Today, I uninstalled Firefox from my computer. There was no fanfare, or large protest, or media coverage of the event. In fact, I’m sure many have recently sworn off Firefox lately, but unlike the rest of those who did, my reasons had nothing to do with whether I support or don’t support gay marriage, proposition 8, or whatever. Nor did they have anything to do with my opinion on whether Brendan Eich was fit to be CEO, or whether I thought he was anti-gay. In fact, I would have uninstalled Firefox today regardless of what my position is on the gay marriage issue, or any other political issue for that matter. Instead, I uninstalled Firefox today for one simple reason: in the tendering of Eich’s resignation, Mozilla crossed over from a company that had previously taken a neutral, non-participatory approach to politics, to an organization that has demonstrated that it will now make vital business decisions based on the whim of popular opinion. By changing Mozilla’s direction to pander to the political and social pressure ignited by a small subset of activists, Mozilla has now joined the ranks of many large organizations in adopting what once was, and should be considered taboo: lack of corporate neutrality. It doesn’t matter what those positions are, or what the popular opinion is, Mozilla has violated its ethical responsibility to, as an organization, remain neutral to such topics. Unfortunately, this country is now owned by businesses that violate this same ethical responsibility.
Corporations have rapidly stepped up lobbying and funneling money into their favorite political vices over the past decade. This radicalization of corporate America climaxed in 2010, when what was left of the Tillman Act (a law passed in 1907 to restrict corporate campaign contributions), was essentially destroyed, virtually unrestricting the corporate world from holding politicians in their back pocket through financial contributions. Shortly before, and since then, America has seen a massive spike in the amount of public, overt political lobbying – not by people, not by voters, but by faceless organizations (without voting rights). What used to be a filthy act often associated with companies like tobacco manufacturers has now become a standard mechanism for manipulating politics. Starbucks has recently, and very rudely, informed its customers that they don’t want their business if they don’t support gay marriage, or if they are gun owners – in other words, if you don’t agree with the values of the CEO, you aren’t welcome in their public business. This very day, 36 large corporations, including some that have no offices in Oregon, are rallying in support of gay marriage in Oregon. The CEO of Whole Foods has come out publicly in protest of the Affordable Care Act. Regardless of your views on any of these, there’s a bigger problem here: it has now become accepted that corporate America can tell you what to believe.
In contrast, what happened with Mozilla was quite the opposite. Eich went out of his way in a number of past interviews to specifically refuse to explain his personal views, and tried to keep them entirely separate from Mozilla. He made sure he owned them. When he became CTO, he was asked directly, on more than one occasion, why he supported proposition 8. He made sure that his views were not associated with Mozilla in any way. Unlike Whole Foods, Nike, Starbucks, and the countless others using their position to drive politics, Eich took his personal convictions, made personal contributions, and kept the affair entirely personal without dragging Mozilla into it. This is exactly what someone who’s doing it right should look like. Had he given to the other side, there would have been no witch hunt, and yet here we are. Whether you agree with Eich’s views or not, he was actually in the majority at the time, as it took the court system to strike down proposition 8, because the people wanted it so badly. Eich was demonized publicly for the act of privately, personally holding a view that more than half of all those who voted on Prop 8 took. To judge Eich’s character as a human based on this single donation says a lot more about those judging him than it says about him.
It doesn’t matter if you agree with Eich or not. What does matter is this: when corporate America has the hubris to tell you what your views should be, it should offend you.. and it should offend you much more than a person making a personal statement based on conviction. We should be supporting more of the latter, even if we disagree with them, yet the social bullying we allow to go on is instead teaching society that they should withhold their personal views and should be ashamed of them if they disagree with your own.
Yet it seems that it’s now perfectly acceptable to have “personal” views as a corporation, only businesses can have “individuality”- what a con. When a corporation has the arrogance to presume that their company, consisting of employees from all walks of life, suddenly represents a certain cause, it is an insult to all employees, as well as an insult to all customers. The corporate world of today is going far beyond this, and becoming outright hostile towards opposing views. Politics in America has become so polarized that to take any controversial position is undoubtedly marginalizing an entire class of employees, and alienating an entire class of customers – including many faithful ones who have likely supported the company for years. This should bother everyone on both sides of the camps, regardless of whether the political position supports or opposes your personal views. I am just as peeved at so-called Christian companies that abuse their clout in business to take political positions a corporation has no business taking. Whether you’re Steve Jobs or Truett Cathy, if you have an opinion, you should own it. Don’t insult everybody by dragging your company into it.
