The last apolitical developer


I’ve been witnessing a recent scary trend from developers that I consider pretty close to me on the political spectrum calling for people to unfollow certain individuals for simply expressing their different opinions, and calling them out for their bigotry. The irony of this cannot be overstated, as bigotry literally means intolerance towards those who hold different opinions.

Fight the urge to categorize people

It’s very tempting to discredit and vilify individuals based on as little information as possible, like they voted for X so they’re dead to me, they said Y so I’ll unfollow them. This isn’t productive.

The way to get through to people is by showing empathy. This doesn’t mean agreeing with their opinions or even accepting them, it simply means acknowledging them and trying to understand where they come from, without precipitating judgement of the individuals themselves.

There will always be people with different opinions, this is a reality that you cannot wish away, so a much more productive way to advance as a community is to let your social context or timeline have people from all sides and follow a few simple rules:

In most cases you shouldn’t even try to change people’s mind, it’s often an exercise in frustration and very few people seek to be reasoned away from their preconceptions. Instead, it’s fine to just casually show that you exist with your own opinions.

If both sides abide by this, statistically a small fraction of these engagements will bring people closer together. If nobody does this then everyone will further retreat into their echo chambers, and both polarization and hate will go unchecked. It’s true, you cannot influence the other side, but you can certainly influence your own.

Hate can take many forms

Hate isn’t just racism and discrimination, any kind of behavior that pushes people apart, such as mocking different opinions, heavy-handed use of sarcasm, bringing the attention of a hostile audience to someone’s tweet, replying with funny or clever tweets that can only ever make one side laugh, all of these are their own form of hate.

We need to recognize hate whenever we see it because hate is a fire that can only be extinguished on all fronts simultaneously. If you only recognize and condemn one type of hate, you’re just fanning the flames, if you condemn both, you’re actually fighting the fire.

But I’m apolitical!

You may not be affiliated with a political party, and may not care about politics in general, but apathy towards the political process is not a magical mantle of neutrality that allows you to mind your own business in any and all circumstances without fear of judgement.

There’s an expectation that people don’t go about business as usual in the midst of outrageous events. I think anyone can understand this expectation because it’s unlikely that they would walk by someone torturing a baby and not try to either stop it or draw attention to it.

So there’s clearly a line beyond which apathy is unacceptable, and you better believe that if you fall too far on the wrong side of that line, claiming to be apolitical will not prevent you from facing social judgement.

The right thing is rarely the easiest

Casting twitter stones at those who deserve them may seem like hard work, but it’s definitely easier and safer than going out and doing real-world activism.

Likewise, staying silent in the face of racial injustice may seem a bit uncomfortable right now, but it’s definitely easier than offering your slightly nuanced opinions to an audience with no patience left for nuance.

I don’t mean to judge whether anyone is doing the right thing right now, but I’m a firm believer that the right thing is usually not the easiest, yet I still often chose the easiest myself so I wouldn’t blame you for doing the same.

I will however blame you for judging your fellow developer. Don’t unfollow them because they’re a Twitter activist. Don’t unfollow them because they’re not. And above all else, don’t unfollow someone you respect as a developer because they hold different opinions.

Actions, not opinions, should offend you

If you exclude the influence of information and misinformation — something I could write an entire article about — people have different opinions essentially because of three reasons:

That’s it. None of those are any individual’s fault. Nobody chooses their genetics, the context in which they were raised, or what happens to them. So if those three things dictate their opinions and they don’t control them, as much as you can hate their opinions why hate them? This is the most pointless use of your hate, when it could instead be directed at the developers who put footers with controls at the bottom of infinite scrolling websites.

Remember, people are free to change their opinions over time, and some in fact do, but others turn opinions into spiteful action. This is the end of the pass, once someone takes action it’s perfectly reasonable to want to react, and to resent the individual himself and not just their opinions.

Action is not just physical action, and the difference between actions and opinions is not always obvious. A good rule of thumb to differentiate between opinions and actions is to keep in mind that stated opinions can change, but once done actions cannot be undone.

The line between conscionable and unconscionable is sometimes thin, but it’s important. While people are entitled to their opinions — even the ones every fiber of your body disagrees with — racist behavior is not an opinion, neither is publicly expressing derogatory feelings towards an individual (also called bullying) or group of people (also called discrimination), nobody’s entitled to those and they should never go unpunished.

This will never work

The point of the above is not to make it work, it’s not your responsibility to make any of this work, the point is to recognize that polarization is depriving our society from progress, and to make a conscious decision to not be part of the polarization problem specifically.

Once you’ve made this decision and once you’ve acknowledged that any specific individual’s opinions are immaterial, you’ll perhaps be ready to focus on what you as a simple developer can do. Developers have a fundamental role to play in what’s to come, but that’s a story for another time.

For now, just find peace in not being part of the problem, continue to express yourself if you feel the need to, and know that I’ll never unfollow you for just sharing your honest opinion, whatever it is.

I'd like to thank @chrsteinert, @pim_brouwers, and especially @SieraSolutions for reading this before it was published. This article has been re-written several times, and whole paragraphs have been dropped to not detract from the core message. I've been told to make it about anyone not just developers, but that's who I am and who I write for ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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This is a commemorative article to celebrate my first 128 followers. That number is tiny I know, but I only started writing recently and never advertised it to any friends or colleagues, so this is literally 128 strangers that read what I wrote in the last few months and decided to follow me. Thank you. So much. See you at 2^8.
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