[erlang-questions] Announcing Erlang.org Code of Conduct

Jesper Louis Andersen <>
Wed Mar 18 13:53:03 CET 2015


On Wed, Mar 18, 2015 at 9:28 AM, Ulf Wiger <> wrote:

> I think many of us have been taken aback by this apparent clash of
> principles:
> The Right to Express your Opinion vs. The Right Not to be Offended.
>

I had a longish mail that I did not post. It discusses exactly this point,
rumaging around John Stuart Mill's work from 1859, "On Liberty". The crux
is that freedom of expression[0] doesn't mean you are free to say anything.
In particular, you are not allowed to say something which ultimately causes
harm to someone else. But you *are* allowed to say things which are deeply
offensive to other people, if that is necessary to argue your idea.

Universities have a long tradition of following this concept of freedom. In
some circumstances, the truth of the matter, the data which has statistical
and scientific support, is deeply offensive to the current status quo.
Which begs the question of "how university-like do we want the mailing
lists to be?". Now, we are lucky in the sense we don't have to directly
discuss the harder issues of society very often of this mailing list, but
I'm not sure we can claim to be innocent as a group. Some times, we mock
other programming language communities (and they mock us, so I guess it is
simply fair payback). Some times, we post highly provocative mails that
make people rethink their stance on programming (I hope). I'd like to see
at least the latter still being a possibility.

In addition to Miles and Ulf, I also think Joe has a point by questioning
the concept of "being nice". It ties well into the right to express ideas
which may be offensive to some. And looking at the current status quo, I
don't think we've ever even had an informal "be nice" rule. I have written
things, here, where my mind bloody well knows that this may offend someone.
But in every case ultimately posted, I've come to the conclusion that it is
more important to convey the message than being nice to everybody. Some
times a point is contentious, which is a surefure guarantee to offend,
*especially* if the evidence is controversial. There are other times, where
I've deleted sentences, because their snarky remark did not directly
underpin my point, as I believe the right to offend must be used with care
and surgical precision. That said, nobody has ever contacted me off-list
with anything I've written for which they were offended.

Let me throw in another premise, which I'd like to challenge. Challenging
this premise may offend somebody, you have been warned :)

The premise is that diversity is good for a community. Historically, we've
had very little diversity at any level. The price of travel made cultures
more static, and were you born into a specific culture, you would usually
carry it on. It is only lately, the last 40-60 years, that we've had the
possibility of increasing diversity. And *especially* the last 7 years
where social networks have created the global village. Yet I think we see
relatively little evidence for the gains of diversity in the world, be it
historical or recent. A community of odd Erlang programmers are hardly a
diverse group. My claim is that this is the norm: most groups aren't
diverse, given you look at a certain dimension. It could be age, where
COBOL programmers are older, Javascript programmers are younger, and Erlang
is perhaps a quite broad mix. It could be gender, where tech is skewed
towards men, biochemistry toward women[1], and theology has a 50/50 split.
It could be programming language, where MUMPS is programmed by healthcare
professionals, or OCaml which definitely enjoys a large following of
theoretical computer scientists.

I think it is the natural state of affairs. People have always grouped
together by finding people with whom they share values. Part of why it is
hard to hire COBOL programmers among the young today is the simple fact
that the language is seen as obsolete and you don't want to work with 10
old greybearded men[2]. This naturally decreases diversity in groups,
because over time "deviants" feel less at home. You can try to counter this
by slamming an "inclusivity" label on top, but my personal opinion is that
this sticker always has bad glue and falls off, eventually.

It has always been my claim, that if you want to get something done, you
need to find a small group of likeminded people and get to work. This group
needs a certain amount of antidiversity, as it is important certain things
is an act of impulse rather than a long-winded meeting. If everyone wants
to use git, then git it is. If half want to use subversion, then you have a
discussion at hand, slowing down the project. Likemindedness also means
that you probably have the same core values as a group. That is, what is
valuable to you, are also valuable to your peers. Once the group operates,
a healthy dose of new ideas can improve the state of affairs. But the
like-mindedness has a sponge-effect such that the new ideas are absorbed
slowly over time.

In short: no diversity is bad. Some diversity is good. And too much
diversity is a clusterfuck. When the latter situation is reached and the
clusterfuck is imminent, people leave to form new groups in which there is
less diversity but more like-mindedness. You only have to take a quick
glance at online social networks to see this effect.

[0] Here "freedom of expression" is *not* rooted in the laws of any
country, however which way the wording overlap. The 1st amendment only has
legislative power in the US, and I'm not an US citizen. What you are
allowed to write, say, or yell from a mountain top is parameterized by
culture and your local laws.
[1] At least taking Danish universities as a base case.
[2] I'm fully aware I'm guilty of stereotyping, but have pity on me for
using a rhetorical device :)

-- 
J.
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