State of the Union

Reagan’s Lessons for Dealing with Russia

Wikimedia Commons

President Reagan was holding a meeting in the Cabinet Room on March 25, 1985, when Press Secretary Larry Speakes came over to me, as communications director, with a concern. The White House was about to issue a statement on the killing of Major Arthur Nicholson, a U.S. army officer serving in East Germany. Maj. Nicholson had been shot in cold blood by a Russian soldier. Speakes thought the president’s statement, “This violence was unjustified,” was weak. I agreed. We interrupted the president, who reread the statement, then said go ahead with it.

What lay behind this Reagan decision not to express his own and his nation’s disgust and anger at this atrocity?  Since taking office, Reagan had sought to engage Soviet leaders in negotiations, but, as he told me, “they keep dying on me.” Two weeks earlier, on March 10, 1985, Konstantin Chernenko, the third Soviet premier in Reagan’s term, had died, and the youngest member of the Politburo, Mikhail Gorbachev, had been named to succeed him. Believing Gorbachev had no role in the murder of Maj. Nicholson, and seeking a summit with the new Soviet leader to ease Cold War tensions, Reagan decided not to express what must have been in his heart.

Which raises a question many Republicans are asking: What would Reagan do—in Syria, Crimea, Ukraine? Is Sen. Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, or Gov. Jeb Bush or Chris Christie the candidate most in the Reagan tradition, the gold standard for the GOP? We cannot know what he would do, as we live in a post-Cold War world. But we do know what Reagan did. In the battle over the Panama Canal “giveaway,” Reagan stood against Bill Buckley and much of his movement and party. “We bought it, we paid for it, it’s ours, and we’re gonna keep it,” he thundered.

The Senate agreed 2-1 with Jimmy Carter to surrender the Canal to Panama’s dictator. Reagan’s consolation prize? The presidency. Reagan came to office declaring Vietnam “a noble cause” and determined to rebuild U.S. military might and morale, which he did in spades. His defense budgets broke the spine of a Soviet Union that could not compete with the booming America of the Reagan era. What’s our strategy, his first National Security Council adviser Dick Allen asked him. Replied Reagan: “We win, they lose.” Reagan saw clearly the crucial moral dimension of the ideological struggle between communism and freedom. He called the Soviet Bloc “an evil empire.”

Yet he never threatened military intervention in Eastern Europe, as some bellicose Republicans do today. Reagan would not be rattling sabers over Crimea or Ukraine. Read More…

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Brendan Eich, Game of Thrones, and the Headaches of New Rulers

HBO
HBO

The forced resignation of Mozilla cofounder and CEO Brendan Eich has been seen by many conservatives as a sad dip into democratic despotism, in which conformity to a very recent societal consensus is demanded as the cost of employment. The uproar could be more of a backlash against perceived in-group betrayal than an immediate template for society-wide action, though. As Leah pointed out in her initial treatment of the controversy, gay marriage in-group policing is practiced by both sides of the issue, as international charity World Vision was forced to rescind its new policy of hiring employees in gay marriages. In-group policing is not limited to gay marriage, either, as the Dixie Chicks learned during the Iraq War.

What seems to distinguish the Eich case from World Vision in the minds of many on the right (besides their own group sympathies), is that progressives appear to be winning on gay marriage, thus their in-group policing will be taking place within an ever-enlarging share of society. As Ross Douthat wrote, “the way people behave within their own communities when a debate is seen to be settled often has at least some connection to how they behave when given legal and political power in society writ large.” An ascendant progressivism shedding the shackles of its suddenly constrictive liberalism is a frightening prospect to those determinedly holding fast against the tide.

If this is the beginning of a progressive moment, when the culture war is finally over and the conservative terms of surrender are being negotiated, the victorious side may find the coming years more problematic than anticipated. After all, if they have won, then they will see an ever-increasing range of industries and institutions as “belonging” to their group. We may have already started to see some of this playing out with other internet tempests of recent vintage, involving Ezra Klein and Nate Silver’s new ventures.

