Monday, 14 April 2014

The awfulness of PC

No; not P.Chidambaram , the outgoing Finance Minister of India. The PC I refer to is Political Correctness. I have a healthy disdain for politically correct expressions, usually the pet infatuation of the Left.  But what happened in Mozilla, the company which puts out the Firefox browser, is nothing short of outrageous.

What happened was this. Brendon Eich was appointed CEO of Mozilla. Within 10 days he resigned. Or rather was forced to resign. Why ? Because there was a backlash against his contributing $1000 to a campaign in 2008 on a referendum on gay marriage in California . He donated to the campaign that sought to ban gay marriage. The donation was made 6 years ago. The "Mozilla community" objected to a guy who was anti gay marriage being the CEO. So he had to go.

This is political correctness at its worst . There is absolutely no merit in sacking him, or if you would like it "creating conditions that led him to resign". Consider the following arguments

  • The matter had nothing to do with his qualifications, experience or performance as CEO of Mozilla
  • In fact it had nothing to do with Mozilla at all and it was a private act by him. As far as I know, making a campaign contribution, even though the stance may not be to everybody's liking is not a violation of the law in the US.
  • He is not evangelising or actively lobbying for ban on gay marriage. All he did was make a donation to a campaign that reflects his personal views.
  • There is zero evidence that he would not treat gays equally in the company . If a law was enacted allowing gay marriage,  and if he then discriminated against gay couples, then he is performing a criminal act and will be prosecuted. There is not even an accusation that he proposed to do anything like that
  • The issue of gay marriage is not by any means a settled one in the US - this is a thorny social issue and there are lots of opinions for and against. The issue is coming up repeatedly in the Supreme Court. This is not an issue like say Nazism or Al Qaedaism where there is a near unanimous opinion.
  • Brendon Eich has never said (nor is he even being accused) that he is anti gay. He is only against gay marriage. There is not a shred of evidence that he has discriminated against gays in his career.
  • He is perfectly entitled to his personal opinion as long as he follows the law of the land and does not let a personal opinion be to the detriment of the company.

It is none of anybody's business, especially that of the Mozilla Board, to be dictating to anybody what his  opinion on non business matters should be . Companies should not be espousing for or against social issues. That is none of their business. They should simply follow the law . Social issues ought to be debated and pushed by individual citizens and enacted by elected representatives. Encouraging companies to lobby on behalf of social issues is the most dangerous step any society can take - look at the mayhem that political contributions by companies is causing in the US.

It is a crying shame that Brendon Eich has been forced out  by a bunch of PC obsessed fanatics. I may not agree with Eich's views, but I absolutely defend his right to have them. Isn't that what the definition of freedom is ?

Shame on you Mozilla.

Full Disclosure : This blogger is a dedicated user of Firefox and is considering abandoning that product !


The Million Miler said...

hope you will write about PCs other ugly twin - tokenism. How I wish I was a black, disabled lesbian of a different religious persuasion as compared to the 'majority'!

Ramesh said...

@Kiwi - I know what you mean. When somebody does some really stupid tokenism, I'll yell at them too.

Unfortunately I am not black, not disabled, not a lesbian and not sure if I qualify on a "different religious persuasion" :):)

Kalpana said...

I am a fan of yours! This is a wonderful article. It is really a shame on the board to interfere into soemone's personal life and judging them based on it.

Ramesh said...

@Kalpana. Honoured. Even more that you feel the same way.

Sriram Khé said...

There are plenty of reasons why I am not in sync with the views here.

Of course, everyone is entitled to whatever crap they feel within. But, there is a difference when a Jane Doe expresses that crap versus a business or political or community leader expresses that same crap. Leadership roles in liberal democracy comes with that price--leaders are not really private citizens. There will be that element of tradeoff. And, as President Truman famously said, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

As members of a privileged class--in the Indian context, it is upper-caste and upper-class folk, and in the Western context it is White straight Christian male--we really have no freaking understanding of what it is to come out of centuries of being treated as second class humans or worse. There is simply no amount of "tokenism" that can begin to even remotely compensate the "black, disabled lesbian of a different religious persuasion" issues. The casual remarks that we privileged people make further worsens the situation because it prevents us from engaging in open and honest discussions on such extremely important matters of treating humans as equals.

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - Mmmmm. I am somewhat surprised by this comment. I can understand your objection to a casual portrayal of the disadvantaged, but do you really believe business leaders must opine on social issues ?? Sure, there is a difference between Jane Doe saying something and a famous personality saying something, but I disagree with that being universal. If L K Advani has a controversial view of the lbw law in cricket , I wouldn't care two hoots is he expressed it loudly and vociferously. If he had a view on gay marriage for example then it would be relevant.

Similarly if the CEO of Mozilla was opining on say tax breaks, that would be very relevant. But what has he got to do with gay marriage. Is our argument that every person who is famous enough to get into the newspapers must be politically correct on everything under the sun ?

Sriram Khé said...

Ok ... a quick clarification. The "crap" usage reflects my pro-gay-marriage stand.

Now, to the issue at hand. No, it was not PC that I required of the Mozilla CEO. Not at all. Like anybody else, he is entitled to whatever he thinks. However, he should have known that his support to defeat gay marriage will have its own reactions. If he were some insignificant programmer, the industry and the software developers would not have cared. But, a leader almost always ends up having to defend his public statements on public policy issues--in this case, his statement was via the $$$ he spent.

He should have also have known that software folks rarely lean conservative in huge numbers. It is populated by not merely liberals but libertarians too. Libertarians and liberals typically support gay marriage. Again, we are talking about all these in the context of leadership and how his statement matters.

Finally, Mozilla is not one of your typical profit enterprise. It is a strange mix of profit and volunteer activities, which I don't fully understand. Whenever any voluntary aspect kicks in, well, the political statements matter even more.

Thus, it is not at all about political correctness, but about the effects of publicly airing one's opinions. After all, in my own small little world, I know I am paying a price for my public statements. I continue to do that fully knowing that I will pay a price for it. I don't care. And I continue to pay the price and I continue to make my public statements.

I suspect this is also why many business leaders donate to political parties rather than to single issue causes. Single-issue causes galvanize support or opposition very easily, but donations to parties will only generate mild reactions. Or, like the Koch brothers, they do whatever they want to do despite the negative feedback.

J said...

While I see the distinction you make in your response to Sriram, I still think when a CEO openly supports an anti gay movements even in his private life, it does create concerns about whether Mozilla will be a good place for gay people to work regardless of the HR policies on paper. I agree with Sriram that anyone in a leadership role is held up to a higher standard and whether the issue is pertinent to his role as a leader is a matter of opinion. Clearly you see his opinion on taxes as pertinent but not this, but I would draw the line of what is pertinent differently. Maybe I've lived too long in this PC culture, but I have to agree with Sriram. Also sometimes our reaction is colored by how we personally feel about the issue. I have a very close friend who is gay and I guess that makes me react very differently to this specific case.

Ramesh said...

@sriram & J - Wow. I'll cheerfully disagree with you. I don't believe that you can castrate a business leader from having any personal views at all . which are completely unrelated to the business position he holds.

Anyway, I will equally cheerfully defend your right to have, and say loudly, your point of view too :)

For sake of complete clarity my point of view on the gay issues is

- I am completely fine with anybody being gay
- I am completely fine with gays marrying
- I am NOT fine with gays adopting children (Sriram and I have debated vigorously on this and have concluded to agree to diagree as we do with lots of things !)

Ravi Rajagopalan said...

@Ramesh: I am amazed and humbled at the quality of debate from Sriram and J on an issue which any right-thinking person would have thought was open and shut. I attribute this to your blog and the kind of subjects it picks.

The issue may be glaring in its simplicity, but I think the back story is more important.

Apparently Eich was a brilliant technical guy (he was Mozilla's CTO) but not a slam dunk for the CEO job. The Board was divided on his elevation. Mozilla is losing the race to occupy the mobile screen to Safari and Chrome.

