Codes of conduct and the trade-offs of copyleft

by Sumana Harihareswara on April 10, 2015

A lot of open stuff — such as the Wikimedia/Wikipedia and Linux projects — are discussing or adopting codes of conduct, or expanding their existing policies. I’ll reveal my biases at the start and say I think this is a good thing; for more, read my speech “Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned”. But in this piece, I want to talk about the similarities and differences between codes of conduct and a set of agreements that some of these communities are more used to: “copyleft” or other restrictive software licenses. And I’d like to draw out some ways that the kinds of acts and artifacts that these policies cover reveal different attitudes towards contracts and governance.

In case you aren’t familiar with the world of free/libre open source software (FLOSS) and the legal agreements these projects apply to the products of their work, here’s an oversimplification that will cause me to get angry emails. At least under the US intellectual property regime, with which I’m most familiar, there are four types of IP: patents, trademarks, copyright, and trade secrets. I automatically have the copyright to the source code (like blueprints) of a program I write, so I have a monopoly on the right to republish it, and I can sell licenses to view or use it. And if I decide to keep my source code secret, then I can give you the executable program — the ones and zeroes that your computer can actually run, like a building made off those blueprints I designed — but you can’t see the source code, the blueprints, so you can’t change how the program works, modify the blueprints to give you a slightly different building or reuse chunks for a building you’re designing.

Or! I can choose to release my work under an open license, pledging that if I ever give or sell you the executable, I’ll also give you the source code, and allow you to fiddle with it and share your work to others. In case you’re wondering how we govern that, in the world of software, the Underwriters’ Labs/kosher certification sort of org we trust to officially stamp “approved” on open licenses is the Open Source Initiative. These licenses are legal contracts, you know, like those End User License Agreements or Terms of Service you agree to on a new website — except that they only start constraining you when you start selling or giving away stuff based on stuff the other person made.

And there’s a subset of open licenses we call “copyleft” or “restrictive” because they include pass-along clauses, saying that not just the initial creator, but all the subsequent people modifying the source code, must share that source code.

Freedom and tradeoffs

And that can be controversial! People who don’t like copyleft licenses use phrases like “viral” and “restrictive” and “commie” when muttering darkly about them. And copyleft licenses do place more constraints on everybody than the more “here you go, do whatever you want” licenses, which we call “permissive” licenses. With the permissive licenses, after all, you — or a big corporation headed by Tim Robbins in “Antitrust” (2001) — can take someone’s little-known open source code, add their logo, crank up a multinational marketing arm, and sell the executable to millions of customers and make tons of money and do Scrooge McDuck-style dives into vaults of coins, leaving the original coder out of the windfall. Restrictive licenses prevent this.

The General Public License (“GPL”), the best-known copyleft license, explains why in its preamble:

The licenses for most software and other practical works are designed to take away your freedom to share and change the works. By contrast, the GNU General Public License is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program–to make sure it remains free software for all its users.

The GPL restricts some software developers’ freedom (around redistributing software) so as to protect all users’ freedom to use, inspect, modify, and hack on software.

Political scientists are not strangers to the concept of tradeoffs between one person’s freedom and another’s, or to the idea that we might have to restrict everyone in certain ways so as to produce an environment that gives everyone more freedom in the long run. That’s what the GPL does. The copyleft theory of change supposes that more people will be more free if we can see, mod, and share the source code to software we depend on, and so it’s worth it to prohibit enclosure-style private takeovers of formerly shared code. And even if people who prefer more permissive licenses take issue with that theory of change, in my opinion, they generally understand it.

But the means of production for software is people — communities that make and use social and digital infrastructure. And code only comprises a small subset of all the artifacts that we generate.

I’ve been in the free/libre/open source software community (which I’ll call FLOSS from here on out) for more than a decade, and contributed to several projects that release their code under OSI-approved licenses. But only a small subset of my contribution has been code. I’ve also tested software and submitted bug reports, helped users and developers at in-person events and via email and live chat, updated FAQs, and so on. And most open source projects don’t specify licenses — permissive or restrictive — for stuff like that.

For instance, we make automated tests and test-runners to automatically catch bugs in the code that would be hard to find with manual testing — think of how a well-tuned spell-checker would be really helpful if you were incorporating changes from lots of people to a 500,000-word reference work. Since the end user of the software doesn’t actually run those tests, a big company can hamstring the larger community by closing access to new tests (check out blog.mariadb.org/disappearing-test-cases).

When I worked on MediaWiki, I agreed to license all my edits to our developer wiki under the somewhat restrictive content license Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike, but we didn’t specify any particular license for posts to our developer mailing list. And this is very common; the social and digital infrastructure it takes to make robust and usable software is often not covered by any particular open license.

Codes of conduct and licenses

A few years ago, when I was working on MediaWiki, I introduced a code of conduct for our in-person technical events, following the lead of many open stuff communities. And it strikes me that community-specific codes of conduct are in many ways similar to FLOSS licenses, especially copyleft licenses (e.g. the GPL).

They restrict some people’s behavior and require certain kinds of contributions from beneficiaries, so as to increase everyone’s capabilities and freedom in the long run.

They are written-down formalizations of practices and values that some community members think should be so intuitive and obvious that asking people to formally offer or accept the contract is an insult, or at least an unnecessary inconvenience. And so some people counterpropose sort-of-humorous policies, such as the “Do What the Fuck You Want to” software license and “don’t be a jerk” codes of conduct.

Some people agree to them thoughtfully, some agree distractedly as they would to corporate clickthrough EULAs, some disagree but click through anyway (acting in bad faith), some disagree and silently leave, some disagree and negotiate publicly, some disagree and fork publicly. Some people won’t show up if the contract is mandatory; some people won’t show up UNLESS it’s mandatory; some people don’t care either way. And good community management requires properly predicting the proportions, and navigating accordingly.

Codes usually cover specific bounded events and spaces or sites, and their scope covers interpersonal or public interactions. Codes of conduct usually don’t cover conversations outside community-run spaces; open source licenses’ restrictions usually kick in on redistribution, not use, so they don’t constrain anything you do only on your own computer.

They are loci of debate and fragmentation.

Online and offline, acts and artifacts, contracts and governance

But they’re different on a few different axes, which I think are worth considering for what they tell us about open stuff community values and about our intuitions on what kinds of freedom restrictions we find easier to accept.

One is that many codes of conduct focus on in-person events such as conferences, rather than online interactions. Many of the unpleasant incidents that caused communities to adopt CoCs — or that communities see as “let’s not let that happen here” warning bells — happen at face-to-face events. And face-to-face spaces have a much longer history and context of ways of dealing with bad behavior than do online spaces. After all, a pretty widespread reading of the core function of government and law enforcement is that they keep Us Good Guys safe by stopping The Bad Guys from committing face-to-face (or knife-to-face or chair-to-face) assault. And there’s a lot of nuance we ought to talk about in discussing how to develop and enforce good online codes of conduct — for instance, what if microaggressions in online spaces are often less ephemeral and less avoidable, and thus will get reported more consistently than they do at meetups and conventions?

But there’s another axis I want to explore here: whether the behavior constraint feels like a contract or whether it feels like governance. Of course, we toss around phrases like “the social contract” and use the metaphor of contract to talk about the legitimacy of government, but to an ordinary citizen, contracts and governance feel like significantly different things. To oversimplify in a way that will get me different angry letters: something that feels like a contract formalizes a specific trade, something discrete and finite and a bit rare. A copyleft license feels that way to me; it specifies that if I distribute a certain artifact — which is something I would only do after some amount of thought and work — I then also undertake certain obligations, namely, I must also redistribute the software’s source code, under the same license. And, notwithstanding edge cases, it is often easy to examine the artifact, follow a decision procedure, and determine that I have complied with the terms of the license.

On the other hand, when we make rules constraining acts, especially speech acts, it feels more like governance. Codes of conduct serve as part of a community’s infrastructure to fulfill the first duty of a government — to protect its citizens from harm — and in order to make them work, communities must develop governance processes. It takes more work to evaluate whether actions have complied with those rules, and that work might require asking questions of suspects, bystanders, and targets. Enforcing a code of conduct, even a narrowly scoped anti-harassment policy, often requires that someone act on behalf of a community to do this, and to implement the outcome — be it informed by retributive, rehabilitative, transformative, or some other justice model. And it feels more like governance than contract to me if a rule applies to actions I take many times a day without deliberate planning — such as saying something in my project’s live internet chat room.

Suggestions for community managers

I asked to post this on Crooked Timber because I want political scientists and other thinkers in the social sciences to know about this intersection of political theory and practice. But I also wanted to write it because I think that, to be more hospitable, open stuff communities need to deliberately work on governance — see my posts on that topic for more. I know we’ll face a lot of resistance, and it’s slow going. I hope that my analysis helps give some vocabulary and frameworks for understanding that resistance, and that we can use them develop more effective arguments.

But the first step might be — if you’re trying to get your community to adopt a code of conduct, you might benefit by looking at other freedom-restricting tradeoffs the community is okay with, so you can draw out that comparison.

And it might help to start by talking about artifacts that people think of as artifacts. Talk about the things we make, like slide decks for presentations, articles on your wiki. That can get people on the same page as you, in case they’re not yet ready to think of the community itself as an artifact we make together.

{ 225 comments }

1

Tom Slee 04.10.15 at 8:37 pm

Well this is really interesting and thought-provoking: I had not thought of codes of conduct and licenses as lying on a spectrum from contracts to governance at all, but there are certainly parallels.

Most groups of programmers do agree to codes of conduct (or something like it) when it comes to how they behave around code-related things: everything from style guidelines to code review practices to test-writing practices. And then there are the more formal structures of governance around the source as well — who gets to commit changes, how you become one of those people, and so on. So I think there is maybe an acceptance of governance (however reluctantly) when it comes to what is seen as the mission of the effort (embodied in the code).

In companies, there are rules of conduct. Not always observed, but they are there and they can be valuable. In “communities” those things are much more touchy, and I guess that’s what you are getting at. Maybe what you are spelling out here is ideas of “cultural fit” (not something that always has good connotations, of course) in terms of a community, at a basic level. I wish I could read Hackathons and the Making of Entrepreneurial Citizenship by Lilly Irani which seems relevant: she says “Hackathons sometimes produce technologies, and they always, however, produce subjects” which is a bit academic, but I think it gets the point across that just as code projects may have a purpose (the code) so conferences have a purpose (the experience) and both are in need of governance.

I do agree with you about artifacts as a place to start. These are more easy to govern than behaviour on the conference floor or in the lounges, and arguably more important as they are visible and so help to set a tone.

Anyway, I don’t think this comment contributes much but I hope others have things to say: it is an important topic.

2

Lynne 04.10.15 at 8:44 pm

What a fascinating post. I know nothing about the topic but I’ll be following the comments with interest.

3

Dean C. Rowan 04.10.15 at 9:28 pm

Much here to think about, thank you. I have questions. It sounds to me like the goal in pursuing these behavior constraints is to instill norms of behavior, because effective norms do not require “governance processes.” Once you can look back and observe these norms respected more or less universally in action, you satisfy everybody, even the “don’t be a jerk” proponents. Does this sound right? Also, the requirement for governance processes is not unique to codes of conduct. Contract-like relationships also require enforcement processes, which I would view as a component of governance. Isn’t this so, too?

4

vasi 04.10.15 at 9:39 pm

Thanks for the post, Sumana. Just a teensy quibble, you have a broken link under “a big company can hamstring the larger community by closing access to new tests”. Feel free to delete this comment once you’ve seen it.

5

Collin Street 04.10.15 at 10:21 pm

@vasi:

http://blog.mariadb.org/disappearing-test-cases/

[right-click, “copy link location”. Then open a new browser tab and paste into the address bar, then delete anything that looks like it came from the referring page; it’s a common mistake in posting urls.]

6

Ben 04.10.15 at 10:59 pm

Hmm, how can Liberal Arts types take over the running of spaces dominated by STEM types?

I know! Complain of “microagressions” and say they need “governance processes” which you can then run, since you aren’t capable of the STEM stuff, and since they aren’t interested in your pretended problems they probably won’t notice until you are running the place…

7

Tom Slee 04.10.15 at 11:23 pm

Ben. Your division of the computing world into “STEM types” who “aren’t interested in your pretended problems” and “Liberal Arts types” who “aren’t capable of the STEM stuff” is crass.

There are many of us who are “STEM types” but who realize that the problems Sumana speaks of are far from “pretended”.

8

Henry 04.10.15 at 11:42 pm

It’s very funny really, almost as if there is an entire category of human beings who are automagically categorized as “Liberal Arts types” who are “incapable of the STEM stuff,” even when they’re programmers who have spent umpteen years working on important FLOSS projects. And, who keep on invading spaces where STEM types want to be left alone to do their studly stuff in peace. And who spread cooties, a special variety of cooties. I just can’t help but think that there’s something that this category of people have in common (apart from the cooties and unwillingness to recognize their proper place), even if I somehow just can’t put my finger on it …

9

Matt 04.11.15 at 12:04 am

A dictatorship model of governance is common with FLOSS projects. One person gets to ultimately decide how to resolve divisive questions, and there is no further appealing their decisions within that structure. That goes for everything from design choices to technical standards compliance and mailing list etiquette.

I think dictatorship works OK in this one narrow domain because exit is easy with open software. Fork the project and try to get others to join you if you don’t like the existing governance. There is no territory to take or hold; the elusive “mindshare” is not actually like voting shares in a corporation, seats on a city council, or occupation of real estate. Of course this means that in most important senses the FLOSS dictatorships are totally unlike real-world ones.

Exit from a FLOSS community is more like leaving a church over leadership disagreements and starting a new one than like sneaking past armed border guards. It’s actually even better than that. It’s as if dissenting North Koreans could not only elect a different leader but also inherit a complete duplicate of the territory and infrastructure of North Korea to go live in.

10

Mike Linksvayer 04.11.15 at 12:30 am

No matter what FLOSS license a project chooses, copyleft or permissive, the project is restricting the freedom of contributors — they can’t incorporate code into the project under an incompatible license. In this way a permissive license is more restrictive than a copyleft license, and public domain more restrictive yet.

So the suggested first step (which I like) of getting communities to consider restrictions they already accept when thinking about things like codes of conduct should be workable regardless of license.

Copyleft attempts to regulate what entities do with code outside of the community producing the code. The post mentions that codes of conduct are usually bounded to particular community spaces. It seems to me that a copyleft equivalent code of conduct would make requirements of participant behavior outside of community spaces.

11

bianca steele 04.11.15 at 1:47 am

I am just about to read this, but I’d like to suggest that Sumana and the other new contributors should get a link on the front page to their info and posts? I’ll embarrass myself by admitting that I don’t remember them all. (Also, I still don’t know how to pronounce Niamh and for some time I thought Kieran was a variant of Karen.)

12

js. 04.11.15 at 1:57 am

In my experience, ‘Niamh’ rhymes with ‘Kiev’, but the ‘e’ is more like a schwa, and stress on the first syllable.

13

js. 04.11.15 at 1:59 am

Wait. I actually came on here to say that I thought this was excellent. I don’t really have anything substantive to add, but the contract and governance models seem very useful. Thanks!

14

Sumana Harihareswara 04.11.15 at 3:17 am

Thank you for all the thoughtful comments! I aim to reply to them tomorrow; sorry for the wait!

15

William Timberman 04.11.15 at 4:13 am

Random thoughts which seem relevant to me, but maybe not to people on the front lines:

1. How do we price and/or distribute goods which are both non-rival and non-excludible, but essential to economic development? (H/T Brad DeLong)
2. How did the Catholic Church deal with schism, or totalitarian political parties with deviationism? (Die Gedanken sind frei may be fine in theory, but….) Alternatively, how does a socialist persuade a libertarian that coherence and the common good is sometimes a legitimate constraint on individual freedom?
4. Is chaos theory the state of the art in politics, and if so, are we all doomed? (We flatter ourselves that we’re much better managers than our savage ancestors, but what if that doesn’t turn out to be as true as we all think it is?)

16

adam.smith 04.11.15 at 6:24 am

I feel like there’s a degree of “subblogging” going on here, isn’t it?

The big elephant in the room is, that perhaps the single most influential person in the world of FLOSS, Linus Torvald, is, uhm, kind of a dick: http://www.businessinsider.com/linux-foundation-reigns-in-linus-torvalds-2015-3 (there are better links, but this is an OK summary that was easy to find). I’m assuming that the fact that this post coincides with the establishment of a code of conduct by the linux foundation is not a coincidence.

The problem, of course, it not just Linus, but the fact that there is a hoard of much lesser programmers in the FLOSS community who take the same attitude (and most of them without the (alleged) ability of Linus to distinguish between people who can take his abuse and those who don’t).

What I find interesting about this from a political economy point of view is that it’s actually corporate players who may play a beneficial role here. Sarah Sharp, who called out Linus on his abusive language back in 2013, was at that time working for Intel, a company with a very good reputation for diversity (as far as the tech industry is concerned). More generally, mature[1] tech companies like Intel or Google spend much more time and energy thinking about and investing in diversity, they do a much better job at keeping people from being jerks than the FLOSS movement.
Spinning off what Sumana is writing, the reason for that is that they have proper governance. Much of FLOSS doesn’t.

Now, I’m writing this very much as a FLOSS insider (and while I think in the two projects I’m mainly involved with we do very well on the not-being-a-jerk front, we’re doing very poorly on attracting female or non-white devs), so this is not a “yay corporations, take that you dirty hippies” post. It’s more of a sorrowful note.
It also points to where I think change is going to come from: more _formal_ governance. And that requires resources, which are very frequently just not there for FLOSS.

17

Belle Waring 04.11.15 at 7:38 am

Ben: congratulations! You were nominated for all five slots in this year’s new Hugo Award category “Completely Missing The Fucking Point in a Played-Out Sexist Fashion That, Seriously, Is So Tired, Could You Try For Like One Second To Put in The Effort And Be Sexist In an At Least Mildly Interesting Way” and have thus won by default. Well played, and great job using your penis to depress the keys required to register online for STEM classes in college. That’s difficult for most men, as they tend to press more than one key at once, but obviously that wasn’t an issue for you, so, kudos all round! (You can only imagine what happened when I mashed my vagina onto the keyboard and tried to register for Calculus II! That’s why I had to pussy out of college (having placed out of the Calc requirement in high school) learning only Latin and Ancient Greek Literature, French, German, Sanskrit, Asian and South American Art History, and Indo-European Linguistics. That’s just what you get when you depress like eight non-contiguous keys, but only lightly.)

Sumana: thanks for posting this; it is really interesting and I hadn’t thought of the connections between contracts and codes of governance before. I was only thinking one thing as I read it: does this mean she’s going to create an awesome system for the CT comment section? PLEASE THO. HALP US. I have decided to devote more time to banning/disemvowelling people, but am likely to approach it in a way that is somewhat capricious and not sufficiently motivated by an underlying theory.
It would be great if we could come up with a policy together, as a community, that would yield the better quality of comments we all want, and minimize savage ad hominem arguments making fun of someone’s dick size.

18

Stephenson-quoter kun 04.11.15 at 8:45 am

Re adam.smith @16, I don’t think Linus is the elephant in the room here. He’s very visible, but he has been similarly visible for most of the last 20 years without prompting anyone to call for Codes of Conduct.

I think the CoC question has arisen largely from incidents of sexual harassment, mostly in person at conferences. Software development communities have been forced to confront the fact that they contain people who commit harassment and, absent a CoC, there’s really no effective way of policing that. I don’t think that rudeness alone would have caused this to become such a concern for so many people.

This also has a bearing on Sumana’s distinction between contracts and governance; contracts explicitly restrict acts which are simply unpardonable – not sharing the source code to your modified version of a GPL-licensed project, sexually assaulting someone at a conference – because everyone agrees that those things are wrong and we feel confident that we can agree up-front that there can never be any extenuating circumstances in which those things are actually OK. Governance, however, can serve to ‘nudge’ people away from bad behaviours – poor coding standards, rudeness on mailing lists – by giving us a standard to measure those things against without enumerating every possible violation of the standard. A governance procedure can take context into account, and is much more easily subject to improvement and revision than a contract is. (Re-licensing a software project with hundreds of copyright holders is almost impossible).

19

c 04.11.15 at 9:47 am

Belle: Consider switching to Discourse. The people behind it are putting a lot of thought and work into making infrastructure for more constructive online discussion.
http://blog.codinghorror.com/what-if-we-could-weaponize-empathy/
http://blog.codinghorror.com/your-community-door/

20

Belle Waring 04.11.15 at 10:35 am

Could you point to any sites documenting the instances of harassment, Stephenson-quoter kun?

21

Stephenson-quoter kun 04.11.15 at 11:16 am

There’s several to be found in this list, although fewer than I had thought. The PyCon “forking” incident sticks in my mind as one where the existence of a CoC failed to prevent a bad outcome for all concerned.

What has changed in recent years is some combination of a) there’s a lot more harassment than there used to be (which is possibly true, given that the tech industry is a lot bigger than it used to be, and there are many more conferences, open source projects, etc.), and b) women are much more likely to speak up about it when it happens. I think we’ve gone from a situation where women would talk about this privately with other women to a situation where they will talk about it publicly much more, and this is forcing men to confront the fact that this stuff happens at all. For my part, I was blissfully ignorant until I started reading about it online.

22

Lynne 04.11.15 at 12:59 pm

“the existence of a CoC failed to prevent a bad outcome for all concerned.”

As far as I know, though, the woman is the only one who has not been able to find another job.

23

Ben 04.11.15 at 1:39 pm

Wow. I have to say I wasn’t expecting disgusting obscenities from one of our hosts. That’s imagery I could really do without. Also, I didn’t mention gender, so not sure how it can be sexist… but perhaps that’s just proof of my sexism? That’s the usual catch-22 no?

To be clear, I am saying it’s a power play, not a gender thing.

24

Sam Dodsworth 04.11.15 at 2:28 pm

A very practiced set of standard opening moves from Ben, there. I suspect the Hugo Awards post has drawn attention from the nastier bits of Redddit or the chans.

25

JanieM 04.11.15 at 2:45 pm

Sumana wrote a well-reasoned, articulate piece about a problem, several commenters made interesting responses, and then Ben showed up and tossed in a nasty comment on about the level of a kid shouting “nyah nyah” on the playground.

Ben’s comment was stupid whether or not “Liberal Arts” and “STEM” were coded references to “women” and “me,” and his sneering at “Liberal Arts” people is laughably misdirected given that it was someone from the STEM world who wrote the OP, not a liberal arts person. (The distinction is silly anyhow. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Called on his nasty asininity, Ben doubles down with whining bafflement that anyone could be so mean to poor, innocent him.

I have my own code of conduct for participating here: regardless of the underlying content (if there is any), and regardless of political positions, I don’t read the contributions of people whose habitual presentation is sneering, condescending, or sanctimonious.

It didn’t take long with Ben.

26

JanieM 04.11.15 at 2:47 pm

“me,” –> “men,”

27

MPAVictoria 04.11.15 at 2:53 pm

“Wow. I have to say I wasn’t expecting disgusting obscenities from one of our hosts. That’s imagery I could really do without.”

Shorter Ben- Well I do declare!

*clutches pearls. Faints.

/Ace don’t be a jackass if you can’t handle the pushback.

28

Belle Waring 04.11.15 at 3:14 pm

Heat, kitchen, relative temperatures.

29

JakeB 04.11.15 at 3:18 pm

I’m not sure that Ben’s comment is sexist beyond being obnoxious — because I’ve seen this same sneering at liberal arts types when the putative liberal arts type was male as well.

But it any case this community already had a discussion about the necessity of governance when Henry posted about the link to his dark internet article, which I apologize for that I can’t find immediately.

Sam’s comment strikes me as particularly a propos when I remember that bit that Heinlein, who must be one of the patron saints of the Sad Puppies, wrote, along the lines that anyone can learn languages and literature, but it takes real brains to learn math or science.

30

bianca steele 04.11.15 at 3:18 pm

@16

There’s no doubt there are a lot of jerks in the tech world. (I like to compare programmers to actors in terms of having their own unique way of interacting with others, and I mean that with affection.) Ther are also a lot of valid issues surrounding the organization of work and the difference between being a hobbyist, to use an old fashioned term, and contributing for a market of non technical users. The OP strikes me as a helpful contribution to the discussion about these issues. She is not calling for replacing the judgment of techie types with liberal arts majors (I have a liberal arts CS degree myself), any more than with business majors or journalism majors or law majors or theater majors or psychology majors. Or any other group that might have “cooties.”

31

Stephenson-quoter kun 04.11.15 at 3:22 pm

Sam’s comment at 23 is hardly any less clichéd than Ben’s above it, it must be said.

There is an interesting problem buried underneath Ben’s rhetoric though. What are the acceptable trade-offs in establishing new governance arrangements? Who can be justifiably made to suffer some inconvenience (or worse) in order to reduce the suffering of others? And who decides? What do we do, in general, if some group of people wish to impose their standards on a bunch of other people? If you’re a conservative, imagine that the rhetorical justification for the CoC is ‘community cohesion and inclusiveness’, and if you’re a liberal imagine that it’s ‘morality, unity and conformity’. When should we accept those things and when should we not?

I’m generally wary of people who want to impose governance on others, and I think it’s incumbent on people who want to do so to tread lightly and be persuasive. In many settings, that’s the appropriate way to go: careful, consensual, deliberative. But political situations don’t operate like that for very long, and I suspect there’s a sociological reason why tensions inevitably get ratcheted up to the level where the whole thing is seen as a conflict, the only solution to which can be the imposition of governance irrespective of whether there’s a consensus about it. The fact that Ben and Sam above can play out their well-scripted dialogue (coming up next: not all men, Gamergate, liberal fascism) shows that we have a political debate in which people perceive themselves as belonging to sides, where they’re trying to win by out-smarting their opponents with a sort of internet-sociological version of the Monkey Island insult-fighting game, except much less funny. And CT is far better at this kind of debate than, well, anywhere else I know on the web.

So, we might consider that a lot of the aggression and division is really just a result of tribalism, not any particularly great disagreement over the matter at hand. Most CoCs are still quite permissive – the focus on ‘sexualisation’ can sometimes come off as a bit odd, but I think this might just be how Americans talk – and the things they exclude are things that any reasonable person would agree have no place a conference or in a software project (or pretty much anywhere).

32

Tom Slee 04.11.15 at 3:25 pm

@Adam.smith:

I don’t think the dichotomy you make between the FLOSS world and the corporate world holds up any more (disclaimer: I’m part of the latter, and only fitfully part of the former). You highlight the Linux Foundation, and as I’m sure you know, 80% of contributions to the Linux kernel are made by people in the course of their employment, and the Linux Foundation list of members includes many major corporations.

But I agree with you that corporations can play a role. The emergence of corporate standards and non-discrimination policies have come about, in part, because of government pressure on private industry. Meanwhile — and I admit I’m guessing a bit here — it seems that some (corporate-employed) open source developers resist the extension of workplace rules into their “community” spaces. So Linux Foundation members, who hold those purse strings, could certainly exert pressure.

