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Context: I am a non-binary user who uses singular they as my chosen pronoun. I'm also a relatively new user who just started paying attention to meta right when the situation over the sudden firing of a moderator was becoming a thing.

First, my thoughts on the Monica situation (1). From what I've been able to glean about the situation I personally believe that SE mishandled the situation. I feel that they violated their own rules and values by moving way too quickly. I would like it if the issue of Monica's rehiring was put before the moderators and that they would be allowed to make a decision on how things should proceed on that front.

Now onto what I feel about the whole CoC drama. I personally think this situation has been mishandled by both the community and SE. I personally feel that SE should've delayed the release of the new change until after the Monica situation was fully dealt with. This would've allowed for people to disassociate this new change from the previous situation and would've allowed users to approach it with a perspective untainted by anger.

While I do feel SE is at fault for how this was received I also feel that some of the communities' reaction, especially the lashing out at members of the LGBTQ+ community, has been completely inappropriate. Within the past few weeks, I feel like I haven't been welcome here. I have felt attacked and demonized simply because of who I am. It honestly makes me hurt and sad that a community that I had felt was a bastion of rational thought has descended into fights over what I feel should not be a difficult question, but a trivial decision to extend a certain group of people a basic amount of human respect.

While I do feel that many protesting these changes have good intentions I still feel that many hurtful and disrespectful things have been said. whether they were intentional or not doesn't matter. I feel that both the community and SE should hold a burden of shame when it comes to this.

How we can resolve this current drama? And how we can do it without causing further harm to vulnerable groups?

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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog to me that post feels focused on the "give us examples" aspect. Which I understand as, "how do we fix what we don't see" aspect of being an engineer but its not really looking at how to fix it just "what is there to see?" (to be honest, I've seen enough evidence so would also like an answer to this question even if I doubt there is one) – LinkBerest Oct 17 at 2:47
  • @LinkBerest Someone else voted to close this question as a duplicate of that, but their comment got deleted, so the system automatically posted another one on my behalf. I felt that the gist of this question is essentially addressed by the other one. That said, I've retracted my vote after reading the answers on both questions. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 17 at 2:50
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog and I don't but feel free to flag/vote as you see fit :) (and this way both views are presented too) – LinkBerest Oct 17 at 2:52
  • @LinkBerest I've retracted my vote after reading both questions and their answers. – Sonic the Reinstate Monica-hog Oct 17 at 2:53
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    "I have felt attacked and demonized simply because of who I am." Yeah, me too. And I'd hazard pretty much all of us, for various reasons. – Félix Gagnon-Grenier Oct 17 at 7:39
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    One specific danger I see, is that people must reveal the gender in order to get gendered correctly. Depending on how many trolls there are, this might pose an increased risk. And I don't really see a good solution for that. A cultural change probably takes some time and it requires very brave people to withstand all the bad things that will be said, even if they are cleaned up more or less quickly. The braveness of those who actually do it can probably not be underestimated. The only thing I can promise is that many will try to protect them and be supportive. – Trilarion Oct 17 at 12:21
  • It was never about even about this - the company just accidentally threw that group under the bus. Instead of focusing on the rebuilding communication and trust with the community. – Lundin Oct 17 at 13:22
  • @Trilarion Thank you. you have no idea how much it means to hear someone say that. – Gwideon Oct 17 at 13:39
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12 Answers 12

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Bottom line up front (BLUF):

Those of you reading this post: if you genuinely care about being respectful towards this issue, to the people affected by it, you would do well to stop for a second and just try to consider whether these things are as "irrelevant" as a lot of you seem to feel it is. And to stop and consider that your comfort as someone who might have to double-check how you write here can and should be balanced by considering the comfort of people who are regularly worried that their identity is going to be invalided by being here.


I'm seeing a lot of comments to this post saying the same thing over and over, from different people: "I didn't see any attacks against LGBT people, what are you referencing?"

And before I dig into that, I want to explain something: bigotry is not a binary. Bigotry is not "I hate trans people!" and then any statement that falls short of that extreme becomes acceptable. It's a spectrum of misbehavior, ranging from outright, extreme statements of intolerance, to subtle cues that give off the impression that the user is just being polite to avoid social repercussions for a belief or statement they know would be much poorly received if they expressed it honestly.

And then there's behaviors and beliefs that aren't outright bigoted, but sound like arguments that bigots use, and for Trans and NB people on this site, seeing those arguments, even from people who don't intend to use them that way, are troubling and disturbing. This, incidentally, applies to the post that Monica made in the FAQ Meta that she later deleted after this was pointed out to her.

And in that same vein are arguments that are bigoted, but which the people presenting them don't realize are bigoted.

These factors, in combination, are why I think a lot of people reacting to these issues aren't seeing the problems that a lot of trans and non-binary folk are.

So with that in mind, what are we talking about?


I'm going to limit this just to the recently posted FAQ Meta on the Code of Conduct Changes, because it gives us, I think, a good litmus test. Moreover, I'm going to start with the most highly upvoted answers on that post, because I don't want to just find the vocal minority and prop them up like their voices are the only ones that count. I want to focus on the posts that got the most support on that meta, and explain why, as a member of LGBT community myself, I was made to feel uncomfortable by their content.

So we'll start with the most highly upvoted post on that meta, which includes the following paragraph:

I will call you xe or zir etc if you want, but I really don’t like that it’s phrased that if you’re uncomfortable you have to, or get out. I have so much respect for the LGBTQA+ community, but how far do I have to participate in order to engage a user on a question?

So, speaking as a member of the LGBT community, this reads like a more eloquent version of the "I'm not racist, but..." argument people use when they're about to say something racist. If you're someone who has "so much respect" for the LGBT community, why is being told to respect someone's pronouns something that feels like extenuating effort for you?

I don't want to do whole thesis' for each post, so I'll make this brief: just because the matter of self-identity doesn't seem like a large priority to you doesn't mean the person on the other side of the conversation feels the same way. Many people are uncomfortable adopting the default-identity associated with Internet Anonymity (I say with personal experience, being frequently referred to as male despite having not put my gender anywhere on my user profile until relatively recently—which does not include male pronouns), and being treated as such, even implicitly, is uncomfortable.

So yes, being respectful of trans-people means being willing to take the extra few seconds to engage with their identity, if they specifically want that. I get that this is new for a lot of people, and I'm not prepared to exalt SE for their [honestly, kinda crappy] presentation of this change in expectations, but that's how it is.

Next Post. I'm not going to talk about every post, because not literally every single post was objectionable.

So, what about "bad-faith" pronouns like "attack-helicopter" or "Your grace"? Does one still have to use those pronouns?

How does one determine whether or not a pronoun is "legitimate", especially if they are unfamiliar with it?

You flag for a moderator and they'll take a look at it.

Personally, this kind of response frustrates me, because those aren't even pronouns, they're titles. And more importantly, we're not robots. We can gauge for ourselves whether we think someone is acting in bad faith or not. And even if we suspect someone is acting in bad faith, we don't need to react by behaving in ways that will hurt trans people. If someone shows up in a chat room insisting they identify as an attack helicopter, and refuses to cop to any kind of insincere trolling behavior, that doesn't mean we need to start acting like trans people using pronouns correctly are somehow responsible for this behavior, or that a code of conduct mandating respectful pronoun use somehow caused this.

To someone that has English as a secondary language, and where gender-specific pronouns don't exist in their primary language, it may seem absolutely absurd that an subject like pronoun usage ends up in a code of conduct.

What happened to common sense? What happened to just not being an a-hole?

