Fellow Travelers Welcome
By Bryan Caplan
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:
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.
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outdated and could backfire on the women who followed it.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.