With Twitter now firmly in the hands of Elon Musk, the question of whether or not he will deliver on his promise to “free the bird” still remains. If there is one thing for certain, though, it is that Musk’s recent acquisition of the social media goliath puts a wrench in the state-media apparatus that otherwise seemingly always agrees with itself.
Curtis Yarvin coined the now-semi-famous term “cathedral” to refer to the ever-blurring lines between the journalists and the government. Indeed, most people, particularly on the right (though some on the left as well), have recognized a causal link between the government and multiple forms of media.
This awareness most likely became even stronger when it was revealed that the Biden administration was in talks with various tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, about censoring information it deemed to be “dangerous,” or of course the now heavily abused and all-encompassing term “disinformation.” And for the most part, both Facebook and Twitter largely obliged the administration’s requests.
It is strange, indeed, that most of the nation’s premiere institutions, whether it be The New York Times, Harvard University, The Washington Post, or Facebook, all seemingly come to the same conclusions about what type of speech ought to be allowed in the so-called public square, and which speech ought to be censored in the name of countering disinformation. It is ironic that the term “Fake news” hit its peak popularity when then-candidate Donald Trump used it to slam the mainstream media’s coverage of his 2016 presidential run.
Of course, what Yarvin is discussing here is far from an example of intellectual novelty. Speculation about the shadow government that exists beyond the official three branches that everyone learns about in school, influencing the masses through various corporate entities that regularly do its bidding, has been prevalent in American politics for a very long time. Both those on the left and right lament an establishment that puts the interests of large corporations before those of the masses.
Trump supporters have popularized the idea of the “Deep State,” and referring to the Biden administration as the “Regime” has become common in online discourse, mostly among right-wing circles. It would just seem that nowadays, pontificating about this shadow government has become all the more fashionable as more Americans continue to segregate themselves behind ideological and cultural lines, their faith in once-trusted institutions fading.
Though, Yarvin’s theory of the cathedral is a little more complex than “Deep State” speculation. To Yarvin, this “shadow government” encompasses pretty much everything, the masses unknowingly confined within a political matrix. The cathedral, says Yarvin, is an entangled, decentralized web of various institutions throughout society—the government, the journalists, the tech companies, etc.—all seamlessly and unconsciously agreeing with one another.
This cathedral, according to Yarvin, perhaps much to the surprise of those in the MAGA camp, has no center. There is no shadowy ruling council of bureaucrats in pinstriped suits sitting in a dimly-lit room filled with cigar smoke avariciously coordinating this scheme. But if there is really no center to this regime, as some would call it, then what are its origins?
This is what Yarvin calls the “mystery” of the cathedral, and that is probably what makes this idea so interesting. Like a good political theorist, Yarvin admits that he can’t answer a question so profound. But his theory of the cathedral is nevertheless compelling because it speaks to a broader paradigm in society that almost everybody, regardless of political affiliation, has been able to discern on some level, consciously or unconsciously.
Though Yarvin can’t speak to the exact origins of the cathedral, he has proposed a solution for our supposed liberation from it. America, says Yarvin, must elect a monarch, or Caesar. Yarvin’s monarchist sentiments are rooted in his grim prognosis: The liberal democratic status quo that has predominated much of modern Western history is terminally ill. Its natural conclusion? Oligarchy. This seems to be what the cathedral is: a symptom of liberal democracy’s natural conclusion. All republics seem to devolve into oligarchy eventually.
Republics, according to Yarvin, are prone to leaking power. When the Biden administration enlists private tech corporations—most of which just so happen to facilitate the vast majority of online discourse—to enforce wrongspeak edicts, the government has effectively leaked power, (and therefore part of its sovereignty) to said corporations.
When the federal government enables large corporate monopolies among pharmaceutical companies via its poorly written patent laws, it has effectively given a handful of non-governmental entities uncharacteristically political power to influence prescription drug prices at the expense of the consumer.
Conservatives often lament about a bloated executive branch with too much power, yet never seem to talk about Congress’ bad habit of deferring important issues to various executive agencies that have near-legislative discretion in many circumstances. The more legislative power Congress delegates to non-legislative entities, the less power our elected representatives actually have to effect real change through the passage of new legislation.
In other words, the cathedral is a bureaucracy with both public and private sector components, though in this sense, the boundaries of “public” and “private” might as well not exist at all.
But now a sizable component of this bureaucracy has been acquired by someone who, judging by his statements and actions, seems to have no intention of obliging the censors. Twitter, one of the world’s largest social media platforms, is now squarely in the hands of Elon Musk. One might say Musk isn’t in any way a shock to the system, because he is merely yet another billionaire making another exorbitant power play. How have things gotten better, Musk’s skeptics say, when all our media outlets are still controlled by rich people?
This is not a meritless objection. Indeed, our nation’s media outlets and social media platforms all being owned by large corporations and billionaire technology overlords is daunting, but when considering the cathedral, Musk represents a serious deviation.
Remember: The cathedral is defined as a conglomerated, decentralized web that always agrees with itself. But now, a once-effective component of this web no longer agrees with the rest of it. Effective immediately, Twitter has uprooted the blue checkmark verification scheme that empowered a nearly ideologically homogeneous bourgeoisie of state officials and journalists to dictate what should and should not be discussed among the proletariat.
Judging by everyone’s ability to now acquire the checkmark for $8 per month, those sporting the symbol before this change are no longer as influential on the platform as they once were. Of course, this change brings about a myriad of implications for the social media platform. There still exists the necessity of users being able to discern who is real, and who is an imposter.
In one of his recent letters on Substack, Yarvin makes a great point regarding Twitter’s verification scheme. Musk is, indeed, the “king” of Twitter, but he has radically democratized the blue check mark. And since the blue check mark class before Musk was an oligarchy, any attack harboring a democratic disposition will most assuredly fail. And as we’ve discussed previously, democracy will eventually circle back into oligarchy.
The basic concept of the blue checkmark was predicated upon a perfectly valid premise: Notable people and organizations should be recognized and protected from imposters. Perhaps what Twitter needs now is a careful expansion of the scope of notability. Content creators and organizations that cater to a largely niche, but nevertheless sizable audience, for example, should be eligible for verification for precisely this reason, regardless of political affiliation, even if they aren’t necessarily identifiable by the average American.
Both the largely left-wing blue checkmark oligarchy and the Twitter Blue democracy represent two extremes that ought to be avoided. The answer is most likely somewhere in the middle: A verification process capable of enfranchising more of those who deserve it while filtering out those who would seek to abuse its power.