You literally cannot pay me to speak without a Code of Conduct
September 3, 2015 8:06 AM   Subscribe

 
Sigh. WTF, Jared.
posted by feckless at 8:15 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Jesus fucking christ that essay she links by him is the most infuriatingly engineer-diseased thing I've read in a long time.
posted by griphus at 8:16 AM on September 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


"We don't need one!" is like saying that you're absolutely certain that no one would intentionally light a fire at your conference, so there's no need for fire extinguishers.
posted by Etrigan at 8:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [70 favorites]


I wonder if he doesn't need contracts either, because he only does business with good vendors?
The whole point of writing down agreements ahead of time is because people don't see things the same way, interpret changed circumstances differently and need a way to refer back to the principles of the original agreement when that *inevitably* happens.
That this is even being cast by Jared as a principled debate is absurd. Just admit that you don't want to restrict your ability to do or not do whatever the hell you want in the face of new circumstances without legal or moral obligation to anyone else impacted. Because that's what his whole essay really says.
Huge kudos to Rachel for standing strong. That's an extraordinarily hard thing to do in these types of circumstances.
posted by meinvt at 8:22 AM on September 3, 2015 [38 favorites]


Like I don't want to concentrate on his writing rather than her's but hand to god if he spent as much time researching and creating a Code of Conduct as he did writing a Medium article on why Codes of Conduct don't work, he'd have the most bulletproof one in the business.
posted by griphus at 8:23 AM on September 3, 2015 [86 favorites]


It reads like Jared has a set of strong policies and practices but wants to avoid an explicit CoC, which he views as a legal contract or guarantee. Conversely, Rachel seeks an explicit CoC as a precondition of speaking at a conference.
posted by theorique at 8:24 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


If he has a strong set of policies and practices he should consider writing them down, codifying them if you will.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:25 AM on September 3, 2015 [171 favorites]


Good on her. And yes, Jared's position is idiotic in 2015.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


"If I don't have an anti-harassment rule, I can't be held responsible for it when it happens, and that's important to me!" is not what I'd call an ethical stance.

And as she said, many large and liability-savvy organizations do have CoC's. IANAL but I am also fairly sure that *not* having a CoC won't shield you if someone gets assaulted or harassed at your event and decides to sue. Though it's telling that he thinks it would.
posted by emjaybee at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2015 [28 favorites]


The store where I go to play Magic: The Gathering deemed it appropriate to have an explicit, written code of conduct for events for fuck's sake.
posted by griphus at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2015 [63 favorites]


It reads like Jared has a set of strong policies and practices but wants to avoid an explicit CoC, which he views as a legal contract or guarantee.

The article points out exactly how wrong this is, and how stupid it sounds compared to other organizations such as sports venues.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:27 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Right the fuck on.

Anyone who talks about how a strong code of conduct is a iiability is frankly just making shit up. Especially after demonstrating the lengths he went to in his example : bouncing the dude, contacting his corp's CEO and HR and following up. That's expensive in time and effort right? Codify that shit and be done with it. Stop writing works to backfill your gut instinct.
posted by boo_radley at 8:35 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


A conference whose organizer literally refuses to have a code of conduct/harassment policy is one I wouldn't even consider being an attendee at, much less a speaker.
posted by jscalzi at 8:35 AM on September 3, 2015 [111 favorites]


In short, Jared should really get that rectocranial inversion looked at. How much further up his colon does his head need to be?
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:35 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It is sad that people can't just, like, behave themselves and be decent.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:38 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Jared: now that you've outlined how you handled one case, YOU'VE SET PEOPLE'S EXPECTATIONS. Imagine what's going to happen when you deviate from that. Imagine having to live up to a defacto standard that you've socialized like this (ie poorly). Codifying these things is like working from a spec, homeboy.

Rachel's 100% correct to want to work in a spec'd environment.
posted by boo_radley at 8:40 AM on September 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I wonder if he doesn't need contracts either, because he only does business with good vendors?

I'm an attorney who works with tech start-ups in NYC. I have occasionally heard sentiments very similar to this from engineers here. These people appear to believe that they are so smart that they will always know to only do business with trustworthy people, and so don't need the "hassle" of a contract.

I also had to explain to one client that you can't just not follow corporate and securities law because your vision is about "disrupting" the way people do business. Or you can ignore it if you want, but I hope you enjoy dealing with the SEC.

IANAL but I am also fairly sure that *not* having a CoC won't shield you if someone gets assaulted or harassed at your event and decides to sue.

You're right, it won't. You can always be held responsible for what happens at an event you put on, depending on the circumstances. If anything, having a well-written CoC that you follow can actually help you in terms of liability, since it would be harder to show you were being negligent.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:44 AM on September 3, 2015 [76 favorites]


It is sad that people can't just, like, behave themselves and be decent.

Yes, it is. But at the same time, we can mitigate this problem by planning ahead for it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:44 AM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think I get it. There's a cognitive dissonance a lot of (mostly white / male) people are dealing with in reconciling their desire for everyone to stand on an equal footing with their belief that they came about their accomplishments in a fair and equitable way. Having a code of conduct acknowledges that the few isolated incidents that he may have dealt with in an appropriate way are elements in a system of oppression. I can understand finding that aspect especially hard to swallow.
posted by tigrrrlily at 8:44 AM on September 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


I wonder if he doesn't need contracts either, because he only does business with good vendors?

Exactly. Since it's always clear who is and isn't going to be a good vendor before you work with them, the best way to do business is to simply refrain from working with bad vendors. And since you're only ever working with good vendors from the outset, you never need to put anything into writing, because good vendors never go back on their word. I'd say "problem solved" but the fail-safe nature of these self-evident truths ensures there won't be any problems to begin with!

The whole "asking attendees to drink less will naturally put the kibosh on would-be bad actors" line is so tedious and ignorant it defies credulity. Nabors puts the lie to that canard with a single sentence: "If a person thinks something is ok behavior while drunk, they probably didn't have many qualms about it before they started drinking."
posted by divined by radio at 8:45 AM on September 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


No memory protection, because programming creates a professional environment and people wouldn't do that.

No firewalls on our servers, because our clients are trustworthy.

No passwords, because we've designed the program to protect people's data.

No firebreaks in our building, because nobody would light a fire inside a building.

No electrical code, because electricians are professionals who know what they're doing.

We've tried all that shit, all of it, and then we started making and enforced a bunch of rules and laws and standards because the old way does. not. fucking. work.

Not to continue this pile-on, but Jared's Medium article is pretty much Van Halen's brown M&Ms, a fundamental misunderstanding of risk and complexity bad enough that somebody should go back and re-check everything else he's ever done.
posted by mhoye at 8:45 AM on September 3, 2015 [134 favorites]


Exactly, boo_radley. I left a comment on Jared's essay to this effect a few minutes ago – "This essay is the longest code of conduct I've ever read." He seems to be stuck on this overly formal idea of what codes of conduct should be, but really any communication whatsoever between event organizers and attendees about what behavior is or isn't going to be expected at an event is a code of conduct. Why be afraid of that communication?
posted by koeselitz at 8:45 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Why be afraid of that communication?

Because, if you actually spell out behavioral expectations, you might have to enforce them at some point, and that would be a lot of work? If you keep it all vague, it's easier to pretend that nothing ever happened?

On the other hand, I find most Codes of Conduct lacking, because they usually don't state clear penalties for violations*, and many (as in the example of WisCon, are not backed up by well-understood processes and procedures that ensure that violations are dealt with in transparent and understandable ways.

*If you contract doesn't include explicit penalties, it's pretty much unenforceable.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:54 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


This appears to be the argument:
Codes of conduct are insufficient. Many codes of conduct are empty promises or meaningless blather.
Therefore, my conference shouldn't have a code of conduct.

I don't get it. Those are perfect reasons why your conference shouldn't have a bad, meaningless, or ignored code of conduct. But not reasons why it shouldn't have one at all.
posted by nat at 8:55 AM on September 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


"We don't need one!" is like saying that you're absolutely certain that no one would intentionally light a fire at your conference, so there's no need for fire extinguishers.

