Why I Hate The ‘C’ Word, Part 1

If you haven’t heard about the goings on at the dev conference Pycon, you’ve obviously been pretty divorced from the day to day buzz of the tech-goldfish bowl.

For those who have been spared the ins and outs of it, a relatively well known blogger posted a photo on Twitter of some men sitting behind her, who she felt were making sexist comments. One of them went on to lose their job, as did she, amongst a huge amount of abuse, excuses and recriminations.

But stepping back from the ugly details of the story, the thing that really got to me was the way that so many people were throwing around the ‘c’ word, a word that, increasingly, offends me.

Yep. Community.

In her initial post after uploading the photo Adria Richards said:

I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community.

What I would like to know is who is this community she speaks of, and who elected her its spokesperson? When did one person get to decide what is or isn’t respectful, without holding an election first?

Margaret Thatcher famously said:

…there is no such thing as society

I’m no fan of Maggie’s, and certainly don’t agree with her sentiment. But what I also don’t agree with is this seeming trend whereby the loudest and most opinionated amongst us decide that they speak for some ill-formed and hard to define ‘community’ and then start to make comments on its behalf.

Whether it’s the Muslim community, gay community or tech community, I generally find that the people making the pronouncements are exactly the sort of people I wouldn’t want speaking on my behalf if I fell into any of those loose groupings. And nor are they the sort of people we should be giving a mouthpiece to, in the form of newspapers or TV & radio stations desperate to find spokespeople.

Before anyone thinks this is some sort of racist or sexist rant against Ms Richards I should point out that the adverse reaction to her highlighted exactly the same issues.

The fact that an anonymous idiot with access to some coding skills was able to get her fired by bringing down her employer’s website, again under the banner of expressing the community’s displeasure, shows just why we shouldn’t allow our views to be expressed for us without our approval. That one of the co-founders of reddit, a place which is almost synonymous with unelected mobs abusing women, all in the name of the community’s right to free expression, got annoyed at how many people started abusing Richards, is almost painfully ironic.

Because it goes to show that if you start to allow people to claim that they represent a community that doesn’t really exist, and that you probably wouldn’t want to belong to if it did, then you can’t really be surprised if they start doing things that you don’t like.

Oh, and if nothing else, hopefully this post will go to show that it is possible to write about this without reprinting the photo that caused all the trouble in the first place. Every site or blog that republished it above a posts all but begging people to think of the children, should be ashamed of themselves.

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