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Re: Debian should not engage in politics and stay neutral [was: This is not the direction that will lead to hearing each other]

Thomas Goirand <zigo@debian.org> writes:

> The point is: is there some restrictions on political views that the
> Debian community/project would like to enforce?

I could be wrong, but I think you're making an implicit assumption here
that I would disagree with, namely that having the project issue a
political statement is equivalent to enforcing a restriction on what
political views a member of the project can hold.  I don't think these are
at all the same thing.

First, as a general principle, I don't believe it is permissible for any
person, organization, or institution to ever dictate or restrict the
thoughts inside your head.  This might seem like a hair-splitting
distinction and probably isn't what you meant by views, but for various
reasons it's important to me personally.  Your thoughts are your own, and
absolutely no one else gets a say in what you think.  People are entitled
to draw conclusions about how you act or what you say, to choose not to
want to associate with you, etc., but no one is entitled to try to read
your mind or to try to police your thoughts.

The question to me, therefore, would at most be about restrictions on
people's actions or speech, on something that happens outside of their
head, not on their views, which are private and deserve the highest level
of privacy protection.

Here, I believe it's common for organizations to take political positions
or participate in poltiical arguments where they believe those politics
are relevant to their mission, and with the understanding that not
everyone who supports the organization will agree with all of their
political positions.  I am a member of many organizations that sometimes
take stances with which I disagree, sometimes vigorously.  I make an
ongoing decision whether to support that organization anyway or whether to
withdraw my support based on a balance of many factors.  Agreement with my
political views is only one factor.

Similarly, on the organization side, it's entirely routine for
organizations to have members who are in active disagreement with the
larger organization about some policy or stance or position.  Provided
that disagreement isn't over a core value, it can be healthy.  It's also
routine for people to choose where and when to express that disagreement.

Let me use an obviously absurd but hopefully not politically fraught
example.  I might support and volunteer for the local art museum but truly
hate pointillism.  I can still continue to volunteer and support the
museum even though they have a large pointillism exhibit.  That exhibit
may make me rather unhappy, but I might think the other work the museum
does is worth it anyway.  The museum may think that my opinion is absurd,
but they have some process for deciding what exhibits to host and I can
participate in that process and get outvoted.  Or maybe I'll convince
people; who knows.  Either way, obviously I am not going to start every
volunteer meeting with a rant about how disgusting pointillism is (that
*would* get me uninvited from the organization), and the museum will
probably avoid asking me to work on the pointillist exhibit.  We can reach
an accomodation that respects the disagreement without either of us
changing our beliefs.

This sort of practical compromise is just part of being in a community.

Now, that position might be disqualifying for a *leadership* role.  If the
majority of the museum's supporters love the pointillism exhibit and want
it to continue, but I wanted to become the museum curator, obviously I
would need to compromise my stance against pointillism and respect that I
was in the minority, or I would need to give up my hope of being the
person in charge of all of the exhibits.  That's part of the
responsibility that goes with having a leadership position; sometimes you
have to advocate the values of the organization even when they're in
conflict with your own personal values, or, if the conflict is too severe,
resign and return to being an individual member where it's appropriate for
you to vigorously express your opposition.

What does all that mean for Debian?  I think it means that there has
always been a tension in the project over people who want Debian to take a
more overtly political stance and people who want Debian to take as few
political stances as possible.  This happens *all the time* over free
software politics; for example, some people think the project's stance on
firmware is absurd and vigorously oppose it.  They are in the minority and
Debian hasn't changed its policies, and they haven't all resigned or been
driven out, so clearly we are already capable of tolerating political
differences in both directions.

None of this resolves the question of what topics Debian should take a
political stance on and what topics Debian should leave alone.  I think we
all have different viewpoints on that, and we have a governance process
that lets us work out that disagreement and make project decisions in the
face of a disagreement, and we're going through that process now.  This is
all healthy and normal.

But I think it's important to emphasize that even if Debian as a project
takes a political position on something, that does not imply that every
individual in Debian agrees with that position, or that one has to leave
the project if one does not agree with that position.  That's a separate
and much more serious additional step.

In some cases, we may wish to take that step.  For example, if someone
wishes to advocate within the project that free software is an evil plot
to steal the intellectual property of the world's great software
companies, Debian is probably not the place for them and there's probably
no benefit to either them or the project to try to make that work.  And
there will be arguments over when to take that step, and vigorous debate,
and then we have a governance process to use to make those decisions.

But we should not confuse the two.  Taking a political position as a
project is not the same thing as setting rules for what type of advocacy
we are willing to let people do with project resources, and that is not
the same thing as setting minimum standards of behavior for project
members, and none of those things are the same thing as trying to restrict
people's *thoughts* (which is something we absolutely should not ever do).

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

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