Intimidate Thy Neighbor

Some here in Massachusetts are trying to put on a ballot in 2008 a referendum about gay marriage. The idea is that given an option voters might decide against gay marriage. But Thomas Lang and Alexander Westerhoff are doing what they can to make sure voters never have that choice:

Now, the question’s supporters must collect 65,825 signatures from registered voters, and approval from 25 percent of state lawmakers to get the question on the 2008 ballot.

Lang, 42, said the name, street address, hometown and ZIP code of everyone who signs the petition will be posted on the Web site KnowThyNeighbor.org.

“Everyone’s scrambling to know who in their town would sign this,” Lang told the Boston Herald. “And this Web site will give gay people the tools to know, to defend themselves and their families, to let them go neighbor-to-neighbor and say, ‘I don’t appreciate your signing this.’”

“I’m going to be aggressive personally,” he said. “I want to know that the people I do business with are not against (gay marriage). This is going to be won by economics.”

The parallel to the Nuremberg Files, that website listing abortion doctors, is obvious, as are the equally insidious motives hidden behind the “right to know.”

Note what Lang and Westerhoff want to stop so much that they’re willing to harass private citizens: not abolishing gay marriage but putting it up to a vote.

Their website, KnowThyNeighbor.org, alludes to the Golden Rule, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Is the irony lost on them? What would they think if “extremists” published a website with lists of homosexuals?

It seems as though their attack is against more than just the issue of the referendum; it’s an attack on the democratic process: they want to replace the civic goods of neighborly “love” and free elections with the intimidation of “knowledge” and judicial fiat.

8 Comments

  1. quote “What would they think if “extremists” published a website with lists of homosexuals?”

    i’m James Coleman. I live at 652 Somerville ave, Somerville, MA 02143. I’m a homosexual, and i dont feel intimidated by going on record publicly as a homosexual who supports gay marriage.

  2. James, I think you’re missing the point. It isn’t no one should be publicly known for his or her position on the gay marriage issue; it’s 1) who gets to decide who’s “outed” and 2) whether it’s being done for flagrant intimidation.

    You may not mind telling everyone that you’re a homosexual, but would that make it right (right—not illegal) for, say, Fred Phelps to publish a website list of all homosexuals, whether or not they wanted to be known? You’re going to have difficulty convincing me that Phelps’ goal would be furthering democracy (or anything else good, for that matter).

    There’s no putting a positive spin on the transparent goals of voter intimidation. We should be able to publicly debate legislation, etc. without fear of reprisal. The way its owners want to stifle debate through fear is what makes KnowThyNeigbor.org shameful.

  3. i published my name and address here as a means of *publicly stating my position* on a social issue. if there was a *petition* to support a referendum going before state lawmakers in favor of same sex marriage, i would sign that petition, knowing that petition signatories are public information that can be reproduced anywhere by anyone, be it by Il Filosofo, know thy nieghbor, focus on the family, phelps, or the KKK. its called freedom of information, and thats part of democracy.

    know thy nieghbor is not voter intimidation, because citizen petitioning is public information. *petitioning is not voting*. petitioning is not private. it is necessarily public as a part of democracy.

    i feel that at the heart of the resistance to know thy nieghbor is not a perceived voter intimidation, but a darker fear of the clash between personal responsibility & personal manufactured public identity. people want an opportunity to vote to take away the rights of a group of citizens, but they don’t want anyone to know their role in taking away those rights. if you’re going to have the very important role in amending the constitution, its a *responsibility* as well as a right. petitioning in secret is power without responsibility. not only is that a lazy and over priviledged thing to do, it also feeds the terrible legacy of political correctness that has produced widening disparity between how people speak and appear and how they really feel. it deadens real and vital dialogue at a person to person level. know thy nieghbor restores that dialogue.

  4. James,
    Your defense of KnowThyNeighbor.org seems to be mainly along two lines: the website uses public information and such exposure is part of a healthy democratic process. Here’s why I disagree.

    First, let me emphasize that what KnowThyNeighbor.org does is perfectly legal; that’s not the issue. I’m concerned here with what’s ethical, not just legal.

    Second, although KnowThyNeighbor uses public information, what it does goes beyond how that information is normally available. Otherwise, why would the site bother to exist? Clearly the site’s owners hope to accomplish something that can’t be accomplished simply by directing citizens to the local courthouse (or wherever such documents are kept).

