For reasons that will soon become apparent, I got to thinking about the verb “dehumanize”. I realized I didn’t know what it meant. So, I turned to the dictionary. Here’s Merriam-Webster on the subject:
to deprive (someone or something) of human qualities, personality, or dignity
such as. : to subject (someone, such as a prisoner) to inhuman or degrading conditions or treatment
verb [ T ] (UK usually dehumanise)
to remove from a person the special human qualities of independent thought, feeling for other people, etc.:
American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology
employ any process or practice that is thought to reduce human beings to the level of mechanisms or nonhuman animals, especially by denying them autonomy, individuality, and a sense of dignity
Oxford Language Dictionary:
deprive of positive human qualities.
The meaning is clear. It means to treat someone who is in your power, like a prisoner, a slave, or an employee who is unable to quit for whatever reason, so harshly and cruelly that they lose their human qualities and become uncaring, cruel, desperate, and vicious.
So we can say that the Union prisoners in the infamous Andersonville prison were dehumanized to the point where they would do anything to survive. James Clavell’s novel “King Rat” describes how the prisoners of war in Japanese prisons were systematically mistreated and turned on each other like rats in a cage. Britney Griner is now in one of the most infamous Russian gulags, where prisoners are treated no better than animals, and many end up acting like animals.
All of those are clear examples of people being “dehumanized”.
Now, given this definition, here’s a question:
Can you dehumanize someone over the web?
Of course not. You can’t “deprive someone of their human qualities” over the web. To dehumanize them, they a) have to be in your power and unable to escape, and b) have to be subjected to brutal, inhuman treatment.
It’s simply impossible to deprive someone of their human qualities and turn them into brutal animals with just words on a screen, words that the person can simply block or walk away from.
So why is this of interest? Well, it’s because I got suspended from Twitter. I truly have no idea why. Fortunately, with Elon Musk’s just-announced amnesty, it looks like I’ll get reinstated. Wish me well.
But sadly, instead of telling me which rule I am supposed to have broken and which of my tweets broke that rule, they simply referred me to their “Twitter Rules” which inter alia say:
We prohibit targeting others with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category.
This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals.
We also prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation
There are so many problems with those rules that I hardly know where to begin, but let’s start with a simple fact.
You cannot dehumanize someone over Twitter. Not possible. Over the web, you cannot force them by cruel treatment to lose their human qualities. Can’t be done. They are free at any time to push the “Block” button and never hear from you again.
Clearly, the authors of those Twitter Rules have no idea what “dehumanize” means.
Next, who is a “protected class”? Left-handed Latvian Lesbians? Illegal immigrants? Men under the mistaken impression that they are women?
And more to the point, why should some people be protected from the imaginary crime of being “dehumanized”, and not other people? Seriously, what do they got that I don’t got?
Next, they’ve included two other imaginary crimes, “misgendering” and “deadnaming”. Here, from the San Francisco “GIFT” program which will give $1,200/month in taxpayer money preferentially to illegal alien ex-con transgender prostitutes with AIDS who can’t speak English, is their checkbox list of genders. (And no, I’m not kidding—that is their preferred recipient, the person that goes to the head of the line for free money. But I digress…)
So buckle up and keep your hands in the vehicle at all times, let’s take a ride through the genders.
GENDER IDENTITY (Check all that apply)
Woman of Trans experience
Woman with a history of gender transition
Man of Trans experience
Man with a history of gender transition
I don’t use labels
Not Listed: _________________
Heck, there are only about a hundred “genders” there. That means there shouldn’t be any problem telling a “Calabai” from a “Calalai” so you don’t “misgender” them, right?
(My gender is trans YMTOM—I’ve transitioned from a young man to an old man. But again I digress …)
Me, I’m willing to call anyone any name they wish—their screen name, nickname, nom-de-plume, it’s up to them.
But I won’t call a woman “he” or a man “she”. Those are lies, and I’m an honest man. And there are many more folks like me. As for keeping track of everyone’s “gender”, which changes with the wind and the current stage of their mental tide, fuggeddaboudit.
Given that, the odds of “misgendering” someone approach 100% …
So those are some obvious problems with the current Twitter Rules. But there is a deeper and more pervasive problem.
