If a tree falls in the forest, but has a private thought expressed in a private setting, and the private thought is captured and made… not private… is it still a private thought?
I am troubled by the Ronald Sterling scandal, but maybe not in the way you’d predict me to be. As a refresher for those with better things to do than the last 24 hour news cycle… Sterling is the owner of the LA Clippers NBA team; he said inflammatory things about blacks to his girlfriend; TMZ somehow acquired a recording of the conversation and broadcast it; the NBA commissioner banned him for life, fined him, and is in the process of forcing him to sell the team.
All for having thoughts. Okay, racist thoughts. If you have been following the more in depth reporting, it seems there is circumstantial, but scant, evidence of discriminatory behavior in other instances on Sterling’s part. But in this instance he was ranting to his girlfriend, not discriminating against an employee. Not to say he isn’t the kind of person who wouldn’t discriminate in the future, but at this moment… no.
Actions can be bad. Discriminatory actions are fer sher bad. They are against the law. Thoughts are not actions. Do we really want to go there? Regulating thoughts?
As many a lawyer knows, you don’t get ideal clients. Rarely do you get a sweet little grandmother pepper-sprayed by a cop and illegally searched. We (meaning our great society, not lawyers – I’m not a lawyer) have to defend the constitution by defending the unsavory: the lyin’-ass gangbanger who is obviously dealing crack, or the Klan members who want to march through the Jewish part of town.
I don’t want to defend the rich-as-Cresus Sterling who would treat me like dirt if I was parking his Rolls Royce. I am not a fan of the NBA as a whole – a bunch of overpaid divas who make poor role models and bump the much more admirable WNBA off into cable channels I don’t subscribe to. I would much rather be ranting about wealth inequality and burning Sterling in effigy as a member of the 1%. He is a racist piece of shit.
But he had a thought. A thought unfairly captured by recording and sold to TMZ, and now he is being unprivately tarred and feathered.
“But wait!” you say, “He isn’t being hounded by the government. The constitution doesn’t bind a private organization like the NBA. They are free to do what they want, even if it is to trample on free speech.” (We will disregard, for the sake of simplification, the enormous government stake in subsidizing stadiums, and giving the league tax and legal breaks, in order to maintain the illusion the NBA is not a government entity).
Sure, but this is the actual social prosecution of someone for their private thoughts. Thoughts we wouldn’t know about if someone hadn’t unfairly captured them. Could my bank close my account and ban me as a customer if they knew how anti-1% I was? Perhaps. Should they? Ah, there’s the rub.
Now I do admit, that among our rights is freedom of association. A religious group could ask members who don’t believe in God to leave, because the group has a right to associate with like-minded individuals. I suppose the NBA has a freedom of association right to accept only non-racist members. I don’t have a good counter to that, and I suppose it puts a big dent in my argument.
But I get very worried when our private thoughts are subject to such sweeping consequences.