The World and Everything in It: November 30, 2022
On Washington Wednesday, what the “Respect for Marriage Act” means for Bible-believing Christians; on World Tour, the latest international news; and why people are paying to listen to static. Plus: commentary from Brad Littlejohn, and the Wednesday morning news.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Good morning!
The Senate voted to codify the Supreme Court’s Obergefell standard for marriage into federal law. What does this mean for Christians?
NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s ahead on Washington Wednesday.
Also today, WORLD Tour.
Plus trying to cover noise with white noise. But is it as helpful as promoters say?
And WORLD Opinions commentator Brad Littlejohn on Elon Musk and social-media serfdom.
REICHARD: It’s Wednesday, November 30th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!
REICHARD: Now the news with Kristen Flavin.
KRISTEN FLAVIN, NEWS ANCHOR: RFMA vote » The Senate passed the so-called Respect for Marriage Act yesterday. The bill codifies a right to same-sex marriage in federal law.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
SCHUMER: Passing the bill is our chance to send a message to Americans everywhere, no matter who you are, where, who you are or who you love, you too deserve dignity and equal treatment under the law.
The legislation came about in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and fear that the same thing could happen to Obergefell v. Hodges. That’s the Supreme Court decision that established a right to same-sex marriage.
But religious liberty advocates say Obergefell was never in jeopardy and the bill will trample on the rights of people who believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
SCOTUS Immigration » PRELOGAR: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.
At the Supreme Court yesterday, the Biden administration defended a blocked immigration policy.
The policy would limit whom immigration officers deport, focusing on migrants who pose public safety risks.
Texas and Louisiana sued. They say the policy prevents immigration officers from enforcing federal immigration law.
They also argue that federal law requires immigration officers to deport many more people than the policy allows.
U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar on possible on-the-ground consequences if Texas and Louisiana win.
PRELOGAR: The DHS would be under a judicially enforceable obligation to take enforceable action against whomever it first encounters on the ground.
Prelogar says that obligation would strain government resources.
Oath Keepers » After three days of deliberation, a jury has convicted the leader of the Oath Keepers of seditious conspiracy. WORLD’s Josh Schumacher has more.
JOSH SCHUMACHER, REPORTER: Prosecutors said Stewart Rhodes plotted to wage an armed rebellion to stop the transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to then-President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes did not enter the U.S. Capitol with rioters that day.
The Civil War–era charge of seditious conspiracy carries with it a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Rhodes was tried with four other Oath Keepers—one of whom was convicted with him.
For WORLD, I’m Josh Schumacher
China protest reactions » China is still isolating people in their homes because of COVID-19 long after other countries have lifted their lockdowns.
Protests against the lockdowns sprang up across China over the weekend, but police are now swarming potential protest sites.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio.
RUBIO: What we’re learning is that the people of China are human beings. Human beings don’t like to be locked up they don’t like to be told they can’t go out… for long periods of time by their government.
Right now, some factories are operating in bubbles, where workers live where they work… as China tries to keep its manufacturing going.
International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva says China’s zero-COVID policy…
GEORGIEVA: … is tough on people. It is also negatively impacting the Chinese economy through spill-overs to the world economy.
China announced Monday that it would increase vaccination efforts.
World Cup update » The U.S. men’s national soccer team is advancing past the first round of the World Cup for the first time since 2014.
The United States beat Iran yesterday 1-0 after tying England and Wales earlier in group play. President Joe Biden congratulated the team.
BIDEN: That’s a big game, man! When I spoke to the coach and the players, I said you can do this! They went, ahhh. They did it. God love ’em.
The top 16 teams in the tournament are now moving on to bracket-style single elimination. The U.S. men have never won a World Cup, though the women’s national team is the reigning back-to-back champion.
Qatar » A top official involved in organizing the World Cup in Qatar indicated that 10 times more workers may have died during the preparations than the country previously reported.
British journalist Piers Morgan spoke with Qatari official Hassan al-Thawadi in a video he later posted on Twitter. During their interview Morgan asked this question:
MORGAN: What is the honest, realistic total do you think of migrant workers who died from – as a result of work they’re doing for the World Cup in totality?
Here’s al-Thawadi’s answer:
AL-THAWADI: Around 400. Between 400 and 500. I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s been discussed.
