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Re: Let's Stop Getting Torn Apart by Disagreement: Concerns about the Technical Committee

Thanks for your mail.  I have trimmed vigorously the parts I agreed
with :-).

Sam Hartman writes ("Re: Let's Stop Getting Torn Apart by Disagreement: Concerns about the Technical Committee"):
> That said, I actually think in some cases we need to spend more energy
> rather than less.  Minimizing energy spent on the process is not one of
> my goals.  I think that the TC in particular may need to spend more
> energy to have a chance of people feeling valued even when there is
> disagreement.

That may be true.  I think perhaps what I mean is that we are not
spending our energy well.

Unstructured mailing list discussions work reasonably well when
everyone feels that everyone else is on the same side, and everyone is
trying to understand the issues and feel they will be able to come to
a consensus, or at least a conclusion that everyone finds tolerable.

When things get more difficult, they become sprawling horrors.
Participants (quite understandably) feel the need to respond to
everything their now-opponents say.  People feel under time pressure.
It becomes difficult to see the wood for the trees.  Because the
parties are replying directly to each others' emails, there is ample
opportunity for misunderstanding, and all the escalations of minor
aggressions or poor word choices etc. into meta-disputes and anger.

I think it would be better if we asked participants to write a much
smaller number of longer and more comprehensive statements.  The TC
would have to explicitly forbid the use of the email-thread-based
debate style, even as a supplement (perhaps, by blocking it from the
TC's list).  If after however many (small number of) rounds of
refinement/response are permitted, one party decides they need to add
something to their statement of their case, they should have to ask

> Interestingly, the one area where I think conserving energy is important
> is the one you call out: minimizing the energy people need to spend
> responding to a complaint.
> Even there, I think that in a case where the TC thinks it is likely to
> ask a maintainer to make a change (or override the maintainer) it is
> reasonable to expect the maintainer/respondant to spend enough time to
> explain their position well enough that the TC understands it.

Yes, I absolutely agree.  But I think your suggestion that the TC
should evaluate an incoming complaint, to see if there is a case to
answer, before expecting anything from the maintainer, would be very

> I also think the court emphasis on justice and "right" is harmful.  As I
> said in my blog entry, technical correctness is an important factor, but
> I think it is a less important factor than maintaining our community.

IMO injustice _itself_ undermines community.

When you say you want to put "community" ahead of "justice", what I
hear is that you want to put the opinions of some people ahead of
others, because they might be hurt more if the decision goes against
them, or because the are more important to the project somehow.

After all, if we are not to put some people's opinions ahead of
others, what we are left with is making decisions based on the merits,
which is what I am thinking of as justice.

That's not to say that we should not try to maintain our community.
Certainly we should try to reduce the damage done by disputes.

And "merits" does not usually mean technical merits.  Normally it
means thinking about whose interests are more vitally at stake.  It
often means thinking about those for whom the status quo is least

> However, because of who we are, we tend to emphasize technical
> correctness.

I agree with you on this part though.  It is very rare that a dipute
before the TC is mostly technical (let alone entirely technical).

The things people are usually arguing about are:

* Tradeffs between the interests of users with different use cases.

* Whose job is it to do some work that people think is desirable - or
to put it another way, who will bear the pain of the fact that the
work has not yet been done.

* Who is allowed and required to review (and, ultimately, if they see
it as necessary, block) others' work.

* To what extent must a maintainer permit contributions (and,
therefore, maybe to carry patches) that others care about, but which
the maintainers feel are not worthwhile (or even, inappropriate).

These are all, ultimately, questions of politics: they concern the
balance of competing interests, and the location and scope of power
and control.


Ian Jackson <ijackson@chiark.greenend.org.uk>   These opinions are my own.

If I emailed you from an address @fyvzl.net or @evade.org.uk, that is
a private address which bypasses my fierce spamfilter.

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