It's more like saying you don't need a formal policy saying "no arsonists allowed", which is probably a more plausible claim if you do actually have fire extinguishers on hand.
posted by sfenders at 9:00 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I worked with a Safety Director at "Large Chemical Company" who said, "If you don't have a sign outside your plant saying 'Last year we fired XX people for safety violations!' you don't have a safety program!"
posted by Standeck at 9:02 AM on September 3, 2015 [47 favorites]


"The article points out exactly how wrong this is, and how stupid it sounds compared to other organizations such as sports venues."

eh, that's the one part of the "myths debunked" section that should not have been in there since she literally suggests getting lawyers to look at it which doesn't really debunk the "myth". Also, different places have different laws. Apparently in Australia, voluntary codes of conduct are legally binding which kinda surprised me when I saw that while googling. (NAB v Rose is the case name)
posted by I-baLL at 9:09 AM on September 3, 2015


I have tried, but I just don't see the downside of having a code of conduct unless you don't want to have to enforce it.
posted by AugustWest at 9:10 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Highly relevant to my interests today as it's time to put in conference requests. I'm trying to diversify and hit smaller, more niche conferences than my coworkers (so that we can report back with a variety of experiences), and one thing I'm definitely looking at is CoCs. If you can't be bothered to do this, I'm not optimistic about your ability to plan a large event in general, tbh.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:11 AM on September 3, 2015


Then I asked myself, “If this organizer were anyone but Jared, would you give them two hours of your time to try to work things out? Or would you expect them to prioritize a conduct policy immediately, same as airfare and a hotel room?” And lastly, “If this were a comic convention organizer, would you feel safe tabling after a conversation like this?”

I felt shame as I realized I was treating Jared differently from other people just because we had an established business relationship.
This part resonates pretty strongly with the emotional labor thread. Of course she's expected to spend hours of her time to try to educate and guide him, and of course she had to very carefully govern her tone throughout their "debate." Of course it went nowhere useful.
posted by Drastic at 9:12 AM on September 3, 2015 [106 favorites]


A code of conduct is also very useful for when somebody asks: "Oh, yeah? Show me where it says that I can't do this!"
posted by I-baLL at 9:14 AM on September 3, 2015 [27 favorites]


I have tried, but I just don't see the downside of having a code of conduct unless you don't want to have to enforce it.

It's not quite enforcement, but I have seen conventions and convention-type entities descend into mind-numbing rules lawyering thanks to douchebag attendees (and staff), to the point that I could totally see someone throwing up his hands and saying, "Fuck this, it's not worth it to write it all out. Just BE NICE TO EACH OTHER, GEEZ." It's not an excusable reason, but I'm willing to bet that this is part of Jared's issue.

Yes, I intentionally used "his" there.
posted by Etrigan at 9:16 AM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's more like saying you don't need a formal policy saying "no arsonists allowed", which is probably a more plausible claim if you do actually have fire extinguishers on hand.

So, you see these codes as being just some kind of lip service to not allowing creeps to attend. But women who've actually been creeped-on are saying that they see a code of conduct as a thing that actually provides ways to deal with it when it happens, because the absence thereof leaves a huge gaping hole in how they're going to respond and how safe they feel talking to organizers. That's what this whole article is about.

To go back to the silly metaphor, it's people being like "we have fire extinguishers, why do we need to have a policy about arson", except nearly every event has at least one arsonist, the same person who set the fires at the last event is openly coming to this one, and it keeps turning out that all the fire extinguishers are locked in someone's hotel room and only one person there even knows whose. This guy doesn't think he needs a policy until someone actually successfully burns the whole venue down, but it's not his stuff that keeps ending up cinders.
posted by Sequence at 9:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [55 favorites]


This is interesting to me, because I help organize an event where people misbehave. It's a permissive environment and some people interpret that to mean there are no boundaries. There are, of course.

We don't have a code of conduct per se, but we do have a document that participants are expected to have read and to comply with. I think it ticks 3 of the 4 boxes Rachel Nabors expects, but not the "CLEARLY STATE WHAT BEHAVIOR IS EXPECTED AND WHICH ARE NOT TOLERATED" one.

And we make it a point not to detail every possible transgression, because we've found that people can be rules-lawyers about their transgressing and find ways to stay within the letter of the law while obviously violating the spirit. So we have our nuclear option, clearly stated: "anyone can be ejected for any reason or no reason."

People do come to us and say "we need a rule against XYZ." And we talk about it, and point to the nuclear option, and say "No we don't."
posted by adamrice at 9:25 AM on September 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I have seen conventions and convention-type entities descend into mind-numbing rules lawyering thanks to douchebag attendees

Yes, I have seen a lot of this from my days as a mod on a very large (at the time) culinary discussion site. You can try to make the terms of membership/code of conduct extremely detailed to handle every contingency. But really it's just better to make them broad and simple and just say upfront that final determinations as to violations and repercussions for violations are made at the sole discretion of the staff. Presumably if someone gets 86ed from a conference or convention, the organizers have to be prepared to possibly refund fees as well as transportation/lodging costs depending on circumstances.
posted by slkinsey at 9:30 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


My personal opinion is that most of the CoCs that I've seen basically do say: "Just BE NICE TO EACH OTHER, GEEZ." and looking back at the article I think that "Provide a path for folks to report problems and seek help if these expectations are not met" is the most important part of the CoC since if you're experiencing an issue that'll probably be the first piece of info you'll be looking for.
posted by I-baLL at 9:31 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Oh, and Jared: now that you've outlined how you handled one case, YOU'VE SET PEOPLE'S EXPECTATIONS. Imagine what's going to happen when you deviate from that. Imagine having to live up to a defacto standard that you've socialized like this (ie poorly). Codifying these things is like working from a spec, homeboy.

Rachel's 100% correct to want to work in a spec'd environment.
"

Ooh, I'mma steal that one — it's directly on point and gets to a really common frustration for folks working in some of the areas where I've seen pushback against conduct codes. It's like dealing with a client without a design document — or the endlessly shifting one that many design clients operate through, since the problem is often that they don't know what they want when they go into the process. Having something written down, spec'ed, with explicit parameters and objectives will literally save you years of wasted time — code of conducts are the same way.

As for the argument about how this is a dubious fig leaf, that's the same argument that Alan Greenspan used to make against the FDA — that government standards create unreasonable expectations and distort the market. Except that in general, some protocol is almost always better at setting norms and preventing harm than no protocol, especially for something with opportunity cost and significant information asymmetry. In that instance, especially since these are distinguished by being private, codes of conduct would function more like confidence signalling: By having an explicit code of conduct, a conference is investing resources in the notion that they're not actually going to have significant problems, and if they do, they have a structure to mitigate the costs. A conference with a code of conduct is signalling that they're more confident about the quality of the experience for attendees than one without.
posted by klangklangston at 9:32 AM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


Oh, and this bit of Jared's screed really sticks in my craw:

The bar shuts down promptly at 7:30 and some people move on to bar hop, but now they are in small groups and usually with people they know. And, because they are probably still of sound mind when they leave, they more likely to make smart decisions that will prevent an incident.

No, Jared, you don't absolve yourself of responsibility by instituting policies that make things Not Your Problem.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:36 AM on September 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


So, you see these codes as being just some kind of lip service to not allowing creeps to attend.

Not exactly. I was just trying to point out the difference between a code of conduct, and a mechanism for actually enforcing whatever code applies be it formally adopted or not, and for dealing with things that go wrong whether they're covered by it or not. Yes I realize they are not entirely separate things necessarily, but the distinction is still important and was being blatantly missed.
posted by sfenders at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2015


The cynic in me translates an open refusal to codify any kind of conduct guideline as a hedge against ever having to formally discipline one's own friends or co-workers, which is just one of the many, many ways that communities come to have missing stairs.

And "come on, we don't need rules against this; our Flawless Design will naturally prevent bad stuff from happening" is just another version of "this isn't a problem for me, so it shouldn't/can't really be that much of a problem for you," which is often the first line of defense for privileged people who are in the process of being presented with evidence of their own blind spots.
posted by divined by radio at 9:40 AM on September 3, 2015 [67 favorites]


good lord even Trader Joe's has a code of conduct, which is on a lovely sign in the window and discourages patrons from entering sans footwear or avec non-service dog. perhaps someone should take said sign and bonk Jared over the head with it a few times until he gets the good sense he currently lacks.
posted by palomar at 9:43 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes I realize they are not entirely separate things necessarily, the distinction is still important and was being blatantly missed.

Errr.. I might be misunderstanding you here, but missed by who, exactly? A specific channel of complaint and someone on call 24/7 to address issues is number 3 of 4 giant bullet points in the article's description of an ideal CoC.
posted by quadbonus at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2015


[Couple comments deleted; please don't do the "I'm saying what somebody stupid would say" thing, it just confuses discussion.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2015


The bar shuts down promptly at 7:30 and some people move on to bar hop, but now they are in small groups and usually with people they know. And, because they are probably still of sound mind when they leave, they more likely to make smart decisions that will prevent an incident.