Qatar had previously reported only 40 worker deaths—37 of which they said had nothing to do with work.
Qatar said later al-Thawadi was referring to the figure for all nationwide work-related deaths during the six years the country was preparing for the World Cup.
Rail strike » Congress is mulling legislation to block a railroad strike as a deadline looms a week and a half out, with contract discussions at a standstill.
Republican Senator Roger Marshall of Kansas.
MARSHALL: I would much prefer us not to intervene, but at the same time for this to shut down will be horrendous for Kansas as well as for Kansas agriculture.
Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders says the railway workers need better treatment.
SANDERS: I think it's incumbent upon Congress to do everything that it can to protect these workers, to make sure that the railroad starts treating them with the respect and the dignity that they deserve.
Eight railroad workers’ unions have already accepted deals that include better pay, but four unions are holding out. All 12 must agree to avoid a strike.
I’m Kristen Flavin. Straight ahead: Washington Wednesday.
Plus, trying to cover noise with more noise.
This is The World and Everything in It.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 30th of November, 2022. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s time for Washington Wednesday.
Yesterday, the Senate passed the so-called “Respect for Marriage Act.” It codifies a right to same-sex marriage in federal law. All 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans voted for it.
Carolina Lumetta reports from WORLD’s Washington bureau. She was there and she’s been talking to her sources about what the law means for those who object.
REICHARD: Carolina, welcome.
CAROLINA LUMETTA, REPORTER: Thanks, I’m glad to be here.
REICHARD: How significant is the vote that happened yesterday?
LUMETTA: Something about how any legislation that passes in this divided Congress is remarkable, but especially something as contentious at same-sex marriage is surprising. They got 12 Republicans to support it by adding an amendment that purports to protect Religious Liberty.
REICHARD: Does this represent a grand compromise?
LUMETTA: Many conservatives don’t see it that way. Yesterday while the Senate was meeting, I interviewed Jay Richards, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He studies religious liberty and civil society. I’ll play an excerpt here from our conversation.
Dr. Richards, I wonder if you can tell me a little bit of background about the Respect for Marriage Act, the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the Constitution already guarantees a right to same sex marriage. So why do we have a new law in the works now?
RICHARDS: The fact that the law actually will not do anything new that's not already in place should indicate to people that it's really not about same-sex marriage. Obergefell, the decision by the Supreme Court, essentially created a right to same-sex marriage and all 50 states. That's already in place. If President Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act, the day after he signs it, nothing whatsoever will change for people that are already in same-sex marriages. The pretense for this is a reference that Clarence Thomas made in the decision on Dobbs this summer in which he talked about the need to reconsider some cases based on something called substantive due process, which is a kind of legal concept, but one of these had to do with same sex marriage. So the argument is that this now needs to be ratified and made statutorily powerful. So, in other words, made a law by the U.S. Congress in order to strengthen it. But in fact, there's no movement to reverse Obergefell. There's no sort of plausible pathway to have that happen. And this law, unfortunately, is about something else, which should be no surprise to anyone that knows Washington D.C. Laws are usually not what they're actually named. The name is usually for marketing purposes and doesn't describe what they actually do.
LUMETTA: So if you could rename the Respect for Marriage Act, what would it be?
RICHARDS: A more accurate name for the Respect for Marriage Act would be The Eradication of Religious Liberty on Marriage Act. That's really what this is about. And that's the effect of this Act. The Act, as I said, will not change anything with respect to same sex marriage, what it will do is it will make it much more difficult for religious organizations that aren’t explicitly churches, and for religious individuals in the workplace to exercise their religious beliefs and their religious freedom with respect to their views of marriage. So imagine, for instance, a Catholic adoption agency. It’s not a church, but it tries to maintain its fidelity to Catholic doctrine. It wants to place kids in adoptive families with a married mother and father. Under the Respect for Marriage Act, they could actually be violating someone's civil rights. The Department of Justice could come after them with criminal penalties. And they can also be sued by local families of same sex married couples in civil court. So they could actually get punished legally in two different ways, simply for expressing their religious beliefs on marriage.
LUMETTA: Well, speaking of religious liberty, it seems like a main reason why so many Republicans have decided to support the Act is because it would have amendments to protect religious liberties. What is your take on those amendments? Do they go far enough?