A: "He should do X and X"
B: "(I'm a <gender>, )please use <pronoun>"
A: "Mkay"
Both: Moving on

The problem with this post is that the user is acting like the hypothetical conversation they've described is the only way these conversations have ever played out. But they're not. Conversations on this network don't always play this nicely, and that's why we need changes to the Code of Conduct. The previous "Be Nice" policy was not helping ensure that conversations stayed at this level of respectful and obvious.

There were many conversations, especially in the chatrooms on the programming stacks, that were openly contemptuous of the identities of transgender people. It seems likely to me that much of the purpose of these changes to the Code of Conduct was to specifically try to address that issue.

Compelled speech, even in the name of a worthy cause, has no place in civilized society. Period. Our values reject it.

Forcing people to choose between violating their conscience or leaving, in the name of inclusiveness, is an Orwellian nightmare that has no place in our community. Our values reject it.

A reminder, in case it wasn't clear that I was working from highly upvoted posts, is that this response garnered a net total of 600 positive votes. This post, which calls a policy of respecting a trans person's pronouns, Orwellian, was extremely positively received by the community.

Do you understand how uncomfortable this makes me? How uncomfortable this is for many LGBT people on this network? It's not just that this one user said The Bad Thing™, but that there were hundreds of people who actively cared about this issue that affirmatively agreed with this stance—and these people constitute a majority of the people who cared to respond.

This makes me feel unsafe. This makes me feel like the community does not respect trans people, and it makes me feel the same paranoia I have to try very hard not to feel in unknown communities; that no matter what niceties people put on their words, that they don't genuinely see me (or any other trans person) by how we identify. And personally speaking, I'm still working through my identity! I can't even imagine how these kinds of statements must feel to other members of the community who are more "out" than I am.

And—again—this post was extremely highly upvoted. This isn't some fringe belief of the network, this is something that a lot of people here seem to strongly agree with.


I'm stopping here because, frankly, I have other things to do with my time, but those of you scoffing at this, stop and actually try to think about how the LGBT members of this stack perceive responses like this. I don't know whether each of these posts really mean the hyperbole, of they're just using intense rhetoric without thinking through the implications—but you need to understand that from our perspective, there's not a big difference.

I don't care whether these people are just being incendiary or if they're actively trying to be harmful, because I can't know what they're really thinking. I can only know how these statements fit into patterns of toxic, bigoted behavior and the rationales given for those behaviors.

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    Moderator Note All comments under this answer were purged because they became a dumpster fire that represented the absolute worst of what this community is capable of. Enough is enough. – Tim Post Oct 17 at 12:58
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Xirema Oct 19 at 2:24
  • Regarding "I didn't see any attacks against LGBT people, what are you referencing?" is an argument I could have made. Thank you for making this post to explain it. I can't claim to be 100% sympathetic with your viewpoint here, but I will do what I can to make everyone feel welcome. Not because of genders, but because everyone is a person who deserves an assumption of good faith. Regarding "Just flag a moderator for bad faith pronouns", though, the post is about new rules. People want to know what they can expect. How to follow those rules. a flag doesn't tell people what is or is not ok – Gloweye Oct 22 at 7:24
  • Xirema, I have - through the SE:non-apologies and explanations - read that a general move towards gender neutral language, using gender neutral pronouns and avoiding pronouns - is offensive and hurtful. Since you wrote this (well written and thought-inducing) answer, can I ask you - is this the case? Would this situation not be resolved in some part at all by implementing a CoC where one uses gender neutral language as a rule? It seems - to me - the reasonable compromise, since we (clearly) have sites, groups and individual users for whom new pronouns are a problem. – Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 7:45
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    This post, which calls a policy of respecting a trans person's pronouns, Orwellian, was extremely positively received by the community. That is disingenuous, they are complaining about compelled speech and thought police, not about respecting trans people – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 8:08
  • @LuisRico I suggest you read the portion of that chat discussion where I went into that, because I'm not interested in repeating myself on that point. Here's a helpful bookmark. – Xirema Oct 22 at 14:42
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    @Xirema Thank you, I appreciate the time (and energy) you put into that. =) – Reinstate Monica Oct 22 at 19:33
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    @Xirema **From your bookmark: ** So calling it "Compelled Speech" is a way of framing the discussion as saying "you want me to call you 'he', but I don't think you're a man; you're forcing me to say and believe something I don't believe", which is an essentially transphobic argument. Calling the argument a dog whistle without responding to it is not helping your cause. Is it true? Are you forcing them to say and believe something they don't believe? If so, then they (transphobic as they may be) are right about compelled speech. – Luis Reinstate Monica Oct 29 at 10:39
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"It honestly makes me hurt and sad that a community that I had felt was a bastion of rational thought has descended into petty bickering over whether they have to extend a certain group of people a basic amount of human respect."

If you think this is what the uproar is about, you are just seeing what you want to see and completely ignoring the original issue, because the original issue is much more nuanced and predates this current situation by almost two years. The current situation could have been literally about anything else or triggered by anyone else.

Your everyone is to blame assertion is kind of the heart of the problem, and one of the main sticking points from two years ago, blanket statements of guilt by definition tend to lump the innocent in with the guilty, regardless of how tiny the percentage of guilty there are, which ironically is what was the seed of all the discontent almost 2 years ago, the powers that be are telling everyone they are guilty of being bigots/racists/sexists and that SE enabled them to be, and especially those that think they are not are the worst offenders.2

² If you’re shaking your head thinking, “not me,” I’d encourage you to take these implicit bias tests, specifically the Race IAT and the Gender-Career IAT. If you’re like me, they’re going to hurt.

See, I get it, the I do not see _____ are the the same as the I see ____ and I ignore it. Like Ibrim X Kendi says, (to paraphrase an statement he made in an NPR interview) it is not enough to be not racist, you need to be an anti-racist, and that is to see race, acknowledge it and actively ignore/not consider it.

This last situation is just the final disrespectful straw that many long time community members just could not tolerate in silence anymore. Ironic is it not?

The actual problem:

When people make blanket statements vilifying an entire community, it is not unexpected for those that are not villains to be offended by that, and not want to be called villains and demand a correction, just as much as someone that wants to be called a specific pronoun deserves to be called that pronoun or have references to them corrected.

You are lumping in innocent people with the hand full of bigoted trolls that are now taking advantage of the situation, and that makes you better than Stack Exchange and the trolls how?

To answer @divibisan in the comments:

How would you suggest they talk about a problem in the community without making you feel like you're lumped in with trolls? I understand this is a natural human response, but how would you suggest one avoid that?

The irony in asking the autistic guy about how not to say offensive things is not lost on me :-), I am taking @divibisan at face value and assuming good intent with their question, this is something that should not be lost on @SaraChipps.

If Jay Hanlon had said originally or even edited the blog post to say:

"A very small percentage of the community are bad actors and we need your help to correct the perception that it is the entire community, here is what we propose..."

I can not speak for the entire community, but that would at least show they knew where the problem was, but they just doubled down over and over again that the entire community was unwelcoming and the we enabled it is their way of saying, my bad, not my bad.

At this point, them acknowledging this and making a real apology is about as likely as Emperor Palpatine apologizing for Order 66 in the up coming Star Wars movie.

