Public Censorship And Private Speech
If you want to stand in my living room and shout about how the Inuit control alpaca production through a conspiracy with hip-hop record labels, and I think you're a demented freak and ask you to leave, most people probably won't say I'm censoring you. Most people recognize that I am not the government, and most people realize that I have my own rights in my living room — including rights of free expression (which allow me to determine what message gets broadcast from my living room) and even property rights 1 to control my own home.
People get fuzzier on this concept when it's a business that doesn't want to provide you with a living room in which to spout your theories. Maybe it's because people incorrectly conflate big, seemingly impersonal entities, whether they are public or private. Maybe it's anti-Citizens-United sentiment that businesses don't have rights and therefore have no right to object to you using their living rooms as a platform to trash-talk the Inuit.
But I put it to you: when a business doesn't want to give you a platform for your message, that's only "censorship" in the most weak-tea sort of way; it's only "censorship" in the sense that it is censorship for me to kick your nutter ass out of my living room because you're frightening the kids and embarrassing me in front of the neighbors.
This week there was a tempest in a Twitter when folks discovered that Kickstarter was hosting a campaign for a "pickup artist" book called "Above the Game" by a guy named Ken Hoinsky. Maybe you're fortunate enough not to be familiar with the PUA genre. Remember the guys who wrote guides about how to win at Mortal Kombat? Imagine they wrote a guide to interacting with women. "If she smiles, then UP UP B B RIGHT RIGHT UP B," where 'B' is 'be a total douche.'" Look, there's nothing wrong with wandering around wanting to get laid; it's the human condition. But there are ways to make it even less dignified than usual, and one way is to approach the prospect of sex like it's the secret cow level on Diablo, where the person you are facing has defenses you need to overcome before you can nail them.
Anyway, some folks pointed out that Ken Hoinksy, like a lot of PUAs and their fans, had some thoroughly creepifying ideas about human interactions. People expressed revulsion to Kickstarter that they were providing a platform. Kickstarter let the book's campaign complete, but today apologized, made a donation to an anti-abuse charity, and decided that they aren't going to host PUA stuff any more:
Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.
You can just imagine how this is going to play. It's cropping up on the Kickstarter comments already:
I can't believe you guys just laid down and took this abuse from the man-hating organizations who see everything as rape. I'm disgusted by your decision.
Your comment that seduction guide encourage "misogynistic" behavior is also incredibly offensive and sexist. How about you treat things equally between the sexes rather than immediately use terminology and words that place men in the immediate spot of wrongdoing? Kickstart, you're disgusting and I'm done with you.
Author Handsy McCrawlspace is also claiming he's been terribly wronged.
I am fatigued at the thought of all the "the feminazi wimmenz are censoring us!" rhetoric this will engender.
Look: if anyone wants the government to punish people for publishing PUA dreck, I'll be the first to seek pro bono counsel for the defendants. If anyone wants to pass laws banning the sale of this sad and creepy shit, I'll fight them. If anyone wants to sue PUAs on some half-assed theory that they are responsible for what demented individuals do, I'll contest it.
But if a private company, seeking to develop its own brand, decides it doesn't want to carry pickup artist manuals, that's their free speech, and it's just as legitimate as mine. I don't want to invite a pickup artist to my living room to give a talk to my friends because I think they're ridiculous and repulsive. That's my right. Kickstarter has decided they don't want to host PUA manuals. That's their right. Is Kickstarter motivated in part by money — by a calculated decision that their target audience is more creeped out than enthused by PUAs? Well I certainly hope so; they are a business. That's their right. Don't like it? Don't support Kickstarter, and try to convince others not to support Kickstarter. Is the decision inconsistent with some Kickstarter claim to openness and neutrality? Call them out on it. Look for another platform that takes all campaigns without regard to content, and do your part to help that platform succeed, instead. (Assuming, of course, that you really mean it — assuming that you really think that businesses should be viewpoint-neutral, and there's no campaign that would get you upset at Kickstarter.)
But if you decry it as "censorship," you are weakening the term. You're using it to mean "this non-governmental actor is not exercising its rights the way I would in their place." You're helping to promote ignorance about rights and blurring the line between public and private. If you're calling it censorship, let me ask you: may I come over to your house at a time convenient to me and stand in your living room and explain why you're wrong in a sonorous and condescending voice? If not, why not? You censor.
[ Clark note: I agree with Ken's last paragraph and disagree with the rest. I'll write a post within a week or so rather than clutter up the comments. ]
- Note to progressives: booga booga booga! ▲
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
- The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strained, But It May Have A Litmus Test - September 11th, 2014
- [Rerun from 2011] Ten Things I Want My Kids To Learn From 9/11 - September 11th, 2014
- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
- U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Very Wrong - September 6th, 2014