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This was a tour de force, my friend.

I still think that autocracy/monarchy is *in theory* the best system. That's the only way change can happen at speed; it's the only way the whole government can be unified - if the government is literally one person. I just finished reading The Splendid and the Vile, an incredible biography of Churchill's first year as Prime Minister during WWII, and in times of great distress, absolute power is required. But that one person has the unfathomable responsibility of understanding and meeting the needs of every citizen and every sub-culture, a task too big for anyone in the real world.

J.R.R. Tolkien ended The Lord of the Rings with Aragorn as king, and some people have decried this as transgressive or misguided. It is not. Kingship is the ideal government (this is a fantasized world, after all), and Aragorn is the ideal king because he's a healer. He's also friend to elves, dwarves, wizards, and hobbits, from the very great to the very small. In the same way, Jesus will be the ideal ruler in the life to come because he is both human and divine, has suffered, was tempted, died, came back to life. He also created everyone and everything, and has total comprehension, or omniscience as we call it. You couldn't invent a better system if you tried.

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Interesting. I did not know that that was a line of Tolkien criticism. Of course, Tolkien managed to give something to so many different interest groups that I suppose it is only to be expected that he would get it in the neck from every side as well.

I think you are right about monarchy being the best system in theory. If the theory is natural law theory, at least. But the problem is always that you can't simply say that there should be an office with such and such powers, you always have to ask, who is to occupy that office? And whoever does occupy any office, they will prove unworthy of it. And so if we design a system of government, we must do so on the basis that everyone involved will be unworthy of their offices, in small ways or in great.

No such system is ever going to work perfectly. The American system seems to be the one designed most deliberately to work with this inevitable fact. I think it remains an open question whether the system itself is what holds the line, of whether it depends on the populace at large, or at least the people of influence, to recognize the problem and to be determined not to succumb to it, even if it costs them. This is perhaps what tears all governments down, sooner or later: their people of influence cease to recognize or accept the need for any kind of constraint, any concession to principle, in the conduct of their affairs. I think it is this, rather than the specific mechanism of any constitutional system, that keeps a nation from falling into anarchy or tyranny.

Or to put it another way, it may be the social principle of free inquiry, rather than the constitutional guarantee of free speech that really matters in the end.

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That makes total sense. I once heard the theme of Game of Thrones summed up as, “If it takes a power-hungry and corrupt mindset to become powerful, can any government succeed?” Which I think is a fascinating question (and these sorts of explorations are what I love about the fantasy genre.)

And I agree that the two big experiments of America (The Great Experiment itself) are the democratic republic and capitalism. For all their faults, they’re built with a keen understanding of human nature in mind, and if we could admit this was so we would be a lot happier with those systems.

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👍🏻 who guards the guardians?

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Who indeed. No one but their own consciences, I suppose.

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And let's pray they know what one of those is!

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Indeed. Thought on reflection I suppose that the alternate answer to who guards the guardians is, "the guarded". And perhaps that is the point of democracy. And perhaps that is what fails when democracy fails.

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Yes. I guess if guardianship is transparent, accountable, measurable, agreed upon, replaceable, and metaphysically-framed there might be a chance. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for consensus on what these ought to look like in practice.

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I appreciate your thoughtful analysis. A very interesting approach to defending free speech.

What do you think about lies as an exception to the right to free speech? While I'm not across all the details of the current case involving Fox news and the companies providing ballot services, it would seem that deliberate misinformation is damaging to both individuals and democracy.

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I don't think you can make lies an exception, if only because you run into the same problem. Who is to be the arbiter of truth? The arbiter of truth will be, in effect, the censor, and who is worthy to be censor? I think the problem in our time is that those who would be gatekeepers of the truth have all succumbed to partisanship. The problem is one of trust, and no one seems willing or able to step up and prove themselves trustworthy, even at the expense of their own party. Whether this is a particular problem of our times, or a general problem of all times, I am not sure.

The Fox News case is about defamation, though, and I think we have to have an exception for defamation. Otherwise character assassination will run wild, and I don't see any upside to that. But the defamation case is rather like the case of shouting fire in a crowded theater. Both are cited often as exceptions to free speech. Yet free speech, at its heart, is about ideas. It is about the freedom to hold and to express and idea without government interference. Shouting fire in a crowded theatre is not an idea. Neither is defamation. These exceptions do no real damage to the essential purpose of free speech.

This is not to say that there are not difficult boundary cases. There are difficult boundary cases in everything. But we can't give up our principles simply because there are difficult boundary cases.

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I agree wholehearted, but as a contrarian at heart I will nonetheless play devil's advocate.

There is a social media platform (technically, two) that is freer than Substack, freer even than 4chan: Hive and its estranged former self Steemit. Hive (which is the only one I'll talk about for the moment) is one of those newfangled web3 social media platforms. The elevator pitch is that it uses the blockchain to pay posters for content, but I am going to get off the elevator into the downwards escalator, because I am about to complain about its flaws.

Because all posts are stored on Hive's blockchain, there is no way for anyone to delete anything. On one hand it means the freest of free speech, since as long as your post is eventually included in a block, nothing short a Late Bronze Era collapse-style event that destroys the Internet itself will ever remove it from existence. (In fact, not even the drama that caused Hive to fork off from Steemit could delete one byte of content.) On the other, it's a total cesspool. During my time as a user, I saw everything from conspiracy theories about the dollar, to conspiracy theories about COVID, to porn to even child porn, all shielded from deletion.

But there is no way to have one without the other. The moment you create an immutable (short a collapse) blockchain that anyone can add to, there is no way to stop anyone from adding to the immutable blockchain. (When a prominent mining pool operator was embedding prayers and Bible verses into the Bitcoin blockchain, I watched with perhaps uncharitable glee as the libertarians immediately yet futilely sought out some means of purging someone else's free speech.)

Of course, there is a difference between a given media channel censoring views (or not) as a brute fact at the government doing the same via law, but there is something to be said for moderation, both as in balance between unequal extremes and also as in someone having the power to, if necessary, press "delete."

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I think the only answer to this is that the cesspool is not the fault of the medium, it is the fault of human nature. And, of course, any given community is entitled to exercise moderation according to its own best lights. However cravenly and maliciously a particular community is in the exercise of that moderation, the victim can go elsewhere and speak elsewhere (which is why certain people end up in the cesspool). But if we allow the state to do the same thing, we take the short path to tyranny. The existence of the cesspool is the price we pay for the right to say that the emperor has no clothes.

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