The Wiki Man

Why I no longer want to live in America

The Brendan Eich case proves US politics is just too absurd. And you’ll soon be able to buy a Mustang over here

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

10 May 2014

9:00 AM

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.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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  • E Hart

    Quite. When we can only say what we are “allowed” to say – that’s the beginning of the end of everything. The great deceit about America is the First Amendment. At the first sign of the First Amendment, Eich’s employment status was revoked by a milder form of McCarthyism. Thus, the reciprocity which is implied by free speech was effectively denied him. There is a worse corollary to this and that is thought denial because it implies that if you can’t say it you really shouldn’t be even thinking it. The defence against this is that lunatics, racists, the politically massaged etc. will exploit this to try and persuade other to accept their pernicious hokum. People aren’t trusted to draw conclusions that are reasonable, right and arrived at by persuasion rather than coercion. The real problem in America is that tolerance is superficial and debate manipulated. It is no accident that this culture – which was founded on such strong founding principles (in theory) is the same culture that has found the need to create so many comic book terrestrial and extra-terrestrial superheroes to make up for its (practical) limitations in the social and political narrative. Like Spain’s Leyes de Indias (another far-sighted document that fell short), the US Constitution is high on verba and not so good on res.

    I remember attending a conference/trade fair in Orlando where some of the assembled Americans marveled at the idea of 25-day holiday entitlement (exclusive of national holidays), a health system that was free at the point of use and a welfare system that didn’t cane people for not finding jobs that either weren’t there at all or at least weren’t there is sufficient numbers. It’s a further irony that in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave they can have a Third World Theme Park (in Georgia) when just down the road some of its own citizens are living in shacks without any basic amenities or windows.

    • transponder

      What a load of humbug.

      To take just one of your claims: no windows? I doubt it. We’ve moved on from the 1920s. And anyway, the very rural very deep poverty you describe is restricted to a tiny proportion of the U. S. population. And those people do choose to stay, but they choose instead to live in places with no commerce and no jobs, and so they live on piecemeal work or welfare — which in our country is very generous.

      • E Hart

        http://www.scotsman.com/news/world/third-world-first-latest-american-theme-park-brings-home-reality-of-life-in-the-slums-1-1291459

        Is the homeless charity representative from Georgia, wrong? You’re right about one thing – although the examples are poor – Britain is remarkably similar to the US in some respects.

        I remember the BBC whining on about drab Soviet housing on the outskirts of Moscow in the 1970s and 1980s when we had similar estates in Britain. Having seen both I knew that their spectacles were rosy and bifocal. Mine aren’t.

        • transponder

          I don’t know anything about the charity rep or what his/her game is. Don’t believe whatever activists tell you, mate. The description you gave matches nothing I’ve seen with my own eyes outside of a local history book stretching back into the 19th century….

          • E Hart

            That’s not a basis for believing much. I’ve also seen the same folk interviewed on BBC TV. I’m all for eye-spy-with-my-little-eye but it gets a little expensive having to go everywhere before one can accept what is generally thought to be real.

          • transponder

            Good job you have me to inform you then, isn’t it?

        • opine

          transponder hasn’t a clue about Welfare in the U.S. He’s faking it, but unsuccessfully. In fact, it is obvious he hasn’t really “seen” U.S. poverty and welfare with his own eyes. Americans don’t use the term “mate,” either.

          • ajs1512

            And Americans rarely say “spot on”. It’s more widely used within the British vernacular, which begs the question, are you “faking it?”

            (Im referring to your response to my earlier comment in which you claimed to be a an American.)

          • transponder

            No, I’m a tri-national. Try having a pop at me for that. Oh, and I’m not a bloke, either. Assume much often, do you? Seems so.

      • opine

        Welfare in the U.S. absolutely is Not generous and there is a lifetime limit of five years, thanks to Clinton’s “Welfare Reform.” What happens to women and children once that five years is used up, most Americans aren’t even curious to know.

        • transponder

          Take your anti-Americanism and shove it.

  • AltReality

    The first amendment only protects one from the government restricting what one says, not a private company. Also, Mozilla didn’t fire him, he quit because he knew staying on would damage the company.

    • rorysutherland

      This is perfectly true. And I don’t think this threatened boycott would have been so egregious if he were CEO at the time when he made the donation – when you are a corporate figurehead, whether you like it or not. But it’s hard not to see this as a witch-hunt. I think he could have kept his job if he had agreed to apologise for his donation and express suitable regret – but why should he apologise over what may have been a private act of conscience? Besides, at the time of his donation his support for Prop 8 was shared by the majority of Californians; most Democrats at the time, including the present president, were opposed to marriage equality at that date.

      No-one is suggesting that what happened was illegal or unconstitutional, but it was spectacularly vengeful and unprincipled – and should have been more widely reported as such.

  • sparkzilla

    I don’t see this as an example of polarization of U.S. politics — there are stories every day in the UK of people, mainly Christians, who are ostracized for their views on gay marriage. And while Mustangs are cool, it is surely far better to drive one in the Florida or California sun than under UK clouds.

    • rorysutherland

      You can take it down to the Riviera. Most of the US has a climate far worse than ours.

