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Comments by YACCS

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Wednesday, November 27, 2002
I'm a big admirer of Steven Den Beste's blog USS Clueless -- especially for the way he spends the time to think through issues and explain his thoughts, rather than posting the typical blogger's short link + snarky comment format. (And yes, I include myself in that latter category.) That having been said, the major problem with Steven's approach is that when he goes off track, he ends up many paragraph-miles beyond left field. And he's way off the deep end with his latest missive, in which he argues that blog boycotts are wrong.

(The background, for those of you not familiar: a lefty blogger, Jim Capozzola, has announced that his blog, Rittenhouse Review, is going to engage in a vast boycott of the wonderful Little Green Footballs, which concentrates on Middle East/War on Terror issues. Not only is Rittenhouse going to refuse to link to LGF, but it is going to refuse to link to any blog that links to LGF. This is generally known as a secondary boycott. Although, in a sense, this case is a tertiary boycott, because Rittenhouse objects primarily to what readers of LGF say, rather than to what LGF says.)

Steven argues against Rittenhouse's approach:
In essence, you have no obligation to associate with people like that. You have no obligation to in any way help them spread their opinions. But you should not attempt to actively suppress them, to actively work to try to prevent them from expressing their point of view. In part that means you should not attempt to use the power of government to persecute them, but it also means you should not attempt to coerce others to join you, except through the power of argument on the basis of the issues. Where you cross the line is when you do anything which works to prevent others from making up their own minds.

Translated into modern terms and choosing an example, it would go like this: if you hate the Nazis, you should not link to their web site. If you find others who do link to the Nazis, you can send them mail and try to convince them that the Nazis are despicable and that the link should be removed on that basis. But when you go beyond that, and try to use means not related to the issues (e.g. threatening a boycott of the person's business) then you've crossed the line. You've ceased to try to deal with the issues, and moved into attempts to suppress information to prevent others from even being exposed to the issues. That's where disapproval ends and censorship begins.
To quote physicist Wolfgang Pauli when confronted with a bizarre paper submitted to him by a colleague, "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong."

Now, do I agree with Rittenhouse Review's position? Not in the least, substantively or procedurally. Rittenhouse is wrong about LGF; it is not a hate site (although some of the posters do cross the line from time to time.) Rather, it is an extremely valuable site, the most comprehensive MidEast-related blog in existence. But even if LGF were a lousy, hate site, Rittenhouse's position would be silly. Site A linking to Site B does not mean that Site A agrees with Site B. Will Rittenhouse also refuse to link to newspapers that print Osama Bin Laden's alleged manifesto?

But a boycott, primary, secondary, or tertiary, is not censorship. It isn't even coercion. There's no force here. It's simply a refusal to associate. (I suspect that if Steven found his friends hanging around with white supremacists, or vocal supporters of Osama Bin Laden, he might well tell his buddies that he can't remain friends with them if they're going to run in these crowds.) That doesn't prevent other people from associating.

Steven seems to be worried about the slippery slope: what if a lot of people do what Rittenhouse is doing? Wouldn't that force everyone to stop linking to LGF? Well, first of all, of course it wouldn't. It would only convince those people who value Rittenhouse-related links more than LGF-related links to stop linking. Those would primarily be the people who didn't and wouldn't link to LGF in the first place; the people who think LGF has something worthwhile to say would hardly be worried about a threat from Rittenhouse. Second, what if it did cause most to stop linking? Steven wants to create a "freedom to listen," but (a) no such thing could exist, and (b) this wouldn't infringe on that right if it did. The wonderful thing about the internet is that there need be no centrally-planned distribution. LGF could go along happily whether or not anybody put it in his blogroll.

I don't argue that there are no dangers; if Google stopped indexing a site, that could pose a serious threat to that site's existence. But Rittenhouse Review is not Google. Even Instapundit is not Google. And search engines are unlikely to join a boycott, since that would discredit the search engine, doing far more harm to the engine than to the site. Rittenhouse Review has only the leverage people choose to give to it. It's no big deal.

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