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Cruel and Unusual Punishment (harpers.org)
169 points by jeffreyrogers 45 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 211 comments



I think the most unsettling thing about this is not the expunging of someone's past achievements as punishment for some terrible act, but the fact that the mere accusation of such can destroy someone.

The higher profile and more in the public eye you are, the higher the chance that someone will throw some mud at you (even anonymously, in some cases!) and that it'll stick, and there will be nothing you can do to repair the damage.


> I think the most unsettling thing about this is not the expunging of someone's past achievements as punishment for some terrible act, but the fact that the mere accusation of such can destroy someone.

When you live by your public image, you die by your public image. Your rise likely happened in the same way as your downfall.

You can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't reap the benefits of being a public figure but complain about the drawbacks. You're, after all, Caesar's wife.


>When you live by your public image, you die by your public image. Your rise likely happened in the same way as your downfall.

Not really, the rise usually happens after years, or even decades, of paying dues and hard work.

You don't build a career in anything, journalism, comedy, whatever, by just one gesture. At least most don't.

>You can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't reap the benefits of being a public figure but complain about the drawbacks.

First of all, this doesn't happen just to "public figures". A person can be fired from their non public job for saying something wrong on social media, without having ripped anything

Second, this doesn't make much sense anyway. One should be able to "reap the benefits of being a public figure" while still complaining about the drawbacks if the drawbacks are detrimental to society and kill public dialogue A actor, for example, can be a public figure without giving license to be stalked.

Public figure means their job is to make movies for public consumption, not that they have to suffer any BS paparazzi. There's no inherent tie between one and the other.

The suggestion to also "bend over and take the drawbacks" would only make sense if the "benefits of being a public figure" were obtained in a way that called for those drawbacks (e.g. celebrities being famous because they purposefully stir trouble and put on shows for the media).


> Not really, the rise usually happens after years, or even decades, of paying dues and hard work.

Sure, but it happens because of your public image, always with a "big break" or a "breakthrough".

> At least most don't.

Actually, most do. There is almost always the one big break, where you are launched into the public's view. It is a step function.

Pick a number of artists, and look up their career, for most of them you'll easily find their "big break".

> A person can be fired from their non public job for saying something wrong on social media, without having ripped anything

Sure, but that's a different topic. I'm focusing on the public-figure part of it.

> Public figure means their job is to make movies for public consumption, not that they have to suffer any BS paparazzi. There's no inherent tie between one and the other.

Oh, there is, and plenty of it, the relationship between the "fame industry" (magazines, publications, etc.) and the public figures is a symbiotic one.

And the more you rely on the fame industry to fuel your growth, the more you're exposed to its risks. It is a deal with the devil.

There are, however, public figures who simply avoid the fame industry. They are harder to find, and have a harder time succeeding, but they are there (Daniel Day-Lewis, for example).


>Actually, most do. There is almost always the one big break, where you are launched into the public's view. It is a step function. (...) Pick a number of artists, and look up their career, for most of them you'll easily find their "big break"

You seem to have the stars in mind, which are a tiny minority of working musicians (and even less so of working actors, even less so for journalists etc). The majority of working actors have slowly building careers and never have any great breakthrough.

Stars are not the only ones targeted in such e.g. "tweet-hit-mobs" though.


Aziz Ansari did get a lot of sympathy, suffered far less than many others, and had all reputable news publishers take a pass on the accusations that were floating around.

For Weinstein, as the counterexample, it seems like the public accusation was necessary to get the regular wheels of justice to turn.

And to add the argument that is almost as tired as yours: “Innocent until proven guilty” is for punishment by those with the monopoly on violence, i. e. the state/the courts.

If I can not watch a comedian because I don’t find them funny (which is, unfortunately, not a crime), surely I can skip their HBO special because I believe their accusers?


> And to add the argument that is almost as tired as yours: “Innocent until proven guilty” is for punishment by those with the monopoly on violence, i. e. the state/the courts.

It's a legal requirement for the state/the courts, but it's a just and fair principle that the rest of us should still strive to embrace.


we ought to strive for it as an ideal, but admit practical compromises.

to make a contrived example: suppose you have a friend that several other people accuse of stealing. none of them can prove that he stole from them, but each of them lost their wallets at separate gatherings where he was present.

you might not find this sufficient cause to confront him or cut him out of your life, but you would probably be a little more careful where you leave your wallet when he's around.


> you might not find this sufficient cause to confront him or cut him out of your life, but you would probably be a little more careful where you leave your wallet when he's around

This strikes me as socially unhealthy behavior. In the case described, one of two things is true: 1) The accusers are right, and your friend is a theif. You've implyed that if this were the case, you would confront them and/or cut ties with them (which is reasonable).

2) Your friend is being falsely accused of a serious crime by several people. In this case, he needs your support and trust more than ever.

In neither case is continuing to hang around him as normal, with added caution against his potential theivery, a useful behavior. If he is a theif then you continue to associate with a theif and to put youself at risk of theivery, albeit with some reduced risk on account of increased caution. If he is not a theif, then it's likely that your guarded actions and internal scepticism will be picked up on, and that your friend will notice that you doubt his innocence, which may well hurt your friendship.

That all said, I agree that "guilty until proven innocent" doesn't apply in the scenario that you described. This is because there is "trial". You assume innocence while trying to uncover the truth. So in your scenario, you would assume that your friend is innocent and investigate the wallet disappearances, question the accusers and accused, track down addition witnesses and character witnesses, before finally passing your personal judgement. From there you can confront/cut out the theif, or sympathise and emotionally support the falsely accused.


I agree that if you can confidently decide whether 1) or 2) is the case, the actions you laid out are the correct ones.

things are rarely so clear cut in my experience, especially when you only have the resources of a sole private citizen at your disposal.

my "contrived example" is actually lifted from a similar experience I had in college. I found it pretty suspicious at the time, because the gatherings where the other people lost their wallets were quite small. ultimately, I acknowledged privately that I could not conclude one way or the other, so publicly I defended my friend. at the same time, I was always a bit more careful of my stuff when we were hanging out (no idea whether they noticed this).

my point is that there is a difference between taking punitive action against a person and taking protective actions towards oneself. my position is that there is no inherent contradiction in being too uncertain to punish but certain enough to protect yourself, provided that it does not unduly harm the other person.


> If I can not watch a comedian because I don’t find them funny (which is, unfortunately, not a crime), surely I can skip their HBO special because I believe their accusers?

Of course. But TFA asks: does it follow that everyone should be deprived the HBO special?


Everyone should be able to pool together resources to hire the person if there is enough demand for it. Another company could pick it up, maybe?

Edit: to be clear (I’m concerned about being seen as 100% supporting any position) my position is that if there is enough demand, a presumed minority outcry can be ignored safely (Facebook).


It would be very difficult for another company to go against public opinion.

You'll have to find not only another company but also another cable provider and, in the most extreme case, another guild of comedians in case if they decide to boycott your channel.


Then perhaps there aren't enough consumers to support the commodity in question, and this is just market forces at play?


Market forces are good for getting to a Nash equilibrium, but not necessarily good for getting to an optimal distribution.


I agree. What's your recommendation on how to push society into optimal distributions, specifically how should we push society into an optimal distribution of social pressures not to hire/consume/etc certain products where the products are people?


Aziz Ansari got a lot of sympathy because the accusations against him were so meaningless they didn't pass the laugh test for most people regardless of political persuasion.


Who was destroyed by mere accusation? Because really, these are people who were accused repeatedly again and again and their victims ended in oblivion while piling up.


Woody Allen, Aziz Ansari to an extent, Brett Kavanaugh, Dr. Luke.

Derrick Rose lost over a million dollars in sponsorship dollars, Kobe Bryant lost over a million too. The list goes on and on.

All those people lost a large amount of money, and reputation was seriously hurt by one accusation.


> Brett Kavanaugh

Oh no, the poor guy might now get the occasional dirty look from some people as he fills out his lifetime appointment to the highest and most powerful court in the nation. The agony!


He got publicly humiliated, and now must explain to his kids why when they google his name a bunch of videos and articles show up calling him a rapist and a piece of shit.

Furthermore, no matter how much his wife trusts him, she will still have doubt if he really raped that woman, and he is going to have to live with his kids and wife for the rest of his life also.

I would value my reputation, my legacy, the views of my kids and wife to be far more important than being supreme court justice.


For honorable people, a perceived stain against their honor is a big deal.


I don't think Brett Kavanaugh is really suffering right now, or that he lost any money.


What money did Brett Kavanaugh lose?

For that matter, what did Woody Allen lose? He has still been making movies.


Not since the Weinstein scandal, and actors who've recently worked with him had expressed publicly it was "a mistake". Mind you the man is nearly 100.


I don't know why this is relevant, but Woody Allen is turning 84 this December. He's not nearly 100, for what it's worth.


Thought he was older. What I meant by that is I didn't expect he'd be continuing on making more films, but you never know.


I'm sure for him it was his reputation that was more important.


>Because really, these are people who were accused repeatedly again and again

So if an accusation is repeated "again and again" it's true?


no, but when there is a set of accusations that all follow the same pattern, it is more likely to be true (albeit still circumstantial)


An underlying theme I've noticed to this article and the response here is that of people's attitudes towards ex felons. It's as if you believe that they are permanently lesser people; that their moral fibre is beyond redemption and they should never be allowed to enjoy the comforts of life, let alone pursue life, liberty, and happiness.

