Aesthetic Policy

The Terms of Service refers to aesthetics under Responsibility of Contributors

You are also responsible to ensure that the Content is not aesthetically displeasing to the Team, whose sole judgement will be final. Guidance on aesthetics will be posted from time to time in the Meta category.

This has not been a problem with over a hundred posts so far, but it’s only fair to state what my criteria are. The judgments of the individual Team members invariably will differ; this post reflects my personal approach.

I was born in the mid-20th century, and my aesthetics in written communication have been formed by extensive reading. Tastes change over time, but my favorite writers in English presently include Edward Gibbons, R. H. Blythe, China Mieville, and Aldo Leopold. (As a guilty pleasure, I must add Rex Stout.) This site is not Twitter, Facebook, or a github issue list. This site is intended in part for children and non-computer people, and my name is in part on it. I don’t wish to make moral judgements, but I am happy making aesthetic judgements. I make them every day while I code, and they are crucial to my work.

Therefore, I state the following. Its a starting point, and as there is not yet a logic or calculus for aesthetics, it’s hard to be exhaustive or even to be sure that a given description is correct. But I’ll give it a shot.

Here are some first-order points:

  • Civility, generosity, grace, and gratitude are beautiful to read, be they ever so awkwardly expressed.

  • Wry amusement (even ruefulness) is always more pleasant to read than bitterness.

  • Colloquially harsh language is almost always inelegant when referring to people or organizations who are not present and able to defend themselves. Nasty nicknames for things are simply unpleasant to read – often they even look ugly to me (in the shape of the letters, beyond the content).

  • Colloquialisms in another language don’t always translate elegantly or pleasantly.

  • Slang nouns that are usually used as metaphors (example: “that is crap”), or as metaphorical modifiers (example: “all that free download crap”) are almost always ugly, in addition to being needlessly offensive to some people.

  • Use of ‘*’ (“that is cr*p”) to disguise a word doesn’t make things any more elegant. Ugly is ugly.

  • Resentment is very hard to express in a way that is pleasant, even if the resentment is shared, unless expressed with genuine humor and wit.

  • I find abusive discussions and ad-hominem arguments to be profoundly inelegant and undignified. Since organizations are composed of people, I find “ad-hominem” attacks on organizations also (by transitive closure) generally unpleasant.

  • What is suitable in written form is not always suitable in conversation, and vice versa. I never end a phone call with “best regards”, or end a letter with “bye”. What is suitable in conversation or Twitter is not therefore necessarily suitable here.

  • Specific to this site: there is something that is not beautiful about discussions of leaked builds or software. This is not about right or wrong! It just is jarring and inelegant.

I will not make a big deal about this, and I’ll do my best to make it painless. I will privately contact people about posts that I question, and I will suggest a rephrasing if possible; and in case we can’t come to agreement, I’ll defer to the other members of the volunteer team.

In particular, I will listen to reasoned arguments if you feel that I’m failing in my aesthetic judgement, but it may be best if you try to persuade the other volunteer team members if I can’t be immediately convinced of my mistake. The point of “de gustibus non disputandum est” is not that taste is relative or subjective; it is that argument is fruitless for resolving aesthetic differences.

It is good to have guidelines. We need a foundation here and in spite of anything contrary, this is called discourse for a reason and it must remain so. Thank you for posting this in such detail for us Terry!