When Ezra Klein launched Vox, his new journalistic enterprise, he came under fire for a dearth of diversity among his hires. Later, the hiring of one reporter, Brandon Ambrosino, drew fire for being the wrong kind of diverse. Ambrino’s heterodox takes on gay controversies (including friendly words for Jerry Fallwell) were harshly criticized by former colleagues of Klein and his Vox compatriots. Their roots in progressive journalism caused their former allies to view Vox as an in-group enterprise, and to read any divergence as betrayal. They saw Vox as “one of us” more than Klein himself did.

Nate Silver’s new media venture FiveThirtyEight saw its own share of controversy in its opening days, when it ran an article contesting that criticism of the often-cited claim that the historic increase in the rising cost of natural disasters is due to climate change. Environmentalism is another in-group marker for liberal circles, and, predictably. the climate change draws particular focus and attention. The piece drew its own internet firestorm, including from outlets like Slate, ThinkProgress, and Huffington Post, leading Silver to commission his own rebuttal of the original piece.

The culture war’s victorious side may find their newfound power harder to exercise than they expect, however. I’ve recently started HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series, and in my rush to catch up to the current season, I came across very early advice given from Queen Cersei to her king-to-be son, Joffrey. Joffrey expresses a desire to destroy the tradition of each land fielding its own armies, and to consolidate them under his own hand, responding to any resistance by sacking the land in question. Cersei reminds her son that crushing any soldiers loyal to their own traditions would likely leave him without any army at all. The iron throne theoretically gives him access to more people than his family’s personal army, but those new acquisitions bring with them a complicating diversity. Read More…

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Discrimination Is a Distraction from Real Wage Gap Causes

The White House of late has been peddling the claim that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar for the same work. Elizabeth Plank and Soraya Chemaly from PolicyMic ran with this dubious statistic, creating the hashtag #withoutthewagegapIwould that circled the Internet with statements such as: “without the wage gap I would be able to buy my sister a house.” Phrases of that ilk are meant to elicit an immediate and visceral reaction. Were it not for the wage discrimination, women’s finances would dramatically improve. But would they, really? There has been strong blowback against that statistic, with substantial evidence showing it to be incomplete and applied to incongruous employment situations. Misrepresenting data that affects half of the population, even if well-intentioned, risk framing the problem incorrectly, making the path to a viable solution much steeper.

Christina Hoff Summers of AEI, writing at The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post, crunched the numbers and determined that when relevant variables are controlled for (such as occupation, time in the workplace, and college degree) the pay gap between men and women shrank from 23 cents to between five and seven. It’s not yet clear whether or not discrimination accounts for that last nickel, but it disarms a would-be political platform purporting to give underpaid women their retribution. Matt Yglesias attempts to argue that statistical controls identify discrimination rather than disproving it, but fails to explain how the wage gap is caused by discrimination.

One explanation for the gap is the professions that women choose: women are more likely to take jobs in the caretaking and artistic fields while men are more likely to elect for professions requiring technical expertise. More women are graduating from college, but fewer of those graduates are getting degrees in STEM fields, where the most lucrative jobs are. According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, since 1990, the amount of men earning computer science degrees has nearly doubled, while the amount of women earning degrees has stayed the same after a brief bump in the early 2000s. Feminist groups like the National Organization for Women claim that this self-selection is not a woman’s choice at all, but pernicious gender stereotypes predetermining her career path. While there may be little data to support this, but there is significant evidence to support the idea that the main culprit responsible for women’s inability to keep pace with a men’s earning power is the bearing of children. Read More…

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Captain America Skips Politics, Stays Personal

Captain America: The Winter Soldier / Marvel Studios
Captain America: The Winter Soldier / Marvel Studios

This review contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind Marvel’s movies, said that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a chance to expand the range of comic book movies, since the sequel would really be “a ’70s political thriller masquerading as a big superhero movie.” But, despite the clear references to the overreach of the NSA’s surveillance state and the CIA’s unauthorized abuses, little in the movie treated man (or superman) as a political animal.

