I run a website called The Fractal Journal.
So I tend to see things fractally.
Everyone does. Because everyone understands that no action occurs in a vaccum and is thus inherently multifaceted.
There’s a New York attorney called Aaron Schlossberg who was recently the subject of much controversy.
He took issue with some employees at an eatery. The issue was that they spoke Spanish. He went on a bit of a rant about how he as an American pays for the welfare of these potentially illegal immigrants. That they should speak English etc.
This tirade went viral. The publicity caused Schlossberg so much professional damage that he was even at risk of being disbarred.
This little episode has so many implications that I feel it would be irresponsible for me as a writer and citizen to pass it up.
First, it is demonstrative of a great many things. The impact of social media, the by now tiresome talking point of political polarization, and the nature of modern social expectations.
Let’s unpack that.
Social media is what allowed the incident to gain traction so quickly and in such numbers that it was able to put pressure on Schlossberg’s employers. Social media is also the technology that allowed those who took issue with Schlossberg’s actions to coordinate what can only be described as harrasment.
Political polarization is the fuel that powered both Schlossberg’s ire and the reaction of those seeking the destruction of both his professional and personal life. These two sides of the same coin only reach this sort of fever pitch in the presence of heavy ideological conditioning.
Social expectations today seem to include an insistence on certain points of politesse while completely flaunting general timeworn standards of civil interaction. Schlossberg said something politically unpopular in an aggressive way. Given the overwhelming abundance of casual swearing, in your face banter, and general penchant for sarcasm that permeates American society, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Schlossberg’crucifixionon likely resulted from unpopularity rather than aggression.
All these implications raise questions that I feel are essential to make.
First, social media, is it destructive and if so what can we do about it?
Like any other tool, I don’t think that social media is inherently destructive. The nature of social media seems to tend toward being a catalyst. A catalyst can produce either a favorable or unfavorable reaction. The swelling of outrage that culminated in trolling a private citizen with live Mariachi music and fiestas around his apartment can also be quelled by voices advocating for rationality.
One subcaveat of this social media thing is privacy. Is it fair to take a private citizens outburst and post it online?
Is it fair to then use this evidence to coordinate harassment?
It is true that Mr. Schlossberg was in a public area, behaving very rudely, and that people certainly have the right to film others in public. But does this make it alright for the offended to magnify the event through social media, and in essence involve the entire world in one man losing his cool?
Mr. Schlossberg was not acting civilly but he certainly wasn’t doing anything illegal.
Should we put restrictions on social media posts about private citizens controversial behavior? Should we put restrictions on using such videos to coordinate retribution. Should losing your cool or acting uncouth be so easy to shame from the rooftops?
This technology raises a lot of policy questions which seem to only increase in both number and scope.
I think that it’s a subject that will likely warrant its own article and video.
The second question then is what can be done about political polarization? I think the answer is obvious. Those of us that favor nuanced discussions need to become more vocal and advocate for rational discourse in greater numbers. The popularity of tactics like memes and trolling while fun and not necessarily out of line with the spirit of effective discourse shouldn’t be at the forefront of discourse.
The final question is related to social expectations. Both the public and employers have social expectations. Where, how, and to what extent should such expectations impact the lives of individual citizens?
Wherein does a professional get leeway to act unprofessionally? Being rude certainly falls well within the protection of the first amendment. But, companies can and do exercise the right to fire employees for misconduct. This right is also well within the bounds of the US Constitution.
However, an interesting subcategory emerges here. Namely, should a company be allowed to fire an employee for unprofessional behavior outside of work? If Mr. Schlossberg is good at his job, and reasonably civil in the confines thereof, should his social and political views and faux-pas be cause for termination? If so, then on what legal grounds can he contest the termination?
There do seem to be precedents for firing folks for extracurricular activities. In 2004, Ellen Simonetti was fired for taking pictures of herself in her Delta uniform as she lounged across the backs of airplane seats. The photograph which she posted to a blog about stewardessing, that she’d started in order to cope with the loss of her mother, wasn’t racy even by 1950’s standards. But nonetheless, Delta considered it unprofessional and sacked her.
My position is that Simonetti should not have been fired. Schlossberg has even less reason to be fired/evicted/disbarred etc. than she does. This is because he was not on company property, representing his company, or wearing company paraphernalia when he had his outburst.
His history of outbursts, including one where he ran into a radnomer with his bag and called him a ‘dirty foreigner’ might be a minor case of harassment or perhaps assault. Which I could see as being unsavory for an employer. But, again where should the line be drawn? There wasn’t really any battery, and the harassment was brief, akin to a middle finger on a busy street.
Should a line be drawn at all? Or should employers/landlords continue to wield carte blanche to terminate otherwise competent employees on grounds of unsavory conduct?
When looking at this case I ran across the notion that Schlossberg’s career was destroyed by the people he’d offended. This, to me, is where it gets a tad murky. Schlossberg initiated the aggression, in a public space, he is aware of cell phones, and he is aware of social media. While I 100% sympathize with the notion that the possibility of backlash shouldn’t intimidate Schlossberg or anyone into silence or even politesse, I can’t really view him as a victim. Even if I did, the link between those who posted the video and coordinated the harassment and his termination remains tenuous. Because it was still up to his employer to make the decision, and more importantly, it was up to him to avoid being confrontational.
Running up to randomers to call them dirty foreigners, haranguing Spanish speaking employees, and similar hijinks aren’t really public discourse. They’re outbursts and while they are protected under freedom of speech, that freedom doesn’t necessarily shield you form things like social ostracization, or job loss.
I don’t think either of those things should be the result of making an ass of yourself. However, if you work in a sector that requires a great deal of civic responsibility, being consistently combative, is likely a poor career choice. Whether that’s done on your own time or not.
As you can see, this is a really multifaceted issue that raises many questions. I encourage everyone to comment below, whether you agree or disagree with this analysis.