The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

On “tolerating” and learning from opposing ideas

| 52 Comments

Following a tweet I made about when I will and will not “tolerate” opposing ideas (note: need to figure how to automagically get my tweets to appear here on my blog) I got another one of those things about, “you tolerate opposing ideas to learn from them.” I’ve been wrestling for a long time about how to express why that bugs me. It isn’t that I won’t listen to opposing ideas, and, if the ideas are fundamentally on the same side I am, that is, the fight for equality, but express a different way of fighting for them, I will, indeed, listen and consider, and possibly change my mind. For example, I had some discussion with various comrades about the social basis of the Black Lives Matter movement, and ended up reconsidering my position (and, no, I won’t go into detail here; that isn’t what this post is about).
 
My point is, the expression I quoted at the top separates ideas from the struggle, it gives the impression the entire conflict either takes place in the realm of ideas, or that ideas exist apart from our activity. We know from our own experience this isn’t the case; our ideas drive our activity, and we change our ideas in response to our experiences (though sometimes it takes a two-by-four to get through). Indeed, ideas, even incorrect ideas, are nothing more than reflections in the mind of our interactions with the objective world (yes, even higher mathematics, but that, too, we can argue elsewhere).
 
All of that is very abstract and even abstruse. Forgive me, that’s part of the process of me working this out. I think I can express it more simply:
 
What matters to me is the struggle, the fight for human equality in the objective world. That is what I’m committed to. Let me repeat: committed. Ideas, particularly ideas related to that struggle, are how I direct my activity. So I will consider learning from ideas to the degree that they might change my activity in how I carry out that struggle, but I have no intention of listening to ideas about why I shouldn’t.
skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

52 Comments

  1. one entertains alternative hypotheses for testing purposes, and then discards them after disproof. there is no virtue to keeping them or their proponents around.

  2. My problem is that we have to somehow adapt to the way that humanity operates.

    Humans are superstitious. We come up with crazy ideas and hold them for generations, against the evidence. Why do we do that?

    I believe we do it because traditionally we did not have good ways to store large amounts of information and track how well they worked at aiding our survival. So we created this method to test ideas.

    People come up with an idea. Some of them believe it and some of them think it’s garbage. The ones who believe it, hold onto it tight for a long time. And over that time everybody gets to notice how well they survive. Over a time long enough for lots of stuff to average out, the people who hold a particular superstition survive better or worse on average. And if they do well, more people tend to pick up the superstition. Because it has been tested by time and it has worked.

    Unlucky to have women on shipboard.
    Unlucky to walk under ladders.
    Unlucky to buy a car that was built on a Monday.
    Unlucky for a Catholic to marry a Jew.
    Unlucky to operate your windshield wipers without your headlamps.
    Unlucky to smoke tobacco.

    If we didn’t believe the ideas irrationally, we wouldn’t live them long enough to find out how well they work.

    Si there are a bunch of people with crazy ideas that are not about to change their minds, and we need to just somehow work around them.

  3. “one entertains alternative hypotheses for testing purposes, and then discards them after disproof. there is no virtue to keeping them or their proponents around.”

    This type of argument can be (and has been) used against socialism and its proponents. Also has resulted in quite a few Very Bad Things. Equating ideas regarding society and culture to falsifiable scientific hypotheses is not a good road to go down.

  4. skzb

    “Humans are superstitious. We come up with crazy ideas and hold them for generations, against the evidence. Why do we do that?”

    Generally, it indicates helplessness. Superstitions abound in areas where important matters are concerned (like life) and much of it is, or seems to be, outside of our control. Thus sailing, especially before effective weather-forecasting and in relatively flimsy ships, was a hotbed of superstition.

    Also, as a society flourishes, it will, in general, reject superstition, whereas a weak, chaotic, crumbling society will see more.

    “Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.”

    “What Is National Socialism?” —Trotsky (1933)

  5. “Thus sailing, especially before effective weather-forecasting and in relatively flimsy ships, was a hotbed of superstition.”

    I say it was partly a lack of information. A sailing ship leaves port. Two years later it does not return. What happened to it? Other ship will report when they saw it last. But that doesn’t say what happened to it.

    People came up with hypotheses and believed them. Each time a ship went missing they could go back and see whether it was an example of the thing which people said was unlucky. Over a long time, they would get a sense whether the hypothesis was true or not.

    To this day scientists still do it that way! They come up with a hypothesis, and some scientists decide it’s true while others decide it’s false. Each looks for evidence to disprove the other’s belief. When evidence shows up, the scientists who are disproven look for some way — any way — to salvage their belief.

    Shouldn’t they just wait and decide what’s true after they get the evidence? I think so, but that isn’t the tradition. Not how scientific method is done in practice. The way they do it is like superstition, but they actually try to get evidence to prove their irrational positions.

  6. Jonah E Thomas:
    Before the renaissance people didn’t believe in rationality or the scientific method. Nor did they collect massive databases. They believed in authority and finding someone who would look after you. Because the individual was helpless, as Steve noted.

  7. Great questions! Maybe rephrasing would make this more distinct. When you are talking about your core beliefs, “opposing ideas” aren’t something you ever need to consider. “Alternative tactics”, on the other hand, should always be entertained.

    We have all considered the dichotomies gripping the world already, and each of us has dismissed half of them. Can you find someone without an opinion on ethnic nationalism/multiculturalism, or hetero-bigotry/LGTBQ tolerance, or klepto-oligarchy/fair distribution of resources? If you can, I think you have found someone with no opinions at all, someone trying to skate by without considering any ideas.

    There isn’t any real value in revisiting ideas you find abhorrent. I don’t need to consider whether there is any validity to white supremacists complaints or TERFs bathroom rants. I won’t learn anything new. But if other people who are in a different part of the struggle have priorities different from mine, or propose an approach very different from what I think is logical, I owe it to both them and myself to listen. Anything else would be arrogance.

    Our vision is always constrained by where we stand. We need to talk to one another to get a view of the whole field of battle.

  8. If the opposing idea is in the “hard sciences” realm, then I’m pretty open to considering opposing ideas as long as the opposing idea comes along with some form of testable conditions or proofs. For example, the new Event Horizon Telescope should offer another case of checking general relativity. It has the added bonus of possibly providing a test of George Chapine’s Dark-energy stars. Offhand, I will wager that general relativity will come out good and Dark-energy stars will fall by the wayside, but I could be completely wrong and experimental evidence will point the way forward.
    Flat earth theorists, on the other hand and for example, pretty much bear no time for consideration.

    There are a bunch of ideas (as larswyrdson say) that I find abhorrent such as human sacrifice and slavery or proven wrong such as supply side economics or capitalism as the final economic model. These all fall into the no need to tolerate bucket.

