Friday, August 11, 2017

James Damore, Aaron Sobczak, and the Right to Free Speech

For the past couple weeks I've been facepalming on the sidelines of two online free-speech battles: a small skirmish generally unknown to anyone outside of the libertarian Twittersphere, and a larger, more recent war making headlines around the world.

First, the libertarian skirmish: during a libertarian conference on the weekend of July 29, the Ladies of Liberty Alliance, using the hashtag #MakeLibertyWin, went on Twitter to ask for suggestions on how to get more women involved in the libertarian movement.

In response, a young man named Aaron Sobczak, a Liberty University student who is or was the state chair of Virginia's Libertarian Youth Caucus, tweeted back a photo of a sandwich, alongside the witty and original suggestion that this is “The best way for a woman to #MakeLibertyWin.” Later – though I don't know the exact timeline of events – he doubled down on his comment by making a public Facebook post claiming that “screeching feminists” are why women shouldn't be involved in the liberty movement at all (except, presumably, as sandwich-makers for the menfolks).

In response, Reason writer Elizabeth Nolan Brown tweeted a screenshot of Sobczak's comedy stylings, under the observation “This is a young man who ostensibly wants a job someday, tweeting at professional women in his field under his own name,” and “RT to help ensure Aaron Sobczak’s prospective employers know this when they search for Aaron Sobczak’s name.”




Which made a lot of capital-L Libertarians furious – what kind of horrid groupthink is Brown promoting, suggesting that a man should suffer professional consequences just for spouting an unpopular opinion?

Though not usually prolific on Twitter, I decided to join the fray myself, re-tweeting Brown's comment along with this observation:
Libertarian hypocrisy: "We don't need anti-discrimination laws; The Market will punish sexism. Also, how DARE ENBrown call out this bigot!"
I'll be the first to agree: it would be awful to live in a world where merely “expressing an unpopular opinion” seriously hurts someone's chances of making a decent living. But what if that “unpopular opinion” specifically boils down to “I believe certain groups of people – many of whom are employees or customers of my employer – are inherently inferior, somehow”? If a libertarian-outreach organization refuses to hire Sobczak just because he wants to pre-emptively write off slightly more than half the human race, is that organization punishing him for non-conformity to groupthink – or making a sensible, defensible decision?

Kat Murti of the Cato Institute posted a 13-tweet thread explaining Sobczak's genitally focused idiocy in more detail;  for convenience's sake, I've combined all 13 tweets into a single paragraph here:
I stand by @ENbrown and those who critiqued the "sandwich tweet." Here's why... The tweet was posted in response to a discussion about women's role in the liberty movement and misogyny faced by libertarian women. The tweeter is a low-level representative of a liberty org who was attending a liberty conference and tweeting at fellow libertarians. No one searched out sexist jokes to make an example of their tweeters; the tweet was meant to be seen. It was made publicly, using the hashtag of the discussion, & tagged numerous libertarian women & orgs. It was not taken out of context. This was not a "joke." When called on it, the tweeter's response underscored these were his actual views on libertarian women. He (posting publicly on Facebook) said "screeching feminists" are exactly why women shouldn't be a part of the liberty movement. Suggesting that someone who hold these views is not a good ambassador for liberty is not an attack on his free speech. None of the people critiquing the original tweet called for legal repercussions or a violent response to silence the tweeter. However, some libertarian women who shared the tweet received anonymous texts with their home addresses & threats (actual doxxing). While I do think political correctness and call-out culture has in many cases gone overboard, this was not such a case. Libertarians must take a (peaceful, voluntary) stand against bigotry espoused by those who purport to be a part of our movement. Misogyny is not a libertarian value and standing against it is not an attack on free speech.
I've no qualms about admitting I agree completely with Murti's take: a man who espouses views antithetical to liberty shouldn't be employed in the liberty movement. But what about non-political (or apolitical) employers – is it acceptable for them to not-want to hire a man who publicly argues the inherent inferiority of women? Who is the source of the problem here: the man who repeatedly, publicly expresses a low opinion of women, or the women (and friends of same) who don't want to work with or for such a man?

A few years ago, the then-CEO of Mozilla resigned after it came out that he'd donated time and money to political efforts against gay marriage. Same conundrum: yeah, it stinks that someone lost his job merely for an unpopular opinion, but on the other hand that specific opinion was "Certain of my fellow citizens – many of whom work for this company, or use this company's products – are undeserving of full equal legal rights." Are the "un-equal" people in question being oppressors, if they say "Y'know, I really don't want to work for or with a man who is so convinced of my inherent inferiority?" Or "Given how many identical products there are on the market, I choose to use the product made by executives who don't seek to deprive me of equal rights?"

That said, the issue of former Google engineer James Damore is a bit trickier. Damore lost his job after publishing – on an internal Google message board – a ten-page pseudo-intellectual screed basically arguing that the reason companies like Google have far fewer women than men on their payroll is because of inherent biological differences. (He also implied – though never outright stated – that racial disparities in hiring are also due to biology rather than culture.)

My single favorite eyeroll-worthy paragraph from Damore's memo is probably this one:
Communism promised to be both morally and economically superior to capitalism, but every attempt became morally corrupt and an economic failure. As it became clear that the working class of the liberal democracies wasn’t going to overthrow their “capitalist oppressors,” the Marxist intellectuals transitioned from class warfare to gender and race politics. The core oppressor-oppressed dynamics remained, but now the oppressor is the “white, straight, cis-gendered patriarchy.”
If nothing else, I admire Damore's talent for creating semi-plausible deniability for himself: no, he did not specifically say that striving for full racial or sexual equality is as unrealistic as Communism's attempts to bring about full economic equality. And he doesn't specifically say that anyone opposed to sexism or racism is either a gorram Commie or unwilling dupe of same. All he did was post a historical fact about the repeated failures of Communism! And all Sobczak did was tweet a photo of a delicious-looking sandwich.

EXTRA CREDIT BONUS QUESTION

See if you can find the logical flaw in the following hypothetical statement: “Certain people will call us neo-Nazis 'bigots' just because we hate all Jews... yet those same people never call Jews 'bigots' even though they hate all neo-Nazis. That's because of hypocrisy.”

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