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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.
11.05.2012 11:08 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

fyreharper: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] fyreharper
Thanks for being one of the folks who does insist on - and hold themselves to - a higher standard of behavior. It is one of the things I love about this place :)
11.05.2012 11:11 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

sara: S (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] sara
...we don't have a thumbs up button here, but if we did, I would be ticking it.

I can't even imagine how stuff like this would play in any sector I've ever worked in. I think mostly people would just sit there and boggle.
11.05.2012 11:19 pm (UTC)

meritocracy is not the problem

Posted by [identity profile] https://me.yahoo.com/a/NgO6flxx0ZboB7dfDM12BDmiGuHRv47U#a7c01
meritocracy is not the problem, and to be honest, a world that coddles the mediocre and tells them they're good enough the way they are isn't any more appealing than the one you set forth.

the two real problems with meritocracy are
1) the fear of not measuring up - this is not something to be feared, no one comes out perfect, not even linus as you so aptly demonstrate. not measuring up in a particular area just means you have something to work on and improve. this really comes down to fact that people don't always receive criticism well, which leads into...
2) the way criticism is doled out - there are good ways and bad ways to offer criticism. if one offers it in a bad way then one is deserving of criticism and in that way you are applying meritocracy to linus.

the ideal of meritocracy is a good ideal, but the practice is not always performed very well.
12.05.2012 12:13 am (UTC)

(no subject)

exor674: Computer Science is my girlfriend (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] exor674
If it wasn't too much work, I'd totally look into running a *BSD on my netbook about now <_< ( Okay, that's probably a bit of an over-reaction but )
12.05.2012 12:24 am (UTC)

(no subject)

princessofgeeks: daniel from sg1 lectures from a big book with big gestures (pontificate by magnavox)
Posted by [personal profile] princessofgeeks
Yes.

I was saddened all over again reading all the glowing obituaries of Steven Jobs for this same reason. Yes, he was a visionary. A fantastic marketer. But apparently he was also really cruel and hard to work with.

Let's emulate just the good stuff. Not the bad stuff our leaders do.
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 11:08 am (UTC)

(no subject)

pauamma: Cartooney crab holding drink (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] pauamma
One thing I'm wondering (about the message you quoted near the top, not other LT quotes further down): I don't see anyone in that thread (before that message) with "Joseph" as their username or first name, so I'm not sure who he's actually attacking, unless he misread (or is deliberately mangling) jaseemabid (Jaseem Abid)'s first name.
12.05.2012 11:43 am (UTC)

(no subject)

jeshyr: Blessed are the broken. Harry Potter. (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] jeshyr
Yes.

And thank you for saying this - too much hurt is done by people ignoring those like Linus as they abuse others. It's good to see people I look up to are speaking out when this stuff happens :)
13.05.2012 01:39 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

dani_the_girl: (Default)
Posted by [personal profile] dani_the_girl
Thanks for calling this behaviour out - this post here is one of the reasons Dreamwidth is a great project.
Edited 13.05.2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
15.05.2012 05:49 am (UTC)

This is an example of leadership failure

Posted by [identity profile] taw.myopenid.com
Pure and simple. Tolvalds demonstrated a leadership failure. A quality leader *never* acts in this fashion. I have a low tolerance for amateurs in a leadership role... for all the reasons this just demonstrated.

Terrible. I hope that guy absorbs this, recognizes it for what it is, shrugs it off, and continues to contribute.

Thanks for this post. It needed to be called out.
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)