LambdaConf-Yarvin Controversy: Response to Feedback

Subject: Re: The Staff @ LambdaConf 2016 Need Your Feedback!
From: John A. De Goes
Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2016 17:21:15 -0600
To: Courtney De Goes, Sophia De Goes, Matthew Thomas De Goes, John De Goes

Dear Speaker at LambdaConf 2016:

From the aggregate counts, it now appears we have collected feedback from everyone.

It is abundantly clear from the responses that there is no single option that appeals to everyone. Intelligent, thought-provoking, and eloquent points have been made for all possible views.

What is clear, however, is that everyone has selflessly and graciously put a lot of effort into recommending the course of action they think is best. For that, you have our deepest thanks.

We’ve taken a lot of time to think about the responses, discuss them, and formalize the policy changes we’re going to make at LambdaConf. Before we discuss these changes, however, I want to take a few minutes to summarize and highlight some of the incredible feedback we’ve received.

Feedback on Behaviors Covered by the Pledge

An overwhelming majority of speakers (> 90%) feel that the pledge of conduct adequately ensures that everyone at the conference is treated well. This is a separate issue from whether the pledge should be extended, although a few speakers addressed them together.

One highlight in support of the current pledge is shown below:

I like that right now [the pledge] seems to expect civil adult behavior and expect adults to act like adults. They don’t always, but I think setting that out as an expectation is a good place to start.

I like that it specifically includes the phrase “refuse to feel threatened by those different from me.” Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? Unless someone *is* threatening you, then you should refuse to feel threatened by them. That distributes the responsibility among everyone: each to not be threatening, each to try not to feel threatened.

I believe that is how it should be, and that is one of the only reasons I agreed to that particular pledge. I am against many CoCs because they seem to allow certain protected groups to relieve themselves of all responsibility for getting along.

I say this, despite the fact that I am a member of one of the (commonly) protected groups (I’m a woman).

Another one:

I am very happy with the current version. I feel that it strikes a good balance of number of rules that are based on *principles*, rather than enumerating what is specific instances are allowed and disallowed. I have personally had more success with this approach in activist communities than with policies that are significantly more explicit.

Further, privilege isn’t a static thing, and changes based on context, and there is a level of specificity where it can become difficult to account for such complexities. (I speak from experience) I feel that this covers most/all behaviours quite nicely:

> That in the words I speak and the actions I take, I shall demonstrate respect, dignity, and empathy for my fellow human beings; that when I disagree with ideas, I will do so constructively, respectfully, and graciously; and that I will communicate non-violently with empathy and honest self-expression.

However, we had one person who thought the pledge went too far. Their response is so detailed and well-reasoned, I feel compelled to quote it, even if I’m not sure we have any answers to the questions it raises:

It’s difficult to precisely express my misgivings with the pledge of conduct, but a line from your email is a good jumping-off point: “I prefer the process to be predictable and repeatable, rather than driven by ad hoc emotional tweet-storms.” This statement shows the same flaw as the “strict constructionist” theory of constitutional law: the belief that there is such a thing as objective interpretation.

This really comes up in two important ways.

First, there is no actually predictable and repeatable system of enforcement. This is why courts have juries, and judges say the phrase “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” It’s still fine to have a code of conduct, but it should only be used in the most egregious cases. And for all I know that might be your intention, but your code is (to me) written in a heavy-handed way that more or less says “beware of arbitrary enforcement” (or as you put it, “in the sole opinion of the event organizers”).

Second, and this point is even more delicate, it takes two to be offended. If person A says something that person B takes offense at, but person A didn’t intend to be offensive, whose side do you take? I’ve read articles claiming that “intent isn’t magic,” but at the same time, asserting that intent isn’t magic is not itself magic.

Social interaction requires give-and-take, not take-and-take. This is one reason US law only deals in damages, because that’s at least a fixed point that one can grab hold of, while offensiveness is monumentally in the eye of the beholder.

The yet broader issue is that the above leads inevitably to having to walk on eggshells, because everything is posed in such a way as to give most power to the accuser. Having to walk on eggshells inspires bitterness, which is probably the genesis of the phrase “social justice warrior.”

You might say “tough luck” about that, but putting people off is not the way to win a culture war. The gay rights battle was chiefly won by normalization: it’s easy to hate the abstract other, and difficult to hate your friends and relatives.

