Totalizing Politics and Insurance Rackets

Let me tell you a story.

A friend of mine who shall remain nameless is an engineer at a financial services company that shall also remain nameless. After complaints to HR about the behavior of the finance and sales bros who constitute the majority of the staff, HR arranged for a diversity educator to come and speak. The contents of the training were so abstract and non-actionable that HR sent out a company-wide apology afterward for wasting the employees’ time. Who benefited, here? Not the employees, who lost several hours out of their day to the modern-day equivalent of a revival-tent meeting. The speaker received a handsome fee for her services, despite their uselessness with respect to their stated purpose. However, the company benefited despite the loss of productivity and the cost of the speaker: they’ve checked off the “diversity training” box on their List of Things That Will Protect Them From a Lawsuit.

“Diversity training” largely serves as malpractice insurance for human resources. Companies know that at any moment they could find their name trending on Twitter as the outrage of the day. “We held a diversity training” is something legal can say to offload liability: “we told people we expected something out of them, so it’s their fault for not following whatever abstract, ill-defined advice they were given, not our fault for ignoring behavior going on in our office.” Hiring a diversity speaker costs less than a lawsuit, and thus there exists a cottage industry of professional-class women who travel the country to lecture engineers about how their very existence upsets professional-class women. Companies trumpet the commencement of diversity initiatives in press releases and on social media, but follow-ups describing the concrete achievements — or failures — of such initiatives are curiously hard to find.

Why doesn’t diversity training work?

Maybe it’s because the people currently selling it — and buying it — don’t want it to.

In economics, Goodhart’s law states, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Thanks to case law in the United States, “we held a diversity training” is now a measure which, having become a target, is no longer useful as a measure. It is also a market — but it is a market for what the buyers want to buy. As is usual when buyers have their wallets open, there are always people willing to sell to them. Even, as it happens, some of the most vocal you’re-either-with-us-or-you’re-against-us feminists.

For all its pretentions to radicalism, tech diversity activism is rife with justification and preservation of the status quo. Dismissing thirty years of psychological research into flow states as a “hacker myth,” feminist magazine Model View Culture characterizes consideration for individuals’ sensory needs as “mismanagement,” subtly justifying managerial decisions to corral employees in open-plan offices in markets where real estate costs more than the productivity lost due to increased sick days. (Meanwhile, in the real world, sensory processing disorders affect as many as 1 in 6 people.)

Many of the tools and jargon that Sumana Harihareswara, formerly of now-defunct feminist protection racket the Ada Initiative, calls the “inessential weirdnesses” of tech — a term borrowed from activist and sociologist-of-activism Betsy Leondar-Wright, but mutilated into a conformity-promoting shadow of its former self — are inessential to managers and most neurotypicals, but relevant to the people who actually make technology. Technical terminology is as essential for precise communication about math and computer science topics as names are for precise communication about other people. And given that both email and IRC support text, standalone graphical, and browser-based interfaces, how is anyone harmed when some developers choose a console interface and others choose a GUI? These are faux-concrete concerns, presented in the name of “inclusiveness,” but conveniently serving to put those filthy nerdy console jockeys in their place in the business pecking order — firmly beneath the modern, progress-loving types who write the checks. “Our preferences align with yours, non-technical founders and executives,” their subtext coos. “We’ll help you totalize them across the people whose effort keeps your customers’ money coming in.”

Tech feminism is notorious for what Thomas Kochman terms a “high offense-low defense” verbal confrontation style: antagonistic, but quick to take personal offense. A “low offense-low defense” style is easier to interact with, but can also be the good cop to high offense-low defense’s bad cop. When someone has plenty to tell you about what not to do, but nothing concrete or actionable about what to do, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that their instructions are for their convenience rather than your benefit. “My preferences are more important than yours, so stop existing so noticeably around me!” is not actually for your own good. That isn’t education, it’s the creation of a willing victim.

