The Agenda

Brendan Eich Resigns

Kara Swisher, one of Silicon Valley’s most influential technology journalists, reports on Brendan Eich’s decision to step down as CEO of the Mozilla Corporation, a subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation, the organization that is best known for its role in launching, managing, and fostering open-source development projects like the Firefox browser, which I use quite frequently. Eich, a software developer perhaps best known for having created the JavaScript programming language (perhaps you’ve heard of it), attracted relatively little attention as CTO, yet his appointment as CEO became a lightning rod when news surfaced of his donation to California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that sought to prevent same-sex unions from being recognized as civil marriages.

Swisher interviewed Mozilla Executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker, who tells Swisher that she was shocked on learning that Eich supported the campaign against same-sex civil marriage because she “never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.” Notably, Baker seems to suggest that though Eich was a founder of Mozilla and made enormous contributions to its efforts, the loss of Eich is a price worth paying as his presence threatened to undermine Mozilla role as a leader in the fight against global mass surveillance.

Swisher does more than just report on Eich’s resignation. She celebrates it, and criticizes Eich for observing that same-sex civil marriage rights are not universally recognized, and that while public opinion on the issue has turned in the United States, Mozilla has an obligation to speak for the world. “Hey Brendan,” Swisher writes, “does that mean we need to just say bygones about some of the virulent anti-women sentiments and laws in some countries, since it’s a Firefox world after all?” Though I could be misinterpreting Swisher, my impression is that she sees holding the position on same-sex civil marriage held by President Barack Obama as recently as May of 2012 as indistinguishable from, say, endorsing Saudi Arabia’s proscription against female drivers, or the widespread toleration of female genital mutilation we see in parts of East and West Africa.

I was a supporter of same-sex civil marriage long before our incumbent president — at least a decade before, if memory serves. I continue to support same-sex civil marriage. But I find the campaign against Brendan Eich instructive. Towards the end of the piece, Swisher notes that in reading various interviews with Eich, “it was not hard to get the sense that Eich really wanted to stick strongly by his views about gay marriage, which run counter to much of the tech industry and, increasingly, the general population in the U.S.” Let me restate Swisher’s observation: had Brendan Eich decided to apologize — had he decided to say that he had come around on the issue, and had he added that his donation to the Proposition 8 campaign was a profound mistake that he would regret for the rest of his life, and which he will atone for by making a large donation to one of the organizations pressing the case for same-sex civil marriage — he could have spared himself all of this trouble. So while Mitchell Baker talks about protecting the integrity of Mozilla, she might spare a word or two for the integrity of Brendan Eich, or rather she and her colleagues might reflect on it. Agree with him or disagree with him, Brendan Eich was willing to pay a price for his beliefs. In the grand scheme of things, the price certainly wasn’t as high as that facing, say, Galileo. But would you do the same thing?

This is a good time to revisit Ross Douthat’s excellent column on “the terms of our surrender.”

(Photo courtesy of Mozilla.)


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