Some People's Children.
After not checking my blog's e-mail for a while due to vacation and summer scholarly pursuits I was partially delighted (partially overwhelmed) to see that I had one million messages due to the new community which I had joined, Life, Liberty and Property. Before you start to think that I am the most popular organism to hit the web since the second coming of the anti-Christ, I should mention that most of these were housekeeping issues sent to all like, "Should so-and-so be new members?" and "Should we merge with such and such?" By being out of touch I lost my opportunity to weigh in with my new found authority on these issues. I hate it when power slips through my fingers.
There was one stream of messages which brought up some interesting concepts which I thought I would address. (I hope this is not considered airing dirty laundry in public but it touches on issues which I have often heard brought up when discussing liberty.) A female member of the community brought it to common attention that she had received some unwanted comments from another member which she felt were inappropriate. When told about this he continued the comments on his own blog which she felt constituted sexual harassment and asked what the community thought about this.
Now I always like to get both sides of a conflict before choosing a side (if at all) so I was going to look up the relevant links after I went through the rest of the one million message. Fortunately this was not needed because he sent a response with his side of the story.
Are you in suspense? Probably not because most of the people reading this are part of the community but just in case someone is here from a technorati search on sexual harassment, God help you because I love keeping people in suspense.
Where was I? Oh yah...
He started out... kind of making points - that his initial remarks were in response to a discussion of a sexual nature and that the rest of his comments were on his own blog so should be his own business. He then preceded to undercut his own argument by repeating the comments which he knew were being found offensive, to the group as a whole just to prove that he was free to. I have nothing against sexual content in a discussion but in the context of demeaning someone (which is like using fine wine to drown puppies) it does not wash with me.
You see, there are three possible reactions which are available when someone tells you that the comments which you thought were harmless flirting are considered inappropriate.
1) The wise approach (typical of people with good social skills) - tell the offended party that you did not intend the comments to be threatening or offensive and that you regret that they had that effect. You might even reread the comments and their context and if you can see how the person might have come to their conclusion you might actually admit this or apologize. If you are certain you have not stepped over the line you can always let your statement of no mal-intent stand for you and let it go.
2) You can take the defensive stance - make the argument about your comments being harmless and make snippy comments because you are hurt that someone questioned your motives and integrity. Claim that your irrepressible nature is being repressed. Mentioning censorship and/or political correctness can sometimes dig up some sympathy.
3) The last resort is the really unhealthy reaction - make further comments in a more hostile context in order to intimidate.
I feel he did a reasonable job of achieving a compromise between number 2 and 3; proof that compromise is like peace. It is a noble instinct but it is not always the best tool in the drawer.
The point of this post (sometimes I do come to one) is not to argue that his comments or e-mails constitute sexual harassment. Though I personally feel they do, he has already been asked to make like a weed and grow away so my opinion on the issue is of little consequence. My point is to address a couple of issues which his saga (I would need to go back to his messages to get his name and I really can't be bothered) brings up.
Firstly, he feels that her complaint to the group and anyone who supports it is unlibertarian (a common charge when libertarians disagree) because they are "censoring" him. Part of the concept of freedom is the idea of freedom of association, if I am not mistaken. Part of any association, whether a friendship, a community, a club, a church or an organized blogroll is the establishment of understandings. These can be formal like secret hand shakes and codified laws or informal like norms of acceptable behavior. Such understandings are the common civil 'lubricant' of any association to the point that many might consider them common knowledge. If only.
The point of freedom of association is not that the very lowest standards of behavior must be adopted to accommodate everyone's view of freedom but that you are allowed to assess whether the standards of the community are in line with your own and join or leave as you see fit. One person's freedom of expression does not require the entire community to associate with him against their will. A person's right to expression does not entitle him to be provided with unlimited opportunity for expression.
If one of the goals of this group is to advocate for freedom and someone decides to abuse that freedom in a way which casts the group and its goals in a negative light, there is no hypocrisy in deciding that they are interfering with that goal. If, on the other hand, the goal is for every person to be as free as they can be at all times then those of us who prefer to retain some basic social norms (very basic - I don't want to have to drink my tea with my pinky extended) are interfering and I would not be surprised or offended if I were asked to leave. If the group were split then the group should split with each going to their respective tree-houses. (I suspect that not many want to enter what's-his-name's tree-house... or is that just me? No one else seemed to have left have they.)
The other issue this fracas has brought up is that a couple people felt that this is a personal matter and should not have been brought to them. While I understand the impulse to not get involved I would disagree. The complainant had a right to know how the community felt on this issue so she could make an informed decision as to whether enough of our standards were in line with hers and make a decision as to whether to remain. I am glad this was brought up rather than having a member needing to choose whether to link to a blogroll including someone who is being a prick towards her or leave the group. I feel that the right decision was made by the moderator and that hopefully such difficulties will not arise in the future.