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Belle Waring 04.11.15 at 3:30 pm

I read an interesting article about the woman who tweeted the dongle joke at the python article; she was interviewed extensively and (apparently) sympathetically by an NYT author writing about instances of “public shaming.” Then when the article came out, she was the villain of the piece, with the two men whom she reported to convention staff the victims. Their feelings and what they suffered as they were fired and had to clear out of their offices and leave their jobs were rendered vividly. Not mentioned was the fact that she, too, was summarily fired as her company capitulated to a tsunami of internet hate. Also unmentioned: the two white guys have jobs in tech again; the black woman, who was always “alone in the room” in a way, is unemployable. The author of the article wrote a book and is currently trying to rehabilitate the reputation of confirmed fabulist and plagiarist Jonah Lehrer.

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bianca steele 04.11.15 at 3:42 pm

Meanwhile — and I admit I’m guessing a bit here — it seems that some (corporate-employed) open source developers resist the extension of workplace rules into their “community” spaces. So Linux Foundation members, who hold those purse strings, could certainly exert pressure.

Yah, and I’d similarly guess some corporate workers resist the extension of a sharing ethos into their workplace. So there’s that. Though maybe not on-topic.

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adam.smith 04.11.15 at 3:43 pm

Tom Slee – absolutely agree and I didn’t write that well. The fact that contributing to the Linux kernel is, in fact, the regular job of many people on the kernel mailing list was one of the many good points Sarah Sharp made as part of the 2013 discussion. And I agree corporations have a role to play in exactly the way you say. It just makes me a bit sad that’s the case. In a way, I’m sympathetic to the “open source developers resist the extension of workplace rules into their “community” spaces” part. It’s fun to work together in “loosely organized anarchist collective” (to borrow Chris’s description of CT). So I’m sad when it fails, which I think it clearly has in the case of FLOSS and gender/diversity.

(article mentioned by Belle @32 is, I assume this: http://www.shakesville.com/2015/02/the-falsest-of-false-equivalencies.html . Also just read this).

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Belle Waring 04.11.15 at 3:50 pm

Stephenson-quoter-kun: obviously there is going to be tension between people who are happy with current informal structures and people who want to change them in any way–even if only to codify officially norms that most people would agree with generally, but may feel don’t need propping up with a heavy hand. I think a lot of the conflict comes down to the conservative side (just meaning unwilling to change here) seeing those who want to introduce rules that will change things as “outsiders.” In Ben’s case this means girls English Majors (?). Naturally, for the greatest part, the people wanting the changes are part of the community because otherwise they wouldn’t care. For these people, who have been ill-served by existing norms, the suggestion that they are not “real” community members is particularly irritating. It’s precisely this overlooking and dismissal the rules are meant to address, after all. But then it’s true people outside the community can be invested: to take a related example, looking at CS and seeing fewer women majors than in the 1980s makes everyone want to reverse a trend which is…manifestly stupid. Within coding communities there does need to be broad support for rules to work well. I think the challenge would be to get people who care about a given community together and have them agree on some basic norms. In all likelihood they would share plenty. It’s too bad such a heavy us vs them SJWs vs the plain people of the internet is going on. Depressing.

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Ben 04.11.15 at 4:00 pm

@MPAVictoria, Well the upside is Belle has forfeit any right to be offended ever again by anything anyone says ever! So I guess I can now relax on that score at least.

@Belle, yes I did think your response to me was rather ironic considering the mild innuendo that got those two nasty men fired. https://amandablumwords.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/3/

@JamieM I was going for “snarky” not “whiny”…

The FOSS world is not asking for codes of conduct, she is seeking to thrust them upon it. So I read this as someone looking for a way to be important in a world where she had no other prospect of being more than a minor contributor (by her own account).

For that reason OP strikes me as a wannabe politician, trying to find a way to become important by peddling solutions to non-problems.

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bianca steele 04.11.15 at 4:01 pm

You, know I’ve been intrigued by the way anti-management sentiment has transitioned so smoothly into anti-woman sentiment. In the old days, I didn’t think twice about the fact that resentment against the marketing department was expressed as disdain for the way they dressed, and not much more than twice about the fact that if I wanted to fit in, I needed to dress less well at work than I’d probably do to go to the mall (still better than many of the men in my group, I always wore shoes, say). It might have something to do with the fact that I just don’t have a strong sense of personal fashion–I worry whether clothes signal too high or low a class status, are too cool for me to pull off, and so on–though OTOH a very well dressed (though probably also self-conscious) friend of mine could be absolutely scathing about others’ dressing like management when they weren’t. Now it’s apparently just assumed that the primary workplace conflict between odd engineers and the “normal” world is between men and women. I wonder sometimes how that happened.

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bianca steele 04.11.15 at 4:05 pm

The FOSS world is not asking for codes of conduct, she is seeking to thrust them upon it. So I read this as someone looking for a way to be important in a world where she had no other prospect of being more than a minor contributor (by her own account).

For that reason OP strikes me as a wannabe politician, trying to find a way to become important by peddling solutions to non-problems.

Wow, that’s a super-weird complaint.

But maybe it expresses a valid Left point of view about personal power and the workings of groups.

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MPAVictoria 04.11.15 at 4:13 pm

“MPAVictoria, Well the upside is Belle has forfeit any right to be offended ever again by anything anyone says ever! So I guess I can now relax on that score at least.”

Shorter Ben- I am too stupid to tell the difference between “bad” language and something truly offensive.

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adam.smith 04.11.15 at 4:17 pm

well Ben, then let’s see it: Since you’re apparently a big fish in FLOSS development (how else would you know what the FOSS world is asking for or not), what’s your github (or whatever you use) account? Put up or shut up.

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Ben 04.11.15 at 4:19 pm

Shorter MPAVictoria: “Look at me, I’m Ben, aren’t I stupid”.

I was taken aback – the reaction you atrributed to me (“Well I do declare! *clutches pearls. Faints.”) is essentially correct. But I bounced back! It didn’t kill me! I didn’t ask for anyone to be fired!!!!! It’s just nice to know what the acceptable norms are, you know? Now I know what to expect.

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MPAVictoria 04.11.15 at 4:24 pm

“Shorter MPAVictoria: “Look at me, I’m Ben, aren’t I stupid”.”

*Looks to the Judges.
* 3/10- unoriginal and weak.

Too bad Ben. Better luck next time.

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Ben 04.11.15 at 4:29 pm

@adam You or anyone else can find out what the FOSS world are talking about by reading the public mailing lists.

Here is someone (not me) who doesn’t want a code of conduct for example:
https://lkml.org/lkml/2013/7/17/764

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Haftime 04.11.15 at 4:31 pm

Belle – are you referring to this article?
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html
I’m not sure I recognised your characterisation of it, because it does talk about the fallout for Adria Richards as well.

`SendGrid, her employer, was told the attacks would stop if Richards was fired. That same day she was publicly let go.’

It doesn’t mention future employment and the entire section is very short, true – but I don’t think if you challenged Ronson he’d deny a gendered and race based component to events – after all, in another review he’s quoted as saying: “Of all the scandals, being a man in a sex scandal is probably the one to hope for.” Having said that, I haven’t read the book, and I know there are people who’ve got some serious problems with other books of his (which I haven’t read either – I’ve read some stuff, promise!).

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Haftime 04.11.15 at 4:35 pm

Sorry for double posting, but the same excerpt is posted here – it appears the NYT edited it down a lot (I assume with Ronson’s go ahead).
http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/21/internet-shaming-lindsey-stone-jon-ronson

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Sam Dodsworth 04.11.15 at 5:11 pm

Stephenson-quoter kun@30 Sam’s comment at 23 is hardly any less clichéd than Ben’s above it, it must be said.

Yes, fair comment, and I’m no longer as sure of my diagnosis now I see “microagressions” get a mention in the original post. (There are certain bits of “SJW” terminology that reactionaries tend to fixate on, and that’s one of them.) I should really have stayed quiet, but I could see the thread was about to derail and I foolishly thought I could discourage people from engaging.

And in the spirit of not derailing…

What are the acceptable trade-offs in establishing new governance arrangements? Who can be justifiably made to suffer some inconvenience (or worse) in order to reduce the suffering of others? And who decides?

Personally I’d start with the idea that trade-offs are made to reduce systematic imbalances of power, and that the people disadvantaged by the imbalance get to decide. The problem, of course, being that people tend to mistake (or pretend, tactically to mistake) loss of advantage for oppression.

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Neville Morley 04.11.15 at 7:36 pm

I’d just like to echo Tom Slee at #1: this is thoughtful and thought-provoking, esp. the ‘community as artifact’ approach.

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Gregory Kohs 04.11.15 at 10:35 pm

There is an irony underlying Sumana’s mention of her speech “Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned”, delivered at the 2014 Wikiconference USA at the New York Law School. It’s an irony at which I can chuckle, because I was slated to attend that Wikiconference, and I was looking forward to learning what I could, and to sharing some of my ideas with other conference attendees. I had my train tickets purchased, and my hotel room was reserved.

Then, 18 hours before I was to board my train, I received an e-mail from a New York attorney I know. He wasn’t an official organizer of the Wikiconference, but he was closely affiliated with the organizers. The organizers had asked him to inform me that not only was I not welcome to speak at the conference, I was not permitted to attend the conference. I asked why I could not attend — especially give that the conference was advertised as “open” to everyone, and that even those “skeptical” of the Wikimedia Movement were welcome. The lawyer said that he thought it best not to share with me why I could not attend.

Over time, I think I figured out what the problem was. I have a knack of figuring out when organizations have a conflict of interest, yet try to disguise their actions on “open” community-generated sites. It turns out, the New York Law School had been puffing up various Wikipedia articles about itself and its leadership, for years, without disclosing their bias. There was probably also some concern that I had discovered that the conference organizers had rejected a proposed topic of mine, then entered their own version of the same topic, well after their deadline for topic submissions. Funny how the self-appointed moderators of what would have been “my” topic were not nearly as expert as I am in the subject matter, and that they happened to be organizers of the conference.

After I took a couple of weeks to mentally assess just what had happened to me in this Kafkaesque process, I wrote it up, and O’Dwyer PR opted to publish my story. Just last week, an editor antagonizing Wikipedia’s article about my business described the O’Dwyer story as a “whine”. I don’t know. Maybe the readers here can discuss how they would feel if they were banned from an academic conference 18 hours before traveling to it, and given no reason for why the ban was enacted. I invite Sumana to comment here if she happens to know anything about why I was banned from the conference where she delivered her speech about “Hospitality”.

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Val 04.11.15 at 10:37 pm

Jake @ 29

I agree with the gist of your comment but re this:

“I’m not sure that Ben’s comment is sexist beyond being obnoxious — because I’ve seen this same sneering at liberal arts types when the putative liberal arts type was male as well.”

Just wanted to note that sexism (though possibly more appropriate to talk about patriarchy here) isn’t just about prejudice against women, it’s about the privileging of a specific type of masculinity (male liberal arts people would be ‘girlie men’ in this world).

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bianca steele 04.11.15 at 11:09 pm

What is sexist is the assumption that the writer is a liberal arts type and not a techie, that she can’t hack it technically, etc., because she is a woman and women are all naturally bad at science, or good at English, and so on.

I’d suggest it is not sexist simply to be a techie, or to be a non-self-hating techie. That there is no feminist position on copyleft vs. Creative Commons.

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Collin Street 04.11.15 at 11:46 pm

One of the big reasons I have a linguistics major — to go with my comp.sci one — is ’cause I couldn’t hack it in the real humanities; systematising huge amounts of unstructured anecdotal data like historians do, or prising apart detailed understandings of people from single perspectives like literature people do, are things I’m not very good at.

But, y’know, I like purple grapes even so; I can distinguish between “things I’m not good at” and “things that aren’t important” because I’m well-adjusted enough to see where the world needs people who aren’t-like-me, am a grown-up with a grown-up sense of identity.

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Marc 04.12.15 at 12:34 am

Codes of conduct are certainly normal and reasonable for face to face meetings; they can be constructed by consensus in many cases and don’t have to have much of anything to do with political hot-button issues. If I have a critique of the original post, it’s that I have to drill through multiple links to see that this is explicitly an anti-harassment policy with quite broad language (“Harassment includes but is not limited to offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, physical appearance, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, or religion.”)

This really could be abused if construed broadly – the word that is doing the work there is offensive. There are other points that should be uncontroversial (“Harassment also includes sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, unwelcome following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.”)

We then got quite quickly derailed into tribal matters. If a code like this is to work at all, it has to be through persuasion. And what I’m seeing here is a breakdown in that. We had an attack on this as cover for a political agenda; the regulars here then drastically escalated, and I don’t see what good is ever done by that. It doesn’t persuade the target, it doesn’t appear reasonable, and it basically closes any chance for actual dialog. And this actually feeds into the fear that he’s alluding to – basically that this is cover for shouting down people on political grounds. Now the response could very well be in bad faith or could be from someone unreasonable – which could then justify treating it accordingly. But instead of talking about the policy we’re completely derailed, and that’s the usual outcome from escalation.

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.12.15 at 3:50 am

Hi! Thanks for a spirited CT welcome on my first guest post. (And this is indeed a guest post; I haven’t been invited to get an infinity symbol to the right of my name.)

I will try to respond, even if briefly, to all the points that have been made so far, but will probably be breaking it into several comments because I presume there is some kind of character limit on comments. And thanks to everyone who spoke up to say that they found the post interesting; it genuinely means a lot to me.

Tom Slee: I’m so glad you found this thought-provoking! After our February conversation in comments, you’re one of the people I wrote this for. :) You’re right that the values and norms I’m talking about intersect with cultural fit; as you’re alluding to, sometimes that phrase, “cultural fit,” serves as a shield to stop us from considering what it subsumes. And thanks for the pointer to the Irani. I can return the favor a bit by linking to “The Conference as Media Event” by Michael Z. Newman which reminds us that hackathons and conferences can feel a bit like holidays or pilgrimages.

Dean C. Rowan: Good questions, in my opinion! I personally have found that, in communities that are open to new participants and don’t have formal gatekeeping mechanisms, we do still need some kind of governance processes even after everyone currently in the community follows the desired norms. New participants might break the norms before getting acculturated and we need ways to deal with that. And your question about enforcement gets at a place where the analogy I’m making isn’t as awesome. My sort of hand-wave reply is that we often figure that some other organization (e.g. the legally constituted judicial system) plays a big part in enforcing contracts, and they’re within a preexisting legal framework, whereas code of conduct enforcement in most cases does not involve, e.g., the criminal justice system. But here I am speaking more about my own experience and about the intuitions I’m trying to draw out than about raw numbers or other research that could support this handwave.

vasi and Collin Street: ARRRGH, sorry. I plaintively request that someone with posting access fix the link, for future generations’ sake.

Matt: Hi there! I was just discussing some of this stuff with some FLOSS colleagues — the Benevolent Dictator for Life model that you mentioned and that, say, Python uses, the Project Leader model as implemented in Debian and Fedora, the design/architecture council model (sort of OpenStacky), whether foundations that hold legal and financial instruments (e.g., 501(c)(3) status and trademarks) in trust for the community also have a role in stewarding and leading technical direction for a project, et cetera. I appreciate what you’re saying about the ease of exit and the intangibility of mindshare; to my mind, mindshare (like socially constructed things generally) is real, a FLOSS project with a thriving ecology of contributors is far more valuable than a nearly identical chunk of code with only a couple of voices available to help out, and thus the finite amount of human attention limits our ability to make effective forks. In your North Korea analogy, I think I don’t quite agree because sure, anyone can have the juche philosophy (the source code) and try out their new spin on it, but the really scarce thing that they can’t easily duplicate is the land and the infrastructure (the community of people). I don’t want to get too inside-baseball for the rest of the commenters to follow. But I see counterexamples in the Tribble-like multiplication of JavaScript frameworks-of-the-week, at the mediocrity of most of the forks of English Wikipedia, and at how and why project leaders try to avoid divergent forks. Of course perhaps I’m not quite getting at what you are getting at. Thanks for considering this stuff!

Hi Mike Linksvayer! Ooooh that first paragraph of yours was nicely braintwisting — well done. :) I did want to sort of make the simple case in my analogy and restricted myself to copyleft but I think I get what you’re saying. And I need to think about your last point.

bianca steele: I am a mere guest poster, but I hope this helps: I have a very 1990s-type homepage that I keep meaning to update, and am on Twitter in case that’s of interest.

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Belle Waring 04.12.15 at 4:00 am

I’m sorry to have derailed the thread, but thought it necessary to nuke Ben because it’s not a welcome start for Sumana in the thread to wade right into sexist bullshit in comment 6 or whatever. We have a lot of female authors on the masthead and not many posts from them and I can actually tell you why: this sort of thing is tedious. (And yes, it’s tedious in a different way than when people tell my husband he shouldn’t write about Rod Dreher.) The assumption that a female author talking about how codes of conduct can relate to copyleft practices is a non-member of the tech community coming in from the outside to impose norms on a resistant community of male coders who are getting along just fine thank you is, indeed sexism. Additionally, leaping into large bodies of water produces a distinctive, clammy sort of feeling that I am at a loss to describe as other than wet. I don’t think there’s any need to talk about it anymore. Haftime: yes that’s the NYT article, which I also read when it came out (prior to having read this other). I think it’s very fair to say she’s the villain of that part of the piece, or faceless at any rate; there’s no montage of her quietly clearing out her desk after 4chan DDOSes her employer to death. The interview with Adria Richards was posted at Shakesville (trigger warning: there are trigger warnings) and is also linked upthread by adam.smith but here you go.

Marc: the interesting thing is that most of the people who did push initially for the codes of conduct in public places like cons (and who still face significant push-back, it must be acknowledged–the dongle fiasco arose from a reasonable application of the con’s rules) do consider these other proposed norms a piece of the same cloth, if you will. So from your perspective, it looks as though you’ve gone through some layers of unobjectionable rules governing in-person activity (don’t grab people on the ass!) to dubious-seeming rules suggesting we change the way we talk about, say, people of color. The place of contention is probably different in different communities–that is, where does totally sensible anti-ass-grabbing devolve into unacceptable speech restriction. But if you agree at all with the current, really quite sensible rules at cons, it is important to remember they were once as contentious as any language suggestions are now. For real. People said, grabbing someone’s ass if they didn’t want you to was assault and could be handled by the police, and grabbing someone’s ass when she totally wanted it was an acceptable pick-up move and it would be stupid to restrict how adults hook up at a conference. Thus there should be no policy under which, if one conference attendee grabs another on the ass, that first person should be kicked out of the con. Straight up opposed. And people still do, I think. If you are at all inclined to think such new rules are good, perhaps you should consider whether some of the further suggestions the same people are making might not also be good.

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Belle Waring 04.12.15 at 4:16 am

Sumana I could not actually fix your link properly. WordPress dislikes the blog.org domain and kept spitting out like an infant determined to refuse all nourishment. So I just stuck it up for people to copy/paste. Sorry!

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.12.15 at 4:39 am

William Timberman: You are asking important and hard questions and I may entirely duck them for now if that’s okay? I think you will understand my cowardice in this matter. I do think they’re relevant.

adam.smith: Hi to another FLOSS insider! Sarah Sharp is great, isn’t she? (I believe she is indeed currently working for Intel.) And what projects do you work on? Thank you for working on them. If your project would like to get better at attracting devs who aren’t white and aren’t men, please do consider participating in Outreachy (if you know of Sharp’s work you probably also know of her leadership on getting the Linux kernel into Outreachy, formerly known as the Outreach Program for Women). I got MediaWiki involved in Outreachy and it substantially helped increase the demographic diversity of our developer base.

Perhaps this didn’t come across quite clearly enough because it was one or two hyperlinks away, but sadly, yeah, we’ve now seen multiple instances of the leaders of open stuff communities acting disappointingly badly, and that’s part of the problem that leads to CoCs and related initiatives. Also, I don’t *think* I was making any kind of secret of the fact that I wrote this in light of several projects, including Linux, adopting and discussing relevant policies (as I mentioned in the first sentence).

Yeah, on the whole, the more enterprisey the open source project, the better it gets at certain things, and I too say that without loving saying it. I remember several years ago when I realized that Firefox — unlike so many GUIs for open source projects — was usable, and that a big reason it was usable was that its sponsor organization, Mozilla, had the will and the money to employ designers. Design, project management, deliberate mentorship and outreach, marketing and various other kinds of activities — what is it about them that so often shifts them from community to corporation and from volunteer to staff responsibilities? I have much more not-yet-coherent thoughts about this; will I see you at Open Source Bridge in June so I can gesture with a giveaway pen while we bounce ideas around?

Belle Waring: I am so pleased to have given you food for thought. And I am — seriously — happy to kick some ideas around in email about ways to improve the comment system! (And thank you for attempting to fix that link — I accept that web software is inherently a ridiculously rickety set of thingamajigs and do not blame you at all.)

Stephenson-quoter kun: (I briefly considered trying to respond to you entirely in quotes from “The Big U” or “Jipi and the Paranoid Chip”, per your nickname. I hope you won’t mind that I desisted.) In my opinion — and I’m totally willing to be refuted on this by researchers — sexual harassment incidents sparked overdue conversations on CoC adoption in open source, yes, but many people also sense a need for better ways to resolve intra-community conflicts in general. You probably read my speech on hospitality and perhaps you’ve also seen other similar speeches. Many of them mention the need to acknowledge your local missing stair, often known as That Guy. In my experience, when I hear about a That Guy who demoralizes and drives away contributors in an open stuff community, we’re often talking about someone who says destructive things, and there is no particularly sexualized element to his behavior. And I agree that contracts have to sort of self-contain the tests for what the contract permits, mandates, and prohibits, whereas governance mechanisms and bodies can use more general standards, and so on; thanks.

JakeB: Perhaps you mean http://crookedtimber.org/2015/02/20/the-dread-pirate-roberts-as-statebuilder/ ?

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.12.15 at 5:12 am

bianca steele: Oh there is so much to say about that particular blurring, isn’t there? In case anyone doesn’t get what bianca steele is talking about, I do wish to recommend Andrea Phillips’s “Fashion, Fake Geek Girls, and WorldCon” which illustrates, with pictures, what we wear if we want to be taken seriously in different contexts versus a fun outfit that will not cause us to be taken seriously.

Hi Gregory Kohs. I was not an organizer of Wiki Conference USA 2014 and don’t have any further information about the situation you’re asking about.

Marc: Hello! I should have been clearer; while the sample policy at geekfeminism.org and the policy I introduced while I was working at the Wikimedia Foundation do include language as you quoted, other open stuff communities use or are considering pretty different language and prohibit fewer or different classes of behavior. I did not mean to only discuss, in my piece, codes of conduct that are direct descendants of the boilerplate policy the Ada Initiative developed.

People who have been talking thoughtfully about the intersection of STEM and the liberal arts and social sciences: thank you for valuing all of those things!

People who defended my honor and contributions: I appreciate that! And thank you especially Belle for the nuking. I am at PyCon this weekend, and while waiting for Christine Spang’s talk on object relational mappers to start, I scrolled through recent comments, and laughed aloud at finding out I am a “wannabe politician” and “minor contributor” et cetera et cetera. Having startled nearby attendees with my “bwahaha,” I read aloud to them, and then we all got a good laugh in. One mentioned the CoC Pledgea bunch of FLOSS contributors have signed it, which I wish I’d mentioned in my original post. I also got to tell them about the time a New York Linux User Group member told me “no doubt that Richard Nixon would agree with you” and said of my suggestion: “Deja Vue all over again. I finally understand why mankind has been plagued by war throughout its entire history.” And then this led to a discussion of Nixon’s Triangle (the multiple inheritance problem) and what a Nixon in your project would do — would eighteen and a half minutes of commits go missing? Which brings us back to Tim Robbins in “Antitrust” which is arguably the heart of the copyleft narrative and which I need to re-watch, as the last time I saw it was at least a decade before I became an Open Source Thought Leader(tm). Do you suppose LWN would take my “‘Antitrust’: A Retrospective” pitch?

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.12.15 at 5:20 am

Now it’s past 1am in Montreal and I have a few long response comments in the moderation queue awaiting approval and I will read some Genevieve Valentine and play Zoe Keating and flop over.

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Matt 04.12.15 at 5:28 am

Hi Sumama. Thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful response.

I appreciate what you’re saying about the ease of exit and the intangibility of mindshare; to my mind, mindshare (like socially constructed things generally) is real, a FLOSS project with a thriving ecology of contributors is far more valuable than a nearly identical chunk of code with only a couple of voices available to help out, and thus the finite amount of human attention limits our ability to make effective forks. In your North Korea analogy, I think I don’t quite agree because sure, anyone can have the juche philosophy (the source code) and try out their new spin on it, but the really scarce thing that they can’t easily duplicate is the land and the infrastructure (the community of people). I don’t want to get too inside-baseball for the rest of the commenters to follow. But I see counterexamples in the Tribble-like multiplication of JavaScript frameworks-of-the-week, at the mediocrity of most of the forks of English Wikipedia, and at how and why project leaders try to avoid divergent forks. Of course perhaps I’m not quite getting at what you are getting at. Thanks for considering this stuff!

You have a good point about mindshare. Mindshare is really valuable at a coarser grained level. For example, mindshare is an important reason why someone might choose Python over Perl. Python seems to have better community prospects going forward even if you personally think Perl is a better language*. But when it comes to divergence within communities I think mindshare is less important.

To keep with the Python example, Guido van Rossum is certainly BDFL for CPython and as such also has heavy influence on lesser used implementations. But when people wanted to use Python on the JVM, or .NET, or just experiment with different runtimes, there was no problem forking to Jython, IronPython, Stackless Python, and PyPy. If enough people decided that .NET was the way of the future, IronPython could eclipse CPython and GVR just wouldn’t be as important any more.

I have worked in a number of companies where we used a lot of FLOSS software and sometimes customized it without getting our changes incorporated back upstream. Sometimes changes were just too specific to one domain, other times it took too much effort to get changes accepted upstream. Whoever ruled the upstream, it was easy for us to go our own way.

This is different from e.g. Wikipedia, because Wikipedia is a lot more about the people, infrastructure, and domain name than about the wiki software. It’s different from W3C or IETF because standards-setting communities are by necessity seeking broad consensus. It makes a lot less sense to build a one-organization-only fork of Internet Protocol called IPv7 than it does to build a one-organization-only fork of a database storage engine.

It’s also different from the older and still-living tradition of academic software that is offered in source code form, and provided at zero monetary cost, but restrictively licensed. The Cavendish Laboratory will remain dictator for the CASINO software system whether you approve of that dictatorship or not. You need permission to redistribute the unmodified code, permission to modify it for personal use, permission to use it for commercial purposes, and permission to integrate it with other systems. It drove me crazy in graduate school and it still drives me crazy. Fortunately there is a lot more FLOSS scientific software now than 10 years ago but the abundance of “no money, just fealty” academic licensed software in scientific domains still pains me.

Compared to the straitjacket of licensing with academic software, and the straitjacket of history and compatibility concerns with protocols and projects-as-communities, I see FLOSS as offering a remarkable freedom of exit. Probably the closest organizational analog to the utopian-anarchist fantasy of Iain M. Banks’ Culture as we will ever achieve in real life. You only have to obey leaders as long as you want to. You can splinter away into a faction as small as one person and nobody can stop you. I emphasize the legal and practical freedom to fork FLOSS projects not because it is unlimited, but it is at least remarkable.

*I don’t!

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William Timberman 04.12.15 at 6:30 am

Sumana, for the record, I very much appreciate your post, and the issues it raises, and I don’t mind at all your ducking my questions, which, while not exactly rhetorical, were undoubtedly too abstruse to toss into what was clearly intended to be a more narrowly focused discussion.

