2021-04-02

 02 Apr 2021  notes

Code is not Political

Technology is agnostic of politics inasmuch as the bits and bytes in a codebase have no idea for what purpose they are being compiled. Any attempt to brand software as a political tool — without acknowledging that tools are given purpose by the hands that wield them — is simply an attempt to fit technology’s very existence into an ideological worldview.

The spirit of Free & Open-Source Software (FOSS) is designed to provide to the wider world tools that are licensed in such a way that trying to control their usage in a zero-sum manner is an exercise in futility.

I think code is just a tool and to a larger degree, so is any and all technology.

Some developers posit that software defines the world: I don’t think it does. It’s just one of many tools used to contend with, and bring order to, the chaos of the world.

For example, it’s nothing new that China is using software and technology platforms for the suppression of democracy, oppressive monitoring of their own citizenry, and even modern-day crimes against humanity  being perpetrated against the Uyghur population.

But the tool that will stop China isn’t going to be software in any solitary sense; it will be a gamut of tools ranging from military force, financial sanctions, diplomatic efforts, and fearless journalism. And journalism itself is a tool that’s only as strong as the arm that wields it — the arm of truth or the arm of propaganda.

If you’re a caveman and you see another caveman with an axe, you should make your own axe. What you shouldn’t do is associate the axe with the other caveman’s tribe and claim it’s a political tool (even though you also are capable of possessing your own axe). This analogy works because politics is tribal, and politicizing code in terms of licenses, community splits, and even the legality of tools themselves is layering the software community with a veneer of tribalism. I really don’t have a clue as to how deep a problem this is, but tribalism is never good.

Marshall McLuhan once wrote that “we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” I hope we can stop at the part where we shape our tools and give them purpose. What happens with those tools afterwards is not an indictment of their creators, but rather should be an indictment of those who pick them up.

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