Results tagged “John Oliver”

May 16, 2017 8:16 AM

Oliver's Army

On April 27th, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai delivered a speech, describing the Commission's plan to take another look at the agency's regulatory treatment of Internet service providers.  Pai explained that his concerns with the Commission's current Internet regulatory regime--that monopoly era regulations would stifle broadband growth and service innovations--were shared by every FCC Chairman (Democrat and Republican) since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law by President Clinton.   

Furthermore, he noted, it was only after the application of political pressure from the White House that the previous Commission adopted the more draconian "common carrier" designation (under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934), 

And what was the problem that Title II was supposed to address? We were warned that without it, the Internet would suddenly devolve into a digital dystopia of fast lanes and slow lanes....Did these fast lanes and slow lanes exist? No. The truth of the matter is that we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom. It's almost as if the special interests pushing Title II weren't trying to solve a real problem....

Pai speech, p. 2.

As if on cue, the special interest groups started cranking the hysteria immediately.  A week and a half later, comedian John Oliver from HBO couldn't wait to reprise the bit that made him famous...literally.

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If you missed John Oliver's segment a week ago, the gist of it was "if you disagree with me/the special interests/Internet giants, it's because you are either: 1) stupid, or  2) 'on the payroll' of the [evil] ISPs."  Chairman Pai was targeted, personally, as being both.  Predictably, the FCC's website was promptly shut down by DDOS attacks, the Commission received "comments" in the form of racial/xenophobic insults directed at Pai, and the Chairman/his family were personally threatened ...all courtesy of "Oliver's Army."

Oliver's style of argument--and that of the special interest groups he is aligned with--is known as the ad hominem fallacy, and it is used when a party is unable, or unwilling, to refute the facts, or reasoning of the opposing side.  Thus, those who question, or oppose, this view are referred to as "shills" in sympathetic publications.

The ad hominem argument is not intellectually persuasive, as it necessarily substitutes reason for venom.  However, it can be as invigorating to those who already "believe" in a cause as it is polarizing to society in general.  Perhaps Oliver thinks that since his sneering, "too-smart-for-you" condescension and contempt for anyone who thought differently worked out so well against President Trump, why not use it in every debate?  

This unproductive, and uncivil, style of discourse has infected even normally pragmatic lawmakers in this debate.  For example, in a speech to a net neutrality advocacy group about the FCC's decision to re-examine ISP regulations, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) concluded,

[i]f you're truly American, and care about the country and its democracy and the Bill of Rights and capitalism and competition, you should be on the side of Net Neutrality.

Pallone Speech at Open Technology Institute of New America Foundation (where half (5/10) of the $1million+ donors are affiliated with Google or Microsoft), see video at 25:47.  Was Pallone--like Oliver--trying to appeal to the worst instincts of the masses, as some have suggested?  I'd like to think no, but when you attack the person and not the argument, there is always the chance that someone will take the attack . . . well, personally.

The Antidote to Sneering Condescension and Vitriol

If anyone took the venom of Oliver's Army personally, it wasn't Chairman Pai.  He has consistently taken all the invective hurled at him (and it's been prodigious) with a sense of humor, a good-natured attempt to diffuse the rancor, and a commitment to listen to any reasoned concerns about net neutrality rules.  A good example is this "Mean Tweets" video he put out on Saturday (5/13). 



Perhaps Pai's good humor and generosity of spirit had some effect.  For whatever reason (perhaps due to a return of some long-lest sense of shame?), this past Sunday John Oliver put out a second, Internet-only, video asking his followers to observe some decency, as well as respect for the law.  Oliver noted, in addition to asking viewers to omit racist/vulgar comments from their invective, that the FCC's "Sunshine Act" rules prohibit advocacy on a matter in the week preceding a Commission vote on that matter. 

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In the second half of the 20th century, the city of Rio de Janeiro was home to a kind of self-described mystic, named José Datrino, but better known as the Prophet Gentileza (Kindness).  Gentileza was convinced that a return to human kindness was the only antidote for the chronic and widespread malaise/unhappiness afflicting modern society.  His most famous quote, which succinctly distilled his message, was "gentileza gera gentileza," meaning "kindness begets kindness."  Initially, of course, some people thought he was crazy, but over time he became a much-loved cultural icon. See, e.g., this video by Marisa Monte.   

Gentileza.jpg

 
The recent presidential election, and the exacerbated social polarization/incivility that have accompanied it, have only confirmed that vitriol and bile only lead to more of the same.  Perhaps there is hope that the tone set by Chairman Pai in the replay of this often-contentious economic debate will be enough to moderate the useless, angry rhetoric between Oliver's army (the Internet platform giants) and the nation's many ISP infrastructure providers.