Advocating for the Devil

There’s a trend I’ve seen recently where folks will make ridiculous or offensive arguments, and then say “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” as if that means something.

Devil’s advocacy is not a license to make ridiculous, incoherent, or illogical arguments. Advocating for the devil means taking a position opposite your usual one. You are still bound by all the same rules of debate and logic, to make a coherent argument. And if all the arguments you find yourself coming up with are racist or sexist, the lesson is perhaps that the position has no merit and there’s nothing we can learn from it.

The best devil’s advocacy needs no “I’m just playing devil’s advocate” disclaimer, it’s simply folks making honest and logical arguments to try to elucidate the truth. This is one of the most important tools we have at our disposal to analyze complex and divisive issues. It’s actually hard for me to imagine being able to advocate for the positions I do believe without understanding the opposite side; so it’s disheartening to me that many folks seem to think it’s a good excuse to practice poor argumentation and spout racist or sexist gibberish.

Of course, sometimes we find ourselves not just metaphorically advocating for the devil, but literally advocating for the devils amongst us. For example, I regularly find myself defending National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, a Supreme Court decision which supported the Nazis’ right to march in Skokie (a predominately Jewish Chicago suburb). Why? Because I take the broadest interpretation of the First Amendment’s free speech protections, I recognize that when the state acts to suppress speech, it almost always does so against minority interests, and to support already powerful ones.

All this brings me to Andrew “weev” Auernheimer, a computer hacker best known for exposing AT&T’s insecure handling of iPad customers data, he was tried and convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and spent time in prison before his conviction was ultimately vacated.

He’s also literally a Nazi.

A great many people in the hacking/security/technology community feel compelled to defend him for some reason, and I can’t understand why. I draw a strong line between government censorship, and individuals freely deciding that they want nothing to do with him.

weev is not on trial for violating the CFAA anymore. Were he, I would point out that the CFAA is an absurd and overreaching law which ought to be struck down.

He’s not though, he’s also not on trial for being a Nazi. If he were, I would be the first one to defend his First Amendment rights to freedom of association and speech. But again, he’s not.

Instead, he’s just an asshole on the internet. And so I will exercise my rights to freely associate, or not, with whom I please. I want nothing to do with him, I want nothing to do with anyone who wants anything to do with him. He is an asshole who harasses nice people on the internet for fun, and I have no time for such people.