The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions: An Apology to Brendan Eich (Former CEO of Mozilla)

I will begin this with important context: in the past, I have made it very clear that I support gay marriage and human rights for everyone. There is no group that I would deny basic freedoms to… including those I disagree with. That said, I must make clear that I did not join in the celebration that took place yesterday. The Mozilla Corporation announced that new CEO Brendan Eich was stepping down from his position. The decision was not Mr. Eich’s idea but rather came after enormous public outcry against his promotion to CEO. People were angry that, in 2008, Brendan Eich donated $1,000 to support Proposition 8 (an anti-gay marriage bill in California). Eich’s promotion to CEO prompted several other high-ups at Mozilla to leave the company, and spurred OkCupid to institute a disclaimer on their site for Firefox users. The reaction to this awareness campaign was swift and Eich was forced out. Wew, score one for LGBT… right? I don’t think so.

OKCupid's message to people operating on the Firefox browser. The message did not prohibit Firefox users from using the site but informed them of Mr. Eich's past actions.
OkCupid’s message to people operating on the Firefox browser. The message did not prohibit Firefox users from using the site but informed them of Mr. Eich’s past actions.

The United States of America promotes two things above all else: a belief in democracy and a belief in capitalism. How people personally feel about those two subjects is irrelevant, they have long been a part of the U.S. heritage. These two issues do not always agree. History is full of instances where the two clash and conflict continues today (look at the 1% vs. the Occupy Movement). In 1976, the Supreme Court determined that spending money was the equivalent to freedom of speech. Based on the information out there, I believe the Mr. Eich’s right to free speech was violated.

When I first saw the issue through my Facebook newsfeed, one question in particular peaked my curiousity. Had Eich spent his own money or had he made an investment on behalf of Mozilla? These two things are very different. If the donation had been made in Mozilla’s name, then the entire company would be held responsible. Corporations recently have won some of the rights of people (so, so bad for democracy) but, if they want the rights, they can deal with the responsibilities. That said, it seems silly to me to punish an entire corporation based off the actions of one individual. Sure, boycott Mozilla because they have a homophobic CEO, boycott X-Men: Days of Future Past because it contains at least one gay actor, boycott Walmart… actually that’s not a bad idea. Point is: corporations are huge and not responsible for what employees do in their free time. Eich did not do anything illegal, he committed (I believe I am using the technical term here) a dick move. Is he an asshole for spending money to stop people from getting married: yes. Should he be fired for that… well, if yes then so should a lot of other people.

Based on the information I have found, I believe the donation was made in Eich’s name, and with his own money. Money that, according to the United States Constitution, he is allowed to spend any way that he wants, so long as it is not illegally. To condone or condemn an individual, based solely on his/her purchase history, does not sound like democracy to me.

“Okay, sure but he was homophobic! Surely this man should not be allowed to lead a company!”

Do you know him? I don’t, but let’s look at the facts. It is public record that 2008, Eich donated to a homophobic campaign. Six years ago he did that. No question. Done deal. Here is a statement from Mr. Eich made last week. If Brendan Eich’s public statement is to be believed, then he was a reformed man who acknowledged his mistakes and was trying to work forward. Granted, he might be lying and it might have been a PR stunt… but it might not have been. Forgiveness is a large part of modern society. There is a commonly held believe that everyone deserves at least a second chance. The world has changed radically in recent times, especially concerning the public view of LGBT rights.

“But wait, there were issues at Mozilla. People there were angry and left the company. He wasn’t reformed!”

Again, the public does not know for certain why those people resigned over Eich’s promotion. It is not uncommon for several other higher-ups to resign after one is promoted to CEO. The perception is that, if that person was just promoted, he isn’t going anywhere in the near future. Their leaving could simply be a career move. Mozilla themselves came out against the claim that there was any personal rift at all that caused the leavings. Granted, Mozilla could also have been denying it in an attempt to avoid the scandal that they just suffered.

Let’s flash back to 1998. Bill Clinton was on trial, a trial that could have cost him the Presidency of the United States. He was accused of lying under oath. On the surface that sounds like a very serious crime. However, the issue that former President Clinton lied about was, frankly, none of the country’s business and was in no way connected to his abilities as a world leader. Clinton was charged with lying about adultery (the Monica Lewinsky scandal). Does that say something about Bill Clinton as a husband, yes. Did it have anything to do with him as a president, no. I feel that this case is similar.

I am not defending the past homophobic actions of Brendan Eich. His old views on the LGBT community are backward, and if he hasn’t truly reformed then he is still a bigot. It is simply a very dangerous sign when moral judgment dictates society and policy. No one is clean, everyone has done something wrong. If Eich is still homophobic, I highly doubt that this has done anything to enlighten his views. That is the real tragedy. To use parody, I believe the South Park character, Big Gay Al, put it best:

“Look, I appreciate what you kids did. I really do. But this isn’t what I wanted. I’m proud to be gay. And I’m proud to be in a country where I’m free to express myself. But freedom is a two-way street. If I’m free to express myself, then the scouts have to be free to express themselves too. I know these [scout leaders]. They are good men. They are kind men. They do what they think is best for the kids. No matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way. It’s up to us to persuade and help them see the light, not extort them to? I will continue to persuade them to change their minds, but this is the wrong way to do it. So, I am hereby dropping my case and allowing the scouts their right to not allow gays into their private club.”
“Look, I appreciate what you kids did. I really do. But this isn’t what I wanted. I’m proud to be gay. And I’m proud to be in a country where I’m free to express myself. But freedom is a two-way street. If I’m free to express myself, then the scouts have to be free to express themselves too. I know these [scout leaders]. They are good men. They are kind men. They do what they think is best for the kids. No matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way. It’s up to us to persuade and help them see the light, not extort them to? I will continue to persuade them to change their minds, but this is the wrong way to do it.”
Forcing other people to think a certain way is never the right answer. Punishing an opinion, even a wrong one, is useless without teaching the correct one. That is what happened… that is the best case scenario for what happened (otherwise a man trying for redemption was crucified for past mistakes). Oh, and anyone celebrating that justice was really done: he stepped down as CEO, he was not fired. I have read nothing that makes me think that Brendan Eich no longer has a job with Mozilla. I may be wrong, that is simply my thinking after reading.

I was homophobic once too. I grew up with ignorant views. My eyes were opened and I have learned how wrong I was, thankfully before I was ever in the position to deny anyone their rights. This can be done the right way, the world is already changing. Fast communication is a double-edged sword: it can cause quick action, like in the case of Eich. However, if people are not properly educated and make informed decisions, there will always be room for prejudice and bigotry. Let us simply not replace one kind with another.

For now, with the information available, I feel that Brendan Eich is owed an apology.

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