tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
2017-03-11 12:30 pm
Entry tags:

Against "do you want fries with that?"

Compiling what I wrote in an impromptu Twitter thread:

I saw a tweet that said: "English major = 'Want fries with that?' 🍟. Pick something that will give you enough money to write what you want." (In the interest of discretion, I won't say who wrote this, but you can find out if you go to the thread.)

This is bullshit. I have a computer science degree and thus all the money I want and no emotional energy left after work for writing. If I'd majored in English (like 13-year-old me wanted) I wouldn't have gone down the path of lots of money and spiritual/artistic vacuity. (Maybe more like 10-year-old me wanted; 13-year-old me wanted to be an editorial cartoonist and major in sociology or journalism in order to get there. 10-year-old me maybe had the best plan.)

I was in debt -- student, medical, or both, at various times -- from September 1997 to January 2017. Now that I'm out of it, I can choose what to do next, so the point here isn't "cry for me". It is: Please do not pretend choosing an economically useful major while telling yourself you can do your important work "in your free time" (imagine all the finger air quotes there) doesn't have a serious, permanent cost. It does.

You can never get back the time you spent doing stuff you don't care about for people who despise you. You need money to live, but time is the most precious resource you have because when you lose money, you can get it back; when you lose time, you can never get it back.

Me, I didn't even choose computer science for the money (that came later). I thought, at the time, that I'd enjoy it more than I enjoyed writing or playing music. (I didn't enjoy playing music at all at the time, because I spent most of the first 16 years of my life playing classical music not because I wanted to, but because I had a parent who was foisting "what I didn't get to do when I was younger" onto me. I did get over that, but it took me about another 20 years. That's another story.)

Anyway, once you get into industry, you realize the real day-to-day work isn't much fun, or that there are fun things about it but not the ones you anticipated, and a whole lot of soul-sucking baggage that's the price of both the fun and the money, but by then the money has you trapped.

So if somebody had said all this to me when I was 18 (which they probably did, but I also had a parent yelling at me pretty loudly to be practical so I could support her when she got old (joke's on her, she's old now and I haven't spoken to her since 2014 and never will again)), it wouldn't have mattered -- I thought I was choosing the major that was what I wanted to do most, and I was pretty solidly on the side of telling my peers to do the same, and grieving with the ones who had parents who felt their tuition money was buying them permanent control over their children's lives.

I would hate to see someone who doesn't even like computer science, though, choose it anyway because of shaming from people using the 🍟 emoji (and by the way, there is zero shame in working in food service -- someone has to cook for the people who get to spend their time writing), because of middle-class anxiety over the psychic cost of being one of the people their parents or grandparents stepped on to achieve middle-class status. It's one thing to choose it because it seems like the most fun thing at the time, another to hide your light under the barrel of "a stable job, a practical career."

So if you're reading this and you're a teenager, choosing a major, or choosing whether to go to college at all, and you want to write or make art: write. Make your art. Put your first energies into those things, build whatever scaffolding you need to in order to keep your first energies there. (And if you change your mind later, that's cool too.) If you de-center those things in your life now, it will never get any easier to center them again. Do what it takes to survive, but never pretend that what fuels your fire is secondary and "real jobs" are primary; know it's the other way around.

If you're 28 and in a "good" job and you want to write or make art but you're afraid of losing safety, know it'll never get any easier. So you might as well do it now.

If you're 38 and you want to write or make art but you have 2 kids to support, I wish you the best.

We -- as in, we adults who've had our dreams beaten out of us -- terrorize kids with a lot of fear-mongering about starving artists and starving musicians. The truth is that artists and musicians have always found ways to survive in a world hostile to art, so long as they're lucky enough to get taught that the shame of not being affluent must be avoided at all costs. (There are a few other kinds of luck that I'll talk about a little later.)

Sometimes there's a very strong reason to pick the "I'll make a lot of money, then I'll do what I want" path: medical bills or responsibility for children or parents or both, while living in a society that is vicious towards young, old, sick, and disabled people. But ask yourself: If I'll be able to do The Thing later, when I have X amount of money, can I do it now without the money? And likewise: If I'm afraid to do The Thing now, will having X amount of money actually address the root cause of that fear? Because "I need to have X amount of savings before I do Y" tends to turn into "no, no, I was wrong, I need X*Z amount of savings first". The goalposts never stop moving. When you were 12, maybe you thought all you needed was rent money and enough food to eat. At 25, maybe that turns into a down payment on a house, and at 30, maybe a hot tub in the yard, a nice car, and a vacation home. Centering yourself on what really matters now builds a foundation on which it remains easier to not forget what mattered to you in the face of the distractions capitalism will try to sell you (especially when you spend all day in an office with people who also believe they can buy their way to personal fulfillment).

