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The dark side of open source conferences

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 11:03 UTC (Thu) by aleXXX (subscriber, #2742)
In reply to: The dark side of open source conferences by njs
Parent article: The dark side of open source conferences

I just looked at some random "incident" on
Feels weird.

I got this one:

This is a discussion from a mailing list, and at the bottom "problematic responses" are collected.

First, I don't understand the purpose of collecting "problematic responses" from some random email thread.
Second, on this page, I don't see what could be problematic about the mentioned posts.

These were not official statements, and we have freedom of speech.
To me this feels more like censoring and expecting that everybody is 100% fully PC in whatever he says or writes.


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The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 12:27 UTC (Thu) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

By this point the language on that page has got so diluted as to seem meaningless. Cis-privilege? Trans-phobia? Oh dear. I'm pretty sure this is "phobia" in same sense that "racism" is about race these days.

What is the ultimate aim for the people who wish to dilute the concept of gender? Because I can't make heads or tails out of this.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 16:14 UTC (Thu) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

You certainly can make heads or tails of it. You're just choosing not to, in order to avoid having to accommodate others in a way that they claim is important to them, and you claim is irrelevant to you.

There's a word for that: rude.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 19:03 UTC (Thu) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

Thanks for explaining a lot in your response. You do not call your response rude, then?

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 21:27 UTC (Thu) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

I'm rude because you're derailing. Let's count the ways.

Trivializing the topic as not-so-bad, so ignorable: check.

Conspiracy theory about the ultimate aims of people requesting civility and respect: check.

The supposedly confusing nature of the topic means you can't even google the terms you're supposedly confused about, and need me to read the internet aloud to you: check.

My rude tone in response excuses yours so there's no problem: check.

No, not acceptable. Go read on your own and try again.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 22:44 UTC (Thu) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

You should be ashamed of your behaviour.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 23:37 UTC (Thu) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

I'm ashamed that a place I associate so commonly produces threads like this.

What do you think I should be ashamed of?

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 19:33 UTC (Thu) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

Redefining commonly used words to mean something new and then attacking others for not understanding and using your new definition could also be considered rude.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 8, 2010 9:05 UTC (Wed) by k8to (subscriber, #15413) [Link]

I don't believe that happened.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 5:30 UTC (Fri) by njs (guest, #40338) [Link]

> By this point the language on that page has got so diluted as to seem meaningless. Cis-privilege? Trans-phobia? Oh dear. I'm pretty sure this is "phobia" in same sense that "racism" is about race these days.

That is an excellent bit of deduction you have performed, determining what people who have lived through stuff mean on a subject that you admit you have no knowledge of whatsoever.

Seriously, even if you don't have any trans friends who are willing to explain this stuff (like they have to do every day), there is this thing called the internet. If you want to learn what it's like to be trans, you can find that out really easily.

I do admit that your approach (make decision, *then* acquire facts) is quicker, though.

> What is the ultimate aim for the people who wish to dilute the concept of gender? Because I can't make heads or tails out of this.

To live their lives, I think. (Note: their lives are different from your life.)

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 19:55 UTC (Fri) by AdamW (subscriber, #48457) [Link]

thought experiment, here: if you came across a new programming language or a new startup process or a new desktop environment and it used some terms you weren't familiar with, would you:

a) immediately decide that it was some kind of politically-correct conspiracy theory and the new terms were just silly jargon

b) look up the terms and figure out what they meant

Hmm, tricky one, there. Areas of interest tend to generate their own vocabulary. We talk about 'shared libraries' because we don't want to rewrite 'compilations of common functions that can be used by multiple external pieces of code' too often. To someone outside the field, 'shared library' is either a meaningless piece of jargon or a place you can go and get books. Are we muddle-headed politically correct conspiracies nuts? No, we're a special interest group with its own vocabulary. Why is it such a problem when the interest in question is prejudice against minority genders?

