Upon hearing that Mozilla's new CEO, Brendan Eich, had decided to relinquish his position in the face of heated criticism for his bigoted politics, I felt stirred up enough for a change to step out of my semi-retirement from blogging.
What stirred me from my state of inactivity was not the fact of Eich's resignation, but much of the rhetoric it has given rise to, especially amongst the Hacker News set. To hear some of the commenters on there say it, Brendan Eich is a victim of "bullying", and has somehow been deprived of his "right" to earn a living by an internet "lynch mob": we are supposed to feel pity for him for having had the "audacity" to support a viewpoint which was backed by the majority of California's voters. Such opinions are not only nonsensical, but serve to invert the moral roles of victims and victimizers, which I find particularly appalling.
The fact of the matter is that the voluminous criticism which has come the way of Brendan Eich and Mozilla has in no way restricted the civil rights of either Eich or any other of the Mozilla Foundation's board members. There is no such thing as a right to be exempt from criticism, to be free from the threat of boycott, or to not have to worry about others refusing to work under you because they can't stand your political views - and that is the sum total of all the pressure Brendan Eich has faced. No court has stepped in to demand Eich's resignation, nor has any politician attempted to legislate away any of his freedoms; on the contrary, Brendan Eich has been subjected to heavy criticism precisely because of his support for a measure which harmed many others in the very manner in which he has not been affected in the least, the outraged statements of his apologists notwithstanding.
As to the claim that Eich's anti-gay politics should be extended from any consequences in loss of respect or remunateration because it was shared by the majority of California voters, I say bullshit. Majorities have always been found in some constituency or other to support all sorts of odious political views, from slavery in the confederate states, to anti-semitism in 19th and 20th century Europe, to racial segregation throughout the American south right up to the 1970s (well after it was abolished by law). It is precisely the insistence that there are rights which majorities cannot abolish that distinguishes between a liberal republican order and the very mob rule that Brendan Eich's defenders ironically and falsely claim he is a victim of.
If one truly believes in freedom of speech and freedom of association, then one must support these freedoms just as firmly when they are exercised by the opponents of bigotry as when said freedoms are taken advantage of by the prejudiced. Brendan Eich has every right to go start up a new company and appoint himself its CEO, but should he choose to do so, he and others like him would do well to consider that there are many people in the world who are sufficiently fair-minded and principled enough not to work for or with advocates of state-sponsored homophobia.
Supposing awareness of this reality does have a "chilling" effect on the public espousal of anti-gay views, what of it? That expressing dislike for gays and lesbians should become unacceptable in polite company is not only perfectly reconcilable with freedom of speech, but is positively to be welcomed, just as it is no longer thought reasonable to openly blame "the Jews" for all of society's ills, to rant about "yellow hordes" aiming to overwhelm civilization, or to advocate the necessity for slavery in keeping "negro savages" in line, whatever vile prejudices one might hold onto within. What is more, as new generations come along, these notions which have ceased to be openly expressed will truly become a dead letter for lack of credible champions - or so one hopes at least. No doubt it is precisely the fear that such a day might come to pass which also motivates most of those trying to claim Brendan Eich as a "victim" [sic] of bullying, despite any weasel-words they may utter to the contrary.