Are free software organizations descending into the abyss, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?
A number of organizations have recently indulged in shaming volunteers, including FSF, FSFE and Debian. Is it a smart move? Hollywood may provide some interesting clues.
The classic tale of humiliation is Rambo. At the beginning of the movie, Rambo, the hero, is humiliated by a bunch of local cops. In this hero's journey, Rambo turns the tables and the cops have their turn to be humiliated. Everybody is a winner, hardly anybody gets through the movie without being humiliated or shot at least once. At the end, our hero is still standing although not much else is. While we go away feeling upbeat about how the hero prevails, it is clear that there was a lot of collatoral damage and life will never be the same for the villagers.
Rambo is not just an action movie. The story is incredibly relevant. As observers far removed, we can see the cops in the movie for the fools that they are. We can quickly relate Rambo to the people destroying Free Software if we imagine those cops using words like safe space to describe their village. The antics of the Debian Account Managers and Anti-Harassment™ team feel too much like the excesses that are so disrespectful to the former Green Beret.
Despite the carnage of Rambo, many shaming movies end a lot worse.
Consider Gossip which revolves around a false allegation of sexual misconduct. False accusations of trolling, forgery and abuse have been a defining theme of the free software meltdown.
Suicide Room might be closer to the mark. It revolves around peer pressure and the title gives too much away.
For anybody who is still alive after watching those three and the four sequels to Rambo, the IMDB provides a short list of the best 40 movies about suicide and self harm.
Not one of them has a genuinely happy ending without consequences. Is there a lesson in that?
Debian Project Leaders who live out of their inboxes and would rather shame somebody than take the extraordinary risk of talking to a volunteer face-to-face would be well advised to consider that none of these movies ends without significant physical harm, property damage or both. Debian's shaming experiment is up to day 537 and Sam Hartman suspects it has had a tendency to take up the time of our members. Is his decision to escalate and increase the dosage of shame more likely to increase or decrease the risk of adverse consequences for volunteers and the project's reputation?