Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Linux and The Pitfalls of Tribalism

by Dietrich Schmitz

Wow.  What a title for a story eh?  

Well, sad to say, I've been thinking for a long time about this very topic and regret to report that Linux on the Desktop languishes and suffers at the hands of Tribalism to a large extent.

You see, it's really human nature at its best.  Spawned from the nucleus of base Distros (Distrowatch top 20) comes another 'newborn' clone and immediately a tribe forms around it.  The people in these tribes are assumed to conform to community principles,  sharing and working collaboratively.

The reality is often decidedly different.  In fact, I think it's accurate to say tribalism influences most everything we do.  I'm not just talking about Linux.  That may be a hard pill to swallow, but, Tribalism pervades our lives and society.

That's quite profound when you think about it.  And today, I read an excellent piece which zeroes in on this very subject and calls it what it is, How Tribalism Overrules Reason, and Makes Risky Times More Dangerous.

The author, David Ropeik, writes candidly:

Tribalism is pervasive, and it controls a lot of our behavior, readily overriding reason. Think of the inhuman things we do in the name of tribal unity. Wars are essentially, and often quite specifically, tribalism. Genocides are tribalism - wipe out the other group to keep our group safe – taken to madness. Racism that lets us feel that our tribe is better than theirs, parents who end contact with their own children when they dare marry someone of a different faith or color, denial of evolution or climate change or other basic scientific truths when they challenge tribal beliefs. What stunning evidence of the power of tribalism! (By the way, it wasn’t just geocentrist Catholics in the 16 adn 1700s who denied  evidence that the earth travels around the sun. Some Christian biblical literalists still do. So do a handful of ultra orthodox Jews and Muslims.) (...)

Yet another example is the polarized way we argue about so many issues, and the incredible irony that as we make these arguments we claim to be intelligent (smart, therefore right) yet we ignorantly close our minds to views that conflict with ours. Dan Kahan, principal researcher into the phenomenon of Cultural Cognition, has found that our views are powerfully shaped so they agree with beliefs of the groups with which we most strongly identify. His research, along with the work of others, has also found that the more challenged our views are, the more we defend them…the more dogmatic and closed-minded we become...an intellectual form of ‘circle-the-wagons, we’re under attack’ tribal unity. Talk about tribalism overruling reason
Paging the Linux Project/Community managers of the world, I reach out to them in sympathy and know how challenging their jobs can be:

Appeal to people's sensibilities: Exercise reasoned logic in setting forth your project's objectives.  Seek opinions and involvement at all levels and garner input from all participants.  Everyone's opinion is important, whatever it may be.

At times, conceptual differences may be unavoidable.  Major design changes often are a source of friction and outright opposition.  Things like systemd come to mind.  Avoid the 'us vs. them' mindset. 

There is no shortage of contentious debate centered around systemd coming from those 'Tribes' which may or may not offer sound reasons for not following in the path of the majority of Distributions to incorporate systemd.  Is your Team seeing things clearly?  Or is thinking clouded by other factors which may not have anything to do with the subject matter?  Examine what you do in these situations to avoid the pitfalls of Tribalism.

So, the next time you find yourself involved in a forum/relay chat group discussion, step back.  Take stock of the situation and have a good look at the dynamics and what is happening.  Hopefully, by making your own conscious effort in self-appraisal, you will stay within the bounds of courteous discourse and avoid thinking patterns that result in conflict and obstructions to advancing group goals.

Most importantly, be a thinker, an individualist, not a Tribalist.  Yet strive to cooperate and bridge differences.

-- Dietrich

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