The Shaming of Brendan Eich

There’s a lot of navel gazing going on regarding Brendan Eich’s stepping down at Mozilla due to the anti-bigotry campaign mounted against him, and whether its acceptable to use such tactics. Sam Smith at Scholars and Rouges has a good piece on this, but I wanted to make some specific comments on Conor Friedersdorf’s Atlantic piece where he says such campaigns create a chilling effect. Proposition 8 was legislation founded in hatred, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to confront hatred and attempt to eliminate it via peaceful means, full stop. Friedersdorf makes the point that when Prop 8 was passed, a large portion of Americans, including Barack Obama, opposed gay marriage. But that doesn’t matter. Was Strom Thurmond a racist when he left the Democratic Party in 1948 because of Truman’s integration of the US military and other civil rights moves? Would it be wrong to continue to suspect his ability to protect the interests of minorities in his later years in office? How about if he had been hired CEO of a company?

Friedersdorf comments that given Eich’s public comments after being hired as CEO: “no one had any reason to worry that Eich, a longtime executive at the company, would do anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees.

Why? Because he said so? Eich was on the board of Mozilla, and was the CTO of Mozilla, but up until he was hired as CEO he didn’t have direct operational control over “anything that would negatively affect gay Mozilla employees.” Note: I don’t know the circumstances of Eich’s departure from the Mozilla Foundation, but if he was forced to resign from the Foundation as well, that IMO is wrong)

Continuing on, Friedersdorf makes a claim that I think is incomplete: “Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all support for Proposition 8 was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by political causes he or she supports as a private citizen.

and then: “Would American society be better off if stakeholders in various corporations began to investigate leadership’s political activities on abortion and to lobby for the termination of anyone who took what they regard to be the immoral, damaging position?

Yes and no. If a company has a mission statement pushing openness and using technology and their business for good as Mozilla does, it’s certainly troubling that they hire a (IMO) bigot to be CEO. That doesn’t mean ALL leadership need to be investigated. Additionally, while there was some outrage when his Prop 8 donation came out, there wasn’t a big push for Eich to step down from the Mozilla Foundation. But yes, I think people with operational control of corporations, especially hiring and firing, need to be held to account for the things they say and do, including who they donate money to. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean you have immunity in the marketplace of ideas for what you say and do. If Eich had donated to the Hobby Lobby legal defense fund, I would be just as concerned about his behavior regarding women’s health.

Friedersdorf makes the argument that since Mozilla is a California corporation, Eich could do no wrong even if he is a bigot: “Proposition 8 was overturned. Gay marriage is legal in California. Having a CEO who opposed gay marriage now would in no way diminish equal marriage rights for gays.

Except, y’know, not all Mozilla employees live and work in California. Not all of them work in the United States. Not all gay rights issues have to do with marriage. Did you know there’s still 29 US States where you can be fired for being gay?

I don’t think the campaign against Eich was irrational or illiberal. People have every right to their opinion, and I’m sure there’s plenty of CEOs who are a little squicked out by the idea of gay marriage but nevertheless don’t fire openly gay employees or put policies in place that discriminate against them. Eich, however, donated a thousand dollars to the Prop 8 campaign, and to this day apparently hasn’t changed his mind regarding gay marriage. I don’t think this is a matter of a litmus test or getting an apology. This shouldn’t be something to get the torches and pitchforks out for. It’s a matter of trust. A CEO or anyone else with control over hiring practices shouldn’t be a bigot. I don’t think that’s a controversial position to take. I think it’s actually a happy day when a company is required to change it’s employment practices even for those at the top, making it clear that bigotry isn’t welcome.

Dr Roy Spencer, climate change denier

Someone brought Dr Roy Spencer, a well-known Global Climate Change (GCC) denier, to my attention the other day.

Note, I think GCC is a much preferred term over ‘global warming’, because it isn’t just that the earth is warming, but ocean level rises and warming oceans, etc, cause more drastic weather conditions and can certainly even cause the ‘Polar Vortex’ issues we’re seeing now.

Anyway, I didn’t want to spend a ton of time breaking down how horrible GCC is and will likely to be in humanity’s future – you can read all about that, since there isn’t a week when some piece of news comes out about it.

I just wanted to make a few points about GCC deniers and where I think they are coming from.

Generally, their objections to GCC are that a) it’s either not human-caused or it isn’t nearly as bad as those commie scientists are predicting, and b) that since we still don’t know if it really is happening, we shouldn’t take all of these steps to cut down on fossil fuels, vastly increase conservation, and the many other things that will help in the long run, even if they aren’t going to help much in the short run.

Looking at the first objection:

There seems to be two threads of GCC denial, and they all seem to be as self-serving as they are deeply unscientific.

