The automated boycott

The dating site OKCupid displays a message to visitors using the web browser Firefox asking them to change browser, since “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples”. The reason is that Eich donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 (a California ban on same sex marriages) six years ago. He, on the other hand, blogs that he is committed to make Mozilla an inclusive place and that he will try to “show, not tell” in making it so. The company at large is pretty firmly on the equality side in any case.

Will the technologisation of boycotting lead to consumer pressure being applied in a better way?

The traditional boycott works by moral consumers refusing to buy from an immoral firm, affecting its reputation and bottom line until it changes its policy. Of course, boycotts do not have to be moral (there were boycotts of Jewish business in Nazi Germany), consumers who like to signal that they care may join in without actually caring, the target might be erroneous, or it affects people that have done nothing wrong (like national boycotts). An economist would say that a boycott consists in consumers willing to pay a slightly higher price in order to leverage that into a strong economic signal making good company behavior the most profitable course.

I actually find myself agreeing a bit with Maggie Gallagher when she writes:

It’s fair to boycott a corporation as a corporation for something that corporation does as a corporation.

I think it’s unfair, destructive, and wicked to boycott a whole corporation because of the personal beliefs of one member of that corporation.

However, having a wicked member and accepting them might make the organisation immoral too. One could argue that Mozilla is being immoral by having Eich as CEO, and hence the consumer pressure is applied fairly. Nevertheless, the transitivity of wickedness is limited: there is presumably a level below which member nastiness should not reflect on the organisation. In particular, if the nastiness is not linked to the role in the organisation and done in the spare time using private resources, then the only link might be a suspicion of bad moral character.

The linked paper above on boycott economics points out that as technology makes it easier to coordinate people boycotts become easier. The OKCupid message is a technological enhancement: it is targeted directly at people who can boycott. Technology also affects reputations: a bad reputation can become long-lasting, and it becomes easier to examine the reputations of people and organisations.  As far as I know, Eich has not done any other anti-gay activities over the past years, yet that donation is now coming back to haunt him.

The problem here is that the opprobrium is tied to a person and his views in a strong way. Were it right to pressure Mozilla to give him up as CEO, what about his next job? It seems that the situation is identical: it would be right to pressure that company too to kick him out.

Boycotts are collective, but each person is free to choose whether to join or not – which is a good thing, since as mentioned above not all boycotts are moral. They also occur through the free market mechanism, where people are always free to choose what they want to buy. These freedom make them permissible: they are the result of autonomous decisions. Things get more iffy when powerful organisations participate in boycotts, since here they might have enough market power on their own to get their will through and the decision might come from small groups inside – the safeguard that many individuals must find some behavior unacceptable before the boycott matters now disappears.

Technological enhancement of boycott power will make companies more careful about not breaking social norms. But while we might want that, we probably should not want enhancement of boycotts against individuals.

The main reason is that when changing moral behavior of people we tend to want it to be changed by them changing, and that through acceptable means: through discussion, experience, and autonomous moral decisions. Just forcing them not to say or do unpopular or immoral things is not the right way. The intuition here is that individual intentions and ways of acting matter, and we should respect their autonomy. Changing the behavior of a company does not involve an autonomous moral being being forced to change. Companies are more transparent than individuals: we can observe what they do and the processes leading to their actions, and to a large part we only care about the consequences.

If a company that previously discriminated stops discriminating we have little doubt something has changed.  But if Eich were to make a public apology and donate to some marriage equality charity we might still have doubts about his sincerity. In the case of a boycott the motivation may hence not go away (especially since it is now reinforced by the reputational inertia – a boycott will create a lot of Google hits, while a change of heart may have a harder time becoming well-known).

So while boycotts can make companies conform to social norms in a moral way it seems that boycotts aimed at individuals are just equivalent to intense social pressure to conform to a set of values, not respecting what the person thinks. They do not try to change hearts and minds by providing information, arguments or other reasons, just economic and social incentives. Including incentives for others to treat the person in certain ways.

A world of enhanced boycott power might be a world where career people with controversial views are discriminated against – either directly through boycotts, or by internal processes of self-censorship or organisational peers trying to avoid promoting potential trouble-causers. Longer reputational memory may make us more vulnerable for what we said or did a long time ago, even if we since then have had a change of heart. This is why we should try to be careful to focus our social power on institutions rather than individuals: with more boycott power comes greater responsibility.

 

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit

55 Responses to The automated boycott

  • Dave Frame says:

    Thanks Anders, that’s really interesting. Personally, I find it OkCupid’s approach creepy, intolerant and indistinguishable from bullying.

    I don’t see why it’s acceptable for a company to take a position like this on the political views of an individual, with the clear aim of harming the guy because he has the temerity to have different views from them regarding a single institution (marriage). It’s not like this Eich guy has done something morally beyond the pale (like murder people, or advocate genocide, etc).*

    It strikes me as a really dumb and unconvincing move to respond to perceived intolerance in kind, and by escalating things by a few hundred-thousand-fold. As a response to a difference of opinion, what message does this send? That if you disagree with someone, it’s acceptable to mobilise as much social media/internet traffic as possible to hit them as hard as you can. The aim is clearly to shame him, to wound him, and to make him conform. Awful stuff – the sort of thing Orwell might have imagined had he lived in an era dominated by the private sector.

