Do not punish Mozilla

Brendan Eich, formerly CTO of Mozilla Corporation and recently promoted CEO, subsequently resigned on April 3 apparently of his own volition but in part due to pressure from peers to protect the Corporation and its parent Foundation from political fallout. This is rooted in his donation of $1,000 in 2008 to a campaign to support California's Proposition 8, which eliminated the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

Mozilla has become collateral damage in a lovers' quarrel—or more accurately, a quarrel about love—between two groups with differing opinions on marriage. Both groups have attacked and damaged Mozilla in attempts to hurt their opponent. This is wrongheaded behavior.

For both sides of the scuffle, Mozilla is neither the rightful target or even a suitable proxy for the opponent. Mozilla is undeserving of this punishment and both sides should proverbially take their quarrel outside.

My opinion on marriage

On the matter of marriage, I am what you might call an extremist.

I am married to a woman, but I believe marriage is personal and should not be a state matter. A woman should be permitted to marry a woman. A man should be permitted to marry a man. But let's go further. A woman should be permitted to marry her own sister. (Are you worried about incest in that configuration?) A man should be permitted to marry his own brother. And a group of people should be permitted to create a group marriage.

Depending on whether manipulating language benefits your political ambition, It may be more or less linguistically convenient if we use the word "marry" to describe these various permutations. Proponents of same-sex marriage want to use the word marry to describe same-sex permutations precisely because it increases ambiguity. Meanwhile, defenders of the historical definition want to assign a different word to same-sex partnerships to retain the specific male-female definition of marriage.

I frankly don't care a whole lot what words are used. Yet, words are what this is about since domestic partnerships (same rights; different name) are considered by same-sex marriage advocates as "separate but equal."

To remove ambiguity, one generic word and then individual specific words for each configuration would be most practical. I have detected grassroots use of the word partnership as the generic form, although I would be happy to use marriage as the generic form too. The concrete words are not important; the availability of both generic and specific forms is important.

I feel the state should have no hand in endorsing or preventing any of the above, or even other configurations of partnerships that I've not considered. As far as I'm concerned, if you want to innovate in the space of marriage, go right ahead.

In fact, I feel the current obsession with gay marriage is one of political convenience. One among the many formerly fringe configurations has now achieved a critical mass of acceptance permitting it to purchase its legitimacy, but it had not the wherewithal nor the courage to carry its peers across the line. Because I want a far broader change, I find the current progress underwhelming and opportunistic. Pragmatically speaking, I favor the change, in much the same way I'd favor a reduction in corporate income tax. But philosophically it's timid, which is particularly ignoble given the campaign messages its proponents have employed.

You have that right: while I am sympathetic to the gay marriage movement, I find it hollow because it narrowly focuses on selfish goals. Despite the campaign slogans and bumper stickers, it's not about promoting freedom, equal rights, or love. It's about gay marriage, full stop.

Better to get the state out of marriage entirely. Then we have freedom to love, freedom to marry whomever we choose.

As for the practical matters, outside of custody of children, property rights can be handled with personal contracts as needed. Current social engineering that encourages monogamy and marriage through tax incentives should be removed. I'm not saying those things are bad, but the state should have no part in endorsing them over other lifestyles. That is the domain of values, religion, family, and local community. It is not a role of the state. And no, just because I don't practice a religion doesn't mean I need the state to fill that gap.

Admittedly, extricating the state from marriage would require careful attention to childcare. Laws would be necessary to protect children from abuse. But we are already lax with our expectations of child-rearing today.

Eich's resignation

The resignation of Brendan Eich from Mozilla Corporation is disappointing for both technical and political reasons. Putting aside the technical, the political rationale is protecting Mozilla Corporation and its parent Foundation from the fallout of Eich's 2008 support of Proposition 8.

Prior to his resignation, while most noise on the matter was negative, some was defensive of Eich. But I cannot fault Mozilla nor Eich for wanting to stop the turmoil. This was not a case of any news is good news. Resignation perhaps was the easiest solution if not the best. Many commentators have said just that.

My take at the time of the resignation was that Mozilla is preeminent among technology companies in its defense of liberty, privacy, and the rights of users. It is ironic that the impetus for Eich's resignation was public debate over a personal donation to a political campaign—something that I feel should be a private matter. Mozilla should be a champion of defending the private actions of individuals against the tyranny of the majority opinion. Yes, even its own staff and CEO.

Was Eich evil?

