Firing People for Self-Expression

Like last month, writing a memo that said things people found uncomfortable was a good enough reason for Google to fire somebody and for the rest of the tech world to refuse to ever hire him again. Refusal to bake a cake was a good reason to destroy someone's business. Now the ability to express yourself without reprisals is the "literal" basis of America?

I mean, I'm fine with the idea that the expression of political ideas should be protected. It's true that sometimes it can advance the work of justice, and that protests can be important. Even apart from that, working people will ordinarily have interests that are different from their employers. They should be free to organize, to advance those interests, and their employers shouldn't -- morally, I mean -- fire them for advancing their interest. Democrats used to understand that; how are you going to advance a view like "Join the Union" if employers can just fire everyone who joins the union, or talks about joining the union, or seems interested in unions? You'd think Democrats would argue that way, even though normally they haven't done so lately.

But I'm getting whiplash from all the people who are joining pitchfork-bearing mobs to get people fired one day, and then talking about how sacred free expression is the next day. Can we pick a principle and stick to it? People should be free to express themselves without losing their jobs -- true or false?


E Hines said...

For one thing, the free expression principle works both ways. Protestors have a free speech right to protest. The rest of us have the same free speech right to object to their protest and to decry it.

For another thing, who's "joining pitchfork-bearing mobs to get people fired one day?" The only pitch-forker I've seen are the protesters and Mike Tomlin.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I think the first one I remember was the "Has Justine Landed Yet?" fiasco. It seems to be pretty common, though, to go after people and try to get them fired over things they say.

I'd love to see us stop doing that, to be sure.

E Hines said...

Who's going after people to get them fired over things they say?

Aside from that, speech in the work place is not entirely protected; a lot depends on workplace rules. With the NFL in particular, the player contracts contain clauses that enjoin players from engaging in behavior that reflect badly on the team or the league (and players disrespecting the flag and our nation could be argued either way), and league rules require the teams to be on the sidelines for the national anthem. Goodell in his awesomeness has chosen to take no action against the three teams who chose to absent themselves from the sidelines during the national anthem this weekend.

And aside from his other misbehaviors, Tomlin justified his decision to allow his team to stay in the locker room during the national anthem by claiming his team didn't want to be part of the politicization of the situation. Of course, in context, the absence was exactly a political statement of disrespect for the national anthem (and a violation of league rules), and I don't accept that Tomlin is so stupid he doesn't recognize either of those failures.

I'm unfamiliar with the Justine Sacco thing; the only thing that Wikipedia says is that she was shamed over some tweets and her employer fired her--nothing about any shamers calling for her to be fired. Reading between the Wikipedia lines, it was the cowardice of her employer, not any headhunters, who cost her her job. Is there more that's not in Wikipedia (it wouldn't be the first time).

Eric Hines

Grim said...

Are you saying that you are unfamiliar with people trying to get folks fired for things they say? I mean, to me this seems like it happens all the time. Just quickly searching for "fired social media" I find not just stories, but lists of stories: "These 17 people" "These six people" "Ten people who..."

Or maybe that's not what you're saying. Are you trying to establish that there's only a small class of people who do this?

E Hines said...

No, I'm asking you to be specific, and you keep responding with glittering generalities, all in the context of some distorting Trump's remarks.

Eric Hines

E Hines said...

On the other hand, a quick look at "fired social media" and "These 17 people" turned up lists of people who were fired by their bosses over their use of social media, but no instance where a third party "try[ed] to get folks fired for things they say." After that, I stopped bothering.

Eric Hines

jaed said...

It's possible that you might not have been paying attention to this for the last several years.

- James Damore was fired from Google for writing a memo that suggested that part of the reason for the dearth of female engineers might be biological.

- Years earlier, Larry Summers was effectively fired as President of Harvard University for saying something similar.

- Adria Richards got a man fired for making a silly joke about "dongles", not to her but within her hearing. I don't remember the victim's name.

- Brendan Eich resigned under pressure after quite a few people called for him to be fired over his donation of money to a No on 8 organization. I might note that Eich was not some random suit, either; he is a seminal figure in the development of web technology.

This is just a few of the most widely-discussed cases, off the top of my head.

Seriously, this is a new thing to you?

Dad29 said...

Trump has the opinion that disrespect for the flag of the country is a firing offense. Apparently that is not the case in the NFL, where cash-flow depends on players. See losing-team paid admissions, e.g.

Texan99 said...

If I watched football, which I never would, I don't think I'd refuse to root for a team because I discovered that they were promoting annoying political views on their own time. That doesn't mean I want to tune into an entertainment event only to have their annoying political views thrust into my face. I just won't buy a ticket under those circumstances; I'll find another entertainment event to watch.

If they end up getting fired because their team can't make any money on that basis, I won't lose any sleep.

I think this principle works well whether they're using game time to promote a conservative politician or to disrespect the American flag.

E Hines said...

Seriously, this is a new thing to you?

Nope, those are old news. Apparently you've missed this thread. The beef here is about people demanding others get fired by those others' bosses, your list and the Google list are all about bosses doing the firing, and without others demanding it.

