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We dissent (claremontindependent.com)
211 points by zabramow on Nov 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments



Above all, we are disappointed that you and President Chodosh weren’t brave enough to come to the defense of a student who was told she was “derailing” because her opinions regarding racism didn’t align with those of the mob around her. Nor were you brave enough to point out that these protesters were perfectly happy to use this student to further their own agenda, but turned on her as soon as they realized she wasn’t supporting their narrative. These protesters were asking you to protect your students, but you didn’t even defend the one who needed to be protected right in front of you.

It's like nobody on any side of any of these university free speech issues can keep themselves on the rails. These people don't seem to get it either.

Students don't need "protection" from free speech, nor does anyone need to be rescued from the "mockery" and "humiliation" of an accusation of racism.

Demands for journalism-free "safe spaces" are bad, but so too is the idea that accusations of racism are so beyond the pale that people need to be shielded from them by institutions.


It certainly seems that the mere accusation of racism (or not even racism -- just not making race your primary focus and language of discussion) is career-destroying.

What I got from reading the article was the notion that the head of an academic institution should not sit by and let a frothing mob that argues by fear and destroying careers and screaming and swearing run any and all discussion at the college; rather try to enforce a more cordial and respectful mode of communication, be brave in his or her rejection of this attitude and stand as an example to others that respect and dialogue are the cornerstone of the mission of education.

The only "protection" they need is to be secure in the knowledge that the enormous amount of abuse and harassment and attempts to attack their livelihoods will be met with a firm defense of their ability to have opinions by those in power, not a request for their resignation.


The idea that some forms of speech are "career-destroying" and must be suppressed is isomorphic to the idea that, for instance, an email about Halloween costumes can be insensitive enough to cost a faculty member their job.


I have no problem with the idea that certain forms of speech should end your career. If someone starts yelling slurs at people, they shouldn't have a job that involves interacting with people anymore. That doesn't infringe upon their free speech rights; they can say anything they like, and others can respond accordingly, which includes firing them or choosing not to hire them.

The question then becomes where to draw the line: what speech deserves that level of response? And that seems like a topic people can vigorously disagree about.

In particular, any conflict of fundamental values generates heated debate. It's "easy" to evaluate a conflict between a fundamental value and something that isn't: the fundamental value tends to win. That's part of why people rarely change their minds about fundamental values; not necessarily a feature. But when a conflict arises between two fundamental values (say, "free speech" and "non-discrimination") that many people hold simultaneously, people have to actually think to resolve the issue. You'll get some people taking sides (such as declaring "free speech" absolute and telling people to grow a thicker skin), but you'll also get people learning to define their values more precisely (e.g. your right to speak doesn't require others to listen without reaction, or to give you a platform from which to speak).


> And that seems like a topic people can vigorously disagree about.

Thankfully, most industries don't have blacklists, so each "career-ending" moment can be evaluated independently by people who do hiring in that respective field.

Speech that mocks a Jeb Bush might disqualify you from work at Fox News, or (if any exist) conservative-leaning universities, but might actually be viewed as favorable to others. It is because we so vigorously disagree on those levels that, for the most part, even though there may be some job losses in the present, except where they are universally disagreed with, should not necessarily be career-ending.

Or, at least that's how it works in theory. Gary Webb's career never rebounded from having printed a generally true series of articles, but then again, it might eventually have righted itself had he not died in 2004.


Should they get their job back when they stop yelling slurs?


Depends. They will have demonstrated a basic lack of consideration important for that sort of work.

It is on them to make the case they now will demonstrate that consideration.

A very common thought will be, "they do, until they don't" and their case will center in on that risk. If successful, they will improve on that basic dynamic over time spent demonstrating that consideration.


"I don't want to spend my life not having good food going into my pie hole. That hole was made for pies."

-Paula Deen


Case in point, yes?


There is no shield in the First Amendmemt.


> It certainly seems that the mere accusation of racism ... is career-destroying.

Examples?


The article we are currently discussing is a good place to start though there are certainly others if you care to look (in academia at least).


As someone going to one of the 5Cs, some of my CMC friends have said that Dean Spellman's resignation was something that some students had been actively pursuing at least since last year, so I'd argue it's hardly a result of the mere implication of racism.


Do you have any context? I googled and couldn't find any.


Maybe I'm taking your use of "career-destroying" too literally. This dean will surely have no trouble finding another job.


I hope so and I think it's certainly possible, but 'publicly forced to resign for being a racist' being the first thing that shows up when a university official googles your name might make it a rough hire. These positions are high-publicity and the student body is the same everywhere.

But I'm encouraged by your optimism -- perhaps I should have said 'job-destroying' instead, because it is inarguably that.


I mean, yes, it may invite some uncomfortable conversations in the future. This isn't the first time that someone has been forced to resign for problematic statements, and I honestly can't think of anyone who has been totally shut-out because of them. Once you reach the higher levels (e.g., dean of a very prestigious liberal arts college), the landings become quite soft (even when they ought to be hard).

Anyway, I'm on-board with your suggestion of "job-destroying."


This is the same argument that's used by people advocating expelling ten [white, straight, cis, male] students for the same purported crime. "It's okay to leverage overwhelming power to commit outrageous acts of injustice toward so-called privileged persons because they'll just wave the magic priviledge wand to make everything better." This argument only serves to dehumanize the out-group which has been labeled as "priviledged"; it's a modern witch-hunt.


The present argument is whether the which hunt would prevent them from advancing their career in the same field. It is contended that it never does really. Sure it is a dick move, but that's not being disputed.


Racism's supporters try to have their cake and eat it too. They claim to defend free speech — but "the mere accusation of racism is career-destroying." So speech from the "frothing mob" (college students getting rid of backwards bureaucrats) is dangerous:

> "... destroy the lives of anyone who dares step outside the social justice orthodoxy even for a moment."

Whereas racism, in a country where being black can get you killed by the state? Attacked by whites, jailed, unemployed...? Oh, racism's just words, let's not get carried away...


Something that bugs me whenever I see it:

> these protesters were perfectly happy to use this student to further their own agenda, but turned on her as soon as they realized she wasn’t supporting their narrative.

Put another way: "these protesters were perfectly happy to support this student when they agreed with her, but stopped supporting her when they realized they didn't agree with her."

What the hell is wrong with that? Isn't that exactly what you'd expect? If I agree with you, I'll support you; if I disagree with you, I won't. If I agree with you and support you and then you start saying things that I disagree with, I'll begin to distance myself from you. Of course that's how it goes, what else are you expecting?

I freely admit that I don't know the details surrounding the particular student they're referring to, but the way that the author framed this with such divisive language ("further their own agenda", "supporting their narrative") smacks of the sort of ad hominem garbage that seems to be increasingly popular in these sorts of arguments, and it stops discussion before it starts. Anytime you agree with someone you're "only doing it because it furthers your agenda"; everyone has an "agenda" if agenda just means "things I care about" and every side of an argument is trying to "further their own agenda" if that just means "achieve certain goals".


It's the principle that when your speech is on-message, you're counted in our number, whereas when your speech is off-message, you've been brainwashed, therefore you're also counted in our number, but we are also going to shut you up by any means necessary. The sophistry and belligerent obtuseness is insulting.

This is a signature tactic of the "safe space" crowd, and people tend to (quite understandably) grow allergic to it.

Don't take my word for it: watch a couple of videos of verbal clashes between these goons and people who don't agree with them, and make up your own mind.


> What the hell is wrong with that? Isn't that exactly what you'd expect?

What's wrong with that? They gave her a platform because she was an Asian woman. She disagreed with them, so they revoked the platform. It's farcical.


I think it's more like speaking up when somebody is harangued and bullied is the right thing to do. You don't curtail their free speech, you just tell them that "my friend over here is not a racist, what you're saying is bullshit, and I have his back; please continue".

But it is also a courageous thing to do, because then you will stand there harangued and bullied, and spat upon, the same as your friend and colleague.

The "safe space" they accuse Chodosh of not providing is necessarily a metaphor — it wouldn't make much sense if taken literally.


Sure, its not the institutions role to protect accusations of racism.

But watch the video yourself and make a judgement on who, if anyone was being racist. (Ignore the inflammatory title, this is the best one I can find)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8UTj8lQJhY


Who cares if "they're" the racists? It's always the same thing, both on the protester's side and the institution, stretching back years: someone does something dumb, and someone else overreacts.


I think part of the problem is that if you're a minority group which views the majority group don't think are important you will not only be judged as overreacting because they can't understand you, but you will also be judged more harshly if you do overreact.

It's like in work life when men can be looked up to as jerks when they fire people for petty things, favor their buddies over other colleagues, go out drinking groping and picking fights. But when a women is calling out someones unwanted advance or sexual harassment she have to be absolutely sure she is correct and can prove it because otherwise it's apparently her that are making people uncomfortable. And of course since "it wasn't a big deal" she is overreacting by default.

Maybe overreacting isn't such a bad thing, maybe it simply evens out the jerks a bit.


A thousand times yes. People equate overreacting with "complaining about something I don't understand."

Sadly, I include myself in this generalization. I need to work on empathy.


I didn't say anyone was. I don't think anyone was being racist in the video.

I was just trying to provide context to the paragraph you quoted in case you hadn't seen the video.


Let me change one word in your response:

> Students don't need "protection" from free speech, nor does anyone need to be rescued from the "mockery" and "humiliation" of an accusation of communism.

> Demands for journalism-free "safe spaces" are bad, but so too is the idea that accusations of communism are so beyond the pale that people need to be shielded from them by institutions.

Or:

> Demands for journalism-free "safe spaces" are bad, but so too is the idea that accusations of witchcraft are so beyond the pale that people need to be shielded from them by institutions.

Can you honestly be unaware that we live in a world where no one gets fired for being a communist, or a witch? But...


That's not the best example to pick: people are still killed on accusations of witchcraft. [0,1] The Hollywood blacklists are still in living memory, and someone was fired in the US for being communist ~2001.[2]

I, personally, am something of a free speech absolutist, and believe it is important to protect even (nay, especially) loathsome speech. I am not aware of the what the happened in the incident described in the letter, so I am not willing to judge whether the original letter is an overreaction as tptacek claims, or not. Nevertheless I generally like to see arguments made accurately.

[0]: Papua New Guinea, 2013. http://world.time.com/2013/06/05/despite-legal-moves-pngs-te...

[1]: Tanzania, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29572974

[2]: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/chatterbox/2...


These intellectually bankrupt movements horrify me. Perfectly-well-meaning people, while supposedly building a bright tomorrow, create hell. Just like the 1950s Czechoslovakia. University execs scared not to cater to idiotic demands, public shaming, double-speak, government-sanctioned kangaroo courts.

It's like Lord of the Flies II: The College Years.

I would like to know if the Hitler Jugend were like this, too?


Indeed history repeating itself. Book burning started on college campuses as well.

Not necessarily the Hitler Jugend, but Fascism was also considered an "intellectual movement" in its heydays, very popular on college campuses with perfectly well-meaning people.


I don't think you're correct on that point historically. Fascism was mainly a lower-class phenomenon, not really rooted in universities or intellectuals. There were certainly a handful of intellectuals who did align with it (esoteric pagan types in the Völkisch movement, some racial theorists, and a handful of philosophers), but it wasn't their main base. For one thing, German universities at the time had a quite large proportion of Jewish faculty and students, who for obvious reasons were not sympathetic to the Nazis. And even the right-wing part of the intellectual milieu mostly aligned with the older conservative parties, not with the Nazis, who they saw as uncouth rabble. As a result, the Nazis had to impose themselves on universities against considerable resistance, and to do so had to fire a large proportion of the faculty, and then appoint a bunch of its own functionaries to replace them. There's a reason Hitler gave speeches in places like beer halls, not the University of Munich.