Another thing to keep in mind: even if you are a person who can put in 8+ hours a day at a professional job, then leave and spend 6+ hours on your art (and not sleep much), you don't really know how much time you have before becoming too disabled to do both. Might be 60 years. Might be 1 year. All abled people are temporarily abled, and some of the most common disabilities and chronic illnesses take your excess energy first. Not to mention that chronic stress both from toxic jobs and double-timing tends to trigger any latent predispositions to those illnesses.

Especially now, in 2017: there is only the present; stability in the future is a lie.

Keep in mind reading all of this, I don't necessarily know the answer or the plan, not even for me and certainly not for you. I'm 36 and still in a job I'm ambivalent about on the best days, and I want to buy a house and adopt kids; renting a room doesn't afford much space for musical instruments or my sewing machine or more animals, much less kids. At this point, I don't have the conviction that the writing and art I want to make are worth delaying those plans for (the plans that more closely resemble the lives of my peers, my college friends and my office co-workers, and have their own appeal).

A few months ago I was driving through Iowa and bought a new hardcover copy of Bruce Springsteen's autobiography on impulse. When I started reading it, I loved the writing but I had to set it aside because some uncomfortable feeling overwhelmed me, and a little later I realized it was envy: of people like him and his friends who got to spend their time, from early teens onwards, playing the kind of music they wanted to play. I was playing music when I was a teenager, too, but I hated it, and stopped as soon as I had the freedom to. It took me my entire adult life so far to want to do it again. My other musical hero, John Darnielle, worked day jobs for most of his career. Envy, as well, because I can't seem to find work that isn't primarily emotional labor (even when my business card says "engineer") and that doesn't leave me with much at the end of the day to put into art.

So while part of me knows it's not too late, part of me is too busy grieving over all the time I lost to be able to make a new plan. If you're younger, and don't have as many sunk costs, maybe listen to whatever inside you makes you feel the most alive. And if you're older than me, do it too so I'll have more examples to look to.

Another reason why the original advice is garbage: yes, Wallace Stevens was an insurance agent. But I suspect that if you look at the writers you like, you'll find more people who can write because they have a partner who financially supports them than you'll find full-time engineers or lawyers who are part-time writers. This is sort of a dirty little secret. The best thing you can do to be a successful artist is major in whatever you want, then marry rich.

This doesn't mean you should marry for money. It does mean that "bust your ass doing 2-3 jobs if you want to earn the right to be an artist" is toxic victim-blaming capitalist pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps bullshit, because a lot of the artists you admire got there because someone else worked full-time to support them, not because they moonlighted. The good luck of being loved by someone with money should not be confused with hard work.

Aside from economics, something I think stops a lot of younger people from following their vision is belief in scarcity: there are a lot of people who want to be musicians and writers, and many who are more talented than you, so why bother? Even if you make a living off it, you won't be famous. There are too many novels and no one will read yours; too many bands and no one will go to your shows. Sound familiar? It does for me.

The more time passes, the more I think that's a seductive lie, too, not because you will get famous, but because that probably isn't what you want anyway. What you do want is time to spend doing the work that makes you feel whole.

'You hold onto Berryman’s line – “It is idle to reply to critics” – and understand that the actual work isn’t the thing you make, but the process that makes it, whose inherent value and dignity is well beyond any debate, because it is an expression of your self and therefore nobody can really judge it.' -- John Darnielle
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-11-04 12:03 am

Acknowledging people while they're still alive

I read Mary Gardiner's memorial post for Telsa Gwynne and was struck by this sentence in it: "Telsa is the direct inspiration for the entire 15 years of content on this website, especially the personal diary."

I would like to acknowledge some of the people who have been major inspirations for my public writing over the past 5 years; I hope they all lead long and happy lives, but I think it's important to thank people while they're still alive if we can.

  • Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora co-founded the Ada Initiative. On an organizational and on a personal level, they both have changed how I see the world in ways I often take for granted now. Mary, in particular, contributed a huge amount of content early on to the Geek Feminism blog and wiki, both of which have influenced me in such deep ways that it's hard to summarize exactly how they've changed me.
  • Skud created the Geek Feminism Wiki (and later handily summarized its history in in a a retrospective talk).
  • Leigh Honeywell has set an example for me with her uncompromising pursuit of justice.
  • Lindsey Kuper has been a colleague and comrade in navigating sexism in the programming language research community.
  • Clarissa Littler has and continues to awe me with her tenacity in the face of adversity. In a very literal way, I would be less happy and more complacent without her.
  • Kake created the original version of the Male Programmer Privilege Checklist in 2006, which opened up for me what it was possible to talk about.
  • The anonymous author of the original version of Derailing for Dummies gave me names for the patterns I'd observed but been unable to articulate in how oppression operates through discourse.

I can't possibly make a complete list, but I can say for certain that without these individuals, my feminist consciousness would be sadly lacking and I would never have thought it important to share what I had to say about social justice in technology. I owe them a debt.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-10-05 10:36 am
Entry tags:

Want to support my writing?

If you've liked my public writing, and can afford it, you can now sponsor me at $1/month or up, via Patreon. If you can't afford it, no hard feelings, I totally understand! Feel free to spread the word.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-04-19 09:43 am
Entry tags:

Responses to "Last Exit to Loyalty"

Michael Church wrote a thoughtful response to my post joining tableflip.club -- quotes I liked:
"Ultimately, corporate capitalism fails to be properly capitalistic because of its command-economy emphasis on subordination. When people are treated as subordinates, they slack and fade. This hurts the capitalist more than anyone else."
....
"We’ve let ourselves be defined, from above, as arrogant and socially inept and narcissistic, and therefore incapable of running our own affairs. That, however, doesn’t reflect what we really are, nor what we can be."

That said, I feel my point about love was totally missed and that it's gratuitous to say "that's not always true" about my claim "if you had a good early life, you wouldn't be working in tech" when my very next sentence began, "I'm exaggerating..." I feel like the last paragraph is so accurate that he fundamentally got it, though.

I am genuinely moved and amazed by the quantity and quality of thoughtful replies to my post on MetaFilter, where it made the front page. I've been peripherally aware of MeFi almost since it existed, but I've now joined and will have to keep paying attention to it.

At its peak (Friday), my post was also on the Hacker News front page at #16, but I haven't read the comments there and don't intend to.

When I write a piece like this, I'm always afraid no one will pay attention to or understand it. The amount of response I've gotten this time was beyond my wildest dreams and is informing my thoughts about what I'm doing next with my career (once my next 3 or 4 months of mostly not leaving my apartment is over). Thanks, everybody -- you don't know how happy it makes me to know that I hit a nerve, even if that process is painful for everyone involved!
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-04-15 07:53 am

Crowdsourcing my "professional" bio

Since I'm changing careers, I figured it's a good time for me to finally have a standard bio so people know who the hell this guy is. I'm doing an experiment, inspired by [personal profile] skud's crowdsourced bio. I opened up a public Etherpad -- something like a Google Doc that anyone can edit without an account -- with one paragraph of my bio, to get you started (you can delete all of this text in favor of something else, and please do):

https://timsbio.titanpad.com/1

You can choose to edit anonymously or with your name or anybody else's name attached, it's up to you. I don't know how much IP tracking TitanPad does, but unless any abuse happens, I won't be trying to determine the identities of anonymous editors; I am not Reviewer 2.

TitanPad tracks a history of all changes (like Wikipedia does), so if you delete any text, it won't be lost forever; I'll still be able to view it in the history. Therefore, feel free to delete others' changes in order to improve on them, though it would be nice if there was no wanton deleting for its own sake. The exception is that you can, and should, delete the placeholder text I included.

Please go wild. I especially invite the following people to contribute:

  • my friends from college
  • my friends from before college (all one of them)
  • people who have worked with me before
  • people who have done activism with me before
  • people who I've called out on the Internet before
  • people who've called me out on the Internet before
  • people who only know me through my writing
  • people who are currently drunk and/or high
  • people who fit into more than one of these categories


Also, you can lie if you want! That's cool to do, as are writing things that are true, as are writing things that should be true, as are writing things you wish you could see as true about yourself that are easier for you to project onto me. (Because that's one of the many services I offer.)

Also, you don't have to write complete sentences or even necessarily make any sense. If you want to leave a bullet point in there, that's cool, someone else will make it into part of the text. It's the magic of open source!
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2014-07-29 11:21 am
Entry tags:

Ethical Culture Fit

So far, the responses to my article "Killing the Messenger at Mozilla" on Model View Culture have been almost completely positive. (That's almost a bit disappointing, because if no one gets shirty about it, then I worry that I haven't done my job.)

But there's one response that may superficially seem compelling. I thought about addressing it in the article, but ended up leaving it out for space reasons and because I felt like I, and others, had talked about it over and over, and that at this point, if someone is still using this argument, they are simply not listening. I'm an eternal optimist, though, so I want to summarize my thoughts on it one more time. The tl;dr version is that concern over "forcing the resignations of CEOs over political donations" is a red herring. The concern is not really about political donations, but about forcing the resignations of CEOs over the kinds of political donations that white heterosexual cis men tend to make -- thus, the concern is really about excluding people in that narrow social clique of folks who have always taken for granted that they will be included in any space they want to be in.

Who pays for free speech?

A representative example of the argument is:

"...but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over political donations." -- Jason Pontin

(I'm picking this tweet for concreteness, not out of a desire to portray Pontin's specific comment as uniquely heinous.)

It makes me viscerally angry that this is still a tenable response to critiquing putting bigots in charge of public interest organizations. I think it makes me so angry because it's so disingenuous. Literally nobody believes that there is never an occasion when a CEO could make a political donation that is incompatible with the mission of their company or organization. The debate is about which donations are acceptable, and it frustrates me to no end that folks make such an absolutist, obviously shallow argument to avoid confronting the real issue.

The hidden assumption is that public spaces belong to heterosexual men. Everyone else dwells in public spaces at the pleasure of heterosexual men. Therefore, to exclude a heterosexual man from such a space -- especially from a leadership position! -- requires far more basis than excluding anybody else.

I want to be absolutely clear that I don't think this response is quite the same response as the even shallower (but still popular) "Everybody has the right to do and say whatever they want and keep their jobs, because free speech." This response has been addressed exhaustively (see Valerie Aurora's "What Free Speech Really Means" for just one example), far beyond what the time and effort it deserves.

The question "do we really want to drive someone out because of a different opinion?" is different because rather than appealing to shady constructions of individual rights, it raises a question about the public good. Latent in the question is the liberal (with a small 'l') notion that diversity of ideas is always a good thing. Subscribers to this, the liberal viewpoint, say that if we merely include people with a variety of ideas and opinions in our community, the best outcome will naturally happen rather than if we made any intentional effort to actually make a variety of people feel safe in that community.

Donations, by the way, are definitely speech. A political donation is political speech, and as such, is necessarily public. Don't trust me on that one -- just ask the Supreme Court. Donating money is absolutely a form of speech, and as such, should be assessed in the same way as other kinds of public speech would be.

But what about the "public" part? There is a very good reason why political donations are public. It's not, as some have suggested, a procedural accident that means Eich's donation record should be politely ignored. The privilege of privately donating money to influence the political process and thereby affect the public is inseparable from corruption. Put another way, if you are going to interfere with my life, you don't get to keep your own identity a secret from me while doing so -- if you want privacy, you always have the option of not interfering with my life. Given that I can't opt out of a law preventing me from marrying, it's only fair that the people who underwrote that law can't opt out of me knowing who they are.

While it's a bit more sophisticated than "but free speech?", "do we really want to drive someone out because of a different opinion?" is still the wrong question. I think a better question is, "Is a man who paid money to run advertisements insinuating that dozens of his employees rape children, not because they have actually done so but because they have queer relationships with adults, someone who is well-equipped to carry out the mission of his company?" Details matter.

Not only is it the wrong question, it implies a false equivalence. The subtext here (made much more explicit by various voices online) is that anti-queer bullying -- including bullying backed up with the full power of the state, such as the ultimately-unsuccessful effort to make Proposition 8 law in California -- is exactly the same thing as fighting back against that bullying. "You're just as bad as they are!", say these voices, shaming queer folks with the suggestion that we deserve no empathy, compassion or tolerance because our defiance of oppression makes us exactly like our oppressors.

