I've written about our Age of Outrage and my loathe for it so often that at this point I could probably create a template Mad Libs piece and just plug the specifics in every time a new example of it comes up. Suffice it to say, I almost always dislike the notion of bullying someone into thinking a certain way or conforming to a general idea of what's tolerant and politically correct no matter who that person is. (With elected officials being the rare exception.) Trying to silence someone who says or believes something you disagree with, either through a steady and strident campaign of online outrage or by threatening that person's livelihood, should be offensive to most people in and of itself. "Call-out culture" is out of control in the era of social media and while it's each person's right to voice his or her opinion, we're far too quick as a whole these days to try to smash anything that rubs us the wrong way, even if the alleged sin doesn't really have a direct impact on us.
I try to keep this in mind even when someone says or believes something I myself truly disagree with. Case in point: Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, who resigned this past week after it was revealed that he made a thousand-dollar donation to the campaign to support Prop 8, California's anti-gay marriage bill, six years ago. He gave a grand to support what he believed the definition of marriage should be. That's pretty much all he really did -- but it was more than enough to bring out the torches and pitchforks and after OKCupid publicly shamed him by doing the internet equivalent of hanging a big sign outside his house, he stepped down from his position.
Now make no mistake, I disagreed completely with Prop 8 -- full stop. I'm as pro-marriage equality as they come and it's unfortunate that Eich gave money to see Prop 8 pushed through. But the idea that somebody could make a donation six years ago to legislation he happened to agree with and now be run out of his job for it -- a job which has nothing at all to do with that legislation or the belief system behind it -- should, again, be offensive to civilized people. We can disagree, even vehemently, without resorting to bullying -- and that's kind of what this was.
The Daily Beast's Gene Robinson puts it perfectly:
As a proud, openly gay man, I am disappointed that anyone contributed to an effort to strip away the rights of any other citizen, especially the important, fundamental human right to marry the one you love. Eich and I would certainly disagree on that point (assuming he, along with so many other Americans, hasn’t changed his mind in the intervening six years). If indeed he valued me as a second-class citizen, or continued to advocate against my civil rights, I suspect we wouldn’t chat for long at a cocktail party. I would not be his friend.
But I will be his ally in this controversy. Eich has every right to believe that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is the purview of one man and one woman only. He has every right to advance that view through his speech and his contributions. What he does not have the right to do is bring that view into the workplace and let it guide decisions he might make about personnel, programming and leadership, assuming that it violates the culture of that workplace (which Mozilla has said it does). There is no evidence that this was ever the case, either during his tenure in another position with Mozilla, or in the brief two weeks he was its new CEO. He asked his board for time to prove that his personal beliefs would not affect/interfere with his role as CEO. I think they should have given it to him.
I can't say I really grieve all that much for Brendan Eich, mostly because he'll assuredly move on to another high-paying gig somewhere. But there have been plenty of other targets of this kind of crap who don't have the profile or resources to immediately bounce back. Those who detest any support for Prop 8 and who've done their part to fight for marriage equality -- and I include myself in that group -- may be tempted to see the fall of Eich as some kind of victory. But it's not. It's just the latest example of trying to strong-arm our way to social justice instead of actually convincing people that it's the best course of action. And in the end that makes far more enemies than allies.