As an American, I am embarrassed by the entire Mozilla affair. To recap, the now ex-CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich, donated $1000 to a “Vote Yes on Prop 8″ campaign. That means that on 2008 he was in favor of a law that would ban gay marriage.
Eich was appointed CEO of Mozilla a couple of weeks ago. OK Cupid, a dating site, posted a pop-up notice on their website when a Mozilla Firefox (that’s the web browser developed by Mozilla and favored browser of Internet enthusiasts from 2010), that asked users to consider not using Firefox to protest the appointment of Eich. Other Internet activists stoked the flames and eventually Eich voluntarily resigned.
This turn of events outraged a lot of people. The outrage crossed social and political lines. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, gay activists, and individuals from pretty much every possible group joined in the disgust over what has transpired over the last few days. This has spawned many thoughtful articles and blog posts arguing that Eich did the right thing and the people who forced his hand were in the right.
It’s embarrassing for a lot of reasons. The obvious reasons for shame are the proliferation of terrible arguments, blatant hypocrisy, and lack of self-awareness being demonstrated.
For example: The misuse of the right to free speech, the hypocrisy of only seeing how one side of this is free speech, the two-faced claim that it was wrong of OK Cupid to “censor” Firefox but then to boycott Mozilla because Eich stepped down, the misstatements of facts about Eich’s resignation, the invoking of the free market as a solution to problems and then crying when the free market doesn’t go their way, the crying about being bullied and then bullying others, the claims of tolerance and then not tolerating this, our reverence for the secret ballot and then publicizing campaign donations, and the list goes on and on.
But as embarrassing as the saga has become, it is also quite intriguing to take a step back and analyze some of the tension between several competing policies at play. The right to free speech, the free market, free will, tolerance, tolerating intolerance, the measures of what constitutes intolerance, political issues vs. moral issues vs. personal beliefs, and perhaps most of all, the generation gap.
As Conor Friedersdorf correctly points out in The Atlantic, the majority of the state of California supported Prop 8 in 2008. The majority of the United States opposed gay marriage until circa 2012. Gay marriage has reached a bit of a tipping point. Most prognosticators presume that support for gay marriage will be overwhelming within the next few years. But it was not that long ago that gay marriage had very little support. In effect, Eich is being punished for taking a position that the majority of Americans held when he made his donation. More on this later.
The demographics of support for gay marriage bear this out. Around 75% of Americans 18-29 support gay marriage. Among Baby Boomers, the number drops to 48% and in 2013 it was just 41%. Brendan Eich is 52. He was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. This is all very important. This means that to older Americans like Eich, gay marriage is a legitimate issue that hovers in the 60/40 and 50/50 range. It’s something that is debated and for every Boomer who opposes gay marriage, there is one Boomer who favors gay marriage. But by no means is it a settled issue for them.
For young people, the numbers indicate that this is a very one sided issue. Those who oppose gay marriage are a significant minority. That means that it’s not really an issue that has two evenly balanced sides anymore in the minds of Millennials. As young people enter the work force and find a public voice, the public conversation will shift to reflect the views of a new generation. There are going to be growing pains. The tension of any seismic shift can cause an earthquake. On the Richter scale of social earthquakes, this was a 12.5.