There is, however, a faint light at the end of the tunnel. Currently, Elissa Shevinsky and Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack are crowdfunding a video series, “Hiring Goggles,” focused on two concrete, related challenges in building a technical workforce that reflects and understands its customer base: hiring and retention. Van Vlack previously created a series on technical interviewing for underserved people, along with Liz Dahlstrom. Both have a consistent history of opening doors for others, and have edited collections of essays from successful women technologists (from all walks of life) about how, much like the Internet interprets censorship, to interpret discrimination as damage and route around it in the social graph.

As CEOs of tech startups themselves, Shevinsky and Van Vlack have correctly realized that the high-offense approach favored by totalizing groups like Model View Culture and the Ada Initiative — “the beatings will continue until diversity improves” — fails not only thanks to the backfire effect, but because it offers no alternatives other than “hire people who share our preferences, and change yours while you’re at it.” Shevinsky and Van Vlack want to teach hiring managers and HR departments how to satisfice with candidates and employees, because supporting a diverse workforce means recognizing the unique characteristics of individuals and finding ways for them to thrive, not forcing people to conform to a single behavioral mold. They’re seeking $30,000, because making six half-hour videos with five people takes a lot more than three hours to do, and because they want to compensate the other women they’re working with fairly for their time.

Naturally, totalizing tech feminists can’t have this. If tech companies started improving their hiring processes in measurable ways, who would they have to verbally abuse on Twitter? Worse yet, who would pay them to proselytize? Whether it’s unintentional or deliberate, the self-sabotaging nature of conflict-affirming activism ensures the continued need for diversity consulting. Diversity consultants whose goal is to put their entire field out of business — even if it’s by solving the actual problem — are a threat to future bottom lines. And so the high-offense brigade kicked into gear. A few examples:

On the left, that’s Twitter user @haley retweeting the founder of both the aforementioned Ada Initiative and a feminist hackerspace at which doxing and public shaming are officially blessed activities. After purging some of its most high-profile members — healthy organizations do not undergo purges! — she shut the Ada Initiative down and went into business as, you guessed it, a diversity consultant. Note also the invocation of ideological cooties: the high offense-low defense, conflict-affirming “proud social justice warriors” of the games industry have successfully introduced “gamergater” into the popular lexicon as a term nominally for “person who supports online harassment,” but connotatively as “person to shun.” Shevinsky’s Lean Out sympathetically incorporates essays from noted anti-Gamergaters anna anthropy and Leigh “Gamers are over” Alexander, but since when have facts mattered to smear campaigners? Totalizing politics strikes again, flinging baseless accusations at everything that threatens its ideological frame and warning dissenters to shut up or be next on the firing line.

On the right is Erica Joy. Isn’t it interesting that both @haley and Joy work for addiction-driven browser-based IRC clone Slack, which competes with Shevinsky’s company Jekudo? One wonders whether Slack knows about its employees’ efforts in its public relations space, and if so, whether it condones them.

First-mover advantage is a huge leg up in any market, whether it’s for money, eyeballs, or social norms. Unfortunately for the low-offense people of the world, conflict-affirming groups dominated the field of gender and race issues in technology right out of the gate. Being a non-totalizing woman in the tech industry (and, increasingly, the sciences) has become a massive preference falsification game: having seen what can happen to people whom totalizing feminists can construe as having offended their sensibilities, non-totalizing low offense-low defense women keep their heads low for their own safety, while low offense-high defense women have to develop a keen sense of trustworthiness in order to distinguish other low-offense women from high-offense women who just haven’t attacked yet. Congratulations, totalizing feminists: you have made it more difficult for women to trust other women. Are you proud of yourselves?

But that victory is temporary. Cooperation, in the long run, eventually outcompetes those who wage the war of all against all — or some against all. If you’re someone who loves inclusiveness but hates the viciousness with which so many of its self-appointed champions savage whoever they consider the outgroup that day, this is your chance to help create an alternative. If you’re a company looking to improve communication and increase mutual respect among your teams, or hire more broadly, these are the folks you want to talk to. As Conway’s law predicts, what your organization produces will copy the communication structure of your organization. So you’re better off learning from people who teach cooperation rather than conflict.

