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David Hume and Opinion Control

Why is a guy from the Eighteenth Century relevant to the World Wide Web?

Government is founded on opinion. Such was the teaching of David Hume, a Brit from the Eighteenth century. He wrote:

 

“NOTHING appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.”

 

The attempts to control opinion in the democracies of this world are commonplace. Newspapers, radio, television, and the web all present examples of efforts to control opinion. Contrasted to this democratic impulse to persuade the citizenry is the old army adage, “When I need an opinion from you I’ll give you one.”

 

In terms of news broadcasts, TV was an evolutionary step after radio, and cable TV was another step after broadcast TV. The web followed cable TV, promising more opportunities to exchange opinions and ideas. Inevitably, the elite in a democracy attempt to control opinion. On the Internet, that effort is reflected in consolidation of the resource by big names like Google and Yahoo, by video media, and by rating systems that rely on questionable estimates like “Percentage of Global Internet Users”. This last concept bounces like rubber; it is reminiscent of the TV rating systems, shaky estimates of numbers that can’t be proven.

 

Will communication remain free? Almost certainly it will. It is a futile exercise to attempt to control it because it is a natural right.

 

Will the web remain free? Hopefully it will. To the extent that it does not, free expression will migrate to other avenues.

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