Freedom: Don’t Let Politicians Tell You to EARN IT

The Wile E. Coyotes of the Internet — US Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) — are sure that THIS time  they’ve finally found a made-to-order tool that can take out the Roadrunn … er, those meddling ki … er,  the First Amendment and  Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Surely, they believe, their latest super duper special Acme rocket —  the “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020,” aka “EARN IT” — will finally allow them to deprive you of access to the strong encryption that protects your privacy, so that they (and every hacker on the planet) can snoop on you at will.

Here’s the cartoon character genius and deviousness of the EARN IT Act:

It doesn’t actually OUTLAW strong encryption, nor does it REQUIRE companies to cripple their products with “back doors” for law enforcement.

All it does is create a commission to establish “best practices” for Congress to pass into law.

What could possibly be the harm in that? Well, the EARN IT act would deprive any Internet platform that doesn’t implement those “best practices” of its Section 230 protection from liability for content created by parties other than itself.

What kind of “best practices,” one might ask?

“Best practices” for protecting user security? Nope.

“Best practices” for protecting freedom of speech, promoting vigorous commerce in digital goods and services, etc.? Nope.

“Best practices” for “preventing, identifying, disrupting, and reporting child sexual exploitation.”

You had to know that these cartoon character politicians were going to pull yet another “for the chilllllllldren” gag, and they lay it on thick — the words “child” and “children” appear nearly 300 times in the bill’s text.

And you have to know that among the first set of “best practices” to come down the pike will be demands that platforms prang  encryption so that law enforcement can more easily read your emails, your text messages, etc.

If you’ve thought the matter through, you probably also know that the EARN IT Act and its associated “best practices” won’t prevent or disrupt child exploitation. The strong encryption genie has been out of the bottle for decades and no number or type of “best practices” can stuff it back in. People who have something to hide already have, and will continue to use, the tools they need to hide it. The only thing EARN IT will prevent or disrupt is your privacy and freedom.

Only the innocent and law-abiding among us would be affected by the EARN IT Act, and the effects on good and important things like freedom and privacy would be wholly negative.

Graham, Blumenthal et al. certainly know this too. Don’t let them trick you into thinking they’re just harmless idiots like Wile E. Coyote.

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Backlash: The Last Refuge of an Immigration Moderate

Moderately pro-immigration thinkers often worry about “backlash.”  Tyler Cowen’s the most energetic worrier, but Tim Kane said the same at my Cato book party.  Backlash is what you bring up when none of the popular complaints about immigration make sense to you.  Then you get meta and reflect, “Immigration does have one serious cost: it inspires bad arguments.  Such arguments could ultimately lead to bad policies.”

The strange thing about the backlash argument is that the mechanism is totally general: “If you push X too far, you will – rightly or wrongly – upset the opponents of X.  They could be so upset that you actually get less X.”  Yet backlash to immigration is virtually the only form of policy backlash that anyone fears.

Which leads to an obvious question: Where are the other backlashes?

There has been some discussion of #MeToo backlash.  Yet as far as I can tell, no one worries that #MeToo will ultimately increase sexual harassment.

There has been some talk of globalization backlash.  Yet again, who claims that pushing globalization too hard actually leads to less globalization?

What gives?  The simplest story is that backlash against immigration is vastly stronger than backlash to virtually everything else in the universe.  However, there’s no evidence for this extraordinary claim – and as far as I know, even the vocal proponents of the immigration backlash story have never made it.

Another possibility is that immigration is only the tip of the backlash iceberg.  Big backlashes are all over the political landscape; we’ll find a bunch as soon as we start looking.

Good luck with that!

The more plausible story, finally, is that (a) the case for radical immigration liberalization is intellectually solid, but (b) most thinkers dislike advocating anything radical.  Low-quality thinkers can escape this bind by casually embracing low-quality arguments.  Higher-quality thinkers, however, have to scrounge around for a meta-argument.  When you know the critics of immigration are wrong, you warn, “Immigration is making the critics of immigration angry – and they might do something bad.”

To which the obvious reply is, “How bad?  Worse than the enormous harms of the immigration restrictions already on the books?  Highly unlikely.”

