You Do Not Have A Right To Contribute

(Another in a series on the proposed PHP code of conduct, itself a work in progress in at least one other place.)

Over the weekend I listened to a recent episode of the Dev Hell podcast, hosted by Chris @grmpyprogrammer Hartjes and Ed @funkatron Finkler, and guest-starring Amanda @AmbassadorAwsum Folson. (Full disclosure: I have been a guest on the podcast previously.)

The episode is #70 “Anti-Canuckite Leanings”, and in it, they discuss the proposed code of conduct starting around 26:00. You should listen to the whole discussion, which ends after about 30 minutes (and really the whole episode if you can).

There’s a lot to address in the discussion, but I’m going to concentrate on only one point. Chris Hartjes says, at about the 30:17 mark:

I think fighting against the code of conduct is a losing battle, because it will get passed. And you have a choice, you can either keep contributing to PHP, or move on and do something else. It’s as simple as that. You do not have a right to contribute to PHP, it’s a privilege. It sucks how that privilege is handed out, and it sucks how sometimes that privilege is wielded as a stick by which to beat other poeople, but at the end of the day, despite it being an open source project, it is a private project, and nobody has to take your contributions. It’s as simple as that.

He reiterates the point a few times:

(48:09) If you don’t like it, go on and contribute to another project.

(48:44) The people who complain, well they either get with the program, or they just go do something else with their time.

(51:45) If you don’t like it, just don’t participate in the project.

To be sure, Chris does not specifically say he is either for or against the code of conduct as presented in the RFC, which currently uses the language of the Contributor Covenant.

Even so, I have heard variations of this from Contributor Covenant supporters. These kinds of comments strike me as interesting in two ways.

First, “If you don’t like it, just don’t participate in the project” and its variations do not seem in the spirit of “fostering an open and welcoming community.” I see this as revealing part of the true intent of Contributor Covenant supporters: to wit, they wish to set themselves up as judges of who is to be accepted, and who is to be rejected.

Second, and more importantly, the very same argument applies in favor of the status quo; that is, not having an explicit code of conduct. Let’s take a look at the same wording, but against having a code of conduct:

If the project does not have a code of conduct, you have a choice, you can either keep contributing, or move on and do something else. It’s as simple as that. You do not have a right to contribute, it’s a privilege. At the end of the day, despite it being an open source project, it is a private project, and nobody has to take your contributions. It’s as simple as that.

So the argument is simultaneously made for not-having a code of conduct, using exactly the same wording. If you don’t like that there’s no code of conduct, “go on and contribute to another project.” After all, “you do not have a right to contribute.” You can “either get with the program, or just go do something else with your time.”

This means to me, among other things, that the burden of proof remains on those who support the Contrbutor Covenant, proof which they sorely lack, or are unwilling to put forth.

For the record, this is not an attempt to hammer on Chris, whom I count as a friend. It is an attempt only to point out one of the many flawed arguments of some who support the Contributor Covenant.

Finally, for the record, I continue to be opposed to the Contributor Covenant and anything substantially similar to or derived from it. Having no code of conduct is better than having the Contributor Covenant.


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