LambdaConf should reconsider its policy

Normally I reserve my blog for Haskell posts, but some people are using the LambdaConf controversy as ammunition against the functional programming community. I don’t believe that John De Goes speaks for our community but the only way we can prove that is for people who disagree with him to also speak up. I’m also not writing this post to shame John De Goes (because then nobody wins) but rather to try to convince him to change his mind (so that everybody wins) either for this conference or for future conferences.

My biggest issue with the LambdaConf policy is that the policy does not achieve the stated goal of being fair or neutral. As Justin put it:

This year’s #lambdaconf
has proven that by claiming to be neutral, it’s easy to wind up reinforcing pre-existing systems of discrimination.

— Justin Leitgeb ( @justinleitgeb
) March 31, 2016

Cultivating true neutrality requires an active effort to combat the systematic ways that underprivileged groups are excluded. An excellent example of this principle is LambdaConf’s on-site child care. This policy disproportionately benefits attendees who have children, but it is still a just policy because it rebalances a scale that was originally tipped against parents.

True justice is about evening the playing field and right now the playing field is very slanted. Neoreactionaries like Curtis are not underdogs; they (unfortunately) have a loud and influential voice in our society. Curtis in particular already has an active platform through his blog and runs no realistic risk of ever being silenced. However, his presence is driving away underrepresented people just beginning to find their own voice and silencing them will undermine healthy civil discourse more than silencing Curtis.

I understand the desire to have a bright line so that conference policy can be enforced predictably and transparently, but there is no bright line when it comes to fairness. Justice requires judgement, action and leadership, not hiding behind formulas or recipes. This is why laws are interpreted by judges, lawyers, and juries and not by machines.

I would like to conclude by asking people (on both sides) to disagree respectfully and approach all discussions with an open mind. The purpose of the debate is to persuade people who disagree, not to score internet points from people who agree. The functional programming community needs to be a good example for other programming communities.

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