What I like about the open source community, at least to the extent that I understand it from a fairly great distance, is the volunteer spirit, the energy devoted by so many to provide tools for the common good that might not otherwise be provided. Also the talent, the amazing amount of talent that seems to gather from all points on the globe without any whips driving it, or threatening it with starvation if it doesn’t deliver. Despite the problems you refer to, that volunteer spirit alone makes it a very hopeful phenomenon. You’re right, though that a model of governance, or management, or coordination of vision and effort — call it what you will — which is satisfactory to everyone involved is, for the moment at least, out of reach.

I also agree that there’s reason to be concerned. In human affairs it seems that things which come together easily can fly apart just as easily. One moment you’re standing on the rubble of the Bastille, proclaiming your emancipation, the next you’re ascending the steps of the guillotine with a hood over your head. If we’re to rule out force, intimidation, etc., as principles of organization, as we’d all like to, then we’ll all have to think more seriously about what it means to be civilized. What you and your colleagues have created is a good start, but the next step won’t be anything like as straightforward as riding herd on a coherent code base — which, as you already know, isn’t itself as straightforward as most open source enthusiasts probably imagined when they first embarked on their projects.

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soru 04.12.15 at 10:44 am

It seems like there is an interesting dynamic at play, rather like one of those evolutionary game theory models with Hawks and Doves. Legally-restrictive open licences can compete with closed-source software in a way that perhaps legally permissive license’s couldn’t (or certainly didn’t).

But in a world where where propriety software is all but extinct, the legal restrictions are a pure overhead, like spikes on a dinosaur whose predators are dead. So you see corporate-backed permissive software like clang evolving faster than old-school GNU projects like gcc.

Thing is, few developers under 30 will remember working in a world where a valid business model was ‘our software is horribly buggy; if you pay us the price of a car every year, we may fix some of the ones that hurt you the most’.

So to pick up the point made above, if the wider open source movement is the Culture, GNU is Special Circumstances. And as long as Oracle still exists, perhaps it is needed.

The analogy with rules for conventions makes some sense; if you split them into Jerk-dominated, Bureaucratic and Fun, perhaps you can only get much fun after the bureaucrats have dealt with the jerks.

Of course, that is far from the only possible dynamic…

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SusanC 04.12.15 at 1:41 pm

Thanks for the very interesting post!

I’ve found the following works of sociology useful for thinking about the Free Software/Open Source groups:

Weber, Max. The Three Types of Legitimate Rule.

Hirschmann, Albert: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty

In terms of Weber’s classification, the open source groups lean heavily towards the “charismatic” model, with a leader who is accepted because the community has respect for their ability: e.g. Richard Stallman, Linux Torvalds, etc.
It’s interesting that these leaders are well known from their – how to put it – challenging personalities. If it was just Stallman, we might think that he ended up as the figurehead despite his personality; given that there seems to be a pattern here, it’s more tempting to think that that particular personality type was actually an important contributor towards their success.

[And I vaguely gesture towards Julian Assange as an example of how this model could go wrong]

On the codes of conduct thing: sometimes its just people being sexist dillweeds (to use Belle’s phrase) and we should just tell them to stop it. On the other hand, sometimes its a symptom of a critical failure of the governance model: people are yelling at each other in an uncivil fashion because internal differences on how to proceed aren’t being resolved satisfactory. When this is the problem, codes of conduct might even accelerate community destruction. People abusing each other online corresponds to “voice” in Hirschmann’s model, and if you prevent that “exit” is the other option. And open source communities are specifically set up to make the cost of exit low. Licenses such as the GPL mean that if – for example – a group of Linux developers gets fed up with Linux Torvalds, there is absolutely nothing to stop them taking a copy of the communities main asset – the Linux source code — and going off and doing their own thing with it)

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bianca steele 04.12.15 at 1:46 pm

Sumana, that is a really great link. Thanks.

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Ben 04.12.15 at 1:53 pm

To Recap so far:

Ben: “Isn’t this just political and management bullshit nobody asked for? “

Belle: “Ben is a sexual inadequate, and sexist to boot. Sumana could help us with our comments policy(17). Anyway, be nice to her, she’s only a girl!(55)”

Sumana: “Thank you for telling that horrid boy off!”

Stephenson-quoter kun: “CT is far better at this kind of debate than, well, anywhere else I know on the web.”

Yes, I see what you mean.

For the hard of thinking, Liberal Arts codes for “deals with words, people and organisations”. STEM codes for “deals with facts and things”.

Thank you to those who did at least try to see my point of view.

Bianca Steele: “But maybe it expresses a valid Left point of view about personal power and the workings of groups.” Yes, maybe.

Adam.Smith and Tom Slee: (paraphrasing) “Maybe corporates are entitled to impose management bullshit on FOSS because (between them) they are paying for 80% of it”. Yes, valid objection. Maybe. Is that what’s happening?

JakeB: “I’ve seen this same sneering at liberal arts types when the putative liberal arts type was male as well.” Yes, and in the other direction too. That tribalism.

Stephenson-quoter kun: “What do we do, in general, if some group of people wish to impose their standards on a bunch of other people? … I’m generally wary of people who want to impose governance on others, and I think it’s incumbent on people who want to do so to tread lightly and be persuasive.”

And even Belle tried: “obviously there is going to be tension between people who are happy with current informal structures and people who want to change them in any way–even if only to codify officially norms that most people would agree with generally.” Yes.

So is this coming from the community who is supposed to live under it, or from the outside? But we don’t need to speculate.

Is Sumana, in her current role, a primarily a practitioner of the craft of programming? Or is it really more a job dealing with people?
She’s actually a manager (sorry, technology executive)? So this initiative will extend her control over your staff to areas where her writ doesn’t currently run?

This is the same Sumana, right? http://www.harihareswara.net/

“I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s in technology management at Columbia University”

No, I seriously didn’t know that when I suggested she might be a wannabe politician. No wonder she laughed – she’s no wannabe. She totally aced that NYLUG fight. Next stop, state senate.

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bianca steele 04.12.15 at 2:04 pm

Ben,

Sexism aside. Because you’re damaging a cause I care about.

Is it valid to worry about management not listening? Yes. Is it valid to worry about “liberal arts types” (no code needed) not always recognizing the contributions of those who use language differently? Yes.

But being a “science type” doesn’t make you right when you make up personal definitions for words, like “code,” or when you pretend that liking to think about things rather than concepts puts you in closer touch with reality than other people, or that you don’t have to listen to the other kind of people, because they’re morally tainted, or for whatever other reason.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 04.12.15 at 2:27 pm

Ben, I don’t think the “but is she a real programmer?” line of thought is going to work out very well. There’s more to technical projects than just programming.

For what it’s worth, I do entirely see your point of view. Amongst the people who want to reform the tech industry are some spectacularly misguided individuals. Back when I got my first senior-ish role building a new team in 2010, I tried to figure out why the company I worked for was failing at hiring women. We did a fair bit of outreach and had some successes, but it was hard work. Being a pseudo-intellectual, I tried looking for information about this online, and came back with things like this:

In the first experiment, students entered a small classroom that either contained objects stereotypically associated with computer science such as Star Trek posters, video game boxes and Coke cans, or non-stereotypical items such as nature posters, art, a dictionary and coffee mugs. The students were told to ignore these objects because the room was being shared with another class. After spending several moments in the classroom, the students filled out questionnaires that asked about their attitude toward computer science.

Women exposed to the stereotypical setup expressed less interest in computer science than those who saw the non-stereotypical objects. Men placed in the same situations did not show a similar drop in interest in computer science. Cheryan said this study suggests that a student’s choice of classes or a major can be influenced by the appearance of classrooms, halls and offices.

In other words, the problem with software development is that it’s just too geeky, and the only way it will ever be welcoming to women is by excising all of that geeky stuff. Fuck right off, I thought, and still do.

So, yeah, people like this do exist and they really do want to burn the village in order to save it. Fine. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who tries to suggest ways of being friendlier, nicer and more helpful is doing so as part of some kind of culture war. Mostly they just want everyone to be happier. The reflexive suspicion about this stuff is just not merited (though it’s true that a lot of the rhetoric is quite triggery – the reliance on anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the existence of a problem would be a clear red flag if the cited problem was, say, ‘immigrants’ and not ‘asshole men’).

If we step back from the normal patterns of internet-conversation-as-war-by-other-means, the whole thing looks a bit absurd. Codes of conduct are eminently sensible. Most suggestions for how the tech industry could improve are well-intentioned and can only be seen as controversial by taking a very biased view of them. Equally, questions about who benefits from governance structures, who is empowered by them, who runs them and owns them and has the power to change them, are not challenges to the whole idea of community improvement. Governance structures should be contested, and we need to be honest about the trade-offs inherent in excluding some people for the benefit of others. There’s altogether far too much righteousness from all sides, which is how you end up with clichéd debates that end in 2015’s equivalent of Godwin’s law: one side or the other being compared to Gamergate.

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Ronan(rf) 04.12.15 at 2:32 pm

I liked the post a lot and enjoyed a lot of the comments, particularly as I find it interesting to listen to people who work in/know about a specific industry/area debate the internal politics of their industry. Ben, i think the problem (not piling on) is that you havent added anything of substance to that.
Back to Sumana’s post, one thing jumped out of me that could be elaborated on, ie:

“After all, a pretty widespread reading of the core function of government and law enforcement is that they keep Us Good Guys safe by stopping The Bad Guys from committing face-to-face (or knife-to-face or chair-to-face) assault. And there’s a lot of nuance we ought to talk about in discussing how to develop and enforce good online codes of conduct — for instance, what if microaggressions in online spaces are often less ephemeral and less avoidable, and thus will get reported more consistently than they do at meetups and conventions?”

I don’t know if I agree with all of this, or at this level of generalisation anyway. That is, it is *one* function of governance and policing (theoretically, and perhaps less so in practice) but another function of governance and policing *is* to institutionalise a specific set of power relations. It’s as much an attempt to institutionalise a specific set of behavioural norms as it is to protect people , and so I can understand why it might recieve some pushback and be legitimatly worth objecting to. Especially if it is seen as forced on a community rather than arrived at through deliberation and consent (whatever that might mean)
That’s a more ,general point and not really speaking to anything specific Sumana is talking about (as I dont know the details) Perhaps, Ben, and Im not being snarky or patronishing, you could add something with a little more detail and less ad hominen to explain what your problems are with the specifics of Sumana’s program ? (I personally might sympathise with bits.or maybe not)

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William Timberman 04.12.15 at 2:52 pm

What I would say to Ben, if I were less than polite, would be something like this rant about the evils of techno-libertarians from Richard (R.J.) Eskow. As it turns out, he isn’t a coder either, but a self described blogger and writer, former Wall Street executive, consultant, and former musician. Nevertheless….

Some things are new under the sun, and some aren’t. All credit to our technologists for providing astonishing examples of the former, but if they don’t want to be looked upon by the rest of humanity as idiot savants, they need to pay more attention to what people outside their field know that they don’t, rather than trying to convince themselves and everyone else that they’ve re-invented everything from scratch.

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Bill Benzon 04.12.15 at 3:06 pm

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bianca steele 04.12.15 at 3:21 pm

Also, Ben (I’m weighing typing this later when I have more time and getting it out of my head now, so it will be unedited),

Second. You’re just reinforcing the idea that engineers are some kind of primitive chaotic that has no concept of self-governance, and has to be tamed by Lawful interlopers and fifth columnists (I apologize for the socialism terminology, which is anyway problematic in a place where some people would say “socialism–yay!”, so replace this with the CIA or any other group, right wing or left, as you like, or replace it with an idea of engineers as living in the half-made world and at risk of turning to Line and Gun if something like Old Europe’s sivilising influence doesn’t get at them). New groups need some kind of leadership, and by definition don’t have them yet, but the idea that there’s some kind of process that can be imposed from outside, and ignoring any kind of existing group that can use built-up knowledge to help people who are similar to them, is weird. But you’re just playing along, it seems to me.

I mean, you could do like William Timberman, and quote from the Wall Street Journal to show you have a Dominant Culture Mind, and inoculate yourself. He makes it sound so easy!

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Belle Waring 04.12.15 at 3:49 pm

For the hard of thinking, Liberal Arts codes for “deals with words, people and organisations”. STEM codes for “deals with facts and things”.

Do people who primarily work as coders live each alone, in a savage state of nature, or do they work in organizations? When they need to communicate to one another whether they have made progress on shared goals, or even determine what those goals are, do they use words, or some sort of elaborate smoke signal routine? The latter in both cases, surely. If people who major in the Liberal Arts in college have superior facility with words, people and organizations just to the same extent that people who major in STEM have a superior facility in their own demenses, then surely we should put the former to work getting things organized and leave the latter to grind it out like gold-farmers and get the project working?

I happen to think this all sounds like total bullshit, but it appears to be the logical consequence of your view, Ben. For one thing, systems of organizations are facts, or sets of interlacing facts; people learn about them in many fields. The systematic way the vowels or laryngeals in Proto-Indo-European are expressed as vowels in differing grades of verbs in Ancient Greek is a fact (a scientific theory, but a reasonably good one). It is none the less non-STEM, and thus not about facts or things, apparently. For another, a coder who cannot deal with or use words has limited utility. Not zero utility, I’ll grant, but let’s agree a complete breakdown in communication and consistent misinterpretation about instructions due to this person’s ignorance of words would render him a failed coder. Look, it can’t possibly be your contention that “people whose STEM training has nothing to do with organizations, due to the non-factual nature of organizations; whose learning was opposed even to the mention of organizations, since organizations are not things; people to whom even the word organization is anathema–these people can organize themselves perfectly without any intervention from people who know both the subject matter at hand and how organizations work!” Yet you appear to be claiming this.

I am loath to respond to you at all because you started in with such an extraordinarily rude, dismissive comment. Yet your manifest contradictions beguile me. Dance.

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William Timberman 04.12.15 at 4:00 pm

Ah, bianca, when have I ever quoted from the Wall Street Journal? Check the source code again. And Dominant Culture Mind? Does my irony meter need recalibration, or does yours? Anyway, poor Ben. I really think he’s been pummeled enough. Let him go move fast and break things for a while — he’ll feel a lot better.

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Ronan(rf) 04.12.15 at 4:21 pm

I’ve mentioned it here before, I think, and it’s at least semi relevant to the conversation, but there’s a new book by Jill Leovy (Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic) which looks at ‘black on black’ murder in Watts (in the 00s but also looking back to the 80s and 90s) Her argument is that the cause of the murder waves wasnt ‘over-policing’ so much as ‘under-policing’ , a misuse of police resources away from solving murders to prosecuting for petty crimes , which incentivised people to take their own revenge , isolated the rest of the community and criminalised a generation of young black (primarily) men.
The specifics do matter, I think, as does the implementation, and the extent to which the new laws/procedures have support.

Anyway, here’s an interview with her (might be relevant in a roundabout way)

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/120874/ghettoside-jill-leovy-qa-author

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Ronan(rf) 04.12.15 at 4:28 pm

I’ll also add, to avoid confusion, that im not trying to compare murder and violence in the Ghetto to someone being asked to stop being an asshole at work.

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soru 04.12.15 at 4:44 pm

people whose STEM training has nothing to do with organizations, due to the non-factual nature of organizations; whose learning was opposed even to the mention of organizations, since organizations are not things; people to whom even the word organization is anathema–these people can organize themselves perfectly without any intervention from people who know both the subject matter at hand and how organizations work!

You say that as a straw man, but it actually seems pretty plausible to me. Apparently, it was something like 1880 when it became a statistically good idea to go see a doctor. Any time before that the multi-thousand year tradition based on assemblies of mostly wise men and libraries of largely true facts did, on average, more harm than good.

Because all the true knowledge was hopelessly entwined with wrong ideas, scams and power plays. So overall it was more likely to kill than cure.

Suspecting that something like that is still the case in mainstream economics and management theory is surely the underlying basis for any progressive view that doesn’t amount to ‘err, try to be nice I guess?’.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.12.15 at 5:15 pm

Two responses, one to the OP and her reply, the other to the subsidiary thread coursing its way through these comments. First, I wonder if another analogy worth considering derives from Henry Sumner Maine’s famous remarks about the evolution of progressive societies from status to contract, as here: http://www.panarchy.org/maine/contract.html (I have no additional knowledge or opinion of the site hosting the quote.) “[R]eciprocity in rights and duties which have their origin in the Family” depicts the implicit situation where unstated norms are pretty much taken for granted until challenged, if by Family we mean to refer to close-knit communities of developers, etc. Contract, then, reflects the “result of agreement,” i.e., explicit agreement to, for instance, abide by a code of conduct, make attribution, etc. Governance (by status or contract) inheres throughout the spectrum, rather than residing nearer to one end of it.

Second, although this point has been made in better ways above, my take is that we give too much credit to our educations and careers when we so blithely divide ourselves into “types” based on disciplines in which we excelled. I don’t believe I’ve ever met a “STEM type” or a “Liberal Arts type,” although I know perfectly well to what these epithets refer. They serve a simple purpose on occasion. But I could with equal facility point to the large number of institutions of higher education whose core unit is a College of Arts and Sciences, where “types” of all sorts mingle happily.

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G. Branden Robinson 04.12.15 at 7:42 pm

When considering the project governance models in use, I think it’s import to qualify distinguish a couple of leader models. Certainly there is the “Benevolent Dictator for Life” approach used by Python and the Linux kernel, but some projects also elect their leaders.

Namely, the Debian Project does so, and has for about 15 years. Not only that, but they use Instant Round-Robin Voting, a.k.a. a Condorcet method. Debian Project Leaders (DPLs) serve for a term of one year. The Project also has a Technical Committee; these roles are defined in the Debian Constitution.

All of this information is readily publicly available, but if there’s any light I can shed on things, you can ask me, because I used to be a DPL myself (2005-2006).

Regards,
Branden

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JakeB 04.12.15 at 8:22 pm

@Sumana at 57 — That’s it! Thank you. Not being able to find it gave me one of those I’m losing my mind moments.

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JakeB 04.12.15 at 8:27 pm

Val @ 50 — Conceded. Thanks.

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bianca steele 04.12.15 at 8:32 pm

William,

You’re ironic? I never guessed. I couldn’t say who’s at fault. An over-zealous avoidance of the possibility of running afoul of Poe’s law on my part?

Belle,

Most learning about organizations takes place after graduation, I think, at places that fall for the most part outside the academic world’s reach. Academic organizational studies observe those kinds of places, rather than dictating their form.

OTOH the worst communication I’ve ever observed was at a place that had an unusually high number of advanced degrees (though often not in CS but in other fields).

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Val 04.12.15 at 10:02 pm

Jake @ 79
And thinking about it, the most pernicious thing about that system is that (like gender itself) is a socially constructed system that young people are forced into. At school, I enjoyed both the maths side and the word side – it wasn’t till I went to university that I had to choose between them. To then try, as Ben does, to build some implicitly gendered system of superiority-inferiority on top of that forced choice really is adding insult to injury!

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Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 12:59 am

I don’t actually think people learn about organization in Liberal Arts undergraduate careers and then go on to organize unwilling former STEM students, soru. That’s Ben’s contention. People learn about how to organize FLOSS communities by working in them for 10 years in various positions and then seeing, on the basis of the specific organization in question, what sort of organizational changes might be needed. Because some structure has arisen already, and it may not happen to be a very nice one. It’s in the ever pointing this latter fact out that the initial animus between hypothetical reactionaries and would-be improvers gets off on the wrong foot, often. This is on the reactionaries, though.

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John Holbo 04.13.15 at 1:12 am

“Yet your manifest contradictions beguile me. Dance.”

Oh snap. My wife kinda won that one.

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ZM 04.13.15 at 1:40 am

Val,

I also liked english and maths in school, but did not like science or technology for the most part (I liked reading about photons and distilling oil from eucalyptus leaves over a Bunsen burner that was about all). I think Maths is abstract enough like language – when in my last year maths was physics oriented I did not like it so much and regrettably lost some interest in it.

Belle,

I know STEM people of both genders who think management from non-stem disciplinary backgrounds – arts and commerce – is reasonably common and can be problematic as these managers don’t have the knowledge of the math and science and technology to make informed executive judgements – so lower ranked stem professionals often end up with the actual responsibility but are not the managers. This includes non-management pure maths grads signing off on huge figure derivatives things in the finance industry, not the management who don’t understand the maths.

I don’t mean Sumana, just generally.

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Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 2:20 am

ZM: this is just a pure anti-management point though, and has nothing at all to do with whether your boss is good at math. My mom worked at MCI negotiating real estate rights so that they could put up cell towers and ensure coverage. Sometimes property holders had them over a barrel because there was nowhere else for miles around; at other times they had their choice of spots. She had a great team who was intensely loyal to her. Did her manager understand what the fuck her job even was about? Sort of. But did his manager understand even vaguely how to do her job, or what doing it successfully would mean? NO. Not even a little. They would issue conflicting diktats within weeks. They demanded she cut overall money paid out in her unit 10% by giving the appropriate number of workers unwarranted bad performance reviews. She took most of the pay cut herself and divided the remainder evenly among her team; the business, not understanding the source of her underlings loyalty and effectiveness, would shift them out to failing teams and then not understand why they didn’t do great there. My mom was not a math person or a law person or anything; she had been a serious, I’m living in a commune run by Dennis Hopper hippie who had to learn on the series of jobs she hustled, from paralegal up through to this serious managerial position. It’s wrong to conceptualizer this in terms of noble engineers and quants who can do math vs evil Liberal Arts-trained bosses who can’t. It’s just the normal office workers of the world vs Dilbert’s pointy-headed boss. And if anything your infuriating manager is an MBA, not an English Lit. major.

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adam.smith 04.13.15 at 2:29 am

Sumana @57 I’m very active with Zotero and I co-direct the Citation Style Language (CSL) project, so there’s actually some overlap with Wikimedia, where the wonderful mvolz is developing an automated citation engine based on (parts of) Zotero.

Outreachy looks great. Unfortunately, especially for CSL where I’m actually involved in governance, we’re just not at a size or level or professionalization where we could reasonably employ an intern (as in, we don’t employ anyone at all). That also makes it a tricky question to what degree it’d even be good advice (career wise) for people to get involved. In most disciplines, academics get very little recognition (e.g. in terms of tenure/hiring decision) for their coding contributions. And with all the discussion about double/triple burdens, that applies doubly to women. Sorry, slight digression from the CoC topic, but that’s of course a related concern if we’re talking about underrepresented groups in tech.

Ceterum censeo, trollum non esse aliendum

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Val 04.13.15 at 2:47 am

ZM @ 85

I did like physics especially when it was very maths-y, up until I was 16 and there were only two girls in the class and the (male) teacher didn’t like me – after which I stopped liking physics.

Stop me if I’ve told this one before (ha ha you can’t), but one of my daughters and I were talking about school recently and realised we had both had weirdly similar experiences when we were fourteen and earnestly went up after class to tell our (male) physics teachers that they had made a mistake, and were puzzled that they weren’t more grateful to us for pointing it out. (She continued on the maths and physics track at uni and now of course earns lots of dosh, something I’ve never quite managed!)

Anyway – sort of OT, but relevant to the reasons why more women don’t go into STEM and why the Arts vs STEM thing is an over-simplification.

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.13.15 at 3:03 am

The link adam.smith meant to share is either Citoid or something super close to it. Oh you work on Zotero — wonderful! Thank you! I know many people work on Zotero, but you and I actually might have briefly met in a Burmese restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland several years ago, in case that rings a bell. And yeah, isn’t mvolz’s work marvelous? The automated citation work feels so *right*, like, yes, this is what we ought to be using computers to do instead of having to make humans mess with metadata every time we add a cite.

G. Branden Robinson, a former Debian Project Leader — thank you SO MUCH for commenting in this thread, and for serving the free software community! I’m using Mint at the moment so I owe much gratitude to you and the others who have made Debian what it is. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what sorts of open source projects are suited or would be suited to a DPL-type process and system, and — this is even more controversial, I know — under what circumstances that ought to be in any way a paid position.

SusanC: I need to respond to you in greater depth, but right away I wanted to say that great minds think alike and I cited Weber and Hirschmann in a tech management HOWTO in 2011!

I need to crash so I can be fresh for the Mailman sprints starting tomorrow, but I aim to respond more later this week. Thanks again for all the food for thought, and thanks to the CT editors/posters/moderators for the support!

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Peter T 04.13.15 at 3:03 am

One possibly helpful read is John Levi Martin – Social Structures. My take is that hierarchy is the only structure that really scales. Which, if you accept it, directs attention both to scale issues and to restraining hierarchy (nested conciliar structures seem to work best). The point on having management who understand what the business actually does is a good one – most of the train wrecks I’ve seen are MBAs and finance types thinking what they knew was all they needed to know.

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Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 4:02 am

Stephenson-quoter-kun, far above: I think that psych studies done on a hundred elite college kids fulfilling part of their psych class requirement are often bullshit. And I think people should be able to put up Star Trek posters, drink Coke, and open video games at work (though your boss might legit wonder why an empty box for the new Assassin’s Creed is on your desk). But if it actually turned out you could staunch the bleeding or even invert the downward trend in women majoring in CompSci in undergrad by taking a few posters down in the shared lab, wouldn’t it pretty obviously be worth it on a purely utilitarian basis? Stereotype Threat is real and well-documented; girls asked to check a box indicating their gender will perform slightly worse on SAT-type math tests than those who aren’t. They perform worse again if they are told in the lead-up to the test that boys score, on average, higher than girls. We can talk all day about why that’s in some sense stupid of them qua individuals, but it’s statistically significant enough that it’s worth taking the box off a test in some cases, and worth not devoting class time to a discussion of boys’ higher average math scores on the SAT. Why artificially lower the girls’ scores, after all? And note: you would be lowering their scores with accurate information, so this is a morally clear case for something that’s not a Noble Lie but a Noble Omission.

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Ben 04.13.15 at 8:21 am

Sumana, I have nothing against you really – how could I? I am sure you’re great at your job and this was really not aimed at you personally. Management is important just as is sales, and there is always a tendency for each group to think that they are the “real” company doing the “real” work, when in fact all are necessary. I think it all just got out of hand and I very much hope you are not offended.

Anyway it seems we’ve partly been talking at cross purposes. “No touching” rules at in-person technical events are a great idea. I’d hate to be one of the 5% women in a conference full of men where even a tiny proportion think groping is an OK first expression of romantic interest.

Bianca: “You’re just reinforcing the idea that engineers are some kind of primitive chaotic that has no concept of self-governance, and has to be tamed by Lawful interlopers and fifth columnists “

That’s not a plausible objection. It wouldn’t be possible for them to do what they do if that was the case. There must be some governing principle albeit one which may not be visible to the cadastral eye.

@Belle, yes of course we can all do some of each type of skill. Writing a code of conduct is within the reach of most of us (as you said we all accept the principles). Persuading people to adopt an externally imposed one probably takes a degree in politics though.

Really it was supposed to be a throwaway comment along the lines of “here we go, the jocks are coming for the geeks’ cafeteria table”. I wasn’t expecting it to kick of all this, you know, USENET. (It’s not even my table, I’m on the next one over.)

I am glad I amuse you anyway! Maybe I will be allowed back then?

Anyway I am going way for a week now so I will be unable to respond further. Sorry.

93

Harald K 04.13.15 at 9:43 am

You’re never going to listen to me when you’ve got Ben as a convenient weak man for my views, are you… But anyway.

You all need to face up to the fact that there ARE power plays going on. Not least you, Sumana Harihareswara from Mediawiki. The big difference, as you point out, is that the licenses more or less police themselves (or in extreme instances, are policed by outsiders) whereas codes of conduct need an internal governing structure, a new arena where political power can be exercised. And where there are big differences in political power.

Don’t get me wrong, there are other arenas of political power in open source projects. They’re a problem too. Linus has disproportionate political power for instance, and he’s used it dubiously many times. There was the Con Kolivas scheduler affair, and the Bitkeeper affair.

But to his credit, he did some good to reduce his own dictatorial power in switching to distributed revision control, giving a lot more teeth to the “just fork it” argument. (I know a similar mechanism has been proposed for MediaWiki many times – it’s easy to imagine a git-like wiki, with several “heads” – but it’s never gotten anywhere. Presumably the current players have too much invested in centralized wikis’ political games.)

And where others mask their political power as just making the objectively right decisions for the project, meritocracy, technocracy, etc. Linus has at least owned up to having personal power to some degree. The worst dictators are the ones who deny that they wield power at all.

You’re pretty much in denial about the reality of political power in policing “code of conduct” violations. Belle in #33, complains that the dongle joke accuser was painted as the villain, but what if she WAS the villain? Yes, getting the internet’s angry attention sucks, but she called in that on two guys herself, because they had the temerity to make a crude joke to each other in the row ahead of her. She publicly shamed them on twitter. As to them now having jobs and she not having one, well, weren’t they developers while she was in public relations? Bringing negative attention to the company is never good I suppose, but when your job is bringing positive attention to your company it’s rather worse.

There are also those who really want to make “code of conduct” more “viral” like the GPL. Shame those who violate the code, but shame even more those who refuse to shame the violators. What do you think these SJWs that the internet complains about do?

It is really a lot more about wielding power than you realize, and a damn lot more power can be wielded under the banner of civility and socially progressive values than you admit.

Ah, what the hell. I’m not going to convince you. But you’re going to meet your Requires Hate one day. Maybe that will.

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Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 11:28 am

Yes of course we can all do some of each type of skill. Writing a code of conduct is within the reach of most of us (as you said we all accept the principles).

Ben, it is evident that you cannot write a modestly civil blog comment without difficulty. Why on earth should anyone imagine you are capable of writing a code of conduct? I am very willing to accept your apology to be unable to post for some time.

Harald K., have you read the interview with Adria Richards, the woman in question, which I linked above? According to her (and I believe this is a legit timeline) she originally took the photo because the PyCon guidelines suggested identifying whoever was violating the rules of conduct, and she didn’t think they’d volunteer their names. In this case the violation (in her version) was telling a joke she found offensive at a loud volume and for several minutes, not, as in their version, whispering a joke between themselves for a moment, and she tweeted it to the con organisers and her followers. It didn’t blow up huge on twitter until one of the men wrote about it on Hacker News less than 24 hours after it was posted. That’s way sooner than the “two days later” that he claimed he lost his job in the NYT article. Richards got a heads-up from a friend that she was getting re-tweeted like mad, and then got fired herself soon after in an damage control move by her workplace. She even, unlike the two guys, had to move out of her place because she got doxxed and was getting so many death and rape threats. I have to say I don’t think she did anything totally horrible, even though everyone can agree the results were horrible for all concerned. She was thinking “oh god, more typical bullshit, why at a professional conference can I not get 30 fucking minutes without my colleagues acting like 7th graders” and the guys were thinking “dongles LOL” (fair enough! I might well have LoLed!). She notified con organisers because that was in line the actual stated written policy, and tweeted it out to her 7K followers just to say “look at this shit,” without any intention of getting anyone fired. She has no doubt regretted it a billion times, but at the time it may have been some final straw on the camel’s back of random minor indignities. A minority woman, and they are rare as hen’s teeth in Silicon Valley, does something that ends with her getting banned from the industry and leaves the guys rolling along just fine. Your interpretation of that as a pushy power play seems…off, Harald. I won’t pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about, though! Yes, people who seek better codes of conduct are looking for political power. It’s just that it’s not as an end in itself, but as a means to enact the equality we regard as just. It’s not through some quota of hate that we’d be satisfied, but rather some level of non-hate: less misogyny in online communities, to pick an example not entirely at random.

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Soru 04.13.15 at 12:02 pm

belle, would you agree that at least that train wreck was a bad result for all concerned?

One bad incident isn’t enough to to say that the written policies that enabled what happened are to blame. But it should at least count as a tally in n the column ‘treatment given, patient died’.

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Barry 04.13.15 at 1:14 pm

Soru

“belle, would you agree that at least that train wreck was a bad result for all concerned?”

Soru, Belle just pointed out that the consequences were both far from similar, and that the person pointing out the violation of a conference code of conduct lost her job for that.

97

Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 1:21 pm

Yes, I said the outcome was terrible generally; I meant that it was terrible for all concerned.

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Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 1:27 pm

In retrospect it sounds like reporting the guys just to the con organisers and no one else might have been fine–they would have gotten contacted as well as, eventually, probably, their bosses, and probably would have apologised to her while everyone sensibly kept their jobs? It wasn’t even a joke that was in the worst ever most horrible taste, or one no one has heard before (some variation of). But it was inappropriate and unprofessional behavior for being in the audience of a conference and violated the stated rules of conduct for the con, and so I think it merited a follow-up on her part. It shouldn’t have been a job-losing offence for anyone, neither dudes nor her.

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Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 1:37 pm

I think telling ‘dongle’ jokes when representing your employer at an indutry event is unprofessional. I think turning around, taking someones picture, tweeting it and passive aggressively demanding action be taken is also unprofessional, and intrusive. Im sure there were other non-public avenues to resolve the issue. I dont think complaining about it on a message board later (especially if he used her name or linked to her twitter account) is much better. People need to be aware of how these harrasment and shaming campaigns begin, and who their audience are. It’s not good enough to claim being ‘caught up in circumstances beyond our control’ after the fact.
I dont think any of them deserved to lose their jobs. Id say none of them deserved even serious disciplinary action be taken. The people who fired them are the first villains of the piece. The second, worst, villians, are the terrorists who harrased Adria Richards, got her fired and drove her out of her house. The third, much more benign, villians , are those who piled on to the two ‘dongle lads’ , just so we could all have a ‘teachable moment’, rather than just letting it go.
I agree fully that Adria Richards has come out of it worse than anyone*, and that’s mostly because she is a black female in an industry dominated by white males, although I dont think that absolves her from responsibility for the stupid thing she did. To draw out the analogy above about policing in Watts , expecting to enforce norms or rules against every ‘micro aggression’ is like stop and frisk. Pointless, polarising and probably ineffective. How rules and norms are enforced (or not) and violated is as important as what the rules actually are. I think rules, regulations and codes of conduct need to be limited and concentrated on serious misbehaviours (which I dont think telling dongle jokes is)
I dont think the two men who told dongle jokes should be seen as martyrs or Adria Richards as historys greatest monster. But I do think the way problems appear to be handled in these online communities does seem, at a distance, problematic, at best. There seems to be an endless obsession with the trivial, a tendency to blow everything out of proportion, and a complete lack of perspective or even the slightest recognition that you’re dealing with normal, flawed people who might have made a minor misjudgement, rather than ideological enemies.

* I do think Jon Ronson covered all of this fairly.

100

Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 1:39 pm

That was cross posted with your last Belle (Im not really disagreeing with your position, I dont think, just adding my tuppences worth)

101

Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 1:51 pm

“I think rules, regulations and codes of conduct need to be limited and concentrated on serious misbehaviours “

Actually, I dont *know* if I think this. I dont think Ive any sophisticated take on the topic, so am not tied to any position neccesarily.

102

AcademicLurker 04.13.15 at 2:05 pm

Regarding Adria Richards, I think sharing the whole thing with twitter was a bad idea but that she gets a bit of a pass because this was a very early incident in the “twitter turns groups of normal people into mobs of raving sociopaths” genre. So she had no reason to expect the massively disproportional shitstorm that resulted. The same action would indicate far worse judgement today than it did then.

103

Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 2:15 pm

Yeah that’s fair enough.
Just to add, I do think these shaming campaigns do fall with greater weight on those with less power in society (whether b/c of gender race or class) There was a relatively recent shaming event in Ireland where a young (17) year old girl was filmed giving someone a semi public blowjob at a festival, which was then put up on youtube and became viral.
When it got into the media *she* was the villain, whereas he (who recieved the blowjob) and his friends (who actually filmed it) were either written out of the story or written off as ‘boys being boys.’ She ended up hounded for a month and driven into a nervous breakdown (i wont link to it)

104

Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 2:21 pm

Ronan(rf), I don’t actually think Ronson covered it fairly. You do have to take his overarching totally moronic quest to help us all forgive Jonah Lehrer into account when you read his article (retrospectively, I mean, because this is a huge focus of the book for which that article was the teaser). Lehrer was a plagiarist and–even more–a rank fabulist, and a brief investigation of his writing turned up so many problems that he was summarily dispatched, but that doesn’t mean a longer look wouldn’t turn up trouble with all the rest too. Will no one think of the young white guys who need a second chance at the plum, well-connected gig they got, just because they completely fucking made up shitBob Dylan was supposed to have said and then pulled and extensive “18 1/2 minutes of tape is missing” routine when asked for evidence? Wait, no. Let’s just give that job to someone else, shall we?

I think we all probably agree that internet pile-ons both seem alluring at times (I too feel outraged!) but also suck and are clearly not a good way to advance social change–or, if you are of this mind–to resist social change either. They just suck, pretty much. But I think the unpredictable scaling-up must be weird, right? Like, you might hope to piss some people off at this woman, but then the baleful fires of 4chan are unleashed, laying all before them to waste, and maybe you didn’t quite expect that? Or, you think you did your bit by reporting these guys to con organisers, and now you tweet the pic too because you’re like “this? This is my professional conference that I’m at for professionals? ffs” and then the poor bastards are losing their jobs? People do similar things very often and don’t cause nasty six-significant-digit pileups on the information superhighway, so it may be a little hard to know what’s going to happen in one’s own given case. I think we can agree it’s not the best tool for social justice in the world while (perhaps mildly paradoxically) noting that it does have the power to bring an issue vividly to the forefront of people’s consciousness. Actually, the true moral of the story is that no one should ever tweet, ever.

105

Belle Waring 04.13.15 at 2:25 pm

Good point AcademicLurker; with that I will bid you all good night and may you not slit one another’s throats before I return. To slit, myself, the throats of the undeserving. Because you are dear to me.

106

AcademicLurker 04.13.15 at 2:31 pm

The totally random nature of what blows up into an internet pile-on and what doesn’t is part of what makes them so obnoxious.

Bringing this back (sort of) to the original subject of codes of conduct for conventions and suchlike, I think the details of how they are enforced will turn out to be at least as important as what the formal policies are.

Looking at web forums, inconsistent enforcement of moderation policies is a huge source of disfunction.

107

soru 04.13.15 at 3:06 pm

‘ violated the stated rules of conduct for the con’

To me, here’s the key point; the actual set of written rules acted as a direct enabler to that poor outcome. Simply put, they had a bug[1].

What if instead the rules had had a clause about being the final arbitrator of any sanctions under them , and that any firm sacking anyone based on anything that happened at the conference would be subject to penalties for ?

[1] joke about privilege escalation goes here.

108

Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 6:06 pm

Belle 104 – I agree that the decision to use Lehrer’s story seems ….odd. even if he was hard done by ( which, without knowing the ins and outs, I don’t think he was) I think ‘outrage’ against public figures (or institutions) is more justifiable.
I also agree joining in the outrage is alluring at times, in fact I’m a huge hypocrite here as I’m very prone to many moments of outrage myself.
I agree that Twitter and all who use it are evil.

109

Ronan(rf) 04.13.15 at 6:16 pm

I agree with the rest of your comment as well. A lot of this can at times be looking back after the fact and criticising their behaviour out of context (which with a different turn of events could just have petered out into nothing and soon been forgotten about )

110

Marshall 04.13.15 at 6:56 pm

Are we having a Violent Agreement about Adriana? Thank you.

I think the OP is about trying to implement a Virtue, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s sense. Or an explicit framework in which such an ever-evolving standard of excellence can be exercised. Programmers doing software development perhaps have a tendency to attack these problems in a uniquely programatic way … additions or changes to the code base propagate by well-understood (if not always well-controlled) methodology, changes to the norms of any society not so much.

Other kinds of dynamic groups confront these issues about how to define and refine a shared content/organization/infrasctructure … Evangelical churches spring immediately to mind. William Timberman @61, yes!! There’s a problem as old as human society, and it looks important to make some significant progress with it soon. My take is that in a globalized/individualized world a software project or a church congregation is the right scale to be working at.

that doesn’t mean that anyone who tries to suggest ways of being friendlier, nicer and more helpful is doing so as part of some kind of culture war. Mostly they just want everyone to be happier.

That would be excellently nice, but people like me would like everyone to just stop gunning each other down in the streets. In literal as well as de-hyperbolized senses.

111

Matt 04.13.15 at 7:11 pm

Looking at web forums, inconsistent enforcement of moderation policies is a huge source of disfunction.

I run a moderately active web forum about a technical subject and I would say that robotic enforcement of moderation policies is also a huge source of dysfunction. The worst moderator I ever promoted to that position was unfailingly polite and helpful before he ascended to power. Afterward he was unfailingly polite in his words but mechanical in his moderation decisions. He exhibited all the discretion of a compiler checking types. He alienated regular and new users alike, and never managed to imitate how the other moderators used the rules as tools for nurturing the community. The forum had a decade of history for him to study and he had been active for more than a year prior. Is that normal for Wikipedia? He was also an editor on Wikipedia.

I had to demote him after several fruitless months trying to help him understand the reasoning behind the rules and when to apply them.

I think rules, regulations and codes of conduct need to be limited and concentrated on serious misbehaviours

I am not sure this is true, or at least I have experienced a sudden epiphany about what misbehavior is serious. The technical forum I mention above that I run is mostly male, young, and non-religious in membership. In the off-topic section people posted the sort of BS you might expect from mostly non-religious young males. Sometimes there would be casually sexist or Islamophobic jokes/comments posted and I just kind of rolled my eyes and ignored them. About three years in to running the forum, I incidentally discovered that we had a few closeted women and Muslims in our membership. Suddenly those jokes that were white noise before made me acutely ashamed and I had to update the rules and enforcement to stop those posts going forward. If you had asked me the year before what I thought the community’s most serious issues were in expanding and increasing engagement, “casual hostility to certain demographics” wasn’t even on my radar.

112

Dingbat 04.13.15 at 7:23 pm

One question that this spurred in my mind: to what extent is the rise of contracts-based models over rules-based models part of rising equality (in some senses) and to what extent is it the rise of a shift in power from governmental to corporate institutions? Not that these are unrelated, but I see two things going on:

A strong sense (especially within the FLOSS commmunities) that contributors are equal; you’re to be judged by what you do, not your affiliation. This makes for an inherent tension with any governance structure (at least if your primary notion of government is “telling me that I can’t do things”). Equality, of course, can either be a threat to those in power or it can be defined by those in power such that they retain power.

Meanwhile, contracts have taken over as a primary way of negotiating relationships: a EULA is a replacement for a legal understanding of the relationship between two parties who are doing business. I don’t, in other words, sign a EULA when I buy a pair of socks—or even when I buy a car (Teslas excepted) because the purchase relationship is legally defined; even the followup on what can and can’t be in your warranty is legally defined. But companies would rather be bound by an agreement they write than a body of law based on either commonlaw or constitutional concepts, or legislation.

Contracts presume an equality between the parties; in theory, both sides can take a breach of contract to court. In practice, of course, a EULA is a contract that masks radical inequality in power between the parties, in this ways it seems the logical sum of these two trends. Governance requires wrestling with equality in a real way, on the other hand, and voluntarily submitting to an authority constituted in some fashion (over time, by people, etc.), as opposed to preserving a contractual illusion of equality.

It is great to hear (in these comments) about successful (and less successful) strategies.

113

MPAVictoria 04.13.15 at 7:25 pm

“There was a relatively recent shaming event in Ireland where a young (17) year old girl was filmed giving someone a semi public blowjob at a festival, which was then put up on youtube and became viral.
When it got into the media *she* was the villain, whereas he (who recieved the blowjob) and his friends (who actually filmed it) were either written out of the story or written off as ‘boys being boys.’ She ended up hounded for a month and driven into a nervous breakdown (i wont link to it)”

We really do love our children don’t we?
/Fuck I could have lived without reading that today.
//Why are humans such assholes?

114

soru 04.13.15 at 7:38 pm

Some formatting glitch in previous comment, should end ‘any firm sacking anyone based on matters successfully resolved at the conference will be subject to legal action for breach of contract’.

Then when someone tells a stupid joke, they get to apologize, or maybe watch a training video. Firms get a usable defense against twitter storms. And, most importantly, those enforcing the rules will be in a position to make things better, without facing suspicion they are only doing it because they found a shortcut to wielding the near-mythical power of a CEO.

On the topic of stupid jokes, there’s another one to be made here about race conditions…

115

The Temporary Name 04.13.15 at 8:37 pm

Actually, the true moral of the story is that no one should ever tweet, ever.

Yes.

Good post, I like seeing this stuff discussed.

116

The Temporary Name 04.13.15 at 9:18 pm

If you had asked me the year before what I thought the community’s most serious issues were in expanding and increasing engagement, “casual hostility to certain demographics” wasn’t even on my radar.

Where one language is dominant I’ve seen variants of “Please forgive me! English is not my first language!” as a signature in communications. What I take for rudeness could be clumsiness, and the inner grammar/spelling Nazi must be suppressed.

117

Stephenson-quoter kun 04.13.15 at 10:13 pm

Belle @91:

I think that psych studies done on a hundred elite college kids fulfilling part of their psych class requirement are often bullshit. And I think people should be able to put up Star Trek posters, drink Coke, and open video games at work (though your boss might legit wonder why an empty box for the new Assassin’s Creed is on your desk). But if it actually turned out you could staunch the bleeding or even invert the downward trend in women majoring in CompSci in undergrad by taking a few posters down in the shared lab, wouldn’t it pretty obviously be worth it on a purely utilitarian basis?

I know there’s the whole ‘extremism is no vice’ argument, but I’m not sure that we can appeal to the enormity of the problem to justify hand-wavy ‘solutions’. Either this really would work, or it wouldn’t, and that matters rather a lot. Especially because these kinds of things genuinely are being posed as solutions, and it’s rhetorically very difficult to argue against them without looking like you’re arguing against the existence of the problem. My sneaking sympathy for Ben comes from trying to argue against this kind of thing and having faced the usual clichéd attempts to frame those objections as an ethical lapse, after which point it’s really a question of how much patience you have before you start reaching for the insults yourself.

I keep trying to write a paragraph beginning “But let’s say it would work – what then?”. I suppose there’s really nothing interesting to say: if it would work, and we really can’t think of anything better to try, then I guess we should try it. I’m just struck by how radically unlikely those two propositions are. I’m also bothered by the conflation of nerdiness with masculinity, which I don’t believe to be inevitable; if we had a choice, I’d rather focus on diminishing that link than getting rid of the nerdiness altogether. The reason I cited that article in the first place was that I thought it was a uniquely bad example of both an explanation of the problem and a solution to it. Compared to sexual harassment, long and unsocial work hours, devil-take-the-hindmost pay schemes, stack ranking and the expectation that maintenance of your skills should be done on your own time (but posted online where potential employers can see it), the presence or absence of Star Trek posters would seem an unlikely mechanism by which the problem can be addressed. We might consider that addressing the former set of problems would require the people who own the companies to spend more money, whilst addressing the latter ‘problem’ would involve making the geeks who work for them smarten up and act normal.

To come up with better solutions, I think that we need to find ways of engaging community participants more in directing their communities, else we will always be faced with top-down imposition of rules, and these will always bring conflict and tribalism in their wake, and this will always lead to people justifying silly ideas on the basis of the need to solve some really big problem; the bigger the problem the less excusable it is to question the solutions. And, of course, it will always lead to people who reject perfectly good solutions because they don’t like how they came about.

I used to suspect that communities of techie people might be particularly good at solving this. I have seen it happen, just a few times, and it has always been amazing to see it in action. But it mostly fails, and by the time we get to the point of, I dunno, “Gamergate” vs. “SJW” levels of mutual loathing, that loathing and those tribal identities are always the symptom of the problem and not (as they are commonly held by the respective sides) the cause. The first person who can figure out how to solve that doesn’t just deserve a CT guest blog, they deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.13.15 at 10:15 pm

A great comment, Dingbat @112. I’d like to think it illustrates my allusion upstream to H.S. Maine. But both purchases and licenses are “legally defined.” Buying property engages a regime of statutory and common law. So when you write this: “But companies would rather be bound by an agreement they write than a body of law based on either commonlaw or constitutional concepts, or legislation” — I reply, well, companies who purchase property (socks, cars, factories) sure as hell don’t want to be so bound. They want the highest ownership possible, which a licensing agreement does not provide. And then there’s Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, to name a couple high-profile SCOTUS cases, both declaring constitutional law in ways I suspect a lot of companies approve of.

119

Jerry Vinokurov 04.14.15 at 1:49 am

Here’s the thing about codes of conduct: even when you don’t explicitly have them, you still have them. Communities run on norms, whether those norms are articulated explicitly or tacitly presumed. In situations where norms are implicit, what tends to happen is that a bunch of people who are part of the “in” group are going to monopolize their enforcement because they’re the ones who know what the norms are. If you want to ensure fairness, a necessary but not sufficient condition is that your community norms be explicit and understandable to everyone. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with some people trying to subvert the norms and no one really being able to oppose them because it’s not explicitly clear where they’ve transgressed.

120

Mike Schilling 04.14.15 at 3:25 am

Or, to say it another way, if a commercial software developer who needs to solve a problem finds a library that does it, she has to look at the license. If it’s non-restrictive (e.g. Apache), she can use it as long as she credits Apache for the help. If it’s restrictive (e.g. GPL), she can’t; she has to take the time to write original code that does the same job. This doesn’t make anyone better off; the resulting program simply became more expensive to produce. I suppose it may give Richard Stallman some consolation for the fact that no one calls it GNU/Linux.

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The Temporary Name 04.14.15 at 3:31 am

If it’s restrictive (e.g. GPL), she can’t; she has to take the time to write original code that does the same job. This doesn’t make anyone better off; the resulting program simply became more expensive to produce.

Well, it’s still free for most other people on Earth who are doing all sorts of things with it and she has a job doing the thing she’s paid to do.

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Belle Waring 04.14.15 at 3:51 am

Stephenson-quoter-kun: you are right that “what if they worked” doesn’t seem very likely. So part of your reasonable resentment is, “I don’t want to be forced to do freedom-restricting things in support of a very uncertain outcome, just because the final proposed outcome is a good one.” But I think you do right in conceding that “if they worked then do it” seems reasonable. And we know there is some value of “there are posters” that is hostile to women: notionally-clad women in porn-star poses on posters (or actually naked porn stars, providentially hidden by leaves. Or improvidently unhidden). Woman find that irritating, consistently, but also find it hard to ask anyone to take it down. This sort of thing has made it through courts as actual classic hostile workplace, so it’s not theoretical (now you may object that it was the porn stars; but I think you’ll find it was pin-ups as well; now you may object changing standards render this moot; this would require some justification but is not crazy.) Geek posters can shade over here if someone is super-into Vampirella, right? (And someone is because there are like twenty titles or something. Who buys this? There is free porn now? Wat? WAT?) What if it’s just Seven of Nine, and Six from BG? Or even Power Girl, conceivably? Sure, we’re all grown-ups who’ve seen Princess Leia in the slave costume before, but what if the dude with the slave Leia poster is a TOTAL raging dick to you all the time? What if he makes snide gross comments constantly? What if he is “surprise backrub” guy? You might start to hate the fuck out of that poster, even if you were Princess Leia four years in a row for Halloween.

The problem is this: some people conflate geekiness with masculinity. This is wrong, but it’s the battle-line all of GamerGate and its varied anti-SJW allies is drawn up to protect. “What if gaming were a space where women were around all the time and it wasn’t helpful to stop what you were doing and say bullshit sexist shit like–best case–tits or GTFO, worst case–I’m going to hack your head off and fuck your spinal column?” BZZZT. “What if women loved comic books too and..dammit I even like the artist for the new Power Girl what the fuck though?” (Yes, I fix this by reading only Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, and manga) BZZT. This “geeks are men” thing is acutely irritating to every female geek in the world, but it’s part of the definitional identity of some men, and they really seem to get upset when women are touching their stuff. Like, how will it even hurt you if women enjoy the same interests as you? No, we have to hear shit about fake geek girls, and about how girls ignored them in high school in favor of jocks and are now only pretending to be geeks for that sweet sweet geek money, because everyone apparently went to school in a 1980s movie. It’s easy to feel negative about this…because it’s so fucking depressing…but in part it is down to female community members making themselves felt enough to receive a backlash; this is a stage beyond hiding, watchful invisibility, so, yay! But more this goes on, it may be the more neutral, geeky things will code male to non-invested viewers, which can only increase the mild alienation recorded by the study you note. In which case, if there were no posters in the HS and undergrad shared CS labs, and the percentage of women majoring started to go up instead of down (as it’s now less than it was in like 1988) then I would say that didn’t seem like a very bad trade-off? And I don’t mean to stick the GamerGaters in the middle there by sleight of hand to get my result at the end; I think it’s relevant that they are interested in making sure the things of ordinary, gender- and race- and sexual-orientation-neutral-geekdom, code straight white male.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.14.15 at 8:03 am

Belle@122

*massive applause*

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Lynne 04.14.15 at 3:10 pm

Back in comment #17 Belle asked Sumana to help CT come up with a policy for comment threads, and when she did I thought of her comment in Eszter’s thread about how the women bloggers of CT post less often than the men partly because of the sexist pushback they often get. I’ve been thinking about this ever since.

Twice recently Belle has nuked a sexist commenter, once upthread here and once in Eszter’s thread, and I’ve noticed she is the CT blogger most likely to step in when sexist stuff is happening in another blogger’s thread. It seems the same few people deal with sexist pushback every time; some male and female commenters, and some of the women CT bloggers. I noticed and liked Henry’s comment upthread, and wonder whether more such comments from their brother bloggers would make a difference. What I mean is, since it is probably not possible to prevent sexist comments, maybe we can hope to deal with them in such a way that the burden does not fall so solidly on the women posters.

Are the male CT bloggers all aware that the women get this sexist garbage? I ask seriously, because they are all busy people who, even if they read a lot of each other’s posts, may not keep up with the comment threads. If they are aware, are they also aware that this unrelenting, unfun feedback may make the women post less often than they would otherwise?

And if they are aware of these things, do they think CT should do something about it? If yes, are they inclined to do something themselves, and if so, do they have the time to do anything more than they already do? For example, one strategy that occurred to me that might lighten the women posters’ load is if sympathetic male bloggers occasionally would each “adopt” a contentious thread to help moderate it. This would be asking a lot, I know, because this blog is done in people’s spare time, and it must be hard sometimes even to keep on top of their own threads.

