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Leaving the Nazi bar

Newsletter subscribers might be surprised to see a slightly new design. I’ve moved away from Substack and back to Buttondown, an indie mailing list service. Every email will be free from now on; paid subscribers will be refunded in full.

Why? Here’s the New York Times with the story:

Under pressure from critics who say Substack is profiting from newsletters that promote hate speech and racism, the company’s founders said Thursday that they would not ban Nazi symbols and extremist rhetoric from the platform.

[…] “We believe that supporting individual rights and civil liberties while subjecting ideas to open discourse is the best way to strip bad ideas of their power,” he said.

I take a slightly different view.

My take is this: if a Nazi is removed from a service, their right to free speech has not been infringed. They have the ability to publish on the web or to join a service where their content is tolerated. That kind of speech is simply not allowed in that particular place.

Think of the web as a series of living rooms. If you’re in my living room, I have the right to kick you out if you start being abusive to me or other people in the room. I get to set the rules in my space so that other people can feel safe to be there. Different people have different values, so their living rooms might have different rules. But I get to set mine.

I also get to decide which rooms I want to be in, and which rooms I want to invite other people into. I don’t have any interest in hanging out in a room with Nazis, and I certainly don’t have any interest in inviting my friends to hang out there with me. If I find that the owner of the living room allows people who make me or my friends feel unsafe — or, as is true in this case, pays them to hang out there, and makes money from their presence — I can use the law of two feet to leave.

Which is what I’ve done. And if you’re still on Substack, I encourage you to do the same.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael B Tager’s Nazi bar story, which I’ll copy and paste in full below (now that he’s left X/Twitter and the original source is lost to time):

I was at a shitty crustpunk bar once getting an after-work beer. One of those shitholes where the bartenders clearly hate you.

So the bartender and I were ignoring one another when someone sits next to me and he immediately says, “no. get out.”

And the dude next to me says, “hey i’m not doing anything, i’m a paying customer.”

and the bartender reaches under the counter for a bat or something and says, “out. now.” and the dude leaves, kind of yelling. And he was dressed in a punk uniform, I noticed

Anyway, I asked what that was about and the bartender was like, “you didn’t see his vest but it was all nazi shit. Iron crosses and stuff. You get to recognize them.”

And i was like, ohok and he continues. “you have to nip it in the bud immediately. These guys come in and it’s always a nice, polite one. And you serve them because you don’t want to cause a scene. And then they become a regular and after awhile they bring a friend. And that dude is cool too.

And then THEY bring friends and the friends bring friends and they stop being cool and then you realize, oh shit, this is a Nazi bar now. And it’s too late because they’re entrenched and if you try to kick them out, they cause a PROBLEM. So you have to shut them down.”

And i was like, “oh damn.”

and he said “yeah, you have to ignore their reasonable arguments because their end goal is to be terrible, awful people.”

And then he went back to ignoring me. But I haven’t forgotten that at all.

Let’s avoid frequenting Nazi bars.

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