Tuesday, 8 April 2014

In the Interest of Creating a Free and Open Dialogue...

....sit silently and watch this film.  

One of my favourite tart quotes from The Simpsons, now nearly 20 years ago (I think).

Apparently, back in the US, there is a mini-tempest swirling around the forced, auto-da-fe of (now ex) Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.  Eich, one of the creators of the web browser "Firefox" and multi-platform language Java, got into some hot water, retroactively, when it was "discovered" that he gave $1000 to the campaign in favour of California ballot proposition Eight.  The initiative, which infamously banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State, passed by a comfortable margin in 2008.  It was, of course, subsequently struck down as unconstitutional.

Now, I personally found the proposition wrong-headed and mean-spirited, and said as much at the time.  Furthermore, I find the opposition to equal rights for gay people at the least bizarre, and have said so as well.  

In fact, I find it more than bizarre; I find the fervent opposition to be wrong headed and cruel.
But on this issue (gay marriage), I think that largely, the conservatives are about as wrong as they possibly could be...
Frankly, the only real reason I see for anti-gay marriage ads is meanness. I do not know a lot of gay people, but I do know more than one. Some are nice people. Some are obnoxious. I do not see why the government should deny them the basic right to enter into contracts with one another, and to treat those contracts with the same respect as any other.
So this year, at Christmas time, in the time of miracles and of the forgiveness of man (the reason Christ came into the world), instead of puffing ourselves up "defending" marriage and righteousness, let's take a look at how we are living up to one of the few things that He asked when He came to the world.
How are we treating our fellow man?
The answer to that question is far more relevant in my view than any propositions we sign or lawmakers we call to defend marriage against a threat that just does not exist.
For what it's worth, in 2000, when the Knight Initiative (Proposition 22), which also sought to restrict marriage rights, I voted "No," and had a "No on 22" sign in my yard in San Jose.  (In those days, I was still living in California).

This is not to say that I think that people whose opinions that differ from mine are bad people, or that they necessarily are bigots.  I think they're wrong, and I think that, over time, most will come to see that.

Which brings us to Eich.

Once it was discovered that Eich had contributed to the Proposition 8 campaign, the ruction became sufficiently timourous that he was more or less forced to resign.  

Is this really where we want to go as a culture?  

William F. Buckley once quipped in response to the famous remark attributed to Voltaire (wrongly), that one may oppose another's viewpoint, but would be willing to fight to the death to protect one's right to say it, that "liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views."

The whole sad story is not making much news here in Europe, but it's all over various social media to which I subscribe, and apparently, the crime of Mr Eich is not so much that he gave the money, six years ago, but rather, that when he was given the chance to confirm that he had changed his views, he refused to do so.

See the difference?  He is unsuited to be the CEO not so much because of his donation six years ago (after all, if we look back and hold people accountable to their prior stated preferences, that is going to rule out most of the Democratic party, as even President Obama opposed gay marriage as a candidate then, and the Clinton administration has one of the worst records in recent history on laws passed with respect to gay rights), but because he thinks differently from the mob.  

Had Eich offered a sufficiently circumspect mea culpa, perhaps his job might have been saved.

This is wrong, in my opinion, no matter how one looks at the issue.  What it says is, "if you do not agree with the majority view, you will be purged."  I think that progressive columnist Andrew Sullivan puts it quite succinctly, when he states
Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me - as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today - hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else - then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.
A New York Times editorial questioned whether this action represented "militant tolerance" (sic). 

Sullivan is right, IMHO, and the answer to the Times' question is "yes."

I understand, of course, that Mozilla is a private company.  It exists in a quasi-capitalist economy, and as such, must respond to the demands of its consumers.  It is not a First Amendment or even a  free speech issue as some have framed it.  If Mozlla think that having a chief executive who offends its customers is bad for business, then he should go.

But I would ask those consumers if, indeed, this is the direction we want to go?  Do we want people to feel constrained from expressing their opinions or participating in political action because they might be outed and fired?  Their careers destroyed?  If so, what happens when it's your opinion that is in the minority, or your voice that is unpopular.

The Dixie Chicks, anyone, or has that gone down the memory hole?

The principle of tolerated free speech exists precisely because of unpopular views.  After all, it's damned easy to "defend" views that are popular, or in agreement with our own.

Saying that we like bunnies and chocolate ice cream sundaes is not freedom in any real way.  Sorry.

There is a quote circling the internet attributed to, of all people, Keith Richards.  Richards is not a brilliant man, and I cannot actually verify that he said or wrote it, but it captures my views.

"We don't kick people out of the band because of their politics.  We're not the f***ing Politburo."

Gimme shelter, indeed.

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