When some people wonder why there isn’t a “straight pride parade,” besides the fact that it’s called Mardi Gras, the reason is that there isn’t a heterosexuality visibility problem. And I think this is why Pride seems to be on the way out, because there isn’t a homosexuality visibility problem anymore either.

This is probably the biggest reason I oppose this sort of top-down diversity moralizing: it seems mostly prone to putting minority people back into the position of the abstract other (i.e., “social justice warrior”).

Having written all these words, I semi-reluctantly agreed to the pledge for two reasons. First, because of the power imbalance between you and me: you’re more or less in a position to force grudging agreement. Second, because even though I am concerned about having to walk on eggshells and the implied power imbalance between accuser and accused, I have no misgivings about being respectful to others.

But still, what constitutes respect? Hence the eggshells.

We also had a couple who felt the pledge did not go far enough:

There are some rare individuals who will take such a pledge with the intention of using it as cover for abusing those unlikely to speak up. For those looking to abuse others, the pledge provides plausible deniability: “I’m sorry it looked like my behavior broke the pledge, but it wasn’t my intention.” Marginalized people are accustomed to having their abusers get their way; most of the time, we don’t speak up because we have more to lose than we are likely to gain. Paradoxically, the pledge promotes good behavior among honorable people and bad behavior among dishonorable people. Forgive me for saying so, but this is kid stuff; every child bullied on the playground quickly learns that appealing to authorities on the basis of fair-minded rules is a *hopeless* non-starter.

(Personally, we do not agree that the pledge promotes bad behavior, and we are saddened by the assumption that we would ignore pledge violations, but we still understand and appreciate the heartfelt and deeply personal feedback shared here.)

A few thought the pledge was fine as it is, but might benefit from some tweaking:

While I feel that the current version technically covers what it needs to, I’m not against option adding a point about belief system. Some religious groups (ex. Muslims in North America) enjoy less privilege than the average.

While I myself am an amoral atheist, I believe that religious folks deserve respect like everyone else, insofar as they reciprocate that respect. To help make people that are underrepresented based on their beliefs feel safe, it may be worthwhile to mention “belief system” in the examples of minorities to not stereotype or harass (though perhaps “belief system” is overly broad?) I’m a bit weary about becoming too specific, as at some point it begins to suggest a closed list.

Finally: thank you thinking about these issues :) It has always been very clear that LambdaConf went the extra mile from the pledge of conduct to the variety of dietary choices in the meals last year (and a million other details). Seriously, the organizing group is pretty amazing!


I suggest "That I shall not talk or act in ways that [could] make minority groups feel bullied, harassed, intimidated, stalked, stereotyped, or belittled; examples of minority groups include women, people of color, lesbians, gays, and people who are disabled, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, intersex, transgender, and gender-variant;"

Feedback on Policy Changes

The second question in the survey was far more divisive, and this was reflected not only in the tallies, but in the large amount of feedback that most speakers left in the comment box.

A majority of speakers (> 50%) feel that the pledge should only cover conduct at the conference, and that the pledge should not be augmented with additional policies.

There are too many remarkable comments to quote them all, but here are a few highlights:

Expanding the pledge of conduct to include beliefs and/or behavior out of the conference is a political judgment and will decrease actual diversity of thought.

I don’t bring diversity to the conference because I have a uterus; I bring diversity because I have different life experiences, some of which have led to beliefs other people disagree with because of their own backgrounds.

We’re all better off from being around people who don’t think like us, who think things that push the envelope, who question ideas others take for granted.

That’s what keeps progress moving forward.

[The speaker] believes some things about women’s abilities in software that make me want to puke, sure. But the way to show him he’s wrong is not to ban him. It’s to make him confront women who are as smart as he is. Smarter, even, if I may be so immodest.

Banning only encourages backlash and bitterness and is ultimately counter-productive to building a community that includes diversity of thought and belief.

And another, which draws attention to the fact that controversial and even violent views are sometimes held by those who are popular and well-liked:

Well, I believe in free-market capitalism.

A well-known and popular programmer has tweeted, repeatedly, that he supports violence (real violence, e.g., the firing squad) for people who believe that. I do not have any reason to believe he would actually shoot me if we were at the same conference together, and since he also supports a lot of feminist issues, I have every reason to believe he would, in fact, treat me personally better as a woman at a tech conference than many of the men in attendance would.

