Bryan Caplan  

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My debate partner, Vivek Wadhwa, has made feminists so angry that he's decided to stop talking about sexism in the tech industry.  The New York Times on the conflict:
Women in tech criticized Mr. Wadhwa for clumsily articulating their cause. They said he was prone to outrageous gaffes, including once referring to women at tech companies as "token floozies," a phrase Mr. Wadhwa later blamed on his poor English.

Critics also argued that Mr. Wadhwa's message to women -- that they should become more confident to survive in the tough world of tech -- was outdated and could backfire on the women who followed it.

And when he was called out on those points, Mr. Wadhwa, who conceded that he can be "a hothead," adopted a defensive -- even wounded -- tone on Twitter.


The whole episode could be written off as a mere Twitter-fueled kerfuffle. But the women who have criticized Mr. Wadhwa say the battle carries a bigger message.

That he became a spokesman for women in tech despite their questions about his message is, they say, symptomatic of an industry that seems bent on listening to men over women, even when the men aren't especially qualified to comment.


"I don't think that the feminist movement, as a whole, was ever that interested in figuring out how to work with Vivek," said Elissa Shevinsky, co-founder of a messaging company called Glimpse.

But it is not enough, in this complex and delicate issue, to simply have one's heart in the right place. "I think his intentions are good, but his message and his voice are actually damaging women," said Sarah Szalavitz...

While reading this piece, I had an epiphany.  There are three main kinds of social movements:

1. Those that don't get angry.

2. Those that get angry at their enemies.

3. Those that even get angry at their friends.

Yes, there's an undeniable continuum.  But most social movements are easy to pigeonhole because they're far from the cutoffs.  Most fit in the #2 category.  They have classic myside bias: us-versus-them, have your buddies' backs, go Team Blue/Team Red.  Movements in category #2 are worthy of condemnation for their shortages of common sense and common decency. 

But such movements are innocent compared to those in category #3.  There's no point naming names; you know the leading examples.  These movements care so little about truth that they construct a system where members fear to speak until they know with confidence what the other members want to hear.  Normal movements tune out serious criticism from their enemies; category #3 movements turn off mild criticism from their friends.  With predictable results.

Category #1 is, of course, the most sparsely inhabited.  But instances do exist, and they meritoriously tower over the competition.  All truths come from people.  Category #1 movements foster truth by putting people at ease to candidly speak their minds.  This hardly guarantees the attainment of truth; but then again, nothing does.  Refusing to be angry at your enemies helps you avoid totally wrong ideas.  Refusing to be angry at your friends helps you make roughly right ideas righter.

It would be suspiciously convenient if I thought that the main social movements with which I affiliate all fall into Category #1.  But alas, they don't.  Libertarianism is a standard category #2 movement.  Its members express anger every day, but overwhelmingly against liberals, conservatives, and socialists.  While there's in-fighting, few libertarians worry about offending their teammates.  In my youth, I even got to witness old-school Objectivism first-hand, a category #3 movement par excellence.

But happily, I have managed to locate and join some category #1 movements.  I see no reason why George Mason economics bloggers shouldn't count as a movement.  I've been part of it for over a decade.  And I can honestly say we eschew anger against out-group and in-group alike.  If that's too tightly-knit for you, I'll also name the open borders movement.  What you see on Open Borders: The Case is what you get face-to-face: An admirably calm community of thinkers.

None of this means that well-functioning movements will be moderate or compromising.  Sometimes the truth is extreme and uncompromising - and when it is, well-functioning movements will be extreme and uncompromising.  But it does mean that well-functioning movements greet fellow travelers with open arms.  They search for intellectual value, not intellectual transgressions.  And they look upon even self-styled enemies as potential fellow travelers.

P.S. Open Borders Day is March 16.  I trust the supporters and fellow travelers of open borders to stay classy and show the world what a category #1 movement looks like. 

COMMENTS (15 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

Could you elaborate on what you mean by "angry"? I'm confused because I would have thought GMU bloggers would be a clear 2 and libertarians, while probably not a solid 3, are at least as solidly a 3 as these feminists.

Fazal Majid writes:

Your comment on objectivism reminded me of this article by Murray Rothbard:

There is also Edward Sorel's magistral take-down in "Literary Lives", sadly not available online.

