08.08.20

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Rebuilding Communities

Posted in Free/Libre Software, GNU/Linux at 9:20 am by Guest Editorial Team

2020 figosdev

Index

Rebuilding broken CD
Chapter 11: Rebuilding Communities

Summary: “First, we should talk about how our communities have regressed.”

This chapter was originally called “Narcissism in The Community”, and the title change isn’t to be more “constructive” or “practical” or anything like that. It is simply to acknowledge the fact that our communities have regressed to the point where rebuilding is necessary.

What I mean by “rebuilding is necessary” is that the ideas needed to rebuild the Free software movement are not truly welcome in any community that I know of. If you want to be free, you will have to be the community you want — you’ll have to look for people that want the same thing, and work with them to reestablish the links we used to have.

“There ARE people who care about freedom, but we don’t have enough people yet to rebuild.”Debian is not going to rebuild. Devuan is not going to rebuild. Other communities are hostages of Microsoft GitHub. Hyperbola has forum software that simply doesn’t work properly.

There ARE people who care about freedom, but we don’t have enough people yet to rebuild. And with everything that’s going on, its not going to be easy.

One community that I can recommend is Techrights. In my opinion we need more communities like that one. And despite my rule that the necessary ideas are not welcome, Techrights has proven to be an exception. We need more than one exception. I’ve written lots of things about how to go about that, but I haven’t talked about it in this book yet. First, we should talk about how our communities have regressed.

“First, we should talk about how our communities have regressed.”First, conflict does happen in struggles for progress. If you want to avoid conflict entirely, you will avoid progress right along with it. That’s the reason our communities are becoming quasi-fascist (with a politically correct face on it) — they aren’t regressing psychologically, they’re regressing politically.

Zero-tolerance policies and thought policing are not signs of a healthy (or progressive) political atmosphere. What they do is punish people for being human, and create policies that favour people being fake. I don’t mean friendly or polite — I mean fake. There’s nothing polite about people gaslighting you and lying to your face.

“In short, narcissists and cult tactics have taken over.”All of these so-called “safe space” policies have increased the amount of gaslighting and bullying in communities, while making the tone more polite. All of it is deeply condescending and deeply dishonest. In short, narcissists and cult tactics have taken over.

I’ve actually been in a cult, and it included some of the nicest-seeming people I ever met. I don’t mean they were all creepy smiles and cloyingly friendly, but they were certainly polite. I spent years trying to understand what they wanted, but ultimately (and in hindsight it sounds really obvious, doesn’t it?) What they really wanted wasn’t the outward appearance of it, but conformity and obedience.

“For the most part, what the cult did with people who didn’t fit in was a lot like Reddits shadowbanning.”Maintaining the outward appearance was simply a way for people to survive. If you didn’t act like everybody else, people knew something was wrong with you, and they would work to fix it. But if you didn’t conform, if you didn’t meet the ideal template that was being imposed, people politely worked to push you back into that shape they required of everyone.

Ultimately however, this effort to politely help people back into their cult template was pretty superficial. For the most part, what the cult did with people who didn’t fit in was a lot like Reddits shadowbanning. They would still smile to your face and act like you were part of the community, but you were never really part of it again.

“This is a deeply confusing dynamic to find your way on top of — as with Reddit, you can spend quite a while talking to yourself without realising that you’re the only person who can hear you.”You were being very politely shunned and excluded everywhere you went, and nobody had to put a mark on you (or your name on a list) because everybody was mirroring the behaviour of everyone else — if anybody important shunned you then everybody else would do the same. You didn’t fit, you would never be part of the community, but to your face they would pretend you were welcome.

This is a deeply confusing dynamic to find your way on top of — as with Reddit, you can spend quite a while talking to yourself without realising that you’re the only person who can hear you. You can even forget what it’s like to feel heard or understood.

A society that does this — even a community that does this, is fundamentally broken and deeply dysfunctional. It’s sort of built around the penultimate form of gaslighting, where everybody who doesn’t lie to your face ends up lied to their own face. This is a really effective and insidious way to dismantle communities.

“A society that does this — even a community that does this, is fundamentally broken and deeply dysfunctional. It’s sort of built around the penultimate form of gaslighting, where everybody who doesn’t lie to your face ends up lied to their own face.”Because it rewards appearances and image over integrity, it ultimately puts narcissists in charge. Any effort to remove narcissists from play is going to lead to more insidious bullies taking their place — a revolution is doomed to fail, and that’s by design. But there are things that can be done.