If you ask anyone what “is” America, they’ll tell you it’s the people. It’s not the land, it’s not the politicians, and it’s most certainly not large corporate entities backing politicians to serve their own causes. Regardless of what kind of business it is, a business in and of itself does not represent the people. It does not accurately or adequately represent the views of its employees. It is the people who must be heard. If the CEO of Starbucks wants to jump on a soapbox and make his case against guns, let him do it as a private citizen, and not abuse the voices of his employees to do it. If John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, wants to jump on a soapbox against ObamaCare (something I even agree with him on), let him do it as a private citizen and not betray the company’s ethics by violating the trust of his customers to stay out of their business. Customers helped build every single empire that’s out there making hostile remarks and lobbying for a position that many of those customers do not hold. It is unethical, to say the least, for a company to breach its responsibility to remain neutral.
What corporate America is doing today is robbing Americans’ of their ability to be heard and to count, and replacing those views with the echoes of big business and the massive lobbyist machine at work. It is a disgrace to this country, and it should offend you, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. The only voices that should be being heard out there are the voices of the people, not the entities. It’s the people who’s free speech was constitutionally recognized.
The basis of Eich’s resignation, in its simplest form, was this: that otherwise qualified individuals should not be employed unless their personal beliefs are agreeable. Guess what this is? This is discrimination in its purest form, and every single person who has ever had to struggle with discrimination based on sexual orientation should be able to plainly see this. You’d think this group would understand how unethical and morally bankrupt it is to judge someone by their beliefs, as many have been victim to the same type of discrimination by other people, by churches that don’t know how to love, and maybe even by unsavory companies. And yet here the same group is, having led a successful witch hunt to demonize someone based on personal views that they don’t happen to agree with, when he’s done more to keep them personal than any other CEO in recent time. There is no other word other than “hypocrite” to describe those who would partake in the destruction of Eich’s career over his personal views. You are not only insisting that we should, in fact, encourage discrimination against people based on who they are, but that all of those corporate laws and rules that have been established over the past twenty years or so to prevent discrimination should be flat out ignored. If anything, this terrible episode at Mozilla has exposed just how few of these activists appear to actually believe in their own ethics.
We’re all in this together, too, by the way. Christians are also discriminated against, so I can somewhat sympathize with what you’re dealing with. I recall going in for a second or third interview for a Cyber Security Director position with a company near Boston (Charles River Analytics). The night before, I saw their IP subnet hitting my page describing myself as a Christian off of a Google search, followed up very shortly thereafter by an “anonymous” email about what an idiot I was for being a Christian, and how I couldn’t possibly be any good at what I do because of it; clearly from someone at CRA who was a bigot and ignorant. Next morning, the receptionist informed me the interview had been canceled for unknown reasons. That one moment of discrimination isn’t even worthy of being compared with the constant struggle for civil rights that many others have to face daily, whether it’s because of the color their skin, their sexual orientation, or their religious beliefs – just to be treated like a human being is a daily fight for many. Neither does that isolated experience qualify me to speak as an ally, but that brief sampling did help me to understand why it’s so important to be a supporter of equal rights. I never did file suit – I simply moved on and changed the world without them; others don’t always have that privilege.
My point is this: it doesn’t matter what side of the fence you’re on. I loathe all forms of discrimination, but I bet there are plenty of groups that would just love to demonize me too. Regardless of where you stand on any issue, you may be getting used and spoken for by the companies you work for or do business with. Rest assured, even if the odds are in your favor today, the winds change on a whim. These same companies many are heralding today for taking such controversial, and even hostile, positions on are going to be the same companies that use their political clout later on to marginalize, demoralize, and flat out rob you through future legislation designed to benefit them. That’s when you’ll wish you hadn’t associated your choice of career to be so closely married to your political views. The Nikes of today can just as easily become the Marlboro of tomorrow. How do I know this? A company is still a business first, and as history has shown, they serve one thing first: shareholders. Don’t think all of this newfound political power will be used for the sake of mere altruistic deeds. Your copyright laws, your EPA laws, FDA laws, your DRM, your medical malpractice, and all of the other chains that shackle people have their roots in corporate lobbying. How can you be so short sighted that you tolerate – and encourage – businesses to speak for you?
It wasn’t Eich’s appointment as CEO that did Mozilla in for me; it was the choice to be politically driven and make business decisions on what’s popular, rather than what’s right, or based on what the employee had already proven in his or her track record. In the end, Eich proved that he cared about Mozilla more than his personal views, by stepping down to protect it. He proved all those crying foul were wrong, and (hopefully) put them to shame. The damage has been done, though. People robbed someone of a job that he had earned his whole life, because of his personal beliefs which would not have affected anyone. Maybe we should all be boycotting companies with the hubris to speak collectively for its employees or its customers, or make decisions based on the whims of noisy activists. I would have thought Mozilla would be more faithful to someone who had been with them since before day one.
Corporate politics is a sickening game. Unfortunately, everyone’s playing that game thanks to our impotent Supreme Court today. I think we could use a little less politics in the hands of the corporate world, and a little more voice given to the people – after all, we’re the ones going into the voting booths. And that’s what they fear most.