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March 26, 2013

The Salem Speechcraft Panics

Have you read this story?

It's egregious. Go read that; I can't summarize a summary, and there's no sense just quoting half their article.

Clarification: Note that while this woman did in fact do the power-game passive-aggressive asshole-aggressive I'm Gonna Put You on My Twitter Timeline, she didn't actually ask for the guys to be fired. Or at least I haven't seen that claimed. That seems to be PlayHaven's call. That's on them.

Now, this Adria Reid or whatever her name is is a real harpy who enjoys the power-trip she gets in accusing people of the New Witchcraft, which is supposedly hateful speech. It's an Empowering Game for her, accusing people and such.

She's like the girl in Oleanna -- did you see that? Go see that. I'll wait.

Saw it? Tough to watch, right? But it makes a good point: We are empowering the worst of us with this power to accuse people of Witchcraft, I mean, Speechcraft.

Petty broken tyrants like this get off on it, and we just keep giving them that power.

But I don't want to talk about her, actually. Because people like her have always existed. There have always been scolds and hysterical accusers and yes, until recently, no shortage of people willing to bid for a little Spotlight Time for themselves by accusing others of sorcery. (In fact, in Africa and in India's hinterlands, the practice continues.)

We used to just roll our eyes, or, if we were feeling a little empowered ourselves, we used to tell them to have a lie-down on the fainting couch until they had sufficiently re-gathered their shit enough to join reasonable adult company again.

What's changed?


What the Unholy Hell was this company, PlayHaven, doing firing an employee who broke no laws, stood before no tribunal, and did not even act on the company's behalf, but his own behalf, on the say-so of a serial hysteric and Witch-Finder?

You see the problem? The problem in PlayHaven.

And the problem is corporate America generally.

Mark my words. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: The primary direct threat to your right to speak freely as a private citizen and an adult in a free democracy comes not from the government, but from your employer, who will fire you if some hysteric tweets about something you said in your personal capacity.

Why? Because they don't want the supposed "firestorm" such a tweet will cause.

They're cowards. And they will fire you for exercising your free speech rights as an American citizen if someone accuses you of breaking the Speech Laws on FaceBook.

Now, we can't change that either. The world is full of weak men. PlayHaven especially so.

But we can change incentives. As Milton Friedman said, we cannot expect to put good and noble people into positions of authority over us. He was speaking of the government, but his point applies equally to employers. He said we have to accept that the people with authority will continue to be be bad -- and we will only have real freedom and real progress when we change the incentives such that bad, weak people do the right thing.

Because the bad, weak people will be penalized for doing the wrong thing and rewarded for doing the right thing. They'll still be cowards motivated by fear-- but we can only have progress when we put the correct incentive structure of fear into them.

In the instant case, this means punishing, by any consumer boycott we can manage, PlayHaven, whoever the hell they are, until they re-hire this guy and give him a $5000 bonus as a shame-based cash-money apology for their own cowardice and weakness.

But this is not restricted to PlayHaven. This is going on all over.

What is needed is a statement, an organization, a mission, a continuing effort to let corporations know that what free adult citizens say on their own time, for their own personal account (that is, not on the company's behalf), is not the corporation's problem, and they will not have a lot of lunatic baying for red meat from the "online community" over such personal, not corporate speech.

And, conversely, if they seek to limit American citizens' freedoms, they will have a problem.

I know no one will join me in this. I know I'll just be told it's every company's right to fire people. (But then, people have a right to boycott over unjust actions, too.) And I'll hear that people have to be responsible for their words. (And this includes getting fired for saying "dongle?")

And I know people on both the right and left will think about the times they really would rather like to get someone from the opposite party fired.

But this is going to be affecting all of us, all of us who still dare to speak our minds publicly, and it is actually in all of our best interests to put a stop to this ludicrous Salem Speechcraft Panics.

We should still retain the power to boycott corporations who act against our interests -- in their corporate capacity.

And corporations with an interest in a generally upright image will retain the right to fire people who seriously injure that image with notorious actions of serious moral turpitude.

But people getting fired left and right for simply exercising their basic right to free speech?

Yes, I know company's have the right to do this. But if we keep incentivizing them to do it -- that is, if we keep all the risk on the "Keep Him on the Payroll" side of the ledger, with no downside risk for these ridiculous Salem Witch firings -- we'll have more and more of it until basic company policy will be:


PlayHaven fired this guy on the hysterical shriek of a Witch-Finder because that is currently the easiest, safest thing to do.

Should it be the easiest, safest thing to do? Or should doing that sort of thing also carry some risks, so that it's not just an Automatic Termination when someone is Accused of Witchcraft?

I believe the latter. And I think we've gone way too far towards the former.

We should not have a regime in which the terror falls on those who speak. We should strongly prefer a regime in which terror should fall -- if terror needs to fall at all, which apparently it always does -- on those who would stop others from speaking.

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posted by Ace at 05:23 PM

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