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McCarthyism or Corporate Survival?

Mozilla Firefox is my browser and it works. Every now and again I get an update; sometimes a note asking for a contribution to what is largely/wholly a public-spirited effort to keep the internet open source (or something like that). For some reason, I thought it was an Italian effort (as in Mozarella), but it turns out it organizes itself right here in the U.S. drawing on sources from global techies.

Brendan Eich, its recently appointed CEO is now its recently resigned former CEO. The issue: he donated a thousand dollars to California's proposition 8 campaign in 2008. It was an effort to turn back a California court decision allowing same-sex marriages in the state. Apparently when this contribution was discovered, there was a social media uproar (didn't see it on Mozilla though). There were calls for his resignation, and according to this story in the NYTimes, he did resign.

The great debate: Should Eich have been penalized for his views and his contribution? Andrew Sullivan thinks not in this post on the Dish, "The Hounding of a Heretic."  And continues here. And on Sunnday posted this [HT: Ann Olivier]. Meanwhile,  Farhad Manjoo explains at the NYTimes  why Eich had to go: The very nature of Mozilla required it.

UPDATE: Saturday's NYTimes story: The issue of Mr. Eich's social skills comes up. What would social skills consist of in a libertarian context? The story suggests to me that no Mozillian has much in the way of social skills! Or at least, it can't be much of a job requirement.

UPDATE2: Many comments here link to posts elsewhere on this issue. Michael Kelly @4/7,9:04 quotes some particularly interesting comments on the Supreme Court's treatment of donor lists.

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Wait a minute, wait a minute--Sullivan's stance seems to be to throw around more accusations of supposed gay intolerance, but isn't he spinning this very, very hard by claiming that it was Eich's donation in favor of Prop 8 that did him in (in other words, one little "expression" from several years back)? Isn't the truth that Eich had to go after people found out that he'd also donated to Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan

(Fwiw, I left Firefox a long time ago for Waterfox, and have left Waterfox for Chrome anyhow--but I would have quit using Firefox had I not already done so.)

Sorry for multi-posting, but I just wanted to add that I see Eich's getting ditched not as an instance of persecution, but as a loss of privilege. I believe it is this relatively sudden decrease in scoial privilege that has lots of Christians crying persecution.

So, according to Manjoo, Eich had to go because Mozilla is different. It's an activist organization. Ergo, the CEO's political views are not his own but belong to the collective.

Hobby Lobby is different. It's an activist organization. Ergo, the government should let it alone.

Neither of those Ergos is mine, but let me try for an Ergo. Mozilla collectively is with-it in a progressive, left-libertarian way. Ergo, it collectively hates Catholics and their church.  I don't know if that's true or relevant or an intelligent conclusion, but what the hell.

I'm with Andrew Sullivan.  That intrepid defender of both gay rights and the First Amendment sees that honorable people can disagree and work together anyway for common benefit.  That we should respect people who hold opinions which we find hateful is a basic principle of both democracy and Christianity.  This does not imply that we become inconsistent and embrace their hateful ideas.  It only implies that we respect the persons, not all of their ideas.

If gay marriage had anything to do with producing Mozilla it would be different, but it's totally irrelevant to producing and selling browsers.  If the CEO were discriminating against gays in hiring, that would be relevant, but apparently he doesn't discriminate.  So leave the guy be. 

That we should respect people who hold opinions which we find hateful is a basic principle of both democracy and Christianity.

This is ludicrous. Who on God's green Earth should we respect less than those whose ideas we find hateful?

Calm down, Abe. It's Friday. Sit down and have a drink.

Andrew Sullivan is exactly right.

From the poorly reasoned NY Times article:

Is this an instance of political correctness run amok?

Yes.  

Is it a sign that Silicon Valley has become militantly tolerant, unwilling to let executives express their personal viewpoints on issues unrelated to their jobs?

It's a sign that Silicon Valley has become militantly intolerant.

But it’s a mistake to draw any such conclusions in this case, for one simple reason: Mozilla is not a normal company. It is an activist organization. Mozilla’s primary mission isn’t to make money but to spread open-source code across the globe in the eventual hope ofpromoting “the development of the Internet as a public resource.”

Having a sweetly utopian, non-monetizing mission that dooms them to eventual failure and extinction doesn't exempt them from rules of human conduct.

 

I am drinking.