I don’t know whether this idea would interest the CT owners, or even whether it would work, if implemented (that is, whether it would it make the women feel less deterred from posting again) but since Belle mentioned asking Sumana for ideas I thought it was worth throwing this idea out there. I do think commenters have a responsibility, too, but our opinions carry less weight than the opinions of the blog owners.

To conclude this awfully long comment, I’d like to say that to me CT feels friendlier to feminism, and to me as a feminist, now, than it did a couple of years ago when I first came here.

My first comments were made in the thread of a post of Belle’s that came to be known as the GRR Martin thread (a long thread that had nothing to do with the post, whose title I’ve forgotten). At that time CT did not feel like such a good place to talk about feminism, and I said so. It feels much better to me now, and I’d like to thank all the bloggers here for their work in making it so.

That said, it must be wearying in the extreme for the women to face the kind of sexist reaction they so often get. I’d love to see more posts from them so am interested in discussing possible solutions.

(Note: I’m not thinking of banning people)

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bianca steele 04.14.15 at 3:19 pm

Lynne,

That’s interesting that you feel that way. Personally, not for the first time, I was a little uncomfortable with the way Henry handled it. (I have my own opinions about some of the substantive questions Sumana raises, too.). But I think it would be unfair to Sumana to make her guest post be the one in which local issues are hashed out that have little to do with her ideas, just because we got a rare post by a woman.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.14.15 at 3:31 pm

Just in: NSF on the demographics of STEM…

http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15317/

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Henry 04.14.15 at 5:52 pm

Lynne – I think the broad answer is – yes – we are aware of it, think about it, but haven’t identified any solutions beyond what you see already that don’t involve enormous amounts of monitoring that we don’t have time for individually (I would guess that most of us are far busier – or at least have far more formal responsibilities than we did when we first began). And also – I don’t know how far we should go. The comments threads both are and are not our thing to control as posters. We try to stop outright terrible behavior, but we also tolerate commenters whom we don’t particularly like or find useful, on various sides of the spectrum, on the basis that we’re not the only consumers or judges of whether they have valuable things to say.

Bianca – it would be helpful to know why you were uncomfortable. FWIW – I do recognize that there’s a blurry line between trying to police the bad behavior of other guys, and ostentatious and annoying forms of gallantry that help to reinforce the patterns you are purportedly trying to combat. FWIW too it could be that I was wrong in this specific case, but as per Belle I don’t think so – I’ve seen enough argument out there in tech where ‘liberal arts education’ is a thin patina coding for ‘has girl cooties and can’t think straight’ that I think it’s entirely fair to reason from the general to this specific instance. But I’m obviously open to argument and correction as appropriate, if either of these or something else entirely is bugging you.

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bianca steele 04.14.15 at 6:32 pm

Henry,

I know there’s a long history here of commenters finding it difficult to find a nice way to engage guest posters, often women, but I remember the Shirky guest post, too. If Belle and Sumana are okay with the “gallantry” it’s not my place to object. But the comment in question raised a few issues and unfortunately mingled in an arguably sexist one in there. You seemed to want to cut off that line of discussion and that’s fine. If he had wanted to taint the second line of argument by association, he couldn’t have done a better job, IMHO, though of course others’ MMV. But that’s not your fault, it’s his.

Tech is a big world. I’ve heard anti liberal arts sentiment lots of times from people not given to sexist blather, and really, it is a code for anti-elitism, anti-Ivy, anti-management (which admittedly does have more women than engineering when you count HR, marketing, and so on). I don’t know the new FLOSS world, though I have (and my husband has) worked on he edges of it. I think it would be amusing to see the reaction to this thread of the commenter who’s an IT manager and doesn’t like to hire people who took software engineering courses because they’re too independent. Now there are startups where they avoid CS majors because of he “academic BS.”

I do think the OP is interesting and I’m glad people who are working in that world had a chance to discuss it.

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bianca steele 04.14.15 at 7:00 pm

“a code”: at least at work, in college many of my friends, both men and women, who did science were not happy that they had to take so many humanities core and distribution requirements and did not think highly of the work involved and there was a fair amount of resentment. It wouldn’t be surprising if some resentment on their part lingered for having to study subjects in which they often did badly.

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Abbe Faria 04.14.15 at 7:38 pm

I don’t think the disciplinary clash stuff should be written off. Liberal arts do tend towards feminism and social justice. For all the fuss over the death of liberal arts, it’s had a enormous political impact on social justice movements. What are now everyday arguments over privilege and micro-aggressions and oppression and so on have their origins in huge numbers of people being given college liberal arts educations. Whatever your stance, you’ve got to acknowledge this has shaped mass culture and is an enormous political achievement. I see this stuff day-to-day in ways that you just wouldn’t have 10-15 years ago.

Computing has other roots, tending libertarian/anarchist because of interest in stuff like cryptography and the early internet/hacking influences on pioneers. This has an impact too. Wikimedia is historically very free speech, it’s deliberately taken risky positions – it was one of the few orgs to republish the Jyllands-Posten cartoons, it hosts nudity (including child nudity) and erotic art – when it could have taken a much safer more mainstream route. So when per #53 you get a CoC couched in social justice terminology prohibiting offensive remarks relating to religion and sexual images, I don’t think you can write off a genuine culture clash.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 04.14.15 at 9:53 pm

Belle @122:

… notionally-clad women in porn-star poses on posters … What if he is “surprise backrub” guy?

I think you’re basically agreeing with me here – there’s nothing offensive about Star Trek posters per se, and we need to make them into something much worse before they become self-evidently bad. Backrub guy and his porn-star posters are obviously problematic, and I’m not going to try to argue that maybe he’s just trying to be nice, and the posters are just an artistic appreciation of feminine grace, because he isn’t and they’re not. I wouldn’t want to work near either of them.

My model here is that there is a mainstream set of behaviours which reflect a belief in the values of obedience, banality and conformity. The Star Trek example looks to me like something that has much less to do with being friendly to women and much more to do with removing something that just seems weird to this mindset. If you wanted to create the impression that social justice is a cover for corporate conformism, this is precisely the kind of shit you would put out there. I’m not saying that SJ is a cover for corporate conformism, just that some of the worst examples are hard to distinguish from it, and exposure to these examples may increase suspicion of the concept as a whole.

The problem is this: some people conflate geekiness with masculinity. This is wrong, but it’s the battle-line all of GamerGate and its varied anti-SJW allies is drawn up to protect.

I am struggling to see the negatives that arise from trying to undermine Gamergate’s framing of the situation. They want to put a battle-line there? Fine, let’s just invade via Belgium.

This “geeks are men” thing is acutely irritating to every female geek in the world, but it’s part of the definitional identity of some men, and they really seem to get upset when women are touching their stuff.

One of the reasons I was annoyed by the Star Trek example is that it tells these men that they are entirely right – this stuff does belong to them, to the extent that women run screaming from the room at the sight of it.

Like, how will it even hurt you if women enjoy the same interests as you? No, we have to hear shit about fake geek girls, and about how girls ignored them in high school in favor of jocks and are now only pretending to be geeks for that sweet sweet geek money, because everyone apparently went to school in a 1980s movie.

OK, so at this point I am in total vehement agreement with you. I really don’t understand the fake geek girl thing – whilst I can understand the concept in theory (a good number of extremely geeky men are made to feel socially inadequate for their lack of traditional masculinity; they internalise the message that women wouldn’t want to interact with men like them, or be seen to share their interests; they therefore interpret the existence of geeky women as probably some kind of trick; bizarre, but, as someone who used to have one, I can confirm that the young male mind will believe some pretty bizarre things) I don’t think it makes a lot of sense. I have an obvious sympathy with men who say some fucked up things because they themselves are fairly fucked up, but I don’t think that excuses anything. Making female geeks feel uncomfortable with their geekiness is just about the worst thing one can do here.

If I may digress briefly, I vaguely recall the moment in which the collective consciousness of the mostly-male software community became aware of modern feminism. Probably starting around five years ago, and probably prompted by things like Reddit and Tumblr (and via Reddit into things like Hacker News), word began to arrive of the concepts of social justice, patriarchy, and so on. (I simplify and dramatise, but this is a basically accurate recollection of how it felt to be there at the time). Some of us (like me!) had already encountered a bit of feminist thinking (well, I used to read Laurie Penny’s blog), so I’d got a lot of my initial WTFs out of the way and had begun to understand what it was all about. It didn’t all make sense, and some of it still doesn’t feel like it’s entirely the best way to understand the world, but I got the sense that it was a) in good faith and b) provided useful ways of understanding real problems. So far, so good; a learning opportunity for everyone was starting to take shape.

In short order, it turned into a war. Some of the people who responded to this stuff were out-and-out sexists. They saw a threat, or at least something they didn’t like, and they lashed out. They’d question whether women really have the right kinds of brain for software engineering, which is neatly both self-aggrandising and insulting at the same time. They’d accuse women of exaggerating their claims of oppression in the hope of gaining special treatment. I’m sure you can imagine some of the other things they said. Others, in my reckoning a far greater number, responded with more ordinary skepticism. These were strong claims being put forward! A radically different way of viewing the world, for that’s what feminism is if you really accept it, requires powerful evidence, and they wanted to see it. I don’t want to essentialise geek characteristics too much, but these are people who are used to being told things that don’t fully make sense at first and employing the tools of logic and questioning to pull them apart so that they can be rebuilt into something coherent, viz. something that might actually work as a piece of software.

Problem is, there really were people on the other side for whom the term ‘social justice warrior’ could be applied, and not in a nice way. Convinced that they had stumbled upon the very lair of the patriarchy itself, they saw these questions as aggressions and confusion as evasion. They were far more offended by the questions than they were by the outright sexism, or at least that’s how it looked. Like I said, it had turned into a war, and good faith and reason don’t last long on the front lines. It was like everyone was carrying their own personal abyss around with them, and they’d spend a good half-hour staring into it before typing their next comment.

For my part, I despaired, despairing being something I’m fairly good at. I couldn’t understand why the two sides could disagree so much when a simple tweak of the narrative should have united them. See, from my point of view I think you’d have to be pretty fucking awful at arguing if you can’t sell the concept of the patriarchy to male geeks. I mean, really, you can’t sell the concept of the existence of a privileged class of uber-masculine dude-bros and how they ruin things for everyone to a group of people whose creation myth pretty much directly involves being beaten up by those people in that 1980s American high school? I’m still stunned that nobody drew this connection.

The thing is, life really was difficult being a geek in the 80s; it would get you beaten up, told that you’re weak, inferior and weird. Of course, you’d always have a choice (at least if you were straight and white, I guess) – you could renounce and repent, and feign a greater interest in football or something, and pass for normal. But it would be a defeat and you’d never forget.

Then something weird happened. Around the late 90s, people started to think that being a geek, or at least a certain kind of geek, was OK. Acceptable. A valid life choice, if perhaps not entirely admirable. You might still occasionally get some shit from some people, but half the time you wonder if they just got their stereotypes a bit mixed up and thought you were Jewish. Suddenly, everything was basically OK for the straight white male geek. You might even found a dot-com company and find yourself stupendously rich for no real reason other than knowing a bit more about how modems work than the average person!

If I wanted to sell feminism to these people, I’d say: hey, you remember how you used to have to be afraid to be a geek? How people would say it was unbecoming of your gender archetype, and that you’d be considered unattractive and weird and inferior? And how that fucking sucked? Well, guess what, those same people are still doing it, and they’re doing it to those people over there, those people being women who just want to be computer programmers. Women are still getting the kind of shit that, in large part, the world has stopped giving to male geeks. And that is why the Star Trek post is so fucking annoying, because it basically says the complete opposite, that the geeks were the problem all along and if we could only get them to go away, or at least stop being so geeky all the damn time, everyone would get along just fine. It ignores the possibility that women are put off by Star Trek posters not because they see them as a sigil of the patriarchy but because they’re afraid of the social consequences of identifying themselves as geeks. Indeed, it reinforces those consequences.

But more this goes on, it may be the more neutral, geeky things will code male to non-invested viewers, which can only increase the mild alienation recorded by the study you note.

There are two ways of addressing this. We can accept that neutral geeky things will inevitably code male, and thus (with all due regret) remove them from sight. Or we can not accept that. I would prefer to not accept that, especially when I think about the kind of people who very much want us to accept it.

In which case, if there were no posters in the HS and undergrad shared CS labs, and the percentage of women majoring started to go up instead of down (as it’s now less than it was in like 1988) then I would say that didn’t seem like a very bad trade-off? And I don’t mean to stick the GamerGaters in the middle there by sleight of hand to get my result at the end; I think it’s relevant that they are interested in making sure the things of ordinary, gender- and race- and sexual-orientation-neutral-geekdom, code straight white male.

No, it’s not a bad trade-off. I’m still of the view that it’s not the best trade-off, but if we really can’t have the best then it’s better than nothing. If we could get more women to join the industry tomorrow by doing this, it may be justifiable (but not by much) on utilitarian grounds. I would contend that this doesn’t really do anything to ensure that the new arrivals stay, though (this post explains clearly why this matters). They might not need to worry about being seen as geeky any more, but they’ll still have to contend with long hours, uncertain career paths, arbitrary pay schemes and management that is unable to properly assess skills and performance and so relies for assessment on social cues that are always going to work against minorities. But hey, at least we got rid of the Star Trek posters!

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Val 04.15.15 at 1:21 am

Lynne @ 124
Just wanted to say I really support what you are saying here. I have to stop spending so much time in these kinds of internet discussions for a while, but I support you and wish you good luck with this.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.15.15 at 1:57 am

Stephenson-quoter kun @131: Still another helpful contribution here. But when I read this: “I vaguely recall the moment in which the collective consciousness of the mostly-male software community became aware of modern feminism. Probably starting around five years ago, and probably prompted by things like Reddit and Tumblr (and via Reddit into things like Hacker News), word began to arrive of the concepts of social justice, patriarchy, and so on.”…I’m a little stunned, perhaps not justifiably so. Maybe “modern feminism” refers by definition to post-2000 feminism or some arbitrary recent cut-off, but my experience with modern feminism–I’m on the waning end of 55 years old–is a lot deeper than five or fifteen years, and I’m a little amazed that feminism, unlike, say, democracy, could be a sort of recurring episode, past episodes of which are simply forgotten. Even the mostly male software community is older than that! But even if it weren’t, is that community supposed to be given a pass for not having learned about patriarchy until somebody rubbed their noses in it?

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Belle Waring 04.15.15 at 3:07 am

Yeah, on the whole I’d say I’m also in vehement agreement with you, Stephenson-quoter-kun. I actually thought of the Maginot Line. Stop surprise backrub guy, but if they take away our Star Trek posters, some unholy alliance of r/KotakuInAction and corporate HQ has won. As to why the male geeks won’t go for the obvious interpretation of sexism–have you heard the one about white feminists and intersectionality?

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Val 04.15.15 at 3:48 am

oh dear, sometimes in spite of my resolve not to get involved I have to join in just to point out something so obvious that everyone seems to have overlooked it –

Start Trek (like Dr Who etc) is male dominated – they have female characters but they are minority/secondary/tokenish

Not AS male dominated as say, football or something, but still you know, not equal opportunity

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Dean C. Rowan 04.15.15 at 3:49 am

I’ve heard the one about white feminists and intersectionality. Angela Harris, Stanford Law Review, 1990, and so on. Moreover, I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the topic with Angela, a teacher and friend. I believe MacKinnon/Dworkin has much to offer, despite Harris’s deserved skewering of their position. For example, geekiness is not, as far as I can tell, even remotely among the characteristics that might intersect with race and sex to serve white males as a wedge to divide and conquer. The “kind of shit” women get, speaking generally, is nothing of the sort that geeks get or got for a handful of decades at most. Maybe there’s a rhetorical advantage to making the comparison, true (i.e., to “sell” feminism), but it seems to me Larry Summers is a good example of ordinary skepticism gone haywire bad.

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Val 04.15.15 at 3:50 am

why didn’t auto correct do something useful for once and fix Star Trek for me, then, geeks?

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Belle Waring 04.15.15 at 4:38 am

Dean C. Rowan: Stephenson-quoter-kun was suggesting a way that male geeks’ own sense of being beleaguered and despised could be used to explain feminism to them, via analogy. It’s not actually the case that geeks are a class of people similar to an ethnic minority. I’m jealous that you’re friends with Harris and don’t think Summers is an example of good turned anything. He’s asshole turned flaming asshole.

Val, this is true of the shows but not completely. And the question is more about ST fandom. Is it overwhelmingly male with only a few token females? Not so much. It was/is a popular series of TV shows/movies in a way that doesn’t map onto the proportional character divide on-screen. Lt. Uhura meant a lot more to black girls watching TV in the 1960s than her apparent job as mini-skirted space receptionist would seem to indicate.

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William Berry 04.15.15 at 4:39 am

@Dean Rowan:

I’m sixty-three y. a., and yeah, I am utterly baffled by SQK’s perspective. It seems completely unmoored from any history except that of the personal history of the clueless nerd.

Reddit? Tumblr? The Internet? These are the vectors by which we* became aware of modern/ recent history of feminist issues?

*Well, not we, actually. Just techie punks who need to rub their bleary eyes, WTFU, and get/ give themselves a liberal education.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.15.15 at 4:50 am

My concluding sentence, the one about that blustering asshole Summers, never suggested he exhibited anything good. I gave what I thought was a *good example* of what Summers himself tried to characterize as ordinary skepticism among collegial friends, harumph, harumph, as the basis for his utterly stupid remark. My point, not well expressed, being that Stephenson-quoter kun’s strategic advice fell short.

Thank you, William Berry, for the corroboration. I mean, I did not want to suggest that because *I* was so well aware of feminist theories and demands at some relatively early age that everybody else ought to be so enlightened. It just seems to me that feminism offers, for better or worse, well recognized points of view that course across our radar pretty frequently.

None of this detracts, for me, from S-Q K’s mostly helpful account. It’s the sort of stuff that really advances mutual understanding.

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William Berry 04.15.15 at 5:00 am

I’m a retired chemical analyst, and I used to work with DEC FOCAL 8 in X-ray spectroscopy in the 1970s.

So, I was a techie geek before it was even a thing!

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William Berry 04.15.15 at 5:03 am

And, yeah, I didn’t mean to harsh on SQK.

It’s just that this nerd anti-feminism crapola really gives me the fantods.

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Dean C. Rowan 04.15.15 at 5:38 am

I’m a liberal arts type, whatevs, who also for a decade ran a system running Dick Pick’s database. My mentor was a woman who knew her shit.

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ZM 04.15.15 at 6:16 am

I agree with Lynn and Val the female posters and sometimes commenters are criticized much more and in different ways.

I don’t know what the solution is . I suggested volunteer mods, but I would not like to be a volunteer mod so I am not sure any other commenters would. Maybe some way of flagging inappropriate comments? I was arguing too much about the wrongs of colonialism and historical responsibility and the conquest of Wales and London’s ecological footprint in Henry’s St Patrick’s Day thread to participate in Corey’s Israel thread – but I was following the discussion and a commenter there said women were like Israel , linked to an article about Silvia Plath and Assia Wevill’s suicides – and then said trying to reverse engineer Ted Hughe’s poem Thought Fox was a good idea – I thought that was very creepy and wished someone had flagged and moderated it.

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adam.smith 04.15.15 at 6:45 am

Yeah, I’m really unhappy with the equation of (cultural) nerd = computer programmer.
There are both a lot of nerds who don’t know how to code and a lot of very capable programmers who don’t like Star Trek (or otherwise conform to “nerd culture”).

As Dean says, there are also plenty of people in the humanities and social sciences (not sure how liberal arts got to be a standin for that) that are excellent programmers. So that whole dichotomy is crap.

Finally, I don’t buy the whole “computer programmers heard about feminism 5 years ago” (certainly not true for the ones I know) — but where that really was the case, maybe I am in favor of some serious disruption ;).

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Belle Waring 04.15.15 at 6:54 am

Dean C. Rowan; William Berry: Oh, I see I missed the section of Stephenson-quoter-kun’s comment in which he described computer programmers learning about feminism for the first time five years ago on reddit. That’s just…weird and wrong. Not that Stephenson-quoter-kun is weird and wrong qua person; but that’s a very odd way to describe the relation between the concept of feminism and the group of people who work in Silicon Valley (or not, Stephenson-quoter-kun himself lives in the UK or something IIRC despite being from the States originally.) I mean…my HS best friend was crazy rich, and she had an Apple IIe (her dad also bought 30 for the CS lab of our girls’ school.) I have greatly amused my children by telling them of the amazing program Sacha and I wrote one day after school that showed a rotating cube in HIGH-DEFINITION graphics (i.e. green lines on a black screen…there was also color for the screens, but only in huge-ass pixels.) We used BASIC to write a program that flashed six successive images–created by describing the lines with algebra in essence, I think? The result was…wait for it…a rotating cube! It was that awesome. I played D&D. I wrote Elfquest fan fiction (that’s right, I just admitted that.) I also knew about feminism already because duh. Women and men I knew who worked in start-ups in Silicon Valley in the 90s…also knew about feminism. It’s not like it’s found only in the Necronomicon of the Mad Arab or something. I don’t know who these losers are who got surprised by it in 2008 or something (SQK you are not on my loser list; I will grant you a single indulgence based on…eccentricity…or something.)

ZM: I am planning on posting on the topic but it’s a little intractable.

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David J. Littleboy 04.15.15 at 7:45 am

“It’s just that this nerd anti-feminism crapola really gives me the fantods.”

Dunno what “fantods” is, but the phenomenon is quite creepy. I don’t think we were anywhere near that bad back in the day (I was programming a DEC PDP-6 in assembler in 1972/73 or so and have been in an out of the comp. sci. world since then). From the early 70s to the mid 80s, it really seemed that things were getting better, and Wiki reports that the number of women in computer science was increasing through the mid 1980s, but has fallen since.

Of course, there were problems. A woman programmer I was working with around 1980 had had to leave a PhD program because her married thesis advisor (a seriously famous computer science academic whose name many folks here know) decided to “fall in love” with her. (Also, the stories in J.C. Oates “The Hungry Ghosts” matched brouhahas that were playing out at MIT in the late 70s and early 80s very closely.)

So the change from getting better in a world where the problems were largely bog-standard (not that they weren’t nasty, of course, but at least not unique to nerds) to a situation where we nerds are continually figuring out new and uglier ways of being obnoxious is depressing.

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Neel Krishnaswami 04.15.15 at 9:32 am

Maybe “modern feminism” refers by definition to post-2000 feminism or some arbitrary recent cut-off, but my experience with modern feminism–I’m on the waning end of 55 years old–is a lot deeper than five or fifteen years, and I’m a little amazed that feminism, unlike, say, democracy, could be a sort of recurring episode, past episodes of which are simply forgotten.

Not post-2000. Post 2005, maybe even post-2010.

Feminism is at least three interlinked things — a body of political theory/sociology an organized political program, and a community of activists. The first two are of course centuries old at this point. But the last changes over time, and people don’t usually interact with political theory, or even (most of the time) with political programs. They interact with other people.

And young feminists do things in ways genuinely quite different from older ones! Partly this is just the social cues for presenting as a feminist (like any other community membership marker) changing over time. But it’s also because social media like Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter have changed how they organize and communicate. (Yes, I know, your anti-Internet-triumphalism reflexes are triggering. Try talking to some younger feminists and learning (a) how incredibly valuable Twitter is to them, and (b) why that’s exactly what makes being hounded off it by misogynistic jackasses so threatening.)

The same thing is true in FLOSS culture — look at Github and see the pervasive absence of license files in the projects there. This would have been considered unthinkable laxity a decade ago, but nowadays harping on licenses marks you as someone who doesn’t “get it”. (I do in fact think this is dangerous, but obviously that also means I’m someone who doesn’t get it.)

TL;DR: The present is a different country, and you and I are immigrants.

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Lynne 04.15.15 at 11:57 am

Henry: “And also – I don’t know how far we should go. The comments threads both are and are not our thing to control as posters. We try to stop outright terrible behavior, but we also tolerate commenters whom we don’t particularly like or find useful, on various sides of the spectrum, on the basis that we’re not the only consumers or judges of whether they have valuable things to say.”

And I appreciate that! In my comment I stayed away from how far you should go, or even what you/we should do—that’s a whole subject in itself. I was mainly musing about _who_ should/does do it (thread moderating), and whether, if that changed, the women bloggers would post more (and I don’t know the answer to that. I was just throwing out an idea).

But I take your point about busy-ness and the time-consuming nature of running a blog. Some of the threads get very, very long and would require a serious investment of time to keep on top of.

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JanieM 04.15.15 at 12:18 pm

I’m a liberal arts type, whatevs, who also for a decade ran a system running Dick Pick’s database. My mentor was a woman who knew her shit.

Pick! My first programming job was on a system that used Pick. I had no mentors, had to figure it all out for myself…long story, as usual.

Wow, memories.

/back to topic

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Lynne 04.15.15 at 12:33 pm

ZM, I didn’t see that comment. Yikes.

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bianca steele 04.15.15 at 4:46 pm

I really don’t have a good sense for whether people think the problem is worse in FLOSS than in commercial dot-coms, and that’s why it’s a good idea to focus on that, or whether people think FLOSS is better than commercial dot-coms and can be a leader in treating women well, or whether FLOSS has a lot more people with time to devote to research like the OP (which is also fine), but the problem is with the way CS majors are educated–a lot of the talk here seems to assume the first.

I also don’t have a good sense for how many people are working in FLOSS, and how many are doing that primarily with no tie to a brick-and-mortar institution where they work or volunteer primarily as programmers (that is, excluding people at places like Intel or EMC who make sure gcc and Linux work with their stuff).

It did occur to me while typing this that Big and Medium-Size Corp may have the ability and the commitment to skim off a lot of the women CS graduates nationally, leaving even fewer for the more rough-and-tumble parts of the industry. (I know the CT commentariat hates the corporate world along with its drones, but there are organizational advantages that apparently can’t be duplicated by more informal hierarchies–one of these is the ability to override cultural default settings like “tech=straightwhitemale”.)

Other than that, I feel like it’s complicated. RMS has done a lot of good stuff, but his ideas aren’t suited to the kind of API where people really don’t–no, really, they don’t–want to bother about the source code, and if they did, they’d write it themselves. And no, nothing else right now is very good for that either, except when it’s kept very simple or else allowed to evolve for a couple of decades. (Where are our software IC’s?!) But he has a habit of standing on principle in a way that forces others to find other solutions. Parts of the FLOSS world may make similar mistakes. Or they may come up with something that’s so important to everyone that everyone overlooks how buggy a solution it is, and make themselves indispensable.

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Marshall 04.15.15 at 5:36 pm

The Temporary Name: These will always bring conflict and tribalism in their wake, and this will always lead to people justifying silly ideas on the basis of the need to solve some really big problem

Tribalism bad, Community Values good: I get that, but otherwise what’s the difference???

Jerry Vinokurov: Here’s the thing about codes of conduct: even when you don’t explicitly have them, you still have them. … If you want to ensure fairness, a necessary but not sufficient condition is that your community norms be explicit and understandable to everyone.

Too bad about that, it’s not how humans work. No one will ever tell you what the real rules are. In fact there seems to be a taboo on talking about the real rules, lest they be tampered with I suppose.