Not only is it the wrong question, it's misleading, and it's hard to believe that it's not deliberately misleading. While Pontin's question explicitly refers only to donations rather than opinions or beliefs, it's hard to understand it except via an appeal to (once again) the liberal notion of diversity of ideas and tolerance for all ideas (including ideas that would, if broadly adopted, destroy liberalism). Without some belief in the inherent value of diversity of opinion, it would be hard to understand why someone shouldn't be held to account for their political donations. The statement "but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over their actions" would plainly be absurd. And there is no special reason to grant immunity to the act of paying other people to do things, other than (perhaps) desire to give rich people an additional way to do wrong without accountability. If there was, contract killing would be less harshly punished than any other form of murder. We're talking about actions, not ideas.

People keep talking about how Brendan Eich shouldn't have been held accountable for his views about "homosexuals", or his views about "traditional marriage", in one breath, and in the next breath about how his donation doesn't reveal anything about his views about "homosexuals" or marriage. You can't have it both ways. In point of fact, I agree with Eich's defenders about one thing: we don't know anything about Eich's views on queer people, marriage, or anything else pertaining to Proposition 8. We only know about his actions, which can and should be judged in their own right. If the conversation we're having was about Eich's "private" beliefs, we wouldn't be having it, because we wouldn't know anything about those beliefs! That's the definition of "private", after all.

If we take it as a given that the conversation is about actions rather than beliefs, the question remains of how to evaluate Eich's actions. Here are some concrete effects that the campaign for Proposition 8 had:

  • It caused more people to think that queer people are more likely to abuse children than heterosexuals are (actually, the opposite is true), and/or strengthened their existing misconceptions to that effect.
  • It provided further moral legitimacy to those who terrorize queer youth (and queer adults) with physical and verbal violence.
  • It contributed to the levels of fear and stress experienced by queer people, especially young queer people. The copious deleterious physical and emotional effects of chronic stress are well-documented.
  • It incited kids and teenagers to bully their peers whose parents are queer.

Here are some concrete effects that the campaign did not have:

  • It did not strengthen marriages between heterosexual men and heterosexual women. (As far as I know, the divorce rates are still where they were before.)
  • It did not result in the passage of the legislation it purported to pass.

The second point is worth dwelling on. Proposition 8 proposed an unconstitutional law. There was nothing particularly subtle about this. In his Perry v. Brown decision, Judge Vaughn Walker noted the absolute vacuity of all the arguments that were presented in favor of the proposition's constitutionality. If the case was Prop. 8 supporters' best effort to show that the state of California had a compelling interest in regulating intimate relationships, they failed spectacularly. It's hard to imagine that they didn't see that coming. I'm sure many people who voted for and financially supported Prop. 8 believed it would be feasible to make it the law of the land, but I think the folks who campaigned hardest for it were probably bright enough to realize it was doomed. It's hard to imagine that in their minds, the expected value of sneaking an unconstitutional law through the legislative process exceeded the expected value of conducting a smear campaign against members of gender, romantic, and sexual minorities.

It frustrates me that the folks saying things like what Pontin said refuse to own up to what the vague language of "political donations" actually refers to here: violence. This is not hyperbole -- according to the World Health Organization, violence is

"the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation." -- WHO Violence Prevention Alliance

As per the WHO's typology of violence, political donations like the ones made in support of Prop. 8 fall under the category of "collective violence": "violence committed by larger groups of individuals and can be subdivided into social, political and economic violence."

Let's try rephrasing that comment yet again:

"...but I remain unconvinced that we really want to force the resignations of CEOs over violence."

I'm not going to say that no one would sincerely make this statement -- after all, many people leapt to the defense of Scott Kveton, who was (at most) obliged to take a leap of absence. But it's harder to defend than the initial formulation. If you want to argue about whether or not it's really violence to fund a propaganda campaign aimed at encouraging scapegoating of a vulnerable minority group, I guess you can. It would at least beat disingenuously claiming that everybody should find any political activity their supervisor undertakes to be acceptable.

I do think it's difficult for some people to understand the difference between "differences of opinion" and violence aimed at a vulnerable minority group. If you have ever been in a vulnerable minority group, you know the difference. I've been over this before in "A Problem With Equality".

