Thursday, October 24, 2013


In my experience, there's an inherent problem with having to codify any anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, or general conduct policies. It's not just the inherent challenges of any form of whitelisting or blacklisting but rather having to do so in the first place is already and unfortunately an admission of failure. From here on in one must take a deep and hard look at the problem, its roots, and all the subtleties and sophistication needed to tackle it. If the issue has already arisen due to a discrepancy in shared expectations, morals, or values - then retrospective corrective action in of itself is not enough. Ambiguous and generalised signposts are not enough. Some hard hitting explicit and clear action is required as somehow society and the community has bred this cancer already. The sample space is that of complicated and confused free radicals (i.e. humans), and in this case it seems... not very enlightened, mature, or disciplined individuals and tribes.

And when the bar has fallen too low it must be reset with painstaking detail, clarity, and at an extremely high level to ensure the laggards have no shadows left to intentionally or unintentionally lurk in.

There will always be outliers, some bad behaviour, or even crimes committed in any sufficiently large gathering of people yet an abnormal statistical frequency or growing stereotype is indicative of a much deeper problem. This also highlights that existing laws, conventions, or protocols are either not well known, adhered to, or not sufficiently and deeply realised... for if they were, there would already be an operating Minimal Viable Behaviour that is self-policed (and in many cases there is). Here judgement is implied and the capability for self-judgement and self-doubt is crucial. Additionally, this faculty must remain active and unimpaired at all times to ensure correct engagement with oneself and others. In some cases people just don't care about their bad behaviour nor can they recognise it - and as such they must be reprimanded, potentially excluded, and indeed educated.

Policies serve many purposes, including but not limited to, providing a signpost, a guide in setting shared expectations, an implied agreement that can be retrospectively held aloft to demonstrate an explicit breach of protocol (after the fact)... however policies are worthless if they can not be enforced, can be easily gamed or invalidated, or are not believed to be applicable to the parties they are actually intended for... and herein lies one of the fundamental problems.

Many may argue for concepts of common sense or basic morality however I believe such things not to exist. There are reasons for altruistic and non-violent behaviour - for example; in supporting social cohesion and basic survival, however when there is aggressive or violent speech or action (and for true progress to be made), the root cause must be addressed and not solely corrected in a reactive manner. There are a multitude of life trajectories that individuals experience and many paths are indeed partially or collectively shared, yet the intersections are not actually and in any way universal (other than perhaps birth, death, hunger, cold, and most physical sensations etc). Subsequent higher order cognisant overlaps are in fact rarer than one might think especially when ones unique consciousness and relationship with meaning or understanding is considered. In the same way that it is difficult to guarantee anything but a tiny common vocabulary to begin with - meanings, subtleties of expression, experiences, and shared understanding of concepts can thus vary widely. It is in this vein that I submit there is no universally shared secular morals, ethics, or commonly accepted and subsequently codified set of acceptable and readily understood behaviours. One exception may be that of a tiny common framework of concepts such as 'thou shalt not kill' or the Golden or Silver Rules of which they themselves are dependent upon self-referential interpretations and subjective application. In this context, and explicitly at an individual and universal level, there is no equivalent of the UNDHR(United Nations Declaration of Human Rights) other than some corpus of local laws that are not in themselves obvious or easily recounted.

So I challenge all sexes in the technology industry; it's time to step up our game, refine the problem statement, and actually push things forward whilst earning our innovation moniker. I'd also like to stress that sometimes what's innovative is actually going back to basics and making a list of actionable items:

a) over and above ambiguous 'catch-all' policies - define the most common breaches of human protocol at gatherings with examples. This is not for the 99 but the 1% of offenders who don't understand what behaviour is unacceptable, borderline, or sadly lack the self-referential judgement and empathy required. Some lack the ability to contextualise the impact of even their most 'innocuous' actions. If it's time to be more explicit (which it already is), BE MORE EXPLICIT whilst keeping your lists and catch-all terms like 'including but not limited to'.
b) make explicit opening statements at the main events and keynotes rather than just 'darkweb' documentation
c) put up signs and warnings (yes, akin to McDonalds 'Contents are hot' which is already a societal fail for most because we're also past that point already, time to wake up and smell it)..
d) consult and solicit feedback from known victims
e) give victims both an anonymous and attribution based feedback mechanism
f) pay more attention to how your policies can be gamed and defend against such
g) consider eliminating whole classes of problems until the situation improves across the board (it's already desperate times, desperate measures may serve temporarily to highlight the problems)
h) consider having attendees accept Terms and Conditions or Acceptable Attendee Behaviour when signing up (if it's good enough for software, it's good enough for humans)
i) reinforce that illegal behaviour is not tolerated and will be reported to the authorities whereupon the organisation will also seek prosecutions
j) look to other industries who are making strides in the problem space

Unfortunately many do not understand what it's like to actually be a victim until you have actually been a victim (whether of bullying, abuse, or violence etc.) so err on the side of caution. Accept the problem is already a serious deficit of 'good' judgement regarding what's acceptable, respectful, and legal. Spare a moment to consider that the leaders of the community drafting the policies are probably the least likely to personally experience abuse or attacks, the least likely to inhabit a consciousness that commits abusive acts, and perhaps the least likely to want to believe their community is even capable of such acts.

I posit 3 fundamental and supplementary 'back to basics' guidelines or simple rules/protocols:
1. Respect and don't breach anyone's personal space ( minimum > 0.5m )
  1.1 Touch is the ultimate breach of personal space. No touching.
2. No individual or group insults, slurs, hate speech or derogatory comments related but not limited to race, religion, gender, or appearance.
3. Practice non-aggression, non-violence, and harm minimisation with regards to all thoughts, speech, and action whether directed externally or internally.

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