And if you’re someone who’s tired of falsifying your preferences — you are not alone.

About Meredith L. Patterson
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51 Responses to Totalizing Politics and Insurance Rackets

  1. Michael Weems says:

    This is great

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tim says:

    On the presumed virtue of diversity, I would like to share the following observations.

    As it is commonly used the term “diversity” is becoming a replacement for “individuality”.

    But unlike “individuality”, “diversity” is implicitly collectivist because it takes the group as the primary frame of reference from which to measure how many subgroups are to be found within it. For example, a tech company has “diversity” if there are as many black people as white people, or as many men as women.

    “Diversity” used in that way functions as an anti-concept to obliterate the individual as such.


  3. Tim says:

    “Diversity” proponents covertly smuggle in the social justice theory of John Rawls.

    As such they assert that rights inhere in groups rather than in individuals.

    But observe that reality is composed of nothing but individual things, so the “social justice” construct is detached from nature and so “diversity” has no moral foundation in reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Peter Gerdes says:

      Umm, huh? Even from just reading the wikipedia article you link on Rawls it should be totally clear he believes no such thing.

      Rawls initial position is fundamentally based on the individual. When considering what are just states of the world you don’t get to even consider what groups you might or might not belong to. Moreover, the rights he derives from this are rights that belong to individuals not to groups. Yes, in so far as his views tolerate deviation from equality only insofar as the benefit the least well off they are traditionally favored by those of a more liberal persuasion.

      However, groups just don’t have any particular moral significance in Rawls view. Indeed, given how many sophisticated liberals are Rawls fanbois I think it’s somewhat ironic that his theory is very hard to square with reparations (yes many people have tried but they tend to amount to justifying reparations as just another way to benefit the least well off and would strictly prefer policies that benefited the poor and badly treated regardless of racial background).

      Look, Rawls has many flaws, the most glaring of which is that consideration of his own initial position most naturally yields the principle that “no deviation from equality is acceptable unless it increases the average welfare” (if you don’t know who you will be you want to maximize your expected welfare) and his attempts to avoid this conclusion are ad hoc kludges. However, in no way does he abandon the individual for the group.


  4. Non says:

    Curious what your opinion is on psychological priming. One of the “totalizing feminists” I have seen on Twitter has made this the centerpiece of her diversity training sessions, while it seems like the science of the concept keeps getting disputed by failed replications.


    • Simon Penner says:

      At a presentation in my workplace, the only actionable advice that came out of the session was “take an IAT“. Wonder if it was the same person?


  5. @Livebeef says:

    I’ve found genuine sociopaths and abusers have worked their ways into the ranks of totalizing feminists. People like Randi Harper to whom empathy is something to casually discard when attacking someone, be it tormenting someone with the memory of her recently deceased grandmother or by siccing her followers on a FOSS pro-women-in-tech leader because he had the audacity to politely disagree with Randi’s gaslight narrative.

    What I want to know is why companies like Google actively support the efforts of totalizing feminists who actively cause senseless harm to so many innocents. It’s nonsensical given their “freeze peach” mockery of free speech and Google’s historic company culture of treasuring free speech.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JG says:

      Because the first thing to understand about companies, particularly big companies with stock holders, is that they have no backbone and very little moral fiber. Since their primary incentive is to make money, they will always take the path of least resistance when it comes to things outside of their core business model. IOW – they will side with the group in the culture war primed to do the most damage to them.


      • me says:

        They might underestimate the damage they do to their overseas credibility though. Where I live (eastern Europe), there are quite a few people who boycott American companies precisely for their support of oppressive marxist agenda.


  6. Ash says:

    This was brilliant. Thank you for taking the time to write it.


  7. Artimus says:

    Interesting read, although I don’t have anywhere near as much time as I’d like to read some of those links.

