We find ourselves in a remarkably bitter and divisive time in American history. As we look to how to move forward as a nation during this time of great disunity, I turn to the issue of “cancel culture” in the airline industry.
Boeing Embraces “Cancel Culture” In Airline Industry
Last summer, a Boeing executive was fired for an essay he wrote 33 years earlier while in the Navy. The essay addressed females in combat and made a number of arguments that did not age well.
“Women do not naturally band together for ritual comradeship.Their enormous personal courage usually reflects their loyalties to family and home rather than to each other and ‘the group.’
“But while feminine loyalties are arguably more civilized, productive, and intellectually defensible than the male compulsion to be part of a group, it nevertheless remains that the bonding imperative is crucial to the collective mettle of men in combat.”
That was in 1987 and reflected a widespread belief at the time. Neil Golightly, Boeing’s (now former) Chief Communications Officer, has since disavowed that view, promoted female talent within Boeing, and maintained an unblemished service record.
In a public apology, Golightly said he “was embarrassingly wrong and offensive,” and that well before the controversy arose he “opened my eyes, indelibly changed my mind, and shaped the principles of fairness, inclusion, respect and diversity that have guided my professional life since.”
Nevertheless, he was terminated.
The Thorny Issue Of Speech
When does an opinion cross the line? Females in combat? A traditional view of marriage that even President Obama expressed as late as 2012? Questionable views on criminal justice reform or busing? Perhaps skepticism over climate change?
The answer, in the aggregate, is what the most vocal determine at the time. Laws, culture, and morality change first with minority views which gradually become majority views.
The problem, as I see it, is a new and vague emphasis on safety, as articulated by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine. Chait notes that this emphasis “frequently collapses the distinction between words and action — a distinction that is the foundation of the liberal model — by describing opposing beliefs as a safety threat.”
I’ve written about United Airline’s chilling new speech codes which regulate employees in and out of uniform, even on closed internet forums.
It’s not okay to say (or post) things that are offensive or racially charged.
But who determines what is offensive?
For example, United supported Prop 16 in California, a ballot initiative that would have restored race-based affirmative action in public schools.
Is it reasonable speech to oppose that measure, as a majority of voters in California ultimaly did? What if it does cause “offense” amongst some who supported it, United’s new barometer for measuring whether online speech is appropriate?
Telling people to use “common sense” doesn’t apply in 2021. Not in our polarized world.
Is it reasonable to cancel someone for “being on the wrong side of history” even if it was years ago? Who makes that call? While private companies are not subject to the 1st Amendment, what about ones who accept government tax breaks or bailouts?
Perhaps you are seeing the problem.
I believe the answer to speech is more speech. I generally do not censor comments on Live and Let’s Fly. Furthermore, I publish stories, in a sense bringing notoriety, to poor speech (like the crazy QAnon nuts who refuse to wear masks onboard flights) precisely because it is through speech we learn and through speech we wrestle with contrary opinions in search of truth.
I’m frankly shocked and dismayed that Boeing would fire Golightly for an essay written over three decades prior that he had renounced years earlier. It makes me worried about the future exchange of ideas that are pivotal in pursuing enlightenment and understanding one another.
And do we have no room for forgiveness and empathy left? I certainly hope that is not the case. I certainly hope that those who once embraced views that are no longer in vogue will not be persecuted for opinions they have long abandoned. Accountability and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive. We can call out poor behavior and don’t have to whitewash past actions, but past speech? That gets tricky.
Thanks for writing this, Matthew – things like this need to be spotlighted. The Boeing example that you discuss is a grave misjustice and I hope that the victim can sue the pants off of Boeing, which has morphed from an admirable company into a disaster.
I’m old enough to remember when people on the left always said “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend – to the death – your right to say it”. This was the original message of the ACLU as well. Now, the leftist (progressive) ideology has turned Maoist, censoring speech that they disagree with and destroying people who espouse such speech. It is a truly negative and dangerous development in US history (which is also being canceled by one side). This is the sort of thing that, if taken to far, has the potential to Balkanize this country into multiple parts, all warring each other.
I’d say the heavy turn by a not insignificant set of the US population towards right wing extremism & white nationalism (stoked by ol’ 45) and the associated violence, racism, and hate speech is juuuuuust a bit more troublesome than the “cancel culture left”, but maybe that’s JMHO.