    In general, the more inclined towards willing to learn a person with whom I am discussing a non-abhorrent/non-disproven belief system with is, the more tolerant I am inclined to be.

  9. “Tolerating” is a real problem for the Left.Tolerance of others ideas is exactly what brought the racists out of the closet again. The Left, and any person with a conscience in my opinion, should be condemning and shaming these White Nationalist groups. We have even PC’d their name. They are Nazi’s and White Supremacists pure and simple. They, and their ideas, have absolutely no place in our public and political discourse. Just because someone has an idea, it doesn’t mean we have to listen to it or entertain it in any way. But somehow we have conflated the idea that EVERY opinion has a right to be heard and evaluated whenever it occurs to someone. The Left needs to draw a line or there is no line, as we have seen. I realize it goes both ways sometimes but right now this is where we are.

  10. Popper’s paradox of tolerance is evergreen…

  11. I’ve got no problem with speaking against Nazi’s and their ilk. Everyone should do that.

  12. There is no paradox of tolerance. Popper was just wrong. There is only Popper’s fallacy of tolerance.

    You can “speak against” anybody you want to, unless the society is organized to prevent you. I’ts some other forms of opposition that are at issue.

  13. When talking about people, tolerance has no meaning if you reject a person because of some of their ideas. When you hold a minority opinion, if you want people to listen to your ideas, it is necessary to listen to theirs if you want yours to be heard, no matter how utterly tiresome it is to listen to the same stupid questions and arguments over and over. If you hold a majority opinion, then it behooves you to consider why others might hold minority opinions. If you want to change people’s opinions, endlessly spouting your own ideas and calling people who have opinions abhorrent to you abbhorent idiots is not generally productive. Showing people that your ideas are not crazy by living as much as you can by your values and making it easier for others to have your values may have some effect.

    These are words of someone who has been vegan for 32 years. No one knows tolerance like a long term vegan who is still disgusted and horrified by watching the tortured, murdered bodies of feeling sentient creatures be chewed up by their companions everytime they have dinner out with non-vegans, but still will go out regularly with them and consider them close friends and worthy people.

  14. MSER- so, we should carefully listen to the ideas of white supremacists, consider whether their plans for mass incarceration of brown people are practical, give them platforms to broadcast their theories about International Jewish Conspiracies, and sympathize with their fears of white genocide caused by miscegenation? I do sympathize with your moral qualms as a vegan, but with all respect, I could not sit down to table with anyone that supports separation and incarceration of child refugees and it would end my feelings of friendship for anyone that did.

    I do not expect to convince any Bannon, Trump, Duke, or Miller that they are wrong. I do not care to. I do not expect to convince anyone that sincerely believes in their tripe that they are wrong through careful, reasoned argument. It seems a pointless effort.

    I do expect that, if the public outcry is loud enough, and the social penalties are severe enough, that some borderline ethnonationalists are going to be too embarrassed to march around in public with their swastika shields. I expect that if people who preach hate are denied access to means of mass communication, like twitter and MSM, then fewer people will see their views as normal and part of the acceptable field of rational debate.

    Getting into the hall of debate is their whole strategy. That is what normalization is all about. The more respect you offer to fundamentally indefensible ideas and their proponents, the more they seem defensible. Debate strengthens abhorrent ideas, it doesn’t disprove them. You cannot use the tools of reason to disprove the inherently irrational. It only offers a fig leaf of respectability to the carriers of those ideas.

    Jonah, that is what the Popper Tolerance Paradox is about. Of course out can speak out against anyone in a society with absolute free speech as a value. That isn’t what he was talking about. The problem comes when you treat every opinion with respect. When you tolerate the intolerable. Some don’t deserve it, and some speakers will take every opening you give them, use it to slip in behind you, push you out the door and lock you out. That is why a fascist sits in the White House right now, and unless we stop treating it like politics as usual, will squat there for the rest of his life.

  15. Here on Jacobin is a pretty good article that addresses part of what we are talking about here.
    The article talks about “norm erosion” and how sometimes it is good and sometimes bad depending on what the “norm” currently is.
    For example, in the 1850’s, slavery was the norm (legally speaking) and so it required fairly extreme action to get rid of it. Sometimes you need to break the norm in order to end up with more democracy (or a better economic system).
    This is directly related to when to be tolerant and when not to be. As larswrydson says, sometimes peoples views really are intolerable. Slavery and nazis really have to be opposed. Now, of course slavers and nazis feel the same way and will try the most extreme tactics against who they perceive as their opponents. The the tools of discourse get weaponized, we often find ourselves facing real weapons. When one side says “I have to have slaves and refuse to give them up.”, sometimes the tools of discourse aren’t enough.

    As an aside, I’ll mention that Jacobin has a number of good articles, but sometimes has articles that are less good from a perspective of socialism discourse, so you do have to watch as you are reading. But, of course, you should always watch and be critical as you are reading.

  16. “Debate strengthens abhorrent ideas, it doesn’t disprove them.” -larswyrdson

    Debate strengthens the arguments and tactics used to defend good ideas and attack bad ideas. If those atrophy, the bad ideas gain luster to the curious and contrarian (the best people) while the good ideas wane to rote knowledge and mere dogma, brittle and weak.

    “You cannot use the tools of reason to disprove the inherently irrational.”

    One cannot use the tools of reason to prove the inherently unprovable.

    And a bit of wordplay on your retort to MSER:

    “So, we should carefully listen to the ideas of radical pinkos, consider whether their plans for mass redistribution of working people’s labor are practical, give them platforms to broadcast their theories about international capitalist conspiracies, and sympathize with their fears of corporatocracy genociding the poor? I do sympathize with your moral qualms as a vegan, but with all respect, I could not sit down to table with anyone that supports stealing the fruits of others’ labor and it would end my feelings of friendship for anyone that did.”

  17. Nathan- I understand that I am talking about marginalizing some some social movements based on my own moral judgement, and I understand that is a tactic that cuts both ways. Do you think I am proposing something new?

    Society has always normalized some positions and shunned others. That is how consensus is reached. Can you envision a society where what we call now child pornography and statutory rape are discussed as valid life choices? Societies like that have quite definitely existed. That we will not discuss those ideas as options, will not even tolerate debate on them, is a choice we have made as a society and are still making. Child marriage is still legal in many states, but one by one, legislatures are reforming the codes. That isn’t because we have had a well covered public debate on the merits of allowing adults to have sex with children and given the proponents a chance to make their case. It is the opposite. We have decided there is no valid reason to discuss it and are moving past those choices.

