Another One Down

Another week, that is.

Not to mention most likely a valuable forum for techy types, since it would seem that the Stack Overflow network has acquired itself that terrible combination of terminally well-meaning but horrifyingly naïve HR-type folks who have come to the conclusion that they need to enforce proper pronominal behavior upon us peons whose main concern is high quality content.

Thus far, the exercise has seen one moderator de-modded, multiple other moderators resigning in support of the de-modded mod or in protest over the new code of conduct rules (it’s not easy to work out which, and at this point I don’t care. The confusion surrounding the entire mess is such that if I hadn’t developed compassion fatigue the numerous long and oh-so-earnest posts on all sides of the matter would have driven me insane). It’s also seen numerous long-term members retreating at speed, simply to ensure they aren’t targeted by what appears to be an enthusiastic ban-hammer wielded by someone with a lack of discretion and/or common sense.

Heck, it’s more than likely most of the people involved in the mess will never find out what’s going on, not least because the combination of the corporate management and a number of forums that are private or limited-access mean that most people have at best a third-hand account.

My, I’m confused. I fail to see the need for several thousand words of increasingly self-contradictory verbiage when a simple “Treat other people with respect” covers the lot. Unfortunately when something that operated primarily on mutual trust – that is, trusting that the overwhelming majority of users would do their honest best to honor the extremely limited set of rules (stay on topic, treat people with respect, ask good questions and give good answers pretty much covers it) – is pushed into something where the behavior is fenced by rules attempting to cover every situation the end result is never good.

Every time I’ve seen this shift, the organization that does it has died. Some take longer than others, but the inevitable result of withdrawing trust is to foster bad faith behavior and ultimately a collection of dick moves that can’t be penalized because they’re technically covered by the rules. Which leads to more rules, more loopholes, and even less trust.

Sound familiar? It should.

It’s a fine premise to play with in a story, but I really don’t want to watch it happen in real life.


  1. But thou must.
    (Not my favourite trope, especially in RL.)
    I have a good, solid Anglo-Saxon pronoun for such instances. (Personal Rule of Thumb: any word that can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, and adverb, can also be used as a pronoun. Especially if the alternative isn’t a real word.)

    I don’t care much if you suffer from a delusion, but I will *NOT* affirm your delusional construct.

    1. There’s the problem with “treat other people with respect” as a foundational rule: Respect is no longer something to be earned; it is expected to be given by right *and* has come to encompass “any damn thing the person with a higher ‘oppression score’ wants to thrust upon you, including their delusions”.

      Thus, even tho the commonly-quoted source has proved to be himself a dickwad, I prefer the self-focused rule:

      Don’t be a dick.

      No one is =owed= your respect.

      1. I personally start at “don’t be a dick”. I also try to maintain common courtesy even when someone has shown they lack such a thing – which amounts to treating them with a basic level of respect – you know, the kind of thing that doesn’t go around stirring up flamethrowers and flash mobs.

        Someone who’s looking for trouble will find it. The vast majority (of which my personal vastness makes up a not-insignificant proportion, dammit) have no problems with basic courtesy and the more or less respectful forms of address that go with it.

        That’s my choice. It made a reasonable working rule for the network in my post for the better part of 10 years. Then it got watered down to “Be nice”. And now it’s become pronominal explosion.

      2. A gentleman is never unintentionally rude.

        Etiquette is a non-aggression pact. Not an obligation to surrender when faced with conflict.

        I really don’t care if you’ve turned yourself into a circus freak.
        I’m perfectly happy to politely ignore it.
        I won’t hang out with you, but I’ll be polite.
        Don’t try and make me care, because you won’t like the result.

        I sometimes wonder if the people who possibly declaim “What Would Jesus Do?” have actually read the Bible.
        He did not cut anybody much slack, constantly called people on their crap, and once chased people with a whip.

      3. “Respect” has two meanings, and confusing the two leads to, well, confusion.

        One meaning of respect is honor owed someone for their achievements or character. E.g., I really respect Richard Feynman. That kind of respect is not owed to anyone; it is earned.

        The other meaning of respect would be better expressed as “common courtesy”, but people use the term respect all the time this this concept, including in the phrase “Treat everyone with respect”. This kind of “respect” (really courtesy) is not earned, but can be lost by someone’s actions. But unless someone loses it, you should default to treating everyone with courtesy (with “respect”, as that phrase has it).

        Nobody is owed the first form of respect. Everyone starts out deserving the second form, which is really common courtesy, unless they forfeit courtesy by their actions.

