Thoughts on the Drupal community

I did make one comment on Dries’ blog in the immediate aftermath of learning about the situation which is roiling the Drupal community, but since then have taken some time to listen and ponder. The community is in deep pain now, and many of us are reacting to that pain with anger. Trust is in short supply. Healing seems nearly impossible.

We need to start from compassion for all involved. The pain is deepest for those in the middle. Larry has already expressed his pain eloquently - I know losing the Drupal community would cut me deeply, and pragmatically this is a major blow to his career as well. But, let’s also consider Drupal leadership - Dries, the Drupal Association, the Community Working Group. Regardless of whether we agree with their decision, I see no reason to believe it was done arbitrarily or with malice. Reaching such a decision against someone who has given so much to the community over the years must have been extraordinarily difficult, and the fact that this decision seems to have eroded much of the community’s trust in them is surely agonizing.

We need to recognize and address the asymmetries in this situation. The power in the relationship is unbalanced - Drupal leadership has an ability to affect Larry’s life profoundly that is not reflected. On the other hand, the information is also unbalanced - Larry is able to say what he chooses publicly, but the Drupal leadership has a responsibility to maintain confidentiality. Yes, “confidentiality” can be used as a smokescreen - but there really is a legitimate need to respect it - to protect those who gave evidence to the CWG, and to protect Larry himself from public accusations without public evidence. Transparency and confidentiality are at odds, and it is exceedingly difficult to find a “perfect” balance between them.

That all being said, and recognizing that the information I have is incomplete, my main thoughts on the three parties involved:

  1. The impression Larry’s blog post leaves is that his dismissal was primarily due to BDSM/Gorean practices in individual personal relationships (that certainly appears to be the main takeaway in much of the criticism online). On the other hand, statements from the other side suggest it may have had more to do with broader statements of belief (and commitment to living that belief totally) which seem in conflict with the Drupal community’s values (although it’s difficult for me to be sure of whether they were meant to be taken literally in the real world, or as a form of cosplay - as portrayal of a Gorean character). Just to be clear - although I strongly disagree with some statements I saw, as long as they were not reflected in Larry’s behavior within the Drupal community I don’t see standing to dismiss him (except, perhaps, from representation to the PHP community if it seemed like it might diminish his effectiveness in that role). But, if this was indeed the main issue presented to Larry, I would have liked to see him address it head-on. He does deal with it somewhat in the section “Larry is a proponent for the enslavement of women!”, but the section title itself looks like an exaggeration of the actual accusation, and it is down at the bottom of the accusations he addresses, de-emphasizing it.

  2. I think Drupal leadership needs to tilt the balance at least a little more towards transparency. The community does need to better understand broadly why Larry was dismissed. Dries’ post stated “I did this because it came to my attention that he holds views that are in opposition with the values of the Drupal project”. This suggests that the primary reason for the dismissal was those statements outside of Drupal - I (and many others) feel that what happens outside of the Drupal community, should stay outside of the Drupal community. Then, the DA stated “We want to be clear that the decision to remove Larry's DrupalCon session and track chair role was not because of his private life or personal beliefs... Our decision was based on confidential information conveyed in private by many sources.” This contradicts Dries’ original statement, which is concerning. It also fails to address the central concern many people have - did Larry do or say anything within the Drupal community?

  3. I don’t think the Drupal community has acquitted itself well here. The immediate outpouring has been based on one point of view - admittedly, there is little hard information otherwise, but we should all be slower to react when we know we don’t have all the facts, and lead off with questions rather than diatribes. One thing to be concerned about is that the one-sided onslaught is likely to discourage expressions that disagree with the crowd - anyone who might agree with the Drupal leadership’s decision, or who might know of some concrete reasons they may have made that decision, has reason to fear speaking up. I’m thinking here of GamerGate. No, I’m not saying the people criticizing the decision are like the GamerGaters - but what I am saying is that, given that the center of this controversy is around beliefs and statements that look an awful lot like misogyny, and that much of the rhetoric has carried a whiff of torches and pitchforks, I would not be at all surprised if women (and feminists of all gender identities) felt good reason to fear a GamerGate-like backlash if they did speak up. We need to leave more room for all voices and not flood the space unilaterally.

