I have been a Drupal core contributor for twelve years and for a good number of them, the most prolific one. Due to repeated Code Of Conduct violations two years ago I was banned from Drupal. This story is known and frankly, not worth a damn discussing it again. It’s only a background.It took me a long while but also the metoo stories to come to a realization which these CoCs and advocates — and yes this includes me and this post — make a terrible job conveying. Nonetheless, let me try.
Meritocracy partially is just a very nice fantasy. It goes like this: we are all just these anonymous, equal nicknames in a bug tracker, working equally and those who work more will rise in power. But there is a presumption here which most just won’t think of: all these bug trackers, issue queues, mailing lists are inherently confrontational spaces. Someone consideres contributing, OK? They write a patch, and what happens? They need to compete at least for the attention of others . And if they manage to get someone to look at their code, maybe there is some disagreement, and it’s purely technical, no personal attack, no meanness — but still, our contrbutor needs the tenacity to confront them. And some will shy away from this, even if they are the biggest programming genius in the world, they might not want to enter a fracas. Or , you know, they have an entire lifetime of terrible experiences for being queer, trans or maybe just being a woman and they see the opinions of the leaders of a community towards people like them and they just can’t believe there won’t be a prejudice against them perhaps even just an unconscious bias. When someone goes through life knowing there will be lots of conflicts just because what they are, they will, out of self preservation, consider carefully which confrontations are worth entering into. Someone reads an angry mail from Linus and either leaves open source or just never enters. Even leaves software development completely perhaps, not from a single mail but the continous barrage of these things.
So this is where meritocracy breaks down: some just will not start on the meritocracy ladder at all and it is not for the lack of technical prowess. And some will start but leave because they can’t stand it.
People like me, who thrive in this kind of environment and rise to some sort of leadership position then their voice gets louder, more people will read and hear what they say. In this, meritocracy indeed works. But the question is, how do we use this amplified voice? This voice gets to people we never meet, never ever know about even. Are we comfortable chasing them away? It is indeed an effort to consider how your words might be received by other people. But people react to those, I myself have rallied over a decade countless times when people were reacting to my words and not my intent. And that was just within the community and we knew each other. I do not know who else might have read them and what harm they might have caused. I thought I am just passionate for the codebase and everything else be damned. Somebody just posted this in the one of the Linux CoC discussion threads
Every moment that is spent on modulating language, either for better or worse, is a moment not spent on thinking about technical things, and therefore, from the point of view of the kernel, a moment wasted.
I understand this view, I think I had it for quite some time (although some moderation of language was always on the table). It sounds logical. It sounds plausible. But this common view is a limited, short term view. We do need to pay attention to the words we amplify. With every passing year, there are more people who learn to code and are a candidate to be the next great developer. Modulating our voice is an investment in them and in the long run it is worth it.
Ps. This is not new, a year ago I posted Women of Drupal: I’ve failed you and I am sorry.