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 21:35 UTC (Fri) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

I did spend some time looking through this stuff after I made my original comment that was the first time I hit these terms. My bewilderment was of course treated as some kind of calculated insult rather than understood by the people who directly responded to me.

I learnt a few things, along those the primary understanding that there is nothing I could possibly say that would not be attacked on this topic, because I fundamentally do not use language the same way that people do who care about this topic. It's easier just to let it slide.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 4, 2010 15:27 UTC (Sat) by ofeeley (subscriber, #36105) [Link]

So, you've been busy using the phrases you pointed out "cis-privilege" and "transphobia" for a while and hear them used in other contexts commonly and thus came away bewildered? Poor thing. Someone is obviously trying to make your head spin.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 16:23 UTC (Thu) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

Dismissing someone's request for civility by calling it "PC" is extraordinarily rude. You can easily change your own behavior, and request the change of others, if you choose to accept it as an important change.

Failure to do so indicates disinterest in listening to the people who feel this is important, or take their concerns seriously. That is a personal judgement about the validity of their interests; you're just papering it over with free-speech language to pretend otherwise.

Do you insult your parents or loved ones to their face and then claim that it's "PC" to demand you not do so, or argue that only "official" insults should be heard and all others ignored? No. Because you care about respecting them. That's it. That's the whole issue.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 18:41 UTC (Thu) by aleXXX (subscriber, #2742) [Link]

Hmm, I just randomly clicked on one page there, and I honestly don't understand what's wrong with the comments, e.g.
"If this info is truly valuable for demographics, shouldn't we also be asked to describe our education, our race, our political preferences, our sexual orientation, our hair color (both carpet and drapes), and our income level?"

Maybe it's because I'm not a native speaker, but I don't see in which way this is insulting to anybody.
Maybe the "carpet and drapes" ? I don't know what that means.


The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 2, 2010 21:34 UTC (Thu) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

"Carpet and drapes" refers to someone's public hair and head hair. It's a crude way of lowering the tone of discourse and trivializing the disscussion.

Beyond that bit of terminology though -- which pops out if you google it -- understand two things.

First, you picked the most "harmless-looking" of the comments to quote while ignoring the others. This in itself is an attempt to trivialize the topic.

Second, even this selected comment engages in a diversionary tactic of attempting to broaden the conversation to the point of rendering the original concern inert. Any time someone mentions irrelevant hypothetical dimensions of discrimination (eg. pretending to care about nonexistent "purple and green" people, hair colour, number-of-toes or whatnot) they're just trying to kill a conversation they find uncomfortable.

Not cool, don't tolerate it.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 11:33 UTC (Fri) by wookey (subscriber, #5501) [Link]

I'm a native speaker and I had no idea what that meant either. I just thought 'but carpets and curtains aren't hair -odd' and ignored the bit in brackets. I also had no idea what 'cis-privilege' was and am surprised that asking about it here got you such an unhelpful response. It's quite tricky to google for too. I got two pages of texts _using_ it, but none of them apparently explained what it - meant - clearly it was/is a common term in that sphere of discussion (trans-gender issues).

Eventually I found the wikipedia page 'cisgender' which explains that term, from which one can kind-of guess what 'cis-privilege' is about. Given this non-obviousness, it would have been nice if someone had just explained things rather than saying 'don't be rude - go read the internet'

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 16:56 UTC (Fri) by njs (guest, #40338) [Link]

What thread are you referring to where someone asked what cis-privilege was? I can sort of kind of read that into this comment if I squint but... not really.

If some hypothetical poster *had* said "hey, this is really interesting and I want to know more but I've read this stuff on the wiki and tried to google for this other thing and couldn't find it, anyone have any suggestions?" then I think they'd have gotten a very different response. Graydon's responding to this attitude of "wah this is too confusing and impossible, no-one could possibly understand this stuff so I give up". Which, if you've been in these kinds of discussions before, is something you've seen over and over as yet another way that people avoid confronting this stuff. I mean, it *isn't* easy to think about or deal with, but it's possible, and the other option is to be part of the problem. If you're choosing "be part of the problem" then of course you can expect some flak.

Anyway: "privilege" is a cover term for the benefits a member of a higher-status group receives over a member of a lower-status group, usually without the higher-status person even being aware of what's going on. So it distorts our ability to understand and interact with other people, and it produces unjust outcomes. This is an excellent post about the various privileges that John Scalzi enjoys. This is an excellent summary of what "privilege" does and doesn't mean. For more links and a discussion of male privilege specifically, this article seems good.

"Cis privilege" is the privilege that people receive for being born into a body whose sexual characteristics match their experience of gender. If you want to get a sense of all the things that cis-privilege lets you take for granted, then googling "cis privilege checklist" will get you a bunch of people's lists -- I'm not really qualified to tell which are 'better' (or perhaps they're complementary), but this one seems readable.


The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 16:57 UTC (Fri) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

And yet, you have demonstrated my point: if anyone sees a word in a conversation here they don't understand, google will tell you what it means with effort comparable to what you typically spend looking up compiler error messages. And typically take you to a world of nicely written 101-style educational pages with patient explanations (eg: on trans topics). Like with any topic you respect, you paid a small amount of your own time and did the learning. Done. Thank you.

(Even then, I am assuming you're only claiming to have trouble looking up the term "privilege" in the context of that quote, rather than its originating page, since on that originating page the term is *hyperlinked to a page on its meaning* in the sentence we're discussing. Of course, the author I was replying to can't follow hyperlinks either..)

What others were and are doing is speaking in intentional bad faith: shifting arguments to sub-topics they think it's safer to attack (transsexuals), denying their existence (claiming transsexuals only wish to "dilute the concept of gender"), playing ignorant (and unable to correct said ignorance or "make heads or tails of it"), playing victim (reframing a matter of respect as the battle for free speech against sinister PC censors), claiming irrelevance or meaninglessness of a topic while refusing to listen to those who claim it is relevant and meaningful to them, etc.

I replied rudely because the author(s) were already a ways into such bad-faith derailment tactics seen hundreds of times elsewhere. Read any conversation on the net pertaining to a marginalized group (women, gays, trans people, people of colour, disabled people, the poor) making structural arguments asking for basic respect in social discourse, and you will see the exact same tactics trotted out to kill the conversation rather than take it seriously and listen. It's so cliche as to be the subject of satire. Google "anti-feminist bingo" for example(s).

You, like many others on this thread, acted more respectfully. So I'll respond politely and in full to you. Thank you.

If any men reading this thread honestly want to respect these topics enough to suppress their defensiveness and just *read* -- not fight; read, digest, think -- then work your way through the links off and see if any of it rings any bells about your own behavior or that of others in your community.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 3, 2010 22:08 UTC (Fri) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

*sigh* just as I thought I'd stop responding on this topic entirely.

I'm sorry, but you probably have no real idea what I think about things. Yet you are accusing me of behaving here in bad faith. I think you must be jumping to conclusions, because I don't even know myself at this point what I really think about this.

The reason why I talked about "diluting the concept of gender" is that it seemed to me originally that there is no ambiguity around the topic: that we are all either male or female. I would say that this is objectively true for all of us, save from some rare genetic disorders. Additionally, we don't usually get to define many things subjectively, and I did not originally see any reason why gender should be allowed to be defined subjectively.

Thanks to some amount of Googling -- and expressly no thanks to anybody responding to me -- I now I understand that gender can be a really sore point for a number of people. Additionally, I understand also that my original remarks can be construed as offensive seen from viewpoint of someone who lives and breathes this issue, perhaps one such as yourself. What I find frustrating is that you seem to have forgot that people exist who have never thought about transsexualism related issues, and when they start from step one of understanding it, they are directly accused of being in the camp of the enemy.

It's a crazy way to relate to people that you should be trying to win over to your cause. I hope you can see that, and consider less fanatic ways to respond to others in the future.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 4, 2010 0:09 UTC (Sat) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

Thank you for googling and reading. That is a good step towards avoiding a repetition of what was said earlier.

I'm trying to point out problematic *actions* here, rather than people. I understand you're a human who probably has a variety of thoughts on gender, as well as the ability to learn and change; I'm telling you that some behavior was unacceptable and needs to change. In particular:

1. If a topic (eg. "sexual harassment at conferences") makes you uncomfortable, don't change the subject (as aleXXX did) to one that seems easier to trivialize (transsexuals).

2. Don't trivialize transexuals. Also don't trivialize racism. Nobody even mentioned that. You can easily tell that the people involved in the topic take it seriously; starting your contribution by a trivializing statement is equivalent to an insult, and you can probably guess that.

3. Don't throw in innuendo about "real motives" when someone relates their their own experience or identity, or that of their friends, relatives, loved ones.

4. Don't make it someone else's problem to inform you of things you can learn yourself. It's a sign of respect for a topic to do independent reading on your own time.

5. Don't tell someone that they'd be better listened-to if they only spoke less directly to the topic at hand. You demonstrated how seriously you take less-blunt talk earlier: by trivializing. That is *why* I responded bluntly and why I'm continuing to be direct.

Again, thank you for hearing my earlier remarks and responding by reading. There is plenty more to read if you're interested in adapting your behavior; see the link I left above to the "resources for men" page.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 4, 2010 0:55 UTC (Sat) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

1. I think you may be reading too much into aleXXX comment, but I have no firm opinion either way. He is free to comment if he likes.

2. I offered "racism" as an example of term that has been diluted, especially similar to how the word "phobia" is used today. Both of these words are usually used as label, not as meaningful argument. Compare with fasism, which means apparently whatever a person wants it to mean. My original thought on seeing "trans-phobia" was to focus on the word "phobia" and consider that "phobia" normally means a medical condition that needs psychiatric treatment.

3. I believe I had a real question here. Innuendo is your interpretation and not what I intended. It simply did not occur to me that for some people asking if they are male or female is offensive.

4. I admit my response was hasty. Had I considered for a bit longer, I would not have written it. I was responding to aleXXX that I also experienced a kind of bewilderment when seeing the page he had chosen, and was therefore sympathetic to his confusion.

5. I believe this is firmly your interpretation and does not reflect my character.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 4, 2010 15:03 UTC (Sat) by alankila (guest, #47141) [Link]

Also, an important point you seem to be missing. You seem to think I started reading because of your comments. That is in fact the exact opposite, and I already said this once. Had I not started reading out of interest before you or the other guy responded, I would not have bothered at all. Based on your actions, and the other discussion threads on the internet, I have arrived at the conclusion that any transsexualism-related topic requires silk gloves of +20 tactfulness that I don't happen to possess.

You also seem to believe that actions are the only thing that matter. But I believe that you have forgot that when you have words on screen, there are no actions per se. In discourse, you need to understand what the other person's point of view is, not take a few phrases here and there and build a completely different image and then immediately proceed attacking that. You are interpreting. You are not objective. And based on what I have read so far, you are not thinking what the people who write the text meant, but you are rather scanning it from point of view of "can this somehow be treated as an insult against some protected group". In doing this, you are of course labeling unacceptable actions, sure, but you are also making it impossible to have a conversation about the topic.

You linked to some trans-101 page which went through the stuff at exactly the correct way. That's _exactly_ the kind of stuff I needed to read, so thanks for pointing it out.

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 4, 2010 22:25 UTC (Sat) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

You certainly do possess the tact necessary. It's not hard, I've given you direct instructions in every message I replied to about things not to do in such conversations, and you're adapting your tone fine. Thank you for doing so. I'm trying to adapt mine to match.

The "words on a screen" are the action I'm responding to. I realize that you have a "point of view" and, to be blunt once more, it matters less than what you choose to do and say (or not say) in the future. People feeling marginalized, harassed, trivialized and insulted by this community aren't at any loss for understanding or hearing our points of view. We broadcast them like a fog-horn.

