[personal profile] mjg59
The Fantasyland Institute of Learning is the organisation behind Lambdaconf, a functional programming conference perhaps best known for standing behind a racist they had invited as a speaker. The fallout of that has resulted in them trying to band together events in order to reduce disruption caused by sponsors or speakers declining to be associated with conferences that think inviting racists is more important than the comfort of non-racists, which is weird in all sorts of ways but not what I'm talking about here because they've also written a "Code of Professionalism" which is like a Code of Conduct except it protects abusers rather than minorities and no really it is genuinely as bad as it sounds.

The first thing you need to know is that the document uses its own jargon. Important here are the concepts of active and inactive participation - active participation is anything that you do within the community covered by a specific instance of the Code, inactive participation is anything that happens anywhere ever (ie, active participation is a subset of inactive participation). The restrictions based around active participation are broadly those that you'd expect in a very weak code of conduct - it's basically "Don't be mean", but with some quirks. The most significant is that there's a "Don't moralise" provision, which as written means saying "I think people who support slavery are bad" in a community setting is a violation of the code, but the description of discrimination means saying "I volunteer to mentor anybody from a minority background" could also result in any community member not from a minority background complaining that you've discriminated against them. It's just not very good.

Inactive participation is where things go badly wrong. If you engage in community or professional sabotage, or if you shame a member based on their behaviour inside the community, that's a violation. Community sabotage isn't defined and so basically allows a community to throw out whoever they want to. Professional sabotage means doing anything that can hurt a member's professional career. Shaming is saying anything negative about a member to a non-member if that information was obtained from within the community.

So, what does that mean? Here are some things that you are forbidden from doing:
  • If a member says something racist at a conference, you are not permitted to tell anyone who is not a community member that this happened (shaming)
  • If a member tries to assault you, you are not allowed to tell the police (shaming)
  • If a member gives a horribly racist speech at another conference, you are not allowed to suggest that they shouldn't be allowed to speak at your event (professional sabotage)
  • If a member of your community reports a violation and no action is taken, you are not allowed to warn other people outside the community that this is considered acceptable behaviour (community sabotage)

Now, clearly, some of these are unintentional - I don't think the authors of this policy would want to defend the idea that you can't report something to the police, and I'm sure they'd be willing to modify the document to permit this. But it's indicative of the mindset behind it. This policy has been written to protect people who are accused of doing something bad, not to protect people who have something bad done to them.

There are other examples of this. For instance, violations are not publicised unless the verdict is that they deserve banishment. If a member harasses another member but is merely given a warning, the victim is still not permitted to tell anyone else that this happened. The perpetrator is then free to repeat their behaviour in other communities, and the victim has to choose between either staying silent or warning them and risk being banished from the community for shaming.

If you're an abuser then this is perfect. You're in a position where your victims have to choose between their career (which will be harmed if they're unable to function in the community) and preventing the same thing from happening to others. Many will choose the former, which gives you far more freedom to continue abusing others. Which means that communities adopting the Fantasyland code will be more attractive to abusers, and become disproportionately populated by them.

I don't believe this is the intent, but it's an inevitable consequence of the priorities inherent in this code. No matter how many corner cases are cleaned up, if a code prevents you from saying bad things about people or communities it prevents people from being able to make informed choices about whether that community and its members are people they wish to associate with. When there are greater consequences to saying someone's racist than them being racist, you're fucking up badly.

Date: 2017-02-27 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
conferences that think inviting racists is more important than the comfort of non-racists, which is weird in all sorts of ways
Ignoring for the moment how much of a misrepresentation that appears to be..., if you think that's "weird in all sorts of ways", consider this question: "How many robes and hoods have you collected?" (http://www.npr.org/2014/11/14/363896136/the-silver-dollar-lounge).

Date: 2017-02-28 12:33 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You know, people have the ability to choose to either not attend, or attend but not see that speaker. If a packed auditorium cleared out when he got up to talk, he could be not invited back next time because people didn't want to hear him. I think people are more afraid that he will be looked at for more than just the "racist" label they have tried to put on him. Ideas unrelated to his controversy are just that, unrelated. If the creator of "The Onion" kicked his dog one day, it doesn't mean the publication isn't capable of being witty or funny anymore, or suddenly make all previous works bad.

Date: 2017-03-01 04:32 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sadly, the only incentive they would have is to find where you live and burn your house with you inside. You just can't fight hate with more hate.

Date: 2017-02-28 03:30 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
If someone feels comfortable engaging with racists to convince them that they're wrong, that's their choice. But not everybody is willing or able to do that, and so it's not an excuse for forcing people to choose between associating with racists or not going to a conference or being part of a community.


So, here's my problem: *I'm* generally in the group of people who do not feel comfortable engaging with hostiles. (notice that I'm writing this anonymously--thanks for providing that option...)

And part of my problem with this particular situation is that I have no idea what your scope or threshold for "being racist" is: I have no idea how you determine that someone "is" "racist", how your confidence or severity curves are mapped, what your confidence or severity threshold is for determining that it's acceptable (and even sensible) to gang up on and lynch any given person. Or perhaps more importantly, how you then go about determining when that person has "stopped being a racist", and how you go about un-ruining their and the used-to-be-a-an-animal-but-now-is-OK person's family's lives at that point--or whether you even care at that point.

When I was at LibrePlanet last year, someone accused me of "being a racist" because I wasn't sufficiently familiar with "JZ". Does that in fact make me sufficiently racist to warrant you organizing a lynch mob against me? Just how close is the societal structure you want to the lord-of-the-flies world that was my school experience where I was in fact `marginalized' as a result of having insufficient social/political savvy? (and I'm putting "marginalized" in scare-quotes because I think it actually downplays the situation: I was the subject of verbal, psychological, and physical abuse across a number of years). Someone I had to work with once called me a racist after falsely identifying me as white (and just before telling me that the name for my actual ethnic group was a dirty word); is _that_ sufficient warrant the lynch mob? What if I once laughed a joke about skin-colors when I was 12 years old?

What's your expected false-positive rate for identification of bad people for lynching? If you think you can keep it _at zero_, how do you do that? If you _don't_ expect to have zero false positives, what do I have to do to stay off your radar--or is it even possible, since you apparently subscribe to an essentialist worldview in which people can "be" good or bad without actually _doing_ good or bad things. What guarantees can you offer me that I'll actually be safe from misinterpretation (willful or otherwise) just by nature of my actually not "being" racist?

Or maybe you're at the complete other end of the spectrum where "someone's a racist if they say they're racist, because most actual racists don't try to hide it because they actually think they're right to be racist".

How would I know?

Given that you are a prominent figure at LibrePlanet, all of that uncertainty makes me uncomfortable continuing to attend _that_ event--which effect is amplified by the fact that I've so enjoyed attending the event during previous years, and have made friends there based upon the fact we all cared about free software and the work that the FSF does, whom I don't get to see outside of the yearly event (it was a _uniting_ event, and we formed positive connections with positive experiences based upon ways that we were all alike; whatever differences we might have had were left back in our home states). It's not obvious that it's a safe space anymore, when high-ranking officials are giving attendants permission to lynch people they meet there after they leave, even if it's (probably?) only the bad people.

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Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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