When Codes of Conduct Go Bad

David Auerbach notes that the ToDo Group have abandoned their Open Code of Conduct because they were unable to form any sort of consensus over its contents. He is correct in stating this particular clause would be a potential ligitation nightmare.

Our open-source community prioritised marginlised people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort, we will therefore not act on complaints regarding “reverse -isms”, including “Reverse racism”, “Reverse sexism” or “cisphobia”.

Reading that, you are forced to conclude whoever wrote than has never heard of the Requires Hate saga in SF Fandom, or has completely failed to learn any lessons from it. Such a code of contact won’t survive contact with a bad actor who identifies as belonging to a marginalised group, for starters. And it fails to acknowledge that “marginalised”, “privileged” and even “safety” and “comfort” are highly subjective and context-dependent things. Auerbach is dead right; lawyers could have a field day with that.

The online social justice movement has a contentious “Punching up/punching down” dynamic which draws from Critical Race Theory and Intersectional Feminism. But they are not uncontroversial mainstream beliefs, and there is considerable opposition which doesn’t just come from hardcore racists and sexists.

Codes of conduct are a necessary evil in a world where bad actors exist. But a successful code of condut requires a broad consensus from the community to which it applies. A code of conduct that explicitly hard-codes the values of one narrow political tribe is always going to look like a power-grap. It just plays into the hands of those who oppose codes of conduct in principle.

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2 Responses to When Codes of Conduct Go Bad

  1. Synthetase says:

    I hate the ‘reverse’ prefix. ‘Reverse’ racism is just racism. Ditto ‘reverse’ sexism or reverse any other -ism. When people use those terms it tells me they’re more interested in making themselves feel good than in genuinely addressing issues of discrimination.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I’ve noticed the “*ism is Prejudice+Power” line only ever comes out to defend someone who’s said something bigotted.

    To be fair, I have never seen any actual real code of conduct contain a line like the one quoted above, even for organisations with strong “social justice” values. I would assume any competent organisation wouldn’t publish a code of conduct without first running it past a lawyer, and no competent lawyer would let a clause like that through.