Drawing Lines at Actions and Not Thoughts: Analysis of Larry Garfield's Excommunication from the Drupal CommunitysteemCreated with Sketch.

in freedomofexpression •  2 years ago

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This is not a post I want to write, but sadly, once again, another person has fallen victim to ideological wars.

Recently, Larry Garfield, a respected and highly influential member of the Drupal [1] community, has been ejected for the crime of being too close to an ideology considered too egregious to be allowed. The short version of the story is that Larry Garfield was discovered to be a member of the Gorean subculture which is "based on the principle that women are [evolutionarily] predisposed to serve men and that the natural order is for men to dominate and lead". That quote came from the article written by Dries Buytaert, Drupal's creator, explaining Larry's excommunication from the project. It is not clear to me whether the "natural order between men and women" is a belief in the Gorean community or simply a scenario in which to play fantasies of domination in the context of sex. But, for the sake of argument, lets assume that this is a deeply rooted philosophical cornerstone for anyone in the Gorean community, including Larry. Is this a good reason to ostracize a productive member of a tech-community, or any community for that matter?

This is not an easy question, and the responses from the Drupal community have demonstrated it in the immense range of reactions: From total support with the decision to calls for Dries and other members of the leadership to resign.

Even though it is not an easy question, I have reached a personal conclusion, and I would like to share the mental process that got me here.

The lines should always be drawn at actions and not thoughts

The first question that came to mind was: Why do we draw lines in the first place? Why do we have laws, constitutions, rules, and codes of conduct? Well, I believe it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If the purpose of a governing body is to ensure "liberty and the pursuit of happiness" to all its members, it will have different rules than if its purpose is to "maximize safety". There are always trade-offs and rules should always be examined through the lens of their purpose.

Even though the purpose of the US government is interpreted in different ways by different people, what is clear is that the constitution rightly protects freedom of expression. Why is this important? Well, many times in history we have become enamored with ideas and have "protected" them through many means. In many instances, to the point of committing terrible atrocities and to only find later on, through open discussion and investigation, that those ideas were wrong.

But aren't some ideas too dangerous to be allowed in any form? Yes, I believe that some ideas are more dangerous than others. In the category of most dangerous are those ideas that dehumanize a group. Once dehumanization takes places, it becomes much easier to abuse these groups. So, yes, I do not believe that all ideas are equally harmless, but I also do not believe that censorship helps the eradication of these terrible ideas in any way. As I previously expressed, bad ideas have survived and prospered in the past through propaganda, censorship, murder, etc. Only when better ideas came we were able to overcome. Bad ideas should be expressed openly and without prejudice, so better ideas can replace them, and get solidified through open discussion.

Censorship only pushes the fringe ideas to the edges of society where they will continue to thrive in their echo chambers.

I believe this is a clear cut argument in defense of freedom of expression, but even now I still hear many arguments of this form: "Yes, the US government protects freedom of expression for US citizens but groups like Drupal are private and they have the right to create their own rules for their own purposes, including restricting expression."

I do not disagree with all of that, after all, as I mentioned previously, rules should follow whatever purpose they are trying to accomplish, and the purpose of Drupal is much more specific than the purpose of the US government. According to Drupal's code of conduct, its purpose is to "[keep] Drupal a fun, welcoming, challenging, and fair place to play". Not surprisingly, the rest of the text in the code of conduct supports the idea that as long as ones actions are respectful to other members, everything is ok. But, this decision regarding Larry seem to violate the code of conduct's own guidelines and recommendations. So, we are at an impasse: Does excluding certain members with bad ideas enhances Drupal's purpose as expressed in its code of conduct, or does it diminish it?

Yes, it is possible that this "knowledge" about Larry will make some people uncomfortable, but whether Drupal is a more or less welcoming community with or without Larry is an open question that can only be answered by examining the individual interactions of people with Larry. But, what is not an open question is whether Drupal will become less welcoming as it continuous to mark certain ideas as UNWELCOMED.

These are my current thoughts, I would love to hear any counter arguments as I think this is an important issue, and as expressed, the best ideas will only come through the fire of open discussion.

[1] An open-source content managment system written in PHP

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I lost all interest in the community as a result of this whole affair. The Diversity and Inclusion initiative is poorly managed and dominated by ideologues who mistake their efforts for a wider attempt at achieving a more just and equitable society. Overall, the 'leaders' of this effort push rhetoric that falls into narrowly-defined class definitions that elevate preferences to the level of actionable offense. It can't really sustain itself without a constant series of these kinds of encounters, steer clear of them if you can.