    Would it be out of place to recommend adjusting your WordPress theme to include author attribution on articles in their presentation on the front page?

    Good luck with the new site!


    • Jeff Walden says:

      Yes, please do update the theme to make attribution more prominent! Should be at the start of articles on both front page and article view pages, for sure. (Though as someone just passing by, on the advent of Clarkhat’s joining, my request’s only worth so much, and I’m not going to be too hurt if it doesn’t happen. 🙂 )


  8. Sidney Carton says:

    Glad to see you blogging again — hopefully on a more regular basis?
    Would you accept donations? Post a bitcoin address if you’re into that.
    Best wishes for the new year, keep doing what you do because you do it very well sir.


  9. octopodes says:

    Is it alright if I talk about one small part of your article, leaving aside the article as a whole and its overall conclusions? I think the section that mentions Sumana Harihareswara should be revised.

    I think you misunderstand her intent. Based on my reading of the linked article, she doesn’t want to wipe out, say, IRC. It seems to me that she’s referring to the barriers that prevent people from getting involved. I think IRC is one of them, frequently, but it doesn’t have to be. Configuring an IRC client is a pain in the ass to do for the first time, but having webchat available which happens to be based on IRC isn’t. (This is just an off-the-cuff example of , I hope it doesn’t confuse the issue to have included it.)

    After I read your words on that article, I had the impression that she had written a piece condemning email and IRC. When I read the article as you linked it, my impression changed drastically. Specifically, I don’t think she believes that IRC or email lists are bad – I think she believes that those technologies in their current form tend to keep people out of open source projects. Based on her article, I think she’s concerned with real-world side effects of using technologies that many people aren’t used to, and I think she’d be just as interested in a way to make email/IRC more friendly to new contributors as she would in a wholesale replacement that is friendly to new contributors.

    Secondly, you should absolutely update that link, if you aren’t planning to link to her page directly. The original article claims to have been published in 10 August 2014, and claims to have snapshotted it over a year later, on 5 August 2015. However, when I actually visit Harihareswara’s blog at her own domain, it contains an update dated 13 August 2015, specifically addressing the misconception I had after reading your summary of her points. The update, in entirety:

    > Hi new readers. I see some folks on Twitter think I’m suggesting we eradicate everything I mention below. Nope. I (Linux user since 1998, open source contributor since 2006, Wikimedia open source community manager 2011-2014) want us to think about barriers that stop or slow down some users and contributors, so that in outreach efforts, we can be better at bridging the gap. Hope that context clarifies things. [Added 13 Aug 2015]

    This seems very relevant to your interpretation of her words, and the link should be updated to point to some copy of the article that includes it. Frankly, it’s hard not to entertain the thought that this was intentional on your part, given the timeline – your post, which claims to have been published 17 months after the original article, links to a copy archived over 5 months ago, which just happened to be a few days before an update was posted that clarifies her intent. I hope this isn’t intentional, but it certainly has raised my suspicions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Why did you (the author of the article, not the author of the comment) link to an archived version at all? Bizarre choice, and now it’s been pointed out I find that I am recasting the entire rest of the article in my mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. kilpatds says:

    (A form, and not content comment)
    As displayed on the main page, it’s not apparent who the author is. An attribution at the top would likely be a good idea, instead of opening up the article and scrolling to the bottom.


  11. RJ Miller says:

    If this post is a sign of what’s to come, I consider myself a devoted reader already!

    Very nuanced and informative post. The only background info I had on the drawbacks of diversity training came from Penn and Teller’s critique of sensitivity training.

    Hope to see more soon!


  12. Czernobog says:

    OK, so this is essentially a product endorsement.

    But it’s a product endorsement that employs one paragraph to describe the product in the broadest possible terms, and the rest of the article employs the (well deserved) backlash against totalizing feminists to drum up support.


