On political speech and privacy

A couple of months ago, the conservative establishment was up in arms over eightmaps.com, a website that takes the public information about political donations and places the donors in support of Proposition 8 in California on a map, intending to lift the veil on the pervasiveness of the bigotry living among us.

They predicted hailstorms, frogs descending from heaven, the complete end of civilization due to the firebombing of these decent, upstanding people who wanted only to forcefully divorce a few thousand couples and segregate an entire portion of the population.

Of course, none of that happened — much like their similar predictions about what would happen in the socialist nests of Massachusetts and Connecticut have, while being completely and inanely absurd on their face, been proven to be nothing more than the fantasies of the Republican establishment — and this past week a few journalists noted such in a few sidebars.

They obviously couldn’t stand for that reality to be acknowledged, so as a result, we got a story planted in the Sunday New York Times by way of Brad Stone.

The article laments the fact that laws intending to promote transparency (the so-called sunlight laws) leads to what its author believes to be serious privacy violations. (The fact that donors are fully notified that their donation information belongs to the public goes unmentioned in the article.) The premise is that websites like eightmaps.com are in fact violations of the principle of free speech because people who have chosen to express their views can be “challenged [by] their opponents directly.” Unlike Mr. Stone, I view this as an essential feature of democracy. The fact that you can freely say absurd things — AND the fact that your peers can freely challenge you on those absurd things — combine to form the essence of free speech. Claiming that free speech is intended to allow people to speak, but to disallow others from responding, is so transparently ludicrous that it should not have passed this editor’s smell test. Yes, that means that democracy is messy. That’s what democracy is.

Mr. Stone cites one blind quote and one attributed quote saying that they had received “several” intemperate e-mails to support the claim that eightmaps.com has resulted in mass instances of “harassment or worse.” According to SFGate’s latest numbers, 43,096 people just in California donated to pro-Prop 8 campaigns. Two quotes. Out of 43,096. Two.

I am not at all ambivalent to privacy issues — I consider myself a civil libertarian above all — but open democracy requires openness, lest it devolve into a lesser system entirely. If someone chooses to participate in the democratic process, then they must participate in it. The fact that you are feeling shame over the position you have taken is, again, a feature. The proper response is not to obfuscate that whole “participatory” part of participatory democracy, but to realize that maybe there’s a reason you’re feeling that way and to challenge your own convictions.

I don’t see that happening, though.