George Mauer is on the Net

The GoGaRuConf Pr0n Affair Rhinos vs Rabbits and A Challenge

Well I don’t have many (any?) readers so I’m not going to go into depth linking and summarizing something that is

Gotta have at least one picture of a Rhino

Gotta have at least one picture of a Rhino

 handled in a million different places probably best on Martin Fowler’s blog (is the terminology blog correct here? Bible? Holy Testament?).


Super short version: Ruby on Rails prides itself on being an edgy community; at a conference, a slide deck contained a prolonged analogy between a technology and porn; people got offended.  There, that hits all the high notes.  I posted my thoughts as a comment on the hanselblog but then thought hey, I really haven’t updated my own blog in a while and I actually have (what I think is) an original insight on this so here we go.

For the record, I am mostly with Martin Fowler and others who urge professionalism and think the presntation was in poor taste to begin with (as in a cheap use of a lame analogy) but I think that I have something else to add to the discussion.

Let me start with this, I am notoriously thick skinned.  Really.  Like a Rhino (see sidebar for gratuitous picture of a Rhino).  You would have to know me quite well to understand how deep it goes but suffice to say that it is a product of my life philosophy and I do not remember the last time I was truly offended.  That being said, I am hopefully not a jerk and do not expect others to hold to the same standard.  However, because I cannot use myself as a guage I have had immense difficulty walking the line between offensiveness and expressiveness.  This is something that I have been actively working on for years, and I would like to think with results (I somehow swindled a lovely girl into an engagement even).  Hence my keen interest in this current discussion of appropriateness.

All conversation of gender roles, stereotypes, and feelings aside I think the argument of really boils down to this:  

  1.  The more edgy/expressive/offensive you get the more thin-skinned people you will exclude.  
  2. If a community allows offensive behavior repeatedly then the offended parties will be excluded from that community.  
  3. Why in the world would a tech movement want to exclude people – many brilliant people even – solely on these grounds?

Logically, this argument is a check-mate.  You want your ideas to be inclusive?  Then you must work to be inclusive as well.

But there is a caveat.  Many things are offensive; why would thin-skinned people want to spend their lives in an offended state?  Seriously, a lot of this stuff is actually pretty funny, we’d for love you to join in.   

So here’s the proposal, how about we BOTH work on this?  Yes that means you rabbits as well as us rhinos.  I will continue learning about sensitivity, about people’s feelings, about why I shouldn’t use the N-word even though I think its constant use would strip it of its power, and all the other social norms.  I won’t compromise my expressiveness, but I will try to consciously and responsibly make an decision of who I will offend.  You in the meantime should watch George Carlin and Bill Hicks, try to see what’s funny about Family Guy, and maybe even occasionally read SomethingAwful all with an open mind.  You must try to see humor on its own terms and to distinguish an bad person from a crass one.  You should do this seriously and with commitment.

The thing is that many people will probably take even this suggestion as offensive in itself, that I am suggesting people with “refined social standards” need to change as well as us juvenile bozos.  Here your own argument for sensitivity stands against you.   You must realize that for many people being sensitive to your feelings is f*ing difficult.  Like really really really hard.  I know that checking my speech almost always leaves a bad taste in my mouth that I have to then obsess over for hours afterwards. And if you still don’t care then F you.

I don’t have a crescendo of an ending planned so let me just state that I did indeed learn some things from this whole affair and am quite happy at the ideas that it has brought to the forefront.  I doubt that someone will seriously take me up on my challenge and I will continue down my own path of social learning regardless but if you’re really going to be intellectually honest you can hopefully admit that I have a point.  And then tag, you’re it.


May 1, 2009 - Posted by | Other, Programming


  1. I’m also as thick skinned as they come, but I think you completely missed the point in one important regard.

    In telling the offended people to go and watch Carlin or Hicks, you’re making a couple of unwarranted assumptions. One, that the cause of the offense was the material and that the fragile minds of those offended must have never seen the likes of George Carlin.

    I doubt that’s true. Nobody cares about seeing a little skin. What made people uncomfortable was that it was wildly inappropriate in the context of a professional conference. It’s fairly certain that some of the people complaining are fans of George Carlin, Bill Hicks, even pornography. They just don’t want to see it in this context.

