Oct 18, 2021 • 25M

Getting Tired of the Puritans

Can Netflix Hold the Line?

Sasha Stone
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The podcast version of Sasha Stone's Substack essays.
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In 2021, there are only two paths for the left generally and the Democrats specifically to take: totalitarianism or collapse.

Some days, like today, when the New York Times’ Kara Swisher parrots the talking points of the progressive left (what does that even mean anymore) while pretending to write about Big Tech, it feels hopeless. The massive wave of support to cancel Dave Chappelle, or have Netflix pull his show The Closer, is overwhelming.

And yes, this too shall pass. As long as no one is being thrown into gulags or meth-addicted Nazis aren’t marching into France we’re on the better side of history. But still. This is America. And these are supposedly liberals. Suddenly it’s okay for a mob of mostly white people to condemn, chase and attempt to destroy the life of a black man for jokes. Jokes are harm, they scream. Words are violence, they insist. COMPLY OR ELSE they demand.

So few people have the stones to stand up and say ENOUGH. There aren’t adults in the room there are helicopter parents who pander and soothe and over-protect. Or they’re baby boomers who still think pushing back against mass hysteria is selling out. Don’t forget that those who marched against the Black List and McCarthyism were loathe to push back against actual Stalin. Don’t forget what led to the fear of communism. Don’t forget the gulags and the censorship and the propaganda and the forced conformity of thought. The struggle sessions are back but at least they don’t go hand in hand with starvation and torture.

Why are we here? Because of three simple words: intent doesn’t matter.

Intent doesn’t matter because inside of each person is a corrupt evil that must be exposed. Once exposed, that person is to be hauled out in the court of public opinion. Confess your sins and apologize, even if you did nothing wrong. Deny your sins and be banished from Salem Village, I mean Twitter, I mean your platform. You will be blacklisted in polite society, aka the revenue stream.

Of course, there is a market for those expelled from Salem Village, I mean Twitter, I mean the ruling class, I mean polite society. Outsider content can be found on Youtube, podcasts, right here on Substack - desperate sane people looking for voices of courage, looking for people who will say what they can’t spend a lot of money for some relief, for someone to remind them that they are not crazy, that none of this is normal.

Dave Chappelle was “transphobic” because he defended “transphobic” JK Rowling in The Closer. But Swisher, and everyone else, can’t humanize Chappelle so they can’t measure nuance in what he’s saying in his show because intent doesn’t matter. He doesn’t pull punches but he also calls his transgender friend Daphne a “she” and speaks of their great friendship. He tells the audience that Daphne took her own life, jumping off of a building after defending Chapelle on Twitter. He makes one final joke that “she couldn’t be a woman because only a man would do some gangsta shit like that.” The crowd goes completely silent, and then he adds that he told that joke because Daphne would have loved that joke, and, he says, “that’s why she was my friend.”

He also said he set up a scholarship fund for Daphne’s daughter. Most people I know in real life don’t understand the sudden lurch in the direction of “there is no biological difference between men and women.” Most people I know don’t believe that and can’t believe the militancy around forcing people to accept that. Chappelle’s show, like it or not, reflects what the majority in this country thinks. You can’t change their minds by forcing policy, as the left is now doing. Trying to destroy Dave Chappelle and Netflix over it only makes that acceptance harder.

It is shocking that Ted Sarandos has held the line in standing up for Chappelle, who no doubt brings millions of subscribers to the platform. Shocking to see someone in the plain light of day in the moneyed class say something as truthful yet controversial as “I don’t believe jokes cause real-world harm.”

If you talk to anyone on the left they will brush it off. Either they deny “cancel culture” exists at all, or they say you are painting the entire left and the Democratic Party with the same brush as a small but vocal group of activists. Or they say the punishment is not that severe, after all, Joe Rogan and Dave Chappelle, even Louis C.K. can still make money outside of Salem Village, I mean Twitter, mean the ruling class, I mean polite society.

Whatever it is that people call “Cancel Culture” exists. It always has. It is also called mass panic or mass hysteria. It afflicts a community of people who are connected to each other enough to feel the same fear at roughly the same time.

This study concluded that fear spreads on social media like a game of telephone, growing every time it spreads from one to the next. It also concluded that “unbiased factual news of a story does not seem to halt growing panic.”

The study followed 154 participants on social media. The total group was divided into 14 chains of 8 people. The first person in the chain reading multiple neutral and factual news articles and then writing a message to the second person regarding the story. The second person then wrote a message to the next person until all eight members of the chain had been involved in the news thread.

When the sixth person received a message from the fifth person, it was sent with the original news story.