I wonder how many people would want to work for a company who's CEO spent money trying to annul their marriage or the marriages of one of their friends. This would hurt the company, but it probably wouldn't have been enough to sink him if he handed declined to put some space between himself and the racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic Pat Buchanan of 1992 to whom he had also given money.

Ann Olivier,

Are there beliefs that you believe would make someone unfit to be CEO of a company that you patronized, worked for, or owned?

Abe --

Although we're called on to respect different people to greater or lesser degrees, we're still called on to respect them ALL.  Everyone is capable of change, with God's grace, that is.  Treating someone as if he is essentially evil will only confirm him in his wickedness. 

Here's an example of someone for whom I have not had much respect (I think he's the worst president we've ever had), but he tries to paint portraits which show the good qualities  that he has found even in his political and diplomatic opponents.  That's an admirable lesson he's teaching us with his art, and I respect him for it.  (And the guy can paint -- the eyes are amazingly expressive!)

George Bush portrait exhibit.

Must say I wouldn't want to meet Putin at night in a dark alley.

Point:  We must encourage the good in others, not exacerbate the evil.

Ryan --

Some opinions would disqualify some people for some positions -- when the opinions prevented the person from doing the actual job well.  For instance, someone who firmly believes that a woman's place is in the home wouldn't make a good editor of Ms, and someone who thinks the cosmos is only 7,000 years old wouldn't make a good geologist at an oil exploration company.  In those cases the opinions bear upon the work.

Where do American get the idea that we have a right to a perfect world full of perfect people??? 

I wonder what the Mozilla community's views on abortion are.  Might the new CEO have to be both pro gay marriage and anti abortion?  Surely the views of one’s spouse should also now be relevant.

Ya plays the game, ya takes yer chances.

So mostly I am with Andrew, I don't think political point of view should be the basis for firing someone under just about any circumstance.  But I think it is evident that your customers and partners are as free as your CEO to make their own decisions about who they want to deal with or contribute to. If you are in a very high profile position, this is what happens when you become the issue.  It's generally bad for business. 

Here's some data about how many people at some Fortune 500 computer companies in Silicon Valley contributed to defeat Proposition 8.  It's from Nate's new site.  You might be surprised at how many actually agreed with Eich --  60% at Intel did, for instance, but 96% at Google supported the other side.   Hmm.

How Rare Are Anti-Gay-Marriage Donations in Silicon Valley?

Andrew Sullivan is a libertarian, not a liberal, so it's not surprising he holds such views.

It seems that some historians think that the original "liberals" of the Enlightenment were pro-individualism as well as pro-the common good.  They saw the two as dependent on each other.  But then two distinct and then separate movements emerged.  The liberals emphasized the common good, and the conservatives emphasized the freedom of the individual especially from the domination of a central government.  Libertarians combine elements of both positions, as does Sullivan.  But like any artifacts, the parts of the movements can be combined in any combination, so a search for "true" liberals or "true" conservatives is bound to be fruitless.  There is no one such thing.

Insisting on his removal seems a kind of extreme response to to a $1000 donation several years  ago to what was (at least at the time) a mainstream cause.  I supported the Chick-Fil-A boycott, although I thought doing so was a little unfair to the franchisees- but in that case, the executive was putting millions and millions of dollars of corporate muscle into opposing mariage equality. 

Forcing Eich to step down in this case makes him a sympathetic figure and I can't imagine it changed anyone's posiiton at all on marriage equality.

This is not a First Amendment issue.  It's not the government which cost Eich his job, it's the private sector.

I agree with Sullivan, but I think it helps to understand this if you remember that companies like Mozilla have always seen themselves as different from the rest of companies. I was a software engineer in the 80s and 90s, and the cutting edge companies were always proud that their employees could show up when they wanted, dressed any way they wanted, groomed any way they wanted, or work from home. They could nap on the job, eat from the company stocked refrigerator, and expect fresh baked cookies every day at 4. They were not just inventing a new industry, they were creating a new kind of corporation, a libertarian utopia. Corporate team spirit was always encouraged (think Google and Apple). It seems to me Eich's departure was less "we have to get this guy fired" than "I'm not sure I want to be involved with a company that has him for a leader". And that's really dangerous in a world where switching from Firefox to Chrome is free for the user and top-tier software people are in very high demand.

Yes, there's irony in the fact that Eich was thrown out of a libertarian utopia because of what he believed, but the problem wasn't -- I think -- his moral stance on same-sex marriage so much as it was his active support for a profoundly anti-liberarian agenda.

