Fresh off our successful defense of Alan Tudge, it’s time to go into bat for a nazi. Sort of.
Last month, Lehigh University’s newspaper, The Brown and White, reported on the removal of a young mathematician, Brian Klatt, from his classes. Klatt’s removal came after “an anonymous complaint that alleged [Klatt] was posting racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic content from an anonymous Twitter account.” The account, @DumbGeometer, has since been deleted.1
Although no one has formally confirmed that Klatt was @DumbGeometer, it is a pretty safe assumption. The complaint against Klatt, which was apparently sent to The Brown and White, university officials and a number of Klatt’s colleagues, was backed up by a long and detailed PDF, which included plenty of circumstantial evidence that Klatt is @DumbGeometer. We’ll assume that is the case for what follows.
As to the nature of @DumbGeometer’s tweets, the PDF also includes plenty of examples. That’s where it begins to get interesting. Plenty of @DumbGeometer’s tweets are extremely distasteful:
What is unclear, however, at least to us, is the purpose(s) of @DumbGeometer’s tweets. Are the tweets expressing genuine belief, or are they trolling, or are they trying to make a point about speech and culture? Of the final tweet above, for example, the anonymous complainant wrote,
… the number 6,000,000 is a dogwhistle about the Holocaust; when he says “unbelievably big” he is implying that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
Perhaps. But this blunt conclusion seems far from obvious. It seems to us at least as likely that it’s a bad taste joke. One may still argue that the joke is in such bad taste that no one should contemplate making it. Nonetheless, a joke is way, way different from a belief.2
Other tweets of @DumbGeometer’s clearly have a point:
One may disagree with the point or with the manner of making of that point, but there is obviously a point.
Pointless or not, by posting such tweets @DumbGeometer was, well, dumb. He was, at least in large part, intending to offend, he was offensive and, although posted anonymously, it didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to uncover the author. It was inevitable that someone would do the required detective work and expose Klatt, with plenty of people ready to dance on his grave:3
Brian if you’re reading this please know that your life is ruined forever and I love it
A question remains, however. If it was inevitable that Klatt would lose his job and, presumably, his career, that does not mean this was necessarily deserved. Why, exactly, did Klatt lose his job?
Nothing we have read suggests that Klatt was anything but professional in his work. A group of Lehigh mathematicians released a statement, helpfully noting that they were themselves not racist or misogynist or anti-Semitic, but they were silent on Klatt and his position within the Department. Klatt appears to have been conscientious and respected. And respectful. Commenters who knew Klatt and were happy to see him exposed suggest there was nothing in his behaviour to connect him to @DumbGeometer or anything of the sort:
… I never suspected a thing.
… others have attested that his behavior in general revealed nothing about this.
In summary, it appears that the sole reason for Klatt’s removal was that his being exposed as the author of the anonymous @DumbGeometer tweets made his position untenable. And, Klatt was exposed as the author entirely because an anonymous person(s) worked hard to expose him, worked hard to make his position untenable. Why did they do this? Not, it seems, because of anything Klatt did wrong in his job, but solely because they saw Klatt as a bad person.
One person, in cheering Klatt’s demise, wrote
don’t be a fucking nazi y’all
Indeed. Klatt was hardly an innocent, and it may be difficult to feel sorry for him. But, whatever Klatt’s beliefs, his is not the authoritarianism that is most concerning here.
1) As of a few days ago, the account appears to have been revived, with a single cryptic tweet. The author is unclear.
2) Those who wish for the end of all bad taste jokes should at all costs avoid seeing The Aristocrats.
3) We are avoiding linking the comments. The people making such comments are not the point.