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In Response to Jon 'maddog' Hall: Diversity is Everything in Linux

Jon maddog Hall Jon "maddog" Hall wrote a beautiful essay in honor of Alan Turing that highlights the terrible, corrosive consequences of attacking people for who they are.

"If you are homophobic, you probably want to stop reading now." And so begins Jon "maddog" Hall's beautiful, brilliant essay on being homosexual, and the terrible high price paid by LGBT people even today just for being who they are.

Acceptance of homosexuality is one bit of genuine progress in the U.S. We still have a good ways to go, but in the past ten years or so there has been an amazing shift in attitudes. I roll my eyes at the phrase "acceptance of homosexuality" because whether a person "accepts" it or not has nothing to do with people who are homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, transgendered, non-gendered, or whatever else they might be. Accepting or not-accepting only changes how we treat each other, and how we treat each other is everything.

The Problem with Bigotry

But sadly, humans being what we are, it is something that a lot of people get excited about. Now here is the big problem with any kind of bigotry, and this is something that should especially resonate with Linux and FOSS supporters, because supposedly we have this culture of science and meritocracy: the big problem with bigotry is it assumes non-existent knowledge. When we have bigoted beliefs, we think we know something when we don't.

I call it the Those People Syndrome. Oh, Those People are so [fill in the blank]. In the case of gay people pick your adjectives: Flamboyant. Butchy. Pansy. And so on, and at best it's only a tiny bit true, and never complimentary. Why? Because it has nothing to do with our fellow humans as individuals. It's a construct for denying the humanity of our fellow travelers in life.

There is an academic term for Those People Syndrome, othering. Othering is the most commonly-used tool of division. It is a potent and very effective way of demonizing people, and justifying mistreating them. Othering means "not like us." Those people, they're dirty, stupid, immoral, evil, lazy, undeserving. We need to take steps against Those People or They will do bad things to us. Those People are enemies.

Hiding Who We Are

Maddog's essay saddened me because he described hiding himself to protect his parents, and to protect Linux and Free Software. Families are personal problems, but nobody involved with Linux and Free Software should ever feel like they have to hide who they are. And yet we do, because we do get attacked for who we are, sometimes savagely. I can hide being a lesbian, but I can't hide being a woman, and in this fine new millennium an awful lot of people still can't deal with the notion that women are people.

I can recall more than one discussion on sexism in Linux and FOSS that turned angry, and distressed souls offering "What does it matter? On the Internet no one needs to know who you really are." It is meant kindly, but it misses the point-- nobody should ever have to hide who they are just to avoid being abused.

Ironically, both sides of this equation are fueled by fear. Think about it. Think also how fear fuels anger, and how anger is so much easier than love, and why this is so.

Yes, the D Word

Acceptance is everything. Community is everything. How we treat each other is everything. Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying:

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research."

Where does imagination come from? Diversity. A lack of diversity leads to a lack of imagination. We need each other. While it's good to cultivate a culture of, at the very least, not being mean to people, it's even better to invite people in and build good relationships, and to seek out Those People, the ones who are not like us. The Apache Foundation says "if we look after the community then good code will emerge from that community." Dreamwidth says "We believe in being inclusive, welcoming, and supportive of anyone who comes to us with good faith and the desire to build a community."

I made a decision long ago to be as visible as possible, flaws and all, to be a role model for all of Those People like me. Being visible, not hiding, and refusing to let bigotry take away your own unique individual voice is one of the most powerful acts any individual can do. But that's only half of the deal-- the other half is you and me and everyone need to see each other as we are, without constructs, and with acceptance.

 

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  • David L. Craig Said:

    Ah, is othering Christians or Muslims (or any "other" incredibly non-homogenized Venn circle worldview that has tenents about the behaviors of many people sharing some aspects of your worldview) reasonable and defensible? Do you condemn hate crimes against such people and lobby your friends to do likewise?

  • Valorie Zimmerman Said:

    @David L. Craig: I certainly do. While religion is a choice, while sexuality, gender, culture and race are not, still -- why discriminate against anyone? The only people I choose not to spend time with are bigots, and even then, I hold out hope that they will mend their ignorance and sick spirits, and begin to treat all their fellow humans as just that, fellow humans. Hate is not a human value I choose to uphold.

  • AlutacontinuaAlutacontinua Said:

    Zimmermann Yeah I see your point, because you not bigoted at all. Discrimination is never good. But I really don't see what homosexuality has to do with floss. I have never heard anyone being discriminated against in a foss project because they gay. There is a sub text here which is not explicit in the article. Why not be explicit and make the political statement.

  • Marcus Said:

    "But I really don't see what homosexuality has to do with floss." I do agree. Homosexuality has nothing to do with open-minded attitude. There are also very narrow-minded gays, there are gays who are fascists, racists, communists, ultra-capitalists. You can and you must never group these people. In the same way you can't group friends of FLOSS and claim: "they are so nice and so open-minded people". Many of them are but very many are not. Most of them, like me, support FLOSS and Linux just because it's better for me, for economy and for society. I don't even try to pretend to be open-mind person. I don't want to turn this Gay-FLOSS-Linux thing into a political issue.

  • David L. Craig Said:

    Here, here! I tried to make the same comment on Maddog's site but it hasn't shown up so far. If he reads this, I have have a very good friend whose privacy I mayn't breach that would most assuredly testify I pass your test. Jesus said, "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone." When questioned about divorce, He made it plain many are seriously confused about what The Law requires vis-a-vis what The Law permits. On behalf of my spiritual brothers and sisters who do not get these teachings, may I most humbly and sincerely apologize to those of you who have suffered from their ignorance.

