Thursday, April 10, 2014

Brendan Eich and tolerance

William Saletan's commentary on the Brendan Eich episode was "billboarded" elsewhere on Slate as, "The Excuses for Purging Brendan Eich are the Old Excuses for Firing Gays".
Losing your job for being gay is different from losing your job for opposing gay marriage. Unlike homosexuality, opposition to same-sex marriage is a choice, and it directly limits the rights of other people. But the rationales for getting rid of Eich bear a disturbing resemblance to the rationales for getting rid of gay managers and employees. He caused dissension. He made colleagues uncomfortable. He scared off customers. He created a distraction. He didn’t fit.
I don't agree with Eich's position on same-sex marriage (though I still think there was a way to avoid the same-sex marriage fight). From what I've read he hasn't disavowed his views. However, should keeping your job be conditioned on your politics? Shouldn't that really depend on your job performance?

In fact, in a different piece Saletan wrote that Eich had pledged to uphold Mozilla's existing progressive policies. Shouldn't he have been given time to live up to his promise?

Suppose Eich is bigoted against homosexuals. Does that automatically disqualify him from running the company?

We all struggle against our prejudices, or at least we would if we knew what they were, which a lot of us don't. You ought to be very careful before you declare that what a person believes is, on its own, a reason to act. It's what the person does that matters. I relish lambasting Paula Deen not because she's a bigot, but because she ruthlessly takes advantage of her fans. I detest Hobby Lobby's David Green not because of his views, but because he insists that his views trump his employees' legal rights.

Some people claim that Mozilla is a uniquely progressive company, and an avowedly anti-gay bias does disqualify Eich for the job. Maybe so. Maybe the Eich episode will be viewed as the unique reaction of a unique company (and its employees and customers) to the circumstances. I worry, though, that this won't be the view of those who, while they currently oppose same-sex marriage, might have been persuaded over time to shed their doubts and/or fears. Instead, they'll be driven into the arms of the blindly intolerant, lengthening the time it will take to marginalize mindless prejudice.

Attitudes on same-sex marriage — heck, attitudes toward non-heterosexuals generally — have changed more swiftly than most of us could have imagined merely a decade ago. It wouldn't hurt if those of us on the right side of history showed a little generosity of spirit, and forgave some of the less egregious trespasses of our ideological opponents. It's more than a lot of them showed us, but meeting antagonism with more antagonism isn't going to bring them around. And that's what we want, right?

[UPDATE: Conor Friedersdorf is similarly dismayed by the Eich spectacle, but he's more eloquent and covers the ground more thoroughly.]

[EDIT: Removed a spurious "not" that reversed the whole sense of the third sentence in the second-to-last paragraph.]

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