“While painful, the events of the last week show exactly why we need the (Web). So all of us can engage freely in the tough conversations we need to make the world better.” That moment of fantasy came courtesy of Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker as she announced last week that Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, had caved in to calls that he resign for the Silicon Valley sin of having donated $1,000 to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure to limit marriage to one man and one woman — six years ago.
The forces of intolerance won. With Eich’s caving in, there is no conversation, and the world is not a better place for the free exchange of ideas.
For close to two weeks, it looked as if Eich and Mozilla could resist calls for the CEO’s scalp, but the need for conformity proved too strong.
When I wrote on this flap before Eich surrendered, I received a number of emails from gay readers who supported the get-Eich campaign. “Fortunately, we are living in an era when expression of anti-gay sentiments increasingly carries social costs. Not legal costs, mind you — no one is saying he can’t hold and express whatever opinions he wants. But he’ll have to live with the social consequences, just as racists must,” one reader explained.
My correspondent was not the only reader to equate opposition to same-sex marriage with homophobia, hate and racism. A few readers asked whether I would support a CEO who had given money to the Ku Klux Klan, an organization with a sordid history of violence. How would I feel, others asked, if a CEO gave money to an organization that opposed women’s rights? Well, Will Hearst attends the Bohemian Grove retreat, which admits no female members. I grind my teeth at that bastion of male privilege, but I support its right to exist.
I am struck by the cultural ignorance of the get-Eich mob. In her Pravda-like blog, Baker asserted that Mozilla welcomes contributions from everyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and “religious views.” But if someone’s religion opposes same-sex marriage and that someone donated $1,000 to Prop 8, he cannot be CEO.
Sure, you can cite an example of a public figure’s losing his position for saying something racist or crude. But in America, as opposed to totalitarian countries, people aren’t supposed to lose their livelihoods because they voted a certain way or personally donated to a campaign.
Eich’s enemies argue that intolerance of intolerance is not intolerance. But of course it is. By toppling Mozilla’s CEO, activists sent the message that having opposed same-sex marriage — a mainstream position also held by Barack Obama just six years ago — can be a career killer. It’s not enough to beat the opposition at the ballot box or in court; you have to ruin opponents’ grass-roots supporters personally, make people afraid to oppose you.
Of course, they don’t have to ruin everybody who gave money to Prop 8. All they have to do is flame a few random supporters, trash their reputations and kill their careers — as an example to anyone who might entertain the same position. Who needs tolerance when you can dish out fear?