September 19, 2015

QotD: Why do we have armed forces?

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Polite Canadian society does not like to admit, though it is perfectly understood, that Canada’s presence is but dust in the military balance. It’s been about half a century since anyone regarded the Canadian military as a significant player. Current events in Iraq are not, whatever some conservatives might imagine, a replay of World War Two. This is a minor policing operation in which the middle powers are providing diplomatic cover for the actions of the Great Powers.

Among the relatively large nations of human history Canada is almost unique in one respect: We don’t strictly speaking need a military. There has not been a direct existential threat to Canada in more than a century. The only nation capable of invading is the one nation that would never try. Our security has been under written by either Britain or the United States for over two centuries. Tomorrow we could dispense with the whole of the Canadian Forces and, leaving aside the communities in which our few military bases are located, I doubt anyone would notice.

So why have a military when we don’t really need one?

Richard Anderson, “Macho Man”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-10-10.

September 18, 2015

Cabinet ministers of yore

Filed under: Cancon, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Walrus, Robert Fulford identifies precisely when Canadian cabinets were neutered:

Over lunch one day in retirement, Lester B. Pearson looked back on the men who had served in his cabinet and quoted Napoleon’s remark that “every French soldier carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack.”

Pearson wasn’t comparing himself to Napoleon. He was talking about ambition. Just as Napoleon’s troops dreamed of high command, many of Pearson’s ministers saw themselves as future prime ministers. And sure enough, when Pearson retired eight of his ministers announced they would run for Liberal leader—each with his own dedicated following and distinct point of view. One of them was Pierre Trudeau.

No one ever heard Trudeau express nostalgia for the Pearson years. In fact, he seems to have hated every minute of it. He saw no reason for ministers to establish their independence by leaking dissenting opinions to favoured journalists and constituents back home. Such freedom, which Pearson had put up with, didn’t strike Trudeau as democracy in action. It seemed more like chaos.


This truth is best explained by Trudeau’s inclinations, since hardened into custom. In the spring of 1968, as soon as he became prime minister, he tightened the reins of government power and let it be known that those reins all led to the PMO. In the early years, it was said (and widely believed) that his principal secretary, Marc Lalonde, held daily meetings with the executive assistants of all government ministers, so that Trudeau and his aides could know precisely what each was doing. As time went on, they increasingly did Trudeau’s bidding, which remained the case until he retired in 1984.

Since then, with one exception, no star ministers have blossomed under three long-running prime ministers, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, and Stephen Harper. That one exception is Paul Martin, Chrétien’s finance minister, whose talents attracted constant publicity and many admirers. As everyone knows, the Chrétien-Martin relationship ended in acrimony — the sort of political finale Trudeau carefully avoided.

QotD: “… on the shoulders of giants”

Filed under: Humour, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants is correct as far as it goes, but it gives dullards the wrong idea. Those giants don’t hoist you up there for a piggy back. You have to climb up them like a kitten that hasn’t been fed yet, and the giants swat at you while you make the ascent. Once you’re standing on their shoulders, you realize that the giants are drunk half the time and palsied the rest. They were only giants because you were so short. You can’t see as far as you had hoped. There’s a lot of work left to do.

Nobody understands that you have to be able to do it first. You can’t deconstruct a goddamned thing until you can do it, and if you could do it, you wouldn’t get the urge to deconstruct it. Frank Gehry can’t design a proper two-holer so he designs giant monstrosities to hide the fact.

Politics is the same. You will never elect anyone to take the government apart. Once you know how to work it well enough to get in charge of it, you don’t want to wreck it. You want to lord over it and add to it. No one wants the bulldozed empty lot where a Post Office once stood to be named after them. Humans don’t work that way.

Sippican Cottage, “The Cover Charge to Greatness”, Sippican Cottage, 2015-08-23.

September 16, 2015

Daniel Hannan on the inexplicable rise of Jeremy Corbyn

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Place your bets, folks … will the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn lead the UK Labour Party back into power or keep it far from that goal for years? Daniel Hannan is of the latter opinion:

For the first time in a lifetime of political analysis, I find myself lost for words. Nothing I write can do justice to the calamity that Britain’s Labour Party has just inflicted on itself. The best I can do, to give you a sense of the man newly elected as Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, is to summarize some of his opinions.

