“It’s very dangerous for us as a community to say we will only work with people who share our beliefs.”
The speaker is Elissa Shevinsky, an app designer, quoted in the New York Times’ Sunday Business pages of April 6, in an article entitled “Tech’s Man Problem”.
Ms. Shevinksy was discussing her decision to go back to working with a male collaborator who apologized publicly for offensive misogynist statements that he had made earlier, also publicly.
Ms. Shevinsky’s assertion is striking. It comes at a time when the evidence of many news stories, incidents and experiences suggest that the prevailing ethos is just the opposite: many of us do indeed seem to want to work – or live, or speak with – only those who share our beliefs.
Huffington Post reports today that a Palestinian professor has been denounced as a traitor for taking a group of his students on a trip to Auschwitz. Professor Mohammed Dajani has written that he wanted his students to see the concentration camp because his duty is to educate them – to open their minds and their eyes. In a breath-takingly courageous statement, he writes: “I will not hide, I will not deny. I will not be silent. I will not remain a bystander even if the victims of the suffering I show empathy for are my perpetrators and my occupiers.”
Professor Dajani’s Palestinian critics probably don’t feel they share a common viewpoint with liberal American media, academia, or public opinion – they’d be surprised. There are many who feel very strongly that those who hold beliefs at odds with theirs, those who criticize a person or position they hold dear, must be silenced.
To give just two examples: There was the recent ousting of Brendan Eich from his briefly held position as chief executive of Mozilla, a tech company, after it became known that Eich opposed same-sex marriage. There was the decision of Brandeis University, in response to demands from some students and faculty, to rescind its offer of an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali native and women’s rights activist who is highly critical of the treatment of women under Islam.
Those of us who passionately support marriage equality may feel gratified to think that public opinion has progressed to the point where someone who does not share our views is considered unemployable in the tech industry. Those of us who passionately value religious pluralism may feel pleased that a university can be pressured into rescinding its invitations to public figures if those figures are perceived by some individuals as disrespectful of their religious choices.
It’s fine to feel this way. As long as we recognize that we support the notion of a prevailing ideology and the silencing of whoever doesn’t happen to agree with that ideology. As long as we will be equally complacent when that ideology changes, and a different set of opinions are silenced. As long as we are ready to admit that what we support is not just marriage equality and religious pluralism, but censorship. As long as we are prepared to be censored ourselves, should we ever find ourselves out of sync with the dominant view, whatever it may be.
As a woman in the tech world, Elissa Shevinsky says in effect that she doesn’t want to work in a field in which everyone thinks the same as she does. I’m impressed. Her position isn’t an easy one to take. Professor Dajani’s amazing courage is even more impressive.
As hard as it is, I’ve come around to a similar view. I don’t want to live, talk, work and share a world only with those who think just like me.