Blocking, Banning, and Blacklisting (Part 3)
This post is part three of a three part series about when we feel the need to deliberately cut our lines of communication with others within a given community. Part one is about blocking on social media, part two is about banning from online forums. This final entry is about blacklisting in real life.
To be clear, when I say blacklisting here, I mean any attempt to prevent a speaker from speaking, a performer from performing, or an attendee from attending, on account of moral or ideological considerations other than on their merits as a speaker, performer, or consumer in the relevant context under consideration. If you were to say that you don’t want someone to perform as a comic because they aren’t good at making people laugh and think, that would not be blacklisting, that would just be criticism, whether or not you can back it up with evidence. If you were to say that you don’t want someone to perform as a comic because they perpetuate cultural or political values which you find objectionable, that would be an attempt at blacklisting. If you were to announce that said comic is guilty of various crimes of moral turpitude, that would also be an attempt to blacklist them by influencing organizers, who may be presumed not to want to promote such crimes.
Of course, there are going to be cases of straightforward ideological discrimination which do not count as blacklisting, such as the fact that Christian evangelists are fairly unlikely to be invited to Muslim prayer meetings or atheist conventions. It makes sense that progressive events invite progressive speakers, libertarian events invite libertarian thinkers, and secular humanist events invite those who affirm humanist values.
Within the highly overlapping circles of organized atheism / skepticism / humanism which are all part of the ongoing rationalist enlightenment project, there have been relatively few attempts at full-on atheist blacklisting of late, almost all of them coming from the so-called “social justice” or “Atheist Plus” wing of the movement. On the other hand, Sara Moglia recently claimed that Richard Dawkins attempted to get Rebecca Watson blacklisted from the Reason Rally (this claim has been substantially denied) and in response to this accusation PZ Myers recently rescinded his longstanding policy of personally blacklisting Abbie Smith.
Many attempts at speaker blacklisting happen behind the scenes, in private negotiations between organizers and prospective speakers. Occasionally, such attempts will float to the surface of public discourse when someone follows through on a threat to withdraw in the face of an undesirable fellow speaker, but that is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Who knows how often conference organizers are faced with ultimatums, and how much more often they choose their lineups carefully so as to avoid these kinds of speaker conflicts. Only the organizers really know, and only for their own events at that.
I’m generally against blocking, banning, and blacklisting, but I have to allow that these methods of cutting off communication may each be warranted under extraordinary circumstances. When it comes to blacklisting, here are my criteria for when it would be acceptable:
- A prospective speaker admits to or is convicted of a serious criminal offense, one involving moral turpitude
- A prospective speaker accuses someone else of a serious criminal offense, without producing witnesses
- A prospective speaker tries to get another prospective speaker blacklisted in private negotiations
- A prospective speaker tries to get another prospective speaker blacklisted by publicly smearing them
Any of these would be enough for me to cut off negotiations with that particular speaker, because they would be more likely to create disharmony than to bring people together, both within the audience and inside of the speaker’s lounge.