Fascism and Nazism are not the same thing. Nazism is subset of Fascism. Which is lot more international phenomena. And it has had limited support in various places.

My home country fostered few Fascists movements before and during WWII. One of them included lots of people from academia. While curiously there is no mention anywhere that they would have persecuted domestic ethnic minorities.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriotic_People's_Movement_%2...


Not disagreeing, I find this whole situation bizarre, but do you mind sharing some of your reasoning?


> Perfectly-well-meaning people, while supposedly building a bright tomorrow, create hell. Just like the 1950s Czechoslovakia. University execs scared not to cater to idiotic demands, public shaming, double-speak, government-sanctioned kangaroo courts.

After WWII, the Czechoslovak communists were faced with the problem of replacing the management of literally the whole country's public sector, as well as the newly nationalized formerly private sector, with people loyal to the new Republic. This meant no Nazi or Western collaborators, this meant purges. A lot of good people were chewed up, some died in prison or were executed. In the universities that had been closed since shortly after the beginning of the war, the students were allowed to take over, and run the administration, and later conduct the purges. This gave tremendous responsibility to people who had no qualification, no training, no life experience; and also tremendous power to people who by bribery or false testimony leveraged the system for personal gain or revenge. These drumhead hearings were not dissimilar to the Title IX hearings that take place on the campuses today. Here also are people with inappropriate training, perjury is rampant, the verdict is swift, but can it really be called just?

Read Kundera's The Joke[1] (also a 1968 movie), for a good illustration of the absurdity of it all.

The protagonist sends a letter to his girlfriend with a joke regarding something or other. She finds the joke offensive, shares her concern with some of her colleagues, a hearing is called, and our protagonist finds himself kicked out of the university, and branded politically unreliable. This means he can barely get the worst of jobs, and will in fact be forced to work in a penal colony for a few years. Never having been convicted of a crime, never having been given the opportunity to defend himself in a court of law. Because of a joke.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Joke_(novel)


Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences.

Since this is the internet I'll note that I'm being sarcastic, and attempting to demonstrate the intellectual bankruptcy of such a statement, which we hear all the time when these sorts of things happen.


Uh, yeah, actually it does. Not all consequences, but some very specific and very important ones. That's the entire legal definition of "freedom of speech"- that actions actions cannot be taken against you to restrict your freedom to say what you want, nor to punish you after the fact.

When such restrictions or punishments are in place, you are not, in fact, free to speak.

Now private universities, for example, not being governmental institutions, are not required by the constitution to guarantee free speech rights within their domain. But there are good reasons why that right was encoded in the constitution to limit the power of our national government, and they apply just as well to the governing bodies of universities and other private institutions.


Universities and private institutions lack the check on that power that the government has with the judicial system. So even a policy of ardent free speech in these institutions would be on weak ground without a system to accuse or appeal misjudgment by the power holders.

The best system they have is public discourse... the media or internet,

But modern corporate media, much like University administrators, have demonstrated to be extremely unwilling to offend anybody. They rarely take a strong stances towards freedom of speech, preferring to appease via resignations and public apologies.

Additionally if Reddit is any indication the internet is not a great place for thoughtful political discussion.


I'm afraid sarcasm is often lost on our more zealous comrades.


    sarcasm is often lost on our more zealous comrades.
While this is often true, in this particular case I don't think you can blame "our comrades", regardless of zealousness, for that. This is simply not an effective deployment of sarcasm.

The effectiveness of sarcasm depends on the audience's ability to discern that what you say is obviously ridiculous or otherwise at odds with what you really think. When it is not reasonable to expect that your audience can make that deduction, you have failed at using sarcasm. This is much easier to accomplish in person, where body language and vocal inflection add to your meaning, and thus sarcasm must be used more sparingly and skillfully in written media.

It is also much easier when you have a well-known reputation, especially concerning the topics you wish to satirize. A relatively anonymous text-based forum such as HN is thus one of the most difficult places to effectively deploy sarcasm.

In this case, the poster did not establish his true feelings ahead of time, nor engage in sufficient hyperbole to make the statement clearly ridiculous, nor even employ quotes to distance the words from his own opinion. No, he simply made a statement that is completely plausible to interpret as his genuine opinion, given how common such statements actually are. This does nothing to demonstrate the "intellectual bankruptcy" of such a statement. It's just sloppy rhetoric.

If you know before you post that you're going to have to explain how you didn't really mean that, and we're supposed to take it as sarcasm, then maybe try a different rhetorical tactic, because you have already admitted failure at this one.


It's really disconcerting that you can no longer tell satire from an earnest statement regarding such blatant Doublethink.


Pattern matching. The exact phrase used by 'defen is usually used to promote censorship and/or antisocial behaviour. It's important, per Poe's law, to qualify such statements with a proper sarcasm mark, to compensate for lack of cues that would be present in face-to-face voice communication.


Add to this that maybe in former times you could change places and start anew. With privacy being dead, that's not possible anymore...

Chilling effects on a huge scale. Things are getting weird.


> These drumhead hearings were not dissimilar to the Title IX hearings that take place on the campuses today.

To make such an extraordinary stretch; you need to provide some serious evidence or to redefine 'not dissimilar'. ISIL kills innocent people, the US executes innocent people, therefore, by the same definition, the two justice systems are 'not dissimilar'. But they are very dissimilar.


Let's see: An extra-judicial hearing, in front of a panel of laymen with no training, rampant perjury without consequence, guilt standard nominally preponderance of evidence — but in practice it depends because of all the above. I'd say they're more than similar, no stretching needed.


Those are assertions, not evidence. Also, we don't know much about the thing you're comparing it to.


well yes but was it a racist joke?


These protestors just hurt themselves in the long run. That's the saddest part. ''The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.'' Yes, and we all have a moral obligation to stand up to injustices that we see. But embracing victimhood as an identity does nothing for you. It keeps you stuck where you are and unable to move forward. You start to mistake pity for respect. University administrators are doing them a huge disservice by making them think otherwise. In the lion and tiger filled jungle of the real world they are in for a rude awakening.

Marcus Aurelius, writing two thousand years ago:

"Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

I wish I had more than one upvote to give this editorial.


I wrote a long argument but deleted it all in favor of this. Everyone needs to toughen the fuck up and stop being offended so easily. Someone insults you for being different? Welcome to real life, get some thicker skin.


That's a very easy thing to say from a place of privilege, with current and historical institutions set up to protect and enforce your (and my) interests.

Edit: Here, I'll put it better: by telling people from historically disadvantaged groups to buck up and be quiet, you're effectively saying, "I reject your understanding of your experiences, so your perspective is invalid."


I can't speak for seibelj, but I don't think you that telling people to stop being offended so easily amounts to telling disadvantaged groups to buck up and be quiet. Personally, I want people to start a conversation with me if I do something that hurts them. But I also have the basic expectation that people take the time to understand and consider what I am saying before they get offended.

I also don't think that "I reject your understanding of your experience, so your perspective is invalid" is an unreasonable thing to say. Sometimes people don't understand their experiences, and as a result, they misjudge the nature of reality.

The recent controversy at Yale over cultural appropriation in Halloween costumes is a good example: there were students saying that they couldn't go to class because they didn't feel safe after a professor made an argument that avoidance of cultural appropriation had to be balanced with free speech. I do reject that understanding of their experience; they experienced nothing that indicated they should feel unsafe. Nothing about the professor's measured statement of disagreement indicates danger. Their perspective on that topic was invalid.

People's feelings aren't always valid; everyone is wrong some portion of the time. And that's true of disadvantaged people, too. If we accept the rule that every opinion from an underprivileged person is correct, we're opening ourselves to all sorts of wrong ideas. And if we discard all dissenting opinions from privileged people, we're closing ourselves to all sorts of correct ideas. Truth is not solely given to the disadvantaged.


I can't tell if you're trolling, but "check your privilege" is one heck of a way to derail any argument.

There is no virtue in being less privileged, and more privileged aren't necessarily morally bankrupt.


> more privileged aren't necessarily morally bankrupt

Not at all. Humans naturally assume their experiences and perspectives are generally shared; it's just the way we function. In this case, it makes dealing with the problems of society difficult because if you don't have those problems, you generally are unware of them and their true impact. "Let them eat cake", said one privileged person.

Generally, it results in people thinking an issue isn't a big priority or can be put off. It isn't keeping them up at night, after all. See MLK's writing on it, which I posted here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10571341


That's not the point of the phrase, and even I think it's a bit tired by now.

The phrase asks the speaker to reevaluate their unspoken assumptions. I think 'lighten up and accept that the world is shitty' is a reactionary mode of thought, as if the 'real world' is a vast, static, unassailable entity and not an ever-changing tapestry of human activity. It is not a reasoned argument, it is not a response in a conversation, it is a demand that people shut the fuck up because the things they care about aren't worth caring about.

"check your privilege" is a diplomatic and concise way of saying 'you have no fucking idea what you're talking about, and yet you feel entitled to control the conversation; maybe stop doing that?'.


"Check your privilege" is also a concise way of telling someone that, based upon factors of which they have little or no control, whatever opinion they are expressing has little or no value because they do not or cannot understand viewpoints from a different set of experiences.

Anotherwords, it's passive-aggressive bullying and belongs in the same category as telling a woman to stop worrying her pretty little head about such issues.


You and the grandparent don't necessarily disagree. "Check your privilege" is a great thing to say in a discussion, and an idiotic thing to say in a debate. It's been thoroughly discredited by being used as an ad-hominem attack in place of an argument, but sometimes people do ride in on a high horse, and asking them how the weather is up there may be the most appropriate question. You're both right.


That's an unfalsifiable accusation of original sin.


Do you know seibelj? Just curious how you knew s/he was in a place of privilege.


I don't know that person, but consistency in usernames makes it easy to check before posting a comment with that assumption.


How about asking them to behave like their role models? I cannot imagine MLK refusing to talk to the media, or his follower breaking into tears because someone said something they didn't like.

He loved the media because he knew it was his best ally. The media loved him because he was courageous.


MLK would have probably supported them:

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."


MLK didn't have to deal with today's world. The world he lived in had a stark contrast of right and wrong, and obvious injustice abounded. The closer you get to an equal world, the harder those with privilege will fight to make sure that it never happens.

Today's world is one where we've made progress, but now the majority is tired of the minority pointing out its flaws. One side wants equality, and the other side is tired of hearing about how the system that clearly benefits them in ways that they don't even see is flawed.

It's hard to get a mediocre white man to agree that affirmative action is necessary. All he sees is the opportunity that someone else got because of their race and ability to keep up with the privileged.


Not everyone knows their role model. I mean, the closest thing to my role model would be Richard Feynman, but there's no way I could behave like him. I wouldn't even know where to begin.


Bongoes.


Many people would parse this as "I'll listen to you, but only if you behave how I see fit."

Their response would be that they definitely don't have to ask you for permission to speak up.


And they would parse it wrong. I'm not asking them to behave how I see fit. I'm asking them to behave like adults.

MLK behaved like an adult while his oppressors behaved like animals. That's what gave him the moral high ground.


Agreed. Heck, I need to work on not being offended so easily. As someone once said (paraphrased):

"We all have existential fears; that if you do or permit certain things, bad stuff will happen. If the center doesn't hold, we'll have chaos. If you don't have fears like that, then you don't have a conscience, and nothing personal but I'll lock my doors when you're around.When we don't recognize our own existential fears, then we assume that our viewpoint is identical to objective fact. This is not to say that morality is relative, but simply that the map isn't the territory."

A lot of political tribalism is triggering, or playing off of, existential fear responses. The more sophisticated and malevolent actors in this seek to trigger the existential fear response in their opponents enough to cause a violent backlash while staying just on this side of the law themselves, so that they point at their opponents and claim "they started it!".