So, where do we go from here? In reverse order,

  1. The Drupal community is certainly Internet-savvy - we’ve all seen so many cases where based on one piece of information the flamers descend without waiting for fact-checking, the other side of the story, etc. We need to jerk our knees a little more slowly. We need to recognize we don’t have (and will never have) all the information, and the fact that we won’t have it is not in and of itself proof that the decisions of Dries/DA/CWG were wrong.

  2. Drupal leadership does need to tell us more, and I think it can be done without violating confidentiality. Simply put - did Larry’s dismissal involve anything he did within the Drupal community? If they say it did, I for one, am willing to accept it and move on - I’m not in a position to know the specifics (nor should I be), but I recognize this as a legitimate exercise of authority, even if I don’t know if I would have voted the same way if I had seen the evidence. If, on the other hand, this is based purely on statements and actions outside of the Drupal community, it’s important for all of us in the Drupal community to understand that - we all need to know if the DA and CWG will hold us accountable for our online presence outside of Drupal. On that score, I’ve created a separate Twitter account for my Drupal and professional communications under my DBA, Virtuoso Performance. To be fair, I’ve considered doing this anyway just in terms of work/life balance, but now it seems all the more important to keep things separate.

  3. I know it’s a lot to ask - actually, I know that it’s too much to ask and don’t actually expect it, but in the interests of symmetry I’m putting it out there… It would be great if Larry could share (without violating the confidentiality of anyone involved - redacting names and details) precisely what he was told were the specific charges that led to his dismissal. We’re not going to get any specifics from the Drupal leadership side - he’s the only person who can provide us with any hard information. Again, I don’t expect this - Larry has suffered more than anyone here, and has already really put himself out there. Edit: Larry has now responded with more information, which I will take some time to review before making further comment.

Ultimately, while this is a painful episode in Drupal’s history, I hope we can find a way to get through it and come out the other side with a better understanding of each other, and rebuild trust within the community.

Comments

It is all very sad. You focus on Larry's situation, which is the immediate concern. You also mention Dries's situation. It is remarkable how well, most of the time, he has discharged the duties of having a final say over both social and technical decisions, chair of DA, and a leading role in Acquia, and done so in a community noted for openness. What your post does not cover is the extent to which it is fair to place such great responsbilities and powers, and potentially conflicting interests, on the shoulders of one man. Indeed, in happier times Larry's name might have been one of those which would spring to mind as a person who could step up to the plate and share some of those powers and duties. He is the one person who has started a debate specifically about the power stucture in the issue queues, albeit in the direction of calling for more rather than less top-down power. However the issue with Larry is eventually resolved, the power structure may need review in order to take some of the pressure off Dries's broad shoulders.

A very decent, reasonable and sober analysis Mike - and thankyou for that, level-headedness makes the world better plCW

DA and CWG are puppets for Dries. They help to give community the illusion of independent power distribution. In reality, there is no such thing. Those entities are not powerful, nor independent; not at all. Dries just drives the project and the community wherever he wants to, whenever he wants to, however he wants to. After all, he needs to protect his Acquia investment. I witnessed more than once, Dries making decisions, against community's strong will, to ride the project in accordance with Acquia's future goals and plans.

This witch hunt is bullshit all around. I read comments from some people like Dries should forgive Larry. Where as, Dries should ask forgiveness from Larry and from the community.

One another bullshit is protecting the privacy of the reporters, who supposedly brought evidence. Nobody talks about how these reporters intrude Larry's privacy to collect information about his personal life. Why now these reporters are under protection rather than being penalized because of what they did.