You either punish and forgive your citizens, or else you admit that you're going to oppress them forever.


I think a huge part of why we so strongly censure these people socially is that most of them skipped the justice system entirely. For every Cosby or Weinstein who does face the music, there are a thousand Louis C.K.s, who — even when they admit to masturbating in front of multiple women! — are never charged with anything.

I agree that the stigma around committing crimes is too strong and that we need to allow pathways to redemption. But people need to be brought to justice before they can be redeemed, and what we see now is a reaction to that mostly not happening.


I'm sorry but I think it is horrible to put Louis CK in the same sentence with Bill Cosby. Maybe I don't fully understand the situation, but there have been no reports as far as I know that Louis CK drugged anyone or physically forced himself on anyone.

The case against Louis CK is purely that of abuse of power which is seen as a "white" crime as opposed to physically restraining someone. The distinction is important because "white" crimes are generally seen as better crimes and indeed when I started writing this comment I too felt it was ridiculous to hold Louis CK to the same standard as Bill Cosby.

I'll end like a broken record though. We in the software industry like to do "blameless postmortems" add they like to say in devops culture. However, as soon as we walk away from our jobs, we become the same primate as everyone else. Maybe we shouldn't blame the abuser. Maybe we should not blame individual district attorneys or prosecutors for failing to prosecute cases or for acting tough on cases that simply had no common sense not. Maybe we should not blame individual police officers for waking into someone's apartment and shooting to kill claiming they thought they were in their apartment and the person was an intruder.

Maybe we ought to treat the root cause of the problem — huge inequalities of power. But how?


Making Election Day a federal holiday, or at least moving Veteran's Day to be concurrent, would be a good move.

Removing the Electoral College would be a good move.

Increasing and broadening the base of the estate tax would be a good move.

Increasing the highest bracket of the income tax would be a good move.

This isn't intended to be political, those are very specific policy actions clearly designed to reduce the inequalities of power by a) giving citizens more power, and b) taking power from the rich, and particularly from the rich who believe there is profit in supressing the people.


How does removing the Electoral College help with inequity of power? Wouldn't it just concentrate decision making into the very powerful, densely populated areas. That's specifically what it's meant to combat.


> Wouldn't it just concentrate decision making into the very powerful, densely populated areas

The value of a vote in Idaho would be equal to the value of a vote in Miami. Yes, that's what I mean. The system has clearly been corrupted in the other direction, where oligarchs have purchased, for very small sums, leverage over politicians from these population-small electoral areas. Maybe we could at least make them pay real money.


These are politically diverse areas that need equal representation. No one had a problem with the electoral college until their candidate lost in 2016, but that election proved that the electoral college is still relevant and useful. New York and California should not dominate US politics.


Barbara Boxer was formally taking action agains the electoral college at least as far back as 2004.


Because it's the people that matter, not the area of land. Or do you believe Siberia and the Australian outback should dominate a hypothetical democratic world-state?

Anyway, the electoral college is a 200+ year-old compromise meant to get the individual states to sign up for the union. At some point we should realize that 18th century geopolitics is not really relevant any more.


It's doing a fine job keeping at least a minimum of diversity in our political system. Everyone knows we'd move to a monoculture if we eliminated the electoral college. That people are complaining about it means it's working as intended.

And yes, people living in Siberia should have a say in politics and not have their opinions nullified by Moscow. Not everyone will or wants to live in an urban area and it's a feature of the system that their will is equally represented.


Something to consider: large states (e.g. Texas) have more small, remote towns that small states (e.g. Utah) do. If you're worried about making sure roads, water, education, power, and postal services make it to the outback, the large states have more people voting in that direction than the small states do. Those interests are still represented. And there are businesses on the coasts (e.g. shipping firms) which are keenly interested in the care and feeding of the families of workers managing grain mills and rail lines in South Dakota.


I think people are always going to vote in their own best interest (even if outsiders don't think they are) so it's more important to have equal representation for every state than it is to "trust" that some states (or companies) will look after others.

Btw, I don't think Utah is a small state :) It's the 13th largest by land mass.


> I think people are always going to vote in their own best interest

How many railroad workers, miners, and other working class laborers in Utah vote Republican, despite the fact that they would stand to benefit far more from Democratic policies? Why do they do that? Is it possible that certain well-funded actors with access to media markets have exerted "nudge"-like influence over their thinking for decades? Is it possible they're relatively isolated from the world and operate to a degree in the fearful state of being that isolated humans tend to develop?


Is it possible that they're actually smarter than you think they are and vote in their own interests which you don't happen to agree with?

Do you really think it's well-funded actors and the media making conservatives vote against the party that supports abortion? Nope, they're voting in their own interests to see policies that are meaningful to them get enacted. It doesn't matter if you or I disagree with them, they're not brainwashed by the media, they're just living by their own code of ethics.


> Increasing and broadening the base of the estate tax would be a good move.

> Increasing the highest bracket of the income tax would be a good move.

How many times do we have to go over this? This would just make more companies and very wealthy individuals move their operations overseas or evade taxes. Income inequality is often a natural part of a large, growing economy like the United States.

Furthermore, I don't even view income inequality as a problem. Poverty is a problem. People having more money than other people isn't. We should focus on eliminating poverty, not eliminating rich people.


No one is talking about eliminating rich people or ending income inequality. Wealth redistribution is a legitimate form of reducing poverty (at least in theory, if not always in practice).

There are coherent economic arguments for defending your second paragraph, but that's not what's being proposed here. Do you acknowledge that wealth redistribution through progressive taxation can increase the quality of life for those in poverty? If you reject that assertion, why?


Wealth concentration is a threat to democracy. Even if you start from perfect representation, no corruption, and wholly equal influence in government between all citizens, those who have wealth will use it to influence results of said elections in any way they can that they think is worth it.

That could start by simply giving minor charity to your political contemporaries. It doesn't even need to be intentional - you just do more favorable business with like minded people. As they accumulate more wealth and success they do the same. Eventually you end up with a faction of the rich and anyone they can buy who may not align ideologically (in contemporary terms, I guarantee the modern rural republican voter does not care about import tariffs on specific goods in the way the shareholders of Nestle do) but don't contradict what the rich care about, which is making more money, by any means, and using the government as a means.

This seems to happen in every country, but it is pronounced in the US because of its wealth inequality. Russia is in many ways are peer here in how grossly unequal wealth distribution is, and there is an observable curve of nations the world over between how unequal their wealth is and how much the capital owner class controls policy.

This isn't speculation, its observable reality now and for the last several centuries of contemporary capitalistic republics. Even the US was founded in large part by aristocrats who weighed the risks and saw waging war as more practical than trying to buy influence in parliament. Its how human society has structured itself for millennia, since we invented the first currencies, its been the providence of the rich to buy the kings good graces. And buying influence is wholly antithetical to democracy.

The capacity to accumulate wealth is a necessary danger and corruption of society to enable growth and innovation. That doesn't mean you ignore the consequences of having it, or at act like just because it has upside means it has no downside. The fact the conversation isn't even about mitigating them is more a sign of how futile attempts to save democracy in the US, maybe even the entire west, are in the face of globalist billionaires who already have way more influence over humanity than half the membership of the G20.

As a species we cannot stop the corruption of money and power. The only way to mitigate the capacity for those who have to use it to corrupt institutions is to insure that all vested parties have similar ability to corrupt. That doesn't mean you don't let anyone have wealth - it does mean that if the rich have so much and the poor have so relatively little then we know who calls the shots. There might be many poor and few rich, but what matters is that the collective influence of the many isn't outweighed by the fortunes of the few. Right now, especially in the US, it most certainly is.


Just cap campaign budget at a certain amount, and require a complete audit of politicians their families so they can not be influenced by outside parties.

Also, I think that people with more money should have more of an influence in this country. Not a big difference, but rich people frankly matter more. They have more money, and pay more taxes (or they should).

In reality I highly doubt that campaign funds have that big of an impact on who wins the election, simply because Hillary Clinton spent significantly more money than Donald Trump and still lost. In addition, Hillary Clinton spent an enormous amount more money than Bernie Sanders, and Bernie gave her a run for her money.


So, then, you believe that your justice system fails to punish these people, and therefore you must take it upon yourself to punish them instead?

I don't like where this is going


If the justice system were perfect, and people actually received their due punishments, then societal stigma wouldn't need to exist.

Judgment from the Court of Public Opinion theoretically shouldn't exist but many people get away with things that they shouldn't. Especially wealthy and famous individuals who can have things swept under the rug. So, yes, people take it on themselves instead to call people names, and yes it gets abused.


Calling people names is one thing. But when you have the collective power to turn people into such pariahs that they can't even get a job anymore, you're playing with a very dangerous, and readily abuseable power.

And unfortunately, this is how it always goes. A group, heady on their newfound power, decides to take it a little further, and then a little further, dialing back the threshold to provoke their righteous fury.

And this is why anti-vigilante laws exist.


I mean, I completely agree with you. However, clearly a large part of society does not.

In order to fix this, we first need to address the sweeping issues within our justice system. Until then, the societal stigma game will continue at an unrelenting pace.


