jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)
[personal profile] jewelfox

[personal profile] coffeevore and I are discussing on my last post what the warning signs of a cult are.

I'm reading people's comments on Jono Bacon's blog -- he's the piece of work who's Canonical's "community manager," and whose job description is basically "smother people who've been hurt and prevent them from doing anything about it." They're talking about how Canonical is engaged in "brand value destruction," and how it's destroying the Ubuntu brand by taking their volunteers for granted and treating them and their users as exploitable resources.

I once wrote an inspiring, frequently-favourited, sig-quoted post on the Ubuntu forums, that told the people there that they were what the Ubuntu brand was. That the Circle of Friends represented them. I believed in it every time I saw newbies learn how to use Linux. I believed in it when I saw PCs shipping with Ubuntu preloaded. I believed in it when I saw third-world contributors being empowered, local governments adopting Free Software, and all this other stuff that I felt couldn't happen with other "distros" because they didn't seem to care about anyone besides themselves and those like them.

I adopted and advocated Ubuntu not because I thought "Linux on the desktop" was the shiz, but out of solidarity with those people. And everyone else who had yet to be empowered by it.

Somehow, I missed the fact that the ends justified the means for Canonical. They they would do hostile, abusive things to their users, and take advantage of their most loyal volunteers, and justify it with "we're bringing Free Software to the masses." Sometimes they wouldn't even say that, and would just jump right to the "sustainable business model" garbage: "You want us to be able to make money off of this, right?" They wanted to be seen as a charity while they acted like a for-profit business, just like the church I used to be part of.

It's really no wonder I took to Ubuntu so strongly. It promised me the same clarity of vision, the same unambigiously good mission statement, the same visionary and godlike founder, who literally looked down on Earth from above.

All of it was a lie.

Here are the warning signs I think it and my old church had in common. (Quotation marks are used to indicate actual things said by Ubuntu cultists.)

* The ends justify the means. It is so important that we put Free Software on every desktop, that we need to put an open-source keylogger on your computer and bundle it with Amazon adware. Also, would you like to buy a subscription to our Not Free Software online service?

The devil's advocate in me is saying "Oh yeah? Well, you think you're a nice person, and you discredit outsiders, and you think some people different from you are mean, and you even think you're a goddess. You don't get to talk about this."

But pretty much everyone thinks they're a nice person. The difference is what you do when you're confronted with evidence that you've hurt someone. Is your priority to save face or heal them? That's really what the "discrediting outsiders" thing amounts to, as well. I explain why people are untrustworthy or how they've been hurt by others. But a cultist's priority is to make the cult look good, at all costs. They're willing to sacrifice people for it, literally or figuratively. They just want to be seen as good and nice, or at least righteous, for doing so.

People aren't mean just for disliking me. There are people I admire greatly that I've had to cut off contact with, because we're just not good for each other (or at least I'm not good for them). The Mormon teaching that any "righteous" man and woman can marry each other and make it work is not true, and the same goes for friendships and organizational affiliations. People are mean for ignoring others' boundaries and inflicting violence on others.

Finally, I don't demand veneration from anyone, don't promise retribution to people who fail to provide it, and don't ask people to ignore their conscience or senses when talking to me. The Inari I know doesn't, either.

This is what healthy relationships are like, whether they're with a person or organization.

Date: 2013-03-19 09:32 pm (UTC)
citrakayah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] citrakayah
I think that too many people forget the means affect the ends.

When you take advantage of people and alienate them to bring free software to people... the ends aren't 'brought free software to people'. The ends, as in the end effects, are 'brought free software to people and took advantage/alienated people'.

Date: 2013-03-22 02:09 am (UTC)
citrakayah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] citrakayah
*shrugs* I don't do these things for thanks... though I suppose it is appreciated.

Having never used Ubuntu, I suppose I can't comment on its effectiveness.

Date: 2013-03-20 07:59 pm (UTC)
coffeevore: A tousled-looking woman stirs coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffeevore
I think some of the reason I ended up describing "possible components of how a situation arises" in my comments on the other post, rather than identifying warning signs that always signify an issue, is because I feel uncomfortable with the warning-sign model. I've too often seen myself and people I care about labeled with false positives because they happen to exhibit this or that "warning sign" of something that they're totally not doing, so I don't like trying to judge a situation based on whether warning signs are present-- I prefer to look at a situation and what it is doing/causing, not whether it possesses a few warning signs that may or may not mean anything.

Because of that, I personally find it more meaningful to look at the components of what's causing problems in these groups, things that may or may not add up to be a problem, rather than identifying "this warning sign means something is definitely bad".
Edited Date: 2013-03-20 08:00 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-03-20 08:33 pm (UTC)
coffeevore: A tousled-looking woman stirs coffee. (coffee)
From: [personal profile] coffeevore
Ohh...

So when you decide on the "warning signs" of a problem, what you're doing is one of two things. One, you're checking the behaviours of a group/individual against a list of "warning sign" behaviours, and if any of them match up, you get suspicious of them or maybe even conclude that they definitely have a problem. Two, you're forming a "red flag" list in your mind, so that if you see a group or individual doing a certain behaviour, you label them as possibly or definitely having a problem.