Too much crap. Whichever angle I approach, it just stinks. I don't trust Dries and his DA. I am sure he had a different agenda under this decision.

In reply to by Tony (not verified)

So, this is exactly what I'm talking about.

The entire controversy is about rushing to judgment. It appears (based on what little we know, which is almost entirely based on what Larry has told us) as if the DA and Dries had an initial reaction of revulsion to Gorean philosophy that Larry had posted online, and that first impression limited his ability to defend himself. No, on second thought - it seems to have limited their ability to listen to him, and perhaps more importantly, to consider the wider impact on the community.

Larry then was the first to bring this to the public, presenting his side of the conflict. I don't doubt he's being honest in his own understanding, but inevitably the story he presents is colored by his own perspective, and the strong emotions he's feeling. That narrative, both because it was the first one out there, and because it fits a broader narrative of distrust in institutions (and especially resistance to a particular despot-wannabee), has caught fire - and has been accepted uncritically by too many people in the Drupal community. The torches have been lit and pitchforks distributed.

I, for one, refuse to judge anyone. I have neither the information nor the wisdom to declare one side "right" and the other side "wrong". I can only hope (and work to help) the Drupal community learn from this experience, to heal from it, and to be prepared to better deal with these kinds of conflicts when (not if) they occur again.

Mike

P.S. Am I the only one who feels like we're in the first act of a Drupal remake of Rashomon?

In reply to by Tony (not verified)

Troll factory. You clearly don't know much about the Drupal project (or other major open source projects for that matter which have similar governance). Dries created the project, is BDFL (look it up), created the DA and CWG, his company Acquia is hurt not helped by this - and here you are complaining that Dries drives the project and talking nonsense about this having something to do with Acquia.

Great post, Mike, thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts!

I think there is a problem, which you mentioned in your blog post, that the power relationships between Dries and Crell are so unbalanced that it is very difficult to be balanced in this situation. The reality is that Dries has a great deal of power and Crell has next to no power if it isn't for the mob of people supporting him.

Because Crell's only power is a mob of people supporting him, if people are too reasonable and willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Dries there risks turning this into a long drawn out process that means Dries will "win" by just waiting it out. Unfortunately if you are too "reasonable" then you end up really taking the side of Dries and the power structures in the status quo. Until the current power structures give up some of their power (Public trial, willingless to discuss it in public, a descision to look into the Crell situation again, etc) the only response if you care about justice for Crell is to just rage about it for a while, or boycott, etc.

One of the reasons why democracies in real life are so powerful is they allow these kinds of controversies to pass without violence or coercion. But Drupal is not a democracy, Dries is leader for life and so to some degree a violent (though not physically violent) response is the only one that could actually work given that there is nothing in place for Crell to be welcomed back if it turns out he was mistreated.

Similarly the same is true for Chx. He has been banned and that is it. There is no public appeals process that can garentee fairness, there are no elections he could try and win to change things by changing the hearts and minds of the community, its just over. Chx could only ever get unbanned by the powers that be just changing their mind randomly or a mass movement of angry irrationally sounding people.

(Although really if you look at the comments on the blogs I think most people are quite reasonable in this community on both sides. The vast majority of angry mindless responses I've seen has come on sites like reddit or the comments sections of non-drupal websites and by people who are clearly not drupal people because they tend to also talk about never touching drupal)

Well, thank you, but no thanks. No one needs to apologize for their life choices here, in being who they are and living their life in that fashion.

What doesn't occur to many folks is that in the lifestyle, all participants are willing and seek to particpate in their respective roles - there's no one-sidedness here, but this is beyond the comprehension of a nilla so I won't waste my time on showing you that as fair and balanced as you think you are, you only demonstrate your passive bigotry in making that attempt.

The right thing is for Dries, Klaus, and their little brown-nosing crony's to step down and leave.

Or maybe we (the community of truly inclusive people) should take this time to fork Drupal.

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