Monday, August 6, 2012

Never Trust a Stranger Who Addresses You as "Friend"

A couple of friends linked to this opinion piece on Facebook today.  I'm disappointed in both of them.

The writer imagines that he's addressing Dan Cathy supporters, but I can't imagine many of them bothering to read the piece.  He's preaching to the choir, so he might as well not pretend otherwise.
To all of the, "It's his (Dan Cathy) right to speak his mind. Leave him alone!" people,

Is that your only point, that he has a right to say that? Who have you found that actually disputes that fact? I certainly do not endorse that argument, and it isn't the point. He is free as any other citizen of our nation to say whatever he likes, but that freedom does not protect him or his employers from other individual reactions to his speech.
Lou Colagiovanni obviously hasn't been paying attention to the debate.  Many people have actually disputed the fact that Dan Cathy has a right to state his opinions.  Start with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Merino of Chicago and Mayor Tom Menino of Boston, who threatened to block future Chick-Fil-A franchises from opening in their cities because of Cathy's statements and policies.  Then consider all the people who supported their threats, tried to justify them, or pretended that they hadn't said what they said but agreed with them anyway.  Generally they also ignored the fact that these worthies had backtracked from their original aggressive rhetoric, probably on legal advice.  Often the rationale was that "hate speech" is not protected by the First Amendment, or that governments can block any business they like for any reason they like, as long as the businesses are bad guys.  Glenn Greenwald did a piece last week, challenging those who felt this way to explain why (or if) they would object if governments were to block liberal, pro-gay businesses; the comments on the piece were revealing in their incomprehension of the issue.  (Most other well-known liberal writers agreed with him, however.)  To my mild surprise, even my liberal law professor friend muddied the issue.  The friend of another gay Facebook friend denied that the government couldn't block bad speech, because "hate speech" and "pornography" are not protected speech; of course, she was wrong about that too.

But back to Mr. Colagiovanni.
Why do you so forcefully argue that Cathy has a right to his opinion, but recoil when my friends and I attempt to exercise our opinions in the same manner that you champion? Is it because we disagree with Mr. Cathy and therefore with you? If so, let me tell you with certainty that agreement is not a tenet of free speech. In fact it is quite the opposite.
(When I first read the article this morning, Colagiovanni had written "tenant" for "tenet"; I pointed this out in a comment with more substantive criticism, and he fixed the typo but not the argument.)  To answer his first question, the double standard he criticizes is normal for American political discourse.  "Freedom of Speech for Me, But Not for Thee," Nat Hentoff called it, though he was as guilty of the tactic as anyone he criticized.  The same question could be asked just as profitably of Dan Cathy's critics: why do you so forcefully argue that you have a right to your opinion, but recoil when he and his friends exercise their opinions in the same manner you purport to champion?  Why is it good to boycott Chick-Fil-A, but not for the Christian right to boycott J. C. Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as an advertising symbol?  (To her credit, DeGeneres didn't freak out over the boycott threat as many of her fans did.  But to his credit, Bill O'Reilly declared his opposition to all boycotts, regardless of their rationale; he's consistent on that point, even if he's wrong.)
Aren't you the same people who advocate for free markets? What is more free in a market than individuals coming together to talk about something they are passionate about? Do you believe in a market where consumers are not allowed to actively and loudly voice their dissatisfaction with a product, or a brand -- regardless of the reason? If so, how can you call that a "free" market, friend?

The more one examines the points of views of those who make these arguments, the more readily apparent it is that what they offer under the guise of patriotism and a battle for the truth is nothing more than an attempt to silence dissenters.
I haven't noticed that Chick Fil A's pro-gay critics welcome discussion or disagreement any more than Chick Fil A's supporters do.  Certainly the critics aren't very good at discussion.  There's something pathetic about the supporters' day of support for the chain on August 1 last week.  It's reminiscent of the Right's conviction that calling themselves the Tea Party (after a notorious incident of civil disobedience and property damage) while having safe little rallies constitutes courageous dissent against tyranny.  If they imagined that by eating at Chick Fil A they were standing in the proud tradition of the lunch counter sit-ins (and I got the impression that some of them did) or the primitive Christians worshiping in catacombs, they were deluded: no one was going to hit them or arrest them for buying a fast-food chicken sandwich.  But they did turn out in numbers, which is something.  The nationwide counter-demonstration mounted soon after seems to have fizzled.  Here in Bloomington, the Kiss-in participants were stopped from taking pictures by Mall guards.  When it was pointed out that the anti-gay demonstrators had taken pictures, the response was that there were too many of them to stop.  That wasn't true of the pro-gay demonstrators; why not?  I didn't go because I don't feel passionately about this matter; I'm not a supporter of marriage, same-sex or other sex, and I think the opposition to Chick Fil A has muddied the issue by its disdain for the First Amendment.  But a lot of people do care, or say they do.  Where were they?