Klemens von Metternich had had quite enough.
“You there,” he said, pointing at me, “take notes.”
I had never met the man before, but my peasant ancestors would be ashamed if I was insubordinate to a noble. So I opened up Evernote and started a new note.
“We are faced today by an onslaught of frivolity which puts the most arrogant dandy of my day to shame in utter unlearnedness,” Metternich began.
“Should I write down this part?” I asked. He glared at me. “Should I write down this part…Prince Metternich, uh, sir?”
“Just get the spirit of the thing, the useful points,” he said with a dismissive wave of the hand, “we’re making a plan, not a speech, but I’m working up to it.”
“Yes, Prince Metternich.” I typed “frivolity”.
“The spirit of the age,” he said, attempting to return smoothly to his little meandering speech, “is frivolity. Thirty years ago or so, there was a system in place. A system of public discourse. It was not a great system. It was not a good system. But it was a system, and for the most part it did what it was supposed to.”
“But by that time, the decade of the 1980s, the cracks in the system had already begun to multiply and the fate of the thing was, in many ways, unavoidable. Alternative media became too economical, and too widespread, for their betters to effectively police.”
“Still, we might have soldiered on with something like the old way for another generation or two. But no one saw the Internet coming. We were scared enough of the desktop publishing trend, and still we were blindsided by this vast apparatus of mass discursivity.”
“Now the old way is effectively dead. The gates are not just open, they are broken. The gatekeepers sit atop the rubble of their great castles, but the siege has already happened, and they have already lost. The public conversation has escaped anyone’s control, and the resulting anarchy was entirely predictable to anyone who bothered to pay attention.”
“The old system cannot be salvaged. Even I have to admit this. This makes Napoleon and the virus of revolution that spread during my day seem tame and containable. We need a new system, though of course we must take what wisdom we can from what has come before. Nevertheless, we face fresh challenges which demand fresh responses.”
“This is the important part,” he said to me, and I started a bulleted list.
“The nation lacks a political will to solve this problem by political means, at least for now. So we must take it upon ourselves as the best of the citizenry to seize control of the situation ourselves.”
“The first great lever available to those operating outside of government is money. Currently, the biggest fomenters of disorder, those who do it professionally, are highly dependent upon automated ad networks for a substantial part of their income.”
“There is an increasing push for categorizing content by appropriateness, with several firms offering their services to do so. If this categorization could be centralized—and I suspect it ultimately will be—it could be a very useful tool for maintaining order. Those sites that are most militant in their tactics…those who produce clickbait intended to cultivate the very worst of our uncultivated selves….will be downgraded as inappropriate content, effectively barring them from the biggest spenders in advertising. There’s still direct buying, of course. But it will still be a means of applying substantial financial pressure. And the number of direct buyers are so small in number, in terms of holding agencies, that there may be a solution there as well, if we can seize control of the big industry standards groups from within.”
“The problem is the sheer openness of the web. We can cut off the professionals at the knees, but these…these…social justice warriors…largely emerge from the panoptic cults adored by the masses. Even if every great Internet company colluded with us, anyone can set up a website from anywhere, and say anything they please, no matter how reckless or irresponsible. Moreover, I suspect that the crowdfunding sites will be harder to get to see our way. If we successfully formed a political cartel with them to block the worst of these people, the SJW could very well launch their own. It might make funding harder, but these people are cockroaches; they don’t need much to survive on, and it only takes the survival of a handful to result in a full scale infestation.”
“What we need is a group dedicated to discrediting these people as soon as they crop up, if possible even sooner than that. They are invariably the young, the frivolous who think that they know everything as soon as they learn the smallest thing in a highly incomplete manner. They take to the Internet at the first opportunity to spout off their point of view. It should be predictable who is likely to be a threat long before anything they do goes viral; if we could actively discredit such people ahead of time we might just stand a chance at establishing a new order in this era of perpetual disorder, and a new set of legitimate masters in an era of illegitimacy.”
“I think that companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit will be of service, to some extent.”
“Are you sure about that?” I piped in, “Uh, are you sure about that Prince Metternich? They seem highly sympathetic to the very people you’re trying to persecute.”
“Persecute!” He spat, but then decided to move on, “In my day I would rather send the petty merchants who run such businesses to the gallows than collaborate with them, but a general must go to war with the soldiers he has. These companies may superficially appear to share a common politics with our enemies, but in the end they do not want disorder or disruption. Order is much better for business. When their platforms are used as vehicles for attacking private individuals, exposing their personal information publicly, and vilifying them, it makes life more difficult for them than when such platforms are just used for gazing mindlessly at cat photos. Moreover, increasingly it is their own employees and their own management who are under attack. They will help us out of self-defense, if nothing else.”
“But if I may, Prince Metternich, they are just software companies, not political entities,” I replied.
“Oh my dear boy,” Metternich said with a humorless laugh, “where have you been? Never mind the escalating lobbying presence in Washington these companies are underwriting, they have embraced their political nature ever since the SOPA fight at the latest. Having always seen their users as leads from which to milk ad dollars, they now also see them as leads for taking specific political action, such as writing a congressman. Why, just recently a car service had a bill attempting to regulate it killed simply by inserting a message about it into their app. Wake up, child, these companies have been political entities for a very long time.”
“Well, that’s depressing.”
“Indeed. But it may be our only hope, in the end.”
“This all seems very…how shall I put it…evil,” I remarked.
“Only because you are stuck in the intellectual childishness of your era, in which it is assumed that freedom means the ability to do anything one wishes whenever one wishes to. My generation knew better. Before you can have freedom, you must have order. A disorderly freedom destroys itself, and worse, it threatens civilization itself. Freedom must be contained, kept within certain boundaries. It must play nice with authority or it must be made to.”
“It still seems pretty evil. Also quite unlikely.”
“I don’t recall asking for your opinion,” he sniffed, “if you’ll please email me your notes, your betters will take it from here.”
And so I did, and he went on his way to establish nouveau regime médiatiques.