Thank you for attempting to foster a productive discussion, Darja! I have to say that I am not terribly hopeful given the comments that have appeared thus far, but I think it’s an important issue so I’ll try once, anyway, to try to bring things into a productive track.
I think the ideal for any community ought to be that everyone feels safe and welcome. I recognize that it is not possible to accomplish this: some people make some other people feel endangered and unwelcome (and may actually endanger them). Thus, the boundaries have to be drawn somewhat smaller than the ideal. I still think that the principle is important.
I also think that this is not a new problem. Human societies have had to deal with this sort of issue for forever, and they’ve come up with a lot of different solutions, some very horrible, and some rather less so. Because people are sometimes horrible to each other, but nation-states already are equipped to deal with a lot of such behavior, we also have to ask what scope of action is appropriate for the Scala Center and what can be handled by the various countries in which we live.
The thing that most troubles me about finding a solution is that we have a very high–I guess predictably high, given the ongoing “culture war” in society (especially in the U.S., not that I think calling it a “war” is doing anyone any favors)–level of disrespect and hostility in what ought to be a serious and thoughtful discussion. These topics aren’t easy to get right. I implore people to take seriously the concerns expressed by people they disagree with, and try to persuade with example and evidence, not browbeat with invective or dismiss with scorn.
I think there are some points of broad agreement. Everyone, I think, agrees that everyone ought to be physically safe. And I’m pretty sure that at least almost everyone agrees that emotional safety is also very important (though unlike physical safety it’s a little harder to tell objectively what the conditions for that are, and therefore hard to tell if there are fundamental incompatibilities in different people’s needs for emotional safety).
There’s some moderately good research that supports the very intuitive idea that a culture of hostility leads to acts of hostility. (If anyone doubts this, let me know and I’ll pull up some of the citations.) I don’t think there’s any reason not to accept this as (provisionally) true and act accordingly; I’m not sure whether we all agree on this, but we probably ought to.
And in terms of where we stand, the Scala Code of Conduct soundly rejects any such hostility in all venues, physical or virtual, that fall under the domain of the Scala Center. And a lot of conferences specifically have rules about not admitting behavior that is even remotely close to causing harm to others (e.g. Scale by the Bay, Scala in the City, etc.). And even if they don’t have an explicit policy, often they have a culture of not inviting people who, through prior actions, might reasonably be considered a risk. So we’re not starting from zero, and though some people somewhat disagree with these policies, I don’t think they’re a primary point of contention.
What things are in contention?
First, I think, is whether we judge a person’s actions or a person’s soul. So far, all of the Code of Conduct stuff is judging actions. It’s somewhat subject to abuse by people who very cleverly run juuuuust under the line, but if we put an end to that, it would also be judging their actions. In contrast, if we were to deem certain people unredeemably flawed (or unacceptably flawed and not yet redeemed), it wouldn’t matter what they did any longer: any sanctions would depend on our judgement of their character. This is a difficult transition to make fairly, which doesn’t mean it should necessarily be completely ruled out, but it does mean that any proposals in that regard should be prepared to deal with all the thorny issues normally limited to legal proceedings. (Also, note that most legal proceedings judge actions only, and character only enters the picture at the time of sentencing.) For instance, in cases of disagreement, who is the ultimate arbiter of truth? Is the accused entitled to representation, or to present their case? Is there an appeal process? And so on. On the other hand, human societies have ostracized people forever, so there’s clearly some need there that’s being met.
Second, I think there is a disagreement about the scale of sanction: is it limited to individuals or does it spread beyond? So far, the Code of Conduct is limited to the individual engaged in that conduct. We don’t have a Code of Conduct for institutions. Should we have one? Is it just to sanction an institution at which many people contribute on the basis of the actions of only one or a few of its members? If yes, is there a point at which it becomes unjust? If we don’t sanction institutions, is it just that bad actors can potentially continue acting badly while being shielded from consequence by their institution?
Third, I think there is a fair bit of disagreement over who has caused what harm, how serious it is, and whether it’s ongoing or historical. If we are going to reach any more agreement on this (maybe it’s not possible), it’s especially important to discuss the matter calmly, as emotional reactions tend only to strengthen everyone’s resolve to stick to their original position. In particular, three names have been thrown out, but, I think, there are quite different particulars about what the nature of the offense was supposed to be. It doesn’t make very much sense to me to treat them all as one.
Fourth, I don’t think there’s agreement on the relative importance of the stability and technical capacity of the Scala ecosystem vs. maintaining a community that abides by certain principles of behavior and perhaps thought. These are in tension because people who you don’t like can nonetheless do useful things. If you are not Christian, can you still enjoy Handel’s Messiah or Mozart’s Requiem?
Thus far, I think most organizations have decided that their power of sanction and expulsion is relatively limited: it governs acts, and it governs individuals. If there’s going to be a change in this regard, I think it deserves a comprehensive, well-reasoned argument, including addressing possible unintended consequences, and explaining clearly the scale and nature of the benefits.
Anyway, I don’t actually have any proposals. I very much want people to be actually safe. I very much want people to feel safe. But I don’t think the issues are simple at all, and I think there’s a great danger of causing a great deal of strife and additional problems without even solving the original problem if we don’t proceed very carefully and talk through the issues.