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    Great; I have a moderate automatic association of MALE with family and FEMALE with career. What does this have to do with a Code of Conduct that polices users' intentions in stead of their actions? – Inactive - avoiding CoC Oct 16 at 18:10
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    @rjzii - I think everyone knows those tests are nothing but turing tarpits of confirmation bias that prove what you wanted them to prove and voodoo at best. – user148287 Oct 16 at 18:10
  • How would you suggest they talk about a problem in the community without making you feel like you're lumped in with trolls? I understand this is a natural human response, but how would you suggest one avoid that? – divibisan Oct 16 at 18:12
  • @divibisan - very sad that the autistic guy is being asked about how to talk to people without insulting them ... see my edit as a response to this comment. – user148287 Oct 16 at 18:18
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    Hey, your being offended is just as valid as anyone else. No one is going to learn if we don't share things like this. From my perspective (and likely also the perspective of Jay and co.) I don't see where saying something about a group vilifies every member of the group. Just as we can criticize aspects of America without impugning all Americans, we can criticize aspects of the SE community without attacking all members of the community. – divibisan Oct 16 at 18:40
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    When I read Jay's post, it seemed pretty clear to me that he wasn't saying we were all bad, but that there were bad things in our community (which I think we can all agree on) and we should work to notice and fix them. Obviously, that reading was far from universal, and many (most, at least among meta posters?) people took the interpretation you mention. Perhaps it's important to be more explicit about things like this. Thanks for taking my question at good faith and explaining – divibisan Oct 16 at 18:40
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    As an autistic myself, wanted to comment: "The irony in asking the autistic guy about how not to say offensive things" Precisely because of one's propensity to get mistaken, you're forced to hone your skills in avoiding offence. Those who are conscious of it can amass more experience in the matter than others and become experts (while still blundering at times) – ento Oct 16 at 18:47
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    @divibisan - appreciate your perspective and would like to add that the If you’re shaking your head thinking, “not me,” I’d encourage you to take these implicit bias tests, specifically the Race IAT and the Gender-Career IAT. If you’re like me, they’re going to hurt. part implicitly tells the reader you are part of the problem and if you deny it you are the worst kind of offender. Which is the worst kind of do as I say not as I do. He does just what he is telling everyone else not to do, make assumptions about a group of people based on his own biases. My edit shows this was avoidable. – user148287 Oct 16 at 18:56
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    @divibisan and they did not want to avoid it, they never went back and corrected it, it said exactly what they wanted to say. Trust me this is not the first time I made this suggestion on how they could fix it. They really want to blame the community members as a whole, especially Stack Overflow members; and have a sorry not my bad that they enabled us, and now they are going to put a stop to us being that way. I and others shared this exact thing many times with ZERO reponses from any of the officials at SE.Esp, no action taken to fix any of it. – user148287 Oct 16 at 19:00
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I am truly sorry about what you feel. It should not be that way and it upsets me. I realize this place is not welcoming right now. For anyone.

There have been plenty of hurtful behaviors in all directions in the past few weeks. This is not due, in my opinion, simply to Monica's demodding, or the CoC changes. We all feel upset and beaten up by what is happening.

There is a long-standing tension that has been released by these events. The reason for that tension is that the community feels that Stack Exchange is not listening to them, nor able to relate to them in a functional way: the lavender community has said so, the mod community has said so, and thousands of users feel the same way based on voting patterns.

Monica's demodding and the CoC change merely exemplified this tone-deaf behavior on Stack Exchange's part. They were a "casus belli". They are not at all the center of this situation.

Unfortunately, nothing at the heart of the problem seems to have changed, so the outlook is not so good at the moment.

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    sadly I think you're right – anon Oct 16 at 18:12
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    Yep. Would've been a lot better to address some of the other problems before adding more work by releasing the CoC, for all of us. – Zoe Oct 16 at 18:15
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    I wonder if we're overlooking the impact of the users who have said they're suspending activity. There was a Stanford study that found simply reading someone else trolling can cause people to be more likely to be inflammatory in the comments they make. I've seen it when moderation my own site - if the mod team can get to the comments before they've been up to long, the entire day gets easier. I wonder if much of this heated conversation is feeding on itself. I know that I have had to not push the submit button on a lot of stuff I've typed lately. – ColleenV Oct 16 at 19:29
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    @rjzii Here's the study for anyone who is interested: Anyone Can Become a Troll:Causes of Trolling Behavior in Online Discussions – ColleenV Oct 16 at 19:33
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    More worringly, I've seen much increased intolerance and bigotry on all sides of the issue. – Sklivvz Oct 16 at 19:40
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    I don't know if that's "real" though (even though it is undeniably hurtful). When I'm interacting with someone saying inflammatory things on Twitter, if I de-escalate I can get them to talk like a normal person and if I purposefully push them harder I can make them say even worse things. (Yes, I run unsanctioned completely unscientific experiments on people on Twitter when I'm bored. I am unrepentant.) About 65% of the "real people" accounts I experiment on don't seem to actually hold extreme views - the environment pushes them to exaggerate their views. – ColleenV Oct 16 at 20:00
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    @rjzii there are "trolls", but also a metric ton of people being intolerant, bigoted, aggressive, provocative, immature, etc. from all sides of the political spectrum (and no one moderating them) – Sklivvz Oct 16 at 21:38
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    @ColleenV - I don't understand why the thought of you 'running unsanctioned completely unscientific experiments on people on Twitter when you're bored' makes me so happy, but it does. I can't see it, but knowing it's out there is enough. – Scott Hannen Oct 17 at 1:47
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To answer the question in the title: Not at all.

The discussion will be stressful, people will be upset, they will feel hurt, they will feel offended and they will feel insulted.

(An aside: One could be tempted to first ask what "vulnerable groups" are, but the answer is simple: Humans. Humans are vulnerable. By nature. Physically, and emotionally. Conversely, we might have to accept (as in: "tolerate"!) that there are people who simply say "I don't care about you and your feelings". This may sound harsh, and hard to understand for some, but considering that people in the autism spectrum tend to have "a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards ... emotional coldness, detachment", calling someone an "ignorant bigot" just because he doesn't understand certain sorts of emotions is at the very least not constructive, certainly inconsiderate, and in many cases plainly inappropriate).


General thoughts about misbehavior, emotions and conflicts on this site:

It has been pointed out several times: When someone is attacked, then this can be flagged and deleted, regardless of whether that person is a member of a certain group or not, and regardless of any CoC changes. For repeated violations, the offender can be banned.

And when there is the claim that some individual or a group has been (repeatedly or systematically) "attacked and demonized", than there has to be evidence. And I know that requesting that evidence has some potential for conflict, which shows up in questions, answers, comments (and almost certainly in the downvotes that this answer will receive...). The pattern that I have observed in the countless Q/As that have been opened here on meta in the past couple of weeks is basically this:

  • People say that they belong to a minority and feel attacked, demonized, marginalized, hurt...
  • People (from the majority, if this existed) ask for evidence or examples
  • These people are then accused of being ignorant, intolerant, bigots, or worse
  • Other people engage, trying to justify the questions, which then seems to be perceived as "the majority" ganging up against "the minority"
  • Things go downhill very quickly then...

The aggressiveness and inconsiderateness that can be observed when accusations are brought up never ceases to surprise me. And one problem is: This hatred (!) is often directly addressed at people who ask questions in order to understand things better, with the ultimate goal of finding solutions. There hardly is a way to mess things up more quickly than by hastily trying to solve a problem that is not well understood. As such, the "Welcoming-Wagon" has already been described as an exemplary case of an XY-Problem ...

(Another aside: Blanket accusations are exactly what caused all the turmoils after the Welcoming-Disaster. And I have the strong impression that much of the frustration that has been caused back then, by unbased accusations and miscommunication, has been simmering under the surface, and erupted in the past weeks, due to actions that would have been controversial anyhow, but could otherwise have at least been manageable...).


Regarding the pronouns and related issues:

The problems of changing language have been discussed elsewhere in great detail. There are many good, objective, reasons to reject the 'singular they' or neopronouns. And there are even stronger reasons to reject compelled speech. There are also many, many reasons of why a policy that dictates a certain way of speech, as the current CoC with the associated FAQ, is likely to fail: The impossibility to sensibly implement this in practice is largely caused by the inconsiderate wording of the CoC+FAQ, the nature of an anonymous Q/A site, and the ambiguities and corner cases that cannot be covered in detail (and, to some extent, by the hardened fronts caused by bad communication).