Jeremy Corbyn is happy to talk to Irish Republican Army men, avowed anti-Semites and Hezbollah militants; but he refuses “out of principle” to talk to the Sun newspaper, a right-wing tabloid.

He campaigns for the national rights of Venezuelans and Palestinians; but he opposes self-determination in Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands.

He’d like to admit as many Syrian refugees as possible, but is curiously ambivalent about why they became refugees in the first place, telling RT that Assad’s chemical attacks may have been a Western hoax.

He is relaxed about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he can’t stand the idea of Britain having one.

He says taxpayers should be able to opt out of funding the military, but not out of funding trade unions.

He wants to re-open coal mines that have been uneconomical since the 1960s; yet, oddly, he wants to wean us off fossil fuels.

He can’t even unequivocally condemn the Islamic State without adding a “but…” to the effect that America shouldn’t have been in Iraq.

He is, in short, happy to ally with any cause, however vile, provided it is sufficiently anti-British and anti-American.

Jeremy Corbyn, whose steady and surprising march to victory runs parallel to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unexpected success in the Democratic presidential race, is a shambling, self-righteous repository of every second-rate, lazy, 1960s Marxist nostrum. And Labour’s activists can’t get enough of him. They haven’t just picked the lowest card in the deck; they have slammed it belligerently on the table, giving Corbyn 59.5 percent of the votes in a four-candidate race. Fifty-nine point five percent for a man who has never held any office, who has spent 30 years rebelling against his party, and whose speaking style makes Ron Paul look like a mesmerising demagogue.

September 15, 2015

QotD: The Ex-Im Bank

Filed under: Business, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… every time the Ex-Im Bank gets involved in a deal, there are only two possibilities: The government is needlessly subsidizing something that would have happened anyway, giving away cheap money to a huge corporation. Or else it’s subsidizing a deal that wouldn’t have happened anyway, in which case we are defending the use of taxpayer dollars to sell cheap manufactured goods to foreigners. It’s not even as if we’re picking out especially needy foreigners, who may require a charitable contribution from the prosperous citizens of the United States; the subsidy is distributed on the basis of who is willing to, say, buy cut-rate U.S. airframes. And guess who benefits? U.S. corporations that export a lot.

This is not a good use of taxpayer dollars, and conservative ideologues, bless their hearts, are quite right to want to get rid of it. Their passion is a little out of proportion to the harm that this agency does, but even a small step in the right direction is better than none. The bank’s opponents concede that. For them, the appeal of taking on Ex-Im is that they might be able to take it down.

Against this impeccable economic and political logic, the bank’s supporters marshal a few arguments. First, they often claim (as Nocera implies) that the Ex-Im Bank generates a lot of money for the Treasury. Which is sort of true … except. First of all, it doesn’t account for the opportunity costs of the distortion; resources are diverted into production of certain goods, and away from others. And second of all, government accounting for loans is rather weird. According to the Congressional Budget Office, if we used a fair value accounting method, which would account for the risk of changing market conditions, the Ex-Im Bank’s six largest programs would be generating a deficit, not a surplus.

We are also told that Ex-Im is a vital matter of national security. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m pretty sure that if the U.S. government needs to find some money to give foreigners as a vital matter of national security, they will manage to find it even if the Ex-Im Bank is shuttered and its silent halls hold only the lingering ghosts of departed exporters.

Megan McArdle, “Ex-Im Bank Is a Tiny But Tempting Target”, Bloomberg View, 2015-08-03.

September 14, 2015

Trump and “middle class respectability”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q. last week, Ace explained what might eventually be the kryptonite that allows someone to defeat “el Donaldo” in the Republican race:

There is a notion of Middle Class Respectability. This notion is important to most members of my (your?) class. It can be put aside by highly-committed partisans who are intensely in favor of Trump (and who therefore don’t sweat negative information about him), but not by most people.

I have said before, in a line that I quite like, that Donald Trump is gloriously unburdened by respectability. Respectability is both a blessing and a curse.

Respectability, obviously, grants you some respect; you behave properly, according to the code of the class, and therefore are considered a member in good standing of that class.

But it is also very limiting. Many people will point out that GOP/RINO “pussies” will buckle and apologize at the first dirty look from a member of the liberal establishment.

