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    Looking at the facts: Sarah Sharp's crusade culture linux preining.info

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    Wait. “He might squish you without ever even noticing.” is “advocating for physical intimidation and violence”? I thought the problem was Linus was a dick, but the problem is he made a joke?

    I guess I shouldn’t trust this article either (though it does have the benefit of actually quoting and linking sources) but I can’t quite bring myself to research it further.

    (For the record, I don’t think “sjw” is a productive term. This would come across as more balanced without the labeling.)

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      As others have noted, this is a one-sided cherry pick of dozens of conversations over a long time. It does link, further down, to another of Sarah’s posts - http://marc.info/?l=linux-kernel&m=137391145411685&w=2 - where she links to examples of Linus being abrasive in general. I don’t think this is over any single incident. The mailing list archives are public, of course, if people really want to individually dig through them…

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        Something I’ve learned after observing a few incidents is that it’s counter productive to omit details to avoid drama. Yes, people will nitpick and say “not that bad”. But allowing the “other” side to identify and frame the incident means they get to say “not bad at all”.

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          That’s a useful insight. It’s so frustrating, also, to be dragged into the trenches to bitterly dispute the smallest things, over and over, and know that for every day it drags on, a certain percentage of additional people are going to decide they’re angry at you forever. It feels like this wasn’t always how the world worked, but that was probably youthful naivete…

          But that sounds correct, that trying to avoid conflict is counterproductive if there’s someone who’s determined to pursue it.

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            I don’t mean to suggest ongoing engagement. Consider:

            Alice says something bad happened in vague terms. Bob counters “here’s what really happened” with verifiable details. Bob is more credible.

            Alice says something bad happened, but provides a fair bit of detail. Bob counters “you said this happened ‘early last year’ but it was actually July and that’s the second half”. This is the kind of petty disagreement I’ve seen a lot, and which I’m sure frustrates you. But this doesn’t require Alice to explain. From the outside, it’s apparent if Bob had a good argument, he wouldn’t focus on such small details. He is, if anything, adding credibility to Alice’s account.

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              This wasn’t always how the world worked, and it still isn’t how most of the world works. We can decide what kinds of communities we want to create and participate in.

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          For the record, I don’t think “sjw” is a productive term.

          I’ll go much further than that: I’ll happily ignore anyone who uses it non-ironically, as they are either arguing in bad faith or hopelessly ignorant of social issues.

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            Are you claiming that the cluster of positions doesn’t exist? Or that the term is a poor label for it? Or just that anyone using the term is likely to disagree with you?

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              Like many exonyms it’s used to label the “other” and implies some mix of disagreement and deliberate misunderstanding.

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                The term was originally an inside one, no?

                Any term for a group is othering. I don’t see how SJW is qualitatively different from socialist, emo, fundamentalist, yuppie, quaker, millenial, or any number of terms we seem happy with.

                ((And all the proposed alternatives I’ve seen are too far from neutral. My dad objected to being called “Roman Catholic” - as far as he was concerned he was just “Christian” and his church was just “the Church”. But Protestants quite rightly refused to go along with that.))

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                  No, I wasn’t there to see but I’ve been told it was never an inside term. Attempts to claim it do exist (“social justice rogue”, “social justice healer”), which if anything I take as confirmation nobody identified with it until it was imposed.

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                    “Fundamentalist” was originally an endonym; “Quaker”, “yuppie” originally exonyms. I’m not sure about “socialist”, “emo”, or “millennial” (I suspect @lmm just invented “millenial”.) I don’t know where “SJW” came from for sure, but certainly the people I saw use it first were using it pejoratively.

                    I don’t think endonyms can plausibly be said to be inherently othering, although it depends on circumstances. I still wouldn’t dare to use “nigger”, and I’m still wary of “queer”.

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                      “Millenial” is an exonym that has become understood by the group it references because of how many headlines it’s appeared in, I’m sorry to report. It’s really explicitly an exonym, because those articles are written very much for an audience who identifies as not-millenial, and wants to hear about how the kids these days are on the wrong lawns and so on.

