Why the Left Remains So Obsessed With X
It's about remaking reality along leftist lines.
Euphoric Recall is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Last week, in the latest effort by Democrats to arrogate to themselves the power to act as official custodians of information, Adam Schiff and 25 colleagues in the House of Representatives wrote an open letter to Elon Musk “demanding X [formerly known as Twitter] address failures in applying its anti-misinformation and anti-violence policies to Hamas terrorist propaganda.”
This is just the most recent salvo in the left’s war for control of the social media company, part of a broader campaign to maintain a vice grip on information. The rhetoric claiming that X has become a hate speech/disinformation cesspool and a “threat to democracy” has been nonstop, as have the attacks against Musk himself. Just so we’re keeping score: The Biden DOJ is suing SpaceX for not hiring refugees, the DOJ and SEC are investigating Tesla, the EEOC is suing Tesla, the FTC told Musk to hand over internal Twitter communications, and the SEC is investigating Musk’s purchase of X. These are not coincidences.1
Why is it that the left remains so obsessed with X, and so apoplectic over Musk’s takeover?
The first thing that must be understood is that X is a marvelously valuable tool—one that was unabashedly an activist extension of progressive orthodoxies for more than a decade thanks in large part to its employees. As Musk recently put it on an episode of the Joe Rogan podcast, X under the old ownership was an “incredibly powerful technology weapon” that was being controlled by the far left.
X’s importance might seem counterintuitive when you look at where the platform ranks in number of users compared to other social media. Facebook is number one, of course, while X is all the way down at #12. But while Facebook might dwarf X in user volume, scope, and wealth, the latter’s open, fast-paced communicative structure with a dedicated community of highly networked individuals has far more of an impact in shaping reality. It is, at least for America, the modern agora, an information ecosystem that has evolved into a global PA system thanks to its most singular feature: the “retweet.” The retweet function is a force multiplier, the fastest way to simultaneously spread and endorse information. And it’s frictionless. A tweet by itself is basically a text message, except instead of one-to-one, it’s one-to-many; but when you add in the retweet function, the reach of that text message has the potential to be global.
This is why I believe that, even with dozens of alternative mediums available for use, no other channel of information holds as much potential for radical ideological change on a mass scale. Not to mention, X is also the preferred playground of legacy media’s blue-check praetorian guard, a cynical and ethically marginal species that plays a key role in creating the narratives every one of us is subjected to, whether we realize it or not. In this respect, it contributes to the social construction of reality by shaping discourse.
Discourse, Narrative, and Culture
We’re about to get a little philosophical here, so bear with me.
French philosopher Michel Foucault defined discourse as “the ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity, and power relations which inhere in such knowledge and relations between them.” So, a bit more intensive than just dialogue. Discourse includes words and signs and symbols and pictures and what have you; it’s about conveyance as much as it is communication.
Discussion, on the other hand, which is conversation about a subject/issue, is how specific views pick up traction over time. And when a particular view regarding a particular matter of discussion remains popular enough to withstand time’s tendency to diminish rhetorical salience, it eventually evolves into a default view—like, for instance, many of the words and ideas that have been considered common sense for millennia but are now being suppressed, prohibited, and even replaced by left-wing ideologues.
If that default view hangs around long enough, it morphs into an attitude.
Circling back to the top, now: The impact of discourse depends on efficiency. And what I mean by efficiency is how coherently a specific message is packaged and circulated. Perhaps the best way of measuring communicative efficiency is by gauging the ease with which the public understands and digests the information in question. If it’s all mumbled and jumbled, it’s unlikely to resonate and leave an impression.
I believe narratives are the most efficient way to communicate anything. Most of what we perceive as reality is based on storytelling. We’re wired to create and organize meaning in this way, and, though we’re rarely aware of it, we are, all of us, constantly beset with competing narratives.
Meta-narratives, often used within the realm of politics to substantiate a competing ideology, are essentially overarching accounts or interpretations of events and circumstances that provide a pattern for people’s beliefs and give meaning to their experiences. Woke ideology is a prime example: A fantastical vision of America, an equitable utopia they’re “fighting for,” a dogma especially influential among the unmoored because it’s a powerful morality tale during a time when the alienating effects of wealth and modernity on the human experience seem to have reached a crescendo.
Thousands of years ago, narratives were shared around campfires. The printing press had yet to be invented, so the tales that stuck around were obviously the most memorable. The fan favorites. Influential, impactful, and coherent. The Bible is an excellent example:
Scholars now believe that the stories that would become the Bible were disseminated by word of mouth across the centuries, in the form of oral tales and poetry—perhaps as a means of forging a collective identity among the tribes of Israel. Eventually, these stories were collated and written down.
The only thing that’s really changed is the variety of ways that information can be communicated. Narratives are still used to sanctify cultural change; they’re still far and away the best modality to establish ideological underpinnings.
So, in light of the fact that narratives are still used to determine how a society collectively sees itself, it follows, then, that if a group (say, for example, a political party or one side of the political spectrum) holds inordinate control over the medium that functions as the modern-day agora because it’s where our society’s most important discourse happens, that group is in a position to adjudicate the bounds of acceptable content and therefore possesses an extraordinary degree of influence over which ideas gain traction.