Rightly or wrongly, Eich has been oppressed for his point of view. I've read some commentary suggesting the oppression is righteous since Eich was acting in an undeniably evil manner by supporting the oppression of gay couples.

But, even as someone who supports gay rights, I can't allow that analysis to stand. The rights are the same, the words are different. There is no oppression. Proposition 8 did not outlaw domestic partnerships. Say "separate but equal" about the words domestic partnership and marriage all you want, but that's a matter of terminology; a matter of words. I've already argued that I want both general and specific terms. We can debate what words to use, and we should, without the state interfering.

From my point of view, if there's anything evil transpiring here, it's more codifying of the word marriage in the law books.

Put simply: there is absolutely nothing undeniable about whether Eich's support of the historic definition of the word marriage is evil. That may be your point of view, but my point of view differs. And I support gay unions/marriages/partnerships/whatever.

Mozilla is wrongly targeted

In late March, the political left reignited past furor over Eich's position in reaction to his promotion to CEO. There was pressure calling for Eich's resignation or apology for wrong-doing (amusingly ignoring that some might disagree that it was wrong).

On March 31, OkCupid directed visitors using Mozilla's Firefox to a special message asking them to boycott Firefox. Then there was a petition. And presumably a thunderstorm of tweets. And all manner of social media pressure.

I am in favor of applying non-market force to affect change within business and government. I created my side project Brian's Taskforce to do precisely that. But I want to influence business and government through constructive pressure, feedback, and criticism, not bullying and boycotting. When I blogged about the distinction before, I said it's respecting the powers-that-be, by which I mean understanding that you're dealing with human beings who deserve dignity.

Brendan Eich was removed of his dignity by those who made it clear that he was unequivocally wrong in his political opinion and therefore unsuitable to be the CEO of Mozilla. This was not constructive pressure, but rather destructive pressure.

I routinely vote with my wallet, such as my refusal to buy anything manufactured by Sony since they shipped a rootkit on a music CD. That's part of being a consumer. But I find boycotts distasteful. They are routinely loose on justification and rigid on the need for severe action. They reek of mob action.

I certainly feel a boycott of Firefox in response to Eich's position extremely loose on justification. Mozilla as an organization never (to my knowledge) acted malevolently to gays or any other group. Firefox is a purely technical thing. Yes, it's built by an organization motivated by non-technical goals such as empowering individuals and respecting privacy, and I love that. But Firefox itself doesn't care who you love. So in a boycott over the private political dealings of the CEO of Mozilla Corporation, Firefox becomes the definition of collateral damage.

And just as an aside, do you think Google, with their obsessive need for you to store everything about yourself on their servers, or Microsoft (come on, it's Microsoft!) is looking out for your rights more than Mozilla? By boycotting Firefox, you're driving people into the waiting hands of Google and Microsoft.

Conservatives compound the problem

Following Eich's resignation, conservative supporters of Proposition 8 have become enraged. And now they too have called for boycotts of Mozilla, flatly declaring that if you love liberty, you must not use Firefox. That's a funny point of view.

I mean, I get it. Some things are antithetical to liberty, such as communism. It's unproductive to support totalitarianism if you value your freedom. But continuing to use the browser created by an organization that caved into political pressure from the left is not giving up on freedom.

Mozilla Corporation is run by human beings. Eich's resignation may have been too convenient, but the market spoke—admittedly in a form that I don't agree with—and Mozilla reacted. The human beings at Mozilla acted in the way they believed was best for the Corporation. Continuing to punish them for their effort to keep private politics out of the spotlight? That's cold-hearted and wrong.

Honestly, what do we now expect Mozilla Corporation to do? Apologize for allowing Eich to resign? Apologize for some of their staff asking him to resign? Hire him back? Seriously? Does he even want to be CEO again?

This is nonsense. Leave Mozilla out of this scuffle.

Besides, Mozilla is on the technology front-line defending liberty by protecting privacy, security, and identity. Naively stating that Mozilla is antithetical to liberty isn't just wrong, it's a statement from Opposite Land. No other mainstream browser is backed by an organization that is as focused on empowering individuals over enriching its own ecosystem of services.

Don't uninstall Firefox

Stop punishing Mozilla for this series of events. Mozilla has suffered enough, well beyond what it deserved for promoting a supporter of Proposition 8, and well beyond what it deserved for ousting the same.

Mozilla should not be the field upon which this political battle is waged.

Mozilla is unique in its mission statement and if the mission aligns with your way of thinking, you can feel happy supporting Mozilla. Don't uninstall Firefox. Use it with pride.
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