    Liked by 1 person

  13. genisage says:

    The parts of this article that I understood were great, but I’m not sure what “totalizing feminism” is, and the first page of google is not very helpful. Can anybody direct me to an explanation that doesn’t require me to be fluent in postmodern? Thanks.


    • Smileyface says:

      it looks like its the term that was just made for the sake of this article

      Liked by 2 people

    • vendorx says:

      It’s Clark trying to call people feminazis without calling them feminazis. It’s a slander, effectively, of people committing the horrid crime of opposing bigotry or investigating the social forces that help generalize the way we distinguish and categorize the sexes and genders.


  14. jsled says:

    I think you’re misrepresenting the MVC piece on “mismanagement”, and specifically its “justification” of “open-plan offices”. I read that article as explicitly calling for “consideration for individuals’ sensory needs”: the introverted, neuroatypical, 10× super-hacker myth is bullshit, the acceptance of the “Canonical Hacker Personality” is harmful to real-world management of teams of/and unique individuals.

    The dismissal of “flow states” is legit, though, and strangely so.


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  16. Damned, Clark, very first post and you’re right into demonizing people.

    I read EricaJoy’s post like five times and still cannot for the life of me conprehend how you think you can pass that off as some form of totalitarian feminist abuse, but that’s exactly what you’ve tried to do. Interestingly, all her tweets are is the frankly saner and more rational version of your very post, expressing her opinions about what does and what doesn’t work when it comes to improving hiring diversity or workplace environments. Only difference, she doesn’t dox anyone, oddly you complain about other people doing it while doing it yourself. She doesn’t start throwing around bullshit labels, like your totalist feminist (by the way, just go ahead and say feminazi. We all know you want to and we all know that’s what you mean.)

    Clark, you support bigotry. That’s all there is to it. And no amount of trying to spin people opposed to bigotry into a horrible boogeyman you’re here to expose and rescue us from is going to work. We’re not all cringing from feminists and SJW and all the boogums you can’t stop foaming over, and bigotry, sorry, is a bad thing. That’s an actual problem, not this gibberish you’re overreacting to and being pretty insanely hypocritical about.


    • Shieldfoss says:

      “In effort to demonize political opposition, Area Man erases female contributions to political debate.”

      Or in other words: Read the byline, then try over.


    • lliamander says:

      How is Meredith doxxing anyone here? I may have missed it, but from what I saw there are no private or sensitive documents leaked anywhere in this blog post.

      Also, you expressed some familiarity with Clark: did you follow him over from Popehat? If you did follow him here, was it just to call him a bigot? I came here because I think Meredith and Clark have interesting things to say, and if you’re the kind of person who frequents places like Popehat, then I’m sure you do too. Please share that instead.

      The only argument you actually make is that you don’t think Erica Joy’s post is “totalitarian feminist abuse”. Fair enough, but I don’t think Meredith made that claim. Calling your competitor’s CEO a “snake-oil salesman” in nonetheless not the most polite thing to do.

      What I think Meredith is saying is that EricaJoy is motivated to disparage a competitor because:
      a) the current diversity consultation paradigm doesn’t work, and introducing something that might work could her occupation less secure
      b) the model put forth by Shevinsky may not fit neatly within a feminist perspective, and she is bothered that feminism may not provide the best perspective when it comes to successfully hiring a diverse workforce.

      I don’t know enough about Erica to know if that is justified. But what about @haley? Her approach seems much more offensive.


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  18. michealvassar says:

    Cooperation wins in a noise-free environment. If you want to explore the space of strategies and their performance as a function of noise and payoff matrix, I’m game. My guess is that the work could contribute to our shared desire to overcome preference falsification.


  19. Peter Gerdes says:

    I have to admit that this post seems a little disconnected to me. I feel like the author assumes everyone has had certain kinds of experience that tie together the various threads about diversity training, totalizing feminism and the treatment of non-neurotypical programmers.

    Having said this I think you are a little harsh on the idea of having diversity training sessions. Of course the kind of consultants who come to tech companies don’t actually teach anything of value but that doesn’t mean the practice has no utility above CYA.