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Mentoring: The Rationality of Fear

A few months ago, Lean In published the results of a survey by Sandberg and Pritchard showing a dramatic increase in the share of male managers who fear close interaction with female coworkers.  Specifically:

60% of managers who are men are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together. That’s a 32% jump from a year ago.

The survey’s creators were dismayed:

This is disastrous. The vast majority of managers and senior leaders are men. They have a huge role to play in supporting women’s advancement at work—or hindering it…

There’s not a company in the world that can afford to leave talent on the sidelines because that talent is female. But that’s what will keep happening unless all of us—especially men—commit to doing better.

Most commentators found male managers’ reluctance to mentor women especially reprehensible and irrational.  Male managers aren’t just undermining gender equality; they’re paranoid.  How so?  Because innocent men have nothing to fear except false accusations – and these hardly ever happen.  Thus, Prudy Gourguechon remarks:

The implication of the surveys is that men are afraid of being falsely accused.  But false accusations of sexual impropriety are actually very rare.

Mia Brett tells us:

Despite the framing of this story, male managers refusing to mentor women started long before #MeToo. Furthermore, fears of false accusation aren’t supported by statistics.

Andrew Fiouzi:

[D]ealing with men’s unrealistic fears around false accusations will require unfamiliar amounts of self-reflection on the part of the men in question.

Emily Peck:

Some men also like to claim that women are fabricating claims. Those fears are largely unfounded, Thomas said. She points out that the same myth surrounds sexual assault. False accusations make up a very low percentage of reported rapes, according to several studies — in line with other types of crime.

While it’s dauntingly hard to credibly estimate the rate of false accusation, I suspect all the preceding authors are correct.  Human beings rarely invent bald harmful lies about others.

On reflection, however, this hardly implies that male managers are paranoid or otherwise “irrational.”  For three reasons:

1. You have to multiply the probability of a false accusation by the harm of a false accusation.  Since the harm is high, even a seemingly negligible probability may be worth worrying about.  Consider this passage in Fiouzi’s analysis:

But according to Richard J. Reddick, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, there is, practically speaking, no evidence to justify the Pence Rule [not dining alone with women other than your wife]. “You often hear about men being falsely accused of sexual harassment,” he says. “[But] the University of California, San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health conducted a study recently that revealed that two percent of men and one percent of women had been falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, so in fact, accusations, and particularly false ones, are exceptionally rare.”

Taking these estimates at face value, it’s hard to see the paranoia: A 2% chance of severe career damage is a serious risk, especially given the low personal benefits of mentoring.  Furthermore, managers are far more tempting targets for false accusation than ordinary co-workers, so their probability of being falsely accused plausibly rises to 4%, 6%, or even 10%.

2.  In any case, a low rate of false accusation multiplied by a long mentoring career could still readily lead to multiple false accusations.  So it’s hardly imprudent for many male managers to respond with great caution.  Remember: The chance you’ll die in a car crash today if you don’t wear a seat belt is a rounding error.  The chance you’ll eventually die in a car crash if you habitually don’t wear a seat belt, however, is nothing to scoff at.

3. As I’ve explained before, truly malevolent actions – such as falsely accusing others – are far less common than misunderstandings.  Misunderstandings are a ubiquitous unpleasant feature of human life.  One common way to avoid this unpleasantness is to avoid social situations likely to lead to misunderstandings.  This strategy is especially tempting if, in the event of misunderstanding, others will presume you’re in the wrong.  So again, it’s hardly surprising that many male managers would respond to changing norms (#BelieveWomen) by playing defense.

What then should be done?  The emotionally appealing response, sadly, is to fight fear with an extra helping of fear: “You’re too scared to mentor?  Interesting.  Now let me show you what we do to those who shirk their mentoring responsibilities.”  If this seems like a caricature, carefully listen to what the authors of the original survey have to say:

Ugly behavior that once was indulged or ignored is finally being called out and condemned. Now we must go further. Avoiding and isolating women at work—whether out of an overabundance of caution, a misguided sense of decorum, irritation at having to check your words or actions, or any other reason—must be unacceptable too.

The problem, of course, is that mentoring is too informal to easily monitor.  Unless someone loudly announces, “I refuse to mentor women,” there’s not much you can do to him.  Mentoring quotas are likely to flop for the same reason.

