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    I like this post a lot.

    It really annoys me how programmers separate moral, ethical, and social concerns from the work they do. “Tech should be politics-free” they say. Which is a ridiculous thing to say since most tech research is funded by the federal government. Doing work on mobile apps? Most tech in the mobile phone was developed with gov funds. Want to work in AI? Most AI research developed by gov funds. Want to work on maps? GPS and related tech funded by gov. Want to work on cryptocurrencies like me? Most tech (encryption used for example) was developed by gov funds. Building a web app? Who created the internet? Oh right, gov funds paid for that.

    How can you be politics-free when everything you do is rooted deeply in politics?

    That’s why I like the ACM, they acknowledge our social contribution and have ethical standards. My guess though is that most working programmers are not ACM or IEEE members, which is unfortunate.

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      Which is a ridiculous thing to say since most tech research is funded by the federal government.

      How is that relevant? My European perspective is that it’s history. The fruit of that research is now a commodity, that’s why we’re playing with it. Yeah, someone somewhere made it work out and altered the course of history one way or another but the politics of “the federal government” just don’t cast a shadow that taints what we do in the present. If there’s politics in tech, it’s not because the US government funded research.

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        Nailed exactly what I was going to write. How far back down the chain to government research do we crawl. Do we go back to electricity? Do we go back to running water?

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          Why not? Have you considered the history of the tech you are working on now? Would you be doing the same thing had things turned out different?

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          You make some bold claims that I simply don’t believe are true. I think you overreached to try to prove your point and undercut your point by doing so. That disappoints me because I agree with your fundamental point – programmers like all employees have moral, ethical and social obligations. I disagree with all but one example you made to support your point. I don’t think we owe some magical debt to the government of the past forcing us to be political or moral today – if we did it would extend to providing power, water, safe food to eat, military protection from invaders – not just fundamental research on radios, network protocols, and GPS.

          I actually was doing a point by point rebuke (saved to a buffer if you want it) – but, I mean on your most overarching point “most tech research is funded by government”, I find unlikely considering that of the $550,000,000,000+ going out in terms of R&D in 2018 in the US, only $140,000,000,000 is government spending either directly or indirectly.

          I find your other points similarly unconvincing. Fundamental services (even research) is a part of what the government provides, but after private industry takes them and builds on them (be it roads, or radios) then it is a commodity and carries no political obligation.

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            I find unlikely considering that of the $550,000,000,000+ going out in terms of R&D in 2018 in the US, only $140,000,000,000 is government spending either directly or indirectly.

            Notice my claims have nothing to do with 2018. The tech I mentioned is OLD.

            The government is playing less of a role today than in the past in funding research. This isn’t a good thing for invention because the private industry simply can’t stomach decades of research when investors want quarterly returns. There is a reason fundamental technology has basically been slow going in the last 30+ years compared to the past. Today’s tech is private sector innovation (extracting money from wealth) vs invention (wealth creation).

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              Notice my claims have nothing to do with 2018. The tech I mentioned is OLD.

              Then how on earth does that bolster your point that tech should be intertwined with politics? Additionally how does it differ from a debt owed to any other government service or foundation?

              EDIT: This article might interest you -> https://hbr.org/2017/03/is-rd-getting-harder-or-are-companies-just-getting-worse-at-it

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                Woah, I never said it SHOULD be intertwined with politics, I said it is and it’s virtually inescapable. It would be wonderful if we (programmers collectively) can just write software for ourselves, alone on computers we built ourselves without anyone telling us what to do. I would be down with that!

                But I think it’s a bit utopian to think you can do that right now. Maybe once global warming obliterates all semblance of organized human life in a mad max style universe, we will all be in a bunker doing just that, while eating our last supply of beans. We can be hopeful at least.

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            What if your ethical and social concern as a programmer is precisely that of preventing the specific governmental powers who have funded technology research in the past, from using that as a justification for seizing control of later-developed uses of those technologies?

            Edit: more generally, I actually do agree that moral, ethical and social concerns are relevant to the work that programmers do, and many important software projects have an ethical/social dimension to them. (Writing and using any kind of GNU software, for instance, entails engaging with a cluster of ethical positions about free and non-free software).

            But individual programmers have very different views about what specific concerns are the correct ones to care about, and exactly how their work helps or harms those concerns. If you loudly declare that tech is a political space, and therefore some software should be written or not written in the way that you think is politically important, you might find that your fellow programmers have become very political - on the issue of opposing the thing that you want to happen. And maybe the issue is worth bringing up nonetheless.

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              What if your ethical and social concern as a programmer is precisely that of preventing the specific governmental powers who have funded technology research in the past, from using that as a justification for seizing control of later-developed uses of those technologies?

              I’m an Anarchist, so you won’t find me supporting the state. Since those ARE my ethical concerns, then I suggest being something like a free-software developer since that technology cannot be controlled since it’s shared freely. Develop decentralized p2p systems without one central mode of control.

              Notice that the vast majority of tech is developing centralized systems which vacuum up data about EVERYONE. If that isn’t political, I don’t know what is.

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                I wanted to go down a line of questioning about what happens when you remove the state, e.g., does everyone do a little bit of every job? Or do people agree that one person can take care of the garbage and we all give that person a small amount of our stuff?

                Of course, as always, South Park did it better.

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                  I’m sorry but WKUK did it better than anyone else: https://youtu.be/fibDNwF8bjs

                  ANARCHY AND MOVIES

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                    Ha! That was wonderful.

                    It’s always comedy that best illuminates how nonsensical these ideologies typically are.

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                    The problem with south park is that they miss the whole point and give a shallow critique. Instead of asking ‘what kind of jobs people will have’ in that society, it’s better to ask ‘What will people do when they don’t have jobs’.

                    They certainly won’t do the same thing they did before. The idea of Job roles just goes away.

                    In the garbage example you gave, that job won’t exist. Either people will automate it away since nobody wants to do it, or people will take turns doing it.

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                      In the garbage example you gave, that job won’t exist. Either people will automate it away since nobody wants to do it, or people will take turns doing it.

                      Ha! Of course!

                      Except, I don’t want to pick up your trash. How are you going to make me?

                      Spoiler Alert: Every answer to this question makes anarcho-communism look more silly and/or evil.

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                        Nobody will make you, why is that hard to understand? If you decide you don’t want to participate in that way, maybe you can participate in another way. If you don’t want to do anything, that will truly depend on the people around you, just like today.

                        Question, do you live with someone? Who takes out the trash? Do you each have your own trash? Or do you mix trash?

                        The biggest flaw with my argument is that it appears roles play a hack on human psychology. People are really good at acting ‘like someone’ which was dramatically shown in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Roles take advantage of that hack. But is that good? There are other useful hacks by those in power to get people to do what they want, like threaten people, but is that good? Obviously not. Roles are a similar instrument of control and I would argue they are bad precisely because they are an instrument of control.

                        So my open question is, how can we limit the effectiveness of this hack. It’s probably similar to “How do you limit people being threatened”. There must be both social support and it has to be part of the environment. It must be a “This is just what we do” kind of thing so that people are trained early on to resist it.

                        I actually wrote a children’s song about it that goes like this.

                        If you want to be a racecar driver, you will go around the track a hundred miles an hour.
                        If you want to be an astronaut, floating in zero gravity and giving it all you got.
                        Or you can be, you can be just you.
                        I like you, when you are just you.
                        
                        If you want to be an architect, a mile high building, you'll build I bet.
                        If you want to be a librarian, organizing knowledge and helping those you can.
                        Or you can be, you can be just you.
                        I like you, when you are just you.
                        
                        If you want to be an eyeball doctor, helping people see a whole lot better.
                        If you want to be the president, changing history and making a big dent.
                        Or you can be, you can be just you.
                        I like you, the way you are.
                        
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                          I think you’re being coy with your answer.

                          Traditionally, “people … will treat you like an asshole” in this context means forced labour camps.

                          And what if I don’t want to participate? If I don’t give you anything, can I still use your cell-phone towers? Can I drive on your roads? Walk on your pavements? If I’m denied access to the modern infrastructure we’ve all become accustomed to because I refuse to participate, who’s going to stop me from taking it by force? I suppose we could take turns in law enforcement roles — wait a second, what laws? — and then when it devolves into gruesome violence as has been the case throughout human history, I guess we can also take turns being surgeons and healing the wounded.

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                            I edited my response to answer that question. It’s far more interesting now.