Ms. Stockton: Not the government, per se, but a case about political speech. As we know from Monday's SC decision, money is akin to speech, if not speech itself. Brendan Eich's $1000 donation was a form of political speech, which is protected by the First Amendment.

 

As I recall, (Jim McCrea will correct me if I'm wrong), part of the proposition 8 impetus grew from the fact that the decision about same-sex marriage was a court decision. This provoked a counter-argument (rightly or wrongly) that it was not a wise move for a court, and that such issues should be left to legislatures or referenda, i.e., some form of representative or popular vote. Again as I recall, some proponents of Porposition 8 supported it for those reasons, and not necessarily because they opposed s-s marraige. Brian Eich's purposes I don't know though it appears he was opposed.

After the fact, there may have been efforts to force the proponents of Proposition 8 to make their donors' list public. Don't know what became of that. But apparently Eich's contribution was known, even before he went to Mozilla. Did they think this would not be a problem?

 

Well, two board members resigned in advance of Eich's appointment because they did not want to work with him so they had a pretty good idea it would be a problem.  To Mark's point above, Mozilla more than any other tech company depends on the goodwill of its community.  There is a belief among some techies right alongside the mostly libertarian outlook that only coding and technical skills matter.  Maybe Eich was part of this group.  But how could anyone say that for the position of CEO?  Who, as often as not, is more likely to need the skills of a cheerleader than a coder.  Try to remember that Steve Jobs was not really a technology guy, but a savvy marketing guy who knew his customer base.  It seems to me like Eich was probably not CEO material whatever his donation history was, because he seems to have a very narrow view of what constitutes job related skills for the position of CEO. 

Re the SC, Justice Roberts says, "No matter how desirable it may seem, it is not an acceptable governmental objective to 'level the playing field,' or to 'level electoral opportunities,' or to 'equaliz[e] the financial resources of candidates.'" (From the New  Yorker article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2014/04/justice-roberts-...)

But if it really is not an acceptable governmental objective to even address the issue of whether we're happy with our current oligarchy, aren't they ultimately ruling out anything but revolution? It takes one's breath away. I keep wondering which moment future historians will look back on as the "let them eat cake" moment.

Abe R informs us above that Eich also contributed to Rand Paul. Still a libertarian as far as I know.

I don't think the tech world is 'libertarian' but 'liberal'. Being a CEO of a company like Mozilla is not about being a coder, it's about being a 'public face' for the company .  As this New Yorker article points out ... "Mozilla depends on the goodwill of its supporters more than most corporations do; it relies on their willingness to donate their services in pursuit of the broader Mozilla project, which is all about keeping the Web transparent and accessible. If it alienates them, Mozilla’s entire mission will be at risk" ... http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/04/how-mozilla-lost-...

There should have been nothing wrong with the same-sex marriage decision in California being one from the court instead of the legislature.  When an issue is about minority rights, public opinion is often unfair to those minorities.  This was why the decision to legalize interracial marriage was also a court ecision. 

Mark P. ==

It seems to me that the Constitution doesn't guarantee that the people will act  within the limits of the Constitution in such a way that justice will be always maintained.  So, given unwise choices of the populace, constitutionally permitted injustice is possible.  And, yes, that might in some circumstance require a revolution of some sort.  Revolution was not an unthinkable act for the framers of the Constitution -- they had no moral scruples about revolting against the British monarchy.

You might be surprised at how many actually agreed with Eich --  60% at Intel did, for instance, but 96% at Google supported the other side.   Hmm.

Right - this may well be a generational difference.  Intel and Google are, both literally and figuratively, different generations of the hi-tech industry.  Roughly speaking, the parents of the brilliant scientists and engineers who are building Google, were the brilliant scientists and engineers who built Intel.  A genuine issue in Silicon Valley is that engineers in their 40s and 50s at places like HP and Oracle find it difficult to move to the new start-ups, in large part because the culture is so different: the oldsters require a fairly normal, regimented corporate life, and living on cold pizza and Pop Tarts and coding 90 hours a week doesn't work for (nor appeal to) them.  

Apple has managed to maintain, or recreate, the cachet that makes grad students from MIT and Stanford want to work for them.  Most of the previous generation of hi-tech companies haven't.

 

 

I am not sure to what extent this is Libertarian.  I don't think Sullivan is wrong to evoke Orwell and Animal Farm: this whole thing smacks of a Socialist purge.

