Being right, also on the Internet
January 25th, 2013 by ravi

This week’s episode of Men in Tech Behaving Badly is the case of Heather Arthur, whose work was mocked and ridiculed on Twitter, prompting her to post a calm analysis and raise the very pertinent question of the effect such ridicule might have on entrants to the Open Source movement and their confidence in publishing code.

While many of those involved in the Twitter thread have been quick to unconditionally apologise, one person, David Cramer, found a different lesson in the episode. In a post titled “Being Wrong on the Internet”, he writes:

To people like Heather, criticism (good and bad) comes every day. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, and it doesn’t matter if you can handle it or not. It’s going to be there. Open source doesn’t change that. In fact, no ecosystem in society changes that. It’s there, and it’s not something everyone can deal with. [Emphasis added]

It seems to me that there is in fact one ecosystem in society, namely the real flesh and blood society itself, where bad criticism is considered inadmissible and the inability of a person to “deal with” merely holds a mirror on the ecosystem’s inability to prevent it.

Two days ago, in an unrelated bit of news, Alan Cox announced he is leaving GNU/Linux development:

I’m leaving the Linux world and Intel for a bit for family reasons. I’m aware that “family reasons” is usually management speak for “I think the boss is an asshole” but I’d like to assure everyone that while I frequently think Linus is an asshole (and therefore very good as kernel dictator)…

The doublespeak of some making a macho1 virtue out of asshole’ishness, while simultaneously, others pay lip service to the importance of encouragement and civility is incoherent.

It might be worthwhile to either establish the claim that “asshole dictator[s]” are a necessary and good thing or to accept that uncivil and antisocial behaviour is unacceptable independent of realities or authority.

  1. This is decidedly a primarily male thing. For another bit of evidence, read Pam Selle’s blog post on Why you shouldn’t invite Yehuda Katz to your user group meeting.
3 Responses  
  • kelley writes:

    that is a good point. i mean, i guess i skimmed to quickly, but i didn’t see where heather emphasized how, i dunno, wrong it is to criticize the way they did in terms of open source ideals in particular. it has to do with the assumption of corrigibility. the idea that no one makes anything perfectly, that it’s impossible to write perfect code, and this is why you need it to be open source – it’s fundamental to the ethos. so, to criticize people in such harmful ways is completely contrary to that ethos.

    as for meatspace being a place where such criticisms is quickly banished – are you saying that? i wasn’t sure.

    • ravi writes:

      Kelley, yes excellent point about the ethos of Open Source. I did not even get into that, but it is central to the criticism. I do not think Heather gets into that either. But do most open source adherents and contributors even see that? I tend to believe that the mood is a mostly unexamined combination of libertarianism and received [religious and social] niceties.

      Re: meatspace, yes, I am sort of saying that. While meatspace is not perfect, a lot of the ugliness that is tolerated, defended and even glorified (as in it being a necessary element of progress), especially from the “dictators for life”, would draw a strong negative response in meatspace (the link I pointed to at the end is an example of real life bad behaviour, so the geek/macho stuff is leaking into the real world; and non-geek examples are available, but overall, IMHO, society hangs together because in large part these considerations hold).

  • kelley writes:

    need to post again so i’m subbed by email


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