Generally this kind of behavior is called bullying, and ought to stop. And while calls for a more civil discourse are certainly warranted, it is not enough. People need to gather their resolve and learn to distinguish between someone who is actually an existential threat and someone who is just trying to trigger you.


Do you think Hacker News should be more welcoming of insults, racism, etc? When someone complains of misogyny, Dang could come by and say, "Toughen the fuck up"?

Or would that be disastrous to the point of the forum?


I for one absolutely believe that Hacker News should be welcoming of viewpoints that _some would perceive as_ racist or misogynist.

For example, a perennial topic around here is a lack of diversity in the software industry. My personal opinion is that a) for a variety of reasons, men and women have had different levels of interest in developing software, and b) these differences in of themselves are not a cause for concern.

I'm well aware that some consider this view misogynist. But what is the point of discussing a topic such as diversity if only "approved" viewpoints are welcomed? That would turn Hacker News into an echo chamber.


> I'm well aware that some consider this view misogynist.

By who? I would be surprised if someone said that. You might be worrying too much, but maybe I don't know. Can you provide a link to someone saying that?


We have a system for democratically assigning value to comments here. Artificial moderation (moderation that supersedes the voting system) definitely must be a detriment to this website.


This has been proven time and time again to be a recipe for disaster. Consider what would happen if HN was “raided” by some group. Say, people who like to discuss mountain biking.

If their numbers were such that they could force all the technology posts off the front page and flood the site with mountain biking posts and pictures, should Hacker News morph in MTB News?

Most sites suffer from an Eternal September sooner or later. If new people start making very low-quality insult comments, and other new people flood those comments with upvotes, should discussions turn into toxic flame wars, because that’s what garners votes? Should the Hacker News discussion become YouTube comment threads?

The idea that votes should triumph over moderation presumes a certain critical mass of people who consistently vote in favour of quality. But given enough time, and enough success, exceptions to this take place. And when they do, if left unchecked, the site can degrade very rapidly, as the original core people get outvoted and give up.

Hacker News exists in part because this happened to Reddit. If left to become an absolute, unmoderated “democracy,” it will happen to Hacker News was well.

I will close with a reference to the word “democracy.” Countries have a lot of friction associated with citizenship. Most people don’t leave when things stink, they try to make it better for generations before fleeing and becoming refugees somewhere else. Most countries don’t allow absolutely everyone to show up and vote on everything.

The lack of friction associated with joining and leaving social media sites makes the business of “democracy” on social media very different than the business of democracy in the US or Canada.


You've made a good counter point here and it has left me with things to think about. I hope others weigh in.


You would find valuable (IMHO) Paul Graham's lessons from his experiences moderating HN:

http://www.paulgraham.com/hackernews.html

My opinion (copied from another post I made awhile ago):

I happily would accept unfairness, and suffer its slings and arrows myself, for a higher signal-to-noise ratio. I'd happily lose a few good comments in return for of better quality overall (i.e., false-positives are not really a big deal - so what if my good comment occasionally gets voted down or otherwise buried).

By prioritizing quality over fairness HN can best distinguish itself from a million noise-filled alternatives where 'rights' [or democracy] are the priority. Everyone has a right to their opinions, but not to my time.


What does "welcome to real life" mean? This is real life, where else is it happening?

And while we're on the subject, would "People need to stop getting offended so easily. You're told to sit at the back of the bus? Welcome to real life, get some thicker skin" be a valid argument, or would it be fallacious? (It's stronger than the offered argument, because in 1955, in real life, you actually did get arrested if you put up a fight about sitting at the back of the bus.)


The difference is institutionalized racism in the 1950's vs a few bad actors on these college campuses. A minority in the 1950's had good reasons to feel unsafe; that should be obvious to everyone. It's less obvious today as the conditions are extremely different. While it may be true that these college kids really feel unsafe, it's not unreasonable to think that they are overreacting. I can see the "toughen up" argument applying to these situations.


"While it may be true that these college kids really feel unsafe, it's not unreasonable to think that they are overreacting."

Black kids are saying they feel unsafe, and you're suggesting they're overreacting.

What gives you the confidence to think you know them and their situations better than they do themselves? Perhaps you need to do some personal interrogation.


This is a pointless statement. Nobody's going to stop being offended just because you said so. It's as effective as yelling into the wind.

Instead, one has to ask: why is this happening? At least from where I'm sitting, it's clear that a lot of these recent flare-ups have been caused by previously disenfranchised groups finally getting their voices heard in the popular media. Sometimes they go too far, but there's a lot of repressed anger in the air from years and decades of mistreatment. If your solution is to yell at them to shut the fuck up, it will backfire. Horribly.

Also, not all cases of someone insulting you for being different are equal. Some are in-the-moment, sure. But some carry the weight of decades of hatred behind them. Equating the two invalidates the severity of the latter and keeps marginalized groups marginalized.

I think reaching for the "PC culture" argument is the easy way out. It would do us all a lot of good to try to put ourselves in the adverserial party's shoes, even if we might (vehemently) disagree with their actions.

The topic has to be approached with extreme sensitivity.


In high school, I had a teacher who had a rack of books/comics which he lent to students. One day, a single student complained about curse words / nudity in some of the books, and the teacher was forced to take those books out of the school. This struck me as silly. Why let one person's complaint take away this great thing for all of the students?

Also in high school, there was a girl who was into hard core music and died her hair blue. She was routinely mocked in the halls for being weird. This also struck me as silly. Why should a person, just because they have a minority interest / opinion, be forced to deal with such harassment?

I'm empathetic to both sides of this issue. However, I think we should generally err on the side of not harassing people, even if that causes unnecessary inconveniences for the majority sometimes.


I don't think you're making your point very well: Being forced not to bully Bluelocks does not inconvenience you. Having the opportunity (not obligation) to read something you don't want to read does not inconvenience you either.