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                        “millenial” was a typo yeah. I blame my phone.

                        They were just a bunch of group labels that came to mind; most of them I have no idea myself whether endo- or exo-. It doesn’t seem to make much difference though, at least as far as I can see. (Indeed I can’t tell which you’re saying “nigger” is).

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                          I thought maybe you meant people who drove the Mazda car.

                          1. 2

                            Oh - I belatedly realized there was a spelling issue. :)

                            I’d say that exonyms are almost always for the purpose of othering, but that whether it’s harmful to use the term is a separate question that depends on the power dynamic. If I spend a long time writing complaints about “multi-billionaires”, I don’t think it could be argued that I’m hurting anyone but myself.

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                              Oh, I failed to answer your question. “Nigger” originated as an exonym (obviously) for African people and is now used almost exclusively by African-Americans, though not exactly endonymically, plus the occasional bigoted white person who uses it pejoratively.

                        2. 3

                          Oh, maybe. I usually see “SJW and proud of it” as taunting or trying to reclaim it. Perhaps it works as an ingroup label, but less so when outsiders try to apply it.

                          If I needed a pejorative, I’d probably go with “cry baby” or perhaps “busybody”, something that attaches more to actions than political alignment. If I need a positive label, I’m not sure what I’d use. Perhaps “people”. I guess it depends on what I’m trying to say about them, or why they need to be identified.

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                        It depends on what you think people mean by it.

                        In my experience, people who attempt to justify it will give one of two definitions: it’s either “people who are too strongly in support of social justice” (which is IMO a contradiction in terms) or “people whose pursuit of social justice is in bad faith or in fact works against it” (which is an exceedingly small group of people).

                        Regardless of how they try to define it, the way it’s actually used is almost always “anyone with more leftist tendencies than me”, irrespective of the point of reference (in my experience, typically right-wing at least as far as feminism and anti-racism go). Whether the group of people the stated definition applies to actually exists is beside the point, because the set of people who may be labeled “SJW” is the overwhelming majority of people everywhere. Thus in terms of criticism of the term itself, I guess I would say it’s completely meaningless, and the person using it is revealing far more about themselves than whoever they’re trying to label.

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                          Any attempt to draw a line on the political spectrum is vulnerable to the same criticism. There’s some truth to “anyone to the left of me is a socialist, anyone to the right of me is a fascist”. Or indeed to “we’re all Keynesians now”. But that doesn’t make the terms meaningless.

                          I guess I just haven’t seen any slipperiness of the term in practice. Even if there’s no formal definition, I think everyone means the same thing when they say “SJW”. I haven’t seen people getting confused and talking past each other. Nor have I seen anyone saying “I’m not an SJW, those guys are the SJWs” - I’ve seen people who objected to the term, or even claimed it was meaningless, but they always seemed to understand it perfectly.

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                            There’s no attempt by anybody to make “SJW” into a “line on the political spectrum”. I’ve seen it applied to people all over the political spectrum, including some fairly hardcore conservatives who happened to make the mistake of expressing an insufficiently unsympathetic opinion. (As an example, m00t was declared an SJW when he kicked Gamergate off of 4chan because they were flooding it with material he considered off-topic or against the rules.)

                            And I know exactly what people mean when they say “SJW” (namely, “person expressing even slightly more sympathy or empathy than I do”). I don’t mean “meaningless” as in “poorly-defined”, rather as in “not useful”. In actual definition, it might as well be a synonym for “person”, which hardly needs more synonyms. The person using it has done little more than place themselves on the political spectrum (to the right of whoever they’re attempting to label) while making a very blatantly unjustified attempt to discredit their opponent.

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                              Yeah, I mean, fundamentally, the biggest issue with the term is that it’s saying “you have the view you have just expressed” as if that’s a way of dismissing that view by proving it unimportant or something. :)

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                                That is… much conciser than anything I’ve written so far, thanks. =)

                                My point is that by making this non-statement, people have only said anything about themselves, and it’s nothing that indicates they should be paid any attention.

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                                  No problem, haha, I’ve given it some thought. :) And yes, I agree.

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                                Spectrum is a simplification, sure. Not everyone on the economic right is religious. Not every anarchist is on the left, or on the right. Localism draws from all over the political spectrum. Still these are positions with meaning.

                                I don’t know why you’re classifying moot as a hardcore conservative (well, I can guess maybe his views on gun legislation?). What I’ve read of his has been pretty nuanced, Free speech isn’t a left-right thing, at least traditionally - the culture 4chan is most reminiscent of, at least for me, is that of a proto-Internet system belonging to Whole Earth, hardly a hardcore conservative group.

                                And his actions regarding Gamergate were an enormous departure from the preceding nine years of 4chan - to an outsider, banning a subject probably doesn’t sound like much, but it had literally never happened before, and the absence of rules like that was in many ways a defining characteristic of 4chan. Heck, moot explicitly compared Gamergate to Project Chanology - which was never even close to being banned. Banning Gamergate discussion was probably his biggest public political act; it’s absolutely fair to infer that he feels pretty strongly about it, and likely has similar views on other issues to other anti-Gamergate folk. Which is to say, SJWs.

                                Again, “conservative” or “socialist” is equally well just “person to my right or left that I want to discredit”, or indeed “you have the view that you have just expressed”.

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                        Here’s a thing which is probably clearer: Linus did at some points call for people to be retroactively aborted, that means - wishing for their death. Obviously, he will never be able to get his wish (or even actually have a real desire), or hire someone to at least make sure that error is “corrected”.

                        Still, wishing someones elses death is a spitting insult across almost all cultures. It cuts to the very core of a personality (its existence and protection from harm). This is the nuke of insults. Wishing someone physical harm is at least the artillery. To anyone who has ever experienced physical harm, doubly so. It’s a well documented strategy of intimidation to never actually follow through any threats. Threats already work well without that.

                        The great thing about insults is that you can play the “but it’s just a joke” card as often as you want and leave insecurity at the other side. In a circle of friends, that works somewhat, in a public forum, it doesn’t. There is a reason why diplomats take every insult for face value: it’s the only way to provide clarity and stop the joking-game. If Linus wants to make a joke to another maintainer, he can still resort to the backchannel where these things can be clarified easier if needed.

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                          Was he being literal, or just hyperbolic, theatrical, and angry? I suspect the latter. It certainly doesn’t sound like a joke - more like an over-the-top expression of frustration. People may reasonably disagree with this as an expression of culture, but it seems like enough of a consensus has formed that this is the culture of Linux kernel development, for better or worse.

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                            Does that make a difference? It causes the same damage no matter whether he meant to or not.

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                              If someone is upset by it, they should probably seek clarification from the person who said the thing that they were upset by. If it wasn’t personal or literal, how could someone be bothered by it? Especially an experienced LK contributor who knows how rough-and-tumble that culture gets?

                              (That being said, I’m not part of the LK culture so I’m not going to claim the right to prescribe how things should go there. That’s for the group members to decide, based on their status and weight within the group.)

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                                It’s really not about individuals being offended or not; it’s about the effect it has. Especially when it’s the founder of a community who speaks like this, it sends a strong message about what behavior is tolerated in that community.

                                I do agree that people outside that community don’t get to decide what happens in it. But nobody’s trying to do that - people are leaving, and apparently starting their own efforts which they intend to run differently.

                                1. [Comment removed by author]

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                                    Let me be clearer: Offense is the wrong metric. Who is offended and how much, has nothing to do with what is wrong here.

                                    I don’t think I expressed any view that was even an argument at all, let alone on anyone’s behalf - my own or anyone else’s.

                                    I’m baffled by this question at several levels.

