Oh, good lord, we’ve got a “thinker” on our hands. Seriously, that’s how he describes himself in the bio for his self-published book about psychopaths (based on his personal experiences rather than psychological research, natch). Only now he’s thinking about codes of conduct.
Is there a problem with thinking? Nope. Is there a problem with this guy thinking? Not in particular. It sounds like he’s even pretty good at it when it comes to software. So what’s the problem?
It’s the same problem that continually happens with people who define themselves as smart or as good thinkers: They forget about GIGO. They come to think of themselves as experts without having done any of the work.
This guy, in true “thinker” fashion, has decided he knows how people who work on codes of conduct theorize and conceptualize them without apparently ever having talked to any of us.
And indeed, I think the mainstream Code of Conduct model is based on false assumptions. The mainstream theory of harassment (let’s call it “Model A”) has these assumptions:
- Anyone can be the harasser.
- Harassment is a motiveless act.
- Outlawing harassment will stop it.
Those are indeed false assumptions. They are also not even close to the premises I’m working from when I talk about codes of conduct. Here are mine. You’ll note some contrasts.
- Boundary-violating behavior happens regularly for a variety of reasons.
- Societally, we consider the boundaries set by certain groups of people as inherently less valid, meaning those people encounter more boundary-violating behavior.
- Much but not all boundary-violating behavior is low-level and well-intentioned but thoughtless.
- Some people will use this background of low-level boundary violation as camouflage for greater violations that we call “harassment” (an inclusive term that should not be mistaken to mean only its own mildest form).
- These people may show general contempt for everyone’s boundaries, or they may conceptualize certain groups of people as having no rights to autonomy.
- Nearly everyone is capable of navigating the basic process of setting and enforcing boundaries.
- Setting and enforcing boundaries is work.
- Societally, we make certain groups of people work harder to have their boundaries recognized and respected.
- Societally, we punish the setting of certain boundaries.
- When we gather together for the purposes of work, requiring people to continually set and enforce their boundaries cuts into our collective productivity.
- When we gather together for the purposes of fun, requiring people to continually set and enforce their boundaries cuts into their fun by making them work.
- A code of conduct that sets out certain boundaries up front reduces the amount of individual work participants need to take on.
- A code of conduct that explicitly recognizes boundaries of certain groups reduces the amount of extra work those groups have to do.
- Most people will respect the boundaries set out in a code of conduct.
- In a situation where boundaries are commonly understood, the few people who are determined to violate boundaries have less cover and stand out more.
- In a situation where boundaries are commonly understood, people find it easier to oppose boundary-violating behavior when they see it happen to others.
- In a situation where boundaries are commonly understood, people find it easier to oppose boundary-violating behavior when it happens to them.
- In a situation where people know that they will not be punished but will be backed up by authority, people find it easier to oppose boundary-violating behavior when it happens to them.
- Many people who violate boundaries will not do so if you raise the cost of violations; they are looking for easy prey and few/no consequences.
- Codes of conduct will not stop all violations, which is why it is critical that everyone understand what will happen in the case of a violation.
- We have no good reason to believe that false reports are remotely common.
- False reports do happen.
- We have good information from a variety of sources telling us that “zero tolerance” solutions don’t solve these problems.
- We have decades of research showing the importance of institutional and community support for victims.
- We have decades of research showing that support for victims is not one size fits all.
- The stakeholders in a violation report include the person reporting being violated, the person being reported as a violator, organizers, any witnesses, and other community members/attendees.
- The interests of all these stakeholders are unlikely to align.
- Having a process for navigating these competing interests is critical to doing so ethically.
- Receiving training in navigating these competing interests increases the likelihood of doing so successfully.
- Understanding the principles behind codes of conduct increases the likelihood of enforcing them successfully.
That is what you get if you actually talk to someone who works on these things instead of just thinking up what we must think. And this is why you need real information instead of just being a “thinker” if you want to present yourself as any kind of expert and not be laughed out of the room.