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Ralsina.Me — Roberto Alsina's website

On Politeness, Street Signs, and Codes of Conduct

When I grow up, I want a pink car. Girls like pink.

—Ta­to (my son, age 4 at the time)

There has been a lot of talk late­ly about codes of con­duct in con­fer­ences. I don't have an­swers to much, but I do have a lot of ques­tions in my head, and some things seem ­to come to my mind be­cause of that, so I will do a lit­tle head dump­ing, and let's see if clar­i­ty ap­pears.

So. The main thing seems to be that the pro­posed codes of con­duct aim at mak­ing events in­clu­sive, and more di­verse, and wel­com­ing to peo­ple who may have felt un­wel­come in the past. That these groups in­volve wom­en should be a call of at­ten­tion. Wom­en? Wom­en are half the world, and ap­par­ent­ly we have been ex­clud­ing them, whether in­ten­tion­al­ly or not.

So, in prin­ci­ple, if adopt­ing a code of con­duct helps that, I am all for it. Same about gays, les­bian­s, tran­sex­u­al­s, etc. They are not 50% of the world, but they are about 10% of it, so it's a very large amount of peo­ple, and adding them to our ­groups is an­oth­er easy op­ti­miza­tion.

How­ev­er, it con­cerns me a bit that these codes of con­duct con­tain lan­guage like this:

Ha­rass­ment in­cludes of­fen­sive ver­bal com­ments re­lat­ed to gen­der, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, dis­abil­i­ty, phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, body size, race, re­li­gion, ­sex­u­al im­ages in pub­lic spaces, de­lib­er­ate in­tim­i­da­tion, stalk­ing, ­fol­low­ing, unau­tho­rized or in­ap­pro­pri­ate pho­tog­ra­phy or record­ing, sus­tained dis­rup­tion of talks or oth­er events, in­ap­pro­pri­ate phys­i­cal con­tac­t, and un­wel­come sex­u­al at­ten­tion.

Some are com­plete­ly ob­vi­ous, peo­ple who dis­rupt the speak­ers at con­fer­ences are ­to be thrown out, in­tim­i­da­tion is abom­inable, stalk­ing is creep­y, etc. But "of­fen­sive ver­bal com­ments re­lat­ed to [ev­ery­thing]"?

And here, I have to make a small de­tour and talk about street sign­s. When I vis­it­ed Lon­don, one thing that called my at­ten­tion was the lan­guage in street sign­s. Here's an ex­am­ple:

http://s0.i1.picplzthumbs.com/upload/img/9b/be/1e/9bbe1e8c53e414b0c1c652b6e8684586ddbe9d3e_400r.jpg

In oth­er coun­tries it would say "No dogs", would­n't it?

So, why do they have signs like this? It's prob­a­bly be­cause they are very po­lite peo­ple. Al­so, it may be be­cause of­fen­sive signs are pun­ish­able by jail.

I have a com­plete­ly un­found­ed sus­pi­cion that the po­lite­ness came first, and then ­came the right not to be of­fend­ed, which end­ed en­cod­ed in­to law, and now you just have to be po­lite, or else.

I am quite loud­ly athe­ist, yet I on­ly men­tion it out­side this blog if some­one ­men­tions his re­li­gion. So, for ex­am­ple, if some­one says "god asks less and yet he for­gives", I may say "that's be­cause he does­n't ex­ist", as a joke. I am now as­sum­ing that say­ing that in a con­fer­ence with that kind of code of con­duc­t is go­ing to be con­sid­ered of­fen­sive be­hav­iour. And let's say I am ok with that, I can still go for a few hours with­out of­fend­ing peo­ple. Have not tried it late­ly, but I am sure I can do it.

And I know that at a pri­vate even­t, like a con­fer­ence, there is no in­her­en­t free­dom of speech, be­cause there is the right of ad­mis­sion, and I can just be kicked out with­out any ex­pla­na­tion, and I am al­so fine with that, be­cause I re­serve the right to kick peo­ple out of my own home, too.

So, sure, let's keep re­li­gion out of it. It has no place in a tech­ni­cal ­con­fer­ence one way or an­oth­er, and in any case, I will wear my in­vis­i­ble pink uni­corn shirt as an out­ward sign of my athe­ism (it looks just like a gray v-­neck t-shirt).