And: resigning isn't being fired. Do you really not get these distinctions?

Eric Hines

jaed said...

I can only assume that this is new to you. In all of those cases, a mob did indeed demand the firing. The bosses complied with the demand.

And you have surely heard of constructive firing. If the board comes to you and says "resign or we'll fire you, because there's a mob out for your job and we don't want to defend you from it"... do you really characterize that as simply a voluntary resignation? Strange.

I am, honestly, getting a little tired of the starkness of the divide between "when we do it, it's evil! mob rule!" and "when they do it, it's good! public-spirited citizens! and besides, the bosses made the final decision so it's fine!" A country cannot survive with two sets of rules in effect—a gentler one for one political persuasion, and a much harsher one for the other.

I feel pretty much the same way as Texan99. I can certainly imagine things a celebrity could do that would make me not want to watch them perform any more, but not many. And celebrities misbehaving, or saying things that are controversial, or doing something offensive, is a very common occurrence. The difference here is that if that happens, I can ignore it and just watch the movie, or the concert, or the game, and enjoy the performance for its own sake. But that's much harder to do if a celebrity makes the offensive behavior part of the performance. Then I don't have the option of ignoring it.

It's why there are some movies I prefer not to watch, because the movie itself is distasteful to me—which isn't the same as the actors or director making some speech denouncing people like me at an award ceremony.

Elise said...

People should be free to express themselves without losing their jobs -- true or false?

Mr. Cillizza is crossing the beams when he says "The US is literally premised on the right of people to freely express their beliefs without fear of reprisal" in response to a Tweet from President Trump. We have the right to freely express our beliefs without fear of reprisal from the government. We don't have the right to freely express our beliefs without fear of reprisal from our employers, neighbors, church, bowling league, etc. (We should be free from violent reprisal from anyone.)

The question of whether the President crossed the beams is an interesting one. As I read it, he did not call for anyone to be fired. Rather, he asked his audience "wouldn't you love it if..." I don't think that counts as calling for someone to be fired but it's a fine line to walk.

As for whether there are pitchfork-bearing mobs, it certainly looks that way to me. The examples jaed gave qualify and so does Justine Sacco. I'd also add Tim Hunt who resigned under pressure - the pressure being "resign or be fired" - and Gretchen Rachel Hammond. I would also argue that the jobs rioting when Milo UnspellableLastName or Charles Murray appear on campus count: these speakers make part of their living giving talks, either paid directly or because it promotes their other work.

A mob (real or virtual, social media or mainstream media) screaming that someone is racist (sexist, Islamaphobic, transphobic, homophobic, etc) is a pitchfork-bearing mob trying to get that someone fired. And someone who resigns when faced with that kind of pressure combined with a clear message that his employer wants him gone is someone who was driven out of his or her job. (The most interesting exploration I've read of how this all plays out is SJWs Always Lie by Vox Day.)

Elise said...

the jobs rioting

Should be the mobs rioting.

(And I posted my previous comment without reading jaed's 3:12 so pretty much: what jaed said.)

Grim said...

I mean, the mobs seem real to me too. In the case of the Google memo, for example, the memo was leaked to the press, who then made a huge deal about it. Then there were Twitter outcries from at least hundreds of people about how awful it was; then there was that sanctimonious piece from a former "Googler" about how it would never be fair to ask a female employee to work with that guy ever again, and they might punch him. And that led to another round of sharing, with the approval of the mob for the idea that he was permanently unemployable.

I wouldn't mind a rule -- leaving aside the question of whether or not we have one -- to the effect that this wasn't the right way to proceed. But I'm with jaed. I'm tired of having two sets of rules.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on the two sets of rules frustration. Either it is permissible to say things or it is not, no matter who is saying them or for what cause. Not "My words are speaking truth to power but yours are offensive and cause trauma and justify physical violence or calling for your firing."

My employer has guidelines for our dress, conduct, and speech while at work, and likewise when we are representing our employer outside of the usual four walls of work. That's just part of the contract. If I want to oppose a policy my employer favors, I do it on my own time and make certain it is clear that those are my personal opinions. I know the consequences if I don't and I accept those limits as a condition of employment.

Which I suppose makes me exceedingly strange in the current world.


Ymar Sakar said...

The Alt Right is learning from the Left, while still thinking they can uphold their Constitutional principles for the sake of victory.

Lucifer's Own is playing a different game than the one people are fighting in this Culture War.

I have no recollection or datapoint where humans, by themselves, ever won a single battle against Lucifer. They can win against Islamic Jihad or the Leftist alliance or the Deep State or the secret societies or what other cabals the Alt Right americans like to talk about... but against Lucifer, they are pretty much helpless. It's not 3d chess, they just don't know the rules of 2d chess.

E Hines said...

Wow. Resigning is the same as being fired. Wishing someone were fired or hoping for it is the same as demanding it.

No. American English is the only language in which I'm reasonably fluent; I decline to play this Orwellian Newspeak game. It's pointless for me to continue in this thread.

Eric Hines