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                            Pro-Choice advocates will tell you a fetus is not a human. Thus he didn’t wish their death. It’s more like he wished they’d never existed.

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                          culture tag?

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                            The whole message: http://marc.info/?l=linux-kernel&m=137390362508794&w=2

                            Using humor to advocate for a poor managerial style can still be advocating for that style. Humor gives the speaker a deniable position by later being able to claim they were “just joking around”. This humor is easy to see as consent–or at least implication–that this particular managerial style won’t be policed.

                            Sarah is correct. That behavior is unprofessional. Obviously.

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                              While what you say about managerial styles is true in the abstract, it isn’t applicable in this particular case. When Linus says, “The guy is a freakish giant. He should scare you. He might squish you without ever even noticing,” he is not deniably advocating that kernel contributors should “violence”, as Sarah said. We can infer this from the fact that there are no known cases in the last 24 years of one kernel contributor being physically crushed by another, nor of Linus physically crushing anybody, so this is not a management style that is currently in use in the project, nor one that Linus has experience with or an inclination for. Rather, Linus is making fun of Greg’s unusually tall body, using humor and countersignaling to decrease everyone’s level of discomfort with Linus and Ingo substantively criticizing Greg’s conduct, and also symbolically reasserting his dominance over Greg. (You’ll note that Greg didn’t respond by making fun of Linus.)

                              When Linus says, “You may need to learn to shout at people,” he is not deniably advocating that kernel contributors should use “physical intimidation”, as Sarah said. We can infer this from the fact that the subject at hand is people emailing patches to Greg from around the planet, which he normally answers by email, just like Linus and Ingo. It is deeply implausible that Linus might mean that Greg should respond to a patch by buying plane tickets, showing up at somebody’s office, and literally shouting at them in order to physically intimidate them. Rather, Linus and Ingo are advocating that Greg should be more critical of patches submitted to him, metaphorically “shouting” by responding to them more frequently with critical emails.

                              I recognize that you may be skeptical of the above analysis, but if so, I think you should take my word for it that you lack some basic skills necessary to understand what is happening in this mail thread. Continuing to argue that Sarah was right on these points will reduce your credibility in general. In fact, your best available move by far is to claim that you didn’t mean that Sarah was correct, perhaps because you were joking or because you weren’t talking about the obviously false claims of hers I picked apart in the above paragraphs.

                              Perhaps we should leave professional behavior to the clergy, judges, prostitutes, physicians, professors — actual professionals, whose role as often as not has been to institutionalize and defend forms of oppression — and instead try to behave like ideal hackers, recognizing the spark of brilliance in any work of ingenuity that comes before us, even if the author triggers some stereotype you are afflicted with — whether it’s women, or Indian people, or Chinese people, or autistic people, or insane people, or transgender people, or whatever, that you’re biased against. It’s not just laudable altruism; it’s the only way to not look like the idiot Postgres committer who argued against Meredith Patterson’s proposed contribution on the basis that she was a woman and therefore couldn’t possibly do it.

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                                I’d like to back you up here. I was chatting with someone who worked in a particular division of Microsoft quite some years ago - late 90s, I think - and he described the management style in a neighboring division as “fear and intimidation”. The specific example he gave is of a high-level executive who literally picked up his (large, CRT) monitor and threw it in rage at the wall to make his point. The executive did not get reprimanded for this. That is a physical intimidation move.

                                A management culture which intertwines with physical intimidation makes actionable threats (and plausibly carries them out on occasion). A management style such as Torvalds focuses on bluster, which is more impressive in the barking than the biting (although I find his legendary emails unpleasant myself and don’t care for bluster), and bluster is so well understood to be practically harmless that there is case law around it (although I can’t find it myself with a minute of Googling).

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                                  Humor is ambiguous. If someone feels singled out, threatened, or hurt by the behavior of authority figures, can we blame them for calling out the behavior? Or leaving the community outright? How many smart hackers get turned away from the community because the effort needed to participate is too great because of natural human emotional responses?