In all 14 chains, news stories that dealt with “dreaded” topics became more and more negative and tended towards fear and panic as it progressed through the message chain. Importantly, the effect of this distorted dread was not changed when the unbiased facts were presented to the sixth person. The neutral/original article had relatively zero impact on changing people’s negative outlook.

The study’s author concludes:

“Society is an amplifier for risk. This research explains why our world looks increasingly threatening despite consistent reductions in real-world threats. It also shows that the more people share information, the further that information gets from the facts and the more resilient it becomes to correction.”

So far, Ted Sarandos is among the very few in the corporate class to take a stand against the ridiculous notion that words, essays, jokes cause “harm.” Most of them have not only caved but are using this “woke capitalism” to keep themselves in power by selling to those who care about their own virtue. In other words, you shop at Whole Foods because you can afford to shop there but you’ll feel good about spending your money if virtue is attached to it.

Just look at how quickly the elite class abandoned their “antiracism” when coming across people of color who don’t comply with the doctrine. Larry Elder is a “white supremacist in black face,” Candace Owens is a “Nazi sympathizer” and now Dave Chappelle, whose politics are on the left, is a “transphobe.” I won’t say these are modern-day lynchings - that isn’t my place to say. But I most certainly can say they are modern-day witch hunts because that is exactly what they are.

It was supposed to get better when Trump left office. It has only gotten worse. Those who continue to obsess on Trump without helping to crash the house of cards on the left are simply kicking the can down the road by treating the symptom and not the disease.

Biden was meant to be a bulwark against the “radical left” but he has not been. He acts as though he has just won the second Civil War and genuinely sees himself as a kind of savior to the black community under siege by half the country. There is a reality to this that can’t get through to Biden because he is managed by people who pay too much attention to Twitter and mainstream media and not enough attention to the outsider voices who are shouting from the rooftops about the crises at hand.

Don’t expect the mainstream Democrats like Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi to push back even a little bit. They will not. No one can or will. Not in the New York Times, not in the Senate, not on Twitter. But Ted Sarandos did. Whether he can hold the line or not is a different story.

As Leonard Cohen would say, there is a crack - a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. That’s how the light gets in.

Ted Sarandos is Like Thomas Maule

Thomas Maule was a quaker in Salem in 1692. Being a Quaker in Salem was almost as bad as being a witch. They were routinely beaten and banished, tormented because they did not accept the One True Religion of Salem Village. The Puritans didn’t leave the Church of England to erect their “shining city on the hill” only to have it then polluted by outsiders of a different faith.

Building their utopia meant they had to police their utopia constantly, handing out scarlet letters, and brutal punishments. They punished “fornicating” and blasphemy more than actual crimes. Salem was a miserable place. I imagine the only two outlets for their misery were fornicating and blasphemy. I imagine if they were then punished for these they might become a bit, shall we say, pent up.

It was a brutally cold winter in 1692. There was a small pox pandemic. They were under constant attack by the Native Americans. In fact, in the book The Witches by Stacy Schiff she wrote that children who were kidnapped by the Native Americans often wanted to stay with them rather than return to the oppressive nightmare back in Salem Village. The only education, offered just to men, was the Bible. They all believed in witchcraft to explain almost everything that could not be explained by God.

They lived huddled in fear. Fear of mysterious noises from the woods at night, of unpredictable attacks by the warring tribes that surrounded them, and eventually they began to fear each other as an imaginary wave of witchcraft began afflicting every kind person, and even some animals. In their own primitive way, they believed their trials were fair due process. But when your only evidence is spectral, fairness is not really the point.

When a handful of adolescent girls began throwing fits and pretending to be possessed by witchcraft their lives were transformed for a time. They were allowed more freedom from the daily grind of chores and prayer. They were suddenly powerful. More powerful than any man in town, that’s for sure. They were closer to God because they could see who was a witch and who wasn’t. All they had to do was point their finger and play-act to end someone’s life. The hysteria spread rapidly because the fear was unmanageable. It wasn’t just fear of the Devil. It was fear of real things that were killing them, threatening them in unpredictable ways.

Those accused were given a choice. Confess and live as a witch, or deny and be hanged. Looking back on it now, it’s easy to see who were the liars and who was telling the truth. Lying was what they wanted them to do. Lie about being a witch, confess and beg for redemption. That kept things harmonious in the town because then they knew who their enemies were. But if you denied it, it sent them into a frenzy of fear. The most famous of these is Giles Corey who was an angry, belligerent man who beat his own wife continually, but who, when accused, not only denied it but denied it defiantly. They put heavy bricks on his chest until he couldn’t breathe. Still, he denied it. He died with his tongue hanging out of his mouth rather than lie to God.

This conundrum caught the attention of Maule. He and his wife went along with the witch trials at first and testified against one of the first accused. But at some point, he saw what others couldn’t, maybe because they were already outsiders. Think of him like someone who writes on Substack. He saw what a scam it all was. 20 people were executed in four months with many more waiting in jail. Eventually, the accusations became too ridiculous for even the church leaders to go along with and the trials came to a halt.

The Puritans in Salem were so ashamed of their social contagion that had paralyzed their village in fear that they really tried to make it all go away. The story would never have been told but for Thomas Maule who wrote in 1695, “Truth Held Forth and Maintained.” In it, he stated, “[F]or it were better that one hundred Witches should live, than that one person be put to death for a Witch, which is not a Witch.” From the Maule Family’s website:

Official reaction to Maule's publication was swift and severe. By order of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Council and by warrant issued by the Lietenant Governor of Massachusetts, Maule was arrested, his properties searched, and 31 seized copies of Truth Held Forth were burned. He was charged with seditious libel, and imprisoned for at least a year. Brought before the Council and the Governor in Boston, he refused to answer any questions, and demanded to be tried in his own county by a jury of his peers. Finally, he was released on bail, and the grand jury brought a charge of slanderous publication and blasphemy. The trial took place at Salem, in 1696, before his Majesty's Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize and General Gaol Delivery, the justices present being Thomas Danforth, Elisha Cooke, and Samuel Sewall. Maule argued cleverly and causticly, Maule addressed the court and argued that with respect to religious matters the court had no power. He then addressed the jury, pointing out to it that it was bound by the King's law, no part of which Thomas had broken. He also told the jury that the presence of his name on the pamphlet as author meant nothing since it was the printer who put it there; this point had no basis in the law. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, explaining to the court that the pamphlet was insuffcient evidence of the charges against Thomas Maule because his name had been placed on it by the printer. Though the court pressed the jury for a guilty verdict it rendered an acquittal whose impact was visible not only in the words and faces of the enraged judges but also in the events that unfolded thereafter.

The impact of Thomas Maule's acquittal cannot be understated. For the first time in a reported trial, the jury ignored the directions of the court to find a defendant guilty. The growing public impatience with secular interference with religious matters undoubtedly affected the jury, which made clear that it disclaimed any authority by the court over religious matters. The break between governmental control of secular matters and religious matters that surfaced in Thomas Maule's trial set a precedent that contributed at least in part to the First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression.

This past year we have all witnessed mass hysteria run amok on social media, with the mainstream media also unable to withstand getting caught up in it. Fear spreads like wildfire, gaining momentum as it moves through people. It isn’t just one person triggered. It’s potentially thousands. It is certainly not millions. The millions are the ones watching in horror as our culture collapses.

There is room in this country for different points of view. The idea that jokes could cause harm is simply not backed up by the statistics. While it’s true that jokes can lead to justified bullying which could definitely lead to harm, banning the jokes themselves is a road to ruin if, for no other reason, it makes them more powerful.

This is a good moment to look around. Who is standing up for freedom of expression and who is calling for censorship and who is staying silent? Remember their names. These stories will be told, just as the story of Salem Village was. History has never been on the side of those who crumble under waves of panic, fear, or hysteria. It has always been on the side that humanizes, empathizes, and stands up for the rights of the individual and the outsider in the face of forced conformity.

And that is why Thomas Maule is remembered as a hero. What Ted Sarandos does next will decide whether or not he will be remembered as a hero or a coward. The activists have turned what would have been a funny special people watched and laughed into a war that will demand people choose sides. How does that do anything for their cause? They are demanding compliance and in so doing will end up alienating far more people than they will attract. I know they don’t care, of course, but just saying.

As for the left, every day they make Trump more appealing because he isn’t afraid, even a little bit, of offending them. And that, more than anything, will define who wins elections and who doesn’t. Yes, all the money and power are still with the virtuous class, but Americans aren’t really built to obey totalitarianism.

What’s the way out? Bravery. Courage. Humanity. Reach out to those you are being told are your enemies. Don’t become a loyal tribe member. Defend those accused and attacked. Mostly, you have to be willing to not care if people accuse you of something, or hurl insults your way, or swarm you and attack you. If you don’t care, they can’t hurt you. This dynamic played out beautifully in the Black Mirror episode Nosedive, which is about learning how to be a nonconformist in a culture that demands it.

In 2021, we don’t have to fear hanging or torture. We just have to withstand being screamed at, hated, and shunned. That ain’t no big thing. It’s just another day in the land of the free and the home of the brave.