Wednesday, November 04, 2015

We should all follow Linus's example

Yet another Linus rant has hit the news, where he complains about how "your shit code is fucking brain damaged". Many have complained about his rudeness, how it's unprofessional, and part of the culture of harassment in tech. They are wrong. Linus Torvalds is the nicest guy in tech. We should all try to be more like him.

The problem in tech isn't bad language ("your shit code"), but personal attacks ("you are shit").

A good example is Brendan Eich, who was fired from his position as Mozilla CEO because people disagreed with his political opinions. Another example is Nobel prize winner Tim Hunt who was fired because people took his pro-feminist comments out of context and painted him as a misogynist. Another example is Pax Dickinson, who was fired as CTO of Business Insider because of jokes he made before founding the company. A programmer named Curtis Yavin* was booted from a tech conference because he's some sort of monarchist. Yet more examples are the doxing and bomb threats that censor both sides of the GamerGate fiasco. The entire gamer community is a toxic cesspool of personal attacks. We have another class of people, the "SJW"s, who viciously attack those they disagree with, trying to get them fired. They treat those who make a mistake or disagree with them as an evil misogynists who needs to be punished, rather than as people who need to be corrected -- or debated.

What all these things have in common is that they attack the person. They strive to dehumanize the person, to make them an un-person, so that we stop empathizing with them. These attacks seek to intimidate and punish, not to educate or inform.

Linus punishes nobody. He intimidates nobody. He has that power, to act as a dictator to ban people for life from the Linux kernel, but doesn't use that power. Indeed, his use of power demonstrates extreme humility. Even in this case, he declares he doesn't "want" to accept the code into the kernel, not that he "won't".

His rant is designed to inform. The Linux kernel is a work of art based on certain consistent principles, such as not needlessly obfuscating implementation details. He takes the time to yet again lay out his philosophy that guides the kernel. Yes, his language is strong, but I'm not sure how else he'd communicate the unreasonableness of the code in question.

Personal attacks are increasingly the norm in our society. Pick any political debate -- the basis of people's arguments is not that the opposition is wrong, but that they are unreasonable and sub-human. Such discourse would improve if everyone emulated Linus's example, as we'd start debating the issues (albeit with course language) rather than attacking each other.

Seriously, try it. Can you debate issues like abortion, anti-vaxx, taxes, immigration, or global warming in such a way that it doesn't include dehumanizing personal attacks? Can you debate such issues with the overwhelming belief that your opponents are reasonable people? Linus displays that belief. You don't.

Linus could, of course, be even nicer. But the thing is, Linus doesn't ruin careers, unlike these harassers feted by WIRED


Chris Sherlock said...

"and anybody who thinks that the above is

(a) legible
(b) efficient (even with the magical compiler support)
(c) particularly safe

is just incompetent and out to lunch."

Wade Mealing said...

I wish i was out to lunch more often, I end up skipping it too often.

Kyle Bakker said...

thunderf00t is always a fantastic source for this kind of behavior.

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Bwanshoom said...

This post is highly misleading. Linus uses ad hominem attacks all the time. Calling someone a moron or mentally diseased because of something they do is hardly an example we should follow. How is calling someone names not attacking the person and intended to inform? It's bullying, boorish and just plain dickish.

You've taken this one example where he only criticizes code and generalized into "Linus is offering constructive criticism". Classic example of Linus':

kh said...

Re: Bwanshoom.

If this is the worst example of Linus' behavior that you could find it is not as bad as I thought. The only ad hominem attack is when he writes:

"Whoever moron thought that it's "good security" to require the root password for everyday things like this is mentally diseased. "

The moron is anonymous and probably a group of people rather than one guy. So, not ideal but not as bad as you suggested. I agree with Linus that some OS'es tend to overuse the admin password, but his posting would have been better if he had phrased himself differently.