I don’t know about your idea of fairness. I suppose you insist on complete knowledge in order that the Rawlsian computation can be performed, but it’s all a waste of time if you can’t estimate your partner’s degree of commitment. And I would prefer a larger portion consequential fairness anyway.

SQK: people who are used to being told things that don’t fully make sense at first and employing the tools of logic and questioning to pull them apart so that they can be rebuilt into something coherent, viz. something that might actually work

Yes!! need more people like that, yes! Also tools of Empathy and Situational Awareness.

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Matt 04.15.15 at 5:43 pm

I am currently working for one of those San Francisco DotCom companies and in the engineering groups women are definitely still under-represented. My own group has only woman out of 4 members, and some teams are all-male. I wouldn’t say it is overly white though. Nearly half of the engineers are foreign-born or had foreign-born parents.

My previous employer, $BIG_CONSUMER_PRODUCTS_COMPANY, was much more even with women and men. 2 out of my 3 managers and nearly half of my in-the-trenches coworkers were women. Of course that last company also made life precarious. Almost everyone doing software development/IT, even people who had been working there several years, was treated as a contract worker. The pay was nothing special, especially after you’ve paid the extra FICA tax, and there were no benefits, no guarantees of getting enough hours next week. That’s why I left, after promises of a better tomorrow had been dangled in front of me and kept failing to materialize.

Come to think of it, the first job I got offered out of college was with $GIANT_DEFENSE_CONTRACTOR and during the interviews at least they seemed to have a fairly even split of women and men. Instead I took an offer from a startup, which eventually failed, and worked through a string of other didn’t-quite-make-it startups since. All of the startups have been skewed heavily male.

That is to say, my anecdata supports bianca steele’s guess that big corporations might hire more women CS graduates, leaving the FLOSS world and its symbionts in startups more male-skewed. Of course both of my big company examples involved businesses that needed software but didn’t make money primarily from software or electronic services. What would be interesting is comparing older software successes like Adobe with got-big-recently companies like Facebook. Was Facebook as heavily male as other startups, back when Myspace was the social network to beat? Now that it’s big and profitable, is it hiring more women?

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engels 04.15.15 at 6:06 pm

Wow, there’s a lot of defensive liberal arts types about. In the UK, at least, the traditional path to bossing large numbers of oiks around is private school – elite arts degree – management consulting, civil service, politics etc. Techy and nerdy stuff is much less prestigious. Val might be right about the perceived effemincy of liberal arts grads, but only in the sense that middle class men are in general perceived as effeminate. In that sense, the dominant class und capitalism are ‘girly men’ aren’t they? Come to think of it didn’t Schwarzenegger coined the phrase to refer to politicians and lawyers?

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The Temporary Name 04.15.15 at 6:06 pm

Marshall:

The Temporary Name: These will always bring conflict and tribalism in their wake

Stephenson-quoter kun wrote those words.

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The Temporary Name 04.15.15 at 6:14 pm

In the UK, at least, the traditional path to bossing large numbers of oiks around is private school – elite arts degree – management consulting, civil service, politics etc.

If you mean those last three items in the sentence as specific degree programs rather than just areas the elites head to, maybe we can draw a distinction between the job-training degree and the book-learnin’ degree.

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bianca steele 04.15.15 at 6:32 pm

Matt–

How are the women at those dot-coms treated? Back almost thirty years ago, at Mid-Size Corp, in my department there were only two culture/harassment issues that I knew about: one was a group with two 20-something single men and two 30- or 40-something married men, and as far as anyone could tell the older men were driving it, probably trying to be “cool” like the kids, and the one woman who ignored the danger signals and joined their group ended up complaining of harassment. Another was a facilities manager who had a picture of a lady sitting spread eagled on the hood of a car, right above the chair where you had to sit when you asked him for new furniture for your group or something. And there was a cult of a certain personality, but there were enough basically normal people around that guy (who let him do what he wanted in part because he fit a “type” and in part because they were afraid of him, not an older guy either, but someone a bit younger than most of the others) that they buffered it all a bit. At (hardware) startups there was more time pressure and work expansion, and where the men were older there was less consideration for what it was like to have to pick up your own dry cleaning, but also less time for BS. But it sounds like things are a lot worse now and in different kinds of workplaces. I personally prefer working for hardware companies than places that just do software; I think management gets kept down to earth a little by having less fudgeable requirements on what they’re doing. I don’t know about Facebook at first; “The Social Network” shows pretty much all the coders being men, but Sorkin may have had his reasons for doing that.

OTOH: A good number of women hired around the time I was, though, left development VERY quickly for related fields like marketing or support, it seemed for reasons related to culture, but more like they wanted to talk to people more than they did (this was before texts and really before email was ubiquitous, so I guess it could seem very isolating). I have wondered whether foreign-born women don’t get the same signals telling them they don’t belong in development (though it could also be that Chinese universities, say, encourage women to do really technical stuff where US universities don’t, I don’t know).

The contractor thing is a mess, too. I knew a guy who worked summers as a developer and winters as a ski instructor. It was very appealing. Farming out all the code to contract shops and keeping all the IP and management and architects in-house seems . . . not good.

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engels 04.15.15 at 6:41 pm

Btw we don’t need more women in tech, we need fewer men in tech and more men in care work. In general, we need more women and men in occupations which actually advance human well-being and fewer doing things like designing murderous drones and developing ever more insidious methods for American capitalists to keep the rest of the world http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-06-07/silicon-valley-joins-the-surveillance-state.

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Marshall 04.15.15 at 7:11 pm

TN @156: right you are, sorry for my sloppy editing.

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Matt 04.15.15 at 7:53 pm

How are the women at those dot-coms treated?

I think that the treatment is pretty good, at least the parts I can observe. I’ve never seen pictures of scantily clad women in the office. Nor Star Trek for that matter, though we do have nerdy things like 1980s arcade cabinets. I’ve not caught my male coworkers making sexist remarks about women or hitting on them in the office or at company events. One of the most prestigious engineering groups here, dealing with machine learning, is led by a foreign-born woman who is also our head data scientist.

In my own group the one woman seems to be fully a part of the team. Her parents were foreign born, and she is the company’s multilingual expert for internationalization of our software.

At a previous startup where I had just one female coworker, she was foreign born also. She started out in QA but moved to a broader development role after honing her skills on automated test development. The other women working there were in sales, marketing, and management. Our CEO at that company was a woman after one of the founders left, again foreign born.

Two other startups I worked for were quite small and had no women in technical roles.

There is one “micro-startup” that is basically a hobby I’m involved in on the side; it is just me and one foreign-born woman. She came up with the initial concept for a product and did early development. She has a CS degree from a prestigious university but has been employed in managerial roles as her day job for the last 10 years. I have more hands-on software development experience and have taken over most technical work while she continues to be the face and voice for spreading interest in the product. We are just splitting equity in case it turns in to something valuable.

Of course there are many things invisible to me:
-I don’t know how salaries/performance evaluations for my female coworkers might differ
-I don’t know what my coworkers do or experience when they travel to a technical conference alone
-I don’t know why there are so few women who become my coworkers in the first place

Writing this out I was surprised that none of the women I mentioned were born of nativized American parents. In my graduating class of CS students I think there were only 3 women out of 11 graduates total (this was a SLAC). None of those 3 was an immigrant or child of first generation immigrants. From what I see on Facebook and LinkedIn it appears that none of them was employed in engineering positions after graduation.

The women engineers I have encountered in my career were immigrants from, or were children of first generation immigrants from, China, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, and Japan. In graduate school I saw a lot of men and women from China and India. For some reason the Indian women seem much rarer in software companies, though I still frequently see Indian men and Chinese men and women. I don’t know if that is a real thing or just limited exposure on my part.

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engels 04.15.15 at 8:22 pm

And finally- re ‘being a nerd is now okay’- it isn’t okay. Or rather it’s like being obese- noone should get their ass kicked because of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy lifestyle choice. And it seems there is something a bit messed up about a society where greaseball burgers, french fries and sugared water dominate the menus at so many restaurants and that produces large numbers of people who compulsively over-eat such food rather than having more balanced, adult and enjoyable dietary preferences.

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Paul Davis 04.16.15 at 1:06 am

It is very disappointing how this entire thread got derailed into a discussion of a worthy, fascinating and timely topic, but one almost entirely unrelated to the original post. Not just very disappointing, but deeply disappointing.

Regardless of the merits of Ben’s post(s), it would have been vastly more productive to just delete his post than to actively respond to it with a post about gender. This could perhaps be a part of some nascent CT CoC.

For me the most interesting post here was a remark about how code licenses mostly control what people inside a project can do, whereas a CoC seems to be mostly what people outside of a project can do. And when I say “interesting” I mean “oddly wrong, but having some air about it that suggests an interesting possible counter-truth”.

What’s wrong with it is that it fails to grasp what Bianca and a couple of other people said above, which is that there are many extremely valuable things for FLOSS projects that are not about writing code, and some of them require more nuanced interactions, and different kinds of interactions, than developers typically have. Sub-communities within a project that handle documentation, or even just internationalization, struggle with different kinds of issues than most developers, even if only because there are many precedents to go by, something that at this point developers cannot complain about.

And there are support communities, and design communities, and website management communities … the people who play all these roles (if the project actually has distinct groups of people playing these roles) are all part of the project but they are not developers and they largely do not care about developer-to-developer interactions or code licensing (in anything other than a philosophical way, at least). Maybe developers do no themselves need a CoC (or maybe they do), but a suitably large project may have 1 or more CoC that applies to other people who are part of the project, and these CoC’s are absolutely about what people INSIDE the project do.

I read a description of the GPL once which has always struck me as my favorite and most illustrative when considering things from a developer perspective. Forget all the moist-eyed world changing liberation theology (even though this is part of why I use it). Consider GPL-licensed software to be the product of the largest software development organization in the world. Like most other software development organizations, it has strict rules about code use, particularly leaking code to the outside world and using code from the outside world. And the rules are simple: when you join this organization, you get access to all their code, to use in any way that seems appropriate for the project, but you don’t get to move the code to any outside organizations and you don’t get to move incompatibly licensed external code into internal projects.

Of course, this masks huge differences – you join the “organization” by merely electing to use the license. But it also points out a certain commonality about how the GPL works, and refocuses attention on what FLOSS actually is: not just a legal maneuvre but a worldwide social movement.

Disclaimer: I am the Benevolent Dictator For Life of a “major” open source project.

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bianca steele 04.16.15 at 1:35 am

engels–

And finally- re ‘being a nerd is now okay’- it isn’t okay. Or rather it’s like being obese- noone should get their ass kicked because of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthy lifestyle choice.

One of the trollier trolls said pretty much the same thing here not long ago and rightly got taken down for it. I guess you’re a regular and everyone knows you don’t mean it.

And it seems there is something a bit messed up about a society where greaseball burgers, french fries and sugared water dominate the menus at so many restaurants and that produces large numbers of people who compulsively over-eat such food rather than having more balanced, adult and enjoyable dietary preferences.

Not to mention that I have no idea what you mean by this. What’s the burger here? Star Trek instead of Breaking Bad, or instead of James Joyce? Classical music instead of pop? Science fiction instead of Time magazine? The Economist and Scientific American instead of Dennis Lehane and Elmore Leonard? And why is it bad?

I don’t really want or need answers, but that’s just silly and pointless.

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js. 04.16.15 at 3:14 am

Surely some confusion afoot re what “nerd” means? I mean I myself am unsure exactly what it’s supposed to mean by now: sometimes it almost just seems to mean “smart person with unconventional or non-mainstream tastes”. Which seems… too general somehow (with the further problem that Star Trek, e.g., is really pretty mainstream).

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Belle Waring 04.16.15 at 4:02 am

bianca steele: it was my impression from the discussion above that big companies were paradoxically and depressingly often better on this front than open-source communities with no…dedicated resources for the problem, maybe?

Paul Davis: I agree it could have been more productive, and I’m sorry if I dealt with it worse than I could have, but we don’t just disappear people’s comments for being sexist, generally. We tell them they are assholes. Many people working in the field and commenting here did seem to think the issues were related insofar as the codes of conduct governing both in-person interaction and rules for communication get more contentious precisely insofar as they delve into issues such as “don’t say or do sexist, racist, homophobic things, etc.” I think we should also consider that a thread this long full of informed comments about Sumana’s point was always unlikely, because we don’t have enough well-informed commenters to make it this far (I count myself among the insufficiently informed.) Everyone is kibitzing in this thread because there haven’t been enough new posts upstream.

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Soru 04.16.15 at 6:41 am

On the point about the surprisingly recent discovery of feminism, a quick play with Google trends shows ‘mansplaining,, ‘male privilege ‘, and ‘bechdel test’ going from basically zero to a lot in 2011/2013. At the same time, ‘patriarchy’ doubled. (The term, not necessarily the thing).

All of those are strongly correlated with the term ‘tumblr’.

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Martin Bento 04.16.15 at 9:51 am

Suppose someone says something that offends me, and I decide to build a bonfire of his business cards on his porch, but lose control of the fire and burn down his house. Then someone says I must feel really bad about burning down his house, and I respond thusly:

“Not too bad. I do have empathy for him, but it is limited.”

In answer to a question suggesting that I must feel significant remorse, I have rejected the suggestion and emphasized how little remorse I feel. Let’s be clear about this – what I have just said is: “Oh, his house burned down? Fine.” Formally speaking, the statement is more hedged than that, but there is no plausible thought process containing genuine remorse that produces a response like that to a prompt specifically seeking remorse. What we would expect from someone who actually did not intend and would not have intended such an outcome is something like:

“OH MY GOD! I never meant to burn down his house! I was just trying to make a statement, not cause serious harm! What a terrible thing to happen to him! I apologize deeply and hope he can find it in his heart to forgive me”.

The first response, of course, is part of what Adria said. Even if she did not set out to cost Hank his job, she did not really regret that outcome either.

Now, it is true that, when she responded directly but publicly to Hank, she said that she did not agree with the firing. Let’s look at the context: Hank had just announced that he was a father of three and had gotten fired because of Adria’s actions. Instead of blaming her for this, he apologized profusely for the offense his remarks gave her. Since Adria is evidently not a complete idiot, she did not choose that moment to point out how limited her sympathy for white guys was and how she didn’t actually feel so bad about him losing his job. I think this indicates why she was so upset (as shown on Shakesville) with Jon Ronson for pretending to be more sympathetic than he actually was. It’s a common reporter’s device to get people to speak with more candor than prudence, and it evidently worked. It may feel like betrayal – I know it does because I have had reporters run this game on me – but the reporter’s job is to get the truth, and candid speech expresses more truth than guarded speech does.

Furthermore, even though people here have said that she did not understand the potential consequences of airing this publicly on Twitter, she herself says that she did:

“I’ve seen things where people are like, ‘Adria didn’t know what she was doing by tweeting it.’ Yes, I did.”

Although Adria attacks Jon for not telling the story the way she would like, she does not dispute the veracity of his quotes.

I don’t see a lot of moral distance between intending a bad consequence to your actions and accepting it after it occurs. Arguably, the latter is worse, because you can intend a bad consequence without thinking through the implications and regret it later. If you don’t regret it later, you really mean it.

Then there is Adria’s account of why she reacted the way she did:

““Have you ever had an altercation at school and you could feel the hairs rise up on your back?” she asked me.
“You felt fear?” I asked.
“Danger,” she said. “Clearly my body was telling me, ‘You are unsafe.’”
Which was why, she said, even though she’d never before complained about sexual harassment, she “slowly stood up, rotated from my hips, and took three photos”. She tweeted one, “with a very brief summary of what they said. Then I sent another tweet describing my location. Right? And then the third tweet was the [conference’s] code of conduct.”
“You talked about danger,” I said. “What were you imagining might…?”
“Have you ever heard that thing, men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them?” she replied. “So. Yeah.”
I told Adria that people might consider that an overblown thing to say. She had, after all, been at a tech conference with 2,000 bystanders.
“Sure,” she replied. “And those people would probably be white and they would probably be male.”

She has just said that she seriously feared being murdered in front of 2000 people by a man who had taken the extremely-threatening action of telling a couple of lewd jokes to a friend where she could overhear them. Maybe she didn’t actually mean killed. Maybe she meant raped or assaulted. But any such fear on such a basis and in such a situation is stark raving mad. And she has just suggested that all those bystanders (and implicitly, conference security) would sit back and do nothing in this case, because they were (mostly) white males.

If she actually believed this, or even if she felt it without believing it intellectually, the woman needs professional help. She is seriously paranoid. If not, her credibility should be discounted accordingly, since that is what she said. I don’t see anyway to defend both her rationality and her veracity in light of that statement.

Interestingly, in her initial blog post, she said something entirely different. There, her decision to make an issue of it was triggered by a picture of a little girl from a coder’s conference that was shown on stage. Here’s what she said:

“I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so.”

Yes, if Hank got away with making a dongle joke, it would stop that little girl from ever becoming a programmer. Maybe she realized later how stupid that sounded and decided to go with the mortal terror account.

Which brings me to her own account on the Shakesville blog. She emphasizes that she did not blog about Hank’s comments till after he was fired, implying that she was not the cause of it, but this is disingenuous. It was her tweet to her 10,000 followers, not her blog post, that set off the storm. She also says that Hank’s employer had other reasons for firing him as well. How does she know this? Has the employer made any such statement? Hank’s ease at finding other employment suggests he did not leave with a bad reference. She should either retract or substantiate this statement.

She also emphasizes that she had never made a sexual harassment complaint before, implying that this event is not part of some pattern of overreaction on her part. Amanda Blum’s blog is informative on this point. According to Blum, Richards had been scheduled to give a technical talk at a conference. One of the other talks had a title that used the phrase “money shot” and suggested tongue-in-cheek that screencasters could benefit from thinking like porn directors, by which was meant keeping the focus on what the audience actually wanted to see. Adria found this offensive, but instead of objecting to the organizers, announced publicly that she was considering boycotting the conference over this. As it happens, she did not boycott, but turned her own talk into a tirade about how porn has no place at a tech conference. She also made a public issue over a T-shirt based on an XKCD comic that she seems to have clearly misinterpreted. So, while Adria may not have specifically made complaints about sexual harassment before, she does have a history of trying to make major public issues of minor matters without making any effort to resolve the issue with the other parties first.

Several people here generally sympathetic to Adria have said that Hank should not have been fired. One even cast Hank’s employer as the first (chronologically) villain in the piece. Why was Hank fired? He was fired as part of his company’s efforts to sanction sexist behavior from its employees. Specifically, he violated a code of conduct along the lines of what is advocated here (Arguably, Adria violated it too, as it prohibited harassing photos). If you believe he should not have been fired, does that not mean that company efforts to suppress sexism went too far in this case, and should that not be a relevant fact in evaluating attempts to increase such efforts? Is it likely that suppression of sexism went too far in this and only this case, and is very unlikely to go too far again, at least under existing norms? I realize that some of the discussion of CoCs and such acknowledge the possibility of them going too far, but, if you think Hank was wrongly fired over his lewd comments, then you have at least one example of a company going too far already. It is not purely hypothetical. Or is it perhaps that the company was too sensitive to the political pressure that Adria stirred up on Twitter? Should companies be less sensitive to such pressure? I don’t think so, but if you believe Hank should not have been fired, you should think about what has to be different so that such unjust firings do not happen again.

As for all the abuse and harassment Adria has received since, and the impact it has had on her life, no, that is completely undeserved and reprehensible. She certainly should not have been doxx’d; in fact, that probably needs to be made illegal. Rape threats, death threats – that’s psycho talk. And almost always just talk, but one can never be certain. And all of this should have been finished long ago. People still actively harassing her are demented. She has certainly suffered more than enough. I do find it easy to understand why she is still unemployed, however. Hank’s lewd humor says nothing about his coding ability, but her job was largely public relations, and she created a public relations disaster for her company for no good reason. She has a history of similar behavior, just nothing that reached this level of consequence before. She has stated that she doesn’t feel too bad about costing people their jobs if they are white or male, because she is black, female, and Jewish (is her sympathy also limited for gentiles?). That is, she feels justified in treating people differently, taking less sympathetic attitudes towards them, and even causing them harm on the basis of their race and gender. She believes 2000 people would sit back and watch her get assaulted or worse in a public place, if said people were mostly white males. She starts fights and immediately makes them as public as possible. This is a person likely to create conflict and bad feelings in any workplace. I wouldn’t hire her.

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Pete 04.16.15 at 11:09 am

In a desperate attempt to get back on topic, we should talk about motivation.

Production of open source software is not directly remunerated. In practical terms, there is either the RMS-style “commune” approach where the contributors do so because they enjoy the use of the software, and the (usually not copyleft) loss-leader/ecosystem builder where the software is primarily developed by a company.

With open source, people can maintain their own local patchsets and fixes. The advantage of getting incorporated into “upstream” is that other people maintain them for you. This gives us the “long tail” of contributors. But there’s usually a tiny core of people doing much more work than others in maintaining the system. Their motivation is more ideological, or an all-consuming hobby. It’s clearly very important to them, and usually more so than the feelings of someone else.

So you get an almost feudal situation where the lead developer sits at the top doling out benefits to people with their labour, attracting the personal loyalty of a close few and the internet adulation of many. In that context, personal criticism of the leader gets seen as lese-majesty, and also a risk: if they give up and go away, everyone believes that fortune will cease to smile, the rains will not come and the software will be barren.

People have talked about the rewards of open source contribution with words like “whuffie” and “egoboo”. I posit that for a significant fraction of contributors – not many and certainly not all, but enough to notice – getting to shout at noobs on the mailing list is an important part of the reward package.

170

engels 04.16.15 at 11:36 am

Nerd =def (some possibilities)

1 lower-middle-class man who was bullied at school for being timid, boring, obedient to teachers and spending too much time on school work, but then found that in the C21st American workplace precisely these traits put him in a position of power over his erstwhile oppressors (male and female)

2 someone who works for a computer company, watches Star Trek, read science fiction books and plays World of Warcraft

3 someone who is good at solving technical problems but bad at empathy and communication, and uninterested in people, culture and the wider world, especially the poltical world

171

AcademicLurker 04.16.15 at 11:56 am

Re: nerds (engels, you seem to have sizable chip on your shoulder on this subject), I think the term has become all but meaningless since the huge mainstreaming of formerly marginal “nerdy” things like computer gaming, fantasy fiction, comics & etc.

I should resist the urge to respond to 168, but I have to note that while:

Not too bad. I do have empathy for him, but it is limited.

does indeed sound pretty dickish, timing matters. As I recall, it was in fairly short order (maybe a few months) that the final result of the whole thing shook out. The 2 guys got new jobs in the same field and went on with their lives, while Richards career was permanently destroyed. From that perspective the quote above, while not necessarily admirable, is understandable. People who have just watched their careers get burned to the ground with a flamethrower tend to be bitter about it.

172

engels 04.16.15 at 12:20 pm

It doesn’t make the term meaningless, it means that American capitalism is turning more and more people into nerds.

173

bianca steele 04.16.15 at 12:33 pm

Belle,

I’m sure the differences between a big and a small company have a lot to do with it (I think Tom Slee works for a large company, if I’m not wrong). At the place where I started, they did a lot of college hiring (in retrospect, I think they must have been deliberately hiring women graduates in pairs and having us share an office), but it wasn’t throwing a hundred 22 year olds into a room with no one more experienced, or taking contributions from grad students working all over the country who never see each other. Even when I started dealing with open source, people at companies like mine would contribute on their own time, usually, because even if employers were willing to use GPL software, employers and coworkers were generally ambivalent at best. And we hired out of big research universities, and also some smaller, often local places, like Suffolk or Merrimack (my husband and I can only think of one graduate of an SLAC, and I think he worked before he moved into programming). But they were all people with degrees—whatever shortcomings universities might have as places to teach coding, and I’m not sure they can, or at least that they can overcome the advantage people have who’ve been coding since they were eleven[1]–they do force a confrontation with certain concepts and skills and difficult programming tasks, and group work, that it’s difficult to find otherwise.

The startups I’ve worked on haven’t been bad, either. But they’ve been places that hire experienced people. They have almost no extra bandwidth to hire people out of college (if they’re getting hired at all, it’s by the new generation of big and medium size corps that are training them and creating a new “small world”). The vibe is totally different from a software startup like what you see in “The Social Network.”

I’ve heard sexism, I’ve experienced sexism (for all I know the people on my team at one place were constantly gossiping about me in Cantonese), which is not quite the same thing as harassment and exclusion (except for the woman who didn’t get hired because only me and the Jewish male manager liked her and everyone else thought she was abrasive and put it down to her being a woman). But I hear it’s worse now. I hear the computer camps for teenagers, where people get that since-eleven experience, are no fun for girls, and the undergraduate programs are unwelcoming (which mine was not, and in fact Columbia’s first tenured woman in the sciences was in CS). I feel like we all have evidence of little pieces of the industry where we’ve worked, and there’s no way to put it together.

But it annoys me to have this all put to the ways in which engineers are annoying. I keep hearing echoes of HR literature complaining that techies shouldn’t be treated as well as they’ve been, that they’re starting to get privileges only “management” should have, and it’s wrong. There’s no doubt there are problems. Some of them are demographic, some of them probably arise from the nature of e-mail. People my age or older, even, went through school, probably, with everyone assuming they would go into a technical field and wouldn’t have to worry about written communication. When I started, we used e-mail, but not to the extent people do now. Now, everything is done in e-mail. And as some commenters have suggested, in a big project you’re going to have people with power issues. But even, even in stable places, there are always going to be people who are going through something and taking it out in their writing if not deliberately on others. They hate the team leader, or they’ve designated themselves the person to surreptitiously instruct newbies in what the ground rules are (as they see them), or in what politics is going on, or in what global drama they see the project at hand being a part of. Or they hate the corporate employees who work on the project and think they’re free-riding, or they hate the volunteers for the same reason.

So I’m sure it sucks at a lot of places, but I’m not sure where it is the worst and why, and what kind of fix is going to make it better.

[1] As I was lucky enough to have done, in an urban, at best mediocre neighborhood public school where the computer program was run by a woman (who left while I was in high school to run a new city-wide program), and where I was encouraged very much a lot.

174

Paul Davis 04.16.15 at 12:45 pm

Pete @169:

good effort to get back on topic. Probably going to fail, but good effort.

As it turns out, I’m one of the few people who manages to actually make a living writing open source software without being employed by a company with other (larger) goals. I’ve managed to find a way to get users to pay enough for software they can also get for free to sort-of support myself and my family. But I am the exception that proves the rule, and I also work on a project which fits into the oddest, hardest subset of FLOSS to make happen: large, complex, never finished (i.e. requirements will evolve continuously over time), niche user base.

That said, this paragraph strikes me as fairly accurate:

So you get an almost feudal situation where the lead developer sits at the top doling out benefits to people with their labour, attracting the personal loyalty of a close few and the internet adulation of many. In that context, personal criticism of the leader gets seen as lese-majesty, and also a risk: if they give up and go away, everyone believes that fortune will cease to smile, the rains will not come and the software will be barren.

We’ve worked a bit with my project to try to make sure that the latter can’t happen. Even though there’s no disputing my status as BDFL, we’ve tried to ensure that all aspects of the project’s development are documented and known to others. I think the situation is comparable to that of the Linux kernel, where Linus’ departure would certainly impact the ongoing development, but it would not stop. And it is not so different to the situation in many smaller (proprietary) software engineering situations that have a founding programmer (or two). In my world, examples of that would be Steinberg or Ableton (both makers of proprietary audio software), both founded by a couple of individuals whose continued presence or departure is significant but not life threatening for the company at this point. Most larger FLOSS projects now have this property also. To be honest, the biggest problem with my sudden departure (say, due to an accident) would be taking control of hosting services for the project.

