Friday, April 4, 2014

Only what unites us

If anything, the last week has given us quite some things where we can have great discussions about. I'd love to do a treatise on how free speech interacts with the ability to do Internet witch burnings, or how universal truths relate to political opinions, but the nerves are tense and the knives sharpened, so attempting to do so would most likely only be preaching to the converted. Maybe another time.

Yet, when looking at the questions for the upcoming Mozillians Town Hall meeting, there is a pattern that worries me, and I would like to address.

Mozilla is a community that organizes around a mission. The mission is set out in the Manifesto. The Manifesto uses rather broad language, e.g. "must enrich the lives of individual human beings".

If we have to learn anything from the past 10 days, it is that we can only survive as a community if we interpret this mission only in its most narrow scope, where we can and should find common ground. Attempting to read the Manifesto in the widest possible manner and presuming to find that all of our fellow Mozillians have done so in the same way is the road to failure as a group and a community. Our cultural differences are immense and things which we find self-evident can be unimaginable to other. We should group among the narrow set of goals that unites us, not among what divides us.

Mission creep is death. As a result, Mozilla is pragmatic. We've thrown efforts under the bus when we believed it to be necessary to survive. It personally still pains me that we threw VP8 under the bus in favor of H264, but choices have to be made about what hurts us least.

Now, if anyone wants to make the argument that an "open, participatory and accessible" Internet obviously has a direct and inalienable relation to an already-repealed law in the state of California in the United States of America that tried to refine the legal definition of marriage, so Mozilla must fight for this cause, then fine. I am not going to argue with you. I simply want to point out that the remainder of this post is not addressed to you.

Why do I want to make this point now? I have looked at the list of questions for the Town Hall Meeting, and I could summarize a fair number of the highest up voted ones as "Why do we think it is acceptable that the personal opinion of a Mozillian influences his career prospects in our community?"

I understand this question. I've struggled with it myself. Up until yesterday, I wouldn't have believed Brendan would step down simply because of the enormous implication that has in relation to the above. When I joined Mozilla, I was encouraged by my manager (Stuart or Doug, sorry forgot which of you two!): "We expect our contributors to have an opinion and speak out on it". This obviously does not mix with what has happened this week.

The answer though, is above: it is not our fight to fight. Should a political/moral opinion and monetary support for it be grounds for a week-long internet shitstorm ending in resignation? The Fox has no opinion on this issue. The fact that we have such wildly differing opinions on it is a clear sign: this is far from the Mozilla mission, and it's outside our scope until we can find common ground. Should we fight global warming? The Fox has no opinion. Should abortion be allowed? The Fox most certainly has no opinion on that one. Should we legalize marihuana? The Fox wonders what you've been smoking that you're even asking him. Should we be able to anonymously participate on the Internet? You bet.

The "why do our private opinions affect our work" question is inappropriate for the Town Hall, because it is not Mozilla's problem. We have to choose to focus only on what unites us.