Take Marjorie Taylor Greene. I find her viewpoints absolutely disgusting. Truly reprehensible. But expel her from Congress? No way (though the GOP should not seat her on committees). The voters put her in. Now let the voters pull her out in two years. We don’t need to censor her. If her words lead to criminality, prosecute her. But if her words make us uncomfortable, we simply must call her out.
But if she has been found giving people tours of the Capitol the day before with the express purpose of giving them the lay of the land then shouldn’t she be expelled?
Also the GOP did seat her on a committee.
Oh yes. For sure. (I wasn’t aware of that)
“Uncomfortable” is one thing – talking about putting a bullet in Pelosi’s head is an entirely separate matter. Pre-45, expulsion would have been a no-brainer…now it’s the new Republican Party platform.
She liked a comment she should not have. She’s a horrible person. She should be censured by the House. But erase her like she does not exist? I’m not sold…
“I’d say the heavy turn by a not insignificant set of the US population towards right wing extremism & white nationalism (stoked by ol’ 45) and the associated violence, racism, and hate speech is juuuuuust a bit more troublesome than the “cancel culture left”, but maybe that’s JMHO.”
That’s just it: It’s your “humble” opinion. “Canceling” someone’s “opinion” and ideas because you have designated them as dangerous is what “fascists” have previously done. Fascism didn’t arise solely due to dangerous ideas being voluntarily adopted by the local population but rather by street violence and intimidation of political rivals or mass replacement of the electorate (see below).
Regarding “white nationalism”: Poland previously had been threatened with ethnic replacement by Germany and engaged in resistance, including the initial design of Ultra, to the Brits to preserve its native national and ethnic heritage. Israel also defends its rights to secure its borders and control immigration. Poland has now called for checking the abuse of free speech rights by powerful corporate monopolies. (I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Merkel had come out for this as well.)
I’ve experienced numerous instances of being mocked for my race from the political left including being told I had “privilege” and being called stupid because I’m Polish.
That being said, I’m glad they were at least open and honest about their opinion of ethnic Europeans and Poles in particular. I wouldn’t want to censor them. Please, I want the cat to bell itself.
I believe that the genesis of all of this was the acceptance of prosecuting crimes of thought (AKA hate crimes); never mind the actions involved were illegal in themselves, we decided to up the punishment for their alleged motivations. Now we have gone a step further to punish speech that is not currently fashionable, but still not considered criminal (I know, it’s just a matter of time).
As long as we have Bill Maher, we will be ok.
I don’t think he should have been terminated for that letter he wrote 33 years ago… However, I think it still probably caused quite a bit of offense when it was written. 1987 was not 1957. I’m sure many women at the time didn’t like reading what he wrote. It was chauvinistic and patronizing even through a 1987 looking glass.
What’s different now as opposed to back then is that in 1987 Corporate America, and in the US Navy as well, men ran the show. Women didn’t have the same opportunities to speak up, nor the support when the inevitable backlash came.
His views were considered mainstream because a smaller subset of the population was allowed to say what was right and what was wrong. I do commend his apology, and I’m sure he was sincere.
If I am offended, does it matter? or is my offense to be celebrated? As part of your reply please state what assumptions you are making.
You’re going to have to rephrase your question, because I don’t know what you are asking.
I think the point is that you have a right to be offended whether you are on the Left or the Right, but you should not be able to turn that right into a weapon to use against those you find offensive.
He should get the US Navy to terminate a contract for Boeing for cause. Boeing supplied Iran in the 1970’s. Doesn’t matter that it was a long time ago. Doesn’t matter who was in power in Iran. Iran is Iran.
That would be a taste of their own medicine.
Now, I wonder if Golightly was a terror to work for or if he was lazy or some other reason to fire him, except the 1987 article was black and white in writing. And how about the person who turned him in? A lazy person trying to fire the supervisor so that laziness can continue?
The photo is odd. Is that the Greek army?
Cypriot I believe.
Iran: In the 1970s we had our boy in power, the Shah. We put him in there in 1953 when we overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government, which caused resentment leading to the 1979 revolution. Iran is a problem of our own making.
That’s for sure.
When are the Boeing people behind the homicidal negligence that killed 378 people going to be terminated and prosecuted?
