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Posted by on Apr 4, 2014 in Featured, Politics | 29 comments

Liberal bullying can still be bullying

To quote a September 2013 version of me,

there’s an arms-race of hyperbole going on, especially on the Left, and therefore especially in matters pertaining to social justice. This is understandable, especially because the Right has bombarded the world with similar hyperbole for long enough. But the trend is not a good one, and we should resist it.

It’s not good, partly because we denude language through doing so. More importantly, though, it’s not good because it gives an intrinsic advantage in argument to those who shout the loudest, and who are willing to claim that they are most fundamentally or critically hurt. And in the long run, it’s not good because the only rational (or sadly, so it might seem) way to respond to a climate of hypersensitivity is to shut up, and not say anything at all, for fear of offending someone.

EichI’m not at all sure where the dividing line is between expressing justified grievances and bullying someone out of a debate – or out of a job, as happened to Brendan Eich, ex-CEO of Mozilla, yesterday. While it’s true that some viewpoints are not worth entertaining, that doesn’t necessarily mean that someone who holds those viewpoints shouldn’t be allowed to, and shouldn’t be allowed to campaign for them without fear of reprisals.

Homophobia is wrong, and harmful – you’ll find plenty of posts over the years highlighting the offence, hurt, injustice and sometimes even murders that can be attributed to homophobia, from the relatively trivial cases of Error Naidoo to the properly odious Scott Lively, who had a part in inspiring the criminalisation of homophobia in Uganda.

However, it’s not at all clear to what extent Brendan Eich is a homophobe at all, unless we define homophobia simply as the belief that certain legal entitlements should be reserved for heterosexual people. Again, I must stress that I personally reject that belief – discrimination based on sexuality is premised on an entirely arbitrary characteristic, and is thus unjust and should be unlawful.


Because as usual, there’s a background issue that needs to influence our reading of a case like this, and that issue is that Eich is a Christian, who believes that marriage is something ordained by God, and reserved for a man and a woman. And for as long as we (or in this case, the USA) respects freedom of religion, that’s not only a legitimate belief to hold, but also a legitimate position to campaign for, and to donate money to defending.

Perhaps we should weaken our respect for freedom of religion, and insist that a church or a minister who wanted to marry anyone should also be willing to officiate marriages for gay couples. If you won’t marry a gay couple, you can’t marry anyone. Perhaps we should argue that if you get tax breaks from government, you should lose them if you discriminate on arbitrary grounds such as sexuality, or race, or gender.

But that’s not where we are, yet, and (some) churches are still operating in a grey zone where their archaic morality is grudgingly accommodated, even in progressive democracies. Maybe it shouldn’t be – but for as long as it is, Eich has a warrant for believing (on his, archaic, standards) that it’s not unjust to deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and that it should be unlawful for them to marry.

This is the cause that Eich was supporting, in that he gave a $1000 donation, in his personal capacity, to a campaign in support of Proposition 8 (that sought to outlaw gay marriage) in California. He wasn’t alone – Proposition 8 passed, meaning that over 50% of voters voted in favour of it, before it was later overturned by the courts.

All of those people who voted for Prop 8 were – and no doubt, still are – wrong. But of those thousands of people, Eich might be the only one who was hounded out of his job, after his donation came to be public knowledge. The dating website, OKCupid, displayed a banner to Mozilla Firefox users, telling them  to change their browsers because of Eich’s position. This and similar moves (e.g. Rarebit apps, who pulled their apps from Firefox), as well as sustained criticism on social media, led Eich to resign (or so we’re told – he might well have been pushed, judging by the Mozilla chairperson’s statement that “We failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community”).

So, in essence, Eich lost his job for being a Christian (of a certain sort). One of my closest friends would (I think – I haven’t checked this detail) hold the same view regarding gay marriage, and is certainly no homophobe in any other sense. I think he’s wrong about marriage and who it should be reserved for – but I would think it even more wrong if he were not able to hold the view he does, for fear of losing his job.

Yet, of course we should be able to express our dissatisfaction, even sometimes outrage, at the things people do and support. As I said at the top, I don’t know where we draw the line. But Eich operating in his personal capacity is a separate thing to his role at Mozilla, and his personal democratic choices are legitimate ones until the law says they are not. He was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs, which are constitutionally protected.

If you think that’s wrong, you need to campaign against freedom of religion, not against Eich.

(Related – an earlier piece on the Chick-fil-A homophobia.)

  • Misthanrope

    Atheists in general as an often maligned ideological minority, should be especially leery of a climate where speaking out or donating to advance a politically unpopular personal view can be used to attack their personal livelihoods. If the kind of public outing and subsequent intimidation for personal activism like what happened during the prop 8 aftermath is allowed to stand or become the standard practice in this country, then you are all fools if you think those same weapons won’t be turned on you the second you publically agitate, or support a position against the latest politically correct cause de jour, no matter how poorly thought out or poorly supported by evidence the position is.

