Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Equal Rights and the Bully

The Seattle Times wins the 2 quickies thus far. First, the Times reports that Microsoft may rethink it's position on taking a neutral stance on the gay rights bill in Washington state. I do hope that they go back to their original position of supporting the bill. Frankly, I don't think Microsoft's support would necessarily have altered the outcome of the vote. However, if Microsoft says that they support this cause internally and have lobbied for it in the past, then they need to continue those efforts. To go back on it was cowardly and, rather than a neutral stance, the (correct) perception was that the company was taking a backwards (read: negative) stance. One interesting quote from the article:

Gates said Microsoft was surprised by the sharp reaction after it became known that the company took a neutral position on the perennial measure this year, after actively supporting it in previous years....

...The response to the stories surprised Microsoft. "Well, we didn't expect that kind of visibility for it," Gates said. "After all, Microsoft's position on a political bill — has that ever caused something to pass or not pass? Is it good, is it bad? I don't know.

"Is my being behind it good? Look at the referendums I've been behind. I've lost gun control — I'm looking really good on that one," he quipped.

"Surprised"? Bill, if you haven't noticed, this topic is a bit of a hotbed of conversation in the country and has been so for, oh, at least the last five to ten years. You really should get out more. *smile* Besides, younger generations tend to favor many of these rights, so Microsoft can appear cutting edge and hip to them for supporting the bill. After all, they are your current and future customers and shareholders. By the way, Bill, when it comes to human rights battles, don't ever expect to win in the opening or even the second, third, fourth, or fifth rounds. Big issues such as these take lifetimes to resolve. Expect to be in this for a long time - your contribution will be noted favorably as having stood on the moral side of the debate. Ask any racial minority if they think racism was resolved in the 1960s. Ask women if sexism and glass ceilings remain today. As Bill Moyers says in a recent speech in Seattle, it's "...the joy of the struggle."

Speaking of that speech, Nicole Brodeur, columnist for the Seattle Times, mentions it and the Microsoft mishandling of the gay rights issue in her column today. In fact, I got the line from Moyers through her column. I at least skim Nicole's columns and often read them all of the way through, particularly if I find the topic of personal interest. What caught my eye about today's column was the headline: "Deliver us from bullies". As readers will note, I began a discussion here and elsewhere on the topic of bullies in our lives and on bullying tactics. Nicole uses the term "bully" to refer to the minister mentioned in the controversy of the Microsoft debacle. She doesn't seem to believe Microsoft's stated position that the minister didn't influence their decision not to actively support the equal rights law for homosexuals.

As discussed here earlier, in order for someone to be a bully, then they must have some measure of power with which to carry through their intentions. Of course, the recipient of that bullying must be willing to either supply that power or to not be able to seek recourse. In fact, the minister is arguing that bullying against homosexuals continues to be codified by stating the discrimination against gay folks for housing and employment is OK. Doing so means that the state agrees that it is OK for someone to yield a heavy bullying club over anyone who is gay. That isn't right and I don't think most people would agree that it is right.

Still, is the minister a bully? He certainly tried bullying tactics against Microsoft. According to Microsoft, though, he didn't succeed. Microsoft, for instance, had already decided not to support the bill in question. The minister was not able to get the 2 Microsoft employees who testified for the bill fired. Afterwards, the minister, in the article in The Stranger, argued that he did indeed succeed in half of his mission (the lobbying, but not the 2 employees). If one believes Microsoft's version of the events, then the minister had no power over the company and his attempts to bully the company were flaccid. His posturing afterwards is just grand standing for politics sake for his congregation. However, if the minister's account is to be believed, then perhaps he did bully the company into the so-called neutral stance.

So, the debate over bullies and bullying continues with me. It's one of the reasons why I haven't written on the topic as promised - I'm still in conflict about it. One the one hand, the minister's actions can be viewed as bullying or an attempt to bully. On the other, it's politics and democracy in action. One thing that seems apparent and that no one is disputing is that the minister used a threat to attempt to get his way and, of course, telegraphing a threat is one of the most common tactics amongst bullies. Wouldn't it be more effective politics to just begin the boycott without the threat? Hmmm...

As I run that through my mind, I look forward to more of your comments on the topic. I've enjoyed the exchanges. I'll try to post something in the near future, but I won't stick to a time line as I'm mulling my thoughts. Still, I will try to spew something onto this blog even if there are no conclusions.

To give you an idea of where I'm at, some of the thoughts of others have me considering the role of ego (as in the Buddhist conception as opposed to the western psychological conception) in the bully as well as other aspects of our lives (love, self, purpose, desire, rational thought). One person noted that making relationships between things is a human strength whereas I suggested that it was also a human weakness. It seems to me that this is the same for ego - that it is a Pandora's Box that manifests itself in positive (love, leadership) and negative (jealousy, bullying) ways. Since the 18th and 19th centuries, human cultures to greater and lesser degrees have been dealing with more open expressions of egos. It has had a greater influence than ever in our art, our politics, our personal relations and everything else that affects our lives. We are, in short, grappling with those effects and attempting in our own ways to balance the positive and negative aspects of ego.

I suspect that this struggle might even be a longer one than our efforts at ending racism, homophobia, and sexism, though they are inextricably wound together. In the meantime, we can hopefully find ways to use the law to apply interim remedy to these and other social ills.

So, that's what I'm thinking and struggling with before I write deeply on the subject. What are your thoughts?


Scott said...

You assertion about the bully having the power to carry out the threat, either by ability or obeisance on the victim's part got me to thinking. I suspect it may be more common for the victim to grant the power to avoid conflict or something else they fear. I can find no other explanation for our population as a whole caving to every desire of the right with self-righteous cowardice. It seems the cowardly segment of the population (who all knowingly voted for corruption if you ask me) because they feared giving a helping hand to the disadvantaged.

By disadvantaged I mean the poor, minorities be they racial or sexual, and those not practicing the implicit state religion. It appears they revel in abject terror of these disadvantaged people, and will support anything which "puts them back where they belong."

Bullies are in fact base cowards, and require the backing of all the cowards they can find or create.

B.D. said...

I think avoiding conflict is a big player in this. People don't know how to deal with conflict well and often, as The Residents put it, get "caught in the act of being polite".

I'm not so certain that the cowardly segment feared giving a helping hand to the disadvantaged. That could be part of it, but I'll have to think on that. I take the more cynical approach that these people are part of the "I've got mine, so fuck you" generation formerly known as "Baby Boomers"

Scott said...

I go along with that. I think on why they have this need to say "I've got mine, so fuck you!" to everyone else. It is my bias they fear generosity to others will in some way weaken the financial or social position to which they feel such entitlement. It is this I consider to be cowardly. I wish it was only the baby boomers, the 20 and 30 somethings I see in yuppie land seem to have accepted and built upon the attitude with a frightening gusto.