Guilt by Association

Recently observed in certain combat-ridden regions of the internet: overuse of the phrase "guilt by association."  People seem to think who you associate with can't make you guilty, and that's absurd.  Let's say (just hypothetically) that X associates with a racist website.  He likes to criticize Obama, which is of course fine, but does so at White Guys R Us, knowing that this will incite the resident racists to pour racist abuse on Obama. He doesn't himself engage in racist abuse. He just puts his screed (not a clever screed, but that's beside the point) at White Guys R Us.  Now, if I criticize X, do I find him "guilty by association" in the pernicious sense?  Of course not. It's genuinely represensible that X made his argument against Obama at a site where he knew that would trigger racist abuse.  He was directly complicit in that abuse. More generally, by talking to the racists (about anything), he supports their site and conveys acceptance of them.  He validates and reinforces (all the more so if he never questions any of the racist antics at the site).  X is an enabler of racists, when he ought to be an opponent. Innocent or guilty?  Of course he's guilty!

No time to read or moderate comments today, so they're off.

Update 10/8:

I've been honored with a response at a new blog network called "Skeptic Ink". How flattering!  Except the response is a pile of nonsense.

First problem is that Maria Maltseva (or Bluharmony, as she sometimes calls herself) misunderstood the post.  She thinks I'm guilty of a fallacy opposite to argument from authority. She writes: "An appeal to authority argues in favor of an idea based on associating an authority figure holding that idea, whereas guilt by association argues against an idea based on associating it with a supposedly disreputable group."

Total misunderstanding. It's obvious that I wasn't attacking X's ideas here. In fact, I explicitly say, about the ideas, "not a clever screed, but that's beside the point."  No, the issue is an ethical one about the person, X. I am calling the person guilty for putting an editorial criticizing Obama at a racist website.  Reason? Because X knows "this will incite the resident racists to pour racist abuse on Obama."And because participation will "validate and reinforce" the racists--"all the more so if he never questions any of the racist antics at the site."

Besides mangling my argument, Maria attempts a reductio ad absurdum. If my reasoning were correct, then "Jean Kazez would be guilty of everything said at FTB [Freethought Blogs]."  After all "she posts on FTB and associates closely with some of the bloggers who write there."

Let's get the factual matter out of the way.  I almost never comment at Freethought Blogs, and when I do I usually comment critically.  I have no close associations with anyone at Freethought Blogs. The suggestion is ludicrous, considering that I've written several posts that are critical of bloggers there in the last year. 

Challenged about this, Maria said I'd "piled on" in a thread she contributed to at Butterflies and Wheels using the name "Gender Traitor." Apparently she's talking about this one comment from a year ago (#986 in the thread).  I'll just say: if that comment has any connection with posting an anti-Obama essay on a racist website, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

In any event, I think it's howling mad to say Freethought Blogs --a network of 35-40 blogs, where perhaps 99% of what goes on is perfectly respectable secular discussion--can be compared to the racist website in my paragraph.  But enough of that. There are a lot of people who would apparently like to dedicate the remainder of their days on earth to discussing Freethought Blogs, but I would not.

That's about it.  Now I will get back to enjoying a perfectly gorgeous day in Dallas.