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Michaël Duerinckx

 

On Brendan Eich, Mozilla, and equal rights

This opinion piece is on current events, and given the slow update nature of my blog, I’ll give it some context before going forward.

It’s worth noting that I’m a complete outsider to all this; I don’t work and haven’t worked at Mozilla, and I don’t have close ties with anyone who did or does.

Background

Brendan Eich is the inventor of JavaScript, and the co-founder of Mozilla, the company and foundation behind the popular Firefox web browser. He was the chief architect back in 1998. In 2005, he became CTO of Mozilla Corporation.

In March 2008, Eich donated $1,000 in support of California Proposition 8, which goal was to eliminate same-sex couples’ marriage rights. Under California state law, this donation became part of the public record. Donors had to list their employer, so Brendan Eich’s donation was listed under his name, with Mozilla listed as his employer.

In 2011, someone noticed that his name and “Mozilla” were on that public record, and publicized it. This apparently needed clarification, because some people must’ve thought this donation was actually backed/condoned by Mozilla. (Spoilers: It wasn’t.)

On March 24th, 2014, it was announced that Brendan was appointed the CEO position at Mozilla Corporation. The public suddenly brought up his 2008 donation again, and a media firestorm ensued. Some Mozilla Foundation employees requested Eich to step down via Twitter, and the tech press picked up on this.

Several blog posts, both by Mozilla and Eich personally, were made, clarifying that Mozilla is an inclusive and diverse company, and in full support of LGBT (and then some) equal rights. Brendan clarified that any convictions conflicting with this are always left at the door before entering the Mozilla office.

Still, the firestorm raged on. OkCupid, possibly the most popular dating website, put up a note on their homepage for all Firefox users, which ended in requesting they use a different web browser. They later took this down again, probably when they realised that the 2008 donation was private, and that Mozilla does not condone it. This blog post by Mozilla probably helped with that.

On April third, Mozilla’s blog announced that Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO. He was not pressured into this, but felt that the whole firestorm was very much a detriment to what he and Mozilla were trying to accomplish. As far as I know, he has severed all financial ties with Mozilla, remaining only the manager of a number of bits of source code.

My opinions on the donation

I believe that all humans should be able to live their lives in a way that brings them fulfilment and happiness, insofar as this does not impede on other humans’ right to the same.

That is really all there is to it, and I cannot think of any sensible exceptions to this rule. Throughout history there has been (and is) discrimination against women, against people of certain ethnic groups, against people of certain sexual orientation, against people of certain gender identity, against people with disabilities, and so on, and so forth.

It pains me to see that getting equal rights to everyone across the globe is a very slow and gradual process, simply because it’s hard to get it through to everyone that we are all people, all deserving of the same rights, regardless of our differences.

I’m sure you can see at this point that I am wholeheartedly opposed to a proposition with the sole aim of excluding a group of people from a right that others can take for granted. To me, marriage is a simple concept: people who love one another get to make their bond an official one, recognised by law. I consider it very arbitrary to exclude same-sex couples from this.

By paying money into the campaign to forbid same-sex marriage, Brendan helped spread the idea that human rights are not to be equal for everyone. His motivation for this is unbeknownst to me. I cannot think of rational reason for it, so I can only assume that there may be traditionalist motivations behind it. I don’t consider those valid reasons, and I can only conclude the matter was not given good, honest, thought.

I think this donation was fully against progress for humanity, so the fact it was made saddens me. It saddens me that Eich, or anyone holds these views. I hope that sooner rather than later, baseless opposition to any equal rights can be purged from the global mindset.

Accelerating equal rights

Over and over again, when someone holds views opposed to equal rights, the response is to boycott and call them out on how much of a bigot they are; generally a bunch of name-calling and aggression. The sadly ironic part of this behavior is the definition of a bigot:

One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

—The Free Dictionary, bigot

I know, I know, “sorry for being intolerant of someone’s intolerance.”

When you’re calling someone out on how they are basically a “bad person” though, do you think this will change their mind on the issue? Will they just consider it somewhat along the lines of “Hm, a large number of people are pointing out I’m a bigot, I guess maybe dudes marrying dudes and girls marrying girls is all right”?

I don’t think so. Wouldn’t it be better to think of ways to show them a new viewpoint to consider? Encourage them to approach an issue from a new angle, find (valid!) analogies they can identify with, and present those. Have people affected talk to them about their lives, and about their hopes and dreams.

Intolerance

To return to the term “bigot”: As seen in the definition above, a bigot is intolerant. Given Mozilla’s guidelines on inclusiveness and diversity:

(i) Inclusion and Diversity

The Mozilla Project welcomes and encourages participation by everyone. It doesn’t matter how you identify yourself or how others perceive you: we welcome you. We welcome contributions from everyone as long as they interact constructively with our community, including, but not limited to people of varied age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, language, race, sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views.

