There is no market incentive to stem the tide of lies.


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In 1641, the Parliament of England abolished the Star Chamber (which was the de facto Royal machinery of censorship) and recreated that machinery under its own authority: the 1643 "Ordinance for the Regulating of Printing"

The act itself was well intended; with the explosion of the printing press, it had become both possible and commonplace for people to spread untruths and rumors of wide and wild conspiracy. (Keep in mind that a massive civil uprising that would become full fledged civil war had just broken out.) The "Ordinance for Regulating of Printing" was put in place to ensure that the populace wouldn't be so widely exposed to dangerous ideas, lies, and seditious rumors that could destroy a nation.

For 45 years (including the interregnum) people were routinely arrested and jailed for printing pamphlets that had not garnered the "seal of truth" at the hands of the State. (This was true under both Royal rule, and under Cromwell's "Protectorate"). This state of affairs, which ought be odious to anyone steeped in the values of the Enlightenment, continued until the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

It was during this era that the famed writer/poet John Milton wrote his "Areopagitica", a tract written in opposition to State monopoly over deciding what constituted "All the news that's fit to print". (It's worth noting that he printed and circulated "Areopagitica" without first submitting it to the censors. Milton was a radical and a rebel. Had he been born in a later century, it's a near certainty that Milton would have been sporting a mohawk).

Milton made (at length) many good points in his pamphlet, but here's the most important one:

"If it come to prohibiting, there is aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself."

Of late, given the turmoil and tumult in our nation caused by untruths, I have regularly heard people propose various incarnations of a "Ministry of Truth", or a "Truth Czar", or some state managed and regulated body for deciding what is true and what is not.

And the people making those proposals, however well intended, should know better.

Milton did.


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