Two kinds of freedom of speech
I've argued a few times (sometimes conveying my message successfully sometimes not), that freedom of speech is not merely a legal issue centering on the first amendment, but also a cultural issue, centering on our willingness to tolerate the presence and the words of those we disagree with – even when we know that those ideas aren't merely foolish (e.g. preferring Chocolate ice-cream over a good French Vanilla), but actively destructive to individuals, families, and nations (take your pick – abortion pro/con, immigration pro/con, etc.) ( I note in passing that I've been called an "Enlightenment fundamentalist" by one of my Popehat co-bloggers for my willingness to engage with people outside the Overton window, and, no, he didn't intend it as a compliment; quite the opposite.)
I've even argued for years something sillier – silly because it should have to be argued at all – that we should enjoy non-political products by people that we disagree with politically (I gave as an example how I read books by China Mieville – a member of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Workers Party).
Culture considered more important than law
In my earlier Gamer Gate post I talked about "entryism":
As a poet once said: Cthulhu swims slowly, but he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?
The blue team has made amazing progress over the last three hundred years. Occasionally by force of arms, but usually by a much more clever strategy: entryism.
Entryism, for those not hip to the lingo, is "a political strategy in which an organization or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger organization in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. In situations where the organization being 'entered' is hostile to entryism, the entryists may engage in a degree of subterfuge to hide the fact that they are an organization in their own right."
Since World War II the Blue team in the US has entered into the stodgy old universities (taking advantage of the GI Bill and the resulting explosion in size of secondary education institutions), and taken them over completely. It has taken over the media (now called the "mainstream media" or MSM by the red team), because of this. It has taken over many corporate boards (although not all attempts have succeeded).
Over the last few years blue team has been rolling up red team's flank in a new battle: the tech world (or, pace Scott Alexander, they're actually trying to roll up the flank of a minor Red faction / ally that should perhaps be called "Gray": techno-libertarians).
This is a really smart move for Blue, as much of the economy has stalled out over the last ten years, and tech is the only area of growth. Who wants to own 90% of a stalled boat, when you could own 90% of a boat that's going somewhere?
Entryism is not a political or legal or economic mode of warfare ; it is a cultural mode.
But what are politics, law, and economies other than cultural structures?
Once you control Harvard Law, you control the courts. Once you control the courts, you control the laws. Once you control the laws, you control the people.
Or, alternatively: once you control the technology conferences you control the team leads, once you control the team leads, you control the engineers, once you control the engineers, you control the tech industry, once you control the tech industry, you control the 21st century economy.
(Godwin lulz: you know who else tried to take over education?)
If enlightenment law is destroyed, but enlightenment culture survives, we can rebuild the law.
…but if enlightenment culture is destroyed, then law necessarily follows, and there is no foundation to ever rebuild the lost freedoms on.
Thus one mote in the eye of the culture of free speech bothers me more than a beam in the eye of the law of free speech.
An anonymous email
Perhaps because I've written about free speech, or perhaps because I've written about "Urbit" twice before, or perhaps because of both I received an email with a pastebin URL.
As best I can tell the the timeline of events is this:
Some time on or before 1 June the Strangeloop tech conference threw open its submissions process and Curtis Yarvin of the Tlon corporation submitted a proposal about his Urbit network / functional programming language. (Note: the Urbit talk description is at archive.is, because it's been memory-holed at the StrangeLoop website).
On 3 June Alex Miller of the Cognitect corporation sent told Curtis that his proposed speech was interesting enough to be worthy of being heard by "the creators and users of the languages, libraries, tools, and techniques at the forefront of the industry."
Then around 1pm on 3 June @bobpoekert noticed, in a relatively calm way, that Curtis had some off beat politics.
The calmness didn't last; @aphyr declared
And @bodil perceives that an error – the error of tolerance – has been committed, and hopes that it occurred only by accident, and will soon be corrected:
@joescii wonders how such an error of tolerance could possibly have happened
And @kf suggests that the tolerance was accidental – perhaps the Party merely forgot to do its due diligence and failed to ask software engineers if they are now, or have ever been, a card carrying member of any party right of center:
And one social justice warrior, @steveklabnik noted that
…oh, that's odd … the tweet is gone and the account is protected.
I guess Steve didn't like his own words being quoted to show that he like violence? Anyway, no problem, I took screenshots:
Who is this Steve Klabnik, by the way? Oh, just your average rails coder and violent communist!
The point being: Steve really, really, really doesn't like fascism. But initiating violence against his political enemies? That's different, and ggggggreat! And up there with initiating violence is getting thought criminals banned from technical conferences, it seems.
So there was a bit of a tempest in an organic, fair-trade teapot, and after five or so tweets, Alex Miller realized that Strangeloop had invited someone to speak on functional programming languages who might not, in his heart of hearts, agree that Thomas Carlyle was a dead white man who should be forgotten.
And thus, Alex Miller "fixed the glitch": he emailed Curtis and said that even though Curtis thoughts on functional programming were interesting enough to be heard at the conference, because of Curtis's thoughts on Carlyle and such, he was no longer welcome to talk to decent people about functional programming:
From: Alex Miller
Date: Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 5:45 PM
Subject: Re: Strange Loop 2015 submission "urbit, a clean-slate functional stack"
When your talk was posted on the Strange Loop web site today, I had immediate and vigorous feedback about the fact that you would be speaking at Strange Loop. I do not generally make any attempt to audit or care about the particular opinions or ideology of the people that I accept as speakers; I am generally focused on the content of the talks themselves.
However, in this case it is clear to me that your opinions in areas outside your talk are concerning enough for a significantly large number of attendees that those reactions are overshadowing the talk and acting as a distraction for launching the conference as a whole. Because of this, I am sorry that I must rescind your invitation and I will not be able to accept or include your talk at the conference. My apologies if this causes you any inconvenience.
Or, to be a precise, it was alleged by an email I received that Alex had said this. Had Alex actually?
I reached out on 4 June and asked Alex if it was true:
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. Can you hear me, Alex Miller?
Despite several tweets asking for confirmation, Alex never responded to me. (Or at least that's my belief – I checked my mentions closely, but it's possible that a response slipped through.)
However the next day I saw a link being tweeted around; Alex, it seemed, had finally responded.
Strangeloop conference doubles down
Curtis Yarvin submitted a talk in the Strange Loop 2015 Call for Presentations. The talk went through the review process and was one of about 60 talks selected for the conference out of about 360. The subject of the talk was urbit (attached below). While we use a multi-stage review process, ultimately all final decisions are made by me.
Earlier this week we published the bulk of the 2015 Strange Loop session list, including Curtis's talk. I quickly received feedback that Curtis also has an online persona under the name "Mencius Moldbug" where he has posted extensive political writings.
A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis's writings objectionable. I have not personally read them.
I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.
Thus, I chose to rescind Curtis's invitation and remove him from the program…
So there we have it: Alex Miller believes in the heckler's veto:
If several people contact him saying "person X will speak on topic Y, but is bad because of opinion Z which he will not speak on, but I – the emailer – dislike", then Alex will exclude person X from his conference.
I defend Strangeloop on legal grounds
Now, Strangeloop is a private conference, and if Curtis' speech was going to violate one of the Strangeloop policies, I'd entirely support the legality of their decision.
Heck, even though Curtis' scheduled speech was entirely in keeping with every single one of their policies, and Strangeloop blatantly made up policies ad hoc in order to achieve the desired result, I support their right to do so. I've long supported the legal right of free association. The law (i.e. the government monopoly on violence) should not force people to socialize, work, or do business with those they prefer not to.
So, while I might not throw myself in front of literal tanks to keep the government from forcing Strangeloop to accept Curtis, I'd surely throw metaphorically throw myself in front of some metaphoric tanks, while I sit in my easy chair and type.
Side note: Lefties are Ayn Rand Acolytes
I've noticed a fascinating phenomena: ask a stereotypical rightist about some private action he doesn't like, and he'll say "anyone who doesn't like it should take their money elsewhere". As in "if a baker won't make cakes for gay couples, gays should take their money elsewhere", or "if Starbucks doesn't allow open carry, gun owners should take their money elsewhere".
Leftists are often more nuanced than this. Instead of using just a few of the ethical bases that Jonathan Haidt identified, as conservatives do, they use more.
Thus, instead of only embracing the "exit" branch of the "loyalty, voice, and exit" fork, they also embrace the "voice" branch: Whole Foods should stop selling meat, stop carrying Eden Foods products, abjure security guards, and open a new location.
Well, they're nuanced up to a point. It's been my sad experience to run into a majority of lefties who, as soon as you suggest to a leftist that they might change how they're doing things to be more progressive and congruent with the goals of an open and freedom-loving society, turn into Ayn Rand acolytes: "this is my bakery, and if you don't like it, go somewhere else!"
But, still, I agree with them.
A call for consistency
I'll make a deal with lefties: I'll keep throwing myself in front of metaphorical tanks to defend their legal right to exclude Curtis and other wrongthink badfun people, if they'll defend a privately owned bakery, or a hobby craft store, or a –
Hey, wait, where are you guys going?
A few questions for Alex and the other conference organizers
Questions for Alex Miller (@puredanger), Ryan Senior (@objcmdo), Mario Aquino (@marioaquino), Nick Cowan (@notetoself_stl), and Bridget Hillyer(@bridgethillyer):
- Alex says that he does not "generally" consider political opinions, but – apparently – he does at least on occasion. What are the boundaries of acceptable opinions that one may quietly hold inside one's head while at Strangeloop ? May one hold a belief in a flat income tax? In no income tax? May one be a professed communist, wishing for the proletarians to rise up in armed revolution?
- If the organizers of Strangeloop have not read Curtis' political writings, how do you know that his beliefs are outside the bounds allowable at Strangeloop?
- If the answer is "significantly large number" of people complain, what is that number? One ? Two ? More ?
- Will that numeric threshold be applied in the future? If two or three conference attendees email you to say that some presenter's advocacy of, say, polyamory, or lesbianism, or whatever would make the conference something other than a "safe space", will you disinvite the speakers so that your conference attendees aren't forced to be in the same building as people they disagree with?
- Do you support the legal right of other conferences to discriminate against speakers based on characteristics that have nothing to do with their presentations?
- As adherents of the dominant (and growing!) ideology in America (Progressivism) do you think that diversity of opinions is our strength, or would you think that we would be better served by an ideological mono-culture?
- If you think "no", would that stance change if American society suddenly lurched to the right?
- Alex told Curtis that Strangeloop was canceling his talk because "reactions [ to his presence would ] act as a distraction for launching the conference". In light of the last few days, do you (plural) still think that banning Curtis was the most pragmatic approach to keeping attention focused where you wanted it?
- As your conference is intended to help curious and open-minded developers "make connections with the creators and users of new languages", and you've decided not to let them meet Curtis or hear about Urbit, where do you suggest they go for more information ?
A few questions for the conference sponsors
Questions for the corporate sponsors of Strangeloop, including Sparx, Machinezone, Cisco, Twosigma, Basho, Engineyard, Wolfram, Criteo, Mandrill, 8thlight, Asynchrony, Oreilly, Oasisdigital, Riotgames, Context.io, and Adzerk:
- In any of your HR documents do you describe your firm and workplace as "tolerant", "diverse", "welcoming", or "open"?
- Do you ask prospective employees about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics anywhere in the hiring process?
- Do you ask employees post-hiring about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics ?
- Have you ever found that excluding conservative candidates from your hiring process increases your pool of candidates?
- Would you fire an employee for personal beliefs, religion, or politics if you received emails complaining about opinions they held, but never mentioned at work?
- Do you think that your sponsorship and financial support of strangeloop is consistent with your corporate culture of tolerance?
- What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian engineers who are looking for their next job?
- What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian customers who are considering your products?
- Do you think that your sponsorship of a tech conference that excludes people based on their personal beliefs is a net win for your firm?
The legal right of free speech is important and worth defending.
The culture of free speech is important and worth defending.
We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – speech that we disagree with.
We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – non-disagreeable speech from people that we dislike for other reasons.
Tolerating everything except the outgroup is no sort of tolerance at all.
It is valid to use cultural means (e.g. this blog post) to pressure people and groups (e.g. Strangeloop) to advance from the Dark Ages to the futuristic year 1650 and accept Enlightenment ideas.
Further reading on Strangeloop vs Curtis Yarvin
A partial list of news articles and blog posts that have caught my attention:
and finally – and ironically – a blog post by Curtis himself two years ago that is hugely prescient: Technology, communism and the Brown Scare.