That's three qualifiers in two sentences. If I were a client and someone told me that an incident was usually, probably, likely not to happen and therefore didn't need any further action to prevent it, I'd absolutely, certainly, definitely find another person to do business with.
posted by Etrigan at 9:44 AM on September 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


The bar shuts down promptly at 7:30 and some people move on to bar hop, but now they are in small groups and usually with people they know. And, because they are probably still of sound mind when they leave, they more likely to make smart decisions that will prevent an incident.

I'm going to go ahead and say the reason he's probably arguing so hard for this shit is because either he, or someone he is thinking of in a completely non-abstract sense, takes advantage of this kind of shit when at conventions.

He's not acting like this because of the legal liability nonsense, all the ways in which that's bullshit have been extensively outlined and it's bullshit on this face. He's insisting on this because he doesn't want a CoC to interfere with his hunting ground "fun". Maybe, at best, he merely empathizes with con harrassers/rapists, thinks that drinking in "small groups" with people who are "probably still of sound mind" is the point of conventions for these people and they won't come if there's a CoC, and prioritizes them over women.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 9:45 AM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm going to go ahead and say the reason he's probably arguing so hard for this shit is because either he, or someone he is thinking of in a completely non-abstract sense, takes advantage of this kind of shit when at conventions.

Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity (or privilege, or laziness).
posted by Etrigan at 9:47 AM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


The problem with a nuclear option in the code of conduct (i.e. I can throw you out because the chipmunks in my head say to do it) is that it makes the process unpredictable from the outside. For example, if someone makes a complaint against an organizer/their friend/a prominent visitor, who gets thrown out? The complainant for being a troublemaker? That's just up to the chipmunks!

Even if you would never do such a thing, you can. So there is a chilling effect.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:48 AM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is a tough one for me. I've known Jared for a number of years, and he's been one of the biggest advocates of my entire field. He's also dead wrong on this one.

The problem is that there's this false dichotomy that immediately sets up on social media -- you either stand with Rachel, or you stand with Jared. It's something Mike Monteiro demonstrates, and it's a way people in power shut down opposition. And given Jared is a gatekeeper to the web and UX communities, it's a very dangerous place to be.

I believe codes of conduct are a good start, but we need to do more on enforcement training and certification. But I believe starting with a code of conduct is the place we must start.

I believe Jared Spool has done a ton to open the door to women in this field and has amplified voices we never would have heard. He also has opened doors for design in Fortune 500 companies and the NPO/NGO world.

I also believe Jared has staked out a position that closes the door to women and amplifies the wrong voices in my industry. And worse still, I think he's betraying a core value in UX: Empathy. He's insistent design is a rendering of intent, but he doesn't understand what intent is being rendered by codes of conduct, nor does he demonstrate that he wants to.

I believe Rachel Nabors. And I believe Rachel Nabors because I have written about the labor of having this argument with Jared -- twice. My friend Anne did the same -- we were in the same argument that led to that post.

I'm tired of having this argument. It's really just Spool, Monteiro, and a handful of other people. Spool is a good guy, but he's wrong, and I feel like I'm arguing climate change with a skeptic who will not change their mind.

But if I, a cis white-ish hetero male, is tired of this argument, I can only imagine how incredibly taxing it's been on anyone who doesn't have my bag full of privilege. So I'm going to keep calling out the bullshit. Because for us old folk who built this web, it's evolve or die (and/or get out of the industry). And I'd rather grow than ossify.
posted by dw at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2015 [132 favorites]


Yeah, I'd say not having a code comes from any and all of these places, already mentioned:
  • Mistaken assumptions about liability and the law
  • Engineer's disease
  • Inability or unwillingness to dedicate the resources to enforce violations*
  • Being male, and probably white, and therefore harassment is a theoretical construct rather than part of your life
  • Knowing one of your friends, one of the field's "top experts", or yourself are harassers and valuing them over every other attendee
  • Bullshit libertarianism
  • Simple stubbornness, ie, situational stupidity
It's really insulting to your guests to not have one, and especially to women, the non-traditionally gendered, people of color and all of the other groups who actually have to deal with this stuff day-in and day-out. Gross.

* If you lack the resources, you don't have any business running a conference, just like a store which can't survive paying their employees a living wage isn't a real business
posted by maxwelton at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2015 [17 favorites]


Like non-discrimination laws, codes of conduct don't guarantee a complete solution to the problem, but they at least indicate that you acknowledge it and take it seriously.
posted by anifinder at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think that, ultimately, Jared does not want to believe that people would come to his professional conference and harrass women or use the venue as a dating opportunity. It makes sense from his perspective because he himself would not do that.

It is hard to accept that a lot of your colleagues are going to be douchebags who cannot act in a professional manner unless specifically given rules outlined for them (and even then will probably still act out), but it is the truth that there are probably a few in the crowd that you have to protect against.
posted by deanc at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr—
The problem with a nuclear option in the code of conduct … is that it makes the process unpredictable from the outside.
That's a valid counterpoint. How would you thread the needle between holding an organizer to a standard of reasonableness, and being specific enough to invite rules-lawyering?
posted by adamrice at 10:00 AM on September 3, 2015


But really it's just better to make them broad and simple and just say upfront that final determinations as to violations and repercussions for violations are made at the sole discretion of the staff.

Oh, broad and simple, yes. I fought against a "no cellphones" policy in my library because a) it was unenforceable and b) cellphones were not the problem. A quite conversation on the phone in the "quiet conversation area" is no more disrupting than a quiet conversation at a table. Similarly, two people shouting at each other is disruptive even if there is no phone involved. Lastly, eventually, someone will be "this isn't a cellphone. It's a radio handset" or something, and then where are you.

However, unless you are going to carefully train your staff and be transparent about your decisions, leaving up to the staff's discretion risks favoritism (or hostility) to taint the process. You want policies and procedures that are not only fair and impartial but are seen to be fair an impartial by the majority of attendees (obviously, there are people who think any limitations on their bad behavior are fundamentally unfair, but, hey, they should be booted anyway).
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:02 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


A code of conduct is also very useful for when somebody asks: "Oh, yeah? Show me where it says that I can't do this!"

Having known some fuck-rules and or "we don't need rules no one here is stupid" sort of nerds, I also think a big part of this is that this dude doesn't want to have an awkward conversation.

He doesn't want the buck punted up the chain to him when someone does something heinous and have to be the one to say "sorry, it's right here in the rules". And the thing is, without rules everything becomes a judgement call and they have to fight against exactly what you've described(and I've MADE that argument, both in righteous earnest and as coy bullshit) and it'll get shuffled up to him anyways.

I think there's some seriously geek social fallacies and avoidance of perceived awkwardness going on here. In a totally counterproductive way, but still. This is like the most socially anxious nerdy dude thing I've heard of in a really really long time combined with libertarian-esque less rules freer market crap.

Why are so many nerdy guys like this? Why have I heard this shit so many times before?
posted by emptythought at 10:03 AM on September 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


[One comment deleted. Don't take this to the "Jared or anyone who disagrees on this subject is probably a rapist" place -- there's plenty to criticize without going there, and that will just tank the conversation for no reason.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:05 AM on September 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


How would you thread the needle between holding an organizer to a standard of reasonableness, and being specific enough to invite rules-lawyering?

Pretty simple: you make it clear right at the top that while the code of conduct lists examples of behaviors that are absolutely forbidden, it is not an exhaustive list, and that if you are disrupting the event in a way that isn't listed you will still be asked to leave, etc. There's a huge middle ground between "trying to literally list every single possible infraction and exception" and "just have one line saying you might enforce some rules maybe but no specific examples".
posted by tocts at 10:06 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


That's a valid counterpoint. How would you thread the needle between holding an organizer to a standard of reasonableness, and being specific enough to invite rules-lawyering?

I don't see why the enumerated list and nuclear option have to be mutually exclusive. List the behaviors you don't want to see, in enough specificity that people can be considered duly warned of what constitutes impermissible assholery, but also note that you also reserve the right to eject people for poor conduct that does not fall precisely under any of those headers.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:07 AM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems like Jared is determined to confuse liability with accountability of a non-legal sort. People who want codes of conduct are not even close to saying that conference organizers are legally liable for anything that goes wrong. They simply want people to be ready to step in and say “as a representative and organizer of this event, your behavior is unacceptable, and there will be consequences if you cannot change your behavior immediately.”