So, it would seem to me that basing conference attendance and participation on beliefs or behavior outside of the conference would lead to some pretty gnarly value judgments about which classes of participants are more important to you: do you want women there who also believe in free market capitalism? Or do you only want socialists, even if that ended up excluding some women?

To me, the fact that I believe he’s not going to hurt or threaten or stop me participating on the grounds that I’m a woman is plenty, and I’ll maybe just avoid talking politics with him at the conference. Maybe talking politics, economics, and the like should just be discouraged there and instead we can all just talk about cool new programming languages.

Another highlight, which thoughtfully discusses the real issue of social rehabilitation and the positive effect that respectful desegregation can have on bringing people together:

I feel an individual’s behaviour at the conference should be the criteria for inclusion I seems to me that the spirit of the pledge is to make everyone feel welcome and safe.

As such, I’m actually uncomfortable with the idea that someone could be barred from the conference for being “disliked enough” by the majority group attending the conference, or “anytime/anywhere”.

Both would make it impossible for someone to (for example) rehabilitate themselves socially after having a change in views. Also, until quite recently, I would have been sufficiently disliked at most conferences simply for being openly trans. Having to “possess the [compatible] values” feels like thought-policing (though perhaps I’m reading it wrong).

What matters is if they can behave well, are respectful at the conference, and so on. Their internal state is of no consequence, IMO, including for reasons in the prior paragraph.

On a more philosophical note: one of the things that has stuck with me most from my activist days was that shunning people who held opposing views (often people with power and privilege) was unproductive. We had our greatest victories when we kept the lines of communication open, demystified each other, and didn’t self-segregate.

The us-versus-them mentality is not helpful for social change in an individual or in society generally. People have a hard time changing their views about things if they’re not exposed to “The Other”. Of course this requires people to be respectful, which is the point of the pledge in the first place ;)

Another comment, which speaks to the speaker perspective that I know well:

As a speaker (and I find this choice extremely hard) I don’t want a conference where we refuse speakers based on their beliefs only. I would not want to be prevented to speak when enough people dislike me. While I have great respect for [Redacted] (who coined the issue at SL) and I would not want to alienate some parts of the community, the implications are just too scary. Maybe there will be enough GG like types that say they don’t feel safe in the company of someone who draws mean comics on them [Redacted]! Ultimately, everyone may believe what they want to believe, as long as they treat others respectfully.

A final highlight:

I may not agree with the disputed speaker’s views but all I want is for a safe conference. I am not sure if other women or other minorities in tech would feel the same though. Safety is also a feeling of trust so it is great you are getting feedback like this. Thanks.

The second most popular option was extending the pledge to cover a core value system, such that people who did not share the values would not be allowed to attend or speak at the conference.

A highlight is shown below:

I believe that people should be able to express themselves in a way that isn’t hurtful to others. People who are spewing hateful things with the intent of truly hurting others, I don’t feel there is any place for that at a conference that is - at its core - is about inclusion.

Another one, which shows the depths to which many of us wrestled with these issues:

Needless to say that I recognize how difficult the decision process in this case is. And thanks for asking. I wouldn’t take for granted.

As I thought about it several things happened. At first there was ‘Of course you should ban this person assuming what they promote is really bad’ through ‘banning on base of unrelated views means they could ban me because …’ to ‘I really don’t know if this person should be banned so if I knew who this person is and what kind of beliefs we’re talking about then I could decide what I think about it’. And then I’ve realized that I came to ‘It depends’ point.

It depends if it hurts people and how strong it hurts them, it is emotional threat, which could be really bad or not as bad, or outcome of this person activity maybe people are under physical threats as we speak. It felt like too many variables, too many questions and the necessity to know who the person is put me in the situation where I can be and since I’m only a human will probably be biased: if this person’s views are against what I’m or what I support, my resistance will naturally be greater and not everyone has an opinion about everything so I might not resist something really bad just because I didn’t form an opinion about it.

So back to square one, as long as it is not going to happen during the conference, it is none of my business because it is impossible to rule out otherwise.

And then I’ve recalled an old tale "When the came for communists, I told nothing, I’m not a communist. When the came for Roma people, I told nothing, I’m not a Roma. When they came for Jews, I told nothing I’m not a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to talk.’

It is indeed none of my business what person does in their private life. However, their public opinions are not private life, that’s why it is called public.

