Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla, has stepped down in the wake of his comments about same-sex marriage. Mozilla initially defended him, but obviously have now stopped doing so after some pretty heavy backlash. Some people are claiming this is intolerance, that opposing viewpoints on same-sex marriage in particular, are being silenced. They claim that it’s those asking for tolerance showing intolerance and that its hypocrisy. I’m not totally convinced by that.
People, as customers, can choose which company they give their money to. This is one of the benefits of living in the “free world”. If a company or its management hold views they disagree with, they are free to choose another business; but business bosses get unhappy when they lose money and their reputation suffers. Reputations are extremely important, a company’s ethos is built around maintaining a good reputation. If one of the CEO’s is seen to be speaking against equality, that’s not going to go down too well and may well be in breach of that company’s values and code of conduct. With the internet, it does not take long for views to get around and a reputation can be left in tatters in a matter of minutes. It’s not just individual consumers that have freedom and power to make choices about a company’s ethos. Jacquelline Fuller, director of corporate giving for Google, has resigned from the board of World Vision after they reversed their decision to hire gay people in same-sex relationships. OkCupid, an online dating site, wouldn’t let users view their site using the Firefox web browser and made no secret as to why:
“Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.”
If people no longer being prepared to accept discrimination is considered intolerant, then I’m all for intolerance. I was angry at the World Vision situation because certain Christians would rather a child in need went without support than give money to a company who supported equal rights for gay people. I’m all for being intolerant to those actions. We need to be more intolerant to certain other issues like poverty and modern-day slavery. Since when did everything have to be tolerated? Why should discrimination be tolerated? Why should views that promote discrimination be tolerated? Massive changes in society with abolishing slavery and women’s rights have come about because people were no longer prepared to tolerate the discrimination. I’ve heard the retort of “other viewpoints are being silenced as they are losing their jobs over a viewpoint”. I’m assuming those who’ve said this don’t vote then because this is what politics is about. You vote for the person you agree with so they get into power, and the person you don’t agree with is removed. People are entitled to express their viewpoints, but no one is immune from criticism, or the consequences of expressing their viewpoint. When things change, there are always those who oppose it, and they feel like they are being marginalised and forced out. I’m really not sure what can be done about that.
That being said, I’m not massively comfortable with the thought that someone has lost their job over voicing an opinion and exercising his rights (he did a bit more than just voice an opinion, he made a donation in 2008 in support of Californian anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8 but that was his right to). In the larger scheme of trying to encourage equality, this is not going to help. It’ll just entrench the views even further. It does feel like he has been hounded out in the name of progress, or because he went against what the majority of society believes. Money talks, and if you go against what the majority of society believe, you risk losing a lot of it. I’m not saying this is right, but this is the result of a money driven world. If discrimination has no place in society, then by extension, neither do the people who discriminate. What does that look like? Mozilla may have added to the answer. The implications of that are wide reaching.
The World Vision and the Mozilla situations have showed that companies are very protective of themselves, and that consumers wield a lot of power and are not afraid to use it. If you cheered when World Vision reversed their decision due to pressure, you can hardly complain when other companies do things when their customers take action. Either both instances are intolerance, or they’re both instances of a company protecting itself. I’m under no illusion that Mozilla took this decision due to the financial implications, which is the same reason World Vision reversed its decision. There are also implications for freedom of speech, and questions of “what if he had said x” etc. I don’t have answers to those, we do need to tread carefully when it comes to how we act.
The idea though, that we need to be intolerant to discrimination and injustice, I’m all for it.