Throughout 2015, social justice warriors were repelled on a number of fronts. Gaming. Sci-fi & fantasy writing. Reddit. One fight that hasn’t been covered yet — but which definitely should be — is the world of open source software development.
Open source refers to computer software where the source code is made public, freely available for others to distribute and change. It is contrasted with the proprietary model of development, where software code is kept under the ownership of a private company.
Open source is simultaneously egalitarian and libertarian, encouraging contributions from everyone but ruthlessly filtering out poor code. Anyone can join an open source project, where their contributions and their own reputation will rise or fall based on quality.
Members of the OSS world often refer to themselves as “hackers,” although not in the more commonly-understood, criminal sense of the word. An open source hacker is someone who knows how to take code apart and put it back together again. Generally, a person with a lot of talent and expertise.
A person of talent, of course, does not automatically mean a person of colour — or a woman. This is a problem for progressives. And so, open source has recently come under siege from social justice warriors intent on forcing developers to be judged by their politics and their diversity credentials as well as the quality of their work.
To discuss the looming threat to one of the heartlands of meritocracy in tech, I spoke to two people who are highly respected in this unique and tight-knit community: Eric S. Raymond and Meredith L. Patterson.
Raymond, often referred to in software development circles as ESR, has been a software developer since the 1980s, and is the author of The Cathedral And The Bazaar, a seminal text on the philosophy of open source, and a building block of the movement. A gifted coder, he has contributed to software that powers Google Maps and modern ATM machines.
Meredith L. Patterson is one of the leading figures in computational linguistics. She co-founded the field of Language Theoretic Security, also known as LangSec, developed pioneering methods of stopping SQL injection attacks (a type of software vulnerability) and has contributed to a wide range of OSS projects.
The first item on the agenda when we spoke was the Ada Initiative, a now-defunct feminist organisation that, for a while, hounded the tech community with demands for diversity quotas and safe spaces. Raymond reiterated the explosive claim of an anonymous source, who earlier in 2015 told him that the Ada Initiative had tried to frame the godfather of open source, Linus Torvalds, for sexual assault.
Linus Torvalds takes pains never to be alone at tech conferences anymore, and always travels with a posse, because there were repeated attempts by …. the Ada Initiative to set him up for a sexual assault accusation.
This claim, which was covered by Breitbart Tech but which the rest of the tech press ignored, remains extraordinary. But when I put this to Raymond, he disagreed that it ought to surprise observers — and pointed to Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt, who was framed for a sexist tirade he never gave, as an example of feminist smears in action.
Patterson told me she had been following the activities of feminist activists for some time. “The other co-founder of the Ada Initiative is a woman named Mary Gardner,” said Patterson. “She and Valerie Aurora were both part of a mailing list called Linux Chicks, which was kind of a reservoir of …. well, if cultural libertarianism is welcoming of many cultures, I guess cultural authoritarianism is the best way to describe this. A very culturally authoritarian brand of feminism.
“All through the 90s, they had this mailing list where they continually complained about all the horrible things that made them victims. But it didn’t really catch broad public appeal until about 2011. I was never really involved because their activities were things like starting a hacker space called Double Union, where people had to apply and demonstrate their feminist bona fides, their allegiance to the cause, before they were allowed to be members at all.”
Asked why so many in the media lavished attention on the Ada Initiative and other “feminism in tech” groups, Patterson had a snappy response: “It’s compassion porn.”
A key complaint from both interviewees is how alien the ideology of social justice warriors has been to the open source community, which values talent, initiative, and achievement above all else. Pearl-clutching SJWs have been quite open about their contempt for meritocracy.
Recounting a recent incident in which a social justice warrior on the Opal project sought to ban another contributor due to their allegedly “transphobic” comments on Twitter, Raymond said: “This is completely against hacker values. You do not censure or ban or exile people for what they do as people outside the project. You judge by the work, not by the person.
“I don’t care what kind of bigot or what kind of weirdo somebody is when they’re not writing code. If their code is good, I’ll take it, if their code isn’t I won’t.”
Patterson agreed, also highlighting the deliberate political apathy of many hackers. “Most hackers are focused on the thing they hack on, whatever that is. They don’t want to focus on a bunch of culture war stuff that’s getting dragged into their world by opportunists who want to make names for themselves.”
Nevertheless, Patterson emphasised that apathy was not the answer. “I just think a lot of people don’t really know what to do, but they also don’t want to look like assholes. But I think it’s possible to say no, I don’t accept this reasoning, this epistemology is bankrupt, without looking like an asshole.”
Listen to the full interview above.