Getting With the Program: The Lesson of the Brandon Eich Fiasco

When I was growing up, one of my father’s favourite expressions to get my brother and I to not stray from the path he set before us was to demand that we “get with the program”.  The flip side to that was that, if we did get with the program, life would be good.

That authoritarian presentation of life didn’t always sit well with us.  Part of the problem was that we were in the wrong country to make it work.  Had I emigrated to a place where “the program” was more uniformly enforced, life probably would have had a more familiar feel to it.  But this used to be the place where people could make choices in an open society for the kind of life they wanted to live.  That’s not really the case any more; we have a more corporatist mentality where anything that stands in the way of whatever goal is fashionable at the moment is cast aside.

These days the most fashionable goal is same-sex civil marriage.  Although the immediate stated objective is “equality” there are many other goals wrapped up in it, and I won’t take time to go through these.  But now it’s the litmus test of a person being “beautiful and good” as the Greeks used to put it.

The latest high-visibility failure of this litmus test is the aborted attempt for Brandon Eich, who invented Javascript, to become Mozilla’s regular CEO.  After 11 days and a howl of protest from LGBT activists inside and outside of Mozilla, he stepped down from that vaunted position.  That took place because he had the bad taste to donate USD1,000 to the support of Proposition 8, which (temporarily) nullified same-sex civil marriage in California.  Not willing to fully repent of this in the style that the Chinese used to expect during the Cultural Revolution, he left after his support collapsed.

Before I go on, I’d like to make two passing observations:

  1. As a web site maintainer and one who reads his statistics, I think that the Mozilla browser deal is on the downhill run.  Good as they are (and I’ve certainly used them for many years) and as successful as they have been against IE, they’re being overtaken by Chrome, both in PC’s and on mobile devices, where they really haven’t gotten off the ground.  Mozilla needed to hire based on merit if they needed to survive; Eich’s fall is a major step backward in that regard.
  2. I felt long ago that Proposition 8 was ill-advised, and believe that the abolition of civil marriage is what’s needed in our society.  I don’t support same-sex civil marriage because I don’t support the extension of a franchise I’m trying to get rid of.  But since civil marriage is the necessary prerequisite of same-sex civil marriage, that leads to the next question: if Eich (or anyone else) opposes civil marriage altogether, will they be subjected to the same animus that we saw in this case?  I think we’ll find out soon enough, but in the meanwhile…

What happened to Eich is reminiscent of what happened during the “Red scare” days of the 1950’s.  And I don’t throw that around casually.  In the 1930’s both communism and fascism had their fans–and well placed ones at that–in the United States.  Fascism’s fans took it in the chops during World War II, when we were actually at war with these people.  Communism’s turn came afterwards.  People who thought they were in a mainstream found out otherwise.  What changed was the country.  The left’s teeth were set on edge by the McCarthy Era, but now that the shoe is on the other foot: things which were legitimate before (like supporting legal ballot initiatives) are now beyond the pale.

There are some in the LGBT community–Andrew Sullivan is probably the best known–who realise the nature of what has happened and are appalled by it.  But there are others who take the Vince Lombardi approach to life and politics: winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.  It’s “get with the program” time for these people; a really free country, with the benefits that come with it, means nothing to them.  But perhaps they should (but probably won’t) stop and consider a couple of things.

The first is that, while Eich’s experience threatens people’s ability to get and keep employment, the growth of the entitlement system makes obtaining and retaining employment less necessary than before.  Today we have a government which is open in making it possible not have to work to get health insurance, which has allowed the disability program to expand to unprecedented levels, and which inflates employment figures by allowing many people to drop out of the workforce without a care of getting them back.  Such a reality, which is facing those who are supposed to be entering into the workforce now, probably wouldn’t have affected a person such as Eich, but I would have taken it into consideration in my choices, and many others are doubtless of like style of mind.

Moving on, in hiring into the competitive environment we have now, we have, as Chairman Mao used to say, “put politics in command”.  The LGBT community would like to humour us with the idea that promoting their equality promotes merit, but putting litmus tests like this front and centre will attract political and ideological hacks.  To draw a historical example, V.I. Lenin had no problem retaining the services of Alexei Brusilov, the Tsar’s best commander in World War I, to fight the Russian Civil War.  Why?  Because he wanted to win.  But such a sophisticated mentality is beyond the crazies of our time.

The Russian history analogy brings up another point: the LGBT community would do well to put its foot soldiers somewhere else than behind their Twitter accounts.  For example, given Putin’s policy re that community, there should be “gay brigades” fighting him in Crimea, just like the leftists who fought against Franco in Spain.  There should be like forces in the Middle East against those who hang homosexuals from hydraulic cranes.  If you’re going to deal harshly with domestic enemies, you need to consider your foreign ones.  But our current Occupant is pursuing another hippie dream of putting flowers in gun barrels, which will negate much of the “progress” going on.

Personally I’d like to see Eich cut a deal with the Chinese.  They don’t care about such things; they went through their era of “putting politics in command” and like Lenin want to win.  The two revolutions of the 1960’s—the social-sexual and the computer—were antithetical then and can be so again, depending upon who pulls the strings.  Mozilla was the single strongest single open source alternative to the corporatist monolith on the Internet, but I guess that freedom is going to have to come from somewhere else.

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