Jackson Doughart
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Sore Winners

Prince Arthur Herald, 07 April 2014

Two recent public houndings by the political left, those of Brendan Eich and Brandon Ambrosino, suggest a disturbing future ahead for those who do not subscribe to progressivism. Both of these men have been publicly criticized, and one has lost his job, for their views against homosexual marriage. Despite being a political opinion that was held by the present Democratic president throughout most of his first term, this persuasion has become anathema. And judging from the public nonchalance that has met these episodes of bullying, we can expect that more of them will follow, and that the commitment to respecting individual views and expressions may continue to erode.

To review: Eich was forced out as CEO of Mozilla, the tech company that developed the Firefox internet browser, for having donated on his own private behalf $1000 to Proposition 8, the successful ballot initiative in California that affirmed marriage as exclusively heterosexual, later to be thrown out as unconstitutional. His firing followed a campaign by the website OK-Cupid encouraging users to boycott Firefox on the ground that its executive was an anti-gay bigot. Ambrosino, meanwhile, is a homosexual man who writes for Ezra Klein’s new website Vox. He opposes homosexual marriage, has written approvingly of Liberty University (a Christian institution founded by Jerry Falwell), and believes that not everyone who disagrees with the gay movement, including same-sex marriage, is a bigot.

The critical piece of this proverbial puzzle is the nature of the censorship involved. These men are not being muzzled by a state thought police or being carted out of a university for violating a speech code. Yet the message being sent could not be less ambiguous: ambitious people who want to participate in a successful and elite manner in American society must hide their political views, should those views disagree with those people who hold most of the political and cultural power. So the source of their censoring is much less legal but far more impactful: it is the culture, and particularly the cultural attitude toward public discourse and civilized behaviour, that has failed these two men and by extension, failed everyone.

Norms and conventions in a geographically large, well-populated, and impersonal society—i.e. the “hidden laws” that govern interpersonal relations in a far more real way than de jure statutes, court orders, and executive decrees—atrophy if they are not visibly and consistently upheld. What is valuable and meaningful about such achievements as the prohibitions on censorship (of individual expression and the media) in the American constitution’s first amendment is not their legal force but their underlying and outreaching spirit. When someone shouts down a speaker anywhere because he doesn’t like what the speaker will say, he too is acting against the spirit of the kind of society that the First Amendment stands for. In other words, it is for everyone to uphold these achievements, not just governments.

It would be nice to have it admitted by the numerous verbal slayers of both men that they are acting censoriously. But what one might call the Super New Left—i.e. the descendants of campus radicals from the 1960s who are even more brazen than their predecessors—is increasingly less worried about how their views are perceived in relation to the values of the country’s mainstream. Apart from the poetic notions of universal value and responsibility in guarding against censorship, another purpose of valuing free expression so highly is to dissuade those who dislike it from encroaching upon it. In other words, placing the First Amendment so centrally as a value serves to shame those who stand to harm it for everyone else. Yet the contradiction of being an American in good standing with being a censor does not bother a vocal group within the progressive camp. To them, it is reasonable that people who disagree with them on matters of social value, even if they hold no political power, should have to do so at the pain of losing their job, of having the entirety of their work maligned by lesser members of the journalistic profession, and of enduring baseless and exaggerated criticism.

Whatever the merits of their lobbying and activism, it is indubitable that the gay movement is populated by a lot of very sore winners. I am happy to see that Andrew Sullivan and Frank Bruni have both written, with differing levels of enthusiasm, against the knee-jerk witch hunting that we’ve seen over the last week. It remains, however, that the tendency of the gay movement’s members is to wish ill on their opponents and to abandon even the remotest convention of decorum about how to win well. No one with any sense can doubt that effectively all of their party’s goals will be eventually realized in every little township in America, let alone in every state. What remains is to see whether the winners will learn to show respect for the people they have defeated. Their behaviour this week was not a good start.

Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com