Stuff Michael Meeks is doing

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Mozilla's Extraordinary Situation


Last night I was appalled and saddened to see that Mozilla's principled decision to do the right thing, and stand up to a savage and vindictive witch hunt, seemingly conducted and cheer-lead both by those employed by Mozilla Corp. and others outside the organisation, had finally worn people down enough to do something that looks horribly illiberal and which seems to betray the very basis of critical protections of freedom of political views. By which I mean accepting Brendan's (apparently principled) resignation. Of course, normally the real reasons behind the scenes are opaque and I've no view or insight into Brendan: his strengths and weaknesses for the role, a great technical CV, industry, leading insight etc. doesn't necessarily make for a great CEO. Quite possibly poor communication around an issue like this is a good enough reason to remove support such that resignation is the only option. However, the communication around the resignation and the new status quo was equally if not more horribly shambolic - lets see how that trend continues. All in all it makes it look like lots of people acted for all the wrong reasons to get a terrible outcome.

Personally I'm a supporter of traditional marrige; but also for reasons of basic justice a supporter of the UK's Civil Partnerships - perhaps a more nuanced view than is possible to express in the profoundly polarized US political system whose aggression seems to significantly infect social discourse; neither do I understand 2008's Prop 8. If your views differ, then my plan is to try to disagree respectfully & charitably.

Much as I admire Matthew Garret & his technical work, his take on the topic

The point is that the community didn't trust Brendan, and Brendan chose to leave rather than do further harm to the community.
leaves out the rather vexed problem of accurately divining what the community wants. I suspect that there was a concerted campaign outside - but more problematically inside Mozilla Corporation to bring the project into disrepute and thus to bring pressure to bear to achieve this objective. There is talk of a 70,000 signature petition - which sounds a lot until you consider a user-base of 450 million. Is it acceptable when sub 0.02% of users sign a petition to act this way ? I suspect it's an unrealistic view that the harm to Mozilla and by extension their great work on the open web is all finished and done with Brendan resigning; at least while an unaddressed injustice is seen, by some, to have been done.

Cowardice ?

Scandal aside a more interesting question to me has been raised:

As a volunteer moderating the Facebook page, it was evident that we had many users complaining and very little supporters. Now that Brendan has resigned, everybody has all of a sudden come out from a shadow. Unexpectedly to say at the least, is that we've got users telling us that we were no longer protecting Freedom of speech and that rights are taken away. Where have these people been hiding?
And it's a good one. Why didn't I speak up for Brendan before ? In my case there were three-fold reasons: first and primarily a lack of time, second a conviction that Mozilla was riding the storm, doing the right thing and that things would die down in time; but there was also a small cowardly fear of knock-on witch-hunting. Last time I discussed anything even tangentially related to this topic I was soundly and (to my view unreasonably) accused of all manner of horrible things. That has rather a chilling effect on the willingness to engage. Furthermore, that dialog is often highly emotive cf. the meritocracy kills hysteria.

Some quotes

Normally when such matters are discussed my perspective is heavily criticized and dismissed as being from a "privileged white male" and thus beyond utterly irrelevant. Perhaps more tellingly, I'm not a Mozillan, and handling the mob is not an easy thing: Mitchell has my profound sympathy. So let me excerpt the following text from two Mozillans self-identifying as homosexuals (neither of whom share Brendan's views), (Planet Mozilla is interesting too) today. In particular I excerpt Things Change, the Mozilla CEO (from K Lars Lohn, first struck out as 'moot' and now removed - checkout the planet for it's last vestiages [Update: now restored but missing the update wrt. threatening] ), those thoughtful quotes, as any, best read in their original context:

Since my involvement long ago I also became comfortable with being gay... I've also come to realize that change, isn't always progressive, and what looks like progress can hide other dangers. Progress is self-validating for the thing labeled progressive, and its too easy to dismiss those that seem to stand in its way but that is no more right than any other form of censorship, ... I've seen recently, too many comments that want to devalue people who stand in the way of progress as exactly the thing that they are trying to fight. LGBT issues were marginalized, and oppressed by society. Oppression is wrong, but don't be too quick to think that marginalized groups can't marginalize others, pushing views aside because they fail to meet socially acceptable criteria, whether that criteria is progress, equality or religion and heteronormativity. We might just all realize that for all someones faults, combining ideas, and not combating them, might just result in a new idea, a new change for all.


