Ben Adida
Mon Aug 05 03:46:46 +0000 2019

1/ As we increasingly face hard questions about free speech and harmful online communities, I think back more than 20 years, right around when I was 20yo, drinking from the firehose of life as an undergrad. I vividly remember a conversation with my dad at a restaurant.

2/ This was when Nazi paraphernalia was available in Yahoo's online store, and European countries, notably France where my family is from, weren't having it, as they have strong post-WWII laws banning such items. The Internet was screwing up the whole jurisdiction thing.

3/ As a side note, it's funny to think that, back then, so many assumed -- myself included -- the Internet would create an alternate jurisdiction, that it wouldn't be feasible for countries to impose their laws on the whole Internet. And now you can't stream Hulu in France.

4/ In any case, back to this dinner. I loudly proclaimed my pride in American-style free speech. Let the market of ideas decide! Those Nazi scum would lose, for they would be exposed for what they are: morally bankrupt. Banning them, I said, would only make them more popular.

5/ My father calmly expressed how Europe had learned some hard lessons in the wake of WWII, lessons that the US hadn't quite understood directly, even acknowledging the awesome sacrifices many Americans made.

6/ Hogwash, I said. Paternalistic and downright anti-freedom. We were at a stalemate.

7/ And I remember my father saying "Look, one day you may have to understand this the hard way, though I hope you don't, but some beliefs, some ideologies, are simply too abhorrent to include in the arena of civilized debate." I shook my head. We left it there.

8/ As the saying goes, when I was 20 years old, my father was so ignorant. I'm impressed with how much he's learned since then.

9/ We are re-learning the hard way that civilization needs baseline rules. That good ideas don't naturally win over abhorrent ones. It's still a struggle for me, the idealist who loved the market of ideas, who felt good would triumph. But I know where I stand now. Thank you dad.