Sorry, I’m on mobile so I may not be reading the thread correctly, but is the logic here that there needs to be laws against public backlash to admitting sexually assaulting people (louis ck)?

Edit: what I took literally here is that if you knew someone admitted to sexually assaulting their direct reports within the past year or two, and you didn’t hire them, you are personally on the hook unless you can prove you didn’t hire them for another reason?


No. What I'm referring to is systematic pressure brought to bear upon organizations such that they are afraid to hire someone who has been designated a pariah (for whatever reason).

In a tangentially related issue, as I've stated before, there is a definite problem in America with regards to ex felons who are treated like second class citizens for the rest of their lives. But that's a more complicated social attitudinal problem to solve.


Right, but in this case we're talking about louis CK, not a felon, recieved no jail time for sexually assaulting people. Should the origanizations who did not hire him be charged? Should it be illegal to crow 'how dare XXX company hire lous CK' on Twitter or the general blogosphere?

I'm trying to understand your exact point that there should be laws against this phenomenon where someone has been designated a pariah. Who should be punished, and for what behaviors should they be punished for, and what is the appropriate punishment for it?


Louis C.K. didn't admit to, and wasn't accused of, sexually assaulting anybody.


Or it's the societal stigma that is wrong.


Perhaps you and some others who agree with you can create a platform or organization for de stigmatizing the thing you feel the stigma is wrong for?


For now, I am content pointing out errors in reasoning online, thank you.


> I think a huge part of why we so strongly censure these people socially is that most of them skipped the justice system entirely.

And some of them are charged, convicted, even sentenced, but then get to escape their punishment anyway. See Roman Polanski as a case in point. (What's even weirder in that case is the sheer amount of people in the movie industry who used to support the guy quite overtly, even strenuously-- it's only very recently that they've had to change their tune. I guess this goes to show how cliquish instincts and dynamics can totally overwhelm our shared sense of justice.)


The justice system is not working as expected. It is unnecessarily long, expensive and dreadful.


You are not an “ex” felon until you have served our time. These people are currently just “criminals”.

I’m perfectly willing to give Weinstein and Cosby another chance once they have served their time.


Especially since nearly 1% of the U.S. population is currently in prison, and probably a multiple of that being ex convicts. That's a huge number. I know a couple people that were somewhat maliciously prosecuted that still have trouble because of it.

One was 18yo dating a 17yo (later married). The other was convicted of illegal gambling (had a poker club with people kicking in enough to cover appetizers).


The question is why you punish. I couldn't give a rat's ass about how harsh and cruel someone's punishment may be (in fact, I'd argue that harsh and cruel punishments don't even work), all I care about is whether that person has changed.

Louis CK for example shows no change of character whatsoever since the allegations have come out. His abuse wasn't a single "misstep", he routinely mistreated others and objectified them to the extent that he forced his sexuality on them. It's disturbing to see him return to the same comedy routine of punching down and making sexual jokes after these confirmed allegations.

I don't demand punishment, I demand rehabilitation. And if he seriously understood the full extent of his past actions, he wouldn't just carry on.

Imagine a child abuser wanting to work as a kindergardener after coming out of prison. Sure, he may have changed but not only is the US prison system not set up in any way to actively support personal change (wardens are not therapists, the change is expected to come from within or out of fear alone) but also if he has a past of sexually abusing children and understood that, you'd expect him to not ever want to risk slipping into the old habits again that led him down that path.

So in other words, abuse allegations need not be a career-ending event, but if the allegations are truthful and you claim to seek to change your behavior, don't complain if people don't trust you when you carry on like nothing happened -- especially if your abuse was enabled by a position of power.


True, I have no problem with past works being pulled because they are income. In the clearest sense, companies are supporting these people when they carry their works. If they don't want to, that's totally fair.


Naked Gun is funnier thanks to the unnerving experience of seeing OJ in it, but Cosby as "America's Dad" is creepy AF.

What's particularly off-base about this analysis is that Cosby was always creepy. She raises this idea like it's an absurdity, but anyone who saw "Spanish Fly" should have understood Cosby was a creep pure and simple. This is kind of typical of the essay - it sprays around highly contentious snap judgements like the NYRB essay by Ghomeshi being "Weak-but-still-interesting", and Farrow's allegations being "dodgy" at a disturbing rate.

Buried in there there's a decent point (or two) struggling to get out. But there's a (possibly disingenuous) blurring of people ranging from Barr though Keillor through Louis CK through Cosby (i.e. obnoxious all the way up to criminally convicted) and a blurring of consequences (are we talking about 'ostracism' or 'erasure' or 'market based companies not wanting anything to do with you any more because you suck?).

Private companies failing to continue to propagate Cosby's work is in no way analogous to being 'disappeared' by the Soviet Union. I'm pretty sure it's still pretty easy to see most of the works by these people; they aren't getting systematically purged from the libraries.


> What's particularly off-base about this analysis is that Cosby was always creepy.

Don't mistake this as complete agreement with the article, but I'd like to make the point that I grew up with the Cosby show and really enjoyed it. I didn't think Bill Cosby was creepy at all. I was deeply saddened to hear about his crimes when they were exposed.

I think it's important to internalize that point because it shows we can be fallible in our assessments of people. I can't truthfully say I always knew Cosby was creepy after the fact. While you're saying it as though it was obvious, I didn't think about it whatsoever.

The same thing happened with Kevin Spacey for me. I was actually distraught at the fact that one of my favorite actors could do these things. And if I'm being very honest, it upsets me that House of Cards (US) was essentially ruined by his removal. I don't disagree with his removal, but I can sympathize with competing perspectives on the broader phenomenon.


What got me about Spacey and Louis CK is that these were open secrets. Everyone in the industry apparently knew about it.


But you aren't allowed to do anything about it, until a jury of twelve peers convict them.

I wish my manager could not rate me 'needs improvement' without running it past a jury of twelve of my peers.


It's definitely creepy to hear Cosby talk about Spanish Fly and then combine it with the revelations that came later. I can't say in all honesty that it would have been considered creepy back then though. I've never heard anyone say the Beastie Boys were creepy for singing about it in Brass Monkey:

"Me and the crew we're drinking Brass Monkey This girl walked by she gave me the eye I reached in the locker grabbed the Spanish Fly I put it with the Monkey mixed it in the cup Went over to the girl, "Yo baby, what's up?" I offered her a sip (sip) the girl she gave me lip (lip) It did begin the stuff wore in and now she's on my tip "

I don't think you could say that in 2019.


OK; I'll bite. Those are creepy lyrics. They were creepy then and they are creepy now. Beasties probably meant it as a joke as they, to my knowledge, don't have a rep as being otherwise creepy but I'm going to go out on a wild limb and say that if you don't think people talking about drugging people so they have sex with you isn't creepy you're not a woman and/or you don't really have much empathy with them either.

This doesn't mean there isn't potentially funny jokes to be made here, as comedy can go everywhere. Some of Sarah Silverman's stuff is super-dark and still funny. But this idea that people invented the notion of "getting all upset over rapey stuff circa 2017" is ridiculous - it's just more that recently people started listening occasionally to victims.


I agree they're creepy. I disagree that not finding it creepy means you're not a woman or have no empathy for women. I know tons of women who love the Beastie Boys and I've never heard a single person complain about or even comment on Brass Monkey lyrics.


Just to go off on a bit of a tangent: There's something to be said about the past being inappropriate today. We should have 2 Live Crew post lyrics from their 80's and early 90's material on Twitter and see how quickly they are outcasted from society.


An even more unnerving example than Cosby from the "they were always a creep" files is Jimmy Saville, the British radio and television personality who was "later revealed to be" a serial sex abuser of virtually any sort of bipedal mammal.

Go watch some of that guy's old interviews and TV shows. It was stupidly obvious that he was a creep. He radiated it. I find it impossible to believe that anyone actually working with that guy didn't know.

Saville had charisma and used it to raise a lot of money for various people. It's obvious that people just looked the other way while he raped women and children for years.


> Cosby was always creepy

Always? At all times? Congratulations on seeing it coming; you're luckier than apparently a few dozen women.

> blurring of people

Which is a worse fallacy, blurring Cosby into Louis into Keillor into Barr, or blurring Barr into Keilorr into Louis into Cosby? Or how about this: each case is different?

> market based companies not wanting anything to do with you any more because you suck

More precisely: coordinated pressure campaigns to intimidate market-based companies, and a lack of pushback from the people who just want to stream some R. Kelley, but are too scared to speak up.

> in no way analogous

When platforms act in concert under pressure through culture-wide groupthink, it might not technically be Soviet censorship, but it's pretty damn analogous.


OK, it was unfair to say 'always', but a more nuanced version of my point would have been: "it does not strengthen a case to claim that only in retrospect could Cosby, performer of the infamous 'Spanish Fly' routine, can be considered too creepy to be 'America's Dad'".

Soviet censorship involved the exercise of the hard power of the state to achieve permanent removal of the person or their imprisonment for political reasons, and the 'groupthink' attitudes referred to here involved wholesale redaction of news and the historical record. "Pretty damn analogous" is true only if we consider a slap in the face "pretty damn analogous" to murder.


