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How Not to Launch a Global Anti-Censorship Movement

So, I’ve been excommunicated from Michael Shellenberger’s global anti-censorship movement.

How Not to Launch a Global Anti-Censorship Movement

It’s my own fault. I was sowing dissension. I engaged in harmful speech in the group chat. I was making people feel uncomfortable. I was not playing ball. I was not with the program.

The program, as you may recall, was launched in Westminster, London, in June, when Mike and Matt Taibbi and Russell Brand exposed the Censorship Industrial Complex …

…for 35 pounds sterling a head.

My readers may recall this piece I published about the secret gathering of journalists, authors, artists, academics, and activists that took place after that public event. I couldn’t say too much about it at the time, as we were operating under strict OPSEC protocols, and had taken oaths of silence, and so on, which, being excommunicated, I am no longer bound by.

I’m still going to be a little cagey, however, as there are a lot of people involved in Mike’s movement who I like and respect, and I don’t want to harm them with my dissension-sowing any more than necessary.

Also, before I make fun of Mike, and share my somewhat more serious thoughts about how not to launch “a free-speech movement,” I want to make it clear that I still support this campaign, and any other anti-censorship campaign, regardless of how flawed or supercilious it may be.

All right, let’s get down to it, shall we?

Mike’s movement is preparing to publish a declaration. It’s a good declaration. I contributed to it. I signed it, although my name will not appear on it now, as Mike has threatened to remove it if I published a piece like this. Mike is an extremely smart guy, but he doesn’t seem to get that I don’t respond well to threats … or, rather, that this is how I respond to threats. Or, who knows? Maybe he actually wanted me to publish this piece, and goaded me into it, which, I can see how that could be a shrewd PR move.

In any event, it’s a good declaration (or it was the last time I had access to it). There is nothing wrong with the declaration. What has taken up most of the last three months of the coalition’s time and energy, and has led to my excommunication, is the hunt for Very Important Persons to be included as signatories when the declaration is released.

Apparently, the way it works with such declarations and “open letters,” and so on, is that you write up your declaration or letter and then you try to get selected big shots to sign it in order to make it look more impressive to … well, whoever you’re trying to impress. The character of your big-shot signatories is critical, because the media, and “the court of public opinion,” and your potential major philanthropic backers, are going to judge you by the company you keep.

Mike’s anti-censorship coalition has been carrying out this process by “consensus,” under the watchful eye and firm hand of Mike. Mike is not the “leader” of this coalition, which is totally leaderless and democratic, of course. He is just the “facilitator,” who explains the objectives, makes the final decisions, polices people’s speech, and excommunicates suppressive persons whose dissension-sowing threatens to disrupt the “atmosphere of mutual respect” that Mike feels he needs to “maintain” in the group chat.

Yes, Mike has a little control-freak problem. Many non-leader leaders of “movements” do. If you’ve ever been involved in political activism, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, count your blessings.

Anyway, the Hunt for VIP Signatories has been awkward, due to:

  • (a) the need to maintain the appearance of “decision-by-consensus” in the coalition’s totally non-hierarchical group chat,
  • (b) concern among various coalition members about including “divisive” VIPs,
  • and (c) Mike’s behind-the-scenes machinations.

For example, at one point, I offered to contact one of the only VIPs I know to ask him for help with further VIP outreach. Mike jumped into the chat and quashed that idea, as I had made it clear that I was not willing to try to dictate to this Very Important Person who he should and shouldn’t reach out to for us.

Days or weeks later — I can’t remember exactly — one of Mike’s employees wrote to me sub rosa and gave me the secret go-ahead from Mike. So, I reached out to this VIP, who then reached out to some other VIPs, many of whom were happy to sign, and some of whom offered to help with further outreach.

Panic broke out at Coalition HQ. Some of the Very Important Persons that my Very Important Person had invited were potentially Divisive Persons, who hadn’t been vetted by consensus on the coalition’s VIP-vetting spreadsheet. (I kid you not, there’s an actual spreadsheet.) So, I was asked to reach out to my VIP and instruct him to cease and desist with further outreach before he reached out to further Divisive Persons, who might reach out to further Divisive Persons, at which point, everything might spin out of control! Needless to say, I declined to do that.

If you’re wondering about exactly who qualifies as a “Divisive Person” in the coalition … well, certainly not Very Important Persons like Richard Dawkins, who in 2021 compared folks who “refused” the Covid “vaccines” to “faith-heads releasing rattlesnakes in supermarkets”…

But later admitted that “mistakes may have been made” …

Or fanatical New Normalist Slavoj Žižek…

You can watch Slavoj getting extremely worked up in support of Covid “vaccine” mandates, and mocking people who care about “silly” things like their personal bodily autonomy, with Briahna Joy Gray in 2021, if you think you have the stomach for it…

VIPs like Dawkins and Žižek are not “divisive.” They are very important A-list persons who are committed to universal human rights, and freedom of speech, and all that kind of stuff, unless, of course, the authorities announce that they need to go full-blown totalitarian and lock down and segregate and censor everyone because of a virus with a 99.8% survival rate, in which case, you know, “Sieg fucking Heil!”

