I have been thinking about the insidious nature of viewpoint discrimination over the past few days.
Some days ago, the popular press in what we sometimes refer to as “Real Life” reported that one of the groups vying for ownership of the Saint Louis professional football team included radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh. A predictable firestorm occurred over the propriety of having a prominent conservative own even a minority position in a football team. (Some of this is even libelous; see this commentary.) Several other football team owners said they would not vote to accept him as an owner – somewhat ironic, given the outrageous things some of those guys have said and done – and NFL rules require that any new owner be approved by a supermajority of existing owners.
Well, whatever, I can hear you saying now. Or So what? Thems the consequences of being controversial, and Limbaugh has made millions off of his views. Or even No one said that buying a football team is a God-given right. And all of those are right, to some extent. I don’t feel sorry for the man.
But still, where do we draw the line at punishing people for their viewpoints? While the First Amendment (in the U.S.) guarantees that the government cannot pass legislation or otherwise restrict speech, including controversial speech – one might argue that this right is occasionally ignored for the sake of political expediency; see the McCain-Feingold restrictions on political contributions, and restrictions on certain types of political speech near elections – nothing obligates individuals to listen to, much less heed, anyone’s blather. And a different kind of freedom, the ability to vote with one’s purse, allows us to reward or punish businesses, and, by extension, the individuals who are affiliated with those businesses, for – well, for pretty much any reason at all, including not liking the viewpoint of someone associated with the organization.
(A second RL example that I find quite humorous is the call to boycott Whole Foods after its CEO outlined a health-care proposal that he found more promising than the approach Congress was taking. This man provides high-quality health care for his employees, including making a company contribution of several thousand dollars per year into a health savings account and asking employees what they want covered, and the lunatic fringe wants to boycott his store which would…let’s see now: how about reduce the number of employees getting this nice coverage? How compassionate is that?)
Within the context of our little corner of the world, the Second Life grid, I heard of various types of retaliation against at least one individual who made it clear that she did not care for a particular campaign. Reportedly, this individual was banned from a sim for the crime of expressing her opinion.
Does this seem like a reasonable reaction? Again, I don’t question whether someone has the right to ban another for having a different point of view. Indeed, sometimes decisions based on another’s viewpoint are quite reasonable: if one does not care for the positions taken by Mr. Limbaugh, or Keith Olberman, or Ann Coulter, or Rachel Maddow (and excuse my U.S.-centric examples; no doubt every country has its own political commentator crosses to bear), don’t watch/listen/read. If one is a pro-life Catholic, working at Planned Parenthood might be a bad career choice. But, generally, polite discourse is a good thing. We learn from hearing well-reasoned positions, even if – perhaps especially if – we disagree with those positions. It’s easy to have a steady diet of commentary with which one agrees; hearing a good argument against one’s prior position requires thinking about why that argument is, ultimately, unconvincing – or leads to changing one’s position. When I read various arguments supporting something that I oppose and come away thinking gee, is that the best you’ve got?, I have more faith that what I believe is correct. Often, however, I find myself thinking that at least some of what is said makes sense, or is hard to rebut, and that requires me to modify my views.
Cherish points of view that differ from your own. Exchanging opinions is good. This is what adults do. Children take the opposite approach, the “I’m going to take my bat and ball and go home” approach. Or the “I’m going to ban you from my sim” approach.
Of course, just as one can’t legislate good manner, one cannot insist on a mature approach to different viewpoints. Life is too short to worry about people who cannot abide anyone who thinks differently.
Lest anyone think I’m taking all this far too seriously, let me close by noting that Groucho Marx once famously said that he would not want to be a member of any club that would have him. I try to subscribe to the opposite point of view: I don’t want to be a member of any club that does not want me.