Message 00593 [Homepage] [Navigation]
Thread: oxenT00577 Message: 9/16 L5 [In index]
[First in Thread] [Last in Thread] [Date Next] [Date Prev]
[Next in Thread] [Prev in Thread] [Next Thread] [Prev Thread]

Re: [ox-en] Young, male and (probably) NOT single

Hi geert--

when reading the posting your forwarded, I was agitated enough to do a point-by-point rebuttal, but I thought maybe a little parody would not only be easier to read, but also get the point across more easily, so lemme start with that--

Open source 'geeks': Young, male, and (probably) academic

For years we have been told by some lower-class and a few middle and upper class people that class differences in involvement / success in various careers and activities reflect class bias (by middle and upper, and probably lower class people, too) rather than underlying genetic differences in the innate mental capacity and interests. This view holds that there are no such innate class differences. Another less extreme version of this viewpoint is that there are class differences, but that the outcomes reflect a more extreme divergence than innate class differences would lead to if working class members were supported and accepted identically to middle and upper class members. I am not arguing in support of classism - just that there are real genetic differences between the classes and that divergent outcomes will happily and healthily occur even in the absence of classism.

In particular these claims of sexism blighting the lives of members of the lower class are made about leadership roles in politics and commerce, about engeneering, academics, and the arts. [...]

In politics and corporate management, it can be difficult to distinguish between genetic differences in innate ability/interest and social factors. Social factors start at birth and continue operating at the level of selecting candidates for leadership position. They also affect the ability of members of the lower class to sustain leadership roles once they get them. In politics and management, success of people with a working class background is necessarily subject to very strong social factors - so I think it is impossible to isolate these effects from any underlying sex-differences in interest or aptitude for leadership.

To some extent, the same could be said of professional work in academics, because in order to work professionally as a professor, one has to survive several years in university courses and then be chosen by a university - both of which are processes involving strong social factors. Similar arguments hold for engeneering.

Some "socialists" (as well as "sociologists") have long been championing working-class children and adults becoming involved in engeneering and academics - to the point of stating that anything less than a lower/middle/upper class ratio equal to that in society as a whole must be the result of class bias in the educational system, in how children are raised etc. This claim assumes that there is no difference at all, in general, between lower class people's interest in and capacity to perform academic and engeneering tasks. This claim is untenable now that more is known about class differences in cognition, and how they are affected by generic heritage (I have some references here somewhere...).

But there is another angle. Suppose we find a field of "engeneering" endeavor which is very largely unaffected by social factors. Then, if we find a significant class difference in participation rates, then this would indicate that one class or another was genuinely more interested in it than the other, and/or that one class generally had their brains organized (presumably by biological processes) to do this kind of activity better than other classes.

A well-known example is childhood interest in reading. Many parents who formerly believed there were no innate class differences regarding interest in books etc. change their thinking when they observe how much more (in the case of parents with an academic background) respectively less (in the case of parents with a working class background) their children read.

One adult example is open-source computer programming. You can do this without having to work with anyone, and certainly without having to be accepted into a training course. Lots of open-source projects involve people working alone. In group projects, there is the potential of rejection due to social pressures on grounds of class - but I would think that open-source projects are willing to accept the contributions of all people who have something to offer. Also since most interaction is by email, a person's appereance, race, accent, sex, class, dress sense (or lack thereof), is likely to play little or no role in their social acceptance and subsequent involvement in a group project.

[...] By the way, I think that one of the very worst things about computer programmers is that they fail to clearly lay out and clearly document their code and data structures. This greatly detracts from their ability to write robust, easy to maintain, well designed software! I attribute this primarily to instinctual processes in people with an academic genetic heritage - who are prone to showing off their intellectual capacity on the interesting tasks, instead of getting the work in a straight-forward manner whether it is interesting or boring. This is an aspect of programming which would benefit enormously from some more innately working class thinking!

So, according to this survey, 70% of open-source programmers have a university degree. 8% have an A-level and 17% have a highschool degree; it can be presumed that many of these programmers have not completed their education yet. Unfortunately, the survey didn't ask about the academic degree of the parents, the standard way of finding out about class heritage; however, it is a well-known fact that most university students by far have a middle and upper class background. Unrelated surveys have, for example, found that the chances of a well-paid white-collar worker's child to attend university are fourty times as high as those of a farmer's child. It is thus probably save to conclude that most open-source programmers by far come from a middle or upper class background.

Surely this reflects what I believe to be a fact - that in general, members of the lower class are interested in things rather different from computer programming.


Ok, I admit that I'm prejudiced against any article that purports biologist views (here, that there are biological reasons for women to be less interested in engeneering/computer programming than men). But I think as biologist arguments go, this is a really BAD one.

The problem, of course, is with the author's assertion that participation in the Free Software community is "largely unaffected by social factors," just because (which IMHO is likely true) it measures you in terms of the contribution you make (AND in terms of your email writing skills, I'd like to add), not in terms of your sex/race/class etc. This reasoning implies that your ability to contribute must be completely innate, and cannot be influenced by social factors such as upbringing.

