is to narrow the range of thought?
In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible,
because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept
that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word,
with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings
rubbed out and forgotten.
What if we could make hate disappear by eliminating offensive words and limiting discourse? Would that be possible? Would it be ethical?
Such questions arise when looking at a national trend in legislation to ban a racial slur.
PATERSON, New Jersey (1010 WINS) -- Paterson has joined a nationwide effort to get people to stop using the n-word by passing a resolution to abolish the racial slur.
The resolution is symbolic, though, carrying no penalties. Council Anthony Davis, the sponsor of the bill, says the word is negative and young people need to stop using it. Councilman-at-large Jeffrey Jones voted for the resolution, but says that it has no legs because there is no one to police it.
Paterson is following in the footsteps of Irvington, which passed a similar resolution earlier this month. Other places are also considering a ban. But some people don't think it will change anything.
Paterson resident Lamont Adams says using the word is part of how he associates with his friends.
And it arises again in the blogosphere, where a battle is raging over free speech. As I wrote some time ago:
Web sites are private property not "free speech zones." Site owners do not have to respect First Amendment protections. That much is a fact. But you'd think that some of these site owners would display enough self-awareness not be total hypocrites; criticizing Bush for silencing dissent one minute, silencing their own dissenters the next. Unfortunately each site develops its own culture and its own taboos, which are enforced not only by the management but by self-appointed enforcers of societal norms. The result is that most of these sites ultimately become stifling environments and self-reinforcing echo-chambers of group-think.
Exhibit A: The Daily Kos. A few days ago, Hunter put out the latest encyclical on conduct and penalties for kossacks. It's a humdinger. Here are some of my favorite bits.
Through the ratings system, the community has been given the tools to, in most cases, police itself. Users who consistently bring good arguments, well thought out discussions, or simply happy doses of humor will be rewarded with "recommendations" from other site users: those that engage in offensive, disruptive, or forbidden behavior will find themselves "troll rated".
If a user constantly engages in disruptive behavior over a certain period of time, such that the community repeatedly trollrates the comments of that user, it may trigger an automatic banning of the user known as autobanning. This is the tool given to the community to police itself, and should be taken very seriously.
Autobanning is an entirely automated process -- there is no human intervention. The exact number of trollratings needed in a certain period of time to trigger autoban has not been publicly stated, but the algorithm, generally speaking, is calibrated to be very, very lenient -- you have to be very much an ass, for a prolonged period of time, before it will kick in. A mere bad mood in a comment thread or two won't do it, except in extraordinary cases. A prolonged history of trollrated comments will.
For that reason, you don't really have to worry that trollrating a single offensive post by an otherwise productive community member will get them banned: that doesn't happen. Five or ten such comments from that user, though, and they begin to be on thin ice indeed. If you are having a bad night, as a commenter, and find yourself being repeatedly troll-rated, stop what you are doing. This is considered a social IQ test: if you fail, and get autobanned, don't expect much sympathy.
One of the things the founding fathers understood was that mob rule poses as much of a threat to the free flow of ideas as oppressive government. The autobanning policy is like handing kossacks cyber torches and pitchforks. Many have been slammed with troll ratings and even banned, not for aggressive or "trollish" behavior, but for stating divergent views. As Booman observes in Hunter's thread:
the problem I see can be clearly seen in this thread.
There is a kind of mob mentality that has taken over. Someone writes something controversial, like saying soldiers should refuse to serve in Iraq, and they don't get respect, they don't get rebuttals...
They just get blasted with meanness, and snark, and troll-ratings, and recipes.
It's out of control, IMO.
More banning offenses from Hunter:
Misrepresenting your identity. It is perfectly acceptable to remain pseudonymous on the site, meaning that you wish to provide no personally identifying information about yourself. This is fine and accepted practice: many users may have reasons why they do not want their political opinions widely known in their workplace, for example. What is not acceptable, however, is lying about your identity. You may not pretend to be someone else, claim to be a race or gender or class or nationality you are not, lie about your military service, or background, or otherwise misrepresent yourself. You may refrain from talking about those aspects of your life, but you may not misrepresent them in an attempt to bolster your pseudonymous credibility or otherwise mislead other community members.
"Outing" other site users. If a user wishes to protect their pseudonymity, and has not freely provided information which would unmask or otherwise undermine that pseudonymity, then you may not reveal private, personal information about that user that might allow others to subsequently identify them. Period. For that matter, you may not do it on another site either, if you wish to participate here: we take pseudonymity concerns very seriously.
