What’s Happening Inside Mozilla

Is not a conversation about inclusion. That was settled long ago. And Mozilla, unlike many organizations, treats our mission and our guidelines as sacred texts.

It’s also not a conversation about quality of life and the culture of the workplace. I’ll let my colleagues speak for themselves.

So if it’s not about the applied and the tangible, it’s about the symbolic and the intangible.

Our conversation is about rights.

Specifically, two rights: Equality and Free Speech. And which one this is.

The free speech argument is that we have no right to force anyone to think anything. We have no right to prevent people from pursuing their lives based on their beliefs. That what matters is their actions. And as long as they act in the best interests of the mission, as long as they don’t impose their beliefs on those around them, they are welcome.

The equality argument is that this isn’t a matter of speech. That believing that 1/n of us aren’t entitled to the same rights as the rest of us isn’t a ‘belief’. That the right to speech is only truly universal if everyone is equal, first.

Both sides are well represented inside Mozilla. Often by the same, conflicted people.

Our current situation is forcing us to choose between them.

And that sucks more than most of us can express in words. And we’re desperately trying to find a path forward that doesn’t wreck this beautiful thing we’ve built.

41 thoughts on “What’s Happening Inside Mozilla

  1. i see the equality as an “older” right than free speech. as you mentioned, you need equality first in order to have free speech (no one could argue blacks had any “free speech” while racism was prevalent), and my “equality” can’t infringe on your right to free speech, while your “free speech” (promoting, money, contributions, voting) can infringe on my equality.

    that being said, i’m very saddened by this predicament. while i don’t disagree about Brendan’s leadership as a CEO, and don’t expect anyone’s rights to be infringed upon because of it, this is the first time i don’t feel comfortable “defending” mozilla in public.

  2. I’m really interested in the dilemma you bring up here of rectifying equality with free speech. I found a really worthwhile (but long) read in a paper written on the subject here: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1923&context=wmlr (PDF). It was written in the 90s but this is a topic that has reared its head again and again as civil rights have progressed.

    I think the TL;DR that emerges is that “freedom of speech” should not be conflated with “free from ideology”, particularly when it strongly vilifies or victimizes based on characteristics such as race, gender, religion (or nonreligion), ethnic origin, sexual orientation, and others protected by universal human rights. The paper goes into more nuance than that and strikes a better balance than I can describe in a paragraph.

    Aside from this, one has to ask – is this the kind of nuance that one wants to get into when one thinks of “Mozilla”? The culture of a company *starts* with the CEO.

  3. Nobody is saying the CEO *can’t* support who or what they want.

    People are saying that if you support a disgusting, socially-regressive, and sometimes violently oppressive ideology, then you need to expect there will be consequences.

    Freedom of speech is protected from government interference, but not without social costs.

  4. “as long as they don’t impose their beliefs on those around them”

    Donating to the Proposition 8 effort was an attempt to impose his beliefs on those around him. Would you be saying it was “just speech” if he was donating to the Klan? What’s the difference? It sucks that one of the founders hates the idea of the wrong people getting married enough to try and prevent them from doing it, but it’s what happened.

    1. “Would you be saying it was ‘just speech’ if he was donating to the Klan?”

      I would. We either believe in free software by everyone, for everyone, or we believe in free software by an exclusive club, by an exclusive club.

      I look forward to seeing all Brendan Eich’s opponents boycott JavaScript, which he invented. Until then, this is just cheap internet activism designed to make cheap internet activists feel good about themselves, not to make the world or Mozilla or the free software movement a better place.

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  6. How is this situation different than if Mozilla had supported a CEO that was pro-racial segregation? How about if he was anti-woman’s suffrage? Neither position is morally defensible, though both positions are legally ok to hold and express. That legal right is what makes this country great, but the people expressing reprehensible views are not heroes to be celebrated because they exercise their freedom of speech.

    Mozilla has choosen someone with a huge black mark to be their leader and their defense is simply “well, it is within his rights to do so.” That argument, while correct, is weak. It is within the rights of members of the WBC to protest the funerals of fallen soldiers with hate-filled signs and slogans, but that does not mean we should put them in positions of influence and leadership.

    Mozilla has previously been a shining example of the openness and diversity of the open source movement, unfortunately now that reputation and the symbolism that it used to carry is tainted by the bigot at its head.

    Basic human equality is a precursor to freedom of speech; without equality your voice means nothing. At the end of the day, Mozilla has choosen a bigot as their CEO. And I’m not ok with that.

  7. Hello

    My name is Rabiya and I am a producer for the BBC World Service radio programme, World Have Your Say. On today’s show we are talking about the appointment of Brendan Eich. We are asking, should CEOs lose their jobs over their personal beliefs? It would be really interesting to get you involved in the conversation, would you be interested in taking part?

    Do get back to me as soon as you can

    Rabiya

  8. So hello,
    Here is something else that feels very similar. Hobby Lobby is now going to court because they have views about women’s access to family planning through health insurance, which Hobby Lobby does not want to pay for. If the idea is to be inclusive and to leave personal views at the door, then shouldn’t this apply also to groups like Hobby Lobby? But is this really even possible? How many people actually believe, say, a political candidate who says they will not let their personal views influence their thinking or actions? Or a judicial nominee? Do we even understand what it means to be inclusive vs impartial?

    1. Libbie, look at Mozilla’s health plans.

      The situation is different because Hobby Lobby’s management team has decreed that women would not get certain benefits and would not back down when challenged until it became necessary for the Supreme Court to become involved.

      Brendan publicly stated that he would not change anything to make less inclusive than what it is now (https://brendaneich.com/2014/03/inclusiveness-at-mozilla/) and the employees and board could have used this cause to get him fired.

      But now we’ll never find out how far he was going to take these new policies, are we?

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