I'm currently reading Pierre Bourdieu, _Wie die Kultur zum Bauern kommt_ (containing essays about education, school, and politics). (This is, by the way, where the "chance to attend university is fourty times as high" figure above comes from-- the survey mentioned is FLOSS.) Bourdieu argues that the "equal opportunities" ideology of the educational system creates, in fact, inequal opportunities: because it treats all students the same way despite class differences, and because this way is tailored to children from academic families, it helps the academics' children to get the academic degrees again (my own short summary-- I'd highly recommend reading Bourdieu, being new to this thinking myself). This is a situation similar to the Free Software community, IMO: By treating everybody's contributions as equal, it reflects the culturally different interests and abilities of people to produce such contributions.

Ok, looking at the last sentence, it obviously comes down to: The author of that article asserts the differences are necessarily biological; I claim they're cultural, at least to a large degree.

How exactly come, according to Bourdieu, that the percentage of people from the working classes getting a high educational degree is so small? One point he's making is that working class parents simply don't *believe* that their children can get a university degree. So do the teachers, unconciously, for a large part. If a working class child has to repeat a year, that shows that they're not good at school. If a child of an academic family has to repeat a year, well, they're lazy and that's bad because they should go to the university... Bourdieu also notes that families with an academic background simply have much more information about what educational possibilities there are. And the children buy into their "inability."

I think that geek culture has a lot to do with this. It is "normal" for people raised as boys to be (at elementary school age) interested in computers, both in the perception of the adult world and in the perception of the children themselves; it is not so "normal" for people raised as girls. Even if some adults may encourage it, they can see enough of their environment to know (at least subconsciously) that it is not the "norm." This bias does not change while people get older. We're social people, and when deciding what and how we want to be (which includes what we want to spend our time with), it plays a large role what we see as "viable" because we know other people who've done it (IMHO, but getting back to Bourdieu, he also presents data on how working class students are much more likely to pursue an academic career if there's someone in their extended family who's succeeded doing that).

I think few would dispute that being interested in computers during childhood/teen years-- i.e., being geeky-- significantly raises the chances that you'll become a Free Software developer, simply because so many FS developers seem to be of the geekish type. I further do think that the women/men ratio among geeks is strongly influenced by social factors. And that makes the article your forwarded (or at least the part dealing with FS) bogus.

I think maybe-- but this I'm not so sure about-- "geek culture" also stimulates a mind-set of the computer and of hacking as spare-time activities which taking a university course doesn't produce, which could be the reason why there's a 30/70 ratio in the commercial software field, while there's a 99/1 ratio in the FS field...

Contrary to what StefanMn said (or, at least, seemed to say) in an earlier discussion on the German list, I believe strongly that these considerations are very important both to the FS scene today and to the Oekonux discussion. They're important today because the pool of FS programmers is constrained by these social factors-- if there isn't a culture encouraging girls and women to become FS programmers, there will be less people developing FS. Additionally, I think it makes a difference for the image of Free Software whether it is seen as a "men's toy" with the assorted "real men" bullshit or seen as a non-gendered thing (which can still be a toy, but without the associated gender garbage). Oh, and I should also admit that it does make a difference for me personally-- I do enjoy working in environments more that are not almost exclusively dominated by men. -- As for the Oekonux discussion, well, I believe that if we want to build a just society, an *extremely* gender-biased subculture is not a good thing to start with.

(Yeah, ok, this argument doesn't really hold water yet... have to get more clear what I mean here, I think.)

Stefan's argument basically went like this: "Well, if everybody is happy with what they're doing, what can possibly be wrong?" I think just because a majority may buy into the status quo, that doesn't necessarily make it right, though this is a difficult topic indeed. Remember _Brave New World_? In a class-related context, Huxley showed a world where everybody is happy with their place in society (due to biological manipulation and indoctrination during childhood), yet it's not a positive utopia.

Ok, I can't seem to find a good place to conclude this mail, so I'll just stop here. I believe the lopsided demographics of FS developers are a social issue, and I believe that's an important cultural problem that should be tackled, and one worthwhile thinking about.

(As one last thing, I also think that differences in class/cultural capital, as related to FS, would be worthwhile thinking about. I think it's really a pity that e.g. FLOSS didn't have a question about parent's education and income... I think it's an easy-to-agree-on thing that FS is a thing mostly for people with high cultural capital-- from reading skills to available computer resources and benefits from better formal education, people from privileged families are bound to have it much easier here IMO. But I think the cultural issues are worth discussing because there's the question whether the organized system based on selbstentfaltung is something people with high cultural capital have an easier time conceiving/doing, and if so, what can be done to make it more accessible to people of lower cultural capital. StefanMn has repeatedly said he believes the unemployed could be a large group of people possibly able to and interested in working in an FS-like way-- Stefan, correct me if I'm wrong. Considering that most unemployed by far are, AFAIK, people with a "low" level of education, it seems to me that cultural issues could be a big inhibitor here.)

Ok. I'll stop. Thanks for listening!
- Benja


Thread: oxenT00577 Message: 9/16 L5 [In index]
Message 00593 [Homepage] [Navigation]