Friday, April 4, 2014

Tolerance Means Tolerance

Andrew Sullivan, who has probably done more than any other person in the world to make gay marriage a reality, is aghast at the firing of Mozilla CEO for donating to the anti-gay marriage cause back in 2008 and then refusing to apologize for having his own opinions:
He did not understand that in order to be a CEO of a company, you have to renounce your heresy! There is only one permissible opinion at Mozilla, and all dissidents must be purged! Yep, that’s left-liberal tolerance in a nut-shell. No, he wasn’t a victim of government censorship or intimidation. He was a victim of the free market in which people can choose to express their opinions by boycotts, free speech and the like. He still has his full First Amendment rights. But what we’re talking about is the obvious and ugly intolerance of parts of the gay movement, who have reacted to years of being subjected to social obloquy by returning the favor. . . .

This is a repugnantly illiberal sentiment. It is also unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement. You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists? You’ve just found a great way to do this. It’s a bad, self-inflicted blow. And all of us will come to regret it.
Conor Friedersdorf takes a close look at the bizarre statement Mozilla issued trying to explain all of this:
"Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness," the statement goes on. "We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all." But the company is plainly taking the position that it won't employ, in leadership positions, anyone who publicly holds orthodox Christian or Muslim views on gay marriage.

Agree or disagree, they aren't being welcoming of "everyone." They should have the courage to say so.

The statement continues, "our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public." But this forced resignation sends exactly the opposite message: that if you want to get ahead at Mozilla, you best say nothing about any controversial political issue, which could affect your career, whether now or years from now in a changed political environment.
Persecution is persecution, whatever the excuse. And tolerance means tolerance for everyone who is not assaulting you, not just people who agree with you.


Thomas said...

Well, first of all, there have been loads of activists pushing for gay marriage back when Sullivan thought it was a stupid thing to push for. Nobody has done more? He actively pushed against it for most of the 90s. He is a straggler, so it is not a coincidence that when he finally came around, the rest of the country was, too, but that's correlation, not causation.

Second, Mozilla is not a company, it is a foundation. It leads an open source community of people who volunteer their time and code to improve the project. I myself have contributed to the Mozilla project by triaging bugs. People *donate* to it.

I am still on the fence about this case. He's a small fish, and it does feel like people are punishing someone just because they can.

I believe in free speech, but I don't think that means that speech does not have consequences. Freedom of speech is about the government, not about repercussions in general.

If this guy had contributed to the KKK, would Sullivan be defending him? Is it precisely because his views were very common at the time that people are not free to hold him to account?

I don't think people should have organized against him, but I don't think there was anything specifically illiberal about the organization. Tolerance can't tolerate intolerance, and trying to play that game: "See, you are intolerant too, because you won't let me discriminate!" is an old tired game.

John said...

As a matter of strategy, this is a horrible mistake. Gay marriage is winning as the cause of "let's all get along together." If it becomes intolerant it will generate a huge backlash. This might well happen first on the Supreme Court, which has to rule soon on all these "religious rights" cases, and where the firing of gay marriage opponents may well be a telling argument.

At a deeper level, I think "See, you are intolerant, too" is a very powerful argument. Constantly monitoring yourself to see when you have violated your own principles is the essence of morality. It seems to me that Mozilla has effectively hung out a sign that says, "No Catholics, no Orthodox, no Baptists, no Mormons, no Muslims." How is that liberal? How can anyone be liberal, or tolerant, while refusing to tolerate views held by 40% of Americans, that are also the official teachings of churches with billions of members?

If people can't work side by side with those they disagree with, how liberal are they? I am sure that my office is full of people who oppose gay marriage, and hold other beliefs that I think are much worse -- support for torture, for example. Should I quit, or demand that they all be fired? An open society demands respect for nonconformity.

when forced to think hard about these matters I remember the Dalai Lama, who is always willing to talk to Chinese communists. "Dialogue is always good," he says. "Compassion is always the answer."

This may be an inadequate teaching for a world in which people are trying to kill each other, but I find it a useful moral touchstone. Since, as I said, I think this firing is also a political error, that leaves me in firm opposition.

Thomas said...

Being a powerful argument and being a logical argument are quite different. Much of what works as argument is not based in logic.

I just don't find intolerance of intolerance that contradictory. It's like pointing to the warlike nature of Hitler's opponents as a moral failing.

I believe you are correct that it is bad tactics. I also think it is uncharitable. I find value in forgiveness, both tactical and moral.

I imagine: What if this man had gone out and made speeches spreading ugly disinformation about gays? Because that is what his money was doing.

Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas said...

I'm going to back away from one thing. I conflated Andrew Sullivan with some other gay writer from the late 80s or 90s. I recall someone writing in the New Republic a piece from the gay perspective arguing there was no need for gay marriage. He didn't want it, and it was counter-productive. Given Sullivan's editorship of that magazine, and his tendency towards irritating contrariness, I remembered it as being him, but after some research, it seems like I was mistaken.

I still find hate the way that Sullivan embraces maximalist language. Liberals against the Iraq War were not just misguided, but enemies of the state. (Yeah, he said "fifth column," but that's just fancy words for "enemies of the state.")

He's part of what some bloggers jokingly call "hippy punchers." He needs to validate himself as a reasonable person by punching a hippy now and then. It's a tiresome approach. He could, instead, express understanding that there is a continuum. If the CEO had given $1,000,000, what would he say? If the CEO had given speeches of a repugnant nature against homosexuality?

Indeed, given that Sullivan is against ENDA, the only answer in his world to companies and individuals that argue for discrimination is to discriminate back as customers. But his language is all attack, not one ounce of understanding. It's tiring.

John said...

I probably exaggerated Sullivan's importance by way of giving gravitas to his abhorrence of the Mozilla case. But he has been working for gay marriage for 20 years.

Reading some more about this issue I stumbled across a case unfolding in Portland, where some "liberals" are organizing a boycott of a new natural food shop owned by a gay marriage opponent. The same language shows up: "They’re choosing to open a business in a very open-minded neighborhood. . . . I think their personal views are going to hurt."

Open minded?

Fortunately, some of the neighbors understand the problem. One made this comment:

"I’m wondering, Robert, if you’ve researched any of the other businesses nearby. Who are their owners? What are their religious beliefs? Do they give money to a political party? Etc? What about your dentist, your doctor, your wine vendors? It’s a bad way to live."

Is it ever. More here: