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Re: A summary of some open discussions


From: Andreas Enge
Subject: Re: A summary of some open discussions
Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2020 22:00:47 +0100
User-agent: Mutt/1.12.1 (2019-06-15)

Hello,

On Mon, Jan 06, 2020 at 08:34:54PM +0100, Andy Wingo wrote:
> On Mon 06 Jan 2020 15:05, Brandon Invergo <address@hidden> writes:
> > Ludovic Courtès writes:
> >> As a side note: I think authority is not something one should take for
> >> granted.  We’re a group of volunteers, and each one of us has just as
> >> much authority as the others consent to give them.
> >
> > No.  When you join an organization, you implicitly or explicitly agree
> > to work within the existing structure of that organization.
> 
> More seriously, I think that when you join an organization, you
> implicitly or explicitly agree to work for the *goals* of that
> organization.

this is a good argument with which I agree.

An additional problem of GNU is that the organisation itself is implicit.
When I joined by proposing a software package, I learnt that my proposal was
evaluated by a committee, with which I interacted, and that (if I remember
well, it has been quite a while) the final word was with Richard Stallman;
then I received an e-mail by Richard welcoming me as a GNU maintainer. So I
would say that I implicitly agreed to Richard appointing (and potentially
firing) the GNU maintainers. However, I was quite shocked to learn after I
joined that GNU is essentially an autocratic structure, with Richard having
the final say in almost everything: the maintainer guide; whether or not
we would have a code of conduct, to cite a recent debate; from what I can
gather from recent events, it extends to who is a moderator of GNU mailing
lists and whether or not a group of GNU maintainers may obtain a wiki to
draft documents. This is something I could not even agree to implicitly,
since I was simply not aware of it and it is not published anywhere; maybe
I was naive in assuming that a volunteer organisation with the goals of
advancing user freedom would be organised like Debian with a more democratic
structure, but indeed I did. You could argue that now since I found out about
the poor organisation of GNU, I can revert my decision and leave. This is an
option, but like Andy I think that the goals of GNU are a worthy cause, and
that it makes sense to struggle for a more participatory organisation to
ensure the long-term success of GNU.

On Mon, Jan 06, 2020 at 02:05:54PM +0000, Brandon Invergo wrote:
> However, to say that as a volunteer one can
> simply start doing things differently, against the existing structure,
> because one's opinion changes amounts to subversion.

Actually, what do you do when you find out that the existing structure
is detrimental to the goals pursued by the organisation you joined?
Our current structure has driven people away, and I suspect it prevents
others from joining, in a context where volunteer time is the premium asset.
Formally, Brandon, your argument may be correct: When joining an organisation
with a given structure (assuming, for the sake of argument, that the
structure were clearly defined upfront), maybe you can be expected to act
within that structure. Fundamentally, though, I agree with Ludovic: Within
a volunteer organisation, the authority stems from the volunteers, who do
the actual work (called "stakeholders" in another thread); if they decide
to not grant authority, they can vote with their feet and leave, and the
organisation collapses.

Personally, I even think that our autocratic structure subverts our goals,
since I perceive a philosophical clash: How can we strive for empowering users
of our software and not at the same time empower the volunteers who do the
work so that they organise themselves, but instead expect them to follow
a (let us assume, benevolent) dictator for life?

Andreas




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