How We Should Be

Four weeks ago, I posted about Who We Are and How We Should Be. I wrote:

As I see it, the principle behind the [Community Participation Guidelines] was, in regard to non-mission things: leave it outside. We agreed to agree on the mission, and agreed to disagree on everything else. And, the hope was, that created a safe space for everyone to collaborate on what we agreed on, and put our combined efforts into keeping the Internet open and free.

Is that CPG principle still the right one? Are the CPGs the best expression of it?

Following on from Who We Are, here is my answer to How We Should Be.

I think the principle is still the right one, but the CPGs could express it better.

The CPGs have many good things about them, and I think that they did a good job of defusing the difficulties in our community at the time they were written in 2012. But they still very much bear the marks of the worldview of the person who wrote them. (This is not surprising or in itself worthy of criticism; it’s very difficult to write in a way which does not show one’s own worldview.)

The world the CPGs conjure up is one where there are two groups of people. There are those who are wholeheartedly for “inclusion and diversity” in every way – let’s call them group A. And those who “identify with activities or organizations that do not support the same inclusion and diversity standards as Mozilla” – let’s call them group B.

The CPGs seem to have the following assumptions:

  1. Attacks on Mozilla’s inclusivity and diversity will only come from group B;
  2. Anyone who supports exclusionary practices in some other sphere (i.e. those in group B) is likely to want to see them in Mozilla;
  3. The key thing is to keep support for exclusion out of “Mozilla spaces”, so they remain safe for people who would otherwise feel or be excluded.

Therefore people in group B need constraining, such that “support for exclusionary practices in non-Mozilla activities [is] not … expressed in Mozilla spaces”. And so that is what the CPGs say.

However, in the recent series of unfortunate events, the attacks on Mozilla’s inclusivity and diversity came from people who would self-identify with group A (not matching assumption 1) and were directed at someone who, by long example, clearly did not match assumption 2. Support for exclusion (or, at least, for restriction) was expressed by some Mozillians in a very public way, but it was not in a specifically Mozilla space – yet it clearly resulted in exclusion, and in damage to the project and its mission. So assumption 3 didn’t really hold either.

It is true that the CPGs also restrict people in group A, in that they are conditionally asked to “treat [support for exclusionary practices outside Mozilla] as a private matter, not a Mozilla issue”, and that was not done in this case. That is a matter of deep regret. But I don’t think the consequential and conditional statement here gives full and clear force to the strong need for both sides to understand that disagreements of this kind within Mozilla are deeply damaging to our unity and capability as a project.

So, I think we would do well to redefine our alliance as a community. This would involve rewriting the CPGs in a way which expresses the principle of “agree to disagree on non-mission things” more evenhandedly and broadly, and making it clear that it applies to everyone, in all the Mozilla-related communications they make, wherever they are made. I think we must abandon the distinction between Mozilla and non-Mozilla spaces. It clearly wasn’t useful in staving off the damage in this case, and as a definition it always had boundary problems anyway. On today’s internet, it doesn’t matter where you express something – it can be around the world in an instant. And if we move to that model, in order to avoid unfairly restricting people’s speech wherever they may be talking, we would also need to change our attitude to the content of what people say. Instead of “don’t talk about that here”, we should instead affirm the principle of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.

That is not to argue for carte blanche for people to fill up Mozilla communications channels with political advocacy of one sort or another. Most of our channels have a concept of “off-topic”, and that would not change. But only a project dominated by a small group of people from a single consistent political ideology could ever hope to have and maintain a policy of “do not ever even expose me to ideas with which I disagree”. And, as an international project with big growth ambitions, Mozilla is and should not be such.

Respectfully expressing opinions – in any space – should be fine; calling for exclusion from or demotion in Mozilla due to those opinions – in any space – should not be.

10 thoughts on “How We Should Be

  1. You have here, as in all our public and private conversations on the matter, refused to meaningfully engage with the concepts of power, justice or oppression. Instead you appear again to be arranging abstract premises in order to make false equivalences and arrive at a libertarian political conclusion.

    I oppose your use of this tactic, the premises, reasoning and conclusion. It is especially disappointing to hear from you, recalling that your own political campaign against equal marriage was the reason mozilla adopted CPGs in the first place.

  2. The campaign against Brendan Eich was an illegitimate and oppressive use of power to an unjust end. I reject the assumption of the mantle of victimhood by those who clearly have most of the power in our small corner of the world, at least.

    I wrote the above post because I genuinely believe that it’s Mozilla’s best course towards a harmonious working together and a united front against those who would damage us from outside. If you have an alternative proposal, I would genuinely love to hear it – my purpose in all these blog posts has been to try and start a conversation.

    I’d like to meaningfully engage with your critique further, but you are going to need to be more specific about where you see false equivalences and other flaws in my reasoning.

  3. Your first paragraph is exactly the sort of false equivalence I mean. I will not engage any further with reasoning drawn from such nonsense: we will get no further if you hold to that sort of statement.

    Being criticized and asked to explain yourself when in the position of executive leadership of a billion-dollar global organization is not, in any remotely acceptable sense of the word, a form of oppression. I realize it was an uncomfortable position for Brendan to be in, I am sympathetic with him as a human being, colleague and friend of many years, and I wish none of this had happened; but he was absolutely _not_ a victim of oppression in this context.