I wish there was a better, more efficient way to eliminate bigots. In absence of this, I hope that by having ‘set of values’ and making all speakers sign on it, it can serve even bigger purpose. On top of guarding the conference, if person with questionable public reputation decided to sign, it shows that they desire to speak at the conference is stronger than their beliefs and it might be a strengthening signal to those who suffer from that person’s public activity.

Unfortunately it also means that having ‘set of values’ might not make the conference im/un/ir(you fill in the word(s)) or simply less involved, but quite the opposite. If you’d ask me I still believe that it’s worth an effort since I wouldn’t want to be the one who didn’t talk.

A final comment from this perspective:

Having a view isn’t the taboo here. It isn’t your job to root out all racists. But again when someone makes public claims about gender and skin color and ability to do a job and a job that people he targets holds and will be in attendance, that is unacceptable bullshit.

A minority of speakers chose the other options, or some option that didn’t fit into any of the categories.

One highlight is shown below, which highlights the relationship between mutual trust and close-knit, supportive communities:

I know that others disagree, but what is at stake here is not “the privacy to keep our opinions separate from our engagement in unrelated communities” but “the freedom to engage in communities of trust.”

We cannot engage in communities without mutual trust. Those who have shown themselves untrustworthy should not be invited to destroy our communities.

Another one:

If I had my way on how these situations would be handled, it would be appointing a committee to evaluate these controversial speakers on a one off basis. I would want someone advocating for diversity, someone advocating for free speech, and overall wisdom and sensitivity used in reaching the decision.

I don’t believe a code of conduct or ‘rules’ could achieve the results as well as a group of people we trust to make these decisions.

Other Feedback

One person thought asking for people’s membership status in a minority group was a poor choice, even if that information was not used in our anonymized review process:

I was severely put off by the question during proposal submission of minority membership. Regardless of how you carried out the review process, it creates the appearance of impropriety. If it is in fact just about demography, that’s the sort of question that’s way better to ask after reviews are out.

Another urges us to consider the practical implications of this issue:

On a practical note, I ask you: how much time has this person already taken from you? When did you want to publish LambdaConf’s schedule? How many attendees will you lose *just because of the delay*? Will admitting this person overshadow LambdaConf? With this person as a speaker, will there be a LambdaConf 2017? 2018? Are you ready to see what you’ve built fall apart because you feel honor-bound to defend those who attack and abuse others?

Indeed, I have spent around 40 hours so far, and Courtney and the other staff members have probably collectively spent another 40. Courtney and I have lost sleep over the issue – not figuratively speaking, but literally. This has been very stressful for all of us!

However, we consider this a small price to pay to engage the community on an extremely important issue that will have ramifications well beyond LambdaConf.

We also don’t organize LambdaConf to make money or sell tickets. We do it because people benefit from and love the conference.

We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and excited about what lies ahead. But we will not dictate a decision without input from the community just because it’s expedient – even if it means the end of LambdaConf. Because the conference is a passion project for all of us, we want to be proud of what we do with it and how we conduct ourselves.

Policy Changes

As you can see from all the feedback, the minority group speakers of LambdaConf are intelligent, confident, well-spoken, passionate, and – above all – diverse.

There is plenty of overlap, but every speaker has a different background, a different set of life experiences, and a different viewpoint.

Because not all speakers agree with any one position, this means that no matter what decision we make, some speakers will not be happy with the outcome.

We respect that. But no matter what particular views you have on this issue, we ask that you respect the views of other speakers (no matter what they are!), and refuse to vilify anyone just because they have a different point of view.

In our opinion, there are no “b ad people” on this team. There is no "us versus them=E2=80 =9D. We are all on the same side, trying to figure out how we can live and work together despite our differences. We are all “good people”, even if we (respectfully) disagree.

With this firmly in mind, it’s time to present our decisions around how to handle this issue.

As I mentioned above, the majority of minority group speakers (> 50%) prefer to keep the pledge focused on behavior. If you exclude males from the survey (which is possible since all but one male self-identified), the results skew even more heavily in this direction.

Indeed, I previously mentioned that, while we went back and forth on the issue, the rest of the staff and I also converged on this same position. What I did not mention is that the strongest opinions were held by the female staff members (Courtney and Sophia).

Courtney had this to say on the matter:

While I am not personally a programmer, I have friends and family both who are programmers, some who are “functional” programmers, and some who are not.