                                  My point was not to highlight the intent of Linus' actions, merely another way of understanding the damage it can cause. And I think that damage is obvious.

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                                    Gina Linkins talk at ApacheCon 2015 How to Thoroughly Insult and Offend People in Open Source (video) highlights some of the research that shows the damage that poor behaviour can have on a community.

                                  2. -6

                                    No record of actual crushing perhaps, but certainly of violence. Remember ReiserFS?

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                                      Yeah. It’s scary how there were no consequences for that, and the guy continues to happily code within the kernel community.

                                      No, wait. I’m lying. He’s rotting in jail, and even if he weren’t, he’d be an outcast. It’s almost like the kernel community doesn’t condone actual violence.

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                                        I don’t mean to imply that Linux kernel contributors have never engaged in violence, just that there is no evidence that they have done so as a strategy for managing contributions to the kernel. Hans Reiser is perhaps the most extreme example of this: since he planned and executed the cold-blooded murder of Nina Reiser, he was clearly able and willing to use physical violence in general, but I have never heard a suggestion that he ever used physical violence to manage kernel contributions. And he had the opportunity! He had physically co-located kernel contributors who worked for him as employees!

                                  3. 15

                                    The problem of this post begins with the title: “Looking at the facts”, while it is actually a collection of excerpts the author uses to explain his interpretation of events.

                                    If he were truly “looking at the facts”, he’d just collect Sarahs and Linus many conversations without too much commentary.

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                                      While I found meta discussions surrounding the incident interesting, I am also interested in the incident itself. The link is a biased source, but it does quote and link to original posts.

                                      If you know of better sources, please comment!

                                      1. 8

                                        I’m not sure whether we should focus on that incident too much and I think that’s why many people don’t. It’s the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.

                                        Sarah’s opposition to Linus and Linus way of reacting to that opposition in a jerky way is well documented over the years. It’s the sum of all those things.

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                                          That definitely sheds a whole new light on what happened. I can’t believe that original conversation even took place.

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                                          I stopped reading when the author used “SJW” as a pejorative.

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                                            Tincho responded to this blog post with one of his own, and I loved this little gem he included in a footnote: “At this point, using the term SJW in a discussion should equate to a Godwin, and mean that you lost the argument”


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                                            Using “SJW” disqualifies you from having a constructive conversation. It’s dismissive, pejorative, and it’s a code-word for “bitch.” It signals that you’re only interested in addressing your echo chamber.

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                                              Yes, yes, let’s silence people out of hand and dismiss their viewpoints because of their choice of words.

                                              SJW is a term that, for better or for worse, has certain connotations making it useful for friend and foe alike when addressing certain audiences. Feminist, for example, isn’t quite the same as SJW–consider the ongoing issues with intersectionality and its application in that community.

                                              It’s a valid term, and treating it like some insult is not particularly helpful.

                                            2. 2

                                              Wow. This whole “article” reads just like the horrible posts on LKML.

                                              1. 0

                                                I was pretty shocked to find this post at the top of lobste.rs after reading it. I thought this has become HN. Thanks everyone for downvoting it while I read. Faith in lobste.rs restored.

                                                1. -15

                                                  Good riddance, Sarah Sharp! Reading the thread, it was a completely normal discussion until she started with her Cultural Marxist crap. I’d love to see what she actually committed to the Kernel in terms of code. Anybody up to the task? :D

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                                                    Good riddance, Sarah Sharp! Reading the thread, it was a completely normal discussion until she started with her Cultural Marxist crap.

                                                    Yet more useless terms that only to signify “the other.”

                                                    I’d love to see what she actually committed to the Kernel in terms of code. Anybody up to the task? :D


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                                                      Cultural Marxist crap

                                                      What does this even mean?

                                                      1. 3

                                                        I would recommend not going down that rabbit hole. Suffice it to say it’s a term used by assholes to disparage people who are not assholes.