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Re: Free Software and the New Sexism

From: Adam Spiers
Subject: Re: Free Software and the New Sexism
Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2023 16:24:25 +0100

On Mon, 28 Aug 2023 at 05:40, Jacob Bachmeyer <> wrote:
The fundamental problem here is that all of the issues these CoC documents are supposed to address are entirely off-topic and inappropriate in a software development context. Sexism, racism, whatever-ism-of-the-day are all irrelevant because discussions are supposed to focus on the /software/ instead of on the /people/ writing the software. Yes, your patch proposing to add "sex" to Guix's CoC was wrong, but the CoC itself is wrong in the same way as your patch: none of those issues are relevant. Put another way, on the Internet, to other users, you are not a person, you are a stream of messages. More idealistically, on the Internet, /you/ /are/ /your/ /ideas/.

There is something wonderfully aspirational about this utopian and well-intentioned approach. Unfortunately however, personally I don't see how it can ever work, because we don't cease to be human beings or lose all human context when we move our communication and collaboration online. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that moving communication online tends to /increase/ unkind behaviour and therefore the need for kindness and communication guidelines. Some may agree with this but still contend that it is outside the scope of Free Software or GNU. However there seem to be counter-arguments, e.g.
- If it was out of scope, the GNU Kind Communications Guidelines would
  not have been written.

- Whilst Free Software can exist as a pure, abstract concept, GNU and
  other Free Software communities consist of people, all of whom have
  our own biases and communication styles.

- Copyleft and other Free Software licenses do not and cannot exist in
  a vacuum, and indeed are built on and enforced by the socio-legal
  construct of copyright.

Similarly, whilst arguments along the lines of "if you don't like the community, you are free to fork the software and/or build your own community" are (marvellously) true, they ignore the pragmatic reality that as a movement we are generally stronger together through economies of scale, rather than fragmented into siloes. The freedoms granted by Free Software are a wonderful baseline, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim higher. Communication guidelines can help prevent unnecessary fragmentation.
Efforts to thwart that, efforts to carry real-world baggage into the Internet space, are, put simply, /wrong/

Maybe that is true for deliberate efforts, but given that it is impossible for human beings to entirely divorce themselves from their baggage in the Internet space, realistically we need systems for dealing with it. The crux of this particular debate seems to be whether it is possible to support one group of people without discriminating against another. Personally I think it /should/ be, /regardless/ of the group(s) in question, and that doing that should obviate or at least minimise any conflict. Indeed, that is why I like the neutral words "any other demographic characteristics" in the first sentence of the GNU Kind Communications Guidelines:
   "The GNU Project encourages contributions from anyone who wishes
   to advance the development of the GNU system, regardless of [...]
   any other demographic characteristics"

Perhaps it would have been better if the "[...]" words I trimmed were not present and it just read "regardless of any demographic characteristics", because there is an argument that mentioning certain demographic distinctions may introduce biases against other distinctions not mentioned. That said, this last point is much more philosophical in nature, possibly getting off-topic for this list, and certainly a rabbit-hole, so I won't continue down that avenue here. Please let's all just be kind to each other and assume good faith?

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