As a child, I was extremely uncomfortable with Dr. Huxtable when he was in his office. I would regularly walk away from the show when he was in his at-home office alone with someone. When I later saw Philip Banks in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I consciously compared the two. One felt safe and nurturing, the other did not.

When a criminal's art replicates the conditions in which he committed crimes, I would hope that the commercial and artistic value of that work would diminish considerably. I hope that the Cosby show would not be able to survive continued syndication. However it should still be thrown into the bargain bin of available entertainment for posterity.

In my opinion, deleting the Cosby show erases the chance for others to obtain that same impression.


Private companies ending Cosby's prior art is giving in to the mob. Had there not been such vitriolic outcry, they'd have happily continued making their profits.

No, the erasure is not on them; it's entirely our fault.

Our modern equivalents of the library are being purged, and you're happily cheering the flames.


> Our modern equivalents of the library are being purged

No, they aren't. Not in any way, shape, or form. Private companies don't have any obligation to continue showing anything. They don't have any such 'moral' obligations at all. They aren't going into libraries and purging books.

An actual purge would be something like systemically recalling, redacting, and deleting any remaining records of art that involve Cosby. Saying this is 'our libraries being purged' is completely alarmist and untrue.


> No, they aren't. Not in any way, shape, or form. Private companies don't have any obligation to continue showing anything. They don't have any such 'moral' obligations at all. They aren't going into libraries and purging books.

What if the libraries are privatized?

> An actual purge would be something like systemically recalling, redacting, and deleting any remaining records of art that involve Cosby. Saying this is 'our libraries being purged' is completely alarmist and untrue.

No. An actual purge would consist of removing the work from circulation and locking the remaining copies in a restricted section in the library (a giftschrank). What you describe sounds like it's inspired by the fictional total censorship regime shown in 1984 [1] than by nonfictional examples.

[1] Which was probably lie even in the context of that fictional world; I wouldn't be surprised if the Inner Party actually had accurate archives kept in a giftschrank.


> What if the libraries are privatized?

Then there’s a serious issue with your society that needs to be resolved independent of anything else - libraries are a public good, not for the benefit of any individual entity.


Public libraries still exist. You're referring to a private company's catalogue. Thus, this entire argument is really moot.

You can still go to libraries and obtain things, there is no purge or anything remotely even close happening. It's absurd to expect a private company to always offer content from now until the end of time.


> Private companies don't have any obligation to continue showing anything.

Then they should relinquish their copyrights.


That is a completely absurd proposition and ignores the sheer amount of work that goes into making tv shows and the like. They have no obligation to do anything for anyone. The copyrights will expire anyway at some point in the future.


> > Our modern equivalents of the library are being purged

> No, they aren't. Not in any way, shape, or form. Private companies don't have any obligation to continue showing anything.

True, but in the world today the overwhelming majority of accesses to these things is via paying for access to it from private companies. If private companies refuse then it becomes non-available, for most practical purposes.


Which is still completely different from being purged.

Not having access to a private company's catalogue is a different issue altogether.


Private companies don't have any obligation to continue showing anything. They don't have any such 'moral' obligations at all.

Consider that We The People developed a legal framework for companies to exist as the existence of companies as a thing was deemed to be a net good. But what if it isn’t any more, if companies are purely focused on profits at the expense of the legal and social environment in which they exist? Then the law can be amended.


That's why laws are amended and why regulations and the like exist.

That is parallel to a company deciding to list or not list a tv show in their catalogue.


Please don't cross into personal attack.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


It's cute that you think that the purging the "modern equivalent of the library" is "not getting to have reruns on network television".

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the "modern equivalent of the library" is, well, the library. A quick check reveals that it is still possible to find The Cosby Show at most libraries of record.


This comment breaks the site guidelines. Please review and follow them when posting here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Is this really necessary? The exchange seems quite civil. What exactly in the GP gave offense that warrants pointing it out?

HN seems like a generally civil place. Comments like these make it seem more uncivil, just like police patrolling "bad" neighborhoods more frequently.


The comment was internet vitriol and the site guidelines ask users not to argue that way. You're right that it was far from the worst instance of it, but still. Pouring acid over the other side feels like championing goodness, but really is just pouring acid. It's an invitation to the other side to do the same, and that's how HN ends up burning.

You guys remember that Hacker News is a community, yes? Community members have duties to the community, and to one another, no matter how strongly they disagree.


We can’t tell whether the posts have been edited


Then dang could have specified exactly which statement transgressed the rules.


"It's cute that you think [dumb thing]."

Don't be snarky. Comments should get more civil and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive.

Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I think this is a case where if you had followed your own rules to begin with, this whole discussion thread could have been avoided. There was nothing wrong with your observation of possible incivility - I've noticed you're very attuned to it. You were absolutely doing your job by calling it out. However, the way you worded it gave no context for what was wrong (shallow), implied that the poster had not read the site guidelines (snarky), and ignored the small possibility that "cute" was not intended to be condescending (the strongest possible interpretation of what they said). It seems

I don't think it would have compromised your message if you had been both more specific and a little more polite the first time around. Something like "Your use of 'cute' appears condescending and snarky. This is against the site rules, which you can find here <link>." I think people are more receptive to that tone anyway, and if you do happen to be accidentally overzealous, you've allowed enough room for both of you to save face.

I realise that I too should have posted this comment the first time around, and my initial reply to you (a simple quotation of the site rules I believed you to have violated) was also shallow and snarky, in precisely the same way. So, sorry about that. By way of apology, let me express that I am grateful for the excellent work you do, and that I would surely be much ruder in your position.


It not possible to treat every comment with that level of detail. There are far too many, and the quantity/quality tradeoff is brutal. Sometimes we do, but it costs a lot of time and energy and denies resources to whatever else we need to do, such as look at other threads. So we do our best to convey the needful and are happy to reply with clarification when people ask.

"Please review the guidelines" does not imply you haven't read them. That's why I say "review" rather than "read". I used to say "(re-)read" but that was clumsy. https://hn.algolia.com/?query=by:dang%20re%20read%20guidelin...

The guidelines say strongest plausible, not strongest possible. I don't see a non-snarky plausible interpretation of "cute" in that sentence.


The fact that this many in the community are willing to question the moderation, is indicative of a higher level of tolerance within the community for what it deems "civil". Please consider being a little more lenient while moderating.


I'm happy to adjust when people object, but it's relatively rare that that happens.


what is 'snarky' about 'cute'?

I mean its not a very good rule, the general definition [snide and sharply critical.] could apply to most comments; but what specifically is you objection with 'cute', seems it could be taken as a compliment.

And fyi- summarizing this persons quote as 'dumb thing' could be construed as snide and sharply critical.


It's not the case that "snark" could apply to most HN comments. Mostly there's a clear distinction between comments that contain that toxin and those that don't. That's why it's a good rule for HN.

"Cute" is a term of affection, but it's an internet snark trope to use positive language in a demeaning way, because it makes a comment nastier when you do that. Another example is "I love how you", which is used about as often to attack someone as to compliment them (https://hn.algolia.com/?query=%22i%20love%20how%20you%22&sor...).


my instinct tells me arguing this is pointless, because its vague enough that whatever the mods like they can keep and what they don't like can disappear... But just as an example i will break down your last post;

>It's not the case that "snark" could apply to most HN comments.

Breaks the Please don't post shallow dismissals rule.

>That's why it's a good rule for HN.

Breaks the Don't be snarky rule.

>"Cute" is a term of affection, but it's an internet snark trope

The use of "Air quotes" is the first snark trope on google. same rule you broke twice.

Now I'm not calling for you to be banned, just pointing out that you attacked a borderline case and did it with a post that borderline broke the same vague rules.


'dang is a mod.


how ironic.


They haven't.


"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."


Yeah, I have to admit that I felt a kind of 'not following the letter of the rules' when I used the word 'cute'. Frankly, the argument against 'snark' on HN is a bit wearying to follow 100%. All I would have to do is obfuscate a bit and it sounds like principled disagreement ("It's perhaps a naive take that you ...", "I don't completely understand the line of reasoning that led you to think ...").

The thing is, out there in the world, you don't have to bother worrying that there's some starchy HN exceptionalism that doesn't allow you to answer something that's complete bullshit with a 'proper intellectual response'. It is a bit wearying to constantly deal with juvenelia ("Getting dropped from network TV is like being 'disappeared' by Stalin) in a fashion that would be commensurate with, say, a improper attribution of a remark from Wittgenstein uttered in the drawing room.

It feels like HN's policies against 'snark' have the (no doubt unintentional) effect of shifting the Overton window towards requiring remarks - no matter how juvenile and daft - to be met with proper and careful drawing-room etiquette. So saying stuff that's completely absurd needs to be either unanswered (and left to stink up the room) or carefully argued against (making it sound way more plausible than it is).

I understand that the slippery-slope version of my argument here suggests that anyone can meet anyone else with a torrent of personal abuse simply as a result of disagreement. That being said, I'm not 100% convinced that the right answer to someone uttering absurdities is to meet them with logical, guideline-approved non-snark.

Also: to the nice people on the subthread defending my remark as somehow not snarky, thanks, but no. I intended to be a prick here - there's no entirely guidelines-compliant interpretation of my comment. My argument above is that judicious snark is probably better, and more honest, than either masking it ("your argument is characteristic of arguments made by people no doubt considerably less intelligent than you obviously are, my fine Sir") or by pretending that absurdity isn't absurd ("Well, you see, Stalin actually made people disappear and systematically erased them from libraries, while in this case, what we're talking about is...").