    So, if I say white nationalists don’t deserve public podiums, I’m not afraid that the arguments and tactics of the non-nazis will suffer. It really isn’t a question of debate skills. If you can’t see that hating someone for the color of their skin is wrong, I’m not going to cunningly convince you with a chain of logical propositions. What will work, is saying loudly, with a huge chorus of righteous voices, that such hatred is morally bankrupt and not to be tolerated. What will work is having your granny, and your boss, and your first grade teacher, and your banker, and whoever else you may care about or respect stand with me and say it. People don’t become racists because someone made a cunning argument in favor of hate. People don’t stop because some argument is refuted. People become racists because they think that is what their peer group wants and needs and will reward them for. Showing them their peers don’t support them is pretty much the only way to get them to change.

    Now if we can’t find a majority of people to renounce hate? That is a different problem, but I don’t think that is where we really are as a nation. We have just allowed the David Dukes too big a microphone and we are drowning in their verbal sewage.

    Oh, and if you want to really shun socialists and refuse to debate them, we will just have to muddle along without the pleasure. 😉

  18. “If you can’t see that hating someone for the color of their skin is wrong, I’m not going to cunningly convince you with a chain of logical propositions. What will work, is saying loudly, with a huge chorus of righteous voices, that such hatred is morally bankrupt and not to be tolerated.”

    That chorus has been singing for decades. Why are there still racists? As for cunning convincing, Daryl Davis might be someone you’d be interested in reading about. It’s usually false, imprinted, and maliciously redacted information, not complete lack of reason that drives people to bad ideas.

    If you’re suggesting that instead of confronting these ideas – or simply not listening to them – to proactively silence those espousing them using force of majority and by fiat, I do not agree with you. At all.

    “Oh, and if you want to really shun socialists and refuse to debate them, we will just have to muddle along without the pleasure. ”

    Exactly, that’s my prerogative, just as Mr. Brust blocking me for (insert any reason) is his. What I don’t support is some mob going to his hosting company or Patreon and getting him shut down for being a (insert socialist epithet), no matter how righteous the mob thinks they are.

  19. Nathan- I think you are missing the point I am making, that there is a difference between bad ideas and abhorrent ones. Abhorrent ideas are ones that mark you as a pariah if you espouse them at all. I am sure you can find examples that fit that category: cannibalism, child rape, blatant forms of slavery. Those ideas have formed the basis of past societies. We have rejected them. There is no benefit to our society in reviving debate on their value. As long as they are shunned as choices, we are all better off.

    Fascism and ethnonationalism are still very much with us, but until fairly recently, they were teetering on the edge of that downward slope towards the ashheap of history. There were plenty of racists back in the 70’s, but in my possibly slanted memory, no one in my community thought of outright nazis as anything but jokes. Now their ideas are forming national policy, and it is in a large part due to commercial MSM amplifying “debate” and bothsideism, and social media giving them a platform. Trump would still be the joke he deserves to be, if there wasn’t a loud, vocal minority shouting his praise. Some of that was active measures by Putin and some because it was profitable for commercial media, but debating his lies and his puppets with cogent arguments did not restore balance. It just made everything louder.

    So, calling lies lies without dignifying them with responses, not repeating lies in headlines, not giving hate speech space on public forums, not treating hate mongers as if they were thought leaders… yes, I think those tactics would help. Deplatforming would help. Private companies fairly enforcing their terms of service is not censorship. In particular Twitter banning nazis as quickly as they ban anyone who dares to defend themselves against nazis would not be censorship. The world of ideas doesn’t need Comicsgate, or Red Pillers, or Proud Boys, and while Congress should pass no law abridging the freedom of speech, that doesn’t mean we need to make every platform available to every vile voice.

    This is the way society has always worked. Not everything is on the table. We get to decide as a group what debate we will tolerate and what debate we won’t. Recognizing that and actively choosing what to call abhorrent is the basis of every revolution. There was a time when fealty to the King was not open to debate, and then it was. There was a time when chattel slavery was open for debate, and now it is not. We move on.

  20. The mainstream media has been really slow at just calling out the problems. They try to maintain some odd sense of “objectivity” versus reporting the facts as they find them.
    The WSWS calls them out on this here.

    This leads to a lot of both sidesism and whataboutism. If someone is doing abhorrent things the abhorrence of the act needs to be pointed out first and foremost.

  21. larswyrdson, you are not actually interested in changing people’s attitudes, you are interested in being righteous and condemning “bad behavior”, and think that only fear will get people to change their ways. People have all sorts of reasons for being prejudiced. Maybe, like my step-father, it is because they grew up being the only white kid in a mostly black poor neighborhood, and they were picked on by the other kids because they were white. He does not advocate locking up black people, or genocide, or sending them back to Africa, he just doesn’t like being around black people because of the negative experiences he had as a child. This is a normal human response. Doesn’t mean it is good, but doesn’t mean he is totally evil and should be outcast. Fundamental Christians think that you deserve to burn in hell forever because you don’t take Jesus into your heart. This is extremely hateful. But that is what they have been told since they were small children, and so I have empathy with their fears. There are extremely few people who will think and believe things because they are right based upon self reflection and objective considerations in spite of their experiences and upbringing. If they are shouted down by “righteous” people, they will only feel oppressed, and become more bitter and hateful. And, if they believe things with religious fervor, you will drive them to martyrdom, which is extremely dangerous.

    You do not sympathize with my “moral qualms”, you make light of them, because you feel safe being in a privileged group, protected by the current society’s mores. You are also going immediately Godwin when talking about people who feel prejudice towards others because of their color. But yet, you actually do advocate torture, slavery, and mass murder of other sentient beings because you like the taste of meat. You are also greatly increasing your contribution to global warming which will likely ultimately cause the deaths of billions in this century, way more than the Nazis in the 20th. But righteously condemning you, publicly, and getting a few dozen other people to come on line and condemn you as well, is not going to do jack to change your attitudes, all it would do is make you bitter, angry, and resentful.

    An interesting documentary I recommend is called “Flock of Dodos”, nominally about the creationist movement. What comes across strongly is that the wacko creationists are actually nicer, friendlier people than the self-righteous, smug evolutionary biologists.

    The way to keep people being angry and hateful is to go all moral superior and self-righteous on them. The way to minimize that is to go “I understand why you might feel that way, and I still think you are a human being worthy of respect and love, but I do not agree with you on that, and if you are curious as to why I think the way I do, I will tell you”. True, there are some sociopathic people who just don’t care, but it is a small minority in any group who will keep being angry and hateful when faced with compassion towards them.

    Of course, this is a very hard path to take, and I certainly fail miserably all the time, and get self-righteous and angry at plenty of people. And I am also not a turn the other cheek pacifist in many respects. But I do try to realize that I am not perfect, and don’t expect others to be perfect. And I also recognize that being “racist” does not necessarily mean much of anything when it comes to deeds. Robert C. Byrd was certainly a racist white supremacist as a young man, yet he was way better in his policies and actions as a senator than George W. Bush was as a president, even though I don’t think there is much evidence that W. was ever racist. People are complicated, and reducing them to one dimension and treating them as sub-human is rarely a good tactic.

