So once again, we’re talking about a Code of Conduct, and once again, people are all up in arms about it. The word “fascism” is getting bandied about unironically, and I’m tweetstorming, so I guess it’s time for another blog post about this. Don’t blame me, I’m not the one scare-mongering over this.
So let’s talk about the First Amendment first, because that seems to be every jerk’s favourite thing to appeal to when they want to say whatever they want without ramification.
Here’s the entire, unabridged text of the first amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Note that first word: Congress. If you are having a dispute about something you said and ramifications of it, and neither of the parties involved is Congress, then the first amendment doesn’t apply and isn’t relevant. It doesn’t matter if everyone gangs up on you just because you said the gays were smelly, your first amendment rights are still totally secure, no matter how many jobs you’re fired from or how many conferences you’re uninvited from.
Political vs. Professional
This one comes as a reaction to my personal favourite Code of Conduct, the Contributor Covenant. There’s a clause in the Covenant that gets everyone in a tizzy, specifically:
This Code of Conduct applies both within project spaces and in public spaces when an individual is representing the project or its community.
So no matter where you’re being a jerk, it can still be held against you. And people get up in arms about this claiming that they’re going to be sanctioned for political reasons not professional reasons. What they mean by this is “for the way I interact with people, not for the code I write”.
And I want to use an analogy here to illustrate why this is in fact an entirely reasonable stance for a project to take. I apologise in advance, and this is your trigger warning, there will be some slurs for gay people ahead.
Suppose I go into work every morning in the same office. As I walk in, every morning, a man is standing outside the office on the sidewalk (crucially, not on company property, but in the vicinity) holding picket signs and yelling “You‘re going to burn in hell, faggot!” at me. Every morning.
Then, further suppose, after I sit down, this man comes in and sits down at the desk next to me, turns to me, and says “hey, so I was looking at your designs for the message queue architecture, and they look solid, I think we can begin implementation today.”
When I go to HR and tell them that this coworker is shouting slurs at me in public, do you think HR is going to look at me and say “Oooh, sorry, we’d love to help you, but unfortunately he’s not on company property or using a company email address, so there’s nothing we can do! He writes good code, just focus on the code with him.”
More importantly, do you think that’s a reasonable response?
No, it’s absurd. But that is what people who are claiming they should be able to spew whatever nonsense they like on Twitter and not have it impact them in the project are arguing for.
Speech as Fascism
Finally, we have these same people clutching at pearls about how with a Code of Conduct, their employer, or an event they’re speaking at, or a project they’re part of can be pressured because they’re voicing not-politically-correct views in public. This is where “fascism” really starts getting tossed around with vigor.
I’m confused. That’s already a thing? Like, no Code of Conduct necessary, I can already email your employer and tell them I’m not doing business with them and am encouraging everyone I know to not do business with them because they’re enabling people that are trying to deny me basic rights. And they can already be like “Oh, yeah, that is problematic! Dude, you’re fired.” Or they can decide they side with you, but like my money more than they like those particular views. This is called a boycott. It’s pretty old.
And I guess what I’m asking is what, precisely, y’all want to change about this?
Do you want me to not have any choice about who I do business with? That seems pretty not-great.
Do you want me to not be able to tell people why I’m not doing business with them? I thought “free speech” was your whole thing?
Should a company not be able to fire an employee that’s actively costing them money? I desperately want to hear you pitch that one to the libertarians.
Back Where We Started
So we come full circle to where we started:
You want to be able to say whatever you want and disenfranchise and marginalise whoever you want with no repercussions, and people are finally saying “too bad, you can’t”. And no matter how you try and dress it up like fascism, that is absolutely not violating any of your rights.