    Third, the idea that publicly listing petitioners on a website will help “dialogue at a person to person level” sounds great—but only superficially. Seriously, how can a gay marriage proponent promote dialogue using KnowThyNeighbor.org? Is he or she going to knock on doors? “Hi, I’m James. You signed a petition regarding amending the state Constitution, and I’d like to talk to you about it.” I don’t think that’s going to happen. Even if it did, it would be remarkably intrusive.

    No, we know what site founder Thomas Lang really has in mind from the Boston Globe quotation above: “This is going to be won by economics.” He wants retribution. We also know from the recent kerfuffle when someone discovered a BU dean had signed the list: no one was interested in “dialoging” with him, just in condemning him.

    KnowThyNeighbor.org can only intimidate people into not appearing on the list or retaliate against them afterward, because once petitioners have signed their names, it’s too late to “dialogue.” Neither of those accomplishments is constructive to democracy or society, because they rely on fear and force rather than reason and persuasion.

    Instead, were the folks behind KnowThyNeighbor.org truly interested in democracy, they would sign the petition themselves, in order to bring it to a vote. Then they would campaign against the proposed amendment, arguing for the greater virtue of their side. A victory for them in a vote for the amendment would demonstrate that they had succeeded in appealing to the citizenry and won fairly.

  5. whats ethical about taking away the rights of a group of citizens secretly? it would be ethical to do that publicly. i am in no way connected with the operations or management of know thy nieghbor, but it occurred to me as a supporter of that initiative, it could only be responsible if it cut both ways – so i published *my* name and address here, and in another place on the internet prior to here that was way more scrutinised and available. i’m sure the philosopher in you appreciates critical thinking.

    yes, know thy nieghbor publicly disseminated information on the internet that otherwise people would have to go to a government office to get. petitions aren’t private. socrates might ask of us: are privacy and secrecy the same or different? if secrecy is different, what are the conditions necessary for it to flourish? secrecy cannot flourish in an environment that promotes all publicly available information to be available easily. we can put our name to any petition we plaese knowing that thousands of people won’t line up at a government office to see who signed it. secrecy depends on our shared laziness: we’re too lazy to passionately defend our opinions face to face, we’re too lazy to find out who might be taking away our rights. if a persuasive group of people with financial means started a petition to restrict family making by philosophers or baptists, would you want to know who signed it. would you want other philosophers or baptists to know who signed it?

    as for the issue of the remarkably intrusive nature of homosexuals knocking on peoples doors to discuss the issue with signatories, have you heard of that happening? has there been any instance in massachusetts of homosexuals and lesbians treating signatories in a threatening manner? have Christian heterosexuals been physically assaulted or had their personal property damaged as a result of appearing on this publicly distrubuted petition in question? not to my knowledge.

    when the petition was published i looked to see if any friends, acquaintances, artistic collaborators or people that i did important financial dealings with were there. much to my relief, they weren’t. if they were, i would have had a friendly and intelligent conversation with them about it. in terms of who i do business with, how does this differ from the Southern Baptist boycott of Disney for extending family benefits to gay men and lesbians? Why were the Southern Baptists presumably “ethical” in their desire to fight a social issue economically, but not Thomas Lang? i also looked to see who lived on my street ( a very long street, an avenue) who signed it. not to know their specific location, not to approach them, but to guage the mood of my immediate nieghborhood, and i promise i’m not being dramatic or pretentious here, to find out how safe i was in my own nieghborhhod.

    which raises the question, who is risking the most intrusiveness into their lives, risking damage to their person or property in this process? the signers of the petition whose details have become public, or one lone homosexual man in Somerville who has decided to list his name and address in as many places as possible on the internet that challenges the ethics of publishing a petition? i think you know the answer to that question.

    i’ve yet to hear or learn of any real fear or force being applied to signers of the petition. i think some signers have had to bear the stress of “exposure” to their immediate friends, family and business partners.

    i’m not a member of the Boston University community, so i really have no desire to have a discussion with the BU dean. but, upon learning about the BU Deans appearance on the petition, i googled the event to see how much response was going on about it. thats how i found Il Filosfo, in less than a full page of results. if theres been universal condemnation of him in the BU community, perhaps thats irresponsible, but has that really happened? or are members of the BU community passionately airing their concerns, a passion that disturbs secrecy?