Mozilla-based activities should be inclusive and should support such diversity.
Some Mozillians may identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla. When this is the case:

  • (a) support for exclusionary practices must not be carried into Mozilla activities.
  • (b) support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities should not be expressed in Mozilla spaces.
  • (c) when if (a) and (b) are met, other Mozillians should treat this as a private matter, not a Mozilla issue.

Mozilla’s Connunity Participation Guidelines

…you can see that Brendan must’ve been anything but intolerant, working at Mozilla for all these years. In an interview with CNET, he pointed out several times that any opposing convictions are left at the door.

If Eich truly were a bigot, I don’t think he could really stand working at a company like Mozilla. I think he would try to force his views into the company policy.

What this has to do with his position at Mozilla

All we really know about Brendan Eich’s “intolerance” is that, in 2008, he was rather convinced of the idea that same-sex marriages shouldn’t be a thing.

There has never been evidence of him being discriminatory towards anyone in same-sex relations inside Mozilla. As far as I’m aware, he has been doing a splendid job as CTO, without complaints on his professional behavior from anyone.

You could make the argument that as a CEO, he could alter the guidelines for diversity and inclusiveness to start “pushing his agenda”, but this would be wild, baseless speculation. I don’t think you nor I for a moment believe that Mozilla’s board would let anything like that happen. That said, I really don’t get the idea that Eich would have any urge to do anything like that in the first place. For 16 years or so, he has worked on the mission of making the web more open, and to promote innovation.

As CEO, he was looking forward to really getting Firefox OS out there on mobiles, and I was personally excited to see what would happen with that project.

I remain convinced that his donation to proposition 8 in 2008 never made any difference in his professionalism at Mozilla. It is a tragedy that the media firestorm has forced him to sever ties with what can only be called his life’s achievement.

4 comments

  1. Remco says:

    Regardless of his professionalism at Mozilla, having a company promote diversity while the CEO does the precise opposite is incredibly hard to defend.

    With a personal view that far from Mozilla’s view it would’ve been wiser if he had opted not to make that donation in his own name. A man in his position should’ve expected that this would inevitably lead to a firestorm.

    • Mich says:

      All we really know is that for one reason or another, he was against the idea of same-sex marriage. We do not know if his views have changed since (though we can postulate they haven’t). We know of one thing in his personal that’s off from Mozilla’s view; I hardly think there’s a conflict of interest for him.

      The only reason it appears to be hard to defend is because people tend to jump to conclusions; he was never given a chance to prove that he’d actually be a good CEO.

      I also don’t imagine he quite planned becoming CEO back in 2008 when he made the donation, nor do I think he intended that donation to be so well-publicized. You can see in interviews and blog posts that he is not willing to discuss his personal beliefs in this matter; as such, he’d never publicly oppose the company’s mission or policies.

  2. Ari S. says:

    Very interesting. I think if anything it was a stupid rule to have to include one’s employer when donating. I am very surprised that in USA that was a requirement somewhere actually.

    I don’t know what the CEO’s beliefs actually were or are. But for some context I can tell you that many religious groups believe that it is required of them to oppose same sex marriage, stemming from the requirement to oppose homosexual behavior. I think many of these people don’t really care ultimately what would be the result, as long as their personal vote against it “would be counted” with their almighty. I’ll spare you most of the logic, but it is rooted in Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that nobody there spoke out against it, hence the end result (the interpretation of that scripture is a whole separate discussion beyond the scope of this post). I am merely trying to explain why some people may feel they’d donate $1000 to such a cause, without knowing all the facts about this particular individual. So it didn’t have to do anything with acting out any aggression but acting out on group think or their particular brand of belief system.

    Now, it may also be that this person could be for “legal unions” with all rights, but against it being called “marriage”. There are such people too. It’s just a bit unfair to judge a person without hearing his side of the story, especially when he was trying to do something privately. We don’t see CEOs being pressured out if they, before as CEOs, say donated $1000 to a gun lobby, even though guns can kill people, or who knows, some other group. And I seriously doubt the CEO of Mozilla would have changed anything about the culture in the company, the company would be sued faster than one could say “lawsuit”.

    But of course, it could be he was and is a total bigot too, plenty of those in the world.

  3. I am conflicted on Eich getting the boot for his support for the same sex marriage ban. On one hand, Mozilla is a private organization and can do that. On the other, he has a right to his opinion and created Javascript. Speaking of Gay Marriage bans, it just so happens that Louisiana’s Democrat Party spearheaded the campaign to do so, but it got overruled on account of it including civil unions.