Software freedom is for everyone, and my goal is for it to reach everyone. That's my general plan to fix our demographics. It's fully in line with the movement's goal and the foundations' mission: once everyone has software freedom, it sort of follows that everyone is part of the free software community, and thus the community's demographics matches exactly that of the general population.

But that's only part of the problem. Positions of leadership matter a lot when it comes to representation, and the above doesn't quite address it. I have a plan, but I need some further context to get to it.

Aiming to make literally everyone part of our community may seem to pose another problem, because there are some people who, whether for good or for bad reasons, don't wish to be part of the same community as others. This incompatibility would seem to conflict with our premise that everyone deserves software freedom, thus everyone belongs in our community. But it's easy to solve: "the free software community" is a bit of a misnomer. It's rather an congregation of very many communities, each with different interests, some different values, different (spoken and programming) languages, different ways to organize and operate... I find this diversity a strength. For this congregation, what matters is software freedom. We don't have to insist that they be (treated like) a single community, or that they all operate the same way, any more than we should insist that they all use the same languages, have the same interests, same structure, same demographics. Let's celebrate diversity and inclusion!

Now, I don't like the Borg approach to inclusion and diversity, with all the "resistance is futile" and "prepare to be assimilated" implications. The Borg approach may be all-inclusive and have "representation" from all sorts of living creatures, but it's not cool, because ultimately it transforms all of them into the same ugly and bor(in)g "perfection". Is representation by individuals who got assimilated still representative of their original species? I don't think so. This approach is not tolerant, it's authoritarian, impositive, imperialist, and colonialist.

So I abhor this approach to corporate-driven Inc.lusion, that goes about "discovering", occupying and colonizing communities, so that they serve better the drivers rather than the original members. Original members are entitled to resist colonization, regardless of their thoughts on inclusion, diversity and tolerance! Such approaches risk (when not intend to) exclude some who are also deserving of software freedom, and who are usually far more invested in the communities than the newcomers or outsiders who set out to exclude them. These approaches tend to end up with Borg-like, assimilated communities as a result, that are less diverse at both scales: the individuals are all assimilated, and the communities end up more alike.

I'd much rather we fomented and supported the growth and the creation of more communities, more diverse, more inclusive, more tolerant and less hostile, ranging from those focused on specific demographics to those aiming for diversity, inclusivity, accessibility, and tolerance. We should identify community organizers belonging to underrepresented demographics, or interested in accessibility, inclusion, diversity, and tolerance, and support them in these pursuits, encouraging them to form or participate in focused or diverse communities. That seems to be a far less conflictful and disruptive approach than pushing prone-to-abuse rules onto communities that resist (or fall to/for) colonization, and threatening them with discrimination to impose the adoption of such rules. A number of such efforts, even when well meaning, have disrupted communities that were quite functional for their members, and some have not been well meaning, but rather intent on excluding or taming certain members into subservience to colonizers' interests.

I realize this is a touchy topic, and a number of people have strong opinions and feelings about it and about some people who have taken stands, myself included. I know a number of such strong opinions and feelings follow from hate and intolerance, as well as from perceived (rather than real) hate and intolerance, and also from campaigns designed to promote hate, intolerance, and exclusion. Being radical for inclusion about as much as for freedom, I wish to ask people to consider that one's perceptions, experiences and knowledge may be different, and our thoughts, reasoning, and communication processes are different, and that maybe I'm not writing about your experiences, but rather about mine, and that perhaps if a situation you thought of doesn't fit, it's just that it's not a good example for what I describe. Tolerance, patience, seeking to understand instead of to destroy are important for inclusion and accessibility, and sometimes what may seem like disagreement may just be the seed for mutual improvement.

I also wish to explicitly distinguish between (a) the most hateful and intolerant people you can think of, that you wouldn't want to be associated with; and (b) people who resisted cultural colonization, who perceive (correctly or not) (i) such occupations as threats to their own culture and communities, and (ii) the methods and motivations that colonizers bring as threats to the original members' own well-being, safety, comfort and even participation in the communities they formed or long participated in. (a) and (b) may or may not be the same people, depending on the specific instances you thought of or how much you know or believe about them, but, regardless, by the initial premise, they are all deserving of software freedom, and thus of being part of our community. That doesn't mean you must interact with people you abhor, or who don't wish to interact with you; it means we have to find ways to somehow fit you and them all in our aggregate of communities.

The solution I envision is diverse communities. It's not only ok for communities to be different from each other in interests, policies, demographics, and goals, it's desirable and enriching.

It's fine if such communities choose one or a few languages that are convenient for their members to use, even if that ultimately excludes some potential participants. There's a very practical issue in enabling communication and forming community bonds, despite the historic (and even present) uses of languages as tools for colonization and for exclusion. Communities thus have a right to self-determination of their languages, and even if someone feels offended or excluded by that choice.

