The principles that rule this blog

Principles that will govern my thoughts as I express them here (from my opening statement):

  • Freedom of the individual should be as total as possible, limited only by the fact that nobody should be free to cause physical injury to another, or to deprive another person of his freedoms.
  • Government is necessary primarily to provide those services that private enterprise won't, or won't at a price that people can afford.
  • No person has a right to have his own beliefs on religious, moral, political, or other controversial issues imposed on others who do not share those beliefs.

I believe that Abraham Lincoln expressed it very well:

“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot
so well do, for themselves — in their separate, individual capacities.”

Comments will be invited, and I will attempt to reply to any comments that are offered in a serious and non-abusive manner. However, I will not tolerate abusive or profane language (my reasoning is that this is my blog, and so I can control it; I wouldn't interfere with your using such language on your own!)

If anyone finds an opinion that I express to be contrary to my principles, they are welcome to point this out. I hope that I can make a rational case for my comments. Because, in fact, one label I'll happily accept is rationalist.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The real issue in the Brendan Eich story

In the discussion over the resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, a lot of issues have come up, some of them legitimate in my eyes and some not.

A column in The New Yorker's site entitled “How Mozilla Lost Its C. E. O.,” by James Surowiecki has a good summary of the story:

When Brendan Eich stepped down as the C.E.O. of Mozilla, on Thursday, after a mere two weeks on the job, it was perhaps the least surprising C.E.O. departure ever. Eich was one of the co-founders of Mozilla — which makes open-source software, including the Firefox browser — and is a brilliant software engineer who had been the company’s chief technology officer. But Eich was also well known for his opposition to gay marriage: in 2008, he donated a thousand dollars to support Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that sought to ban same-sex marriage. The initial revelation of that donation, back in 2012, led to a welter of criticism that eventually died down. But, by elevating Eich to C.E.O., the Mozilla board brought his past to the forefront once again. While Eich attempted to defuse the problem with conciliatory blog posts and interviews about diversity and inclusiveness, he didn’t actually say that his views on gay marriage had changed. That, inevitably, provoked a uprising within the Mozilla community: a public petition was circulated demanding that he step down, the dating site OkCupid recommended that its customers stop using Firefox, and some Mozilla employees (though far from all of them) called for his resignation.

People are arguing that it is “not the liberal thing” to make someone leave a position because of his position on a political issue (especially a position with which a majority of Americans — or at least of Californians, as evinced by the result of the referendum vote — agreed!) and even some strong gay-rights advocates signed the post linked to here, which says in part:

The gay rights struggle is about freedom and equality for all. The best and most free society is one that allows the largest number to live true to their core beliefs and identities. It is a society that allows its members to speak their minds and shape their own aspirations.

The natural consequence of true liberty is diversity. Unless a society can figure out a way to reach perfect agreement, conflicting views will be inevitable. Any effort to impose conformity, through government or any other means, by punishing the misguided for believing incorrectly will impoverish society intellectually and oppress it politically.

The test of our commitment to liberal principles is not our eagerness to hear ideas we share, but our willingness to consider seriously those we oppose.

But I agree more with the column by Forbes columnist Richard Levick, entitled “Brendan Eich Is a ‘Person’ — and So Is Mozilla,” which basically points out that this is not a case of Eich's First Amendment right to free speech; Mozilla is a private corporation, with the right to take any action it feels is in its corporate interest. As Levick says,

Mozilla’s brand could only have been further threatened by protracting the discussion. … Open-mindedness may be the cultural hallmark of Silicon Valley, but it does not extend to those perceived (correctly or not) as opposed to open-mindedness itself. Why should it?

…I have the right to disparage anyone, but I’ll be in for a surprise if I expect people to still respect me afterward. And it sure wouldn’t be too good for business!

It has been mentioned by Levick and others that at the time of the Prop. 8 referendum, the basic principle that marriage is a heterosexual thing was endorsed by none other than Barack Obama, but Levick does not mention that Obama has officially reversed himself on that issue, while Eich did not (and conceivably could have saved his job if he had made a sufficiently contrite renunciation of his earlier position). Instead Levick, in the place where I put one of the ellipses in the earlier quote, has:

There is no small irony in the fact that you can reverse positions on this critical “social” issue and become President of the United States, but not the CEO of a company — at least not this company where the CEO’s stance was perilously at odds with the values of its stakeholders.

He misses something there: Eich never took that step of renouncing his earlier stance (see the New Yorker quote above); he appealed, instead, to a sort of “Look at how I'm behaving on LGBT issues now” attitude. And that was simply not enough.

Just as I, as an individual, have the right to boycott Chick-Fil-A (not because of its stance on gay marriage, which is bad enough, but because the Cathy family, which owns the company, chooses to enforce the Christian Sabbath on its franchisees, requiring them to close on Sunday whether they want to or not!) certainly OKCupid has the right to favor a boycott of Mozilla. And in fact it was a pretty toothless boycott — they merely suggested people download a different browser; they did not make their site inaccessible to Firefox users! All they really did was suggest that people boycott Firefox. This is certainly within their freedom of speech rights!

Perhaps the only thing that perhaps should have been done differently is for Brendan Eich to have renounced his earlier views — if he is really now a supporter of equal rights for same-sex couples. This would have saved his job. And if he still maintains his earlier position, then it was good that he was forced out. This position is obviously anathema to enough Mozilla employees and customers that it is bad for Mozilla to keep him as CEO. Levick's remark that “…I have the right to disparage anyone, but I’ll be in for a surprise if I expect people to still respect me afterward. And it sure wouldn’t be too good for business!” still applies.

No comments: