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General Society

Apolitical tech community, what a load of non-sense!

I always like to say, quote me on this: politics starts from the moment the number of people involved reaches 3, it goes up from there on. It’s not unusual to read (or hear) people claim that their group or community is apolitical, the thinking is noble for sure but such claim doesn’t stand any decent test.

The grand claims. Here, at this company, we don’t do politics, it is strictly professional. Ah no, we are totally transparent, politics is not allowed here. On a number of occasions I’ve interviewed people and the question would come up. People would also tell me this, we don’t do politics, during interviews. Ahem, if you’re saying so then it must be true.

Just recently a couple of different articles that dabble on the subject, both worth reading in their own, caught my attention. The first one is from a few days back:

And more recently the second one, totally unrelated:

People routinely distance themselves from political views that they don’t necessarily espouse. It is the most natural thing one can expect. When technical communities distance themselves from politics, it is often a profession of intellectual purity, to suggest that they have integrity, that their policies are devoid of irrational partiality. Such attitude is a political expression I’m afraid, nothing wrong with that.

What are your politics?

Although this may be uncomfortable, it might be better to be upfront about the nature of politics that dominates your community. It might be better for a person to expect politics, and knowingly determine the kinds they are prepared to embrace or fight, prior to entering any community.

Any size human group or community with more than two (2) individuals may house multiple kinds of politics. Whenever people engage in exerting influence on others, politics often come to play. There exists sports politics, fashion politics, taste politics, gender politics, ethnic politics, regional politics, kinship politics, technology politics, marketing politics, economic politics, power politics, you can’t enumerate them all.

Of course, the term politic is used to qualify the biased shouting contests that groups of people engage in, it could be sanctioned by a ritual like some kind of voting. Party politics, the institutional kind that is run by governments, is usually frown at in professional circles – though, I would imagine, only when the context is diverse enough to warrant some form of apparent neutrality. When nearly everybody in a community is on the same side, politics may even be enthusiastically embraced to strengthen the bonding.

To claim that a community is apolitical may be (often unintentionally) misleading. Politic is always present, why not say it? being upfront may bear some risks, though the price may be worthwhile. The reasons that some people are unwelcome to a given community might be precisely because of the newcomer’s politics. Does the community has policies? If so, how are such policies utilised? Does the community enforce (police?) its policies? How? Enforced only by punishing policy violators? Enforced by educating and encouraging people to adopt the policies? How about saying something like: our politics encourage such and such behaviour and promotes such and such values. We oppose such and such other behaviour. I’m just using the term politics here to qualify the set of values and related policies adopted by a community, suggesting that the term may be more synonymous to community than we like.

Have we made the term politic inherently so toxic that we never want to be seen doing it? Isn’t politic the act of influencing others into adopting a set of policies? – I made up this definition, I could have gone to Wikipedia or some other source, but I skipped that on purpose, trust me. I am just inviting to a thinking process here, rather than following entrenched (proper or not) conceptions.

To save the best for last, technical and professional communities prefer to talk about culture, that sounds much more appealing than politics. So what they call culture, is often just a form of politics, it requires taking sides, eagerness for and display of belonging, promoting some things rather than others, just like in most politics.