I posit that for a significant fraction of contributors – not many and certainly not all, but enough to notice – getting to shout at noobs on the mailing list is an important part of the reward package.

We’re a midsize project in terms of contributors – the current count is in the 70-80 range over a 15 year period – but I am extremely confident when I say that I don’t believe that a single developer or translator or writer or designer involved in the project ever had this motivation. The only time I ever see such behaviour (and it is rare, perhaps because I police our IRC channels and our web forums with an iron fist) is from not-absolutely-new users toward absolutely-new users.

175

ZM 04.16.15 at 2:11 pm

“Suppose someone says something that offends me, and I decide to build a bonfire of his business cards on his porch, but lose control of the fire and burn down his house.”

Martin Bento before acting in violence perhaps you could try legal remedies, for instance if your distress was so great and you records the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress in regards to extreme and outrageous conduct may apply?
if you’re a sensitive person , ordinary insults or actions can constitute extreme and outrageous behavior if the actor knows that the victim is particularly susceptible to emotional distress because of some physical or mental condition or abnormality.

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Jake 04.16.15 at 2:21 pm

Big companies also tend to be afraid of employment law, partly because they have the money to pay settlements. If one of Paul’s contributors persistently harassed another and Paul didn’t see the problem, what recourse does the harrassee have?

177

Barry 04.16.15 at 2:41 pm

AcademicLurker: ” The 2 guys got new jobs in the same field and went on with their lives, while Richards career was permanently destroyed. From that perspective the quote above, while not necessarily admirable, is understandable. People who have just watched their careers get burned to the ground with a flamethrower tend to be bitter about it.”

There’s a general rule of thumb which I use: When the whistleblower is destroyed, while the whistelblowees have minor problems, that’s not an accident.

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Paul Davis 04.16.15 at 2:46 pm

Jake @176: that’s a great question, but I think the answer is pretty simple.

Since my contributors generally don’t get any kind of compensation for their efforts, they would just cease to participate in the project, at no legally significant loss to themselves. The difference is enormous: in one case, someone’s livelihood has become coupled with harrassment, in another their voluntary participation in a part-time non-renumerative activity has led to harrassment.

A non-software analogy might be to consider what would happen if you joined some sort of free membership activity-centered club and there was a total jerk of a member who kept harrassing you. Clearly, this is where a CoC could be of use, because you’d hope to expel the jerk rather than the non-jerk.

The dilemma for a mid-size project like mine is that the overhead of developing and maintaining a CoC seems like just another thing to do amidst a list of things that is already way too long, and one that addresses a problem that we just don’t have (yet). We may lose developers because we use C++ or because we use the wrong separation model between the GUI and the backend, but so far (I believe) never because of harassment or obnoxious behaviour.

(I’d also note that if the harassment had been sufficiently venomous, there are perhaps other (civil) laws that a person could use, which be unrelated to the project (i.e. the same sorts of things one might do to respond to death threats). )

179

William Berry 04.16.15 at 2:51 pm

@Soru:

On the point about the surprisingly recent discovery of feminism, a quick play with Google trends shows ‘mansplaining,, ‘male privilege ‘, and ‘bechdel test’ going from basically zero to a lot in 2011/2013

Not seeing a point here. Those are all terms of relatively recent origin, so zero at “zero hour” is precisely what you would expect.

The question was awareness of feminism as an issue generally. The unpredictable career arcs of faddish terms doesn’t speak to that at all.

180

Belle Waring 04.16.15 at 3:14 pm

If you’ll pardon my saying so, Paul, I think your organisation will have to be quite small indeed before you can easily or confidently say no one has been slowly driven away by persistent unfair slights, or constant questioning of someone’s capacity, or the informal existence of an inner circle giving rise naturally to the position of gatekeeper(s) to the inner circle, positions which are then exploited because–well, people are sort of bastards when you get down to it. Often, at one point in a project’s life, there is a serene conviction that all the different people in the group are getting along perfectly as they willingly, voluntarily contribute their labour to a project (such as wikipedia). It’s like a lovely reflective pool in a glade. This happy picture is smashed when it turns out the smooth surface of the pool was caused by homogeneity, not frictionless cooperation. There are either small things at the bottom of the pool trying to get up and angry at being stood on, or small creatures standing in the shadows at the side, in the grass, who would like to get in but hello, the ph balance of the pool is rendering it mildly poisonous, could we work on that? and then everyone else who says, “why are you fucking up our beautiful pool?” I very much hope your organisation is a happy one in which no one is driven away from volunteer work she or he loves by the bad behavior of others, but I think you’d agree you are unusually lucky/small if that’s so.

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Belle Waring 04.16.15 at 3:30 pm

Martin Bento: I find this a little strange, “She also emphasizes that she had never made a sexual harassment complaint before, implying that this event is not part of some pattern of overreaction on her part.” If she’s lying we want to take this into account, but if she really thought someone was going to go on about how “you need to focus on the money shot” in a professional tech seminar, got upset, first said she would stay away, and then decided to go, but talk about it and call attention to it…it’s not what I personally would do but it’s not crazy or anything.

It’s perfectly coherent to support some codes of conduct and also think it was stupid for the dongle joke guys to lose their jobs. It does seem like the dude’s boss was the first villain; they didn’t have to fire him. That’s a storm they could have weathered, I think. The masses arrayed against Richards and by extension her company are just scarier–are you more afraid a feminist is going to say something about you on a tumblr or that 4chan will come gunning for you for the lulz? Obviously the latter, I mean, who had to move? Who got doxxed? I think the guys’ employers could have ridden it out. Should she have tweeted their pictures to a zillion people, no. But as was said above, it was one of the first twitter total shitstorms I saw, so I am less hard on this line. We all know now what can happen; it wasn’t like a common thing at that point.

It’s not a “gotcha” for me to admit anti-sexist codes of conduct can go horribly wrong sometimes. Dude, everything can go horribly wrong sometimes. I hit myself right in the face brushing my teeth the other day. I don’t even think such a CoC would be super-easy to write–I think in drawing one up people who oppose such code existing for their organisation at all should be brought in if they’re willing to contribute civilly, so that people can hear negatives. Right?

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Paul Davis 04.16.15 at 3:37 pm

As mentioned above, we have a total contributor size of about 70-80 people spread over the course of 15+ years. I don’t know if that counts as “quite small” or “quite large”. At any given point in time, there are probably 3-5 active developers, a dozen or so active testers/feature designers, and ZERO documentation people.

The main topic that comes up within our community that leads to exclusion arises when people show up who want to redesign the (appearance of the) application. I have definitely caused exclusion of potential contributors when this happens. But as to the gender, sexual, political, religious or racial proclivities of those excluded? I have no idea – they are just faceless nicks/handles on an IRC channel. Why does the exclusion happen? Because they want us to use technology that we don’t use (for now) to do something that we don’t believe benefits our actual users (much) but is simply to satisfy their own aesthetic judgement.

Over the years, there have been some other examples of exclusion that I can recall. There have been a couple of people who wanted the focus of the project to change (away from studio and live audio recording towards broadcast needs) – wasn’t what I was interested in, and at that time it was even more “my” project than it is now. There have been people who felt very strongly that we needed to use different coding methodologies – not something I or other then-current developers considered as a productive use of our already over-stretched hours, and in some cases involved methodologies that I/we felt were actually wrong.

A project like Ardour always has a choice at any point in time to put resources into improving fundamental design and methodology mistakes I/we made early on or to put resources into bug fixes and adding new functionality and improving usability within the context of what is already there. In general, because we have thousands of users and because we know about “second system syndrome”, we lean strongly toward the second choice, while occasionally choosing the first. The surest way to antagonize me and most other developers on the project is to show up on our IRC channel and insist that we should make the first choice way more often, with complete disregard for whatever impact this has on bug fixing and feature development.

Of course, one of the best ways to ingratiate one’s self is to do the opposite: show up on IRC and mention that you’ve spent a couple of months on a fundamental redesign of some basic stuff that we already acknowledged was wrong, show us the code, and for it to be nice :)

We are such a small community at any given point in time – the number of people who even imagine they are able to work on an application like this is really tiny, and they’re mostly right – that although I think your point about serenity-through-homogeneity is a serious one and worth paying attention to, for this particular project I don’t think we’re really afflicted by the sorts of issues that tend to affect, say, the linux kernel or Mozilla or Wikipedia.

And yes, I’m absolutely unusually lucky to have been the beneficiary of so many amazingly skilled but also awesomely generous developers, translators, testers and designers that have all contributed to the project, and I try to make sure that everyone knows that.

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Belle Waring 04.16.15 at 4:06 pm

Ah, fair enough, I didn’t remember the scale of your project–it sounds great!

184

js. 04.16.15 at 7:25 pm

engels @170:

Assuming that “nerd” fits one of these definitions, or some combination of them, I don’t see why being a nerd is “not okay” or something no one should do. I mean, do I want everyone to watch Godard and Ozu films, read Lydia Davis and Bolaño, and have more than a passing familiarity with the 18th Brumaire? Of course I do! But that’s not really an option. The contrast class to “nerd” is something more mainstream, which is defined by Mitch Albom and Ron Howard or some shit. Being a nerd hardly seems like the worse choice under the circumstances.

185

The Temporary Name 04.17.15 at 12:53 am

Being a nerd hardly seems like the worse choice under the circumstances.

It’s just not a bad word when I hear it, usually meaning someone who has a deep, charming, and possibly alarming interest in a subject. Mind you the folks who drive really loud motorcycles would probably dislike it, but some of them are pretty down on “queer” too.

186

js. 04.17.15 at 5:21 am

[Nerd’s] just not a bad word when I hear it

Totally agreed.

187

engels 04.17.15 at 11:32 am

This is like playing Warhammer with my baby brother:

Nerd (adjective: nerdy) is a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired.

nerd noun \ˈnərd\ : a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.

nerd A stereotypical label used to describe a person that is socially inadequate. A four letter word, but a six figure income.

188

Paul Davis 04.17.15 at 11:39 am

I think there’s some unfortunate merging of the semantics of “geek” and “nerd”, something that has been happening in the broader culture for a while. For some people, the two terms are almost interchangeable, and for others they describe entirely different kinds of personality traits. “Geek” at this point is a mostly honorable term; “Nerd” is still subject to matters of interpretation.

189

bianca steele 04.17.15 at 7:52 pm

Paul Davis @ 188

A few years ago I would have said the opposite–as far as could be determined with the naked eye, young literary types were trying to claim “nerd” for themselves. Maybe that’s “so 2009,” I don’t know.

190

The Temporary Name 04.17.15 at 8:10 pm

This is like playing Warhammer with my baby brother:

Your baby brother kicks ass. Your very first link:

Nerd (adjective: nerdy) is a descriptive term, often used pejoratively, indicating that a person is overly intellectual, obsessive, or socially impaired. They may spend inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or non-mainstream activities, which are generally either highly technical or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities.[1][2][3] Additionally, many nerds are described as being shy, quirky, and unattractive,[4] and may have difficulty participating in, or even following, sports. Though originally derogatory, “Nerd” is a stereotypical term, but as with other pejoratives, it has been reclaimed and redefined by some as a term of pride and group identity.

Second link, def 2:

: a person who is very interested in technical subjects, computers, etc.

Etc.

I think Paul at 188 is right though.

191

AcademicLurker 04.17.15 at 8:12 pm

192

Martin Bento 04.17.15 at 10:40 pm

AcademicLurker, we don’t have to inpute motives to Adria Richards on this. She told us quite clearly why she had the attitude she did. I left it out of my hypothetical for simplicity, but here is Adria’s full statement in response to the suggestion that she must have felt really bad about getting Hank fired:

“Not too bad,” she said. She thought more and shook her head decisively. “He’s a white male. I’m a black Jewish female. He was saying things that could be inferred as offensive to me, sitting in front of him. I do have empathy for him, but it only goes so far. If he had Down’s syndrome and he accidently pushed someone off a subway, that would be different… I’ve seen things where people are like, ‘Adria didn’t know what she was doing by tweeting it.’ Yes, I did.”

I actually think the full quote is much more damaging that what I used. The basic issue for Adria is race and gender difference. Not what Hank did, but what he is. She won’t even go so far as to say she was actually offended by the jokes(she tells dick jokes too, after all) – only that some hypothetical person could infer an offense. She compared this hypothetical inference of offense to pushing someone off a subway. Which I guess is consistent with her saying the remark caused her to fear for her life. Offense, at least, would have been within the normal spectrum of responses to an overheard lewd joke.

ZM, I don’t think you understood the purpose of my analogy and will probably be relieved to know that business card bonfires are not a hobby of mine. The cardfire is an analogy to Adria’s tweet – something that started small but became bigger and more destructive than intended. I’m not endorsing Adria’s act – I think that’s pretty clear – but at that moment I was making another point.

Belle, the pattern in her behavior is immediately making a public issue in a confrontational manner of something she objects to without giving other parties a chance to work out her objections with her first. This, I think, is rather akin to the controversial tweet, although it was not a harassment complaint per se. She made no effort to contact either the person giving the money shot talk, nor the conference organizers. Which means, if she misunderstood the talk, it is her own fault. First thing she did was accuse the conference of promoting porn and talk publicly of a boycott in her podcast and blog. And then, instead of giving the technical talk her audience came and perhaps paid for, she went on a tirade. I think that shows fundamental disrespect for the conference organizers and for the people who sought to learn from her.

So in saying the company should have ridden it out you’re saying they should have been less responsive to these particular complaints about sexism? After all, if the company is seriously trying to stamp out sexism, they are not going to limit their actions to situations they cannot “ride out”. Are you saying they should? I think you’re asking the company to have made a moral judgment that the feminists were wrong in this case. This is in tension with the idea that companies should be more responsive to the complaints of feminists. If you think companies should be responsive to womans complaints on these matters, then the first villain would have to be the women (presumably mostly women) who complained, starting with Adria who, again, has stated that she understood perfectly well what she was doing. I also don’t think you can really expect a corporation to make a moral judgment – they are not moral entities. Admittedly, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, since decisions in companies are ultimately made by people, but the logic of the corporate structure itself is amoral, and people within it are swimming upstream if they want to introduce morality, even if they are the people in charge. Dealing with corporations is a matter of what behaviors you will encourage and discourage.

And I don’t think you can make symmetrical comparisons of the fates of Hank and Adria because Hank did not attack Adria, said she was right in every thing she did, and apologized deeply for the offense he caused (or could have hypothetically enabled someone to infer).The only thing he did that contributed to Adria’s firing was simply state that the was a father of three and had just gotten fired. I cannot see why he should not have the right to say this.

Adria, on the other hand, set out to cause problems for Hank, has stated that she understood how serious those problems could get, and has made clear that she blames Hank for everything that has happened to her. She even started suggesting that maybe Hank was orchestrating the 4chan mobs and such, till Ronson talked her off that ledge. So Adria has suffered much more than Hank, but Hank has behaved much better than Adria.

As for whether Adria understood what a ruckus she could create on Twitter, she herself explicitly rejects your position and insists that she did (quoted above, and earlier too). She said she knew what she was doing *after* all the bad consequences came out, so she is asserting that she saw the possibility of something like what happened. Otherwise, she could not claim, speaking after the fact, to have understood the potential consequences of what she was doing. Who am I to suppose has better understanding of the contents of Adria Richards’ brain, Belle Waring or Adria Richards?

Belle, you want a constructive suggestion? OK. How about ;this?: Publicizing violations of the code of conduct without the prior agreement of the COC Committee (or whatever) is itself a violation of the code of conduct. If you want keep mobs from 4chan or anywhere else from getting involved, the only way to do it is keep it off the Internet. After all, what Adria did was stir up a feminist mob to create trouble for Hank. After he was fired, 4chan responded and escalated with a much nastier mob that occasionally went beyond simple speech acts to doxxing and DDOS attacks. But you can’t gatekeep mobs. Invite one, and you have invited all.

Now, some may object that this could enable the COCC to become lax by removing the element of immediate public pressure. If this is a problem, I suggest this: People can go public with the meta-issue of whether the COCC is doing its job properly. To make the case, they will have to cite specifics, but this will be done in an anonymized manner. The goal is to pressure whoever is ultimately in charge, and those people will be able to get more detail as needed. The COCC itself will also have the right to publicize cases in an anonymized manner to defend itself. There is the problem of leaks. There are a zillion ways to get things on the Internet, not all easily traceable (though untraceable sources are unverified sources). But usually you can tell from which side a leak came, even if you cannot prove it.. If the norm is established that this is not OK, it will often backfire.

193

Collin Street 04.17.15 at 11:27 pm

Belle, the pattern in her behavior is immediately making a public issue in a confrontational manner of something she objects to without giving other parties a chance to work out her objections with her first.

If someone’s got a problem with you or something you’re doing, you aren’t entitled — not for a second! — to demand that that person “first” attempt to “work things out with you”.

For fairly obvious reasons: people who have a problem with you and what you are doing have a problem with you and what you are doing. And don’t generally want to — and shouldn’t generally be forced/obliged to — deal with you: a requirement that problems “first” be taken up with the other party is essentially prejudging the whole dispute against the complainant.

[“first take it up with the other party” isn’t words that should be on any code of conduct. “consider”, maybe, but honestly even that’s probably too far.]

tldr: “Why did noone tell me I was self-centred and dismissive of other people’s experience?” is a question that plainly answers itself, I think.

194

Sumana Harihareswara 04.18.15 at 3:52 am

I’ve arrived back home from PyCon 2015, so I’ll have enough brain tomorrow to respond to a few of the comments y’all have posted since I last had a chance to reply. (It was wonderful getting to sprint with the rest of the Mailman team, and I’m grateful to the Python Software Foundation and the PyCon sponsors for arranging the venue and food; one can attend the sprints at no registration cost, and I thoroughly appreciate that. I wrote a few patches, told other attendees about the upcoming release and got them to come test the install, and did a great deal of testing and bug-reporting myself, and generally a bunch of release management. I had the privilege of discovering a funny bug, although I wish the bug didn’t exist since it prevented us from meeting our goal and shipping 3.0 by Thursday.)

If you liked this piece, you might also be interested in the April 15th piece I wrote for the code4lib Journal — User Experience is a Social Justice Issue.

195

ZM 04.18.15 at 5:01 am

“If someone’s got a problem with you or something you’re doing, you aren’t entitled — not for a second! — to demand that that person “first” attempt to “work things out with you””

Yes. They might have good reason to be scared of you so other options might present as better. Or you may not listen to them when they object to you.

196

js. 04.18.15 at 5:24 am

engels @187:

I don’t even understand the argument here. It sounds like you’re saying that because “nerd” is—perhaps more accurately, was*—a pejorative, being a nerd is a bad way of being. That’s an unconvincing argument, obviously, and I’m guessing you have some other argument in mind—except that it’s impossible to tell what it is.

Meanwhile, I’m with bianca steele @189: “geek” still suggests semi-weirdo to me (tho possibly in a lovable way!), whereas “nerd” is how humanities PhDs self-describe, in my experience.

*Maybe this is a case where US usage has diverged from British usage; I wouldn’t know.

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Martin Bento 04.18.15 at 6:36 am

Collin, ZM, It wasn’t the person whose talk she objected to that said she should have communicated first, or at least simultaneously. It was Amanda Blum, the organizer of the conference. And if we’re going to talk about who has a right to demand what, Adria has no right to demand that other presenters alter their talks. That would be Amanda’s call, probably. And let us keep in mind the nature of the offense. Another presenter made a passing reference to porn, intending it as a humorous way to make a point about focus. There was no opinion on porn, nor any erotic content. It is true that the presenter evidently believed passing references to porn of this sort were not seriously offensive to anyone, and that was a mistake. But it is entirely likely that the presenter would have made changes to the talk if asked. It was certainly worth a try. And Blum was in a position to arbitrate. What Adria did instead was rob the students who came to and perhaps paid for her talk the knowledge they had the right to expect, and, of course, to no avail. The Money Shot presentation went on as planned.

And, yes, in general it is better in life to try to resolve disputes than to escalate them. Some fights need to be fought, but fighting is negative sum (at a minimum, it is always draining energy from other projects), and the more it escalates, the more brute power is what will resolve the matter.

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engels 04.18.15 at 12:02 pm

“nerd” is how humanities PhDs self-describe, in my experience

This is precisely the kind of thing I object to. The ascendancy of nerd values in 21st century America has become such that even forces of resistance must publicly adopt the mantle of the nerd to maintain their legitimacy. Jocks have already mostly been assimilated in the form of ‘gamers’ so now the focus has shifted to the historical unpopularity of the nerd lifestyle among girls. It’s only a matter of time before Harvard’s literature department is turned into an institute for the study of comic books, Mark Zuckerberg replaces George Washington on the dollar bill and future presidents of the US are delivering the inaugural address in Klingon.

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engels 04.18.15 at 12:11 pm

((NB. to avoid any misunderstanding, I do support the right of girls and women who choose to be nerds to do so free from discrimination and harassment)

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AcademicLurker 04.18.15 at 12:40 pm

The ascendancy of nerd values in 21st century America has become such that even forces of resistance must publicly adopt the mantle of the nerd to maintain their legitimacy. Jocks have already mostly been assimilated

This seems a bit overstated. The emergence of “brogrammer” culture in tech hardly represents the triumph of nerdism. More like the same old dudebro culture colonizing a formerly nerdy field because now there’s serious money to be made there. As to jocks, the Steubenville football players didn’t seem especially nerdy to me.

Anyway, most people I know who are into what I suppose you would classify as offensively nerdy interests (Star Trek, Game of Thrones, whatever) are voracious readers in general, so they also read Pynchon, Gaddis, Dickens, Elliot, Trollope & etc. & etc. It’s not either/or.

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Belle Waring 04.18.15 at 3:35 pm

engels: “((NB. to avoid any misunderstanding, I do support the right of girls and women who choose to be nerds to do so free from discrimination and harassment)”
That’s very charitable of you!

Martin Bento: I can want companies to be more open to complaints from feminists while not thinking they have to listen to and obey every complaint from every person who calls themselves a feminist. The company can say, he’s apologised, we here take this very seriously, but we’re not firing him. Some people genuinely are greivance-manufacturers in this world, and can be deflected or ignored! But IME they tend to be white male feminists who want to take offence first and spearhead the response to gain exposure and power, not outsiders, not black women who can go to meetings with twenty different companies and not see another black woman. These latter people can feel more precarious, and rightly; it takes courage to stand up, and that’s the fear she was talking about. I don’t think anyone was going to rape or kill her in full view of her fellow conference attendees as they looked on approvingly with their con tags around their necks, that’s obviously impossible, and that’s not literally what she was afraid of. I think she was afraid of the thing that actually happened to her, probably, or something like it–a million death and rape threats, and support from the tech community all melting like snow in early California drought spring, so that she was left to face them alone with no job, no resources, no home, no hope of ever getting back into the only field she’s ever worked in. Permanently blacklisted as a troublemaker. Right? If she feared that thing, then she was being quite rational. If she feared that, and spoke up anyway she was being brave by anyone’s lights even if she was as a matter of actual fact doing the wrong thing. A person can be brave but foolish, or brave but wrong, or brave but confused about the nature of a conflict.

I wouldn’t have tweeted the picture, but I can imagine doing it. I can imagine dealing with a hundred minor slights, getting to a professional conference, hearing my fellow attendees act like the loud boys who antagonise my daughter now in 8th grade–while she’s trying to have a discussion about politics with her Korean friend they are yelling stupid dick jokes so loudly it is inconvenient–and just sending it out like “can you believe this is supposed to be a professional conference for an actual real industry what the fuck even with these morons. It’s like why did I even leave middle school, jesus.” She’s not saying “yeah, I intended to ruin his life, too bad, loser.” She’s saying, “there’s a very painfully explicit hierarchy here, and he’s on the top, and I’m on the bottom. It can only go so badly for him, when you get down to it.” That is entirely correct as to the actual results of even so unexpectedly bad a debacle, right?

As to whether there should be a meta-code of conduct, it’s possible it could work as an intermediate stage since a person could circumvent the system if it proved corrupt, but it could yield a cabal of insiders who could then deem any criticism that didn’t pass through approved channels “petty and malicious” along the lines you describe Richards’ as being. Like I said, I think it would be tough to write a CoC, and were I tasked with it I would want someone like you who was skeptical of the idea there to point out potential flaws from another viewpoint.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 04.18.15 at 3:43 pm

engels @198:

It’s only a matter of time before Harvard’s literature department is turned into an institute for the study of comic books, Mark Zuckerberg replaces George Washington on the dollar bill and future presidents of the US are delivering the inaugural address in Klingon.

Doesn’t sound too bad to me. Well, I suppose Harvard’s literature department should probably be spared, but multilingualism is to be approved of and I’ve always thought that the US is missing out on more interesting dollar bills by only ever putting long-dead presidents on them. Seeing Charles Darwin on a £5 note always makes me smile.

William Berry @179:

Not seeing a point here. Those are all terms of relatively recent origin, so zero at “zero hour” is precisely what you would expect.

The question was awareness of feminism as an issue generally. The unpredictable career arcs of faddish terms doesn’t speak to that at all.

The sudden appearance of several new terms linked to a specific field would suggest some development in that field, no?

We’ve already established that I lack the education you believe I should have had (in my defence, those are expensive now), but I was raised to believe in equality. Before reading any actual feminist literature, I would have said that I was probably a supporter of feminist goals without being particularly engaged, in the same sense in which I am vaguely supportive of other good causes with which I am not personally engaged. I could probably have given the right answers in a quiz on whether or not certain behaviours are morally acceptable, but I couldn’t have articulated any theory to describe why.

Now, what I encountered ~5 years ago was the sudden prominence of feminist views in places where they had not been found before, in particular tech discussion forums. People like Shanley Kane or Tim Chevalier or Julie Pagano or Julie Ann Horvath are not academic feminists, but are people who happen to work in the tech industry whilst also bringing a lot more feminist theory to bear on matters. They looked around and they formulated a feminist critique of the tech industry. I’m not saying that feminism didn’t exist before then, but the feminist critique of the tech industry really didn’t, and encountering that critique was, for many people, their first encounter with feminism. You might find that shocking, but I personally don’t; most of us don’t really encounter medical science until we become ill, at which point it becomes important to start learning about it. In fact, I think this is an encouraging story insofar as it represents an improvement over the status quo ante, in that there’s now some engagement where previously there was none.

My regret is that the process created more heat than light, and it often felt like there was a mutual incomprehension that was made worse by the adoption of rhetorical scripts in which feminists were seen as monomaniacal zealots (not always incorrectly, though mostly so) and people who challenged or disagreed with them were seen as unreconstructed sexists/misogynists (not always incorrectly, in fact this was often but not always the case). The very act of trying to distinguish oneself from the scripted tribe (“not all men…”) itself became a scripted action that one could be legitimately attacked for. The mistaken sense that feminism was here to destroy nerd culture rather than to complete it was the direct antecedent to Gamergate, and nobody figured out how to tell the truth with enough clarity in time to prevent the trainwreck.

