mr. r. s. braythwayt,
esquire


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What I've Learned From Failure
What I've Learned From Failure


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Are We An Unjust People?

Good Sirs:

No sarcasm or concern trolling here, I want to address something very important about our reaction to recent events concerning Pycon and Adria Richards. Notice that I say our reaction. Whether you or I like it or not, we’re all lumped together for good and for bad when it comes to “Men in Tech,” and it is our blended response that people judge.

I may not agree with you, I may reject your choices violently, but I cannot completely distance myself from them. It’s a lot like saying that I’m not responsible for Prime Minister Stephen Harper because I voted for the other guy. That’s not how democracy works, and it’s not how a community works.

It’s a big boat, and we’re in this together.

Now let’s brush aside what you or I may think of Ms Richards and/or her choices. I have it easy, I don’t know her so I can take the easy road of assuming the best about her motivations, just as I assume the best about yours. You may make another choice, that doesn’t matter.

What matters in a way is what should be done about her. Here’s the thing. I’m reading a lot of “She did bad, actions have consequences, she deserves what happened. Of course the rape threats and so on are unacceptable, however that doesn’t change the fact that she such-and-such while employed by so-and-so.”

It sounds an awful lot like some people are saying that posting a picture and her authentic response to something is on the same plane as sending people death threats and pictures of women being bound and mutilated, but let me assume that nobody would be so dismissive as to presume that complaining about perceived inappropriate behaviour is equivalent to vile insults and threats.

I have big hands, I will wave them furiously.

But what worries me is this. What exactly do we mean when we say death threats are unacceptable? It’s very clear what we mean when we say that it is unacceptable for a developer evangelist to tweet about an incident happening within earshot of her in a fairly public place.

We are saying that it’s unacceptable for her to criticize people and put their pictures on the Internet. And we’re very specific about the word “unacceptable,” we mean she should be fired from her job and never hired by any company in the same capacity.

We’re saying that she is not welcome to ever represent a company’s interests, products, or services to us because she makes us feel uncomfortable and fearful that she will pursue a personal anti-harassment agenda too far.

I think we’re very clear with our messaging about this, it is very consistent on Reddit and Hacker News and Twitter.

But what exactly do we mean about it being unacceptable to threaten her with death?

I’m reading a lot of “She did bad, actions have consequences, she deserves what happened. Of course the rape threats and so on are unacceptable, however that doesn’t change the fact that she such-and-such while employed by so-and-so.”

But what exactly do we mean about it being unacceptable to threaten her with death?

Forgive me if I missed the memo, but are we actually doing anything about this? Or are we like a diplomat, sending the troops into one country in retaliation for actions against our perceived best interests, but when another country does something far more shocking we merely issue a mildly worded statement expressing “concern” or perhaps “regret” or maybe on a good day, “condemnation?”

All the while, wringing our hands that we can’t actually do anything about Death Threats, you know, these people are anonymous trolls. But Ms Richards, we know who she is and where she works, so we can do something about her?

If that’s our message, I’m very worried. What seems to be the case here is that it’s an imbalance of power. The trolls have the power to act without consequences, and we enable them by punishing their targets while shrugging our shoulders and asking “But what can we do about Trolls?”

The politics of harassment are the politics of imbalances of power. Because when we say that both actions are unacceptable, but only one action will be punished, then we are saying that Justice is unevenly applied. Can you say that we are just? I can’t, and that troubles me.

I do not wish us to be seen as being an Unjust People.

What say you?


(discuss)

(Strikethough added April 26, 2015)