Russell Brand, however, is definitely “divisive.” You remember Russell Brand from that poster above advertising the big event in London, don’t you? Here’s our friend Russell Brand today…

The Russell-Brand-cancellation op was what sealed my fate with Mike’s free speech movement. I had been holding my nose for quite a while — for example, I never opposed having people like Dawkins and Žižek on the signatories list, as I understood the PR logic — and I was praying that none of the coalition members would bring up “the revelations” (as one of them put it), but the odds of that not happening were poor.

Sure enough, someone brought Brand up, and someone checked, and he had been asked to sign on, but as of Saturday he hadn’t responded, at least not according to the VIP-vetting spreadsheet. So that was obviously a huge relief. However, what if he responded now (i.e., post-“revelations”) and wanted to sign? Should he still be allowed to? A “risk assessment” was suggested.

And, OK, I got a little snarky and proposed that we skip the “risk assessment” and all the other PR-strategizing bullshit and just uphold the principles we are claiming to defend.

Whereupon Mike Shellenberger needed to reach me, urgently, presumably to shout at me and threaten me again. I’d had an earlier such phone call from Mike, when I criticized his sucking up to Elon Musk and suggested that it made us look not quite neutral. Mike called me at home, apoplectic, that time, and threatened to kick me out of the club if I didn’t toe the line, which I found sort of funny, and a bit disturbing, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I have known a lot of control freaks in my day. And Mike has done, and is still doing, a lot of great work. And we all have our character flaws, don’t we?

Anyway, I wasn’t in the mood for another screaming, threatening conversation with Mike, as I was still at my friend’s converted monastery in Italy, and I finally had a peaceful day to myself. (The Italian workmen who are jackhammering big holes in the monastery walls don’t work on the weekends.) I decided I would call him back later.

Next thing I knew, I was excommunicated.

I’m not a professional movement builder, but I’m pretty sure this is not how you do it. I don’t mean my excommunication. I mean the suffocating top-down micromanagement, and the PR-strategizing, and the VIP-idolatry, and the paranoia about alienating mainstream people who are going to be alienated anyway, regardless of how many Hollywood celebrities and Harvard professors you dangle in their faces. The simple fact is, playing by the rules of the system and the “reality” you claim to be opposing a recipe for failure. Or, worse than failure, a diversion, the simulation of success. Which is where I’m afraid Mike’s “movement” is headed.

Movements are not PR campaigns. Yes, of course, some PR is involved, but the masses are not your employees. And they aren’t CGI extras in your narcissistic movie. They are actual living, breathing people, people who do not need us to lead them. Basically, the masses don’t give a shit what Richard Dawkins and Slavoj Žižek endorse. The editors of “respected” publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times give a shit, but the masses don’t give a shit about them.

If you are going to “build a movement” to oppose the Censorship Industrial Complex (which Mike claims he wants to do), at some point, you’re going to have to alienate some of your friends and colleagues in NormalWorld and get your hands dirty and connect with the masses, or the “people that no one has ever heard of,” as Mike calls them.

The people that no one has ever heard of are not stupid. They know the difference between a serious anti-censorship campaign and a vanity project. There’s still time for Mike to turn this thing around, let go of the reins, stop sucking up to the mainstream establishment, and reach out to the masses. Honestly, I hope he will. I wish him and the London gang success. There are millions of people out there who would get on board with a grassroots campaign opposing the Censorship Industrial Complex, but, to get them on board, you have to let go of the wheel and let them steer the ship.

The irony is, when you’re “building a movement,” when you know you are succeeding is when you lose control of it, when the movement doesn’t need you to “lead” it, when it starts moving in directions you never imagined and starts doing things you never intended. But you can’t get there if you suffocate it in its infancy, if you are so obsessed with maintaining control that you snuff out every idea and impulse that doesn’t conform to your vision of it.

Mike means well. He’s got a good heart. And he’s a fighter. All of which I respect. I hope he can learn that lesson, quickly. Perhaps the thing he has set in motion will teach it to him as things progress. We could certainly do with an actual global grassroots anti-censorship movement. I hope Mike and the gang can unclench their anal sphincters a bit and help get us there.

Oh, and regarding Russell Brand. I don’t know Russell Brand. I have absolutely no idea what he has or hasn’t done. Neither do you, probably. Which is not the point. The point is the current global-capitalist crackdown on dissent, which is in full-swing. Russell Brand is just the latest head on a spike, alongside the heads of Assange, Snowden, Trump, Corbyn, Carlson, et al. They are greasing up a spike for Bobby Kennedy’s head, and the head of anyone else who challenges them, even people that no one has ever heard of, like me.

I think Max Blumenthal made the point succinctly…

…but, you know, Max is a Russian-sponsored, Covid-denying, conspiracy-theorizing, Trump-loving, transphobic, anti-Semitic Jew, who raped his neighbor’s hamster … or whatever. But then, who among us isn’t, these days?


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