Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adam Smith and mob censorship

On August 5, 2012, I wrote about Adam Smith, a CFO for a medical supplies outfit. Smith was the man who posted a YouTube clip of himself giving a harange to young woman at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru window for working for "a hateful corporation ... a horrible corporation with horrible values." There's a couple of things I didn't know then, and I kinda-sorta wish I didn't know now.

For one thing, I really had no full comprehension of what it means for a post, a meme, or a video clip to "go viral". Smith couldn't have taken a very long lunch break; however, by the time he got back to work — let me stress that this must have been within an hour of posting his rant on YouTube — he was informed by a wide-eyed, fearful receptionist that "The voicemail is completely full, and it's full of bomb threats."

So not only had a lot of people seen the clip in that brief time, they'd looked up where he worked and unloaded their ire on his employers. How many bomb threats the company actually received, I don't know, and I don't think is relevant — one is enough. Smith lost his $220k/year job and $1 million in stock options that same day. ABC News' 20/20 did an interview with him:

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I'm still sorry Smith lost his job and his career, though in retrospect I can't blame Roger Vogel, the CEO of Vante, for letting him go; contrary to what I thought at the time, there obviously had to be enough information available for watchers to track Smith to Vante. It's obvious that conservative fall-guy, "the market", has imposed upon Smith a very strict penance ... though, in the manner of most postmodern penitents, his atonement is taking shape in the form of a book about his experiences. And I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a New York Times best-seller, either; we Americans love reading tell-all books written by or about the celebrity villains we create.

Smith's purgatory is also a cautionary tale for the digital age. Smith wasn't a celebrity, like Mel Gibson or Gilbert Gottfried, who also suffered career setbacks because of their unguarded words. At least he wasn't a celebrity, and still isn't at the same Olympian heights as either Gibson or Gottfried. In the digital age, however, you don't need to spend years establishing yourself in the public eye to be ruined for the crime of public jackassery. You just have to catch the wave at the wrong time.

But hasn't it been coming for some time now? More and more, the public square is being hijacked by zealots, brats, and wingnuts — narcissists who simply cannot tolerate an opposing opinion, who must not only shut down disagreement but punish others for their wrongthink. Smith can't get a job that meets his talents, not because businessmen despise his opinions, but because they fear the mob that despises him. Mob rule is arguably the purest form of democracy; but it's also the best argument for any other form of government.

It's one thing to bring down condemnation on your own head. But the reaction to Smith's opinions got slopped over onto his boss, and has hurt not only him but his wife and four children as well. As tempting as it might be to say, "Well, he deserves it," the sane reaction to such a proposition is: He deserved bomb threats against his employer? Seriously? Did his wife and kids deserve to be forced out of their home and onto food stamps because he made an ass of himself on YouTube?

In case I haven't made it clear — I disagree with Smith. Moreover, I believe his original rant (he's since published a clip in which he apologized to the young worker) displayed the arrogant hypocrisy of the progressive movement: preaching tolerance while acting intolerant, behaving with smug moral superiority while advocating moral relativity.

Nevertheless, it didn't merit the reaction it got. And for those who hounded Smith out of his job yet present themselves in public, I have just three words: Shame on you.

I'd already thought out the potential consequences of signing my name to my opinions, rather than pushing them under a pseudonym. But just now, I have more sympathy for those like my Catholic Stand fellow writer Foxfier, who's simply an anime avatar. It's one thing to bravely face the applause of a small number of people who hold similar ideas, or to engage in sparring matches with opponents whom you like personally.

It's a far different thing to catch the attention of a large number of narcissistic zealots, brats, and wingnuts who may just decide you need to do penance for your ideological sins.