RICHARDS: Well, it depends on which amendment. So if you talk about Senator Lee's amendment from Utah, he gives robust religious liberty requirements. Here's what people should look for is you want religious liberty protections that don't simply protect clerics in the exercise of their religious duties. So, for instance, a priest who is marrying someone in a Catholic church. No one thinks that a priest in that situation, for instance, is going to be compelled to conduct a same sex marriage. The weakest amendment, the Tillis-Collins amendment, would probably do that. That's all it would do. But only the Lee amendment is clear and explicit about protecting people in other situations. So, in other words, in the normal walk of life, the Jack Phillips from Masterpiece Cake Shop, for instance, who is already getting punished as a result of Obergefell, but is almost certainly much more likely to be punished as a result of The Respect for Marriage Act. And so what essentially is happening and what looks like is likely to happen is that Democrats will support this very weak tea amendment, which provides a fig leaf of protection for religious liberty, but doesn't actually do it. And then they will oppose something like the Lee amendment, which would really provide robust religious liberty protection but is unpopular. And so you know, if people say that, well, this one amendment will already protect religious liberty, I say if that's true, why will the Democrats not support the Lee amendment which would do these things explicitly?
LUMETTA: So if the Tillis amendment has a better chance of passing, could you say a little more specifically, what does that amendment do? What does it protect?
RICHARDS: Well, it protects religious belief. So if you believe in your heart that marriage is about the union of a man and a woman, and conjugal union for the production and the raising of children, you'll be free to believe that after the Respect for Marriage Act, but of course, that freedom is available to North Koreans and the Chinese. We're free to believe private things in our heads. In the United States, religious liberty is about the free exercise of religion, which means working out the implications of your belief in not just private life, not just in church, but in public life.
LUMETTA: And you brought this up a bit, but let's talk more generally about a Bible-believing Christian who maybe isn't in a religious vocation, what does this act mean for their daily life? How will this affect Christians?
RICHARDS: Well, of course, it depends on whether the question of marriage ever comes up. I give the example of Jack Phillips and the Masterpiece Cake Shop who has suffered for years and years as a result of his fidelity to his understanding of Christian marriage in Colorado. Now, in this case, he was punished by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which punished him effectively for declining to create wedding cakes for a same sex marriage, which he said, I'm happy to, you know, I don't discriminate in my services on people. But what I don't want to do is participate directly in my cake-making activity in a same sex marriage to which I'm opposed. He's been called before courts, gone all the way to the Supreme Court, continues to be punished. It's people like Jack Phillips that will really lose because notice, in this case he's being called to participate in a same sex marriage, in the normal exercise of his vocation of his job, which is to make cakes, to bake cakes, including for weddings. It's going to be very hard for people like Jack Phillips to be able to exercise their vocation in ordinary course of life, because that's not an explicitly religious activity inside a church.
LUMETTA: And lastly, another key talking point that proponents of the Respect for Marriage Act have said is that it will protect what the Supreme Court has already decided is constitutional. But they also bring in the it would protect interracial marriages, and that this is just a common sense thing that needs to be passed that is already generally accepted. Can you talk a little bit about that angle?
RICHARDS: The Respect for Marriage Act has absolutely nothing to do with interracial marriage, which first of all, is not being challenged. It's not opposed by anyone. There's no campaign to overturn interracial marriage. In fact, this has been a long-standing canard by advocates of same-sex marriage to compare it to interracial marriage. The obvious difference between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage is that if marriage is about the conjugal union of a man and a woman for the bearing and the raising of children, race has nothing to do with that. The sex of the partners has everything to do with that. So behind this is this kind of deeper metaphysical and social question about the nature of marriage. Marriage for Christians has a very particular meaning. But there's just this broader kind of philosophical and really biological question: Is marriage a sociological institution that protects and expresses a prior biological reality? Or is it really just a kind of romantic attachment that we ratify? If it's just a romantic attachment, it's honestly not clear why the state would have anything whatsoever to do with it. It's not the state's business what my private dispositions are. The state is only and ever had an interest in marriage precisely because it's the context in which we think children ought to be raised, and without which you actually ultimately, over the long term, don't have a society. So I see this both as a further erosion of the proper definition of marriage and also just greater infringement on people's religious liberties when it comes to the question of marriage.
REICHARD: That’s Jay Richards of the Heritage Foundation, talking with WORLD’s Carolina Lumetta.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: WORLD Tour with Onize Ohikere, our reporter in Nigeria.