          1. I’ve seen it put as conflating “treat me like a person” with “treat me like an authority”.

  2. Ohhhhhh! But, just one more l’il rule will fix the last 4,567 rules, and no bad stuff will happen!

  3. “I fail to see the need for several thousand words of increasingly self-contradictory verbiage when a simple “Treat other people with respect” covers the lot.”

    This is what happens when the power to decide things is given to a person whose organizing principle is “people are stupid, they must be controlled.” They, quite rationally, set about controlling the stupid. Which means everyone.

    The first problem such people face is that usually they are not very bright. They make rules to cover every contingency that they can imagine. But the people they are busy making rules to control are smarter than them, and keep on defeating the rule set by discovering all kinds of shit the rule-makers -can’t- imagine. This leads to the washing-machine effect of rule–circumvention–new rule that you describe.

    The second problem is the fact that people can’t be controlled in a voluntary forum. They don’t HAVE to be there, and thus they leave when this nonsense starts up. Resulting in the death of the organization. But that’s okay, because the stupid SJW can always bully another cowardly middle manager into giving them a job.

    Eventually though, I’m sure the cowards will all figure out that letting SJWs into their organization means bankruptcy and unemployment. I expect they’ll be more afraid of job loss than some pushy pink-haired sea mammal.

    1. First, it probably doesn’t matter how smart the ruler/rulemaker is. At least not in terms of best practice. Less highly intelligent may mean that they thing breaks down sooner, but people who overestimate their own intelligence means that it is unwise to formulate it that way. When you have 1 person making decisions for or governing N people, for large enough N, crowdsourcing means that they can find rule exploits better than you can create rules no matter how smart you are. At least when we are talking about humanly achievable intelligence. (Folks who don’t know AI or who don’t know humans will start talking about computers at this point. There are some issues there that may be fundamental, but I don’t want to figure out how to say them right now.) Best practice is to limit one’s ambition.

      One person can lead a group if the group is willing. Absent that there are problems. Lots of theorists start extrapolating from ‘one person can lead a group’, ignore that their grand plans imply that the group is unwilling, and maybe don’t have the hands on experience with leadership to realize it isn’t magic, and does break down under certain conditions.

      I think your second problem is more broadly useful when generalized. Mechanisms of control for groups ultimately depend on things internal to the individual. Those internal things can vary, and are beyond the ability of anyone outside to prescribe. They can be influenced, but not perfectly and utterly controlled. (My desire to participate here at MGC is not a constant, unrelated to whatever hoops the proprietors make me jump through, so there is a limit to the rules that can be enforced and maintain the current level of activity. Of course, maybe if they got rid of me and brought in someone else it would be a lot better place.) Group behavior changing unexpectedly even when the apparent rules in force are the same is something I find hugely interesting*. The failures stemming from obnoxious rule changes are more predictable, but some of the underlying mechanisms may be the same.

      *Okay, this would in reality not be convenient for me or have theoretically neat results. But it would surely suck for the sort of folks who might be badly traumatized if they were convinced that, say, progressive taxation actually does not exist in practice. A ‘ninja can’t wrestle you when you are on fire’ when it comes to preventing the victory conditions of the left.

  4. As my father told me when I was knee-high to him, “You can’t make a rule to solve a personality problem.”

    He was right. No matter how many rules you make that the other people must suffer under, (or leave), the problem personality is still a problem.

  5. *sympathy*

    Every guild, forum or group I’ve been in where a mod behaved badly and *weren’t* smacked down died, just as you observe.

    Folks have a choice, and once the BS isn’t worth putting up with for what you provide, they leave.

    1. Exactly. The (rather small) SE site where I moderate has a constant problem of too high a noise – signal ratio caused by bad questions. I do what I can to clean the bad questions enough to make them adequate – I don’t need to worry about being kicked because I forgot what someone wanted to call themselves. I doubt that’s a rare problem.

      1. Ah, you haven’t resigned.

        Quick question: If I tell you that my pronoun is “Stack Exchange was wrong to treat Monica that way”, are you obligated to use that, or can you refer to me as a crazy troll who doesn’t even use Stack Exchange? Or is the fact that you have no reason to discuss me at all on Stack Exchange sufficient grounds that none of my tedious hypotheticals have any bearing on how the SE code of conduct is actually implemented.

        As you know, I can come up with much worse implementations of the pronoun exploits, which would be difficult to proof against without some draconian policy of dictating pronouns to people.

        I can’t help but wonder about things like sorting hierarchy of pronoun requests. Obviously, if I’m going to give you more than one request, it might make sense to use the more recent one. But more than one communication might reach you with the same date stamp. And what about when the most recent communication was handled privately, and has a new pronoun? If the CoC implies you should use most recent, and there are other injunctions against revealing information that might be private…

        Anyway, I have not communicated to you any actual requests about my wishes for pronoun use in my case. If I had, in this context I would say ‘feel free to use whatever you want’. Though, if you do somehow know my real name, I would prefer being called crazy internet troll to having that given to the likes of Stack Exchange.