As a younger person, this scares me almost everything I have published is online and will live on forever. At least in the past, it took some effort to find something someone wrote 33 years ago. Many mainstream views today will not be socially acceptable in 33 years.
What no one is discussing here is that the opinions written by Golightly, as politically incorrect as they are, are scientifically accurate according to the mainstream research in psychology. Sorry, but men and women are different.
Matthew, I completely agree with you on cancel culture. And, as you know, you and I are pretty far apart politically speaking. I think that what happened to Golightly and other similar events send precisely the wrong message. Heck, I even think that the wrong message is sent whenever sports teams let athletes go for certain causes unrelated to sports. People need to back off on that sort of behavior.
But I maintain that there is a difference between being offensive and having someone take offense. Anyone can take offense over practically anything. But that’s not the same as trying to provoke a negative reaction in someone else. I don’t think that this line is nearly as fuzzy as you suggest. I may take offense at things that people say or do, but if I feel aggrieved or outraged — yet their behavior was respectful of me — well, then, that’s all on me.
Persecuting someone for something they said 30 years ago is ludicrous. People grow and change. Extremism in any form is ludicrous.
Eg I don’t get the fascination with AOC, nor do I get the Republican parties extremism.
Lol this guy is based. What’s his Twitter? I want more of this content
Did you mean biased?
Yup. As a non-American (and very pro US) I can tell you that a lot of us are worried. Yes, Trump & Trumpism brought some ugly things to light, but that’s just it – they brought them out into the open, but they were always there. Is it better to silence everyone and have people simmer with hate that ends up exploding at the end anyway, and possibly in a much more deadly way?
Everything has become so reactionary in America that as bad as Trump might have been the answer is to go to the far left?!
Sadly, America will now begin a decline globally. This is a process that will be drawn out for some time, but the way it looks it will become another UK – once an empire, today a depressing society with little global influence (not to speak of dominance).
trumpism did a lot more than “bring some ugly things to light”, it stocked them, gave them a platform and seeming legitimacy when the highest office says “he likes them”. America is in no danger of becoming a “depressing society with little global influence”, furthermore, the UK is HARDLY depressing or inconsequential globally. You do realize English is the global language of business? And only Mandarin might someday chip away at that. As an actual American, and very pro-US, I can tell you we are now on the way back to respect form those who’s respect we want, not the likes of you.
Politically correct straight jackets that tighten with each passing “offense” that comes down the pike.
FEAR is what companies and liberal nut-jobs are endorsing to get everyone in lock-step with the “popular opinion”….Their opinion and no one else’s.
Wipe out my comment if you wish, but I’m not going to endorse abortion, gay marriage, gay lifestyles, aggressive women taking over jobs that should be held by men, including piloting commercial aircraft, or transgenders in the military. I believe in commitment and marriage. Conversely, I will not hold signs, banners, engage in social activism or marches. Do/believe what you all want but I don’t have to like it or agree with it or like a puppet go along with it. My standards are high and I like keeping it that way.
The 1950s aren’t coming back anytime soon…
your standards only confirm that you’re a useless c*nt
I was an Army 1LT in 1987 and one of our friends spouse did a study of the potential of women in combat roles. She interviewed a bunch of us and she came back later to say I was the only “enlightened” one since I said it should be ability-based. The attitude in the military to not allow women in combat roles was very prevalent then.
Ironic that you picked a photo from a country that does not allow women in combat roles. Even Israel does not allow that. Only the U.S. and a few Western countries have women in Combat Arms. In most countries, women can be in the military, they just aren’t allowed to be macho.
Political correctness is a pain, especially when extended to “cancel” things that were perfectly normal in their time (not that the Boeing guy’s views were necessarily normal; as some have noted, 1987 wasn’t 1957, and I was around for both of those; but they weren’t uncommon either). I’m uncomfortable with the “hate speech” or “hate crime” enhancement concept because the crime itself is plenty to act on, and motivation (rather than motive) is usually not necessary to prove the case. But p.c. is not advocating violence and death (usually) against individuals and groups, and is typically applied by the more liberal members of society – who in general find it difficult to agree with more than a couple of dozen others on anything. It’s seldom associated with toxic conspiracy theories and denial of actual facts. The opposite, which we have too much of since 45, does in fact advocate for violence, and is typically expressed by much more unified groups, so it’s much more dangerous.