  • jim Said:

    Jesus didn't say that actually... It was later added to the Gospels like many other stories that were made up about him... Don't believe that? then I suggest you listen to what Critical Biblical Scholars like Bart D Erham have to say after studying 3 decades of ancient Manuscripts/Gospels and comparing them as they got added to and changed over 2 centuries. I apologise to anybody who has to listen to religious Ramblings especially on a site that has nothing to do with religion. MadDog, screw what anybody says... you are who you are

  • Alutacontinua Said:

    Foss is about software and technology trying to expand it into other areas of politics is dangerous. What else do you think people who are true foss advocates must support? Should we also be against US imperialism and call for the redistribution of wealth from the wealthy nations to the 3rd world?

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    It's a simple, easily understood article. Are there any specific points you want to address? Is there something weird about a call to treat each other better?

  • alutacontinua Said:

    Hi Carla, Thanks for replying. I agree that diversity is important for success and people should not be discriminated against in the foss community because of choices that have nothing to do with FOSS. I have two objections. My first objection to the article is that when I read this article in the contxt of the furor in the US about gay marriage the subtext I get is that foss advocates should support gay marriage to be true to the spirit of foss. This is a political issue that is largely only tangentially related to FOSS. From the streams of posting on my social networks it is clear there is a large difference of opinion on this in the US. I am glad to read different,reasoned views, on this issue but prefer it if it is overt and explicit. Personally I don't live in the US and gay people can get married in my country. Where I live people are more worried about jobs and the potential for war in the middle east with Iran, global warming etc. Maybe I am just cranky from having this debate take up so much mindshare whilst other issues are barely discuessed. This is my second objection. It looks like its a ruse by US politicians during their election build up to stop people from asking other critical questions about the current situation in the world. Meaning is constructed by the reader as much as by the author on an article.

  • jmiahman Said:

    To say that someone is bigoted because they don't celebrate diversity I think is as much as a bigoted response as any. To say you can't choose who or what you Love is a fallacy as well. That can easily be seen in the fact we are expected to choose to support those who say they can't choose who they Love along the same lines as they can't chose the color of their skin. That by design they have no choice, however, if it is by natural means, it flies in the face of all we know about genetics. If it's a positive or negative mutation it can't obviously be passed along by genetics as there is no true reproduction in the homosexual community. To say it's not natural is an understatement, yet it's still existed for thousands of years, along with other detrimental human behaviors, that in no way can or has been linked to genetics, but to choice. Following this same line of thinking. If I am a convicted murderer and I tell people this is the way I was born, I should have a right to kill others and people who take that right away from me or don't support me are bigoted then obviously I would have an issue. I would be judged for my behaviors, I would be sentenced because of my choices. Extreme example yes. It's not that I want to be bigoted, I don't hate anyone as I have made some crazy choices in life myself so I don't condemn, from my own crazy choices though I have learned there's still a correct way of doing things, a natural order. No matter how right you may feel you are, reality begs to differ. Different people from different backgrounds are great, but diversity does not mean everyone has to accept everything everyone is, because that would obviously lead to some huge disconnections from reality (as it already has).

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    Wow. Just...wow. There should be a prize for the most derailments, strawmen, and fallacies in a single comment.

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    I left this out of the article because I thought it was something everyone knows. But maybe it needs to be said: It doesn't matter what a person is, or what they believe. What matters is what they do. Do please click the link and read Maddog's essay.

  • nick Said:

    I want less hate too. But hate is bred from unknowingness, and unknowingness from miseducation. Western societies are forcing children into government schools to be taught by teachers who, at the very least, apathetically pay governments to drop bombs on other peoples heads. They then come home to their family who likely pay for the same. I'm no humanitarian, but this is about as O.K as hiring a hit-man to kill your neighbour. What chance do children have when they are taught this kind of stupidity, even through inference by their "betters"? Maybe It would be wise to stop funding the hate source - Government. But, no one wants to risk being locked up, right? Carla, do you pay taxes?

  • Chad McCullough Said:

    Thanks for writing this, Carla. Yesterday or the day before (can't remember), I found the link to Maddog's essay on Google+. Maddog is one of my heroes and one of the reasons I'm using Open Source and Free Software. After reading his essay, I respect the man even more.

  • Carla Schroder Said:

    He's one of my heroes too, a class act all the way.

  • macias Said:

    Funny thing, how you shifted from just stating your opinions, to judging. "refusing to let bigotry..." Now all of the sudden a person who talks so much about acceptance does NOT LET some bigot be a bigot? Gee, and where is the freedom of choice? Maybe I would like to be a bigot? Btw. puzzle for today -- do you have gay-bigot? I am asking because it resembles the accident in Israel, when Jews kicked out gays. And the press was stumbled -- critizing Jews = bad. But critizing gays = bad too. Yep, life of false prophet is hard ;-). You are a bigot in fact -- you simply switched the groups of "accepted" and "not accepted" to contain different people. Dostoevsky said (not verbatim quote) that you should not try to save entire world (which is you try to do), just save yourself. And I can only second that. > I made a decision long ago to be as visible as possible, "Vanity is my favourite sin". Please, stick to IT, you are much better at it.

  • Rambo Tribble Said:

    Understanding is key to resolving disputing viewpoints. For it to work, the understanding has to go both ways. Substantial evidence points to homosexuality stemming from physiological differences in the brains of those so inclined. No research seems to have been directed to determining whether the extremely homophobic are the product of a physiological imperative. The weight of historical and sociological evidence would suggest that is a real possibility.

  • anonymous Said:

    Maddog is absolutely right. Why do we care -- or have the right to care -- about someone else's preferences? Bed down with another guy, another woman, or a consenting penguin if you wish. Doesn't make a damn bit of difference regarding your knowledge about programming. Let's stop worrying about who people sleep with and worry more about whether they write decent code or not.


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