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06.18.20

Technical Sites Do Not Have an Obligation to Express Any Political Stances

Posted in Free/Libre Software at 8:54 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Golang politics
Go(lang) politics (Rust silences critics of Microsoft monopoly)

Summary: With pure politics creeping into every aspect of our lives (sometimes even our code) let’s take a moment to examine what it means

THE #techrights channel is full of politics today. It is divisive and sometimes toxic. The “tech” in techrights could serve as a subtle clue, but we often bog down or turn to politics, somehow…

“This subject is generally a difficult one to address. Merely mentioning this subject is inherently political.”There have been lots of ‘politics’ (or ‘political creep’) lately, not only in technology; “ESR has his panties in a bunch over go developers putting ‘black lives matter’ on their website,” one person told us, citing a thread in Google Groups. Some people aren’t necessarily unhappy with sympathy for black lives; they just don’t think there’s a need for the project to deal with political matters where there’s no need to. These things can backfire. Then there’s that discussion about terms we use in technology. There are more and more blog posts about it this week. It became a controversy which focuses not on technology, not even remotely.

For those who don’t know, English football (Premier League) resumed yesterday. There was a big football match across the road last night (Manchester City v Arsenal) and all the players wore a shirt that said “Black Lives Matter” at the back. Yes, all of them. I’ve come across people right here in Manchester who say “Black Lives Matter” is a terror group. This always shocks me somewhat. It’s really so divisive a topic. And now it’s in tech, it’s in sport, and who knows what else…

Being apolitical isn’t always a choice. But where nobody demands an intervention in politics it seems spurious and potentially harmful, dividing one’s spectators or audience or coding community based on politics rather than practical/technical matters.

This subject is generally a difficult one to address. Merely mentioning this subject is inherently political.

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4 Comments

  1. Canta said,

    June 18, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Gravatar

    In my Curriculum Vitae, I state this (translated from spanish): “I prioritize libre software, by political and ethical principles before technological ones”. And I do that not only to be clear and honest about myself, but also to lure good employers and to scare away bad employers. So I recognize it as a divisive stance.

    I get it: it’s a PITA to be dealing with divisive politics all the time. That’s not what any of us wanted when starting doing “the right thing”: we wanted healthy debates and putting our efforts in productive stuff. The political pressure, usually from corporate media, pushes against our freedom and changes our agendas rarely for the good.

    But there’s no scape from it. Everything gets political a soon as it’s no longer about just yourself; which happens pretty much inmediatelly you start doing anything. Even the way you go to the bathroom is a political issue, as soon as there’s something to do with using water or paper, just to picture an example. What you eat, the clothes you use, the very components in the stuff you’re using for reading this comment.

    I don’t see a problem there. I mean, it’s “a problem” in the same way “someday I’m going to die” or “sometimes it rains”: it’s just a fact, that I wish could be more related to my will, and sometimes wish I could do something about it to be any other way.

    But the problem I do see is this constant reluctance to accept the idea of politics everywhere: at this point, being the XXI century, seems barely above denial to me. One needs to be completely blind and deaf of its surroundings in order to want to expect “apolitical” to be something, like if someone doesn’t live inside a society. It’s understandable for a kid, but in any adult seems like a totally negligent stance to me. Being overwhelmed, saturated, exhaust, etcetera, by it, and wanting it to be some other different way, is perfectly fine: but it’s as serious as wanting gravity to go away just because you hate your weight. This is how the world works. This is how people works. And the very second we say something like “ok, what can I do about/with it”, you’re getting political too.

    We need better political tools, and not trying to escape politics. We, as societies, need to handle that widespread distance from healthy debates and political options. The problem is not politics, but what we’re doing with it. And, as usual, corporations are in the very hearth of that problem.

  2. Canta said,

    June 18, 2020 at 12:47 pm

    Gravatar

    BTW, you say this:

    “Some people aren’t necessarily unhappy with sympathy for black lives; they just don’t think there’s a need for the project to deal with political matters where there’s no need to.”

    I’ll answer this way: who measures that need, and how? How’s that “non-political”?

    Also this:

    “Being apolitical isn’t always a choice. But where nobody demands an intervention in politics it seems spurious and potentially harmful, dividing one’s spectators or audience or coding community based on politics rather than practical/technical matters. ”

    Do you have an example of such situation?
    Premier League is A) worldwide reaching (would you really call that “non-political”?) and B) full of foreign players (do you know the extent of “black”?).

    https://abc7news.com/vallejo-police-shooting-sean-monterrosa-officer-involved-officer-involved/6251534/
    Sean’s sister’s say they want justice, “This is a black and brown issue.”

    That BLM presence everywhere is the same as when you or me asks details about software in devices to people never, EVER, thought about them: like a sales person, or even some friend. Explain to them about free software, explain to them about the ethics of it, and you will be the one “putting politics where it’s not needed”. And both of us know that’s simply not true.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    The argument for free/libre software is partly societal, partly technical. I don’t think we need to resort to political wings or parties to espouse its virtues. Or to even bring up genders and races.

    Canta Reply:

    And that works fine, until you’re non-white, non-male, non-cis, etcetera. If you’re a woman, or trans male/female, or any non-binary person, it’s perfectly fine for you to matter about political stances regarding those issues. Its absolutely fine to ask Gnome, or Techrighs, or Microsoft, or Mozilla, or the Permier League, or RMS, what is their stance about that. And it’s also perfectly fine to question those organizarions/institutions when you don’t like their stances (being silence one of them). Al of this, of course, have consequences.

    Same happens with race, and with so many other stuff. And it’s, again, exactly the same way we relate with software: we are able to ask ANYONE, ANYWHERE, about the relation between the software we’re dealing with and the four freedoms. We can tell the guy working answering the phone on the bank where we have an account that we don’t agree with the software they offer us or the authentication methods, and so many scenes like that. We are that feminist asking for gender parity, we are that black man telling everyone BLM.

    The Freedom part in libre software is “technical” extrictly speaking in political terms: human rights.
    The most common stuff regarded as “technical” in libre software are all the details behind libre license adequacy (like GPL compliance).
    Any other “technical” stuff in libre software is never about it being libre, but about how it works. And, in my opinion, that’s where stuff like systemd or github lives. Systemd, github, and other recent issues, should be a red alarm about the importance of politics, and the consequences of leaving that to the enemies of freedom.

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