  22. Independent of the question what you should actually do about people whose ideas you hate, the Popper Paradox is not a paradox at all but a fallacy.

    Popper’s argument is that if you have a tolerant society that tolerates bad people, they will destroy your society. Therefore your tolerant society must not tolerate them so it can survive.

    This is the traditional argument why peaceful societies must wage aggressive warfare, and why people must fuck for virginity, lie for truth, steal for honesty, and all like that.

    The fundamental misconception is that we hope for our tolerant society to last forever, no matter what gets thrown against it.

    In reality societies last for awhile and then they change or fall apart. Nothing lasts forever.

    If you want to have a tolerant society, you can practice tolerance until your citizens decide they don’t want to do it any more, and then you can have an intolerant society.

    It’s silly to say “We have to be intolerant of groups that are not yet a threat, because otherwise our society will not last forever. It might someday face a threat it can’t face with tolerance, so we must be intolerant now.”

    It’s silly to say “Tolerant societies cannot last forever, therefore we must have an intolerant society now which we will call tolerant”.

    Someday society will face a threat it cannot handle with tolerance, and it will be destroyed. Therefore I will destroy it right now. Someday society must become intolerant so I will make it be intolerant today. But I will say it’s a tolerant society because Popper says it’s a paradox that tolerant societies are intolerant.

    Fallacy.

  23. “There were plenty of racists back in the 70’s, but in my possibly slanted memory, no one in my community thought of outright nazis as anything but jokes. Now their ideas are forming national policy, and it is in a large part due to commercial MSM amplifying “debate” and bothsideism, and social media giving them a platform.”

    I have a different interpretation, though yours could be right.

    It looks to me like we told a whole lot of people that they had no right to an opinion because they were racists and bad people.

    They mostly shut up except around each other. They felt like democracy was failing them.

    Now they are strong enough and organized enough that they cannot be ignored. They didn’t get that strong because the media stopped ignoring them. They got that strong because they felt a great big grievance that got confirmed each time they were not allowed to speak out.

    “Doctor O’Claire, it has been said that a heresy is the revenge of a forgotten truth. I say that every mon­strous appearance or movement is the revenge of a strength or variety unused, of a vitality untapped in us. And it looks like a good year for monsters.”

    RA Lafferty, _Fourth Mansions_

  24. I don’t have any answers, though your conversation here was fascinating to read.

    For my part, I am a trans woman, and though I pass well enough these days, in the past I did not and sometimes I still fail the test (hurts every time too). I have people get in my face screaming insults. Sometimes they blocked my access to the grocery store and intimidated me as best they are able (usually quite intimidating to tell the truth). I get to listen to them compare me to child molesters every time our state legislature considers if I should be treated fairly.

    I do not have the luxury of stepping back and listening to these white supremacists/nazi’s/terfs/etc speak…because they are screaming in my face and either threatening to or actually using physical attacks on me and those I love.

    I am quite frightened these people are winning. I do not know how to stop them from doing so. All I know is that last week I had to deal with a new attack, from our president and his handpicked people, every day for the entire week. What am I supposed to do when a doctor discriminates against me and it hurts me(happened twice so far, no recourse available under Trump). What will I do when this happens to someone I care about? This last time I was able to see a non-prejudiced dr before my gallbladder became an emergency, but it was still two months of agony I wish I hadn’t had to endure. The other dr didn’t just refuse to treat me, but outright lied about sent me home believing it wasn’t a gallbladder filled with gall stones. I don’t say this to garner sympathy, though I realize it often does. I mention these things because I need you to understand, this isn’t an academic question, nor is it in some as yet unrealized future, it is now.

    I noticed in the discussion above that it appeared to be mostly about those who are willing to listen and debate hateful ideologies, and those who oppose them and are not willing to listen. Respectfully, I believe we need both, as well as passionate pacifists and even violent agitators . We need all these kinds of people because the problem we face is multi-faceted, intelligent, determined and unlikely to simply disappear at our insistence.

    So when I meet people of each kind, I ask only they consider their role and attempt to enact it intelligently. Where we find our role isn’t useful or helpful, call in others who are more temperamentally and situationally able to respond most effectively. Those of us who oppose hate are on the same side.

    *came here for the books, staying for the conversation 😉

  25. MSER: No one here is talking about not trying to have a positive discussion with your step-father. He sounds fairly harmless and maybe a little therapy could help out. I’ll just note that growing up in a place pretty much devoid of racial minorities (middle of Iowa in the 70’s) does not keep kids from picking on you.

    Patiently explaining things to people who are at least a little bit willing to listen is kind of the point here. Right now, primarily through the various anti-democratic portions of the US Constitution put there in order to compromise with slave owners, we find ourselves again confronting the ideological descendants of those slave owners. The current system supports them–that’s how it is designed.
    When you concentrate all of the wealth of the nation into the hands of a few, don’t be surprised when some of those hands turn out to be dripping with blood.

  26. MSER, et al. to be perfectly clear… I’m not “going Godwin” by calling everyone who disagrees with me Nazis… I am, quite literally, talking about fucking Nazis and how they should be dealt with. In case you have not noticed, and many people seem to have missed it, there are card carrying, swastika drawing nazis walking the halls of power and bending the ears of the people in charge. A good many of the squatters in the executive and legislative branches probably carry cards of their own. Steve King certainly isn’t shy about it.

    Jonah, same point, really… you keep substituting “bad” for the more specific “intolerant”. “Popper’s argument is that if you have a tolerant society that tolerates bad people, they will destroy your society,” does not mean the same thing as “if you have a tolerant society that tolerates intolerant people.” Those are two different cases with different remedies.

    If you have a mildly racist uncle? Please, by all means, engage him in fruitful dialog. Do you have an aunt all hung up in squicky feelings about gay or trans folk, please do reason with her gently and lovingly. Does your next door neighbor mutter about MS13 every time a brown person walks through your neighborhood? If you think a “not cool man” will help, give it a try.

    Humans are social animals, though, and we are constantly checking our fellows for clues about what behavior is acceptable, and that deeply colors our beliefs whether we realize it or not. Again and again, studies shows that people tend to share the beliefs of the majority of the people they see around them, more than can be explained just by self-selection. So having Nazis marching through American towns, beating people while shouting “Jews will not erase us”, and then being called “very fine people” by the President… that has an effect. That shifts the Overton window, draws new lines for what is acceptable and what is not.

    Jonah- I really don’t think that hardcore racists spontaneously decided that their views were better for the republic and that their thought oppression must end. I think we could have kept them feeling weak forever, marginalized and out of power. And I think that all the otherwise rational citizens with conscious or unconscious bias against Others would have gone on embarrassed to act on those feelings and maybe been less likely to sink into them in the first place.

    But the Republican party made a decision half a decade ago, to court and encourage racists, intolerant evangelicals, and all flavors of regressives, to build a power base for themselves, because however much money rich, old, white men may have, they can each only vote once.. The Democratic Party, in the meantime, leaned into sucking up to marginally more progressive rich, white men, while paying only lip service to protecting the disenfranchised. The rest of the political parties… sorry, bad joke, no need to talk about other parties. And since we have only two parties, and since “debate” sells news entertainment product, we have been treated to decades of abhorrent and easily falsifiable opinions being treated with equal rhetorical weight to any rational argument made in response.

    And that is where we are now. White supremacists are treated as thought leaders, given glowing profiles in the NY Times, allowed free reign to harass and dox on social media, amplified by that ultimate international cabal of rich, white men, Vladimir Putin, the Koch’s, etc..

    You are never going to beat Gavin McInnes so thoroughly in public debate that his followers desert him. He won’t slink away from your cogent and respectfully phrased argument in defeat. They don’t care what you have to say, will not listen, will just shout their slogans from whatever podium you give them. You will be applauded by those that already agree with you,

    In the meantime, the very fact that you have held this debate will demoralize and terrify the people Gavin is attacking. As Taltos Dreamer says, this is not academic for them (btw, I just had my gallbladder removed and I definitely know what you went through! So sorry and unfair.) Every time we publicly debate whether trans people are entitled to human rights, or if people with Latinx names can be citizens, or if Jews are manipulating the world with their money, or if black people ought not be oppressed and killed by the police, then we are causing lasting harm, even if you are arguing on the side of the angels.

    People whose only message is hate do not deserve your debate. They are just wrong, it needs not be proven. People whose only message is hate do not deserve your respectful attention. They will only abuse it.

  27. “I think we could have kept them feeling weak forever, marginalized and out of power.”

    Yes, you said you believe that.

    “But the Republican party made a decision half a decade ago, to court and encourage racists, intolerant evangelicals, and all flavors of regressives, to build a power base for themselves”

    I think it was more than 5 years ago. But the point is, you were not able to keep those voters shamed and marginalized. The GOP saw that there were enough of them to be worth courting, and they exploited them. You couldn’t stop that from happening.

    Democracy in action. You hoped to suppress a bunch of voters, and you failed because somebody else did not go along with suppressing them.

    “Popper’s argument is that if you have a tolerant society that tolerates bad people, they will destroy your society,” does not mean the same thing as “if you have a tolerant society that tolerates intolerant people.” Those are two different cases with different remedies.”

    You are trying to draw a distinction which is not really there. The argument is to suppress points of view that are dangerous to society, because it is dangerous to society to leave them unsuppressed. That same argument works for any dangerous point of view.

    Obviously it is the same argument when somebody is saying something which damages the society by being said. Even if what they say is the truth. Or when the society is wrong to oppress some people, and saying that society is wrong to oppress them is right — if it is dangerous to society it must be suppressed. That’s what Popper is talking about.

    And my argument is that once you accept that dangerous ideas must be suppressed for the good of society, you do not have anything like a tolerant society. You have a suppressing society. The people who get to decide which ideas are dangerous are in control.

  28. Jonah- you caught my typo, I meant half a century!

    You are also still conflating white supremacy and fascism with any other minority opinions. There is a difference. White supremacy and fascism are inherently wrong and destructive to a just society. Many people do not believe that. They are wrong. There are ideas that are simply incompatible with civic life and should never be encouraged. Can or should they be suppressed completely? No, of course not. Fear leads to hatred leads to people turning on one another, trying to put someone else down to feel like your head is a little higher. There is no reason to do anything but discourage that dynamic. It cannot be normalized, because we all know where it leads. Philosophies that lead inevitably to crimes against humanity are not deserving of equal protection.

    And you really do not understand Popper’s point. He isn’t talking about tolerating dangerous ideas. You can tolerate many “bad” ideas in a tolerant society. Diversity of opinion is good for a tolerant society. Ideas that seem bad today might turn out to be good tomorrow. You cannot tolerate intolerance because intolerance seeks to destroy all diversity of opinions. Tolerating intolerance is not tolerant. Or to put it yet another way, intolerance isn’t an idea, it is an action. If your goal is to maximize tolerance of divergent opinions, intolerance is your obstacle, not just another opinion.

    Think of it mathematically. Tolerating intolerance is dividing an integer by the square root of -1. The results are always irrational (OK, imaginary, but irrational makes a better pun ;). Not tolerating intolerance is substituting the square root of -1 for the integer. The result is a whole number (or society).

  29. “And you really do not understand Popper’s point. [….] You cannot tolerate intolerance because intolerance seeks to destroy all diversity of opinions. Tolerating intolerance is not tolerant. Or to put it yet another way, intolerance isn’t an idea, it is an action.”

    Well see, if that’s all he means then there is no problem and no paradox.

    So like, if you say that we need to kill the Nazis and then somebody tries to kill you, we need to stop them. It’s OK for you to say stuff, and it is not OK to kill people except with rare exceptions when we might decide it’s OK after all. It’s intolerant to kill somebody for what he says.

    If you say we must kill all the Nazis and somebody gets you censored, that’s wrong. Censoring people is intolerance, and a tolerant society will not allow it.

    If you say we must kill all the Nazis, and somebody else says we must kill you, that’s just fine provided it’s just blow-hards spouting off on both sides and they don’t actually do anything. We’re always going to have some idiots spouting off and it would be worse than useless to try to stop them.

    If somebody wants to claim that there are ideas which are so bad that we have to censor them, that somebody is an intolerant bastard who doesn’t belong in a tolerant society. He might be right in reality. Maybe the very existence of those ideas will hurt the society. But the existence of this intolerant bastard also hurts the society.

    Tolerant societies don’t last forever. Sooner or later we are likely to get intolerant bastards who will destroy the tolerant society. It happens. Some of them are out-and-out bad guys. Some of them think they are good guys who are protecting the society from bad guys. They are both in fact bad guys who are out to destroy the society. It happens. We don’t know which will get us first.

    “Philosophies that lead inevitably to crimes against humanity are not deserving of equal protection.”

    You are an intolerant bastard who is trying to destroy my tolerant society. I guess it hardly matters, it’s pretty much dead already.

  30. Jonah- LOL! OK, I give! I can’t argue with someone that puts that many words into my mouth… I’ll choke. 😉

    I’m not sure why I have had to spend this many actual words of my own to support the proposition that fascism is bad and giving it platforms and social cache is not helpful, but sometimes it goes like that. Is there anyone on this thread that actually supports white supremacy? Thinks it’s cool?

    If not, I’m not sure why my little plan of telling nazis to shut up is receiving so much pushback. I’m not suggesting new laws, in fact, I specifically said that was not a good idea. I am saying we should, collectively, starve them of approval. State, unequivocally, that racism, homophobia, transphobia and the rest have no value and that the subject is not open to debate. If someone wants to use a public platform to spread hate and intolerance, tell them to fuck off.

    If that seems intolerant to you, I respectfully disagree. Paradox is not synonymous with false.

  31. Rather interesting that mathematical irrationality was mentioned. The story (and possible murder) behind the Pythagoreans’ suppression of the irrationality of the square root of 2 has interesting parallels… if one accepts the postulate, that is.

  32. “I can’t argue with someone that puts that many words into my mouth…”

    Did I not quote your own words?

    “I’m not sure why my little plan of telling nazis to shut up is receiving so much pushback.”

    I may not be disagreeing with you at all. You haven’t made it plain what you are saying.

    If Nazis say things and you tell them to shut up and they tell you to shut up, there’s no problem.

    If you actually make them shut up, then you are a bad person who is working for intolerance in a bad way.

    If Nazis go out and break the laws — committing murder, arson, assault, etc — they are bad people and should be arrested. Like you if you do those things.

  33. Sigh. Let me make it simple. Calling people “Nazis that only spout hate” when they simply hold some views that are somewhat resonant with some parts of Nazi ideology and saying they must be shut out from the public sphere, using violence if necessary, or else we are headed for genocide is a surefire way of making them more radical. And those who don’t consider them unredeemable evil bastards are just going to become more sympathetic towards them. If you are interested in keeping large numbers of people who, for various social and economic reasons, may be open to ideas that have some potential to ultimately develop into a “final solution” type situation, try offering them actual alternatives rather than just telling them to shut up. Try being understanding of their fears, which often have real bases, instead of trying to shame them for being afraid without offering any real reason for them not to be afraid. Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia resulted to a large extent from people in those places feeling, and justifiably so, that the world was saying to them “you are bad cultures, and you deserve all the suffering you are going through” while doing absolutely nothing to alleviate that suffering.

    For the most part, even those who spout the most hateful of rhetoric are simply people who feel they got a raw deal in life, and are looking for friends who will make them have some feelings of self worth. On the other hand, if they are people who are trying to use hate and fear mongering to manipulate those who feel they have gotten a raw deal in order to gain power, just calling them Nazis but not addressing the issues that the people they are talking to care about is not going to be effective in the long run either.

    And it is always important to remember that almost all bigotry and hatred of categories of people has an economic root, and you should not let the rhetoric distract you from the underlying unfairness inherent in the system, which can be promoted just as much by smiling, friendly people who seem to never have a bad word to say about anybody.

    And, my final word on this subject, keep things in perspective. Just because a handful of the few hundred mass shootings in the US every year, which themselves are a small subset of the 35 or so people murdered every day, happen to target an identifiable group with the crazed person doing the shooting quoting some prominent bigot doesn’t mean a large fraction of the people in one of those identifiable group are about to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Trump did not put 7% of young black men in jail (and about 1% of young white men), that was already the case well before 2016. Another 5000 people still die in workplace accidents every year. The big war is always against the poor by the rich, and any device will be used to distract attention away from the fact that we are all being screwed together.

  34. Jonah- Thank you! You have actually made the perfect illustration of Popper’s Paradox of Intolerance!

    “If you actually make them [Nazis} shut up, then you are a bad person who is working for intolerance in a bad way.”

    The reason it is a paradox is that its built on a series of propositions, each seemingly logical, that lead to an illogical end.

    1. Diversity of opinion is good, diversity in culture is good, everyone should feel welcome to express their opinion.
    2. When everyone gets to speak and be heard, the best ideas will eventually gain more acceptance.
    2. Those who practice intolerance (whatever flavor, not just nazis or fascists) are just another culture deserving to express their opinions. Their ideas freely expressed just add to the conversation.

    The problem is, the intolerant use their speech to harass, demean, threaten. and silence anyone that disagrees with them or who they identify as the Other they have chosen to hate. They use public forums to encourage one another to criminal acts. They use public forums to advocate for racial cleansing and genocide. They use their speech to silence all other voices.

    Unless you find a way to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy speech, you assure that your free and open forums will become less and less free over time. Anyone that has worked as a mod knows this. There are bad actors in the marketplace of ideas, and if you do not exclude them, they will exclude everyone else.

    How do we do this while preserving the free speech of those who do not abuse it? By critical thinking, by discerning between harmful speech and simple expression of opinion. It isn’t nearly as simple as absolute free speech, but it leads to more freedom for all, especially for marginalized voices.

    Words have power to harm all by themselves. I hope anyone that has come to a forum as a fan of a writer particularly adept at manipulating language can recognize that power.

  35. MSER- I am not calling your step-father a nazi. I am aware that racism is woven into the fabric that formed this country, and that racism is pandemic at every level. It isn’t new. It wrote our constitution, designed our neighborhoods, edited our history books, wrote our laws. I recognize that the majority of whites in this country fall somewhere on the racist spectrum, from minor, unconscious prejudice (which I acknowledge) to full blown white separatists, and I do not think they all deserve to be treated as if they were the same.

    As I keep saying, I am talking about actual nazis. There may not be a completely unbroken historical chain from the Third Reich to modern nazis, but that should not keep us from calling them nazis. Many of them call themselves nazis, and openly express their admiration for their predecessors. Should we be hesitant to take them at their word?

    Some are in Congress. Some are in the white house. Some are running around the streets acting with impunity and with the tacit approval of the police. Some have been elected heads of state in other countries around the world.

    Congressional Candidates

    https://www.vox.com/2018/7/9/17525860/nazis-russell-walker-arthur-jones-republicans-illinois-north-carolina-virginia

    Sitting Congressman

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/holocaust-memorial-group-unwittingly-funded-rep-kings-meeting-with-far-right-austrians/2018/10/25/a18f4f6a-d875-11e8-83a2-d1c3da28d6b6_story.html?utm_term=.a6697372b79f

    Anti-fascist protesters arrested, fascists allowed to leave the scene

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/proud-boys-nypd-response-alleged-assault-gavin-mcinnes-metropolitan-republican-club-manhattan/

    The only book anyone claims to have seen Trump read

    https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trumps-ex-wife-once-said-he-kept-a-book-of-hitlers-speeches-by-his-bed-2015-8

    If you have read any other post I’ve made here, you know I am in favor of addressing all forms of economic and social inequity, but I find the economic excuse for racism to be specious. If it were true, why is it surging now when joblessness is dropping? Support for Trump, which I can only see as a referendum for intolerance, cuts across all economic classes.

    And no, no one has ever decided to become a nazi because their feelings were hurt by being called a nazi. That is just the least believable excuse offered by fascists for their behavior.

  36. “The problem is, the intolerant use their speech to harass, demean, threaten. and silence anyone that disagrees with them or who they identify as the Other they have chosen to hate.”

