Friday, February 24, 2012

An Example of Hypocrisy

Here's an example of the kind of hypocrisy that is rampant in modern society. Tumblr isn't a particularly egregious example of this kind of hypocrisy, they're actually pretty decent in my [admittedly limited] experience (hey, at least they allow porn!). But this statement is a perfect example of how hypocrisy creeps into people's lives, and I think that sometimes these people don't even realize it:

"We are deeply committed to supporting and defending our users’ freedom of speech, but we do draw some limits. As a company, we’ve decided that some specific kinds of content aren’t welcome on Tumblr." (source)

Look, I won't argue that Tumblr isn't entirely justified in censoring the content that goes up on their website, I'm not even going to argue that it would be a good idea if it wasn't. I just wish they wouldn't pretend like they care about freedom of speech, in the same breath as wielding the ban hammer. You see this a lot. People - businesses, especially - see that they have to censor, and they know that censorship is unpopular, so they issue an idiotic statement saying that they are "deeply" committed to free speech. It's doublespeak, pure and simple, and saying it doesn't make it so (and I worry about how many people are stupid enough to believe it when it's so obviously untrue). "We support free speech, but we do censor some things". I've written before that speech is either free or it isn't, it can't be free just for the things you like. That's the very definition of censorship. It's the unpopular ideas that need to be defended for free speech to be meaningful.

I'm not complaining about the fact that Tumblr doesn't like people who engage in self-harm, and they don't want content on their site that encourages suicide or eating disorders. What bugs me is their asinine claim that censorship is compatible with a free speech approach (and I'm not sure which is more egregious, the lie, or the idea that they may actually believe it themselves). I mean, they didn't just say they are committed to free speech, they said they are deeply committed to free speech. I could let them off the hook if they were only somewhat (i.e., half-assed) committed to free speech, because that's something I could believe. But a company that is deeply committed to free speech is the kind that actively defends the very unpopular content Tumblr is announcing they want to censor - all in the name of playing nanny to their user base and being able to wash their hands of the idea that their site could be used to host content they don't personally agree with.

If I were to start a business dedicated to free speech, it wouldn't just be for the content I like. If I claimed to defend the free speech of my users, then I'd allow content I disagreed with. And there's no reason why Tumblr has to defend its users' free speech - that's up to them, their consciences, and their business model. And it doesn't necessarily make them bad if they don't defend free speech (clearly, truly free speech is an exceedingly rare commodity in this world). It's just this attitude of hypocrisy that drives me crazy. You can't support free speech and censorship at the same time. You can choose one or the other - and while I don't like censorship, I will concede that we do not live in a perfect world, and sometimes have to make compromises, especially on a business rather than a personal level - I just wish you would be honest about it, and not lie (either to us or yourselves) to protect your image. 95% of the world's population may be stupid enough to fall for it, but to me it just makes you look stupid.

Or maybe that's just closer to the truth...

Further ruminations:

It's clear that Tumblr is concerned about suicide and eating disorders as a social issue. But silencing these people's voices isn't going to help anyone. This is a feel-good measure designed to ease one's conscience and promote a good public image, but without any real positive effect. It comes from a 'rescue' desire to control other people's behaviors that you don't like. I think it's tragic that people commit suicide (although sometimes I believe it's justified), and suffer from eating disorders. But the cure is not to attack the speech that we may view as encouraging that behavior. People are going to do things we don't like one way or another, and the solution is not to try to control both behaviors and speech to prevent that from happening.

Life is a journey of self-discovery - not forced discovery. You can't teach someone who isn't willing to learn. If we are really concerned about people who commit suicide and suffer from eating disorders, what we need to do is not silence them and criticize them. We should open up to them and be there for them. We should listen to them, and that means accepting the reasons they have for doing what they do - as good reasons, sometimes. And then we can work WITH them, not against them, to help them better their lives. But ultimately, it has to be on their terms, and we can't expect everyone to come over to our way of seeing things.

That's life, that's diversity, that's freedom. Not control, freedom. Freedom to let people make bad decisions - in our opinion. And there is the crux: it is highly arrogant to assume that one's own morality is universal, even on seemingly objective issues like suicide and eating disorders, which some people believe are "just wrong". God, how I hate that phrase - it's specifically designed to close down debate, advocating a sort of blind, religious faith in a particular moral stance. Nothing - I repeat, nothing - in the world is "just wrong" from an objective standpoint. Things are either wrong for a reason (a subjective, debatable reason) or they're not. Geez, is that not obvious?

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