jewelfox: A portrait of a female anthropomorphic fox, with a pink jewelled pendant and a cute overbite. (Default)
[personal profile] jewelfox
Matthew Garrett's recent post on depression touched a nerve, because I've been dealing with it for most of my life and it was especially bad all of last year. I'm trying to arrange to get help, but even that is extremely difficult right now.

I'm going to try to add some things to his post without going on for too long. Specifically, I'm going to address ideas we have and stuff we take for granted that makes the experience of being depressed much, much worse.

The "Just World" fallacy

This is a fancy name for the idea that people tend to get what they deserve. Here in the States, we call it "liberty" and "objectivism" and "reducing dependence on government." In the Linux and Free Software communities, we call it "meritocracy."

It's an extremely convenient belief to have if you're at the top of your pecking order. It tells you that you deserve to be there, because of how awesome you are. And it tells you not to worry about anybody beneath you, because if they're deserving they'll make it eventually. And if they're not, well, don't worry about it. It's their fault, and helping them will just keep them dependent on you. Better to throw them out of the nest and watch their carcasses smear on the rocks, until you find one that can fly like you could.

This mindset stigmatizes being weak or in need of help. It turns being a newb, at life or at Linux, into something to be ashamed of. And when you have this mindset yourself, and are weak or injured, you're ashamed of everything. You have a desperate need to please others and show that your life is worthwhile. You're afraid to admit failure, to yourself or to anyone else, because you know that you'll be destroyed and it'll be your fault.

Preordained winners and losers

If you aren't so conscientious, of course, none of that matters. Of course you'll get the help you need. Of course you deserve it. Ayn Rand herself went on Social Security. My parents have no qualms about getting cheques from the government, via dad's military retirement. But I sold off almost all my possessions to keep from needing to apply for "food stamps," which are one of the only reliable social welfare programs here for people who aren't senior citizens. I didn't want to be a burden.

And that's what these beliefs are all about. They take people who care about others, who want to help others, who want to be part of a team and community and work together to do something awesome, and very often make them into nervous, self-loathing wrecks. At their best and most productive, they may have impostor syndrome and depression, may fail to promote themselves and their projects, and may put up with crap no one should. At their worse, they may want to kill themselves, like I almost did a few years ago after being thrown out of the house.

The fact that my parents let me back in an hour or so later didn't change anything. There was no apology. The status quo, in which this event wasn't even surprising and I just needed to live with it, did not change. And my family laughed and joked with each other later that day, without saying a word about what'd happened, as I went catatonic right there on the couch. I knew now that I was worthless, and no matter how much reassurance or encouragement I get from others that "fact" is still the core of my being.

I guess what I'm trying to say is,

The idea of "meritocracy" causes depression and kills people

And so whenever I see people glorify it, I know right away that to the degree that they take this belief seriously I'm looking at a good ol' boys' network with preordained winners and losers. Where people they like and consider worthwhile get rewarded and get away with anything, and people they dislike get blamed for their "failures" and punished.

This is why there's historically been so much hostility towards Apple, and towards everything in GNOME and Free Software and politics that tries to make stuff easier for newbs or bring new people into the fold. The people complaining have decided who's a "real" hacker or gamer or contributor or American, and who's undeserving of the label. They want the undeserving to run off somewhere that they don't have to see them, and they close their eyes so they don't see the smeared carcasses on the rocks.

When you grow up with this mindset and then realize that you're undeserving, you want to die.

I guess that's all.


Date: 2013-01-18 06:57 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
From: [personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
I think that the idea of meritocracy -- in which people advance based on their level of ability -- is different from the idea of worth. If you put people in a demanding job which they do badly, or in a job that is far too easy and does not occupy their capacity, they are likely to be miserable and the work is likely to be poor.

There's nothing inherent inherent in meritocracy that says people with less ability should be discarded. There can be a place for everyone. That includes people who don't want to pour their whole life into a career; maybe they care more about raising a family or their spiritual life or a hobby, and want just a job to put beans on the table.

The idea of job = identity = worth is pernicious and destructive. It can get into all kinds of different systems and mess them up. Just the idea that it's okay to throw people away will do that.

What I like about meritocracy is that it's supposed to find what people are good at and encourage them. It's not just flinging people into any old job whether they're good at it or not.

The things I do best are not what this society values. But I can still see that they are marvelous, worthwhile, valuable things. I still feel that everyone has a right to personal safety and the basics necessary for life. I think a lot more would get done, better, if we looked at what people do well instead of just what someone will pay to have done.

Sadly, we have yet to figure out any kind of social, economic, political, religious, or other system that cannot be wrecked by putting humans into it.

Re: Thoughts

Date: 2013-01-18 11:20 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] drivebycomment
I interpreted the main point of this entry differently. The idea is that ability is not a gift bestowed from on high, but a fluid state that is heavily dependent on one's environment and situation. The so-called meritocracy views abilities as inherent gifts and the organisation as a place where anyone with the gift will succeed.