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                “Tech should be politics-free” they say. Which is a ridiculous thing to say since most tech research is funded by the federal government. “

                There’s different levels of politics. The one you mentioned can be addressed by a vote and some proposals with no further politics in the workplace. Then, there’s politics in the workplace. It can range from something simple the group wants to discuss to something folks see as pointless pushed down by HR to specific, political groups trying to inject their practices into organizations. Most political resistance is over 2nd and 3rd which is very understandable considering folks pushing politics in those situations don’t really want a discussion: just one-way enforcement of their views.

                Those doing none of and totally resisting the first are truly having a politics-free environment which concerns me. I mean, the opponents of net neutrality and copyright reform can have us kicked off the Internet for bullshit reasons only benefiting a few companies maximizing already obscene profits. There’s a lot of issues to consider with many apathetic parties but tech people not having the Internet or paying lots more for less service seems like it should be worth discussing. Given all the web programmers, control of and/or changes to web standards is another. Just giving examples where “no politics” doesn’t make sense even for folks normally apathetic about politics. Maybe “minimal politics we can get by with” would make sense given a more peaceful, work environment.

                “That’s why I like the ACM, they acknowledge our social contribution and have ethical standards. My guess though is that most working programmers are not ACM or IEEE members, which is unfortunate.”

                They rarely know about prior work in ACM or IEEE that could solve their problems. You can be sure most aren’t ACM or IEEE members.

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                  I love this response because it is radical.

                  Then, there’s politics in the workplace

                  I truly believe most people would love to just govern themselves and not have people tell them what to do.

                  My question to you is, why do you believe #2 (politics in the workplace) can be separate from #1 (politics in public life). I would argue that politics in the workplace are DIRECTLY the result of politics in public life. For example, the reason you have bosses who can tell you what to do is that corporations are legally structured that way. The way labor laws, corporate laws, corporate structure, are all the result of #1 . You simply can’t separate the workplace from public life and politics.

                  If we had laws that required everyone at a corporation to be part owners, then it’s obvious you would have much different workplace politics than in places that simply rent people who have no stake.

                  We have a barely functioning democracy in public life, and a non-existent one in the place where we spend most of our time (work). This isn’t by accident and the two are very much related. If we had a functioning democracy in public life, people would realize they might want one at work too.

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                    We have a barely functioning democracy in public life, and a non-existent one in the place where we spend most of our time (work). This isn’t by accident and the two are very much related. If we had a functioning democracy in public life, people would realize they might want one at work too.

                    Democracy in the workplace would be terrific if the electorate were all equivalently informed, skilled, wise, and knowledgeable.

                    Too bad they aren’t though.

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                      That’s no surprise given our education. It’s simple a matter of education. The people would be educated to be owners vs workers. Clearly something like that won’t happen overnight.

                      But also people learn pretty fast if they have to.

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                        I don’t think it’s “simple” in any regard, other than “simply” nonsense or “simply” impracticable. It would be extraordinarily inefficient to necessitate everyone doing every job, not to mention that not everyone can work to the same capacity, or at all.

                        People aren’t equal, and communism has never worked.

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                          communism has never worked

                          We have noticed and will try harder!

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                          Owners v. Workers is a false dichotomy and nowhere near a productive split.

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                            Actually it’s a legal dichotomy. So very real.

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                              Still nowhere near a productive dichotomy.

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                                Productive for whom?

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                                  People trying to improve our society

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                        Oh goodness, I’m a radical now? I thought I was a moderate or centrist. :)

                        “My question to you is, why do you believe #2 (politics in the workplace) can be separate from #1 (politics in public life). I would argue that politics in the workplace are DIRECTLY the result of politics in public life. “

                        You’re talking about two things that have an influence on each other but are separate. We know with 100% certainty that we can have workplaces without much politics or minimizing discussion because they exist. Those people simply do their politicking on social media, voting, lobbying, etc. Inside the workplace, they can do whatever they want to generate money, have fun, etc. It’s not strictly necessary to discuss politics in the workplace to affect politics outside of it. It can be useful, which is why we do at my workplace. Just gotta make sure negative impact on people with dissenting views is minimized.