    a more complex issue is raised in the final paragraph of your last posting. those that oppose same sex marriage dont see it as a civil rights issue. those that support it, see it as a civil rights issue. gay men and lesbians didn’t sign the petition because we don’t feel that civil rights should be subject to popular vote. voting rights for women and desegregation would have happened much later in our history if they had been subject to popular vote. also, those that support the amendment have more money than those who are campaigning against it. despite the perception that homosexuals are all running around in designer clothes and living in expensive condo’s in the south end with large disposable incomes. if it eventually goes on the ballot, you can bet there will be more television & newspaper ads produced by supporters of the amendment than by those campaigning against it. Thomas Lang and his co-workers found an ingenius and intelligent way around that, and i sense that the detractors of know thy nieghbor are upset that they can’t depend on the silence of gay men and lesbians to protect their secrecy, and allow them an economic advantage in the guise of ethical behavior.

    please know that everything i’ve written is in the spirit of friendliness and respect.

    i will continue to look for places to publish my name and address.

  6. comparing the publishing of the names of people who signed a position and the publishing of a list of homosexuals is not even remotely the same thing.

    It’s apples and oranges.

    On one hand you have people just living their lives (the homosexuals).

    On the other you have people who have chosen to get involved in the lives of homosexuals and restrict their rights.

    petitions are a matter of public record, the sexuality of individuals is not.

    I’m with James, it’s hardly ethical to want to take away the rights of others, and then cry foul when someone catches you doing it.


  7. On one hand you have people just living their lives (the homosexuals).

    On the other you have people who have chosen to get involved in the lives of homosexuals and restrict their rights.

    Jason, I don’t think you’re accurately describing the issue.

    The proposed referendum concerns marriage, which is not limited to the private sphere. People who apply for a marriage license are not just “living their lives.”

    More specifically, you may believe that the myriad cultures throughout recorded human history were wrong to define marriages as between men and women; but you can’t deny that the homosexual marriages in our sliver of history are revolutionary. Revolutionaries aren’t sitting around “living their lives”; they’re actively promoting cultural changes, which by their nature affect everyone.

    I’m with James, it’s hardly ethical to want to take away the rights of others, and then cry foul when someone catches you doing it.

    I think you’re using “rights” too casually. “Rights” are not simply things we want to do; they’re those things to which we have a just claim. When, for example, we speak of having a “right to life,” we usually mean that each human is born in the world with a presumption that she should be able to live. Life is not an absolute right, but only in extreme circumstances does one abrogate it.

    No one has the same kind of claim on marriage. One has to apply for a marriage license; in most states there are uncontroversial limits on who can marry each other (no biological siblings, no one currently married to someone else, no minors without parental approval, etc.).

    There’s no reason those kinds of restrictions should be exempt from the normal legislative process, and those proposing the referendum were attempting to participate in that legislative process. Those behind KnowThyNeighbor don’t just want to stop a particular outcome of the referendum; they want to keep it from even coming to a vote. Even worse, they use intimidation as a means of influencing political activity.

    People should vote according to what they believe is right, not because they’re under fear of retribution. That kind of force-based political persuasion has no place in a free society, and KnowThyNeighbor, while legal, is morally wrong to engage in such intimidation tactics.

  8. “On the other you have people who have chosen to get involved in the lives of homosexuals and restrict their rights.”

    This is an incorrect statement.

    The activist Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage after a couple SUED the State to be granted marriage rights.

    It was the gay activist who chose to pick this fight with the citizens of Massachusetts and have done everything in their power to bribe and coerce the legislature to kill it.

    Know thy Neighbor is an affront to Democracy and a hateful way to go aboout change.

    I am a signer of the petition and after challenging KTN on their blog, I was promptly bombarded with magazine subsciptions and book club memberships that took months to get rid of. I cannot say this was done by someone at KTN, but it had never happened to me before and the timing was more than a coincidence. One member of the organization – John Hosty – posted my phone number and behooved people to call my house and harass me. Anothe rblogger – Known as Joe S – threatened to come to my house and commit a violent act – granted the blog moderator took my phone info down, but the threats and intimidation shook me and my family.

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  • [...] Months ago I pointed out the creation of website KnowThyNeighbor.org. KnowThyNeighbor.org’s operators, Thomas Lang and Alexander Westerhoff, name those who have signed a petition to bring gay marriage to a vote in Massachusetts, because they think the best way to achieve their stated goal of “promoting dialogue on marriage equality in Massachusetts” is to intimidate their opponents into silence. [...]

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