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The Age of Bullies

We don't like bullies on the school playground, but we're giving them a license to intimidate others in the public square, the boardroom, and the university.

BY Joan Desmond

| Posted 3/31/14 at 1:48 PM

 

Many of us bear the scars left by schoolyard bullies, and we applaud efforts to stop such destructive behavior before it harms more children.

But what about the adult bullies who have become a dark and disturbing feature of what now passes for public discourse in our polarized world? 

Last week, Mozilla's CEO , Brendan Eich,  was attacked for making a $1,000 donation in 2008 to California's Proposition 8, which effectively banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State. Some Mozilla employees have demanded that the CEO resign because his donation suggested he supported a discriminatory law and was not truly committed to a diverse workplace.  

Thus far, no one has stepped forward to publicly challenge the employees' demands, which have been widely circulated by the media, though a handful of media sources acknowledged the CEO's right to donate to Prop 8, and anonymous online comments have supported him. 

Since the furor erupted, Mozilla and Eich have vowed to redouble their efforts to reach out to the LGBT community, within the company and beyond. 

So Eich isn't stepping down, but the controversy has stirred some questions and possible scenarios in my mind.

Many years have passed since Eich made that donation to Prop 8 and who knows whether he, like President Obama, has changed his mind on same-sex marriage? Should the president also resign from office? Maybe we should put Eich on trial, hire a top prosecutor, and find out what he really believes (cross-examination will be  live streamed, and the digital audience can serve as a virtual jury).  

And, down the road, what if Mozilla employees get a  new CEO who wants to play the bulles' game, too. And maybe he decides he will force out anyone who donated/didn't donate to gun control groups, or Israel,  or to the Romney presidential campaign? Or ...?

Unfortunately, the public bullying of Eich, is hardly an anomaly. Anyone can be a candidate. 

Earlier this month, Brendon Ambrosino, a young professional dancer, writer,and a self-identified gay man, became a target of bullies. Ambrosino was recently hired by Ezra Klein, the former Washington Post blogger, who now runs Vox.com, and some bloggers challenged Klein's decision to give the young man a spot. 

Ambrosino's crime? He raised questions about whether same-sex attraction and behavior is influenced by personal choice.  Andrew Sullivan, an influential self-identified gay writer and blogger, has since argued that activists who attacked Ambrosino wanted to control the discussion and delegitimize members of the gay community who didin't follow the approved talking points.

And then there's another recent case of bullying: the Anscombe Society at Stanford University was under fire this month after LGBT student leaders discovered that a planned conference hosted by the Society dared to offer clear support for marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The conference organizers lost their funding from the graduate student council,  and were denied funding from the undergraduate student council. Then the university asked the Society to pay a $5,600 "security" fee to cover the cost of providing 10 campus security guards at the April 5 event. Free speech doesn't come cheap.  Fox News' interview with the head of the Anscombe Society is here.

Ultimately, the deep-pocketed university announced it would pick up the tab for the security fee , and generous donors came forward to help cover the conference costs, but you get the idea.

We are allowing intimidation, not reasoned argument, to define what passes for public discourse.

No doubt, some of the present-day bullies were on the receiving end of  playground bullying when they were still in elementary school. But they should know better than anyone that pushing people around won't win you friends or secure support for your position. 

 The next time someone gets bullied for their constitutionally protected beliefs, stand up for their rights and start a debate, not a war.