Extreme irony: the person most responsible for making Drupal a mature, stable, long-term platform has been ejected from a leadership role for reasons that are not entirely clear. As a result, the Drupal community itself is going through a painful crisis.

The heart of the matter is painfully unclear: Is Larry "Crell" Garfield being ejected merely for "thought crimes?" Or is there actual evidence of some sort of abuse, that the extremely tolerant inner circle of the Drupal Association and leadership could not tolerate?

One thing is for sure: the way Dries Buytaert and the Drupal Association handled this situation has drawn the very negative attention they were trying to avoid by giving Crell the boot.

The story

My wife asked me what the short version of the story was. Here it is: Big contributor gets accused of a sexually deviant lifestyle, with no evidence presented to the public that he has brought this anywhere near his work in Drupal. Project leader terminates his role. Community is up in arms, canceling their Drupal.org accounts, protesting the dismissal, expressing lack of confidence in the Drupal Association and project leader.

But that simple story leaves out much of the complexity and background that makes this such a big deal. There's a lot more here:

  • Crell was the person who persuaded everybody to move Drupal 8 core to use Symfony, and convert to a fully object-oriented stack at its core. This is the single biggest change in Drupal, pretty much ever -- and I think it has made Drupal one of the best long term platforms out there.
  • Crell is not the first long-term technical leader ousted from the project this year -- "chx" was ejected just a couple months ago after a long history of abrasive communications but technical brilliance.
  • The lifestyle in question, for lack of a better word, is not just a BDSM subculture practiced by consenting adults, but one that promotes a misogynist viewpoint, overtly claims that females are inferior to males
  • Plenty of women in the Drupal community have come to Crell's defense, stating they have never felt any misogyny or discrimination from him in their interactions
  • The Drupal community has long taken pride in a spirit of tolerance and inclusivity, to an extreme I haven't witnessed elsewhere, so rejecting somebody due to their lifestyle and sexual preferences seems particularly ironic (and explains why there is so much outrage)
  • The explanations given for the ejection hint that there are incidents that are not in the public discussion that may indicate that Crell's beliefs may undermine the very tolerance and inclusivity the Drupal community prides itself on, and now that they are known, are entirely unacceptable to be associated with the Drupal community

There is so much here to delve into. I'm going to briefly touch on three: the technical contributions, the community ejections, and the community going forward.

Technical maturity

6 years ago I wrote one of the most popular posts on this site: Top 6 reasons Drupal really sucks -- Developer Edition. Of these 6 reasons, half are addressed by the architectural changes introduced in Drupal 8 -- especially the biggest, most important thing that has always made Drupal suck: the upgrade path.

Doing a major upgrade of Drupal has always been tremendously painful, because over and over again Drupal has broken backwards compatibility between major versions. Drupal 5 is quite a bit different than Drupal 6. Drupal 7 is drastically different, with entirely different data models. And Drupal 8 is really an entirely different application that resembles previous versions of Drupal -- but no code you wrote before is relevant anymore.

This policy has had a lot of consequences for Drupal. Major upgrades have been major projects, leading to maintenance headaches, site owner dissatisfaction, splits in the community and codebase, and much more.

It has also forged technical excellence, allowed the community to largely abandon messy, dangerous patterns in favor of solid architectural patterns, led to test-driven development and an extremely high bar for quality, security, and usability -- and with Drupal 8, we finally have a platform that will be maintainable and relevant for at least the next decade, with no more major upgrade projects ahead.

The fundamental change that Crell single-handedly introduced into Drupal 8 makes Drupal major versions pretty much irrelevant going forward.

That is a very big deal.

I don't think this has fully sunk in to the broader Drupal community. There are discussions around changing the version numbering scheme for contributed modules -- yet many seem to miss the point that thanks to object orientation and introspection, it's going to be possible for the same contributed module to support multiple major versions of Drupal. For example, the same version of an Address Field module could be made to work with Drupal 8, Drupal 9, and Drupal 10 -- at the same time.

Suddenly major Drupal versions no longer matter (once people have moved beyond Drupal 7, that is...), but minor versions do. For example, Drupal Commerce already depends on new APIs introduced in Drupal 8.2, and won't even run on 8.1.

So this means contrib modules are going to end up much more like libraries in most other languages and tool sets -- as a contrib coder, you will probably end up specifying minimum and maximum versions of core and other contributed modules that your module is currently compatible with. And almost certainly, after Druapl 9 comes out, you'll be able to be compatible with 8 and 9 at the same time.