Beyond that, "changing the language" will not make the site more welcoming: The controversy and conflicts can be seen in all the meta Q/As show that. And at least until now, this attempt has caused far more harm than good. One could say that this attempt has "deepened the trenches", but I'd go further and say that it has created trenches where there hadn't been any in the first place.

But I'd like to reiterate a point that has been brought up frequently, and once more in this question and the currently accepted answer:

Respect

I know that the argument is very common: If someone rejects a certain form of speech, then this is referred to as a "lack of respect" or a form of "not respecting an identity".

This is not the case.

First of all: Nobody can be forced to respect someone else. One can force people to behave as if they respected someone, but one cannot force them to actually do it: Respect is a feeling.

More specifically: Respect is basically synonymous to "a high or special regard", and it would lose all its meaning if it was applied to everybody equally. Respect has to be earned.

This is something completely different than "accepting who you are", or "acknowledging (and ignoring...) that you are different in any way". It also has nothing to do with courtesy or, more broadly speaking "socially acceptable behavior". This whole site is designed to focus on technical questions, and it should be easy to treat everybody equally (even though, maybe, at some point, someone earns the respect of others by providing valuable contributions...).

I accept that others may have a different viewpoints than me (even when they are vastly different than mine, and even when I (initially) might think that the other viewpoint is utterly wrong - I'm nearly ridiculously tolerant in that regard). And we can enter a discourse - an argumentative dialogue of critical thinking, questioning each other's attitudes, trying to find hidden presuppositions, solving conflicts. (And this necessarily includes the risk of offending someone, by the way). But when someone hatefully throws out blanket accusations and insults, and then demands respect on top of that: I'm out.


(I noticed several answers popping up in the meantime. It might have taken me too long to write this. But I try to be very careful with my words, for obvious reasons)

  • @Marco13 It’s not unreasonable to assume that when someone writes an answer to someone’s question that that answer is aimed at them. – divibisan Oct 16 at 21:09
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    @divibisan I didn't find anything in the Q that could even remotely be considered as being hateful, and hope this is clarified now. In the A, I tired to address the broader topic of conflict resolution and avoiding harm: There will be "harm" (as in ~"bad feelings"), but in order to even have a discussion about the conflict (and its causes, and possible solutions) one has to avoid a situation where the discussion is 'the conflict'. This requires tolerance, accepting vastly different viewpoints, careful wording, and avoiding certain accusations of which we have seen so many recently. – Marco13 Oct 16 at 21:22
  • @Marco13 No, that’s clear. I should have said that in my comment. I was just commenting on "I'm tempted to ask why you thought it did”, which just seemed strange, since were answering their question. – divibisan Oct 16 at 21:24
  • @divibisan I wanted to avoid this, because I'm not sure whether I can phrase it properly (in a comment - not an English speaker:) There was nothing hateful in the Q. There was no accusation of the Q being hateful in the A. But still, the A seemed to be perceived as such an accusation. And I wondered why. I understand it (better than I'd like to...) from a real-life perspective, where I'm notoriously anxious and really easily irritated (so "anxious" explains a lot). But I tried hard to phrase my A neutrally and carefully in this regard, and wonder where the assumption came from. – Marco13 Oct 16 at 21:31
  • @Marco13 I see. I think this drama has made all of us anxious and on edge and drained all our reservoirs of good will. But you’re right, it’s not really something we can discuss in comments. For what it’s worth, I think you did a good job presenting your argument neutrally and reasonably, in a time where many choose not to. – divibisan Oct 16 at 21:39
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    I like your answer, and I think you're largely right. Up to the point where you start talking about respect. There I disagree. Respect is not only something you earn, it's also something you give in advance. The other person then has to earn it by their actions, otherwise they lose your respect. Basically, there's a "baseline respect" for being a decent human being, which should be the initial assumption when meeting someone. – PoorYorick Oct 17 at 3:35
  • What you are talking about here when you say "respect is a feeling" is the additional respect that you feel towards people who you actually admire. You are right that nobody can force you to admire someone else. But people can expect you to show some basic respect towards them. The one that does not originate from your own feelings but from your assumption that the other person is a decent human being. This is an important aspect of living in a society, and you miss it by conflating these two different forms of respect. – PoorYorick Oct 17 at 3:41
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    +100 Well said. – Her Majesty Queen of ARC Oct 17 at 7:22
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    @PoorYorick I think this is one of those things where the English language is simply broken. A can respect B, A disrespect B, or A can be neutral towards B. I think what you call "basic respect" is simply being neutral. No disrespect, no true respect, just basic civility. Unfortunately, Angloamerican culture is indirect and so telling it as it is, is considered rude. In direct cultures, what Marco has said sounds pretty self-evident. – Sklivvz Oct 17 at 8:37
  • 1
    @PoorYorick I'm not a native English speaker, but if "baseline respect" is basically "decency", then why not call it "decency"? (Beyond that, I'd hesitate to argue about these nuances of a (foreign) language ;-)). The main point was that initially, everybody can and should be treated equally here, and refusing to use a certain form of speech can have many reasons which do not imply a "lack of respect" (or "disrespecting/invalidating an identity", as it is also often phrased). Of course, transphobia also is a reason, but assuming that it "always" is the reason is affirming the consequent. – Marco13 Oct 17 at 12:17
  • @Sklivvz and Marco13, I don't want to argue about English making sense or not, I argue that a semantic argument about respect using a very narrow definition of respect that is not used by most English speakers is meaningless. Basically, you say "respect is something that you earn", and that is as a whole simply not correct. When people say "be respectful when talking to others", that is a different meaning of the word respect. It is specifically not the one that is earned, but the one you give in advance. You may call it "decency", but most English speakers will call it "respect". – PoorYorick Oct 17 at 17:55
  • @Sklivvz, and this has nothing to do with Angloamerican culture. In every Western language with the word "respect", you have the same double meaning. One meaning is always to respect someone for something specific they did or for who they are, which is something you need to earn. The other meaning is always "show respect to others", which means to be decent. You find that in French, Spanish, Italian, and German, all of which have a more direct culture than the US, and of course you'll also find it in the UK which has also a more direct culture even though it uses the same language. – PoorYorick Oct 17 at 18:09
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    Thanks for teaching me my mother tongue. At this point, I have better things to do than being treated like this. Adios. – Sklivvz Oct 17 at 18:28
  • @PoorYorick Again, I'm not in the position of arguing about a specific language or culture. But when you call something a "semantic argument", and at the same time call it "meaningless", then I have to object (not specifically, but generally) : Semantics matter, and they matter a lot. – Marco13 Oct 17 at 23:37
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    @PoorYorick you are not rude, but this conversation is not worth having. – Sklivvz Oct 18 at 8:22
28

Due to a series of actions by SE representatives, the community lost faith that the CoC will be reasonably and fairly enforced. The most notable among these actions was the mod removal and subsequent slander (allegedly) of Monica Cellio for daring to ask questions about the CoC.

This is perceived as a threat by members of the community. Similarlly the perceived language police (must use neutral they, must not use language that naturally avoids pronouns) is completly new territory on stackexchange and naturally creates pushback.

These issues have nothing to do with the lavender community. And that's exactly why many in the community don't think of taking into account how members of the lavender community might interpret their words. From the perspective of many community members, the lavender community doesn't even enter the picture (I am aware of the irony).

The solution is easily described: Remove the perceived threat by restoring trust. Then restart the CoC discussion and make the discussion about the lavender community instead of about something else.


Edit: completely reframed the answer, still making the same point but hopefully in a way that's harder to misunderstand.