What if I want something that hasn't got spam in it?

As I also wrote about in "A Problem With Equality", some points of view have the effect of dominating discourse and making it hard or impossible for other points of view to flourish.

An analogy is weeding a garden: even people who love plants need to get rid of plants that use a disproportionate share of space. While there's nothing wrong with letting your front yard grow wild (so long as you aren't subject to an HOA's rules, anyway), you will probably have fewer different species of plants as a result than you would if you pulled weeds and made a deliberate effort to plant many different kinds of flowers. Likewise, people responsible for parks and open spaces make an effort to reduce or eliminate the share of resources taken up by invasive species. This isn't because they want less diversity of plant species -- it's because they want more diversity of plant species.

Ideas are like that too. If you believe that all opinions are worth listening to, I suggest that you try turning off your email program's spam filter for a week and see if you can still conduct your professional and personal life. In truth, no one believes that all opinions are equally desirable. If this was really a widely accepted truth, your city or town hall would be covered in Lyndon LaRouche flyers, you wouldn't be able to attend a conferences without someone standing up during the question and answer period to talk about chemtrails, and you would say "yes" whenever a street canvasser asks whether you have a moment to spare for the environment. The world would be a very different place. It's not just that everyone has their own set of preferences for which opinions they listen to, tolerate, or detest. It's also that everybody recognizes that the presence of some kinds of speech makes the metaphorical garden of ideas less diverse, not more, just as invasive plants make literal gardens less diverse. It's why we have spam filters, the do-not-call list, and "No Soliciting" signs. If we didn't have these things, we wouldn't have any time to develop our own ideas -- we'd be too busy listening to people trying to sell us something.

Given that the supposed goal of anti-queer activism is to make everybody heterosexual, I think the analogy with invasive species is apt. At least Scotch broom doesn't try to turn other plants into Scotch broom besides just taking away their room to grow! Really, though, I think most anti-queer activists probably know that other people's sexuality is non-negotiable, and merely seek to make queer people's lives as difficult as possible.

It's hard to grow and thrive when people around you are telling you that you should change fundamental aspects of your self or that you don't belong in your community because of those fundamental traits. It's especially difficult when those people are your managers or the heads of your company. Given the choice, you might just choose to go to a company where your managers and executives won't say those things. If they're not telling you those things directly, merely making it a matter of public record that they want your life to be harder than it is, that's not necessarily any easier to tolerate. Even if bigotry-underwriting CEOs are always nice to you to your face, never treat you in a way that's obviously unfair, their presence corrodes your ability to trust the fairness of your organization's decision-making processes. In an environment of fairness, you can be sure that if your manager criticizes your performance, it's because they think you need to work on improving something. When your leaders' support for bigotry is on the public record, it's impossible to be free from the nagging question of whether it's really about your work, or the fact that somebody up there wishes you didn't exist.

Different goals, not different tactics

Returning to Pontin's words, "...we really want to..." raises the question of who "we" are and what we want. Perhaps he and I just want different things.

I want to encourage diversity of opinion, and tactically, I would advise anyone else who wants the same thing to make a specific effort to include points of view that usually get marginalized. The points of view that enjoy majority endorsement will take care of themselves. Of course, other people might not want what I want. But I don't think it's so controversial that all other things being equal, a public organization should strive to encourage diversity of opinion within their ranks -- indeed, this is exactly what many of Eich's defenders have said.

So if we assume for the sake of argument that we all want to encourage diversity of opinion, how are we to go about doing so -- concretely, in the organizations where we work or volunteer? One approach is the laissez-faire method: just let it all hang out. But if you've ever attended a meeting without a moderator, you know that approach doesn't work. The people who can yell the loudest will get heard, leaving everybody else to fight just to get a word in.

Another approach is to maintain a social contract that explicitly calls out inclusion. It's best when such a contract is explicit rather than implicit, because it's not fair to expect people to follow rules they don't know about. I think this is a better approach than the laissez-faire approach, because having explicit policies makes it possible for everyone to be heard, not just those who can yell the loudest and longest. Part of such a social contract can be the expectation that people will refrain from public speech that has a chilling effect on the free speech of others -- particularly on the speech of those who are most vulnerable to oppression, since protecting the free speech of people who are politically powerful is superfluous. Sometimes these contracts are called codes of conduct.