        1. Just realized, I do sort of do the “pronoun” thing– but inside of manners.

          My ‘nym doesn’t really give a clue, my picture is often small enough to be overlooked and frankly a lot of guys like having cute girl icons anyways, if there’s a bio I’ll mention I’m a married mother of howevermany when I made the account, but I don’t correct people until they start in on the sex-specific insults.

          It’s the flip side of how I won’t call a dude in a dress “her,” but I also won’t be direct unless they start getting pushy, and I won’t be rude unless they’re threatening.

          Since I call folks “hon” or just don’t use any form of address at all (it cuts down on the sleep deprived calling of a cute 24 year old guy with facial hair “ma’am” just because I saw a woman two minutes ago; did that to a lumberyard kid who looked like Captain America’s kid brother) it’s really not that hard….

          1. I called my male TI “ma’am” in the middle of basic training.

            I think that the flaring nostrils and bulging veins in his forehead were, in retrospect, him trying not to laugh at me when he had to chew me out instead.

            (This was totally Not My Fault, but considering that I was forgetting my married last name at that point, I’m pretty sure nothing was.)

        2. Bobtheregistered… Honestly, that’s where Stack Exchange has well and truly jumped the shark. There is an assumption that anyone who chooses to use something that’s not in whatever the current PC-compliant guide to pronouns is is doing so in bad faith (the last I heard from the ever spawning threads is that the normal set of pronouns is still permitted) must be operating in bad faith.

          And frankly, I would be tempted to allow any and all from any user since I have no way to judge whether you or anyone else is acting in bad faith or not, so naturally I would assume good faith.

          Never underestimate the power of following the rules to the letter….

  6. I’m not surprised, since one of StackOverflow’s founders, Jeff Atwood, was showing NPC tendencies years ago, so much so that I stopped visiting his blog (SNR got too low).

    To be fair, I don’t think he’s actively involved in SO now, but my impression is that SO has been going down hill for a while. (And, as a side note, I feel that Google’s search results have decreased in the past few years. Although DDG hasn’t worked for me, I’ve found Qwant to be on-par, even on technical subjects where Google is typically better than Bing)

    1. And a well-written and well-considered opinion it is, too.

      I haven’t resigned, but I’m watching closely. I suspect I’ll end up among the departures eventually, but for now I’m still there.

  7. I never post at Stack Exchange or Overflow, but they come up frequently in my search results to web programming questions. And, sometimes, science questions for sci-fi and fantasy. In fact, a little while back I’d recommended them to a sci-fi writer newbie looking for resources.

    So, it’s disappointing that the Stacks have been captured by The Crazies. I agree it will not stay on the right side of the grass if these are the kind of people running it. It’s a shame. No doubt the Stacks will be forked soon enough, but in the meantime this development leaves a hole in my list of go-to resources.

  8. I’m not sure the real impact this is going to have outside of more “English specific” forums. My main experience is with StackOverflow, as I work on IT, and it is populated by people all around the world, when people ask/answer questions in a language that is not their native language, they couldn’t care less about these rules, in fact they are not going to read them, so all those wars are going to be ignored by 30-70% (what’s the membership percentage population all around the world?) of people there.

    1. Ana, that’s more or less the same as the site I moderate. Lots of people who speak English as a second (or third, fourth, whatever) language. They want an answer to their problems, not a discourse on what pronouns they prefer. The main focus of edits is to make the questions and answers as clear as possible so people with problems can get fixes.

      The corporate hooey over pronouns has largely not spilled outside the meta, but there are sites without moderators right now, and I know that a number of StackOverflow’s highly experienced users are walking as well. Beyond that… who knows?

      1. Reminds me of a fanfic I started and haven’t entirely given up on. Restaurant operating in a small town, fictional world. First set of rules for the new trainee? Included ‘ask their pronoun’. I’m pretty sure the author was not writing from experience in any restaurants except maybe something niche in a larger city.

        ATH’s ‘Teaching Offense’ today seems a plausible explanation for whatever was driving that worldbuilding.

  9. I rarely visit them but took a look after seeing this, sad to see this happen but it is now fertile ground for a less politically correct competitor. I did see this which was the only bright spot.

    Spanish, like many European languages, is a Romance language. All the words have genders. How is this kind of thing supposed to work then? Does a non-binary person still drive un coche (a car)? Or should it be una coche? Do they eat in una cocina (a kitchen)? Or un cocino? Do you use los baños or las bañas?

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