In Defense of Bacon

Tuesday 16 November 2010 by Bradley M. Kuhn

Jono Bacon is currently being criticized for the manner in which he launched an initiative called OpenRespect.Org. Much of this criticism is unfair, and I decided to write briefly here in support of Jono, because he's a victim of a type of mistreatment that I've experienced myself, so I have particularly strong empathy for his situation.

To be clear, I'm not even a supporter of Jono's OpenRespect.Org initiative myself. I think there are others who are doing good work in this area already (for example, various efforts around getting women involved in Free Software have long recognized and worked on the issue, since mutual respect is an essential part having a more diverse community). Also, I felt that Jono's initiative was slanted toward encouraging people respect all actions by companies, some of which don't advance Free Software. I commented on Jono's blog to share my criticisms of the initiative when he was still formulating it. In short, I think the wording of the current statement on seems to indicate people should accept anyone else's choice as equally moral. As someone who believes software freedom as a moral issue, and thus view development and distribution of proprietary software as an immoral act, I have a problem with such a mandate, although I nevertheless strive to be respectful in pursuit of that view. I would hate to be declared disrespectful merely because I believe in the morality of software freedom.

Yet, despite the fact that I disagree with some of the details of Jono's initiative, I believe most of the criticisms have been unfair. First and foremost, we should take Jono at his word that this initiative is his own and not one undertaken on behalf of Canonical, Ltd. I doubt Jono would dispute that his work at Canonical, Ltd. inspired him to think about these issues, but that doesn't mean that everything he does on his own time on his own website is a Canonical, Ltd. activity.

Indeed, I've personally been similarly attacked for items I've said on this blog of my own, which of course does not represent the views of any of my employers (past nor present) nor any organizations with which I have volunteer affiliations. When I have things to say on those topics, I have other fora to post officially, as does Jono.

So, I've experienced first-hand what Jono is currently experiencing: namely, that people ignore disclaimers precisely to attack someone who has an opinion that they don't like. By conflating your personal opinions with those of your employer's, people subtly discredit you — for example, by using your employment relationship to put inappropriate pressure on you to change your positions. I'm very sad to see that this same thing I've been a victim of is now happening to Jono, too. I couldn't just watch it happen without making a statement of solidarity and pointing out that such treatment is unfair.

Even if we don't agree with the initiative (and I don't, for reasons stated above), there is no one to blame but Jono himself, as he's told us clearly this isn't a Canonical initiative, and I've seen no evidence that shows the situation is otherwise.

I do note that there are other criticisms raised, such as whether or not Jono reached out in the best possible way to others during the launch, or whether others thought they'd be involved when it turned out to be a unilateral initiative. All of that, of course, is something that's reparable (as is my primary complaint above, too), so on those fronts, we should just give our criticism and ask Jono to change it. That's what I did on my issue. He chose not to take my advice, which is his prerogative. My response thereafter was simply to not support the initiative.

To the extent we don't have enough respect in the FLOSS community, here's an easy place to improve: we should take people at their word until we have evidence to believe otherwise. Jono says is his own thing; we should believe him. We shouldn't insist that everything someone says is on behalf of their employer, even if they have a spokesperson role. People have a right to be something more than automatons for their bosses.

Disclosure: I did not tell Jono I was going to write this post, but after it was completely written, I gave him the chance to make a binary decision about whether I posted it publicly or not. Since you're reading this, he obviously answered 1.

Posted on Tuesday 16 November 2010 at 13:45 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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