Sunday, April 06, 2014

Muddled view of Eich on ice

TPM has a nuanced-to-muddled view on Brendan Eich, the Mozilla exec promoted to CEO last year who had in 2008 contributed $1000 to the last successful anti-gay marriage initiative in California, an action that resulted in his recent resignation.

TPM somewhat reflects my own view, especially the muddled part. This blog post is unusual for me in that as I write the beginning, I'm not sure what the conclusion will be. But here goes:

  • In several generations, they'll view opposition to gay marriage similarly with opposition to interracial marriage.
  • Now is now, though, not decades in the future. Eich's viewpoint in 2008 was within the political mainstream at the time even though it's rapidly becoming less so today in Silicon Valley.
  • Abe Lincoln said something horribly racist things, particularly early in his political career, but for his time his beliefs reached the progressive end of the spectrum. 
  • You can judge people either on an absolute basis, or on a curve that's based on what was the mainstream position that the individual reacts to.
  • I think you should acknowledge the absolute position, but it asks too much of frail humanity. The curve is what counts. (A tangent:  future generations will condemn me and everyone else today who isn't a vegan, unless those generations grade on a curve.)
  • A CEO is not an owner of a company. The company profits don't go the CEO (mostly) so a boycott hits someone else.
  • Mozilla Corp is a taxable arm of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. I'm going to ignore that and just treat it as a business.
  • I think CEOs should be less dominant in their companies and should also be able to hold mainstream views without those views being ascribed to the company.
  • People have an ethical right to boycott companies they don't like. At first glance, there's nothing wrong with dating site OkCupid's boycott of Firefox.
  • Companies have to respond to the outside world - it was right for Eich to leave for losing important customers.
  • Here's the tough one - while it's idiotic to think someone should be able to take a position without being criticized for it, I think the ethics of freedom of speech extends beyond a prohibition on government - the rest of society should also allow people to express unpopular thoughts without retaliation beyond criticism.
  • It is possible for expression of unpopular thoughts to go too far. Someone who denies the fact of the Holocaust isn't an appropriate spokesperson, for example.
  • Unpopular expression is different from unpopular action - substantially bankrolling Prop. 8 would be action. Giving $1000 isn't enough money to count as bankrolling IMHO.
  • When another person tells you that you  (or someone close to you) has no right to marry the person you love, you have the right to extreme avoidance of that person, including whatever business employs him or her.

And the outcome - the right to express/hold unpopular beliefs versus the right to avoid a business that employs someone who opposes your core dignity. A muddle. My muddled outcome is I can't condemn a homosexual person or the person's family if they had boycotted Firefox. I wouldn't otherwise try to get Eich fired.

I should distinguish Eich from Roger Pielke Jr., who should be fired from 538. RPJr is wrong in what he was hired to do, providing accurate and non-misleading analysis of climate change. Doing the opposite as he's done is a firing offense, and it's not exempted as an opinion when it's simply wrong.


John Mashey said...

Silicon Graphics extended health benefits to domestic partners in *1993*...

Silicon Valley companies wage a constant battle to attract and keep the most talented and highly-mobile employees.

This might have something to do with Mozilla's decision.

tonylearns said...
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tonylearns said...

I just commented on some blog or other (certainly not Eli's) about the difference between the Washington Post having opinion pieces on climate change by Krauthammeer and George Will, and 538 having an analysis by Pielke.

In my view having Krauthammer and Will's opinion of Climate change is analogous to having Lester Maddox's opinion of the content of an African American studies course. Certainly they have an opinion on the matter, but their ignorance and misconceptions and prejudice on the issue are so blatant that their opinions are of no value whatsoever about the actual question they are opining on.

On the there hand Pilke is a knowledgable climate expert (in a broad sense). He doesn't say ridiculous nonsense outside of the current frame of political discourse on many other issues.
He would be a perfectly acceptable person for the Washington Post to have as a commenter in their opinion pages. He can make intelligent arguments and knows how to present info ways that will achieve his desired effect. And the Post would love to get the back and forth that precipitated out of the 538 brouhaha.