She said:

  The question is whether we condition our consumption of what artists produce on their moral purity.
Here she answers it

  I want the stuff, and in truth I wouldn’t be all that bothered if the director were an axe murderer.
For me things are not black and white like that. Art is a form of expression -that's my opinion. My assumption is that, artist's create art from out of their own convictions. With that mindset , if I find out that artist is a heinous person it automatically makes me think same about his art- may be that's a wrong way to think about it.

If Sorkin wrote a play and a would be serial killer was cast as the protagonist , I will have a hard time liking the play when the actualities play out. This is probably wrong and contradicts what i wrote before because i am attributing the integrity of the play with one single actors behavior.

Its not easy. Does some one have a better way to deal with this.


> Its not easy. Does some one have a better way to deal with this.

The argument made by the article is that each of us ought to be able to choose our own way to deal with this. But, instead, we are denied that opportunity because publishers/distributors/editors/agents/directors/producers/newspapers/etc are "severing all ties" and going further by expunging the existence of the guilty party as far as possible.

I agree with the article. I don't think much of Roman Polanki as a human being, but I've watched most of his movies and I think many of them are spectacularly good. And, no, I don't think his movies are permeated by some kind of inappropriate lust for teenage girls. Bad people can make good art. Bad people have made good art.

If it came to light that Shakespeare had been an abusive husband, would you think less of his plays and poems? Would you support publishers if they chose to stop printing Shakespeare? What if they stopped distribution of what had been printed? What if amazon stopped selling Shakespeare?

I support your right to boycott, but I think restricting my ability to not boycott is going too far.


Of course—but the issue at hand is that or present situation is more complex. Today, a person’s success (because our culture has been reduced to basically only valuing popularity (visibility) and wealth and not intelligence or moral rectitude) tends to grant them degrees of social immunity and prevent the appropriate application of the law. People have begun realizing this. This realization causes them to strike at the defense these artists have—namely, their popularity via their distribution. That’s why people call for censure and put pressure on distributors. The révocation of works is not some abstract association between morals and the value of artworks as such—it is the concrete fallout of our particular situation and the realization that in our particular society wide distribution grants you some form of power that plenty of assholes have used to abuse other human beings and skirt the legal repercussions.

Shakespeare might have been a douche. He might’ve used his success in the theatre as an effective means to abuse others and get away with it. We don’t know. What we do know is that that does happen in our society—and it is a social dynamic we ought to change. This inaccessibilité of some works is a consequence. I doubt it will last indefinitely. I don’t think anyone is actually making the straw man argument Shriver is attacking on the article—people aren’t interested in saying there’s some innate connection between the moral quality of artists and the quality of their work—they’re realizing the power of popularity and attempting to bring justice to those who have abuséd that power.


> Today, a person’s success (because our culture has been reduced to basically only valuing popularity (visibility) and wealth and not intelligence or moral rectitude) tends to grant them degrees of social immunity and prevent the appropriate application of the law

Is it really a problem specific to our society that being famous/rich/talented/pretty/etc allows people to, sometimes literally, get away with murder?

> The révocation of works is not some abstract association between morals and the value of artworks as such—it is the concrete fallout of our particular situation and the realization that in our particular society wide distribution grants you some form of power that plenty of assholes have used to abuse other human beings and skirt the legal repercussions.

It seems facile to say that it's bad that "powerful assholes can abuse their power and then skirt the repercussions". I think we're all in agreement about that. In a just world, no matter how rich or famous you are, if you do the crime, you will be caught and punished. The question is: how do we bring about that world?

Our justice/legal system is a series of compromises. I think we've basically made the right compromises. I'm open to people questioning those compromises, to people suggesting new compromises or rethinking the old ones. At the same time I'm skeptical that there are easy solutions that would result in a fairer society. I also don't see a lot of what I would describe as "useful and productive questioning" on this subject.

Furthermore, some of this stuff has nothing to do with crimes at all. Roseanne Barr saying something racist is not a crime.

> people aren’t interested in saying there’s some innate connection between the moral quality of artists and the quality of their work

The comment I responded to is making this exact argument. Lots of the outrage about Cosby/Louie CK/Polanski/etc makes the argument that their work is rife with vileness.


> Its not easy. Does some one have a better way to deal with this.

A boycott. Don't buy the stuff.

Seriously, the core of the problem is not moral judgement (although that may be worthy discussing at a second, non-fire emergency, time.

The problem is automatic moral contagion. A publisher may make the approximate market or moral guess that it should suspend its relationship with an author. But a literary agent doing the same at lightning speed is deferring moral judgement to the amorphous crowd, the "They". And the "They" is structurally incapable of thought, let alone moral thought. The consequence is bookstores getting caught in the wave and erasing traces of the author's existence.

I never thought Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, which seemed so overwrought and sanctimonious ten years ago, had this much wisdom about human nature. Search wikiquote for some choice rambling about "second handers".

It's really badly written too, so it's a shame human behavior is making it more prescient and deeper than, say, 1984.


> A boycott. Don't buy the stuff.

> But a literary agent doing the same at lightning speed is deferring moral judgement to the amorphous crowd

Is that not the same thing? Boycotts affect distributors, producers, agents, etc. Who wants to hire an agent that represents X, Y, or Z? That public radio station could leave his recordings online, and suffer the consequences of donors not donating. I can not-watch a show on Netflix that I don't like, or I can cancel my subscription.

These are the effects of a boycott.


See also Rand and William Hickman.

https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/William_Edward_Hickman


Rand's heros are bullshit, yes. In reality nothing happens from isolated individualistic initiative, everything takes place in the space between people. Howard Roark is a fictional version of Martin Shkreli.

That said, her acute pessimism about mob human behavior appears to be dead-on.


I find the line “You’re exactly the sort of person this happens to" very telling.

When people are destroyed with "but an accusation", it's very rare for the accusation to have been the whole of it. Roseanne, Louis C.K., Weinstein, Bill Cosby - it wasn't the accusation that destroyed these people, they had been undermining themselves for decades by hurting others. The accusation that took root only knocked out the lynchpin to the facade.

As to whether the author is actually a terrible person who has been hurting people for decades or not, I don't know, but that specific line definitely describes these people. They are exactly the sort of person whose lives get destroyed over an accusation - because they've built up enough previously-obfuscated proof to go with it.


Okay, then explain Tobuscus. Look him up. He lost arguably over a million dollars in deals with companies and with his publisher not to mention he stopped putting out videos because of the whole ordeal. The only bad history he had before was that had a drug addiction and he was "manipulative". However all his past girlfriends backed him up, and their was conclusive evidence that the accusation was false. Still, his life was pretty much wrecked.


suppose for a moment that this Tobuscus guy was indeed unfairly maligned — i don’t know, but hey, could be. that in no way contradicts the parent commenter’s point, which is this: all the hand-wringing over the celebrities whose careers were destroyed over “just an accusation” is wrong, because it was never just that one accusation.

rosanne barr is a good example. the author of the article goes into minute detail over the tweet that ended her show, yet somehow doesn’t have a word to say about the decades of her bad behavior that preceeded it.


No. Tobuscus was a basic celebrity (youtube channel with over a million subscribers, one of the biggest in his prime), and was a reputable person with no real bad history. He was ruined by one accusation.

Furthermore, most people are not perfect. You can find a bad history for anyone i.e. James Gunn. That does not make an accusation destroying someone's career okay.

> Suppose for a moment that this Tobuscus guy was indeed unfairly maligned — i don’t know, but hey, could be.

That is why false rape accusations are so bad. You have to preface this by saying you don't know if he is a rapist or not, when there is physical evidence that proves he didn't, but the accusation is more important than the evidence.


It depends somewhat on the transgression and how it relates to thr works.

Cosby's "lovable american Dad" character is incongruous with the crimes he committed and that really does diminish the work.

Rosanne's charcter is flawed by design along with the rest of the realistic family. Throwing in racism (or stupidity, if she didn't intend it in a racist way) fits just fine with the character and does not diminish the great series that it was.


> Cosby's "lovable american Dad" character is incongruous

I'd argue that it is congrous, but maybe in a different sense than you meant. It's in the very fabric of our culture to be two faced, because presentation is valued so much more than content. From that perspective, the rapist lovable american Dad is a cartoonish embodiment of this.


American Psycho was the extreme satire of it.


American Beauty is another popular satire of the same thing.


Which is almost uncomfortably ironic, because Kevin Spacey was in a leading role in American Beauty.


Shouldn't that be a decision to be made by each consumer, rather than a mob of social justice warriors pressuring companies to prevent everyone from accessing it?


It is trivial for you to access it if you want to exercise your rights as a consumer by actually doing a bit of work. There is no requirement that third-parties need to assist you in this endeavor.


I agree with your opinions, and sympathize with the chronic downvoting and excessive moderating meted out here.

There's little difference between the left and right these days, they've moved so far extreme that their underlying philosophies have started to align.

