While it would be easier to assume that people in the tech community would conduct themselves with decent behavior, that would be a naive assumption to make. The reality is, in any group of people, there are some who make bad choices. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say Codes of Conduct are necessary, but I don’t see anything wrong with them if they are properly worded and very specific. Although I think it would be naive to expect everyone to behave decently, I think it’s reasonable to say that most people have a general understanding of what should and shouldn’t be allowed (at least in terms of social acceptance), and they certainly speak out when they see injustices happening. If a Code of Conduct is necessary to concretely point out a wrongdoing and support decisions made in response to that wrongdoing like laws do, then we should use them. The difficulty, however, comes in writing a good Code of Conduct and interpreting it.
I appreciate Jesse Noller’s Code of Conduct for PyCons because it establishes a policy for how harassment will be dealt with by the conference hosts. His approach to creating and implementing this Code of Conduct for the protection of the well-being of conference attendees seems genuine, and I respect that. I also think it’s important to note that if these rules were not in place, and someone at the conference was actually being harassed to the point where they felt unsafe, they could call the police and report it, though it gives peace of mind to attendees knowing that the conference holders don’t stand for that behavior either. On the other hand, some of the other Codes of Conduct are too vague, and quite frankly they contain language that you would use when talking to a child. Django’s Code of Conduct says to “Be friendly and patient”, “Be welcoming”, and “Be respectful”. These all sound like phrases a parent uses when sending their child off to their first day of kindergarten, and while they’re all good practices to follow, they are still open to interpretation. In Go’s Code of Conduct proposal, the writers explain that “there are varying definitions of the ‘right thing’; a Code of Conduct specifies what that means” and to their credit, I think their Code of Conduct is more specific than Django’s, but it is still ambiguous because “insulting remarks” are subjective and are labeled as such only when the recipient feels insulted, which is a claim that can’t be verified since you can’t tell someone how they feel. In some cases, it may be an unjustified claim, but it would still have to be honored.
The real issue here is the question of where one person’s rights end and another’s begin. Do you have a right not to be insulted? Am I obligated to censor my speech so as not to insult anyone intentionally or unintentionally? While I would say we should always try to avoid saying or doing things that we think will hurt people, I think today’s society has coddled us and tries harder to shield us from unpleasant things at the expense of teaching us to deal with them when they happen. I am not condoning bad behavior, but I think we have become overly sensitive in what we consider to be bad behavior. I don’t think James Damore should have been fired for expressing his opinions, especially since they were carefully worded and thought out so as to avoid being disrespectful, and I think we can all agree that he used more tact than the author of the article reproduced in An anonymous response to dangerous FOSS Codes of Conduct. Disagreement and unpopular opinions should not be condemned. Damore was presenting reasonable arguments and trying to promote discussion in an appropriate manner, and the fact that he was shut down reinforces what he stated in his manifesto. When it comes to equitable outcomes, it doesn’t seem as though everyone can be happy, and when it comes to free speech in the tech industry and society in general, it does appear that conservative voices are the ones losing because most big tech companies are left-leaning and conservative opinions and values are generally the unpopular opinion.
As individuals, we should speak out against things we don’t believe are right just as much as we should speak up for things we do believe are good. That being said, we shouldn’t advocate for the termination of a coworker who has a different opinion. If someone is truly causing harm or just being a jerk, nobody will want to work with them anyway, and they won’t make it very long in the industry. As a Catholic, I would say a good rule of thumb is to treat everyone in a manner that upholds their dignity as a human. Though this is still a vague statement, this is what I will choose to follow, and I believe it will steer me in a direction that avoids harm. I don’t think you could ever write a set of rules that are specific enough to eliminate all ambiguity regarding what is and isn’t acceptable in regards to human interaction, so I think we should all try our best to promote positive interactions and discourage negative ones because shouting over everyone else or just plugging your ears because you don’t want to listen gets us nowhere.