Political correctness and repressive tolerance 2


I once wrote a post in defense of political correctness.  In it I argued that the phrase “political correctness” was used by people who wanted to immunize themselves from criticism for saying things that were insulting, vulgar and bigoted.   I am politically correct in that sense.  I believe in treating people with courtesy and respect, and part of that is avoiding language they consider insulting

I think there are certain opinions of which I have a moral obligation not to allow to go uncontradicted.

I think there is such a thing as “murder language” — epithets used by Cossacks conducting pogroms against Jews, by lynch mobs stringing up black people, by homophobes who beat gay people to death — and I don’t think such language is socially acceptable

But these considerations don’t apply in the resignation of Brendan Eich, the Mozilla CEO who was unmasked as having contributed to supporters of Proposition 8, the California referendum against gay marriage, and who refused to back down from his belief that marriage is only between men and women. 

I haven’t heard any allegation that he was unfair to gay employees of Mozilla.  In fact, nobody would have known about his opinions if somebody hadn’t taken the trouble to dig it out.

I am a paleo-liberal, who came of age during the Joe McCarthy period, and I see a parallel between what happened to Brenden Eich and the blacklisting of the great Hollywood scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo for his support of Communist causes.  

Of course Eich is in a better position to retire on his millions than Trumbo had of earning a living when he was banned from working in Hollywood.  On the other hand I think Trumbo’s illusions about the Soviet Union were a much more serious mistake (to put it mildly) than Eich’s failure to keep up with received opinion about gay rights.

One thing they have in common is that they are being punished not just for their past political record, but for refusing to back down from their convictions.   Both Eich and Trumbo could have saved their careers if they had recanted, even if nobody believed their recantation was sincere.

Proposition 8 was supported by a majority of Californians.  That is a lot of people to declare ineligible for executive positions in high tech companies in Silicon Valley. 

At the time Proposition 8 was on the ballot, Barack Obama declared his belief that marriage was only between a man and a woman.  I don’t recall anybody who thought this made him ineligible for public office. 

It is odd what people will support and not support.   Eich lost his position because of spontaneous and sincere indignation over his politics combined with a refusal of his peers to support him.   I am not aware of any similar wave of indignation against Silicon Valley executives accused of conspiring to hold their employees’ wages down.   Okay, maybe that is due to presumption of innocence.  I bet that when and if they lose their lawsuit, they still won’t be targets of indignation.

As far as that goes, where is the indignation over exploitation of Asian sweatshop labor by Silicon Valley companies?  Or their complicity in NSA surveillance or killer drone technology?

I’m usually not one to criticize people who fight lesser evils because of the existence of greater evils.  But in this case, I think it really is a case of straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.


Here is my post on political correctness in the good sense.


Here is background information on Brendan Eich and Proposition 8.



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8 Responses to “Political correctness and repressive tolerance 2”

  1. whungerford Says:

    The term “politically correct” itself is offensive: it suggest that there is no real basis for offense in what some find offensive. What is offensive should be determined by those who are offended, not by those giving offense. Norms vary from place to place and time to time. You might be able to say something at a Republican convention that would be unwise to say at a Democratic convention just as you might say something in Texas that you wouldn’t say in CA.


    • philebersole Says:

      I agree there is a right, and even a duty, to take offense at what is offensive. My problem is the combination of what I call political correctness with what I call repressive tolerance — the attempt to impose uniformity of opinion in the name of freedom, tolerance and diversity.


  2. The Grey Enigma Says:

    Reblogged this on The Grey Enigma.


  3. Gunny G Says:

    Reblogged this on CLINGERS… BLOGGING BAD ~ DICK.G: AMERICAN !.


  4. thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

    I don’t know how his donation was released to the public. I don’t know if it applies to individuals but campaigns are required to keep a list of those who donate to their cause; perhaps he was outed by someone who obtained the list.

    Actions have consequences, as Mr. Eich found out. When you are in a public position such as he was, even your personal actions should be very circumspect. There’s a reason that the nobility of old required that their people stay out of the public spotlight…the reaction of the peasants would not be pleasant to endure. He as a private individual has every right to donate to whatever campaign he wants. However, as a very public individual leading a worldwide company, he should have known that his actions would be reviewed and commented on. Those who hounded him out of his job have just as much right to do what they did as he. As I say, actions have consequences.

    The internet has done amazing things for getting access to information, both in a good and a bad way. Good because people can find information that can save their lives or prevent evil from happening in their own neighborhoods; bad because there is so much random noise out there to sift through.

    I don’t think Mr. Eich will suffer much for the loss of his job. Besides, He and another of his employees were doing presentations on software that GIVES a back door to the NSA as though it were superior encryption technology and recommending it for use. I wouldn’t cry too much for him. The Universe tends to reward behavior in the manner and time it chooses. Just because a proximate cause can be found doesn’t mean it’s the ultimate cause.


    • philebersole Says:

      How far would you be willing to take the principle that “actions have consequences”?

      Would a coal company have a right to fire an employee for donating to the Obama campaign? Would a Boston bank’s directors have the right to fire an employee for campaigning for Elizabeth Warren for Senate?

      My question is not whether they would have a legal right to take these actions. Nor is it whether this is an exact parallel with the Brendan Eich case. My question is whether you would find it acceptable for someone to lose their job for exercising their right to contribute to a political campaign.


      • thetinfoilhatsociety Says:

        This not only isn’t an exact parallel, it’s nowhere in the same solar system of parallels.

        Employee versus employer has nothing to do with CEO versus customer base. Not the same at all. And he didn’t lose his job, he resigned.

        If you can come up with a parallel that can be actually compared then I can comment. These are not.


      • philebersole Says:

        Fair enough.

        How about a boycott in a small Mississippi town aimed at closing down a business because the owner contributed to an abortion rights candidate?


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