One such is mob like bullying of corporations, and hysterical outrage. Be it Nike & Kapernick, or __corp_advertizer__ and Ben Shapiro, tribalism and herd behavior have been amplified by the internet. That has unleashed baser instincts of retribution, and when network effects and scale do to retribution what they do to the viral spread and adoption of Uber or Facebook, all hell is unleashed on the afflicted, regardless of the gravity of their crime.

The internet was supposed to free our minds, not pile-on the moderately guilty, at scales VCs salivate over.


This is mostly an American phenomenon. Outsiders tend to look on with bemusement, but it's actually a very serious problem due to America's historical ethical leadership (despite the failures), and their current global influence. Like it or not, their example has far reaching effects the world over.

I just hope that they can get out of this polar ideological warfare mindset before it goes too far. They may have lost the moral high ground, but they're still far removed from a rogue state. There's a real danger from Russian cyber campaigns to divide and confuse. These are far more dangerous to national security than the IP theft China engages in. Certain nations would love to help America fall from grace.


Sure, I get it, but when you tap into your empathetic side this article smacks of insensitity and whining. Assuming, as Lionel asks us to, that some of these things are true—should we really be complaining about the inaccessibility of these works or should we perhaps think about what the victims might have experienced, and that in many cases the abuse they suffered was in part enabled by the power the popularity of the so-called artist’s (many of the examples in this article art not in fact what I’d call art but rather entertainment) works bestowed upon the artists—a lot of these people got away with stuff precisely because the wide scale distribution of their works elevated them to a position of social immunity. That’s finally changing, and that’s a good thing.

Just as it’s the consumers choice to refrain from consuming its the distributors choice to refrain from distributing—publishers aren’t some beacons of moral and political neutrality—they’ll do whatever benefits the bottom line. To hold them to this weird demand that they be neutral and toss public opinion aside is predicated on a much different reality than the one we occupy. Changing the nature of distribution is a separate economic and political issue.

On the whole, this is a pretty infuriating article. So-called artists should not have some sort of special moral immunity—that’s precisely the problem that’s finally being solved with some of these banishments—and yes it is a problem initimately tied to the popularity and avilabilty of their works, as this is what gave them a veneer of invincibility in the past. It’s not some simple situation in which these people would have been served justice regardless—the dispatch of justice in these cases is often hindered by the artist’s success and notoriety.

Common approaches to morality weigh the bad more highly against the good. And yes the ideas and actions behind the art matter. The extreme logical extension of this argument is that you should be able to enjoy nazi artwork in a sort of epicurean way without having to admit of any of the implications enjoying such work might suggest and basically putting history, reality, and thought aside while you indulge in whatever it is about the work that appeals to you—it’s a very shallow, one dimensional, solipsistic and childish approach to comprehending and consuming art.


>But that isn’t the fear in its entirety. Suppose a perceived violation of progressive orthodoxy translates into the kind of institutional cowardice on display in the forced resignation of Ian Buruma from The New York Review of Books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones in the United Kingdom, my literary agent, my publishers in translation, and ­HarperCollins worldwide would decide they could no longer afford association with a pariah. My current manuscript wouldn’t see print, nor would any future projects I’m foolish enough to bother to bash out. Journalistic opportunities would dry up. Yet what I most dread about this bleak scenario is my thirteen published titles suddenly becoming unavailable—both online (gosh, would piracy sites be morally fastidious, too?) and in shops.

McCarthyism never died, it just went moved leftwards.

Similarly to how the kind of puritanism and moral hysteria that got the Hayes code and "warning stickers" on CDs, thrives on under a progressive guise today.


Great piece. To me, the strongest argument is that too often pieces of art are made by dozens to hundreds of artists, and we'll punish along the hundreds of innocents to get to the presumed guilty.


>pieces of art are made by dozens to hundreds of artists, and we'll punish along the hundreds of innocents to get to the presumed guilty.

Punishing people for association is a common means of striking fear into the people who don't care one way or another about your movement (most of the population doesn't care strongly about most issues) and getting them to at least half hardheartedly act as a force multiplier for your vocal minority.

I'm sure you can imagine why a business owner in 1870 Alabama might not want to get caught selling to black people or a white tradesman may not want to take on a job for said business or a publisher in 1922 might not want to publish a book by someone who's known to be a communist.

Same principal.

I'm sure we'll look back on it the same way we look back on the red scare. Regardless of whether the goal is a good one or not these sort of witch hunts where a majority of the population is kind of uneasy about how extreme they are almost never look like good ideas in hindsight.


Insightful. An artist will be less likely to look away from abuse that doesn't affect them, if it might cause their work to be erased.


While I appreciate that the author rightly calls out the cult-like mob justice of the progressive movement as overly cruel and destructive, the final section reveals an inherently selfish motive for this piece. He appears less concerned with artists being treated fairly or justly and more with whether he can enjoy what they made after the person has been destroyed.

IMHO, here's something devilish about seeing societal injustices, pretending it's futile to fight back, but then pleading for society to spare the art from their rampage. If we're going to let this be the new status quo, then protecting the art should be the least of our worries.


As the author gists at: what if we found out that Michealangelo uninvitedly touched a woman’s bottom. Should we then deplatform him, remove his works, and paint over the Sistine Chapel in an appeasing off white so that no one else were to subject to his transgressions?


I don't see the need for tortured hypotheticals when history is already full of flawed artists.

You can still get copies of Mein Kampf, how's that for deplatforming.

The point isn't to erase people from history, but to stop rewarding, glorifying and shielding them.


I think the equation changes a lot once they're dead.


Why? Why not stop at the legally stipulated punishment proportionate to the crime. Why is there a need to deplatform someone to the same degree, regardless of the gravity of their crime?


Networks don't necessarily stop reruns just to participate in the punishment of someone. They do it because the audience's perception of someone is changed. Bill Cosby's work and Roseanne weren't directly changed for example, but in their new contexts, many people are uncomfortable now. The networks want to run what people like. If they think people would generally like a different show now over those old reruns, then they're just keeping up with the market. They don't need a court's approval for that.


Yeah my first reaction was "what makes artists so special"? There are many careers penalized far worse for less and unpunished with far greater power and potential for abuse.

Teachers get fired for being in a porn video in college while literally shooting someone innocent dead without another valid threat leads to no repercussions.

Cynically it seems power makes you less culpable instead of more and the extent of "morality" is what you do with genitals instead of anything else. And those outside the norm are more culpable to the extreme of "should have been superhuman". It is a deep seated stupidity and evil.


> whether he can enjoy

It's actually

> whether she can enjoy

But really, her point is a more selfless one:

> whether we can enjoy

And also,

> pretending it's futile to fight back

Does Shriver engage in such pretense? Or is this a strawman?


This is why I read harpers.


That painfully resembles the approach they used in the Soviet Union: "Yes, Ivan Ivanovich is a great poet, but is he a true communist?" And if the answer is no, then no, his book will never be printed.

It also helps that the definition of being "a true communist" is sufficiently vague to turn pretty much any situation in either direction.


> I’m one column away from the round of mob opprobrium that sinks my career for good.

Yet Rod Liddle and Jeremy Clarkson continue to have a successful career, Trump makes it all the way to the white house, and netflix is filled with highly successful 'controversial' comedians.


I would argue that economics drives at least some of this because Hollywood and media in general have no shortage of talent waiting in the wings.

So new mechanisms for generating attrition will always find more fans (the underdogs) than opponents (the top dogs.)

In those milieu, everyone - even filthy rich producers, is expendable. Though expendable connotes a sense of usefulness, so maybe disposable works better.


> For reasons that escape me, artists’ misbehavior now contaminates the fruits of their labors, like the sins of the father being visited upon the sons. So it’s not enough to punish transgressors merely by cutting off the source of their livelihoods, turning them into social outcasts, and truncating their professional futures. You have to destroy their pasts. Having discovered the worst about your fallen idols, you’re duty-­bound to demolish the best about them as well.

I'm not biting.

If we're talking about artists' misbehavior, let's take a well-known example. Plenty of comedians continue to talk about the importance of Bill Cosby as a comedian, and to rate his influence up there with Richard Pryor, George Carlin, etc. These comedians profess this publicly, and I can probably find various examples from people like Seinfeld, Norm MacDonald, and many others. AFAICT it's crystal clear to their audience what they mean when they assess his comedy albums. In no way has his comedy gone down the "memory hole."

If you don't believe me, go on Amazon and search for "Bill Cosby albums" and look at the ratings. Here's the first line from the first review I found:

"No matter how you feel about Bill Cosby, given recent events, and where you might fall in your beliefs, it is sometimes necessary to separate the artist from the art."

Rando review person on Amazon gets it. Does that mean I should count Rando as a voice speaking out against the dangers of "progressive orthodoxy?"

I'd much rather count Rando as a voice repeating the thing I already knew before I started reading this article.

Seems to me the author is guilty of the same fallacy as the creationist who, when presented with new sets of fossils, only sees an exponentially increasing set of missing links. (Is there a name for this fallacy?)


That's the first time I get not one but two JavaScript modal pop ups. Looks like I won't be reading this article and potentially upvoting it. This is getting crazy.



We've effectively hatched a Roko's Basilisk.


What about replacing the collective work of several misogynistic and racist authors, especially since the work itself lead to heavy discrimination?

cough the US Constitution cough :)


I thought that was the plan, but it is rarely mentioned in public forums.