As Sriram points out the West Coast is full of liberals and libertarians for whom an issue like gay marriage is like catnip to a cat.

It would be relatively easy to energise this community on an issue like this.

Sure, the right to gay marriage is a matter of personal opinion - I am 100% for it by the way - and is also part of a person's fundamental rights. The religious right have their views which are very well known. There is no evidence Eich was some kind of a Christian right-winger. There is evidence he has a right wing streak to him - again, no crime if he did and it is hardly relevant to his role as CEO.

I think this was a lightning rod. A mere excuse to get rid of him.

J said...

@ Ramesh/Ravi: ha ha!! there's always a back story, right :):) I hate the fact that I was voicing support for a board that was merely acting opportunistically :( and worse still it exposes our, okay okay, my own double standards on these personal values. I was perfectly fine with Clinton's escapades while in office arguing that "it is not directly relevant to his job".

But not to cave it to your arguments so easily, I do believe that strong personal views create problems in professional settings, especially if you have the ability to even subtly discriminate on that basis. Thus my preference for people with more inclusive views in any leadership role.

Ramesh said...

@Ravi - Yes, the commenter community is an elite one, especially you - with fine reasoned opinions and an immaculately polite outlook . In how many places in the world can we disagree without being disagreeable. I am truly honoured that such fine people care to comment here.

What you say may very well be the truth, but if it is, I am even more ashamed of Mozilla that they didn't have the guts to not appoint him in the first place and had to use subterfuge to oust him.

Ramesh said...

@J - It is an interesting line of enquiry and is as applicable to the political field as to the business one. Our culture now is of intolerance to anybody who has a controversial point of view. End result is that we get colourless people with no views at all as leaders. Any strong leader, by definition, will have strong points of view. We are basically comfortable with spineless non entities who say nothing controversial and prefer them over strong guys who have opinions we may not always agree with. I have big doubts over that trend, but that's a different matter entirely and one up for a different debate at another time.

Prakash Venkatesan said...

@ Ramesh

The key differential in this debate is on inveterate belief leading to intent and action. The bloke put his money where his mind was. How many of us put our money on an issue that doesn't concern us deeply, except if we have a lot of spare change lying around and wish to buy influence in different fora. Don't know if he acknowledged a change in his position, which he is entitled. Would be unfair if he werent given a chance to change his belief.

Reg. the relevance of the issue to leadership, a leader must BE inclusive rather than PORTRAY inclusiveness. In that sense, it was good that this action proclaimed his belief rather than hide it in the closet. Perhaps the board then implemented the will of the majority at Mozilla in ousting him. In any case, the board comes out looking incompetent.

Bet l'affaire Clinton would've taken a very different turn if he had chosen to pay the intern in cash...

Ramesh said...

@Prakash - I understand your argument, but I still maintain that business leaders can have whatever views they want outside of business - inclusive or otherwise. I am against bland average do gooders, however nice they may sound. In many fields we have come select people who are mostly not wrong rather than those who are mostly right.

But clearly , judging from the comments on this post, I am in a huge minority with only the Kiwi for company !! :):)

J said...

@Ramesh: I'm all for strong views as long as they are not intolerant.

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, you keep writing words that tempt me to respond. It is your fault I am typing all these ;)

I do not by any means advocate for dull, boring, quoting the rulebook people--we have enough of your Ramamirthams for all that. People become leaders because they are passionate to bring about a change for which they have an idea. Whether it is in the political or business domains. It is extremely rare for "bland average do gooders" to ever get to any leadership position, especially of wide influence. Your summarizing comment, therefore, misrepresents the concerns that I, and others here, have expressed.

What if fifty years ago a CEO had donated money to deny rights to Blacks? Otherwise a phenomenal CEO, he (those days it was always a straight, white, Christian male) was expressing a personal preference about blacks. I am sure back then there would have been plenty of people in support of his right to be a bold and assertive thinker while being a business leader.

We now know better than that, thankfully.

Ramesh said...

@Sriram - What is the joy in life if I do not needle you.

But, on this, I am guilty as charged and, as occasionally we do, we will agree to disagree !

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