    So you declare that a group you have chosen to hate is “intolerant”, and you use your speech to harass, demean, threaten, and silence them.

    “They use public forums to encourage one another to criminal acts. They use public forums to advocate for racial cleansing and genocide. They use their speech to silence all other voices.”

    You wind up doing all of that except you don’t try to silence *all* other voices. And also the people you wind up advocating should be killed off will likely not be a *race*.

    “Unless you find a way to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy speech, you assure that your free and open forums will become less and less free over time. ”

    Regardless who you “distinguish”, you assure that your free and open forums have already become unfree and closed.

    You have become your enemy, except in details of the shibboleths that must be said and/or not said.

    There is no paradox to this. The kind of people you associate with cannot maintain a tolerant discourse. There are logical assumptions that say it would be good if they could do that. But they don’t know how. The presence of intolerant talk inhibits them and stops them, or it gets them to become dramatically intolerant themselves.

    This is a “flaw” in those people.

    It is not a paradox that they must drop bombs for peace.

    It is not a paradox that they must discriminate against people they call racists.

    It is not a paradox that they must be intolerant to prevent intolerance.

    It is just that they are kind of stupid and they don’t notice that their behavior is self-defeating.

  37. Jonah- my very last word, then I accept that you are just being contrary for the fun of it.

    Operationally, it is not the group “nazi” I am proposing blocking from forums, although I have phrased it that way. It is the activity “nazi”. Nazis is not defined by me, they are defined by themselves. I don’t pick out people walking down the street and yell nazi. I look at people acting like nazis and I admit that their behavior is what it is.

    I am not being intolerant if I ban intolerant behavior. I am not being hateful if I ban hate.

    If you really don’t get it, go on any platform you enjoy, start saying the most hateful things you can imagine, and see if that platform becomes better or worse, and whether people welcome you or ban you.

  38. This is starting to feel like the old vaudeville routine.

    “I said, you have a banana in your ear!”
    “I can’t hear you! I have a banana in my ear!”

    I will try again to say what you can’t hear, just to try again.

    You argue that when you are intolerant of bad people, you aren’t being intolerant. Maybe it’s good when good people are intolerant of bad people. And of course it’s bad when bad people are intolerant of good people.

    “I am not being intolerant if I ban intolerant behavior.”

    This ought to be just completely obvious, and not something that any reasonable person would disagree about: When your behavior is intolerant, it is intolerant.

    So for example if you kill bad people, you are killing people. If you say “They were bad people so it wasn’t really killing”, that is just wrong. You can say “It’s RIGHT to kill bad people” but it just does not make sense to say “When you kill bad people it isn’t killing.”

    I doubt I can say it clearer than that.

  39. Here’s an example of intolerance:

    Niles Niemuth is running as the Socialist Equality Party candidate for Congress in Michigan’s 12th district. In a mailer paid for by the Michigan Voter Guide Project, his name was left off of the listed candidates. This is a very petty action. Listing his name wouldn’t have cost the Democratic candidate anything in any sense. They are well ahead. It’s almost like they don’t want to even consider tolerating the idea that someone might get exposed to other ideas.

  40. Steve Halter- you are absolutely right, and intolerance is not confined to the Right. I think maybe my harping on fascists and nazis, who strike me as a particular danger at this time, has undercut my point about intolerance in general. I think we do need to put the majority of our efforts into fighting fascism, if we want to actually have something like a democracy in the future, but we should still fight intolerance of all kinds.

    Jonah- I think we won’t make any more progress, as long as your only level of distinction is good people and bad people. You will note that, although I really think nazis are bad people, I specified that any inherent badness in them as people isn’t why I was proposing taking action. Can we go back to math? I feel like we would do better at that.

    If the goal is to maximize tolerance, can you recognize that throwing out all rules for behavior might not be the optimal method? So, an environment with radical free speech, some people will use their speech to suppress the voices of others, primarily through intimidation. If they can make some users afraid to speak their minds, they are decreasing diversity of opinion and thought. In an communication environment without moderation, tolerance is limited by a subset of the users.

    On the other hand, if the moderators allow only a very narrow range of opinions or only users with certain characteristics to speech (e.g. the right skin color, economic class, or last name), then you obviously have a system with low tolerance. In an communication environment with excessive or partisan moderation, tolerance is limited by the moderators.

    What I am proposing, and what I think Popper meant, is that if you want a communication environment that maximizes tolerance of diversity, then there are certain communication behaviors that you have to discourage. Notably, you have to discourage any that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice., etc.. Does that sound familiar? Those are part of Twitter’s rules of use. Now if they actually enforced them fairly…

    In conclusion, always tolerating intolerant behavior decreases the amount of tolerance in the system. Is that a more logical framing?

    Why did I feel like using the shortcut of saying “banning nazis from public platforms” would be clear as a call against intolerance? As good old wikipedia says, the modern nazi movement is characterized by revering “ultranationalism, racism, xenophobia, ableism, homophobia, anti-Romanyism, antisemitism, anti-communism”. If someone’s guiding philosophy has genocide, eugenics, and ethnic cleansing as its overarching goal, I hope you can see that person is not likely to be using their speech in tolerant ways. It is impossible to promote those goals without violating the rights and safety of others. The problem is, as long as we live in this environment where ultranationalism and pursuit of ethnostates are treated as valid political agendas, then the behavior of people who claim those positions is ignored by gatekeepers (like @Jack or the major news corporations) who worry more about seeming impartial than they do about the health of their platform and its users. Too often, when a nazi or other fascist harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence others, is is treated as opinion, but when a victim of the targeted harassment replies with anger, they are the one banned from the platform or framed as intolerant. Ask any trans person on Twitter about that dynamic.

  41. This is what I am talking about https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

    “Real Nazi’s” advocate genocide of homosexuals, Roma, and Jews as in gas chambers, and are calling for a dictatorship of the world by a thousand year Third Reich run by “Aryans”. Gavin Mcinnes and Steve King, while they hold some truly obnoxious views, if you bother to read their actual words and actions, not just the out of context smears made by people who apparently have some magic power to determine “what they really mean when they say (fill in the blank)” are still a far cry from calling for that. The only “real Nazi’s” mentioned never got near the halls of power, and they are more like the KKK people in the article above.

    After all, we all know that when somebody says they are “in favor of addressing all forms of economic and social inequality” that they are secret Stalinists who can’t wait to enact the next 5 year plan no matter how many millions end up starving to death and send anybody who is against the Communist Party leadership to Siberia to die in the cold. And therefore, the gatekeepers of social media platforms should ban them from their sites because otherwise the evil Reds will be knocking on your door to kick you out of the house you built and give it to some good for nothing welfare queen.

