TL;DR – The resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich is another example of the erosion of civil liberties by those pursuing an ostensibly liberal agenda. They are gnawing at the roots of science and enlightenment values in the name of human rights. Thankfully principled members of minorities whose rights are being fought for are saying “Not in our name”. They understand that freedom – of choice, of belief, of speech – underscore minority rights and are appalled to see them undermined.
I have sitting on a draft post for months on this topic of contemporary Prisoners of Conscience, but have not found the time to write it. I will do a series of posts instead.
It was kicked off by something one of my favourite public intellectuals – Jonathan Rauch – said on an episode of On Being about a year ago (April 2013):
So gay people were the victims of majority intolerance for many, many decades, and public opinion in America is a ferocious thing. Tocqueville wrote about it — “Tyranny of the Majority,” he called it. Something very, very important happened around 2009. The Gallup poll for the first time showed a tie in people saying homosexual relationships were morally acceptable with people saying they were not morally acceptable. And the lines have now crossed. There is now I think it’s like a 9- or 10-point gap of a solid majority of Americans saying it’s OK to be gay. So this is new. This means we’re now the moral majority.
This means the burden of proof is now on the other side. And this means it’s going to be tempting for gay people to press our advantage and try to use the law to make it difficult for people who want to preserve religious traditions that are anti-gay to do so. And we have good reason for that. We have suffered very directly and very concretely and quite often with our lives from religious bigotry. It’s not to say all religion is bigotry. So it is very tempting for us to say let’s drive this out of society altogether. All forms of discrimination, whether religious or not, should be illegal and I’m saying to gay people, no, we’ve got to share the country.
There is a thing called the First Amendment. Religious liberty. We’ll get squashed like bugs on the windshield if we try to go against religious liberty, but more important, we want to be in a live-and-let-live society where no one gets treated as a prisoner of conscience and feels the need to stay in the closet, frightened because of what they believe.
That’s what we fought against all those years, long before marriage, and that’s what we will continue to fight against. And that’s why we need to be champions of all reasonable protections for religious people who may not agree with us and may not want to associate with us, but we need to let them share this country with us.
As a classic non-religious liberal who supports gay rights (including the right to marry and adopt) and all the other enlightenment liberties, Rauch’s comments really struck me hard.
Across the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, And Democratic) countries, in almost every area of politico-social contention (immigration & race, gay rights, gender equality etc) we are creating prisoners of conscience, people “persecuted for the non-violent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs” or forcing people to self-censor out of fear of the consequences of free speech (being fired, prosecuted, publicly attacked, even murdered).
The latest victim of this illiberal enforcement of liberal values – my values – is Brendan Eich.
Eich is a gifted technologist and coder. He was forced to resign from his new position as new CEO of Mozilla because in 2008 he made a private financial donation to Proposition 8, the Californian law opposing gay marriage. Whilst some gay activists were crowing, and online dating site OKCupid was “credited” with being instrumental in forcing Eich to step down after blocking Mozilla Firefox browser (my favourite browser) on this site, many were outraged by the flagrant attack on Eich’s freedom of speech, livelihood, privacy and freedom of conscience.
OKCupid’s publicity stunt was a disgusting exercise in cynical populist bullying. I would boycott it except I would never go near such a site anyway, even if I were single.
Here is Rauch, again, commenting on the affair in the New York Times:
The online campaign that led to Brendan Eich’s resignation was intolerant and obnoxious. Also, stupid. But please don’t blame the gay community. Blame the people who did it and who do not represent or resemble mainstream gay America.
Two things are clear. One, a company is within its rights to dismiss a top executive who does not reflect its values or priorities. Two, activists are within their rights to criticize positions held by corporate executives. So what went wrong in the Mozilla/Eich case? A handful of hotheads forgot what the gay rights movement is fighting for: the embrace of diversity and the freedom for all Americans, gay and straight, to live publicly as who they truly are.
This is why the mainstream gay rights leadership supports free speech. L.G.B.T. people win when both we and our opponents can speak out. It is why most ordinary gay Americans want nothing to do with efforts to silence our adversaries. It is why Andrew Sullivan, a pioneer of the gay-marriage movement, was quick to say, “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.” That is where gay America’s heart is, even if sometimes the hotheads are noisier.