                        Plus, the laws you bring up enforcing stuff on workers cannot be changed just by discussions with workers inside a company. In many cases, it’s also something obvious that barely requires any discussion. An example is fact they pay a wage tax while executive pays lower, different tax was another corrupt law likely paid for by executives. Conversations between employees will not change that. It can even subtract from work being performed or piss off executives with the employees fired. Best thing to do is have these conversations in spare time, like on breaks or off work, also in private to reduce the risk. Then, most of their time should be going into actions and venues that can pass new laws instead of having workplace conversations. The people who talk the most about politics in the workplaces are often those that do the least about it in terms of actual laws passed for that reason.

                        “If we had laws that required everyone at a corporation to be part owners, then it’s obvious you would have much different workplace politics than in places that simply rent people who have no stake.”

                        Employee-owned and union companies both support your point to varying degrees. Greedy and/or apathetic capitalists oppose such structures for many reasons. ;)

                        “ If we had a functioning democracy in public life, people would realize they might want one at work too.”

                        Even though I agree, your point doesn’t support a massive increase in workplace politics. It actually supports a massive increase in voter pressure on politicians to be pro-consumer/worker, less-business, in their legislation. As in, any corrupt laws that unfairly benefited corporations exploiting and/or abusing consumers and workers need to be repealed. Some more protections need to be passed. There will be a certain amount of workplace chatter needed on that. However, I figure most will happen on social media, in phone calls, in in-person visits, letters to politicians, media appearances, presentations to executives convincing them some regulations are in their interests, presentations to their lobbyists, etc. About 99% of this can take place without ever talking about it in the workplace. A combination of corporate/social media and voter threats by itself changes all kinds of stuff when it happens.

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                          Seems that your argument is

                          1. People risk their livelihood talking about changes to workplace politics (this is true)
                          2. Politic free workplaces exist, and they are good.
                          3. People are better served not to piss off the people in power (their bosses).

                          I would argue #2 is only true when everyone has equal power. Otherwise it may SEEM politics free, but only because nobody talks about it power structures. Valve might be an example of the latter.

                          In regards to #3, it is well known people get fired for talking about politics on social media outside of work.

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                            Ill just tell you specifically to make it easier. I think there’s workplace that want to minimize politics, often their outgroup. These may be unofficial or something pushed openly.There’s workplaces that accept politics with diverse views. I prefer the latter but most are in former, esp politics/law-influencing companies. Your advice has to work in those environments.

                            Now, in those companies, people are often punished in some way for discussing politucs that goes against the norm internally or on social media. My advice is to just not work at them if possible. If people do, then be careful with political discussion. Social media can be safer if among people whose settimgs exclude their bosses. Almost all my coworkers do that but mostly messenger apps now.

                            Change at the companies will mainly be won, though, at the management and executive level convincing them to try stuff. Otherwise, it has to be forced through media or courts which are outside the workplace. So, lots of poitical discussion in workplace in biased companies will still be useless if political opponents are in control. Gotta aim at them or just work where it’s a better fit.

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                              Change at the companies will mainly be won, though, at the management and executive level convincing them to try stuff.

                              No change at companies is won through reason. They understand only one thing, how does it affect my bottom line. So that’s where you hit them if you want change. A really devious way to do that is called work to rule. Since so many programmers work overtime, work-to-rule can be really really good. But it’s better if society didn’t let people get into a situation where so few have so much power. But that’s another story.

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                                re reason. You can win change through reason. Companies have changed that way. Like you said, you focus on how the changes benefit the bottom line. Especially in a way that helps executives get bonuses. :)

                                re work to rule. Oh, I love that one. It can work if you have termination protection. Since we’re union, I used it to do tens of thousands in damage to a bad manager’s numbers one time. The spread of At-Will Employment was partly intended to counter stuff like that. They can usually fire people for nothing without significant consequences in those states.

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                                  People love being told what to do. It’s the greatest flaw in communism.

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                                    And where is your proof that people love being told what to do? Or are you just guessing.

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                                      I’m not just guessing. This is a major fact of humanity, most people prefer to be sheep.

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                                        Prefer to take orders because they do? There is a huge difference between wanting to and having to. People are born into a world already messed up.

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                      Did anybody click on the “Programmer-archeologist” link and find that the subject of the referenced thread is a broken link? Archive link.

                      A subject close to my heart; a few years ago I transcribed that passage from “A Deepness in the Sky”.

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                        Refuse to work on systems that […]

                        Touché!