Once, a long time ago, Nazis used to ban everything and everyone. Nowadays, everyone bans Nazis everywhere. Poor Nazis.
I’m being sarcastic, of course. I have no sympathy whatsoever with a fascist ideology and its practitioners, both old and new. One could say whatever is happening couldn’t be happening to a nicer bunch of guys. One could also say what goes around comes around, though to be historically accurate what went around came around already in a pretty big way in 1945. If you hate Nazis, you can’t really top that today, however much you would want to, though many want, very badly too.
But there is a limit to sarcasm for someone like me, who is a strong believer in free speech. No matter how odious – and they are, no doubt about it – even fascists have the right to peacefully express their ideas. Otherwise the concept of freedom of speech is meaningless. Bad ideas need to be argued with and proven wrong, not supressed and swept under the carpet. The more we take the easy way out and ban rather than argue, the intellectually lazier we become and less able to define and defend what we ourselves believe in.
Neo-Nazis, fascists, white supremacists have been getting banned left, right and centre – or left, far-right and centre – by social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and various service providers like web hosts and PayPal. But now not even online dating is safe for the short-back-and-sides brigade:
Note that Cantwell (what an appropriate name) was not banned for his behaviour on OKCupid but for who he is and what he believes in. There is no indication that Cantwell was abusive to other users or even that he used the website as a platform to propagate his ideas. It was just a usual sad case of another Nazi who just wanted to be loved (albeit only by an Aryan woman). But for Cantwell it’s NotOKCupid.
Dating websites, just like social media and various service platforms, are of course private businesses and not government instrumentalities; the state is not stifling Cantwell’s freedoms – some companies merely choose not to have him and others like him as their customer. As is their right. Possibly. Or should be? I will preface it by saying this is not meant to imply any equivalence, but why are Christian bakers forced by law to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, but Facebook and OKCupid can deny their services to a white supremacist and get applauded for it? It strikes me as pretty intellectually thin to argue that discrimination on the basis of gender, race or sexuality is not OK, but discrimination on the basis of ideas is fine. Once there was a well-known explanation and justification for this distinction in allowable treatment – you can choose your politics (or religion) but you can’t choose your ethnicity – but now apparently everything, including gender, race and sexuality, is fluid, and you can very much choose it based on your subjective feeling. Strangely, I don’t foresee the anti-discrimination laws being relaxed to take this new unreal reality into consideration.
This is neither the time nor the place – mostly because I choose not – for arguments for and against the proposition that because of their ubiquity, social media should be treated like public utilities and therefore prohibited from any sort of discrimination. I will only note what I see as two worrying trends – one towards a progressive business monoculture (increasingly progressive and increasingly mono) and other – somewhat related, but certainly compounding – towards redefining the politically and socially unacceptable from the fringes to the mainstream. The vogue for tarring conservatism with a Nazi brush is the left’s new favourite game of defining the deviancy up.
But what strikes me, once again, as the most obvious aspect of the whole Nazi OKCupid saga – and the “ban Nazi” movement more broadly – are the double standards. It’s all well to ban Nazis because they represent a hateful and violent ideology. But if that’s the case then when will Facebook and PayPal ban Antifa?
We’re currently living in the latest chapter of the greatest ideological con job perpetrated on Western audiences, namely convincing people – to some extent quite successfully – that fascism and communism are quite different, can’t be equated, and the latter is much more respectable than the former. Hence the strident condemnations of the few neo-fascists around, and the strident defence of the deeply totalitarian anarcho-communism – because they are anti-fascist, so that makes them automatically the good guys. No one – except maybe a few like Cantwell – wears a Haydrich or Himmler t-shirt, but Che continues to be respectable and cool, despite being a racist, homophobic mass murderer. If he was still alive and looking for love, women no doubt would be lining up to lie back and think of the global revolutionary struggle, and online dating apps would be fighting to have him as their member if not the poster boy.
And so, there is no danger that OKCupid will ever ban an Antifa member, no matter how violent and hateful (not just of the real Nazis but pretty much everyone else, whom they also consider to be Nazis). The left will continue to be free to swipe right on Tinder. And hate on Twitter, organise on Facebook, and fundraise with PayPal. On the streets, the Fa and the Antifa might both be animals, but in the increasingly Orwellian world at the intersection of business and politics, some animals are more equal than others – and others far less so.