Although Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is warned by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) that he should trust no one, the movie never forces the squeaky-clear hero into the same kind of suspicious attitude that characterizes his enemies.

The grand conspiracy isn’t revealed through an act of deduction or infiltration, but through the monologue of a very accommodating villain. When the organization that Rogers has served turns out to be tainted, there’s no attempt at investigation or truth and reconciliation. The heroes just leak all the classified files and disband S.H.I.E.L.D. altogether. And, when they infiltrate the base of their erstwhile allies, Captain America has a very simple heuristic for distinguishing friend from foe:

Falcon: How do we tell the good guys from the bad guys?

Captain America: If they’re shooting at you, they’re bad!

Charlie Jane Anders, reviewing the film for io9, argued that Captain America’s greatest power isn’t his superstrength or his shield, but his certainty.

[Y]ou reach a point where you realize that’s Captain America’s true superpower — he makes things simpler, for everybody. Everybody else in the movie changes, at least in part because of their connection to Steve Rogers. He’s a catalyst, as well as a leader. This film is simplistic because Steve Rogers’ worldview is simplistic. And if you only let him, Steve Rogers will allow you to live in his world where everything is black and white.

Usually, when Americans are characterized as thinking in black and white, it’s because we’ve divided the world or just our nation into “us” and “them” and are out to get rid of them as in President Bush’s statement, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  But when Captain America divides the world into light and dark, he has more in common with John Winthrop, who referenced Matthew 5:14 to tell his fellow colonists that the eyes of the world are upon them, and they must shine out, as a city on a hill.

The forceful optimism that Captain America exemplifies is most moving when the stakes of the movie get lower. When Captain America faces his childhood friend Bucky Barnes, who has been transformed into the robotic Winter Soldier, he offer Barnes his weakness, not his strength. Rogers drops his shield and stops putting up a fight. He’s asking his friend to show mercy, instead of removing the choice, and it’s easy to for the audience to hear echoes of a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”

That makes it all the stranger that, in order to make his way to Barnes, Captain America punches his way through approximately fifty mooks. Maybe he was carefully doing non-lethal damage, but, more likely, the film didn’t expect us to care, since it had already told us that all of Rogers’s antagonists were fanatics and Nazi-collaborators. There were limits to the movie’s mercies.

But Winter Soldier would have been a stronger film if it had taken a lesson from a different blockbuster franchise and admitted that “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters.” In order to be a political thriller, instead of an interpersonal one, we need to see how Cap’s idealism scales up.

What are the limitations on charity and compassion when it’s expressed through an institution, instead of an individual? What sacrifices can Rogers choose for himself, but not the nation? The Winter Soldier, with its simplistic plot, doesn’t have any serious critique of American policy, but Steve Rogers still offers a powerful call to small-scale heroism to the American people.


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The Case for “Serfdom,” Rightly Understood

Baker County Tourism / Flickr
Baker County Tourism / Flickr

Last Saturday I had the honor of addressing the 50th anniversary meeting of the Philadelphia Society. The title of the meeting was “The Road Ahead—Serfdom or Liberty?” My remarks sought to suggest that conservatives should be more circumspect about their rote incantation of the word “liberty,” and that there may even be something to be said for “serfdom,” properly understood. My remarks in full are printed, below.

“The Road Ahead—Serfdom or Liberty?”

 The Philadelphia Society Annual Meeting—50th Anniversary

Patrick J. Deneen, The University of Notre Dame

I would like to begin my remarks by calling to mind two commercials that aired at different points during the last five years. The first aired in 2010, and was produced by the Census Bureau in an effort to encourage Americans to fill out their census forms. It opens with a man sitting in his living room dressed in a bathrobe, who talks directly into the camera in order to tell viewers that they should fill out the census form, as he’s doing from his vantage as a couch potato.

