‘Gatekeeping’ is one of those human behaviours that washed around civilisation for thousands of years before it was properly defined. Credited to German-born Kurt Lewin in 1943, this filtering of knowledge by self-appointed arbitrators has been a stable of power that predates the written word.
Whether it be political, religious, scientific or philosophical, there have always those who attempted to stifle debate by claiming authority over its content. Many have argued that controlling information is for our own protection, but in reality it has been turned into the tool of the lazy and frightened who prefer not to answer difficult questions. It is a species of censorship that lives somewhere between fear-mongering and a superiority complex.
The basic theory, as described by Lewin, boils down to the idea that civilisation is riddled with natural choke points where an individual is responsible for making decisions on behalf of a group. Quite often this is benign – like that of a housewife purchasing food for the family (as Lewin observed during his study of supply during the war). In other cases, it is less clear, such as a figure of religious authority who can read a Latin Bible while his flock speaks English, or a scribe controlling the communication between ancient illiterate kings. In the media, it is the Editor of a publication who decides what pieces of a narrative make it to press while a cabal of politicians carefully select which of the nation’s secrets see the light.
These people are all gatekeepers, and while the position itself does not necessarily suggest anything nefarious, it is certainly a vulnerable point of society open to misuse and manipulation.
Twitter is a gatekeeper. Social media developers often take it upon themselves to moderate the content of public discourse in the allegedly open forum, choosing what is and is not allowed to be discussed without reference to civil law to the point they have been accused of political suppression. It is in this flurry of organic debate where the world’s people have come together to squabble, that you are most likely to come across a subtle but insidious mutation of gatekeeping.
“You’re not a climate scientist, so you can’t comment on green tax policy.”
“You’re not Chinese, so you can’t comment on China’s human rights abuses.”
“You’re not a POC, so you can’t comment on ‘BlackLivesMatter’ riots.”
“You’re not a medical professional, so you can’t comment on the Covid19 lockdowns.”
“You’re not 2000 years old, so you can’t comment on the Roman Empire.”
I might have made that last one up, but I did so to highlight the obvious flaw within the gatekeeping argument (which is often also an argument from authority). Democracy is built on the idea that information is free and debate is encouraged between all citizens, regardless of their position. This is how bad ideas are weeded out while the sheer volume of human creativity solves problems closed nations cannot. Even inside strictly controlled ideological communities such as the Royal Society of Science, any person outside the organisation may still present evidence and open a discussion whether they are a scientist or not. Some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries were made this way, often running contrary to people’s careers and investment. We encourage it because hurt feelings are a small price to pay for advancing civilisation.
This open slather is especially true when it comes to politics. There is a very good reason we do not let small teams of experts write policy in dark rooms – they often get things horribly wrong. Aristotle’s Group Theory observed the merit of crowds as far back as Ancient Greece. It is built on the evolutionary reality that a large group of selfish choices results in an optimal collective choice. A phenomena that ran contrary to Aristotle’s own prediction and even today, academics dislike.
Regardless, it holds true enough that we decided that even in the event a politician, on the advice of an expert, has come to an irrefutably correct decision – the people remain at liberty to decide if they want to implement it. Politicians are not able to pass things into law purely on the basis that they are right. The reason being is that there are often many right answers and frequently the right thing for one situation is a violation of a greater, natural right. Not only that, but a decision that is ‘right’ for the team of experts might be a disaster for the wider community.
During the Enlightenment, the West discarded gatekeeping as an unacceptable position. Its resurgence in 2020 is an extension of Identity Politics and its alcoholic parent, Marxism. Only last month we saw Hollywood seriously entertain the notion that actors would not be allowed to play a role unless they, personally, held the identity of that fictional creation – which is an abuse of the art, as far as I am concerned. Politicians looked at this nonsense and thought, ‘what a nifty trick’. Now they wander out to make announcements about carbon tax, red tape, and environmental infringement into private property rights telling anyone who questions them to bugger off under the banner of, ‘you’re not a climate scientist’.
What extraordinary power this gifts the political class and the layer of private companies that grift off the top of these decisions. It is a ‘get out of jail free’ card and vaccination against the rabid press.
In a few short years we went from losing the ability to question China’s serious abuses of human rights at the United Nations to being prohibited from launching an investigation into the origin of Covid19 for fear of being labelled ‘racist’. You can no longer demand that politicians do something about marauding packs of teenagers looting, burning, and destroying private property in the name of a Marxist cause because the colour of your skin robs you of an opinion in your own country.
Finally, and most seriously, police have obtained the power to enter your house without a warrant, prevent free travel between Australia’s federated states, close your business, lock you in your home, and force compliance for a range of daily changing medical mandates created by advisers that nobody voted for. Meanwhile parliament is not sitting so there is no hope of opposition. The contract between the people and their leaders is stuck half way through the shredder and none of it can be questioned because, ‘you’re not a medical expert’.
Every time someone attempts to rob you of a voice remind them that you are a citizen in possession of all the keys to every gate. Politicians work for us, not the other way around, but if we keep acquiescing, the right to speak will be taken from us.
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Alexandra Marshall (@ellymelly on social media) writes on liberty, philosophy and geopolitics. You can find her on Twitter or read her articles over at her blog. Elly is also an AI database designer for the retail industry, contributor to multiple online journals and a Young Ambassador with Australians for Constitutional Monarchy.