Nerve Endings Firing Away

To Politics or Not

The common refrain among techies, especially in Silicon Valley, is, let’s not talk politics at work/social media/anywhere. Of course, most of these techies are white men, for whom the status quo works great. No wonder the 1950s were the good ‘ol days. Even today, even if they are slightly “awake,” any talk of politics makes them uncomfortable and guilty, and then the pushback begins. Not in terms of stating their case or admitting that things haven’t been ideal for everyone else, but primarily by shutting down the conversation - no politics please, they say.

DHH is one such example of someone who banned all political conversations at his workplace. Plenty of techies nodded their heads vigorously as they wanted to talk about coding without really wanting to talk about implicit biases influencing coding decisions.

But in reality, it was the shutting down of any conversation that demanded change. They have no answer and do not want to give up power when evidence of disparity on grounds of gender, race, and ethnicity1 is presented.

The people of color always understood why these conversations were being shut down, but other white progressives and liberals refused to accept this reality. But then yesterday, DHH provided more clarity:

Talking about tech and programming on X today feels like it did a decade ago. Plenty of disagreements, even histrionics, but primarily focused on the actual technical topics at hand, not how they might connect to The Current Thing in every which way, all the time.

He is glad that no “politics” are being discussed on Twitter. I’m not sure which version of Twitter he is on, but perhaps in his mentions, no uncomfortable questions are being asked, and everyone left is a Yes Man. But the “Current Thing” he discusses are, in reality, the uncomfortable questions that need to be asked. When technology enters the public sphere through social media platforms, those questions will be asked of technology companies, too. You want ad dollars based on our preferences but don’t want to hear about those preferences when we state them explicitly? If we protest, you cry “cancel culture”? Are you the “snowflake” that you accuse us of?

In the larger context, politics is seen as a dirty word and much cause for stress and anxiety. In an election year, plenty of New Year resolutions are bandied about how they plan to stay away from politics for their mental well-being. Even reading about “politics” causes them stress.

But what is this “politics” that causes so much stress? Isn’t it the mere processes that make the functioning of society and civilization hum? Isn’t politics the power struggles among groups or individuals who want to control these processes? People who have power (without them knowing) and for whom the status quo may not be ideal but tolerable enough are not impacted by disconnecting from politics.

Short of a bloody revolution, politics is the only way to get society to work the way you want it to. Even techies understand this now. Hence, Ben Horowitz from that infamous VC cabal finally admits:

We believe that advancing technology is critical for humanity’s future, so we will, for the first time, get involved with politics by supporting candidates who align with our vision and values specifically for technology….We are non-partisan, one issue voters: If a candidate supports an optimistic technology-enabled future, we are for them. If they want to choke off important technologies, we are against them.

You will hardly consider Ben as one of the people who feels misrepresented in this world, but now, even he has understood that if he wants to bend the world to his will, he has to dabble in “politics”. If he can be a one-issue voter for whatever his cause is, you can pick your issue, too. But like everything, politics is a game and must be played right if you want what you care about.

  1. boils down to inherited social capital ↩︎

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