Phil La Duke's Blog

Fresh perspectives on safety and Performance Improvement

Who Writes This Rag


What do Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and certain LinkedIn group managers have in common? a love of censorship.  This week I got an LinkedIn message from Kathleen Hurley, manager of the Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +, telling me that in response to my having posted four items in a single day that hence forth all my comments and posts would be moderated and that I would be limited to two links a week.

Anyone who is a LinkedIn contact of mine knows that I am very active; to an irritating degree.  I post daily, and between press releases, blog posts, tweets, and articles the home page of my poor contacts will almost certainly have my face emblazoned across it. I feel your pain, and I know a little of me goes a long, long way.  I am also active in answering questions and in the discussion portion of the 50 (49 after dumping Environmental, Health & Safety Compliance Network 10,000 +).  So I can understand why many of you may be thinking, well I can sympathize with poor, poor Kathleen. I won’t apologize for my shameless self-promotion.  After all, it has resulted in my writing being published in about a dozen or so places, me speaking at numerous international venues, being published in respected scientific and academic journals, and being named to the ISHN Power 101 (a list of the powerful and influential people in worker safety) a fact that I seem to manage to work into every conversation.

For the record, I believe that if one starts a blog, LinkedIn group, or social club it is their inalienable right to restrict or prohibit whoever and whatever they want. But as Director, Corporate Communications at Actio Corporation, whose president is listed as the group’s owner I am, I admit, a bit alarmed.  I find it disquieting that a group founded and moderated by a safety vendor is not forth coming about the fact that they aren’t exactly without ulterior motive (or at least could be perceived as having said motive) or bias when it comes to the topics discussed in the group.  Even this isn’t a problem if one isn’t actively tampering with the discussions—after all, aren’t the founders of any organizations likely to shout down opposing points of view?

But hapless Ms. Hurley didn’t oppose a point of view, she decided that she had ought have a look at the dangerous, dangerous posts of this dangerous, dangerous man. She never got the chance. I took my ball and went home shared her email with the 300 or so contacts who were also group members. She didn’t want to read my stuff and I didn’t want her deciding whether or not it would post; so I voted with my feet.

Let me say that I am pretty thick skinned about my writing.  It’s not for everyone.  I the majority of the feedback is positive, but I always get a stream of simpletons who post hate mail on my work.  I publish any comment I get and I try to answer each and every response to my work.  I am more puzzled by the responses than anything.  I’ve always believed that if you didn’t like what I wrote you were under no obligation to read it. I have never understood the imbecile who posts rambling, borderline psychotic frothy rants about something I said.  The first time I was censored was an article I wrote for the college newspaper where I was a reporter and columnist.  The paper wasn’t very good, even by college standards (it was riddled with typos and grammatical errors, sloppy journalism, and hastily produced and sophomoric articles) and I wrote a piece, “Who Writes This Rag?” The article was a tongue-in-cheek look at how the staff (mainly me and my friend and fellow goof off editor) did the bare minimum was sloppy writers and editors who seldom bothered to proofread. My fellow staff members, including the faculty adviser, all enjoyed the article immensely and we all had a good laugh at ourselves.  The mirth was short lived however.  When the article was sent off to be typesetter who refused to typeset it.  He apparently thought the article was directed at him and took offense to it.  (If he is reading this I sincerely hope he is roasting in Hell.)  The faculty adviser tried to talk reason but eventually acquiesced and apologized so that the paper could be produced.

I learned many important lessons from that experience.  First, I learned that one closed-minded, power-crazed anus of a person can censor even the most innocuous work. This censorship, or that of a certain group manager are not the work of an international conspiracy, this isn’t the work of a cadre of master criminals; this is the work of a few (usually one) twisted little people driven mad with the sad little power given to them.

Next, I learned that there are people in this world who see their own frailties in every bit of written work.  People who decry as fraud that which is critical of a population are usually the guiltiest or secretly think they might be.  These people are bigots and bullies who should never EVER be left in a position where they can censor the ideas of others. Small minds don’t leave much room for new ideas. This may smack of hypocrisy given my penchant for publicly telling people to shut up.  But telling people to shut up is a far cry from silencing them; ii’s small distinction, but an important one.

