My thoghts on the LambdaConf 2016 decision

Firstly, as I have said many times, and I'll keep saying: I think that the situation which the LambdaConf team has found themselves in is a very tough situation. Nobody would envy being in their position of getting this bomb dropped on them, and having to figure out the right way to navigate this situation. I think they did a very good job of coming up with a good plan of how they would arrive at a decision, and they did an admiral job of being very open about how and why they arrived at the decision they arrived at. There is one part of their process I take issue with. My understand is that a large part of how they came to a decision was to poll the minority speakers about their opinion about having Curtis Yarvin speak at the conference. This, I think is a good idea. What I think is also clear is that some of them clearly said that they weren't comfortable with him as a speaker, but they ultimately decided to go with the majority view that it was okay to have him as a speaker. Going with the majority opinion instead of listening to the vocal minority seems to be the opposite of what they were trying to achieve. Anytime someone is willing to speak up, I think it is likely that there were others that weren't willing, and I question how well you do at getting honest opinions from someone when you are putting someone from an already marginalized group on the spot.

There are lots and lots of things that made this a very tough decision for them to make. This would be a very easy decision to make, for example, if the proposed talk was "I started urbit just as a new blog engine for my 'I want to kill black people because they are ignorant slaves' blog, but I ended up creating a whole new computing framework for fascism'". The proposed talk was obviously much more innocuous than this.

You will find lots of people online that claim Curtis Yarvin to be a slavery apologist, and a racist. But its not like you just type "Curtis Yarvin" into google and are served up page hit after page hit of obvious racist speech by this guy. What you will find is hundreds of thousands of words he has written. Very long blog post after very long blog post. Written in a style which is rambling, hard to follow, making lots of references to stuff you have never heard of, and you find yourself asleep at the keyboard 100 times before you find him saying anything that is straightforward enough to be directly objectionable. The majority of the racism I could nail him down on through my own searching is often very veiled. He doesn't talk about "blacks" or "whites" or "jews", but instead he'll talk about "human biodiversity", and it is easy to miss the underlying point he is trying to make about race, because you are already snoozing at the keyboard, because you didn't get half of the references he made leading up to this point. The stuff is out there though.

Another thing that will make a decision like this tougher for some people to make than others is trying to figure out where it is that we should draw the line. If I'm having a conversation with my daughter, and she says something racist, this is my problem. It is my responsibility to do something about this, I am personally responsible for teaching her her right from wrong. If I see some random dude on the street doing the same thing, now I'm a level of indirection away. This is not directly affecting me, but I'm right there witnessing it. Must I try to stop this? Personally, for me, I think yes. Someone else might decide that its not their fight. If I'm organizing a conference, and I find out that this guy who wants to participate in my conference says this stuff on his blog, now we are increasing the levels of indirection, and it becomes less clear for people when something must be done, should be done, must not be done, etc. For us at Typelevel trying to decide if our organization which is holding an event which is associated with LambdaConf needs to do something about a speaker we weren't involved in selecting, that says stuff on his blog, using a pseudonym (is that even relevant?). Now we are into many more levels of indirection, and certainly where you draw the line has become murkier.

But not for some of us. If this guys crime was "sometimes he pees on the seat in public bathrooms", I'm probably going to stop at a small number of levels of indirection. For me, with racism, I don't stop. If this guy is putting racist stuff on his blog that he writes to the followers of some 'neoreactionary movement' he has started. I'll certainly say shit about it when I'm given the opportunity. I have absolutely zero tolerance for racism.

For me, and for others, the fact that this person is being given a speaker role is a very important element. A speakership at a conference is a great privilege to be bestowed on someone. This is a conference that a LOT of people pay attention to. Being bestowed a speakership is giving a lot of attention to the speaker. We certainly in our community attach prestige to people that speak at conferences. People are competing for these chances to get in front of an audience. What LambdaConf is doing is saying "We have a limited number of people that we can put in front of you to present ideas, and this is one of the people we think you should listen to". From my personal feeling that I don't want to see racists succeed in life, Being granted a speaker slot is something that helps someone succeed at life. It's going to be something he can put on his resume that is going to help him get his next nice high paying job, which will allow him to comfortably sit in his silicon valley home and work on his projects, such as writing more hateful blog posts.

Having said all this, I want to make clear that I understand that my feelings on this are just my feelings on this, and I'll respect that other people won't feel as strongly as I do. I understand that someone else will come to the conclusion that "as long as he's willing to leave that part of his life to his pseudonym and not bring it to the conference that is fine. I'm not pressuring anyone else into pulling out of the conference, and I'm not going to think negatively of anyone that wants to move forward and just get on with the functional programming.

All of this makes me very sad, because as others have said. The previous LambdaConf I attended was my favorite ever conference. I think they did an amazing job of putting together a great group of people to hear a great group of diverse speakers. It was a conference that thought more about being inclusive than any other I've attended to date. With day care for kids. Unisex bathrooms, Paleo / Gluten-free / Vegan / Vegetarian / etc. meals available. I fear that this problem that unfortunately stumbled into their laps is going to make it tough for them to get back to that magical place...