Friday, April 24, 2015

Muddled view of Eich on ice

TPM has a nuanced-to-muddled view on Brendan Eich, the Mozilla exec promoted to CEO last year who had in 2008 contributed $1000 to the last successful anti-gay marriage initiative in California, an action that resulted in his recent resignation.

TPM somewhat reflects my own view, especially the muddled part. This blog post is unusual for me in that as I write the beginning, I'm not sure what the conclusion will be. But here goes:

  • In several generations, they'll view opposition to gay marriage similarly with opposition to interracial marriage.
  • Now is now, though, not decades in the future. Eich's viewpoint in 2008 was within the political mainstream at the time even though it's rapidly becoming less so today in Silicon Valley.
  • Abe Lincoln said something horribly racist things, particularly early in his political career, but for his time his beliefs reached the progressive end of the spectrum. 
  • You can judge people either on an absolute basis, or on a curve that's based on what was the mainstream position that the individual reacts to.
  • I think you should acknowledge the absolute position, but it asks too much of frail humanity. The curve is what counts. (A tangent:  future generations will condemn me and everyone else today who isn't a vegan, unless those generations grade on a curve.)
  • A CEO is not an owner of a company. The company profits don't go the CEO (mostly) so a boycott hits someone else.
  • Mozilla Corp is a taxable arm of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. I'm going to ignore that and just treat it as a business.
  • I think CEOs should be less dominant in their companies and should also be able to hold mainstream views without those views being ascribed to the company.
  • People have an ethical right to boycott companies they don't like. At first glance, there's nothing wrong with dating site OkCupid's boycott of Firefox.
  • Companies have to respond to the outside world - it was right for Eich to leave for losing important customers.
  • Here's the tough one - while it's idiotic to think someone should be able to take a position without being criticized for it, I think the ethics of freedom of speech extends beyond a prohibition on government - the rest of society should also allow people to express unpopular thoughts without retaliation beyond criticism.
  • It is possible for expression of unpopular thoughts to go too far. Someone who denies the fact of the Holocaust isn't an appropriate spokesperson, for example.
  • Unpopular expression is different from unpopular action - substantially bankrolling Prop. 8 would be action. Giving $1000 isn't enough money to count as bankrolling IMHO.
  • When another person tells you that you  (or someone close to you) has no right to marry the person you love, you have the right to extreme avoidance of that person, including whatever business employs him or her.

And the outcome - the right to express/hold unpopular beliefs versus the right to avoid a business that employs someone who opposes your core dignity. A muddle. My muddled outcome is I can't condemn a homosexual person or the person's family if they had boycotted Firefox. I wouldn't otherwise try to get Eich fired.

I should distinguish Eich from Roger Pielke Jr., who should be fired from 538. RPJr is wrong in what he was hired to do, providing accurate and non-misleading analysis of climate change. Doing the opposite as he's done is a firing offense, and it's not exempted as an opinion when it's simply wrong.