There’s no way to tell if I’m breaking the rules. There’s no bright line separating what’s forbidden and what’s not.
If I say “The Koran explicitly authorizes men to keep women as sexual slaves in Surah 23:1-6, and far too many Muslims like Boko Haram practice that today”, that’s a simple verifiable fact … but does it also “reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category”?
There’s no way to know, but someone is sure to say that statement is “hate speech”. This is why in the US there is no crime called “hate speech”—there’s no way to clearly define what is and what isn’t “hate speech”. I discuss this huge problem in the post called “Bright Line Distinctions” linked to at the end of the post.
For another example, I’ve written about a thousand posts for the web. And one thing that I’ve learned is, no matter what I write, someone is sure to be offended. Can’t avoid it. Someone is sure to say my words have wounded them to the bone.
To start with, we have what I call the “professionally offended class”, those who spend most of their time looking for the slightest imagined slur or slight and then rushing to tell me just how wounded they are.
Then there are those who specialize in what I call “second-hand offense”. That’s where say a white lady takes offense at what someone said about some random Hindu guy. Look, if some Hindude has a problem with it, how about letting him speak for himself?
Then there’s your average snowflake, who literally believes that “SILENCE IS VIOLENCE” and has built their life around being offended by the world.
And that means that whatever someone says, someone else can legitimately claim that they’ve broken the vague Twitter Rules by insulting someone. And worse, such bans on “hate speech” historically have inevitably led to the people in power using them to squash and censor opinions they don’t like.
So to avoid all of this, let me propose to Mr @elonmusk the famous Gordian Knot Solution of Alexander the Great.
Simply say that Twitter will follow the Supreme Court rulings about freedom of speech, including its rules on the freedom of symbolic speech. Look, Mr. Musk, we’re not a bunch of children who will fall apart if someone shows us a Nazi flag.
Me, I approve of people being able to fly or display the Nazi flag, and I encourage them to do so for a simple reason—it makes it obvious who I should avoid or block. I say, don’t cut the rattle off of the rattlesnake—the silence is more dangerous to you than to the snake.
So I implore you, Mr. Musk—make the Twitter rules bozo-simple by adopting the following as your central guiding principle.
If it’s legal to say something from a soapbox on a US street corner, it should be legal to say it on Twitter.
I discuss these issues of freedom of speech and the madness of trying to ban the totally imprecise category called “hate speech” in the series of posts in the addendum below.
So, Mr. Musk, that’s my plea. You speak of forming some group to look at “Content Moderation”. Yes, you need some rules … but the rules governing speech in the US have worked very well for 250 years. For example, the Twitter Rules include a prohibition on child pornography … why? Child porn is already a crime. Just make a rule that if you find child porn, you’ll turn it directly over to the police and work with them to identify the criminal. Same thing with any illegal activity being promoted or illegal objects being sold on Twitter. We have an entire branch of government specifically tasked with dealing with illegality. Make it clear that you will turn any criminal activity over to the cops.
Other than that you need only a few rules to govern things which are basically impolite behavior.
Next, if you’re going to suspend someone, I implore you to tell them exactly what they did to get suspended. Here’s the sum total of what I know about why I got suspended:
After careful review, we determined your account broke the Twitter Rules.
That was it. No mention of which rules or how I broke them. Sorry, but that does nothing to educate me about what can’t be said on Twitter. How can we change our behavior if Twitter punishes us without informing us of our purported transgression?
Finally, I am hereby volunteering to serve without salary or recompense on any “Content Moderation” board that you convene. I’m retired, and I live about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, so I could come in for an interview or attend some meetings in person, or we could do it all by zoom. You need a “Red Team” on the question of the Twitter Rules, and I’d be happy to serve as a member of that team.
My very best to you, Mr. Musk, and thank you for buying Twitter. It could be a great and transformative resource for everyone, and I think you are following the right path to get there.
Regards to all,
PS—A final request. If you are on Twitter, my Twitter handle is @WEschenbach, and as of December 29th, I’m still suspended. It would be greatly appreciated if you would tweet @elonmusk and anyone else who might be interested with a link to this post. We need to all work together to ensure a free and open Twitter.
MY POSTS ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
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