Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Too Big for Twitter

Well, time to pull the drop cloths off the blog and get writing. At least one post.

It started with a tweet, or actually a retweet, as seen here:

I made the flying leap to the conclusion that this was regarding the "ex-gay" app that had just been pulled from Apple's iTunes App Store, and replied:

Nick Harkaway replied:

Now I really like Nick Harkaway. Not only because he is the author of what is perhaps my favorite book of the 21st century (so far), but because I've also come to respect the personality he reveals via the standard social media sites of the 2010's. Anyway, I felt that Twitter's 140 characters would not be nearly enough to "unpack" my thoughts, so I said:

So that's where we are. My point (as best I could make it in 140 characters, less the two @tributions) was that even within the marketplace of ideas, there are some ideas that are so repugnant as to require immediate rejection. Thus my suggestion that an "ex-Jew app" in 1942, in the guise of the Nazi party, was rejected. An "ex-Black app," (e.g. Jim Crow laws, Separate but Equal clauses) was rejected in the 1960s.

In the Wikipedia article about the market place of ideas Thomas Jefferson is quoted as having said (about the University of Virginia), "This institution will be based upon the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it" (emphasis mine). Oliver Wendell Holmes said "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market." What has happened in the case of the Exodus International app is that reason did, indeed, combat it; it was not accepted in the competition of the market.

I hope that I don't have to address the reasons why the app in question is offensive. That's been covered by many other people, and my point here was just to respond to the question regarding the original (re)tweet about the marketplace of ideas.

I should leave it there, but I have to ask: is the iTunes store the "marketplace of ideas"? There has been no shortage of Apple missteps while allowing or disallowing all sorts of apps, and againg, I don't think I have to search out examples, they're easily found. Given the restrictions that Apple already places on apps that it will accept into the store, I would argue that they hardly represent the free market in any way. However, because they are, for better or worse, the proverbial 800 pound gorilla, what they do impacts the free market in many ways. And that, as they say, is a whole nother thing.

And I should leave it there, but just one more thing ... as my friend Joe often says, "I can hold my breath, but that doesn't make me an ex-breather."


At 24/3/11 07:39, Blogger Nick Harkaway said...

Just for clarification: the original posting was Joe Hill's. My responses were rather more limited - but in essence, I think he's probably right.

I've been on both sides of the 'limits to free speech' discussion and I expect my views will change again at some point. I also accept that, as I am a white middle class heterosexual male with an industrialised-world passport, my perspective is about as privileged as they come.

All that said, the heart of this for me is that it's about whether it's appropriate to support the notion of removing an idea from circulation, condemning it as insupportable. There's a long, long list of ideas I'd like to delete, from racism and homophobia through to the size zero model. And yet. Standing over there in the shadows is the anti-me: a miserable mean-spirited bastard with a list which is the mirror image of my own. He wants to outlaw same-sex marriage, immigration, and women's rights. He believes that the Convention on Human Rights is a con trick perpetrated by terrorists and paedophiles and he wants it gone.

Fundamentally, if the price of retaining all the things he wants to expunge is that I have to accept the continued infuriating drivel which emerges from his mouth, that's the right choice in my mind.

As to whether the App Store is the place for that fight... well, yes. I suppose it probably is. Because it's a mass distribution outlet. It's in our lives. If not there, then where?

Which is where, finally, we get to the point I joined the conversation - a small and rather paltry comment: I find it inexplicable, in Apple's media stores as in the rest of life, that sex is somehow infinitely more repugnant to the censor than violence. Blood can flow, limbs may be severed, but show a nipple and the world comes to an end. It's wrong, wrongheaded and outdated, but still it remains the norm.

Which brings me by a roundabout route to Joe's post: let's have more apps about sex and sexuality. Let's have the whole lot, and drown the world in accurate information and good times. Let's have a festival of filth rather than banning one ranting anti-sexual app.

And I can relate to that. But I see where it feels hollow. In the end, it's an impossible call. You just have to pick a side and know why.


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