Mark Smith's Journal

Work related musings of a geek.

The meritocracy is harmful.

[staff profile] mark
First, let's start with the genesis of this post:


The whole thread is worth a read (in the sad train wreck sort of way), but I want to call out one particular quote by Linus Torvalds. If you aren't familiar with him, he's the guy who started Linux. He's widely respected and revered in the circles of Open Source and technology and what-have-you.

> Btw, Joseph, you're a quality example of why I detest the github
> interface. For some reason, github has attracted people who have zero
> taste, don't care about commit logs, and can't be bothered.
> The fact that I have higher standards then makes people like you make
> snarky comments, thinking that you are cool.
> You're a moron.
>                    Linus

This is unacceptable behavior on a peer to peer level, let alone from someone who wields as much power as Linus does. Publicly humiliating someone is ridiculous and speaks to a broader problem in the world of open source and technology in general.

If President Obama were to speak like this to someone, it would be extremely damaging to him politically without some very immediate and strong damage control. Power puts a certain onus on you to behave "above reproach" in ways that normal people are not held to. (Although, IMO, normal people should hold themselves to such a standard -- it's just that the public generally won't.)

Returning to this particular issue: what do you think will happen next with Joseph here? I expect there are two likely outcomes: either he will abandon his interest in open source/kernel development/technology and go somewhere else where he will be appreciated and be able to grow and learn, or he will continue on and learn to fight fire with fire and perpetuate this nonsense on to other people. After all, everybody wants to be Linus Torvalds -- the guy is famous and incredible! -- so clearly this is what we should all act like, right?

The excuse that many people offer here is that this is all a meritocracy. I.e., if Joseph had been worthy (note that this is defined here as "uses a 72-column line wrap boundary"), he wouldn't have been the subject of such an outburst! Everybody can learn from this and Joseph can go be a better man and eventually he will have a place in our society built on our noble ideals of ranking-by-IQ! It'll be awesome!

But in reality, what have we built here except a different way to wage war and hurt each other? Instead of guns and bombs, we use our voice: the pen is mightier than the sword.

Do we really want to be the proponents of a society that accepts and encourages such treatment of our fellow men and women? (Oh, sorry -- just men. We don't really have women here because we have built a system on Othering and exclusion and harassment and we consider it acceptable and then stand around wondering where all the women went. But that's a topic for a different day.)

When put in those terms, though, you probably disagree with me. "No way! That's now how it is at all!"

But look around. Linus Torvalds, arguably one of the most powerful men in open source, just descended from his ivory tower and graced us with his presence and wrote what he did. And nothing will come of this because nobody cares. Well, nobody who matters cares. If you have any doubt, let's go back to something from February, where Linus said this:

Whoever moron thought that it's "good security" to require the root password for everyday things like this is mentally diseased.

So here's a plea: if you have anything to do with security in a distro, and think that my kids (replace "my kids" with "sales people on the road" if you think your main customers are businesses) need to have the root password to access some wireless network, or to be able to print out a paper, or to change the date-and-time settings, please just kill yourself now. The world will be a better place.

(Source: https://plus.google.com/102150693225130002912/posts/1vyfmNCYpi5)

If you look at the bottom of that link, you might note that Linus has gotten over 6,400 upvotes for suggesting that some people should go kill themselves. I went and read through many of the comments and could only find four that called him out for his text. Out of hundreds of comments from people agreeing with him or otherwise finding what he said to have some sort of merit and worth.

There is something extremely wrong with the world of open source and technology when this kind of behavior from one of our leaders is considered acceptable. It's heartbreaking, honestly.

What I'd like to end this post with is some sort of solution, some way to fix the problem. But I don't know what it is and I don't know where to find it. Instead, I will just do my damnedest to make sure that my little corner of the world, Dreamwidth and the other projects I touch, hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior and expectations from our contributors and staff.

Thanks for reading.
12.05.2012 12:34 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Posted by [personal profile] space_dinosaur_blue
While these trends are a society wide problem, it sure seems to be particularly nasty in and around geekdom. Geekdom includes the technologist, I guess.

There's some sort of social memetic that values acidic communication and outright cruelty in the name of "efficiency". The thinking seems to go something like this... why 'bullshit' around with being nice, when we can be mean and aggressive, and shame or drive away all the pathetic annoying people who are holding us back?

Geeks often seem to adopt this method of social engineering with a kind of self righteousness. They are, after all, 'smart people'. Who is better justified in picking up a giant stick and beating on stupid people than the ones who are legitimately intelligent?

12.05.2012 06:06 am (UTC)

(no subject)

vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] vass
I suspect that for a lot of geeks, it goes something like this: "social skills do not come easily to me. Therefore social skills are not valuable. I will not work to acquire them."