Mozilla Inadvertently Kills the Coexist Movement Part Deux

Political Repost


The drama stemming from the Mozilla incident is far from over and what hangs in the balance is society based on Liberty and Tolerance or Equality and Totalitarianism.  Here are some thoughts from the other side of the aisle.  


The Quality Of Mercy


Thank you for the hundreds and hundreds of emails about the Mozilla-Eich affair. My readers overwhelmingly disagree with me for a host of reasons. But I have to say that this time, the more I have mulled this over, the more convinced I am that my initial response to this is absolutely the right one. And not just the right one, but a vital one to defend at this juncture in the gay rights movement.

So let me concede all of the opposing arguments that have been deployed to defend the public shaming and resignation of Brendan Eich. To recap those points: This was not the “gay left” as such, but the “techie straight left” more broadly. Sure (I’ve been to San Francisco). He wasn’t fired; he resigned. Undisputed. Mozilla is not your usual company. Obviously not. Being CEO is different than being just a regular employee and requires another standard. Sure. It doesn’t matter because we’re all marching toward victory anyway. Well, probably. This was a function of market forces and the First Amendment. You won’t get me to disagree about that.

So why am I more convinced that what just happened still matters, and matters a lot? I think it’s because these arguments avoid the core, ugly truth of what happened. Brendan Eich was regarded as someone whose political beliefs and activities rendered him unsuitable for his job. In California, if an employer had fired an employee for these reasons, he would be breaking the law:

1102. No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or following any particular course or line of political action or political activity.

Now Eich was not in that precise position. He resigned as CEO under duress because of his political beliefs. The letter of the law was not broken. But what about the spirit of the law?

The ability to work alongside or for people with whom we have a deep political disagreement is not a minor issue in a liberal society. It is a core foundation of toleration. We either develop the ability to tolerate those with whom we deeply disagree, or liberal society ç is basically impossible. Civil conversation becomes culture war; arguments and reason cede to emotion and anger. And let me reiterate: this principle of toleration has recently been attacked by many more on the far right than on the far left. I’m appalled, for example, at how great gay teachers have been fired by Catholic schools, even though it is within the right of the schools to do so. It’s awful that individuals are fired for being gay with no legal recourse all over the country. But if we rightly feel this way about gays in the workplace, why do we not feel the same about our opponents? And on what grounds can we celebrate the resignation of someone for his off-workplace political beliefs? Payback? Revenge? Some liberal principles, in my view, are worth defending whether they are assailed by left or right.

I’m then informed that opposition to marriage equality is not just a political belief. It’s a profound insight into whether someone is a decent moral person or a bigot. And this belief is also held with absolute certainty – the same absolute certainty of righteousness that many Christianists have.

Let me just say I’ve learned to suspect anyone with absolute moral certainty, whatever position they take. My last book, The Conservative Soul, was precisely an argument against such certainty on the right. What it does is extinguish the space for people to think, change their minds, entertain doubt, listen, and argue. It is absurd to believe that a third of the country recently “hated” gay people and now don’t. It’s incredibly crude to posit that you’re a bigot to oppose marriage equality in 2013, but not in 2008. I remember this argument being used by the hard left when they opposed marriage equality in the 1980s and 1990s (and, yes, they did so then and they were not bigots either). The majority hates us, and will never be persuaded, we were told. Stop your foolish crusade! And yet a decade and a half later, so many minds have changed. So why on earth would we seek to suddenly rush this process and arbitrarily declare that all those we have yet to persuade are ipso facto haters?

And one ugly manifestation of absolute certainty in near-theological movements is their approach to dissidents. Dissidents in these absolutist groups are outlawed, condescended to, pressured, bullied, lied about, trashed, slandered, and distorted out of any recognition. In this case, a geeky genius who invented Javascript and who had pledged total inclusivity in the workplace instantly became the equivalent of a Grand Master in the Ku Klux Klan. And yes, that analogy was – amazingly – everywhere! The actual, complicated, flawed human being was erased by thousands who never knew him but knew enough to hate him. Because that’s all they need to know. No space was really given for meaningful dialogue; and, most importantly, no mercy was given without total public repentance.

I’m sorry but I’m not less disturbed by this manifestation of illiberalism today than I was on Thursday. I’m more so, especially given the craven, mealy-mouthed response of so many to it (yes, Frank, you buried the lede). Read this astonishing post from Mozilla’s Mark Surman. Eich may have been “one of the most inspiring humans that I have ever met” and “a true hero for many of us” but that was not enough:

Many calm and reasonable people said “Brendan, I want you to lead Mozilla. But I also want you to feel my pain.” Brendan didn’t need to change his mind on Proposition 8 to get out of the crisis of the past week. He simply needed to project and communicate empathy. His failure to do so proved to be his fatal flaw as CEO.

Surman says this despite the fact that Eich himself wrote the following:

Here are my commitments, and here’s what you can expect:

  • Active commitment to equality in everything we do, from employment to events to community-building.
  • Working with LGBT communities and allies, to listen and learn what does and doesn’t make Mozilla supportive and welcoming.
  • My ongoing commitment to our Community Participation Guidelines, ourinclusive health benefits, our anti-discrimination policies, and the spirit that underlies all of these.
  • My personal commitment to work on new initiatives to reach out to those who feel excluded or who have been marginalized in ways that makes their contributing to Mozilla and to open source difficult. More on this last item below.

