Although the matter of the controversial Arizona legislation SB 1062 is moot following a veto by Governor Jan Brewer, the reactions of several technology giants—as well as pundits—reveals a disturbing lack of consistency. Many of the same organizations and individuals who champion incredible feats of engineering come across as juveniles in their stands against certain policy proposals.
Consider, for instance, the matter of marriage: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos donated a reasonably large chunk of cash to a Washington State campaign to change the government’s definition of marriage. But if the government simply left the marriage business, the entire problem would go away. Instead, countless dollars and hours are spent petitioning government to make rules regarding a matter it shouldn’t be involved in. If individuals are able to freely form contracts and give money to each other without tax penalties, most of the arguments for government meddling in marriage no longer apply. People can then associated with whomever they want and call it whatever they want.
Fast forward to the recent Arizona bill, which, according to Prescott News, “broadens the definition of who can claim religious freedom protections” and “makes it more difficult to claim religious freedom protections in order to refuse services” (emphasis in original). Zack Whittaker notes at ZDNet that “major technology companies, including Apple, Intel, and Salesforce.com, have publicly declared their opposition—in some cases threatened an exodus—from the state in protest at the law.” In other words, these tech companies will protest discrimination by discriminating against an entire state (including, presumably, employees and partner companies that don’t agree with the legislation). The hypocrisy meter is blaring.
Whittaker also laments, “The controversial bill…seeks to amend the state’s existing laws in a vague and unpredictable way that would effectively allow individuals to refuse service so long as that decision is made solely on their personal religious beliefs.” News flash: any legislation longer than a few sentences is likely to be vague and unpredictable. How many examples of the law of unintended consequences must we cite in all the millions of pages of laws and regulations to prove that point? Just look to Obamacare or the Patriot Act for some high-profile instances that intersect with the technology world far more than an obscure law in Arizona.
The quintessential anecdote in many discussions of the legislation is a baker who refused on religious grounds to serve two homosexual individuals. Those individuals, rather than doing what most people would do under almost any other circumstance (take their business elsewhere), took the matter to court. Ignoring the details of the legislation in Arizona, the above-mentioned tech companies are saying that people should be forced to serve others even if it violates their consciences.
So, let’s consider a hypothetical situation that reverses the political stripes: say, the Ku Klux Klan is demanding that a black-owned business bake a cake for some festive occasion. Would Intel, Microsoft and others be running like mad from legislation that sought to grant a business the right to turn away the KKK?
But I’ll go you one better: the Arizona legislation doesn’t go far enough. No one should be forced to serve anyone, and any reason for denial of service should be allowed legally (although perhaps not morally—but hey, we don’t want to force our morals on anyone, do we?). It’s called freedom of association, something you take for granted in choosing friends, a spouse, a caterer for your party and so on—you dastardly discriminator! Nevertheless, people who don’t like the fact that a business discriminates against a certain group (whether it be homosexuals, the KKK, Muslims, Christians or whomever) can freely withhold their money from that business. Economics may then force the business owner to wise up or fold.
Whittaker goes on to say, “For a country founded on the principles that the church and the state should remain separate, it’s surprising to see how far religion has and continues to infiltrate the very hearts of our state and federal legislative systems.” Leaving aside the convenient equation of church and religion (a bankrupt notion), a denial of service by one individual to another is a matter of freedom of association—religious conviction just happens to be one of the few remaining refuges for businesses. I’d like to see Intel, Microsoft and others write white papers on how they, out of a desire for consistency and fairness regardless of personal beliefs, support forcing black business owners to serve the KKK. (“But, but—why would the KKK go to a black business?” Indeed. And why would homosexuals go to a baker or photographer who disapproves of them?)
The Ultimate Irony
Once the groundwork is laid for prevention of discrimination, the door is opened to all manner of legal shenanigans. A contractor doesn’t want to work on your house? Must be because you’re Lutheran and he’s atheist. Sue ‘em. An IT services firm turned you down for a data center project? Must be because your business is owned by a woman. Sue ‘em. Google won’t provide you with AdWords service? Must be because it disagrees with your political persuasion on a certain issue. Sue ‘em. Oh, wait…
The irony is that increasingly, the economic (and other) decisions that people make become a legal matter of intent. For instance, a contractor may simply not have the time to work on your house, or he may just be uncomfortable with the kind of work involved. But if you get the idea (justifiably or otherwise) that it’s because the contractor just doesn’t like you or the way you live, why, that contractor better be ready to demonstrate a lawful state of mind in court. In such a situation, however, no one is harmed when one party simply walks away—whatever the reason. But harm may be done when force is introduced. The moralistic whining about the Arizona legislation amounts to the idea that you must do business with anyone and everyone who knocks on your door, regardless of your conscience. And if you don’t, you may well end up in a government cage (aka jail).
The irony manifests itself in complaints by tech companies and others against NSA spying. Many of these organizations and individuals apparently have no problem with government prying into people’s minds when it comes to their politically favored causes. But when it’s their own data, why, they’ll hide behind freedom, privacy and on and on. (Hey, the government just wants to make sure you don’t intend or plan to cause real harm.)
A Cookie-Cutter Society
Live and let live. That means let others live—quirky views and all—just as you want to be let alone to live with your own views (as appalling as they may be to others).
Or you can opt for the cookie-cutter society. Sure, believe what you want (whatever that means), but what you do—even if it harms no one—better be in line with the current political winds. Unfortunately, the wind is a fickle thing. I seem to recall something about how they first came for so and so…
Naturally, tech giants like to ride the wave of the latest political fad; after all, they only care about money, and tacking their names onto news about a controversial case is a good way to garner some free PR. But they’re not so good at making sense: protest a law that allows discrimination by leaving the jurisdiction? Their justification is likely to involve some moralizing about how it’s in protest against behavior that they disapprove of. Full circle: that’s precisely what they are condemning.
Image courtesy of ilovememphis