First they Came for the Goreans

I’m not a member of the Drupal Community. I’ve made a couple of Drupal sites and written one or two private-use Drupal modules, but I’ve never contributed any code or attended any conferences. I have been following the big dustup with some interest, though – because I increasingly think this is the issue of the generation.

(If you need background, there’s plenty on the web to go around, but the short version is that long-time contributor Larry Garfield was asked by project founder Dries to leave more or less just for being a Gorean. Dries claims access to some secret information about Larry, but if so he hasn’t shared it with the proper committee for evaluating these things, because they did not find Garfield to have violated any community standards.)

Lots has been written about Dries’ justification post – most of it negative, but some supportive. The part I personally found most disturbing was this:

In this case, Larry has entwined his private and professional online identities in such a way that it blurs the lines with the Drupal project. Ultimately, I can’t get past the fundamental misalignment of values.

Let’s be maximally clear about what the implications of this are. This is essentially saying that you, as a Drupal contributor, cannot hold private views that Dries does not agree with. To the extent you do hold such views, you are obligated to keep them to yourself, even on your personal blog, even in private chat forums.

Larry Garfield did not make an issue of his views in any Drupal-related interactions. My understanding is the closest he came to this was to answer questions about them honestly when privately asked about it at some Drupal conferences, but he did not initiate these conversations, and there are no records of him espousing Gorean philosophy on Drupal forums or in Drupal-related chats. The only reason this is an issue now is because a certain social climber – probably with the help of some still-anonymous people – decided to go combing through Garfield’s personal blog and his Gorean forum chat posts (a violation of their terms of service, actually) looking for dirt for what one can only assume are personal reason. The only thing that "entwines" Larry’s views with Drupal is that they’re internet-searchable. Dries is saying that you may not contribute to Drupal and also express opinions that he disagrees with in any way that someone could find them on the internet. That is neither liberal nor tolerant. It is the attitude of a pathological control freak.

In general, the Drupal Community has acquitted itself very well in the wake of this "scandal." Dries may have a petty and short-sighted worldview, but the Drupal community does not. It’s linked above – but the open letter at hits all the right notes. They’re not defending Larry as a person, they’re not standing up for his Gorean beliefs – they’re simply insisting that Drupal not tell them how to conduct their private lives, that nobody be kicked out for merely saying something on a private webpage that Dries doesn’t like.

But Dries is not without his defenders. Of the defenses, I think the one that bothers me most is the one that says that Dries is just protecting his brand. This gets the problem exactly backward. The point is that Dries is protecting his brand from people that will destroy it for nothing whatever to do with its usefulness, or the quality of the code, or any features that it has or lacks. These are not even people who want to wreck it because of anything that Dries personally says or believes. They are people who want to wreck it because a single contributor who managed to conduct himself entirely professionally for the entire 11 years he contributed to the project might have said some politically incorrect things on his blog. Please stop enabling such people. They are sick, and they are dangerous, and the world they want to live in is paranoid and grim. If you want to help, stop making apologies for Dries’ cowardice and start pushing back at the attitude that says that private opinions tarnish a public brand. These are people who choose their content management systems on the basis of what single volunteers to the project think, fer chrissake. What part of enabling this attitude seems like a good idea to you?

So what is to be done? Personally, I think we need to start dragging this out into the open. Entryists like Klaus Purer fail the moment anyone asks them to be honest – and specific – about what they’re doing. If Drupal came with a big ol’ disclaimer that said "If you would like to contribute to Drupal, please send Klaus Purer links to all your published online material and discuss with him the sorts of things you will avoid saying in the future," absolutely no one would be on board. This was a bait-n-switch. No one told Larry Garfield that those were the rules. Hell, those weren’t even the rules when he started contributing. All anyone is asking Dries to do is affirm – and then demonstrate – that they continue not to be the rules now. If they are, then stopping your contributions to Drupal is the right thing to do. Because at the end of the day, scrutiny of your blogposts just for volunteering to help is NOT what you signed on for. Dries doesn’t care about free speech, he doesn’t care about tolerance, and he doesn’t care about open source. Spend your precious time on someone who does.

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