Somebody needs to teach Facebook’s CEO how to wield wealth and influence.
This started out as a brief comment on my friend Frank’s Scholars & Rogues post about leaving Facebook. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so now. It’s an important piece of writing and gods would America be better off if we all followed his lead. Ello, you can’t arrive soon enough (and you better not suck when you do get here).
My first thought on the Zuckerberg/Reyes donation controversy was that it reminded me of the Target/Minnesota Forward debacle back in 2011, which I wrote about in some detail at the time. In both cases, you have biz folks ponying up to support “pro-business” candidates who also happen to not believe in things like basic social justice, fairness, equality, etc.
The ensuing mealy mouthing is always going to do precisely what we saw there, and have now seen with FB. Oh no, we believe in equality, we were just trying to support [insert euphemism for our bottom line here].
There are unappetizing assumptions underlying this kind of PR/spin messaging. The first is about priorities. We all have priorities, and they can’t all be #1. Some priorities are more important than others, right?
To wit, we here at [insert company] believe in social justice (a priority), so long as it doesn’t interfere with our profits (a more important priority). This is kinda like me. I like you and I like my dog, and if the house is on fire I’m saving him first. That tells you something about me and my priorities. Like ’em or don’t, but there they are.
The second message, and the more worrying one, is this: we’re being asked to accept that desirable (or undesirable) business goals and social justice are potentially incompatible. Facebook had to choose between Net Neutrality and Marriage Equality. I mean, there was no way around it.
I could go on for days about how trying to frame and act in accordance with these false dichotomies is simply bad business. America is a culture where marriage equality is a done deal. The failure of certain reactionary social conservative elements to accept it does not change reality. It’s like the Japanese soldier in a hole on a forgotten Pacific island still fighting WW2 decades after it ended.
Zuck has all kinds of cash and power. A better human being would use that heft like, well, a better human being. Make me Facebook CEO and hand me Zuckerberg’s bank account, and the conversation changes a little. See if you can spot the differences.
Me: Hey, Reyes. What up?
Sean Reyes: Hi Sam. Good to hear from you. So, about that donation…
Me: Been thinking on it, Sean. I want to help because I like how you roll on Net Neut.
Reyes: Excellent. Make that check out to….
Me: Whoa. Simmer down, Beavis. We have to talk about your whole anti-marriage equality thing.
Reyes: But, sanctity of marriage, Zuck. One man and one woman. Jesus said so right there in the New Testament.
Me: No he didn’t. But that’s for another day. Sean, I need you to do two things. First, get over that Bronze Age bullshit. I don’t care what you choose to believe, but if you want my money you’re going to respect the fact that everybody gets equal rights. Period. Second, take all that anti-gay marriage energy and use it to double down on open Internet. If you can do that, I have a check for you.
Reyes: I can’t do that, Mark. The church would have a conniption.
Me: I understand, Sean. And I respect that you’re a man of conviction. Now, do you happen to know, off the top of your head, the mailing address of your opponent in the upcoming election? I need to get a check in the mail.
Reyes: WAIT! You can’t do that. I support Net Neutrality, and that’s best for your business! And, ummm … America! It’s best for America!
Me: I know, I know. You’re absolutely right. But I want to give your opponent a chance to agree with me about both the Internet and social justice. I don’t have to choose and America doesn’t, either. If he/she isn’t willing, well, somebody in Utah is bound to want the job.
Reyes: That’s … that’s unethical. You’re trying to buy influence in government.
Me: Ummm, Sean, what country do you think you live in?
If you’re going to wield a checkbook, act like you have some fucking cojones. You think the
Cock Koch brothers give money to candidates who only sorta vote the way they want? Hell no. You need to make clear to whomever you choose to sponsor that you’re not buying a vote, you’re investing in a fully integrated pro-America, pro-human agenda. And you do not compromise on basic human rights.
It’s sad that here in 2014 an obscure, poverty stricken blogger like me has to be giving billionaire lessons to Mark Zuckerberg, init?