When men do gross things at conferences (like when Rachel’s not-friend knocked on her hotel door in the middle of the night to seek some sort of sexual retribution, NYAGHHHH), approximately zero people being targeted by said gross things are thinking “Who can I sue?” But many of them would feel a lot less victimized if there was a clear way to appeal to an authority affiliated with the larger event, who would help resolve the situation AND take steps to make sure a similar situation did not happen in the future.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Errr.. I might be misunderstanding you here, but missed by who, exactly? A specific channel of complaint and someone on call 24/7 to address issues is number 3 of 4 giant bullet points in the article's description of an ideal CoC.

Yes, even TFA does rather conflate the two things under a name that conventionally refers to only one of them. Strikes me as misleading, that's all. The practical differences are illustrated by adamrice. You could very well have no code of conduct at all, and still have a capable team on-call to address complaints in an instant and deal with conflicts through a carefully designed system of dispute resolution. Not having a code of conduct does not necessarily mean simply abandoning everything to chaos governed by imaginary chipmunks. Even if that's what it turns out it does mean to this one guy who's arguing against having a code of conduct, which I did not even slightly begin to do.
posted by sfenders at 10:10 AM on September 3, 2015


I believe Rachel Nabors. And I believe Rachel Nabors because I have written about the labor of having this argument with Jared -- twice. My friend Anne did the same -- we were in the same argument that led to that post.

I'm tired of having this argument. It's really just Spool, Monteiro, and a handful of other people. Spool is a good guy, but he's wrong, and I feel like I'm arguing climate change with a skeptic who will not change their mind.


That's why I think we need to stop having that conversation, and instead get more people to agree to not work without a code of conduct in place. That way, when he says "I'll get another speaker", the response will be "who, exactly?"

If he won't do the right thing because it's the right thing, perhaps self-preservation will be a better motivator.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2015 [18 favorites]


Do insurance policies that cover conventions and other organized gatherings take into account having a code of conduct?
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:13 AM on September 3, 2015


sure people could take care of things without a code of conduct, but the people refusing to have codes of conduct who otherwise take care of their shit are giving cover to those who don't have codes of conduct because they don't want to take care of their shit. having a code of conduct isn't a guarantee that things will be dealt with properly, but it is a good bright line for a speaker to choose when she's deciding where she will spend her time.
posted by nadawi at 10:14 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


You have to look at Jared's perspective from the view of (pre tech bubble) Silicon Valley types starting companies to escape the stifling bureaucracy of the places they used to work. No booklet length-dress codes: "just show up in what you're comfortable with." Not clock in/clock out: "just get your work done." Outline a few basic principles ("build cool stuff") and hire the right people, and everyone figures things out for themselves.

And I think that Jared believes is conferences will organize themselves that way. But sometimes you need to draw lines and enforce rules. And people might even be happier that way because they don't *want* to deal with ambiguity.

We want to believe that everyone would make the same good decisions we would given the circumstances, but outside of small self selecting groups, that's not true.
posted by deanc at 10:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


It has been exceedingly depressing to watch some of these old white dudes of the industry come out so vociferously against Codes of Conduct. They cling to this perfectionist fallacy because of course, they wouldn't need it, no way, you're an idiot for suggesting such a thing, why are you attacking such an esteemed person, why are you silent?

We're all mostly confused why you're arguing this way. You're essentially arguing that people will speed and drive poorly, so let's not have traffic laws.

The louder they complain, the more esteem they lose, and I'm not sure they realize it yet. It's like it's a game to them or something, but they are completely ignoring the consequences in real life. And these are the same guys who write about empathy and the larger picture for their jobs all the fucking time. It's insane.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:17 AM on September 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


How would you thread the needle between holding an organizer to a standard of reasonableness, and being specific enough to invite rules-lawyering?

This is also the sort of thing that corporate lawyers have been doing for decades with employee handbooks. Certain things are explicitly forbidden, but other stuff is also not ok, just not so clearly stated in the book.

You can also fall back on undefined terms. For instance, a code of conduct can prohibit "harassment." What's harassment? Well the legal system has spent a lot of time on that, so we're not going to define it explicitly here, but we will give a couple of examples for the sake of making clear that the set of unacceptable behaviors includes, but is not limited to, certain things.

Ultimately, the way you prevent rules-lawyering is by not having lawyering part of the process. There's the conference organizer and an attendee. The conference staff decides on a response, anything from "hey man, don't do that" to "you need to leave now, and don't come back next year" and carries out that decision. There's no trial involved, no conference court. Plenty of conferences have figured this out.
posted by zachlipton at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wish the world was one in which you could outline a few general principles and everything else would organize itself. But for the most part it doesn't. I am a member of my building's coop board. Not only are rules needed for the residents to follow for our mutual benefit, but even a small coop board needs rules through which they can make decisions because without them, members go off the rails.

I think this is because members clearly don't possess a shared culture. A small workplace, a group of roommates, a family and maybe a village can develop a shared culture that depends more about shared norms than explicit policies and rules. But as much as Jared might wish it to be otherwise, attendees of his conferences will NOT share a similar set of norms and culture that would prevent problems.
posted by deanc at 10:23 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Outline a few basic principles ("build cool stuff") and hire the right people, and everyone figures things out for themselves.

And if most or all of the "right people" end up being white and male, remind yourself it's a meritocracy!
posted by Deoridhe at 10:26 AM on September 3, 2015 [41 favorites]


What Mike should have said: "Fuck You, Write a Code of Conduct."
posted by ethansr at 10:28 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


The conference staff decides on a response, anything from "hey man, don't do that" to "you need to leave now, and don't come back next year" and carries out that decision. There's no trial involved, no conference court.

SERIOUSLY. "I took away the badge that gives you access to the convention center. Please leave."

It isn't like anyone is calling for Law & Order: Tech Conference so that grizzled detectives can knock disruptor heads together.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:30 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Spool usually ends his talks (and I've seen a lot of them, his one about the design treasures from Amazon is great) with, "Thank you for encouraging my behavior." While I've done so in the past for other things, I don't think many of us are encouraging this particular one.

The XOXO Code of Conduct this year is really well-done. As Andy M said:
"Subsidized passes, Code of Conduct, and a public commitment to an inclusive event? Turns out these things make a real difference. Who knew."
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:39 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


You have to look at Jared's perspective from the view of (pre tech bubble) Silicon Valley types starting companies to escape the stifling bureaucracy of the places they used to work. No booklet length-dress codes: "just show up in what you're comfortable with." Not clock in/clock out: "just get your work done." Outline a few basic principles ("build cool stuff") and hire the right people, and everyone figures things out for themselves.

And it was that very mentality that turned Silicon Valley into a hotbed of sexism, among other things.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2015 [24 favorites]


Burning Man has a code of conduct, they call it the 10 Principles.

Comic Con has a code of conduct.

By refusing to establish a code of conduct for the convention, Jared opens himself up to having to deal with sticky situations without clearly defined rules...it is really in his best interests to do so.
posted by Chuffy at 10:41 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I agree the CoC process needs to be fair. We have a co-organizer for a series of events who shares the view that the CoC can leave process and consequences unspecified because the people making the call can be trusted. In reality, they're prone to the same biases and behaviors as the attendees that prompted the need for the CoC in the first place. It's easy to imagine yourself either not needing the CoC or only needing in situations where the course of action is obvious. There's no guarantee that's the case. And, smart attendees really can tell if the CoC has been thought through past "here's how to make a complaint."
posted by michaelh at 10:47 AM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


And since Metafilter is fairly unanimous on this, I'll say that for me this is more of a "this is about what you are doing, not about who you are" thing. He seems like a decent dude who's good at his thing. Just please put some more effort into understanding and empathizing with what people are telling you.

Maybe someday I'll tell the story of me and my boss that worked out similarly.
posted by boo_radley at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


That medium article reads to me like Jared is saying "actually, this is just part of an overall safety program". No. The actual issue is poor socialization and conduct at conference events.

Putting attendee conduct alongside "how to handle food safely" does not sit well with me.

That said, a code of conduct that integrates with an incident response framework seems like a pretty darn good thing.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:59 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


having a code of conduct isn't a guarantee that things will be dealt with properly, but it is a good bright line for a speaker to choose when she's deciding where she will spend her time.

