The Jouissance of the Other: Envy disguised as Prejudice.

downloadThis week, I changed browsers. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but actually it was a chore. I’ve been a Firefox fan for a very long time. I love it for a lot of reasons. It’s an excellent browser and if they charged money to own it, I would have gladly paid.

Then Mozilla made Brendan Eich CEO, and I had to make a decision. A minor ethical one.

Eich is a brilliant man. He is an IT legend. He created Javascript. One of the most flexible scripting languages ever written. He helped found Mozilla in 1988 and, without a doubt, much of Firefox’s success is due to him. It must also, I surmise, be somewhat down to him that Mozilla maintained such a radically open source attitude to its products. The company has always believed in cooperation, openness, collaboration.

But Brendan Eich must also be, to some extent, a torn man. Because, with his public donation of $1000 to the campaign to pass California’s Proposition 8 which sought to prohibit same sex marriages in the state, he also showed that his understanding of openness and inclusiveness was limited to software. How can a man who sees the benefits of mutual respect and collaboration so clearly in the IT world, not see it in the real world?

Companies hire people who are right for the job they are expected to do. And clearly Eich was of great value to Mozilla as a programmer and a technologist, but when they made him CEO, they were saying that he was the right person to represent the company to the public. It was a bad, bad call.

I’m with Zizek and Badiou. I don’t believe you have to love thy neighbor. There are people I don’t love. There are whole groups of people I’d rather do without, but my obligation as a civilized person is to be polite and respectful and follow a live and let live policy wherever possible. I have my prejudices. I know what they are. I recognize them and I do my best not to act on them. I most certainly don’t seek to perpetuate them.

Mr. Eich has the right to be anti-gay. He has the right to feel however he wants to feel about gay marriage. He has the right to make that view public and donate to causes that support his views. But he does not, nor does anyone, have the right to do it without consequence. The paradox of free speech is that is it not free. In that we accept the consequences that may unfold because of what we choose to say publicly.

So when Mozilla decided to make Brendan Eich CEO of Mozilla, I decided that yes – it was their prerogative to do so, and it was his prerogative to be publicly anti-gay marriage, and it was my prerogative to change my browser and to say why I was doing it, publicly.

I have since received some rather nasty communications saying that I persecuted a man for his convictions. Persecution is not only a hyperbolic representation of what I did, but it is false. In the same way that Mr. Eich felt free to publicly support what I feel is an offensive piece of legislation (that didn’t pass, I’m happy to say), I felt free to say that I would not use the product of a company where he was CEO. A Chief Executive Officer is not just the most powerful position in a company, it is also very much a representative position. CEOs are the ultimate spokespersons for a company. If Mozilla was going to choose to let Eich represent them in that way, I was switching to Chrome.

But why am I bothered that some stranger, head of a company, doesn’t like gay marriage? Actually, it’s not specifically his anti-gay-marriage stance that bothered me. My concern stems from something Lacan called ‘the jouissance of Others.”

He attributed much of the world’s sexual, racial, religious and other prejudices to a subconscious envy that ate away at people. His believed that when people felt hatred or resentment, or sought to limit the opportunities of others, as a group, it was because they imagined that those ‘others’ had access to a more perfect form of pleasure. You see this especially in the kind of rhetoric that bigoted people spout. “Those lazy immigrants, they get all the good jobs and take all our welfare.” “Those faggots don’t have to take on the kind of family responsibilities I have to take on.” “Those sluts on birth control think they can fuck whoever they like.” There is, underlying this, a subtext that the speaker is victimized by and disadvantaged for his or her adherence to ‘normative’ rules. The irony about bigotry is that it so diminishes the bigot.

There is that seed of envy and resentment in each of us. It is irrational, it is unfounded, and it is one of the darker sides of our nature that any civilized person learns to repress. I expect anyone who is in a position of authority to tamp it the fuck down. I do.

People who are opposed to gay marriage, if you can get them past the irrational and inflexible cant of “marriage is a state between a man and a woman,” will tell you that gay marriage threatens the validity of THEIR marriage. How?

They can never tell you how. Because one person’s joy does not diminish another person’s joy in this case. Millions of gays and lesbians can get married and it won’t affect your heterosexual marriage one iota unless, of course, yours is so fragile, it needs to exist in a vacuum.

I am sorry for Mr. Eich. I’m sorry that his company put him in an unsuitable position and it resulted in a humiliating situation where he had to step down.

But more than that, I’m sorry that Mr. Eich believes, somewhere inside himself, that his conjugal happiness depends on some other couple’s misery.

But I am not sorry that the public airing of his prejudice had consequences for him.  That’s the price of free speech, especially when it’s hate speech.

Mozilla announced yesterday that Eich was stepping down as CEO. There’s an apologetic message from their executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, which reads, in my mind, rather self-servingly. Maybe I’m jaded. I’m not celebrating, and I won’t be moving back to Firefox. It was too much of a pain in the ass to shift over to Chrome.

  14 comments for “The Jouissance of the Other: Envy disguised as Prejudice.

  1. April 4, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I had already switched to Chrome . . .which was good because I hate rushing things like that. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but once they voice it I have the right to reject them because of it. As far as the resignation goes, too little, too late – perhaps they should have thought about repercussions first.

  2. April 5, 2014 at 1:23 am

    “The paradox of free speech is that is it not free. In that we accept the consequences that may unfold because of what we choose to say publicly.”