In the last two years, I have gained a great appreciation for the functional programming community, and the extremely diverse people who contribute to this community with their thoughts, intelligence, hard work, and passionate enthusiasm for solving problems through functional programming.

As an organizer, I’m extremely gratified and grateful that LambdaConf attendees come from different jobs, program in different languages (sometimes, they don’t even code yet), different countries, and have widely varying thoughts and beliefs about everything (including how to approach a particular problem within the same language). I have seen and heard many discussions on how this or that could theoretically or practically work… or not.

I have seen these same people pull out a laptop and start working right there to prove their point.

I have seen someone who is stuck come out of a talk with a new idea or approach.

I have seen long-time programmers sit down with someone new who asked them a question to talk or show them what can be done with their code.

The very idea behind LambdaConf is that a group of smart people, working in different languages, with different ideas about how to make those languages better and use them to solve new and different problems, can come together to share what they’ve been working on, and learn what others have discovered in this large and growing field.

Our staff has worked hard over the last 2-3 years to make LambdaConf the best possible conference we can imagine. Part of this is acknowledging that a large group of diverse and passionate people will often have opposing ideas and beliefs, and doing our best to create a safe environment for the discussion and progress of functional programming – without letting our differences outside of that realm interfere.

This year we have given a great deal of thought to our Code of Conduct and whether it is sufficient to foster the kind of community that we want LambdaConf to be. After doing research we asked ourselves and others if it was enough? Too much?

After much discussion, I have come to the following conclusion:

LambdaConf is all about functional programming. It is not about everything that can, does, and sometimes should divide us outside of it. But it is about this one thing, this one community, this one large subject that you are all passionate about and seek to improve our world with.

Sophia also had a few words from her perspective as a professional in a different field:

I am not a software engineer or coder. I am a physician.

Professionalism in my work demands avoiding divisive topics of conversation. I do not engage in political debate with patients or fellow physicians. We might talk of pending legislation and its theoretical impact on our work, such as prior to passage of the ACA. However, I would never dream of sharing my private ethical system or political stances at work, much less at a medical conference where I know fellow attendees less than the people I work with every day. I would assume that the same holds true for software engineers, both as regards to workplace conversation and conference conversation.

Excluding people for non-relevant beliefs or attributes is segregation. Segregation is never the answer. Isolating people does not breed greater understanding or sympathy for one another. The separate-but-equal stance does not harmonize a society, nor does its promise ever come to fruition, as the courts recognized in the South.

=46rom a professional standpoint, I have learned much from people I would not care to socialize with. I attended medical school in Texas, and trained in the South. I had to deal with sexism and bias in both situations. And not just from coworkers.

Patients routinely believed I was their nurse. Even in Boulder, a liberal community, patients assume that I am not a physician. So what? I correct their misperception, then treat them in a professional manner, giving them the best care possible. Proving I can equal and outperform my male counterparts is a sure way to overcome such perceptions.

I hope that all LambdaConf speakers and attendees will seize this opportunity to represent their own niche of humanity with self-confidence, poise, and professionalism.

In light of all this, we feel the best course of action is to keep the pledge of conduct focused on behavior. However, we do not feel that’ s quite sufficient.

Based on all the feedback and some of the concerns that have been privately shared, as well as our own internal discussions, we feel we must augment the pledge with the following two critical points:

Safety Exception. If the staff or a committee appointed by the staff believes that attendees might reasonably feel physically unsafe if in the presence of someone, then we will reserve the right to ban the person from the conference, completely independent of the person’s willingness to uphold the pledge of conduct. We will rely on feedback from the community to help formalize this policy, but our initial ideas include the following criteria for accepting evidence:
Trust Exception. If the staff or a committee appointed by the staff believes that a person is untrustworthy, and will not uphold the pledge of conduct, then we will reserve the right to ban the person from the conference (whether speaker or attendee). Our initial ideas for criteria include the following:

We feel that the pledge of conduct, combined with the safety and untrustworthy exceptions, will create an environment that is physically safe, and in which all attendees will be treated well by other attendees.

However, even with the above in place, we understand that some may feel uncomfortable if in the presence of someone who is known by them to possess contrary, disagreeable views (especially offensive views). That’s something we have control over in our own personal lives, but we do not have control over that in the companies we work for, in the schools we attend, in the public places we frequent, and in the professional conferences we speak at.

