Unpopular truths

A point that’s very hard to make on the Internet, even if you tiptoe up to it, is that employers are people too, and they make decisions the way all people do, with a lot of input from lawyers and public opinion of course. As I said in the piece, if that story took place in 2014 instead of 1985, public opinion would have been a much larger factor. And, age discrimination, which was the subject of the story, today, is just beginning to be a topic of public concern.

Today ageism is prevalent. A lot of the abuse I took in response to that piece was ageist. For whatever reason this is a form of hate that is openly tolerated. We all get to deal with this one, if you live long enough, so there’s some satisfaction in knowing that at some point people who hurt others based on age will learn what it feels like to be on the receiving end. However, it would be better if it just stopped, of course.

I don’t remember writing the paragraph that caused so much fury, it was at the end of a long piece. I write much as if I were giving a talk at a conference, with a light edit after the first pass. But reading the words in the paragraph, clearly I anticipated abuse, because I disclaimed exactly what people accused me of. It would ridiculous for me to advocate age discrimination, not only because I am exactly the opposite kind of person who does that (for good reason, I did eight years of therapy to understand why I am like this) but also because at 58, I deal with a lot of ageism myself. No matter, the howlers found their handle, and they howled away, all kind of nasty shit — fiction — about who I am. It’s okay — I’m used to it, because I’ve been blogging now for almost 20 years.

It’s okay, but in another way it’s totally not okay. According a few very controlling people there’s only one set of opinions that are valid. It’s taboo to say that an employer who feels unjustly penalized might avoid risk and try to hire people who couldn’t make claims of discrimination. It’s obviously true if you just think a little. What happens in press releases and legal filings isn’t always exactly what happens in the minds of people making the decisions.

Fact: Some portion of the wrongful termination suits are scams. Maybe it’s a very low percentage. I doubt if anyone knows, because we’re not allowed to discuss it in public. I do know that in this one case, the only time I’ve had to deal with this, it was a scam. Every time someone points a finger, no matter what the howlers on the Internet say, all reasonable people wonder if the accusations are true. If a friend is accused of sexual harassment, for example, someone you know and trust, and they swear they didn’t do it, would there be no doubt? If not, then we’re giving too much power to people to ruin the lives of others. Because sometimes there is harassment, and other times it goes the other way, the abuse flows from the accuser to the accused.

These things are discussed privately all the time. I believe in opening up discourse, that’s why I deliberately challenge these limits. If there’s a truth that’s taboo, I’m the kind of person who wants to talk about it in public. We’re at a point in human evolution where we desperately need to be truthful with ourselves. A small number of people controlling everyone else, preventing them from speaking, that’s exactly the wrong direction for us to be going in.

That’s why blogging is so important, and why we should protect the speech of people with unpopular ideas and opinions. I believe the things we least want to hear are the ones we most need to hear.

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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