Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Brendan Eich Gay Mafia Furor: What's Really Going on Here?

On the weekend, I wrote about how curious the recent volte face of conservatives and their centrist enablers re: employers' sacrosanct rights has been in the case of Brendan Eich. One week, they're hot and heavy after the notion that Hobby Lobby is a person with religious beliefs and a conscience, and Mr. Hobby's right to do almost anything he wishes in the name of his tender conscience must not be questioned.

The next week, they're hot and furious about the choice of the Mozilla corporation to pressure Brendan Eich to resign as CEO — because, well, suddenly corporations' rights to free speech and to the exercise of conscience mean something different when it's not the gays being fired, but when it's the gays (as we're now being told, misleadingly) who caused the firing.

Here's Brian Beutler on that same curious volte face I noticed on Saturday:

Yesterday, employer rights were sacrosanct, and trumped the rights of sexual minorities; today they must be curtailed to protect the rights of political minorities.    
What all of this reveals is that the animating issue for conservatives isn't abstract principle, but the privileges they are losing, or sense that their tribesmen are losing. This also explains why the reaction on the right has been so whiny and hyperbolic. Eich's supporters think it's appropriate for there to be repercussions for engaging in speech they don't like, but not for engaging in speech they do like. And, very suddenly, speech they like is becoming culturally disfavored.

As Beutler notes, in a nutshell, the furor of Brendan Eich's resignation is about the sense of a group of people who have had extraordinary power and privilege in our society (I've been calling them straight white men who own things) that, for the first time in a long time, if ever, they are being given a run for their money as denigrated others begin to raise probing critical questions about the power and privilege of straight white males — about their unquestioned rights, which seem persistently to be set over against the rights of people of color, of women, and of those who are gay. To say that they, straight white men, Are Not Amused about this historical development, about the novel expectation that they explain precisely how they've earned their hegemonic status in cultural, political, and economic life everywhere, would be a spectacular understatement.

Here's J. Bryan Lowder on just how silly (and downright pernicious) the notion that the gays are suddenly running things is: 

This should be obvious, but anyone who thinks that gays have anything close to outsized influence in public life either lives in an urban liberal bubble or just doesn't understand the meaning of the words structural inequality. Given the ongoing threat of emotional and physical violence that LGBTQ people live with every day, not to mention the extremely real risk of social or professional termination we face in many parts of the country, to take even half-seriously the idea that gays might be "running things" behind the scenes is not only pernicious—it's downright offensive.

Straight white men who own things still run things. And they intend to keep on running things for the foreseeable future, though demographic shifts making the world browner and cultural shifts including the rise of movements for women's rights and gay rights point to a different future for white men who run things — insofar as they cannot lock in minority control over political, economic, and cultural life for as long as possible, via techniques that translate the enormous wealth that just happens to be concentrated almost exclusively in the hands of white men into direct influence over political processes.

The various "debates" we're now witnessing about whether we've gone too far in the direction of political correctness or multiculturalism, whether we're seeing the rise of liberal fascism in gay rights movements or among people of color: the neuralgic issue at the heart of all of these debates and driving all of them is the deep anxiety of straight white men who own things (and of people who carry water for them, including some women, some people of color, and some gay folks) that things may be getting out of control. Out of their control. Out of the control of the customary sectors of power and privilege in American society.

The "debates" about race between folks like Jonathan Chait and Ta-Nehisi Coates (and here) and others, in which white men who have long enjoyed astonishing privilege appear to be informing people of color, essentially, to get over it, to stop seeing the world through the lens of their own experience of race, are at their very core "debates" about the continued need of white men of astonishing privilege to hang onto this privilege for as long as they possibly can. To defend their tribal boundaries . . . . 

The Brendan Eich furor and the furor over race exhibited by the Chait-Coates debate are two sides of the same coin. They're "debates" in which people of color, gay people, and, implicitly, women continue to be expected to justify their existence, their demand to be treated as fully human, in a way in which straight white males are never expected to do. They're debates in which the definition of the "rational," the "natural," the "divinely revealed" continues to be controlled by (and measured against) the experience and worldview of straight white men who own things.

And in which, by definition, the experience and worldview of people of color, gay people, and women are treated as what must be explained, justified, made to account for themselves. In which the experience and worldview of people of color, gay people, and women are treated as other —when what they're other than is only other than the experience of straight white men who own things. Other than, that is, the normative gaze of our culture (to borrow a phrase from Cornel West and Edward Said), which is  never asked to justify itself as it expects to be taken for granted as normative . . . . 

The photo of Brendan Eich is from Mozilla by way of Nick Bilton and Noam Cohen at New York Times.

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