Today I spent considerable time reading the now epic email thread “How to act on LKML“. It makes for an interesting read. Both, Sarah and the other kernel community members offer reasonable arguments for & against restricting use of abrasive language on LKML. Though the general consensus amongst the community members seems to be that, it is okay to use abrasive language because sometimes that is what conveys the message effectively and brings about the change you wish to see.
I disagree. In my view there is no justifiable reason to be abrasive, rude and demeaning to your co-workers and fellow developers. One can always convey their disappointment and disagreement in respectful manner. Respecting a person is imperative and disrespect is never acceptable. It is just not the right way to handle conflicts or express personal anger. It might get the job done but still not the right way. For the same reasons as why threat and intimidation are wrong methods to get the job done(banks in India employ recovery agents who use such means to recover loan amounts). Besides, we are dealing with diligent and thoughtful engineers; Not some kind of psychopathic criminals who’ve raped 30 children and 50 women.
In India, (I feel embarrassed to say) women and children are raped, abused every day. Every single day. Sometimes they are killed after the rape, sometimes burned alive, sometimes left to die or live a slow death. People protest, raise concerns, discuss and debate. Once there was a national eruption of anger and cry for action. But nothing changes. Life goes on, rapes go on. Every time these discussions and debate happen, the talking heads argue that people(men) in India must change their mentality and mindset towards women. They must respect women and treat them justly.
But how did this mentality came to be in the first place? Did it happen over-night? In last 10-20-30 years?? I think it’s a baggage from ages. If you grow-up watching your father abuse and beat your mother, you are more than likely to resort to the same measures when in a similar situation. Because that is what you know and that is what is normal for you. At some point in time, somebody in a powerful position failed to establish the norm or just wrongly defined what is acceptable. For generations people did not, perhaps could not oppose and it became a standard practice. An accepted behaviour. It is ingrained so deep in our psyche that we don’t even notice when something inappropriate is said. You use the ‘F’ word and it just flows unnoticed. It is no longer inappropriate. There is a new norm.
It sets a bad precedent when people in powerful positions use disrespectful and demeaning language to convey their anger, disappointment and disagreement. Even if they have all the reasons to do so. Because it spoils the environment and sets a bad mood. It thwarts genuine useful dialogue and discourse. Plus others who look up to these people and hero worship them are likely to follow their suit.
It is really funny to see so many developers projecting the fact that Linus rebuked them as some kind of badge of honour. And justify him saying he can do that because he is Linus; He is not rude to new comers but only to his trusted folks from whom he expects better. May be Linus is thoughtful enough to do that. Who is to say tomorrow these same followers and fan boys would be thoughtful too. I also wonder if they would put up with someone else using the same language with them. I have seen numerous verbal abuses and insults. Managers insult subordinates, senior engineers yell at their peers and junior ones imitate. It is always an unpleasant experience. Not just for the person who is at the receiving end of the flak, but the entire surrounding.
Today Linus has a unique opportunity to set the precedent right. Even if he believes that it is okay to curse when you are angry. It is justified to vent out venom when it is called for. Even if his maintainers don’t object to him doing so. If he decides to refrain from disrespecting other developers; If he makes a choice to be respectful to others even when he is angry, he could establish the new norm. His choice will have far reaching effects not only on the kernel community but even wider groups on the internet as well as off it. We might witness the history shift its gears, turn around the corner and accelerate in a bright new sunshine direction.