We echo the thoughts of several speakers:

Shunning people who held opposing views (often people with power and privilege) was unproductive. We had our greatest victories when we kept the lines of communication open, demystified each other, and didn’t self-segregate.

The us-versus-them mentality is not helpful for social change in an individual or in society generally. People have a hard time changing their views about things if they’re not exposed to “The Other”.

The way to show him he’s wrong is not to ban him. It’s to make him confront women who are as smart as he is. Smarter, even, if I may be so immodest.

Banning only encourages backlash and bitterness and is ultimately counter-productive to building a community that includes diversity of thought and belief.

Putting people off is not the way to win a culture war. The gay rights battle was chiefly won by normalization: it’s easy to hate the abstract other, and difficult to hate your friends and relatives.

My 2 cents (which doesn’t count for anything, so please ignore it!) is that people who hold sexist and racist views do so because they feel threatened by those with a different gender or skin color. They are sick and broken, and they need treatment, not prison. The first step on the path toward rejoining the human race is showing them they don’t have to be afraid. One way to do that is to bring them into an environment that cultivates mutual respect and graciousness – in which the sick are the exception rather than the norm.

Fleshing out and adopting these policies is not the only change that we’ll be making. Among other things we want to do in the coming weeks and months:

Tweak the pledge to accommodate some of the feedback, and likely include a new clause along the lines of the following:
Document and refine policies that detail when and how the staff will respond to an alleged violation of the pledge;
Document the committee review process for proposals in depth;
Detail all the situations in which we may ban someone from attending or speaking at the conference, and in which situations (if any) people can expect a refund;
Detail the policies for changing the pledge or other policies that can affect people’s ability to speak at or attend the conference.

Our goal with all of the above will be to act with complete transparency and integrity, and we welcome any feedback you have on these upcoming changes.

Effects of the Policy Changes

Even with the above policy changes, we still have a big decision to make: which is, should we allow the controversial speaker in question to attend LambdaConf.

While this speaker’s views would not, by themselves, preclude the speaker from attending or speaking at LambdaConf, there is the safety exception and the trust exception to consider.

When a speaker wrote us by email and expressed their concerns over personal safety, we decided to dig deeper than we ever had before, to see if there were legitimate safety concerns.

We read or skimmed nearly everything the speaker has written online (which is no small task), watched all videos we could find, and spent countless hours on Google doing background research. We ignored second-hand sources, which seemed largely based on the writings of those quoting the speaker – not the speaker himself.

We discovered the following:

To our knowledge, the speaker has never written hate speech, never advocated violence against any group or anyone, never incited anyone to hatred, and is not a leader of any group or movement.
On violence, the speaker wrote:
The speaker has not written that any racial or gender group should be enslaved, but rather, that some people are more suited to be looked after and others are more suited to do the looking. He wrote that slavery should be voluntary (although inheritable) with a preset way out and external governance. He wrote that parent / child, government / citizen are all forms of slavery. His conception of slavery is not what was called slavery in this country, but something akin to, "Slaves have the obligation to obey and the slaveholders have the obligation to guide and care for."
The speaker very clearly holds offensive views around the suitability of races and genders for different tasks (further explained later in this email); but no matter how offensive, these are intellectual positions and are not associated with any form of verbally abusive language.

In summary, we could not find any evidence that this speaker poses a physical threat to anyone at the conference; or, indeed, any evidence the speaker would engage in any form of verbal abuse, even if the speaker were to willingly violate the pledge (verbal abuse would not seem in character given the lack of verbal hostility in his writings).

However, we decided this was not enough. Given the concerns over physical safety that were brought to us, we thought it prudent to go one step further.

So I wrote the speaker and said that, if we were to proceed with letting him attend the conference, we would require a statement clearly stating his views on violence, including his views on anyone who would justify violence based on his political views.

This is the statement we obtained:

  1. I’m a writer, not an activist. I’m neither a leader nor a member of any kind of organization. I promote only one kind of action: reading old books. I’ve explicitly denounced any other form of “direct action,” violent or otherwise. Instead I promote passive unresistance, or “passivism.” Frankly, any “follower” who needs me to explain this is a dangerous fool and hasn’t read enough old books.
  2. Politics of any sort is out of scope at a functional programming conference. I pledge to treat other LambdaConf guests as if they were colleagues at a large company or fellow students at a university, and neither utter nor show any content that’s out of scope or otherwise disturbing. My pen name has been “doxed,” but professionally I behave as if it was a secret.
  3. Three: violence is unacceptable and frankly preposterous at a functional programming conference, even over an issue as charged as strict versus lazy evaluation. The strongest possible pledge is to not respond with verbal or physical violence *even if assaulted myself*. I have no hesitation in making this pledge.

