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Re: Promoting the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines?

From: Björn Höfling
Subject: Re: Promoting the GNU Kind Communication Guidelines?
Date: Mon, 29 Oct 2018 09:23:55 +0100

Hi HiPhish,

thank you very much for your insights. Others just said that they are
against the CoC and its politics, you brought up arguments. Thank you.
Though I have a slightly different view on it that I will explain. Note
these are my personal thoughts, I don't know what the Guix maintainers
think about it. I hope it is understandable, as I'm not a native
speaker I had to search for words and hopefully used them right.

On Sun, 28 Oct 2018 12:58:51 +0100
HiPhish <address@hidden> wrote:

> There is no problem of harassment in FLOSS, there is a problem of
> socially awkward nerds in FLOSS.

I agree in one point with you: In tech, there are so many nerds. People
who are shy. Who don't know how to talk to others. Who focus on
technology. Who are awesomely good in their tech field. And who don't
know how to cope with other human beings and because of that they could
cause irritations or injuries on the other side.

> Harassment presupposes malice, i.e.
> that the offending person is intentionally being abusive. If you have
> never said anything that made you want to vanish into the ground the
> moment it came out of your mouth you are not human. Some people will
> slip up more often than others, and let's face it: the people who are
> more likely to slip up are also more often the ones
> who are good at programming. Why is it this way? I don't know, I'm
> not a psychologist or anthropologist, I just need to know that this
> is the way things
> are.
> Now here is the important part: for an offensive act to be committed
> it takes two sides, the offender and the offended. Part of social
> competence is knowing not to slip up, but part of it is also knowing
> to just let it slide when someone else slips up. Again, I'm not
> talking just about online discourse, but social interaction in
> general. When someone says something stupid just ignore that person,
> and if it keeps happening try to correct them in a friendly manner.
> This is how we grow as humans.

It doesn't matter if harassment stems from malicious intent or just
from foolishness (I believe the biggest nerd currently sits in the
white house and he doesn't know better, but that doesn't make it
better for the people being his target). The only thing that cares is
that the target person feels harassed (To avoid that word and its
blaming/biased sound, I will use the words "actor" and "target" for the
persons involved). And yes, that is totally subjective to the target. If
he/she/they have that feeling, they have it. I will come back to that
point later.

Concerning the target part, you formulated "just let it slide when
someone else slips up": Depending on who said it, how it was said, how
deep it hurt, etc that might be a reaction. Once. Twice (Or at least
that used to be the reaction in the last century?). But every time
you let something hurtful just go through, two things happen:
First you give the acting part the feedback that this behavior is
accepted (and can be repeated). And secondly you bring them in an
acting role and yourself in a re-acting one (if at all, it might be
better described as an "ambient" role, like the room around has [cmp.
women who silently "accept/agree into" sexual abuse]).

Furthermore, there happen to be some portions of humanity that have the
bad luck to be just "slipped upon" more often than others. They might
be intelligent, they might have a diploma [why at all do they need to
justify?!], they have just -- by some random distribution and
"evaluation function" -- the "wrong" skin-color, the "wrong" birth
place, the "wrong" language, the "wrong" sex, the "wrong" non-binary
sexual identity that society cannot cope with or take whatever. Because
they got beaten up more often by random, unimportant features, we call
them minorities.

And for those who are the targets it is no longer "just a joke", "just
once" or whatever. They get harassed, targeted too often.

> This leads me into why the CC is a harmful CoC. The CC presupposes
> malice by default, more than half of its content is focused on
> punitive measures, not on helping each other. In contrast, the GNU
> Kind Communications Guidelines (GKCG in short) explicitly promotes a
> cooperative two-sided perspective:
> > Please assume other participants are posting in good faith, even if
> > you disagree with what they say. When people present code or text
> > as their own work, please accept it as their work. Please do not
> > criticize people for wrongs that you only speculate they may have
> > done; stick to what they actually say and actually do.


For me, "please" is a too relaxed word here. That's why I'm against
the GKCG. It is not at all a pleasure for the target person. It is about
stopping the act that violates target immediately.