  • 1
    I do know intent factors in but content also matters – anon Oct 16 at 19:25
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    @ZachLipton and on the flipside, I have been called about 12 different slurs over the span of one hour by a member of the Lavender community on here. The person has since had a 1-month suspension on meta.se only. – Hugo Zink Oct 17 at 8:00
  • 2
    "There are absolutely many people in favor of insulting people by using the wrong pronouns" [citation needed] – Hugo Zink Oct 17 at 8:00
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    @HugoZink I'm sorry that happened. It was wrong for them to do that. I just hope that didn't color your impressions of the entire Lavender community. – Gwideon Oct 17 at 13:44
23

All sides need to start trying hard to understand the other. This issue is so deeply polarizing because it involves deep feelings that are unfamiliar to each side. People all around are failing to realize the impact of their actions and desires on others because they are failing to think about the impact on those with good intent rather than just those with ill intent.

What I personally see is multiple groups that are deeply troubled by things that large portions of the other side are dismissing far too easily.

Assuming you aren't truly dealing with a bigot, on one side, you have those who are deeply harmed by feeling looked down on for their views and being told their deeply held views on their identity don't matter and are invalid and that they aren't welcome. This side wants to feel accepted and respected. These people can be severely hurt by feeling rejected and disrespected by the community because of who they are and what they value.

On another side, you have a group that holds freedom of thought as an extremely core value and human right. They believe that people should not have exact words dictated to them and that respectful disagreement must be permitted and that under no circumstance should exact word choice be forced on anyone, regardless of reason. These people can be similarly hurt by feeling that a community they care about is going down a dark path that makes them feel hurt and rejected because of who they are and what they value. They can have a similar level of pain to the first group because both are fundamental dismissal's of the value and identity of the individual. They want discourse to be respectful to all and for people to be allowed the freedom to find their own means of achieving that.

The third group is those who have a disagreement about the nature of gender. If they aren't bigots, it has nothing to do with caring about the views of others, but rather what matters is the integrity of their personal identity. Again, assuming they aren't bigots, they should want to do everything in their power to avoid disrespecting or harming others, but they don't feel they can honestly use neo-pronouns without violating their own identity and values. For them, things are deeply painful because their identity and intentions are being invalidated and they are being told they are unwelcome despite having no ill intent, simply for being true to their identity. They are deeply emotionally hurt by being rejected and shunned for who they are, regardless of how they try to treat others in a way that does not violate their identity. They want others to understand their heartfelt intent and want to be allowed the freedom to be respectfully true to their identity without being forced to voice agreement with something they don't agree with. Forced pronoun usage invalidates their identity because it forces them to make statements inconsistent with their world view and identity.

There are actually other minor sub-groups of that third category as well that have other reasons that forced choices of words may go against who they are, such as grammatical reasons or just language preference reasons. These people have varied reasons, but the notion of someone else getting to dictate their speech and it's implications are deeply troubling and can have similar emotional impact.

Any time you try to force an aspect of someone's identity on them, it does deep emotional harm. Any time you try to dismiss or invalidate a piece of someone's identity it does deep emotional harm. Any time you try to tell someone that something they hold dear isn't part of their identity, it does deep emotional harm. It doesn't matter which part or which cause or which value you are doing it for. It does not matter how well intentioned you are when doing it. It's also worth noting that invalidation is not the same as agreement. You can disagree with someone without dismissing how they feel.

Further, people's identities and values are complex and in-congruent with each other. They always have been and always will be. The only way to deal with this is to be accepting and respectful of our differences and disagreements, accept that not everyone will have the same values and sense of broader human identity than you, and move forward assuming the best in people until they show you otherwise and do your best to be respectful of other's views and identity while also staying true to your own. It involves understanding that there are points of in-congruence where others may have views that disagree with your own feelings, and even your own identity, but it means also trusting that, unless they act in a way that shows they don't have respect for your views, then they also don't have ill intent.

Respect does not require agreement. If everyone agreed, respect wouldn't even be necessary. Respect is what allows people with disagreements on core things to their identity to co-exist and get along and even be close friends. We see this all the time in other less polarized areas. A great many atheists and religious individuals can be great friends and have mutual respect despite both thinking the other side holds an incorrect, and perhaps even foolish view. Respect is, inherently, the view that other people's identity and values matter even if they differ, or run directly counter, to your own. You can ACT respectful by doing a list of things, but unless it's actually backed by truly valuing and accepting the experience, views and identities of others, then it is not really having respect.

I believe the fundamental issue here is that we've gotten caught up debating the merits of particular ways to act respectful in regards to one particular issue and mandating those actions rather than assuming good faith and actually practicing true respect that is able to resolve a much wider and more complicated set of possible issues.

So how can we get back to being respectful and de-polarize? We need to start looking at how the other side feels just as closely and with as much trust as we do looking at how we feel. We need to start understanding that others can and are hurt just as much in a charged environment like this. If the goal is truly to be respectful, we need to stop worrying about how people should ACT respectful and instead work on figuring out how to establish true mutual respect. Moderators need to step up and take action against people who display that their actions are not intended in a respectful manner by looking at how they respond to the concerns of the other side. If the response is dismissive, it isn't respectful. All sides need to seek out how to coexist and respect each other regardless of disagreement. How that plays out will differ greatly between individuals and communities. There isn't a simple one size fits all solution.

(For full disclosure, I place myself primarily in the second and forth groups. I can say that this issue and particularly the inability of sides to see each other's concerns, has left me deeply personally depressed and emotionally drained. I've not only lost interest in participating on SE, but have also lost most interest in most other things in life. I've been having extreme difficulty sleeping. All that keeps me going on here is the intense value I place both in sharing my knowledge with others and my intense desire to find respectful solutions for people with diverse views to co-exist with mutual respect. If I didn't care so deeply about these two things, I would have abandoned the platform entirely weeks ago as the last few weeks have been hell on me emotionally and possibly even physically. The above is almost certainly not perfect, but please accept that it's written from a deep place of respect for all views and people, regardless of my personal feelings, and a desire to see the community move forward in mutual respect and as much freedom and trust as possible.)

