On Mozilla & CEOs
The whole recent(ish) news about Brendan Eich stepping down as CEO of mozilla after some rather unsavory political donations came to light has been burning up the twittersphere, the blogosphere, and many other places defined with made up words with “sphere” in the name.
A couple of my usual haunts, Hacker News being the big one, ended up with some pretty in-depth discussions on a number of issues surrounding his appointment, the controversy, and his resignation.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share a couple of thoughts I’ve come up with after having a lot of time to think over this whole kerfluffle/brouhaha/controversy.
My conclusion is thus: The outrage towards Mozilla and Eich is perfectly legitimate, justified, and acceptable.
This particular conclusion has gotten me no small amount of crap, but here, I want to expand on it a bit futher. I intend to do this by directly addressing a number of the flawed arguments that I see repeated, both in the linked thread, and elsewhere on the internet.
1) Someone’s political beliefs are their own private business, and we can’t judge someone for that.
The problem with this is twofold. First, what Eich was drummed out of Mozilla for was a donation (and mishandling the resultant controversy, but more on that in a bit), not his personal political beliefs.
A donation is an action, not a belief by any possible definition of that word.
So now we’ve taken this argument down to “Someone’s political actions…” which we can dismiss as false out of hand. If someone’s actions are not how we measure them, what is?
2) Eich was fired or “constructively dismissed” by Mozilla.
FALSE. The reasons of which are painstakingly detailed here, but what it boils down to was that Eich recognized the controversy was impacting his ability to do his job, and voluntarily stepped down. He was not fired, nor was he asked to leave by the board.
3) Eich isn’t homophobic and therefore this entire controversy is nonsense.
Let’s fire up the motor on the ole’ goalpost and move it down a bit. So we look past the donation as the catalyst for a moment. That leaves us with trying to divine a person’s mental state, which is tricky at the best of times. Going back to #1, we can only evaluate his actions and attempt to look backwards. I see three important pieces of data.
- Eich’s donation to the Prop8 campaign. $1000 of his own money.
- Eich’s refusal to directly answer any questions about his personal beliefs.
- Eich’s stepping down.
Now, I believe we can all agree that a CEO position is one of great power and prestige, not to mention compensation (we’re talking millions). Through logical deduction, we can assume that one who supports a bill (not a political player with different views on different subjects, mind! a single bill with a single purpose) with finances wants to see that bill put into law.
What would Prop8 do? In a nutshell, it would ban all non-heterosexual marriages from state recognition by amending its constitution.
Therefore, Eich supported this ban with a not-insubstantial contribution.
Now, why would someone support such a ban? Here it gets muddy – I see three arguments for one who supports such a law.
- Appeal to tradition (marriage has always been between a man and a woman, anything else is wrong)
- Appeal to religion (my god says any other marriage is a sin)
- Appeal to personal incredulity (I am personally squicked by same-sex relationships)
Are there really any others? If there are, I’m not aware of them and would like someone to give me an idea in the comment section.
The problem is, any of these three arguments have a huge problem – you can search and replace for “same sex” and replace with “interracial”, rewind the clock half a decade or so, and the arguments wouldn’t look out of place at all. I.e. intolerance, i.e. bigotry.
We can therefore logically deduce that Eich holds bigoted personal views. This also provides a convenient explanation for piece of data #2 above – his confirmation or denial of his views would have only raised more questions than answers. Further, since a CEO is such a prestigious position to have, why on earth would he bail out unless there were some massive confilct of interest? Indeed, the only logical conclusion is that Eich is bigoted against LGBTs – no other mental state (aside from insanity, which I really doubt applies here) accounts for all of his behavior.
4) This controversy impacts Eich’s freedom of speech rights
Well.. no. In short, while Eich is free to contribute to any political cause he sees as valid, the rest of the wold is also free to critically evaluate his actions and act accordingly. For some, this meant they quit using Firefox (silly as that may be), for others, this means they joined the crowd in asking Mozilla what they were thinking.
The axiom to keep in mind here is that freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Eich can be as bigoted as he wants, and I can call it out as much as I want. That is freedom of speech, and that is the system working as expected.
You find this argument trotted out often by social conservatives when they find themselves on the losing side of the culture war. The last time I saw it brought out in this much force was when a certain reality TV star was temporarily suspended for comments he made in a magazine article.
It’s hard for me to attack this in a more detailed way simply because it’s so throughly flawed. Eich’s (and Phil’s) advocates apparently think freedom of speech only applies to them and not to people who criticize them.
The next time you find this argument, ask the person making it to elaborate what part of the actions they have a problem with. Is it the fact that someone is responding to your actions or speech with their own actions or speech? Is it the fact that it’s a lot of “someone”’s? Or is it the fact that a grown adult in full accordance with the law terminated their employment contract with another entity?
5) This is silly because Prop8 failed anyways.
Prop8 as it existed was essentially a massive smear campaign against LGBTs, not merely another political thing. Watch the videos in that previous link. Note the thinly-veiled fearmongering. Note the fallacious appeals to tradition. This is what Eich’s money directly supported, and this is why his actions are so uncool.
6) This mass outrage amounts to bullying.
And now we’re down to plain old ad hominem. Eich’s defenders have always been quick to characterize this outrage as a bullying or smear campaign against him.
Tell me, which is more “bullying” to you? Trying to pass legislation that ensures certain groups of people are treated as second class citizens for what they are, or expressing outrage that a very equality-focused company hires someone who is a closeted bigot?
That’s what this whole thing boils down to, for me. People who want the Mozillas of the world to recognize that certain behavior is not okay, and other people who think they should be able to do what they want, without consequence.
To that second group, I say welcome to the real world – change your behavior or get lost.