Yup. Spool and Monteiro seem to be arguing that the delineation of a code of conduct is equivalent to an offer of a false sense of security ("Creating safety is not the same as creating a feeling of safety," "We can't just put up a sign and say everything is safe. We have to do the pain-in-the-ass work of actually making it safer"), but they also seem to be arguing that Working Together To Design Something Better is a change best effected without formalizing anything beforehand other than, like, asking attendees to drink less. It's all very 1. Decision is made, 2. ????, 3. PROFIT!

Still, I don't know a single attendee of a CoC-inclusive con or professional gathering who actually believes 100% of harassers and other shitty people will be axiomatically winnowed out by the mere existence of a CoC. All the CoC does is help attendees and speakers understand that a) certain behaviors will be strongly discouraged (and probably outright penalized) at this event and b) if someone decides to do those things anyway, there's some kind of plan in place to recognize and address the resultant problem. It doesn't guarantee that the organizers will deal with the problem constructively, let alone that the end result will be satisfying or helpful to the person on the receiving end of the shitty behavior -- just ask Elise Matthesen. It just means that they aren't likely to be quietly abandoned to the wolves or ignored out of hand, because someone other than them is going to be tasked with figuring shit out.
posted by divined by radio at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


As zachlipton notes, one thing to remember in discussing this issue is that these are private events and venues, not government ones. No one has a right to be at your convention or conference.

So the talk about whether or not to have the "nuclear option" is moot, because you can always have someone removed from your private event, whether you state that in a policy or not. It's not like if you don't say it you lose the ability to call venue security and tell them to remove someone.

Thus, there's no point in trying to maintain a pretense of "due process". No one is entitled to a trial over the organizers' call, no one is even entitled to there at all. Tell them upfront what is true no matter what: the event organizers ultimately have the discretion over who stays and who goes. Give them a list of examples of behavior that's not going to be tolerated, but if someone's being a jerk and trying to "rules lawyer", they're gone.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:15 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the assertion that posting a code of conduct means that people will think that your event is absolutely safe and nothing bad will happen is an incredibly insulting bit of bad faith.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:16 AM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


As somebody in the UX field, this hurts. I've never been a fanboy of good ol' Jared Spooge, but I would have expected that as someone in a female-dominant field, and as someone in a field that is all about empathizing with EXPERIENCES THAT PEOPLE FACE IN THE WORLD, that he wouldn't be so tone-deaf about the experiences of conference attendees. Sigh.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:29 AM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


There's a remarkable contradiction in just the first half of Jared's essay. First, he writes a big long list detailing all the thought he's put into how to make food safe for attendees, and then uses that as an example of how his company is awesome. Then he writes a big long list detailing all of the thought he's put into what it means to "provide escorts", something that he himself says would be an excellent remedy in cases of harassment, and then uses that as an example of how... such promises would simply be too complex and expensive to implement, and I guess his company isn't quite awesome enough for that? Whatever happened to the Jared who, just a quarter of the way up the page, was shouting from the rooftops about how much work his company did to ensure attendees' safety? And for that matter, why aren't all of his company's procedures for food safety too complex and expensive to implement?

The answer is simple if you just take Jared at his word that his concern is about the cost and complexity of implementation. Namely, Jared seems to believe that implementing a code of conduct to prevent harassment and provide remedy in cases of harassment is more expensive and difficult than not implementing such a code of conduct, whereas enacting procedures to ensure food safety is just as, or less, expensive and difficult than not enacting such procedures. And why does Jared believe this? Probably because he knows that his company will be in deep legal shit if they make an attendee go into anaphylactic shock, regardless of what they explicitly promise or don't promise, whereas the consequences of someone getting harassed will probably be minimal.

Jared would probably point to his response to the harassment incident described at the beginning of the essay and claim that this is the standard procedure for harassment that corresponds to their standard procedure for food safety. But making clear to all attendees what harassment is, what the consequences for harassment are, and what to do if one is harassed is basic to preventing harassment from occurring, even if such a code did not include any promises of remedies. If he really cared as much about preventing harassment as he cared about food safety, a code of conduct would surely be one of the most direct and efficient methods of achieving that goal. Therefore, if even a code of conduct is too difficult for Jared, it would seem that everything is. Giving us, to put it lightly, valuable insight into Jared's priorities.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 11:36 AM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jenn Schiffer covered this when this shitfest last exploded like two weeks ago, too, in Not Another Code of Conduct Bl0g!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:39 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]




As somebody in the UX field, this hurts. I've never been a fanboy of good ol' Jared Spooge, but I would have expected that as someone in a female-dominant field, and as someone in a field that is all about empathizing with EXPERIENCES THAT PEOPLE FACE IN THE WORLD, that he wouldn't be so tone-deaf about the experiences of conference attendees. Sigh.


Yes, my thoughts exactly! Maybe I could understand this coming from someone who's not accustomed to thinking about humans and supporting their messy, inconvenient ways. But dude... You literally have one job. This just makes all of ux punditry look rotten by association. Not that it was that great before.
posted by bleep at 11:42 AM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh, and the escort bit had another piece of obliviousness, when he talked about having an armed escort while working at a nuclear power plant, not realizing that his escort was less "bodyguard" and more "babysitter with the authority to drop him like a sack of potatoes if he went to certain places."
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:43 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I think that, ultimately, Jared does not want to believe that people would come to his professional conference and harrass women or use the venue as a dating opportunity. It makes sense from his perspective because he himself would not do that. "

Yeah, I know that I've seen some of that in talking to people about conference rules, especially after the Skepchick elevator thing. But the nut of it is that a lot of what I've heard is all, like, "But what if something I say is misconstrued? What if I misinterpret a signal? I shouldn't be punished/I shouldn't have to punish someone else for that!" It's the same kind of pushback that comes up too often around campus consent rules. And it's like, you know that you can have a code of conduct where you can still get drunk and hookup without that being a problem, right? Increasing the chance that you get wrongly called out for harassing from infinitesimal to incredibly unlikely seems like a small price to pay for increasing the chances that someone actually harassing has consequences from infinitesimal to just moderately unlikely, and if maintaining an atmosphere where people can still have both informal chillout and sexytimes opportunities is a priority, the evidence points to more women being willing to participate when they don't have to spend as much mental energy shielding from creepers. Like the Schroedinger's Rapist, if you're a het dude and you'd like to hook up, it's the creepers that are fucking that up for you and treating creeping as a bug rather than a feature will end up benefiting you anyway. And if you're not interested in hooking up, well, shit, how about that you'll get more and better participants at your conference for a very small cost of implementing a code of conduct and enforcing it?

I dunno. Maybe I just know too many dudes who have rationalized skeevy behavior of themselves or friends under some sort of misguided commitment to ambiguity or loyalty without recognizing the costs that come with that. I used to write about rock and roll, and the confusion of anti-authoritarianism with perpetuating the patriarchy is totally fucking rife there, from general harassment to sexual assault. I see a lot of the same rationalizations in the tech world — hell, even in the librarian world, where I hear about this shit through my wife who has to organize conferences as part of her job — and it both frustrates and depresses the shit out of me. And what good is this unearned privilege if I can't use it to push back against this shit, especially things that I might have let slide around me when I was younger and dumber?
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 AM on September 3, 2015 [21 favorites]


"especially things that I might have let slide around me when I was younger and dumber"

nodding my head thinking about my own misspent youth being dumb as a sack of rocks.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:53 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


He seems like a decent dude who's good at his thing. Just please put some more effort into understanding and empathizing with what people are telling you

The funny thing is, as somebody in the UX Research field, he is basically paid to understand and empathize with what people are telling him. It just doesn't apply when the people are attendees of his own events.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:09 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jared has perfectly illustrated the problem with the Null Process.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


One other thing I thought of was the concept of a "stop drinking contract." Apparently, there's some thought that, by signing a contract, you can change your behavior - whether that's "I will not drink booze for x days," or "I will go to the gym on this schedule," as a commitment.

I wonder if it works, and if the published code of conduct makes people who are teetering on the edge of offensive behavior take a step back...
posted by Chuffy at 12:11 PM on September 3, 2015


I'm an attorney who works with tech start-ups in NYC. I have occasionally heard sentiments very similar to this from engineers here. These people appear to believe that they are so smart that they will always know to only do business with trustworthy people, and so don't need the "hassle" of a contract.

