A place for new ideas to settle.

16 April 2014

Brendan Eich’s resignation was nobody’s “victory,” but it wasn’t unfair.

At this point the furor has mostly died down so I think I should frame this as a reply to Katrina’s earlier blog post on the topic. In a nutshell, Brendan Eich, former CTO and now former CEO of Mozilla Corp. (the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation which produced the Firefox browser among other things), stepped down after it became known that he donated $1000 to California’s Proposition 8.

This sent many people, particularly libertarians, into a tizzy of self-reflection, especially coming so hot off the heels of the absolutely ridiculous #CancelColbert campaign. On the one hand, a lot of people are fed up with the knee-jerk, bile-and-brimstone mob mentality of some extreme “social justice warriors”—I’m familiar with the type. On the other hand, this seems to be a case of the system working: consumers and employees in the company voiced their displeasure with the company’s choice of CEO, and he stepped down rather than drag the company through the mud.

Katrina had this to offer on the subject of liberty-versus-unpopular-opinion:
Believe it or not, Brendan Eich is a human being [...]As you can tell, I am of the opinion that as long as the company is not influenced by a CEO's views, the CEO has a right to have his or her own opinion and spend their paycheck however they please. If anything, I would think less of the CEO, not the company. If a company does not want to risk bad publicity like this, they should make sure to not hire CEOs with certain viewpoints in the first place, or at least make it clear they will not tolerate vocalizations of so-viewpoints (or contributions to campaigns related to that so-viewpoint).

All in all, we should just stop placing the opinions of CEOs (and other "high-profile" somebodies) on an altar.
That's certainly one stance to take, although I think it's also fair to hold different kinds of employees to different standards of behavior. At a basic level you just expect different jobs to entail different things, but you also expect a CEO to be the "public face" of the company. If a candidate for CEO doesn't fit with a key demographic in the community, then that candidate isn't fit for the office of executive. For a different position, like IT engineer, CTO (as Eich was before he was picked for the CEO spot) or even marketing, maybe personal views and political contributions aren't as important.

Over at The Daily Banter, a left-leaning news and commentary site, Tommy Christopher had this to say, in an article hilariously titled "Mozilla Ex-CEO Brendan Eich Is Not the Gay Fredo Corleone":
As for the gay, Führer-headed mafia Inquisition, let’s all take a deep breath here. Brendan Eich was not double-tapped in a rowboat as he recited the Ave Maria, or rounded up and exterminated, or even, say, tied to a tree and beaten to death. Brendan Eich was asked to step down as CEO of Mozilla.
The irony is a bit rich for everyone talking about a "gay Mafia" or how Eich was "bullied" into resigning—not at all clear, as I'll get to in a bit—when Proposition 8 was very clearly about dictating to people what protections and privileges they could or could not receive from the government:
Section I. Title
This measure shall be known and may be cited as the "California Marriage Protection Act."
Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution, to read:
Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
In particular, save for a small fringe of this position, most anti-gay-marriage arguments involve condemnations of homosexuality and the "lifestyle" itself, when pressed to answer things like What are you trying to 'protect' marriage against? or What's special about "one man, one woman" marriage? Arguments from "religious freedom" are in vogue right now about other things, though clearly that ship has sailed when it comes to codifying a particular worldview in a state constitution.

Back at the Banter article, Christopher continues:
In general, I’m against firing or removing anyone from any job on the basis of speech. The answer to problematic speech, in my view, is almost always more speech, not less. I think Chez and I would agree that a public airing of/debate over Eich’s views would have been a more productive demand than his ouster, but it should be noted that when given the opportunity to address this controversy, before he thought it might cost him his job, Eich elected for less speech.
It's also worth noting that, while I think Eich's choice to step down amid the criticism was fair, it would also have been fair if he hadn't stepped down and just dealt with it...

... assuming the company didn't care. But, and here's the key, Mozilla Corp. did care: ignoring OKCupid's soft-blacklist of Firefox browsers, Internet activists raising the hue and cry, and so on, Mozilla employees did protest the decision to make Eich CEO, and several board members did resign EDIT (04/20/2014) My friend Briana pointed out that the resignations were planned in advance of Eich being picked for CEO, not a direct result of that pick. So there were real, tangible consequences to the company, and Eich probably stepped down for those reasons rather than what outside voices were saying. And that's fair.

No comments:

Post a Comment