No One Is Immune to Abuse

Once again I'm writing about a TPRC talk instead of a weekly challenge project, but that's because I feel it's a very important topic to be aware of both inside and outside our community as Perl programmers. Sawyer X gave a really great talk about the abuse he personally experienced as a member of the Perl community. I've never experienced abuse in this or any other technology community, but I have experienced abuse before in other contexts. Also, as a disclaimer, although I'm sure many have seen some of Sawyer's situation play out in public, I haven't, as I believe it happened during my extended break from Perl and development in general.

That said, to see someone as passionate as Sawyer is talk about the abuse he suffered and back it up with real-life examples is amazing, first of all, because of his bravery in talking about it, but it also disgusts me that people treat each other so horribly even when working on a shared goal. Please watch his talk and if you see yourself ever so slightly in what he's talking about, even just in supporting an abuser from the sidelines, please change. That's not what the Perl community needs. That will not help it grow.

Speaking of which, that's why I'm not cross-posting this to Much as I want to share the idea behind this with those outside our community, I don't want Perl getting a reputation for abusive people. This is a prime example of how abuse can harm everyone, especially if it ruins the reputation of a community in the eyes of others.

In short, if you're abusive in how you interact with others, just stop. Please! If you're not and you care about people being abused, speak up and let those abusing know it's not OK. And a big thank you to all the good kind members of the community who care about those they work alongside.


No thanks. I'm not emotionally fragile and I flatly refuse to participate in an environment that creates or coddles emotionally fragile people. They're far worse to work with than the worst jerk I've ever met and even worse than them are the jerks masquerading as emotionally fragile people.

Look we all live in together and interact with each other. I grew up, went to school, in North Yorkshire in the the 70s. People were blunt, outwardly racist, and I had experienced hurtful abuse from strangers, friends and rarely even my teachers. That was normal then. It is NOT normal or acceptable today. We live in a world where actions and words have greater impact multiplied by the reach of the Internet. That impact, deliberately or accidentally imparted, affects the target more than it used to, but also affects the community you belong to. We HAVE to care about that impact we have; this is not coddling, it is an awareness of your personal power to cause damage that you have. Please care for each other, even the person you disagree with.


I almost left Perl because of Sawyer’s stewardship. And I mostly dropped out of the community because watching the giant flamewar caused by the technical decisions he intended to pursue made me miserable. The exhaustion of bracing for the worst at turn after turn in the saga, and the anticipation of dealing with the technical fallout going forward, had me actively looking for an off-ramp from Perl.

Nobody attacked me personally, though. I was miserable directly because of Sawyer – but I get no claim to abuse. Nor do I wish I did; rather, I am trying to convey the light in which I see his.

I’m sorry to say I am thankful that his departure mostly prevented the looming damage, and that I believe that taking the line he took as well as his often defiant style of personality are part of the reason for the vitriol that echoed back to him. Nevertheless I can’t say I’m happy that this ended up being how the damage was averted. I always liked Sawyer, we got on as friends when we would meet and shoot the breeze; I have no glee over his suffering. I said barely anything about my opinions on all this to him myself (or spoke up much in any public venue for that matter). That is because I had no sense that factual arguments were going to have any useful effect – which I suppose left abuse as the only resort available to whoever might have felt pushed to try anyway (as opposed to my usual response of just quietly slipping away).

Now by his own account, Sawyer received a lot of vitriol more or less for the mere fact of being the pumpking. If indeed that goes beyond backlash he (I am – see above – sorry to say) invited on himself, as he claims, then that part I find dismaying. Here too I will qualify that some small extent of this I believe that one has to expect and endure when signing up for a job such as pumpking, given that it is a public position with power that affects quite a lot of people. But as I understand Sawyer, what he experienced apparently went well beyond that. That part I have no mixed feelings about: it unequivocally should not happen.

I am sorry to say I am unsure about that too, though. I would be curious about the experience of other pumpkings. Sawyer in his talk mentioned Rafael’s deeply regrettable experience – a sordid chapter in the Perl community’s history, certainly. And yet… this does not seem to apply across the board. I wonder in what terms Ricardo would put his experience, for example.

So I don’t know what to say. I can’t claim to disagree with Mighty Buzzard here. Ultimately I am unhappy with what happened from all angles. Sawyer was not fit to be pumpking. Because he was given that role, everyone lost – himself included.

And that's as good an example as we could hope to see of the kind of attitude we've been trying to remove from the Perl community over the last ten years.

I know you won't care in the slightest, but without a massive attitude adjustment, you would not be welcome on any project that I was working on.

I think I'm not emotionally fragile either. But have elementary levels of empathy and try to see interactions from the point of view of people who are more fragile than me. You should try it sometime - you might just have a revelation.

The Perl community is mostly men. We need to act like it.

Times have not changed, despite the fantasies of many. I am sure the first flame war was on the first day of the very first release of a BBS in the 1980's.

People who act badly on the 'Net are merely weak people attempting to assert dominance over another. In my time, this would have resulted in a punch to the nose, followed by beers shortly after.

There will always be trolls and men need to act like men. We must be stoic about it, or at least master stoicism to avoid allowing others to control our emotions. We should be able to handle such behavior, especially when we can turn off the conversation via the block button. Conversely, the trolls need to learn the kids' version of George Washington's "Rules of Civility" and realize that other men will enforce it.

