right-wing cooptation of neurodiversity rhetoric breaks node.js project

Bringing home a point made in an earlier post, Google was absolutely right to fire James Damore. Case in point: similar bullshit just broke Node.js.  For those who don’t know, Node.js is where Google wrote a faster JavaScript engine for Chrome called V8, which someone repurposed as a server-side language, achieving the mental simplicity of writing the front and back ends in the same language.  I’ve enjoyed playing around with it, and it’s widely used by large companies to do Serious Things.  The perceived stability of open-source projects has real-world impact on business decisions involving large sums of money.

The Node.js community has again turned against itself, this time over a failed vote to oust a controversial member of the project’s technical steering committee (TSC) over alleged code-of-conduct violations.

Two years ago, the community was divided over Joyent’s leadership, resulting in a major fork of the project, called io.js, until differences were resolved.

This week, dissatisfaction led to another fork dubbed Ayo, pronounced “io,” nostalgia perhaps for the previous schism.

On Tuesday, the thirteen-member steering committee came together to vote on whether to remove Rod Vagg, a TSC member and Node.js contributor, over his controversial statements on Twitter and GitHub that prompted complaints. They also voted on whether to ask Vagg to resign.

Neither measure passed. Vagg did not participate in the vote and two other committee members abstained. Of the remaining 10, six voted not to remove him or ask him to remove himself from the group. The four who pushed for Vagg’s ousting – Anna Henningsen, Bryan Hughes, Myles Borins, and Jeremiah Senkpiel – subsequently resigned from the TSC. Their departure coincides with the Ayo split.

Borins, developer advocate for Node.js on Google Cloud Platform, announced his resignation via Medium. “The current decision undermines our Conduct Guidelines, drives away potential contributors, and in my opinion undermines the committee’s ability to govern,” he wrote.

Fellow TSC member Byran Hughes, technical evangelist at Microsoft, also posted an explanation for his departure. He expressed dissatisfaction not so much with Vagg’s behavior as with the steering committee’s unwillingness to address it.

“The majority of Node.js TSC members have repeatedly shown that they do not want to handle the situation, with some going so far as to say they do not even think there is a problem,” he wrote.

Vagg, who declined to be interviewed, offended members of the Node community through various online posts. A member of the TSC attempted to move the allegations out of public view, but they’re presently available through the Internet Archive. Essentially, among other things, Vagg argued there are downsides to codes of conduct, which seek to shut down harassment and super-sketchy behavior within technical conferences and projects.

The last straw was some bullshit using autism to justify racism and sexism, which I’ve written about previously.

In his summary of the complaints against Vagg, steering committee member Jason Snell wrote, “Most recently Rod tweeted in support of an inflammatory anti-Code-of-Conduct article. As a perceived leader in the project, it can be difficult for outsiders to separate Rod’s opinions from that of the project. Knowing the space he is participating in and the values of our community, Rod should have predicted the kind of response this tweet received.

The article angered members of the Node community both for its content and for the perceived politics of its author. It argues against campus speech codes, on the ostensible basis that they discriminate against “neuro-minorities” – people with ADHD and autism, for example, and people with “eccentric personalities.”

In short, it opposes mandated civility or “political correctness,” arguing that free speech includes the freedom to be offensive to others.

It was penned Geoffrey Miller, an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, who has been characterized as a men’s rights advocate – he sided with fired Google engineer James Damore in another article on the same website – and who achieved notoriety and censure over a 2013 tweet scolding fat people for their lack of willpower.

Bullies with unlimited freedom to bully everyone undermine productivity.  Go figure!

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