I’m interested in other lobsters' take on this.
While I see his point about Model B being the cause of many problems, Model A also explains many interactions (less so in the specific case he gave).
For example, for several years I used “that’s gay” as a phrase synonymous with “that’s stupid” – a habit I picked up in online gaming. I didn’t change this until freshman year of college, when someone (teammate on a group project) asked me to stop because they felt it was a slur against them. It took a bit, but I changed that habit and haven’t used that phrase for several years. This situation falls pretty squarely under Model A (except the strawman 3rd point).
It seems to me that a good CoC would address both problems. I’m not super familiar with what CoCs typically look like these days, but I get the feeling from what I’ve heard second-hand that they often do address both problems.
I feel like I’m missing something.
Would a CoC have helped there? I think unintended low-level offensiveness like that is very real, but a CoC doesn’t help address it; I don’t think there being a code under which you could be excluded would have resulted in a more positive outcome in your example, and it could have resulted in a worse one.
It depends on the level the person uttering that stands: as a speaker, it would probably be followed by a stern word by the organisers and a request for an apology. As an attendee in an idle chat: probably only when someone feels they want to report it. As an organiser: you have something in hand to file a complaint.
Please note that CoCs are statements and there is always implementation following. The response to a CoC violation is not necessarily exclusion (I’d say, that is an extreme case), the usual path is a discussion with org team, where it is pretty clear where the org team stands.
I do implement CoCs on multiple occasions (I used to run 2 conferences, and run meetups) and the vast majority of all cases falls into the “let’s have a chat” category. And you know what’s interesting? That chat goes amazingly well when you enter the discussion with “we notified you before that we do watch out for those things”. Most people are “ok, you are right, thanks”.
It’s a common fallacy to believe that CoCs are there to kick people out quickly. There are cases, but they are rare. And even then, it’s better to have a publicly stated moral ground to base this on then just doing it at whim.
Also, finally: CoCs are not there to prevent things (they can’t, for most of the time). The are there to organise handling of issues.
And you know what’s interesting? That chat goes amazingly well when you enter the discussion with “we notified you before that we do watch out for those things”. Most people are “ok, you are right, thanks”.
In a way that it doesn’t without the thing being in the code? Interesting. That’s not what I’d expect.
The are there to organise handling of issues.
Sure, but you need a cood only to mediate disagreement, no? And to my mind it doesn’t seem like there was any actual disagreement in the original example, only ignorance.
Not having one often leads to discussions that this was not communicated and literally “where does it stand?”. CoCs are outward communication first and foremost. Which is also a reason why I am comfortable with organisers writing their own CoCs for specific kinds of events instead of just signing a standard one they are not fully in agreement with. (they should talk to others).
The problem is old, by the way, and the reason why Bulleting Boards had Board rules, even if people didn’t read them and concert/festival tickets often come with the house rules printed.
My lighthearted explanation of a CoC is this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD1KqbDdmuE . Think about that scene without that sign: it would have been the 500st discussion of the store owner that Stairway to Heaven is not appreciated in the store.
No, there are also cases where they should get active by themselves, so there is not necessarily disagreement involved.
CoCs are nothing like as explicit as bulletin board rules or that video though. The ones I’ve seen haven’t even attempted to define what constitutes “offensive” or “homophobic”. If @emallson saw nothing wrong in using “gay” that way, would a written rule against homophobia have changed that? I don’t see how it helps avoid “where does it stand?” - not trying to deny your experience, just I don’t see how it works.
That’s interesting. If I say something like “colorized grep output is gay” is that homophobic? I always assumed so, but I think I can make the argument that it’s not.
I think the A and B models explain a lot. Model A people find rules designed to deal with model B people ridiculously strict and harsh. Assurances that inadvertent violations will not result in immediate expulsion don’t help. The A people don’t need rules, just guidance, but they are aware of B people, and rules (of any sort) provide B people a framework to harass others. As the story goes, “I’m sorry Alice but you need to leave because Mallory says you’re abusive” is pretty bad.
This fear is likely exaggerated. I can’t honestly claim I’ve been unfairly punished for stupid things I’ve said, but nobody is rational about such things, and a CoC has more “teeth” than “mere” name calling. The degree of the injustice of false accusation weighs more heavily than its probability.
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I need to clean this argumentation up. What is starting to be clear is that we have two distinct patterns.
One is clumsiness, mistakes, cultural misunderstandings, etc. People aren’t perfect. In this pattern, A breaks some social code, and B tells him/her about it, and A self-corrects quickly. We see this happen all the time. This pattern isn’t just common, I think it’s essential. Without some friction, people don’t learn and socialize in an event.
Two is deliberate boundary violation, which bad actors specialize in. A breaks some social code, B tells him/her about it, and A rejects B’s accusations and launches counter attacks. We also see this happen, in some circles. This pattern is traumatic to B and to bystanders, who often feel helpless to intervene. A is so confident, and so skilled at looking innocent and sincere.
I tried to separate these two patterns because I think a CoC needs to embrace the first while defusing the second.
What I’ve seen is that these two patterns are mixed into one, conventionally. This means “anyone can be a harasser” (since we all make mistakes), and “it is a motiveless act” (again, since mistakes and general stupidity are not tactical).
Does this make sense?
I’m going to put the protocol text + argumentation on github, and work with pull requests. If anyone would like to help on this, please let me know. I appreciate the discussion here.
The thing with vague CoCs is that they lead, IME, to meta discussions at the parties like “I’d like to ask X about Y but it might be misintepreted so what do you guys think?” The general consensus always is that don’t be an a-hole, whatever you do.