Socialist purge?    The church does this all the time - firing people who it believes don't adequately represent the beliefs of the institution.

As an aside. The best thing of all this is to see that a lot of people do not use Microsoft Explorer any more. It is a bad  browser from a bully company which rightly lost its dominance. 

Margaret:  The First Amendment says that CONGRESS shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.  Eich did not run afoul of any law when he contributed to the Prop 8 campaign.  But the First Amendment does not mean, and never has meant, that you can say anything you want and suffer no consequences.  

When Laura Schlessinger's TV show was canceled, she and her fans called it a violation of her free-speech rights.   Not so: she had/has every right to speak her mind.  She does not have the right to force a TV or radio network to BROADCAST her speech.  

The McCutcheon case was not about whether or not money is speech; Citizens United settled that. It was about how much money a donor is entitled to give.  Sean McCutcheon says that having won his case, he intends to donate even more generously to conservative candidates.  But he does not have the right to be free from criticism for doing so.

Josh Marshall has a perceptive take on this issue:

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/a-few-thoughts-on-brendan-eich

It is focused on two intersecting realities: the position of the CEO of a company that relies on its user community, and the views of that user community being uniquely emphatic in favor of equality for LGBT people. 

Angela Stockton's points are essential.   Modern American society has a general *desire* that we should be able to say anything we wish and suffer no consequences - as we also generally wish to act without consequences, truth be told - but there is absolutely no Constitutional or common-law privilege of this sort.   It is Government (Congress or, by extension, Executive) that may not interfere with free speech. 

Sullivan has been very clea that he sees no "free speech" issue in the Eich matter, and even Dreher agrees with that.  Sullivan's driving concern is that intolerance of beliefs and priate actions ill behooves the gay-right community.

For what it is worth, Sullivan self-identfies as a Michael Oakeshott-style Conservative. 

Barbara: Talking Points Memo is perceptive and does a nice job of slicing and dicing the historical condensing that has gone on with same-sex marriage issue. What was majority opinion a decade or so ago, is no longer. Somewhere today (maybe it was here, or maybe it was Andrew Sullivan), someone asked whether people will go bonkers over Hillary Clinton on this if she runs since she only came out in favor of s-s marriage in 2013.

Angela Stockton: Okay, thank you.

Crystal Watson: Yes, the Catholic Church does this from time-to-time. You are among the most vociferous objectors. Just saying.

JP: Yes, there must certainly be a lot of generation differences, as you point out, even within what we luddites see as the techie wave of the future.

As the "corporate" behavior of Mozilla gets further exposure, how can it have survived this long? It appears that their Board was decimated by this choice of CEO. How many Board members can be left to choose the next CEO?

"Crystal Watson: Yes, the Catholic Church does this from time-to-time. You are among the most vociferous objectors. Just saying."

True.  It's a distinction that's hard to qualitfy, I guess. 

The church does this all the time - firing people who it believes don't adequately represent the beliefs of the institution.

By "the church", I assume you mean the Catholic church, although in reality, all Christian denominations by their very nature, including mainline liberal Protestant denominations, have a core set of beliefs and tenets, and find themselves embroiled in doctrinal disputes and even schisms. 

But we're not talking about a religious denomination or a political party.  We're talking about a hi-tech company (or maybe Mozilla isn't a corporation - it's not clear from these media descriptions precisely what it is).  Whatever it is, its mission seems to be to create open-source Internet products.  What does that have to do with same sex marriage?  I'd think that reasonable people would answer, "Nothing whatsoever".  Or maybe its mission is really, "To create open-source Internet products, but only by and for people who think the correct thoughts".  Which, come to think of it, isn't "open" at all.  

On this issue at least, political liberals in the US could usefully take lessons in liberalism and tolerance from Andrew Sullivan.  Liberals would do well to consider that, on this issue, liberals are proving conservative talk-radio cranks to be precisely correct.  The cranks' narrative goes something lik this: liberals are, in reality, the least tolerant people in our society, will never rest until they've policed the thoughts of every American, and are satisfied with Brendan Eich's firing only because they haven't been able to think of a crime to charge him with yet. 

 

Whatever it is, its mission seems to be to create open-source Internet products.  What does that have to do with same sex marriage?