ONIZE OHIKERE, REPORTER: China protests— Today’s World Tour takes off in China, where protesters have joined a rare act of defiance.
AUDIO: [Protesters chanting]
Chinese citizens in eight cities—including Beijing and Shanghai—are fed up with COVID-19 restrictions. They are calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
China is still enforcing lockdowns and mass testing, even as most countries have lifted such measures. This round of protests started after 10 people died in a fire in Xinjiang province, where lockdowns are common.
Authorities are responding by censoring signs of protests from social media and police are stepping up patrols.
Ho-fung Hung is a professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University. He predicted a harsh crackdown, adding…
HUNG: …it is unimaginable that they will try to resolve the issue by backing down, changing the policy. It's not the Xi Jinping style …
The government in Beijing said it would take down gates blocking off compounds with a confirmed COVID-19 infection, but still affirmed the country’s strict “zero- COVID” strategy.
Mexico rally — Next to a political rally in Mexico.
AUDIO: [Band playing]
Hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters marched through Mexico’s capital on Sunday to show support for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The march commemorated Obrador’s four years in office. His ruling Morena party and other unions organized transport for supporters from other provinces.
In a speech, Obrador outlined what he considers his main successes over the last four years, including measures to end poverty, improve public services, and fight corruption.
He says here it’s not bad business to put up with questioning, insults, and slander.
The rally was a response to a large opposition march two weeks ago over Obrador’s plan to reform the country’s electoral authority. His administration has also faced criticism for its increased use of the military.
Obrador told supporters he’s not seeking reelection next year. Mexican presidents are currently barred from serving more than one term.
Comoros sentence — Next, to Comoros, where a court has sentenced the country’s former president to life in prison for high treason.
The State Security Court convicted Ahmed Abdallah Sambi for illegally selling passports to stateless people. The court’s rulings can’t be appealed.
Sambi led the small Indian Ocean island between 2006 and 2011. During that time, he passed a law allowing the sale of passports at a high cost—a scheme later referred to as economic citizenship.
The prosecution accused him of embezzling more than $1.8 billion, more than the country’s gross domestic product.
Sambi’s lawyer said there was no evidence of any funds missing.
AUDIO: [Speaking French]
He says here the court condemned him on a treason charge, which does not exist under Comorian law.
Sambi spent four years behind bars before facing trial.
Morocco victory— We wrap up today with a World Cup highlight.
AUDIO: [Chanting supporters]
Cheering fans in the Moroccan city of Sale rushed to the streets to celebrate the country’s surprise victory over Belgium. Drivers honked while viewers cheered inside a cafe.
The North African team only needs one point in its final Group F game against Canada on Thursday to qualify for the final 16. If they do, it would be their first time since 1986.
Meanwhile in Belgium…
Police used water cannons and tear gas to clear out upset soccer fans who smashed windows and torched vehicles.
That’s it for this week’s World Tour. Reporting for WORLD, I’m Onize Ohikere in Lagos, Nigeria.
NICK EICHER, HOST: You know, there are a lot of rules and regulations in the national parks and now the Park Service rolled out yet another: don’t lick the toads.
REICHARD: I won’t! I promise.
EICHER: Maybe this is overweening government, but it seems we ought to be able to live with this.
It’s hard to believe people have to be told, but evidently the warning is necessary because the Colorado River Toad, recently known as the Sonoran Desert Toad, is highly toxic.
Apparently some people seek the psychotropic high that this toxin can deliver, but this is not advised.
So the park service says:
“Whether it be a banana slug, unfamiliar mushroom, or a large toad with glowing eyes in the dead of night, please refrain from licking.”
That’s a lot of detail. How about? Just say no!
It’s The World and Everything in It.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 30th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: white noise.
You hear that? We used to call it static. And we didn’t like it very much.
But today, we find it useful—useful as background noise to help get to sleep or to cover up the noise in the other cubicle.
Maybe you’re as old as I am and you remember manipulating the rabbit-ear antenna to get a better TV signal or fiddling with the knob on the radio dial to get rid of static.
REICHARD: But now, many people are paying to listen to static. Streaming services make millions of dollars off it, sometimes more money than real music brings in.
Why? Here’s WORLD Correspondent Amy Lewis.
