In 1910, long before television’s unveiling at the 1938 World’s Fair, Belgian information expert, Paul Otlet, and Henri La Fontaine imagined a global repository and distribution point for sharing the world’s knowledge. Their vision evolved into the League of Nations’ International Institute of Intellectual Cooperation (forerunner of UNESCO). In 1934, prescient of the World Wide Web, Otlet wrote about a “Radiated Library” connecting TV watchers to encyclopedic knowledge via telephone wires. The idea remained dormant until the 1960s, when J.C.R. Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, proposed linking the world’s computers into a network for scientific exchange. In the heart of the Cold War, that intrigued U.S. militarists, who sought a communication system that could withstand a nuclear war. In 1969, Leonard Kleinrock, Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn gave the Defense Department ARPANET, an Internet forerunner, which first connected computers at UCLA and Stanford, and then the Universities of California and Utah. After transmission control and internet protocols (TCP/IP) were ironed out, Ray Tomlinson sent the first e-mail in 1971.
Throughout its 60-year infancy, the Internet’s purpose was for scientists and other academicians to share and peer-review empirically tested information. It was never intended a conduit for cultivating lies, promoting distrust, or encouraging sedition and hatred. Nor was it designed for advertising, commercialism or funneling its users algorithmically. We’ve allowed the Internet to devolve that way because America’s selective forces have always been political and monetary. Now, with many of our citizens losing the distinction between on-line myth and off-line reality, a single oft-repeated fantasy is all it takes to savage our democracy. After months of unsubstantiated predictions and claims of electoral fraud by Donald Trump and his facilitators, it’s no surprise the Capitol was stormed by domestic terrorists January 6th. Now, the FBI warns, armed protestors will gather throughout the country from January 16th through January 20th. Trump’s “march on the Capitol” and Guiliani’s “let’s have trial by combat” will retain some insurrectionary potency provided the departing President stays connected to his followers. And no nation can be a personality cult and function as a republic as well.
Because Trump nurtures and recruits flawed and violent elements of our society, he needs to be marginalized. Isolation via censorship on social media, while treading on his First Amendment rights, is a warranted act of counterterrorism, much like silencing a man who repeatedly shouts “Fire” in crowded theaters. Another impeachment round will likely go nowhere, as has invocation of the 25th Amendment. Congress would be wise to focus on the 14th Amendment (Section 3) instead, barring Trump from ever holding state or federal office again for inciting insurrection. Congressional leaders supporting his gambit should also be expelled. Because of its Confucian ethic, majorities in Japan often compromise with minorities to reach a consensus. In America, majority rule is undermined by conspiratorial thinking. Compromise and evidence-based decision-making are near-impossible here because ignorance and distortion are so regenerative, and mobs with zip ties and pipe bombs see communism in every act of common good and forethought. Liberty is perverted when “freedom” and “individualism” mean ignoring facts and science, opposing political correctness, transmitting diseases, amassing weaponry and destroying the planet. As for exiling Trump from QAnon, Proud Boys and other dangerous radicals, I suggest Saint Helena Island and a bungalow for demagogues unoccupied for 200 years. The sea air will do him good. “Salus populi suprema lex esto.”
Scott Deshefy is a biologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate.