It’s been awhile since I’ve been on here on WordPress. Between moving, job hunting, and various other things I’ve been up to (my photography, for instance), I just haven’t gotten around to it. I also don’t have the same constant broadband connection to the internet that I previously had, so that limits me a bit as well. No matter.
This writing is a long time coming, through years of experience on the internet. Today’s events are a catalyst, of course, but hardly the only reason why I feel the need to write about the subject. There’s nothing more important, in my mind, than freedom of speech. Here I would like to separate “freedom of speech” from its purely legal, 1st Amendment/American meaning. I am referring to “freedom of speech” as a moral truth, upon which the 1st Amendment is built. To best define it as I mean it, I shall defer to the late Christopher Hitchens (who also speaks of its importance): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyoOfRog1EM
Politically, I’ve generally identified more with liberal points-of-view than conservative ones. I no longer keep for myself the label of “liberal”, however, as I’ve encountered far too many who justify the neocon label of “libtard”. This is, I imagine, probably because the left leaning crowd tends to suffer from the disease of post modernism, that great anti-intellectual gobbledygook. Because of my political beliefs, I’ve tended to frequent politically liberal pages on Facebook (and conservative ones not at all, because I get quite enough of that just by living where I live). Typically one might think that a forum of some sort moderated by a conservative would be rather suppressing of free speech, and you’d be right often enough. The thing is, liberals are every bit as capable of engaging in groupthink, in the silencing of even the most reasonable and polite dissent, and engaging in al kinds of douchebaggery of that sort. In fact, I dare say, conservatives might be better on this point. A conservative might prefer to get in nothing more than a pissing match, shouting loudly and failing to at all consider the words of the opponent, or otherwise engage in anything resembling critical thinking…but they’ll let you have your say to, because they don’t want to risk their own freedom of speech. Disagree with a liberal on, say, religion, and he or she might try to label what you’ve said as “hate speech” (like if you mention that Mohammed was a pedophile…because he was one, but never mind all that) or otherwise engage in all kinds of ad hominem attacks in an attempt to delegitimize you as a person. The failing, as I see it, isn’t so much a political reality as it is an inherent problem with basic human behavior.
The one thing I have noted across all moderated fora is their tendency to quickly degrade into pointless, trivial non-conversation. Once someone has control over the conversation, that person tends to bend it to their own whims. They might have the willpower to resist this tendency, but many don’t. Sometimes what rules exist, if they’re even all that well published, are only enforced in a bias way. Sometimes the rules are deliberately vague, just to give the moderates a pretext for going after certain people, or being dicks whenever they feel like it. One of my first such encounters, on a fan site dedicated to one of my favorites movies, involved a lot of people (moderators and website owner included) sharing all kinds of hard core porn links. Whatever, it’s the internet, I’m not even remotely shocked or offended by that. However, I make one joke involving a dildo, and boom…comment removed and a warning from one of the moderators that I’ll be banned if I do it again. I point out the hypocrisy, and then not so politely tell him to fuck off. Now, being banned for my response I get, in so far as I didn’t want to be part of the site at that point anyway (and I’d already noticed poor treatment of other members, as well as other rather childish antics), but it was fun getting a special message of being banned from the site owner. Until that time, I had given the website some of my money. Most of this was buying their products (it’s mostly devoted to prop building, and they sell some of the harder to find items for this, as well as other custom made stuff), but I’d also tried to help the site stick around for this purpose and had bought (at a small cost, but still something) a paid membership to do just that. That’s a mistake I won’t be making ever again.
Another example of that kind of nonsense happened on a photography website. No paying membership there, of course. I’ve since ignored the fora, and use it only for its intended professional purpose, but I was annoyed by the way things were moderated. Disagree with doctrine, and they disappear anything you say. That doesn’t happen only over religion either, as I’ve seen my fair share of other people get reasoned comments deleted for heresy. What I find most curious is that, while the people who tend to behave this way embrace post modernist beliefs more often than not, it is these same people who act like they must squash anything that doesn’t conform to their scripture (because it’s okay to have an opinion, so long as it doesn’t disagree with anyone or anything). Some websites don’t have a moderator problem per se, but are almost worse because of it. Awhile back, I used to frequent WWMT’s website. Their old comment system allowed for anonymous accounts, and not too surprisingly the comment section was very active and outspoken. Their system had no official moderator, but because you still still report people’s comments and accounts, it was a kind of moderation by consensus. I had to create several different accounts, as did some other people, just to keep commenting on there. What I couldn’t help but notice is that the most vitriolic hatred never resulted in those people getting their accounts banned. Even the most supposedly moderate/liberal minded people would, over the issue of religion, say terrible things to no consequence. When a story about a billboard came up (I have the bumper sticker that went with the billboard campaign on my car (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/LWR_Image.JPG), mentioning that I supported this (I was already out as an Atheist) meant that, even among the moderate and liberal crowd, projecting such nonsense that, they think, my life must be meaningless as an Atheist, so why not kill myself? Or that I should be killed. The typical nonsense. Yet, I was the one who’d have to periodically make a new account. At least I managed to make a real life friend from the site (a pretty cool guy, I might add). In any event, WWMT screwed the pooch (and for the first time, all commenters agreed on something) when they switched from the system they had to having Facebook comments on their articles only (so, no more anonymous stuff). Now pretty much no one comments on there.
With regards to Facebook, individuals group pages are moderated by their creators and whomever they bring on (unless they choose to not be involved as such, of course). So many liberal pages have kicked me off, it’s hilarious. Some have banned me outright, some of pseudo banned me (which is to say, their content was still visible to me and it showed up as me “liking” it, but I could not “like” or “comment” on anything the page had). On rarer occasions, I’ve voluntarily left after seeing various kinds of douchebaggery. You can’t try to be fair to history, or even science sometimes, if it goes against the preferred doctrine. Despite how criminal and corrupt the Clintons were and are, there’s a bit of a love fest for them by liberals. Some would like to white wash Hillary’s voting in favor of the Iraq War (she was only against it once it became politically advantageous for her to do so…her and her husband are blatant opportunists, so that doesn’t shock me in the slightest). In one example, I pointed out that Bill Clinton is a (accused, more on that in a second) rapist. I must be referring to Monica Lewinsky, right? Well, no. That was consensual, if an abuse of power, although he did use the office of the presidency to harass and slander an innocent woman (committing perjury, which is what led to his impeachment, not the blow job itself…but yes, the Republican’s reasons for going after Clinton as such were entirely hypocritical). No, he raped a woman by the name of Juanita Broaddrick (and possibly others). She never pressed charges, like most rape victims, and was pressured into signing a statement saying she wasn’t raped…but based on what she had to say about the incident right after it occurred, I’m inclined to believe her (and her testimony, and that which was verified by several other people, has lead to the account being listed as very credible indeed). I suggest you read more on that yourself, if you’re so inclined. But…you can’t bring up that, or White Water, or NAFTA, or anything they’ve ever said or done that shows the Clintons to be the horrible people that they are without earning lots of ire. I generally only point out such things when a little too much hero worship goes on, but I don’t try to mention it as any kind of personal attack. As with my Gandhi article (I plan on writing more later, as I’ve downloaded pretty much everything he ever wrote that’s been published not long ago), liberals really hate having it pointed out that he was a terrible monster of a man. It conflicts with the beliefs they wish were true, and much the same with Mother Teresa, which shows the lie of many liberals supposed standards of right and wrong. I was kicked off one page for Gandhi comments alone. I guess liberals are okay with misogyny, pedophilia, etc. when it’s done by someone who’s labeled as a “holy man”?
Most recently, I was pseudo banned (as I phrase it) from a liberal website over the Iraq War. I didn’t even point out that Hillary voted in its favor, but I did mention that the Clinton Administration did label a conflict with Saddam as inevitable. It was phrased in such a way saying that, if McCain had cared as much about the lead up to the Iraq War and investigating that as he seems to care about Benghazi, there may not have been an Iraq War. So, my first crime was to mention what the Clinton Administration had to say about that eventuality. I said that the Bush Administration’s reasons for going to war were largely fictitious, that some of it was driven by corporate greed, that the execution of the war was entirely incompetent (as someone who was in the Army at the time, I think I get to have some say on that), and that Bush and his cronies do need to be held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed (especially concerning the torture issue, in my opinion). My next crime was to say that, despite all that, Iraq is better today for being a secular nation not under the control of the Hussein crime family, who monopolized its resources for their personal gain, and terrorized its people. No response from the page owner, just an erasing of my comment and a preventing of all future comments. I’m reminded of the Americans, liberals of course, who went over to Iraq to act as “human shields”. So, hating all the bullshit that Bush did means…loving Saddam, a far worse figure? The left criticizes the right for being in bed with dictators, yet the left acts in the exact same damn way.
Specific griping aside, the running theme I keep seeing is that no one is allowed to disagree with the group. Sometimes a small amount will be tolerated, but not often. Even people who could be considered in-group members to a highly established and respected extent can find themselves ejected by the group, if they dare utter an unwelcome thought. You can sometimes beg and plead your way back in, as Matt Dillahunty (“Dillacunty” as far as I’m concerned, given his own conduct) with the Atheism+ crowd. Funny thing about him, he once had a post that said that anyone who disagreed with him would get banned from his page (one of the cases of my voluntarily leaving). How ironic. Usually, the damage is done. Holding to your convictions in a polite, reasonable way only makes it worse (as with username Thunderf00t), not that anyone should want to associate with people who’d treat them that way. Freethoughtblogs is a prime example of this kind of behavior (the group from which Thunderf00t was ejected for daring to disagree with orthodoxy). I’ve never associated with them in any way, nor would I ever want to. They demonstrate that even people who claim to be about free thought, about skepticism, about critical thinking (and Atheism specifically), and all of that, they need not be truly rational people who embrace freedom of speech as a concept. They regularly patrol the comments, removing anything that isn’t groupthink. It’s unfortunate. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out, in the end such people do themselves a severe discredit.
I don’t have a real solution to offer, unfortunately. Going to the Yahoo comments section on any news article shows how terrible a true free-for-all can be. Such comment sections leave me feeling that humanity is doomed, and that a big asteroid hitting the planet might not be such a bad thing (I don’t actually think that, of course, but if you’ve ever been to those comment threads the emotional reaction is understandable). The only thing I can really do is ask for people to have restraint when it comes to moderating fora, that if you’re going to remove something, it’s only something very blatantly there only for trolling or spam (err on the side of caution). The moment thoughts are banished because you simply don’t like them, because they don’t conform to the group (or what you prefer the group to be), there’s no longer any intellectually based point in being there. All it’ll do is to serve to make you feel better about all the stuff you already all believe in together. You won’t gain a damn thing about it worth gaining, but you will weaken yourself for the day you encounter anyone who disagrees with you that you can’t shut up.