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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:

https://github.com/torvalds/linux/pull/17

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.
26.12.2016 10:42 pm (UTC)

3 Thumbs Up from Me!

Posted by [personal profile] jazzyjj
My Mac's battery is running low, but I'll try to be brief here. This post really got me thinking about something. Long story short, this exact thing seems to be happening to a large extent throughout the blindness community. I use the term "community" loosely here. I honestly think the reason for this has to do with a lot of peoples' comfort level at the mere fact of being blind/visually impaired. I could honestly write all night about this, but I won't because my charger is in my apartment and I'm not currently in my apartment. But needless to say, I totally agree with this post. It's a crying shame that people of differing abilities are being treated like this. Long live Dreamwidth!





I'm editing this reply now that I'm back in the pad. The primary reason I chose to create a journal on Dreamwidth was the accessibility of your platform with Apple's on-board screen reader on the Mac. But I have also found everybody to be responsive and mature here. My primary motivation for posting a comment here in the first place was something that has been happening over on AppleVis, a website for discussion of Apple's screen reader and screen magnification. There's a link to AppleVis over at my journal, for those interested in taking a gander at the site. It seems that for whatever reason, nobody is responding to my queries over there anymore. I suspect this is in part due to what I previously mentioned here, i.e., the comfort level of a lot of people with low or no vision. Please note I'm purposely not including myself when I say that. I was born blind, and have always had a very supportive network of family and friends. But I think the other part of this has to do with a certain user over there who constantly makes spelling and grammar errors, and thinks absolutely nothing of it. I've been on Dw since 2014, and I've yet to see a single error like this. So it appears that you not only take all the administrative stuff very seriously, but you also let very few if any spelling and/or grammar errors slip through the cracks. Don't get me wrong: I'm fine with one or two mistakes like this here and there, but repeated instances of it are not okay.
Edited (added some thoughts.) 29.12.2016 03:02 am (UTC)