    An alternate theory is that diversity training is a type of cultural signal. Just as spending money on certain kinds of brand name products conveys information about what you value spending employee time and money on diversity training sends the message that our society places a high value on good treatment of women and minorities and hugely disapproves of certain kinds of behavior (racial epithets or stereotyping, continued unwanted romantic attention or inflicting sexual humor on the unwilling). The fact that we are willing to force companies (via legal and social pressure) to spend that kind of time/money on diversity training conveys conveys that we are serious about these values in the way that we aren’t about values like “don’t do drugs” or our disapproval of porn.

    Given that I believe the dissemination of norms through television was of vital importance in alleviating racial prejudice it seems quite plausible that the signaling of simply having a diversity training day has real benefits both in terms of deterring unwanted behavior and encouraging victims to report. Unsurprisingly, given they only need conviction, social status and a high price, the people who will take those jobs will be those who most like to feel outraged about trivial or non-existent concerns.

    However, I do worry that as what diversity trainers and the like preach drifts farther and farther away from any plausible mode of human interaction we will normalize the idea of being two-faced about race and gender issues


    • Virgil says:

      “Having said this I think you are a little harsh on the idea of having diversity training sessions. Of course the kind of consultants who come to tech companies don’t actually teach anything of value but that doesn’t mean the practice has no utility above CYA.”

      There’s a collection of hyperlinks near the beginning of the article that you may have missed. The science demonstrated that this is the only clear benefit to diversity training. If the virtue signaling itself has some benefit, then it’s either so small as to be invisible or not objectively measurable. In the case of the former, is it really the most cost-effective approach? In the case of the latter, is it really wise to take an non-objective and unscientific approach to a real-world problem?


  20. spellman says:

    Meredith, I have enjoyed your writing and criticism for many years. I don’t think this is your best work. This may sound like “concern-trolling” but it comes from a genuine agreement with many of your positions.

    This piece is uncharitable to many. It does not honestly represent their positions. It misrepresents I believe because of an impulse to create a simple narrative and to characterize a group of people as a consistent outgroup who should be shunned. It heavily implies intent and projects states of mind that are inaccessible to you or anyone else. It stitches together from cherry-picked public interactions to create a simplistic narrative and to provoke a feeling of revulsion in your reader. In other words, it uses all the totalizing features that you rightly dislike about your others who have gained visibility in the “nerd” world. In deciding to fight publicly with what you see as monsters you have I think unconsciously adopted their strategies.

    If I can be frank, I believe this is because many of your objections are not based in behavior that is localized to feminism but are mixed up with your own personal history. You’ve repeatedly hinted at some damaging interaction many years ago between you and Val Aurora, the founder of the Ada Initiative ago but have never publicly described what this was. It seems to be something involving shared partners and bad business relationships. Over time I have watched you extend that distrust to include everyone connected with Aurora and her projects.

    I believe your descriptions of Aurora as more accurate than not. There are many in the technology feminism world who have now had extremely negative experiences with her. But because you have generalized outwards from Aurora’s behavior, you have ended up publicly attacking anyone who might otherwise have joined you in criticizing her. These are figures who could easily be your allies in understanding how dangerous outgrouping is.

    Instead in your rush to connect anyone who has worked with Aurora to bad behavior, you are alienating them. Another commenter has pointed out your misrepresentation of Sumana Harihareswara here. Anyone who has followed her work over the long term would be able to see stronger connections with a charitable, rational, neuroatypical-sensitive understanding of “geek culture” than she ever had with Aurora’s branch of divisive outgrouping. The same goes for the Model View Culture article you quote. These pieces are far more sympathetic to your position than you describe. But instead you create here a monochrome narrative where everyone is either good or bad: to the point where you have included digs at Slack, a company of hundreds of people, extrapolating some sort of commercial motive from a few social justice tweets.

