5 April 2012

Community and Diversity

[I hope that it’s obvious from what follows that this is a statement of personal opinion, not an official Mozilla document.]

Summary

Mitchell Baker recently wrote:

If we start to try to make “Mozilla” mean “those people who share not only the Mozilla mission but also my general political / social / religious / environmental view” we will fail. If we focus Mozilla on our shared consensus regarding the Mozilla mission and manifesto then the opportunities before us are enormous.

Mozilla’s diversity is a success condition. Our mission and our goal is truly global. Our mission taps into a shared desire for respect and control and user sovereignty that runs across cultures and across many other worldviews. We may even offend each other in some of our other views. Despite this, we share a commitment to the Mozilla mission. This is a remarkable achievement and important to our continued success.

I agree with every word of this, and I believe it applies to other communities of which I’m a member. If not, these communities will tend to splinter, and that is likely to be a net loss for everyone.

Background

A donation that I made in support of California Proposition 8 four years ago became public knowledge and sparked a firestorm of comments in the last few days, mostly on Twitter.

People in other countries or other U.S. states do not know why “Mozilla” was listed in the donation data. Donors above a certain amount are required by the State of California to disclose their employer. Mozilla had nothing to do with the donation.

I’m not going to discuss Prop 8 here or on Twitter. There is no point in talking with the people who are baiting, ranting, and hurling four-letter abuse. Personal hatred conveyed through curse words is neither rational nor charitable, and strong feelings on any side of an issue do not justify it.

In contrast, people expressing non-abusive anger, sadness, or disagreement, I understand, grieve, and humbly accept.

No Hate

Ignoring the abusive comments, I’m left with charges that I hate and I’m a bigot, based solely on the donation. Now “hate” and “bigot” are well-defined words. I say these charges are false and unjust.

First, I have been online for almost 30 years. I’ve led an open source project for 14 years. I speak regularly at conferences around the world, and socialize with members of the Mozilla, JavaScript, and other web developer communities. I challenge anyone to cite an incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.

Second, the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society. To such assertions, I can only respond: “no”.

If we are acquainted, have good-faith assumptions, and circumstances allow it, we can discuss 1:1 in person. Online communication doesn’t seem to work very well for potentially divisive issues. Getting to know each other works better in my experience.

The Larger Point

There’s a larger point here, the one Mitchell made: people in any group or project of significant size and diversity will not agree on many crucial issues unrelated to the group or project.

I know people doing a startup who testify that even at fewer than 20 employees, they have to face this fact. It’s obviously true for much larger communities such as JS and Mozilla. Not only is insisting on ideological uniformity impractical, it is counter-productive.

So I do not insist that anyone agree with me on a great many things, including political issues, and I refrain from putting my personal beliefs in others’ way in all matters Mozilla, JS, and Web. I hope for the same in return.

/be

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