If anything, we should, in a secular state, agree that people differ in their view of morality, and we should be tolerant of each other's needs, perceived or otherwise.


> If anything, we should, in a secular state, agree that people differ in their view of morality, and we should be tolerant of each other's needs, perceived or otherwise.

The problem is that some people's perceived needs are not compatible with other people's perceived needs. In order to decide which group gets their perceived needs, I think it makes sense to have a societal conversation about which of those perceived needs are actual needs, and which of those perceived needs are just wants.


> I don't think you're making your point very well

This is unnecessary. Please just make your point without criticizing the author.


a single student complained [...] and the teacher was forced to take those books out of the school. [...] Why let one person's complaint take away this great thing for all of the students?

The phenomenon can be summed up as Society moves as quickly as its slowest walker. I guess the discussion around this phenomenon should be is this the most ideal system? Is Silicon Valley a kind of opposite where the fastest walkers have priority and in the process many people get left behind while those with merit surge further away? Is that how all of society should operate?

Personally I advocate total free-speech, the good with the bad, so that we can enjoy unrestricted debate. But is there value in maintaining a kind of cultural speed limit, not a lockstep or unrestricted speed, so that society can move together harmoniously?

It's a difficult and nuanced topic.


> Personally I advocate total free-speech, the good with the bad, so that we can enjoy unrestricted debate.

I generally agree but I think that, as always, reality is too complex to address with a simple logical statement. Consider this example: A room in an almost all white small town, with a history of discrimination, of 20 white people and one black person, discussing some policy issue. A white person says, 'N-'s don't belong in this town; they should keep their mouths shut.' If you are the black person, that's a very intimidating situation. I'm not sure I support 'free speech' there.

That might sound extreme, but many schools are not more than 1/20th black and from what the news says about U. of Missouri, behavior like that isn't rare. This isn't insults, it's intimidation. It's scary enough at 18 years old to venture out of your neighborhood into a almost all-white world, where people suspect you of crime when you just walk into a store. Where you are the 'The Black Man/Woman' in every room you enter, all day long.

Generally I approach it this way: The only speech I won't tolerate is intolerance itself. (But of course, reality still isn't that simple.)


A white person says, 'N-'s don't belong in this town; they should keep their mouths shut.' If you are the black person, that's a very intimidating situation. I'm not sure I support 'free speech' there.

It would be intimidating and rage-inducing, but its worth keeping in mind that the person who uttered the racist threat is still bound by law and physical violence is not free speech. And here we've found the line to make free-speech work: even-handed law-enforcement against physical violence, theft etc. Racist slurs on the other hand, while more cutting to people who have been marginalized, are just words designed to produce an emotional response. They fall under the category of speech.

The only speech I won't tolerate is intolerance itself.

Which is a form of intolerance.


> the person who uttered the racist threat is still bound by law and physical violence is not free speech. And here we've found the line to make free-speech work: even-handed law-enforcement against physical violence, theft etc.

It's factually true but I don't think it's realistic. First, much of what people can do won't expose them to law enforcement. They can get you fired, prevent you from getting hired, cost you that contract, keep your kids off the football team or out of the good school, pass laws that make your life difficult, have city inspectors and police go over everything you do with a fine tooth comb (e.g., driving while black), etc. Second, law enforcement and the legal system in general have a long history of not protecting marginalized groups but persecuting them. When the sheriff, mayor, judge, prosecutor, and jury are all white and all know each other, and you know the history of blacks in the legal system, you may not want to trust your fate to their protection.

> Racist slurs on the other hand, while more cutting to people who have been marginalized, are just words designed to produce an emotional response.

Again, this may be true in theory but I strongly disagree it's true in reality. They are serious threats because they have a long, very well-established history of being backed up with action. I don't think you mean it this way, but it amounts to saying (as I understand it) that blacks don't face actual discrimination, therefore the threats are empty.


They can get you fired, prevent you from getting hired, cost you that contract, keep your kids off the football team or out of the good school, pass laws that make your life difficult

Right, which censorship can't do anything about either.

When the sheriff, mayor, judge, prosecutor, and jury are all white and all know each other [...] you may not want to trust your fate to their protection.

No, but rights issues and law-enforcement abuse can be escalated beyond Sheriff Chuck's fiefdom. It's not perfect - I understand that marginalized people are usually poor and lack agency, however a system exists. It needs improving, but that's what we should be focusing on. Not on words spoken but the tools and processes that exist to help bolster individual rights. Those tools protect you as well.

that blacks don't face actual discrimination, therefore the threats are empty.

It would be more along the lines of if they didn't face actual violence due to effective law-enforcement, the threats ARE merely words. So focus on effective law-enforcement, the sticks and stones, not on what people can and cannot say. Otherwise you're just sweeping a cancerous sentiment under the rug where it'll grow and fester.


I just wanted to say that I was reading the comments here and it hit me that this is the Internet I love. So often we talk about dialogue and having a conversation and I really believe the Internet is perfect for that because its hard to raise your voice on the Internet and silence someone else, but we rarely get it because—for example—Facebook isn't very threaded and you have your name attached and are only having a conversation with your "friends" so its insular. On the other side is Reddit where charged things like this just don't work well. However on HN people write thoughtful, dissenting, sourced, and well-written arguments and we have full discussions. It's fantastic. This is the Internet I love.


Just a thought for those trying to figure out what's going on: If you find what the protest movements are doing to be challenging, that's the idea.

Much social change begins this way; it's like disruption in tech. People find the whole idea of it challenging to their worldview and comfortable status quo, and they (we) respond predictably - angry, scared, dimissive. It's heresy. But if the status quo worked so well, we wouldn't need social change. In some cases, people get the idea and come around and what was heresy becomes the new status quo (for the next generation to up end, upsetting the current protestors when they are older and settled). It's similar to early adoption of disruptive technology.

That doesn't make every disruptive idea, socially or in tech, good, but the fact that it disrupts your social ideas is not, in itself, problematic.