That should be enough for an inclusive and gender-neutral CoC anyway - it doesn’t instill paranoia.
This has come up at a couple of recent conferences I’ve attended and think it’s more pattern than coincidence.
As for privacy, I agree. Said that, when they announce unfortunate violations (if there were any) I would consider announcing boadly the type of violation. Otherwise, as seen IRL, people will wonder if a bikini picture in their slides counted and his friends reassuring him he’d probably know if it did.
Maybe I’ve been to more civilized - or careful - conferences, but my gut tells me having a simple CoC with a code for misconduct would suffice and lend to a better atmosphere. Maybe point out that apologizing and accepting apologies can lead to better understanding of intentions, just in case.
This sounds like progress. I’m very glad to see someone taking a right of reply seriously.
To nitpick/rules-lawyer a bit: I don’t like the “sanctity” phrasing but eh. I think possibly some clarification around “sexualized language” - e.g. some people would consider any use of a gendered pronoun to be sexualized. Also there’s no such thing as a “safe” quantity of alcohol (any amount is a liver toxin) so that one could be phrased better.
The organizers shall be aware of the risk of “date rape” drugs.
Is our situation really that bad?
If they receive information about a participant who claims to have suffered from blackouts, or who behaves in uncharacteristic ways causing hurt to themselves or others, they shall assist the participant with a medical blood test for drugs, within 24 hours.
If someone is suffering from blackouts, [s]he must receive medical attention immediately, whatever the cause, and if there’s a suspicion of involuntary drug taking, police should be contacted. It’s one of the many items on the list that should end with “and then call the police and tell them that a crime has likely been committed”, but doesn’t.
I was specifically asked to add that clause by someone who’d been drugged a while back at an event in, let’s say, Bogota. The police were involved, and they treated the person as a criminal. Back home they got a drug test. They were not the only person who had blackouts.
It’s not our situation that is bad, the world just has its nasty aspects. There are countries where such drugs are easy to get hold of, so predators are more likely to try them (and we know at least 1% in any given group is likely a predator). The point of “we will investigate blackouts” is to warn predators away from such tactics, and protect against such cases if they do happen.
I don’t even know what value filing complaints with police would do in such cases. Uniforms don’t scare such people.
I was specifically asked to add that clause by someone who’d been drugged a while back at an event
Thanks for the explanation. This is… Unpleasant to hear.
It’s not our situation that is bad, the world just has its nasty aspects.
The world is not uniform, and its various aspects are more common in some places than others. So I’d still say our situation is bad, at least according to my impression of the rest of the society I live in.
But threat of punishment may scare them, or, failing that, the punishment may remove them from the society. (Granted, it’s not as simple when your events are hopping jurisdictions.) What happened to the suspect in “Bogota”?
I’m commenting on this topic because apparently I don’t know what’s good for me.
Model A seems to apply to the behaviors that make people feel unsafe, whereas Model B applies to those that actually make people unsafe.
For example, while it’s true that most rapists usually aren’t “out of the bushes” rapists, but rather are often men of middling or high social status (see: Bill Cosby) actually know their victims, they aren’t just guys who had too much to drink or who didn’t know better. They’re serial predators who know that they’re harming people, and don’t care. There are no “Model A” rapists. So if you’re looking at the worst behaviors, Model B applies. A Code of Conduct isn’t going to make a predator say, “Maybe I should stop raping”.
All of that said, PTSD and triggering are real things, and they’re things that we should try to prevent and if a Code of Conduct and the modifications to peoples' behaviors are going to prevent us from triggering people at no cost to ourselves, then we should consider that. I don’t condone the behavior of Adria Richards (whom I also consider to be a predator, but dealing in social rather than physical violence) but I have come to realize that some peoples' experiences with sexuality have been so negative that it’s best just not to, say, present sexualized slides in a conference talk. I’m not a fan of the emotional left (e.g., anti-vaxxers who oppose vaccines because they are “corporate”, never mind that they work) and the coddling of Millennials in college, and I’m especially not a fan of the getting-offended-as-performance-art (see: Yale) but there is a small percentage of the population for whom, and this is through no fault of their own, certain images and patterns of behavior cause them extreme stress, because of things that they’ve experienced in the past. And we ought to be aware of that, and try to modify all of our behaviors (hence Codes of Conduct, which apply more to the Model A “microaggressions”) in order to avoid having that effect on people. I swear and I tell offensive jokes all the time, because most humor is transgressive in some way, but I’m not going to tell an offensive joke in an official capacity, such as when delivering a talk at a conference, or when managing a team.
All of this said, the concept of a “safe space” is a bit bizarre to me, because life in inherently unsafe. Crossing the street is dangerous. We shouldn’t have people feeling differentially unsafe, much less persecuted, but total safety is unachievable. What conferences and events should strive to achieve is a respectful space, because that’s more realistic.
Just because something has an inherent property, that doesn’t mean that we cannot make it safer in some aspects. Once you cross a certain (individual) threshold, a space is considered “safe to go” by those individuals. That’s very much a thing, and not at all bizarre. You see it all the time. Speak to people that never considered going to a foreign country until people explained them how to behave there.
Sure, if you take the word as “nothing can happen here”, it’s obviously not possible. But “I can go on a tech conference with a reasonable expectation of a speaker not showing gory pictures” is very much a possibility. I won’t help me at crossing the street in front of the venue.
Also, a “safe space” means that there is someone around that cares and have made their mind up about being supportive. I’m surprised how many organisers don’t take that into account. I did have the case where I ran into an unsafety issue at a conference and the worst thing was the organisers being completely disorganised about how to handle these cases.