Gran Canaria wrap-up 1

7:04 pm community, gnome, guadec

First in a long series that will probably get finished next June, just in time for the next edition

Of course I was aware of the reaction to RMS’s keynote during the conference, and spoke about it with Lefty on a number of occasions.

I have been bothered by the creation of a “meme” which has, apparently, been perpetuated by people who weren’t even at the conference. The meme seems to be speaking more to Richard’s Mono comments (my opinion here) rather than the Emacs virgins segment, but it’s sufficiently ambiguous that I can’t tell.

If people are primarily concerned about the Mono comments, then say so – it’s not useful to conflate two issues. If you’re primarily concerned with the emacs virgin jokes, then for all those who weren’t at the keynote, or who don’t remember exactly what Richard said, go look at it now:

Aside: anyone know how to embed a youtube video on GNOME Blogs?

Richard is sufficiently predictable that he has been giving the same segment, word for word, for many years – last week was my third time to hear it – and to my knowledge this is the first time there has been such outcry.

Personally, I didn’t think it was offensive. As a born & bred (unbelieving) catholic, we’re big into the Virgin Mary ourselves, and while the “relieving them of their emacs virginity” line felt a bit awkward, I didn’t think that the segment was particularly offensive or inappropriate. I could see how others might feel uncomfortable, and so I have no problem with someone who did feel that way taking the point up with Richard directly. Go look at the video, and make up your own mind.

This is to underline a point: Offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. It is dangerous to jump on a band-wagon about something as significant as whether someone was inappropriate or not if you were not there. I spoke to a number of people who were bothered by the speech, and many more who hadn’t noticed anything in particular, and who laughed along. It’s very easy to jump on a morally outraged bandwagon, without knowing what we’re talking about exactly.

I don’t mind people being morally outraged, I occasionally am myself, but at least make sure you are before you get in a huff. I have a lot more respect for Lefty, Chani and others who were at the conference than the sheep jumping on the issue as an easy way to take a pot-shot at the FSF and Richard Stallman. Oh – and for all the Boycott Novell crowd that are jumping on this as a way to get at people who support Mono, the same thing I said earlier goes for you too – conflating the issues isn’t helpful, in fact it’s inflammatory, stop harming our community with your bad behaviour.

By the way, the “Stop sexism” sign referred to a presentation in a rails conference, where a guy was using scantily clad glamour model shots to illustrate his talk about how “hot” rails was, IIRC. A bunch of rails heavyweights including DHH jumped in to defend him against the “thin-skinned” crowd. Is a parody of the christian church comparing an editor to a god really on the same scale? I dunno, maybe. Like I said, I can see how some people might not like it, but it didn’t bother me.

Can we move on now?

Update: Before moving on, one thing needs clarification. Let me emphasise one thing I said above: while I personally didn’t find RMS’s Emacs virgins segment offensive, I can see how others might. Taking someone to task because they were made uncomfortable by something is never acceptable. Accept that they were made uncomfortable, explain that it wasn’t intentional, apologise, move on. As I said, being offended is in the eye of the beholder. Other people are just as entitled to feel uncomfortable as you are to be unoffended. So to all those posting comments in Chani, Lefty and others’ blogs telling them to grow a thicker skin, get a life, or whatever other bile you’ve been spewing, think about that. And then don’t post the comment.

13 Responses

  1. Gus Says:

    Wow, best summary ever of the whole pointless oversensitive reaction to the overpredictable comments by Stallman.

    There is always someone to get offended by ANY comment you make that is not obvious. A pity so many just took their dislike of RMS as justification for the whole campaign.

    Having said that,

  2. Chris Says:

    Hi Dave,

    I wasn’t there, but I’m not willing to stay quiet given claims from some men and women who were there that they found it inappropriate. As we’ve seen, there’s already a prohibitively large backlash waiting for anyone who claims that someone else has caused offense, and that’s not right — if several men and women who were there found it offensive and unwelcome, they deserve to be taken seriously and defended against that backlash, including by people who weren’t there but find their description of the events and their discomfort credible.

    (I wanted to mention this because I think the tone of your post says that it’s not cool for someone like me to join the “we shouldn’t have offensive sexist jokes at conferences” group if I wasn’t there, or if I have an opinion about Mono, which I don’t.)

    – Chris.