    Being stupid won’t keep a cause from becoming popular or you from being demonized for opposing it. Tolerating dumb ideas is the price we pay for the freedom to think for ourselves, analyze based on evidence, and accept or reject positions based on our own observations without fear. I see these latest gender/sexuality warriors and casualness with which they seek to personally destroy their ideological opposition as a very dangerous trend, that has become way too common among the modern warriors of alternative sexuality.

    It is a trend away from winning the argument by demonstrating the intellectual and ethical superiority of your position to just shutting up and intimidating the opposition. In doing so you utterly surrender your moral authority, lend sympathy to them and their positions, and become no better than the people you seek to demonize. Leonard H Robbins had it exactly correct. “How a minority, reaching majority, seizing authority, hates a minority!”

  • “…his personal democratic choices are legitimate ones until the law says they are not. He was acting in accordance with his religious beliefs, which are constitutionally protected.”

    Why do you say this? What has anything about Eich’s story to do with laws or the constitution? Either Eich chose to resign because of negative PR, or was fired. Both are private actions made freely by people or entities who have the right to do that. What happened was an expression of freedom, not a curtailment.

    • I said that because we have the option of separating his choices/beliefs from his stewardship of Mozilla. Those beliefs are not necessarily related to the job as CEO, and the beliefs are legitimate ones to hold (in the legal sense).

      And even if we don’t separate the two things (some people are misreading me on this – my piece makes it clear that I have no problem with dissent/protest), my point is that there are various ways of intervening in these debates, where some might be excessive, and amount to hounding someone out of a job.

      “Either Eich chose to resign because of negative PR, or was fired” is a short sentence, but obscures a whole lot of political noise. We have no idea how much pressure he might have been put under to resign. If he was fired, fine – but shouldn’t that be for not doing his job, or for a declining stock price? Yes, it can be for reasons of company moral too, which could be connected to his stance on gay marriage – but then the moral burden and public outcry should be directed more at them for hiring him in the first place.

      There’s a tension between expressing grievances and shouting people down (or, out). As I say twice above, I don’t know how to resolve that tension.

      • We are not necessarily talking about the debates at all. My choice to boycott a company is not discourse. It is action. Discourse is different.

        I do not care about the political noise or pressure he was put under, nor do I see what any of that has to do with law or the constitution. The pressure he faced was from either the consumer public, or from his board within a private company. In no case does any of this involve laws, the state, or the constitution. A board can fire a CEO for any reason or no reason (outside of a handful of proscribed types, none of which are possible here). Maybe they thought his job as CEO eventually would hurt their business either in terms of profitability or in attracting talent.

        There’s a tension between expressing grievances and shouting people down (or, out). As I say twice above, I don’t know how to resolve that tension.

        That’s fair enough, and I struggle with this one as well. But I feel like you are blurring the line between discourse and pragmatic management of a large corporation. Nobody has any right to their CEO job on the basis of their freedom of speech or conscience or religion. Freedom depends more on that not being true because we’re talking about private entities who should have the right to make those choices as they see fit, for whatever legal reasons they see fit.

        Seems like the larger problem here for Eich was not “getting shouted down”, but another company, OK Cupid, using its own power to call out Mozilla. That was probably more devastating than a million tweets and blog posts.

        Now if he wants to, Eich can go form his own company and stock it with like-minded people who will hire and fire based on his own philosophy. They can ignore the OKCupids and raging crowds if they wish, that is the freedom they have that we should wish for them to have.

      • An Ardent Skeptic

        If he was fired due to a private donation and support of Prop 8 that is not fine IMO and, if I understand the law correctly it is illegal to have fired him for that reason.

        Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII)
        This law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The law also makes it illegal to retaliate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

        • Aquaria

          That law in no way protects this guy. Really. The reason he got fired had ZERO to do with HIS race, color, religion, national origin or sex. It had ZERO to do with his being retaliated against for complaints, charges or participation in a employment discrimination lawsuit. It says to REASONABLY accommodate an applicants religious practices, UNLESS DOING SO WOULD IMPOSE AN UNDUE HARDSHIP ON THE OPERATION OF THE EMPLOYER’S BUSINESS.

          Mozilla about to be boycotted into bankruptcy is imposing an undue hardship on the operation of their business, cupcake.

          This guy can have whatever beliefs he wants, but when he’s speaking as Mozilla’s chairman, he isn’t speaking only for himself. He’s speaking for the company, too, and the company can let him go if he makes them look so bad that he threatens their solvency–which he did.

          Do keep up.

    • ThePrussian

      Arghh – I’m afraid I can’t agree. See my recent post on freedom of speech for a full response.

      @JacquesR:disqus, great post.

