Intolerance intolerance

Intolerance intolerance

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In 2008, two men campaigned against gay marriage. One wound up a social pariah. The other was elected president of the United States.

One of the great moral disgraces of Barack Obama, and indeed, one of the more revealing episodes of the man’s ugly cynicism as a politician, is the fact that he quietly reinvented himself as an anti-same sex marriage candidate for the purposes of his first presidential run. At the time, around 56% of Americans were polling against the idea, so Obama was against it too, despite having previously endorsed it during his time as a state legislator.

Obama won the presidency, but who knows if the flip-flop made a difference. In any case, now that more than 50% of Americans support gay marriage, he’s gone back to being cool with it. So win-win, I guess.

Anyway, that same federal election that put Obama in the White House — the anti-gay marriage Obama, not the new pro-gay marriage Obama that was actually the old pro-gay marriage Obama — also saw three states put same-sex marriage to statewide referendum, as had become common practice in the first decade of the 21st century. All three of them passed, including one in California, the now-infamous “Proposition 8,” which has since been overturned by the United States Supreme Court.

Prop 8 passed narrowly, with only 52% support. Campaign spending was equally tight, with the pro-SSM forces blowing through some $44 million to the anti side’s 39. Both campaigns were able to raise such enormous budgets through aggressive fundraising appeals targeting both big business and individuals alike. One of those individuals was Brendan Eich.

It’s still not entirely known why Mr. Eich decided to donate $1,000 of his own money to the anti-gay marriage campaign. A tech celebrity best known for inventing JavaScript in the mid-1990s, social conservative activism was hardly one of his known passions, and his stance certainly ran counter to the prevailing attitude of his own subculture. A pro-SSM post-mortem on the Prop 8 defeat even credited much of the pro side’s effectiveness at fundraising to the leadership role played by “former and current experts from Google, Facebook, and Yahoo.” Discussing the donation on his blog some years later, Eich made only the cryptic statement that “the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity” towards gays, and fended off accusations of homophobia by challenging anyone to “to cite an incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.” But he made the donation none the less.

Under the terms of a 1974 California sunshine law, the state is obligated to publicly release the name, address, and employer of anyone who donates more than $100 to a political campaign. This is a delight for journalists, as you might imagine, and the LA Times quickly drew up a searchable database exposing donors on both sides. It wasn’t until 2012, however that someone apparently got the idea to look up “Brendan Eich,” and there he was. Twitter got word, and the man was forever tainted in the eyes of the progressive left.

On March 24 of this year, Eich was appointed CEO of Mozilla, a company he helped found in 1998, and had worked at ever since. His first blog post in the new job was a robustly progressive promise — stated in all the right language and lingo — to respect the needs of “LGBT communities and allies” and generally foster a company that “includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.” He also offered an atonement of “sorrow at having caused pain” in the past.

But it was not good enough. The 2012 firestorm that greeted the revelation of his Prop 8 donation was rekindled by Eich’s name returning to the headlines, and after an organized backlash — most notably a high-profile boycott from that made the popular dating site inaccessible with Mozilla’s Firefox browser — Eich agreed to resign on April 3, after less than two weeks on the job.

In their official statement on the matter, the Mozilla board apologized that hiring Eich “didn’t live up” to their corporate values. In all, they’ve now released six different press releases on the CEO affair in some form or another, all of which apologize, atone, “clarify,” grovel, or otherwise nervously beg for a second chance in the face of a hostile mob.

I would hope most sensible people would regard all this as a fairly deranged state of affairs.

Most have used Eich’s resignation as an opportunity to discuss whether the gay rights crowed has evolved from tragic victim to aggressive bully, but I’m really more interested in the sheer arbitrariness of this crusade.

The social justice crowd — those members of the progressive left for whom no crime is greater than one that reeks of discrimination or intolerance for the historically marginalized (particularly racial and sexual minorities)  — is becoming a seek-and-destroy missile without any sense of priority or perspective. Its leaders simply seize upon a random target with some tangential link to an offensive act — usually an extraordinarily mild one, often committed years ago  — and demand they pay the ultimate price for the sin. We see this all the time now, from Paula Dean to Duck Dynasty to Alec Baldwin to #cancelcolbert to Chick-fil-A; niche-appeal celebrities and middle class chain stores getting called out and publicly shamed for some cringe-worthy turn of phrase or act, followed by an uncompromising demand for a total boycott or firing.

The targets in question are usually harmless, and certainly not involved in any ongoing act of oppression against the minority group they’re accused of hating. Indeed, in many cases it seems social justice crusaders get most riled up about figures who actually have otherwise strong progressive bona fides; the goal is to merely discover a single deviation from politically correct orthodoxy, and use that as the pretext for the most sweepingly judgemental conclusion about the target’s entire moral worth.

At some point, however, this haphazard approach simply becomes too hypocritical and preposterous to sustain. Why are we boycotting Alec Baldwin but not the entire state of Mississippi? Why Russian vodka and not Nigerian oil? Why Eich and not Obama?

When discipline for what George Orwell famously dubbed “crimethink” — acts and opinions which are taken to be self-evidently evil —becomes so unpredictably enforced, with no regard to the power or influence of the crimethinker, or the larger context in which his misdeeds were committed (such as, say, opposing gay marriage at a time when most Americans did) the end result is a social justice movement that cannot be taken seriously because it refuses to take its own mission so. It becomes less a journey to right the world’s substantial wrongs, and more a safe quest for quick, symbolic victories over soft opponents — most of whom will never fight back.

America’s social justice movement has risen from humble beginnings to become increasingly large and powerful. They’ve proven their ability to gleefully squash the small bugs. How about picking on someone their own size?


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