The Wiki Man

A land of extremes

8 May 2014

1:00 PM

8 May 2014

1:00 PM

A few years ago I would have quite liked to live in America. I’m not sure now.

For one thing, most of the things perfected by Americans (convenience, entertainment, technology, a very small bottle of Tabasco to accompany your breakfast) very soon make their way over here. On the other hand, the things Europeans do well (cathedrals, four weeks’ annual holiday, more than two varieties of cheese, general all-round classiness) don’t travel in the other direction. In fact, once the right-hand-drive version of the Ford Mustang reaches the UK in 2015, it is hard to think of any remaining reason to emigrate at all.

Besides, the political scene over there is just too absurd. The US has always been oddly polarised in lots of ways, not only politics. For instance there is almost no middle way between immobility and obsessive fitness: they don’t seem to grasp the concept of a nice short walk. If you arrive at Yosemite or the Grand Canyon or whatever, there is no pleasant mile-long stroll on offer: instead you have two options — put on hiking gear and walk through bear-infested woods for three days — or else sit and look at the view from the car park.

But the treatment of Brendan Eich is extreme, even by the standards of American politics. Eich, as you may have read, was the co-founder and chief technology officer of Mozilla Corporation, best known for the browser Firefox. He had devised what became JavaScript, which was to play a significant part in the evolution of the web. Yet in mid-March of this year, when Eich was promoted to chief executive of Mozilla Corporation, his stay in office lasted barely two weeks when a story resurfaced that in 2008 he had made a single private donation of $1,000 in support of California Proposition 8, a ballot which sought to restrict marriage in California to hetero-sexual couples only.

There was no evidence that Eich had been other than a model manager. He stated quite clearly that he was committed to complete equality at Mozilla. Yet a Twitter-storm about his donation, coupled with a peculiarly cynical and opportunistic campaign to block the Firefox browser by the dating website OKCupid, was enough to force him to resign.

Now a boycott of Mozilla is perfectly fair game. Although it’s generally best if people do business with each other without much caring about their private lives, it is perfectly acceptable for you to wield your spending power however you like. You are entitled to influence a business by threatening to withdraw your custom.

So the people who perhaps emerge most shamefully from this are not the campaigners. First there is the board of Mozilla, which failed to support Eich — and thereby failed to support the principle that a small group of organised protestors should not be allowed to bully a company into firing an individual for a perfectly legal personal act that preceded his appointment. And secondly the feeble American TV news media (I watched this unfold from a Chicago hotel room), which are so deferential towards minority groups that it hardly occurred to them to consider whether there was something inconsistent about a group of diversity campaigners seeking to oust someone from a job simply for disagreeing with them. It was left to an expat Brit, the gay rights campaigner Andrew Sullivan, to make this point. ‘The whole episode disgusts me — as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society.’

In the meantime, I propose we could best help the living conditions of people in the United States by boycotting American companies until they agree to give their employees a sensible amount of annual holiday.

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