That is the downside of respectability — people are afraid to lose it, and will quickly apologize when The Mob threatens to withdraw respectability from them.

And in America 2015, public respectability is granted by — controlled by — the college-educated upper-middle-class Media Class which controls most everything related to morals and manners.

The fact that Trump is gloriously unburdened by respectability makes him willing/able to say things that no Respectability-Craving politician ever could, like that yes, we need a border wall, and yes, we are permitted to, and should, be outraged by foreign criminals murdering Americans who are permitted to be here by Democratic mayors and presidents.

But the downside of his contempt for respectability is that he will obliviously trample things that are very important to the people whose support he will ultimately need, if he wants to do more than blow hot air.

Whether or not Trump thinks that upper middle class suburban Republicans are silly or not, whether or not he thinks they’re “losers” or not for owning only two cars, he will need that one third of the party that is currently dead-set against him.

And while Trump seems to either have a problem with women (how long did he spend attacking Megyn Kelly, versus how long did he spend attacking Chris Wallace?) or is simply unburdened by the Middle Class Respectability code of gallantry towards women, It is making a very large and influential block of people absolutely disgusted by him, repelled by him not a political level (which could always later be finessed or papered over) but on a personal level (which can never be repaired).





I would venture to say he can’t stop — I would venture to say that in Trump’s world of yes-men and eternal entitlement, calling a woman ugly is just sort of something he casually does, and, like a high school super-jock who’s always been protected from the consequences of his actions, he just has never had reason to internalize that dismissing a woman as Sexually Not Up to My High Standards as an opening gambit in conversation is socially disfavored.

September 13, 2015

Teaching microaggressions

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Ace of Spades HQ, Ace sums up the deepest problem with the movement to find microaggressions everywhere and in everything:

The idea is that just as cognitive therapy teaches people to not make a big deal out of trivialities (like teaching people who have a phobia about elevators to learn to not be afraid of elevators), microagression brain-programming is a malicious form of cognitive therapy teaching people the exact opposite — to fear this, hate that, fly off the handle about this other thing, and generally carry on like a lunatic about things that sane people do not even think about.

And just as the good form of cognitive therapy can make a hysteric or neurotic a well-functioning individual, so can the insidious form of it turn a well-functioning individual into a hysteric or neurotic.

I think it’s 100% right and I’m glad someone had the guts to say so.

Colleges and progressives generally are teaching young people how to be mentally ill.

September 12, 2015

Trump isn’t a political candidate … he’s a political fireship

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Grant McCracken explains why revelations of faults and gaffes not only don’t cost Donald Trump any support, they often increase his appeal to voters:

The answer, I think, is that his supporters don’t want a president. They want a fireship.

Fireships were instruments of destruction when the world was ruled by wooden ships. The idea was to pack a ship with flammables, set it ablaze, and send it in the direction of enemy ships in the hope that it would set these enemy ships ablaze. Fireships helped defeat the Spanish armada gathered in the English Channel.

Donald Trump promises to make a very good fireship. He lacks the subtlety, intelligence, breadth, and leadership we look for in a candidate. And that’s precisely what makes him such an effective instrument of political disruption.

Reckless, boorish, self centered? Perfect. Trump’s flaws make him a unassimilable. Washington is its own empire with formidable powers of hegemony. Many reformers go to Washington. Virtually all are claimed, colonized, incorporated. The Trumpians believes they have found a candidate so full of himself not even the Borg can absorb him. (If you can’t have incorruptible, unassimilable will have to do.)

But that’s just Step 1 of the Trump disruption, the passive play. Step 2, the active play, is a candidate who thinks he’s smarter than the system. Most Trumpians know that Trump isn’t smarter than the system. They just want him to act as if he is. That guarantees the destructive chaos they’re hoping for. I don’t think anyone doubts that Trump is a bully and a blow hard. They just want him to knock lots of things down when he throws his weight around. (If you can’t have cunning, clumsy will have to do.)

Trumpians don’t want a candidate. They want an agent of chaos. They don’t want to reform Washington. They want to burn it down.

A scenario that ends with a DraftLiz movment?

