Ace has a great article about the recent suspension of Phil Robertson and the firing of Justine Sacco because of non-PC speech:
A&E has the right to fire or suspend Robertson. So what? The argument is not about what people can do, it’s about what they should do.
Indeed. These company actions have a very chilling effect on freedom of speech despite their legality.
But there’s another angle, as well. Companies are primarily in the business of making money. My guess is that if Robertson had said the same thing without it having been broadly published or broadcast—for instance, if he’d said it in private to the CEO of A&E—there would have been no suspension. Or, if Sacco’s tweet had only been read by a few of her friends and not become an online cause célèbre, she’d still be working at IAC and the worst that might have happened to her is that a few people would have unfriended her on Facebook.
But once each statement became famous and notorious, and the drumbeat for punishment grew stronger, A&E and IAC executives most likely thought there would be negative economic fallout for them if they didn’t do something to show themselves on the side of The Good. A&E didn’t think quite far enough to see the possible backlash to that action. But I strongly suspect their motives regarding Robertson had less to do with stifling speech and more to do with succumbing to the pressure of others that they stifle speech or else.
The latter impulse is actually even more cowardly than the first one, because a company would be acting in fear rather than out of its own convictions (although perhaps in this case it was both). At any rate, Ace highlights an interesting question Ann Althouse asked, and he answers it, too:
At the end of her post, Althouse asks:
“Why is the left taking the narrow view of the concept of freedom? It’s a general principle, not something you save for your friends. Like Paglia, I remember the broad 1960s era commitment to free speech. There was a special zeal to protect those who said outrageous things. Today, we’re back to the kind of repression that in the 60s seemed to belong to the 1950s. What the hell happened?”
I can answer this: They came into power.
This is a human thing, I’m afraid, and not a failing specifically located on the left.
Those who have less power — who fear coercion more — will naturally tend to argue for the widest possible latitude, the largest zone of tolerance, for “weird” beliefs, statements, or practices.
Those with more power — who fear coercion less, because, end of the day, they’ll be the ones doing the coercing — will naturally become more and more hostile to the idea that people can do whatever they like.
Ah, the 60s! Ann Althouse and I are of the same generation, but Ace is young enough (at least, by my estimate) to have no personal memory of that much-ballyhooed decade. I’m with Ace in saying that the left has the motivation now to let out its inner thug, but that thuggish point of view was always in evidence. The Left, even back in the 60s, did not have a live and let live attitude towards points of view with which it was in disagreement.
Yes, there were some free-spirited souls on the Left who really did champion tolerance of speech with which it disagreed, but they were always few and far-between. The hard Left and the love/peace hippie movement overlapped—but not all that much, except so far as the former was merely hiding and biding its time among the ranks of the latter. I saw enough of the hard Left in the 60s to notice the presence of a stifling and totalitarian impulse. And of course we had the example of Communism to see that trend in its full and sickening flower.
Orwell knew this impulse well, and in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four he came up with the idea of an invented language (“Newspeak“) having the goal of making it less likely that a person could state thoughts that ran counter to the Party line, or even to think them (“thoughtcrime“).
In Nineteen Eighty-Four it was the Thought Police who enforced the rules, scanning and seeking out any citizens–especially prominent ones, rather than proles—who needed restraining and retraining and maybe even destroying. The present-day PC-crowd, and groups such as GLAAD (whose website has the somewhat ironic tagline [emphasis mine] “leading the conversation for lgbt equality”), have become the new Thought Police. As the years have passed, and discriminatory acts and/or laws against gay people have become less common, they feel they must move on to the fight against speech and even thoughts they find offensive, and harness their power to silence and suppress them. Then, and only then, can we have a proper “conversation.”