[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.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 07:14 am (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
To refresh your memory, my question was "Are you saying that the worst argument in the world is to call somebody a racist because they hold racist views?" But if you don't want to answer it, that's ok.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 07:26 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
You missed the point. That's an easy word to throw around and once it's out there it immediately shuts down conversation. Maybe the person on the receiving end of that word isn't racist: maybe he's got some implicit bias he hasn't worked through, maybe the point he's trying to make is more nuanced than you're giving him credit for, maybe he's having a bad day and lashed out, maybe he's got tourettes...or maybe he is actually a racist. Bottom line is that word is thrown around pretty frequently these days and people quickly pile onto the accused. It should be more like the "nuclear option" and only used when you're really, really, really sure. Don't throw it out there as a knee-jerk reaction to sometime you didn't like or agree with.
(screened comment)

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 05:39 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
So since it sounds like you can't answer my question, I'm going to conclude that you don't want anybody to use the word "racist" because that word makes you feel uncomfortable. Do I have that right? (After all, if we can't use the word "racist" to refer to racist things, there isn't much, if anything, left that we're allowed to use it for.)

If yes, can you provide a list of other words that make you feel uncomfortable, so I can try to avoid using them too? I don't want to make anyone feel any unwanted feelings, after all, that's kind of my number one goal in life.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Just in case you're honestly confused and not arguing dishonestly (even though that doesn't seem too likely, given your "can't answer my question" comments):

Your question was explicitly answered in the link he posted. I assume you didn't read it? A very short version follows.

"Racist" is quite a vague word but has strong emotional connotations. It's easy to abuse this: identify some behavior that technically falls under some definition of "racism", then act outraged ("you defend RACISM!?!"), where the fuel for the outrage is provided by the general associations of "racism", not anything the specific target you're attacking has actually done.

For more details do read the blog post linked earlier.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 06:44 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
So you don't think anyone's behavior should ever be described as racist. Got it.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 10:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
OK, so you clearly are not even pretending to discuss in a constructive manner. I'll still write my views on the general issue (note that I'm not the same person as originally linked the blog post).

When discussing the actions of a specific individual, calling them a "racist" is almost always either dishonest or pointless. It's similar to calling someone "a criminal". Technically this may apply to almost anyone (at least at a jaywalking level); it being technically true doesn't make it an honest discussion tactic unless you're talking about some kind of career criminal (in some sense a "typical criminal", rather than just technically qualifying as a criminal). Even when using it is honest, it's normally too vague to contribute anything constructive to a discussion. Calling KKK member or a skinhead who beats minority members on the street a "racist" is likely OK, but calling them that doesn't really contribute to the discussion. If you're discussing the actions of an individual then say "skinhead beating minorities on the street" or with more specifics, not the vague "racist" which could mean pretty much anything whatsoever. Its only "contribution" in discussion is to function as a slur meaning "you're as bad as Hitler".

I consider Matthew Garrett's blog post to be dishonest in this sense. He accuses the organizers of supporting "a racist". I'm pretty sure they've supported "a criminal" too, and so have the organizers of almost every other conference also.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-03-01 12:02 am (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
Sounds like your answer is that you think the words "racist" or "racism" should never be used. That's fine, that's all I was trying to figure out.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-02-28 11:49 pm (UTC)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
From: [personal profile] tim
No, this doesn't answer the question of whether you think the word "racism" should ever be used. I assume the answer is that no, you don't think it should be used, but I have to infer that given the maxim of relevance; it doesn't provide a direct answer.

Re: Worst argument in the world

Date: 2017-03-03 09:56 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is the same reason why you should avoid using the words "Intellectual property" - too ambiguous. While this is not a perfect analogy ("Intellectual property" is ambiguous by definition, "racism" is not), it looks rather fitting, especially here.

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Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

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

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