  3. Dave Neary Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Let me be clear – defending people from an inappropriate and counter-productive backlash is absolutely the right thing to do.

    Defending people from ill-informed and largely unmerited witch-hunts is also the right thing to do – and it seems to me that the “RMS is sexist” meme has gone beyond people who were there and offended taking issue with what was said. And that’s all I wanted to say.


  4. Tim Says:

    Some people are just easily offended (especially religious people) .. there is nothing you can do. They will just cry about as long as all the sensable people shut up.

    If we as species want to get along we have to get over all this crap and be totally logical and reflective about stuff and demand reason everywhere.

  5. Chani Says:

    I don’t think it’s on the same scale as the ruby thing (which I didn’t attend). it was a fairly small joke in the grand scheme of things. but it was still unsettling. I really don’t like the notion that women need guys to help them out by “relieving” them of any kind of virginity. it doesn’t matter if it’s meant as a joke, it’s still a joke based on a scary way of thinking about women.

    these things add up, and the way to accomplish change isn’t to let things slide.

    the backlash that came from saying that it made me feel uncomfortable has been far more troubling. and a lot more so than usual… it’s the same flawed arguments all over again, but it seems like there are less people pointing out the flaws this time.

  6. Chris Says:

    Hi Dave,

    Okay, thanks, I think we understand each other. My problem is that the supportive behavior you agree is desirable also comes under “going beyond people who were there and offended taking issue with what was said”, so I think we need a more specific way to describe the behavior you’re objecting to. (Such as “don’t pile on criticism against someone without reading all of the primary sources carefully first”, or something.)


    – Chris.

  7. Brett Says:

    Can you not just use the embed code to the right of the video to embed the YouTube video in your post?

  8. zanko Says:

    “Aside: anyone know how to embed a youtube video on GNOME Blogs?”

    Why not use the new html5 video tag instead of this flash crap ? Dailymotion for example now offer support for it and that’s way better.

  9. iain Says:

    Equally though dave you are conflating the religious aspect and the sexism aspect. I don’t think anyone cared about the religious parody, but there is no doctrine in the catholic church that says a female virgin should be helped to have her virginity taken by the men in the church so the arguement that this is a continuation of a religious parody are false.

  10. pvanhoof Says:

    > I have been bothered by the creation of a “meme” which has, apparently,
    > been perpetuated by people who weren’t even at the conference.”

    Everybody involved in creating that “meme” was at the conference. All of them but one guy also saw RMS’s speech.

    > The meme seems to be speaking more to Richard’s Mono comments
    > (my opinion here) rather than the Emacs virgins segment, but
    > it’s sufficiently ambiguous that I can’t tell.

    The meme has nothing to do with sexism. There’s no ambiguity related to sexism in that meme other than the ones you might have made up in your mind.

  11. Mark Doffman Says:

    Hi Dave,

    The meme was never anything to do with sexism, thats an important issue to be sure, but we never intended to touch on it.

    The meme was also purposefully ambiguous. It came from a conversation about the abuse that members of the Mono community get on a regular basis. We wanted to publicly show our support for those guys, who we know and like, but without getting involved in the sort of flame-fest that none of us have time for.

    This might seem cowardly, but I’d rather take the ‘Coward’ label than bother with the sort of internet bike-shedding and bile that shames us all.

    Overall the ambiguity has worked perfectly, the mono-guys seem to appreciate what we did, and our blogs are mostly clear of hate and pointless discussion.



  12. Safe as Milk » Blog Archive » Gran Canaria wrap-up 3: Day 1 Says:

    […] and a warning about the dangers of Mono, before his Saint Ignucius segment which has garnered so much attention, and the auctioning of a gnu (benefits to the Free Software Foundation) for €150 if memory […]

  13. makomk Says:

    Yeah, the “not afraid to write code” meme is about Mono. Like most of the pro-Mono slogans and campaigns I seem to be seeing at the moment, it’s designed to dismiss people’s concerns about Mono without having to address them. I have no idea why this is happening.

    When I saw a blog FAQ from a Debian developer – which looks like it’ll end up as the de facto official position – saying that the only reason people are against Mono is because they’re trying to destroy the free software movement, I gave up hope.

    (Especially after someone wrote a reasonably well-reasoned comment about why it might be a patent risk, and he accused the commenter of spreading movie-plot threats and deliberately disrupting the movement with nonsense.)