​Linus Torvalds answers 5 questions in BBC letter

In an e-mail to the BBC, Torvalds comes over as a voice of reason in the heated Linux Code of Conduct fights.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

To hear some people talk about it, Linux's new Code of Conduct (CoC) will destroy Linux by shoving out developers who don't kowtow to political correctness. Others are sure Linux will remain a haven for abusive jerks. Linus Torvalds, in an e-mail to the BBC, revealed he's sick of both sides.

I addressed some of these myths about Torvalds stepping down and the CoC in an earlier piece, but Torvalds is the man on the spot, so let's look at what he said.

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1. Will Linux stop being a meritocracy, where the best code rises to the top?

Linus wrote:

I'm trying to get rid of my outbursts, and be more polite about things, but technically wrong is still technically wrong, and I won't start accepting bad code just to make people feel better about themselves.

That's simple enough.

Earlier, Torvalds wrote:

But there are very tangible and immediate common goals in any technical project like Linux, and while there is occasionally disagreement about how to solve some particular issue, there is a very real cohesive force in that common goal of improving the project.

And even when there are disagreements, people in the end often have fairly clear and objective measures of what is better. Code that is faster, simpler, or handles more cases naturally is just objectively 'better,' without people really having to argue too much about it.

So, Linux coding will continue as it always has -- with the best code getting accepted and the rest getting tossed.

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2. Will people be censored in Linux circles?

I may have my reservations about excessive political correctness, but honestly, I absolutely do not want to be seen as being in the same camp as the low-life scum on the internet that think it's OK to be a white nationalist Nazi, and have some truly nasty misogynistic, homophobic or transphobic behaviour. And those people were complaining about too much political correctness too, and in the process just making my public stance look bad.

So, that would be a no. Unless, you think talking about, say, how Nazis were really socialists on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) is a good use of the list. If you do, you're not going to be welcome.

3. If that's the case, why didn't Linux have a "real" Code of Conduct much earlier?

Torvalds explained:

The arguments about behaviour never seem to end up having a common goal. Except, in some sense, the argument itself.

Have you read the Twitter feeds and other things by the people who seem to care more about the non-technical side? I think your 'hyped stories' is about as polite as you can put it. It's a morass of nastiness. Instead of a 'common goal,' you end up with horrible fighting between different 'in-groups.'

It's very polarizing, and both sides love egging the other side on. It's not even a 'discussion,' it's just people shouting at each other.

That's actually the reason I for the longest time did not want to be involved with the whole CoC discussion in the first place. That whole subject seems to very easily just devolve and become unproductive. And I found a lot of the people who pushed for a CoC and criticised me for cursing to be hypocritical and pointless. I could easily point you to various tweet storms by people who criticise my 'white cis male' behaviour, while at the same time cursing more than I ever do.

So that's my excuse for dismissing a lot of the politically correct concerns for years. I felt it wasn't worth it. Anybody who uses the words 'white cis male privilege' was simply not worth my time even talking to, I felt.

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4. So, why is Torvalds changing things now?

I'm not making excuses for some of my own rather strong language. But I do claim that it never ever was any of that kind of nastiness. I got upset with bad code, and people who made excuses for it, and used some pretty strong language in the process. Not good behaviour, but not the racist/etc claptrap some people spout.

So in the end, my 'I really don't want to be too PC' stance simply became untenable. Partly because you definitely can find some emails from me that were simply completely unacceptable, and I need to fix that going forward. But to a large degree also because I don't want to be associated with a lot of the people who complain about excessive political correctness.

As Torvalds wrote when he stepped down, "My flippant attacks in emails have been both unprofessional and uncalled for. Especially at times when I made it personal. In my quest for a better patch, this made sense to me. I know now this was not OK and I am truly sorry."

Torvalds realized he needed to change, and now he and the Linux community are doing just that.

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5. Is Torvalds really changing or is this just a public-relations move?

I still care about the technology, and I'm still not exactly the most empathetic person. But I'm hoping I can at least 'fake it until I make it'. Part of that 'faking it' is definitely going to be a filter on my outgoing emails, but as mentioned, I'm actively also trying to find a professional therapist to talk to as well.

That sounds to me like someone who realizes he has a problem and is taking serious steps to adopt it. I've known Torvalds for almost 30 years. I believe him.

So, at the end of the day, Torvalds is pushing for a more polite, respectful Linux development community. Mind you, he's probably not going to transform into a "cuddly people person." But he is trying to make changes, and between that and the CoC, the Linux community is likely to change for the better as well.

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As for the people on the fringes who are getting headlines: Few of them are developers and all their flaming will amount to little.

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