Lest we forget, the campaign against Eich was not launched by gay rights groups. It was launched by an online dating company called OKCupid. Even OKCupid’s leaders had no plan other than to “raise awareness.” In other words, they were freelance activists engaging in moral grandstanding. Well intentioned? Maybe. Dumb? Assuredly. (Should we boycott every company whose leadership does not support gay marriage? Did these guys think for even 10 seconds?) But, whatever else this may have been, it was hardly the work of the “gay community.”
It’s a big country and there are intolerant and intemperate people on all sides of every issue. This won’t be the last time activists and publicity seekers call for the head of someone they don’t like. When gay-marriage opponents claim that a new reign of terror is abroad in the land, however, please remember that the large majority of gay and lesbian Americans share with the large majority of conservatives and Christians a desire to live and let live, and it is those large majorities that will prevail in our majoritarian country.
Brilliant and undeniably true. Time and again gay activists have shown tremendous integrity and consistency by coming to the moral and even legal defence of people who oppose their (e.g. Peter Tatchell supporting a man arrested for opposing gay marriage).
Rauch also mentions Andrew Sullivan, who I also read and admire. Sullivan was furious about Eich’s treatment at the hands of Mozilla, OKCupid and others.
“The guy who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights and favor Prop 8 in California by donating $1,000 has just been scalped by some gay activists. After an OKCupid decision to boycott Mozilla, the recently appointed Brendan Eich just resigned under pressure…Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.” – “The Hounding of a Heretic”
In a follow-up post
He did not understand that in order to be a CEO of a company, you have to renounce your heresy! There is only one permissible opinion at Mozilla, and all dissidents must be purged! Yep, that’s left-liberal tolerance in a nut-shell….what we’re talking about is the obvious and ugly intolerance of parts of the gay movement, who have reacted to years of being subjected to social obloquy by returning the favor
…It is also unbelievably stupid for the gay rights movement. You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the Christianists? You’ve just found a great way to do this. It’s a bad, self-inflicted blow. And all of us will come to regret it.
The final post in the trilogy has the clincher
Of course Mozilla has the right to purge a CEO because of his incorrect political views. Of course Eich was not stripped of his First Amendment rights. I’d fight till my last breath for Mozilla to retain that right. What I’m concerned with is the substantive reason for purging him. When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecuted for holding unpopular views can now turn around and persecute others for the exact same reason. If we cannot live and work alongside people with whom we deeply disagree, we are finished as a liberal society.
..What if an employee went to a demonstration that his company found objectionable? Would that be a reason to fire him? What we have here is a social pressure to keep your beliefs deeply private for fear of retribution. We are enforcing another sort of closet on others.
…There is not a scintilla of evidence that he has ever discriminated against a single gay person at Mozilla; he was dedicated to continuing Mozilla’s inclusive policies; he was prepared to prove that the accusations against him were unfair, and that his political views would not affect his performance as CEO. But this was not enough. He had to be publicly punished for supporting a Proposition that is no longer in effect. This is absolutely McCarthyism from an increasingly McCarthyite left.
..There you have the illiberal mindset. Morality trumps freedom. Our opponents must be humiliated, ridiculed and “isolated as perverts”. I mean “bigots”, excuse me.
Let me finish off this monster post with a video of Jonathan Rauch last year.
Free Speech Now! | ‘Everything should be open to question’ | Free speech | Interviews | USA | spiked
Against the tyranny of the majority by John Stuart Mill
‘Live by the light of your own reason’ by John Locke
Mozilla’s Gay-Marriage Purge – Bloomberg View
Mozilla and Brendan Eich’s resignation: Why don’t conservatives want to protect ordinary people from discrimination?
Corrosive Conformity – National Review
Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich Steps Down – WSJ.com
Bill Maher: “There Is A Gay Mafia — If You Cross Them, You Do Get Whacked” | Video | RealClearPolitics
FAQ on CEO Resignation | The Mozilla Blog
Mozilla’s Gay-Marriage Litmus Test Violates Liberal Values – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic
Why Gay-Marriage Opponents Should Not Be Treated Like Racists – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic
MOBZILLA. The Purging of Brendan Eich – The Wilderness