    For some people, it’s a big problem that companies are reptilian and amoral: they protect financial bottom lines above all else and, having complied with their regulatory responsibilities, have no over-arching social responsibility constraint. To me, that’s kind of a problem. But it’s a far better problem to have than the one OkCupid are inviting us to have – where companies use their market power to shame and bully individuals into compliance with a specific value set. I know the tide’s against me but I far prefer a world in which the opinons of the dude on the other side of the shop counter are no business of mine, to one in which every transaction is also a value judgement.

    *The real game here is presumably to send a signal to others that these views are unacceptable, by raising (massively) the costs of non-compliance with The Approved set of bourgeois Californian values.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Yes, value-driven companies are problematic. Most people who wish for companies to show values assume they will have the same value as them, rather than opposed values.

      In a globalized world where we do our daily business globally that also means coming into contact regularly with companies that may be morally anchored in local communities we find absolutely loathsome. If Q8 Petroleum were to act according to Persian gulf morality we would presumably be deeply upset. At the same time having values can be useful: when IKEA shows same sex couples in their catalog it does represent a set of values, causes predictable advertising/debate in some places, and is in the sense a way of showing how Swedish the brand is.

      I think the appropriateness of values in companies hinge on whether they are signalling or forcing. A company that signals “we are cool with inclusiveness and think you should be too” is very different from a company that forces you (e.g. by not selling to you because you are the wrong kind of person). The more monopolistic the company is, the more signalling may turn into forcing. We generally find signalling acceptable and that it should be protected. But even pure signalling may still not be right when it is a signal that attempts to create a forcing.

      • Dave Frame says:

        “I think the appropriateness of values in companies hinge on whether they are signalling or forcing.”

        Agree this is a useful distinction, but corporate policies can easily be both without consciously being either. eg. Corporation X have a dress code policy that struggles to be compatible with the customs of some given culture/religion/etc. Imagine they review that policy and decide to stick with it for fairly sensible commercial reasons. To activists from the culture/etc in question, X’s practices are coercive; to others they’re simply a completely routine commercial signalling device. So while I like your example I don’t think that there’s always a clean separation between the two.

        For my part – I think if we accept that the level of vituperation aimed at individuals such as Eich (or Carrie Prejean) is justified over what is, in consequentialist terms, a minor issue of public policy, what level of of response would that sanction for issues with major consequences? One of the few issues that really gets my back up is trade liberalisation. It’s a very good idea, with obvious, massive long-run benefits for all societies, especially for many of the world’s least well-off. Imagine that a company, EuroProtection, Inc., oppose this, because they fear their high labour costs will hamper their competitiveness if we live in a world where they have to compete fairly with a firms from the developing world. Is it reasonable for me – or me via my company – to try to motivate thousands of internet users to anonymously spew partially-informed personal invective at their CEO? Is it reasonable for EuroProtection Inc to target, using identical tactics, me as an individual with views opposed to theirs?

        That way madness lies, and the form of madness in question is the literal definition of bigotry: intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself. On a massive scale.

  • Airin says:

    It’s telling that you listen to the words of Maggie Gallagher, former head of the National Organization for Marriage and a Grade-A bigot. Her bigotry colors her ethics and her ethical statements and beliefs just as much as Eich’s will color his (and David Frame’s above). We don’t live in a vacuum where you can decide to strip the rights of a group of people with one hand and with the other run a company of inclusiveness and equality — these two core beliefs are diametrically opposed. And no, you don’t have to fire Eich from every job he will have henceforth, no one except NOM will hire him to be their CEO after this debacle, and it’s only the fact that he is the face of and representative for the Mozilla corporation that is at issue here (who cares if a bigot washes dishes — they don’t represent their company).

    • Dave Frame says:

      Eich wasn’t stripping rights. He donated to a cause specifically aimed at keeping an institution as it was. Without more data I have no way of assessing whether he was a bigot. Perhaps you know more than I do; perhaps you just like to infill gaps in your data with presuppositions. (There’s a word I’m grasping for here – something along the lines of “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself”.) As for “who cares if a bigot washes dishes” – interesting view. Is your view on criminal punishment similarly punitive? A man disagrees with a proposed law change; do you consider him losing his job, and career, a proportionate response? What do you think should happen to those people who commit a crime? (Other than thought-crimes, I mean.) I guess if they’re crimes of bigotry we can wheel out the whole gamut of quease-making stuff Rebecca Roache and co were discussing the other day, huh? But what about if the crimes are just against random people?

      • David Gerard says:

        “Eich wasn’t stripping rights. He donated to a cause specifically aimed at keeping an institution as it was.”

        This is factually incorrect: gays could marry in California, and Proposition 8 was passed so that they could no longer do so.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      Heh. I found it pretty hilarious that I actually agreed with Gallagher in the quote, since our core values are fundamentally different.

      If we start to discount ethical arguments by people because of *who* is making them or what their deep beliefs are, we are clearly in ad hominem land. Then we can start ignoring John Locke since he was a Christian fundie, and Aristotle since he liked slavery. A good argument remains valid whoever makes it and regardless of the reason they make it.

      Making it a requirement (rather than desireable) that representatives of companies adhere to certain social norms even in their private life is a pretty severe reduction of human autonomy. One can make just as strong arguments about teachers, who occasionally do get fired for doing things that impugn their character – or getting a same-sex marriage. The inability to separate a person, a cause and a job is leading to strong forces of conformity that actually threatens diversity and inclusiveness.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    The problem here is that the opprobrium is tied to a person and his views in a strong way. Were it right to pressure Mozilla to give him up as CEO, what about his next job? It seems that the situation is identical: it would be right to pressure that company too to kick him out.

