How It Is

Representation of Code

We are (not) Spock.

There’s a great many things to be learned from the drama of the recent Code of Conduct proposal. A great many people have demonstrated why one is needed, why ‘Just act professional’ is not a tenable long term solution, and why some people are exactly the sort of person who will fall afoul of the new guidelines.

After all, who would really argue that these guidelines are ‘bad’:

Examples of unacceptable behaviour by participants include:

  • The use of sexualized language or imagery
  • Personal attacks
  • Trolling or insulting/derogatory comments
  • Public or private harassment
  • Publishing other’s private information, such as physical or electronic addresses, without explicit permission
  • Other unethical or unprofessional conduct

But that isn’t what it brought to my mind. The needs of a Code of Conduct are myriad, and the phrasing is complicated. It should be, at once, easy to understand and abide by, while being comprehensive and difficult to abuse. It should prevent rules-lawyers from gaming the system and min-maxing the hell out of their abhorrent behavior, while still permitting people to speak their mind. Anyone who’s played a table-top game with ‘that guy’ knows that pain.

As I tweeted:

Today PHP is learning that individuals bear the weight of representation of their groups.

This is something everyone in a minority group has known for a long time. Not to throw politics into the mix, but compare the different reactions to the Baltimore protests of 2015 and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupation of 2016. Consider the way some people are painted as ‘he should have known better’ and others are just ‘misunderstood.’

One of the things I hate about WordPress is that I am now and forever representing it. Yes, forever. If WordPress is still around in 30 or 40 years, I will be representing it. If I leave it or say “Well I hate X” about it, I will reflect back on WordPress and my words will likely be taken and twisted around and contorted to mean something.

Now and forever, I represent things that I am and things that I do. If I act like an ass online, it reflects on my company. A coworker of mine told a joke on Twitter and was subjected to attacks from someone who found it offensive. Whether or not the joke was tasteless, it reflected on him and our company. It doesn’t matter if the company endorsed it or not, nor does it really matter what our CEO may or may not have said regarding the situation. It matters that we represent myriad aspects of our life all the time.

To give you a short list, I represent women, lesbians, LGBT as a whole, married people, childless families, Jews, Californians, Chicagoans, Canadians, Americans, caucasians, and please double the list and add ‘in tech’ to that. We haven’t even touched on things I work on and participate in the community like WordPress, Wikipedia, MediaWiki, Ada Camp, Hugo, Jekyll, PHP, ZenPhoto, etc etc and so on and so forth. Oh and DreamHost, the bank I used to work for, and possibly the guys I worked for before that. Then there are the games I play (D&D, Pern, WoD, etc).

I don’t get to ‘stop’ being those things. Even though I’ve not played a MUSH in almost a decade, to some people I will forever be known as a MUSHer. And some people may change their opinions on me just hearing that. But also some people will say “Oh, she acts like that because she grew up on a MUSH.” And worse, “If she acts like that, then all MUSHers are assholes.”

Look. We know it’s stupid. We all know that a person isn’t the sole representation of a thing, and yet we spend our lives looking over our shoulders because we will now and forever be what we are identified as being.

It was hard for Leonard Nimoy to be Spock.

Nimoy is so synonymous with his half-Vulcan alter ego that fans revolted upon seeing the title of his first memoir, “I Am Not Spock,” despite Nimoy’s insistence that behind the name was merely a nuanced explanation of the distinctions between himself and his character.

When we think of him, we think of Spock, the role that made him famous. And it took him years to come to grips with understanding that he was now and always will be Spock to many of us. It’s a hard thing to accept, that you will forever represent yourself, a job you had for three years and a handful of movies, and that no matter what, whatever you say will reflect back on that.

WordPress, PHP, those are our Star Treks and we are Spock.

Live long and prosper.