For myself, when I feel myself responding that way, I try to take it as a sign that there's something beyond my perspective that I don't understand.


Caveat: This is a response to a more general concept, not necessarily applicable to this particular issue

> Much social change begins this way

Much social change also DOESN'T begin this way (see: OWS), and it can be frustrating for people who agree with the underlying principles behind protests but think the execution is disheartening and misguided.

Especially because these kinds of movements tend to be the story that gets told: People with thoughtful dissents get eclipsed by the more vociferous and extreme (one could argue that this is because extremes tend to be better fodder for the media).

> For myself, when I feel myself responding that way, I try to take it as a sign that there's something beyond my perspective that I don't understand.

I think that's a somewhat simplistic view of it. It's entirely possible to understand and have a developed perspective of an idea, and to still reject it - sometimes vehemently.

Sure, some disruptive ideas are very challenging and ultimately end up being a good thing. The vast majority are not, though. Sometimes those disruptive ideas are detrimental, and it's not hard to see why people get angry when those detrimental effects start surfacing in visible ways (e.g. anti-vaccination).


> it can be frustrating for people who agree with the underlying principles behind protests but think the execution is disheartening and misguided

I agree, but I also know that Martin Luther King got the same response; he was unpopular at the time; see his Letter From a Birmingham Jail [1] for his excellent description of his point of view. [EDIT: Covered in much more detail in my other post [2]] From the perspective of the challangers, our status quo beliefs and approach aren't delivering. From the perspective of many social theorists, nothing really changes until you up end the current order. As long as the status quo can sit comfortably at their desks and on their sofas, they won't be motivated to change. I haven't studied the question, but that seems plausible to me.

I don't know enough about these protests and their issues to form an opinion yet; I'm just not going to reject them because they are disruptive to my ideas. In fact, no matter what I end up thinking about them, it's a good opportunity for me to re-examine my own beliefs.

[1] http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.h...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10571341


> I agree, but I also know that Martin Luther King got the same response;

It's funny you bring up MLK Jr. Here he is on Malcolm X:

> I met Malcolm X once in Washington... but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views... I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem... I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice.

Emphasis mine there. MLK Jr. clearly understood he and Malcolm X were aiming towards solving the same problem, but with very different approaches to it (and MLK Jr. disagreed heavily with Malcolm X's approach clearly).

> From the perspective of the challangers, our status quo beliefs and approach aren't delivering.

That's a perspective of many people. Again, many people agree that problem XYZ is our problem. We can disagree on many other things besides that.

> From the perspective of many social theorists, nothing really changes until you up end the current order.

I suspect that's a contentious view point. There are certainly many recent historical examples that would be evidence against that theory on both fronts: Both significant changes occurring gradually, and upheavals that ended up with results similar or worse compared to before the upheaval.

> As long as the status quo can sit comfortably at their desks and on their sofas, they won't be motivated to change.

I assume the "status quo" here means the general populace, and again I think there are plenty of examples of change occurring even though the general populace wasn't affected much.

Same-sex marriage in the US is a perfect example: The general populace didn't do much other than agree that it was time to end the silly prohibition on same-sex marriage. Certainly a minority of the populace was very active in making sure that it became a reality (and vice-versa), but the general populace really didn't do much to effect that change other than perhaps do their civic duty in voting.

(Even then, a small influential body unaffected by the populace had the largest effect)

> I'm just not going to reject them because they are disruptive to my ideas. In fact, no matter what I end up thinking about them, it's a good opportunity for me to re-examine my own beliefs.

Sure, and similarly it's worth evaluating whether thimerosal causes autism. Might as well be safe. But once we've evaluated it and decided that it's not a valid concern, it's perfectly appropriate to reject the idea that vaccines cause autism.

I would further argue that it's appropriate to be angry at those espousing the idea that vaccines do cause autism, because there are detrimental effects involved if that idea were to take hold at large.

My point being: Not all disruptive ideas are necessarily worth being evaluated over and over again, and some disruptive ideas are harmful and it's appropriate to call them out as such.

It's also hard to disentangle a disruptive idea from its agents, and it can also be appropriate to call out those agents acting inappropriately even if we agree with their disruptive idea (as MLK Jr. did to Malcolm X).


You are right in general; strange and wonderful ideas have started as peculiar heresies.

But this particular movement is reactionary. They are anti-intellectual, anti-free-speech, anti-due-process. That's why I and many other people find them uncomfortable.


I would agree it seems our normal methods to deal with, say institutionalized racism have failed. This method seems to be to publicly abuse, harass, and destroy the lives of anyone who dares step outside the social justice orthodoxy even for a moment.

This isn't disruptive or new, it is a mob ruling by fear and rolling over any attempt to pause and think and be reasonable, as old as human history and as distasteful.


Expressing an opinion on how protestors can best conduct themselves to accomplish their political goals does not indicate a disruption of my social ideas.


Here's a perspective on why the protesters seem to dislike news media coverage. (I'll add that there is much criticism here with little investigation of the actual facts and assertions of the protesters. I'm not trying to take a side, but to add some substance to the discussion.)

"There’s a good reason protesters at the University of Missouri didn’t want the media around"

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/11/11/...

Certainly, Tai - like any journalist - had a legal right to enter the space, given that it was in a public area. But that shouldn’t be the end of this story. We in the media have something important to learn from this unfortunate exchange. The protesters had a legitimate gripe: The black community distrusts the news media because it has failed to cover black pain fairly. ...

I've read plenty, for many years, that corroborates this point of view.


You could formulate that in a more straightforward way: people don't want stuff they disagree with being written in the newspaper.


people don't want to be libelled in the newspaper


Opinion is not libel.


You're correct. Defamation set in print is libel.


The main criticism is that Dean Spellman referred to a marginalized student as "not fitting the [Claremont Mckenna] mold". This is harmful. It is more than a poor choice of words. She should have apologized and done some training.

But the students are young and have no where else to direct their frustration. I hope Spellman can land on her feet. And I hope minority students can feel less marginalized on campus.


