One lesson of the Eich/Mozilla affair

by Walter Olson on April 7, 2014

Laws requiring campaign donation disclosure can reinforce conformist pressures, notes my colleague Ilya Shapiro on the episode of the tech CEO who stepped down after an outcry over his donation to California’s Prop 8 campaign a few years ago. [Forbes] On the wider significance of the episode (not mostly one of law or regulation, since the government did not and in my view should not get involved either way), I recommend Conor Friedersdorf’s careful analysis in the Atlantic.

{ 19 comments }

1 Black Death 04.07.14 at 11:13 am

Friedersdorf’s article is indeed well worth reading, however you feel about the gay marriage issue. I also enjoyed the linked article on “the most influential Republican,” Roger Taney and the need for abolishing lifetime tenure for Supreme Court (and probably all other) judges. I would actually prefer that federal judges be elected, as are many state judges. Not likely to happen, though.

2 Bumper 04.07.14 at 11:26 am

My, my, isn’t Karma a bitch. What a wonderful display of intolerance by those demanding tolerance. I know it’s going to be an interesting week when I find myself agreeing with Andrew Sullivan.

3 Allan 04.07.14 at 11:52 am

I don’t know. In the Colorado baking case and the NM photographer case, libertarians were arguing that we should let the market, not the government decide. That is, if the baker and photographer wanted to discriminate against gay weddings, going to other bakers (whether you are involved in a gay wedding or not) would extract market revenge. It was put forward as much, much better than government intervention.

Now, it seems, libertarians are against market intervention.

I would point out that these “boycotts” are not exactly a progressive invention. McCarthyism. Terrorizing those who catered to blacks in the early part of the 20th century. Boycotting the Dixie Chicks (who opposed “Bush’s War.” But, there were progressive boycotts as well, e.g., against businesses rlated to South Africa (and now, it seems, Israel).

On the other hand, who would say that boycotting Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s was wrong? Who would say that refusing to eat at a restaurant that refused to serve blacks was wrong?

There is a line somewhere. I just don’t know where it should be drawn.

4 Walter Olson 04.07.14 at 12:24 pm

>it was put forward as much, much better than government intervention.

From my post: >the government did not and in my view should not get involved either way

I thought I’d made the above statement clear enough not to leave any scope for misreading, but maybe not. So let me try to be even clearer: by opposing government intervention, we don’t thereby forswear expressing our opinions of human actions that don’t involve it.

5 Allan 04.07.14 at 1:15 pm

Walter,

I would also want to be clear. I was not saying that you favored government action. What I was saying is that you did not disfavor action in general, and you seem to believe private boycotts are vastly superior to (and more legitmate than) government action.

I believe the issue is very murky.

You seem to be saying that, in this matter, not even private scorn is legitimate as opposition to a person’s personal views. Where, however, do you draw the line? Or do you not draw the line at all? If you do not like this, would you also disavow those who will not go to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion services simply because they provide abortions?

6 Walter Olson 04.07.14 at 1:40 pm

I recommended Friedersdorf’s article because I think he draws the sorts of distinctions that help us sort out the various cases. Briefly, there is a time and place for the equivalent of a war footing in voluntary relations, in which, say, we might refuse to employ or otherwise deal with a sympathizer of Timothy McVeigh, viewing it as fit to drive such a person to the margins of society and beyond. For most of the enduring political and religious disagreements that divide us, however, that path leads to replaying the former Yugoslavia’s breakup. (Especially if it is to apply where the other side still represents a third or more of public opinion and quite lately represented a majority.) Most workplace life (not all) is structured so as to enable us to put aside our outside enmities and cooperate toward specific, limited goals of producing value together, even if we believe the other guy is headed to Hell or has political views that would open the door to eventual tyranny. This is more a good thing than a bad, and those who would admit outside enmities into the workplace should expect to bear the burden of proof.

7 wfjag 04.07.14 at 2:02 pm

@Allen
“I would point out that these “boycotts” are not exactly a progressive invention. McCarthyism. ”

While I don’t deny that private boycotts have been called for, and sometimes carried out, by conservatives and liberatarians, neither Sen. “Tail Gunner Joe” McCarthy, nor members of his staff, which included Bobby Kennedy, sought private boycotts. They sought prosecution and firing from federal employment. So, whatever real or imagined wrongs fit under the label “McCarthyism”, private boycotts are not among them. It was government action.