IT engineers are very smart, and rarely wise.
posted by eriko at 12:13 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It has been exceedingly depressing to watch some of these old white dudes of the industry come out so vociferously against Codes of Conduct. They cling to this perfectionist fallacy because of course, they wouldn't need it, no way, you're an idiot for suggesting such a thing, why are you attacking such an esteemed person, why are you silent?

Some of them are against it because "you don't need it."

Others are against it because "They will use this against me."
posted by eriko at 12:19 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Jared has perfectly illustrated the problem with the Null Process.

Hmm, that article has a lot in common with what I say to fundamentalists. People who claim to have no tradition that dictates how they read and interpret their scriptures are merely unaware of and unintentional about the tradition they in fact practice.

Everyone has a process. Some people just don't bother to tell anyone (including themselves) what it is.
posted by straight at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Well you see, codes against harassment mostly help women, and codes against food poisoning help men (and women too, as a side-effect) so it's clear which one is most important here.
posted by emjaybee at 12:27 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


[One comment deleted, again really let's not with the "all people who disagree on this are rapists" stuff.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:33 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jesus fucking christ that essay she links by him is the most infuriatingly engineer-diseased thing I've read in a long time.

I am coining "Designer's Disease."
posted by atoxyl at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I just got a code of conduct and anti harassment policy enacted for a geek organization I'm a part of. It took the best part of two years, and basically all of that was dealing with white cis men who were having tantrums about it.

From my experience, there are two reasons men don't want one in place.

1) they're worried it will be used against them. They raise objections like "false accusations!" To a man, these have been the objections of men who are actively harassing people, and turn around and attempt to use the policy to harass other people. It wouldn't be so awful, except:

2) the people who don't want to have to do something about harassment. They know they would have to discipline some of their friends. They feel like women should just take care of the problem on our own (but really want a diverse community where people feel safe!). They say things like "We just want to have fun doing X, and that's what everyone wants and they'll act nicely. And if they don't, Someone will set them straight." They never bother to define who that someone is, but it's definitely not the people in charge because that would be draconian. And tyranny. And PC. And why can't we just drop it.

The first set couldn't exist without the second. They're enabled in their bad deeds. And unfortunately, even with a code of conduct the second set looks for any and every way to protect them. Because they're friends or important to the community or That's just the way Bob is.

I like people who harass more than I like people who protect them. I think Jared is in the second group.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:49 PM on September 3, 2015 [20 favorites]


I could see myself having any sympathy for Jared if he took issue with some specific provision that the Nabors wanted. But he didn't. His objection is to the principle of codifying decency.

If Jared is right, and conferences can be "designed" to effect good conduct, there is no reason not to write a spec for that design, or at least a list of the design goals. To the extent that is what a "code of conduct" entails, I see no reason not to allow one.

I predict that people like Jared, possibly even Jared himself, will change their minds on this issue in the next few years. Right now, I think they assume that all such things are an attempt to make privileged men cry hot tears of shame. They aren't, and as organizers observe this and the demands persist, I'm guessing their will to resist codes of conduct will evaporate.
posted by andrewpcone at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am coining "Designer's Disease."

Yeah between this and the AK-47 guy from a bit back I've been wondering if overconfident designers are branching off into their own, unique thing.
posted by griphus at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2015


Just reading this is making me mildly hyperventilate with left over stress and trauma from the last two years. The men against a code of conduct were so aggressive and nasty that I lost sleep and weight over it. The meetings were so tense and high strung they made me puke.

And I'm the one who got cast as a problem and the bad guy because I insisted on it. When I don't run for the board in December, there's every chance they'll repeal it. And give a harasser his membership back.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:23 PM on September 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


Ok, so I'm just a little confused here. I just looked up Jared Spool's Design/Content Event website, and they have a Code of Conduct here. Archive.org has a version of this same page dating back to last March: here.

I don't get why he would have one for his Design/Content conference, but not have one for the UX Imersion workshop.
posted by barkingpumpkin at 1:39 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


andrewpcone, and a bug reporting mechanism. Part of my engineer's disease is the almost always incorrect belief that if I can just find the right words I can get people to understand. As I was reading your comment I thought, yeah, maybe if this Jared guy had it explained in design terms he'd get it. Which is almost certainly wrong, but damn my desire to believe that finding the right words is the panacea is strong.

stoneweaver, yeah I got a flash on MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail myself. The open enemies aren't nearly so bad as the supposed friends who support them.
posted by sotonohito at 1:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


barkingpumpkin: Design/Content is not a Jared Spool production; in fact, Steve Fisher had a great writeup about how the CoC helped that particular conference out significantly.
posted by hijinx at 2:01 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


OH! Thanks hijinx.
posted by barkingpumpkin at 2:03 PM on September 3, 2015


That is some really hard working mansplaining/nerdsplaining right there, Jared. Sometimes listening is actually easier.

The more I read his essay over and over, the harder it is for me to believe he's even being sincere. Why? Because he performs a couple of sleight-of-hands that don't sound like he's arguing in good faith.

First off:

"A strong Code of Conduct promises remedies that are likely to be costly and constraining to event producers."

No, a strong Code of Conduct doesn't need to promise any remedies that a "safe" conference is not already implementing. He says at the outset that attendee harassment is part of the primary job of the harasser. If he's being honest about that, that means he's intending to deal with harassment issues that arise. And a code of conduct serves as a notification that the organizer has that intention. If you are unwilling to put your intentions into writing, it is difficult to believe you are sincere about them.

Second: The things he says that an organizer can do to minimize harassment don't sound like serious measures. Not serving drinks? Telling presenters not to be sexist? That's all well and good, but what's your plan to deal with the situation where someone is actually being harassed? Either you have no plan, in which case your stated goal of a "safe" conference is a lie, or you have a plan, in which case there is no cost incurred in putting that plan on record.

Third: Equating a CoC with the TSA is a sham comparison. What irritates people about the TSA isn't that it posts regulations. What irritates people is that the actions it takes are intrusive and don't even make you feel safer. A CoC doesn't promise safety and is not intended to guarantee safety. It is at its minimum an announcement that certain types of behavior are unwelcome. A "NO SMOKING" sign is essentially a minimal Code of Conduct. If you won't even post a "NO SMOKING" sign because you're afraid that people who are allergic to smoking will wrongly consider it an ironclad guarantee and be misled, then you don't really care about non-smokers. You're just concern trolling.

Fourth: He claims to believe that a boycott of non CoC conferences will just force all conferences to post loose toothless codes of conduct that they have no intention of enforcing. More concern trolling. He's elevating his made up prediction about what might happen over flesh and blood people, women, telling him they have actual, real, in the flesh concerns about attending events without codes of conduct. Let's be clear about this. He provides zero evidence of this grossly insulting assertion. Grossly insulting because the insinuation is that people, women, won't be able to see past ploys like that, wouldn't be able to modify a boycott if such a transparent eventuality were to occur. He's thought it all out for the ladies, see, and is actually better able to tell them what is best for their safety than they themselves are aware, is the gist of this argument.
posted by xigxag at 2:08 PM on September 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


My day job's yearly users group conference is coming up soon. I am sad to say I've been a bystander of verbal harassment in a past year. I don't know whether we have a CoC, but I doubt it. And now I am sad again.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 2:12 PM on September 3, 2015


At this point, I'm pretty certain that the arguments against codes of conduct can be rebutted by a variation on Pascal's Wager.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:15 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jared: Event producers make design choices that change attendee behaviors, either to be more professional or less professional."


If event producers make design choices that change attendee behaviors, why not simply publish those and voila! CoC. Problem solved.
posted by Chuffy at 3:00 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


A strong Code of Conduct promises remedies that are likely to be costly and constraining to event producers.

That appears to be the only significant line in the Spool piece. He doesn't want a code of conduct because it could turn out to be costly and inconvenient. The rest is just obfuscation.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:11 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Do insurance policies that cover conventions and other organized gatherings take into account having a code of conduct?

From the Design/Code Conference post linked above:
Our insurance company was thrilled that we had a code of conduct and saw it as part of working towards creating a safer environment.
posted by epersonae at 3:18 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fourth: He claims to believe that a boycott of non CoC conferences will just force all conferences to post loose toothless codes of conduct that they have no intention of enforcing.

I think it's pretty likely that this will happen to some degree but everybody already knows (this was linked in Nabors' post and is very good) that writing down the rules is just a start. And the real contortion in Spool's piece is how he argues

a.) at one turn that most codes of conduct are too weak and intentionally so to avoid real costs and liability
b.) at another that his "designed safe" approach is more expensive - but he does it anyway because he cares - but then also
c.) that having a strong and enforceable code of conduct is too expensive.