DEWBERRY: I lived in a house that didn't have air conditioning in the Pacific Northwest on a busy road and so we would have to open the windows to let air in in the summer. And a fan just helped with the white noise.
AMY LEWIS, CORRESPONDENT: Rhonda Dewberry lives in South Carolina. She describes herself as a white noise addict.
DEWBERRY: And then it just became something I felt like I needed to sleep. So I sleep with a fan every night of the year no matter what the temperature is.
SOUND: [WHITE NOISE]
White noise is a broad spectrum noise where all the frequencies have an equal amount of input. Just like white light that has all the colors in the same intensity, white noise has all the frequencies.
But it’s not just static. White noise artists use algorithms of sound to create tracks…and some of those tracks are edging out music with melodies. For example, playing the 90-second “Clean White Noise” on a loop all night racks up 280 plays. It’s been played more than 887 million times, earning the artist millions of dollars in royalties. For the one “song.”
Michelle Colburn is a doctor of audiology at the Solinsky Hearing Center in Connecticut. She says people use white noise most frequently to cover other sounds.
COLBURN: It's the one that is used a lot in like noise generators, and very often recommended for patients who have tinnitus, which is a ringing or some sort of external sound inside their ear, to kind of mask that…
It doesn’t change the volume of the tinnitus, just the awareness of it.
Before COVID sent everyone home, Charlie Meeker had to listen to white noise five days a week. He worked in a seven-story office building in Portland, Oregon.
CHARLIE MEEKER: …and you don't really notice it most of the time…If somebody is talking at a normal tone of voice…a few cubes away, you really don't hear them. It drowns it all out, which is nice.
The sound was always there. Every so often, an announcement came on the PA system.
MEEKER: You first hear that the white noise goes off a few seconds before you hear the announcement. And so, although you don't notice the white noise when it's there, you can notice when it's not there.
AUDIO: [BIRDS AT COOLABAH]
Janice Matthews grew up in a remote area of northern California. If she needed peace, she headed outside to the sound of birds and the wind in the evergreens.
Now Matthews is a life recovery counselor for the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane, Washington. It’s housed in an old concrete building.
MATTHEWS: …but concrete conducts sound, I can hear exactly what they're saying in the next room.
AUDIO: [WHITE NOISE]
So Matthews started using white noise machines. But soon, she noticed a problem.
MATTHEWS: And then I could not pay attention to what my client was saying. Like, it just made my brain like, my brain was white noising. And as soon as I have the opportunity to turn it off, like I feel my anxiety go ‘Ahhh.’
Although white noise has benefits, Michelle Colburn says it also has drawbacks.
COLBURN: Another school of thought is any type of constant, extraneous noise that's being presented to the body can be stressful. Think of living near an airport. If you're constantly hearing that airport and airport noise all the time, it raises, you know, your body's anxiety and stress levels, releases chemicals into the brain that are just not healthy for us.
Colburn is most concerned for those who have white noise running all night.
COLBURN: But if you listen to it, while you sleep for eight hours, that accumulative effect can be just as dangerous as listening to, you know, a gunshot for a very small period of time.
There’s a rainbow of noise colors that people like to listen to, named after their sound frequencies. There’s green noise…
AUDIO: [GREEN NOISE]
AUDIO: [BLUE NOISE]
AUDIO: [PINK NOISE]
BRADBEER: Proponents of pink noise say it's a bit more natural than white noise. So pink noise has more volume at the more bass end of the scale and less volume at the more treble end of the scale.
AUDIO: [BROWN NOISE]
There’s even Brown or Brownian noise, named after the man who discovered the erratic motion of inanimate particles in water.
BRADBEER: And that sounds a bit more like a, you know, like a torrent of a river, sort of, sort of rushing.
Andrew Bradbeer is a sleep and respiratory specialist with Manse Medical Clinic in Victoria, Australia. He says the jury is still out about the effect of all that noise.
BRADBEER: It's an area I think, where the technology has progressed a little bit ahead, ahead of the science. We've all got these little devices that can be white noise, or pink noise, or brown noise generators, and we've got them in our pockets and the question then is, okay, is it, is it any good? Is it helpful? And, and the science is actually saying, we really don't know yet.
He says our sleep issues are usually more complex than what can be masked by more noise.
