Ideologues and the trap of moral equivalence

posted by Jeff | Monday, October 21, 2019, 2:00 PM | comments: 0

Mark Zuckerberg made a speech about free speech, and why Facebook is so critical to it. I don't think you'll find many people who think that free speech isn't important, but the brilliant mind who created Facebook also isn't smart enough to understand why what he's arguing is not sound. Free speech has generally been promoted in the context of government, that a true fair and reasonable democracy requires it. But Zuck argues that a private company has no place regulating free speech, which is convenient for him to say when he's arguing about how important and empowering Facebook is to free speech. The company has been rightfully criticized for its role in spreading propaganda and reinforcing extremists, even inciting violence, by way of its algorithm.

Government most certainly should have to take the good with the bad, as an unusually straight forward belief that government can't pick winners and losers. Corporations have no such restriction, and frankly are obligated to get involved. Facebook, by taking an ideological stance, is suggesting that there is moral equivalence between the empowering aspects of free speech and the toxic interaction that it enables.

While Zuckerberg takes a strangely centrist position, he's still being an ideologue, a person that adheres to a political position without allowing for nuance or a spectrum of factors that make an ideology impractical. This is far more common at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, but I suppose it can land in the middle, too.

Certainly we've seen a crazy amount of normalization via declared moral equivalence on the part of some right leaning folks. Look, I'm not for "free college" or forgiving student loans, but what kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to suggest that these are "as bad" as dignifying white supremacists, making friends with fascists dictators, discrediting career generals or flagrantly showing disregard for freedom of the press? No elected leader is going to get anyone killed with free college, no matter how much I disagree with it.

Some things aren't just opposite sides of the political spectrum. Sometimes, there is a deeper truth about these sorts of issues, and they lean one way or the other. Being an inflexible ideologue does not serve you or any bit of discourse that moves us forward.


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