LKML & Netiquettes


    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.

…let’s see! 🙂

10 thoughts on “LKML & Netiquettes

  1. Very well written!

    If I witness (well, I mostly work remote) a *manager* (or whoever for that matter) yells at an associate, in person, I’d immediately take it up with highest possible person in their People department to convey the seriousness of the issue.

    It’s *elementary* common sense to treat the person standing next to you with some civility.

    And, that’s all — whoever they are, they will not have slightest of respect from me! Because, they’re not worth my time.

  2. This is one of the most intelligently written arguments for civility that I have ever read. Thank you for writing this article.

    I know from personal experience that nothing looks more powerful than someone using respect and restraint when they don’t have to. When a superior keeps a calm demeanor after a subordinate makes a huge mistake — it shows a certain kind of sophistication and true expertise. This is something I strive to emulate — and fail to more often than I’d like.

    When I read the first paragraph of this article, I wasn’t too sure where it was going — ‘the usual’ for this topic is a wishy-washy appeal to the readers’ emotional side which is not only an utter waste of time, but ultimately invalid. If someone wantonly treads on other users’ feelings, logically, what use is it to appeal to theirs? I am very happy that I decided to read to the end because this is certainly not what I just outlined.

    I don’t think it’s too late for society to make a major turn-around, but I think that most of the offenders simply don’t realize where “misconduct” eventually leads. Not many people have the personal experience or the vision to understand. I wonder what it would take to bring this realization to them.

    • Thank you Tom! Thanks so much for your comments.

      >I don’t think it’s too late for society to make a major turn-around, but I think that most of the offenders simply don’t realize where “misconduct” eventually leads. Not many people have the personal experience or the vision to understand. I wonder what it would take to bring this realization to them.

      True. I think individually everyone needs to ask – is what I’m doing is right, good? Am I right or too sure of myself?? Little bit introspection will go a long way. Each one of us need to take the small steps to ensure we act towards the better. It’s distributed computing. 🙂

  3. > “Both, the kernel community members and Sarah offer reasonable …”

    That makes it sound like Sarah is not a “kernel community member”, when in fact, she really is.

    Other than that, thanks for the article, you clearly captured what (to me) is the major problem: the fact that others emulate Linus and as such he has a responsibility to set a better example.

    • Hello Bochecha,

      Yes, she is. But on this particular issue/topic the two have different opinions, and thus form two camps. One is for and other is against abrasive language, no? It certainly does not mean Sarah is not part of the community, does it?

      Thank you.

      • I know what you meant, what I’m saying is that the sentence, as it is written, seems to imply that she is not.

        The opinions are indeed forming two camps, but in your sentence you define these camps as “Sarah” on one side and “the kernel community members” on the other side.

        If you had written “Both Sarah and the other kernel community members offer reasonable …” then the sentence would have still suggested that there are two camps, but the definition of the border between the camps would not have been “part of the kernel community” any more. Just by adding the word “other”. 🙂

        In any case, it’s really a minor nitpick compared to the rest of the text which is, again, a great one.

  4. One thing I think hasn’t been sufficiently done in the debate (though I haven’t read the whole thing) is to define precisely what different behaviours are being discussed, because I think various things are being smooshed together in a way that’s not necessarily helpful.

    In particular you can be vulgar without being offensive, and vice versa. “Fuck, this is a good patch” is a statement that is vulgar, but not offensive. “You are a terrible person, no-one likes you, you’re a girl so you can’t code anyway, and we’ll never take your patches” is a statement that is offensive, but not vulgar.

    I worry that to some extent the sides are talking past each other: I think some people are perhaps arguing for a right to be vulgar, without understanding that the other side is arguing against a right to be offensive, and vice versa.

    • Well, there are attempts to seek that clarity


      But confusion is bound persist for the lack of an accepted code of conduct. Without that, everyone is going to base their arguments on their own definitions of what is vulgar, what is offensive, what is acceptable and what is not. And considering the wide diversity of people & cultures I don’t think that is ever going to coincide into something universal. That is why I say Linus has a unique opportunity to define the new norm.

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