For site owners, this is going to be an even bigger deal -- the fact that a major upgrade is no longer a big deal. They simply happen as part of routine maintenance, a module at a time, until you have no more modules incompatible with Drupal 9, and you update core. (I see Dries just blogged about this very improvement)

This is why I now consider Drupal technically mature. And I give Crell full credit for persuading the entire Drupal community to make this happen, and getting the first prototype working to show it was possible.

Community Ejections

This is the second major contributor to be ejected from the Drupal community in the past few months. Karoly (chx) Négyesi was removed last November, primarily due to his communication style. I met chx at a code sprint a long time ago, and found him to have a sharp technical mind, little patience for people who hadn't arrived at the same technical conclusions, and overall a sarcastic, funny guy.

In many ways, like Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, who has similar controversy brewing.

If you look around the issue queues for Drupal core, chx comes up again and again with code, solid patchs, strong arguments for particular technical solutions, and often rage-quits and other drama.

The greater Drupal community seems to pride itself on diversity, inclusiveness, and tolerance for a huge range of people, beliefs, and proclivities. However, there seems to be a growing intolerance for rudeness, misogyny, bigotry of any kind. Is this really a bad thing?

Peace, love and acceptance of everything and everyone is great until that runs up against philosophies opposed to that stance. And it's hard to reconcile the two.

There is no easy answer here. The community has grown to the point where some people are going to be unhappy, no matter what. As much as Crell and chx have had great contributions to the Drupal project as a whole, the community has matured to the point where it has had to make some tough decisions, where the ground rules end up murky and need a judgment call.

It's no longer black and white.

The Future

The future is here. Drupal is a better platform than it ever has been. The Drupal community has had to deal with some hard issues that don't have a clear correct answer. These are difficult milestones, but they are part of growing up.

I think the Drupal Association and the project leader did the best they could, and reached the only conclusion they could have. It's unfortunate that the story unfolded the way it did -- but does anybody want their platform associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy? The leadership of a project reflects very directly on the project, and if the leadership did not eject Crell, would Drupal become known as the Gor platform? It would be irresponsible for any organization to let a highly visible leader remain in a leadership position when something like this comes to light. While I'm sad to see such a valuable contributor forced out of the project, I think letting him remain in such a visible role would not help the project broaden its reach, and may well make large numbers of potential users, developers, community members skip Drupal when considering a CMS.

It's time to put this issue behind us, and move on, older and wiser. I wish Crell well, and thank him whole-heartedly for his massive contributions to the project.

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Comments (17)

Guest

and how long until the next community ejection? I see this as a failure of the community and leadership, not Crell's or CHX's failure.

06 Apr, 2017
Tony

Who do you refer to when you say "misogynistic fringe philosophy"? What kind of a proof you have? What information you are relying to? How is business at Freelock? Is it desperate for some media attention, in the hopes of drawing in some business/clients?

06 Apr, 2017
John_B

I wonder whether you have read Larry's three blog posts on the subject?

You might think that the ground rules are murky and need a judgement call. You might also question whether a judgement call which has the potential to destroy a career if not a life, and which relies on an allegedly dishonest hint at a confidential justification, should be in the hands of a leader who has no formal accountability to the community, who does have formal accountability to a particular Drupal shop's shareholders, and who has a clear conflict of interest. That is a judgement call which cannot command confidence, even you think it happens to have been the correct one in this instance.

07 Apr, 2017

That is a judgement call which cannot command confidence, even you think it happens to have been the correct one in this instance.

I'm not sure it is the correct one -- but I'm coming to think there may not be a "correct" one. It's an unteneble situation, and there isn't an answer that will satisfy everyone.

15 Apr, 2017
Guest

The only person who said the reason was due to his sexlife is Larry, but yet you put it as the reason for being rejected, despite Dries and the association have explicity said the opposite. Why is Larry interested in making people believe this is about sexlife? Gorean philosophy has almost nothing to do with sex, it is about gender inequality, and much more, is about slavery, real slavery, 100% slavery, no sexual role playing. Women are only trully happy when they become the slave of a dominant man, by nature. You don't talk about that, probably you haven't read about that. You should. That is what Gor is all about.

07 Apr, 2017

The only person who said the reason was due to his sexlife is Larry, but yet you put it as the reason for being rejected, despite Dries and the association have explicity said the opposite.