    When you say something like, “you in the meantime should watch George Carlin”, you’re implying that it is impossible for someone to find Carlin both hysterically funny in a stand up comedy show, and offensively inappropriate were he working in a rape crisis center, an abortion clinic, or to a much much lesser extent, giving a talk at a software conference.

    Comment by JD | May 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. @JD You’re right, the implication is there. I did not intend it but it is there. As I said, I actually agree that the presentation was fairly inappropriate for the context.

    I do not want to comment on this presentation specifically or on gender, or on the Ruby community – I don’t have anything new to say in that regard. The point that I want to make is that this controversy is not a one-way street. It is not just that some people need to be more sensitive, everyone has work to do. Everyone.

    Comment by togakangaroo | May 2, 2009 | Reply

  3. I didn’t see the presentation in person, but the slides were not funny (regardless of how appropriate they were). The analogy was weak, and after a few slides the joke was completely predictable. Plus, “pr0n”? Don’t people outgrow that particular conceit sometime during puberty?

    Perhaps if the presentation had been as funny as Bill Hicks or George Carlin, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal.

    Comment by Adrian | May 2, 2009 | Reply

  4. maybe you are not offended because most of the time your one offending. it shows when you said that making this offenses is actually pretty funny -> “a lot of this stuff is actually pretty funny”.

    Comment by rhino_hater | May 2, 2009 | Reply

  5. @rhino_hater I wasn’t sure whether to allow your comment or whether it was trolling. Then I saw the email you left and am thinking that you are probably joking. Either way, “not offended because you [are being offensive]”? That doesn’t really follow at all does it? Also things are not funny just because they are offensive – Carlos Mencia for example is awful.

    @Adrian I agree that it wasn’t particularly funny, I said this when I mentioned that I agree with Martin and in my reply to JD’s comment. In my opinion it also wasn’t horribly offensive – it was fairly eye-rolling and tepid. But that is only my opinion, I know this.

    The specifics of the presentation is completely besides the point of my challenge however, this affair is just an excuse to talk bout a far more interesting issue. I am challenging people on all sides of the inappropriateness controversy to agree that just maybe they are not 100% correct.

    Comment by togakangaroo | May 2, 2009 | Reply

  6. I had a long thought on this but I’ll try to summarize: I’d like there is a difference between material that is offensive per se, and material that may or may not make a significant group of people uncomfortable. When I think of something really “offensive”, I think of one person walking up to another and calling them some form of racial slur. That is offensive, without argument.

    Now, when we consider pornography being shown to a large group of people who aren’t expecting it, I think we are talking about something else entirely. That is, they are being made uncomfortable, they didn’t expect it, and they wish it wouldn’t happen again.

    Concluding – this is why I agree with George. He’s not sitting here defending outrageous hateful acts or anything like that – he is saying that some things that make some uncomfortable make others laugh, or simply roll their eyes, or whatever. We are mature enough to discuss such occurrences without flat out labeling it “offensive” and getting upset. I.E. the immature thing here is for either side to refuse to discuss the issue.

    Now, If I ever end up in grad school I’ll make this into a dissertation.

    Comment by Phil Shreckengast | May 4, 2009 | Reply

  7. Calling it ‘offensive’ misses the point. It made some of the extremely few women in the audience uncomfortable because it highlighted (as if they needed reminding) that they were not the audience. They (we) are ‘other’, not-men, and not part of the crowd.

    Comment by Piglet | May 13, 2009 | Reply

    • @Piglet That is indeed yet another issue and I only did not approach it from that angle because I wanted to be more general. I think Martin’s argument would apply just as well if you replaced “being offensive” with “making people uncomfortable”.

      It is irrelevant whether events should make you feel uncomfortable, the fact that making you uncomfortable is an undesirable outcome is enough. We are a tech community and we should not be excluding potential contributors. My corollary still applies though. No one wants you to feel excluded so we can work on not making you feel uncomfortable and you can whittle away from the other end.

      Comment by togakangaroo | May 13, 2009 | Reply

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