Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Overdue: Brendan Eich, tolerance, and how hearts are softened
I really did want to put in my two cents about the Brendan Eich debacle as it unfolded last month, but I ultimately preferred not to disrupt the poetry month festivities with a post written in the defense of an alleged homophobe.
At this point it's old news, and all the usual commentators have already commentated. Some of the best remarks came from Andrew Sullivan—someone with whom I often disagree, but who was absolutely, 100% correct in his characterization of the episode as a deep and disturbing affront to the spirit of liberalism. This would have been an amazing opportunity for social liberals to have taken the high road, to have done the right thing, to have practiced what they preached. They could have taken Eich at his word when he professed his dedication to Mozilla's tenets of inclusivity and diversity, and asked to be judged by his performance going forward rather than by a political donation he made as a private citizen six years ago. Instead, the Twitter collective belched out a miasma of acrimonious comparisons to Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan, and...well, that was that.
Sure. Eich's removal was the result of the free market performing exactly as it's supposed to, and the market was only acting upon the verdict of the court of public opinion. But in this case the court would have done itself much more of a service by showing clemency where it was called for.
(Since it's probably fresh in your mind: if you'd like to compare Eich with Donald Sterling, I refer you to William Saletan—another blogger who usually leaves a bad taste in my mouth—who astutely addresses such analogies here, and does no less fine a job with the final analysis of the Eich affair here, as long as we're counting.)
Anyway, this is last month's conversation, and it's all been said already. But there's still one thing I'd like to share:
My tenure at the Quaker center overlapped with the nine-month stay of a Korean-Ukranian evangelical family. The father was very upfront about his beliefs: people who don't accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior are lost; damned forever. He felt the same way about gays, too. Even though there was never any overt antagonism between him and the several openly gay members of the community, anyone who had taken a class, attended a workshop, or had a candid conversation with the man knew how he felt about the issue.
After several months of living in the community—which required him to work alongside and engage with all of its members, including the gays—he began to soften his tone. It wasn't a complete turnaround: all he did was pivot from his initial fire and brimstone convictions regarding gays towards a declaration of non-judgment: "we're all sinners; who am I to condemn someone else?" Obviously I don't expect him to become a gay marriage advocate (or even much of a sympathizer) any time in the immediate future, but progress was made. The evangelist changed his mind. It was a start in the right direction, and it absolutely would not have happened if the community had booted him out during the first couple of months for not sharing its own views on the social and religious acceptability of homosexuality.
I'm frequently heartened by this generation's passion for social justice, but I'm more and more concerned by the manifestations I see of a vituperous "hate the haters" mentality. You don't soften hearts, you don't win minds that way. Just as nobody will ever really be led to see the light through hellfire sermons, you don't convert the prejudiced by pillorizing or shunning them. Antagonism only makes enemies. Tolerance, patience, and a willingness to engage win allies. If you'd like to see a practical example, please allow me to point you towards Daryl Davis.
In their mob-minded response to the Eich affair, social progressives made an embarrassing misstep. If the right wants to caricature the left as an army of goose-stepping PC thugs, the left practically struck a pose for them.