538 however aspires to have really intelligent thoughtful and (this is key) comprehensive analysis of issues. There are hundreds of other scientists who fill that role MUCH better than Pilke.
How on Earth they decide to have him be their climate rep is beyond me.

Of course that leaves Will and Krauthhammer slumming with Breitbart on this issue until they are embarrassed enough to learn at least basic science.

Allan said...
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Anonymous said...

The most muddled part might well be your assessment of the motivation for hiring Pielke, Jr.

John Puma

Pete Dunkelberg said...

The CEO is the face of the company to the outside world and a very important figure within the company.

Demographics: attitudes on marriage equality vary considerable between average geezers and young potential new hires. Of course I do not know how many current employees and potential new ones Mozilla heard from but what would you guess?

As someone who wishes Mozilla well I think they recognized a business blunder and decided to stop digging. I prefer this to the alternative.

Poor poor Eich? He's rich. He doesn't even need a job except to have something to do all day. No tears.

EliRabett said...

What Pete said. If foundations and corporations can donate to political campaigns under their CEOs direction, then the personal political views of the CEOs are fair game.


"Krauthammer and Will's... ignorance and misconceptions and prejudice on the issue are so blatant that their opinions are of no value whatsoever about the actual question they are opining on. "

They're just jockeying to take over The McLaughlin Group.

Brian said...

Worth noting that Eich wasn't the CEO in 2008 and didn't (AFAIK) make his position public.

I think it's useful to consider what change in facts would change one's mind. In my case, I'd get off the fence if Eich had made a public donation after becoming CEO. I'd get off the fence on the other side if it was 10 years ago instead of 6.

I think corporations and unions shouldn't be allowed to make political donations - that would help depoliticize them and their CEOs.

John Mashey said...

Had he quickly said (and meant it): "that was then, the world has changed and so I have I", and showed it, I think it would have blown over.

Mozilla's Bay Area locations are Mountain View and San Francisco. See Careers @ Mozilla.
Does that offer any feel for the demographics of potential employees?

See their Job openings.
Think there were any other companies around here looking for the same people? (yes)
Think there were any within 10 miles? (yes, a few)
Do techies in different companies ever talk? (yes)
"Joe changed companies at lunch, didn't have to move his car."

Think there were headhunters calling soon after the mess surfaced? (almost certainly, I've seen that happen).

EliRabett said...

This is but another chapter in the whining billionaires club, with the Kochs and the other guy bleating on the WSJ and everyone else saying screw off.

It is a reminder that people are not happy with our overlords and will take a bite when offered.

Oh yeah, this comes right after the hiring conspiracy @ Apple, Google and others hit the headlines so Mozilla has to react.

Anonymous said...

It's worth considering that Eich's support for Prop. 8 was widely known and commented on back in 2012. He still retained his CTO position within Mozilla since then up until the moment he resigned from the company.

The rules change when you become the CEO. Whether we like it or not, you ARE the public face of the company moreso than any other role (perhaps aside from the PR department). Mozilla's had a strong internal LGBT-equality policy (which Eich supported) and LGBT-equality is consistent with their broader political agenda. Discriminating against same-sex marriage isn't consistent with their agenda. Even though Eich supported the company policies on LGBT treatment for employees, when not on the clock he was contributing a lot of material support to have their recognized civil rights stripped away.

It's definitely arguable that, given his position on the issue, Eich simply wasn't quite the right person for the job of CEO at Mozilla Corp.

I think in more practical terms, he also bungled the first major crisis during his time at the wheel; responding quickly and decisively to the controversy. Instead he basically brushed it aside and offered a non-apology, which can only give the impression that he still thinks same-sex couples should not have the same right to marry as hetero couples. Again, that's the conclusion we can draw based on his responses. He probably could have handled it better than he did and taken a lot of the wind out of the protest sails.

Mozilla was losing developers and partners over this issue from the moment Eich stepped in as CEO and his reaction wasn't sufficient to win many, if any, of them back. It could be argued that he flunked the CEO test not just on ideological or "purity" grounds, but on purely practical ones.