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The Indecency of Zealots

From: Jonathan S. Shapiro
Subject: The Indecency of Zealots
Date: Mon, 01 May 2006 09:50:49 -0400

Marcus has done something that, to me, is a deep and very personal
violation. It is a fundamentally inhuman act. It is indecent.

In technical matters, we acknowledge that our ideas may not take hold.
They may be misunderstood, or they may be mistaken, or they may not be
relevant. When one person turns to a second and says: "I have no
technical purpose for X in my system" this is a legitimate thing to say
-- certainly if it turns out to be right, and even if it turns out to be

But Marcus has said something very different from this.

Marcus has said: I have looked very carefully at the constructor idea,
and I have concluded that the only purposes that it can serve (beyond
those of other mechanisms) are immoral purposes. Marcus knows very well
that I have dedicated 15 years of my life to building an architecture
around this concept. In matters of moral judgment, Marcus speaks
carefully. Therefore, he is also saying -- purposefully and
intentionally -- "Everything that you (Jonathan) have worked to build in
the last 15 years is immoral."

Now it is possible that Marcus is correct. Marcus does not say a thing
like this without giving it very careful thought. He is a serious and
deliberate man when it comes to making moral judgments, and he is
careful in his thinking. So I must conclude that if he has reached the
point where he will say this thing out loud, he is serious about it.
Also, it is possible that he is correct, and I must be prepared to give
his statement and his rationale serious attention and consideration.
Also, he understands that he is making a very personal judgment of about
me. It is reasonable and proper to demand that if he makes this judgment
in public, he should be prepared to either substantiate or retract the

But Marcus does NOT substantiate this. He says, instead, "I have a
careful argument that I am not yet prepared to discuss."

A decent man does not turn to a second man and say "Most of what you
have worked toward in your professional life has been in the service of
immoral objectives, and I am not prepared to tell you why, and I thereby
deprive you of the right to examine for yourself whether it is in fact
immoral." This is simply not decent behavior. It is very much like
stealing a man's soul. It would be kinder, on the whole, for Marcus to
shoot me.

A decent man does not guest in a second man's house, eat his food,
occupy time that cannot be regained, accept the benefit of extensive
advice, time, and support, and then say to that second man "you're work
is evil" without the human decency and compassion of a full and complete
explanation. To do so is a violation of all that is decent and moral
between men.

When theologians discuss a moral problem, there is a formula that they
start with (in some variant) in almost every religion: "Friends, let us
struggle together with this problem." There is a reason for this: in the
important debates of morals, people do not debate casually. They debate
because each of them believes something passionately. Passionate men act
according to their beliefs. In consequence, any such discussion is
likely to have the outcome (a) that one person concludes they are in
error, and (b) that in consequence many of the actions that have been
very important to them have been misdirected or actively wrong.

The importance of the opening formula is that the parties agree to
investigate this matter together, each in support of the other, each
recognizing that the other is human and that *if* they have acted
wrongly they will require support and help. One does not turn to the
other in judgment and say "you have acted immorally and I will neither
explain nor permit you to evaluate."

Marcus: I do not ask that you change your values. I may not agree with
the one part that I understand, but I strongly defend your right to your

However, I believe that you owe me a profound apology for the way in
which you have approached this discussion. I also believe that you owe
me (and everyone) the courtesy of a full and immediate explanation of
your reasoning.

And let me attempt to save you some time. I know that you believe that
"digital information property" is a bad idea. From your comments, I have
the impression that you believe this type of property is immoral. If so,
it would naturally follow that any technical means supporting digital
property runs the risk of immoral applications.

If this is the source of your fundamental objection to the morality of
the constructor, then simply say so, and we can turn our attention to
(a) whether there are compelling use cases, and (b) whether the design
can be made to serve your goals with a less dramatic change.

Regardless, I am deeply offended and hurt by your approach to this


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