There has been some turmoil about FreeBSD’s new Code Of Conduct lately. While it was meant to maintain peace in the community, it actually lead to the opposite: Two fractions are more hostile towards each other than ever – and the new COC allows to simply get rid of unwanted (by one such group) persons.
Disclaimer: I’m just a FreeBSD user and advocate. I work with my OS of choice, write about it and encourage trying it out. However I’m not directly part of the project – and while that has been a mid-term goal for me for some time, that way is probably blocked for me now.
What’s a Code Of Conduct?
Basically a Code Of Conduct is a set of rules for people to follow. If you join any organization that has a COC, reading and understanding it is essential. It will tell you what you are expected to behave like and which behavior is objectionable.
The idea is to write up rules that make sense for the organization and that everybody can accept. It’s often simple things like: Respect your colleagues, shut the door when smoking outside, try to be helpful if somebody asks you for help, etc. In short: Behave decently.
Why all that fuss about it?
So – if that’s all, why write an article about it (let alone make all that noise about that topic)? Well… That’s not all, unfortunately. The main problem is not “a COC” – it’s FreeBSD’s COC. Scroll all the way down to the end of the COC and you’ll see the attribution. It reads: Geek Feminism Wiki. It’s no surprise that this is like a red rag to a bull to for some people: Feminism?! In tech??
People who overreact when reading the term alone should really calm down. Yes, stay cool. Why? Because it’s actually getting worse…
Yeah, everybody knows what feminism means, so why talk about it? Because there’s feminism and there’s… well, “feminism”. While the former is a just cause (unless you’re a true women hater), the latter is a crude ideology. “Feminism” is not about women’s right to vote, to live their lives free from oppression or their right to be an esteemed part of society. It’s about destroying society in the name of a just cause.
“Third wave” feminists will happily taunt married women who chose a traditional family life to be “slaves”. While everybody else knows that it’s a token of appreciation to hold a door open for a woman or help her out of a coat, they will aggressively deny this and state that they can do it themselves. Compliment them and you’re toast. And worse still: Dare to use a word that they deem evil and they will assault you (at least verbally). Plus: They are so obsessed with “minorities” that actual concerns of women come second – at best.
I’ve known a girl who went to an elite school. She spoke Latin fluently (as well as Greek mostly) when she was only 14 (she once corrected me before I even finished a Latin sentence that I read from an old exercise book of mine…). She had a very strong spirit, too, and rejected the religious belief that was expected from her. However she had very humble goals for her own life. When they were asked in school what job they would like to do later, she stated: Housewife and mother. After a moment of shocked silence, she was laughed at. As she told me, that had been the most painful moment in her young life. It’s a shame when a woman cannot become an astronaut if that’s what she dreams of doing. But it’s plain wrong to force women to take up paid jobs if they would prefer to live a traditional life.
Feminism is freedom of choice for women and means that each woman gets to decide for herself. “Feminism” is coercion and doctrine and it means that ideologists decide what women in general have to do (and what not). Feminism is sound, honest and all about emancipation. Whereas “feminism” is cruel, phony and enslaving.
When thinking about freedom, it makes sense to distinguish between what is commonly called “positive” and “negative” freedom. This does not mean that negative freedom is something bad – both freedoms are valuable. To avoid misunderstandings I prefer to speak of active and passive freedom. Active freedom is the freedom to do something while passive freedom is the freedom from something (e.g. paying taxes).
Those freedoms are in a direct and fixed relation to each other: To increase one you have to decrease the other. Want to give people freedom from the fear to be shot in public? There’s no other means but to take away the freedom to carry firearms with them. Other way around: To give women the right to breast-feed babies in public means to take away the freedom of others to never see any bare breasts by accident.
You will always find people who are easily offended by just about anything. And on the other hand you’ll find die-hard folks who demand that they are allowed to do whatever they feel like. Both are rather extreme stances. It’s not terribly hard to see that some kind of balance is necessary between them.
Making an example often simplifies things. So here we go: I like to listen to music. Various forms of Black and Death Metal are my favorite. It’s also quite common that Metal bands use artwork that’s a bit… special. Some of the clothing that I own displays blood, gore and human innards. Nude women are also not so uncommon nor is blasphemic imagery. What I loathe on the other hand is so-called Hip-Hop music. Monotony is a weapon and whenever I’m forced to listen to something like this, my brain twists in agony as I can physically feel getting more and more dull.
What I’m considering beautiful music is terrible noise for most people. I can live with that. I don’t feel the need to complain loudly that somebody just “disrespected” me with such a statement. On the contrary: Taste is entirely subjective. It’s ok that you don’t like my music. I’m also not going to annoy you with it. And yes, the aforementioned kind of clothing is fine when I feel like going to a club or Metal bar. It’s probably not the right thing to wear when going to church. I won’t show it in public – there’s no need to confront people with something that they find is disgusting. At the same time I’d prefer if people would stop annoying me with loud “rap music” and the like in public. I don’t want to have to listen to that! However I’m not going to demand it. I think that people should care for not offending others. But if they think otherwise (or don’t think at all), I value freedom enough to not go all drama about it.
Tyranny vs. democracy
Let’s talk about minorities next. In ancient Greece democracy was not what we use the term for today. Still it makes sense to look at what terms like that come from and how they evolved. Polis is the Greek word for “city”. But don’t think of today’s modern cities – the poleis were effectively city states (you can still recognize “city” in citizen, even if that refers to a state). That Polis is where the word “politics” is derived from; “politics” basically means anything regarding the rules of the city (or state). Tyrannis was what the rule of a single potentate was originally called and democratica the rule of the demos, the citizens. Neither women, slaves nor metoikos (established strangers) were citizens and thus could not vote or otherwise participate in the state affairs.
