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Re: Code of Conduct: picking up

Wouter Verhelst <wouter@debian.org> writes:

> I also don't think it's necessarily a bad thing if someone in Debian
> acquires a lot of power. We are very much a meritocracy; this means you
> can't acquire power without a lot of hard work. Once you've done the
> hard work, you get to decide how you do it, which could indeed be
> described as "having power"; but since it's you who needs to do the
> things that your "power position" allow you to make decision about,
> anyway, this usually isn't a big problem (even though I'll grant you
> that there are exceptions).

Debian is not a meritocracy.  Real meritocracies are vanishingly rare, and
certainly no technical organization that is as lacking in diversity as
Debian is should claim to be a meritocracy.  Simple demographics show that
it's not.

I think a better statement is that Debian tries to give decision-making
power to the people, selected from among those who are already involved in
the project, who have volunteered to do the implementation work.  That's a
fine ideal, and a useful model for decision-making, but it's not what a
meritocracy means.

The people who have social power in Debian largely have that power based
on their ability to express themselves convincingly in writing: people who
can both be persuasive and present their case in ways that feel to others
like it's coming from "inside" the organization and isn't an outsider
perspective.  This is a very common social dynamic in a lot of groups, and
it doesn't mean that there's anything necessarily uniquely wrong with
Debian, but it's not a meritocracy.  People have social power based on
their social connections and on their soft skills (such as persuasive
essay writing, or being effective at presenting positions in a way that
sounds reasonable and logical), not on the pure technical merit of their
ideas.  I have no idea how one would even measure the latter in any sort
of objective way, which is one of the problems with creating
meritocracies.  The very measure of merit is socially constructed and will
always be skewed towards viewing the existing dominant group as having
more merit.

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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