    And why not? I fully support OKCupid in its position here. Homophobes in public life have to be made aware that they face negative personal consequences for trying to make life hard for LGBT people. The more effectively we can enforce those consequences, the better. It’s not just a matter of having “the temerity to have different views” as Dave Frame maintains – we are talking about openly public (and financial) support for discriminatory laws that directly impact on the lives of many people. We wouldn’t be having this debate if this CEO had financed a ban on mixed-race marriage, for example. But there’s a residual reluctance by some to regard homophobic discrimination as being as serious as racism.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    Hmm, I’ll try again and avoid the blockquotes this time:

    “The problem here is that the opprobrium is tied to a person and his views in a strong way. Were it right to pressure Mozilla to give him up as CEO, what about his next job? It seems that the situation is identical: it would be right to pressure that company too to kick him out”

    And why not? I fully support OKCupid in its position here. Homophobes in public life have to be made aware that they face negative personal consequences for trying to make life hard for LGBT people. The more effectively we can enforce those consequences, the better. It’s not just a matter of having “the temerity to have different views” as Dave Frame maintains – we are talking about openly public (and financial) support for discriminatory laws that directly impact on the lives of many people. We wouldn’t be having this debate if this CEO had financed a ban on mixed-race marriage, for example. But there’s a residual reluctance by some to regard homophobic discrimination as being as serious as racism.

    • Anders Sandberg says:

      But do you support OKCupid because their views agree with yours, or because companies (or communities) should make life hard for people with values they disagree with?

      That fighting homophobia is *right* doesn’t mean that every way of doing it is right.

      • Dave Frame says:

        “That fighting homophobia is *right* doesn’t mean that every way of doing it is right.”

        Perfect summary.

      • Thom Blake says:

        >But do you support OKCupid because their views agree with yours, or because companies (or communities) should make life hard for people with values they disagree with?

        I don’t see a problem in principle with OKC doing that. If they did a similar move with the opposite value, then that would be a signal to me that I should stop using OKC. Companies should make strong moves when it comes to their core values, and OKC has distinguished itself as a particularly good place for weird people (including non-heterosexuals) to meet.

    • Dave Frame says:

      Hmmm… how would you feel if someone said “[opponents of trade liberalisation] in public life have to be made aware that they face negative personal consequences for trying to make life hard for people[in developing countries]. The more effectively we can enforce those consequences, the better. It’s not just a matter of having “the temerity to have different views” as Dave Frame maintains – we are talking about openly public (and financial) support for discriminatory laws that directly impact on the lives of many people.”

      Because it seems to me that once you establish a Scientology-like “Fair Game” principle for one issue of public policy, you’ve opened the door in principle on all issues. If not, why not?

    • Dave Frame says:

      Nikolas wrote: “But there’s a residual reluctance by some to regard homophobic discrimination as being as serious as racism.”

      But there might be arguments that it is not as serious as racism, either on the specific issue of marriage, or on the more general principle. E.g. one general argument: race is strongly heritable; homosexuality is less so. This matters for the intergenerational consequences of prejudice. If several generations of a race are enslaved (say) then emancipated with no further support*, then subsequent generations of that race are probably pretty likely to stay at the unfortunate end of socioeconomic distributions. If the same number of generations of homosexuals are enslaved in identical conditions, and then freed, there’s less reason to expect that subsequent generations of homosexuals will remain anywhere near as distributionally disadvantaged. That’s why we do have conversations about compensation for slavery, but not for homosexuality. If you wanted to mathematise it you’d say that racism has autoregressive consequences, but homosexuality does not (to a first order). For many, that difference may have moral significance.

      *Skills supplementation, capital support, etc.

  • Owen Schaefer says:

    I’m mostly in agreement with the sentiment that it’s generally problematic to boycott a company for its CEO’s views with the aim to either silence or fire the CEO (outside extreme cases). I think there’s at least one reasonable alternative justification, though: avoiding complicity.

    When one purchases a product, we can expect some percent of that to wind up in the pockets of profit-sharing executives. (Firefox is free, which complicates things, but I will presume that the principle is the same – Mozilla makes money from, e.g., payment from companies like Google whose products are default on Firefox) In turn, some percentage of that profit-sharing executive’s income will go to certain charity. And in some cases (like with Eich and prop 8), some of those charities will be considered odious by consumers. I think it’s fair, in such cases, to conceive of some percentage of the purchase as going towards an odious charity. It’s perfectly reasonable to choose a different product on the basis of reducing/eliminating that percentage.

    On this account, of course, the case for a boycott is still not clear-cut. The percentage might be very small (a mere $1,000 (!) from Eich’s millions), and perhaps (like many conservatives) Eich will give more to good charity overall than executives of competitors, offsetting the negative charity. But a conscientious consumer might reasonably still object on the grounds of being complicit in supporting, even if in a small and outweighed manner, an odious charity – they need not be consequentialists about this.

    With this picture, the incentive is not to fire or silence Eich but rather for Eich to stop giving to odious/controversial charities. I think that the universalized result – in which companies/executives, for profit-seeking reasons, avoid giving to controversial charities – is not so grim as Dave portrays, and indeed may be better consequentially (to the extent that non-controversial charities supporting, e.g., health and education, are likely to be more effective than controversial political campaigns that are often offset by money for competing campaigns).

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    The complicity argument came up last year in the discussion about boycotting Ender’s Game because of Orson Scott Card’s odious views. If he were to donate some part of the profit to an anti-equality charity it would make viewers complicit in supporting it. While we might think it is OK if executives think twice before supporting something controversial, in this case it is an author. Should authors also think twice before taking controversial stands on anything?

