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:
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.
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?
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,
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.
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.
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.