Unfortunately, what is hopeless (and they sort of know this) is taking back a community that is lost to these sorts of cult tactics. Many people fail to notice this happening to their community — if everyone knew, they would not endorse it. Narcissists target individuals, while building up other people that act loyal to them. This results in many people who feel their community is stronger, even as their community starts to fall apart.

I’ve already talked in more detail about how these communities are dismantled. Techrights talks about this more than I do, because they simply have more detailed information. What I have is my first-hand experience with cults and narcissistic abuse, both overt and covert. My experience overlaps with details from Techrights, which deepens the argument for those who are interested in reform.

But to put it in simple terms, the narcissist is a monopolist — there is one correct way of doing / seeing / believing, and they have it. Your job is to adopt prescribed actions / perspective / beliefs, even when it is wildly contradicting and often made up on the spot.

Every narcissist tries to build a cult, in a manner of speaking. It may have a few people, it may ultimately have thousands, and it may just be a handful of friends. There is nothing wrong with having a handful of friends, but the narcissists will lie to them, treat them all to double standards, and never be accountable for anything truly important.

Sounds great, right? But the trick is they all get something they want, even if it’s a lie. They get “opportunities” and (sometimes) additional praise and recognition, they get a place in the cult structure if they are valuable enough to the cult leader.

“You can (I believe so, but I would be interested in a more thorough examination of this theme) have a cult that doesn’t go all the way to the top, at least not on the visible project level.”One thing that I learned from one or two Free software communities is that the cult leader doesn’t have to be the project leader. You can (I believe so, but I would be interested in a more thorough examination of this theme) have a cult that doesn’t go all the way to the top, at least not on the visible project level.

What I mean is that you can have a cult develop in the Python community (this is hypothetical and NOT a critique of the Python community, though I am inclined to think Guido van Rossum is not all bad) without the actual project leader having anything to do with it — the “cult” would exist on a tier lower than Rossum himself, and the leader would be the person who runs the community rather than the person who runs the actual project.

It may seem otherwise, but you don’t need a gullible project leader for this to happen. You can actually have a project leader / founder who becomes aware of — and will even admit — this problem exists, without having any idea how to fix it or what to do about it.

This is particularly difficult to fix given that this probably happens in the first place because the project leader / founder doesn’t WANT to lead a community, (not because they’re unappreciative but because its not in their skill set or schedule) so they end up trusting people who seem alright, only to have the entire community side run amok.

None of this is to say that communities never have narcissistic project leaders, only that a dysfunctional community doesn’t always mean a terrible or dishonest project leader. You can of course argue that an effective leader will not become a hostage of their own project — but when they didn’t have the goal of building a community in the first place, and left that to someone else, asking them to fix the mess that was created is asking more of them than they were avoiding (by not creating a community) in the first place.

Instead, they leave it “up to the community” — and so the problem continues.

The best defense against this is to learn how to recognise corrupt and dishonest community leadership. This problem is practically oozing out of so many high-profile communities right now, but they have some very good defenses and camouflage that is difficult to argue with. Knowledge is power, so let’s talk about a few details from the original version of this chapter.

Narcissists take great pleasure in attacking, controlling and defeating intelligent people because it makes them feel smarter and more important. Some narcissists are very intelligent people, but the word “clever” would apply more universally, and narcissism is more about control and dominance than intelligence.

Misunderstandings happen all the time. As many misunderstandings are harmless (and they really are, they’re worth resolving whenever possible) a narcissist will try to make everything seem like a misunderstanding. Don’t let this sour you on trying to resolve honest disputes.

Most people probably still think of narcissism as just an inflated sense of self. That definition may have validity but is not too good, when every idealist is trying to find some way to save the world. Oh, you don’t want to use software that doesn’t include source code? Boom, you’re a narcissist. Beyond just trying to do “big things”, a narcissist may:

1. pretend to care about you or other people

2. misquote you and speak for you and gaslight you

3. use smear tactics and try to intimidate you, even as a response for anything they dislike about you at all

4. constantly accuse you of things they are doing themselves — then say they were “just kidding, lighten up”

5. play a hero, pretend to care, but have actions that never match their words

6. play people and groups against each other, often over incredibly insignificant faults

7. routinely miss the point of what you’re saying and demand you consider their points (exclusively) — all conversations with narcissists are one-sided

8. have consistently different standards for what they will tolerate vs. what they will dump on you

Narcissists do not respond (initially, later on, after repeated attempts, or under any circumstances whatsoever) to logic or honesty with logic or honesty. They only ever double down with fallacy and lies.

Though they may not always appear to act in groups, narcissists do swarm together. If there’s one nearby that you can discern, there are often others lurking around. They feed off your emotions and off the imaginary things they attribute to your feelings – whether good or bad.

This is another reason why revolution won’t fix this. When narcissists rule a community, people usually assume there is just one problem person where there is actually a small network. Plus, if you try to eject every member who displays one or two narcissistic traits, you will also stop their victims.

You want three things for a victim of narcissistic abuse: You want to give them an opportunity to heal, You want to give them room to speak that the narcissist tried to troll them out of – and you definitely, definitely want them to fully understand why it is self-destructive to try to go after the troll either directly or publicly.

Many people think this is just about protecting emotionally fragile people’s feelings – or creating a “perfect” code of conduct, or that this is just an opportunity to squash more free speech. Unfortunately, it can be all those things, even if those things won’t work.

When you increase the number of tools and features for controlling people and groups, narcissists tend to find better uses for those tools than the rest of us. This is true whether you’re talking about technology or politics.

One of my favourite spins on the truth is when people in favour of zero-tolerance policy create a strawman around rules and “consequences” — as if before the Gestapo arrived and started carting people away, everyone was simply doing their best within a lawless online society. You claim to defend freedom of speech, they will say to you — but actually you just think there should be speech “without consequences”.

Call me Newtonian, but I think every action has a reaction — I’m not quite as certain about the “equal and opposite” part. When the reaction is utterly disproportionate and the rules are oppressive, I have a problem with things that are ridiculously unfair that stifle communities. Somehow I don’t think that’s exactly what was being suggested though. I have a problem with things that are ridiculously unfair that stifle and ultimately dismantle communities, but the way they talk about it, you’d think that was an unreasonable, even indefensible stance to have.

A few years ago, my girlfriend expressed an interest in going to LibrePlanet. I had already withdrawn my FSF membership over its advocacy against Free Culture (which they will dispute I’m sure, though they’ve also told me they cannot misrepresent what they don’t support in the first place; an argument I find not only peculiar, but unsound). And being outspoken, I found it difficult to imagine attending without making some comment about this which was sure to elicit some negative response.

Having looked over the policies for attendees, I thought some of them were slightly unreasonable — I didn’t expect them to be enforced in good faith, either. Of course they’re worded to be completely innocuous and seem reasonable, but many have experienced what such things are really like in practice — I thought I had enough reason to be a bit cynical about it.

What I never would have guessed, however, is that the rules would be enforced to the point where people would petition against the organisation’s own president being there just because he made a comment and question over the head of the emcee/thought police/LibrePlanet pimple-faced dictator.

One of the signs you’re in a cult (or a coup, or just an abusive controlling relationship) is if you spend years being absolutely CONVINCED that your doubts are just cynical, only to find that in hindsight they were incredibly reserved and understated for the reality of the situation.

I was worried that I might pay good money to be treated like a bit of a serf by some glorified hall monitors, not that the policies were so slanted that they would lead to an actual organisational coup. And while that’s a great statement if you’re trying to be pithy, I am still beside myself about it close to a year after that coup was largely successful.

We are still living through the farce that a corporate overthrow of several non-profit organisations is going to be followed up by reforming and healing the devastation that happened to the FSF. This won’t happen, for several reasons.

The first is that reform was never the goal. For several years, the goal has been to remove people who stand in the way of corporate sponsors, including rms and Linus. They succeeded in this goal; even with these two leaders (and I don’t like Linus Torvalds at all, he’s a shill and a heel — though when he was in control of the kernel he did a better job at that than anybody who might replace him now — besides, it was his own kernel) technically at the helm of something, they are like like Dwight Schrute on the Booze Cruise; the boat doesn’t go where they steer anyway. Linus and rms are both shadowbanned from GNU and the Linux kernel.

“Linus and rms are both shadowbanned from GNU and the Linux kernel.”Once again, a community that does this is not functional — they’ve replaced a fundamental reality with a perpetual broadcast of rhetoric and lies. RMS is still the head of the GNU Project, but the GNU Project doesn’t follow anything he says, instead it drifts closer to the sworn enemies of Free Software (not even sworn by the FSF, sworn by the enemies themselves). Linus is still the leader of Linux, even though we’ve known for years he’s grooming his more corporate replacement (who wouldn’t, at his age?) and his bosses (plural) from Microsoft will tell you the same.

If this is the reality, then these shadowbans aren’t just a lie to Linus and rms — they’re also a lie to every supporter of the Linux kernel and the GNU Project. Are we supposed to simultaneously hold onto the ideas that we are supporting something not corrupt, while also being lied to on a constant basis?