    What about academics? Should we cite papers written by researchers with odious personal views – each citation lends them credibility, reputation and potentially a long-term economic or employment gain.

    (“I’m sorry, but our department do not allow anybody to use Teichmuller theory. I’m sure you understand, given his ideology, that we could be subjected to an academic boycott or lose funding if we were to use any of those theorems.”)

    • Owen Schaefer says:

      The complicity argument I was suggesting is limited to individuals’ financial contributions, not their views per se. So, with Card, it would be legitimate to boycott the book/movie if one had reason to think that Card was going to financially support odious causes with some of his profits. However, if all you have is evidence of Card’s views, not his financial activity, the complicity argument would not justify a boycott. The result is that, yes, authors should think hard about how they choose to spend profits from their works – but that’s as it should be anyway.

      In academia, the financial connection is much more tenuous. Suppose there’s an academic one knows is giving to odious charities. Does the complicity argument mean it’s OK to boycott that author’s work? You could argue that attention to work/citations, increases expected income, so the principle is the same. But I would suggest that the tenuousness of the connection (one’s ‘contribution’) is too indirect; the causal chain is too weak to constitute complicity.

      But what about a more direct contribution, like book royalties? Should one assign a professor’s book to students, knowing some will purchase the book and some royalties will go to the odious charity? I think the complicity argument is in itself pro tanto legitimate reason to assign a different book, but the context gives extra reasons that might outweigh that argument. Part of the internal purpose of academia is to distribute and discuss a wide variety of views, even potentially odious ones, for the purpose of honest intellectual engagement. Avoiding the book might end up skewing the discussion and distorting free inquiry (esp. if all authors of a particular view support odious charities), subverting a core goal of academic inquiry. Browser selection has no such internal goal that is subverted by choosing non-odious-charity-donating companies; it’s not like Eich is using Firefox primarily to debate anti-gay-marriage views.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    It seems to me that, purely on the strength of this post, that a company is being boycotted by OK Cupid because its CEO has conservative views. If this is so, then will Ok Cupid be similarly examining the voting patterns of the CEOs of other companies and boycott them because they donated to the Republicans, or even a Democrat. Would a company whose CEO donated to Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign be worthy of a boycott by OK Cupid because Romney said the following in 2005: “I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother”? What about backing Hillary Clinton, someone who it might be claimed backed her husband after he took sexual advantage of an intern?
    Whether or not one is religious, the fact is that there are an awful lot of religious people in the world. Major religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam would all consider homosexuality some kind of abomination. Will OK Cupid boycott a company because its CEO goes to church every Sunday morning?
    The view I am putting forward is that the attack on Mozilla seems to be arbitrary and unfair as it is not evenly applied. A conspiracy theorist might wonder if OK Cupid has been paid by a competitor of Mozilla to put out such a statement.

    • David Gerard says:

      I fear you may be generalising from yourself to others. I know it’s anecdotal, but I’m seeing a lot of people I know react to the Prop 8 donation as an unacceptable thing for them – it crosses their moral event horizon, at which point they can no longer conceivably assume good faith. You don’t feel that, but that doesn’t mean those who do are doing so because of a conspiracy of competitors.

      Really, you can construct elaborate theories as to how you think people should ideally behave, but we’re not short of observable data here.

      • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

        David,

        Thank you for your response. Yes, it is true that the conspiracy theory I ended with does not have any evidence. However, you have not really answered the substantive point: why boycott Mozilla because of its CEO’s conservative views on gay marriage and not examine the political and moral views of the CEOs of other companies and suggest they, too, are boycotted? If a CEO being against gay marriage worthy of boycott, then is a company where the Chairperson is anti-abortion also worthy of boycott? What moral and political issues are worthy of boycott and what are not?

        A June 2012 story on Huffington Post (links seem to have been disabled on this site) states “Almost 2,000 women in 48 states claim that Walmart discriminated against them for pay and promotions.” Should OK Cupid tell its users to boycott that company?

        It simply seems to me arbitrary that Mozilla have been picked on.

        • David Gerard says:

          As I noted, the Mozilla one had been coming for two years. As far as I can tell, the boycotters consider Eich’s donation to Prop 8 not just politics, but ethically unacceptable; and this is compounded by Mozilla being a nonprofit that explicitly claims values contrary to that. So I would surmise he was barely-tolerable as a CTO (weirdness in techies being tolerated as long as they keep producing and don’t metaphorically poop on the carpet), but as CEO he didn’t fit the image those people had of Mozilla. Hence their sense of ethical violation, compounded by his non-apologies and the recent CNet interview. No-one expects, e.g., Larry Ellison to be nice to anyone or do a damn thing the law doesn’t require; but Mozilla has spent years working for a perception as being better than that.

          Really, I’m not seeing why this is so hard to comprehend.

          • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

            So, according to you, if a CEO doesn’t pretend to be nice, and isn’t nice, then there is no need to boycott their company, but if a CEO pretends to be nice, but isn’t, then their company is worthy of boycott?

            If this is the case, and it seems to be so if your previous message can be taken at face value as accurate, then the advice to company CEOs whose companies could potentially be on a boycott list is to not even pretend to be nice and save themselves from the boycott brigade.

            • David Gerard says:

              You appear to have completely missed the second and third sentences.

              • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

                No, I didn’t miss those sentences. The relevant point in your second sentence seemed to be that the CEO was acting unethically when the company had claimed to be ethical and it was this that annoyed the boycotters. The third sentence just implies that his unethical behaviour did not matter when he was CTO but did matter when he became CEO. The third sentence is irrelevant to my argument as I am only considering CEOs and I am not considering CTOs. You implied in the final sentence of that first paragraph – that if the company had not claimed to be ethical and tried to build up such a reputation, then there would be no need to to boycott such a company.

                My argument therefore seems to follow based on the premises following from your second sentence and final sentence in that first paragraph that if a company never claims to be ethical in the first place it is safe from being boycotted. And the moral of the story, to avoid being boycotted irrespective of actions, is not claim to be ethical.

  • David Gerard says:

    When the donation came to public attention, Eich was CTO. That was 2012. There was some concern at the time, and only a small amount of international media coverage. He kept that job.

    There’s – observably, given people’s reactions – something different about CEO, and your article doesn’t address this.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    I see Brendan Eich has now resigned. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26868536

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      The right decision and a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of OKCupid’s strategy.

      • Anders Sandberg says:

        I don’t think OKC’s strategy generalizes very well: boycotting a web browser is a relatively easy thing to do immediately, and directly sends a signal to people who communicate online. If this had been about a bank or food company the boycott part would not have been very efficient. Of course, the signalling aspect might be what really matters (how many actually changed browser?) So that suggests that boycotts led by sites that naturally aggregate a lot of people are what to watch for – let’s see what happens when Facebook, Google or Gawker gets up in arms about something.

        • David Gerard says:

          Wikipedia killed SOPA. Reddit picked the day, but it was the #5 website putting up a banner that melted office-holders’ phones. (I’m a volunteer media contact for Wikimedia, and I spent that day with my phone melting too.) For Wikimedia, SOPA was an existential issue, but it still required lots of people to actually agree this was a good idea, and given that Wikipedians don’t agree on anything, I’m amazed it happened. I hope it doesn’t again any time soon, our power weakens every time we use it.

          • Anders Sandberg says:

            The power weakening is interesting. It actually forces organisations to consider what battles to fight. Always rushing out with the latest outrage reduces the power (a bit like how the effect of a swear word is inversely proportional to the amount of swearing a person does). It might simply be that there is a reputation budget that can be used up, and people have a similar energy budget that only allow for a limited number of boycotts or other actions.

            Internet allows a huge amount of attention to be focused on an issue or individual for a while, but the weakening effect to some degree democratizes this ability across issues.

  • Philip Guenther says:

    I see this as a vote for corporate apathy.

    Some people complain how so many corporations behave merely to maximize their profits and not exhibit any sort of ‘conscience’. It seems that having a ‘corporate conscience’ that isn’t directly related to the company’s product risks losing business due to boycotts both by those that disagree *and* by those that agree, as well as reducing the pool of employees that are qualified to serve in leadership positions, regardless of whether they otherwise were the best match in skills and performance.

    So vote “meh” for corporate apathy: it’s the profitable, risk reducing choice!

    Now if only I could decide whether or not this is a good thing…

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:
    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      I’d say Moulder’s article is laughably irrational, unprincipled and naïve. It amounts to saying “A racist shouldn’t lose his job for being racist, any more than a black person should lose her job for being black”. No-one’s suggesting Eich has no right to personal opinions. But as a person with a public career, if he makes those opinions public then he has to be prepared to accept the consequences. Anyone in his position would be booted out of his job if he’d made it known that he’s a racist – it would be disastrous for the company that employs him as CEO to be associated in any way with such anti-social views – and it should be exactly the same with homophobic views.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    Nikolas,

    It seems to me that your premise is this:

    Someone who six years ago donated money to a campaign to prevent gay marriages, and makes that donation public, should be booted out of his job if they were CEO.

    If so, can you tell me why this should not also be applied:

    Someone who six years ago donated money to a church appeal fund, and makes that donation public, should be booted out of their job as CEO because the church promotes Leviticus 20:13 which states, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

    Surely promoting gay people being put to death is more serious in your eyes than simply not allowing them to be legally married.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    “If so, can you tell me why this should not also be applied”

    No, because I believe any such person should be booted out of their job. Let’s get homophobes out of public life.

    • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

      The actions of the fascistic left speak for themselves.

      • Nikolas Schaffer says:

        I believe it’s the ethical duty of anyone who values human rights to be intolerant of those who seek to unjustifiably restrict the human rights of others, especially when they choose to persecute certain groups on the grounds of innate characteristics such as race or sexual orientation. If we’re to label determined opposition to bigotry and unjustified discrimination as “fascist”, we may as well all go home and let the real fascists take over.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    It is not a “human right” to get married and hence it is not a restriction on human rights to oppose marriage. What is an outrage is to desire to sack any CEO who is church attending (or for that matter, synagogue or mosque attending.) Stalin and Pol Pot notoriously dealt with people for religious beliefs and Hitler dealt with people whose religion he didn’t like. John Rawls argued very well for religious toleration. Some people are clearly opposed to such a liberal doctrine and they would prefer tolerating none of the major religions.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “What is an outrage is to desire to sack any CEO who is church attending”

      Shifting your goal posts quite drastically there. In the example you gave, you explicitly referred to a church that promotes putting gay people to death. As far as I’m aware none of the ordinary mainstream churches actually advocate this. Certainly any CEO openly supporting an extreme fundamentalist homophobe church like the Westboro Baptists should expect to be sacked (unless he/she is actually CEO of a corporation which is itself avowedly homophobic/fundamentalist etc). And let’s remind ourselves that in the Eich case it was the Mozilla board themselves who booted him out, for sound commercial reasons. Homophobia is increasingly socially unacceptable and no corporation that wants to appear modern, liberal, ethical and inclusive can afford to employ such people to represent them. All OKCupid really did was to ensure that this issue could not be swept under the carpet.