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    Good answer. Have you considered adding something about respect versus affirmation? That is, one can completely respect another person's identity without taking steps to positively (and frequently) say so or bring that aspect of identity into conversations. For this particular case, this would cover the "gender doesn't matter in jQuery discussions" group, for example -- the person saying that probably has genderqueer friends, gets along fine with everyone, is respectful, but just doesn't think it's always relevant. – Monica Cellio Oct 17 at 14:31
  • It's worth noting I avoided trying to touch on how to deal with users that abuse this trust, that's a complicated issue as well, but I think that trying to delve in to that here would detract from the more important question of how to get those who want the best for the community on the same page and de-polarized. If we can manage that, then the issue of users that abuse our trust will be much easier to confront together. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 14:32
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    I keep seeing this conflation - "disagreement about the nature of gender" v.s. "don't feel they can honestly use neo-pronouns", and I'm deeply unimpressed. Say whether you're talking about people who would refuse to use "he" for people known to be trans men. Or people who would refuse to use "they" for someone who does not state one of the binary pronouns, when that's been a common natural technique for any pseudonym of unknown gender. Or someone who would refuse to use e.g. xyr. Please, don't take the least common of these problems and conflate it with the most damaging. – sourcejedi Oct 17 at 14:32
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    @MonicaCellio I thought about it and kind of alluded to it a bit with hitting on how respect != agreement and giving detached examples, but the current situation is too emotionally charged to really try to tackle the subtlety of that without getting some trust and mutual understanding back first. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 14:33
  • @AJHenderson fair enough. You have to draw the line somewhere. (To be clear, I am talking about a respectful, not abusive, position that many have expressed in this discussion, which is why I asked.) – Monica Cellio Oct 17 at 14:34
  • Thanks for sharing this. My one comment is that while "true mutual respect" should always be the goal, it's a really big thing and really hard to achieve. I don't think there's anything SE can do to create that – it has to come from individual people working together. I feel like the value of "acting respectful", though, is that it creates an environment where that kind of communication can happen. If people act respectful, even if they don't actually feel respect, they can communicate without fighting or getting further polarized and this can lead, eventually, to real respect and compromise – divibisan Oct 17 at 14:39
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    @sourcejedi - I didn't have a chance to get in to it in this post, but I do agree that insisting on using terminology that the person you are talking to finds disrespectful is disrespectful, period. There's a large difference between asking to avoid a particular term vs specifying use of one. It's not really key to the underlying problem though and I didn't want to get distracted on it here. If people are trying to truly be respectful, then deliberately trying to misgender people in incongruous with that. There are far too many alternatives for it to be necessary for them to do so. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 14:48
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    @divibisan I'm not sure I agree with that. In terms of enforcing general principles perhaps, but when you get in to enforcing specific conditions, it has the potential to breed more problems than it solves. Just look at how the current situation has gone. The attempt was to enforce acting respectful in one way for one case, but the result was the opposite. The only real way to have lasting change is for people to commit to acting with true respect to others and carefully removing those who demonstrate that respect is not their goal. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 14:52
  • It's truly unfortunate that it makes it a long and painful process, but I haven't found any good way that seems to work to shortcut it. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 14:55
  • @AJHenderson You'll get no argument from me that the way this was implemented caused more harm than good. And I agree with your overall points. But I think there has to be some basic standards of respectful communication, otherwise we'll get the kind of vicious cycle of disrespect that we've seen here. I don't know where the proper line is, but I think there has to be a line somewhere if we want discussion to de-escalate conflicts instead of escalate them. – divibisan Oct 17 at 15:00
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    "But I think there has to be some basic standards of respectful communication" - on this we agree, but I would add it should be basic and minimal. It is necessary to have limits on freedom, but the goal should be to minimize those limits while achieving the desired goal. We don't allow murder because it has no legitimate place in any mutually respectful situation, except, perhaps, assisted suicide. Similarly, I believe we should have a rule that explicitly prohibits continuing to communicate in specific manners that someone finds universally objectionable to the individual. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 15:05
  • If no reasonable, respectful individual would expect it to be a part of an agreeable arrangement, then it's safe to ban outright I think. I don't really want to get in to trying to hash out a specific line here though as I think that the difficulty there is a symptom of the problem rather than the fix and I really don't want to stray too far off topic on this post. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 15:07
  • @AJHenderson Agreed. I think "basic and minimal" varies greatly from person to person, though, which is all the more reason to be very careful and respectful when deciding on where to draw those lines. – divibisan Oct 17 at 15:09
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    @divibisan certainly, and part of figuring out minimal is working together to understand each other's concerns and then working to figure out what the best way to co-exist is and also keeping an appreciation that different people with similar issues may have different solutions. You don't want rules to block people from having a mutually respectful relationship if you can avoid it. But that core of understanding and working together is a critical starting point for forming good rules and why that was my primary focus of this post. – AJ Henderson Oct 17 at 15:22
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    @AJHenderson I've read several hundred questions & answers related to the ongoing controversy over the past few weeks. Among all of those, yours is one of the best, if not the best, at explaining the situation regarding different groups having different beliefs & views that may not be compatible with other groups. I was considering writing something about this myself, but I'm quite sure I wouldn't be able to do as good as a job as you did. Thanks for taking the time & effort to write such a thoughtful, excellent answer here. – John Omielan Oct 18 at 1:04
21

Stack Exchange is a multicultural place, visited by people all over the world. This means that while everyone at least needs to read and write English, there are vast cultural differences, and direct cultural incompatibilities (issues that can't be agreed upon).

For the lavender community, these cultural differences are especially present, from regions where it's legally required to use proper pronouns when they're indicated to you (e.g. New York) to places where it's prosecutable to be a member of the lavender community (e.g. UAE, large parts of Africa, Wikipedia provides a nice overview of current LGBT rights).

Stack Exchange has generally avoided this issue by making sure people speak a general, formal, language, remain relatively anonymous. In fact, I can't remember if I ever used pronouns on Stack Exchange, and since the scope is narrow and greetings or other noise is disallowed, cultural differences have minimal effect.

However, now, Stack Exchange has taken a stance on a culturally divided issue, creating a more welcoming environment for certain users (one might even call it basic human rights). But this has its repercussions for people who truly object to pronouns out of religious reasons, which are certainly present, as evidenced by the current status of LGBT rights in the world.

While we may agree that advocating transgender rights and setting an example for them is a noble goal, this isn't universal, and to me, it's obvious it sparks resistance from a number of users, even when not considering the sudden moderator firing.

Aggravating factors are, of course, how this situation got to light, and that many users don't see the need as pronouns are rarely used on Stack Overflow, the largest site, and user identity usually isn't considered at all there.

For me, the thing I despise most about this issue, and that sometimes angers me, is the seeming unawareness that LGBT rights are not universal and not default for a large part of the world. They're something that's been fought hard for. And if you want to enforce them in a global community, you will have to fight for them again and again. And that's tiring and saddening. But I hope you're willing to do it nonetheless.

In my opinion, the best way to minimize the impact of these differences is to only bring them up when relevant. I fear I have gone against that several times. If they come up, it's probably a good thing we have a formal CoC, so we know what we can expect from company and moderators. But of course, introducing that has come at a substantial cost. And while unfortunate, it wasn't unexpected, at least for me.

To answer your questions:

How we can resolve this current drama?

We can't. We can only minimize it. There are bound to be clashes, now and in the future, between different cultures, as long as we choose to openly address cultural issues.

And how we can do it without causing further harm to vulnerable groups?

We can only do this by excluding others, those that are intolerant of these groups. And this may be a surprisingly large fraction of people, that have been using the site and contributing for long. So this won't go over easily.

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    I'm a little surprised at the downvotes. You may not like the outcome of the analysis presented here, but you surely can't argue its merit. – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 19:32
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    I made a slight edit, hope you don't mind. There was a comment elsewhere that expressed concern that Monica's name might be forever attached to this incident (something I don't want either), and "Monica Situation" reminds me of Pulp Fiction. – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 19:36
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    "And if you want to enforce them in a global community, you will have to fight for them again and again." This could be a call for people to step up as allies, so it's not just LGBTQ folks fighting alone – camille Oct 16 at 20:17
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    I learned much from this controversy. I can't summarize everything this controversy has made me think of, but I definitely am not the same person I was before all this started. Your analysis is rather penetrating because it made me realize how ambivalent I am towards the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights. I usually describe myself as liberal left, so this was something of a surprise to me. It's something I will have to think about more. Thank you for your thoughtful post. – Allen Han Oct 16 at 21:26
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    Nicely put there. – QHarr Oct 16 at 21:36
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    One thing that could SE could do is educating people gently. Perhaps we could have one less "boobs" ad campaign and add an ad campaign to link some pages that function as a bridge ("cultural mediation") and achieve understanding across different cultures. Teaching people, instead of beating users, would concretely help the Lavander community be less discriminated against and to present their issues in a cross-culturally acceptable way. – Sklivvz Oct 16 at 21:49
20

How we can resolve this current drama?

We can't. At least we cannot do so in the sense that every party involved (ok, let's say: most of them ) would support the outcome.

The company has made abundantly clear ( and I expressly refer to material published by Sara Chipps to support this claim ) that they will steamroll the new CoC regardless of the reception in the community. In fact they already have done so. There will be no debate and stipulations are to be strictly enforced.

This leaves little space to accomodate the interests, opinions and convictions of community members that do not agree with the CoC, individual parts of it, and the way it has been released. Actually, imho, it leaves no space.