Fill out the census, he says, so that you can help your neighbors—and at this point he gets out his chair and walks out the front door, past his yard and the white picket fence and points at his neighbors who are getting into their car—You can help Mr. Griffith with better roads for his daily car pool commute, he says—and then, indicating the kids next door, “and Pete and Jen for a better school,” and continues walking down the street. Now neighbors are streaming into the quaint neighborhood street, and he tells us that by filling out the census, we can help Reesa with her healthcare (she’s being wheeled by in a gurney, about to give birth), and so on… “Fill it out and mail it back,” he screams through a bullhorn from a middle of a crowded street, “so that we can all get our fair share of funding, and you can make your town a better place!”

The other ad, produced in 2012, was produced by the Obama re-election campaign, though it was not aired on television and has today disappeared from the internet. It was entitled “The Life of Julia,” and in a series of slides it purported to show how government programs had supported a woman named Julia at every point in her life, from preschool funds from a young age to college loans to assistance for a start up to healthcare and finally retirement. In contrast to the Census commercial—which portrayed a neighborhood street filled with people who knew each others’ names—“The Life of Julia” portrayed a woman who appeared to exist without any human ties or relationships, except—in one poignant slide—a child that had suddenly appeared but who was about to be taken away on a little yellow school bus, and as far as we’re shown, is never seen again. No parents, no husband, a child who disappears.

The first ad is a kind of Potemkin Village behind which is the second ad. The first ad shows a thriving community in which everyone knows each others’ names, and as you watch it—if you aren’t duped by what it’s portraying—you are left wondering why in the world would we need government to take care of our neighbors if we knew each other so well? Why is my obligation to these neighbors best fulfilled by filling out the Census form? The commercial is appealing to our cooperative nature and our sense of strong community ties to encourage us to fill out the Census form, but in fact—as the commercial tells us—it is in order to relieve us of the responsibility of taking care of each other; perhaps more accurately, it’s reflecting a world in which increasingly we don’t know our neighbor’s names, and instead turn to the government for assistance in times of need.

The second commercial is what lies “behind” the Potemkin village of the first. Read More…

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Ted Cruz and America’s “Nakba”

Gage Skidmore / cc

Many peoples have have a folk memory of great suffering branded into them. The Irish often recall the famines of the 1840s, in which a million died, in great part due to cruel and neglectful policies of the ruling British officials and absentee landlords. For African Americans, the middle passage and slavery—scarring the lives of millions—form an indelible cultural memory. Palestinian Arabs remember the Nakba, or catastrophe, in which three quarters of a million people were ethnically cleansed from their homeland. Of course the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered, has left a permanent imprint on contemporary Judaism.

For our part, we Americans have the Iranian hostage crisis, in which 52 American diplomats were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy for over a year by Iranian revolutionaries. Their plight has been memorialized in an award winning film, Argo. The the scars left by the episode remain raw today—as even today the U.S. Senate rose up as one to pass a bill to prohibit Iran from adding insult to injury by sending to the United Nations as an ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, a man who actually served as a French and English to Farsi translator for the young militants who engineered the embassy takeover nearly thirty-five years ago.

I am being, of course, ironic. The seizure of the American embassy in Tehran was illegal and wrong, as many Iranian officials argued at the time. The hostages were often subjected to psychological abuse. Yet Iran was in the middle of tumultuous and bloody revolution as various factions maneuvered for dominance in a fluid political situation. The embassy hostages became pawns in internal Iranian struggles. These were deadly: thousands had been killed before the Shah overthrown, and thousands more died, often by summary execution, in the months which followed Khomeini’s assumption of power. In the Tehran bloodshed department, the holding of hostages in the embassy was distinctly minor league.