I also learned that there are a fair amount of people who go through life waiting to take offense.  These are neither the glass is half empty nor half full people, these are “the who the hell drank half of my drink?” people.  These people are deeply dysfunctional people who can only find happiness in misery.  They can’t read the paper, listen to the news, or see a movie without taking everything as a personal affront.  I provide them a service.  If you can’t be offended reading something I wrote you probably don’t have very good reading comprehension skills.

Finally, I learned that words are power and unpopular words are the most powerful.  Words and ideas outside our comfort zone force us to question whether or not our most deeply held beliefs.  When someone says something that upsets us, the courageous among us reflect and grow, sometimes this causes us to change our minds while other times it strengthens and deepens our beliefs. In either case, we continue to evolve as intellectuals.  But the cowards among us try to silence criticism and mute debate.  Somewhere deep inside them they know how fragile their bigotry is and they are afraid that if they look within themselves they may have to hold themselves accountable. What’s worse, is their fear that others may also be convinced and that will further isolate them.

Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin all knew that the unfettered flow of ideas and words was the cornerstone of freedom and democracy; they would make poor LinkedIn group owners and managers. (For one they are all dead, and for another I doubt they have the computer skills.) So to all you group managers, and bloggers, and angry dissocials pining to take offense know that censorship is on the same continuum as rape; it is you asserting your sick power over another just because you can.  And power is addictive and censorship is habit forming, if you aren’t careful you may find yourself the intellectual equivalent of a serial killer.

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Filed under: Phil La Duke, Safety, Uncategorized, , ,

19 Responses

  1. Chris Wall says:

    Nice column. I think I may have said this before, but there’s a certain Kerouac-ian stream of consciousness energy in your writing (note that I didn’t say Kevorkian). I’d like to see an article on how, if the tea bagg… Er, party gets its way, organizations like OSHA will be on the defensive even more than they are now, and how, in an environment like that, how a company’s safety record could be put to use to attract better quality employees. We had a conversation about that about a decade ago.

  2. [...] the intestinal fortitude to tell it the way it is?Please go and read about this entire saga:  http://philladuke.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/who-writes-this-rag/Show him your support by taking the time to comment either on this page or on Phil’s Blog. [...]

  3. John C. Ratliff says:

    Phil, you write: “What do Pol Pot, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and certain LinkedIn group managers have in common? a love of censorship…Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin all knew that the unfettered flow of ideas and words was the cornerstone of freedom and democracy; they would make poor LinkedIn group owners and managers. (For one they are all dead, and for another I doubt they have the computer skills.)

    There are some obvious differences, and your use of these people to complain about censorship is going a bit beyond making the point, especially in a safety forum. Do you have any idea of the visual images that the mention of these three despots brings to many minds? Pol Pot and Adolph Hitler were guilty of genocide, for Pete’s sake. Joseph Stalin has also been accused of genocide for a famine he had a hand in.

    While you can say whatever you like, the comparisons are “out-of-bounds” in my way of thinking. At ASSE, we protect people, property and the environment. You should not be comparing anyone in these forums with the despots you mention.

    • Phil La Duke says:

      John:

      All horrific acts depend on silencing dissenters. And with the people cited, the crimes that they committed were made possible by silencing all opposing points of view. I know and certainly condemn these people and there acts. But as far as being “out of bounds” I can see and respect your point of view. But had I used the Moral Majority’s and Jerry Falwell’s attacks on Larry Flynnt would you consider that out of bounds? Maybe and maybe not. And that’s the point. Especially in a safety group. There is little difference between silencing unpopular speech but unless I chose people that would be universally recognized as villains there would be some people, many people who would read the post and think, “well I think those people should be censored”. And that is wrong. Censors are bullies who want to protect their interests by silencing the people who speak out. Every safety professional must be a champion of free speech. Laws that protect Whistle blowers were created, largely, to protect workers who speak up about dangers in the workplace. Downplaying the harmful effects of censorship belittles the voice of workers everywhere. In a climate where there is a rising tide AGAINST worker safety protections, I don’t think this comparison is out of bound. I am saying they share a very nasty trait, a love of censorship. If that creates an uproar than I hope it is an uproar against censorship.

    • Phil La Duke says:

      One last thing. Thank you for your comment and you have given me something to think about.

