George Orwell’s “1984” created a dystopian vision of the future in which conformity was enforced at all costs and words ceased to have any real meaning. Any view that challenged an expected mode of thinking, no matter how meekly expressed, was a “thoughtcrime” to be punished by an absolutist state.
Silicon Valley is not a state, but it is a state of mind and more particularly a mindset that values diversity and tolerance above all else – at least in the telling. But it is also a place where Orwellian “doublespeak” is alive and well, a place where “diversity” and “tolerance” do not to extend to those who fail to tote the progressive party line.
The harsh reality of Silicon Valley political orthodoxy was brought home to Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of the web technology company Mozilla. Back in 2008, Eich (also the co-founder of Mozilla) contributed $1,000 to the ballot initiative against gay marriage in California.
While $1,000 is barely enough to finance one month of produce shopping at a Silicon Valley organic food co-op, it was enough to bring the cudgel of Silicon conformity down upon the unfortunate Eich. A boycott ensued when, just after Eich’s appointment to head Mozilla, the 2008 contribution was disclosed.
The boycott was instigated and encouraged, in some weird sign of the times, by Internet dating site OKCupid. Most of the characterizations of Eich in boycott-inspiring posts were at best vitriolic and at worst vicious.
Eich expressed his commitment to gay and lesbian equality after his contribution became public, and there is no evidence that his donation had any effect on policies at Mozilla, which provided full benefits to domestic partners of its employees. Nonetheless, Eich saw that that his future at the nonprofit company was untenable, and he resigned rather than remain an ongoing distraction. The fact that Mozilla was about to negotiate a new contract to provide services for Google was no doubt foremost in the minds of those at Mozilla who pressured Eich to relinquish his job.
Among those relieved to see Eich’s hasty departure was Mozilla chairman Mitchell Baker (a woman). Baker’s statement on the matter perfectly encapsulated the political left’s practice of tolerance for those views that it agrees with, but its less than charitable disposition toward those views it does not like.
In a blog post, Baker apologized for 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.”
So the culture of openness in Baker’s “community” extends only (but wholeheartedly) to the proponents of what she regards as proper and progressive beliefs, such as support for gay marriage. I should hasten to add that one can fully support the legal recognition of homosexual unions and oppose any movement to ban such unions, while being disgusted by the fact that one can lose his job over a contribution to a political initiative that garnered 52 percent of the vote in California.
Not all those on the left were happy that Eich was deprived of his livelihood on the basis of his social views. Andrew Sullivan, a prominent gay blogger, railed against the pressure that led to the resignation: “You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others’ views as the (anti-gay marriage) Christians?” he wondered.
Indeed, when the CEO of Mozilla endures a Godzilla-like strangulation of his right to express an opinion, an opinion that is not beyond the public mainstream, it is not a victory for the movement that disposed of him. It is a win, however, for those who want everyone to march in lockstep with a politically correct worldview.
And it is a loss for those who truly advocate diversity and tolerance. True diversity is not just a matter of race or ethnicity but is also reflective of a diversity of thought. True tolerance extends beyond recognition of a largely accepted lifestyle.
The downfall of Brendan Eich is testimony to the fact that those who most loudly preach the virtues of diversity and tolerance are often a bit slow to embrace its real world applications.
Joseph D. Pearlman is an attorney in Charlotte. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.