Communities also have a right of self-determination of their interests (and Overton windows), and to decide what is off-topic (or even taboo), even if someone feels offended or excluded by such choices. I don't know of much controversy in these regards.

Communities also hvae a right of self-determination as to what issues they welcome help on. I've learned that help is usually not something that one wishes to offer, but something that another hopes to receive. Imposing "help" on others who don't welcome it is not cool, it's undesirable power dynamics. I don't think this should be controversial, but I sense that it somehow is.

Communities have a right of self-determination of their demographics, and even to discriminate! This is especially true and easy to understand and support when it comes to efforts to include demographics that are popularly recognized as discriminated against. Communities exclusive for women, for black people, for people with specific accessibility needs, for people of certain religious and philosophical beliefs, for people interested in certain spoken and programming languages, for people who adore a certain editor over another, for people who prefer certain telecommunication tools...

These lines may be ultimately divisive and somewhat undesirable, but they're ok for communities to adhere to. Conversely, attempting to demand communities to adhere to standards they do not subscribe to, that overrides their historical (implicit or explicit) agreements, identities, and foci violates their self-determination, reduces diversity among communities, alienates (as in excludes) and increases the vulnerability of people who are in other less recognized discriminated-against groups.

Neurodivergent people, for example, thrived in early online communities, but have more recently become a popular target for exclusion and discrimination, not for our being against inclusion, but for our being framed as such by people who don't understand our own accessibility needs, who condemn us for our atypical communication patterns as if our thought processes were like others', or as if we were all different in the same way. The end result is often intolerance and exclusion disguised as promoting tolerance and inclusion. I don't support that kind of duplicity. Threatening, hurting and excluding us from our own communities over false allegations is not cool at all! It's not even inclusive, it's just another form of discrimination, another excuse to hate and exclude.

We ought to do better than that! I find much inspiration in Star Trek's inclusivity, diversity and tolerance, in its "non-interference directive", and its criticism to the Borg's aggressive and offensive approach to inclusion, that seeks to "welcome" (assimilate) everyone by force into Borghood. I am also fond of the notion that the solution for "bad speech" is not "ban speech", but "more good speech". I appreciate the solution devised by Douglas Adams for the Krikkit genocidal menace: its people wouldn't find peace until the rest of the universe ceased to exist, so, after defeat, they didn't get genocidal retribution, but rather were left to live on in their own autonomous universe. I feel we've got too much of "those ways are no longer acceptable" ("Exterminate! Exterminate!" -- Daleks, in Doctor Who) and we're missing more of these "let them be" and "leave them alone" attitudes in current approaches to inclusion and diversity. As in the movie Chocolat (2000), "we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include."

Fortunately for us, being online communities, we have the advantage that there's no such conflict-inducing thing as scarcity of (cyber)space. Free Software projects can be cloned, branched, forked, and developed independently or jointly if the interests of different parts of their community diverge, or if some wish to put it to other uses. Users and developers can then choose one or many of the so-formed communities to join. The same goes for other online communities that, for whatever reason, aren't (perceived as?) welcoming to certain demographics, and cloning involves similar issues. It's not trivial, and it needn't be, but it can be done and it may be worth pursuing.

People with different values, interests, traits will fit in better in some communities rather than in others, and that's not just ok, it's diverse, it's enriching, it's great! Imagine if every single community had to mirror the demographics of the whole, had to abide by the one set of rules deemed acceptable for most everyone to be included, and the few who are found not to fit wouldn't even be allowed to find or form a community in which they'd fit! IMNSHO such uniformity would be preposterous! How much would one have to twist the notion that everyone is deserving of software freedom, and thus of being part of our community, so as to make this seem like a desirable idea?

I say we should stop discriminating communities for resisting cultural colonization and instead support the resistance, promote more varied and diverse communities, including people of underrepresented demographics by supporting and encouraging them to form and lead their own communities, especially when they can't find other communities that welcome them enough as to have them as equals. That ought to be far more inclusive and liberating than having any demographics grudgingly tolerated in peripheral positions, and, unlike the selective exclusion of certain targets, won't force or leave anyone out of our aggregate of communities. Anyone really will be truly welcome, even if not absolutely everywhere.

Now, I realize these thoughts are very hard to expose without risking being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and painted as an intolerant hater, rather than a radical supporter of inclusion, of tolerance, and of diversity at multiple scales (of individuals, of groups, of communities, etc). That's why I worked so hard and hesitated so much to post this. In the end, I figured it was a risk I ought to take, so here it is. Please be kind, tolerant and inclusive towards my accessibility needs, and ask questions before judging or shooting further questions ;-)

So blong,

  • 2023-10-30 update: fixed typo in the title blush