Beyond the Whack-A-Mole of No Platform

In my first post, I explicitly avoided phrases like “No Platform,” “de-platform,” “denying fascists a platform,” etc., because they’re used to refer ambiguously between some strategies that are good and some that are bad. I still think that’s true, but here I’ll be using those terms in a way that allows for that ambiguity. This is because I’ll be focusing on some limits to any and all strategies focused on ensuring fascists do not get or keep certain platforms.

I’ve become increasingly concerned that many anti-fascists have been excessively relying on attempts at restricting fascists’ opportunities to spread their ideas. Above and beyond the tactical and ethical concerns I gave previously, this over-reliance is dangerous, even if it’s a reliance on tactics I’m otherwise on board with.

Whatever the benefits or hazards there are to No Platform, it can never be our main means of preventing fascism’s rise. If No Platform is the best method we have for preventing fascism’s rise, then we’re already doomed. Any strategy that hopes for long-run success must come to terms with and accommodate for the fact that fascists will get platforms. In fact, as we secure other anarchist victories, it will be increasingly the case that insofar as there are fascists out there, those fascists will get platforms.

Consider the takedowns of the Daily Stormer and Stormfront: predictably, both sites are back online. When fascists’ profiles get shut down on payment sites like Patreon or Gofundme, they just create their own explicitly fascist-friendly alternatives. Fascists will have websites, and some of those websites will be able to fund their activities.

Debating fascists in public is dangerous. If you’re too polite, you help cement the idea that their position is reasonable. If you’re too aggressive, you can make them look rational by comparison. People who are not extremely skilled at walking this line absolutely should not debate fascists in public. However, naïve, argumentatively unskilled progressives and conservatives do debate fascists in public. They will continue to do so in the future.

Physical assembly is a bit more complicated. Yet as long as fascists have the numbers, they will be physically assembled as fascists in public. In cool-off periods following violence like Charlottesville, these gatherings will be private (or at least not publicized), but they will happen. Combined with online activity, those gatherings will build up confidence, and they will once again be physically assembled in public offline.

We will be able to – and should – prevent fascists from receiving particular platforms at particular times. However, we should not let that – nor debates about methods – distract from the hard fact that as long as there are fascists, they will find ways to get platforms.

Furthermore, the closer we get to a free society, the closer that will come to inevitability. The more decentralized and de-monopolized the internet becomes, the less likely it will be that fascist sites or profiles get taken down. When they are taken down, it will be less likely for those takedowns to matter. The less power states have to restrict speech and assembly, the easier it will be for fascists to speak and assemble. Disrupting hegemony can be messy, and fascists can sometimes follow us through the ideological holes we break open. As the world becomes more cosmopolitan, and exit costs plummet, tactical disassociation and ostracism becomes more difficult.

In short: the closer we get to a libertarian order, the less we can rely on physically removing fascists and reactionaries to preserve that order.

Our main focus must be on making their platforms irrelevant, not on preventing their platforms. This is a long process, but it is not impossible. It involves furthering the process of civilization, with greater social recognition for fascists’ intended targets, and greater stigma against disrespect towards those targets.

We should focus more on that goal than trying to eliminate today’s crop of fascists, because the problem will not go away when they do Fascism speaks to something deep in the human psyche. Our species spent the overwhelming majority of its existence not in civilization, but in small bands of hunter-gatherers. As Hayek frequently observed, this means that while only an ever-increasing liberalism can sustain the extended order necessary for 7.6 billion people to survive, there is something in each of those 7.6 billion people that revolts against it. As the growth of liberalism builds population and technology, our instinctive revolt against liberalism becomes more dangerous.

Part of why totalitarianism spells certain tragedy is because it invariably attempts to impose the morality of small bands onto a mass-society where those norms and values no longer fit. Communism did this by overturning private property and commerce in an attempt to simulate an ethos of totalized sharing. Fascism does it by promising clear collective identities, formed in contrast to collective Enemies. One submits completely to this collective identity as one might submit to a small band, in the promise of clearly-defined roles and a sense of meaning.

All of this means that variations on fascism and communism will continue to haunt us, and that is a reason for pessimism. It is also a reason for optimism. For evidence that we can effectively combat the drives that make fascism and communism perpetual threats, I point you to every second and every inch of civilization. That you exist alongside billions of other people, in a context where we can use the written word to debate abstract concepts like the ethical and tactical complexities of combating fascism, and that this debate can take place on something like the internet, shows that fascist tendencies can be beaten back by cultural developments – and beaten back hard. That this civilization has only increased over time, and done so at a rapidly accelerating rate, bodes well for our long-run fight against illiberal impulses.

Obviously, we cannot always just wait on the development of civilization to further wash away our fascist and communist instincts. We also, though, cannot just put our trust in always winning the whack-a-mole of “No Platform.” This is true both because the process of civilization increases that game’s difficulty and because that game often relies on temporary disruptions of the progress we’ve already made. Resolving this tension requires coming up with medium-range solutions.

For these reasons, I hope one of the many things to emerge from this discussion will be some ideas on solutions between “civilization” and “No Platform,” so that we neither die waiting for the former nor in exhaustion from the latter.

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