    Well put, RG. I appreciate the way you dig deep into your reaction to things and share it with the rest of us. Because i don’t. I know we all have our prejudices but I also know that most liberal leaning people say, “I don’t have a prejudicial bone in my body.” If a discussion ensues, it becomes distressingly specific. I’ve lived near Toronto for two decades, in a town that accepts French Canadians who are white as our celebrated minority (although the first local Catholic High School was built within the last decade.)

    Once I discovered that my new home was a haven for red-necks (and home to some top-ranking KKK members) I decided one of my responsibilities was to speak up when an oh-so-casual racist/homophobic/misogynist (sigh) remark is expressed. That’s when “freedom of speech” is evoked, countered with “anti-hate laws” by me.
    This town, which (post-house-purchase, pre-moving date) was approached to grant the KKK ANOTHER grand parade down Main St. (OMG what have WE DONE?) has no public transportation system. No car? Damned hard to live here. The reason? It keeps out the low-income, new immigrant and/or people of color who might like to live here even though they can’t easily WORK here. This is common knowledge and has been spoken approvingly of, to me, by many, including someone who works at Service Canada, which is a (terrific) new arm of the federal government. How breath-takingly ignorant is that?

    Of course, white gay couples with high incomes get to live here. I was a census worker for the 2,000 census, so I know who they are but I bet they aren’t all that open about it. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they are harassed, but I don’t know if they are. I do know they’ll NEVER get married here.

    Our community hospital recently underwent a multimillion dollar expansion of its Emergency Ward. This is a hospital with 140 beds, total. The closest city (the first city in Ontario founded by blacks) has a brand new, huge hospital. Yet our Emergency Ward, once truly serving “the community” now services everyone who’s afraid of being treated by a black doctor, so it’s always packed to overflowing with sick people, including sick people of Asian, East Indian and Pakistani descent. The last time I was admitted to hospital, my white roommate, who’d had a heart attack, told me she’d refused her husband’s suggestion that they call an ambulance and had him drive her to our hospital. The admitting doctor warned her that she could’ve died. She didn’t care. There was no way she’d go to the closest hospital because . . . well . . . you know . . .
    I’m often shocked into silence, which I hate but have no control over. Besides, I was sick. So I just rolled over . . .
    Well, that’s what most of us do, most of the time. I’ve found that even if I “win” the argument the position of the person I’m arguing with remains unchanged.
    Post-divorce, post-death of my man, I’m going back to Toronto, Canada’s greatest examples of a “multicultural mosaic” and one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
    I’m taking your words with me. Even if the consequence of hate-mongering is merely the loss of my friendship, or financial support, it means something to me and now I have a succinct manner of expressing why. So thanks, RG! Keep on thinkin’!

  3. TFP
    April 5, 2014 at 3:08 am


    Thought provoking read, interesting points about how bigotry has a basis in envy and jealousy. I observe many bitter, angry, aged men that are pissed off at the world who claim to know the right way of things. If being bitter and angry is the “right way”… then no thanks. I admire your decision not to use Firefox for ethical reasons, I most certainly respect it, even though I might not think its that big of a deal. I still use firefox, and wear $80 dollar nikes. I will say this….I try not to shop at Walmart, sometimes I cant help myself, I have to go people watch from time to time.

    • April 5, 2014 at 7:28 am

      “I observe many bitter, angry, aged men that are pissed off at the world who claim to know the right way of things”

      The ‘right way of things’ is an interesting phrase. Because it is code for ‘the way I’ve chosen’ and it often just means ‘what the world has forced me into.’ Had these people been born in the 1800s, I would accept that. The kind of thinking that allowed one to question the structure of one’s social order had not really emerged in any significant way until after Marx. I’m not a rabid Marxist, but I do appreciate the fact that, for most of the world, it was Marxist theory that offered a framework for interrogating the ‘rightness’ of one’s socioeconomic reality. And once that rabbit got out of the box, it’s been possible to question pretty much anything.

      • TFP
        April 5, 2014 at 7:14 pm

        As I read your comment here I thought to myself, “RG is a commy?” My childhood Cold War era thinking just clicked on automatically. Its interesting how the mind is molded and then produces the bigotry. Instead of being critical without knowledge, I’m going to read up a bit on Marx, honestly I know nothing about him or his social philosophy.

        • April 5, 2014 at 9:13 pm

          Wait… it took you this long to figure out that I was a Commie?

          • TFP
            April 6, 2014 at 2:01 am

            I’m slow…*grins*

  4. Roger Leatherwood
    April 5, 2014 at 4:33 am

    Well stated, and with a level head.

    Cheers, R

  5. Nigel
    April 5, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Unfortunately, now you’re using a browser that feeds all your browsing statistics straight to Google, the “don’t be evil” advertising company. i moved back to firefox a couple months ago because i am no longer comfortable with what Google collects about me, especially in light of the whole NSA debacle.

    • April 5, 2014 at 7:10 am

      Yeah, I know this about google and chrome and I’m trying to find an alternative.

  6. Six
    April 5, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Love is such a rare and precious commodity in this world, we should respect and honor it, even if it takes place between two people of the same sex.

    • April 5, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Yup. I’m pretty sure we need a lot more of it.

    • TFP
      April 5, 2014 at 7:16 pm


  7. korhomme
    April 6, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    I’ve been with Firefox since I moved the the Mac a few years ago. Now, I’ve got all sorts of add-ons to block ads and trackers etc and this works well enough.

    I didn’t fancy Chrome, largely because I don’t believe their mantra “don’t be evil”.

    Perhaps I should move to Opera, though the ad-free version costs money.

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