So you can't misrepresent yourself, buuuuut... no one can point out that you are misrepresenting yourself. So you're pretty safe to flout that rule. Full disclosure: I was banned ostensibly for outing someone who was misrepresenting himself. Of course the punch-line is that I didn't out him. I simply pointed out that he had outed and exposed himself as a fraud repeatedly in his own writing. I suppose it's a fine point.
Now this is a fun one:
Consistently rating up the posts of users who are themselves engaging in inappropriate behaviors, thus thwarting the moderation efforts of more responsible community members. More on this below.
Think about that for a moment. Even supporting unpopular ideas, without writing a word, is a potentially bannable offense. As 5hearts of My Left Wing learned when she chose to support the "wrong" side in a disagreement.
I would love to know by what algorithm this happy message gets vomited out:
You've Been Warned...
Please stop rating up other users' fights in the comment threads. MLW and Booman fights should be left on MLW and Booman, not encouraged.
I understand the above warning (posting is no longer allowed until this is acknowledged).
I clicked on pyhrro's username (a link under a comment of his) at dKos and up it popped....
Which brings me to Exhibit B: My Left Wing. Proprietor Maryscott O'Connor astonished and impressed me the other day when she threw down the gauntlet on this issue, and came down hard on the side of free speech and thought. It was a brave move and she has opened herself up to widespread criticism from the enforcers of social norms. More astonishing still, she opened the floor for debate on that third rail issue, verboten on most liberal websites; the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Her diary on this and the heated debate it engendered can be found here.
Maryscott has ripped the scab off a festering wound in the blogosphere, and exposed a level of denial and hypocrisy that has astonished even me. The passion amongst a surprising number of site members for the suppression of ideas and the banning of dissenters, I find chilling. The idea that evil ideas, thoughtcrimes if you will, can somehow be stemmed by limiting discourse has found many takers. Dhonig for, instance, has written one of the most wrong-headed diaries I've ever read... and that's saying something.
Okay, so now on to the subject itself, why it is not just a matter of free speech, and why hate should be banned.
First, it is a mere aphorism that ugliness is cleansed by the light of day. And really, this is the theme for the rest of the diary. Some have argued that we should not shun the haters, but hear them, for by putting out their opinions they expose those opinions to "the light of day," where some magical process will cleanse them, or at least we will know them by the nature of their words. Unfortunately, this involves a utopian view of human nature, rather than a realistic observation.
Hate is ugly. Even the haters, if alone, know deep in their soulless little lizard brains that there might be something shameful about their point of view. They mostly keep it to themselves, huddling in the subterranean hovel of hatred. They suspect, perhaps even fear, that (a) they might not be right, and (b) their point of view might not be acceptable. But what happens when they come out, and their hate receives anything less than complete rejection, including rejection of the person and their presence forever? They get the message that somehow what they said was okay.
Their "soulless little lizard brains"... Now, where have I heard that kind of dehumanizing rhetoric used to describe a group of people before... Oh right!
In dhonig's cartoon world, only evil ideas can be viral. Rebuttals to them cannot. Discourse has no real capacity to enlighten, so certain ideas must be denied a forum. This is, of course, demonstrably false. Even in my own lifetime I have watched public opinion morph on race and civil rights, gay rights, and, yes, Jews. Racism, homophobia, and antisemitism are decidedly out of vogue; out of the mainstream, if you will. And much of what has changed these views is that we have seen the ugliness of hate with our own eyes, giving full form to social undercurrents, and rejected it. Full-blown "haters" are in the minority. As I pointed out to dhonig, David Duke, who he himself invokes in his diary as an example of hate run amok, has been rejected by voters repeatedly. Why? Because his odious views are a matter of public record. Something that would not be the case were it not for a First Amendment that protects his right to spew racial hatred.
From Nonpartisan we learn that Jews are a special group, deserving of total protection from offensive ideas. Blacks are not because not enough of them have been killed.
Have six million of them been murdered in a single generation? (0.00 / 0)
Vague terms? How about this: If you think what you're about to say could in any way be offensive to a Jewish person, or could even be CONSTRUED as being offensive to a Jewish person, DON'T SAY IT.
Similar to the grounds of civil discourse in society, huh? If you persist in violating these norms in civil society, then you get shunned and maybe fired. If you do so in blogtopia*, then you should be banned.*coined by Skippy.
Well. I'm speechless.