On Brendan Eich and the Thought Police

March 31, 2014

Note – These opinions are mine, and mine alone. For the curious, I am a staunch supporter of marriage equality, though I wish I didn’t feel the need to say that here.

Politics often feel personal, especially when it comes to social policy. Discriminatory laws understandably give rise to anger against those who support them. And so, unlike say, fiscal policy, social discourse is a realm where people feel justified in “bringing the debate home” and attacking the opposition as individuals.

But neatly drawing the line of “personal” politics around social issues gets tricky. Economic and health care policy have real, life-and-death implications for millions of people. And many citizens of the world’s more impoverished countries, the simple act of participating in western society makes us all complicit in racism, slavery, and exploitation.

In the end, most political beliefs are a violent threat to somebody somewhere, and to the things that they hold dear. Everything is urgently personal to someone. This is why the paradoxical tenets of Liberalism urge restraint, and oppose absolutism. We are encouraged to grant each other a degree of diplomatic immunity, so that dialog may flourish. To some, these kinds of etiquette protocols are a convenient tool of the oppressor to maintain the status quo while others suffer. But attempts to do away with them often end violently, in ways that were never intended at the start.

Ideas and beliefs are humanity’s most potent weapons, and sometimes seem like natural targets in a no-holds-barred battle for the future. We tend to associate “thought police” with far-off despots and Orwellian regimes, but Senator McCarthy proved that this logic can easily work its tendrils into an ostensibly free and democratic society. Blacklisting, boycotts, and ostracism are powerful tools of social change, which makes it all the more terrifying when their targets shift from actions to beliefs. So I’m disturbed to see them leveled against Brendan for his 2008 support of California’s Proposition 8. It is not enough for him to pledge to uphold an inclusive work environment. He must publicly repent his private sins.

That the word ‘bigot’ bears phonetic resemblance to an anti-gay slur is no accident. It rolls off the tongue with the same kind of violent disdain. This kind of reciprocity is understandable, but unfortunate – it undermines the kind of reconciliation and forgiveness that brings meaningful social change.

Brendan is not everything on every issue. But he is a tireless warrior for the Open Web, and one of its most effective advocates. His participation could make or break some of the most important battles we will fight for the future. He is so much more than this issue, and dwelling on it endlessly is counterproductive. The world of Mozilla is one of diversity, humility, and respect. And the best way to make sure that never changes is to embody those values ourselves – starting here.

Comments off. Tweet @bhology to get in touch.

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