This brings us to the crux of the problem: men are not enforcing civility. We can see the weak men as related to this topic who allow others to act badly. We should all look to Douglas Murray as an example: he goes to great lengths to be exceptionally polite right up until the first rude comment. He then gives that person a "verbal" punch in the nose. We should all unify against such trolls, give them their lumps, and quickly forgive after so long as the behavior stops.

Let's bring the Perl Community together by enforcing civility. We must learn to be polite, especially over technical issues that most people will never understand. Many could meet virtually or in person, or even end up working together, so it behooves everyone to maintain their reputations with polite behavior.


And yet, Dave. This article, which took days to compile and just as long to carefully brush out any polemic so it would stick entirely to facts and technical arguments… evidently nevertheless registered as an attack when published. It was described as “misleading” (verbatim quote) and suggested to be disingenuous in motive somehow (I don’t remember exact phrasing for this part).

Even in cases when the facts, presented with no further comment, spoke for themselves (as hopefully demonstrated in this example), I found no way to point out objectively flawed but emotionally invested decision-making of this kind without triggering an emotional response. This despite my pathological capacity to keep my emotions to myself and to keep strictly to the facts in my communication. Most people do not have my peculiarities and are therefore not capable of that to anywhere near the same extent. And most cases are not going to be as clear cut. So if there were a disagreement, I cannot conceive how anyone with a legitimate concern could in any fairness be expected not to run afoul of the fragility in question.

Would I express myself the way Mighty Buzzard did, no, but I can’t… claim absence of any sympathy for his point. (Though I would disagree about jerks masquerading as emotionally fragile: a lot of them are emotionally fragile. A lot of the time, being a victim and being a bully go hand in hand; without strenuous conscious effort, people will perpetuate their own suffering in others. (Apologies for handwaving many acres of the field of psychology here; the margin of this comment box is too small.)) I am well aware that there are people who hide behind this to justify straight-up asshole behavior, and I am wary of them riding on the coattails of what concerns me. But I cannot with honesty get on board with the tone policing program.

So what then does that make of me? Should I absent myself from the community for the good of it?

I do second you, Aristotle. I left the Perl Community (not Perl) because of SawyerX's activities. He forced our conference organization to use Codes of Conduct (CoC) rules which are illegal in Europe, under the threat of Booking withdrawing its sponsoring. All visitors had to censor themselves without democratic protection against the delusion of the day of some Perl core members. That's a no-go for me.

No worries, Dave, I wouldn't work with you either. You don't know the difference between empathy and sympathy for starters. I understand how you feel perfectly well, I just don't care unless it's how you feel about the code.

You need to get out of the cubicle or your house and carry some tools for a while. It'll get rid of your fragility and desire to coddle those who run and cry to HR for being called a dumbass when they're objectively being a dumbass.

You do you, Aristotle. I've never worked a job a day in my life where the boss, much less plenty of the employees, wasn't an asshole. And yet I've never once quit a job because I didn't like someone. I'm not there to like or be liked, I'm there to get a job done. If I receive something in return for the work that I value enough, I continue working; if not, I don't.

That's where a lot of people read me wrong. It's not that I hate their breathing guts. It's that I don't care about them enough to give a damn if they take my complete indifference to their entire existence except as it applies to our working together as hostility.

I may not play soft and gentle with anyone's feelings but they always know exactly where they stand with me, because I also don't care enough about them to lie.

Hey, the guy who doesn’t care is back to reaffirm his not caring. Welcome back. 🙂 Of course I’ma do me. Who else?

Beats me. You seem to be concerned about people liking you, so it could be anybody.

Most of the overly fragile people are not in reality overly fragile anyway. They simply hate you and will use the weapon you're giving them every time you fail to slap them down for doing it to others against you.

The choice here is between demanding they act like a grownup who leaves his non-work feelings at home or letting them run everyone who gets things done off. There is not a middle ground, only an inevitable decline if you allow it.

Lots of stereotypes and assumptions being thrown around here, as well as some pretty grand generalizations.

A community is defined by a set of common values and yes, a code of conduct of acceptable behavior. That's been part of human culture since before recorded history.

Every community eventually sets down rules for what is acceptable and what isn't, otherwise it falls apart and is no longer a community.

Some people don't like rules which limit how they behave towards others. Fine. But their behavior is not always welcomed by others in the community, and if the community decides that that conduct is inappropriate, then the community has a right to create rules of conduct.

That's what happens out in the real world.

If you don't like those rules, fine, you can disagree and fight against them, or get them amended, but don't disparage the people who want those rules. They are also part of this community. You don't know their experience or their lives, so any generalizations you make about them are ignorant.

If what you say or do makes me feel uncomfortable, why is it your right to make me feel that way and not my right to expect an environment where I'm not made to feel that way?

That's a real question. No one has unfettered rights. There's always a balance.

There's obviously no clear line you can draw which will make everyone happy, but you have to try and meet the needs of everyone in the community. An equitable society is one where everyone has to compromise to maintain a balance between people's rights, be they the right to express oneself or the right to feel safe.

I want a Perl community which is inclusive and where everyone feels safe.

I don't think that's too much to ask. And if the community needs to adopt rules to make that happen, as long as the rules are reasonable and balance the rights and needs of all of its members, I don't have a problem with that.

You seem to be concerned about people liking you, so it could be anybody.

Buzzard, Buzzard. If you go around accusing people of not knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy, maybe you should not be making the same mistake. 🙂

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About oldtechaa

user-pic Just getting back into Perl programming. I have a personal project, SeekMIDI, a small graphical MIDI sequencer.