Because the Carter administration wanted a) the safe return of the diplomats and b) to avoid alienating the Muslim world when it appeared, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a few months after the embassy seizure, that a new and particularly dangerous phase of the Cold War had commenced, it appeared to have no good response. The result, for all the world to see, was an America that seemed helpless. Washington of course could have seized some Iranian territory or bombed targets in Iran. For reasons a and b, neither seemed preferable to doing what we actually did, essentially wait until Iran grew tired of holding the hostages. But the year of waiting was perceived, especially in Washington, as a year of humiliation and impotence, and Washington has never been able to get over it. Though the hostages themselves have returned unharmed and went on to lead productive lives, Washington continues to react as if an injustice of epochal scale was done to it. Fifty-two diplomats, held for 444 days, our American Nakba.

It was not particularly surprising that the senator who decided to wave the bloody, or at least unironed, shirts of the imprisoned diplomats over the issue of Hamid Aboutalebi’s appointment was Ted Cruz., the Texan Tea Party Republican who distinguished himself during the Chuck Hagel confirmation hearings by insinuating that the former Nebraska senator was in the pay of North Korea. In this instance, Cruz introduced legislation designed to bar Aboutalebi from obtaining a visa because he was a “terrorist.” He was joined by Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who has been working behind the scenes to scuttle President Obama’s nuclear diplomacy with Iran, mostly by introducing poison pill legislation in the Senate. Neither Cruz not Schumer discussed whether Aboutalebi carried out any terrorist activities in Australia, Italy, or Brussels (the European Union), the last three posts where Aboutalebi served as Iran’s ambassador.

Read More…

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Catching On to the Pyrrhic Victory of a GOP Senate

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

And here you thought I was being all #slatepitch-y: In February, I argued that President Obama shouldn’t get too uptight about Democrats losing the Senate; and, more, that the dead-end ideological fealty required to control Congress is, paradoxically (but only seemingly), what prevents Republicans from being a true national party; and, finally, that a Congress fully under Republican control will make a fat target for Hillary Clinton.

Zeke J. Miller reports in Time that GOP moneybags, as well as potential Republican presidential candidates currently serving as governor, share the latter concern:

Behind closed doors and in private conversations with reporters and donors, GOPers eyeing the White House in 2016 are privately signaling they wouldn’t mind seeing the party fall short in this year’s midterm elections. For all the benefits of a strong showing in 2014 after resounding defeat in 2012, senior political advisers to some of the top Republican presidential aspirants believe winning the Senate might be the worst thing that could happen.

The opinion is most strongly held by Republican governors, who are hoping to rise above the Washington political fray. Already the central theme adopted by governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey, Rick Perry of Texas, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Scott Walker of Wisconsin is their ability to cut through partisan gridlock to lead their states. A dysfunctional Washington hamstrung by ideological division accentuates their core argument.

Others are taking a ride on my hobbyhorse. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report recently conveyed the similarly glass-half-empty sentiments of “Republican umbrella carriers” who “worry that success in 2014 will mask the real, structural problems that Republicans need to fix before 2016. Namely, that the party doesn’t stand for much more than standing against President Obama. As important, the GOP heads into 2016 with a brand that has been deeply tarnished and not easily repaired.”

The redoubtable Charlie Cook himself added:

This is so true. If Republicans do gain a Senate majority, which they may very well do in November, and manage to pick up eight or more House seats, it will be because of who they are not, not because of who they are. They aren’t in Obama’s party, and they aren’t in the party that unilaterally passed the Affordable Care Act, which, like the president, is unpopular. Republicans may win a bunch of races without measurably improving their party’s “brand” and without making any clear progress among minority, young, moderate, and female voters. The fact that midterm electorates are generally older, whiter, and more conservative than their counterparts in presidential elections exacerbates the difference between the world of 2014 and the one that will exist in 2016. The Republicans can win in 2014 without having fixed their problems.

Granted, Cook and Walter are not making precisely the same argument as mine, though I of course agree that a win in 2014 might give the GOP “false hope.” I go a bit further: I believe Republicans, or at least a good portion of those who matter, know full well that the party has a problem going into 2016, quite apart from what happens this fall. The crux of it is this: there’s nothing they can do to change it in the near term. The adjustments they need to make in order to recapture the White House—find some way to deal with undocumented immigrants; give up on tax cuts for the wealthy; acknowledge the painful trade-offs of any serious Obamacare alternative—would jeopardize their grip on Congress.