If you control the agora, you can control discourse; if you can control discourse, you can control narratives; if you can control narratives, then you’ve got some serious ideological power.2 And for better or worse, X is where the most influential discourse happens. It’s our agora.
Look Beneath the Surface
That is, in my opinion, why X remains such an idée fixe of the Democratic Party and the left more broadly. And it’s why Musk is so hated. Every single left-wing partisan knows that X under old ownership was an indispensable propaganda tool — exclusively theirs for more than a decade — with an outsized influence on reality thanks to the platform’s role as the digital town square and algorithms that codified the ideological predilections of activist employees. And because X dominates the global communication market, it endowed with serious power these now former activist employees who were behind the scenes running the site’s algorithmic alchemy. The Twitter Files showed that this involved the censoring of conservative voices and the shadow banning of accounts espousing dissenting views on everything from gender identity to global warming, election fraud, and the pandemic.
It cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that this algorithmic censorship is no longer in place. It was allowing the left to essentially superimpose and normalize a certain conception of America via the Overton Window, which is why X was the perfect tool for a Democratic Party hoping to upend American culture and remold society in accordance with progressive ideology. The regime was conducting social-engineering using what Matthew Crawford once described as “a cadre of subtle dialecticians working at a meta-level on the formal conditions of thought, nudging the populace through a cognitive framing operation to be conducted beneath the threshold of explicit argument.”
Under the old dispensation, X became a critical part of the left’s ecosystem and integral to the same people who cloaked pretty much every institution in progressive orthodoxy over the past decade or so as part of the cultural hegemony we’re living under. The concept of cultural hegemony holds that those in control of a society’s institutions (and, by extension, information) shape the culture of that society— the beliefs and explanations, perceptions, values, mores, and behaviors — so that the worldview of those in power becomes the accepted cultural norm and the status quo. And in order to maintain power, you must be backed up by a culture that agrees with what you’re doing, so that your ideology is constantly reinforced.
Think about it. In order to institute the radical, society-wide ideological makeover the left thinks will lay the groundwork for a Democratic Party regime extending far into the future, they need more than typical “political leverage.” Regardless of what the mainstream media would have you believe, much of what they’re trying to normalize — i.e. rewriting history, erasing biology, packing the Supreme Court, “neuro-divergence,” gender-affirming care, “equity” over equality, censoring speech, “anti-racism,” giving teachers authority over students that bypasses parents, defunding the police, lax criminal prosecution standards, banishing the concept of merit-based grading, radical gender lessons for children, etc. — requires more than just influence, considering most Americans would rather not adopt the same disordered thinking that’s led the progressive sect of the Democratic Party to reject, in the defense of bizarre pet ideologies, fundamental truths and realities that are as evident as the pull of gravity.
Imposing an agenda as idiotic and radical and illiberal as this must transpire beneath the horizon of public awareness because the public majority wouldn’t be amenable to it. Slow, low-key change is the only way to refashion society the way the left wants, and it necessitates a significant influence over, if not firm control of, discourse in today’s agora. Such change must be subtle enough that, over time, people are desensitized to the subversive processes unfolding. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, French sociologist Jacques Ellul describes this as “pre-propaganda”:
Direct propaganda, aimed at modifying opinions and attitudes, must be preceded by propaganda that is sociological in character, slow, general, seeking to create a climate, an atmosphere of favorable preliminary attitudes. No direct propaganda can be effective without pre-propaganda, which, without direct or noticeable aggression, is limited to creating ambiguities, reducing prejudices, and spreading images, apparently without purpose.
Not all that dissimilar from what Itamar Even-Zohar calls “culture-planning,” this process is basically a concerted effort by progressive elites who understand the power of information to arrange a semiotic environment via structure-engendering devices like syntax and narrative that naturalizes schemas of social control favoring left-wing interests, and, over time, makes considerable swaths of the country predisposed to the resultant culture.
Life moves at a breakneck pace, and we don’t always notice when veiled forces are tinkering with reality. Most people are understandably focused on each day in an hour-by-hour manner — appointments, picking the kids up from school, work, entertainment, etc. — while constantly bombarded with stimuli. Day-to-day life, with its unchanging, pressing demands, is reassuring when the future is as murky as ever and the present doesn’t exactly bode well.
And most people aren’t too interested in spending scarce free-time wrestling with philosophized meta-concepts about how the left-wing orthodoxy to which our key cultural institutions have bent the knee might affect the conformation of the cultural realities placed before us; we don’t give much thought to whether the culture being imposed on us in seemingly benevolent, “pro-social justice” ways is simply the product of spontaneous derivations of the popular will, or if it’s something more Machiavellian.
But it’s very much the latter. Luckily, the most influential social media platform is no longer under the control of left-wing activists and is now owned by someone who is completely against everything the left is trying to impose on society. We can expect attacks against Musk and X to continue. The platform is just too important to those hoping to remake reality along leftist lines.
It’s also telling that the Department of Homeland Security stood up the failed Ministry of Truth just two days after Musk’s purchase of Twitter—an overt example of command-and-control progressivism being deployed across institutional lines.
Information and the technology of dissemination form a central pillar of power in a democratic society: Democratic power tends to be partial toward those with the best command of information at any particular stage in history—and it is those who control the narratives a society uses to make sense of reality who are the ones in possession of real power.