Sunday, October 18, 2009

Viewpoint Discrimination, or, Can’t We Agree to Disagree?

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.


Fogwoman said...

Well said.
Honestly, the reason I usually avoid such conversations myself is that I have found, usually at work, that folks just want people to agree with them, to rant and rave and monologue. When people there ask my opinion, I tend to smile and reassure them that they really do not want my opinion on the subject at hand. I am almost never contradicted!

Rhianon Jameson said...

Hmm, remaining silent about one's opinion. I'll have to try that approach one day!

I find myself at work trying hard to avoid people whose opinions I know are at odds with mine, in part to avoid an unpleasant argument. It's hard to see the upside to arguing with colleagues. Particularly when they're never right. :)

Breezy Carver said...

humm ..
I must concur that many are remaining silent more and more ..
because if a person has an opinion that is not equal to certain others it has become ok to attack

and then say "Oh its not personal"

Just because someone does not agree . It is not alright to : personally attack, insult,slander and call names .

This "Said" deal has other problems and I personally think Rush took the fall .. (( like him or not the man has a right to invest in a foot ball team))

I ponder and am quite concerned for "Freedom of Speech" and upholding "The Constitution "in the USA.

Sound too extreme ? Sound too henny penny ?

Well if we loose the right to free speech how many that did not agree shall all of a sudden find themselves in the same boat ..

Oh too extreme ? it shall never happen ?

Discussions and private proposals ((via czars etc )) are going on behind closed doors daily to get a hold of the Internet and media.

Indeed Rush was a scape goat to take the heat off of (( darker issues I am sure )) to get a deal done as smooth and quick as possible .

this is mho .. but I am not alone nor some extreme radical right .

I am really concerned at planned responses from an admistration that I am watching as organizations and opinions get bashed rather then issues be resolved !

Rhianon Jameson said...

I'm not a regular listener of Mr. Limbaugh's radio show (I do find him generally on point; I realize that puts me in the minority around here ;) ) but, as I said, the issue goes well beyond any particular individual. Do we really want to be able to veto someone's ability to engage in a market transaction because of his opinions? Would Mr. Sharpton be an acceptable football team owner - he's certainly controversial enough - or are certain controversial opinions better than others?

Certain clubs - and, supposedly, apartment co-ops - require a vote by incumbent members or owners to allow in a newcomer. Those are private transactions, so, in general, Constitutional issues don't come into play, but it seems to offend one's sense of decency to allow someone to blackball a newcomer because of an individual's bias. "I don't want you as a neighbor because you play music loudly" is one thing, but "I don't want you as a neighbor because you talk with a funny accent/dress like a goth/enjoy "Seinfeld" reruns" is another.

Again, though, I'm not suggesting that any of my examples were examples of illegal behavior, just bad-mannered behavior.

I tried as much as I could to keep my own political viewpoint out of it, but I agree, Miss Breezy, that ham-handed efforts to control the media - whether it's mumbling about bringing back the Orwellian-named "Fairness Doctrine," or having the White House complain that Fox News isn't really a news organization - are outrageous. People of all political persuasions should want a media sector free from government interference under the theory that these are the people with the incentive and ability to ferret out wrongdoing within the government. Or has the Left forgotten the role of the media in Watergate? :)