A case study in ‘political correctness’


Source: XKCD (Randall Munroe)

One good example of political correctness in action is how the right to gay marriage in the United States has become an unquestioned orthodoxy.

I have no quarrel with the right gay marriage.  It makes our nation more inclusive.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.   I’m glad that gays are no longer a persecuted minority, essentially outside the protection of the law.

I do have a problem with unquestioned orthodoxies that shut down debate.  A case in point was the firing of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla Firefox last year.

Eich was a co-founder of the company and the inventor of the JavaScript programming language.  By all accounts, treated employees, including gay employees, decently.

But somebody dug up the fact that, in 2008, he had contributed $1,000 to Proposition 8, the California referendum to ban gay marriage.  A few days after being named CEO, he was ousted.

Now he’s a rich and talented person who should be able to do all right for himself, so I don’t think this is the worst thing that ever happened to anyone.   As Kathleen Geier pointed out, people in more precarious positions than Eich are fired every day for much more arbitrary reasons, including wearing a necktie the employer didn’t like.

My interest in the case is in the arguments given to justify his firing.  His views were offensive to most people in Silicon Valley.  Does that mean it would be okay for a company headquartered in, say, Utah to fire a CEO for supporting gay marriage?

Gay employees would feel uncomfortable working for a CEO who opposed their right to marry.  This is the flip side of the argument most commonly used against gay rights.

The right of openly gay people to serve in the U.S. military was opposed on the grounds that straight troops would feel uncomfortable.  And this, arguably, would be a more important consideration on the battlefield than in an office in California.

In an earlier era, this was a common argument against hiring African-Americans.   Business owners told me that they had no objection to hiring qualified black people, but their customers wouldn’t feel comfortable with it.

Brendan Eich has a right to express his opinion, but he does not have a right to be free from the consequences of expressing his opinion.   Would you apply this reasoning to, say, Hollywood screenwriters who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era?

cakvin&hobbesRight-wing libertarians say that only government can be an oppressor.  In their view, whatever is done by private individuals or corporations is just part of the rough-and-tumble of a free society.

When I was a newspaper reporter, writing about business, I found many more people who were afraid to say anything that would offend an employer, or even a potential employer, than were afraid of the government.  There is such a thing as a tyranny of the majority, and also such a thing as the tyranny of a militant minority.

Discriminating against gays is a violation of their rights because being gay is not a choice.  Discriminating against people on the basis of their opinions is not a violation of their rights because this is a choice.

who-rules-voltaireIs this really true?  I don’t know Brendan Eich’s religion, if any, but suppose for the sake of argument that he is an evangelical Christian or simply someone who thinks there is something sacred in the union of a man and a woman to create and nurture a child.

I don’t think that fundamental beliefs are a matter of choice.  There is a choice as to whether you act on these beliefs.   People don’t change their beliefs as a result of being punished for them.

And people do change their beliefs when they feel compelled to do so, based on fact, reasoning and life experience, as I have done on the subject of gay marriage.

The rapidity of change in the status of gays in the United States is astonishing.  I think there are two reasons for this.  Gay organizations are willing to play hard-ball in politics to a degree that labor unions and other civil rights organizations have not—for example, by withholding support from Democratic candidates until President Obama came around.

But the other, and more significant, reason is the corporations have been so quick to embrace gay rights is that, unlike with women and African-Americans, gay rights do not involve any change in the structure of wealth and power.

I think one reason for the success of what’s called “political correctness” in general is that the political and economic elite regard it as harmless.


Does Political Correctness Work? by Ross Douthat for The New York Times.

If Brendan Eich Isn’t Safe … by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Mozilla’s Gay Marriage Litmus Test Violates Liberal Values by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic Monthly.

Outfoxed: How protests forced Mozilla’s CEO to resign in 11 days by Casey Newton for The Verge.

How Mozilla Lost Its C.E.O by James Surowiecki for The New Yorker.

Brendan Eich has the right to fight gay rights, but not to be Mozilla’s CEO by Mary Hamilton for The Guardian.

Mozilla’s Brendan Eich: Persecutor or Persecuted? by Susan Adams for Forbes.

The Rise of the Same Sex Marriage Dissidents by Mollie Hemingway for The Federalist.

Rooting Out Brendan Eichs at JP Morgan Chase by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Snowflake Campus Banishes Crimethink Prof by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.


What Workplace Intolerance Really Looks Like by Kathleen Geier for The Baffler.  Lots worse things happen to employees every day than what happened to Brendan Eich.

Let It Bleed: Libertarianism and the Workplace by Chris Bertram, Corey Robin and Alex Gourevich for Crooked Timber.  More about lack of freedom in the workplace.

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5 Responses to “A case study in ‘political correctness’”

  1. prayerwarriorpsychicnot Says:

    Perhaps before I state an opinion on “gay marriage” I should first make clear my position on gays. As a low status woman it is plain to me that much of the evil of society is due to there being too great a demand for sex – and most men are heterosexual . In common with most women I do not feel threatened by gay men. It is heterosexual men who represent the danger. Therefore as far as I am concerned the more gay men the better – it makes the world safer for women. Again because heterosexual men are a danger to women, gay women are often safer from the risks of male attack due to avoiding men. I also support gay women as it is a safer lifestyle. Going back to men, there are a lot of horrible men out there – if I could wave a magic wand and turn them all exclusively homosexual, I would. However I totally disagree with “gay marriage”. I have no objection to civil contracts which amount to the same thing – although I think there are many good reasons why heterosexual couples might wish to avoid marriage – it is one of the worst legal contracts ever devised. I think civil contracts should also be available to heterosexual couples. I disagree with gay marriage for one reason only – it establishes a precedent for government to alter the meaning of words. Why the government should want to do this is suspect. And I totally disagree with anyone being sacked for having an opinion unless that opinion is of a criminal nature.


  2. Barry Says:

    “One good example of political correctness in action is how the right to gay marriage in the United States has become an unquestioned orthodoxy.”

    Since this statement is simply not true, I wonder what your argument is?


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