Reading Kathy Sierra's account of her terrorization at the hands of members of the tech community, it's hard not to be moved to action.
But what should that action look like? And how can it be effective?
On the one hand, I am a member of the "tech community," in so far that I am a professional software engineer at one of the leading technology companies. I own one of Sierra's books. I have an active Twitter account and have participated in software forums.
On the other hand, I am not remotely part of the community that engaged in these acts of terrorism. I did not see them when they happened, I am not familiar with the people involved. I'm not a gamer, other than simple games on my smartphone and the same 8-bit Nintendo games I played as a kid on my daughters' Wii. I did not even know what doxxing was until I read the article, and even now only know enough about it to know I don't want to know anymore.
When I encounter this type of unpleasantness (as I have seen on the edges of the "manosphere" I've been exposed to), I back away (perhaps I shouldn't???)
So, would any criticism I make be that of an insider engaging in some internal soul-searching, or one more outsider persecuting an oppressed minority?
My thoughts on this were crystallized in a Scott Alexander post that I thought did a great job of laying out how we've managed to create a culture where people spend almost all their energy talking about the evilness of the other and also claim the mantle of tolerance.
I found myself nodding along. Yes! This is a precise description of what's going on!
But then he closes with this:
This essay is bad and I should feel bad.And I wanted to shout, "No! You're not engaging in tribalism! You're offering a well thought-out necessary critique!"
I should feel bad because I made exactly the mistake I am trying to warn everyone else about, and it wasn’t until I was almost done that I noticed..
But I wonder, is it possible to offer a criticism of your own group while maintaining solidarity with it?
Politically, I have almost nothing in common with Scott Alexander. I am a pro-life traditionalist minded married same-sex-marriage-skeptic Catholic. He is (I think) a polyamorist pro-choice atheist.
But did I only agree with him because we are, in some sense, part of the same tribe -- i.e. skeptics of culturally elite opinion? Were his arguments compelling, or was it just a matter of, "Go team!" (or "Boo the other team!")
Of course you see this all the time, Nobody says that the problem with groups they are a part of is that they contain too many people like themselves. So much of what passes for political commentary is merely signaling what tribe the writer is in (or not in). It's increasingly difficult to imagine someone previously disposed to disagree being convinced by most essays.
This is particularly true of the Catholic Church today, especially as the strength of its claim on its members loyalty weakens. When Catholics offer critiques of the Church, what they are usually doing is critiquing other factions of the Church.
Which I think is why I find confessions of collective guilt so annoying. It seems to me that the confessor is confessing on behalf of rival factions rather than himself. There doesn't seem to be any response of repentance by the confessor himself to this conviction.
I think there is a notion in feminist circles that crimes like the terrorization of Kathy Sierra, rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence are simply masculine cultures taken one extra step. That mainstream male culture tolerates this type of thing, and a promising way to reduce these crimes is for these cultures to stop providing a safe harbor for these type of activities.
This does not track with my experience.
I have never been a part of any community of men where anyone would feel comfortable sharing a story, or even joking about, laying a hand on his wife and children, or having a sexual encounter where consent was iffy, or committing adultery. In fact, the cultures I've been a part of don't even tolerate mundane complaints about women's appearance, cooking, housework, etc. Everyone "married way up," etc.
Reading Sierra's article, I wondered how or why anyone would want to do the things these people were doing to another human being.
And I think this may explain some of the defensiveness we sometimes have in the face of this. Sure, I may not have perpetrated the harassment, but I'm part of the tech culture where this blooms.
And I have to say, I don't really think I am. Posting something on a support forum for epileptics designed to cause a seizure (or celebrating the same) isn't an extra half-turn on the screw of the tech culture I know; it's not even the same activity.
Entreating me to (further) sand down whatever edges remain in my personality in order to solve this is both unfair to me* and counterproductive.
As is teaching men like me "not to rape" and lecturing me about domestic violence.
So, the "good" news is that most of tech culture neither perpetrates nor tolerates this type of activity.
The bad news is that it's a big enough subculture to drive away Kathy Sierra and likely many others who held themselves back. And the Internet is helping them find and feed each other.
So, what to do about it? Well, I could "stand with" and "raise awareness:"
I stand with @seriouspony
— Martin Fowler (@martinfowler) October 8, 2014
But this strikes me as little more than tribal signaling. But maybe, if I don't know what to do, I can reach someone with better ideas.
As Ms. Sierra notes, these subcultures thrive on the notion that they are a persecuted minority that is speaking hard truths the rest of the world can't handle. Wouldn't criticism from someone like me only further feed this?
We do have a serious problem. Some bitter subgroups are effectively blocking access to the highest reaches of the tech world. This is bad now, and I certainly have an interest in shutting them down before by daughters could experience anything like this.
But I don't know that the current solutions offer much hope of success.
But then, they're better than anything I've come up with.
* I am well aware that my feelings of being unfairly accused, as well as my Hamlet-like dithering about what to do, are several orders of magnitude less severe than the problems Kathy Sierra and other female writers are dealing with. I am trying to sort out how I can be most effective in combating the latter.