The English-speaking internet seems to be chock full of free market ideologues and apologists of Capitalism. What is it that makes it such a fertile environment?
Here’s the thing, the more I enter into political debates and discussions online, the more I notice the very large presence of people who would be classified to be on the “Libertarian” right. That includes proponents of Austrian Economics, Randroids, Ron Paul Stormtroopers, “Anarcho”-Capitalists and the occasional crypto-“Libertarian” Conservative/Republicans.
The weird thing about this, is how common they are, in the English speaking part of the net at least, compared to how scarce they are IRL. Before I went political on the net, I spent the better part of a decade without even encountering one such person, even though I found it impossible to not meet Communists or Anarchists. But online, the roles are reversed. Right-“Libertarians” and general proponents of Free Markets are dime a dozen, while one is hard pressed to find the occasional outspoken Anarchist or Communist in discussion boards or any other non-partisan location.
Obviously there is something in the Internet which gives the vulgar proponent of capitalism an advantage over their actual representation, at least in political debates. I’ve written in the past on why Conservatives are so few online, so I might as well throw my half-arsed opinion on the proliferation of this ideology.
1. The internet is full of IT geeks
Why is this important? Well IT geeks tend to generally be smart and extremely rational as these are aspects of personality which would make someone like stuff like programming and gaming. Incidentally these are the kind of interests that make people less social and more individualist. We are all familiar with the concepts of the lone gamer or the asocial programmer in his parent’s basement and while these are far from the norm, the archetype was not achieved without any basis in reality.
Then there’s the fact that the Internet and IT technology is extremely young, disruptive and on which comprehensive barriers to entry have not yet been erected by the big players. All of these as a result allow any geek with a dream of success to try his hand at a start-up with very little upfront cost, especially since the means of production are, if not free (such as programming languages), at worst very affordable.
Ther result of this mix, is a culture where it seems as if the smartest and more capable are the ones that can succeed. Add to this the obvious lack of government intervention and regulation of the online IT industry and one tends to draw the same conclusions: Rugged individualism works for the best.
In short, you have an environment skewed very much towards the progressive strata of society.
Unfortunately, these conclusions look at only half of the greater picture (eg, they ignore that it’s the workers which own the means of productions in this environment) and end up drawing the wrong conclusions. The current situation is quite similar on general with the pre-depression auto industry, when the economic boom and low maturity of the technology made it profitable for many to create cars. However it has little relation to the real world.
But for for asocial or antisocial IT geeks, the idea that looking at one’s immediate material self-interest is socially constructive and that the smartest will always prosper if the government doesn’t interfere makes obviously for a positive candidate for the right-libertarian ideology.
That is not to say of course that most geeks are right-“libertarians” or that most right-“libertarians” are geeks but it’s rather to point out the obvious fertile ground for such ideologies.
Mathematics is pure logic. It is the explanatory method we use to transfer arithmetic information and because of this it is quite interesting to those with more rational minds. This ties somehow with the first point above, specifically with the aspect of rationality that most geeks have.
But how does mathematics help increase the pool of right-“libertarians”? Economics.
Economics, at least the mainstream kind, attempts to describe reality through a mathematical perspective. As such, it promises to achieve a rational certainty that is impossible in any other social science. All the certainty of science, without any of that pesky scientific method or empirical evidence. All you need is to find the few irrefutable axioms and Bob’s your uncle.
It is then unsurprising that almost all right-“libertarians” you will meet online will at one occasion or other claim that you need to learn economics before you can argue with them. I’ve actually yet to meet a right-“libertarian” who’s advocacy of stateless (or minarchistic) capitalism does not follow from them accepting a particular economic school as correct.
3. Most people online are middle to upper class
This is pretty self-explanatory really. It is an obvious fact that those of us who can afford to waste time arguing and debating online, must come from the part of society which is well off enough to use it like this. The poor, the homeless and the exploited, in short, the vast majority of humans either do not have access to the Internet at all, and even if they do, it’s unlikely that they have enough time or interest to tackle with apologists of the system that is keeping them down.
As such, online discussions are generally full of middle-class progressives, students from better off families (which can afford them a PC and online connection) and the occasional struggling individualist who is annoyed at the guv’ment putting them down. Which is incidentally why you’re more likely to see a US Liberal (ie Social Democrat) vs Libertarian argument than anything else.
As the Internet is still a luxury for most, it is in fact those who’s life is on the better track which will be using it the most, and the perspective of those, is unlikely to understand the socialist point of view, as things are simply not bad enough.
4. English-speaking Internet is a USA (and friends) dominated zone
The last thing I believe adds to the popularity of this ideology is because most people who are active in the english-speaking online world are those who come from USA and the UK. This is understandable as those two nations especially have a hugely inflated middle class (see above).
Furthermore. both bastions of Capitalism and neoliberal policies. Especially US is so dominated by right-wing ideology where their whole political terminology needed to take a turn to the right as a whole so as to avoid the “Social Democrat” label.
Mix then the recent popularity of right-“libertarian” icons such as Ron Paul, Peter Schiff, Pen & Teller etc to the viral nature of Web2.0 and one can see what is cooking. It is precisely because of this recent rise of interest to the Free marketeer personas that more and more right-“libertarians” feel brave enough to state and argue for their chosen ideology.
Fortunately, this effect is mostly concentrated in the English speaking online world, as other nations have a far larger (and occasionally brighter) history with socialist movements. Unfortunately this means that those of us who have a international perspective cannot throw a virtual stone in an online location without hitting someone claiming that taxes are theft, greed is good or some other such nonsense.
So what is a socialist to do?
To tell the truth, in the English speaking online world there’s not much we can do. It’s impossible to do anything to reverse the turn towards the right political spectrum of UK and US and as such we can expect their discussions to keep being dominated by “Liberals” and “Libertarians”. Two things are going to probably change the balance of opinions however. First the coming crisis is certainly going to make those who’s life is being turned upside down re-evaluate their positions. Those of them already used to the online interaction, might become allies.
Second, if the Capitalist system manages to persist, the Internet will slowly but surely start being dominated by larger and larger players (see: Google) which will lead to the classic barriers to entry starting to be erected. Perhaps it will take the form of removing or hijacking “net-neutrality”. Perhaps it will be through “for the children” Internet censorship, but whatever it is, creating a start-up will not be as easy anymore. The obviousness of the progressive agenda will be weakened.
And finally, as the Internet is popularized more and more and the difficulty of getting online is reduced (See: netbooks and more cheap technology), the poor and downtrodden will find it easier to get online and state their opinion as well.
Of course, whether the Internet we will have by then will remain the same open environment we have now or transform into a politicized and propagandistic system such as the mass media is now, is another question altogether.
Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that it will serve as a bastion of right-“libertarians” forever.