Nazi rhetoric creeping into Debian


Rhonda D'Vine, a Debian Developer from Austria, recently wrote about actively excluding people from free software projects.

At first glance, what D'Vine is proposing amounts to emotional blackmail.

This is the psychology of cults: people must show a blind obedience to the leaders and suppress their own feelings and ideas or they are treated rudely.

The tragic words of the confession "First they came ..." come to mind. Here it is in full:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Compare this to the philosophy of the medical profession: doctors swear the Hippocratic Oath, promising never to do harm:

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course.

D'Vine's tactics will almost always do harm to other members of our communities and our profession.

There may be extreme cases where exclusion is genuinely unavoidable, for example, excluding known pedophiles from working with children. D'Vine makes it clear that she is writing about excluding people based on differences in their opinions and culture.

Small groups, like cults, may well choose to limit membership to those who have a specific philosophy. An organization of over a thousand professionals, like Debian, being manipulated to work this way is both dangerous and absurd.

D'Vine's approach isn't the only way to solve conflict. It is probably one of the weakest approaches, as it involves avoiding challenges and only building relationships with people you find it easy to work with. The real world and real organizations don't work that way.

Think about one of the practical considerations: how do you ensure everybody in the organisation all agrees to be rude to the person you decide to actively exclude? Usually it involves character assassination, threats and blackmail:

We're shaming Bob this week, don't talk to him or you won't get travel funding for a long time.

This type of blackmail isn't new in Debian though.

When a new person comes to the organization and they discover somebody is being deliberately shamed, how will they react? Will they make some popcorn and watch? They may well look for another group to hang out with. Could this be one reason why so many women turn their nose up at Debian? At present, barely one percent of Debian Developers are female: women appear to have a good nose for this type of bullying and give it a wide berth.

Let's take D'Vine's ideas to their logical conclusion. The most well known example of actively excluding people may be the Holocaust. The Gemlich letter, otherwise known as Hitler's first letter of hate, comes to mind. It was written in 1919, well before any death camps were designed and built. It gives a useful insight into how Nazi-think emerged. Look at some of the similarities between Hitler's earliest musings and D'Vine's approach:

Generalising everybody feels bad around the target person/group:

Hitler: Rather, it arises mostly from personal contact and from the personal impression which the individual Jew leaves almost always an unfavorable one.

D'Vine: an environment that suddenly doesn't feel safe for a fair amount of people

Dividing the community into us and them

Hitler: Jews have never yet adopted much more than the language of the foreign nations among whom they live.

Hitler: And thus comes the fact that there lives amongst us a non­ German, alien race which neither wishes nor is able to sacrifice its racial character or to deny its feeling, thinking, and striving.

D'Vine: Whom do I want to create a community for, whom do I want to have in there?

Treating some people badly to indulge others

Hitler: An antisemitism based on reason, however, must lead to systematic legal combating and elimination of the privileges of the Jews

D'Vine: But ultimately, if you want to build any inclusive environment, you have to face the fact that you very likely will have to exclude people

Debian's notorious demotions experiment.

A chilling conclusion

D'Vine's musings reveal some people from an Austrian/German background are afflicted by a cultural defect: a desire and willingness to control everybody around you or eliminate them. An unwillingness to invest in relationships with people you wouldn't normally count as close friends.

The fact that D'Vine independently derives this philosophy from her own environment, which includes Debian, suggests a disturbing possibility that those from a German cultural background will keep reviving the philosophy behind the Holocaust from time to time whenever they participate in a state or organization with mixed cultures.

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