NixOS Foundation board: Giving power to the community

If people think replies of certain individual is unproductive, maybe they can ignore it? It doesn’t seem to me that they are spamming to an extent where no discussion is possible.

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Rather than trying to construct new governance mechanisms from the community, which is certainly going to be quite difficult, has there been any consideration of joining an existing foundation that might already have some governance processes in place?

For example, the Linux Foundation. Arguably that would be quite a good home for NixOS.

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Reusing something that is well-understood and reliable, over reinventing the wheel, is definitely a very prudent option

Given that one of the triggers of the current situation is the current Foundation saying «write us a policy and we mimic Apache Software Foundation in the interim» and getting no general-policy proposals (with some people refusing to propose a general policy but hating the implications of the Apache one), just joining a random well-established software foundation is not going to heal this split.

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As the OP cited Pieter Hintjens, I recommend his work on C4.1, a process for communities building software. He specifically tries to minimize the negative effects of bad actors.

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  • OSS is distributed under many different licenses that reflect a pretty wide variety of views about what you are talking about here. It seems like you might be implying that everyone that participates in the development of open source software has an actively “anti-unfree” stance, and I don’t think that is actually the case. (Just for the record, I am personally kind of ambivalent about the issue and I understand the perspectives of both sides)
  • Even if we accept that OSS is inherently political in this respect, I don’t think we are compelled to say that “Oh well, that ship has sailed – because we have taken a political stance in one realm, we must now also take political stances on every issue under the sun.” I can see an argument that it makes sense for an open source community to take political stances on questions that directly relate to the distribution of software. I’m not so sure that its as obvious that it makes sense for such a community to take stances that are not so obviously related to the main enterprise of the community.
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That ‘open-source’ is not overtly political is uninteresting and a given; the denomination ‘open-source’ was created to nominally depoliticize the free software movement and ‘free software without overt political commitments’ is its purpose to this day.

I have no interest in open-source per se. It’s just diet free software.

And, I argue, you shouldn’t, either— we can see what open-source means to organizations with no commitment to software freedom in proprietarization rugpulls like the recent HashiCorp fiasco.

Either way, to look to ‘open-source’ and say ‘see, free software isn’t political’ is to beg the question, since open-source is about the thing at issue (asserting some notion of political neutrality). From the free-software-is-inherently-political view, open-source fails at depoliticizing it anyway. It’s just the same argument about the possibility of political neutrality again.

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This is exactly right in my view. There is absolutely no human endeavor that is divorced from being “political” if it involves people.

Moreover, to your point, eventually “open source” in many cases ended making a political choice, and taking a stance. And the Nix community will need to do this collectively as well around many of the issues discussed in this original message. And there will be perceived trade-offs from some people. This will absolutely never be avoided.

The reason why is that every time humans think they have “solved” their problems of existence with some world view-derived mechanism to try and coordinate the behavior of people, they simply open a new level of complexity they were not aware of. In the words of Clare W. Graves “the quest that they find is never ending”.

In the case of open source, there were perceived trade-offs with commercialization of software (not going to get into the details, but it’s a true statement). And, there were choices made by open source communities never the less.

In the case of the nix community, and what the board defined as “protecting minorities”, we will either choose to do it collectively, or we will not. And in the view of some people there may be a cost. But if we decide to do it collectively, we will weigh and pay the perceived cost, because we believe it is worth it. And I do believe it’s worth it personally. So I will be there to advocate for it if possible.

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The political/non-political debate seems similar to the subjective/objective debate.

Yes, no one can be truly objective, but we understand the principle of it, surely?

If we see everything through a political lens, every minor disagreement could be a key battle in a neverending war, and compromise would just be aiding the enemy

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I have no interest in open-source per se. It’s just diet free software.

okay, but it seems like a lot of people are making the assumption that everybody in the community subscribes to an FSF style view of what nix should be. I would point to the fact that we derivations for unfree software in nixpkgs as evidence that this is probably not the case, or at least that many do not have militant views about this.

The person who originally wrote this seemed to be implying that simply by making something open source (read: not necessarily free) the issue of whether or not the nix community should be political is already settled.

I think that if you perceive this as the main issue that people have with the save-nix-together contingent, you’re arguing against a strawman.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I absolutely want protected demographic minorities to be welcome and feel safe in the nix community.

