Saturday, 9 January 2016

Internal Law

Fig 1. Lady Justice
For all of the last two decades, internals has functioned without any kind of agreement between participants regarding how we should conduct discourse, or how we should represent the project in the community.

Recently, our good friend Anthony Ferrara submitted a request for comments on a draft proposal that we should adopt a code of conduct.

In short, it proposes that we define a contributor agreement, to which every contributor must agree. In addition, it proposes that we nominate by election a committee charged with investigating breaches of the agreement, and if necessary taking action.

Note that nobody is voting on this next week; This is a request for comments, on a draft proposal.

Anecdotes aren't evidence, but they can be amusing, and it's the weekend ...

I have two children of primary school age, 6 and 11. Parents evening is when we go into the school and check out their report cards, this years work, and see how they are progressing.

An evening filled with pride, and hilarity ...

Fig 2. The boy's first self review, aged 4 (writing by teacher).

At the end of the evening, the children are asked to sign a code of conduct. In it they promise to be nice to other students, treat everyone the same, abide by the school rules, behave when they are in school uniform as if they are in school.

They have a cumulative age that is less than the age of our youngest contributor (as far as I'm aware). They sign it every year.

They communicate to us and their teachers, that they understand why it's a good idea to enter into such an agreement. They both enjoy school, hugely, for all the right reasons. They understand that to maintain an enjoyable atmosphere, certain things are required of them. They even understand the implications of their wearing a uniform on the way to and from school, and on school trips.

I am therefore baffled by a minority of very vocal members of the community rebelling against the core idea, and every bit of content in the draft proposal.

I don't care for the wording of the proposed code of conduct used in the draft. Specifically, I object to the idea that we should try to limit "offence" ...


Certain things happen to be offensive to most sensibilities, things like racially motivated derogatory language, or sexist language. However these things aren't wrong because they are offensive, they are wrong because of their motivation, they only happen to be offensive, to most sensibilities.

Some people have said that this isn't needed because they can't think of a time it could have been used to improve any situation. This seems to be argumentum ad ignorantiam, as other members of the community disagreed. Even if it were true that it would never have been useful for anyone, that is not a good reason to argue that we don't need it.

Much of the world has laws not too dissimilar from those rules proposed, laws governing public and online decency and conduct. We all must agree to them, we have no choice, we can't back out because we think our freedom of expression is being encroached upon, or because we don't trust governance or policing. We can't not participate in society and so avoid being subject to such law.

The aim to provide the same kind of protection for participants in PHP regardless of their country of origin, or anything else, seems like a laudable one.

Maybe, that would have been a better starting place than the one we had ... 

Internals has become a more political place, as a result of the idea to vote on things like new features, and release managers. Serving the interests of the majority has done pretty cool things in recent years, so nobody can say in good conscience that the apparent politicization is a bad thing. 

The way to effect politics is not to stand at the sidelines and shout, it is to get involved. So while I have my own doubts about how effective the committee charged with investigating breaches can be, I'll volunteer my own time for that, before I'll say we shouldn't have it because of my own doubts.

So, the wording needs tweaking and the process needs rational discussion ... All the while we should remember that there are 5 year old children that understand why this is a good idea in principle.

3 comments:

  1. Over here children can't sign contracts - for a good reason, children can not imagine all outcomes, if you tell 'em "its good for everyone", then usually they will assume you are right, and wont think about who might abuse it how.

    The Code of Conduct, as proposed is extremly vague, and as it is supposed to have a group of people judging together, that is a very bad thing, as rules (like laws) need to be very precise or they are open to interpretation.
    Anthony, who as you noted brought in the proposal, just recently tried to invalidate the votes of a few oldtimers during a vote because they voted against one of the proposals he was backing, declaring that those people shouldn't be allowed to vote as they hadn't voted before this vote (Full disclosure: I was one of 'em).
    With that in mind it feels like a *horrible* idea to me to create an instrument people can use to actively influence who can and can not take part in the community - especially when the rules are so vague.

    A lot of contributors to PHP are not native english speakers, which means that phrases can be misunderstood, or simply be put into bad words, something that could also lead to the coc-police being triggered.

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  2. Obviously, it's not a legally binding contract :)

    I think I mentioned I don't care for the wording of the current CoC either, and I'm not totally sure about the details of the RFC.

    All I'm saying here, is that the idea, *in principle*, is a good one. I'm not saying every detail is good, but the basic principle, that we should agree how [not] to conduct ourselves during discourse and representation, is a good one.

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