It’s unfortunate enough that I share the name Brendan with Mr. Eich, both for the fact that he’s a one percenter, and that he likes to use his immense wealth (which will only grow, now that he is Mozilla’s CEO) to actively oppress people who are less fortunate than him. Yes, in this case, gay people are less fortunate than Mr. Eich, because he has full rights as an American citizen, and gay Americans are still being denied theirs, in various ways, across the country. The firestorm that has erupted over the last few days, employees resigning, campaigns to get Eich fired, have resulted in a very familiar argument:
Do bigots get to have free speech?
The answer, of course, is yes. Ironically, Eich isn’t actually on a podium ranting about gay people going to Hell (we’ve got enough Bachmanns and Robertsons for that, and take note that no one has stopped them), but since the Supreme Court declared that speech is money, Eich’s use of money to promote a political cause (in this case, denying equal rights to other people) is being construed as a question of his freedom of speech.
This is always the argument bigots (and their defenders) make, that people reacting to their bigotry is equivalent to them being persecuted. I don’t, however, remember the government coming in and arresting Eich for making that campaign contribution. I haven’t heard any talk of police harassment, and there is no widespread movement to get him arrested, or, in any way, to deny him of his Constitutional rights under law. People have suggested he be fired, or that he resign. Well, aren’t those people just exercising their own freedom of speech by expressing these opinions? Personally, I think homophobes like him should be cock-slapped in the face so hard it leaves welts. That is not me oppressing Mr. Eich, that’s just me using my free speech.
Free speech means the government won’t arrest you for your opinions, that you won’t face penalty under the law for saying something that is unpopular, not that everyone else has to be silent when you act like an asshole. If Eich is allowed to target any particular group of people with his speech, then any other group of people gets to target him with theirs. Being “called-out” is not the same as being “persecuted.” Gay people are actively being denied rights. That’s persecution. Eich probably won’t lose his job, the worst penalty he will probably face is having to deal with Twitter trolls, and having trouble logging onto his OK Cupid account. (I don’t remember access to OK Cupid being a Constitutional right, either.)
Free speech means you are also responsible for what you say, and you have to deal with the consequences.
Bigots love to play this game where they turn themselves into the victims. Over and over again. Constantly. It’s always the same game. First, they choose a target that is actually being oppressed, and that has been throughout American history, and then when someone disagrees with them, they and all their supporters come out of the woodwork screaming “Oppression! Persecution! Where is my First Amendment?”
When Don Imus got fired for racist speech, was it because the government intervened and told him what to say and think? NO. He said stupid things until his boss decided to fire him.
The same thing with Glenn Beck and Justine Sacco. The list goes on. No Stalinist secret police came and arrested these fools and forced them into labor camps. There was never any threat of any serious legal action. Their employers decided that keeping them employed was no longer a sound business decision, and they were let go. The same choirs that sing the praises of these economically-martyred bigots also love to praise CEO’s who lay off thousands of employees in order to “stay competitive,” or that up and decide to move their manufacturing overseas, or inside prisons, where there are no workers’ unions to deal with. Imagine an employee calling his boss a “fat fucking racist plutocrat,” and then getting fired for doing so. Is that impinging the employee’s freedom of speech, or is the employer at-will to make such decisions? What if an employee at Subway offends all the customers in the restaurant for drawing swastikas on people’s sandwiches with mustard and mayonnaise, and as a result, that Subway franchise loses half of their customer base. Can the employer fire him for losing the company business, or is he stomping all over the Bill of Rights if he does?
The beauty of true free speech is that it allows bigots and assholes a stage on which to prove to the world that they are bigots and assholes. If it is the bigot’s free choice to say awful things, then everyone else has the free choice not to do business or associate themselves with someone who is such a dick. That’s not Stalinism, or Thought Police, that’s just dealing with the consequences of being a jerk. You have the right to be a jerk, and we have the right to call you out on it.
Now, there is real oppression in this society. Gay people have been denied equal rights and recognition for years, and in the past couple decades, there have been huge campaigns aimed at making sure these rights are denied for as long as possible. That is oppression. That is persecution. That is an example of people using the government and its laws for the sole purpose of keeping someone they don’t like from having equality.
Sometimes I wonder what, deep down, is actually is the logic of the bigot? Maybe, since gay people are already used to being oppressed, they should be able to deal with the fact that Eich spent money to try and continue their oppression. I mean, they get denied rights, beat-up, dragged behind cars, taunted into committing suicide, all on a fairly regular basis. Therefore, saying or doing something that helps perpetuate that oppression, while also reminding these people that many still view them as second-class citizens, is just normal. Just free speech. But when a straight, white, wealthy man, like Mr. Eich, is suddenly targeted for something (maybe for the first time in his life), it’s a travesty, because he isn’t used to being oppressed. That means it hurts way more when it happens to him! Thought Police! They’re burning the Bill of Rights! Pretty soon we won’t be able to say anything anyone disagrees with, unless we want Chairman Obama’s stormtroopers busting down our door! See, people who are used to being persecuted by society should be able to handle the constant reminders of that oppression, because they’ve grown a thick skin by this point, while lucky, privileged assholes like Mr. Eich aren’t used to being called-out on their bullshit, so we just shouldn’t do it.
This raises the other question of, who, exactly, are acting like the Thought Police here? Who is actually impeding freedom of speech? Is it the people who react to a bigot’s bigotry, by using their own free speech to criticize him? Or is it the bigots who turn the language around to try and make themselves look like victims, when what they are really saying is, “we should be free from criticism.” That sounds like they’re trying to deny my free ability to call a spade a spade, or in this case, an asshole and asshole.
The result of all this hullabaloo is that Eich will continue being a homophobe if he wants to, a fabulously wealthy and successful one at that, and because of words and actions by people like him, another American minority will face more struggle and have to fight harder to be recognized as full-fledged citizens. You bigots, and bigot sympathizers, will continue to have the right to spew your hate speech, and the rest of us will continue to have the right to shame you for being such pricks. That’s how free speech and public debate works. So, fuck you.