Codes Of Conduct

It’s a day ending in “y”, which means somebody in the technology community has to be butthurt over all the mean nasty things the big evil social justice warriors are saying. Today’s outrage is brought to us by an anonymous developer who is really unhappy with pushes to include codes of conduct as part of open source projects:

Religious wars in software used to be about a fat bearded man named He-macs wrestling a pencil-neck named Vimmy over what text editor to use, but now FOSS devs are concerned about making sure marginalized human beings feel “welcome,” as if someone was trying to physically block newcomers. That opens the door to social justice and other buzzwords that prigs use to feel better about themselves, and utopian visions documented in “Codes of Conduct,” or CoC.

The sentiment behind a CoC is that there is no excuse for being an ass, which sounds great until you realize that only a select few people get to decide who’s an ass. So when open source leaders want to stop you from doing free work they can pretend that its your fault for violating their code instead of admitting they never really wanted to include just anybody. They’ve managed to make exclusivity look inclusive, and it makes me crazy that so few people see that.

To read the developer’s screed you’d think the concept of codes of conduct is something new cooked up by social justice activists to marginalize the old hats in the open source community. But codes of conduct are nothing new, in fact we all live with them every day. And pushing for codes of conduct that forward your interests is also nothing new.

For example, do you wear pants when you go out in public? I’m guessing, unfortunately, most people reading this will answer yes. Wearing pants in public is the norm. Why is that? Because it’s a code of conduct that most people have decided to abide by.

Here’s another example, when you walk into a lecture do you immediately start screaming obscenities at the speaker? Most people reading this will probably answer no. When you attend a lecture it’s the norm to shut the fuck up until the speaker is ready to take questions. This is another code of conduct that most people have decided to abide by.

Getting more specific than that, most employees sign an agreement when they take on a job that includes, amongst other things, a code of conduct. Such novel ideas that are commonly included in these agreements are prohibitions against sexually harassing co-workers, showing up on time, and expectations that you won’t be a raging asshole when caught in a disagreement with co-workers.

None of the above mentioned codes of conduct are set in stone either. They’re constantly subject to change based on the desires of a vocal subgroup within the overall community. I know a lot of programmers that have spent countless hours bitching about companies that require employees to dress business casual. These programmers want to show up in their jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies. By and large they have succeeded as the generally acceptable attire for working in the field of software development has become more lax.

Codes of conduct within societies have also changed (and do so about once per generation). The attire most men and women wear today would have been considered almost entirely unacceptable merely a generation or two ago. Our grandparents probably think men today dress like slobs and women dress like whores. Today less than a suit and tie is generally considered acceptable attire for a man in public just as a dress that doesn’t come down to the ankles is considered acceptable attire for a woman in public.

Another societal code of conduct that has changed over the last generation or two is the acceptable use of force. Not too long ago it was considered somewhat acceptable to deck a guy who was acting like a complete asshole. If the person who was hit complained response they would have received would have been some variation of, “You asked for it.” Today almost any use of force can result in assault charges and/or civil lawsuits.

Now people are trying to introduce certain codes of conduct into open source projects. This shouldn’t be surprising to anybody since the number of software developers is increasing and that increase is carrying a lot of diversity that didn’t previously exist. As is common in such situations the old guard and the new guard aren’t seeing eye to eye. Both sides want things to be a certain way and they’re arguing passionately over their differences. In all likelihood things will end up shaking out somewhere in the middle.

So what can you do if you don’t want to be effected by these changes? The same thing people throughout history have done when they didn’t want to be effected by changes, break off and do your own thing. If you work on your own project or for your own business you can set whatever rules you like. What’s that you say? You don’t want to? Tough shit. When you work for somebody, whether it’s for free on an open source project or for pay at a business, you have to play by the rules set down by the higher ups. The only way you can truly play by your own rules is to be your own boss.