    • cartimandua

      They are not “Christians” they are fundamentalists. Fundamentalism in the USA is as much inimical to civilization as it is here.

      • Terry Field

        Who are fundamentalists?Mustang drivers?????
        YOU ARE TALKING NONSENSE.

        • cartimandua

          Being anti gay marriage is not a Christian position at all.

          • Terry Field

            NO – it is a Mustangist position. AND YOU KNOW IT

    • CraigStrachan

      If you drive a Mustang – probably red, certainly with the top down – along PCH in Malibu, you proclaim your status as a dorky European tourist.

      • rorysutherland

        At least we can drive the PCH without using up our entire annual holiday entitlement!

        • transponder

          Hey Rory, I like the new avatar!

    • Terry Field

      Yes; the new model os much better; but its twice the price in the Youkay. SO emigrate!
      Why stay – the sparkling company?!?!?!?!?!

  • Mnestheus

    Πολλοῖς´ ἀχρήστοισι θεὸς διδοῖ ἀνδράσιν ὄλβον
    ἐσθλόν, ὃς οὔτ´ αὐτῶι βέλτερος, οὐδὲν ἐών,
    οὔτε φίλοις´. ἀρετῆς δὲ μέγα κλέος οὔποτ´ ὀλεῖται·
    αἰχμητὴς γὰρ ἀνὴρ γῆν τε καὶ ἄστυ σαοῖ.
    Ἔν μοι ἔπειτα πέσοι μέγας οὐρανὸς εὐρὺς ὕπερθεν

    • Billyboy

      I’ll drink to that

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Mine`s a double Irish with a Guinness chaser.

    • Ingenious Cognomen

      It’s all Greek to me.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Face it, on average Americans are not that bright. All that emphasis on crank religion, and too dumb to grasp that 9/11 was an inside job. And such fat bastards. And I say this with all due respect.

    • Guest

      hm

      you don’t seem to be a genius yourself

      • Terry Field

        Hos lips are still moving as he wrote! Look – they are still moving! You can see it.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Just wanted to prove I`m not American… or Korean, or Indian, or Japanese, or Chinese …
        The obvious answer is staring you in the face cyber stalkers, but you`re too bigoted to grasp it. “If you bad-mouth Britain you can`t be British.” Oh, yes you can. In fact who better than a Brit to realise that Britain really sucks. Face it, Britain`s a nation of bullies.
        Jack, the Japan Alps Brit

  • bilejones

    I moved to the States 20 odd years ago.
    It was a mistake, the alternative was Switzerland and , as a callow near-youth at the time I made the decision largely on the basis that Zurich basically closed at 9 pm whereas New York clearly didn’t .

    • edithgrove

      Yes, Zurich or New York, its the hard choice many of us struggle with.

      • Terry Field

        I’m in agony! The choice is impossible to make.

    • transponder

      There’s more to America than New York, fercrissakes. I wanted to avoid the place like ebola yet somehow managed to live there twice. Much happier in the Sunshine State!

      • opine

        Most Americans think Florida is a pit, except for Miami. But the rest of Florida? Not held in high regard, at all.

        • transponder

          I’d ask what planet you’re living on but I can’t be arsed.

  • Quinx

    I’m delighted to hear you won’t be joining us, Brendan. Most of America’s problems have been caused by foreigners trying to repeat here the mistakes that make their lands of origin so unpleasant. Do try to persuade as many other losers as possible to return home.

  • edithgrove

    Good, they have enough homegrown stupid without you adding to it.

  • Picquet

    Hard to make out what disgusted Sullivan, though. The concept that someone could hold an opinion at variance with his own is the most likely option.

  • RPP2

    Why should we listen to someone who spells “polarized” with an “s”? (I bet he can’t spell “color” right either.) 😉

  • Terry Field

    Nah – over-compensating. Leaving the States and coming to Europe and the UK always and still feels like landing in a place where the ‘on’ button has not been pressed, and where the dead hand of the State stifles fun. I want to know best, not a bloody bureaucrat of jumped-up politico.

  • ajs1512

    And yet another example, which dispels the stereotype that the British are a humble and self-depricating people. In fact, it’s only the British that claim this, which perhaps proves the point that affable people don’t necessarily going around claiming to be affable.

    I’d like to hope that I am incorrect in my assessment; however, I’ve come to observe as of late that the Brits tend to enjoy ridiculing Americans in order to perhaps assert their own sense of cultural superiority.

    Unfortunately, Europeans will never understand the cultural complexity that is America. Apparently, to Mr. Rutherford living in an ivy-covered townhouse in Beacon Hill is comparable to living in a mobile home park on the outskirts of Phoenix. Perhaps, I’m focusing too much on superficial assumptions; however, I think a point can be made that when a European provides commentary on American cultural, social or political matters it always seems to be a bit “off” to the American reader.

    • opine

      As an American, I beg to differ. I think his essay was pretty spot on.

    • transponder

      Rory’s a very wonderful, very good decent and well-travelled chap, actually. (It’s Mr Sutherland, by the way.) But I agree with you: there are the appreciative English that see Americans as cultural cousins (or political brothers), and then there are the rest. But the failing of envy laced with malice is not an English failing alone.

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