      As for “religious toleration”, why on earth should LGBT people and their supporters tolerate religions that don’t tolerate them? How do you think social progress ever occurs if people are expected to forever “tolerate” barbaric beliefs and bigoted traditions?

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    I have not shifted any goal posts. I quoted Leviticus 20:13 which is part of the Old Testament, something followed by the major religions. The church (and synagogue etc) promote the Old Testament and as such the Church is promoting a document that calls for the murder of homosexuals.

    In terms of “social progress” and getting rid of “barbaric beliefs,” I am sure Josef Stalin would be proud of your opinions.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      I see, so you don’t regard Leviticus as barbaric, you don’t believe in social progress (which you associate with “Stalin”), and you think it’s cool that “the Church is promoting a document that calls for the murder of homosexuals”. I don’t think there’s much ground for dialogue, frankly 🙂

      • Nikolas Schaffer says:

        Let’s look again at Michael’s basic ethical arithmetic, since it seems a little haphazard, to say the least. His mob – the Christians – have a special holy book, which includes the instruction that homosexuals should be to death. LGBT people, for their part, don’t have any holy or unholy book in which they’re told to put heterosexuals to death. LGBT people just don’t do things like that, let alone as a matter of holy writ. So the Christians are telling the LGBT people: “You ought to be put to death”, and Michael is cool with that. He thinks it’s acceptable ‘cos of you know, “religious toleration”. But the LGBT people saying to the Christians: “We’d actually like you to stop saying that we ought to be put to death, ‘cos it’s not very nice” is, in Michael’s view, an example of outrageous bigotry of a kind that frightens him to the marrow. What on Earth will the world come to if it’s suddenly seen as “anti-social” for pious, holy men to threaten innocent people with murder? So to Michael: Christians & other religious folk saying put homos to death = OK, whereas objecting to it = horrendous intolerance on the scale of fascists and Stalinists etc. And yes, he actually said fascists and Stalinists, I’m not making it up 🙂

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    I think the core disagreement here is between the deontological view that people should be allowed to have autonomy in their moral views, a roughly consequentialist view that we should do what we can to make life harder for people with unjust beliefs, and the view that some tools for doing that are bad – either morally bad, or just risky (e.g. if people can get fired for having expressed “wrong” views this turns into a tool for the majority oppressing the minority – 15 years ago boycotts against CEOs supporting gay marriage may have been just as likely).

    As for the Leviticus thing, it shows that what people de facto believe can be very different from what they formally believe (just consider Catholic practice and theory on contraception), and holding people accountable for what the formally believe but not in practice believe can be problematic. In fact, this is further evidence for my view that we should be cautious about using boycotts and other tools of focused opprobrium against individuals: it is easy to construe that they have odious views because they are Christian, Muslim or utilitarian and those beliefs have horrible things in their writings, but the vast majority of adherents do not de facto believe or act on those things.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    Anders,

    Yes, I tend to concur. The problem, however, is determining to what extent someone might adhere to a view and then dishing out a so-called punishment for it. The problem with contraception for Catholics is a good example. It is surely true that many Catholics use forms of contraception proscribed by the religion but keep quiet about the fact. But, having said that, try finding a Catholic Priest who is happy to say that using condoms is acceptable. I doubt that you will find a serious Vicar or Rabbi who is prepared to stand up and say they agree with the Bible but Leviticus 20-13 is outrageous and should be condemned. Because of this, those that wish to persecute and drive out of public life who they call homophobes will find it easy to target clerics.

    A further issue is who decides. We have seen this in the women’s movement and the pornography debate with some saying that it is sexist and harmful to women and should be banned and another group arguing that it empowers women and women should be free to decide if they wish to pose nude or have sex on camera. There will be a lot of unhappy women (and men!) if the likes of Andrea Dworkin, Catherine Mackinnon and Rae Langton become self-declared spokespeople and determinants of what is and what is not sexist and harmful to women.

    There are a small amount of politically active transexuals who hounded the journalist Suzanne Moore off Twitter last year for a comment they deemed transophobic. There are also some trans* people who demand that passports should have a gender option of gender neutral and that all public buildings should have gender neutral toilets and if they do not then those that are responsible are transophobic. We can have smaller and smaller groups demanding certain rights and arguing that if compliance is not made then the person responsible is sexist, racist, sizeist, homophobic, biphobic, transophobic and the list goes on. Hence what can happen is not so much the majority oppressing the minority, but the minority denouncing the majority and finding an excuse to pick on one person and hounding them out of a job.

    It is the pro-boycott coterie who I find deeply worrying. It is they whose ideology I believe needs countering.

    • Dave Frame says:

      Michael wrote: “We can have smaller and smaller groups demanding certain rights and arguing that if compliance is not made then the person responsible is sexist, racist, sizeist, homophobic, biphobic, transophobic and the list goes on. Hence what can happen is not so much the majority oppressing the minority, but the minority denouncing the majority and finding an excuse to pick on one person and hounding them out of a job. […] It is the pro-boycott coterie who I find deeply worrying. It is they whose ideology I believe needs countering.”