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh tries to explain some aspects of the ongoing Canadian federal election by pointing out parallels to the most recent British election (and aftermath) … and then must have dropped some acid to come up with this scenario:

The other day on Twitter you could catch some pundit types talking about Green Party Leader Elizabeth May becoming prime minister as an example of something zany that could absolutely never happen in Canadian politics. This raises an immediate question, for those of us who occasionally scan U.K. news: is May becoming prime minister any less likely than what is happening right now in the Labour Party?

Twenty weeks ago, Labour and its leader Ed Miliband were thought by pollsters to be slight favourites to win the May 7 national election. At noon yesterday, voting ended in the race to replace the defeated Miliband. The result will be announced Saturday. The almost certain winner — keeping in mind that Britain has deep betting markets, and punters are allowed to gamble unlimited sums on political outcomes — is Jeremy Corbyn, longtime MP for Islington North, an old Bennite ultra-radical who had attracted almost no public notice in British politics for the past 30 years.

So far, so reasonable, but then the rush hits:

I am not going to tell you to bet on Elizabeth May becoming prime minister of Canada. After all, in this country we don’t have betting shops on every corner — yet. What I notice we do have is a historically socialist party leading in the polls behind an awfully Blairish figure. All New Democrats are highly aware of Labour politics: Labour is their mother, in a way the Conservative and Unionist Party (U.K.) is not to our Conservatives. Although New Democrats may not admit it, the recent unearthing of Thomas Mulcair’s eulogy for Margaret Thatcher must have appalled and sickened many.

By opting for the ex-Liberal Mulcair as leader, the NDP chose the Blair approach to the future of the left. Mulcair now finds himself advancing a significantly more enthusiastic line on government austerity, somehow, than the Trudeau Liberals do. It is not clear who the NDP’s Corbyn might be if they had wanted one. But one notices that May is about the same age as Corbyn, and has the same kind of leftist street cred. She has spoken out for the same environmentalist and radically democratic principles over and over, grindingly, since she was a teenager.

You can already see the outlines of a political mini-thriller in this. Mulcair’s NDP is six or eight points ahead in the last polls before our October election. The pundits have the moving truck backed right up to 24 Sussex. But the Conservative get-out-the-vote machine proves itself again, as does the “shy Tory” polling effect. It’s a Harper landslide, bigger than before.

The recrimination within the New Democratic Party becomes general and open. Why, people ask, did we run to the right of Trudeau? Why did we choose a grumpy Thatcherite to challenge a grumpy Thatcherite government instead of keeping faith with our real identity? Insiders start to notice that Elizabeth May’s personal popularity is much greater than that of her kooky party. Someone buys the DraftLiz.com domain. May tells a reporter she would not be averse to talk of a merger, on her terms …

You can take it from there, can’t you? It’s a fantasy, of course. Such things never happen in the real world. Except when they do.

September 11, 2015

The first dramatic presentation of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Open Culture presents David Niven in the lead role of the first adaptation of Orwell’s final novel for radio:

Since George Orwell published his landmark political fable 1984, each generation has found ample reason to make reference to the grim near-future envisioned by the novel. Whether Orwell had some prophetic vision or was simply a very astute reader of the institutions of his day — all still with us in mutated form — hardly matters. His book set the tone for the next 60 plus years of dystopian fiction and film.

Orwell’s own political activities — his stint as a colonial policeman or his denunciation of several colleagues and friends to British intelligence — may render him suspect in some quarters. But his nightmarish fictional projections of totalitarian rule strike a nerve with nearly everyone on the political spectrum because, like the speculative future Aldous Huxley created, no one wants to live in such a world. Or at least no one will admit it if they do.

September 10, 2015

QotD: “Bookless” liberalism

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The enduring strength of both conservatism and libertarianism as intellectual movements is that they acknowledge that they are, in fact, intellectual movements. We not only know what we believe, we know why we believe it. But while liberals know what they believe, they have a hard time explaining why they believe it. That’s because, as E. J. Dionne, Martin Peretz, and other liberals have written, they’ve turned their backs on their own intellectual history. Liberals, in Peretz’s memorable phrase, are “bookless,” so they follow an ideology without knowing why it upholds and cherishes its ideas. As a result, they don’t know when, or how, to subordinate their ideology to larger concerns (and when you cease to be aware that you have an ideology, it doesn’t make you a pragmatist; it makes you a dogmatist).

