(In)tolerance at Mozilla

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

Tolerance in the face of disagreement, even incredibly odious disagreement, has been a hallmark of American civil discourse. The idea as we know it today crystallized with Voltaire, although Jacques Barzun informs us that it was the English Puritans who first gave it to us.

Today, it seems tolerance is gone. I was watching this Red Eye clip just yesterday, where Reason‘s chief editor Nick Gillespie was marveling that, in America’s post-scarcity economy, consumers can afford to make political statements by boycott. This in response to news that dating website OK Cupid blocked Mozilla Firefox users from its service because Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich gave a $1,000 political donation to California’s Proposition 8. That was the overturned state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gillespie was right; boycotts are a luxury of those fortunate enough to be able to choose how to spend their money and time. They are a possible solution to the first-world problem of having to live with someone who makes you uncomfortable by virtue of their seeing the world differently from you. Some progressives seem to be very good at wielding this blunt, destructive, stigmatizing tool of social ostracization and economic isolation. Recall the Oregon bakers whose painstakingly-built business was shuttered by boycott and intimidation in 2013.

On Thursday, after just a few days of pressure, Mr. Eich stepped down because some of his employees simply did not like how he spent his own money. They did not like his political speech, so they cut short his career. He happened to be a Mozilla co-founder. Oh, and he only invented javascript. That kind of tearing down of someone who makes things for a living, transforms the way we live our lives, but just happens to see things differently from you, that’s what I call progress.

It would seem an apology is in order to Mr. Eich, but as it turns out, the apology went the other way around. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a blog post Thursday, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, apologized for Mr. Eich’s appointment, writing, “We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public…But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.”

Amazing. Baker’s apology was not for Mozilla’s being intolerant of Eich’s views, but for his alleged intolerance to the company. On what evidence? Now that he’s gone, everyone can feel safe “to share their beliefs and opinions in public.” Orwellian. Chilling.

Maybe Mr. Eich was hateful. I don’t know. How does one determine that? According to the Journal, he made conciliatory moves. But even if he were a hateful, smoldering homophobic imp, I will have to make the point as I have a few times before by asking, why think that it is inherently immoral, blameworthy, or hateful for government to restrict the kinds of relationships it recognizes?

 

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Gross media bias against traditional marriage

Yahoo’s The Ticket ran a story with this headline today: “Argument against gay marriage in California hinges on accidental pregnancies.”  Word ford word, this is the most biased caption I’ve ever encountered.  Consider this alternative: “Legal case for traditional marriage in California rests on biological distinctions.”

The text of the article quotes brilliant conservative casemaker Paul Clement as referring to “unplanned and unintended offspring.”  Perhaps after having read the War on Women Writing Style Manual, some editor at Yahoo News chose to represent this as “accidental pregnancies.”  Accidental, as in the cringe-inducing “Sweetie, you were an accident.”  And pregnancies, as in, “Oh no, the government wants to mess with womens’ wombs again.”  The headline is clearly crafted for those who think laws are meant to preserve their moral autonomy rather than serve the continuation of civilization.

The news copy writer, Liz Goodwin, describes Clement and his colleagues as “opponents to gay marriage.”  This antagonistic characterization facilitates the readers’ conflation of social and legal sanction.  One can oppose legal recognition of same sex marriage while still supporting the right of two people of the same sex to pursue a life together, have a public wedding ceremony, obtain a civil union, and be entitled to federal and state benefits.  Goodwin seems less interested in making this important distinction than in stoking the outrage of social liberals.

The article goes on to chronicle “the government’s right to ban gay marriage” since the 1970s.  What ban?  Were same sex marriages banned in 1950 and in 1900 as well?  No, as with abortion at the time the Constitution was adopted, the thing was practically unheard of.

Towards the end of the piece, Goodwin offers a slippery slope analysis of legal reasoning like Clement’s.  The fear is that the success of such an argument could justify further marriage restrictions based on infertility or being beyond childbearing age.  This is absurd.  Those kind of determinations would be impractically intrusive and a waste of government time, money, and energy.  Not unlike a recent proposal by Missouri Democrats to ban the possession of assault rifles.

Note that in Goodwin’s story, the slippery slope is a one way deal.  But consider the opposite.  If we expand the meaning of marriage to include same sex couples, what really stops us from honoring polygamous marriages or even more unconventional arrangements?

Leave it to liberals to fail to make the proper distinctions.  The Justice Department has gone after the Defense of Marriage Act on the basis of expanding federal entitlement benefits.  But marriage is not about entitlement benefits.  Per an amicus briefing, the Department declared, “Marriage is far more than a societal means of dealing with unintended pregnancies.”  Since when did we decide that government should have its imprint on all those other things marriage is also about?

The most sensible understanding of the state’s role in marriage is that it has a vested interest in seeing as many children as possible raised in stable homes with both of their natural parents.  Sometimes that’s not feasible, and an alternative like adoption may be required.  Let caring and committed gay couples do that if they wish.  But if the state wants to expand entitlement benefits to a new class of relationship, it needn’t redefine marriage.  Civil unions should do the job just fine.  To redefine marriage on a passionate but arbitrary conviction that it’s a civil rights issue would send a disasterous signal that marriage is about having your personal feelings validated by the government.  And that, anyone should be able to see, is ridiculous.

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