It’s “funny” (but not “haha funny”) that when a community does this systematically, it’s considered legit — while just a single person doing this is considered someone to get away from, something to flee. If a person is constantly gaslighting you and diminishing the importance of everything you stand for, the thing to do is run away and find shelter. But if an organisation does the same thing — better send in those donations folks, throwing more money at corruption always helps!

501(c)3 not-for-profit corporations like NPR or the FSF, once corrupted through powerful sponsors, do not tend to ever get back to serving the public interest they were created to serve.

They will continue to promote similar messages (“Listener-Supported”, blah blah blah) but this is a veneer over the fact that the connection to their own mission is now deeply cynical and “just legitimate enough” to maintain their charter, while the corporate dollars (plus all other donations) keep rolling in. It would be a heck of a scandal if only the FSF succumbed to this, but quite a lot of similar non-profits eventually do.

Conflating even a non-profit corporation with a community is dangerous, because if the organisation fails there is no reason the movement itself should. Some of what the FSF did has become superfluous — it would be ideal to maintain it if it were not corrupt, but if it is going to be dishonest with everybody, we can’t really trust it.

If a corrupt non-profit org was someone you lived with, you would be looking for a new home. But if it’s a non-profit organisation that talks about “community” all the time, people will stay until the writing on the wall is set in font they can read three towns south of it.

The FSF doesn’t need to promise it can change, it has already proven it can. Nor does it need to prove it can get back to what it was — only the forging of new communities (independent of the corruption and its sponsors) can stand for what was stood for, while donating to the Former Software Foundation buys you lip service and Thank GNUs.

When I wrote the original version of this chapter, I was trying to help people understand both Open Source and the glorified-hall-monitor thought police types that suppress the community in our communities. I was probably also thinking of people who have carried on the legacy of OpenRespect and its ilk — so-called community leaders who also serve as a sort of propaganda marshal.

Now it is also to illustrate the ways in which the FSF has turned away towards “Free as in speech” (as the GNU website says at free-sw.en.html) and turned towards the vapidness of Open Source, which the FSF always said missed the point.

There were good reasons for Free Software to have a 501(c)3 and there will be other good reasons (there will likely be other 501©3s as well) and to be certain, many of the organisations (OSI, FSFE, SFC) that are in some way or other “offshoots” of the FSF have not fared (or even tried) better. OSI worked tirelessly to open up their organisation to something more “democratic”, which quickly led to Microsofties on the board and OSI getting quieter about certain problems.

If you are in this sort of turmoil at home, the best hope is if you can find community or shelter elsewhere — believe me, I KNOW this.

The best hope for Free software then, is not just “a” home — but a vast, volunteer (grassroots) network of “homes”. Not just for development, but for the Community we were promised (or used to have). I know interest in such homes for the community has increased, but people are still unaware that they have the tools to make it happen. This book is one more grand effort to clarify the possibility.

Some will argue that they still have a home, for example with Debian or Trisquel. They are entitled to their feelings of course, but they are living under occupation — an organisation that shadowbans its own creator is an organisation that has shadowbanned us all. It isn’t really listening, but it still gets something out of lying and pretending it cares.

A just world would give the rest of us somewhere to flee this entrenchment, or at least allow us to create that ourselves. But what would we try to accomplish, if our communities were actual communities again? That’s up to us. And by “us” I don’t mean those of us that agree on the same thing (such as what I propose). I mean literally, everybody who honestly cares about the future of Free software.

And we won’t all agree. That’s why the grassroots movement that most likely serves us all is one that is decentralised, with fairly autonomous nodes, and has some common thing (like the Free Software Definition) with a fair amount of slack between groups. And something that functions “well enough” if mostly informally, as representation.

No single group will control the rest, but the sum of the whole will nonetheless have a direction. With that said, we aren’t just talking about a process. The ideal is to have a (voluntary) grassroots movement and organic (naturally formed) communities that lend strength to each other.

But in the days of peak freedom, our individuality was a strength, not a sin. I try not to support cults; I would rather help people create alternatives based on people who have some degree of mutual humanity — people who will work to improve things, but not to pretend that they (or that things) are, could be, or even should be flawless. Yes, we seek an ideal. And we can generally admit (and try to correct) mistakes.

Very likely the biggest mistake we have made as a movement is trusting the sponsors far more than we should have. How many 501(c)3s do you know that would ever admit that, after being taken over?

Licence: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 (public domain)

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