Perhaps this is somewhat inevitable – tell people that a better world is possible, and they’ll take it as an implicit rebuke, as though you’re blaming them for the fact that the world they’ve built isn’t good enough for you. That certainly seems to explain a lot of reactionary thinking. Perhaps telling people that their open-source project could be more open to contributors will just make them feel defensive, because you kinda are saying that they have hitherto been sup-optimal human beings for failing to have a CoC. My sense is that this defensiveness can be overcome by including people in the process of defining the CoC, or even the decision over whether one is necessary at all. After all, the best way of getting someone to accept something is to make them think it was their idea all along. Interestingly, I think we can generalise this to the much broader question of how left-wing academic ideas achieve adoption in wider society – despite many of them being fairly obviously good ideas, there’s a strange amount of resistance and, anecdotally at least, this resistance often seems to come from the feeling that solutions are being imposed on people even if they’re supposed to benefit from them. I know we’ve wandered off-topic a bit, but I feel like this does still bear directly on the original post: governance relies on the consent of the governed, and you still need to solicit that consent even when you know you’re right.

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Paul Davis 04.18.15 at 3:45 pm

Belle, I’m somewhat supportive of your position on this, but there’s a logical error here:

I don’t think anyone was going to rape or kill her in full view of her fellow conference attendees as they looked on approvingly with their con tags around their necks, that’s obviously impossible, and that’s not literally what she was afraid of. I think she was afraid of the thing that actually happened to her, probably, or something like it–a million death and rape threats, and support from the tech community all melting like snow in early California drought spring, so that she was left to face them alone with no job, no resources, no home, no hope of ever getting back into the only field she’s ever worked in.

These things happened after she tweeted about the dongle jokesters. There’s no reason she would have been worried about any of the stuff you just mentioned based on their presence and dialog behind her. Martin’s comments were about her statement that she was fearful based on their behaviour.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 04.18.15 at 3:50 pm

My “whoops, I may have just made a bad argument” alarm went off just after posting that. In my final para, I am not trying to suggest that feminists trying to overturn oppression need to seek the consent of their oppressors to do so. I am assuming that the majority of the population have no particular interest in oppressing women, therefore it should be possible to achieve democratic consent for feminist-acceptable outcomes in most communities without needing to impose anything. That assumption may be wrong, and I don’t really know how to handle cases where it is.

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AcademicLurker 04.18.15 at 4:05 pm

Stephenson-quoter kun@202,

I think the recent “tumblrization” of many forms of activism has been, on the whole, not a particularly great thing. My impression of tumblr* is that there really is a febrile adolescent atmosphere that prevails there, and that general style leaks into whatever subcultures make their home there. This includes a mania for devising private languages and nested in-jokes for you and your friends (shades of the elementary school playground). It makes the sort of conversations you wish were more common difficult to have. I don’t know to what extent that played a role in the history you’re describing.

*Of course I know it’s not only tumblr, but these days I think it stands pretty well as the ideal type of that sort of thing.

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NickS 04.18.15 at 5:30 pm

If someone’s got a problem with you or something you’re doing, you aren’t entitled — not for a second! — to demand that that person “first” attempt to “work things out with you”.

This is true, and offers an opportunity to highlight one of the very interesting parts ot the speech linked in the OP (and to thank Sumana for both the link and having sparked an interesting discussion, which I’ve been wanting to do).

(emphasis mine)

We have the 4 social rules up on the wall, framed, at Hacker School, and sometimes people will, while referencing it, unconsciously turn their bodies towards them, because it’s that much in our core values. If you don’t understand why something you did broke the rules, you don’t ask the person who corrected you. You ask a facilitator. You ask someone who’s paid to do that emotional labor, and you don’t bring everyone else’s work to a screeching halt. This might sound a little bit foreign to some of us right now. Being able to ask someone to stop doing the thing that’s harming everyone else’s work and knowing that it will actually stop and that there’s someone else who’s paid to do that emotional labor who will take care of any conversation that needs to happen.

I thought that was a really striking observation, and example of how it’s interesting and helpful to have a small organization try to model behavior for how conflicts can be handled, given appropriate resources and sense of community.

That passage is talking about the advantages from the point of view of the person who’s annoyed, but this discussion makes clear that there’s also an advantage for the person who has been offensive — in that they have somebody they can talk to to try to work out a resolution to the problem.

Which, in this case, would lead me to support Martin Bento’s feeling that the ideal outcome would be one in which somebody who has a bad experience at a conference could talk to a organizer and trust that the situation would be resolved appropriately (which is obviously not often the case).

(Note, there’s a different “Nick S” who comments at CT more often than I do; I realize it’s inconvenient, so

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Paul Wright 04.18.15 at 7:32 pm

On what Richards was afraid of: going by the physical fight-or-flight reaction she described, I assumed she was triggered (in the psychiatric sense, rather than Tumblr’s debased “oh no, someone disagreed with me” sense). Some fairly horrible things that had happened to her in her childhood, which were also mentioned in one of the excerpts I read. This reaction is not rational, because she wasn’t actually unsafe at that point, but is understandable.

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Martin Bento 04.19.15 at 12:40 am

Belle, so Adria instantly foresaw the whole shebang or something like it from the beginning. I take it this marks your abandonment of the “she couldn’t possibly have known what a ruckus she could create on Twitter” argument..Let’s see if this makes sense as an account of what Adria said. Here is the dialog in question:

“Ten months later, I was sitting opposite Adria Richards in a cafe at San Francisco airport. She seemed introverted and delicate, just the way Hank had come across over Google Hangout. She told me about the moment she overheard the comment about the big dongle.
“Have you ever had an altercation at school and you could feel the hairs rise up on your back?” she asked me.
“You felt fear?” I asked.
“Danger,” she said. “Clearly my body was telling me, ‘You are unsafe.’”
Which was why, she said, even though she’d never before complained about sexual harassment, she “slowly stood up, rotated from my hips, and took three photos”. She tweeted one, “with a very brief summary of what they said. Then I sent another tweet describing my location. Right? And then the third tweet was the [conference’s] code of conduct.”
“You talked about danger,” I said. “What were you imagining might…?”
“Have you ever heard that thing, men are afraid that women will laugh at them and women are afraid that men will kill them?” she replied. “So. Yeah.”
I told Adria that people might consider that an overblown thing to say. She had, after all, been at a tech conference with 2,000 bystanders.
“Sure,” she replied. “And those people would probably be white and they would probably be male.””

First of all, she cites her feeling of danger as the reason for her action, not as something she had to overcome. Admittedly, confronting someone who was not paying attention to you because you are afraid of them doesn’t make much sense, but that is one of the reasons I think Adria is b*llsh*tting. That is what she said. Secondly, when Jon asks her about the 2000 bystanders, he is talking about her immediate situation, and she responds in that light. If she were afraid of something that might happen later, the race and gender of the people around her at that moment would have been completely irrelevant. But she brings it up as a relevant fact. Nice try, but no. The dialog means what it seems to mean.
As for Hank’s volume, that is disputed. Adria says he spoke loudly; he says he was below normal conversational volume. Adria says the offensive remarks continued for several minutes, but we’re talking a couple of double entendres here. It’s hard to write a plausible dialog of these two jokes that lasts several minutes. The jokes will not stay funny that long. Adria has said several misleading or irrational things, which Hank has not. So I think Hank has more plausibility, but if you don’t think that is enough to assign hank greater credibility, then the matter is simply disputed. I see no basis for stipulating Adria’s version as fact. Also, Adria said nothing about Hank’s alleged volume in the initial tweet or blog post, but only said it later when she had to defend her actions. So the volume was not an issue in the initial tweetstorm.

On my suggestion, the important part is the privacy rule. I’m not even sure about the meta business, because the line between “bringing public pressure to bear” and “inviting in a mob” is pretty blurry.

On the issue of Hank’s company not having to listen to every feminist who complains, presumably more than one person complained. But, more fundamentally than that, one standard that is frequently heard in progressive circles,including in this very thread, is that the disadvantaged groups have the sole right to define what is an offense. The company is hearing from all these women ( a recognized disadvantaged group) who are saying that Hank’s behavior seriously offends them. Many would say otherwise, of course, but the company is not hearing from them. Do they even have the right to say: hey, this is not that serious a matter. We’re not going to fire the guy over it. Under the “disadvantaged define what is an offense” standard, I don’t see how they have any right to say that. So that would be my second suggestion: offenses are defined by broad consensus, not by the sole determination of the putative victims. Yes, this is likely to require some buy-in from within advantaged groups, but the fights against racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. have had a lot of success on precisely this basis. If white people had closed ranks against blacks in the 50s, if men had closed ranks against women in the 70s, if straight people had closed ranks against gays in the 80s, none of those movements would have had the success that they have.

And I never said I was opposed to codes of conduct per se. I never gave the matter much thought, so I don’t have a defined position.

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Belle Waring 04.19.15 at 3:41 am

There are some totally fair points being made against what I said just above but can I just LOL here?
“If white people had closed ranks against blacks in the 50s, if men had closed ranks against women in the 70s, if straight people had closed ranks against gays in the 80s, none of those movements would have had the success that they have.”
What the fuck do you think happened during the civil rights movement exactly? What was ACT-UP? Why were they getting in people’s faces shouting, “we’re here; we’re queer; get used to it” in the literally most confrontational way you can imagine? Politely standing around at the edges of society saying, “um, hi, we’d rather like our fundamental human rights now” has gotten any under-privileged anywhere ever–nowhere. Every single movement of this kind with any success has been actively confrontational. Indeed to the extent that the cause of feminism has pretty much stagnated while gay rights have made amazing progress one sometimes wonders if someone shouldn’t have been throwing fake blood on people and yelling at them more in the 80s and early 90s. Having said that, as to your fair points:

I didn’t mean she foresaw the outcome and I’m sorry if I elided this point. I only meant that when women say ‘men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them’ there is a truth there that we can see exposed in the fallout of the incident: some dudes got pointed at and laughed at and shamed and then returned to comfortable jobs and lives with the strong moral support of thousands of their peers online; a woman got hounded from her job and her home by rape and death threats and everyone thinks she’s an evil nutjob except some feminists who also strongly morally support her online. (I’m not a strongly-committed supporter, actually, I just brought up the specifics when Stephenson-quoter-kun pointed to the incident above as being more complex than was indicated in the article.)

Now, as I said, her fellow conference-goers weren’t ever going to literally tear her limb-from-limb in an ecstasy of conference sparagmos, and to whatever extant Richards literally thought that she was being, indeed, irrational. It is possible for her to feel unsafe there, though. Re-read my example of my daughter’s annoying 8th-grade-life. Now imagine you got raped in 8th-grade by one of those boys. How do you feel about dumbass overly loud dick jokes now? Maybe it freaks you right the fuck out. And guess what? No one has a fundamental right to tell dick jokes at a professional conference, so curbing that in order to help someone with what is essentially PTSD go to a thing for work is perfectly reasonable. And you might say, how the fuck were those dudes supposed to know she got raped in 8th grade (in my hypothetical, but I take it she did actually suffer along these lines as a young person)? They aren’t. But a fuckton of people in the world have gotten raped. Like me, and four of my nine closest female family relations. So the safest thing would probably be not to tell loud dick jokes at a professional conference then, right? Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy? Now, continue the analogy. Do you feel safe talking to these people? No! It might be irrational, but a soldier with PTSD might have irrational fears about walking in alleys, and if his employer made him walk to work with other people who always walked in alleys to get to work coding, we’d say, “what the fuck? Let the dude walk on the street, what is even wrong with you?”

The objection that the jokes cannot have been long because they would not then have been funny is not worth responding to. Dude. Do you assert no one has ever told an overly-long, unfunny joke? Dude, just stop with this one.

Finally, yes, people who are feminists, believe that companies approached with feminist complaints have a right to judge whether they think these are valid or not, and what response they merit, if any. If I didn’t think that I would be committed to the literally insane position that every single person who said “I have a feminist objection to x” should get x from every company ever. Again, this is so dumb I’m not sure how you can be attributing this view to me. Feminists’ position is hardly “do what any feminists says always” it is “do what some feminists say ever. Namely me and people I agree with, because I believe my own beliefs are true, that being the general human position (while admitting of necessity many must be false, since this is also the general human position, it’s just that I don’t know which ones.)” And if your company decides to handle the matter one way, and gets a ton of blowback, they made change their mind, or not. Feminists aren’t that dumb. Really, I promise. We think some feminists complaints are valid, and some invalid. We also disagree on what constitutes an appropriate response, so a company’s action might satisfy some but not others and thus be successful.

I kind of think we’re done here–I’m not a strong Richards’ supporter per se; I just pointed out above that as far as negative consequences for violating CoC at a con, she got nuked for following them (barring tweeting the photo, which I think was wrong but not a heinous sin), and the men got, let’s say, fire-bombed but recovered fine for violating them (Dresden is very nice now). If that means, as soru suggests, the CoC was buggy then we need to write better ones. I hope that the quote from Sumana’s speech helps you see why going directly to the person will often create way more drama than going to a neutral arbitrator, even if it seems a natural first step.

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Stephenson-quoter kun 04.19.15 at 7:58 am

There is an alternative explanation for the different outcomes for Richards and dongle-joke guy: dongle-joke guy worked as a software developer, and Richards worked as an evangelist. If a developer proves that they’re immature and can’t be trusted with representing the company at major events, they can be assigned to work that doesn’t involve going to conferences. An evangelist who can’t be trusted to behave within the CoC at conferences is unemployable, because going to conferences is the job. Dongle-joke guy also admitted that his actions were wrong, whereas I don’t believe Richards ever did. Even if we knew nothing at all about the gender of the individuals concerned, I think we’d predict the outcome fairly accurately.

(Of course, that’s not the whole story; the 4-chan reaction was very much about gender, and the nature of that reaction activated the ‘war’ script in which people had to choose sides and in which Richards could not admit having made a mistake in tweeting the pictures, preventing any opportunity to fix the situation once it got out of hand. To the extent that people think Richards was being irrational, we should probably be sympathetic to her particular irrationality given the backdrop of sexism/racism that clearly informed her behaviour).

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Val 04.19.15 at 8:58 am

S-Q k: think you’re just compounding it now. Stop, because you’re getting ugly.

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Martin Bento 04.19.15 at 9:42 am

Belle, I didn’t say anything in that statement about confrontation or tactics. “close ranks” means every single white person utterly opposes black civil rights. If that doesn’t happen, then the whites are not united on the question, and their ranks are not closed. If it does happen, blacks lose, period. They had then and have now neither the numbers nor the resources to force white people to do anything, and if they resort to violence, the whites can meet them with greater violence. The movement could not have succeeded without convincing a significant number of white people to support equality, at the cost of their own privilege. Sometimes this took confrontation and sometimes conversation, but whatever the method, the result had to be be white people willing to let blacks be treated equally. Not all white people, not even necessarily most (and some count more than others, e.g., the Supreme Court), but enough to tip the scales. The blacks by themselves did not have the power to compel the issue.

And my point is that the last several decades have shown that it is possible for disadvantaged groups to find support for equality among the advantaged, and they would have progressed very little otherwise. Which is why I don’t think it is necessary to say that only the disadvantaged get to say what is an offense and how serious it is (the former is not too meaningful without the latter), and why doing so lends itself to just this kind of abuse (I mean the complaints that got Hank fired).

As for why feminism has been semi-stalled for a few decades, I think there are vanishingly few blacks who do not support black civil rights or gays who do not support gay rights, but most women do not support feminism, though they may support specific feminist positions that have become fairly uncontroversial, such as equal pay. We can debate why this is, but until it changes, feminism will have a problem. You don’t represent someone unless they say you do, and feminism claims to represent women generally and does not. So my suggestion if you want to reinvigorate feminism is to go out and talk to, but especially listen to, non-feminist women and see what their objections are. If it’s just perception, that’s the easiest possibility, but I don’t think so, because feminism has been part of our culture for decades, it is taught in college, it has affected everyone’s life in identifiable ways – people do have some direct knowledge of it. And I’m sure there are some feminist groups doing exactly this, but it has to become the focus of enough attention that the information gleaned can have an effect on feminism generally.

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Barry 04.19.15 at 12:32 pm

“…activated the ‘war’ script in which people had to choose sides…”

Yes, just like GamerGate. We see the sides, we see their behavior.

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.15 at 1:31 pm

I’m not sure how far spitballing the ‘donglegate’ scenario gets us. If you believe (as I assume most people here do) that people competent at their jobs shouldn’t lose them for trivial, stupid mistakes then it’s probably suffice to say Richard’s shouldnt have lost her job for this one misjudgment (imo, anyway, it was a misjudgment ). And that should be that. (unless you can *show* a pattern of behaviour her employers had identified and warned her about, which doesnt seem to be the case, as she lost it (afaict) as a consequence of the campaign waged against her) Whether or not she is a ‘nice’ person is beside the point, and really nothing anyone here (who are mainly dealing with after the fact narratives ) can really say.
I don’t know to what extent it’s applicable in the Richard’s case, but I think Belle’s point about trauma is a good one. I’d recommend to everyone ‘The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma’, which made me rethink everything I didn’t know about how people experience, internalise and respond to traumatic experiences. I haven’t had time to sit down and read it cover to cover yet, so have only read bit and pieces, but it really is eye opening. (and will appeal even to those who consider themselves solely concerned with matters of empirically grounded scientific argument, or what have you)
(Anyway, ill leave it there, as it might be getting off topic)

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Martin Bento 04.20.15 at 11:17 am

Ronan, Adria said, in opposition to people who said she didn’t understand what she was doing by tweeting and making a public issue of it, that she did indeed know. She said that after all the consequences became clear. To me, that is not a trivial stupid mistake; it is a malicious act.

Belle, I gave several reasons, not just one, why I thought Hank’s account of his speech was more plausible than Adria’s. Here’s another: Hank said in his initial comment that he was speaking below normal conversational volume. Adria responded to that comment, but did not dispute the volume. She said that months later when she needed to justify her actions. And another: in her initial blog post, she says she felt that Hank and his friend felt hidden in the crowd and that encouraged them. Obviously, telling dirty jokes loudly in a quiet crowd (they were listening to a presentation) is no way to hide. Now, none of that is hard proof, and you may think that that and the other things I said do not justify assuming Hank’s version is correct, and that’s fine, but you have not given a single reason to assume Adria’s version is correct, yet have made it rather central to your argument – “overly-loud dick jokes” – sorry, you don’t get to just stipulate that.

Why did she do it? She has given at least three reasons, one of which I have not brought up before. This is the first reason she gave. From her initial blog post on the subject:

“The stuff about the dongles wasn’t even logical and as a self professed nerd, that bothered me. Dongles are intended to be small and unobtrusive. They’re intended for network connectivity and to service as physical licence keys for software. I’d consulted in the past with an automotive shop that needed data recovery and technical support. I know what PCMCIA dongles look like.
I was telling myself if they made one more sexual joke, I’d say something.

(actually, he did not make another one, as the forking joke preceded the dongle one, according to Adria. Hank admitted the dongle joke, but said the forking remark was not intended sexually. Adria said she knew he’d probably say that, and that is why she did not talk to him directly.)

Jokes, of course, are not necessarily logical, and big and small are relative terms anyway. But, really? Ms. Spock thinks the joke is not logical? Your own pedantry and excessive literalism are part of why you went off? This is absurd. It also doesn’t sound like the woman went into mortal terror of assault at the sound of a dick joke, and, indeed, in the same entry she claims to be actually desensitized to dirty jokes, because she is around nerds so much. Then she said her reaction was because she saw a picture of a little girl who would never become a coder if Hank got away with his joke. She said the future of programming was on the line, here. Also, absurd. And, of course, later she said that she was deathly afraid that Hank would rape her (or something) in front of 2000 cheering white males. Human motivations can be complex, but these are even more ridiculous if you aggregate them: “I was terrified that he would rape me right there on the floor in front of 2000 toothily-grinning white guys; besides he said “big dongle” and dongles are small.” Even making up a rape story and pasting it in to explain the alleged panic does not explain the entirety of this. The woman is bullsh!tting.

As for Sumana’s quote, I’ll have to look more into it, but it sounds like if Person A thinks Person B broke the rules, Person A tells Person B directly to stop it. If Person B wants to say something in her defense, she has to go to a facilitator. Is that right? The facilitator may be a good idea, but why should it not be symmetrical? If you can only answer a complaint through a facilitator, you should only be able to make one through a facilitator.

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Belle Waring 04.20.15 at 1:20 pm

No, Person A also talks to a neutral mediator. This is a better idea than it might sound at first pass, because people are naturally defensive when confronted with objections and may respond in haste with anger and worsen the situation, dragging in other irrelevant topics. (We’ve all seen this in our personal lives when we criticise family. “Well you do this annoying thing…etc.”) If the complaint comes in a bland, logically formatted way from a facilitator to Party B, Party B has a better chance of keeping their cool and responding in the best way they can to the complaint.

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Belle Waring 04.20.15 at 1:43 pm

And Martin, I realize this sounds really stupid but different people do find different things upsetting. Everyone hates the word “trigger” now, but I think it’s easier to understand if you imagine someone has PTSD (this is actually the case for victims of sexual assault. And Richards is such a victim, actually, was my understanding? However this is not a solid gold badge that lets you act like an asshole and never get called on it. But it can be relevant.) Alleys are perfectly safe, and it is completely irrational to not want to walk down an alley in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. on a sunny day. Someone who has PTSD from serving in Iraq might nonetheless insist on taking irrationally long routes, and get genuinely upset when you used common sense and took the shortest route through the alleys. We would be little inclined to berate this person for her irrationality, and if she said alleys triggered her PTSD because the reminded her of Fallujah, we wouldn’t be telling her to ‘toughen up, because in the real world the shortest distance is often through an alley, so why waste time when the alley isn’t conceivably a threat. There are no IEDs or snipers behind Dent Place.’ We wouldn’t do that. We’d just walk on the regular street.

It doesn’t happen to bother me at all when people tell dumbass jokes like these, but I can imagine some relatively well-intentioned actions that would make me feel really anxious and upset and make my heart hammer. So, even if it’s the case that you’re entirely correct and Richards is entirely in the wrong, I’d still invite you to consider that triggering people is a real thing that actually happens and can induce true, palm-sweating panic in someone without being intended to harm.

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Sumana Harihareswara 04.21.15 at 11:30 am

At the Recurse Center (formerly Hacker School), the community I discussed in my speech, it is fine for someone to directly, kindly, and briefly tell another person that they were breaking one of the social rules. It is also okay for someone to decide to ask a facilitator to inform the person who’s broken one of the rules. Here’s the bit of the manual with more information, and here is a blog post that goes into more detail about one of the rules, and here’s a post about why part of one of those rules exists.

In my opinion these work well, generally; the vast majority of the time, people perform this process admirably, both in reporting and apologizing. It’s modeled for us during the incoming orientation and consistently by our peers, residents and facilitators.

The Recurse Center is primarily an in-person environment, and it’s also one with gatekeeping in the form of an admissions process, and there are other reasons as well that *some* lessons from the Recurse Center may not transfer over well to other open or online communities. I go into this a little in my speech. I do ask that you read the “social rules” section of the manual, read those posts, and also read, watch, or listen to my entire speech before deciding that the way RC does things (such as saying that it is ok for someone to directly, kindly, and briefly point out a rule infraction) is wrong. You might still decide it’s wrong but I’d like for you to be well-informed in that decision.

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Martin Bento 04.22.15 at 4:48 am

Belle, I’m not saying that people being terrified of objectively safe situations because of things that have happened to them is not a real thing – of course it is. That doesn’t mean every self-serving claim to this effect has to be believed if it is inconsistent with other evidence. But, for the record, I think all of Adria’s accounts of why she did it are BS, not just that one – none make sense. The closest I think she came to the truth was when she spoke on her blog about the guy earlier in the day who had made a much worse joke than Hank’s, and to her, not just in her earshot. She just had him talk to a co-worker of his, and I think she was angry with herself for letting him off easy and encountered Hank looking for a fight. I don’t think anyone is bothered by the illogic of jokes (which are almost always illogical in some way), lewd or otherwise, unless they are trying to come up with a pretext for a fight.

Sumana, fair enough. I’ll read that stuff when I get a chance.

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Belle Waring 04.22.15 at 5:30 am

As I say, I’m not super-committed to the claim that Richards was absolutely right. It seems likely to me she was offended and reported the joke-makers to the people running the con as per the CoC and could have done an acceptable thing in doing so–that’s what the CoC was for. I don’t think she should have tweeted their photos. I also don’t think she intended to get the men fired any more than they intended to make her miserable by telling a stupid joke about dongles that we all have probably personally made ourselves (it can’t be only me, right?). I think that “trying to come up with a pretext for a fight” is a somewhat implausible state of mind for a person to be in when going to a professional conference, but nothing’s impossible. (Lax about watching what you say and expecting a different fellow audience than the one you have this year is a totally plausible state of mind to be in, by contrast.) It has been fine to talk to you although I have felt you are angry about the situation in a way that spills over onto your interlocutors, and I don’t think you needed to be so angry at me about it. I think we will have to agree to disagree and also agree that neither of us knows exactly what really went down.

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Martin Bento 04.22.15 at 2:24 pm

W

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Martin Bento 04.22.15 at 5:00 pm

Accidental response there.

What did I say to you or anyone else here that you regard as angry? I tend to ignore these Internet kerfuffles, so I never gave Adria Richards any thought before this thread. If I have answered at length, it is probably because I’m working out my thoughts on the matter on the spot. I’m just arguing forcefully, which is how I tend to argue. As for things that could be taken as angry at you – well, I did say you don’t get to simply stipulate that Hank was loud, but you were pressing the point without arguing for it, and treated my multiple arguments dismissively by dismissing one, and telling me to just stop. Shut up can also be taken as somewhat hostile, even if phrased less bluntly, though I did not so take it. And you LOL’d a point you evidently did not understand – which is fine. I just further explained my point.

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Martin Bento 04.22.15 at 6:39 pm

Looking it over, I do see 2 points you might be thinking of. One is where I said who has greater insight into the contents of Adria Richards’ brain, Belle Waring or Adria Richards? That could be taken as sarcastic. Keep in mind, though, that I had already pointed out that Adria Richards explicitly disavowed the argument you were trying to make on her behalf, and you made it again anyway. So I was trying to state the point in a way you could not simply ignore.

I also said “nice try” in regards to your contention (later abandoned) that the fear Adria felt concerned later reprisals along the lines of what eventually happened, not her immediate situation. I didn’t mean it sarcastically, but I suppose it could have come off that way. Surely no more sarcastic than LOL, though.

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Belle Waring 04.23.15 at 4:58 am

OK cool. It’s not like I didn’t get het up at other people above. I just felt that I was going to some trouble to continue to engage in a reasonable spirit despite what I think are our (night-certain) fundamental disagreements, and you were like, “nice try, Waring! But no dice!” But it’s no big deal and LOL is probably equal in tone.

Is your name supposed to suggest Japanese boxed lunches, or not? I feel that it is, but perhaps this is giving me irrelevant associations about you, such as that perhaps someone’s mom got up really early to place a single pickled plum in a field of rice, Japanese flag style. [This is entirely irrelevant and not intended to be hostile. Merely idle.]

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Belle Waring 04.23.15 at 5:01 am

Also re-reading I think in all fairness I was maybe giving better than I got, so that you are in the right and I withdraw the objection, setting aside continued disagreement.

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