Paper, Coffee, Pencil

The Code Of Conduct Conoundrum

There have been a lot of kerfuffle and brouhaha regarding the use of
codes of conducts in open source projects.

Personally, I think that having a code of conduct is a great idea.
And really, why not? Its purpose is to form the backbone of a civilised
sub-culture in a larger society that largely fail to ensure the safety
and acknowledge the contributions of female and/or minority-group

It is inevitable that, whenever this is brought up, someone will totally
disregard the whole safety thing and claim the awesome superiority of the
meritocracy. This is an idea that is ubiquitous in coder lore; that
nothing but pure technical skill reign supreme. Sadly, this is a fallacy:
meritocracy is broken beyond repair, and consistently premier the
privileged regardless of merit. (See {1}, {2}, {3} for reference.)

When the safety thing is pressed, another weak objection squirts forth
to the tune of "not wanting to force anyone to do anything icky",
usually embodied as the "don’t act like a jerk"-clause.
Don’t act like a jerk, they say. No shit, I say. This may stifle the
overt harassments, but what about "jokes" and overall attitudes? Whose
words weighs heaviest here?
(Spoiler: it isn’t the words of the non-privileged.)

I am fully aware that a piece of text won’t magically remedy everything
wrong with the world, and that some CoC’s are pretty damn caustic.
But that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to just ignore the underlying
problem: that female and/or minority-group coders are systematically
being treated as second-rate participants, and that CoC’s aim to
alleviate some of the pain.

So why is it that objections keep popping up if they are so easily shot
down? I think part of the answer lies in the fact that they are all
more or less knee-jerk reactions, completely devoid of the rational
thought they claim to have sprung from.
The article The Distress of the Privileged{4} really hit the nail on
the head with the following observation:

> As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways
> invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit
> them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find
> themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe.
> Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete
> with the formerly invisible concerns of others.

And that’s the thing, really. There is no inherent malice in the voices
raised for equal treatment. There is no persecution of the privileged.
There is only a wish to be included, to matter, and to be safe.
This is why a code of conduct is the best first step towards a better

(Hearty thanks to Björn Paulsen for feedback and pushing me to wrap
everything up properly!)

## References

{1}: The Paradox of Meritocracy in Organizations, E. J. Castilla & S. Benard
{2}: Gender, Race and Meritocracy in Organizational Careers, E. J. Castilla
{3}: Where Meritocracy Fails, S. Deckelmann
{4}: The Distress of the Privileged, D. Muder