The alternative is obvious, but unpalatable for activists: Put the frightened people whose assistance you need at ease.  Be friendly and calm, gracious and grateful.  Take the ubiquity of misunderstandings seriously.  Don’t zealously advocate for yourself, and don’t rush to take sides.  Instead, strive to de-escalate conflict whenever a misunderstanding arises.  This would obviously work best as a coordinated cultural shift toward good manners, but you don’t have to wait for the world to come to its senses.  You can start building your personal reputation for collegiality today – so why wait to get potential mentors on your side?

If you’re tempted to respond, “Why should I have to put them at ease?,” the honest answer is: Because you’re the one asking for help.

If that’s the way you talk to others, though, don’t expect them to give you honest answers.  Intimidation is the father of silence and the mother of lies.  If you have to use threats to exhort help, you’ll probably just get a bunch of empty promises.

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Bernie Sanders, Joe Rogan, the Human Rights Campaign, and Truth in Advertising

On January 20, comedian and podcast host Joe Rogan mentioned that he’ll “probably vote for Bernie” Sanders in the Democratic Party’s presidential primary. Rogan cited Sanders’s decades of “consistency” as a “very powerful structure to operate from.”

More interesting than Rogan’s quasi-endorsement was the Human Rights Campaign’s negative response. The organization called on Sanders to “reconsider” his acceptance of Rogan’s support.

What’s the organization’s problem with Rogan?

“Bernie Sanders has run a campaign unabashedly supportive of the rights of LGBTQ people,” says HRC president Alphonso David. “Rogan, however, has attacked transgender people, gay men, women, people of color and countless marginalized groups at every opportunity.”

But in 2016, HRC backed Hillary Clinton — who had clung to marriage as a “one man, one woman” proposition until about a minute before the Supreme Court ruled otherwise — over “unabashedly supportive” Bernie Sanders.

HRC’s official motto is “Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Equal Rights.”

If political advocacy was subject to “truth in advertising” laws,  that motto would be “Turning Contributions for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Equal Rights Into Support for Establishment Politicians.”

As for Rogan, he doesn’t seem to have truly “attacked” anyone. He “jokes” about EVERYONE, which is a comedian’s job. And he muses, and lets his guests muse, about pretty much EVERYTHING through hours of podcasting every week.

I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of Joe Rogan’s podcast, and the one thing I’ve never heard come out of his mouth is hate for LGBTQ people or any other minority group.

What I did hear, in the same podcast in which he lauded Sanders, was this: “Treat each other as if they are loved family members. Treat people as if they’re you. And if you do treat them, and if they treat you like that … the world is a better place.”

Yes, Rogan has frequently expressed concerns about trans issues, especially in the world of sports. As a former professional fighter and commentator for professional fights, he’s interested in, and has talked extensively about, the difficulties of sorting athletes by gender in a gender-fluid age. But never, so far as I can tell, has he done so from a hateful viewpoint.

Yes, Rogan has made jokes at the expense of virtually every group on the planet. And he has a knack for turning those jokes into mirrors for himself and everyone else to see our shared humanity in.

I don’t always agree with Rogan, but he grapples honestly with tough issues instead of just pushing a  lucrative party line and denouncing all who dissent from that line. The Human Rights Campaign would better serve the community it claims to work for by adopting that approach instead of denouncing it.

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Not a Fan of Artificial Divisions

I’m not a fan of the trend on social media to create artificial divisions to pit people against each other. A recent example is the condescending remark “OK boomer.”

This phrase is commonly used against anyone assumed to be a “baby boomer,” or who simply isn’t as “progressive” and “enlightened” as those weaned on “social justice” might prefer.

If someone points out problems with socialism, with basing legislation on sexual identity issues, with climate change prescriptions to be imposed on society through the “New Green Deal,” or with other topics that have been politicized, they are likely to be dismissed with this comment.

As if they are cute for being too old and backward to be taken seriously.

Why encourage this type of division? There are endless ways to categorize and divide people: generations, races, sexes, Democrat and Republican. Those who crave more control will back whichever side begs for more legislation. They will encourage them to fight and ridicule anyone who opposes handing government more control.