So if groups of people aren't succeeding in the organisation, they don't ask themselves "What about this organisation is preventing these groups from fulfilling their potential?" but instead say "I guess those people didn't have the gift. The system is working as it should." The people at the top pat themselves on the back for having the gift without considering what privileges and unfair advantages the system was giving them which allowed them to develop their ability.

Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-18 02:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Not sure if you are against the idea of a meritocracy or just against how you feel its being used in the GNOME community. One of the two definitions in the GNOME dictionary application is "The belief that rulers should be chosen for their superior abilities and not because of their wealth or birth.".

Which I think is a generally sound idea, and at least to some degree how a lot of projects work. But of course with any intellectually designed system its ideals are not matching reality 100%. And I am sure people in GNOME and elsewhere have been giving people the smackdown and claimed its about meritocracy, but someone abusing a term or an idea doesn't disqualify the idea.

And what other models would we have for open source development? A democratic system for instance where people think they command the time,effort and design of others through voting is destined to fail in a volunteer system.

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-18 02:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
But the idea of the meritocracy in regards to open source software is that you want the most skilled people to take a lot of the important decisions about the code, as that is the best way to ensure it remains a viable codebase from a technical viewpoint. Just as you as a layman you don't tell a brain surgeon how to perform a brain surgery. So I would find it absurd for instance if I as someone who can barely read C code should try to join up with people of similar skills and try to 'vote down' the GStreamer maintainer Wim Taymans over his design decisions for the code.

In regards to features and so on, sure a wider audience should have a say, and they do through filing bug reports and voting with their feet or paying a company to develop specific features for them. So as the creator, only developer and maintainer for Transmageddon for instance I do try to take user requests into account when working on new features, but the idea that someone have the right to complain or give me shit for not working on adding a feature because for instance a majority of my users want it seems crazy to me, especially considering that the time I do spend on Transmageddon is mostly my own spare evening and weekend time. So if people like the application I am making available to them for free that I spent my own time developing, great, and if they ask me in a nice way if I can change something or add something I try to take that into account, but just because I develop an open source application doesn't mean I signed up to be a punching ball just because they decided that they could have use of my application.

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-20 12:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You say "in ways that have nothing to do with technical merit". If this happens, then it's not a meritocracy. End of story. You're complaining about something else.

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-18 05:43 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] drivebycomment
The OP was not saying that newbies should get to make the same design decisions as those with advanced skills. They were saying that it takes tools and resources to acquire those advanced skills and the so-called meritocracy only gives those tools and resources to certain people. Those people then get to the top and everyone says they got there because of "merit" while those who didn't get the same tools and resources are told they didn't have the "merit" to get the same position.

The problem is that they pretend that merit is something you have coming into the system and that you'll get rewarded if you have that merit. When actually the system itself determines who will be able to acquire and develop that merit and who won't.

For example, say Jane and Steve both enter a project. The project accommodates Steve's schedule, gives him help and feedback, and encourages him. The project makes things difficult for Jane's schedule, alienates her and doesn't give her the help/feedback she needs, and discourages her. Steve gets to fulfill his potential and succeed, but Jane doesn't. Then everyone says she didn't have the "merit" that Steve had, and she even believes it herself.

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-20 08:29 am (UTC)
burning_ground: (Default)
From: [personal profile] burning_ground
I think a meritocracy, though it sounds better on paper, can easily come to suffer from some of the same ills as a plutocracy. If "merit" is defined by the ruling class who has "merit", then the attainment and distribution of "merit" can easily become a rigged and exclusive system. Furthermore, I can see "merit" superseding other genuine and good qualities in a wide variety of interpersonal relationships in a meritocracy. From some of your (Jewelfox's—sorry, posts I gather that already occurs in the GNOME community.

A meritocracy, like a capitalistic economy, might function more soundly if there exist certain checks in the system, put in place to keep the attainment and distribution of merit from being rigged and exclusive. I'm not sure what such checks would look like at present.

Edit: Apologies. I meant to reply to the entry and not this comment.
Edited ( Oops.) Date: 2013-01-20 08:31 am (UTC)

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-20 12:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, maybe we should use the term "meritechnocracy" instead of just "meritocracy", otherwise the term may apply to some fuzzy scenarios in which you don't really know how to qualify "merit".

Anyway, meritocracy (or rather meritechnocracy) specially makes sense in an open source project, because the merits you earn are normally because you have spent your personal free time to improve the project, you're volunteering your time. If that wasn't rewarded in any way, open source projects would just die.

And who else reward if it's not to the people that contribute the most?

Re: Meritocracy and its meaning

Date: 2013-01-21 12:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think the leaves are impeding you to see the tree.