      As far as I can tell, this is basically an old critique of elitist pressure groups, updated for the 21st century. I don’t have a problem with their ideology (I struggle to care much about ideologies). I have a problem with their tactics, and with the bigotry they show towards dissent. Bigotry is, remember, “intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself”. Nikolas defends this intolerance on the grounds of reciprocity (“why on earth should LGBT people and their supporters tolerate religions that don’t tolerate them?”). It’s an obvious strategy, but it’s not obviously constructive. I think we have several hundred years (at least) of excellent data since the Reformation to argue (from a consequentialist perspective, at least) that simply reciprocating and escalating intolerance leads to bad outcomes. [One obvious consequence is the rise of populist, anti-elitist political movements in Europe and the USA .]

      • Nikolas Schaffer says:

        “Nikolas defends this intolerance on the grounds of reciprocity (“why on earth should LGBT people and their supporters tolerate religions that don’t tolerate them?”). It’s an obvious strategy, but it’s not obviously constructive.”

        No, Nikolas doesn’t. Nikolas defends this intolerance because it is intolerance OF intolerance – i.e., if you’re a genuine liberal, you seek to exclude intolerance from the list of acceptable attitudes and behaviours. To “exclude intolerance” is to refuse to tolerate it, you see. It’s not rocket science but it seems beyond the arithmetical grasp of some here. In the context of liberal pluralism and human rights, each individual has a right to pursue his own beliefs and cultural affinities, to “do his own thing” as it were, as long as he fully respects the rights of each other individual to do the same, and doesn’t seek to use his own “thing” as an excuse to impose upon, violate or curtail those other individuals’ rights. It’s clear that the anti-gay lobby does indeed seek to impose upon, violate and curtail the human rights of LGBT people in various different ways, whereas LGBT people do NOT seek to do the same to heterosexual people. This is why the anti-gay efforts of homophobes (and their anti-gay belief systems, as found in religion etc) are not protected by the tolerance inherent in liberal pluralism, and why they must be challenged and yes, personally penalised when necessary for their refusal to respect the rights of others.

        In the context of the Eich case, this man was seeking to deny LGBT people the right to marry, whereas there are no LGBT people seeking to deny heterosexuals the right to marry. It’s clear then that a “live & let live” here attitude would excuse the intolerance of the likes of Eich, while seeking to punish those who would challenge it. Again, you have to be pretty deficient in basic ethical artithmetic not to perceive this.

        • Nikolas Schaffer says:

          “It’s clear then that a “live & let live” here attitude…” was meant to be: “It’s clear then that a “live & let live” attitude here…”

        • Dave Frame says:

          Nikolas wrote: “if you’re a genuine liberal, you seek to exclude intolerance from the list of acceptable attitudes and behaviours.”

          Not necessarily. Sometimes the best approach is to tolerate intolerance on the grounds that (1) tolerance sets a good example; (2) yelling at people never wins hearts and minds; (3) giving people spaces to retreat to voluntarily allows them to find their own peace with change; etc. You acknowledge that at least some component of your support for the boycott is simply tactical, rather than principled. Insofar as it is about tactics, I think it’s worth remembering that conducting all your politics in the imperative voice is a bad idea, since it invites reaction.

          One core place we simply disagree is that I don’t think opposition to gay marriage collapses to intolerance of LGBT people, or neglect of their rights. Maybe it’s preferable for society as a whole to protect the relevant rights via a new institution such as civil unions, rather than by redefining core aspects of an old institution. (Then again, maybe it’s not – but I don’t think questions like this are verboeten). We often protect rights via new institutions which accommodate variation across circumstance: e.g. permanent residence vs citizenship – if we think there are rights associated with long-standing residents that need protecting, we don’t simply redefine our idea of citizenship, we create institutions which protect the rights in question. Likewise, here in New Zealand we have a suite of organisations and institutions aimed at reflecting the special status of Maori as tangata whenua – this protects rights articulating a special relationship between Maori and New Zealand. Pakeha like me are not accorded those rights. Is this fair? Depends. Not on a really strict one-size-fits-all reading. Does it adequately reflect a reasonable, workable arrangement that brokers between some very different conceptions of what being Maori or a NZer is? Yes. Point of all this is that we don’t always accept the argument that one size fits all (affirmative action is pretty much predicated on the idea that one size does not fit all)… it strikes me as intolerant toward those who hold different opinions from oneself to think that questions about institutional form (in this case about marriage) must necessarily collapse into an attack in this case (in this case homophobia).

          Anyhow… one constructive outcome – at least I’ve got a new browser out of all this.

          • Nikolas Schaffer says:

            The obvious problem with a “compromise” like civil unions is that there really are no justifiable grounds for compromise on an issue like this. What possible “rights associated with long-standing married people” need “protecting” by refusing to legally recognise the marriages of same-sex couples? It appears to be a “moderate alternative” only to those who see the simple step of legally recognising same-sex marriages as a “step too far”, on the basis of their own indefensible prejudices and their desire to ensure that if such marriages are recognised at all, it will be as a second-class category, undeserving of the term “marriage”. Imagine if self-styled moderates had tried to stall the legal acceptance of interracial marriages in the US by introducing a “civil union” alternative. There’s no doubt that would be seen today as just as racist as those favouring retention of the ban – and would be seen that way in its own time too, which is why nobody even suggested it, as far as I’m aware. Do you really think historians will see the “civil union” notion as anything but a pointless attempt to stall the inevitable?

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Hence what can happen is not so much the majority oppressing the minority, but the minority denouncing the majority and finding an excuse to pick on one person and hounding them out of a job.”