It’s why government loved “Baby Boomers” as long as they were useful — begging for more government programs and spending — but was happy to throw them under the bus when a new generation began to beg for “social justice” legislation the older generation saw as going too far.

“Social justice” was too good an excuse for more government control; it couldn’t be ignored.

Climate change seems to be an equally popular excuse.

Government supremacists seek to divide and conquer with whatever divisions can be imagined, created, magnified, or exaggerated.

The truth is, it’s not “Republican versus Democrat,” Baby Boomer against Generation Z, “black” against “white,” male versus female versus whatever else you imagine exists. It has always come down to those who want people to be herded, numbered, controlled, governed, and enslaved against those who recognize the equal and identical rights of all humanity and the liberty that comes from this truth.

It has always been the rulers against the people.

Increased government power depends on hiding truth from you. It depends on giving you imaginary enemies to keep you too flustered to realize who your real enemy is.

Instead of dividing, I try to support anyone I think is right, even if I am hard on them when they are wrong. I don’t fault people for who they are; only for what they do when what they do violates the liberty of others.

I’d much rather explain my reasons in either case than to dismiss people with an intentionally condescending catchphrase.

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“We” Should Not Regulate Homeschooling

The desire to control other people’s ideas and behaviors, particularly when they challenge widely-held beliefs and customs, is one of human nature’s most nefarious tendencies. Socrates was sentenced to death for stepping out of line; Galileo almost was. But such extreme examples are outnumbered by the many more common, pernicious acts of trying to control people by limiting their individual freedom and autonomy. Sometimes these acts target individuals who dare to be different, but often they target entire groups who simply live differently. On both the political right and left, efforts to control others emerge in different flavors of limiting freedom—often with “safety” as the rationale. Whether it’s calls for Muslim registries or homeschool registries, fear of freedom is the common denominator.

A recent example of this was an NPR story that aired last week with the headline, “How Should We Regulate Homeschooling?” Short answer: “We” shouldn’t.

Learning Outside of Schools Is Safe

The episode recycled common claims in favor of increased government control of homeschooling, citing rare instances in which a child could be abused or neglected through homeschooling because of a lack of government oversight. Of course, this concern ignores the rampant abuse children experience by school teachers and staff people in government schools across the country.The idea that officials, who can’t prevent widespread abuse from occurring in public schools, should regulate homeschooling is misguided.

Just last month, for example, two public school teachers in California pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a student, a public school teacher in New Mexico was convicted of sexually assaulting a second grader after already being convicted of sexually assaulting two fourth graders, two public school employees in Virginia were charged with abusing six, nonverbal special needs students, and the San Diego Unified School District in California is being sued because one of its teachers pleaded guilty to repeated sexual abuse and intimidation of a student.

Child abuse is horrific, regardless of where it takes place; but the idea that government officials, who can’t prevent widespread abuse from occurring in public schools, should regulate homeschooling is misguided. Many parents choose to homeschool because they believe that learning outside of schooling provides a safer, more nurturing, and more academically rigorous educational environment for their children. The top motivator of homeschooling families, according to the most recent data from the US Department of Education, is “concern about the environment of other schools.” Being regulated by the flawed government institution you are fleeing is statism at its worst.

Homeschooling Is Growing

Brian Ray, Ph.D., director of the National Home Education Research Institute, offered strong counterpoints in the otherwise lopsided NPR interview, reminding listeners that homeschooling is a form of private education that should be exempt from government control and offering favorable data on the wellbeing, achievement, and outcomes of homeschooled students.

Homeschooling continues to be a popular option for an increasingly diverse group of families. As its numbers swell to nearly two million US children, the homeschooling population is growing demographically, geographically, socioeconomically, and ideologically heterogeneous. Homeschooling families often reject the standardized, one-size-fits-all curriculum frameworks and pedagogy of public schools and instead customize an educational approach that works best for their child and family.

With its expansion from the margins to the mainstream over the past several decades, and the abundance of homeschooling resources and tools now available, modern homeschooling encompasses an array of different educational philosophies and practices, from school-at-home methods to unschooling to hybrid homeschooling. This diversity of philosophy and practice is a feature to be celebrated, not a failing to be regulated.

The collective “we” should not exert control over individual freedom or try to dominate difference. “We” should just leave everyone alone.

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