By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
As part of a series of articles regarding censorship by the crowd-funding service Patreon, I now pose the question of whether Patreon, as based upon its current actions and policy, would censor and ban great historical figures such as Aristotle, Jacob Riis, and numerous other contributors to the betterment of the human condition. The men and women of those times certainly did not subscribe to the ideas of 21st century political correctness and were the products of their own times, but since Patreon through its actions seems to conflate the idea of these people as a brand, where an arbitrary set of ideas about the author dictates the value of the content of their ideas or speech. It seems most likely these figures would not have been granted a voice had Patreon been the gatekeeper to their ideas.
What contributions to history might have been lost had the mindset such as that engendered today by Patreon prevailed?
For those unfamiliar with Patreon the company describes itself as a funding source where, “Membership allows [content creators] like you to have a direct relationship with your biggest fans, get recurring revenue for your work, and create on your own terms.”–content creators being those such as artist, videographers, writers et al. Or, as Jack Conte states, “is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or patrons.”
The in my view unjustified banning of numerous users, most notoriously recently Carl Benjamin, a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad, for uttering two prohibited words off-site from Patreon leads me to ponder the type of existential threat to Liberty a Patreon controlled system of censorship provides. (His words were taken completely out of context, and lead to a loss of over $12,000.00 in monthly income from his patrons after Patreon yanked his account.)
We as a society need only look into historical figures and what the loss of their voice and contribution means to our futures. But given the idea that Patreon is by default creating an Untouchable Class of thinkers and idea creators how would these minds be treated today?
Most are familiar with Aristotle and his contribution to Western Culture, philosophy, and logic. But what perhaps is fatal to learning of his ideas would be his inability to engage in discussion within a Patreon controlled world. One of his sins certainly would be his discussion of slavery.
In many respects Aristotle considered slavery to be natural and slaves to be the rightful possession of their masters. He went so far as to proffer that slavery was a necessary institution in Greek Society but did question the practice for prisoners-of-war and others. Any reasonable mind could certainly derive that again he was the product of his environment and take other remarkable areas of thought to heart. But since Aristotle had this small segment of his “Brand” as Patreon would probably label him, the rest should go to the dustbin
19th Century Social Commentator Jacob Riis likely also would be the subject of a Patreon style censorship campaign had the same standard been applied with 21st Century microaggression violations in mind.
Among Mr. Riis’ many literary and photo journal works may not have seen the audience he garnered at the turn of the twentieth-century if he was depersoned and branded as untouchable. His most famous and lasting work was How the Other Half Lives, (1890) which brought the deplorable and socially unjust plight of slum-dwellers in New York City to the minds and hearts of the middle-class of America and elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Most people then had at best an abstract idea of the squalor and poverty faced in poor areas of the city and certainly by extension elsewhere. The average person had truly no understanding otherwise.
It was through the publication of How the Other Half Lives that sparked the inertia for the public at large to demand reforms and the awakening of consciousness and empathy toward the poor. It was journalism that brought this to light. Mr. Riis as a content creator exercised his right to speech and participate in the free press and millions of individuals then, and certainly since continue to receive social benefits and consideration directly as a result of his advocacy and ideas.
Unfortunately, Mr. Riis also stated in his preeminent work what would clearly be numerous violations of the group-think that is endemic in some circles today, being a product again of his environment notwithstanding. Had Patreon’s Trust and Safety Team received a complaint regarding the below excerpt, would How The Other Half Lives come to the public forum and actual change to the poor have been afforded?
“IX Chinatown: BETWEEN the tabernacles of Jewry and the shrines of the Bend, Joss has cheekily planted his pagan worship of idols, chief among which are the celestial worshipper’s own gain and lusts. Whatever may be said about the Chinaman being a thousand years behind the age on his own shores, here he is distinctly abreast of it in his successful scheming to “make it pay.” It is doubtful if there is anything he does not turn to a paying account, from his religion down, or up, as one prefers. At the risk of distressing some well-meaning, but, I fear, too trustful people, I state it in advance as my opinion, based on the steady observation of years, that all attempts to make an effective Christian of John Chinaman will remain abortive in this generation…”
Pioneering birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger brought to the Western World, especially in the United States, the normalcy of choice for the individual their own family planning. Regarded especially on the left for her movement, in many ways she ushered in the eventual liberation of many women from traditional gender roles and provided them with achievable alternatives to homemaking. The movement among others was instrumental at the time at formulating this idea and that of what later would be Planned Parenthood.
Ms. Sanger certainly realized during her own time the kind of specter her highly controversial writings might bring against her livelihood. In fact, she had to flee to Britain for a time to escape prosecution under the Comstock Act. Her effort did not come in vain as she was a catalyst in what would become the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Griswold v. Connecticut which held that statutory prohibitions on access to birth control violated the Constitution in that the state law was illegally construed,”…to deny disadvantaged citizens … access to medical assistance and up-to-date information in respect to proper methods of birth control.” and went beyond the right to contraception by introducing in the court the precedent of penumbras of the right to privacy, in this case the right to privacy in intimate personal affairs.
Yet, Margaret Sanger committed a grave sin in the eyes of the current microaggression enforcing state–she associated once with the wrong people.
As she mentioned in her 1938 autobiography, Ms. Sanger among her numerous public appearances, lectured on birth-control to the Women’s Auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in Silver Lake, New Jersey. The horror!
Surely the list of those potentially brandable as being undesirable according to the often changing terms of service and decisions of Patreon’s Trust and Safety Team could exceed the imagination. I could continue with examples such as Franklin Roosevelt for his internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, Chris Rock for using the N-Word in his comedy routine, or Joe Average who lives in Bethesda, MD because he insulted a coworker but you surely get the point. Simply put, when does the need for censorship and the variety of microaggressions end?
The failure that is Patreon in the market place of thought and ideas is that it forces individuals to constrain their thinking under the threat of economic loss and untouchability. Creativity suffers. Evolution of human thought tends under these conditions tends to remain stagnated. Look at the possibility of structural fracturing of the creative chain:
Lets look at the example of science fiction. One less recognized aspect of this genre or other fashion of expression is that it provides a basis for exercising ideas and thought outside the realm of the limitation for which we are constrained by presently available and understood science. We do not have to wait to attain interstellar travel or technical advances to then begin our discussion of what it might be like to encounter life elsewhere or travel beyond the speed of sound. In the Star Trek example, we found a basis in inspiration to pursue the sciences among the young and a frame of thinking to think along the scientific method. In the fiction we resurrected history and how explorers of centuries past encountered “new civilizations”. The show also brought some social progress with one of the first kisses between two races on public television, a taboo in the mind of many at the time.
Then we have the example of the creation of science fiction prompting scientific discovery:s
Even the notion of allegory seeds further thinking, it short we need the diversity of minds, even those some might take exception to, if we are to enjoy what may become of our own realms.
Yet if we were all so unfortunate to have self-appointed authoritarians such as Patreon contolling what we choose. Our ideas and strength is only as strong as their form of censorship will allow. We in the Star Trek example have to wait until permissible conditions allow us to expand our thinking and unfortunately without the right conditions or permissions, that time might not ever come.
By Darren Smith
The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.