Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

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Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Matthew Vernon-2
Hi,

There have a few posts in recent discussions by people suggesting (or,
at least, appearing to suggest) that there is a conflict between
technical excellence and our Code of Conduct (or aiming to increase the
diversity of our membership, or similar).

I think there is no such conflict, and that the idea that there is is in
itself harmful.

In particular, "X does excellent technical work, so we should turn a
blind eye when their violate our CoC otherwise the technical excellence
of the project will suffer" is both wrong and harmful. If we want to
achieve technical excellence, we will do so by having many talented
people working together. If we restrict our talent pool to "people who
are prepared to tolerate a toxic environment", then we are harming that
goal.

Our Code of Conduct is not an onerous restriction on behaviour, it's a
tool to help us build the sort of environment in which excellent
technical people will be able to do their best work.

Regards,

Matthew

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Roberto C. Sánchez-2
On Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 04:23:02PM +0000, Matthew Vernon wrote:
> Hi,
>
> There have a few posts in recent discussions by people suggesting (or, at
> least, appearing to suggest) that there is a conflict between technical
> excellence and our Code of Conduct (or aiming to increase the diversity of
> our membership, or similar).
>
Yet, situations will arise in which the two goals may incidentally come
into conflict.

> I think there is no such conflict, and that the idea that there is is in
> itself harmful.
>
I think that the idea that there is not or cannot be such a conflict is
rather more harmful.

> In particular, "X does excellent technical work, so we should turn a blind
> eye when their violate our CoC otherwise the technical excellence of the
> project will suffer" is both wrong and harmful. If we want to achieve
> technical excellence, we will do so by having many talented people working
> together. If we restrict our talent pool to "people who are prepared to
> tolerate a toxic environment", then we are harming that goal.
>
Your statement right here is a clear prioritization of the two goals in
a situation where they may come into conflict.  Only, you said a moment
ago that there is no such conflict.

> Our Code of Conduct is not an onerous restriction on behaviour, it's a tool
> to help us build the sort of environment in which excellent technical people
> will be able to do their best work.
>

I agree with this objective, just as I agree with objectives of the
Social Contract and the DFSG.  It doesn't take much searching to find
instances where Debian as a project has had to prioritize one objective
over another.

In fact, one which arises frequently is the matter of freeness of a
piece of software.  The Debian project seeks to create the best possible
operating system and collection of software.  To that end, people
contribute what they believe to be the best possible components.  Yet,
if a particular package, regardless of how technically excellent it is,
does not meet the DFSG then it is not accepted.

I will give another concrete example which I believe illustrates the
potential for a conflict of the objectives.

[note that the foregoing is a made up scenario, if this resembles
anybody's real life experience, it is only by coincidence]

Suppose for a moment that a project member has been sexually abused at
some point by a Catholic clergyman and so finds things related to the
Catholic church to be unpleasant because they call to mind many
traumatic memories.  Suppose that another project member has a new child
and posts pictures of the christening taking place in a Catholic church
or perhaps marries and posts pictures of the wedding ceremony in a
Catholic church Some questions:

- If the first member were to request removal of the offending post,
  would that request be acceptable to make?
- Would it make a difference if the request included information
  regarding the past traumatic experience?
- If the first member were to say nothing but a third party were to make
  the request (whether on behalf of the first member or not), would that
  request be acceptable to make?
- If the second member refuses to take action (after all, they are just
  pictures of a baby christening or a wedding), then is that wrong?
- How should the second member be penalized or what corrective action
  should be taken?
- Would it be wrong or right to ask the first member to be more
  accepting?

The point is that here I have presented a situation that is not too
dissimilar from real situations that are likley to occur in the project
in which two or more individuals with a shared common of technical
excellence relating to Debian have encountered a conflict in the goal of
inclusiveness.  The first member is likely to feel excluded of they make
the aforementioned request and no action is taken, while the second
member is likely to feel excluded if they are requested to censor their
speech.  At no point is it necessary or even right to consider, "how
much is this person's technical contribution worth?"  Yet, the two
objectives are still found in conflict in the situation because either
path is the potential to result in diminished technical contribution to
Debian as a whole.

The reason I use the above example is because it is a difficult case to
handle.  The cases where harm is clearly intended are comparitavely very
easy to deal with.  Those in which harm may or may not have been
intended but in which harm may be perceived are more challenging.

Regards,

-Roberto

--
Roberto C. Sánchez

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Martin Steigerwald
Hello Roberto.

Roberto C. Sánchez - 29.12.18, 18:12:
> Suppose for a moment that a project member [… hypothetical case …]
[…]
> The reason I use the above example is because it is a difficult case
> to handle.  The cases where harm is clearly intended are
> comparitavely very easy to deal with.  Those in which harm may or may
> not have been intended but in which harm may be perceived are more
> challenging.

I wonder about what the point would be to discuss hypothetical cases
like the one you mentioned.

If there have been practical issues with the handling of code of
conduct, the behavior of the anti harassment team or the Debian account
manager team… as there appears to be from what I gathered from what I
read in recent threads about that, then by all means it is good to find a
solution.

But I see no point in discussing difficult, completely made up
hypothetical cases.

