Discourse on holy wars, and prayer for peace

Original author: Eric S. Raymond
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I keep an eye on a ripening conflict in the Linux community. There are quite a lot of materials about this everywhere, everything started from this , in the current state it is reflected, for example, here , and you can turn to the original source here . Among all the abundance of information, I was interested in the letter of Eric S. Raymond, which he titled ironically and pathetically: “ On holy wars, and a plea for peace ”. This letter is distinguished by a balanced tone and interesting in itself, and not only in the context of a conflict. Translation should be.

Discourse on holy wars, and prayer for peace

Most of you know that I spent more than a quarter of a century analyzing the traditions of hacker culture from history, ethnography and game theory. This analysis had many implications, including the fact that the ideas of open software were accepted by business and society to the extent that it was impossible to even dream of back in 1997, when I presented my book “ Cathedral and Bazaar ” to the public .

Now I want to analyze the recent panic in connection with the new Code of Conduct (CoC) and attempts to organize a massive code review from the Linux kernel, taking into account the experience and perspectives of my research.

I will try to contain my emotions about this dispute - not because I don’t have them, but because I believe that the most impartial view of our situation will be much more useful for all of us.

First of all, let me confirm the reality of code revocation threats. I studied all the relevant laws, even when I founded the OSI (Open Source Initiative). In the USA, there are cases when courts consider the reputational losses incurred by programmers as a result of their code falling under the GPL license. I do not know of such cases outside the United States, but I can imagine that the recognition by other countries of the Bern Convention without the reservations about the moral harm done by the United States makes the position of the plaintiff in such a process even stronger. (You can read more about this in Wikipedia . -approx. trans. )

Now I want to urge all parties to the conflict to stop swinging the boat and find the basic principles that we all share, and on the basis of which reconciliation can occur.

But, before continuing my theorizing, I must say something else about the current situation. I unconditionally support Linus in his decision to take time off in order to take care of himself - he, at a minimum, deserves the right to leave. But in this way, the crisis of management is also added to all our fundamental differences. This is not an easy combination, but, fortunately, it has many precedents of decision in the history of mankind. All that is required of us is to summarize all these successes and failures, and to derive from them the experience applicable in our position.

To do this, try to explore the current situation as a game.

Any group of people striving for interaction creates an ethos - a set of norms and rules. It can be recorded, but more often it is a web of interrelated non-verbal agreements that appear to an individual as a result of observations of other members of the group. These norms may not even be realized; This is confirmed by the fact that children can play the game together, but cannot be able to explain its rules.

Also, each group of interacting people creates a telos - a jointly accepted goal to which interaction in work or play should lead. This goal may also not be formalized or realized. But one thing can always be said with confidence: the Telos gives rise to an ethos, and not vice versa. The target precedes the instrument.

This is normal when the ethos of the group develops. He can follow in his changes for telos when the goals of individuals or fractions in a group change. It may also change to better reward group members for helping to achieve a common goal and otherwise punish. The latter always happens in well-organized groups.

What is not normal is the attempt to quickly and significantly change the telos - the very meaning of the interaction of the group, its foundation. These attempts always disrupt the functioning of the group, often fatally.

Now imagine a group that can accept any ethos from a certain set. Ethos in this set will differ only in the degree of their normativity: the number of encouraged or denounced behavioral attitudes. For example, if the “standard slider” is set to the minimum mark, the group as a whole will not deny such behavior that some of its members consider unworthy and threatening.

If the group ethos gradually adopts a high standard, the result may not be visible. Some participants, worried about a norm, will (most likely, behind the scenes) refuse to cooperate. Many potential participants will refrain from joining. In general, everything will go as usual.

But if the “standard slider” is drastically transferred from minimum to maximum, the consequences will be much more significant. In the group there will be a conspiracy against change, supported by those participants who consider the new rules to be contrary to their personal interests. A conspiracy is even more likely if a change in the ethos of a group coincides with a change in telos.

What can you say about the "slider normativity"? What is his “correct” position? In general, the most successful (in fact, the most inclusive) examples of cooperation are characterized by minimal ethos. It is as if the “slider” moved from zero exactly to the position that would show the direction of movement toward a common goal, the telos, but not more. This is easily explained. A further increase in standards would lead to the emergence of a total fragmentation on the basis of value conflicts. This is worse than if the “slider” were set too low: in this case, consensus would be easily achieved, but it would be impossible to settle conflicts between individuals.

There is nothing unexpected in what I have stated here. The main rule of interaction: "Live and let live." This means: respect someone else's choice and address the influence of the group only in cases where someone’s bad behavior threatens a common goal. Inclusion requires tolerance.

Hard ethos usually associate small groups operating under marginal conditions. Well-studied examples here are minority religious communities. The larger and more diverse the group, the greater the losses it incurs from high standards.

Returning to the current situation, we are witnessing a faction inside the subculture of hackers of the Linux kernel, which threatens to arrange a destructive riot, because not only does it feel that the “norm slider” is raised too high, but it also considers the new “Rules of Conduct” as an attempt to replace their group's telos.

The first thing to understand in relation to this rebellion: it has nothing to do with those surface-significant problems for which the “Rules of Conduct” were introduced. Therefore, it is useless to accuse the rioters of sexism, segregationalism and other sins. This will only confirm their assumption that their group’s telescope was hacked. They make it clear: they entered the meritocratic group with reputational rewards, and now, as they believe, all of this has been taken away from them.

Of course, this conflict can be resolved by showing that the “Rules of Conduct” are so important that those who disagree with them can and should be pursued until they leave or surrender. The problem is that in this way we recognize the correctness of the rebels regarding the telos: we really had the intention to take away their goals, which they defended, and to replace them with their own.

So the main question is what is the body of this subculture. Is it expressed by the new “Rules of Conduct”? Do rioters express it?

No need to reflect on how the answer to this question will affect, say, the attitude towards minorities. You can be tolerant and respect minorities, but at the same time be convinced that the goal of this subculture is to produce high-quality code, even if someone is offended in the process. Good deed is not done anywhere. After all, no one requires social justice to program in C.

The last paragraph may sound as if I walked away from neutrality and began to make ideological statements, but this is not so. This is just another way to show that different groups can have different Telos, and derive different ethos from them. In the general case (if we are not talking about real crimes) a group can only be judged by how well it pursues its goals. It is their own, and not anyone else.

So let's summarize with two questions:

  1. What is our telos?
  2. Do we have the most inclusive (least normative) ethos to achieve our telos?

When you answer these two questions, you will understand what to do with the “Rules of Conduct” and with the rioters.

Eric S. Raymond


Eric completed his letter with a popular quote from a letter from Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams. I did not find the canonical translation of this quotation, but I don’t want to translate it myself so as not to increase the quotational entropy. Therefore, in the original quote.

It is a spirit of peace. It will often be exercised when exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Abigail Adams, 1787

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