Jim,

Couldn't one argue that Hobby Lobby is a chain of retail arts and crafts stores, and that has nothing to do with contraception? If a chain of arts and crafts stores can take a position on contraception, why can't a high-tech company that creates Internet products have a position on same-sex marriage? 

Suppose Brendan Eich, while being a perfectly law-abiding person himself, whose personal behavior was above reproach, contributed to a campaign to abolish all age-of-consent laws so that adults could legally have sex with children. Or suppose, while he had never discriminated against any group in his capacity as a businessman, he wrote articles that women should not be in the workforce, and if it were necessary to tolerate women in the workforce to some degree, they should never be allowed to be managers. 

It seems to me it is generally held that some ideas are just not acceptable—pedophilia, racism, sexism—and few would question the fact that people who support such ideas inevitably will pay a price for doing so. So it seems to me what you are arguing is that opposition to same-sex marriage (which many people would look at as discrimination against gay people) should not be classified as a position for which proponents must pay a price. You are arguing, it seems to me, it should be socially acceptable to actively support discrimination against gay people. Many proponents of gay rights are arguing it should be no more socially acceptable to support discrimination against gay people than discrimination against black people or women. 

It seems to me that there is a paradox or an internal contradiction in the idea of tolerance if by tolerance is meant that virtually everything, including the worst kinds of intolerance, must be tolerated, otherwise those who advocate tolerance are hypocrits. 

I have mixed feelings about what happened with Brendan Eich, but I don't think it should be used as a stick to beat liberals over the head with as hypocrits who preach tolerance but don't practice it. Maybe Brendan Eich should still be CEO of Mozilla, but that doesn't mean that people who advocate tolerance must be forbidden from drawing a line somewhere. 

I'm guessing that most people opposed to marriage equality use Internet Explorer anyway...

I still miss Nescape Navigator; I wonder where that would put me on the political spectrum.

Whig? 

David N. -- 

Good point.  I think the problem with it is that there are degrees of unacceptable ideas and behavior and degrees of severity of social action that should be taken against them. There is, I think, a whole order of behavior that should be dealt with by shaming.  But where does it begin and end?  And what are the acceptable weapons of shaming? 

Yes, this is a matter of social disciplining, and shouldn't be a matter of legal discipline.  We do not belong in jail for every infraction of the social order (assuming, of course, that we know just where the social order begins and ends).  The question then becomes:   how does one discover how to draw lines of intolerance (yes, intolerance) of behaviors generally thought to be socially unacceptable but legal?  Yes, this does imply that the legal order will always be less than a perfect one.

 

"What does that have to do with same sex marriage?  I'd think that reasonable people would answer, "Nothing whatsoever"."

A compnay's ethical persona matters, especially that of communinty-based  internet-associated comapanies, and to be against marriage equality is on a par with racism and sexism.   Remember Google's motto (which in some ways they haven't  always kept to, but still ...)   - it was "don't be evil".  As the Wikipedia article mentions, "Google claims to have made "Don't Be Evil" a central pillar of their identity as part of their self-proclaimed core values. The words: "Don't be evil" form part of the sixth point in these Core Values, and in full states: "Do the right thing: don't be evil. Honesty and Integrity in all we do. Our business practices are beyond reproach. We make money by doing good things."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_be_evil

 

 

Ann O said:   (And the guy can paint -- the eyes are amazingly expressive!)

 

Here's a slightly different perspective on that: 

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/apr/04/george-bush-portraits-world-leaders

" Modern American society has a general *desire* that we should be able to say anything we wish and suffer no consequences ..."

I think that Modern American society wants people not to suffer prior restraint when it comes to free speech.  But, depending on what is being said and who said it, Modern American society is more than willing to withdraw financial support, patronage or reader/watchership for those with whom we do not agree.

There's quite a difference.

MOS:  I think your reading of the Prop 8 brouhaha is correct.  There were those who felt that equal access/equality under the law is not something that should or CAN be voted upon, with others felt that they had a right to vote.  Thank you Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and the California Council of Catholic Bishops for your generous use of Catholics' money to attempt to punish some Catholics. You will NOT be forgotten!

I was and, of course, remain on the site of the "no voting on equality under the law" side.

Andrew Sullivan (linked above) and Frank Bruni (in Sunday's NYTimes) gingerly but rightly raise the complications for or the situation of folks who have changed their mind about s-s marriage later rather than sooner. Or who may have not changed their minds but are no longer going to oppose it or argue about it.

More later....

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