The very idea of democracy was that by the means of vote, the majority gets to decide. The modern idea of democracy makes one fundamental difference: Even though they are outvoted, minorities can still be citizens after all and thus – to a certain degree – need protection from the majority. This is a very important concept and protecting the weak is commonly agreed to be a noble thing. Therefore this is not where democracy ends as some people may claim.
There is this point however, where the whole thing is getting completely out of control. This is when the noble idea of protecting minorities is turned into a weapon to terrorize the majority. Sounds absurd? Agreed. But just look around you carefully… There’s this idiot making stupid claims and trying to get you into trouble. However you cannot even call him an idiot – because he’s black/gay/jewish/handicapped. That’s right: Attribute xyz doesn’t have anything to do at all with the fact that he’s an idiot, but in today’s society, sometimes that’s all that counts. And that’s where the most important freedom – which is hard-fought and not a gift at all – disappears: Your freedom of speech is gone. You are no longer free to even say the truth just because… Yeah, just because what? Because otherwise your reputation will be destroyed.
That’s pretty bad, yes. But fortunately we’re one step ahead on the path to complete insanity. People are free to arbitrarily declare that they belong to minority xyz – and you better “respect” that! Also they are free to “feel” discriminated by your behavior – and this can put you into real trouble. Don’t want to lose your job? Bite your tongue! Don’t want your neighbors to scorn you? Keep your trap shut! Oh, and welcome to the dictatorship of “political correctness”.
Embracing the absurd
If you want to protect every thinkable minority (and by “protect” mean to ensure that nobody is allowed to act in a way that could hurt their feelings) this is simply an impossible situation. Just one bitter example: Most people would agree that denying the shoah might hurt a lot of jews. But what about the people who… No, stop, you cannot call them holocaust deniers! They prefer to be called “people with an alternative opinion on the so-called holocaust”. And they are certainly a minority.
What about white supremacists? They are a minority, too. Learn to respect their feelings, will you! Or fundamental christians who are absolutely certain that homosexuals burn in hell. This belief is not exactly one that the majority shares.
And when it comes to “feminism”, some people even believe that it is “fair” to penalize others on account of an asserted privileged position in the past. This is when all ideas of equality vanish and certain people demand that discriminating against men/whites/christians/… and preferring women/blacks/$RELIGIOUS_GROUP is a good thing. But let’s not get deeper into this.
People shouldn’t hurt each other, that’s something (almost) everybody should be able to agree to. But it’s not a good idea at all to drive this to the point where it gets ridiculous. FreeBSD’s COC hits this point a couple of times, e.g. when
simulated physical contact (e.g., textual descriptions like “*hug*” or “*backrub*”) without consent
is declared “harassment”. This lead to the FreeHugsBSD fork because the original is now “hugs-free BSD”…
FreeBSD is not very often in the news and if it is, not too many people care about it. In this case however, the forums of the German tech community were full of posts (most of them making fun of us FreeBSD users – and mostly rightfully so). Others are sharing pictures like this.
My personal favorite however is the ban of “dead names”. Sorry people, but most of the time somebody wants to change his or her name, I’m not convinced. I don’t care if James comes back from Syria and wants to be called “Abu Khaled” or if Frank decides you should call him Charlotte. Don’t get me wrong, I wish them well. However I’m pretty sure that it would be best for both of them to go and see a psychiatrist.
Do we need a Code Of Conduct?
In short: No. We’re talking about tech here. If you cannot use UFS because it was created by McKusick – who married a man -, that’s your problem. If you use UFS because it was created by a gay person, I’d also not vouch for your mental health, but to each his own, eh?
Same thing for all those other minorities: It simply doesn’t play any role. Maybe you’re an atheist while I’m not. I’m pretty sure that we can get along just fine if we’re both passionate about BSD (and even if we meet in person and discuss religion, I’ve never had a problem with a polite person that doesn’t share my faith). If you have a disability, it might make sense to mention that on the net because it really affects how you use a computer. But why should you care that I’m a vegetarian? And why should I care if you were “born in the wrong body”? If you love a goat that’s of course a different thing in this case! 😉
But still: Why don’t we keep all this nonsense out of the community and learn to actually get along? Yes, there has often been a questionable tone e.g. in the mailing lists. There’s a lot of room for improvement. But does dictating strange rules really solve the problem?
So what now? Should you rage-quit FreeBSD? Stop donating? Yelling at core and cursing whoever proposed this? Certainly not. The best defence against all this madness – is keeping calm and taking it seriously. Stay with FreeBSD if you can and express your rejection of this disgrace. Freedom is never gone for good. It can return.
I’m out – for now
For me personally, joining FreeBSD is currently not an option. I’m a “live and let live” kind of person. Thus I can get along with people who I consider to be weirdos (and with those that consider me a weirdo – at least for my part in getting along!). Again: This is tech. There are a lots of rather special people around, often with their very own quirks. A lot of them are quite brilliant, too, and you wouldn’t want to miss them.
But never ever, under no circumstances am I going to pretend what certain people call “respect” (thus washing away the meaning of this grand word) for quirks that I can live with but definitely won’t approve of.
Oh, and I belong to various minorities, too, BTW. One is the minority of people who don’t speak English natively and whose tortured sense for grammar screams in pain when they encounter the abomination of a “singular they”. Won’t you have mercy with me? Please?
Blessed be the blind
For their conscience won’t collide
With the cruelty of sanity
And the prophetic signs
In the book of life
– Suidakra, Signs For The Fallen