However, it is my perception (and I’m open to the idea that I’m wrong about this), that the nix community has actually done a pretty great job at doing this (I would point to what seems like a higher than what we see in the general population proportion of non-cisgender members of the community as evidence of this), and it seems (to me) like we may actually be doing a less great job of making members of non-protected, non-demographic minorities (e.g. political minorities) feel welcome.

For those of you on the other side of things, I have a genuine question:

Assume for a moment that it is, in fact, true, that a significant number of people of lets say political minorities (within the nix community), have, fairly or unfairly been made to feel unwelcome by:

  • the use of reporting as a downvote button
  • what they (fairly or unfairly) feel like is inconsistent moderation
  • Accusations of sealioning/concern trolling levied against them, which do not meet the intention requirements in some cases

If those people feel unwelcome and/or anxious about being banned and genuinely just want to continue to be part of the community and have never said anything personally disrespectful to anyone: Is that something that we ought to care about?

For those of you saying that everything is political and therefore we should not care about neutrality:

Is there really no principal of neutrality that we ought to care about?

For example: I’m sure that even within the save-nix-together faction, there are probably varying beliefs e.g. soc dems vs out and out socialists.

Would you not see it as going too far if the nix foundation were to take a stance on which one of those it thinks is better?

What if the foundation took a stance on police abolishment that was opposed to whatever your position is?

Its hard for me to imagine that many people would bit the bullet here and say that you want the foundation weighing in on stuff like that.

What that means to me is that the community’s official engagement with politics is almost certainly not a discrete, binary thing, but rather, a question of degree.

For me personally, the line that I end up drawing is that I’m okay with the community perhaps taking stances on issues that relate very directly to its primary enterprise (the distribution and development of software), but when it starts to get far afield from that, it doesn’t make sense to me that the community and those in charge of it should take official stances.

EDIT: For the record, I DO NOT believe that something like respecting the humanity of trans people (and more generally all people) is something I would regard as political, and I really am totally onboard with including language in CoC’s etc. to that effect. With that said, I do think that there are things that are sort of adjacent to stuff like this that CAN start to feel a little bit more political.

Maybe I’m misunderstanding here, but it seems like a lot of people are making the argument that “everything is political” and therefore there should be no limits on the extent to which the community/foundation/governance/moderators engage in politics.

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Could be, but my main point is that any community of humans anywhere will have to contend with political, economic, social and other components to their shared interactions around shared resources. This has been researched, documented for 4+ decades with real world case studies, and the work is still ongoing to continue researching and documenting this.

I do understand that there were multiple issues in the save-nix-together document (including sponsorship, leadership etc)

Just wanted to clarify that. I welcome your voice, and wouldn’t call your view “wrong” or “right” otherwise. I guess I would just add: for the issues you discuss, do you feel comfortable trying to bring them to the convention? I think that is the place where the community is going to try and weigh the arguments from different views and see if they can reconcile it around the questions you raise. You are not the only person raising these issues, and so they should be considered in that discussion.

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Indeed, and part of that principle is that there are domains in which objectivity isn’t really applicable. You can be objective about how loud a piece of music is, but not how beautiful it is.

Likewise, community management is a domain in which non-politicality isn’t really applicable, at least if you define ‘politics’ as I and many others do to include any study or exercise of interpersonal power or liberty. Specific political topics might belong out of frame, but you can’t get rid of politics once one person has any sort of power that another does not.

I humbly suggest that the issue you’re pointing at is not politics vs. non-politics, but conflict theory vs. mistake theory as different approaches to politics.

I wonder if that’s a terminology difference shared by many of the rest of you—I read @IvanMalison’s claim about trans rights not being political and I am absolutely baffled by that claim (as I understand the word), but if I translate it to something like believing that trans rights should not be used as one front in an us-versus-them conflict then I might understand it a little better (though they sadly are used as such a front in many nations today).

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I’m not so sure that its as obvious that it makes sense for such a community to take stances that are not so obviously related to the main enterprise of the community.

If this community ultimately does not stand against fascism, racism, etc.—if it does not stand for the good of humanity—then I hope it shatters and its “main enterprise” fails.

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I think it could be reasonably argued that such things are against its main enterprise, discrimination isn’t good for enterprise.

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Even for conflict theorists, I think that part you quote:

is probably too black and white. Even conflict theorists par excellence have notions like ‘non-antagonistic contradiction’.

I think it’s also likely that the conflict theorists Scott Alexander is writing about in that blog post would probably see the dichotomy he proposes as a clumsy recapitulation of materialism vs. idealism.

