June 01, 2007

Post on MySpace and get fired!

Bridget Copley writes in with the sad story of David Noordewier, who was fired by Wal-mart for posting the following in his MySpace:

Drop a bomb on all the Walmarts, trailer parks, ghettos, monster truck shows, and retarded fake "pro wrestling" events, and the average I.Q. score would probably double.

Why's this a sad story? After all, Wal-mart can't have its employees publicly insulting its customers. It's pretty harsh to fire him outright but you can see their point; it's a kind of nasty thing to say.

Thing is, Wal-mart didn't fire him for the implied insult. Rather, they fired him (and ensured that he was denied unemployment benefits) because they say he threatened them. He provides the following quote from their 'notice of determination':

"You were discharged from Walmart associates inc. on 2/27/07 for integrity issues. You had a posting on your personal website stating to "Bomb all the Walmarts" to increase the average IQ scores.
David needs to add a semanticist to his legal team, stat! Someone who can do the following:

(a) Explain, in words of one syllable, the concept of a 'conditional conjunction'. Actually for this David could just provide a link to an English as a Second Language website, e.g., here.1

(b) Explain, with argumentation, the exact conditions that must be met for an utterance to be a 'threat' speech act. Conditionals (conjoined or regular) can be threats -- "Take another step and I'll shoot!" -- but not, I suspect, unless the consequent has a negative effect on the supposed threatenee. That's not the case in David's sentence (unless Wal-mart would be negatively affected if the average IQ score doubled...)

(c) Prove that the conditional conjunction of his MySpace sentence does not have an imperative antecedent, as the Wal-Mart legal department seems to think. An imperative conjoined conditional like "Bomb all the Wal-marts and double the average IQ!" wouldn't be a threat per se, but it would be incitement to violence and perhaps justify the treatment he's getting. But the antecedent here is not an imperative; rather, it's a declarative with a concealed impersonal 'you' subject. ('You bomb all the Wal-marts and...')

The author of this paper could probably do it. Or any of the people he cites.


1This is not an endorsement of the content here; it's just a high-up Google hit with examples of the right kind. I haven't really looked at it properly.

Posted by Heidi Harley at June 1, 2007 06:15 PM