The trouble with this, of course, is that people might have those "warning signs" without actually being anything like trouble. The warning signs themselves are not the problem, nor are they things that only ever happen if the problem exists. They're just behaviours that you've noticed tend to occur in common around a problem. But just because the problem produces those behaviours doesn't mean that nothing else produces them. They are simply behaviours that could have a lot of other causes, some reasonable, some unreasonable. Some may be simply stemming from disagreement about how life should be conducted. Some could just be naivete. In other words, the presence of the behaviours absolutely doesn't indicate that there's a problem. They just make you suspicious. And there's no way to know whether your suspicion is justified or whether it's a false alarm, and many people just settle this tension by deciding that their suspicion is probably true, that where there's smoke there's fire, that if they see warning signs there's probably a problem.

On the other hand, deconstructing what is actually causing a problem is different from identifying warning signs. In this case, you're not looking for behaviours that happen to be held in common by examples of the problematic groups. You're looking for factors that caused the problems in the first place and figuring out why they caused those problems. You're looking not for effects, but causes. Not individual behaviours, but background factors and patterns. You're not identifying "correlated behaviours", you're rather trying to identify where the issue itself came from in the first place, in hopes that you can spot the pattern again next time you see it.

You acknowledge that if you see it again, it'll look a little different, as every incident is different, but you're getting used to seeing what patterns of behaviour tend towards causing people to act certain ways. The goal is to trace its problem to its source and figure out what factors blended together to cause a problem, and how they caused it. If you do that, then when you see those factors operating together elsewhere, you understand the problem and how it was caused, and you can spot faster that there is a problem and what the problem is. Your knowledge of the problems makes it so that when there is a problem, you see it immediately from the outset, rather than getting sucked into it.

But if there is a problem, the first thing you see is the problem itself. You've trained yourself to notice this problem's existence. Because the problem is what you see to begin with, you don't have to just rely on guessing whether to be suspicious that there's a problem or not. You know there's a problem-- you saw it right away.

Date: 2013-03-21 08:32 am (UTC)
coffeevore: A tousled-looking woman stirs coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffeevore
Mm. I think "inequality" is a pretty broad statement, like saying that the root cause is "people's nature". But yeah, you can't have a cult, or... lots of good things, either, without inequality.


Except by deconstructing what's causing the problem. >_>b

...are you being sarcastic? I'm not sure? Your tone sounds sarcastic, but I'm not sure exactly what you're being sarcastic about? I mean, I pretty much said exactly that, and I meant it quite sincerely and I don't see what there is to be sarcastic about. If you don't understand the problem, it's impossible to identify it.

You can't identify the truth about it if you don't understand that truth. It's complicated, but that's inevitable because life is complicated like that. There's no way to make it simple and neat. Taking the work to understand a complicated thing is worth it if you want to avoid that thing, and ... you could try to avoid anything remotely resembling it via getting afraid of anything that has a warning sign, but often that just hurts some innocent group lower down on the kyriarchy that sounds "bad" according to those warning signs but isn't causing a real problem.

Date: 2013-03-21 09:33 pm (UTC)
coffeevore: A tousled-looking woman stirs coffee. (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffeevore
I was being sarcastic because you seemed to be arguing against a position which I do not hold, which is that "you should run away at the first sight of these warning signs without any further reflection."

I wasn't.

I suppose I haven't fully elucidated my problems with warning signs. In my attempts to be not too critical to those who follow them, I tried to make it sound like that was the issue. My real problem with warning signs is that they turn into prejudice.


"you can't possibly know" and "you have to deconstruct," with a paragraph or so between them. I was trying to point out that the first one is incorrect because of the second.

That's not so. You can deconstruct by taking guesses and observing patterns, not by being convinced of the truth in a given situation.

My comment was trying to explain about the difference between causes and effects, between signals and patterns. Did you have a response to that or are you just going to reject what I said because you emotionally perceive me as taking you to task?

And yes, it's true-- I was. I'm so uncomfortable with the "warning signs" paradigm that I've been considering whether to say something for a while. But I kind of just didn't want to out and say "well, you're enacting a pattern of prejudice that makes me super uncomfortable" if I could persuade you without saying something that harsh. Unfortunately, now you're just not listening to me so much as you're looking for ways to criticize and dismiss what I'm saying, so what's the point in talking further?
Edited Date: 2013-03-21 09:40 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-03-22 01:50 am (UTC)
aliaspseudonym: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aliaspseudonym
applying the idea of warning signs to a potentially cult-like organization is completely different from applying it to a person, and it's perfectly acceptable to use warning signs to decide whether or not to enter a relationship with a person. in these situations warning signs can prevent you from being hurt and have virtually no chance of legitimately harming the person or organization you're potentially prejudging.

you only need to be cautious about using warning signs if you _are_ in a position to hurt someone, like if you're an employer or something. or if your set of warning signs is really bad, i guess, but these aren't.

using warning signs also doesn't imply that, at that point, you stop thinking and assume that there's a problem. you can continue to try to deconstruct the source of the problem and potentially discover that there wasn't really a problem in the first place in the process.

i think the paradigm that makes you uncomfortable isn't actually described anywhere here, because this is all about using warning signs to decide whether or not to join a group, which is perfectly fine. if you were going to attack the group in some way you might need to go deeper, but a false positive isn't harmful if all it does is rob a group of one potential member.

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