A not at all final word on LambdaConf

tl:dr Mistakes were made. We can do better. Let us do better.

Preamble

I've tweeted at various moments about the situation with Yarvin speaking at LambdaConf already. Twitter is a great forum to cast a wide net with but it is a terrible forum for nuance. As the events have unfolded, my basic stance remains the same but I do have just a little bit more to say.

The Initial Letter

It was a long letter that I did not have time to read fully since I was speaking a different conference. It is actually frustrating to that I was deferred to but I understand the impulse and I recognize that many people would prefer that someone who is not underrepresented not make the choice themselves.

I've spoken about my rationale already. I admit that I didn't know who it was at the time but, for me, it still boils down to the fact that uninviting someone is a different and more pointed unkindness than simply not inviting them.

For me, it was never a question of whether the organizers wanted to support Yarvin. I've only met John, but he was genuinely about trying to make a welcoming event and community as far as I could tell. I still believe this to be true. There have been missteps, in my opinion, but I still think that the actual desire to help and support is there.

The missteps, as I see them.

  • The blog sponsorship: Accepting the 'community' sponsorship under the name of Status 451 was a mistake, in my opinion.
    Sponsorship means some reciprocal support from the conference (links, logos, etc) for the blog and its content. A core point of defending the decision to let Yarvin speak was that his talk was accepted because it was relevant to FP and not about his personal politics. This move muddied that argument. I get that they were in a tight spot because sponsors pulled out but this is hard for me to defend even taking that into consideration.
  • Yarvin's post: He shouldn't have tried to defend his beliefs in that post. He started out stating that he could keep his personal politics out of it and then promptly pulled them in.
  • 'Final Word': A pet peeve of mine is when people preface a statement in a debate between people who are, essentially, peers in context with something like "I don't want to keep arguing about this so this is will be the last of it…". Which is all to say that this post started on the wrong foot for me. It went on to display what I consider a mix of misunderstanding and defensiveness that fits with what I know of LambdaConf's organizers. They don't perfectly understand what to do or say and they are hurt to be attacked and they are flailing trying to make it stop.

Point Being?

My plan, made early on in this saga, was to talk to John in person at LambdaConf. I plan(ned) to lay out what I think was handled poorly and why I think that. I planned to ask what was going to be done next year to improve the situation. I assumed that the blind submission process was dead and I understand that. I strongly suggest that they have as many public conversations about this using their actual voices as they can stomach. Admitting to having made some mistakes (even if they disagree about what was a mistake) and speaking about what they can change might make it clearer that they really are trying to help.

I still support the folks at LambdaConf and think that they mean well. Meaning well isn't enough by itself, work needs to be done, but they are also doing a whole lot of work. Some of that work is worthy of stern criticism and I hope that the criticism is heard and integrated, but I fear that that won't be possible if we simply cast LambdaConf off as irredeemably flawed because of all of this.

Addendum

One big reason that I wrote this post was that I saw the abuse that a certain Haskeller was taking. People were and are being terrible and need to stop. Disagree with someone but try to understand and respect the boundaries of that disagreement. We might draw different conclusions from the same input and both be competent, sane adults.