Good old reductio ad Hitlerium: we still show historical movies about Hitler and many countries do not outright ban his literary "work". (Others do.) It is still getting published. And it is a political piece, unlike just a mere association!

The problem is probably the lack of option due to centralization of publishing (esp. movie publishing) and enormous political pressure from there.

You cannot show Cosby if MPAA or whichever organization does not agree to it, nor you can sell them. The only bet is a media library which may have an exception in copyright, until that fades away in half a century or more.


She needs to realise that times have changed.


Underlying all of the points in this article is the idea that people are somehow entitled to success. Louis C.K. and Bill Cosby are famous, dammit — how dare people not promote their work or give them money!

Meanwhile, zero sympathy for the people who experienced professional repercussions after being harassed or assaulted. Before you're successful, people can harm your career or discriminate against you all they want. It's okay!

Would we have a problem with replacing an unknown actor if it were discovered that they were a serial sexual assaulter of minors and minor-adjacents? No? Then why do we care when it happens to Kevin Spacey?


> Underlying all of the points in this article is the idea that people are somehow entitled to success.

No, underlying all of the points in this article is that works are separate from the person who produced them, and it does us no good to erase all reference to their works for actions that are sometimes no more criminal than a stupid tweet. It turns out that, when you suppress a work that many people have collaborated on because of something one member did, a lot of innocent people lose out.

> Meanwhile, zero sympathy for the people who experienced professional repercussions after being harassed or assaulted. Before you're successful, people can harm your career or discriminate against you all they want. It's okay!

Please Google "straw man argument". You have no idea what amount of sympathy the author has for the victims; it simply isn't the focus of her article. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


No, that's not the point. This is not about any famous person being entitled to anything. Her point is that "the arts consumer" is entitled to make their own decision about what to read and watch and think. We are hampered in this by posturing platforms and by the mob's simplistic "by association" mental model of evil.

I can hold entertainers to any standard I like, or none at all. I can judge them for the subset of crimes that are topical to judge them for, or some other arbitrary subset of my choosing. Or, I can take the words "gratia artis" literally.


I understand her point, it's just not consistent. Where is my option to support people who would have had a career had it not been killed by some powerful abuser?

The choice isn't "art or no art". That choice is made for us when someone decides to wield their power over someone else. Our only choice is which art we ignore: that of famous abusers or that of their victims. The "arts consumer" loses out either way.


> Where is my option...?

There is an established path for group action here:

1. Vote

2. Pass a law that says powerful abusers are bad

3. When someone's convicted of wielding power in a mean way, the justice system will punish them by due process

4. People learn what will get punished

5. The artists you wish you could see will be less scared away

6. You get the art you want!

Notice how throughout this entire process, you don't get to tell me, of the art that exists today, what I'm allowed to read or watch or listen to.

On the other hand, cheating that hangman and bullying the platforms feels a little bit like, how to say, wielding your power over someone else.


This would be a much more convincing argument if 3-6 weren't extremely rare despite 1 and 2 already existing.

It's not really "cheating the hangman". He's not doing his job, so we have to deal with it on our own.

Which sucks, because I agree: your proposal is way better.


> He's not doing his job, so we have to deal with it on our own.

Ah yes, this is how everyone starts to think after a long glut of too many superhero movies.

Criminal law has/will come down hard upon Cosby and Weinstein and such. Other alleged offenders will settle claims and lose out on future employment. Step 5 is looking way brighter in this generation than in the last. But step 3, not vigilantism, is really the best system we have for deciding between innocence and guilt.


Because Kevin Spacey has proven himself in his craft. If Michelangelo's works were destroyed this week because it was discovered he'd assaulted his daughter, would you mourn the loss? I would. I'd be furious at an incredibly stupid people!


Yeah but how much of that is because of the place in history his works hold. We're also not actually memory holing these people, their work still exists it's still part of the canon of culture. By and large they're still fantastically wealthy and likely will continue to be.

Ultimately what's happening is just a decision that the good parts of a persons outputs don't outweigh the bad parts any more. That the acceptance of shitty behavior and the damage it does to both the people it directly affected and the damage the culture that excuses that behavior does to unrelated people isn't worth it.

It's easy to see one side of the scale, everything a Spacey or Cosby has added to culture, but it's impossible to see the other side of the scale, the things we haven't gotten because of people driven away.

(And on a simpler level fame doesn't excuse crimes no matter how much we raise people up because of it.)


> We're also not actually memory holing these people, their work still exists it's still part of the canon of culture

So Kevin Spacey's performance in All the Money in the World is still part of the canon eh? And Louis's voice acting in Gravity Falls? No, because those performances were literally given the ol' Jones/Aaronson/Rutherford, at considerable expense.

> Ultimately what's happening is just a decision that...

I love the passiveness of this sentence. A decision is happening. Who decides? Do our gatekeepers decide for us? Or does each of us have a brain?

> ...the good parts of a persons outputs don't outweigh the bad parts any more.

Outweighing is irrelevant to the question of whether to enjoy the good. Cake doesn't outweigh death. But if you offer me cake, and we're both crystal clear on the fact that death sucks, I'll eat the cake.


> Outweighing is irrelevant to the question of whether to enjoy the good. Cake doesn't outweigh death. But if you offer me cake, and we're both crystal clear on the fact that death sucks, I'll eat the cake.

The problem with that is that by continuing to cast these actors companies are inherently saying the value of their performances is greater than the cost of the bad behavior.

The whole current problem with the culture of assault and covering it up in Hollywood is because for decades it was brushed aside and the perpetrators protected. It's many decades of chickens coming home to roost.

> I love the passiveness of this sentence. A decision is happening. Who decides? Do our gatekeepers decide for us? Or does each of us have a brain?

As for this? It's a collective thing. If there's enough consumer pressure to bring Cosby or anyone else back you know someone will (hint you can still totally stream it off Amazon Prime). Vote with your money and the companies will follow, we know from their long history companies barely have morals when there's a pile of cash involved) there's no committee of people deciding who's in or who's out outside of these companies on each production.


You absolutely are memory holing them. If you decide I'm not not allowed to see older Cosby episodes on your platform, new people can't watch it and it's little by little erased from cultural memory.


Not even close to what was written. The article couldn't have been more clear.


> the British barely right-­of-­center magazine (that’s left-­of-­center, in the United States) The Spectator

Um. No. The Spectator is solidly right-wing - it's on the right wing of the Conservative party, in fact. A piece in the Spectator's mirror-image, the left-wing New Statesman:

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/media/2017/04/how-alex...

They have a long-standing columnist who is cheerleading for Greek fascists:

https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/spectator-editor-defends-colu...


on the positive side - despite all the mob power we still got the first openly "devil's triangle" Justice.


Not sure what the "devil's triangle" means.

The Kavanaugh case is interesting. It makes clear that some people want a new process for determining guilt, but nobody seems to make clear what that process should be.

A process is important because, in the face of uncertainty, we need an a priori agreement on how to settle it. After churning through the process we are supposed to unite around the result of it even of it's not what we hoped, and basically record it as a fact in the public record.

Leaving festering challenges to every fact just keeps us divided, eventually to the point everyone is working with their own set of facts.

It's also interesting because there is such a process. I don't see any reason the Maryland DA can't refer the matter to a grand jury. The grand jury would either indict or not, and then I believe we could unite around that result.


It wasn’t a criminal trial, it was a job interview.


It was a trial in the court of public opinion, from which there is no appeal. (thx to Machiavelli for that nugget of wisdom.)


You allude to a different standard, what should the standard be?


If only we knew what it meant.


Just like in 1984 where if you are vapourised you disappear completely as if you had never existed at all.


Just like that, aside from the 'being actually killed', as opposed to spending a year in the naughty chair and getting to make a comeback. I mean, seriously?

No getting to edit NYRB or have HBO specials anymore is not analogous to being thrown in prison, ostracized or (literally) disappeared.


Being digitally removed from your previous works sounds quite similar to the people disappearing from Stalin’s photos.


Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and Louis C.K. has never been funny.


While I can understand and somewhat agree with his point that the works should be judged on their own merit. However, I find his attitude extremely callous. He even reiterated the point that even if the artist was an axe murderer he wouldn't care he just wants the goods.

It boils down to he's saying that the suffering of any of the victims doesn't matter to him. Literally at all... More over there is a pretty deep undercurrent that that has been the attitude for a long time and that the suffering of others has been ignored for equally long.

If you want justification for removing the works of the artists then consider it a form of ill-gotten gains. Would that work of art have been made if they're crime had been revealed or convicted?


Ok, let's go down this road. Suppose a crime is discovered long after the event. Does that mean you take their house? They probably wouldn't have gotten a job good enough to buy one. Their possessions? Gone. How about their family? Probably wouldn't have gotten married. Probably wouldn't have had those children. Erase erase erase!

Honestly, the response here is downright frightening, and I fear for our future...


The difference between all the things that you listed is that works of art are able to give royalties to a person. If you continue to buy or consume their products they still profit.

Obviously ex post facto law is bad for society. However, if an artist is receiving royalties for a work they made during which they raped several people, why should they still profit?


Because it's the job of the justice system to mete out punishment, not the modern day equivalent of a lynch mob.