Another thing that's very frustrating about the "do we really want to drive out a person for? ..." approach is that it mistakes a difference of opinion about goals for a difference of opinion about tactics. I don't think someone asking this question has the same goals as I do. I can only conclude that they have the goal of making corporations safe places for people who have any opinions that a white heterosexual man would be likely to have, while I have the goal of making them safe places for everybody who is willing to work respectfully with others. It's easy for other heterosexual men to defend Eich because they can imagine themselves being in his shoes, but can't imagine what it's like to be a queer person in a heterosexual world. I realize that it's easier for someone who looks a lot like Eich to imagine no longer being welcome in their job because the world has made progress that they haven't caught up with than it is for them to imagine dealing with the daily microaggressions that come with being part of a minority group. But it's still frustrating for me that they refuse to even try to take another point of view, given how much time I have to spend taking their point of view just so I can survive.

False equivalences

"It's important to be able to work with people who you disagree with." I can't count the number of times this has been said about the Eich crisis, and it's closely related to the idea that we don't really want to force the resignations of CEOs over political donations. It's smarmy, condescending, and erases power imbalances.

It is condescending to tell me I need to be able to work with people I disagree with when if I refused to work with people I disagree with, I would immediately be unemployed and, shortly afterward, bankrupt. Working with people we disagree with is a necessary survival skill for those of us whose basic humanity is still up for debate. Not only do we have to work with people we disagree with -- we have to work with people who disagree with us about whether we're people, about whether we're capable of telling the truth about our own subjective experiences. The smarmy folks talking down to us about how we need to be able to tolerate differences will never have to experience that.

It also erases power imbalances to implore us to "work with people [we] disagree with" -- the recasting of structural violence as "disagreement" implies falsely that a queer person who says "no, really, I'm telling the truth when I say I love my partner just as much as you love your spouse" to a heterosexual person has equal power -- is accorded as much respect and credence -- as a heterosexual person who says "gay people's relationships are just about sex, not love". There is a difference between supervising employees who vote Democratic when you vote Republican, and having a boss who (or knowing that someone at the top of your reporting chain) has taken specific action to take away your civil rights.

It is not just outright speech or actions towards the goal of eliminating queer people that hurts us (and when I say "us", I mean everybody, because an environment that tolerates eliminating a group of people because of a non-negotiable trait diminishes everybody's dignity). For many of us, it's insulting as heck when people claim to agree with us, but nonetheless go to the mat for the conviction that whether or not queer people are people should be subject to debate, should be hashed out in the free marketplace if ideas. It is hurtful when someone who claims to be my ally is more interested in fostering open dialogue about the pros and cons of accepting that I'm human than they are in showing solidarity with me.

To say that 'queers are subhuman' is a valuable perspective that improves a community is, itself, an act of rhetorical violence against queer people.

Ethical Culture Fit?

The last reason why I think it's disingenuous to treat "forcing someone to resign over political donations" as an outrage is that in Silicon Valley, people literally get fired (and I mean fired, not voluntarily resigning in order to cease hurting your organization, despite being implored by the organization's other leaders to stay on) -- or constructively dismissed, or rejected for jobs -- for having "different views" ALL THE TIME. This phenomenon is usually called "culture fit". In principle, there's nothing wrong with it, except that a very narrow culture tends to dominate and it's hard for the majority who don't fit with that culture to be in tech.

But if there's nothing wrong with "culture fit" hiring, there's certainly nothing wrong with a person recognizing that his views make him a poor fit with a culture that has changed while he has not, and voluntarily exiting. While I don't think that's exactly what happened with Eich leaving Mozilla, in principle, if an organization has a culture that supports queer people's freedom to be who they are, there is nothing wrong with declining to select leaders who oppose that freedom. At least, if you think there is something wrong with it, you should probably also criticize companies where if you aren't a bearded white guy who wears T-shirts and jeans and likes to drink with your colleagues after work, you will be ostracized to the point where it hurts your performance.

The near-universal acceptance of "culture fit" as a valid gatekeeping mechanism makes it clear that "no one should be pushed out for their opinions", or whatever, is disingenuous. They're not objecting to people getting pushed out for their opinions. They're objecting to people like themselves getting pushed out for their opinions, or perhaps to people getting pushed out for opinions they can imagine themselves holding. More so, they're protesting the fact that they no longer have exclusive control of the discourse -- that somebody other than themselves is now involved in deciding which opinions are acceptable. Most of the time, when you see someone calling for tolerance or acceptance who already enjoys a great deal of tolerance and acceptance, what they're really asking you to do is tolerate their domination of you.

