Brendan Eich: Some talking points answered

Watching the Brendan Eich backlash backlash, I’ve been collecting stupid talking points. Some have been covered better by other authors, but not all of them. So here they are, numbered so I can refer to the response without needing to go through it again.

(1) “It’s inappropriate to single out Mozilla in this way. What about other asshole CEOs?”

People boycotted Domino’s Pizza because of the founder’s political donations. They’ve refused to shop at Whole Foods because of the CEO’s political views. There are endless calls to boycott this or that TV station because some famous person said something appalling. The fact that this is happening to Mozilla is nothing special.

Also, part of the reason why Mozilla is being scrutinized is that the organization sets itself out as an exemplar of freedom, fairness and openness. As it says on their home page, “Doing good is part of our code”. If you portray yourself as a paragon like that, you’ll be expected to live up to that, and so will your employees.

Google also gets scrutinized this way. There are active campaigns to get Google to quit using tax avoidance strategies, disclose its political spending, quit sponsoring meetings of “Tea Party” groups, and so on.

Plus, Mozilla knew he was a bigot and that his actions were offensive to many in the open source community, and then they made him CEO anyway. They put themselves in the crosshairs.

(2) “His employees had no problem with his views, as they never leaked into their lives.”

Proposition 8 was in place for four years. During that time many couples were prevented from marrying. The situation would have been permanent, if Eich had gotten what he wanted.

(3) “You’re demanding a disproportionate penalty.”

Personally, all I wanted was to see him match his ill-chosen donation with a donation to HRC or some similar charity by way of an apology. Or failing that, to see him demoted back to his previous job, since he’s unsuitable for the one Mozilla gave him, in that he was damaging the project.

As it is, he chose to resign rather than admit that he shouldn’t have tried to push his religious beliefs onto other people.

(4) “It’s ancient history.”

The fallout from his actions continued until 2013; ancient history my ass.

Besides, the idea that we should simply forget anything that happened more than a couple of years ago is ludicrous.

(5) “You’re violating his freedom of speech.”

It’s not about speech. If he had simply said that gay people do not deserve human rights, there probably wouldn’t have been as big of a fuss. But he went beyond mere speech, and spent money trying to get his bigotry enshrined in law. That’s action, not speech.

(6) “But money is speech!”

I disagree with that and think that the Citizens United decision was wrong. But even if I accept it for the sake of argument, freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences that are the result of your speech. Such as, for example, other people using their freedom of speech to demand that you be fired.

(7) “Every time you vote, you’re effectively trying to get your beliefs pushed on someone else. Should we be hounding people out of their jobs because of how they voted or the groups they’re members of?”

If the leader of the NAACP was found to be a regular David Duke voter, I’m pretty sure he’d find himself out of that job. His voting would make it impossible for him to be a credible leader of the organization, even if he did the filing and paperwork to perfection. Similarly if the leader of the Vegan Society was discovered to be wolfing a quarterpounder at McDonalds every weekend.

The idea that your private life is separate from your employment is an ideal. In reality, there are limits, and if your private life brings your employer into disrepute or makes it impossible for you to do your job, you will need to find another job.

(8) “But it shouldn’t be like that! There should be a complete wall between private life and career!”

Maybe you’re right. Maybe the world would be a better place if members of Hamas could work for the TSA, and secondary school physical education teachers discovered to be members of NAMBLA could keep their jobs. But if you want to convince me, it’ll take more than the Eich case.

In the mean time, if you’re worried about people being fired for things they do outside work, pressure your representatives to support an Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

(9) “So you don’t believe in freedom of association?”

Freedoms expressed in absolute terms generally have limits in reality. Freedom of speech does not give you the right to lie in court under oath; the right to bear arms does not include the right to own and operate nuclear warheads. The right to associate with whoever you like does not include the right to do so without consequence. If you take part in a KKK rally, you can expect people to behave differently towards you as a result. There’s a reason they wear hoods, you know.

(10) “Look, can’t you see that people have violated his freedom to act as his beliefs dictate?”

He was free to act in a bigoted manner and try to get people’s human rights taken away by law. And we were free to boycott his company or try to get him fired from his flagship CEO job.

(11) “His actions were perfectly legal.”

Fred Phelps’ actions were also perfectly legal. I still wouldn’t hire him to be CEO of Mozilla.

(12) “It wasn’t fair to fire Eich though.”

Well, if we’re talking about fairness, it wasn’t be fair to prevent some people from getting married while allowing that benefit to others, was it? Yet that’s exactly what Eich tried to do.

(13) “You should be better than him though!”

I’m only saying he should either apologize properly or lose his CEO position. He’s saying people should be banned from marrying their loved ones forever. Plus I’m not spending $1000 to try and get him fired. So I think I still come out ahead, thanks.

And while we’re talking about people losing their jobs unfairly, did you know that there are still over a dozen states where someone can be hounded out of work for simply being gay? Maybe we could do something about that, before we go to the next stage and protect people who are unable to do their job because they’ve chosen to anger all the people they’re supposed to be leading.

You might also want to consider the paradox of tolerance. Saying that tolerant people should be tolerant of intolerance is a deeply facile answer to a difficult problem.

(14) “If we dug far enough into others peoples’ lives we would find bigoted positions taken by absolutely everyone.”

No, we wouldn’t. You’re projecting. I, for one, can say that I’ve never spent money to try and deny other people their rights based on their gender, race, sexuality, or any other aspect of who they are that they can’t change.

(15) “Obama also thought marriage was between ‘a man and a woman’ 5 years ago.”

Good job Obama isn’t a candidate for Mozilla’s CEO then.

Obama has changed his mind. Brendan Eich could have changed his.

(16) “Proposition 8 was harmless and didn’t deny anyone any benefits.”

The day after Proposition 8 was passed, it went into effect. People were denied the right to get married.

The trial which resulted in Proposition 8 being declared unconstitutional explicitly covered the harm it caused.