      I don’t expect a hardboiled conservative to be able to grasp something quite so simple, but the fact is: Eich & his ilk are seeking to deny LGBT people the right to marry, whereas LGBT people do not seek to deny Eich & his ilk the right to marry. Thus, we are clearly talking about a situation in which there is a would-be oppressor (Eich & his ilk) and hapless victims (LGBT people). Oppressive behaviour needs to be challenged by people who believe in justice and equal rights for all. Thus, Eich needs to be challenged. Getting booted out of his job is a perfectly fair social penalty to pay for being an active oppressor of innocent people. And it is at least partly by means of social penalties of this kind that the hardboiled conservatives of this world come to understand that the oppressive views they hold are now socially unacceptable.

  • Nikolas Schaffer says:

    For my final word on this issue I’ll repost a comment I posted on Forbes:

    “Then you’ll surely be in favor of the wholesale firing of black Americans and muslims, who overwhelmingly disapprove of homosexual marriage?”

    Anyone who disapproves of same-sex marriage needs to be aware that they live in a society in which homophobia and anti-gay discrimination are increasingly seen as socially unacceptable, and that espousal of such views may well entail negative consequences for them in various areas of life. The ascendancy of a revised ethos necessarily entails some degree of enforcement. This is how racism eventually became more-or-less successfully marginalised – not just by persuasive rational argument but by socially penalising racists themselves, which is surely a just response given the absurd, evil and destructive nature of racist beliefs and policies.

    “But that prohibition doesn’t mean he has to favor tax breaks for their personal lifestyle choices”

    He’s free to believe whatever he likes, but public espousal of those beliefs may entail personal consequences for his career etc. As indeed we should hope would be the case. If you’re CEO of a corporation that is trying to project itself as modern, liberal, ethical and inclusive, then publicly endorsing anti-gay discrimination is a reliable way to get yourself booted out. This is what we should expect and it would be disturbing if it didn’t happen. OKCupid’s contribution was to ensure that this issue wouldn’t just be hushed up.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    I can add that a further problem that I have with the way Eich has been treated is that he would not have been aware when he made his donation that the consequences of such a donation would be a pressure group campaigning for his dismissal. It can be compared to installing a new law and making it retrospective punishing people for act they committed when such act was not a criminal offence. This seems unfair.

    As I am in favour of the free market, I am not against boycott movements per se. If OK Cupid or a pressure group were now to publicly announce that they would boycott any company where the CEO from now on donated to any political lobby campaigns to restrict gay marriage, then anyone donating to such a group has had fair warning. It does not seem to me that Eich has had such a fair warning and it seems to be that his punishment is more pour encourager les autres than anything else. I feel that he has been used by the lobbyists as a means to an ends. As such the lobbyists have breached the Kantian categorical imperative.

  • Michael Ezra (@MichaelEzra) says:

    My opinion is this: attempts to erradicate religion from society and other forms of “social progress” led, in the twentieth century, to the deaths of millions. Any campaign to sack someone from their position simply because they are church going would be the actions of hysteria. There seems to be no valid grounds for campaigning against Eich but not also campaigning against anyone who holds strong religious beliefs of major faiths. Hence Eich has been arbitrarily picked on and this is unfair to him.

    There is no human right to get married and restricting someone from getting married because they are homsexual is not harming them. Any campaign can be started by gay people for certain benefits and those not abiding by it might be deemed by a small mob of activists as homophobic. Here is an example – as medical science stands, men cannot give birth to children. Hence gay men do not have children. Part of tax paid is to pay for child care and children’s hospitals and children’s education and the list goes on. A small group of gay people could get together and demand a reduction in tax because the tax system, they could claim, is homophobic. When such demands start, there is no end to them.

    • Nikolas Schaffer says:

      “Any campaign to sack someone from their position simply because they are church going would be the actions of hysteria”

      It’s certainly a hysterical notion, but it’s one that you introduced. No-one else has addressed it.

      “There seems to be no valid grounds for campaigning against Eich but not also campaigning against anyone who holds strong religious beliefs of major faiths”

      Hopefully, by making an example of a fairly small number of people like Eich, there won’t be much need to personally penalise other homophobes (religious or otherwise) because they’ll start to understand that their attitudes are now considered anti-social.

      “Hence gay men do not have children”

      Incorrect, quite a lot of gay men have children, either from previous heterosexual relationships, or by donating sperm or adoption etc.

      “A small group of gay people could get together and demand a reduction in tax because the tax system, they could claim, is homophobic.”

      It’s certainly worth asking why LGBT people should pay equal taxes if they don’t have equal rights, e.g. the right to marry.

      “When such demands start, there is no end to them.”

      Oh, I’m sure you’ll still manage to drag yourself through your day.

      And just out of curiosity – if some religious fruitcakes were to bring out a holy book in which gays are instructed to put heterosexuals to death, would you defend this on the grounds of “religious toleration”? Or would it be exempt from your benign protection ‘cos it’s not a “major faith”?

  • Anders Sandberg says:

    Here is an interesting blog post about boycotting that makes another good point: boycotts must not be permanent, since that defeats the purpose of the boycott.
    http://theferrett.livejournal.com/1913225.html

    Now, this gets back to my original concern: thanks to the enhanced memory produced by the Internet, this makes reputations harder to repair. And this might in turn make boycotts less effective as tools for punishing immoral behavior but more effective as tools for scaring organisations and individuals into behaving in inoffensive ways. This would seem to be a problem if one thinks there are certain moral fights that one ought to take (since now minority views will have a harder time getting a chance, and leaders of boycotts may themselves be boycotted). So unless one thinks current views are exactly the right ones this is a risky trend.

Authors

Subscribe Via Email

Affiliations