Thanks,
--
Martin


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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Roberto C. Sánchez-2
On Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 12:51:19AM +0100, Martin Steigerwald wrote:

> Hello Roberto.
>
> Roberto C. Sánchez - 29.12.18, 18:12:
> > Suppose for a moment that a project member [… hypothetical case …]
> […]
> > The reason I use the above example is because it is a difficult case
> > to handle.  The cases where harm is clearly intended are
> > comparitavely very easy to deal with.  Those in which harm may or may
> > not have been intended but in which harm may be perceived are more
> > challenging.
>
> I wonder about what the point would be to discuss hypothetical cases
> like the one you mentioned.
>
> If there have been practical issues with the handling of code of
> conduct, the behavior of the anti harassment team or the Debian account
> manager team… as there appears to be from what I gathered from what I
> read in recent threads about that, then by all means it is good to find a
> solution.
>
> But I see no point in discussing difficult, completely made up
> hypothetical cases.
>
OK.  Withdrawn.

Regards,

-Roberto

--
Roberto C. Sánchez

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Miles Fidelman-3
In reply to this post by Martin Steigerwald
On 12/29/18 6:51 PM, Martin Steigerwald wrote:

> Hello Roberto.
>
> Roberto C. Sánchez - 29.12.18, 18:12:
>> Suppose for a moment that a project member [… hypothetical case …]
> […]
>> The reason I use the above example is because it is a difficult case
>> to handle.  The cases where harm is clearly intended are
>> comparitavely very easy to deal with.  Those in which harm may or may
>> not have been intended but in which harm may be perceived are more
>> challenging.
> I wonder about what the point would be to discuss hypothetical cases
> like the one you mentioned.
>
> If there have been practical issues with the handling of code of
> conduct, the behavior of the anti harassment team or the Debian account
> manager team… as there appears to be from what I gathered from what I
> read in recent threads about that, then by all means it is good to find a
> solution.
>
> But I see no point in discussing difficult, completely made up
> hypothetical cases.

Policy making is a world of hypotheticals.  When writing rules, or
mission plans - one always tries to think through possible scenarios,
prepare for the worst, try to avoid unintended consequences.  Military
folks run war games.  Lawyers hold mock trials.  Things STILL go wrong,
but without applying foresight, one is guaranteed disaster.

Miles Fidelman





> --
> In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice.
> In practice, there is.  .... Yogi Berra

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Cindy Sue Causey
In reply to this post by Roberto C. Sánchez-2
On 12/29/18, Roberto C. Sánchez <[hidden email]> wrote:
> On Sun, Dec 30, 2018 at 12:51:19AM +0100, Martin Steigerwald wrote:
>>
>> But I see no point in discussing difficult, completely made up
>> hypothetical cases.
>>
> OK.  Withdrawn.


I can understand Roberto's purpose in doing so. This was the very next
thing I read after having myself JUST done similar with a tweet
comparing severe mental health episodes to heart attacks of the Mind.

It's about trying to express a sometimes non-tangible in a different
way to try to illustrate a point that may genuinely not be clear to
all. I appreciated and still appreciate Roberto's method because *his*
take very much helped me further understand the difficult topic being
discussed here..

Cindy :)
--
Cindy-Sue Causey
Talking Rock, Pickens County, Georgia, USA

* runs with birdseed *

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Charles Plessy-12
In reply to this post by Matthew Vernon-2
Le Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 04:23:02PM +0000, Matthew Vernon a écrit :
>
> There have a few posts in recent discussions by people suggesting (or, at
> least, appearing to suggest) that there is a conflict between technical
> excellence and our Code of Conduct (or aiming to increase the diversity of
> our membership, or similar).
>
> I think there is no such conflict, and that the idea that there is is in
> itself harmful.

Hi Matthew,

regarding people who "appear to suggest" harmful ideas, the Code of
Conduct solves the problem by requesting that we assume good faith...

That means: appreciation for good work is not a suggestion to disregard
the CoC unless explicitely written as such.  Emphasising on peoples
positive traits and contributions in an important tool for reminding
that the main subjects of expulsion processes are not emails or blog
posts pages, but human beings.

Have a nice day,

--
Charles

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Re: Debian's Code of Conduct, and our technical excellence

Florian Weimer
In reply to this post by Matthew Vernon-2
* Matthew Vernon:

> There have a few posts in recent discussions by people suggesting (or,
> at least, appearing to suggest) that there is a conflict between
> technical excellence and our Code of Conduct (or aiming to increase the
> diversity of our membership, or similar).
>
> I think there is no such conflict, and that the idea that there is is in
> itself harmful.

I've also seen a suggestion that Debian is falling behind.  Which I
found even more puzzling because Code-of-Conduct-less Linux
distributions aren't easy to find these days, particularly among the
collaboratively developed ones.  So even if it were an impediment,
everyone else would be similarly afflicted.

> In particular, "X does excellent technical work, so we should turn a
> blind eye when their violate our CoC otherwise the technical excellence
> of the project will suffer" is both wrong and harmful. If we want to
> achieve technical excellence, we will do so by having many talented
> people working together. If we restrict our talent pool to "people who
> are prepared to tolerate a toxic environment", then we are harming that
> goal.

Sure.  And we can even take their patches, but do not invite them into
the fold (where they probably wouldn't be be comfortable anyway).  We
know that some upstream developers have political convictions and have
made choices in life most of us find completely unacceptable, but that
hasn't led us to backing out the code they've written.