Many of my freedom-loving friends have great confidence that communication via the Internet and the World Wide Web will prove to be a game-changer in the fight against the disinformation and propaganda disseminated by the state and its running dogs, and that the greater ease of spreading the truth will shift the balance in favor of those who seek to protect and extend liberty. I have always had my doubts.
For one thing, the state continues to have a preponderance of physical power, and should its domination ever be brought into genuine challenge, it can always resort to sheer violence. The Internet has intrinsic strengths, to be sure, but the state’s goons can always smash in your door, crush your computers to shreds with sledge hammers, and haul you off to one of its dungeons. At present, the state is not challenged seriously, and therefore it need not resort to such primitive, though effective, measures. Moreover, it needs to preserve the use of Internet communication in order that industry and commerce will thrive, and thereby provide a great volume of wealth for the state to plunder.
A second reason for my doubts is that although the Internet and the Web lower the cost of disseminating the truth, they equally lower the cost of disseminating the state’s lies. Perhaps more important, today’s technology permits users to create many forms of distortion and illusion, so that when we encounter information on the Web, we must always ask, “Is this real or fake?” We simply cannot believe everything we see with our own eyes. Some hoaxes are easily revealed; others require great expertise to expose; and few of us possess such expertise. The masses therefore remain vulnerable to what governments and their key supporters have done for millennia—namely, fool most of the people most of the time.
Finally, unless the friends of liberty can bring about a significant change in the dominant ideology, none of our communications will matter, however much they reveal the state’s deceptions and offer truth as a substitute. Ideology is not simply ideas; it has a powerful element of values as well. If people do not place much value on freedom and prefer, as many Americans now do, creature comforts, entertainment, and the illusion of security, then their ears will be deaf to our efforts to spread the truth, regardless of the technology we employ.
A few thoughts relative to the Higgs comments. First, it is encouraging that despite his overall negative tone, he does say:
[The state] needs to preserve the use of Internet communication in order that industry and commerce will thrive, and thereby provide a great volume of wealth for the state to plunder.To the degree the state calculates that it is too dangerous to shutdown the Internet, the better. The Internet does provide superior methods of communications, including for freedom advocates.
Second, Higgs writes that:
Ideology is not simply ideas; it has a powerful element of values as well. If people do not place much value on freedom and prefer, as many Americans now do, creature comforts, entertainment, and the illusion of security, then their ears will be deaf to our efforts to spread the truth, regardless of the technology we employ.There is some truth to this. However, the ever expanding state will ultimately result in the shrinking of creature comforts and a declining standard of living. It must be remembered that the state is not a producer, it only lives off of what is produced in the private sector. As Mises reminded us, this draining of the private sector doesn't last forever:
An essential point in the social philosophy of interventionism is the existence of an inexhaustible fund which can be squeezed forever. The whole system of interventionism collapses when this fountain is drained off: The Santa Claus principle liquidates itself.As the interventionist system collapses, more and more of the curious will seek answers to why the collapse is occurring. Indeed, we can see this now in the way it has become difficult for many college students to find jobs beyond those offered by restaurant chains. This difficulty results in some taking to the Internet to learn about the system and what may be causing the lack of high paying jobs. For sure, they will not all end up at Mises.org to find the explanation of the situation, but some will. Without the Internet, it is very difficult to see how this would occur in the numbers it now does.
Higgs also raises the problem of misinformation, and there is no question that misinformation exists on the web. But, is this any different from misinformation in the past that has been spit out by MSM? Yes, misinformation exists on the Internet in many different forms, but truth is much more available because of the Internet. It has not turned everyone into a fountain of wisdom about liberty, but it does provide the opportunity for some to do become such, in a way that did not exist before the Internet.
As we all know, the world is a very complex place, and it is difficult to know for sure how events will unfold, but it is clear that the more second hand dealers in ideas that are out in the world promoting the importance of liberty, the better are the odds that we will all be freer. The Internet, though it provides an outlet for communicating misinformation, is a also very important mechanism for spreading truth about how the world works and why freedom should be valued.
This is not a time to be pessimistic about the Internet. It is not, by any means, the device that will automatically turn the world into freedom lovers, but it is an important tool of communication and the only hope freedom lovers have is to communicate clearly the importance of liberty, by using the communication tools available. We need to plant the seeds about the importance of freedom in as many minds as we can, now. No one knows what battles may have to be fought in the future for freedom, It is unclear whether the state will at some future point smash with sledge hammers our computers, or whether technology will be able to stay ahead of the state. But we have the tool now and it should be used now to aggressively explain the importance of liberty.