Re: Social Committee proposal text (diff), updated
Josip Rodin writes ("Social Committee proposal text (diff), updated"):
Josip's proposal is radically different from mine in two orthogonal
ways. The first one, which we have been arguing about a bit so far,
is that he proposes that we establish the SC as a constitutional body.
However, there is another perhaps even more important class of
differences: his proposed SC's powers and processes are completely
different from mine.
The main differences, with which I strongly disagree, are:
* Josip models the SC's powers on those of the TC. This is wholly
inappropriate because the questions that the SC is required to deal
with are very different.
* Josip models the SC's procedures on those of the TC. Again, this
is not appropriate.
* Josip's text emphasises the SC's role as a writer of policies.
We do not need policies, we need admonishment and if necessary
enforcement of good conduct.
* Josip's text depends heavily on the meaning of the word `social'
which I think is vague to the point of uselessness and will
lead to jurisdictional disputes.
The most important question is: what should the SC to ultimately _do_ ?
What the TC ultimately does is authorise an NMU, if a maintainer won't
cooperate, or even to decree a new maintainer. If the SC gives advice
and is ignored, what _power_ should it have ?
The answer is obvious: we want the SC to impose mailing list bans (and
IRC bans and wiki bans and so forth). That single power is enough to
do everything that is lacking, because together with the threat and
expectation of its exercise, the SC can enforce good behaviour. At
the moment the DPL and the mailing list admins have that power but
usually decline to exercise it (because they have other fish to fry).
The power to ban (temporarily or permanently) is what should be
spelled out in the SC's charter.
The next most obvious thing I wanted is to demolish the analogy
between the TC and the SC. The job of the TC and that of the proposed
SC are quite different.
Technical disagreements are objective and can be clearly explained.
It is often possible for people to retain clear respect for each other
even as they disagree vigorously on some technical matter. Bringing a
matter to the TC is much less of an accusation of wrongdoing: even
bright, reasonable and well-informed people may discuss a matter and
find themselves at ultimately odds over how something shoudl be done;
if the question is nontrivial then they might each amicably agree to
bring it to the TC. If you `lose' during a TC arbitration that
doesn't necessarily imply that you did anything wrong. On-topic
discussions of technical questions are productive and useful, and a
narrow field of contributors to such a question is harmful. Part of
the purpose of Debian is to allow such conversations to flower.
Developers should not feel inhibited about disagreeing with each other
in public on a technical level. It is universally acknolwedged that
voting on technical questions is a bad way of making decisions and
also widely believed that popularity of a developer is not a good
guide to technical excellence.
`Social' disagreements are quite different. They are subjective and
sometimes difficult to explain. Normal and reasonable people should
generally be able to get along without the intervention of the SC; so
the intervention of the SC (whether necessarily requested or not) is
always a rebuke, if the SC decides against you. Vigorous and strong
disagreement about matters of appropriate behaviour usually lead to
strong negative opinions on both sides. Public discussions of
disagreements about standards of conduct are nearly always fruitless
if at all extended. Debian's purposes do not include experimentation
with and development of standards of behaviour. Widening the
participation in a dispute about conduct normally generates heat
rather than light. Voting on a matter of appropriate conduct is a
reasonable way forward (if overly heavyweight and overly public way)
and a popularity contest is a good way to select an arbiter of good
For these reasons, the powers and processes adopted by the SC and
those adopted by the TC ought to be very different. The SC should be
able to intervene in a public conversation even if neither participant
is upset - because the SC is supposed to be keeping the venues useable
for everyone. The SC should usually be able to act informally, and it
should normally do so privately and quietly.
Now, onto the question of policy. Josip's draft suggests that the SC
should be in charge of writing social policies and seems to me to read
as if that is going to be a primary activity of the SC.
But that's not what's needed. We don't need a policy, we need
enforcement of civilised norms of behaviour.
We don't need a definition of arseholeness. What we need is someone
who can speak softly and carry a big stick.
Finally, Josip's draft relies in the definition of the SC's powers
almost entirely on the definition of the word `social'. Unfortunately
this word is almost meaningless.
The problem of argumenents in the TC about whether something is
`technical' or not is already bad enough (although this is partly
because we don't have a way not to have the rudeness arguments come to
the TC). But at least `technical' actually means something. It will
be impossible to agree what `social' means.
If my first argument above, about the SC's intended powers, is
accepted, then this will become moot. The SC's power is over disputes
that can be solved by making access control decisions.