The reason why white males are more frequent in open source projects is simply because white males are more likely to have free time in this society. Unfortunately this society, in general, still has discrimination (in all aspects of life, not just open source software) towards gender and race, and that's why the former are more likely to have more income, and therefore:

1) more savings to cover their costs of living while developing open source software altruistically
2) more chances of receiving a better education that gives them more probabilities of getting a job in the company they want (the one that pays them for developing open source, i.e. Red Hat).

So really, the battle you want to fight is much more broad than what you're focusing it. Don't battle meritocracy.

Date: 2013-01-18 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi Jewelfox,
I hope you find some way to get medical treatment for your depression. Having access to health care and food is a right, even if you need to assert it yourself by applying for government assistance. I would encourage you to do it anyway, no matter how you feel about it.
I have one comment about your title. I really feel that, as a feminist (and I know that can be seen as a loaded term/be interpreted as not gender neutral enough, etc, but I guess it's the term I know and am comfortable with -- feel free to suggest something better) we need to take responsibility for ourselves. Your value as a person doesn't belong to other people, it belongs only to you. You have the right to be who you are, to be respected. You also have the responsibility for yourself: to make autonomous decisions, to care for yourself, etc. Your reaction to input is owned by you, not by the person you are interacting with. Anyway, I hope you are well, take care of yourself.

Date: 2013-01-21 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
So here is an example of what I'm talking about: . If you choose to moderate my comments, that is your prerogative. This is your space, not mine. I'm talking about using feminist theory and CBT to treat PTSD and depression that is the side effect of trauma, so I hope you don't find that to be offensive. If it bothers you then you can moderate :) Take care.

Date: 2013-01-21 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think it's clearer what I meant if you are more familiar with the course of treatment this type of therapy provides. I have a friend who uses it for treating immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence, and another who uses a very similar approach to help inner city children who are either victims or witnesses of violence and have to live in violent situations long term. It does emphasize that self-reliance (taking responsibility for your personal actions in order to build personal self-esteem and emotional resilience, and to keep victims of violence from reacting by becoming violent themselves, which is sometimes also a response to trauma -- i.e. self violent or inflicting harm on others) is an important component of recovery. However, it recognizes that it is a very gradual process. Does that clarify. Again, feel free to moderate. I just thought I'd tell you about it because it might be helpful to you.

Date: 2013-01-19 02:42 am (UTC)
coffeevore: A person in a subdued, closed-in room, looking out a bright sunny window. (looking outward)
From: [personal profile] coffeevore
Thank you for giving me a new perspective on a matter I haven't previously given deep consideration to. I feel like I learned something from this post.

Date: 2013-01-20 03:26 am (UTC)
citrakayah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] citrakayah
I think that a meritocracy can work in very small systems--microprojects, for instance, or small communities--but that there's a scaling problem. It's similar to how a technocracy could work on smaller scales better than larger scales. There are more points of failure in a larger system.

Date: 2013-01-21 08:12 pm (UTC)
citrakayah: (Default)
From: [personal profile] citrakayah
A fair enough descriptor; even the most rational judgements about capability are based on personal feelings, especially at microlevels. Not exactly some scientific unemotional method to determine fitness for projects. Rules of thumb, maybe, but not much else.

Restating the obvious has many advantages. Putting things in a different wording can allow new observations to be gained.

That's not quite what meritocracy means

Date: 2013-01-22 12:24 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jancsika
Hi jewelfox,
A meritocracy is a system where any given community member's veracity and level of expertise in a _specific_ area are measured by the quality and consistency of the work they do in _that_ _specific_ area. In order for it to work, there must be a critical mass of community members who have enough knowledge in that area to make a coherent assessment of the work, and clearly articulate that openly to everyone else. As long as the community meets these minimum standards, it is a meritocracy and (all other things being equal) development will essentially remain a virtuous cycle. If they do not, or there becomes an (usually unspoken) consensus that veracity and expertise are judged by personal feelings, nepotism, agism, or any other irrational biases, the development process becomes dysfunctional and is decidedly _not_ a meritocracy anymore.

Long story short-- if you feel you are developing in a free software community that _claims_ to be a meritocracy but is obviously dysfunctional in the way I described above, _fork_ the project and/or _leave_ that community ASAP. The cost of forking today is extremely low, especially compared to the risk to one's own well-being by remaining in a toxic social environment while knowing better. To do otherwise is to tacitly give cultural cachet to developers who don't believe in meritocracy, and to ultimately lose one's own integrity.

Finally, I'd like to point out that while no free software project functions perfectly, the healthier ones go out of their way to show good faith by making it technically infeasible for a small cabal of knowledgeable jerks to ruin the community. For example: as outspoken and plain rude as Linus Torvalds can sometimes be-- often in the interest of _users_, btw-- he purposely undermined his own authority over the "mainline" kernel by writing git and using it for the kernel. That goes a _long_ way toward his veracity as a proponent of decentralization _and_ as an advocate of free software. Even if he himself states that he is not really interested in Richard Stallman's philosophy of free software, the "proof is in the pudding". Deeds matter, and that's the whole point of meritocracy.

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