Illegal speech?

XKCD has an interesting comic strip, about how it’s technically not a “1st Amendment” issue for people to shun you because you hold a different opinion. I presume this is a passive reference to the Eich debacle, in which a few loudmouths aggressively shunned some dude for something he did in the 90s and pressured him to quit his job. (And then a lot of people switched browsers, shunning Mozilla in return, but that didn’t get a lot of press time.)

As a matter of theoretical principle, I agree with this statement: also protected under the 1st Amendment is the freedom of association, which implies the freedom to shun someone, to hound them from your community, to do your level best to cast them out of your society so that they die, or not, far away from you and you don’t have to care one way or another.

That’s not very tolerant, though, now is it?

Here’s the thing: yes, speech has consequences. But there are certain people who have been using the power of government, and the abrogation of the freedom of association, to FORCE one side of a disagreement into the (metaphorical, in the First World) howling wilderness outside of the bounds of civilized human society. When one side holds the power of shunning, and then uses “tolerance” and “non-discrimination” and “freedom” to tell their ideological opponents that they don’t have the power of shunning… and then back that up with the power of government…

Yeah, we have a “free speech” problem. And a 1st Amendment problem, although that particular problem isn’t so much “free speech” as “free association.” If it were perfectly okay, in XKCD’s opinion, for small rural towns to shun and marginalize gays, deny them employment if they come out of the closet, refuse to associate with them, etc., then I would say, sure. Running people out of their jobs based on their private and/or political opinions is fine. Either tolerance is a virtue expected of everyone, or tribalism is a human trait acceptable for BOTH sides to use.

A fair and equal application of the principle of shunning would also lead to Balkinization and conflict as people become ever more polarized, segregated, and tribal; but hey, my side has lots of guns and ammo, so you know, I’m not really all that concerned. There are a lot of us, and we really did want to show tolerance to other opinions, but when the other opinion starts using shunning and ruination as social modes of pressure – after condemning shunning and social pressure as EVIL! – I think there’s a damn good chance that minority opinions are gonna be hogtied and tossed back into a closet. We’ll be lucky, in fact, if patches of totalitarian thought-control only toss people into closets.

Here’s the thing, though: closets really are “bad” places to be. I absolutely do believe that having to hide and pretend to be something you’re not in order to put food on your table, because otherwise (at best) everyone will ignore your existence and refuse to hire you – that’s terrible. Sarah Hoyt has written about how soul-destroying it was for her to have to be closeted while she was trying to make it in the publishing world, where one wrong opinion could have seen her blacklisted, unable to pursue her passions. (Thank goodness for indie – no writer who burns with the passion to write will ever have to face that decision again. The closet’s not so much “unlocked” as “blown to smithereens”!)

So I do believe in toleration for tiny minorities of Different People. But not, necessarily, affirmation. Hounding a person out of employment, if they live quietly and donate time or money to legitimate political processes, is repugnant to me. But the flip side has to be upheld: if hounding someone out for being a gay marriage supporter would be wrong, then so is hounding someone out for being a traditional marriage supporter. You can’t have your cake and eat it too – either toleration goes both ways, or we throw it out and admit that intolerance is an acceptable value for civil society.

Toleration would mean that Mozilla stood up for Eich the same way it would stand up for a gay employee, since his politics (from years ago, mind!) didn’t interfere with his work any more than a homosexual’s sexual orientation matters to how well his code compiles. The activists who whined about how they felt uncomfortable once Eich’s politics were hunted down and sniffed out (paparazzi/stalking, much?) certainly wouldn’t uphold the right of a company to allow a gay employee to “willingly resign under pressure” if his straight coworkers stalked his Facebook page, found out he was gay by digging for dirt (instead of from him being a disruptive element at the office), and then complained that working with a gay dude was a “hostile environment.” The very idea is laughable. Now if Eich had been known for actually discriminating against employees (or a gay employee were to sexually harass his coworkers), then a case could be easily made for pressuring that person to resign.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Either uphold toleration for all, or accept that others can shun YOU, and no “special victim” card should apply.

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About pancakeloach

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