Driven by feelings more than fact, they seek rationalizations. Or as William Voegeli puts it in his book Never Enough, liberalism has lost its ability to articulate a “limiting principle” to the size, cost, and ambition of government. Indeed, as we saw during the oral arguments before the Supreme Court over Obamacare, this administration is incapable of articulating any principled limit to the apparently infinite powers of the Commerce Clause and the living Constitution.

There’s perhaps no better proof that liberals are terrified of admitting their own ideological aspirations than the effort to mint fresh clichés to preserve the integrity of old ones. That’s the apparent goal of the group No Labels, whose official motto is “Put the Labels Aside. Do What’s Best for America.” (Or at least that’s one of them; for a group that doesn’t like labels, they sure have a lot of mottoes.)

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

September 9, 2015

The rise of victimhood culture

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ronald Bailey thinks the rise of microaggression-awareness is a symptom of a decline in dignity culture and a sign of the coming of a new victimhood-based culture, and that it’s a really bad development:

Over at the Righteous Mind blog, New York University moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt is signposting a fascinating article, “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” by two sociologists in the journal Comparative Sociology. The argument in the article is that U.S. society is in the midst of a large-scale moral change in which we are experiencing the emergence of a victimhood culture that is distinct from the honor cultures and dignity cultures of the past. If true, this bodes really bad for future social and political peace.

In honor cultures, people (men) maintained their honor by responding to insults, slights, violations of rights by self-help violence. Generally honor cultures exist where the rule of law is weak. In honor cultures, people protected themselves, their families, and property through having a reputation for swift violence. During the 19th century, most Western societies began the moral transition toward dignity cultures in which all citizens were legally endowed with equal rights. In such societies, persons, property, and rights are defended by recourse to third parties, usually courts, police, and so forth, that, if necessary, wield violence on their behalf. Dignity cultures practice tolerance and are much more peaceful than honor cultures.

Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning are arguing that the U.S. is now transitioning to a victimhood culture that combines both the honor culture’s quickness to take offense with the dignity culture’s use of third parties to police and punish transgressions. The result is people are encouraged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized, and oppressed. This is nothing less than demoralizing and polarizing as everybody seeks to become a “victim.”

“For some reason she rarely has the scarlet ‘(D)’ printed next to her name underneath the photos of her looking like an indignant troll doll”

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh has more on the controversy over Kim Davis and her beliefs:

The U.S. District Court, petitioned by the unhappy couple, duly ordered Davis to cut out the nonsense at once. She continued to refuse, creating another much-photographed scene at her office, and was summoned back to court Sept. 3 to explain. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that tireless friend to the friendless, actually intervened on Davis’s behalf; it disagrees formally with her view on the law, but it asked that she be fined for contempt of court, rather than imprisoned.

Judge David Bunning was having none of it, and put her in the clink. He says he expects to revisit his decision after Davis has cooled her heels for about a week, after which time the gays and lesbians of Rowan County will have had a fair crack at obtaining permission to marry. Five of Davis’s six underlings told Judge Bunning they are willing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the meantime. The sixth is her son, but the judge indulgently overlooked his impudence and calculated that five pairs of writing hands would be plenty to handle the work.

The tangential presence of the ACLU in the legal battle reminds us that there are some features of the United States that remain admirable — that the country has not yet totally degenerated into a shouting match of contending personal narcissisms. Another one is that there have been at least as many demonstrators on behalf of same-sex marriage rights as friends of Kim Davis at the offices of the Rowan County clerk. It is, with all due respect, a place hitherto best known in American history for a 19th-century blood feud between moonshiners.

September 8, 2015

QotD: Political labels

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

More to the point, the notion that we should give up our labels is an ancient grift, a venerable con, a time-honored ruse used by ideologues to clear the field of opposition (as I chronicle at some length in my new book, the tactic was pioneered by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte, who invented the practice of using “ideologue” as an epithet). This Jedi mind trick has two parts. First, the liberal says: “In the spirit of civic cooperation and problem-solving, we must all abandon our ideological priorities!” Then comes the implicit Step 2: “So we must accept my ideological priorities as fact and wisdom.” It’s like saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock.

You never hear people say, “We’ve got to get beyond labels for the good of the country. So that’s why I am abandoning all of my principles and agreeing with you.”

In past decades, the serious Left was at least a bit more honest about this game. That’s why John Dewey begged the American Socialist party to abandon the label “socialist” but keep the policies. Earl Browder pushed the Communist party to brand itself as “20th-century Americanism.” And, as historian Ronald Radosh has chronicled, this has also been the tactic of Browder’s heirs, down to Obama’s erstwhile “green-jobs czar” Van Jones, who gave up honestly proselytizing Marxism in order to sell his wares with more attractive packaging. “I’m willing to forgo the cheap satisfaction of the radical pose for the deep satisfaction of radical ends,” he explained in a 2005 interview.

Today the grift is played by liberals who don’t even seem to understand what they’re up to. For instance, whenever Arianna Huffington is accused of spewing boilerplate leftism, she responds with a long, canned answer about how the left-right paradigm has outlived its usefulness. Here she is on CNN: “This whole framing as a right-versus-left debate — a liberal-versus-conservative debate — is completely flawed. It’s obsolete. It’s making it much harder for us to solve our problems as a country.” And here she is ranting in one of the books with her name on it: “Someone please alert the media: not every issue fits into your cherished right/left paradigm. Indeed, that way of looking at the world is becoming less and less relevant — and more and more obsolete.”

This argument might have been a teeny-weeny bit more compelling if it hadn’t appeared in a left-wing screed of a book titled Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (And What You Need to Know to End the Madness). For Huffington the anti-ideologue, only one ideological perspective is too ideological.

The most basic problem with “I don’t believe in labels” talk is that it is incandescently stupid. “Label” is another word for “word.” Everything we associate with civilization, decency, and progress depends on labels. If we cannot label something poisonous, people will die. Similarly, labeling policies, or politicians or commentators, with ideological or party identifiers helps make clear their underlying assumptions and values. If you cannot understand why having a rule against labels is such a terrible idea, I urge you to march into your kitchen and peel the wrappers off all of your cleaning supplies, prescription drugs, and canned goods. Natural selection will take care of the rest in due time. (Though in many cases, refusing to label politicians is like refusing to label men and women by gender; the difference is usually easy to see regardless.)

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

September 5, 2015

QotD: The existential problem facing Reddit

Filed under: Business, Liberty, Media, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Network effects are wonderful for a technology firm when it’s growing. Early movers can gain an advantage that is very hard to displace, because once everyone else is using Microsoft Word or a Playstation, there’s a cost to switching away. On the other hand, investors (and antitrust lawyers) often assume that network effects are more durable than they actually are. In fact, they can be quite fickle. Once your network starts shrinking, the collapse can be sudden, because every node that gets subtracted from your network makes it less valuable to the people who remain. Networks that start growing often start shrinking — and a modest decline can quickly prompt a stampede for the exits. Anyone remember MySpace?

And so the problem that Reddit has is this: Having attracted a bunch of people on the promise that they could say anything they wanted, the company risks alienating those people, shrinking the network and shrinking itself right out of existence. Reddit would probably be a better place if the fat-shaming hobbyists and racist trolls were surgically excised. But they won’t be; they’ll be forced out bluntly, along with others, and that will drive away many of the users Reddit would like to keep.

Deciding what is offensive is inherently a political act, because one man’s deep truth is often another person’s deep offense. To take one obvious example, do you treat conservative Christians who say terrible things about gay rights activists the same as gay rights activists who say terrible things about conservative Christians? Men’s rights activists the same as feminists?

We are all more attuned to the offenses against our own beliefs than we are to what may seem terribly offensive to others. And with the culture war raging hot, it is going to be very hard to make choices that don’t look as if you’re taking sides. Even if you try to be scrupulously fair, chances are that you will miss something, causing one side to understandably point out: “See, they crack down on us, but not on those equally offensive other people!”

Reddit is trying to avoid this by splitting the baby in half: designating much of the worst content as questionable, and then segregating it, but not banning it. It’s far from clear, however, that this compromise will work. I don’t think a lot of people are going to mourn when the racist subreddits are segregated. But those are among the most notorious cases precisely because most people can agree that racist epithets are not okay. The border cases are likely to be more numerous, and the decisions will convince some users that Reddit is not for them.

Megan McArdle, “Policing Reddit Could Kill Reddit”, Bloomberg View, 2015-07-17.

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