Should We Police Thoughts?

Should We Police Thoughts? April 12, 2014

The other day, the CEO for Mozilla had to step down. This was due to influence from social media – a sort of power to the people. Basically, Mr Elch has held private views on gay marriage which have subsequently become public.

I was involved in a conversation on facebook about this as several commenters claimed that people should be entitled to their own opinions in private. This sounds like one of those soundbites which is intuitively sensible, but I’m not so sure. I suppose the issue, as ever with philosophy, boils down to semantics and what “entitled” means. If they are irrationals, then logically speaking, they aren’t entitled, at least not rationally entitled, to such opinions.

This idea that a CEO of an influential multinational should be entitled to such private opinions is perhaps dubious. Let’s take it to the extreme:

Should a CEO be entitled to be racist, sexist, endorse paedophilia, rape, deny the Holocaust and whatnot? As a teacher, can I be entitled to hold that paedophilia is A-OK and still hold my job?

One might reply that these are fine, as long as I don’t harm anyone or let those opinions come out in public.

But surely, being a teacher who is also a paedophile who just happens to promise to keep it private is too risky? Am I entitled to keep my job?

Is Mr Elch entitled to his own private views on the matter as long as they are not confused with the ideals of the company and as long as they do not spill over into his actions for the company?

Here is an analogy. I drink 4 pints one night. I promise I will not harm anyone when I drive. And yet, irrespective as to whether I do or not, I am arrested by the police and charged for holding that alcohol in my system whilst driving. The risk is too high.

Now, such people in powerful positions holding views in their systems are risks. They may not act on them. But you tell me whether a CEO, hiring and firing, who is racist could possibly compartmentalise such feelings successfully. What would the risk factor be? If they were to interview prospective candidates, one black one white, and they had identical skills etc, what would happen?

If you have moral beliefs, beliefs about how society should be, and thee beliefs are dangerous, against human rights and equality, then the chance of these views remaining inactive and ineffective under the surface whilst you manage a multinational is very small.

Given I think his views, especially in donating to the Californian antigay Proposition 8, are morally bad, I think it is a good thing that he stepped down. The risk of having people in positions of power who have morally problematic views is an issue. Perhaps this is getting close to Minority Report whereby we punish people for crimes they are yet to commit, and perhaps it means we have to undergo Bayesian style prior probability risk assessments; but if you don’t think your child’s teacher should be entitled to be a teacher if they are secretly a paedophile, then Houston, we have a problem. Not all drunk drivers kill or injure, yet we prohibit them from carrying out those duties irrespective of the outcome. We are proactive, not reactive.

Why not the same approach to thought, which is, at the end of the day, what underwrites action.

Discuss…

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