That appears to be the only significant line in the Spool piece. He doesn't want a code of conduct because it could turn out to be costly and inconvenient. The rest is just obfuscation.

This is exactly what seems to be the case. Ironically, given how he dances around this point, if his contention that simply having a tightly written CoC would raise insurance costs beyond what the organizers could afford were true - that seems unlikely to me but perhaps somebody here knows more about it - that would be one of the only good points on his side. If he was really interested in being helpful couldn't he just say "we would like to implement a stronger policy but we are worried about the cost - can anybody help us sort this out/are people willing to pay more for tickets/we are going to have to raise the cost of attendance but understand that this is what your money going to and we think it's important?"
posted by atoxyl at 3:32 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's funny - a lot of technical people (including me) have a distrust of things that seem purely symbolic (and again in reality it's clear the CoC proponents are asking for more than that) and an accompanying irritation at being asked/required to do such things. But we'll spend hours and thousands of words arguing for our right not to do them, which is in itself an entirely impractical symbolic act.
posted by atoxyl at 3:46 PM on September 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Law & Order: Tech Conference

I would pay to see that, especially if they can hook Ice-T.

"Perps are promisin' vendors big booths in the center aisle, but switching them to little tiny ones at the back of the hall facin' the bathrooms that only get cleaned once a week. They call it the Snotty Maitre D'."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:58 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


He doesn't want a code of conduct because it could turn out to be costly and inconvenient. The rest is just obfuscation.

It isn't just obfuscation, it's completely scattershot attempts to come up with any justification. This results in, for example, his argument stating that simultaneously (1) a defined CoC will simply cost too much due to insurance and enforcement and yet (2) conventions will just put up a fig leaf and nobody is going to actually enforce it anyways. These are pretty much mutually exclusive outcomes -- if nobody is actually doing anything about it, it isn't going to cost money, and if people are spending a lot of money on it, then by definition it's not just them putting up a fig leaf.

His whole argument basically feels like he had a gut "no" reaction to having a CoC that is completely unsupportable, and he's throwing anything at the wall possible to see what sticks rather than consider that maybe his initial gut feeling was coming from a place of ignorance.
posted by tocts at 5:55 PM on September 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


tocts, that's pretty much the conclusion I came to, and am working hard to remember my medium account so I can say so. This is from the guy who advocates using real data to inform design decisions rather than designing from the gut. Irony, no?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:09 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well technically he's not the guy who advocates that...
posted by bleep at 6:40 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's just crazy to me how many relatively intelligent people think their intelligence inoculates them against stupidity.
posted by Mooski at 6:42 PM on September 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I help run a local group, and I recently promoted the adoption of a CoC for our meetings. Because we are a Python group, and in Australia, I suggested we just adopt the Pycon Australia CoC, instead of arguing about details. Many of our attendants also attend Pycon AU, so they sign the CoC anyway.

Jared's point of view of "no CoC, lest we become accountable" is interesting to me, because I have the complely opposite standpoint: accountability matters, and that's why you should adopt a CoC. The minimum terms are: say you don't accept any harassment, and there are people you can contact if you've been treated poorly, and these people will take action. The particular redaction of the CoC is secondary to that.

I don't mean to say the particular details of the CoC are unimportant. But I do think that, unless you run a high profile event with lots of people, the signaling value of the CoC beats the actual lawyering of it. The way I see it, if a CoC is good enough that I would attend an event that publicises it, it's good enough for me to adopt.

In this sense, it's interesting that some people criticise CoCs as "merely symbolic", because yeah, that's exactly why I think they're good to have. Because they are no less than symbolic. Their primary benefit is how they signal a commitment on the part of the organisation. If a published Code of Conduct also drives assholes away, that's a big bonus. The fact that they outline particular policies in case of breach is third on my list.
posted by kandinski at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Bullshit libertarianism

Completely. It is rare that people mention the Libertarian aspect whenever some Tech-Type pops up on the radar for doing / saying something insensitive but it is that ideology that is the engine behind this particular strain of pig-headedness. Always served with a healthy portion of smug unacknowledged (repudiated even) privilege and heavily seasoned with Computer Science Aspergers / Engineers Disease, the resulting bouquet always presents the same form: 'Of course you don't recognize that I have already implemented what I know to be the best protocols. Stop bothering me.' But kindly.

Attendant to this viewpoint, (and common to this Tech Professional Disruptor Personality Type) are a constellation of beliefs including: 'other people are guided by their feelings with no understanding of objective reality but not me,' 'I can clearly see that the standard way of doing things is outmoded and should be scrapped or streamlined (especially if I don't like it or it feels prickly);' 'regulations of any sort are boring and onerous;' 'mission statements, non-legal decrees or tone messaging are useless,' etc. etc. etc.

It's Baby-Men who fancy themselves John Galt trying to build their own little Galt's Gulches and everyone else just isn't an ubermensch so god leave me alone mom!

What speaks to this guys arrogance is that he doesn't perceive the CoC request as actually being about the broader issue of building a coalition that agrees to take a stand against creepers and sexist-types and instead seems to willfully misinterpret it and get on his soapbox and bang on about how regulations are onerous and tell us all about security theater.

I suffered through some of his Medium article and here are some gems:

-A strong Code of Conduct promises remedies that are likely to be costly and constraining to event producers.

I'll take "It's too hard on the Job Creators and Other Libertarian Concerns" for one thousand, Alex.

-A weak Code of Conduct is a placebo label saying a conference is safe, without actually ensuring it’s safe.

This is the same argument that Tea Party types use when saying that "School Safety Zones" are useless without armed guards and so we should just get rid of them. Because taking a firm stance on an issue is worthless because ideas don't really ever set the tone and tenor of human experiences. While we're putting toothless Code of Conduct in the garbage, lets just take "ideas in general" out with them too right?

-Absence of a Code of Conduct does not mean that the organizers will provide an unsafe conference.

Thanks for stating the obivious, Captain Computer! Try uploading this into your parameters: While no CoC does not guarantee an unsafe experience, it DOES guarantee that you have less chance of recourse or precedent in the case that you DO have an unsafe experience! It's like I tell my friends - just because I took the seatbelts out of my car doesn't mean we're going to crash! Those silly idiots. No wonder I work with computers and they don't.

Creating safety is not the same as creating a feeling of safety.

And since you're not a policeman or authority figure charged with creating safety it's a good thing you only need to worry about creating that feeling for your attendees!

Things organizers can do to make events safer: Restructure parties to reduce unsafe intoxication-induced behavior; work with speakers in advance to minimize potentially offensive material; and provide very attentive, mindful customer service consistently through the attendee experience.

Things organizers can do to be assholes: miss the point entirely and instead harp on about 'security theater' and post a bullet-point series of obvious facts as though you are illuminating us.

We have plans. We have procedures. All of our staff is briefed on what to do. All of our staff is experienced enough to be trusted to do the right thing and they’ve never faltered on that.

It’s deliberate. It’s designed.


Comes across arrogant as fuck: 'Look idiots - even though you can't SEE the grand design, I have implemented MAGIC behind the scenes ok. I've taken care of everything so stop questioning me."


Finally I'm pretty sure these types worry that a CoC might be used against them and then they start to resemble the Mens Rights crowd crying about "false allegations" - which really means that they are scared that someone will finally call them out on harassing and annoying women. They fume about this because to them harassment is done by 'thugs' or jocks when all they are doing is walking around 'being gentlemen' to the women who are just too dumb to realize it and give them the sex they think they are entitled to.

I don't know who this dude is and I am likely wrong...but screw him.
posted by jnnla at 7:41 PM on September 3, 2015 [19 favorites]


I'm reading comments on the medium article and all I can say is any last shred of respect I had for Jared Spool evaporated. He's just deflecting and derailing! At one point, some compares a Code of Conduct to a fire drill plan. Jared ends his response with
"BTW, when did you last do a fire drill in your house? (You probably should. Your family’s safety is at stake.)"

Another point someone tries to make about his TSA point and he deflects into a rant about the TSA. Any conversation about Code of Conducts is one again derailed.

Honestly and truly, my last shred of respect is gone. I took him at his word reading the article; but the argument in comments belies someone who really does not care about this issue. He should just say that and shut up.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2015 [8 favorites]


Wow, just wow. I've attended a bunch of events like this, years ago when I was spending more time in that field, and I hero-worshipped Jared. I don't like to see this at all.

