Monthly Archives: January 2016

My reaction to Contempt Culture


Be Nice. Don’t Be Not Nice.

Here’s the article I am writing about, it’s better written than mine:

I mean to describe and analyze my reaction to the piece, which is a personally constructive practice. This isn’t me trying to respond to author Aurynn Shaw directly, though I welcome feedback and conversation.

Over time, I’ve learned to recognize the very physical sensation of angry denial as it rises in me. It’s mostly in my throat and chest, a hard redness that lashes out at whatever it is that triggered it. I’ve become aware that it’s not a reasonable reaction, and I’ve gotten better at dealing with it.

I felt defensive and angry as I read Contempt Culture. Specifically, I got all agro when reading Shaw’s assertion that making fun of PHP is active participation in the exclusion of women from STEM. I try hard to be an ally (what a gross and loaded word, by the way), and I felt attacked by those assertions. Community and culture are often more important to me than my technical, code-related responsibilities.

I read the article, noticed how I felt, closed my computer and took a walk around the block to consider my reaction. I’m happy with my decision to take on my feelings that way. I don’t always make decisions that well.

After some breathing and walking, I decided to come to terms with why I don’t like JavaScript or PHP: I feel threatened by them. PHP is a “bad” language that runs most of the web (Facebook, Wikipedia, this blog), and I don’t know it. I have a pretty good grasp on JavaScript but it’s going in all sorts of directions I’m uncomfortable with. Functional programming? Isometry? Asynchronous module definition? What? WHAT?

But those are my hangups. They should not be the responsibilities of others.

Shaw is correct when she says that making fun of other programming languages is part of programming culture. She is also correct to state that this behavior is exclusionary. Even if it wasn’t at the expense of marginalized groups (which it is in the case of PHP), it would still be shitty. But it is, and that matters.

Tech is host to an exclusionary and fundamentally mean culture. We not only tolerate but actively encourage and participate in making fun of each other, and of non-technical people. Let’s not do this.

There are many wonderful exceptions to this trend, but I perhaps cynically believe that they remain exceptional.

I don’t care if “don’t hurt people’s feelings” sounds like a petty or childish ask. It’s not. Don’t do it. Be nice. Be open, be inviting. Share your knowledge, and be open to the experiences and knowledge of others. Stop making fun of PHP. It is not constructive; rather, it is literally destructive.

Linus Torvalds is a mean jerk. Steve Jobs was a mean jerk. Their meanness pushes people, especially already-marginalized groups, away, and if we don’t stop idolizing and being mean (mostly white male) jerks then we will continue to a community of them, dominated by them. This incredibly cash-rich industry will continue to only enrich white males, with an emphasis on the mean ones. That’s not the whole story of how the tech industry has become so homogenous, but it’s significant. The cycle continues.

I will do my part. I will try very hard to stop being a mean jerk about JavaScript and PHP. Even NoSQL (though I think there are very good technical arguments against its usage). I will continue to share my knowledge openly. I will continue to listen to others, especially people whose experiences are different from my own. I will take walks when I feel angry, and I will own my mistakes.

I now realize I’ve ended up just rephrasing a lot of what Shaw’s article states more eloquently. But that’s okay. This has been an important lesson for me.

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