Friday, April 4, 2014

The Ouster of Brendan Eich

When Dropped From A Sufficient Height
A few days ago Mozilla, the company that makes the Firefox browser, hired a new CEO: Brendan Eich. He is the 52 year old software engineer behind Javascript, a language that powers many web pages, and was significant in the creation of what we think of today as the World Wide Web. He was a somewhat contentious choice--but nowhere near as contentious as what came after.

It became public knowledge that in 2008 Eich had donated 1000.00 to the California Proposition Eight. Proposition Eight was an amendment to the state constitution created by same-sex marriage opponents. It defined a valid marriage as only between a man and a woman.

When the donation came to light (from a database created by the LA Times, legal under California law) there was a public blacklash and, 11 days after becoming CEO, he stepped down (or was forced down, it's unclear).

What Does This Mean?
The reaction from the right has been:

  1. The left is totally hypocritical! Where's their so-called tolerance of Eich's (presumably) religious beliefs!
  2. Hey! Back in 2008, this was a pretty main-stream view, wasn't it!? What gives here!?
  3. Obama was (at least pretending to be) against gay marriage until just recently and he's okay, right? Also, aren't there some blue-dog Democrats who are towing the anti-gay marriage line? 
  4. Eich was bullied! The left are now pro-bully. It's not like Eich actually did anything to hurt gays.
  5. It was Obama's IRS that leaked the tax data on the donation!!
  6. The gays--they got him.
Andrew Sullivan (left-wing, and gay) writes:
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.
What About This?
Let's take this one at a time.

The Hypocrisy of Not Tolerating Intolerance
The idea that to be fully tolerant one must respect ideas that denigrate others is a consistent conservative straw-man.

The discussion usually either (1) holds up tolerance as an unalloyed virtue or (2) attacks the alleged hypocrisy of the imputed liberal position (that liberals who claim to be tolerant must therefore logically be tolerant of what they see as bigotry).

In the first case, the conservative has to explain why they think things like Prop-8 are tolerant. If someone tells you "It isn't about gays at all--it's about the definition of the word 'marriage'" they are not being straight with you. They'd do better on their Dictionary Defense campaign to fight to keep 'selfie' out of the new edition.

In the second case, while liberals may claim to be tolerant of various beliefs, the idea that they have to be okay with action (such as a material donation) that keeps gay couples apart is pure strawman. It's quite okay to have a line in the sand and actions vs. beliefs may or may not cross it. This is particularly egregious when the speaker is both bemoaning the death of tolerance but are, themselves, not especially tolerant of, say, "Islamic beliefs" (in quotes because these 'beliefs' are whatever the speaker thinks Muslims believe).

In that case--where the dialog attacks intolerant liberals not for hypocrisy--but for religious intolerance--while not being overly tolerant themselves--the speaker is being an unintentionally ironic example of everything they're claiming to be against.
They're Right About The "i"
It Was Mainstream When He Did It (So It's Okay)
Proposition 8 won--in California--during Obama's blow-out election. That does, in fact, mean that the ballot position was pretty mainstream ... six years ago. That's correct. The problem isn't, actually, that the public position on gay marriage has shifted unbelievably quickly--no. The problem is that the speaker is implying (but not stating) that "Since it was mainstream back then, it's unfair to hold him accountable for it now."

This position is open to discussion.

The mainstream of America doesn't excoriate the Founding Fathers because some of them owned slaves--that's true. On the other hand, none of them are alive today and still thinking they probably ought to have some house n-word's bring them their coffee. Eich's donation had real-world impact six years ago. He's still around and, presumably, hasn't changed his mind on things.

Is it fair to hold him accountable for that? What's the statute of limitations on keeping same-sex couples apart? I don't know--and you don't either--but that's the argument this position needs to have ... but isn't.

Obama and the Blue Dogs
Everyone knows that to win in an opposite colored state you gotta be flexible. We ought to be past that for individual congress-critters (in fact, I hear the 2012 Republican presidential nominee had some liberal skeletons in his closet). What about Obama?

Well, firstly, to be frank, no one thought Obama was really anti-gay marriage. It's the same way that national candidates can take a "I'm personally against it--but it's up to the courts" position on abortion and get away without taking a possibly damaging stand. Obama said he was evolving and everyone knew what that meant.

If you are going to call Obama a liar on a daily basis it may not be the strongest position to call for his ouster on the theory that he was indisputably telling the truth about his beliefs. That looks opportunistic.

Secondly, Obama did do things like integrate the military: actions speak louder than words (and talk is cheap, donations aren't).

In short, this looks like sulking.

The Left's Bullies
If you are going to claim you are being bullied, you have to be an under-dog. There is an implicit power-gradient in bullying that simply doesn't exist here. Eich is a wealthy CEO and the country, while moving quickly to a pro-gay marriage position isn't 100% there yet. The 2012 election was a 3% difference, the Duck Dynasty guy got his job back quickly, and I didn't hear Andrew Sullivan defending Paula Deen.

The dating site OkCupid, a favorite of young people, put up a page asking Firefox users not to use their site because they objected to the Prop-8 donation. You could still click through the "blocking page" and get to the site (with Firefox or any other browser).

OkCupid is popular with young people and has an estimated 30M users. Firefox has 20% of the entire browser market. This isn't even a clash of titans--Fire Fox's user-share is far larger.

It Was An IRS Leak
In 2013 the National Organization for Marriage claimed that the IRS has illegally released its tax return with confidential donor information in it to the Human Rights Campaign. While this may or may not be the case (it appears the case is still pending) the information about donations is legally available in California and was (legally) published by the LA Times.

The Gays Are Winning?
Andrew Sullivan is a big proponent of gay marriage and if he is troubled by this it means there is reason to be troubled. Being fired for political donations is like being fired for Facebook postings: it's (I guess) legal--but it isn't cool.

The Omnivore wants to make a single point here though: right now gay marriage is a lot like civil rights were back in the 60's. If you don't think the Bible wasn't used to defend slavery and the prevention of mixed race marriage you haven't been paying attention. That people see gay marriage (and gay rights in general now) in the same light is meaningful.

What it means is this: anti-gay actions fall into a special class of bigotry that other actions may not. This doesn't make it okay to fire someone for their donation--but it does mean that acting against gay marriage may have consequences beyond, say, donating to Romney or opposing immigration reform. As a practical matter this has bearing on the circumstances.

What Does The Omnivore Think?
The first thing you should look at is this:
Mt. Youthmore
See that biiiiig bar over there above 18-24? That's how much younger Firefox users are than the general population.

If you're still confused, look at it again. Okay, maybe try this:
61% of Republicans under age 30 are okay with Gay Marriage
Hmm ... maybe less confusing?

The Omnivore thinks that gay marriage is a hot-button issue for its primary user-base and acted accordingly. This is reasonable business sense (the Invisible hand strikes!) and should not be misconstrued for "the gaystapo" unless by "the gaystapo" you mean 61% of young republicans.

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