Category Archive 'Mozilla'

09 Apr 2014

The Greengrocer’s Sign

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Mollie Ziegler Hemingway quotes an essay on totalitarianism by Vaclav Havel in connection with the ouster by Mozilla of CEO Brendan Eich.

[L]et’s revisit an old essay by Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright, poet, dissident and eventual president. Havel, who died in 2011, was a great man of freedom, if somewhat idiosyncratic in his political views. He was a fierce anti-communist who was also wary of consumerism, a long-time supporter of the Green Party who favored state action against global warming, and a skeptic of ideology who supported civil unions for same-sex couples.

“The Power of the Powerless,” written under a communist regime in 1978, is his landmark essay about dissent. It’s a wonderful read, no matter your political persuasion. It asks everyone to look at how they contribute to totalitarian systems, with no exceptions. It specifically says its message is “a kind of warning to the West,” revealing our own latent tendencies to set aside our moral integrity. Reading it again after the Eich dismissal, I couldn’t help but think of how it applies to our current situation in the States. …

To explain how dissent works, Havel introduced the manager of a hypothetical fruit-and-vegetable shop who places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” He’s not actually enthusiastic about the sign’s message. It’s just one of the things that people in a post-totalitarian system do even if they “never think about” what it means. He does it because everyone does it. It’s what you do to get along in life and live “in harmony with society.” (For our purposes, you can imagine that slogan is a red equal sign that you put up on your Facebook page.)

The subtext of the grocer’s sign is “I do what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me.” It protects him from supervisors above and informants below.

Havel is skeptical of ideology. He says that dictatorships can just use raw power, but “the more complex the mechanisms of power become, the larger and more stratified the society they embrace, and the longer they have operated historically … the greater the importance attached to the ideological excuse.” We don’t have a dictatorship, obviously, but we do have complex mechanisms of power and larger and more stratified society.

In any case, individuals need not believe the lies of an ideology so much as behave as though they do, or at least tolerate them in silence or get along with those who work with them. “For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system,” Havel says. …

In the greengrocer scenario, Havel notes that if the text of the sign read “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient,” he might be embarrassed and ashamed to put it up. The dissidents are the ones who, by refusing to put the sign up, or refusing to recant, shine a huge light on the system, including the ones who go along to get along. All of a sudden those Facebook signs, those reflexive statements, those cries of “Bigot!” look less like shows of strength and more like shows of weakness.

Read the whole thing.

09 Apr 2014

Mozilla

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07 Apr 2014

Mozilla

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04 Apr 2014

Even Some Lefties Are Outraged by Mozilla CEO’s Ouster for Thought-Crime

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Mozilla to Brendan Eich: “But don’t do it here!”

New York Times:

In Silicon Valley, where personal quirks and even antisocial personalities are tolerated as long as you are building new products and making money, a socially conservative viewpoint may be one trait you have to keep to yourself.

On Thursday, Brendan Eich, who has helped develop some of the web’s most important technologies, resigned under pressure as chief executive of Mozilla, the maker of the popular Firefox web browser, just two weeks after taking the job. The reason? In 2008, he donated $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, a California measure that banned same-sex marriage.
Brendan Eich, creator of the JavaScript programming language, was appointed Mozilla’s chief executive on March 24. MozillaBrendan Eich, creator of the JavaScript programming language, was appointed Mozilla’s chief executive on March 24.

Once Mr. Eich’s support for Proposition 8 became public, the reaction was swift, with a level of disapproval that the company feared was becoming a threat to its reputation and business. …

“We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act,” wrote Mitchell Baker, the executive chairwoman of Mozilla. “We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”

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Rather astonishingly, a couple of prominent commentators on the left came out solidly in defense of liberal (in the classical liberal sense) values.

Andrew Sullivan (who I think is often dead wrong) was courageously right on this one.

Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Andrew deserves one of his own Yglesias awards.

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Conor Friedersdorf, Andrew Sullivan’s former employee, now at the Atlantic, was equally forthrightly on the good side this time.

[N]o one had any reason to worry that Eich, a longtime executive at the company, would do anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees. In fact, Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker, his longtime business partner who now defends the need for his resignation, said this about discovering that he gave money to the Proposition 8 campaign: “That was shocking to me, because I never saw any kind of behavior or attitude from him that was not in line with Mozilla’s values of inclusiveness.” It’s almost as if that donation illuminated exactly nothing about how he’d perform his professional duties.

But no matter.

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.

If that attitude spreads, it will damage our society.

Consider an issue like abortion, which divides the country in a particularly intense way, with opponents earnestly regarding it as the murder of an innocent baby and many abortion-rights supporters earnestly believing that a fetus is not a human life, and that outlawing it is a horrific assault on a woman’s bodily autonomy. The political debate over abortion is likely to continue long past all of our deaths. Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

It isn’t difficult to see the wisdom in inculcating the norm that the political and the professional are separate realms, for following it makes so many people and institutions better off in a diverse, pluralistic society. The contrary approach would certainly have a chilling effect on political speech and civic participation, as does Mozilla’s behavior toward Eich.

Its implications are particularly worrisome because whatever you think of gay marriage, the general practice of punishing people in business for bygone political donations is most likely to entrench powerful interests and weaken the ability of the powerless to challenge the status quo. There is very likely hypocrisy at work too. Does anyone doubt that had a business fired a CEO six years ago for making a political donation against Prop 8, liberals silent during this controversy (or supportive of the resignation) would’ve argued that contributions have nothing to do with a CEO’s ability to do his job? They’d have called that firing an illiberal outrage, but today they’re averse to vocally disagreeing with allies.

Most vexing of all is Mozilla’s attempt to present this forced resignation as if it is consistent with an embrace of diversity and openness. Its public statements have been an embarrassment of illogic, as I suspect the authors of those statements well know. “Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech,” the company wrote. “Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard.”

This is a mess.

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The hell of it is: Google is just as PC totalitarian as Mozilla. This blog was suspended by Google from its advertising program one day, abruptly, and with no prior notice, for having published, years earlier, examples of cartoons criticizing Islamic religious attitudes by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Google’s cryptic communications indicated that I was expected to purge from this blog every potentially controversial item critical of Islam which Google might object to, and then beg them to take me back. I sent Google an email inviting them to kiss my ass.

I’m seriously thinking of going Linux on my next PC.


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