I'd disagree, completely. Its just shitty english grammer.

The notion that somone might not "fit [a] mold", is a trivial comment. The implication that if someone mis-states this comment as saying someone might not "fit [the] mold" is simply the substitution of the definite for the indefinite article.

Put another way, there is no "literal" truth to the comment. There is not [a] mold; nor are there [any] molds that exist (in the literal sense) at any college. That whole expression is a figue of speech.

TLRD--this whole thing is about a fucking typo in an e-mail.


I hope you don't disagree completely with wishing Spellman luck in finding another job and the students being in a better place too. ;)

Of course Spellman didn't intend to hurt, but leaders should have more situational awareness.

I wish people here had empathy for the students. Being a minority in this country can be hard. They are not upset because of a single grammar mistake. They've experienced dozens of slights and want the campus administrators to be more aware.

For example, here is a video of the Ithaca incident: [1]. The panelists had a tone deaf moment due to a poor choice of words, and it's a moment that any of us could have had. Of course, if you think it's 100% okay to refer to black people as savages then we won't ever find any common ground.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-QNeQR3WAg

PS Look for the guy in the green shirt at the end of the video.


I like it. I stand by and watch some leaders stubbornly refuse any culpability at all no matter how universal the detractors, and other leaders crumble at the first sign of frission. Clearly both are extreme reactions, and problematic. I (we?) want leaders who don't pull a GW Bush and stick their fingers in their ears for all criticism. We also don't want people like the CMC chairwoman who give up so easily. I'm not sure what the middle ground is - maybe Nixon? You resist for a while, then you give up. And in return, we let you "retire" with some semblance of dignity. Or you resist for a while, the attacks fade away, and you live to fight another day. Seems fair to me.


The best place to start understanding social protest and its disruptive approach (not unlike the disruption practiced by many in SV) is Martin Luther King's Letter From a Birmingham Jail. I recommend the whole thing, but here are excerpts [1]

--------

16 April 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." ...

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. ...

My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. ...

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. ...

I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal ...

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

--------

[1] http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.h...


And unlike today's protestors, he would not ask that the media give him a "safe space," nor would his followers cry over words. He knew that the very presence of the media when they filmed his protests made him safer than without them.


your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. ...

(It's true of most criticisms in this discussion; sorry to pick on yours to make a point.)


Hey com'on. Let's not demand that kids need to be MLK. That's like expecting all of us to be Linus Torvalds.


You have no right to speak for a dead man. Stand up for your options and present them as your own.


That cuts both ways. Social justice types like these claim the legacy of King, so much so that they call people like Ben Carson an Uncle Tom. (I don't support Carson by any means, but resorting to insults hardly bolsters ones moral position.)


> Social justice types ...

Who, specifically? Nobody said that. The person you are criticizing is your own fictional creation.


> Social justice types:

People like this: http://www.dailycamera.com/cu-news/ci_29111364/cu-boulder-ra...


No one in that story is speaking on behalf of Martin Luther King.


Reminds me of the warnings in this article http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-codd...


Say what you will about the situation, but every time something like this happens, I end up being far more aghast at the reactions (see the article comments) than the original incident. It's really gross and a good indicator for why these flare-ups keep happening.


Sorry, but this whole college uprising is way too coordinated and the idea of personal space/safe space, college costs, and the like, are just political staging for the 2016 election similar to how OWS was for 2012. Its all backed by groups with connections to political players who need to energize this group as the candidate they will be stuck with is damaged and boring goods.

Figure the focus of one campaign will simply be "fixing" college, from how students are coddled to offering to pay for it all. Just watch.


That's pretty conspiratorially-minded.

Hillary Clinton's campaign, to the extent it has an opinion, would prefer these mini-conflagrations simply not happen during the election year. They do nothing except inflame the Republican base and alienate everyone except a small subset of student and Tumblr activists. Their very existence suggests that sooner or later she'll have to engage with the topic, which is a negative sum game for the Democratic candidate compared to yelling about how crazy the Republican candidates are.


I've got even more exiting theory for you. What if GOP and Democrats are ruling together?

Let the people argue about guns, abortion, racism etc.

Meanwhile Clinton-Bush coalition is agreeing on corporate welfare, monetary policy and military expeditions. If they ever get caught, it's just "working over the aisle". If that doesn't fly, just swap representatives. Add infinitum, because no third challenging party could ever appear in such seemingly polarized political environment.


I wonder what these students will think when they get into an industry like software programming that's full of racism and sexism that they have no control over (if they manage to get past those obstacles to get in in the first place). They are doing themselves a disservice by not learning how to deal not only with people who hold different opinions than they do, but also with people who are blatantly racist, sexist, or just plain assholes. While the rest of us are trying to deal with the real issue of the loss of free speech due to surveillance and censorship by authorities, they're contributing in their own little ways the final blows to a free society, a contribution undoubtedly much lauded by the traditional enemy of free speech, the state. And in return, they make absolutely no positive difference to the status quo whatsoever.

Even the hunger strikes are cute. A reminiscence of Ghandi? Seriously? It take a lot longer than a week to die of starvation and I doubt any of those students have the resolve to see a hunger strike out. The dean bowed down to cowardice by being a coward herself so it's clear she's not cut out for the job. I wonder if there are still people who are cut out for it?

As far as the issue of "safe space," if these students think such a thing actually exists, they're too stupid to be attending college. A better admissions process should weed them out.


> when they get into an industry like software programming that's full of racism and sexism

Is it like that in the US? Really? Especially when compared to other professions. I do not know, but I have serious doubts. Please enlighten me.


It depends who you ask. From my vantage point, sexism is thankfully and rightfully getting increasing attention in recent years in the software/tech sector, but still persists widely. Unfortunately America is still full of racism, including in software development, and so far tech has done very little whatsoever to heed the problem. I can't answer your last question, I don't know if tech is any more bigoted than other professions, my career has been exclusively in tech.


In my experience, yes.




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