'We' as a community can do nothing about it. The dissent from within the community has already been clearly voiced but has been met with uncompromising resistance on behalf of the company. The SE platform is their platform, they have ascertained all rights on the content, and in any case, they are in charge. 'We' simply have no latitude.

Don't get me wrong: They are entitled to do so. They've built the site after all and provide the resources to keep it running. Afaik, they've always reserved their rights in the T&Cs thus have never beguiled users to contribute content under false premises.

If, in regarding the CoC drama, we narrow the scope the interaction between company and community, I expect that the hubbub will simply peter out given some more time. Here the community can indeed contribute. Simply let the events rest and move on.

And how we can do it without causing further harm to vulnerable groups?

As long as vulnerable individuals define harmful behavior based on how they feel individually and harm to a vulnerable group is defined as harm felt by some member of this group, I'd say we can't.

I do not judge here. I just think that sorting out a controversy over - at least in part - what constitutes harmful behavior towards vulnerable groups is extremely difficult without making some people feel assaulted in some way at some time.

It goes without saying (but to be sure I'll mention it anyway ...) that this is not about intentionally causing harm to vulnerable groups. Such behavior would not be tolerable regardless of the context.

17

How we can resolve this current drama?

This entirely depends on what you are trying to solve. Are you trying to change attitudes, or are you trying to change behaviors? In the case of the latter, the CoC is the primary tool that is needed to do that. If it is the former, then that is a much harder proposition. Even when people change their behaviors you can never really be sure if their attitudes changed. You just know that they are complying with social norms.

And how we can do it without causing further harm to vulnerable groups?

Sadly, it's pretty much impossible to prevent all forms of harm. If only because we know that there are bad actors on the Internet whose goal is to cause harm. However, we can typically minimize harm if we know what potentially causes said harm. Going back to the CoC, we already have one of the major tools in place. Beyond that the next major tool that is needed is clear communication pathways network users and Community Managers. In theory Meta is supposed to serve that role, although it is questionable how much it is being followed.

Beyond that everything boils down to communication and everyone being mindful of communication on the internet.

Internet Argument

xkcd: Internet Augment: two internet users arguing, until they finally meet one another and realise they are just people.  https://www.xkcd.com/438/

  • 3
    @SaraChipps needs to see this answer! - the autistic guy – user148287 Oct 16 at 18:35
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    I don't see how this answers the question. Drama = conflict. This doesn't address a resolution. "everything boils down to communication and everyone being mindful of communication on the internet." That's where we started. And now we're here. – Scott Hannen Oct 16 at 18:36
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    Even when people change their behaviors you can never really be sure if their attitudes changed. You just know that they are complying with social norms. -- Um, achievement unlocked? Changing behaviors is the desired outcome. Changing attitudes is Thought-Police stuff. May I be allowed to keep my own thoughts, please? – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 18:42
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    Oh, I'm acutely aware of that. – Robert Harvey Oct 16 at 18:45
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    @rjzii This one? xkcd.com/438 – ahiijny Oct 16 at 19:19
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    @rjzii This comic significantly improves your answer IMO.. – Stop harming Monica Oct 16 at 19:30
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    @RobertHarvey I would really like the anti-CoC-changes sides to address the historical comparisons. The US civil rights movement was a movement for changing attitudes, and we unreservedly approve of that. If someone showed up and said "It was wrong to oppose the segregationists' attitudes, because thought-policing is inherently wrong", we'd be... confused, at best. – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 3:32
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    @Leopold If you press the woke crowd, I think you'll find they believe that attitudes haven't changed all that much. Why else would shaming phrases like "Register your white privilege" exist? – Robert Harvey Oct 17 at 5:35
  • Just because groups who were historically excluded from e.g. suffrage, land ownership, self-liberty, access to public space now get those things, doesn't mean we live in equitable society where innate discrimination is avoided and not taught. There's another answer pointing this out on this very question. It is not enough to be "neutral" and naively act as if race (sex, gender, sexuality, ...) don't need to be accounted for. Reminders that everybody is biased, yes, *everybody**, are a common necessity, because unfortunately, too many people just don't remember if they were even aware at all. – Nij Oct 17 at 8:21
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    @Leopold It certainly wasn't wrong to oppose the segregationists' attitudes. It certainly would have been wrong to thought-police them. In the end, the point of the opposition you mention has been to remove ethically unjust and inappropriate attitudes from power. It does not seem that such a goal can be achieved by enforcing lip-service. – collapsar Oct 17 at 12:56
  • @RobertHarvey That's an interesting discussion to have (in chat?) but not directly relevant. I mean y'all should make an explicit case for one of (a) "trying to change attitudes is always wrong, even repugnant attitudes" (b) "changing some attitudes is ok but not this one, the relevant difference is..." or (c) "I misspoke, trying to change attitudes isn't morally wrong, it's just impractical here because ... and we should do ... instead". – Leopold says Reinstate Monica Oct 17 at 18:06
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    @Leopold: I'm not in favor of any policy that requires the ability to read other people's minds. – Robert Harvey Oct 17 at 18:08
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    @Leopold, if you look for a direct analogy between the CoC changes as a way of enforcing behaviour and the US civil rights movement, you need to find examples of people being imprisoned (excluded from society is surely the right parallel for suspensions on SE) for using the n-word, would you not? I'm no expert on US history, but AIUI the civil rights movement was from a position of weakness rather than power. And even if you meant post-Civil War rather than 1960s, I think the First Amendment would have pre-empted that level of censorship. What am I missing? – Peter Taylor Oct 17 at 19:27
  • @PeterTaylor you don't even have to go to the civil rights - the woke crowd have had respected scientists and journalists sacked from their jobs, forced from their careers, because they didn't say the approved things the outrage mob demanded. – gbjbaanb Oct 19 at 0:16
10

Preface

Slow down for a second.

Clear your mind of the forest fire that we are on the edge of, because it's looking like we've ran out of water and need to find another solution.

It's of my opinion that we - the community - are the solution. We are the users of the site, and if we want the SE staff to listen to us clearly, we need to communicate more effectively than the standard that they have set over the last few weeks (although, it looks like something may be in the works. I'm cautiously optimistic due to them taking their time, rather than rushing it like the posts that brought this division into the light).

Communication

We need to be open with each other, without allowing emotions to run too hot, or our passion about a subject take away from the fact that we are talking about people who are in the same room as us.

We need to remain mindful

Communication is key to keeping a community alive, and when infighting happens it becomes increasingly difficult to get answers. The community has become enthralled by their collective frustrations with each other and the actions of those who are more interested in causing disorder for disorder's sake, rather than actually finding a solution to the problem at hand.

The concept of diversity is something that causes issues on its own. The lines between dividing people by their differences, and unifying people in spite of their differences is a very blurry one, separated only by a single step.

Inclusion

In terms of how we can try to minimise avoidable fallouts in the future, an option is to (as a community) adopt a mindset where we consider the impact of new changes for a variety of different users.

We have users on this site who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, users who are autistic, or suffering from mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and eating disorders, users who's first language isn't English or are from cultures that do not align fully with what is seen from the USA. We have users who are Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Atheist and users that span across generations, with a massive amount of varying life experiences.

There are a lot of people that we need to include in our thoughts when writing and enforcing rules that are intended to rally the community behind groups that are contained within - and there is no way of making everyone feel included in this, if they are feeling like their opinions aren't being listened to.

"Walk a mile in my shoes" - picture yourself in the position of the people who the change is trying to help, and try to understand what it's like for those users, but also for the users who you are asking to change.

There are a lot of people's toes to step on

Some will struggle with some changes, others will refuse to do exactly what is asked of them, but both groups will be more likely to try their best to change if what they are being asked to do is a suggestion rather than a commandment handed down to them by a team that they already feel isn't listening to them.

