I never knew Sarah Sharp personally, but I was aware of her.
On one hand, it's hard to say how; I've never had particular interest in the
USB stack, or much at all outside of the core kernel, and even there I've never
managed to actually contribute beyond a couple of cosmetic patches.
On the other hand, it's little mystery at all: Sarah was the first female
kernel contributor I'd ever heard of, and the only one I can readily name now.
It's an uncomfortable answer, because when someone breaks into a space that
doesn't often include their gender or background, we feel we avoid culpability
by being nonchalant. No exclusion here, nosiree. Didn't even notice you were a
woman. It's comforting and dishonest; when someone breaks a boundary of
cultural exclusion, regardless of how your reaction may later be judged, the
fact is you notice.
Although apparently nobody noticed when Sarah quietly
disappeared over the
past year, finally coming out to cite now-familiar complaints about the toxic
and hostile atmosphere on LKML and in the kernel community in general.
In an ignorant youth that I'd rather was further away than it is, I remember
liking the atmosphere on LKML. Mentioning being in the kernel community seemed
to have the same effect on the right kind of crowd as saying you were from
Brooklyn did in the early 90s. The threads of LKML were mean streets that would
chew you up and spit you out if you weren't tough enough to handle it. But I
was, of course. I was tough, you betcha, and only real tough guys have what it
takes to stand up for code the way it should be written.
It's not hard to see the appeal, for a certain sort of ego, but there's
something deeper. "Nerd" communities gravitate toward this form again and
again. Other open source forums, video game communities, 4chan, the marks are
similar no matter how distant the topics get. And why? What is it about geeky
types that produces this sort of structure?
What is the war on stupid people?
Being cursed with doting parents, I got called a "genius" from a very young
age, well on in to my adult years. I had my share of unusual feats, and I liked
computers which were proper "genius" things to like, and at some point I took
an IQ test and a very impressive number was produced. "Genius" it was then.
Of course, the older I get, the less I'm convinced there really is any such
thing. Getting anything meaningful out of as gloriously defective a thing as a
human brain, no matter what condition it may be in, is a skill and an art, not
a product of ordainment into a pantheon of great thinkers. So I stopped
thinking of myself as a genius.
But before I did, I remember thinking everyone else was stupid.
Perhaps it's too much praise, or some failure to notice the dissonance in
thinking you're better than everyone else and then also expecting them all to
keep up, but I'm hardly the only sufferer of the condition. To a certain sort
of mind, stupidity is the chief moral and cultural demon in the modern world.
When you have the answer to everything, it suddenly becomes clear that the only
thing between the world and paradise is all of those people who just won't
fucking listen no matter how many times I explain the most obvious thing God
It is human nature to define our enemies, and soon the abstract and ill-defined
idea of "stupid" begins to take on concrete and fantastically fictional
features. It becomes intentional; every futile political debate, every badly
indented piece of forgotten code, every near-mishap on the freeway, all
engineered by some malevolent demographic of those who wish to fuck everything
up for everyone.
And so protectorates are established. Bastions to hold back the encroaching
stupid masses. The mean streets of LKML, where yes you will be lambasted and
degraded and torn apart daily, but you're ok with it because you're tough.
You're a real tough guy who can take this sort of thing because you're not one
of them. It is all necessary to protect you from them. And if you can't, well
maybe you're one of them after all and you should leave, traitor.
As the airport screenings protect you from Muslims and the mass incarcerations
protect you from drugs, so this sort of personal violation protects you from
I'm prone to hyperbole, on this blog especially, but I have also witnessed a
contributor in #fedora openly proclaim that
someone seeking help in the channel was being deliberately incompetent for the
purpose of causing him frustration. On multiple separate occasions. If one
ever wanted to destroy the field of economics entirely, one need only come up
with a single example of a person dedicating time and effort to such a
perfectly and absolutely unproductive task. What can we call the belief that
such people exist and are out to get you other than psychotic paranoia?
And so, I ask, what is it to be stupid, really? Are some slower to process
information or discover novel solutions to problems? Certainly, and some run
less quickly than others. If we leave behind our childish desperation to invert
the high school hierarchy, I can scarcely find much reason to value one much
over the other. A person who is "stupid" in this way does me no harm
whatsoever. Is irrationality and succumbing to bias a better definition?
Doubtful. These are real and dangerous problems, but irrationality is not so
intrinsic as we claim of "stupidity." Rationality is a procedure, the "skill
and art" I mentioned earlier. It can and has been described as a step-by-step
process, and it requires only minimal mental power to execute. What it requires
a great deal more of is self-discipline. I hardly think the behaviors we
describe here demonstrate much of that.
So let's bring an end to it. Call of the war on stupid people. Respect others
as a matter of policy. I promise you the kernel will be fine. All of us will
be. Most of us better.