This 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.
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.