Humans have a tendency to fear what they don't understand.

Allow them the opportunity to understand.

Unification

There are 7.53 billion us on this planet, and yet we're stuck. We can't stop arguing about things that are surface level. It's a problem that seems to have been amplified for the users of SE over the last few weeks.

We can learn to judge people on the content of their character, rather than our arbitrary differences, but it will take effort.

When asking people to change their mindsets for the benefit of others, think about the impact that that will have. It requires being selfless in a time where people are simply trying keep their heads down in order to look after themselves.

Take a second.

Users are worried about the policing of thoughts, or that a slip up may end with them being made an example to the community, and there are others who simply don't understand the problem due to lack of experience with the issue at hand, and naïvely state that it's a non-issue.

There's no denying that this is an important subject matter.

We're talking about potentially changing the way that individuals communicate, and we need to remember not to "other" people who are different to us, no matter how much we have been othered ourselves.

We know what that is like, and we need to be better than that.

  • 2
    +1 this is a really well thought out and rational answer. thanks for posting it. – Gwideon Oct 17 at 15:32
  • "We can learn to judge people on the content of their character, rather than our arbitrary differences, but it will take effort." That seems to me to be missing the point. Shouldn't we be trying not to judge people at all, but to judge behaviour and flag problematic behaviour for those with tools to see more context to handle it? – Peter Taylor Oct 17 at 16:09
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    @PeterTaylor, I think we're arguing for the same thing with different wording. I was speaking in a more generalised context. It's the things that people do or say that we should be able to judge, flag, moderate. We shouldn't be judging people based on gender, sex, skin colour, religion, or disability (mental or physical). Concisely, we should judge the interactions that we have with individual people, rather than interpreting those interactions as an interaction with a member of a group of people that share a characteristic. – Kyle Fairns Oct 17 at 16:20
9

Here's some topical inspiration as we tackle this question, from the Hong Kong protesters.

Hong Kong protesters are split into seemingly incompatible factions: the majority who are non-violent, and those who reject non-violence.

In a stunning show of solidarity, the latter faction stood back to make way for a full week of peaceful protests. This is a leaderless movement made up of millions of people. These people are angry. How did Honk Kongers make it happen?

Unity

They recognize that infighting between disparate factions only undermines their collective cause. That week of peaceful protest gave the government a chance to extend an olive branch. When they didn't, the peaceful faction stood in solidarity with the more confrontational group as they once again stepped forward.

It was not only an act of unity, but an act that built unity.


In SE, we have two factions of our own:

  • Those who agree with the CoC changes
  • Those who disagree with the CoC changes

These two groups are unlike the Hong Kong protesters in that their differences are in fundamental beliefs, not tactics.

They are like Hong Kongers in that they have a common cause. I think we can work with that.

The Cause

I personally feel that SE should've delayed the release of the new change until after the Monica situation was fully dealt with.

SE has been making decisions that not only alienate their users, but actively pit those users against each other. By releasing the CoC before resolving this still-fresh controversy, they've successfully obfuscated the core crisis, in a way that leaves us treating each other horribly.

So let's focus back in on that inciting incident for a moment:

SE abruptly fired a community moderator without due proccess, spoke to the press about her in a defamatory way, and will not participate in two-way dialogue with her about it.

I think now is the time for us to take collective action.

I'll start with my proposal, explain why I think now is a good time, and maybe even answer your question.

Proposal

For a fixed number of days, say two weeks, let us collectively:

  • Refrain from discussing the CoC changes, or the pronoun elements of the incident. No upvotes either.
  • Be nice. Be very nice. Channel your inner Mr. Rogers.
  • Redirect users to this answer* when they do try to discuss the CoC.
  • Continue with other protest actions that don't conflict, and don't let the core issue die.

*or a much more focused and better version of this post in a more visible place. (steal everything, don't ask permission)

This is a BIG ask.

Trans/non-binary users are supposed to leave problematic/hurtful posts unchallenged? People who oppose the CoC are supposed to not challenge it precisely when it is relevant?

Why?

There are a few reasons:

  1. Trolls have already arrived: things are presently very heated. This type of collective action, if adopted by the community, would help prevent even more escalation. I think that it would be a team building exercise to deny trolls (A) the opportunity to attack vulnerable groups and (B) weaken the position of CoC opponents by association.
  2. It allows some time for emotions to die down: our own, but especially the emotions of SE staff. Right now, everything they're seeing is just more justification for their actions. We should deny them that justification. They need to reflect on their own mistakes, not on how awful their community is.
  3. It lowers the barrier for dialogue: I wouldn't want to be in the situation that SE is in right now. Any post/comment you make involves navigating a minefield. By focusing the topic and committing to being extra nice, it lowers the risk associated with that.
  4. It would be an exercise in unity and a reminder that we, The Community, are in this together.

Demands

The reason for the time limit is to give us a goal, but also to give SE a deadline. If we're going to hand them another opportunity to make this right they need to know exactly what we want and when we want it.

There's a beautiful letter by moderators to SE that includes what they'd like to see which is a good starting point. I'd like to have a short list of explicit goals, ideally developed by the community.

I'm not going to attempt that right now. It's the early am where I live and I have a fever. I should not have spent hours writing this.

INSTEAD, I'm going to open this up to you! This post is a community wiki. Take good care of it.

What happens when the two weeks are up?

Hopefully the CoC debate can then be had without all the baggage, and hopefully with a bit more empathy.

And if SE doesn't respond?

We tried. Join hands and listen to the band play as this site sinks to the bottom of the ocean.


Hong Kong content ripped straight from Maciej Cegłowski's coverage of events.

1

I just stumbled across all of this drama now, and I'm feeling the need to chip in, and I'm going to do it here.

I learned about non-binary genders for the first time early last year.
It was a new, interesting concept.
It's become a bigger thing in past 2 years, engaging our whole (somewhat mainstream) community here now.

We are talking about a new gender category coming into our global society.
This is history happening right now.

Social-gender (as opposed to biological-gender) is something of a crazy thing - the pressure and expectation that people act and behave particular ways depending on if they are male or female.

Sexual preference being strictly defined is somewhat crazy too if you actually think about it - but the social pressures most of us grew up with was so reinforcing of a particular definition that it became hard to question.

The LGBT+ movement has done amazing things in our recent past to transform the definition of sexual love for us all.
That is a struggle that continues and I'm so grateful for all those who have fought hard in order bring all of us further into the noosphere of human evolution.

The non-binary gender movement happening at this time I think will proceed and will be an equally important part of our human historical development.
It seems pretty weird at first, for sure, it's kind of in contrast to what we have been taught our whole lives, but I think it's really important and exciting.

But most of all, I'm really proud that our SE community is tackling the debate about this face on, in the open. We are all of us making history here.

How we can resolve this current drama? And how we can do it without causing further harm to vulnerable groups?

Re-instate Monica immediately, and with an appropriate apology and explanation.
Reverse the CoC changes.
Revise the CoC with community involvement, and with moderators removing folks who fail to engage with kindness.

  • 2
    "I'm really proud that our SE community is tackling the debate about this face on, in the open. We are all of us making history here." That's not what's happening here. SE is policing what and how we say things under the guise of inclusiveness. That demonstrably made the situation worse for all involved parties. – Cerbrus Oct 22 at 7:06
  • I agree that is what SE is attempting to do. But the SE community has not accepted it, we are speaking up about this - I think that is wonderful and exciting. I've got two down votes though .. I guess because I'm not really sharing in the outrage .. and that's only because I've come along at a time when the backlash is in full swing, and it looks like the SE community is holding SE to account. – kris Oct 22 at 7:34

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