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Kanye West reminds us of our right to ‘independent thought,’ including support for Trump, in the face of pressure to hide unpopular views and stick with our tribes.
Political parties, and political leaders, need to control people. (And whatâ€™s more, they want to control people, which is why they are in politics). They use a variety of tools for doing so, but two of the most important were on full display last week: Preference falsificationÂ and tribalism.Â They go together, and Kanye West, of all people, made that clear and showed how to undermine them.
Preference falsification, as spelled out by Timur Kuran in his superb book,Â Private Truths, Public Lies,Â is whereÂ people tend to hide unpopular views to avoid ostracism or punishment; they stop hiding them when they feel safe. In totalitarian societies like the old Soviet Union, the police and propaganda organizations do their best to enforce preference falsification. Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don’t realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it â€” but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.
But preference falsification also occurs outside of police states. In todayâ€™s America, certain people â€”Â members of minority groups, and entertainers, in particular â€”Â are pressured to publicly support Democrats or, at the very least, to refrain from supporting Republicans, regardless of their true feelings. We saw that recently when country singer Shania Twain commented that she could understand why people voted for Trump, only to be forced by a Twitter mob to recant and apologize shortly thereafter.
And we saw it even more strongly when rapper Kanye West tweeted support for Trump a few days later. A bigger star than Shania Twain, Kanye has refused to back down, and even garnered public support from his normally non-political wife, Kim Kardashian West, and from Chance The Rapper (who noted that “Black people donâ€™t have to be Democrats,â€ť), though Chance, like Shania Twain, laterÂ chickenedÂ outÂ and apologized.
Kanye tweeted:Â â€śYou don’t have to agree with trump but the mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don’t agree with everything anyone does. That’s what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.â€ť
And when fellow musician John Legend chided him for these statements and said he was letting down his fans, Kanye responded:Â â€śI love you John and I appreciate your thoughts. YouÂ bringing up my fans is a tactic based on fear used to manipulate my free thought.â€ť West’s new song on the subject points out thatÂ â€śLot of people agree with me, but they’re too scared to speak up.” Â Which is the whole point of preference falsification.
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Independent thought is the opposite of preference falsification, and independent thinkers are the preference-falsifierâ€™s worst nightmare. They want you following the herd. But as Kanye observed,Â â€śFree thinkers don’t fear retaliation for your thoughts. The traditional thinkers are only using thoughts and words but they are in a mental prison. You are free. You’ve already won. Feel energized. Move in love not fear. Be afraid of nothing.â€ť He added, “IfÂ your friend jumps off the bridge you don’t have to do the same.â€ť
Heâ€™s right, of course. Keeping people divided into tribes is an important part of politics, and making sure they donâ€™t say things that might make people reconsider their tribalism threatens the whole feedlot. Hence the overwhelming reaction to anyone who threatens the system with individual thought.
West is now under attack from other entertainersÂ like Macy Gray and Snoop Dogg. But whether he caves or not, his challenge â€”Â and the response â€”Â has demonstrated how much of todayâ€™s politics is based on tribalism, and how threatening it is to the powers that be when people say nice things about the wrong people.
Meanwhile, some parting words:Â â€śI love when people have their own ideas. You don’t have to be allowed anymore. Just be. Love who you want to love. That’s free thought. I’m not even political. I’m not a democrat or a republican.â€ť
And you donâ€™t have to be either.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author ofÂ The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter:Â @instapundit.
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