of looking.

This one?

Incidentally, I found this after a single Google, and it was the first hit. I’d never read the post before, and, working purely on the information contained in your comment, googled Andrew Northrup word substitute. I think you need to brush up on your searching skills. ;)

13

Bill Burns 12.06.03 at 6:19 pm

Anyone who thinks the internet is intolerant of lies and posturing is beyond hope of redemption.

14

Henry 12.06.03 at 7:02 pm

Richard – you’re well within your rights if you find the tone of my post too harsh; I post, you decide. But I stand by it. Glenn Reynolds’ original post was deeply distasteful. Not quite LGF level hatemongering, but not that far off it. And it _is_ spectacularly wrong – he is saying unambiguously that international bureaucrats are trying to control the Internet _because_ they are horrified by freedom and are threatened by it. That is nonsense, pure and simple; you’re giving him way too much credit. Why _should_ some (and I hasten to add, not all) people on the pro-war right have a free pass to say things about the French, the UN, the EU etc, which, if they were said about “the Jews” or (perhaps better analogies) Israel or “international bankers,” would instantly and properly be jumped on as being anti-Semitism of the grossest and most disgusting sort? There’s a disconnect there. Not only that, but Glenn Reynolds himself is “hardly averse to”:https://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/000702.html lashing around accusations of anti-Semitism when they’re materially unjustified. Perhaps the best solution is to just ignore him – but sometimes, frankly, I find it hard.

15

Matt Weiner 12.06.03 at 9:36 pm

Wili–
I like this one:

“This is similar to a private game I have, where, when someone tells a joke I don’t approve of, I replay it in my mind replacing the punch line with the phrase ‘I believe the Holocaust was a great idea, and where do all the junior high girls hang out?’ thereby proving that the offending comedian is really a Nazi pedophile.”

For some reason that didn’t show up when I searched site:thepoorman.net, but did show up with the phrase “Andrew Northrup.” Blog archives can be weird.

16

John Isbell 12.06.03 at 10:05 pm

“More often than not, he’s spectacularily wrong.”
Spectacularily? Pretty.

17

Henry 12.06.03 at 10:21 pm

_“More often than not, he’s spectacularily wrong.”
Spectacularily? Pretty._

Ouch! Thanks! Fixed!

18

Ken 12.07.03 at 8:11 pm

“And it is spectacularly wrong – he is saying unambiguously that international bureaucrats are trying to control the Internet because they are horrified by freedom and are threatened by it.”

Well, why are international bureaucrats trying to control the Internet? And why is it such a stretch to say that any sort of bureaucrats are horrified by freedom, given the general behavior of bureaucrats everywhere?

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