Christopher Allan Webber

Supporting process, and defining boundaries: code of conducts and copyleft

Christopher Allan Webber at

Update: I've cross-posted this to my blog.

Here's a strawman I'm sure you've seen before:

Why all this extra process? Shouldn't we trust people to do the right thing? Wouldn't you rather people do the right thing because it's the right thing to do? People are mostly doing the right thing anyway! Trust in the hacker spirit to triumph!

The question is, is this an objection to copyleft, or is it an objection to code of conducts? I've seen objections raised to both that go along these lines. I think there's little coincidence, since both of them are objections to added process which define (and provide enforcement mechanisms for) doing the right thing.

Note that I don't think copyleft and code of conducts are exactly the same thing. They aren't, and the things they try to prevent are probably not proportional.

But I do think that there's an argument that achieving real world social justice involves a certain amount of process, laying the ground for what's permitted and isn't, and (if you have to, but hopefully you don't) a specified direction for requiring compliance with that correct behavior.

Curiously we also have people who are pro copyleft and strongly anti code of conduct, and the reverse. Maybe examining the parallels between objections to both might help identify that a supporter of one might consider that the other makes sense, too.

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A ZeroMQ community leader has had a couple of interesting things to say about Codes of Conduct on his blog.

He's been pondering on how to make a Code of Conduct that will be effective at ending harassment at tech conferences.  It rephrases the discussion to say that large gatherings tend to attract some bad actors, and we need to be able to defend ourselves against bad actors.  Perhaps this is a more palatable way of phrasing things: it doesn't sound like every participant is being accused of being a potential violator.

But I'll let you read his post.  I won't try to summarize it all.

mikegran at 2015-12-10T01:56:25Z

I agree that it's a useful comparison -- I am not sure whether you saw this piece I wrote on that comparison and the subsequent discussion, but you might find it interesting! Maybe we talked about it when we saw each other in May?

Sumana Harihareswara [on Mastodon] at 2015-12-10T15:01:35Z

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@Sumana Harihareswara I think we did talk about it then! I had forgotten about that, but I'm sure it had good influence on my thinking about this. I'm not positive whether I read this before, but I think I probably did!

Anyway, thanks for pointing it out (and sorry for not referencing it originally, I had honestly forgotten... I forget a lot of things...). I think your article is great, and I updated the post to point to it!

Christopher Allan Webber at 2015-12-10T15:13:54Z

I see some thoughts here of the style "don't like our way, go fork the project then". I must say, this is similar to "you can go be an asshole somewhere else, just accept our CoC here" or other such terms. I know these are sort of cultural idioms and all, but they really bug me.

I think: "no, don't be an asshole anywhere!" and "we welcome constructive and respectful criticism, and we'll discuss your concerns; we'd rather you *not* fork our project, even though you are free to".

In other words, we can acknowledge freedoms without even half-way endorsing the actions. "Don't like it, go do your own thing" is a cop-out way to dismiss people and has an undercurrent of "fragmentation and community-break-down is okay". Just like old sayings about "words can never hurt me" are wrong, so is "it's fine for you to go fork the project". If someone is a jerk/troll/etc, I would like them, ideally, to learn and improve, and if not, I want them to stop posting or acting on this or anything, I don't *want* them to fork, except that it's better than continuing to be a troublemaker.

Aaron Wolf at 2015-12-12T01:34:59Z

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