Um, where? I didn't say what the reason for the rejection was... I don't even know the full story. All I'm saying is that we've hit a situation where there are painful, murky decisions that were made -- and this is a sign of adulthood, having had to deal with complex situations. And perhaps make mistakes doing so.

Women are only trully happy when they become the slave of a dominant man, by nature. You don't talk about that, probably you haven't read about that. You should. That is what Gor is all about.

Whoa. Now this is the kind of misogyny that I suspect led to the ejection -- if you truly believe that about women, and it becomes known, what women would want to be in the same room as you? Or have to interact with you on a project?

15 Apr, 2017

I think the Drupal Association and the project leader did the best they could, and reached the only conclusion they could have. It's unfortunate that the story unfolded the way it did -- but does anybody want their platform associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy?


From what I have read so far it's still not clear exactly what the developer did. The community would need to know all of the facts in order to review what happened.

A platform is not associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy if one of its developers is associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy. Substitute "misogynistic fringe philosophy" for anything else.

The leadership of a project reflects very directly on the project, and if the leadership did not eject Crell, would Drupal become known as the Gor platform?


Funny :)

[Edited to make the quotes more clear - JL]

07 Apr, 2017

Hi Paul,

A platform is not associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy if one of its developers is associated with a misogynistic fringe philosophy. Substitute "misogynistic fringe philosophy" for anything else.

The point I was trying to make is that a project that is trying to encourage participation and contribution by a broad audience, who has such a developer in a prominent position with his views known, that could do the opposite -- discourage people with more open-minded, tolerant views from wanting to participate.

16 Apr, 2017
Anon

Chx lost his IRC op privileges and was banned from attending Drupalcon and the associated sprints. He was not kicked out of the community, his drupal.org account was not stripped. Nothing else of that nature occurred. Beyond the IRC/Drupalcon attendance privileges, all of his "kicking out" was "self exile".

07 Apr, 2017
John_B

CWG made chx's life hell by constant carping at his abrasive style. You can call that self-exile if you consider that a generous contributor should be able to tolerate being constantly 'corrected' for being critical of less able colleagues, year in year out.

chx made Drupal 6 / 7 what it was, and was none too pleased that the menu system which he largely wrote was ripped out, a change he suggested Crell had rammed through the issues queues unfairly.

Crell made Drupal 8 what is, including ensuring chx's menu system was ripped out in favour of Symfony routing, which might or might not be a good thing, though I agree with John Locke's evaluation of the importance of Larry's reforms generally.

Each had become, in his way, hugely dominant, more dominat than Dries in driving the recent architecture of the project. Both have been forced out, on grounds which some observers regard as justified, and many do not.

07 Apr, 2017

Thanks John for excellent and detail post. Drupal always a big platform for learning if you want to do well in your profession. I am also a learning student of drupal and i know how important it is.

08 Apr, 2017
Guest

the person most responsible for making Drupal a mature, stable, long-term platform

Umm. That's really insulting to people who worked a lot more on Drupal core than Crell. Crell has been exceptionally good at self-promotion. Others who don't promote themselves as much have contributed more hours and more technical vision. I don't mean to downplay Crell's contributions, but please don't give so much credit to one person who actually has not been that actively involved for many years and was never "the most" responsible for anything.

08 Apr, 2017

Well, I'm not at all trying to denigrate all the hard work that hundreds of people have put into Drupal core. But the reason I give Crell credit is the pivotal decision to try out Symfony core, and the work to make a proof-of-concept and sell it to the rest of the core developers. I didn't hear anybody else arguing to do that.

It may have been a fraction of the work others have done overall, but it was a complete change of direction that I think led directly to Dries's recent post about Making Drupal upgrades easy forever.

16 Apr, 2017
Paul

Will drupal also kick out members of fundamental Christian, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs who feel women should dress particular ways or stay home or whatever?

13 Apr, 2017

Will drupal also kick out members of fundamental Christian, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs who feel women should dress particular ways or stay home or whatever?

Like I said, it's not black or white. I suspect if a DrupalCon track chair published an essay saying no woman should show their face because it might lead to men having unclean thoughts, yes, we would kick them out of that position.

If somebody showed up in a Burka, I doubt anyone would have a problem with it.

16 Apr, 2017

Chx lost his IRC op privileges and was banned from attending Drupalcon and the associated sprints. He was not kicked out of the community, his drupal.org account was not stripped. Nothing else of that nature occurred. Beyond the IRC/Drupalcon attendance privileges, all of his "kicking out" was "self exile".

23 Apr, 2017

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