Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Brendan Eich is Gone, Long Live The Fox

firefox_bangI never expected my comments about Firefox on the last episode to get me as much commentary as it has. I should expect that a lot of our online listeners are technically inclined as I am, given atheist demographics, but my commentary on the last episode has given me more personal feedback than I’ve received in some time. I’ll admit, to keep the discussion going I posted on my Facebook wall that I was removing Firefox, Thunderbird, and ceasing work on my Firefox OS projects– two pieces of software that I’m partial to, and a phone OS project that I’d been holding high hopes for. People love a controversy, I guess.

Which creates a problem, as I’m happy to report that I am posting this from Firefox once again. I’ve had to edit this post somewhat, because it appears that Brendan Eich has stepped down as CEO, and has also left the board of directors entirely. I think this is great news, and I’m glad to reinstall the Mozilla applications on my systems. I may continue using Evolution for mail for a little while, as it seems to have improved from when I last used it and I like the integration into GNOME 3.

First, for less nuanced opinions, some curse words:


Actually, this is the marketplace of ideas working. He’s allowed to be an idiot, and I’m allowed to call him one. I know people with more than four neurons keep having to say this over and over, but freedom of action is not the same thing as freedom of social consequence.

He’s in the market, with his good browser and his hateful speech. His shop is on the market. His shop, under another manager, sold a great product. I go over to the shop and talk to the new manager. I find out about the hate, confirm that is indeed what happened, and decide I’d rather take my trade elsewhere.

Thousands of other people do the same. Sales at the shop go down, and soon the shop is under new management.

As far as I’m aware, this is exactly what people who continually squack about freedom of speech and the marketplace of ideas actually want. But then again, I’m talking about people who know what the terms “freedom of speech” and “the marketplace of ideas” actually mean.



This is you.   You will not be fondly remembered by history, and your children will be negatively affected.   They will live you down, and curse your name.

This is you. You will not be fondly remembered by history, and your children will be negatively affected. They will live you down, and curse your name.

A Little Bit of Open Source Fighting

And hey, if you want me to say something really controversial in the FOSS world, I could tell you that the FUD over GNOME 3 is completely unwarranted and stupid. KDE 4 has been schizophrenic and impossible to really use well, and I’m speaking as a KDE user from Beta 1, to the point where I rented a room to a KDE developer in exchange for features I wanted. I look forward to your rage at our next post show or online stream. Straight outta Slackware, yo.

And now, for more nuanced opinions…

What I Was Protesting

Overall, there are two major trends in comments in opposition to what I said last Sunday, and I’ll address both. The first, better, and more nuanced objection is this example from Justin, a fellow open source person, in an email I recevied a few hours ago.

As a long time OSS user/advocate my ears perked up a bit when the topic of Mozilla’s new CEO came up. Thinking it over a bit, I felt compelled to comment. Disagreeing with your comments feels a bit like defending WBC’s right to free speech. I hate it, but I think it’s right.
How would we, as a community, react if the same outcry happened because an Atheist was made CEO ? We would likely all point out that ones Atheism should in no way inhibit their ability to be an effective CEO. Along the same vein I do not feel it is fair to suggest that Eich’s personal beliefs will inhibit his ability (see Francis Collins).
It’s one thing to say that you do not like his beliefs and/or do not like the idea of him representing the foundation. What I heard instead was the strong suggestion that his beliefs would inform his policies and effectiveness.
Do not get me wrong, I think he beliefs are abhorrent. I also do not like the idea of him representing Mozilla very much either. Still, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his ability to manage. Then again, I might just not care as much because I’m a Chromium user these days.
I think the main problem here is a misunderstanding about what I’m objecting to. If Mr. Eich were being rejected as CEO of Mozilla because of his identity, be it religious or not, at the very least I would not have been vocally rejecting Mozilla. If he had been a member of some religion that would make me concerned about the future of the organization (read: Scientology) I would have likely removed the software and moved on with my life. More likely, I would have continued using the software and defended my choice in doing so.

I’ll get to the point about where my disagreement is: It’s not that he doesn’t “believe in gay marriage” or whatever. It is that he believes that he has the right to restrict others to his view of it, and the fact that he is publically on the record in his belief, in spite of his self-characterizations and decision not to directly address his contributions to Prop 8.

Political contributions are speech, and in California contributuions after a point are public. Legal tomfoolery aside, he spent his money to help pass a bill that would prevent people who love each other from getting married. He believed his rights to deny exceeded the rights of others who believed differently. If he believed that LGBT equality was wrong, but correctly agreed that he shouldn’t express his views as superior to others, we could not be having this conversation.

So, to take your hypothetical case and make it look a little more like reality, we’d need an atheist that believed he could compel others to leave Christianity through the force of law. I would more strenuously object to such a person being named CEO to a project that I care so much about– this hypothetical CEO would be an incorrect representation of the people I identify with. The fact that Mozilla is centered on community is, again, key.

How He Should Have Kept His Job

uninstall_reinstallHe could have apologized. Even better for him, he could have apologized by saying his personal beliefs should not hinder another’s civil rights. An appropriate donation to something like the HRC here would have done wonders. If he really was interested in Mozilla as a community, it should have been simple to disavow his civil supremacy without disavowing his belief about LGBT lifestyles.

Would I have been happy with that? No, but I would accept that he has the Mozilla community at heart and seems to care about other human beings. Honestly, I would suggest that he have a few more conversations with the rarebit folks, who could not do what they do without the legal defeat of Prop 8. But I would have accepted Eich as someone I could work with professionally, and strongly disagree with in the social space. If given the opportunity to so disagree, I would have relished it.

But instead, he did what we’ve come to expect from religious people: he took his ball and went home. Whether he did this because of religious convictions or the standard geek aversion to admitting fallibility, I can’t say. But when it came down to brass tacks, he had his beliefs about marriage equality on one side, and his lofty description of his love of technology and support of Mozilla on the other. He chose the shitty path.

And for that, I’m glad he’s gone.

Update: For some reason beyond me, I started typing Icke instead of Eich. Can’t imagine why I would do that. Actually, I can.

About the Author: Sam Mulvey

Sam Mulvey is a producer and the technical brain behind Ask an Atheist. He is a collector of vinegar varieties, vintage computers, antique radios, and propaganda.

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