Postscript

Some of the same people who wrung their hands about "people being driven out for having different opinions" when Eich resigned are approaching maximum beardhurt because Steve Klabnik is both a contract technical writer for Mozilla, and a critic of capitalism. To which I say: good.

tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2014-07-22 09:37 am
Entry tags:

(no subject)

I have a new piece up at Model View Culture: 'Killing the Messenger at Mozilla: Hero worship, “meritocracy” and the Eich crisis.'

Postscript:
I asked MVC to make the following edits to the article, based on comments made by [personal profile] graydon2 and Lukas:
1) change "former Mozilla COO Ryan Merkley" to "former Mozilla Foundation COO Ryan Merkley"
2) change "whether or not Mozilla should have a code of conduct (it never adopted one)" to "whether or not Mozilla should have a code of conduct (it never adopted one, instead adopting a weak set of community participation guidelines)"
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2014-02-26 04:02 pm
Entry tags:

"Gendered Language: Feature or Bug in Software Documentation?"

I'm happy to announce that my first article in Model View Culture, "Gendered Language: Feature or Bug in Software Documentation?", is live.

Excerpt:
Defenders of the status quo in both libuv and Ubuntu seem to be saying, “This is trivial, I don’t care, why are you wasting my time.” But the amount of time and energy that many people invested in defending the status quo communicates a different, implicit message. The majority of the “it’s trivial” commenters in these issues are men. Is controlling the conversation a way in which men perform their gender? No one ever seems to say that men’s desire to protect the status quo is “trivial” or unworthy of attention - triviality only gets used to characterize challenges to the status quo. Perhaps this asymmetry is the crux of the problem: men cannot bear to be told by women that they, themselves - their masculinity represented through gendered pronouns - are trivial.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2006-10-16 02:32 pm

Who says I like right angles?

I've been reading Carolyn Heilbrun's _Reinventing Womanhood_. I have the seeds of a post or an essay germinating in my head about geek-as-third-gender[*], genderqueerness (especially in female-assigned people), and how that does or doesn't relate to the idea of successful women aspiring to be "honorary men" as Heilbrun argues against, and to feminism and/or the rejection thereof. It still all comes down to the need to make gender both matter and not matter at the same time. To the apparent contradiction between saying, "fuck it, your labels don't apply to me, and I refuse to attach any of them to myself" and the idea of accepting the label of "woman" and living your life as an example of what being a woman can mean. To do either of those seems to be giving more credence to the concepts of "man" and "woman" than they deserve -- but that's what it means to live in a man's world. So, sometime, I will write something better-thought-out on this point.

[*] is worth noting because it's an essay that I and many other people in my circle have enjoyed, yet it seems somehow quite revealing that it's titled "The Anti-Girl Manifesto" -- why is it so frequent that when somebody writes something rejecting gender, it's always the trappings of the female gender that get attacked far more harshly? The author writes, "I'm not a woman, I'm a geek;" yet why does it seem so natural for a woman to write that when it would seem almost unnecessary for a man to declare, "I'm not a man, I'm a geek"? It's not that no one would ever say such a thing, but there doesn't seem to be anything contradictory in our discourse about being a man and a geek. I mean, duh. So when you say, "I'm not a woman, I'm a geek," is this a daring statement of individuality, or does it just reveal you've bought into the same poisonous stereotypes we all have, that you've bought the idea that you can't be a woman and a geek? When I say that I don't identify as a woman or a man because I don't feel like either one, am I just buying into the idea that man is default and woman is special-case? If I were exactly the same as I am now, with the same mind except with convex instead of concave bits (ignoring that I'd have lived a different life if I'd been born with them), would I feel the same need to repudiate my assigned gender? Or would I just take it as a given that I was a person first and a man later, because all men grow up with the privilege of being able to take it for granted that they are a person first, whereas a woman has to spend her life proving it?

To put it another way, there's something really quite broken about the fact that if you call a man a "lady", you're cruising for a bruising (unless he's gay or has an unusually good sense of humor), but if you call a woman a "gentleman", she's supposed to take it as a compliment.