But I do think there’s something useful in that blog post, and that maybe what people who wince at the thought of ‘politics invading a tech project’ are most worried about are certain modes of doing politics, factionalism within the community/project, something like that. And maybe we can find better ways to address those concerns than saying that Nix should just eschew political value commitments altogether.

Anyway, having just read it for the first time, I’ll second that blog post as a probably-useful read.

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Yeah, very good points there. I think there is a bunch of needless fighting that happens here because people understand terms differently.

I’m almost tempted to write something long-form trying to steel-man two sub-populations as I understand them here, and how I think a lot of unnecessary conflict is downstream of political signalling terms that these populations understand differently

Specific to conflict theory vs mistake theory, I see terms like “sealioning” as belonging to conflict theory, since they assume bad faith by default. I think that term refers to real, bad behavior that does occur, but in a healthy community it should seldom come up.

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A practice I’d like to see a bit more is to have people steel-man each other. To truly understand the positions and to be able to articulate it. This is time-intensive, and thus isn’t something that can be done with all participants or between all possible pairs of people. I have done a few of these - both as a participant and as a mediator - and it is generally quite productive in achieving a healthy dialogue and empathy for each other.

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I am genuinely bordering on being uncomfortable.

I’ve written a bunch of comments here Add CoC and deescalation docs for Zulip by infinisil · Pull Request #144 · NixOS/foundation · GitHub (I’m colonelpanic8), but doing so honestly felt very difficult to me to the point where I am shaking right now. I am admittedly a somewhat neurotic person in this respect, but it would make me really sad if I felt that most people in the nix community saw me as unethical or a troll or someone who argues in bad faith.

I genuinely feel that this community has a major blindspot for the reality that:

  • its political beliefs are probably not all that consistent with where the rest of the world is at.
  • The discourse community is probably a step more radical than where the wider community of nix contributors and users are
  • Mistakes have been made on both sides of the debate,
  • the way the save-nix-together contingent has acted is objectively causing a significant set (but likely a minority) of people to not feel comfortable.
  • Many of these people are not nearly as bad or evil as they seem to think they are

I read @IvanMalison’s claim about trans rights

@rhendric it might help you understand if you interpret what I say a little bit more literally:

I said:

“I DO NOT believe that something like respecting the humanity of trans people (and more generally all people) is something I would regard as political”

so to be even more specific here, what I’m talking about is questions of basic humanity; things like:

  • Do trans people deserve to exist
  • is discrimination/bigotry against them immoral
  • Do trans people deserve to be called by their preferred pronouns
  • Is gender dysphoria real

In my mind, these are largely settled questions (citation: 64% of people are strongly in favor of protecting trans people from discrimination while only 10% oppose Americans’ Complex Views on Gender Identity and Transgender Issues | Pew Research Center), ESPECIALLY within communities that lean to the left of the political spectrum (the nix community clearly falls in to this group).

Can you agree that issues that were once political can cease to be so? For example, I would argue that slavery is no longer a political issue, but it clearly was during the civil war. I understand that in some technical sense, you maybe could still regard it as so, but we’re just dealing with the messiness of language there, and I don’t think that’s a charitable understanding of what people mean when they say that they want the community to remain apolitical.

Now you wrote that I said that “trans rights issues” are not political, but I would certainly concede that certain “trans rights issues” are political e.g.:

  • trans participation in competitive sports
  • age at which to allow hrt

and these are PRECISELY the sorts of issues that I feel the nix community should really avoid weighing in on in any meaningful way.

The “everything is political” perspective reminds me a lot of things like:

  • Hume’s problem of induction
  • There is no objective ethics

in that its maybe an interesting philosophical point, but its not very pertinent in practice.

Do you really think this is a reasonable steelman of what I was saying?

I wrote:

For the record, I DO NOT believe that something like respecting the humanity of trans people (and more generally all people) is something I would regard as political, and I really am totally onboard with including language in CoC’s etc. to that effect.

sure

Could be, but my main point is that any community of humans anywhere will have to contend with political, economic, social and other components to their shared interactions around shared resources.

Okay, and my counter point would be that we should still strive to be as apolitical as we REALISTICALLY CAN BE within the constraints of having to deal with those things. Maybe other people are asking for other things, but that is all that I would ask for, and I do think that something like that principle is a good one to abide where possible.

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Board Update #1 - Starting Process and Transparent Comms - Meta / NixOS Foundation - NixOS Discourse

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