I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain … I am committed to ensuring that Mozilla is, and will remain, a place that includes and supports everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, age, race, ethnicity, economic status, or religion.

And this was not enough. I’m sorry but Surman is full of shit – as, I might add, is his profoundly intolerant company. Eich begged for mercy; he asked to be given a fair shot to prove he wasn’t David Duke; he directly interacted with those he had hurt. He expressed sorrow. He had not the slightest blemish in his professional record. He had invented JavaScript. He was a hero. He pledged to do all he could to make amends. But none of this is ever enough for Inquisitions – and it wasn’t enough in this case. His mind and conscience were the problem. He had to change them or leave.

A civil rights movement without toleration is not a civil rights movement; it is a cultural campaign to expunge and destroy its opponents. A moral movement without mercy is not moral; it is, when push comes to shove, cruel.

For a decade and half, we have fought the battle for equal dignity for gay people with sincerity, openness, toleration and reason. It appears increasingly as if we will have to fight and fight again to prevent this precious and highly successful legacy from being hijacked by a righteous, absolutely certain, and often hateful mob. We are better than this. And we must not give in to it.


One thought on “Mozilla Inadvertently Kills the Coexist Movement Part Deux

  1. Eich was the Archduke Ferdinand of the culture wars. Someone “won” world War 1 – and had their “treaty of Versailles” – but the death and destruction was enormous. And it seeded world War 2.

    Rarebit and OKCupid may get more than they wanted, their original desires as well as the resignation. They picked a very petty peccadillo to start a war over.

    Mozilla is now dead. The same kind of block page that OKCupid had up is now going up on conservative sites. Many in the opensource community (e.g. Eric Raymond) are upset and are likely to do nothing for Mozilla going forward. The lesson is that bullying works. So does Mozilla make some supplication (you’ve already noted what Eich said wasn’t enough), and if so, does the Left put up their boycott signs again? Mozilla is open though, so there might be a Leftzilla and Rightzilla. And if you use the wrong one, a big javascript-enabled “go away you intolerant bigot” sign will greet you.

    Note that Prop 8 was NOT overturned by a vote of the people, but by an unelected judge. What happens when the state constitutions are changed to allow recall of judges or they have to be reelected every 2 years? (See Iowa) Consider that Abortion (strangely called “choice” – was Eich allowed a choice?) is still unsettled and it has been over 40 years. Do not think the current good feelings will last long now that the blacklisting and McCarthyism has showed up – the worst stereotypes have been met. It is unwise to raise the stakes so that the only way to achieve victory is to destroy civilization. There are those both sides who will do so to win.

    There is always an uneasy peace after a victory. The worst possible thing is for the victors to crush the opponents after they won. Or for the losers to become sniping terrorists. THAT should be unacceptable to all. A line that should never be crossed. That there are legitimate ways to win – or if you lose it is justice or a reasonable and fair loss. I think this year – or even in 2012 a new proposition to DEMOCRATICALLY overturn prop 8 would have passed in California Suffer for a few years, but then win without bribing the referee or cheating. That could have been the victory. Instead it has been showed that voting doesn’t matter. So the battle needs to move elsewhere, or Judges have to lose their power. Will we be better off when this comes to pass? When Judges get millions in campaign contributions and their gavel becomes that of an auctioneer?

    Those on both sides who find horror in the intolerance on either side have been shouted down and marginalized. But they have been calling for calm and reason. They need to call for something much stronger and show that it is the only acceptable solution.

    I’m a libertarian and with Ron Paul (Eich supported him too) who said “what business is it of government to define marriage It is a religious institution”. Or personal. The problem is that the wall separating church and state was torn down and rebuilt with marriage on the state side instead. And it was the anti-miscegany laws that did it – racism. I find it ironic for anyone to ask “if it was against interracial marriage…”. Once we decided we would send in the SWAT team to kill people with the wrong definition of marriage, it became very important to battle for whom they would shoot. But no one remembered there was a time when we didn’t send in the SWAT team.

    I have yet to hear, except “we’ve always done it that way” why “marriage” is regulated by the state. Both the LGBT communities and the Religious Right will fight to the death to have the government impose tyrannical rule over the definition of marriage upon the other (You must bake my cake, you must photograph my wedding! makes them a slave, not a businessman, just as you will be jailed for fraud if you declare yourselves a married couple!).

    It is hard to coexist with someone who will comb historic records and try to get you fired or worse, to call the police to have you arrested and imprisoned.

    That is the only way out I can see. Destroy the ring in Mt Doom – has it not proven it corrupts any who seek it, even Galadriel would have become a dark queen? Bury the hatchet. Dismantle the weapons. Beat the swords into plowshares. Agree to disagree, and debate and discuss instead of passing laws. Force is force and coercion is coercion. Let go and we can all be free.

    That means a much smaller, far more limited government that only protects life, property, and contracts. Small, simple, but forceful and sure. That we can settle – or that it is better to suffer and leave unsettled – anything that doesn’t involve theft or violence between ourselves, and the community.

    The truth will out and no one can be certain. Instead we now have a war. And weeks, if not days, to avert it. And the only way out I can see is radical liberty – neither to the left, nor the right, but away, forward. Otherwise it will be a magnificent tyranny for one side, a repressive tyranny for the other, and no victory is assured for either side, and only after a war that will make it at best a Pyrrhic victory.

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