> There is nothing like this in the CC, but there is this:
> > Instances of abusive, harassing, or otherwise unacceptable behavior
> > may be reported by contacting the project team at [INSERT EMAIL
> > ADDRESS]. All complaints will be reviewed and investigated and will
> > result in a response that is deemed necessary and appropriate to
> > the circumstances. The project team is obligated to maintain
> > confidentiality with regard to the reporter of an incident. Further
> > details of specific enforcement policies may be posted separately.

In my view, this is an unfair quotation/comparison. For reference, I'm
tanking my quotes from the text version:

I would compare somehow the whole "Please"-series of the GKCG with the
"Our Standards" part of the CoC, where good and bad behavior is
explained (maybe it would have been better to use full sentences here),
quoting the first two positives here:

* Using welcoming and inclusive language
* Being respectful of differing viewpoints and experiences

To me, the GKCG looks more like rules between equally powerful actors,
be it like in martial arts with the same belts or GNU hackers with the
(more or less) same cultural background and education. "Please guys
[intentionally using the male pronoun here] you know the rules, be
polite and fair to each other. If someone is a bit rude, you know, he
doesn't mean it, you know that, come back to the rules please. Please
calm down guys, no more flamewars, debate about the code like the old
greeks did about philosophy."

It's not meant to protect a minority target from a majority/powerful

> >
> > Project maintainers who do not follow or enforce the Code of
> > Conduct in good faith may face temporary or permanent repercussions
> > as determined by other members of the project’s leadership.  
> The CC is claiming to foster "an open and welcoming environment"
> while at the same time holding a gun to every maintainer's head.

The part with the gun feels awkward to me. I would say it differently,
and that word is also used in the CoC: The project maintainers have the
re-sponsibility to (re-)act whenever someone feels to be a target of
harassment, abuse, pressure, uncomfortable behavior, or whatever you
call it. Any incident when someone feels hurt.

It is like an employer has the responsibility for the employees. The
employer has to protect them, from work accidents and from threads from
other employees or customers. And the maintainer is the one who has the
power to do so: Zhe [trying to be as gener-neutral as possible here] can
grant or revoke submitting rights, can block IRC channels, can block on
the majordomo. Zhe can and should use that power to stop violate acts
against a member. That power can be abused of cause, but then we
should deal with that abusage behaviour.

> The
> accused is not even allowed to know what the accusation is about
> (confidentiality clause), so how are they supposed to know what they
> did was wrong? There is no clause that allows the accused to defend
> their position, only punishment is defined. This applies even to the
> maintainer, so if they maintainer wants to protect an unjustly
> accused person, the maintainer will be on the chopping block. 

The important part here is to protect the target/victim. If they must
fear more abuse, more hate we have to protect them and give them our
word that we don't betray them.

If that is assured, we should give as much as possible explanations
what, against whom, why, etc some behavior was wrong.

> To make
> matters worse, the CC never defines what constitutes offensive
> behaviour. Take a look at the following list:
> > * The use of sexualized language or imagery and unwelcome sexual
> > attention   
> or
> >   advances
> > * Trolling, insulting/derogatory comments, and personal or
> > political attacks
> > * Public or private harassment
> > * Publishing others’ private information, such as a physical or
> > electronic address, without explicit permission
> > * Other conduct which could reasonably be considered inappropriate
> > in a professional setting  
> The fourth point is clear, but what exactly constitutes any of the
> remaining four? Is "Wow, thank you so much, I could kiss you!"
> considered "unwelcome sexual attention" or just an exaggerated
> expression of joy? Is overhearing people talking about "dongles" and
> "forking repos" considered unwanted sexual attention? If I wanted I
> could consider it the former and pull the trigger metaphorically. I
> am asking because this is not a hypothetical question, people
> have been loosing their jobs over these issues for real. Do you think
> this makes for a healthy community?
> The GKCG does not even attempt to define what qualifies as
> unacceptable, because unless you pay a lawyer to write a tens of
> pages long document which no
> one will read, you will never have a sufficient definition. Truly
> money well spent.