  • NoCrossNoCrescent

    Here is a counterpoint on this subject:

  • This issue reminds me of the debate in the UK about British National Party (a notoriously vile and racist political party) members being teachers: I realise that this is slightly different if the schools are state-run.

    I don’t like the idea of one’s private political beliefs being a salient factor in dismissing them, and perhaps that’s why I come down on your side of this debate. Of course, if the teachers are discriminating at work or making racist comments towards the kids, then that’s another matter.

    I wouldn’t like it if I held some political view that many disapproved of (I remember sitting on my lunchbreak during retail shifts reading Das Kapital) and got fired for it, even if it is a private company, and so it seems wrong of me to want to hound someone else out of a job if I they hold a view that I find reprehensible.

    • Yep, I wouldn’t like that either. But I can see where people who come down on the other side are coming from – if dissent/protest is allowed (as it must be), and if I’m hypersensitive to criticism, then it’s easy for me to claim that I feel hounded out of a job, even if all I was subjected to were a few polite enquiries about my views.

      The thing I might not be making clear enough in my comments is that I’ve got no issue with people’s *right* to protest against Eich – the salient issue is the choice of when to exercise that right or not. Free speech means that you’re free to speak, not that you’re compelled to.

      • Yes and I see no problem with any individual choosing to boycott Mozilla software or voice their disapproval of Eich’s appointment as CEO.

        It’s more the worry that those with certain political views have to keep them completely secret in order to get/keep a job. I’m not sure that that will really improve anything, and I’d certainly prefer it if everyone could be open and honest about their views without their professional life being threatened.

    • Aquaria

      He’s not being punished for his private political beliefs. His contribution to the Prop 8 campaign is PUBLIC record, that anyone could find. And did. As soon as he was announced as the new CEO, there were protests from the community that knew about his donation.

  • adfs

    I’m an atheist, and I hope he wins a big wrongful termination suit against Mozilla.

    • Aquaria

      He won’t win anything. He caused an undue hardship for the business as in boycotts. It’s not like he was in the job forever and this suddenly popped up. As soon as he was announced as the future CEO, the protests started. The gay movement in California knows the names on the Prop 8 donation lists like the back of their hands.

      A smarter person would have made the contribution through his spouse, mistress or a poor relation–whoever could keep the heat off him and give him plausible deniability. It’s not Mozilla’s fault that he was too stupid to do that.

  • Megan Storm

    There’s a lot of noise lately about how the poor, put upon American
    Taliban is being bullied. Mostly from the American Taliban itself
    (unsurprisingly), but also from wishy washy pseudo-leftists who think tolerance means that all views and actions are equal, and anyway it doesn’t matter so long as everybody is nice and never stands up for themselves.

    I’m sorry, but if you think a boycott – ANY BOYCOTT EVER – is bigotry and bullying, then you have led an extremely sheltered and privileged life, and you have no clue what the intersection between bigotry and bullying actually looks like. There’s no shame in ignorance, so long as we’re willing to learn. So let me teach you.

    When I was in high school, I identified as pagan, and lesbian.

    Halloween 1997, I came home to find one of my 3 cats (the black one) nailed to my door. She was still alive, so I had to administer her final mercy.

    One night I took my girlfriend to see my friends’ band, and dared to kiss her in public. On our way home, we were followed by a pack of frat guys threatening corrective rape. When we finally got home,
    she was shaking like a leaf, so I stood watch with a shotgun all night.
    She went to her mother’s house in the morning, and I never saw her

    These are only 2 incidents from one year of one minority’s life. Take a moment to think about that.

    And now, people who clearly have no clue what they’re talking about are calling me a bully, bigot, and hypocrite because I don’t think boycotts are bullying or bigotry. It’s not unlike the guy who called me a rapist because I like wake up sex (oh yeah, I’m also a survivor of ongoing child rape). Or the guy who said he was abused as a child because his parents taught him “Now I lay me down to sleep.”

    A boycott is not bullying. I can refuse to give you my money because I don’t like your politics, or I can refuse to give you my money because you wear tube socks with Birkenstocks. It’s my money, you do not have a right to it. If you do something that makes so many people want to not give you money that you go out of business, that is not bullying. That’s the natural consequence of your actions.

    You people have no idea how grotesquely insulting this is to people who have actually suffered.

    So, heads up: if you have no fucking clue what the Bad Thing du jour
    actually means, don’t throw the accusation around. You just might be
    talking to somebody who does, and they won’t take it kindly.

    • Megan Storm

      Can everybody PLEASE stop pretending that Eich’s resignation was due to his personal opinions, as opposed to his active support for a blatantly unConstitutional law violating everything from freedom of religion to equal protection, in order to repeal same sex couples’ meager, second class rights? Why the hell am I expected to add to the wealth of someone who I know perfectly well will then use the money I gave him to fight for my oppression? Why not just pass a law mandating taxing black people to fund the KKK? Oh, right… because racism isn’t a socially acceptable bigotry anymore. People at least pretend to disapprove.