BRADBEER: It's sometimes easiest to reach out and try the sound app. But there are other things that you can do that, that will be helpful and sometimes those other things are more important.
Back in South Carolina, Rhonda Dewberry says she filled her home with noise after she suffered trauma. Dewberry began listening constantly to either classical music or white noise.
DEWBERRY: Yeah, some kind of noise would keep my brain from going places maybe I didn't want it to go. Now that I am emotionally healthy and strong. I don't mind silence. In fact, I kind of enjoy it…
She says she’s learning to sit in silence.
DEWBERRY: I go outside so I can be quiet. And maybe that's why I feel connected to God out there because there's less distractions in a way.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 30th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Well, today we introduce a new kind of commentary on our program.
You may have heard of WORLD Opinions. It’s a part of the WORLD family of products and for more than a year now, WORLD Opinions has provided commentary at WNG.org.
EICHER: Today we introduce you to one WORLD Opinions writer, Brad Littlejohn. He’s founder of The Davenant Institute, Senior Fellow of the Edmund Burke foundation, and headmaster of a classical school in Virginia. Here he is now discussing Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter.
BRAD LITTLEJOHN, COMMENTATOR: When Elon Musk took control of Twitter, the acquisition cemented his position as one of the world’s most powerful men.
Within days, Musk announced sweeping changes to everything from the company’s philosophy and its leadership to its business model. This included thousands of layoffs and an $8 monthly charge for the verified blue-check status reserved for key influencers on the platform.
At first glance, these changes might look a lot like what one would expect for the takeover of a troubled company: The new CEO comes in, cleans house, and tries to create new revenue streams. However, Twitter is anything but a typical company, and Musk’s changes have implications much bigger even than the $44 billion price tag of his acquisition would suggest.
Twitter resembles nothing so much as a pre-modern feudal domain transposed into a techno-futurist key. Its users, far from representing a typical customer base, are actually the firm’s producers, generating the most precious resource of the digital age—attention—which Twitter then effectively sells, in place of the staple crops of an earlier economy. Like peasants on a medieval manor, these users have partial ownership rights—use rights—over the invisible yet valuable terrain of digital real estate.
Twitter’s rulers, in return, provide users with protection—against hackers and haters—although such protection is often crowd-sourced from users themselves, much as a medieval yeoman might grab his longbow to join in repelling an assault on the lord’s domain.
As a feudal domain, Twitter is less a business than a polity, so it is no surprise that the conflicts that have riven it in recent years have been political conflicts involving rival visions of the good and clashing claims of justice. Twitter’s former leaders vaguely understood this, and tried to instill order by the means most familiar to them—the opaque, top-down, bureaucratic governance of the modern state. Musk, however, grasping the platform’s feudal logic, has sought to re-establish the rowdy yet transparent personal rule of a modern-day warrior baron fond of the joust and the hunt.
Viewed from this standpoint, Musk’s recent changes make sense. The lord of the manor does not need a board of directors, just a few loyal lieutenants. Nor does he need a vast army of clerks setting policy; the more direct his access to the denizens of his domain, the more effective his authority. And if there is going to be hierarchy and status on the manor, a class of knights and squires on sleek chargers, their shields embossed with blue check marks, well, then, the squirearchy should be expected to pay for this privilege.
The rules on such a domain will be far fewer, the jostling will be rowdier, but acts of insubordination and disrespect to the hierarchy will be punished quickly and severely. Just consider Musk’s announcement that users falsely impersonating influencers will be permanently suspended.
The difference, of course, is that no medieval manor had 400 million residents. And if chaos or unrest struck, it was unlikely to spread faster than the pace of a mule. Today, a viral Twitter controversy can spread around the globe at literally the speed of light.
Musk is betting Twitter can serve as a vibrant virtual commonwealth that helps hold accountable the politics of real-world commonwealths around the globe—without allowing the platform to be overrun by the 21st-century equivalent of marauding Vikings. Let’s hope he succeeds. With everyone from Justin Bieber to the world’s leading heads of state relying on Twitter’s attention economy to shape public discourse, the stakes could hardly be higher.
I’m Brad Littlejohn.
NICK EICHER, HOST: Tomorrow: the story of an evangelist’s run-in with the law.
And, we’ll take you to a worship service in a National Park.
That and more tomorrow.
I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
The World and Everything in It comes to you from WORLD Radio.
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