As I wrote in the beginning, this is totally subjective what hurts.
Whenever someone felt hurt, it is a fact that this person felt hurt
and asked maintainer for help. That's why it is open, and only with

The question here -- that society in general has in this debate -- is
how someone who interacts with other persons can assure to do the
"right" thing without feeling restricted in normal life. How to
express ones overwhelming emotions without offending someone,
scandalizing things. How to get the attraction of a person, how to
interact physically with them, even in a job-situation without
getting into trouble. And the nerd wants that to be formalized, to
have a set of rules to obey and then it works.

That's not possible. Low is an attempt to formalize that. A first order
approximation. A trade-off. Law has to balance between the two sides:
The "attacker" and the "attacked" and needs to ensure the freedom
and actionability of both of them. But beyond that there is more, call
it "respectfullness". And
society is currently more focusing on this gray area. And yes, it might
cost someone the job although that person wasn't spoken guilty in a
juridical sense.

We should find a good balance and I think Guix had that balance in the
past. To quickly step into and say that a word, a pronoun, a physical
behavior was inappropriate (for the target, the community) and must be
stopped immediately. Only if that goes on, there should be other

> As for the last point, if you really want to remove anything that
> would be inappropriate in a professional setting, you have to go all
> out. No "I could kiss you", but also no informalities, no emotion,
> and the project maintainer will have to sign all his mails not with
> "Ludo'" or "Ludovic", but as "Mr Courtès", RMS becomes "Dr.
> Stallman", Guix becomes "The GNU Guix project", no Hacker culture
> jokes and quips the manual, and so on. If this what you want?

Its not about getting more formal or "colder". Emotions, nerdiness,
cool jokes, sarcasm, talking against institutions and persons. All
allowed. Thinking out a short name/pet name for yourself and then being
called by others with that name is totally OK (Calling someone else
with out their consent is not, its getting worse if that name stems
from disabilities, racial membership, etc). With "I would kiss you" I
would be careful. If you know the person personally/physically and that
person likes to be physical (with you), OK. But in an anonymous online
conversation: no. I know at last one person with whom I do not want to
kiss. And where the announcement of that feels ugly. No thanks. Borders

> As a closing thought, I wish to address my opening statement that
> CoCs are one of the worst things to happen in recent years to FLOSS.
> The argument with which
> CoCs are "sold" to FLOSS projects is that there is problem of
> harassment in the
> community which prevents people from contributing. And yet I have to
> see any project where contributions have improved as a result of
> adopting a CoC, where people who were previously harassed became
> contributors. In fact, I have yet to
> see any actual harassment, and not just socially awkward nerds being
> socially awkward.

It is impossible to measure where a project would stay now if a
harassment wouldn't have been there. These harassed people are just not
there and you don't know anything about them, its like dark matter
instead of colorful light. If you look around and search, you will
find plenty examples where people received unrespectful behaviour and
quit. How to evaluate that loss? Wheater you call that "harassment" or
not. Something happend to the victims/target. 

Example: Sage Sharp left the kernel development:

How good would have been the USB 3.0 driver now, or the
community documentation, when he would have continued his work with
passion in a respectful community?

> On the other hand, I have seen enough examples of
> existing long-time contributors being expelled from projects and
> being harassed, especially by proponents of the CC. The CC's own
> author is one of the worst offenders of the CC's own terms, going
> after people's private social media accounts and quote-mining them to
> demand their expulsion or even extort money. Yet none of those people
> end up contributing to the projects they disrupt. Is the damage you
> invite really worth it?

I haven't yet read enough about the author of CC to draw my conclusions.
At least what I can say is that the author uses a lot of sarcasm at
places where direct, polite speech would have been more appropriate.

I believe that the Guix community is quite good when it comes to
practical issues with the CoC: They act immediately and try to cool
discussion down quickly. I hope we can hold long term contributors even
if they do mistakes. My impression is that we loose some because prior
to anything happening they somehow feel restricted or observed with a
CoC. That restriction is more in their head than in reality. I would
encourage them to go on, to contribute, and if something crosses
borders, that can be handled.

Thanks again for your discussions,


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