    Nor were you, when criticized for posting anti-marriage-equality political messages, being oppressed. I’m unwilling to pursue any line of reasoning that accepts, as a premise, any sort of equivalence between “discomfort at being criticized” and “member of an oppressed group”. If those are proposed as equivalent in the conversation, there’s nothing more to discuss, because the conversation is meaningless to me, pure propaganda.

  4. Who decides who and which groups are oppressed, and what binds me to their decisions handed down from on high?

    Oppression is also contextual. Christians are oppressed in North Korea; not significantly so in Tennessee. Look around you in Silicon Valley. Are the groups you claim are oppressed really so there? When I visit San Francisco, it doesn’t seem that way to me.

  5. It’s not a question of decisions handed down from “on high” any more than any other sociological and historical fact; to try to bend bend facts to support your false equivalence between institutional homophobia and your discomfort at criticism over homophobia is … historical revisionism at best. It’s intellectually dishonest and it’s the _very first step_ in any conversation I’ve had with you on this. You’ll need to change your position here if you want to get any further than this point. I will not budge on this.

    Yes, of course, if we were talking about Christian persecution in the sense of (say) Mozillia community members promoting the Christian persecution policies Open Doors combats ( we could be having this conversation about religious persecution. But protestant Christians are not in any sense an oppressed group in the US or the UK, no matter how many times someone criticizes you for supporting anti-marriage-equality campaigns. In both states it’s more or less a required religion of any state authority figure; it’s also the majority religion, of religions, and its adherents represents a majority of the population as a whole (79% in US, 59% in UK). It’s the “default” assumed religion, in the UK the _state_ religion with permanent formal representation in the House of Lords. You cannot have any more-safe, better-supported, less-oppressed religious identity than Christian in these countries.

  6. Rather late back to this; the email with your reply which was reminding me to comment again seems to have got lost.

    I’m having trouble relating what you’ve just said to the conversation we are having.

    Where did I claim that Christians are an oppressed group in the US or UK? I said that the use of power against Brendan was oppressive; oppression doesn’t only come in group-sized pieces. Individuals can also be treated badly.

    You also say that I’m trying to make an equivalence “between institutional homophobia and your discomfort at criticism over homophobia”. I can’t see where I did that either?

    Straight question: do you think that, in the Bay Area of the United States, people who might want to get a same-sex marriage are an oppressed group?

    But this is all really off-topic. I would again ask you to propose _your_ solution to how we can live harmoniously as a community. Unless you think what happened to Brendan was all entirely right and good, in which case you should say so explicitly, and follow your own argument through to the conclusion that in your view, those who oppose same-sex marriage should be less welcome at Mozilla than those who support it. If you think that, say so.

  7. My proposal is as it always has been, since I posted this the day after your very first foray into agitating against gay marriage using community and company resources:

    Put another way: the legal system’s employment code can figure out which groups are actually, factually, historically and contextually oppressed, and puts provisions into writing on that basis. We can too.

    What happened instead is that the community participation guidelines arrived at a watered down concept of “exclusion” rather than real power imbalances or oppression; this reduced concept makes it easy to argue false equivalences like “criticizing someone for expressing homophobia is just as ‘exclusive’ as expressing homophobia in the first place”. Which is exactly the sort of move you’ve made repeatedly ever since; it’s the framing assumption of this post. I don’t accept that move on your part. I don’t know how many other ways to put it. It’s not complicated.

  8. Your post says “nobody should be harassed over their sexual orientation within Mozilla”. And I agree with that – in fact, I’ll take it further and say I don’t think anyone should be harassed full stop. However, it seems that we have different definitions of what constitutes harassment, because you think that posting a polite blog post suggesting people sign a petition constitutes harassment towards someone who reads it who has a different view. I disagree. (Incidentally, I suspect the law does too, although I don’t automatically use that as a determiner of right and wrong, even when it agrees with me.) There is no right of being protected from being aware of opposing views.

    There is no evidence that Brendan Eich ever harassed anyone over their sexual orientation within Mozilla. On that, everyone agrees on. And yet the issue tore our community apart. So if your response to “what should we do?” is simply “we should say that no-one should be harassed over their sexual orientation within Mozilla”, then my response is that this seems entirely inadequate to prevent a repeat of what happened with Brendan. It doesn’t address the issue.

    You say the legal system can figure out who is contextually oppressed, so we can too. OK, let’s figure it out. In your view, are gay people an oppressed group within the Mozilla community? Why or why not?

    You argue that contextual and historical oppression means that “you gay people don’t belong here” is much worse than “you people with a moral objection to homosexual practice don’t belong here”. But actually, no-one is saying the former. The latter, on the other hand…

    (This blog closes comments on a post after 28 days in a non-overrideable fashion; I’ve extended it to 40 for now.)

  9. There’s no need to extend comment period; I have nothing further to say. I do not believe you’re speaking in good faith, nor do I think you have in the past on this issue. I only wanted to indicate my objection to you framing the CPGs, so that others may read that objection if they care to. I believe your blog post here is more or less an attempt to further institutionalize false equivalences in the CPGs, making them worse rather than better, and I do not accept that.

  10. “I do not believe you’re speaking in good faith.”

    I’m not even sure what that means. You think I have some secret agenda? I have a cunning plan to eject everyone who disagrees with me from Mozilla and make it a Christians-only zone?

    Clearly, we disagree, and we see the world from very different points of view. You have one idea of what is best for the world and for Mozilla, and I have another. But I am genuinely arguing for what I genuinely think is best. You can disbelieve me if you like, but you are doing so without evidence, because there is none.

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