And I am to­tal­ly fine about not mock­ing or ha­rass­ing peo­ple be­cause of their ­gen­der or sex­u­al pref­er­ences. I am old and pro­vin­cial enough that when two ­men start kiss­ing next to me, I feel awk­ward. Luck­i­ly, I am enough of an adult that I just think to my­self, "dude, you are a pro­vin­cial prude" and look the oth­er way. Af­ter al­l, I have seen peo­ple take ex­cep­tion to me kiss­ing my wife in pub­lic, so, live and let live, what­ev­er. I like ­wom­en, my wife likes men, so I can un­der­stand you lik­ing ei­ther.

On the oth­er hand, I un­der­stand that the mere ex­is­tence and pres­ence of ­some peo­ple can be of­fen­sive to oth­er­s. I know peo­ple who would rather ­s­tand for 2 hours than sit next to a tran­sex­u­al. Or would rather get of­f the bus in­stead of be­ing there. And I am enough of an old, provin­cial prude that I un­der­stand them. So, of­fend­ing is not the thing here, be­cause if of­fend­ing is the thing, then the mere pres­ence of some­one can of­fend other­s, and that's the ex­act op­po­site of what we wan­t. We want them ­to ei­ther not be of­fend­ed, or be of­fend­ed and get over it, or be of­fend­ed and not care.

So, hand­ing out in­vi­ta­tions to three­somes to peo­ple in hall­ways is a bit ­too much (I nev­er in­vite peo­ple to three­somes be­fore the fourth date, it is gauche). Hit­ting on peo­ple in bars at night is prob­a­bly not too bad, un­less it's a con­stant thing that ru­ins the night for some­one (what do I know, I have nev­er hit on some­one or been hit on in a bar. Ex­cept by other men. Just my luck­!) in which case I ex­pect a group of nice peo­ple ­to form a pro­tec­tive ring around the poor per­son who is just too at­trac­tive? (a­gain, what do I know, I have nev­er been atrac­tive).

The thing we want is po­lite­ness. We want to be nice to each oth­er. We want ev­ery­one to be as nice as they pos­si­bly can to as many peo­ple as they can. Spe­cial­ly, we want ev­ery­one to be ex­treme­ly nice to the peo­ple they like the least. Be­cause with peo­ple you get along with, you can ­do crazy stuff you can't do with oth­er­s.

On the oth­er hand, I sus­pect there is some­thing else here I am miss­ing. Be­cause tol­er­ance and re­spect is just not my thing. I am all for pros­eli­tiz­ing and dis­re­spec­t, for cre­ative an­noy­ance and push­ing peo­ple out­side their com­fort zones. But I try not to do it per­son­al­ly, I try to throw things to the crowd and see what they do with them.

I mean, I have been pho­tographed with­out my con­sen­t. I have even had my shirt scanned with­out ask­ing per­mis­sion (ok, I ad­mit hav­ing a QR ­code in a shirt is sort of an im­plic­it agree­men­t), I have been called ­names, but I know that, in the words of a sci­fi writer, I live life in the low dif­fi­cul­ty set­ting, be­cause I am a rather healthy white hetero­sex­u­al male born in mid­dle class with a job, so again, I don't quite know what it's like to be in­sane­ly at­trac­tive, or gay, or in­sane­ly at­trac­tive to gays, or any­thing. I am not ha­rass­able. My face pro­tects me. I know oth­ers don't have such pow­er­ful de­fens­es.

So, while that kind of lan­guage does fill me with trep­i­da­tion, and makes me won­der what kind of com­mu­ni­ty I have been liv­ing in, obliv­i­ous to all these things I read about late­ly, I will ac­cept those codes and try to fol­low them. I have nev­er in­ten­tion­al­ly bro­ken them, even be­fore they ex­ist­ed (I did once take an in­ap­pro­pri­ate pic­ture, it was a joke, I on­ly showed it to one per­son, and I delet­ed it, and I re­al­ly am sor­ry and would not do it again, ok?)

So, I hope to see a lot of peo­ple I don't know in the next free ­soft­ware events I at­tend. Hope­ful­ly I will not of­fend any of them in a bad way. I will not be too brash. I will try to be in­clu­sive. I will try to be nice. But re­mem­ber. If I am very, very nice to y­ou, it may be be­cause I can't stand you. You're wel­come.

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