> Because it's the job of the justice system to mete out punishment, not the modern day equivalent of a lynch mob.

This should be so glaringly obvious.

A common problem when someone finishes serving their jail time as allotted by said justice system, the (much more low-key) lynch mob doesn't want to hire them just yet.

But what doesn't happen is this: the prisoner, by some stroke of luck, gets a job in a say a car factory, and suddenly everyone else in that factory should loose their job, and I'm a bad person for wanting to drive a car that the ex-felon worked on.


The difference is probably that the factory worker is not seen by the car buyer - we wouldn’t want to expose everyone’s mind to the terrible sight of an ex-felon would we?

Now all that being said, this is probably just a pendulum swing. It looks like for decades sexual assault was shielded in the media industry - me too is overall still a positive movement IMO, it’s just important to not letting it get too far (and I think those breaking forces are already acting).


One of the key problems, however, is that the justice system isn't doing that. Hence why you get consumer-level campaigns to apply pressure and punishments in other ways.


How can you know that it isn't doing that?

I imagine sex crimes to be really hard to proof. Because the difference between a completely legal act and one that is deeply wrong is the state of mind of two people at the time.

The justice system shouldn't convict someone if it can't be sure that the accuses really did the crime.


The criminal justice system is very, very rarely involved in HR matters, and that's what we are talking about. (Hiring and firing)


Exactly. The justice system has prisons, or fines. Looking for ways to hurt individuals on top of that is mob mentality. Oh he has a job, lets put pressure on the employer. Oh he has sponsors on social media - lets contact those.


In addition to “because it’s the job of the justice department to dole out punishment”: if an artist is receiving dividend on shares bought in a period during which they raped several people, should we take those dividends? The money they earned in a period in which they raped people?

That would be quite a deviation from what the justice system ‘we’ (in the western world, 21st century, …) agreed on typically do: only take the money people get from a crime (frequently with a fine added), not all their money.

(There may be edge cases, for example: if I steal a million, put all it on red in Vegas, come out with two million, and then get caught, how much money should be taken from me? I can see a judge ordering me to return a million to the owner of the original million and a million to the casino. Those are the exceptions, though)


If someone steals $400K from you, and you discover who it was 10 years later, are you not due at least $400K from that person even if it means liquidating their assets?

Don't build your future on the ashes of someone else's past.


He's not being extremely callous. He's just saying your opinion shouldn't be forced on him. The suffering of others doesn't need to be his problem. We can discourage that with prison and fines. No need to drag the consumer in on a forced march through some rabid vigilante social assassination.


Apply this logic (ill gotten gains is the term you used, but I interpret it as a coded way to say value created by immoral actors) to technology and it suddenly becomes a little more complicated.

The scary prospect, from my perspective, is that cultural erasure on moral grounds is not only possible, it could be inevitable and lead to a chain reaction. From the statue removal in the US (easily justifiable considering the circumstances of their placement) to the college course alteration and removal in certain South African universities (justifiable under Socially Just interpretations) to the discrediting and forced reinterpretation of scientific theory (IQ studies, intelligent design inclusion, inherent sex disparity, evolutionary genetics), it would appear there may in fact be a reduced friction gradient that isn't wholly fallacious. If some pernicious pedophile develops a cure for cancer, I'm not going to consider for even a second whether or not I am going to use it.


If some pernicious pedophile develops a cure for cancer, it would be morally wrong not to use it. However, if that particular pedophile should profit from it is an entirely separate question. Patents and copyrights are a government given right and they can be removed. Actions have consequences.


100%. Said pedophile's cure should be used far and wide. I am 100% certain inventions used widely today have been made by pedophiles.

If the person is convicted, their assets can be siezed and they can be imprisoned. This is not the same as allowing them to continue to benefit by refusing to prosecute, which is what happened in the past.


> 100% certain inventions used widely today have been made by pedophiles

Gill Sans, for example, created by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Gill

> His personal diaries reveal that his religious beliefs did not limit his sexual activity which included several extramarital affairs, incest with his two eldest teenage daughters, incestuous relationships with his sisters, and sexual acts on his dog.


i don't really think your pernicious pedophile is a good example of ill-gotten gains.

a crime lord who makes $10mm through illegal ventures has no claim to that money once they are convicted. the money was made illegitimately, so the government can just take it. your pedophile, on the other hand, has done one great thing and one terrible thing for/to society. I don't think that means it should be the purview of the patent office to punish them. instead, why not give them a fine proportional to the offense (ie huge) in addition to jail time and let them use most or all of the profits to pay it?


So, someone who commits a crime should not reap the rewards of unrelated activity?

Seriously... Am I even talking to a member of the free world?


Maybe try not raping or abusing people or other illegal activities and don't suffer economic punishment?


Without limit? Everyone has broken a law at some point.

Economic confiscations are supposed to take the proceeds of crime, not erase everything you've ever done and remove any chance of you earning again. Where is rehabilitation in your "justice"?

No point rehabilitating, or having a change of heart is there? May as well make the sentence for every crime or misdemeanour a whole life tariff.


I'm... At a loss for words.

Do you not trust your own justice system?


I do not necessarily agree with the person you are replying too, but I also do not trust the American justice system


Luckily there wasn't any suffering that went into making my iPhone, so I'm all clear to enjoy that, right?


It can't be that difficult for people to admit they consume products that were created under less than ideal conditions.


It is all a fake, virtue signaling mess. I think of James Watson who had many honorary titles for his scientific work revoked for a supposedly "racist" observation. Other scientists who have produced complete garbage but make the right political noises get accolades and honorary doctorates.


> I’m one column away from the round of mob opprobrium that sinks my career for good.

If that column involves you admitting to having sexually abused people, or making blatantly racist or bigoted statements, sure. But I fail to see how this is supposed to be a bad thing.

If such an event is so close to your normal behavior that you worry it might happen just about any day now, maybe you are the problem.


Cry me a river. All of the offenses she lists have one thing in common: they are fundamentally someone with power using that power to subjugate ( to varying degrees ) someone who they have power over. Learn to treat others with dignity and respect. That’s what this is about. It’s not hard at all. People are just upset because it was previously acceptable, but these actions were always pretty gross.


Shriver's thesis is not that Spacey et al. are victims. She lays it out in the section that starts, "Which brings us to the party that really pays for the new puritanism:...".

Did the fans of House of Cards use their power to subjugate?

Did Louis C.K.'s co-stars use their power to subjugate?

Did Ian Buruma's editor?

Once you cast off whatever simplistic lens you might have, e.g. "it's all about power", it turns out the world is pretty interesting and complicated. Embrace the complexity.


I’ve seen this “separate the artist from the art” line of reasoning. I personally feel icky knowing that my money is going towards someone who has a pattern of bad action. Art is about culture and culture is about shared stories. The fact is that call-outs work because they change the story. This is what silent spring and the jungle did during the muck-raking era and it had the objectively positive effect of punishing companies for externalising costs at the expense of public health. Me too is just muck-raking for our modern era, focusing on interpersonal externalities.


Yup, it's your prerogative to feel icky. Personally, I'd feel icky artificially withholding money from these people's colleagues because they were unlucky enough to work on a movie set with someone who subsequently came under suspicion.

If the platforms didn't infantilize us, we'd be allowed to make up our own minds as to what's icky, because it turns out that not everyone has the same feelings.

Also: did anything in my comment follow the “separate the artist from the art” line of reasoning that you speak of? I'm pretty sure my comment wasn't about the naughty artists. I'm pretty sure it was about the actual victims.



My apologies, I appreciate the correction.


Is social isolation the right response? Does it produce a good outcome?

Does it result in anyone deeply learning the lessons of history behind it all? Or do they just learn to keep their mouth shut?

If someone is expressing bad ideas, then you can use their comments a an opportunity to teach a deeper lesson. If they just shut up, the conversation never happens and no learning takes place.

I suspect that a lot of well-meaning people do not really understand much about racism. How could they? It's such a dangerous topic that you can't even ask basic questions without putting yourself at risk.

Maybe that's fine in the sense that fewer people are offended. But I am not convinced that such a shallow lesson will last more than a couple generations, and the "shut up" lesson creates a lot of collateral damage to the overall culture.


Most of the offenses given (exposing yourself to subordinates for example) are not in the category of things you’re talking about. Well meaning people are racist and say racist things and when they are called out, they apologize and try to make it right. Someone who has a pattern of abusing their superior position to force people to be a part of things against their will is anathema to a free society.


Isn't that the problem the author is talking about? That Rosanne is thrown into the same bucket as Cosby?


> Well meaning people are racist and say racist things and when they are called out, they apologize and try to make it right.

I'm not sure if this is a tangent or not, but I suspect there's a lot of social pressure to apologize for racist statements even when the speaker continues to hold racist beliefs.

On numerous occasions, I've tried to have reasoned debate about topics such as race, religion, etc. I've been disappointed by how frequently those discussions go off the rails when I'm arguing for the possible validity of less-than-popular positions.

Based on those experiences, I can easily see how a person would fear the consequences of not recanting certain statements about race, religion, politics, etc., irrespective of his/her actual beliefs.


> they are fundamentally someone with power using that power to subjugate ( to varying degrees ) someone who they have power over.

That doesn't explain the Roseanne Barr / Valerie Jarrett situation.




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