Why I think Mozilla should rehire Brendan Eich. With an apology.
For those residing on another planet, here is a quick recap: Online dating site OkCupid urged a boycott of Mozilla due to CEO Brendan Eich’s having supported California’s 2008 same-sex marriage ban. It ended in Eich’s resignation, which Mozilla willingly accepted.
At first I saw this as a human rights victory and cheered.
But then a number of rational voices, both gay and straight, cried out. JREF President D.J. Grothe* succinctly and elegantly wrote:
“Terrifying in a free society. Should everyone who shared his wrong-headed pro-Prop 8 views at the time (he donated $1,000) now be drummed out of a job? The majority of Californians agreed with him then. When a victim group is made sacred and gains some power, there is inevitably an overreach to punish those whose unsupportive convictions aren’t ‘approved.’ The way to advance social justice should not be punishing those who don’t align ideologically, but by changing minds through good argument.”
Remember the Mohammed cartoons, published in Denmark in 2005, that set off mayhem and destruction? Fearing for their lives, journalists around the word shrank not just from reproducing the cartoons, but from even reporting the news story. In that instance, violence and the threat of violence stopped freedom of expression cold, worldwide.
Eich’s case differs only in the extreme of the repercussions. Here, it is the threat of revenue and job loss that effectively stops freedom of expression cold.
In neither case were hearts or minds changed. Mouths were shut. That is not progress. That is bullying.
Besides this blog, I write two personal blogs. Sometimes I worry that a client will take umbrage at my directness on certain subjects and fire the RESPONSE Agency. Were that to happen, you can bet I’d be unimpressed. Rather than shut me up, I would object, engage my argument on its merits.
So I have come around. I echo Mr. Grothe’s words:
“The way to advance social justice should not be punishing those who don’t align ideologically, but by changing minds through good argument.”
Mind you, I am not arguing that words and actions must always be consequence-free. I acknowledge gray areas. I acknowledge times that call for force. I acknowledge appropriate calls for boycotts. But I am not for punishing people simply for expressing disagreement.
Besides, sometimes a dissenting voice offers value beyond serving as symbol for freedom of expression. As with the case at hand, sometimes a dissenting voice will turn some of us around. And we’ll find ourselves grateful that the voice was raised.
That is, admittedly, rare. Even the soundest arguments routinely fail to change minds. That’s OK. It comes with the territory we call “freedom.”