Degrees of Separation

With the exception of rare contrivances like king’s missives and broadcast television, we learn most of what we learn and meet most of the people we meet through networking.  This has always been true, but it’s clearer than ever with social media.  To be honest I rather like it.  When a friend I trust or a writer I admire shares a link I tend to follow along enthusiastically.

A few months ago one of my favorite writers shared an essay they’d appreciated.  I clicked the link and read the essay; then I clicked to the author’s profile and learned about their other writing; then I clicked on a book they’d recently published and browsed the other titles by that publisher.  It was at this point that I came up short.  One of the other titles was a book of Holocaust denial.

Since then, I have been turning the circumstance around and around in my head.  Writing a book denying the Holocaust is clearly not okay.  But are all of the other links in this chain not okay?  Is it wrong to publish a book of Holocaust denial?  Is it wrong to publish your book through a publisher that also publishes Holocaust denial?  Is it wrong to publish an essay by an author who publishes with a publisher who also publishes Holocaust denial?  Is it wrong to share an essay by an author who publishes with a publisher who also publishes Holocaust denial?

I feel that the answer to “is it wrong to publish a book of Holocaust denial” is clearly “yes” and that the answer to “is it wrong to share an essay by an author who publishes with a publisher who also publishes Holocaust denial” is clearly “no” but the in-betweens are murky.  We’re all connected to something horrible if you look long enough.  But what connections are too close?

At the risk of being entirely incorrect, here’s my first stab at a set of guidelines to use in my own life:

  • 0 degrees (aka you are the person doing the unambiguously wrong thing) – not acceptable, for the love of god stop
  • 1 degree (direct connection to someone behaving wrongly (A)) – unacceptable, unless criticizing or stopping the wrong behavior is the primary focus of the relationship with A
  • 2 degrees (you are connected to someone (B) with a direct connection to someone behaving wrongly (A), and B is not making the wrong behavior the primary focus of the relationship with A) – acceptable only if you make clear that you disapprove of B’s behavior towards A
  • 3 degrees (you are connected to someone (C) who is connected to someone (B) who is connected to someone (A) who is behaving wrongly, and neither C nor B is attempting to get their respective connection to change their behavior) – pretty much fine regardless, we have to stop holding people responsible somewhere

Obviously these guidelines would vary based on how harmful the wrong behavior is, the kind of relationship the pairs of people have and how much the relationship inherently supports the wrong behavior, and how successful each individual feels they’re being at trying to change the behavior.  Human relationships are messy things.  But I think there’s value in vague abstractions like this, so long as they’re not misunderstood as rules set in stone.

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