  4. John C. Ratliff says:

    Phil, I don’t doubt that there is good cause to speak out about censorship; my contention is that the comparisons you make are so far out as to make the whole topic tainted. You strike me as one who has never been to war, and never picked up pieces of people. Those responsible for the murder and genocide of whole populations cause a horror-rebound which makes your comparison mute to us who have lived through these situations. So yes, censorship is not the way to go, and open and free expression is necessary in a free society. Your blog comes close, if not goes over, the ASSE Code of Professional Conduct which states, “Issue public statements in a truthful manner, and only within the parameters of authority granted.” I don’t think the comparison you made is in a “truthful manner.”

    • Phil La Duke says:

      John:

      I appreciate your position and your comments. I can only speak from my experience and perspective. You’re correct, I haven’t been to war but neither have I ever claimed to have been or to have that perspective. If you find perspectives other than your own objectionable I would advise you not to read my work. I have endured a steady stream of attacks and attempts to silence my views, for no better reason than because it offends sensibilities, has a “sardonic tone”, or generalizes too much. But mostly the attacks are from people who want me to say that everyone in safety is doing a great job and things are going just swell. Well there are plenty of people in safety that are just phoning it in and things AREN’T great in safety. Far too many people in safety seem to be looking for confirmation that they are on the right path no matter what path they are on. That’s not my role, nor is it a role to which I aspire. If you find no connection between censorship and the crimes of these three than your observations are equally mute to me.

  5. Raab Hubbard says:

    Phil you have hit the nail on the head. and anyone who feels that you are going beyond good taste and all that should stop reading You and stick to Dr. Suess. when you have to make a point make it loudand maKE IT CLEAR

    • Phil La Duke says:

      Thanks Raab. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing. Similarly, all it takes to allow the censors to shout down dissent is for those who support free speech to say nothing.

  6. Beth Mirza says:

    I wonder … did you *automatically* get flagged for monitoring because you post so much, and therefore the moderator is wondering if you’re a spammer? Because that does happen… but getting the notice that you’re being monitored is certainly a chilling effect, indeed.

    • Phil La Duke says:

      Oh no, we had a very specific email exchange. Where she said she considered my links “borderline promotional” and the fact that I posted 4 in one day was distasteful to her. I thought her reaction, while pleasant enough was completely out of proportion to my actions. If she would have opened a dialog I’m sure she could have voiced her concerns and we could have come to an amicable agreement. It might have ended up with me leaving the group, but I would not have been inclined to crusade about it.

      In a world where groups struggle to provide what is essentially their intellectual capital for free, one might expect that more contribution is better than little to no contribution, but if the groups motivation is to promote a particular company than….well don’t look for the Pepsi group to publish posts that say how much better Coke is.

      Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments.

  7. John C. Ratliff says:

    Phil,

    You write: “If you find no connection between censorship and the crimes of these three than your observations are equally mute to me.” My only concern is that you become aware of the imagery that you are using, and how it can come across to others. I found most of your article interesting, and support you in voicing your opinions. But there are many in the USA who had very, very bad experiences with Pol Pot. My son’s significant other is one, who as a child fled Cambodia to a refugee camp in Thailand, than to the USA. These people are now here, and probably among your potential readership. Some may have gotten into the safety or IH profession. My son’s significant other is a retail pharmacist, for instance. When you mention in the same sentence Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot with the people who apparently censored you, the visual image you project to those others with direct experience with Pol Pot’s regime is this:

    In short, your message is lost to the image.

    John

    • Phil La Duke says:

      John
      There is no way I can control the imagery my words conjure in others, I use the words that communicate my emotions. I can’t and won’t tone it down in deference to others without compromising my work. I appreciate your feelings but won’t be rethinking my work because I might risk offending someone. Thanks for commenting.

  8. John C. Ratliff says:

    Rick, I have been called a “safety Nazi” for advocating the use of helmets for bicycling. Here is an interesting discussion about “Goodwin’s Law,” which states “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1…Godwin’s law applies especially to inappropriate, inordinate, or hyperbolic comparisons of other situations (or one’s opponent) with Nazis.”

    You have just proven this law true here. Congratulations, I think.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

  9. John C. Ratliff says:

    ‘Sorry, I meant Phil…this is outside the ASSE website, on Phil’s own blog. Rick is someone from work; getting old, I guess.

    John

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