Andrew MacDougall: YouTube is where autodidacts like Poilievre find rabbit holes
In the old days, doing your research meant consulting sources that had either been peer-reviewed or quality controlled in some way. That's over now.
By: Andrew MacDougall
As far as warning signals go, a politician announcing they watch YouTube channels “late into the night” is a big one. Hard to ignore, really. Because the pandemic has shown us that “YouTube” plus “late night” is more often a recipe for falling down a rabbit hole than enlightenment. (See: Taylor-Greene, Marjorie)
What to make, then, of Pierre Poilievre’s February revelation that he watches Robert Breedlove’s crypto-focused YouTube channel into the wee hours? “I find (your channel) extremely informative,” Poilievre told Breedlove. “I’ve learned a lot about Bitcoin and other monetary issues from listening to you.”
In one sense, it’s no surprise. Poilievre has made cryptocurrencies a key focus of his Conservative leadership campaign, even popping by a shawarma shop during a campaign stop in London, Ontario, to highlight how he could pay in bitcoin. And much of Poilievre’s jihad against the Bank of Canada is fought using crypto-nite, arguing the institutions of government and governance should get out of the digital coining market. With this level of interest, why wouldn’t he be watching a little crypto action?
Besides, isn’t everyone talking crypto? Don’t we want to explore alternate ways of doing business? Haven’t the existing financial “experts” fucked everything up? Wouldn’t it be grand if we could indeed “opt out” of inflation, as Poilievre promises? Put differently, who cares if Pierre and his missus enjoy a bit of coin talk as they wind down their days?
Well, yes, lots of people are talking about crypto. I can’t read my daily digital copy of the Financial Times without reading reams of stories about digital currencies and exchanges. Same goes for Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, or any major financial title. And, yes, we do need to talk about a change in approach, because the experts have made a lot of bad calls over the past 40 years: On globalization, on China, on monetary policy, and on the need for the financialization of absolutely every aspect of our lives (hello, housing!).
But is Robert Breedlove the answer? A bitcoin trader — so hardly a disinterested observer — and “freedom maximalist” who calls central banking “the greatest con in human history”? Is that the guy we want whispering in a potential leader’s ear? And that’s before we consider the fact Breedlove has pushed COVID conspiracy theories, some of which contain the awful whiff of anti-Semitism (the man loves a Rothschild reference).
There I go again. Being all square about the new universe. Outsourcing my knowledge to the gatekeepers in the mainstream press. To which I respond: guilty as charged.
Of course I outsource my knowledge curation to paid professionals whose job it is to investigate new phenomena and report on them. Because life is too short and I don’t have the time to become a subject matter expert on everything in the world. Nor do most people.
Nor do I have the time to assess the veracity of the millions of people who sprout up on social media and other internet platforms to espouse their view of the world. And while I’ll gladly listen to entertaining unknowns rant about things like football, music or chicken shops, where a bad opinion is only as consequential as the time you wasted listening to it, I’m not willing to listen to Johnny Bitcoin tell me why the world’s latest pump and dump scam is the future of finance. Listen pal, nothing backed by thin air is ever going to be the future of finance; in its current iteration crypto is a digital tulip bulb, no more. It might have some uses in the future but right now there are more highs and lows in crypto than there are in a row of abandoned row houses in West Baltimore. I’ll know crypto is the future of finance when the big banks have mushed it like a banana and made it the centrepiece of their bland advertising campaigns targeted to the middle class. Until then, count me out.
There was a time when watching people lose their shirts (or life savings) to the wild west of speculatory finance would prompt conservatives to preach the virtues of the establishment and status quo. So how did Poilievre, a smart man, get suckered into preaching crypto and anti-WEF quackery, its distant relation?
Well, there’s the very real fact that some people are suffering from a severe economic dislocation and witnessing a significant erosion of their pay packets, and the system has certainly been slow to feel their pain. Who can blame this crowd for doubting the gatekeepers of the status quo (or someone for wanting to champion their cause)?
Then there’s the fact that conservatives now find words like “gatekeeper” and “status quo” rather four letter-y. To turn to the gatekeepers of the status quo for answers — or to try and reform from within — is to give into the liberal consensus, and we can’t have that. I mean, “do the research,” man!
And it’s this last bit — doing the research — that’s actually Poilievre’s problem. Because Poilievre is an autodidact. And the internet is where autodidacts go to die. Or, to quote Breedlove, where they go to go down the “rabbit hole.”
In the old days, an autodidact would go down the rabbit hole by going to the library and reading up on a subject. They would consume textbooks, newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts. With enough time spent “doing the research” one could become reasonably conversant in a subject, at least when speaking to someone who hadn’t put in that same time and effort.
But here’s the thing. In the old days, doing your research meant consulting sources that had either been peer-reviewed or quality controlled in some way. Someone had taken the time to collect the information and either print or broadcast it, with their reputations reliant on the quality of the information they were providing. And if you had a novel theory you had it challenged by experts in your field, or by skeptical journalists. It was a system designed to produce quality (even if it didn’t always work or sometimes produced a duff consensus).
Contrast that with our current reality, where anyone and everyone can put out whatever they feel like, whenever they want. It needn’t be quality information, or even true. In this world, the credentialed website or channel looks just the same as the uncredentialed. Even worse, the more sensational or entertaining the information or take is, the better it will travel. In this stew, a reasoned critique of central banking will always lose out to some crypto bro who calls central banking the “greatest con in human history.”
The question now before our leaders, particularly on the conservative side, is whether to wallow in the stew or fight to reform the system. In this small-c conservative’s view, the cure to economic inequality isn’t maximum freedom and lottery tickets like crypto, it’s a better regulatory system staffed by more people from all walks of life.
Andrew MacDougall is a director at Trafalgar Strategy. He is a former director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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