1. Groups posing as libertarian groups, but are really fronts for economic interests. In our example here, Dr. Spencer is a board member of the George Marshall Institute, whose tagline is ‘Science for Better Public Policy. Note that GMI has for a long time taken cash from both oil and automotive interests, as well as a number of right wing foundations (the Sarah Scaife Foundation has also given money to Project for a New American Century, which was the think-tank that laid the groundwork for the second Iraq War, and to Judicial Watch, which routinely uses the courtroom to hassle liberal and moderate priorities. It’s a little unfortunate for Roy Spencer that he doesn’t name the GMI on his website bona fides, and actually states that “He has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service. Not even Exxon-Mobil.” So…I’m assuming that his work for the GMI is unpaid, then?

Dr Spencer is known for being one of the few GCC deniers with actual scientific credentials, having worked for NASA, but looking over his site commentary, he quite often isn’t comparing like data for like data or downplays/intentionally obfuscates issues that are pretty important.

2.The second piece that I discovered when researching Dr Spencer’s background, is a religious aspect to GCC denial. There’s a right wing religious group called the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which Dr Spencer is both an Advisory Board Member and a signatory to their Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.

This document starts off with “We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.”

In other words, it’s not just faith in technology (another major pet peeve of mine) that leads them to poo-poo the risks of GCC. It’s that according to them we humans, no matter what they do, cannot cause Global Climate Change because the Almighty God, in all his wisdom and glory, won’t let us.

Think of the hubris in that statement for a second.

Now think about someone who has a PhD in climate-related science, and otherwise apparently does good work for NASA and other scientific pursuits, and can turn around and throw the scientific method out the window to say that The Great Bearded Guy in the Sky will save us! Nothing to worry about! I mean, I have scholar friends and colleagues that have hobbies that range from running the greenbelt trails of Austin to traveling the world, but none of them use their scientific prestige to walk around committing what in my opinion is tantamount to fraud because it suits their own personal beliefs.

The second GCC denier objection is that even remedial action against GCC, much less fairly significant modification of behavior and economic activity to mitigate or reverse GCC will cause great harm to the fabric of society (usually economic). As Dr Spencer says in relation to humans not being a substantial cause of GCC, “if humans are the cause of only, say, 50% of the warming, then there is even less reason to force expensive and prosperity-destroying energy policies down our throats.”

I’m really sick of the economic catastrophe hysteria pushed by GCC deniers. Solutions for global climate change are no more ‘expensive and prosperity-destroying’ as the current model of oil exploration and highway-building. All social decisions and economic activity are beneficial to someone and harmful to others. Global climate change solutions might be prosperity-destroying to OIL COMPANIES (although most of them have diversified), but it’s not like Western society is going to be forced back to a hunter-gatherer culture because we push energy conservation and mass transit and move to solar/wind. Somebody’s going to make a lot of money and jobs will get created.

I mean, there’s going to be winners and losers, as there always is in an economy. The problem that I foresee is that oil companies that already have massive oil reserves built into their stock prices are certainly not going to be willing to take that hit, which is why they have Dr Spencer’s pseudo-science and the good Lord in their corner.

I see the GCC deniers as part of the deep streak of anti-intellectualism that’s been prevalent in America for the last 20 or 30 years or so. While it’s natural to be skeptical – scientists wouldn’t be scientists if they didn’t question theories, the data theories are based on, and their own presumptions – many people, including apparently Dr Spencer either find it easier to indulge in their own reality of how the world works, or they benefit financially or otherwise from those who benefit from these made-up realities.

This isn’t just present in the GCC deniers – you can also look at religious extremism that stomps on women’s economic and reproductive rights — never mind that women who have equal access to the workforce and control of their own bodies actually have fewer abortions, or the “grassroots” Tea Party, apparently ignorant of fiscal and economic policy, are willing to destroy the full faith and credit of this country because they can’t get their way, all the while having their strings pulled by the Koch brothers (another major oil interest).

It seems to me that the political goal especially in the last 5-10 years is to a) obfuscate what’s really going on and especially more recently b) put people in situations where they are dealing with emergency situations (Fiscal Cliffs, debt ceilings, filibusters, etc) so that true discussion of policy can’t be discussed.

Bonus Round:

The one thing that I never really understood about GCC denialism is the binary logic involved.

The logic: If GCC is true, we have to do something. Otherwise, we can keep buying SUVs and living the same way we always have.

To me, things like being an environmentalist and a good custodian of the earth, which would mean using cleaner energy and pushing hard to conserve as much energy as we can, are not just a means to an end (reversing GCC), but are noble and good ends themselves.

This kind of goes along with the narrowing of the scope of public debate that I mentioned above. I think we as Westerners and especially Americans should spend some time seriously examining our priorities vis-a-vis how we want to leave the world for future generations — not to mention the plant life and animal life that will inevitably be here long after we are gone.