    If I can continue to be equally uncharitable myself I think this recent development in your writing is that you have allied yourself with characters that are more like Aurora than not. Eric Raymond has a long reputation for demonizing his opponents and injecting US political subculture into what should be dispassionate rational analysis. Both Eric and Clark adopt a rhetorical style that simultaneously acknowledges a common vocabulary (which I also share) of evolutionary psychology and rationalist thought, but also using all the tricks to turn the “other side” (which by an amazing coincidence maps to their opponents in the United States’ internal culture war) into co-ordinated conspiracy of malicious actors.

    I would like to have the equable charitable and rigorous Meredith back. Instead of someone I hoped could give people a defense kit against accepting malicious behavior you appear to have ended up only associating with people who use all of the techniques you rightly identify as dangerous and are now using them yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Virgil says:

      If I may be frank, you make a number of assertions without providing evidence or supporting examples. For example, you do not explain how Sumana Harihareswara was misrepresented, nor the MVC article. You do not specify what “techniques” Meredith is now using, or point to where/when they were used. You took up 7 paragraphs to contribute the equivalent of nothing.


      • spellman says:

        (I tried replying to this earlier but it did not appear. Sorry if I ended up posting this twice. Moderators, please use the earlier version, it is better written.)

        I think that is a fair criticism of my post. I thought about adding examples myself but my posting was already very long. The points about the Harihareswara piece and the MVC article were discussed by jsled and octopodes above. Two quick examples of Meredith’s style in this piece. are the rhetorical questions “If tech companies started improving their hiring processes in measurable ways, who would they have to verbally abuse on Twitter?” and “since when have facts mattered to smear campaigners?”. These questions assume the guilt of the people being discussed, and are intended to prompt us all to give a predictable answer.

        I prefer the SlateStarCodex style where rather than presume the outgroup of being bad and their motives simple and transparent compared to our complex motivations, we would steel man ( the arguments. I do not think it is ever accurate to assume an entire movement works in lockstep or that it is useful to describe them in negative terms in the middle of what is meant to be an argument about why they are so bad.

        Thank you for responding to my original comment. I hope that my two (maybe three) posts now add up to more than nothing.

        Liked by 1 person

  21. neilknet says:

    I’m coming to this pretty late, but I am also very disappointed with this article.

    We’ve already talked about this on Twitter and such – we seem to have a fundamental disagreement on whether programming culture needs to be reformed to address bias and bigotry, or how to go about it, and I can accept that. I learn a lot from your critiques, which is why I have continued to follow you.

    But I’m reconsidering that now. There is a lot to criticize about contemporary feminism without also descending to conspiracy theories.

    I happen to know Sumana Harihareswara through our shared time at the Wikimedia Foundation together. I cannot reconcile your impression of her as someone knowingly participating in a “protection racket” with the gentle, nerdy, and humorous person I know. Furthermore you’ve completely missed the point of her post. That might be okay (many people did, so perhaps she was unclear, or failed to communicate the context well), but you’ve also continued to link to an outdated version of it which doesn’t include clarifications. And then you’ve also tried to fit it into a narrative of neurotypicals invading, dare I say it, the “safe space” of console jockeys. You close that paragraph about her by literally putting words into her mouth, which you claim to discern via subtext. Whatever you’re dealing with here, I’m not sure that it’s in anything Sumana wrote or intended. I think you’re going to have to deal with the fact that, whatever your concerns with the Ada Foundation, not everyone involved with it is a horrible person, or is out to “get” people like you.

    I don’t know Erica Joy personally, but I do know many people at Slack. Addiction is not something that they would be trying to achieve. But let’s accept that anyway, with the evidence of a random third-party Medium post. It’s not clear to me what you are saying with “One wonders whether Slack knows about its employees’ efforts in its public relations space, and if so, whether it condones them.” When I first read it, I thought you were suggesting that Slack was part of the conspiracy, and trying to benefit from the tech feminism. On second read, you might also be suggesting that maybe Joy et al. should be reported to their employer for misdeeds? I really don’t know, but neither of these interpretations make sense to me, so perhaps I’ve missed something. In any case, the “one wonders” construction is a sleazy way to insinuate things; if YOU’RE wondering it, just say “I wonder”.