And, please describe this “murky” issue. Do you believe you are compelled to watch Sean Hannity each night? Or, do you have a choice to watch something you find more informative — like PBS or the Weather Channel (or Nick At Night, or, “gasp” even to turn off the Boob-Tube and spend time with those you care about, or read a book, or cook something, or exercise, or whatever else you may wish to do, including reading this blog and making comments, or going to sleep). In other words, when dealing with private action by private citizens who are deciding where to spend their private time and private funds, where is the “murky” issue? Unlike when there is govenment action, you (and others) are not, and cannot legally be coerced, and no public funds are involved. You can, if you wish, even decide to spend your time, money and support in favor of those being “boycotted”. Accordingly, why isn’t private action wholly different from government action in this context, and so much more “legitimate”?

8 Richard Nieporent 04.08.14 at 11:54 am

I wouldn’t exactly call this an attempted boycott of Mozilla. This was more likening to a mob calling for the head of Eich, and they got what they wanted. If we are going to get people fired, not for what they have done on the job, but for their private beliefs, we are going down a very dangerous road. Do we really want to institute a personal belief litmus test for employment? Should you have to answer the question “Do you now or have you every opposed gay marriage”, before you can be hired? All those Leftists who were outraged by the blacklisting of Communist sympathizers during the 1950s now seem to thing that it is okay to fire people for their beliefs. Clearly they do not believe that the policy of blacklisting is wrong, just who was being blacklisted. There is nothing liberal about today’s Left. They are more akin to fascists.

9 Allan 04.08.14 at 12:24 pm

WFJAG,
You ask “why isn’t private action wholly different from government action in this context, and so much more ‘legitimate’?” as if I opposed private action and favored government action. That is not the case.

In the Eich matter, government action would be bad. My question is whether private action is the right thing in this case or not. On a more meta-basis, I question whether there is a point where a person’s personal life is so egregious that private action is warranted with regard to that person’s livelihood. I think there is such a point, but I don’t know where to draw the line.

BTW, this is different than choosing to watch Hannity or Maddow. They are in business to spout political positions. This is more like not watching ABC because Walt Disney World has a gay family day.

10 Allan 04.08.14 at 3:04 pm

Mr. Nieporent,

I guess I can assume that you do not mind watching Jane Fonda movies, did not support the boycott of the Dixie Chicks, and think it would be a shame if people refused to buy Ted Nugent records. You also think that we should not concern ourselves with the University of Chicago employing Bill Ayers.

11 asdfasdf 04.08.14 at 3:14 pm

These articles underplay or ignore the importance of Eich and his work to the entire modern commercial internet. Virtually every major commercial website, including OkCupid, relies on JavaScript (which Eich designed and implemented). JavaScript is the best of the client-side web technologies, outlasting Flash and Java, it’s two main competitors. Eich also helped found Mozilla, which has had deep and broad impact on most modern browsers. He is literally one of the key architects of the Web.

The ingratitude and hostility aimed at Eich, who gave away his work and created tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in value, is astonishing. Even if one does disagree with his stance on Proposition 8, he deserves respect and courtesy for his work.

12 Richard Nieporent 04.08.14 at 5:04 pm

I guess I can assume that you do not mind watching Jane Fonda movies, did not support the boycott of the Dixie Chicks, and think it would be a shame if people refused to buy Ted Nugent records. You also think that we should not concern ourselves with the University of Chicago employing Bill Ayers.

Which one of these things is not like the other, Allan? Yes I think we should concern ourselves with the University of Illinois at Chicago (not the University of Chicago) employing Bill Ayers as a professor of education. And for that matter for Columbia employing Kathy Boudin as a professor of social work, and for NYU making her the Rose Sheinberg Scholar-In-Residence at the New York University School of Law, and for Northwestern University employing Bernardine Dohrn as a professor of law. These people are all unrepentant Weather Underground terrorists. Do you not see a difference between them and Brendon Eich. He has not broken any laws. They have. Unfortunately the fact that there were all terrorists seems to be the reason that they were hired.

As for the rest of your list, they are public figures that make their living directly from the public. If they want to make political statements then, of course they will antagonize some people who will refuse to buy their records or go to their movies. However, those are individual choices by individual people. You cannot force people to buy their records and movies.

However, I would never advocate a boycott of any artist, no matter how much I dislike their political views. If other people like their music and acting, and are not put off by their political views, then they should be free to purchase their records and movies. How hard is it for you to understand that?

13 Allan 04.08.14 at 5:29 pm

Mr. Nieporent,

I assumed correctly, except about the unrepentant Weather Underground miscreants (were they ever convicted? If so, they were convicted felons).

I am a bit confused about your point. You seem to think it legitimate that people not buy artists’ records because they are antagonized by the artists’ political views, but you seem to think it illegitimate for a group of people to call for firing a CEO whose views antagonizes them.

I am just wondering about the underlying principle.

14 Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk 04.08.14 at 11:12 pm

Allan,

Without going back and examining the constitutional text, my understanding of the evolution of the secret ballot in the U.S. is that secrecy is not constitutionally required. (I recall a Colorado federal district court so holding in 2012.) So, do you have any objection to requiring voting by open ballot and then permitting third parties to use this publicly available information to punish voters for their choices? If not, why not? Is use of publicly available information regarding political contributions to demand another’s resignation or firing from an unrelated job more like the preceding voting example or more like consumers declining to buy Dixie Chick albums based on the bands’ statements at concerts?

15 Richard Nieporent 04.08.14 at 11:23 pm

However, I would never advocate a boycott of any artist, no matter how much I dislike their political views.

Allan, That is my position. I can’t make it any clearer than that.

If they want to make political statements then, of course they will antagonize some people who will refuse to buy their records or go to their movies. However, those are individual choices by individual people. You cannot force people to buy their records and movies.

That some individuals would rather spend their money on artists they like as opposed to artists they dislike is just a statement of fact. It has nothing to do with being legitimate or illegitimate.

With respect to your unrepentant Weather Underground miscreants? (try murders) you could use Google to find out about them. However, I will save you the time.

Kathy Boudin is an American far left radical who was convicted in 1984 of felony murder for her participation in an armed robbery that resulted in the killing of two police officers and a security guard. She was released from prison in 2003. She is currently an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

The lovely couple, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, turned themselves in to authorities in 1980. While some charges relating to their activities with the Weathermen were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct, Dohrn pled guilty to charges of aggravated battery and bail jumping, for which she was put on probation. After refusing to testify against ex-Weatherman Susan Rosenberg in an armed robbery case, she served just less than a year of jail time.

After the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970, in which Weatherman member Ted Gold, Ayers’s close friend Terry Robbins, and Ayers’s girlfriend, Diana Oughton, were killed when a nail bomb being assembled in the house exploded, Ayers and several associates evaded pursuit by U.S. law enforcement officials. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson survived the blast. Ayers was not facing criminal charges at the time, but the federal government later filed charges against him. Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, as he noted in his 2001 book, Fugitive Days.

I was going to say that the Left thinks that Brendon Eich’s “crimes” are much worse than theirs. However, the truth is that the Left thinks that Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, and Kathy Boudin are heroes.

16 Walter Olson 04.09.14 at 9:17 am

RN> the truth is that the Left thinks that Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, and Kathy Boudin are heroes.

So as not to turn into just another political board, might this not be a good time to acknowledge that most generalizations about what “the Left” or “the Right” believes are at best inaccurate? Some on the Left consider Dohrn, Ayers and Boudin to be heroes. Others on the Left see them as people who did terrible things for which they have not shown enough remorse. You could just as readily play Salon and depict “the Right” as believing some revolting thing that in reality is believed only by a nutty fringe. Why don’t we just stop?

17 Richard Nieporent 04.09.14 at 10:47 am

Walter, you are correct that the statement is a generalization on my part. Of course not everyone on the Left believes that they are heroes. However, how do you explain the fact that these unrepentant terrorists were hired by top universities to be professors of law and education if the vast majority of Leftists didn’t believe that they were correct in their actions? How could a university hire a convicted terrorist to teach Law? No rational person could justify such disrespect for the rule of law. The only explanation is that since they were against the war in Vietnam any actions they took to oppose the war were justified including bombings and murder. That does not say much for Leftists if they cannot distinguish between opposition to the war and terrorism. By the way, when I use the term Leftist I am not talking about liberals.

18 Allan 04.09.14 at 3:51 pm

Mr. Nieporent,

This is a joke, right? People all over the world for likely as long as there have been people in the world have justifyied disrespect for the rule of law by electing terrorists, hiring felons for jobs, lending felons money, and hiring felons’ companies to provide services.

How else do you explain how G. Gordon Liddy ever got his own talk show? Sure, Mr. Liddy did not bomb anyone. He only participated in a conspiracy that almost took down the constitution, and, for better or worse, ensured Jimmy Carter got elected. (which result was worse depends on your point of view, I guess).

Many avowed terrorists have become stalwarts and world leaders. Examples of such include Nelson Mandela, Yitzhak Shamir, Tito, and (perhaps) George Washington. I am sure I could come up with more examples if given the chance, both on the left and the right, recent and past. As Seth and Amy would ask: “really”? Are you really suggesting that, for example, the Maquis should not have been employed after WWII? They were certainly terrorists, and I doubt they repented.

I think you are engaging in moral relativity, with your moral compass being all that matters. This is fine and dandy by me, because it is your compass, not mine.

As the cliche goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom
fighter”.

19 Richard Nieporent 04.10.14 at 12:57 pm

Brandeis University withdraws honorary degree offer to Ayaan Hirsi Ali

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/04/09/brandeis-university-withdraws-planned-honorary-degree-for-islam-critic-ayaan/

Another mob claims another victim.

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