Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

maddog, humanity and The Closet

Yesterday, I tweeted about Jon “maddog” Hall coming out as gay. It’s an interesting story, and rather sad that it took Jon till the age of 61 to take this step. What can I say? “Fundamentalism” may contain the substring “Fun”, but it ain’t much fun if you don’t happen to fit in the narrowly prescribed set of boxes that are considered morally acceptable in that community.

In general, the reaction to maddog’s post has been pretty good…

but, there are a few people saying things along the lines of “what does maddog’s sexuality have to do with Linux?”

Like this:

Who. The. Hell. Cares.

Lord almighty, seems like the only people who make a bug fuss about homosexuality these days are homosexuals. Why is this on techcrunch?

Let’s break this down. It’s very simple.

Software is written by human beings. You know, flesh and blood people like you and me.

Human beings suffer discrimination. That might be on the basis of gender or race or ethnicity or, indeed, sexual orientation.

Software is written by humans, humans can suffer discrimination, therefore discrimination and equality are kind of important to ensuring we have a world where people can enjoy and use and create technology.

Again, think of Turing. Imagine if Turing had lived another 20 or 30 years, imagine if Turing had been around to see PCs and the development of UNIX and programming languages and the AI revolution. Imagine if Turing could have stuck around a few more years to see the development of an era where everyone would have general-purpose programmable computers on their desks, and eventually even in their pockets.

This is the tragedy of discrimination, whether it is overtly prejudiced or just latent: it prevents people from doing what they could do, on the grounds of things that ought to be irrelevant.

When people say “who cares?” they are speaking to an ideal, but not speaking from reality. It would be lovely if nobody cared about gender or sexual orientation or any other similarly irrelevant fact about a person qua that person’s role in, say, computing. But since we don’t live in utopia, fighting discrimination does require people to stand up and do shit.

When you say “who cares?” or “why does it matter?”, you think you are helping. You aren’t. Read a newspaper. The reason you ought to care about discrimination is because it happens and it affects real people. Understand why people come out of the closet: because the only way to get anything is to stand and fight for it.

Then there are reactions like this:

The “its none of our business” bit is a well-intentioned remark: I’ve briefly met Ross and I have no reason to think he’s a bad person. While well-intentioned, I think it’s just wrong.

I think love and sex and relationships and all that are pretty unequivocally Good Things. Love is a wonderful, amazing feeling. When I see people who are in love, whether that’s opposite sex, same sex or any other permutation you choose to conjure up, that’s a reason to be happy. Because love is pretty fucking great. Relationships are wonderful too: romance, friendship, whatever. If we can find ways of spending more time enjoying each other’s company either platonically or romantically, that’s also a good thing.

And, well, sex. As pasttimes go, finding new and exciting ways to manipulate each other’s genitals is mostly a good thing. Screw all the guilt and shame bullshit we’ve inherited from religion, fucking is pretty fucking awesome.

In addition, being open and communicating about all of these things is a good thing too. If we talk about love and relationships, hopefully we can have better relationships and more love. If we tell each other what we want and hope for in sex, we can enjoy it more.

When people say that someone being gay is “none of our business”, they are ignoring that human relationships and human happiness is everyone’s business collectively. The reason people wear wedding rings and have fancy marriage ceremonies and hold hands while walking down the street and incessantly post pictures of their spouses (and pets, and kids) on their Facebook profiles and so on is because love and relationships are great things. On the value of love, philosophers, poets, stoned-out hippies and directors of otherwise terrible romantic comedy films have been fairly unanimous and mostly right.

When people say that who you are attracted to is something that’s “none of our business”, that’s bullshit. It’s in everyone’s interest that we live in a society where we can all pursue our happiness, live out our maximal utility, or whatever philosophical or self-help cliché you wish to use.

If we want to be ruthless about it, let’s say this: a wise employer thinks it’s right to try to ensure his employees are happy and secure in all the ways he can plausibly control. There’s a reason why Google has massage therapists and chefs and dry cleaning on site for employees: happy employees are more likely to be productive and do great work. If you are paying me to sit there and come up with a creative solution to a hard problem, the less other shit I have to worry about, the more likely it is I can properly focus on the problem.

So it is in the corporate world, so it is in wider society: if another citizen is happy, free and feels secure and good about their life and circumstances, that person is less likely to go out and mug me in the streets or get addicted to heroin and cost the NHS large amounts in drug rehab, or commit suicide or any number of other things I have fairly good reason to think are bad consequences. As human beings, we have a pretty fundamental shared mutual interest in living in a world where people aren’t exploited or treated like shit.

The name of the game here isn’t tolerance. Tolerance is what you do when you put up with something but don’t really like it. I tolerate loudmouths having noisy mobile phone conversations on the train. But, damn, someone wanting to be happy and free in their sexual orientation, that’s not some “none of my business” stuff that needs to be “tolerated”: that’s a bloody brilliant thing, and something people should affirm and praise and shout from the rooftops about. Don’t tolerate, celebrate!

When someone lives their life with integrity and openness and honesty, that’s not something that’s “none of our business”, that’s a reason we should be happy for them and happy that we get to have people who want to live with such integrity as fellow human beings.

Anyway, the point of this is to say: three cheers to maddog for bursting through the damn closet door, at last.