  42. Larswyrdson, thank you! This is a much more coherent argument than I’ve seen from your side of this argument before.

    So, it’s possible that the participants in a discussion are limited to some range of acceptable communications. Things that are too far from the pale will look like garbage or spam and it will be obvious that there is no communication; they will be successfully ignored.

    But some communications will leave the discussion in chaos. People will have no acceptable response, they will get upset, the interesting discussion breaks down and is replaced by something that is not satisfying but that displaces the conversations that would otherwise happen.

    So we get MORE tolerant discussion if the things that the participants can’t handle are not allowed.

    You get more and better actual discussion if the booby-traps are removed.

    So the argument in favor of intolerance does not come from logical necessity, it comes from practical concerns about how to get the best results in real situations. You get better discussion if stuff that has bad results is not allowed, just like your car runs better for longer distances if you fill the crankcase with oil instead of abrasive grit.

    My arguments can’t dispute that. I do say that it really is a kind of intolerance when you censor internet trolls. It doesn’t stop being intolerance just because it’s trolls you are being intolerant of. But your site still may function better without them.

  43. Mser- are you making the argument “don’t be mean to white supremacists or tomorrow people will be mean to socialists?” I tremble in my Red Army boots. Unless you are saying there is a good side to white nationalism and I’m just not giving it a chance?

    Indeed, let’s all wait to condemn supremacy and fascism until the body count goes up. We wouldn’t want to express disapproval now while days are still so early. We haven’t even had a good kristalnacht yet, and so few refugees have actually died in the concentration camps. Maybe it will turn out better this time, and won’t we look foolish?

    Or, and I’m just spitballing here, maybe if we actually care about our mildly racists relatives, we can strongly condemn the very dangerous assholes who are leading them astray and encouraging their worst natures. Maybe we could stand up for what we believe and set a different example? We do stand for something, don’t we?

    I have no faith in my ability to convert dedicated fascists into decent citizens through love and persuasion, but I have, once in a great while, been able to help someone realize they are being an ass by pointing out how they have strayed from the values I expected them to share. Some friends have done the same for me, and I was always grateful, eventually.

  44. Arguments that censorship is good depend heavily on the idea that it’s good people doing it. This is kind of reasonable — when it’s bad people doing it, they will do whatever they want because they want to whether or not anybody thinks it’s good or evil. It’s only when it’s good people doing it that it’s worth arguing about, they are the only ones who could be affected by argument.

    “Tolerance” could mean no opposition. Don’t disagree. But it doesn’t mean that in this context. It’s fine to tell your truth even when it disagrees with somebody. Tolerance in this context means letting them speak. Not trying to stop people from hearing them. Intolerance means taking actives measures to shut them up, to take away their income, to kill them, etc.

    The first argument for intolerance is that the people who are being shut up are bad people who don’t deserve to speak. Letting them speak has bad consequences.

    The second argument is that they themselves are intolerant, they try to keep others from speaking, so it’s fair to do to them what they do themselves.

    Benjamin Franklin had a similar argument for eating fish. He tried being a vegetarian, and on shipboard he couldn’t get away from the smell of fresh-caught fish being fried. He asked the sailors what the fish ate. “Why the same as on land, sir, the big ones eat the little ones.” He decided that it was just fine for him to eat them, since they eat each other.

    Of course, by the same exact reasoning a cannibal could figure that it was OK for him to eat fish and Franklin since they eat each other. And of course it’s fine for the cannibals to eat each other….

    It’s fine to say that it’s OK for other people to be done by as they do.

    Once you decide it’s fine for you to treat them as they treat each other, then you are one of them. You have accepted their morality as your own.

    That’s where the first argument for intolerance comes in. You don’t treat good people badly. You only act bad to bad people. All the good people can treat each other well, and they treat the bad people bad, and they are still good.You can eat cannibals but you don’t eat vegetarians. So you are a good guy, practically a vegetarian yourself.

    This argument is bogus. The argument that your enemies are bad and therefore you are good, is completely bogus. You can always find something bad that your enemies do, whether they are scientologists, marcionists, pelagians, or trotskyists. Everybody believes some bad things and does some bad things. If you have allies that you support and enemies that you try to suppress, the mechanics of the process work out the same whether you are the good side or the evil side. Somebody from a distant land who tries to understand what’s going on will likely have trouble telling the sides apart. He will VERY likely not see why they are evil and you are good. Meanwhile you will have trouble deciding whether the Hu Jintao faction or the Jia Qinglin faction is right. Unless you have particular filters that their differences resonate to.

    I’m not saying that cultural relativism is right and all opinions are equally good. I am saying only that outside of a particular cultural context, cultural relativism is right and all opinions are equally bad.

  45. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Within the bounds of a given community, the members of that community must agree upon acceptable behavior and who can determine if that behavior is being followed and what the consequences of not following the edicts of said monitors are.

    In online communities these may be the members or owners of the community and a group of people designated as moderators. Typical consequences are being blocked from participation in some fashion.

    In the real world, the rules are generally called laws once we get to the State level.

    So, the amount of tolerance allowed is chosen within the context of a given community. Some allow more, some allow less. Anarchy to Authoritatian.

  46. When we have a diverse set of communication channels and no one of them is too important, then it’s fine to have a diverse set of moderators for most of them. You shop around for the kind of conversations you are interested in.

    When a few of them are too important, than a few moderators get too important. They are no longer providing a service — something that people can choose to use if they like it better than other choices — but they are controlling a bottleneck, something that people need.

  47. Jonah:Yes, that is what said/implied.
    One problem that we are running into is that exactly what is a private group/property and what is state controlled has become increasingly fraught. As corporations become larger and control larger spaces, their ability and motives for “controlling” free speech become more and more questionable and so their exclusion from first amendment rules becomes less supportable.

    Its almost like large amounts of property should not be considered as being part of personal property.

  48. Stave Halter- at what point does a corporation become a government? Ground that William Gibson covered 30 years ago.

  49. larswrydson:Yes, exactly.

  50. “at what point does a corporation become a government?”

    It isn’t a sharp clear dividing line.

    If a corporation provides a good or service that’s better than the competition, that is not a problem. It’s OK to provide something improved.

    When a corporation provides something that people need and it’s a significant inconvenience to use a competitor’s goods or services, that’s heading toward problems.

    When a corporation provides something that people need, and it’s hard to meet that need without the corporation, and the corporation may for some reason choose not to provide it to some people, then that corporation is partly a government.

    In the old monarchy days, before they had efficient ways to collect taxes, they taxed salt. Salt mines and salt drying pools are both hard to hide and easy to regulate. Salt is needed and also bulky and heavy enough that significant smuggling is hard. So the king would give the salt works as a monopoly to a good friend, and he’d demand a big share of the profits, and everybody had to pay. The distinction between the government and the salt industry was blurred.

  51. I kind of hate doing this, but I love your writing. When is your next book coming out?

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