    Perhaps I am missing a level of irony in this piece, but it seems to me you’re descending to some of the tactics of the self-described tech feminists that you abhor — shaming people for their associations, and suggesting conspiracies without any evidence.

    In any case, I’m glad that you found someone whose diversity work you can accept, and who you think does bring our industry forward. This is more constructive than what most people do. But I would suggest that labels like “totalizing feminists” be used with a little more judiciousness. There are some people who might deserve that and more (Shanley Kane, for instance) but you’re painting with too broad a brush.


    • I happen to know Sumana Harihareswara through our shared time at the Wikimedia Foundation together. I cannot reconcile your impression of her as someone knowingly participating in a “protection racket” with the gentle, nerdy, and humorous person I know.

      Meanwhile, here she is calling for “centralizing this kind of reporting, codification and enforcement across the FLOSS ecosystem”, complaining of “the utter haphazardness of Code of Conduct proliferation” and wondering: “what if single open source projects are the wrong size or shape or scope for this particular aspect of stewardship and governance?”

      When I hear someone who I know mainly for dismissing most of my preferences as “inessential weirdnesses”, differences from mainstream culture which we carry some burden to justify, I’m inclined to take this rhetoric of empire, with its demands for easily controlled central chokepoints, very seriously indeed. What label other than ‘totalizing’ could you possibly use for someone who is now openly calling for supra-project institutions of ‘governance’ to make sure no rogue communities slip away un-yoked?

      To be quite honest, I fear these people, who imagine they are doing good while working to destroy the all-too-fragile spaces in which people like me can thrive. When you build institutional weapons to ostracize people from whole communities (!) rather than even from projects, they will end up used by those most connected, most skilled at recruiting allies, against those least so endowed.


    • Andrea pretty much nails it. I’ve never met Sumana and am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, but forcing people to pick up the burden of justifying their sensory or technical (e.g., privacy) needs, lest those needs be dismissed as “inessential,” is already at odds with a neurodiversity-supportive mindset. We’re already socialized so hard to suppress those needs, in the name of “fitting in,” that merely expressing them is difficult enough. “Well, they backed down when I pressed them on it, so I didn’t think it was that important!” Right — you and the weight of all the structural oppression that is apparently still okay when it’s aimed at the non-NT.

      I do find it a little odd that a few weeks into this year, Sumana reached out to one of my co-bloggers about revising the post we’re discussing. Sure, social graphs overlap in all kinds of ways and maybe that’s the path Dijkstra returned, but it still stings a bit — am I not enough of a person to have my arguments responded to directly? — and smacks of the kind of “ideological cooties” attitude that leads, in the end, to absolutism. I can read it several ways, some charitable and some uncharitable. This sort of ambiguity is a mode of communication that I’ve never been comfortable with — it’s part of why female socialization never really took hold on me — and even if the charitable interpretation is correct, the ambiguity still provides lots of maneuvering room for bad actors who deserve the uncharitable one. How the fuck am I supposed to tell the difference? Sure, being direct and unambiguous is bucking female socialization, but isn’t “women are indirect” supposed to be patriarchal female socialization anyway?


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  23. Douglas Knight says:

    A nitpick about your opening example:
    The apology email invalidated the legal protection of the training seminar. So the company did not actually benefit from it and thus this particular company was probably not interested solely in the legal protection. The existence of speakers with useless seminars tells us about the market and does suggest that most other companies do not care about content, but the company in the example appears different.


    • me says:

      My guess is that the company initially contracted that female supremacist for the sole purpose of legal protection. Then they realized that the damage done to employee morale was much greater than any legal CYA benefit, so they decided to backtrack.

      In other words, they did a cost-benefit analysis, severely underestimated the costs, and when that became apparent they switched into damage-control mode.


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