Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Re: Respecting the whole person

Oh, and another anecdote: in the comments on Richard's post a guy actually says that in the U.S. the proper response to someone putting up porn at a conference would be to call up the police and have the presenter arrested. He of course doesn't know his law, and the police would laugh at him (there's nothing criminal about showing porn to adults), and I doubt there were many people that agreed with him (no one disagreed, but I should probably just assume people dismissed him as being a troll). Still I found it disturbing that someone would even suggest such a thing.

Second, lots of people seemed offended that lots of people didn't immediately walk out of the presentation (which was itself just a lightning talk, so there wouldn't have been much to walk out on). I can't imagine they understand the social dynamics involved. They seemed to feel the presenter was, of course, disrespecting all women by using that image. Well, I can't say exactly what his intentions were, but I bet it was to get a quick laugh, and to make a comment on the underlying motivations of certain open source contributors. Do they really think he was trying to be exclusionary? That he was trying to offend or harass? That's not to say that some women didn't feel excluded or offended by it, but there's a difference between a mistake and a deliberate act. Mistakes should not be dealt with through exclusion, which is all that would have been accomplished through walking out. They should be dealt with by directly communicating any disappointment, and publicly clarifying what is appropriate. But that one guy's mistake shouldn't make him the symbol for all discrimination.

Lastly, people complained about things like people having provocative backgrounds on their laptops. And maybe they were right. But are they saying that those people shouldn't be allowed to have such backgrounds on their laptops at all? If they are allowed to have such backgrounds, one can only expect that some people won't think to change them before attaching their laptop to the projector. This can be a little embarrassing to the presenter and audience, but when it comes to "embarrassing" I have no problem with telling everyone to just suck it up and move on. This is the nature of our leaky personal boundaries, and I do not accept people being accusatory simply because they see a confirmation that their fellow humans also are sexual beings. Similarly I do not accept people placing social pressure on women not to breast feed in public -- sometimes when you find something embarrassing and uncomfortable you just have to suck it up and deal with it on your own, you shouldn't tell the world to conform to your feelings. (It's unclear to me if there were actually women who were offended or excluded by these unintentional images; I doubt it.)

Anyway, I realize I didn't provide a lot of context for why the responses there bothered me, and maybe this is a little more context.

Comment on Respecting the whole person
by Ian Bicking

Comments:

"Lastly, people complained about things like people having provocative backgrounds on their laptops. And maybe they were right. But are they saying that those people shouldn't be allowed to have such backgrounds on their laptops at all? If they are allowed to have such backgrounds, one can only expect that some people won't think to change them before attaching their laptop to the projector."

Since I made that comment, I'll elucidate: when conducting public business you have to behave in an appropriate fashion. No-one is saying that people shouldn't enjoy their favourite erotic desktop backgrounds: I'm just saying that people should consider that their own attitudes may differ from others and that others may be uncomfortable when they show such material in public. People do make mistakes, but if someone made mistakes similar to those originally being discussed in other kinds of conferences, they'd be in trouble; if they made them in a business context, they'd risk being disciplined or fired.

It's quite possible that ignoring differences in attitudes promotes a culture where people believe that everyone else has the same view as they do. This is where a community risks becoming some kind of clique, and with that the danger that people's behaviour becomes exclusionary. This isn't about whether people should or should not feel entitled to be offended according to what you, I or a number of other commentators believe to be offensive or inoffensive - it's about whether people actually were offended (reportedly the case), whether the presenter anticipated it, and whether the presenter was acting according to the norms of the community.

If normal (or perceived to be normal) community behaviour involves offending people, then examining the effects on the community is an obvious line of further inquiry. It may be an oversimplification to say that community behaviour is the only reason for the absence or underrepresentation of a particular group, but that's no reason to disregard it as a source of legitimate concern.

# Paul Boddie

I made that comment about calling the police, and I stand by it. In Minnesota (Not the entire US, it is a state law) it is illegal to show porn in a public setting. If this was a pron conference the police are likely to laugh, but since it wasn't, it was a tech conference.

# Henry Miller