      • Aquaria

        Well, you’re not allowed, of course! You’re supposed to let this bigot have all the free speech that he wants, and you should just sit there and bite your tongue if you disagree with him! That’s what Jacques wants you to do–SHUT UP. Just SHUT UP. Let the rich white straight guy do all the talking, and all will be well.

        • You mean the Jacques who says, in the post that you are implicitly suggesting you’ve read, “Yet, of course we should be able to express our dissatisfaction, even sometimes outrage, at the things people do and support”?

  • Gus

    you atheit will be judged and go to hell.

    • Aquaria

      I’d rather go to hell than be in your hateful torture chamber, kissing the asses of your genocidal sadist bully in the sky and his emo punk brat forever. And worse, to have to do it with the likes of you?

      I can’t imagine a more disgusting, horrifying torture.

    • Tony Thompson

      Atheists don’t believe in hell, so you’re going to have to do better than that if you’re going to threaten us.
      Also, you haven’t proven your god exists. Nor have you proven your god created the universe. Nor have you proven your god created the earth. Nor have you proven your god created humanity. Nor have you proven that your god wants or needs us to worship him.
      Even if you could prove all of the above, that’s still not going to be enough to compel anyone to worship the vile, sadistic, genocidal deity of the bible. All that would happen would be for atheists to acknowledge “Hey this god exists. He’s still an obnoxious, murderous butcher and we’re not going to worship him, but he exists”.
      I do hope you theists will get around to trying to prove your god exists someday. Humanity has been waiting thousands of years for this and ya’ll still haven’t done it. There hasn’t been any proof of the Greco-Roman gods, the Norse gods, the Japanese gods, the Incan gods, the Mesopotamian gods, the Egyptian gods, the gods of the Native Americans, and more. There are thousands upon thousands of gods that humanity has worshiped-fervently…believing with every fiber of their being that these deities existed. Curiously not a single one has been proven to exist. Yours is no different.

      • Gus M.

        Bah! You + God= folly…….fore you….

        Do. Not. Know. Him.

  • f_galton

    I’m an atheist who opposes gay marriage.

    • Aquaria

      Yeah. Sure you are, Gus.

  • T33

    While I support gay rights (including gay marriage), I also support the constitutional foundation upon which those rights are based. To try to achieve one, without respecting the other, undercuts both.

    America is based upon the principle that an individual has a right to their own personal opinion in their private time, and political speech is sacrosanct – without fear of persecution or being forced from one’s job, whether that job is CEO or street sweeper. It’s not like he did or said anything discriminatory on company time. The man simply supported a mainstream political position (regardless of how much you may disagree with it) that was on a political ballot, in his private time, with his own money, which over 50% of voters also supported. He violated no laws. If he can lose his entire career over it (which is essentially a form of property confiscation) and be lynched in the media (which is essentially the modern day version of the town hall or town center) then there really is no free speech at all – which like all constitutional and civil rights must “walk with” the person throughout ALL spheres of society, otherwise it would have no value.

    Freedom of speech does not mean that as long as you still have some narrow set of public rights (the right to protest the government) that you can be arbitrarily ostracized from any/every other sphere of society. This is what the concept of free speech was designed to protect against – persecution for unpopular or controversial beliefs.

    The free market didn’t work here. Leftwing PC bullies (in the media and otherwise) organized their typical purging of anyone who won’t think exactly like they do. And before you say a private company can do whatever it wants – if the company wanted to keep him, the left (who hate private companies anyway) would be first in line to try to bully that same company to get rid of him – so lets not be hypocritical. This is about socialism, not free markets.

    Neither private nor public sphere can be allowed to exclude/purge someone for the exercise of their legal rights in their private time. This man’s civil rights were violated, and all Americans (including gays) should be worried about such a precedent.

    • Aquaria

      Freedom of speech means that if you exercise your free speech rights by making a contribution to a hate group that goes on the PUBLIC RECORD, then people get to use THEIR freedom of speech to say that they won’t do business with you.

      Welcome to reality.

  • Aquaria

    Are you stupid?

    Yes, it was such a horrible violation of a bus company’s rights when those Negroes boycotted the buses in Montgomery back in 1954. Rosa Parks was a terrorist for refusing to give up her seat to a real American. How dare she demand equal treatment under the law!

    That’s exactly how you sound right now.

    YOU are the ones trying to silence the vast majority of Americans. Not the left, nitwit. You know why? Sure, this dimwit had the right to say what he wanted. But everyone else also had the right to say what they thought of it. More people thought this guy was a scumbag than didn’t, until nobody wanted to associate with him. Sucks to be him.

    That’s how free speech works, cupcake. If you don’t like it, die in a fire already.

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  • An Ardent Skeptic