To Be And To Last #23

This week we explore freedom of speech, political change in the Arab Spring, and a magical basketball hoop you can’t miss.

Is Facebook violating your freedom of speech?

Scarce a day passes without some online platform being accused of violating freedom of speech. And while that might be perceptually accurate, it’s actually legally impossible for Facebook/Twitter/etc to violate your freedom of speech (at least within the US legal system).

Here’s why: the US first amendment protects private entities from government censorship. This made sense when the public square was an actual public square controlled by the government.

But now that the “public square” has moved online and privatized, the US freedom of speech laws actually face a surprising twist: they protect an internet platform’s right to NOT speak (eg, to block your speech on their platform).

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a fascinating legal area, where most solutions come with even bigger problems.

Fast change rarely lasts

I recently finished reading A Rage for Order, which I found to be an enlightening history of various portions of the Arab Spring. Seen through the eyes of participants in different countries, the book highlights the undying hope that can bring real change after decades of oppression.

Unfortunately, it also shows the difficulty of bringing about real change. In country after country, the cause of freedom was rapidly redirected for the benefit of ambitious leaders, with one fallen dictator rapidly replaced by another. Heartbreakingly, the one exception was Libya, where Gaddafi had ruled so absolutely that no single figure managed to fill the power vacuum. Instead, Libya descended into a chaotic season that continues still.

I found the more narrative focused A Rage for Order paired well with Hisham Matar’s more philosophical The Return (which explores the author’s life as a Libyan in exile).

The basketball hoop that makes everyone a perfect shot

Esoteric work pursued with intensity holds a certain beauty. In that vein, I quite enjoyed this pursuit of a basketball hoop that scores with every throw - no matter how badly aimed.

The secret: it’s actually the same technology that makes satellite dishes work.


To Be And To Last: Thinker Nate Desmond’s weekly roundup of long reads, contrarian thoughts, and hidden jewels that aren’t getting enough attention.

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