I am a fan of Popehat, a legal blog that focuses primarily on free speech issues. As they like to put it social actions, the many varieties of “speech” in the US, are protected by the 1st amendment. Unlike many parts of the Constitution these days we take the 1st amendment pretty seriously. The government is very limited in what it can do to you for your speech. “Protected” speech, in this sense, means protected from government initiated consequences (like jail or fines). It does not mean protected from social consequences, because any social consequence is itself a form of speech. You publicly state an opinion about something (like gay marriage), and I publicly state an opinion about something (like you). It’s all speech. The only people that can’t get involved are the g men. Popehat likes to say that speech should have social consequences, because those consequences are free speech. Supporting free speech means also supporting the criticisms of the speech that results.
I agree very strongly with this sentiment. I believe in the value, both morally and socially (and sometimes economically), of free speech. With that in mind I would like to discuss the hot topic today: Mozilla just promoted Brendan Eich to CEO. It quickly came to light that Eich had donated $1000 to California’s Prop 8 campaign. That’s the one wanted to ban gay marriage.
Some people aren’t happy about this. Some boycotts have started, like the one from Rarebit. Some people are trying to seperate politics from business, defending the choice to promote Eich, in spite of his actions, by appealing to Mozilla’s mission to promote openness. Apparently being “open” means being open to people who aren’t open, but that’s a discussion for another day.
But that’s not the problem. Nobody is complaining that he doesn’t have the business or technical background to perform the job. Whether he can successfully run a company like Mozilla isn’t being argued. The problem is that this man offered public financial support for legislation that codifies religious discrimination into state law, and he wants to lead a company whose mission is "to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web."
I don’t expect the government to step in, and I wouldn’t want them to. Eich has the same 1st amendment rights the rest of us do. But so do I, and this is how I choose to exercise them: I do not support this man, or his promotion to CEO.
If his mind had changed on this topic, he missed a good opportunity to say so when he talked about this issue on his own blog. He sidestepped the issue by saying:
I’m not going to discuss Prop 8 here or on Twitter. There is no point in talking with the people who are baiting, ranting, and hurling four-letter abuse. Personal hatred conveyed through curse words is neither rational nor charitable, and strong feelings on any side of an issue do not justify it.
In contrast, people expressing non-abusive anger, sadness, or disagreement, I understand, grieve, and humbly accept.
That emphasis is his, but I would have highlighted it if he hadn’t. I have a very hard time empathizing with the idea that denying social and financial rights to an entire group of people can be done with “no hate.” I have a hard time, because I am very confident that “hate” is indeed the motivation. If it isn’t hate, then it is a kind of stupidity that I don’t believe Eich is able to claim; he is just too smart. No, I believe Eich thinks that, for whatever reason, gay people do not deserve a right that he believes others do. He thinks they are different in such a way that their rights are fewer. He thinks less of them.
A statement like that matters.
The years of having this fight has not dulled my response by much. I still get hot thinking about it. The arrogance, the irrationality, the hate behind that thought. It’s not just wrong it’s immoral. It should be opposed.
Now maybe you don’t think it matters in the context of this discussion. This brilliant man who has worked on the technologies that drive the web has been promoted to CEO at a company with a strong track record in openness and innovation. If he can help that company, then does it matter what his political stance is?
How big is your scope?
Does it matter to the company’s financial success? Probably not. Eich is a smart man with experience in both the technical and business side of the game, and he will very likely help the company.
Does it matter to the the company’s stated mission? That’s a little murkier. It’s already having social consequences that impact openness, and it might stop some very smart people from working with them. In all likelihood though the anger will fade, and social awareness will move on to the next hot topic. It probably won’t make a big difference.
Does it matter to the gay people that work at the company? Probably. They will probably be very uncomfortable working there. The CEO has given public opposition to their political equality. If it doesn’t foster a culture that marginalizes them, it will likely at least negatively affect their happiness.
Does it matter to our culture as a whole? I hope so. Dammit it I hope it matters. This train has been moving slowly. I grew up in Portland thinking it was a liberal paradise, and when Measure 36 passed I was crushed. Gay marriage is legal in several states now, but not in all of them. National opposition is still strong. Support in our culture’s elite is a crucial part of the movement, and when a cultural icon of the web, itself a cultural icon of progress, is led by a man who opposes political equality that has to have an impact. A negative one. I hope that impact matters, because it’s the one I care about most.
So I guess that’s the question. Which do you care about more? The success of this company, or the success of the equality movement in the US.
I think Brandon Eich was a bad choice not because he isn’t qualified, but because he is a moral stain on our culture. His appointment as CEO tells us that Mozilla cares more about it’s own success than the success of the equality movement. For a company, that’s probably a sensible thing to do.
I hope it has social consequences though.