I am a gay employee of the Mozilla Corporation, and I support my company's decisions regarding the selection of CEO. This doesn't mean that I'm entirely comfortable with the selection, but not because I think Brendan Eich is a threat, but instead because of the public relations repercussions. ... I have friends that hold political opinions that are antithetical to me – I do not exclude them from my life, I embrace my friends. I neither support nor understand their beliefs, but doesn't mean that I throw them away. I cannot condone holding a grudge in perpetuity. To do so would be leaving a wake of enemies behind me whereas I could instead have them as allies beside me where we do agree. ... I say to the larger community calling for the ouster of Brendan Eich, “please don't succumb to the knee jerk reaction.” I did at first, but with some thought, I realize that we need to focus on the future not exact retribution for the past.

Particularly interesting in this latter post is the experience of the witch hunt even against a thoughtful, balanced, gay writer like this, K Lars writes (in bold) To the people that have threatened me about this posting, I can only look at you quizzically, laugh and then walk away.

The Secret Ballot Box as an alternative to mob rule

In the presence of such a difficult situation to unwind it is interesting to examine the Mozilla Foundation's governance - in particular the board that makes these tough calls. In general the idea that a freedom loving organisation should be run by a small (now even smaller), self-appointing board seems extraordinarily problematic from a legitimacy perspective.

It appears that there is a clear pattern of intimidation and harassment of people engaging on one side of this topic. Now, perhaps (as anger seems to build in the other direction cf. I hope we don't return to a sadder period of hostility in the other direction, [Update 2014-04-07: input now seems to be a horribly depressing place for all moderates, I'd avoid reading it]) some lose-lose-lose situation where we all end up more polarised would be desparately sad. Either way, the situation is not unexpected - coercive parties of all stripes hate secret ballots so...

My suggestion would be to adopt best-practise, re-use the existing, hopefully representative, meritocratic membership structures inside Mozilla and give those guys a fair (ie. STV) and secret ballot to allow Mozillans to choose those who govern them and to ensure that minority views of whatever kind are also respected and represented. Of course, quite possibly doing that will result in no change, but it will bring unarguable legitimacy to whatever solution eventually comes out of the political sausage machine; that seems to be sadly absent now.

I hope that a newly elected board would have the authority to make it transparently clear that Mozilla's important and valuable mission is rather orthogonal to promoting other unrelated agendas for everyone's sake.

Other links

Other interesting views from Mozillans at least for my future reference are: Tocqueville on the Freedom of Discussion in America, Sad day, Mozilla is not Chick-Fil-A, Recent Events, FAQtechism, Only what unites us, Freedom of speech in the Mozilla Community, Your Ire Is Mis-directed

Update 2014-04-07

Reading some of the more savage, vinctictive, angry and unpleasant anti-Mozilla / anti-Gay feedback more recently on the 'input' site I'm appalled to even appear to be on the same side of the argument. I'm more eager to respect those individuals who expressed civilised concerns about Brendan's appointment than that extreme. Then again, there are quite a few thoughtful more moderate posters who express their concerns well. Some do believe that promoting a position on this is a core part of Mozilla's mission now. Another thoughtful poster writes on speech and consequences.

Having said that, I'm still convinced this is fundamentally a slow-motion crisis of legitimacy, and nothing to do with anyone's rights, I believe it needs fixing in a way that addresses that.

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In case it's not painfully obvious: the reflections reflected here are my own; mine, all mine ! and don't reflect the views of Collabora, SUSE, Novell, The Document Foundation, Spaghetti Hurlers (International), or anyone else. It's also important to realise that I'm not in on the Swedish Conspiracy. Occasionally people ask for formal photos for conferences or fun.

Michael Meeks (