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Re: Code of Conduct complaint about Linus's comments at DC14

On Wed, Sep 03, 2014 at 07:55:31PM -0700, Russ Allbery wrote:
> > I personally think the CoC language is fine if it is used when trying to
> > smooth over a disagreement at a conference, but if it one side decides
> > to use it as a cudgel against someone else, "I am offended --- I demand
> > that the DPL make a public apology on behalf of the entire project and a
> > decision yea or nea be made *IMMEDIATELY*" --- it is my believe that at
> > that point, the CoC language breaks down and is insufficiently precise
> > about what, exactly, is derogatory behavior.
> This is frequently raised as a concern over codes of conduct, but it
> appears to rarely actually happen.  It's much less common than complaints
> about borderline conduct where there is a legitimate argument as to
> whether or not it was in violation, but the report is made in good faith
> (as in this case).  

I will agree that these borderline cases are rare, but those are the
ones that are hard, and they are the ones that matter.  Take this
thread, for example, there have been a number of people who strongly
believe a CoC violation have mattered, and have used words that make
it clear they have already made a judgement about Linus's behavior.
There are others who feel strongly that no CoC violation has happened.
Some of the latter also strongly disagree with Linus's position, which
is fine, but it's clear that it is ***NOT*** obvious whether or not a
CoC violation has happened here.

So if it means that it's ultimately up to composition of the
anti-harrassment team whether it happens to have more of the
"obviously a CoC violation has taken place", people on it, or more of
the "this was clearly not a CoC violation", then it's basically down
to the Justice Potter Stewart's, "I know when I see it" argument,
which is not particularly satisfying.  

So perhaps it may be rare, but it does happen, and it's pretty clear
that it is happening now.

> The concern that people will use the CoC as a weapon
> without actually believing that the behavior was really in violation
> appears to be a mostly theoretical concern.

So it's not really important in my opion whether the CoC accusation
was made in good faith or not.  When feelings run high, which pretty
much by definition will be the case when someone is offended, it is
not at all surprising that they will genuninely and sincerely believe
that the behavior in question was "beyond the pale" (to quote Ian

So the question is ultimately who gets to decide whether it is really
beyond the pale or not?  And keep in mind that the team that does this
is delegated a large amount of power, and is in effect having to make
judicial decisions, and in this case, was asked to make public
relations decisions (which in my opinion they were quite wise to
decline and kick up to the DPL).

I am quite aware of some of the truly spectacular failures that have
happened at various Science Fiction Cons, and it is for that very
reason that I worry about having vague definitions.  I would be much
happier if the CoC admitted that many of these decisions are
subjective, and that they are human, and they will sometimes make
mistakes.  Moreover, it might be good to admit that there may be
decisions made about type I vs type II errors where it is far better
to make mistakes in one direction if the issue at hand is safety of
the attendees (e.g., Wiscon and the Jim Frenkel decision), and that
perhaps the committee might err in another direction if what's at
stake is a pleasant atmosphere and people not being offended, if the
alternative is that conversations about legitimate differences might
get shut down.

So in that vein, I very much applaud Patty's statement that:

   "The purpose of the Code of Conduct was to help moderate
   interactions to ensure a safe environment for everyone attending,
   not to stifle conversation."

(Although I recognize she was speaking for herself and conversations
are still happening inside the antiharrassment team, so no formal
decisions have been made yet.)

The point is, it *is* hard.  Trying to paper over the fact the edge
cases do happen (and we probably are in the middle of one right now)
doesn't do anyone any favors.  And because we *are* engineers,
explicitly labelling where subjective human judgement will be applied
is a good thing.  And that the people who get to apply that judgement
have privilege over the rest of us, and while it probably is good that
some or all of these people might be composed from classes of people
that traditionally do not have privilege, let's be honest about the
fact that for this purpose, they *are* in a position of privilege, and
so let us hope they use those "sudo bits" responsibly.


						- Ted

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