It’s possible that Republican leaders are merely biding their time until the Senate is in hand. Why rock the boat when you can win by default? I suspect, however, that the truth is more inconvenient: Rocking the boat will be no easier in 2016 than it is now.

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Comcast Swallows Time Warner, With Democrats for Dessert

Comcast’s blockbuster acquisition of Time Warner Cable for a cool $45 billion hit front pages again this week in anticipation of the Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which will review antitrust laws regarding services provided by telecommunications companies. Comcast will also soon have to lay its defense before the Federal Communications Commission, which will closely scrutinize the merger’s impact on public consumption.

According to the New York Times, the most crucial concerns should be raised over high-speed Internet service, not cable television. Comcast’s share of the high-speed Internet market is larger than its cable TV market share, as it holds between 40 and 50 percent of the market for high-speed Internet service. Comcast’s rising market dominance has upended net neutrality, a principle that prevents Internet service providers from blocking or privileging content. It has also strong-armed major companies like Netflix to the negotiating table. Netflix struck a deal with Comcast in order to preserve its ability to provide streaming services to its customers, but according to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, it sets a dangerous precedent. He says in Slate, “If this kind of leverage is effective against Netflix, which is pretty large, imagine the plight of smaller services today and in the future.”

“Crony capitalism” is a politicized term for institutionally supported greed. Comcast has leveraged its considerable financial assets to acquire its biggest competitor, and its political opposition. To make sure that the merger prevails, Comcast has already invested heavily in the Democratic Party, with generous contributions to the Democratic National Committee followed up by extensive lobbying. Executives from Comcast were present at the state dinner welcoming French president Hollande and his wife. Comcast will come out of this merger one of the most powerful telecommunications providers in the country, with the weight to make even otherwise big content providers like Netflix bend their knee. They have the money to play the Washington game and turn the tables in their favor.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah has already voiced his opinions on the principles involved in a strongly worded op-ed in National Review Online late last week. Without mentioning the merger, Senator Lee more broadly condemned the Obama administration’s participation in “crony capitalism,” claiming it was destroying market competition, harming the poor, and destroying the middle class. The op-ed went on to detail the benefits of true market competition and allowing small businesses to flourish to create job growth. Reaping political benefits from the line of argument will require more than words, however. Lee continued, “a still-distrusted GOP first must end cronyism in our own ranks. The GOP has to close its branch of the Beltway Favor Bank and truly embrace a free-enterprise economy of, by, and for the people.”

For years, corporate greed has been associated with Republicans, but this merger shows that political influence, Democratic or Republican, is for sale to the highest bidder. If the GOP leadership is smart, they’ll at least make the appearance of breaking away from allowing corporations to stack the deck in their favor, and towards championing local businesses that promote sustainable economic growth. The Senate hearing on Wednesday provides an opportunity to send a signal to the private sector that mergers are not insurable through fundraisers, and to take a first step towards winning back the public trust.


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Brendan Eich: First on the New Blacklist

“There is a gay mafia,” said Bill Maher, “if you cross them you do get whacked.”

Maher, the host of HBO’s “Real Time,” was talking about the gay activists and their comrades who drove Brendan Eich out as CEO of Mozilla. Eich, who invented JavaScript and co-founded Mozilla in 1998, had been named chief executive in late March.

Instantly, he came under attack for having contributed $1,000 to Proposition 8, whereby a majority of Californians voted in 2008 to reinstate a ban on same-sex marriage. Prop 8 was backed by the Catholic Church, the Mormon Church, and the black churches, and carried 70 percent of the African-American vote. Though Eich apologized for any “pain” he had caused and pledged to promote equality for gays and lesbians at Mozilla, his plea for clemency failed to move his accusers. Too late. According to the Guardian, he quit after it was revealed that he had also contributed—”The horror, the horror!”—to the Buchanan campaign of 1992. That cooked it. What further need was there of proof of the irredeemably malevolent character of Brendan Eich?