You -- we -- need to hear and listen to their points of view. That means clamming up and reading-or-listening. Not having a debate. Not demanding people listen to your defensiveness or confusion. Not turning every related experience into a 250-message argument thread.

Speech matters, as does the assumption of whose job it is to speak, be listened-to, or be taken-seriously. You buy a phrasebook and learn the local etiquette if traveling to another country. You study legalese if going to court. You suppress your tendency to swear around your elder family members. You don't raise your voice around kids. You realize when you're angry or drunk that some of the things you have an urge to say are best suppressed, as you'd regret them. In all these cases you recognize the onus is on you for adapting your speech quietly and on your own dime. The situation is the same here.

I'm not trying to paint you into a corner of being an enemy, or the Bad Prejudiced Guy. Everyone has prejudices. I'm plenty sexist, racist and classist myself. I trip up all the time. But while reflecting on those thoughts and informing myself of the perspectives of those I'm prejudiced against, I read and adapt my speech behavior to avoid the worst parts I've seen described, that I recognize in myself. I've only been telling you to do the same.

That's really it. It's not hard, you can do it too. You'll do fine. There's an absolute ocean of ink spilled on these topics to guide you. If you want to spend the afternoon reading a far more nuanced and detailed meta-analysis about the issues of privileged speech, assumptions of authority and relevance, topic derailment and reframing, try this:

(Read the whole thing, and any links you disagree with. Bookmark any wikis or FAQs that you have residual confusion about. Don't stop at the first thing you disagree with. Suppress your defensiveness enough to finish it.)

The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 5, 2010 14:45 UTC (Sun) by aleXXX (subscriber, #2742) [Link]

Please don't interpret things into my posting which were not there.
Please also don't take the right to judge me ("some behavior was unacceptable") based on a single basically neutral posting in a web forum.

I didn't change the subject because it made me feel uncomfortable.
I looked over to that web page because it was referenced in the discussion here a few times, so I thought it might be interesting.

I wrote back here when I saw that the site at least partially contains basically "blacklists" with posts from people which the editors considered inappropriate.
I was disappointed by this.


The dark side of open source conferences

Posted Dec 5, 2010 20:08 UTC (Sun) by graydon (guest, #5009) [Link]

Your behavior wasn't "basically neutral". I will explain what *was* in your postings, since you claim to be unable to see it.

You entered a conversation with a first statement denying the topic's validity, re-centering concern on your own perception, and ignoring the links about sexualized environments and harassment. Many of which discuss how the (mis-) perception and trivialization of the topic by men is central to the problem at hand.

You followed one such overlooked link only when it was pointed out to you again (by a man), but didn't read any of the text on that page, just went looking for a "random" incident by clicking around the containing wiki.

You ignored all the other incidents, the hundreds of pages of patient explanation, all the explanatory text, and picked one incident about transsexuals and transphobic speech (which isn't the topic here). You ignored all the text explaining that it was about transsexuals and all the links and terms that could educate you on why the incident in question might have been a problem.

You found a quote you "couldn't see" a problem with, but didn't google the term you didn't understand ("carpet and drapes"; which leads to a first-hit definition of its slang meaning).

You ignored all the other quotes in that thread which you might have more readily understood as problematic to transsexuals (trivializing the topic, shifting the discussion to penises, cracking jokes about women on magazine covers, false claims of gender-blindness).

You chose a defensive and self-centered framing for your interpretation of the thing you saw but didn't understand: "PC", "censoring" and an attack on your freedom of speech.

At this point I called you on your behavior.

Conversations like this have very clear patterns; if you don't recognize them, read some of the linked description of the patterns and what they mean. I'll link again below. Actually read them. All the text. Look for your own behavior in the descriptions. Suppress your defensiveness; reflect on your own reactions. Use a calm, open mind and assume the people speaking are are actually trying to explain what's going wrong, to help you change yourself for the better:

And finally, concerning "blacklisting" (note: no names were being collected, only quotes) please see:

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