Effective and Costless

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The lesson of Eich’s purging by hashtag advocacy, Handle says, is that it was completely effective and simultaneously completely costless for everyone who wanted it to happen:

That is an incredibly terrifying amount of power, and it guarantees that we’ll see much, much more of this kind of thing in the years to come. There is simply no reason why not. If you can get drunk on alcohol, and not suffer any consequences, you will drink. If you can get drunk on power, and push your opponents around with complete impunity, you will just keep pushing.

But liberalism, as classically understood, with its notions of free and open debate and tolerance of opposing viewpoints which form the basis of the civil society, is not compatible with the exercise of this kind of power, whether it is employed by the state or by a howling mob.


There is also the historically recurrent and universal human phenomenon of the opportunistic abandonment of formerly claimed ‘sacred’ principles when they are no longer useful or convenient. The party of a minority viewpoint which is out of power will, naturally, publicly and loudly extol the transcendent virtues of maximum effective tolerance for minority viewpoints. They will claim that they will continue to respect these sacred principles should their point of view ever come into majority and their party ascend to power. That the members of a waning majority can, on the basis of the growing-minority’s adamant dedication to these sacred principles, trust the members of that opposition and conclude that they need not resist with all their might and to the last man, and that they can relent and surrender with the confidence that they will be treated fairly and without abuse or retribution.

And then, the minute the old minority achieves enough power to do so, they throw all that away and crush the new minority into powder. They don’t even feel bad about the obvious hypocrisy, which is, after all, so, so easy to rationalize away. After all, they were abusing their power for bad, whereas we are only using it for good. See? Easy peasy. So one should always expect it to happen, regardless of any claims to the contrary.

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