The bizarre thing is his apparent belief that alcohol causes bad behavior:

Restructure parties to reduce unsafe intoxication-induced behavior;

Really? Intoxication-induced behavior? This is like some 1920's idea that bad behavior can be attributed to "Demon Rum." I'm guessing Jared doesn't drink because he has a weird idea about how drinking works.

Harassers aren't innocent polite people who have mistakenly, due to bad party design, imbibed just an ounce too much alcohol. And suggesting that this is even part of the issue shows a lack of understanding about human behavior altogether.

I have no problem with people who have a limited understanding of human behavior. But doubling down on it and deciding, from your highly privileged position, that you're the best person to make decisions about attendee conduct is ridiculous.

Echoing this:

Honestly and truly, my last shred of respect is gone.
posted by mmoncur at 9:47 PM on September 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


@jnnla "I don't know who this dude is and I am likely wrong...but " that sure as hell ain't gonna stop me taking his words out of context, misinterpreting meaning, and arguing against strawmen. Jesus Christ - that's really all you have to offer here?

Jared may well be wrong here. I think he is. But it's not the end of days. It's someone arguing against needing a CoC at their conference. It sure as fuck doesn't make him a "bad person" or invalidate the shit-load of work he's done for the industry and help he's given to people in the industry.

And while I'm on this track, @joan_holloway "I've never been a fanboy of good ol' Jared Spooge" - FFS. Are you 9 years old?

Metafilter is usually a lot better than this.

Seen just as I go to post:
Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site.

I know. I know. But I think in general this should apply to people being discussed also.
posted by maupuia at 9:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Could we have this conversation without bringing in "Computer Science Aspergers", please? I think Engineers' Disease (or maybe Designers' Disease, as mentioned above) is a fine term for this kind of behaviour.

Rachel Nabors' article is a good and very well-written one. I think I will find myself thinking back on it often, since I'm trying to get into speaking at conferences and user groups. I was lucky that my conference-speaking debut this year was at DjangoCon Europe, which was exemplary in many ways -- sustainable! not wasting food! accessible! a code of conduct, naturally! -- but this kind of problem will probably crop up eventually.

My local user group is looking for a code of conduct, after a minor-but-still-uncomfortable incident at the last meeting. I must remember to check how that's going today.
posted by daisyk at 11:48 PM on September 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's someone arguing against needing a CoC at their conference. It sure as fuck doesn't make him a "bad person" or invalidate the shit-load of work he's done for the industry and help he's given to people in the industry.

When he's being utterly dismissive and contemptuous of a concept that has been demonstrated to improve safety and inclusiveness? Yeah, it sort of does make him a "bad person", or at the very least one who only considers things from a certain viewpoint. And I find it very problematic to make the argument that because he's helped people in the past, this somehow makes him less accountable for his conduct in the present.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:04 AM on September 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


Also, it's worth considering that he has enough authority and respect within his field that when he puts up an argument against codes of conduct, people will listen and use his position to argue against the idea. So it's not just "someone" arguing against a code of conduct.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:07 AM on September 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


Well written and makes her point very effectively. It's not too much to ask of an event for it to publish a plan for how it defines and deals with jackassery.

All recurring events will eventually wind up with a code of conduct, because it is the nature of humanity that things are good until some ass shows up and ruins it for everyone.

As Clay Shirky said, process (and policies) are the scar tissue of an organization and it's the nature of the universe that eventually there will be wounds.
posted by lon_star at 1:30 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


And we make it a point not to detail every possible transgression, because we've found that people can be rules-lawyers about their transgressing and find ways to stay within the letter of the law while obviously violating the spirit. So we have our nuclear option, clearly stated: "anyone can be ejected for any reason or no reason."

Now that's pretty much the exact opposite of a good CoC, IMO.

"Don't be an asshole" is a useless rule because people don't necessarily agree what it means to be an asshole. "Don't be a creep" is just as bad, because most people who creep someone out are probably going for "charming" and "romantic" and think they're succeeding...

Having actual rules like "only yes means yes" etc. arguably makes an environment *more* permissive; publishing them is an act of communication rather than a threat of consequences. You don't need a nuclear option, you need consensus on what's OK.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 2:48 AM on September 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


You have to look at Jared's perspective from the view of (pre tech bubble) Silicon Valley types starting companies to escape the stifling bureaucracy of the places they used to work. No booklet length-dress codes: "just show up in what you're comfortable with." Not clock in/clock out: "just get your work done." Outline a few basic principles ("build cool stuff") and hire the right people, and everyone figures things out for themselves.

Exactly right. A lot of this startup mindset emerges from the hacker ethos that grew up with the first widely-accessible academic computers at MIT and Stanford in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a different world back then.

The thinking is: "obviously we're all hackers together. We know each other. We all earned our place here (for some elite value of "here"). We're all 100% devoted to computer hacking. Why would one of us ever do something wrong?"

There are some interesting contradictions. On the one hand, it's based in computer science and therefore on very precisely formulated and exact rules. On the other hand, it's also based in a deep disrespect of bureaucracy and human-created rules. Especially human-created rules created by members of the outgroup.

You could compare it to a company "growing up" and developing formal processes for HR. Yes, HR can be bureaucratic and annoying but it's also useful for providing process when things go wrong or when someone does wrong.
posted by theorique at 2:49 AM on September 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I am seriously disappointed in both Spool and Montiero because of their opposition to codes of conduct. I will probably still recommend their design-related writing, but there's no fucking way I'm spending the money to attend any conference they have a hand in.

It shows a shocking lack of respect for the women and people of colour they work with. Is it that they don't believe people get harassed and abused, or that they don't think the people being harassed are smart enough to contribute to prevention measures?

Either way, I hope they pull their heads out of their arses soon.
posted by harriet vane at 5:14 AM on September 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


From a blogpost by another woman (Cate Huston) who pulled out of a different conference earlier this year for lack of a code of conduct:
I don’t feel safe because there is a code of conduct. But I tell you one thing that makes me feel unsafe – men who will endlessly, vociferously argue against them. Maybe a code of conduct isn’t meaningful. But at this point, refusing to listen, refusing to have one. Well, that is.
posted by mhum at 10:55 AM on September 4, 2015 [32 favorites]


They have a mental model of the political structure that is divorced from the actual reality of American politics

I kinda feel like this CoC discussion is related to the "Politics for Geeks" thread. Engineers Disease indeed.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:43 AM on September 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Local user group update: we have a CoC and it's posted on the website. Now to (hopefully not, but eventually probably yes) find out how we do about enforcing it.
posted by daisyk at 12:41 AM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have to say, I've thought more and more about this in the past few days, and there's an added bit that is really bothering me:

I'm in software, much like Jared Spool (though in complete honesty, I'm a nobody -- an experienced nobody, but a nobody nonetheless). One thing that I believe is true across basically all software projects is this: if you design and develop a component of any real complexity and it flies through QA without any problems on the first test run, that is not something you should be celebrating. In fact, it should freak you the fuck out.

Nobody, no matter how good they are, writes perfect code the first time. There is always something (maybe something minor, but always something) that comes out of testing. If you aren't getting bug reports out of testing, there is something very wrong, either with your testing process, or with the communication channels that would give you those reports.

Jared Spool is basically telling the world that he thinks he can design and implement a conference such that it is inherently safe, without need for a Code of Conduct. And, in responses to his article, he has repeatedly made claims that he has succeeded in this -- and in fact, that there have been practically no problems at his conferences, which is why he thinks that a Code of Conduct is not required.

Let me state this really plainly:

Jared Spool is claiming that he looked at the incredibly complex problems of gender dynamics, bias, discrimination, harassment, etc, and designed and implemented a solution to all of these really complex issues and it flew through QA (i.e. actual use) with flying colors on the first try.

If this were a software project, it might actually occur to him that this is too good to be true; that, in fact, it is a lot more likely that the communication channels that should be giving him feedback are not working (as a side effect of his design and/or process). But, because this is about someone else's life experiences he doesn't have the context for (or the apparent desire to listen to), his reaction is instead 6,000 words of mansplaining.

I don't really know what to do about that, other than to just sigh resignedly.
posted by tocts at 6:55 PM on September 8, 2015 [25 favorites]


Yeah, it's not even engineer's disease because he's not even using what he knows about solving engineering problems, much less entertaining the thought that there might be more complicated and difficult problems than software engineering.
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on September 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


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