Observing the mob run this accomplished man out of a company he helped create, Andrew Sullivan blogged that Eich “has just been scalped” by gay activists. Sullivan went on: ”Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole thing disgusts me, as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.”

Yet, the purge of Eich, who, from his contributions—he also gave to Ron Paul—appears to be a traditionalist and libertarian—is being defended as a triumph of the First Amendment. James Ball of the Guardian writes that far from being “a defeat for freedom of expression,” Eich’s removal is a “victory—the ouster of a founder and CEO by his own people, at a foundation based on open and equal expression.” Eich’s forced resignation, writes Ball, “should be the textbook example of the system working exactly as it should.”

Ball seems to be saying that what the gay mob did to Eich at Mozilla is what the heroes of Maidan Square did in driving President Viktor Yanukovych out of power and out of his country. This is how the democracy works now. Mitchell Baker, the executive chairwoman of Mozilla Foundation, who escorted Eich out, said in her statement: “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

George Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour. What Baker is saying is that you have freedom of speech, so long as you use your speech to advocate equality. Read More…

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Mozilla and the Art of Culture War

In the first paragraph of Mozilla’s blog post announcing Brendan Eich’s resignation, the company offered an apology of its own: “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.” Continuing to keep an unrepentant Eich on board would, for Mozilla, would violate their integrity.

The developers at Rarebit, who began the boycott, expressed their surprise that their movement had forced Eich out of the company he founded, when there was such an easy solution available.

We never expected this to get as big as it has and we never expected that Brendan wouldn’t make a simple statement. I met with Brendan and asked him to just apologize for the discrimination under the law that we faced.

Eich had already promised to maintain Mozilla’s anti-discrimination policies, in letter and in spirit, but, for the Rarebit developers and other critics, repentance was required. The Rarebit developers stressed that Eich was free to keep his personal beliefs but that he should apologize for supporting this law. But apologies aren’t a realistic end condition for most political fights.

When the Supreme Court finally rules on the Hobby Lobby case, there’s no reason the victors have any obligation to apologize to the losers. The owners of the company don’t owe their employees an apology for trying to strike contraception from the company insurance plans, and the employees don’t need to beat their breasts and ask forgiveness for desiring it. Not all policy disputes have to be settled with personal reconciliation, and, if they are, that repentance won’t come in a pro forma memo.

Rote repentance or destructive dialogue is all that is possible, when the inferential distance between cultural combatants is too large. As America secularizes, the new “Nones” are particularly vulnerable to mischaracterizing religious opponents. In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell offers a new look at how similar errors in judgement lead to the Waco massacre in 1993.

[T]he religious scholar Nancy Ammerman interviewed many of the F.B.I. hostage negotiators involved, and she says that nearly all of them dismissed the religious beliefs of the Davidians: “For these men, David Koresh was a sociopath, and his followers were hostages. Religion was a convenient cover for Koresh’s desire to control his followers and monopolize all the rewards for himself.” … Because the F.B.I. could not take the faith of the Branch Davidians seriously, it had no meaningful way to communicate with them.

In a pluralistic society, we need to learn how to communicate with the people whose beliefs we abhor, even if only for pragmatic reasons, to avoid the kind of confusion that led to tragedy at Waco. When antagonists refuse to engage the logic behind views that they find repugnant opportunities for engagement are limited on both sides.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu warned military commanders, ”When you surround the enemy always allow them an escape route. They must see that there is an alternative to death.” Demanding public self-criticism, or conversions-expressed-as-apologies doesn’t leave a way for enemies to coexist or retreat. By treating apologies as trivial concessions and objections as irrelevant, those ascendant may find that they turn their enemies into David Koreshes and Thomas Mores.


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