We believe this statement is consistent with what we have found during our research.

In addition, we want to highlight that the speaker pledged to not respond with verbal or physical violence even if assaulted.

The second issue we wanted to look into is the trust exception.

We have no evidence that the speaker will break their pledge, and we found at least one conference where the speaker attended, discussed and did not stray from their topic (functional programming), and there was no other incident at the conference.

Because of all this, we do not believe the speaker poses a physical or verbal threat to anyone at the conference, and we do not believe the speaker will break the pledge. If any evidence arises to the contrary, we will re-evaluate our opinion based on that evidence; and, of course, we will swiftly enforce the pledge should anyone choose to break it.

You and LambdaConf

We believe that, as a result of our decisions, at least one speaker will not attend the conference. Although this saddens us greatly, if you feel this way, too, we understand and support you 100%. We won’t try to change your mind, and we don’t think your decision is wrong – we believe you’re making the best possible decision for you.

We believe the majority of speakers will choose to attend the conference, even if our decisions were not exactly in alignment with their stated preferences.

If you’re on the fence, we’d like to make a small case for attending:

  1. First, we clarified with the speaker his views on differences in abilities across race and gender. While the speaker does believe such differences exist, he believes they hold in averages. As a result, he believes that predicting any given individual’s abilities based on their gender or race is foolish (because of individual genetic variation). For example, although the speaker believes that American-Asians and American-Jews score higher than American-Whites on standardized IQ tests (based on various studies), he also believes this fact alone cannot be used to predict anything about the general intelligence of any specific individual from these groups. These are still offensive views, of course, but many would place them in a different category than blanket racism or sexism.
  2. Second, the speaker believes gay relationships and gay marriage are natural. We highlight this to show it is not easy to place the speaker’s complicated (if offensive) political views in any one bucket.
  3. Third, there is strength in solidarity. We would like to see every single speaker attend the conference, and would be greatly saddened to lose anyone over this issue. More than that, a decision to attend alongside everyone else is also a decision to show support for others, even if they have different views on this issue.

In any case, we are nearly done with the schedule and plan to publish it in the next few days. So if these policy changes affect your decision to speak at LambdaConf (and we sincerely hope they do not!), then please let us know as soon as possible.

Our Forthcoming Statement

Sometime in the next few days, we will be making a public statement about the forthcoming policy changes and the process we undertook to reach them.

Until we do so, we ask that you keep everything you know about this confidential.

After we make our statement, you are more than welcome to share your experience in this process or your views in public, as you prefer.

We just have three requests:

  1. We believe everyone has put a lot of thought into the issue and acted in good faith to offer up the best feedback. We ask that you refrain from making public statements that vilify other speakers, even if you strongly disagree with them. If you disagree strongly and wish to make a public statement, we ask that you lay responsibility on the staff, since ultimately, we are responsible for these decisions.
  2. While we have only quoted individuals who gave us permission to do so, and we have tried to redact personally identifying information, we believe that some of you will be able to recognize other speakers from what they have written. Please respect everyone’s privacy and desire for confidentiality by not attributing any view to any speaker. Speakers who wish to make their views known should have the power to do that at a time and in a way of their own choosing.
  3. We would rather not draw attention to the speaker or his controversial political views (which were always intended to be anonymous). Based on the StrangeLoop connection, people can easily figure out who this speaker is and what he wrote. We believe it’s best to keep people’s religious and political views out of the limelight – and this includes views on communism, socialism, conservative Christianity, and amoral atheism (for example).

We’re Listening!

Thanks again for all the wonderful feedback that every one of you has given.

If you would like to talk about any of these issues with myself or another member of the staff, please just reach out. We’re here, we’re listening, and we want to support and help you work through these issues in any way that we can.

This has not been an easy process to get through, but we are almost on the other side. We look forward to putting the focus back on functional programming, and all the amazing experiences we are planning for speakers and attendees this year!

Warmest Regards,

John, Courtney, Matthew, and Sophia