Noah Smith, Galactic Prime and Emperor of the Firmament writes:

These categories need names. I suggest:

1. "Thoughtful"

2. "Tendentious"

3. "Totalitarian"

Tom West writes:

> 3. "Totalitarian"

I'm pretty PC and definitely left-ish, but I have to say I'm in awe watching some of these fringe movements, populated by young people who probably couldn't tell you what the initials USSR even stood for, re-inventing from first principles many of the excesses of the early Soviet Union (albeit without the violence, which is a pretty important distinction).

Watching these movements govern their members by social terror (a lot better than physical terror, but still...) makes understanding the actions of the post Russian Revolution a lot easier to understand.

It's not really about evil masterminds, it's about insecure people trying to ensure their place in the social hierarchy.

blink writes:

Logically, it makes sense to include a fourth category: Those who get angry at everyone.

As framed, "not angry" certainly sounds best. Even after agreeing to play nice, though, one has to allocate effort on at least two dimensions: (i) directing arguments toward insiders or outsiders; and (ii) introducing new favorable arguments or countering unfavorable arguments.

SeanV writes:

@Tom West

There's a lot of truth in what you wrote.

Jameson writes:

I admire you trying to promote #1 category movements.

On the other hand, if no one in your movement ever says anything that isn't classy, then your movement isn't big enough to win. People are people.

Thomas writes:

Tom West,

I'm wondering what you mean when you say "I'm pretty PC".

To me, "PC" has been synonymous with "speech control imposed through social intimidation" since at least the 1980s.

And yet, from your comment, I don't think that's what you mean by it. What do you mean by it?

EricSlusser writes:

"There's no point naming names; you know the leading examples." Bryan then links to an essay criticizing the social justice movement within this sentence. After naming feminists earlier in the blog post and excerpting an article about feminists. I think Bryan doesn't quite believe himself.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I agree with Jameson - it's silly to think these frailties aren't pretty evenly distributed across the population which means if you're in a group of any size that's not guilty of these things you're probably fooling yourself.

The solution, I think, is to minimize how strongly you identify with groups. Be your own (wo)man. Make friends and have conversations everywhere.

Dan S writes:

Tom West,

"populated by young people who probably couldn't tell you what the initials USSR even stood for"

What a timely comment:

How many of these youngsters even know what the Vietcong is? I can't really talk as I am also far too young to remember the Vietnam era, but still.

Richard writes:

For whatever its worth, I think feminists and social justice warriors have had a lot more impact on the world than George Mason bloggers and open border advocates.

Pithlord writes:

I think this post is (unusually) disingenuous coming from Bryan. He knows perfectly well that the libertarian movement has been about as sectarian as the Trotskyists lampooned in Life of Brian. I guess he acknowledges this about the Randians, but he knows perfectly well that it is a bigger and more hilarious story than that.

As for George Masonites, read Don Boudreaux or Arnold Kling, and experience the love and respect for people who disagree with them. They are smart men, but they obviously think that those who disagree with them are dishonest and malevolent. Bryan just thinks that his syllogisms are obviously correct, and those who think they are symplistic are being irrational.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Pithlord -

re: "As for George Masonites, read Don Boudreaux or Arnold Kling, and experience the love and respect for people who disagree with them."

I was not planning on naming names above, but YES. And many more do the same thing with more decorum (their treatment of those who disagree with them is about comparable but it's said a little more politely).

Which is why I wondered if I was missing something about how Bryan is classifying this. I think there is some clear my-side bias going on in the OP.

Tom West writes:

And yet, from your comment, I don't think that's what you mean by it. What do you mean by it?

Actually, as with almost everything in the world, some is useful and too much is too much.

I have little problem with social opprobrium for, for example, racist slurs, etc. I've watched how a certain level of PC has forced the removal of these terms from middle-class society, but more remarkably, I've seen how the elimination of those terms has had a profound influence on the community who grew up without those slurs.

So, I am fairly PC. However, there is no useful tool that cannot be used to damage as well. I've seen PC pushed to the point that it's in certain groups it's more about a game of "gotcha" to take down the intimidated than it is about guiding human behavior against its worst excesses, if not in this generation, then the next.

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