Open offer: "Politics in tech" sessions

The matter of politics in tech keeps coming up over and over again, especially in governance discussions, and tends to explode into non-constructive arguing. At the same time, I think there are a lot of people who are just unfamiliar with the arguments raised, and who (because of the explosive arguing) don’t get the space to explore those ideas.

So, experimentally, I’m offering free private discussion sessions on the topic of politics in tech, where I will explain things like:

  • When people say “tech is inherently political”, why is that, and what does it mean?
  • How does that affect NixOS?
  • What are some examples in NixOS where this became (or still is) relevant?
  • How do you deal with this in a constructive way, even if you disagree with someone?
  • And so on, and so forth

I’m offering these sessions for free, but under some conditions, because my time and energy is not infinite either. So…

What you can expect from me:

  • Explanations and answers to any questions you might have on how technology and politics intersect, as well as marginalized perspectives (on technology and more broadly) and how other people experience things.
  • At least several hours of my time in doing this, and (insofar possible) as long as is needed to clarify these topics for you.
  • I will keep the content and existence of the conversations private. It’s up to you whether to disclose to others that you are having them.
  • I will not be judgmental, even if I consider your views problematic. There will be plenty of room to make mistakes as well, as long as they are genuinely mistakes and you are willing to learn from them. I do not expect you to be perfect, just open to change.
  • I will be clear about what I expect from you in this process, and you can ask for clarification about that at any time.

What I will not do or accept, ie. my boundaries:

  • Debate. If you are going into this with the expectation of having a debate where I need to prove you wrong, your sessions will come to an abrupt end. I am happy to explain things in detail, but you need to be open to hearing and considering them without immediately getting defensive.
  • Claims or statements disguised as questions. I will happily answer your questions, including very detailed or seemingly odd ones, as long as they are genuine questions and not an attempt to bait me into debate, nor rhetoric to make a point.
  • Being disrespectul of my limited time or energy. The sessions will be scheduled when it works for both of us, and if you try to pressure or guilt me into allocating you more time or energy than I have to spend, you will get none of it.
  • Other bad-faith rhetoric. I know how to spot this early, and I won’t have arguments about whether it’s rhetoric or not - if I call out rhetoric on your part, then you are expected to take a step back and think about why, not keep pushing it.

This is an opportunity for everyone with genuine interest in the topic but no idea where to start, to get guided through it and have their questions answered, in a safe, non-judgmental and consequence-free environment. But I want to be clear that it will not necessarily be easy, and it’s likely to require critical self-reflection and other such effort on your part, so you should be prepared for that.

If that sounds good to you, then hit me up on Matrix (@joepie91:pixie.town) or in a DM here - the sessions themselves will be text-based on either Matrix or IRC, though.

(Note that I will not engage in discussion under this post about the merits or lack thereof of this offer. If you have a clarification question, please do ask. If you’re interested, then message me. Otherwise, please refrain from commenting.)

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I think I indeed do have a few clarification questions.

  1. What does it mean to you to deal with disagreement in a constructive way? I have seen you use this word “constructive” on Matrix, but I had a hard time understanding what it means to you.

  2. If I engage with you in private discussion sessions, will this be a genuinely open non-judgmental conversation? Or more concretely, will you view yourself as being able to make genuine mistakes about the most important points as well and learn from them? I somehow get the impression reading your proposal that you assume you already know all the relevant things and you are just intent on sharing a presumed expertise. But I am open to this being a false impression.

  3. Calling out something as rhetoric btw. is itself rhetoric. That is one of the things that make me suspicious that this might not be a genuinely open offer for non-judgmental discussion. But again I might be entirely wrong. So if you could clarify the nature of these sessions, I’d appreciate it.

I would really be interested in this because I do have a genuine and long-standing interest in the topic. And having an open conversation in a genuinely safe, non-judgmental and consequence-free environment would be great thing indeed.

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As a community, we’ve recently struggled to have conversations related to this idea without overheating. I’m encouraged by joepie91’s attitude and approach here, and I would like to see this experiment succeed. Given the volatility of the subject matter, I’d like to ask everyone who might be interested in having joepie91 as a tutor to remember periodically to reflect on your emotional temperature, and to bias yourself toward taking some time to cool off if you need it. (This is a preemptive request, not a specific response to APCodes.) Respectful speech remains a basic expectation of NixOS spaces.

If you aren’t interested in this offer, I would join joepie91 in asking you to refrain from engaging in this thread. If you have concerns about the appropriateness of this topic for the NixOS Discourse, I invite you to contact me privately to discuss them.

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Generally: to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion. That is not achieved through a ‘debate’ trying to establish ‘who is right’, nor through a compromise that leaves everyone unhappy, but through gaining a mutual understanding of each party’s needs and concerns, and trying to find a solution that meets all of those needs (which will frequently not be the idea that either party might have started with).

A discussion about that topic would likely mostly revolve around the factors that make such constructive discussion impossible, what specific behaviours/approaches/etc. turn a discussion combative instead of constructive, how common cultural conventions around debate play into this, and so on.

Yes, but. This is one of my topics of expertise and I have spent the past 15 years or so pretty much full-time refining my understanding of it, meaning that it’s statistically unlikely that someone will come up with an argument or perspective that I have not already previously considered. It occasionally still does happen, I watch for this, and when it occurs I will take a step back and re-evaluate accordingly.

Importantly, this doesn’t mean that I am willing to debate claims and arguments I have heard a hundred times before, which is often where these sorts of discussions go in public, and I do expect people taking me up on this offer to recognize that this is my field of expertise, and that if it isn’t specifically theirs (“having opinions on it” is not sufficient), then there are likely nuances that they are missing.

That means that they can expect in-depth explanations and rationales (it wouldn’t be much expertise otherwise!), but it likewise means that I won’t put up with “telling the physicist that they don’t understand how multiplication works” type stuff. It is still an educational session, not a debate club.

It is a condition of me being open to this, because I do not intend to spend endless amounts of time and energy on cheap shots that take 100x as much time to debunk as they take to make. If one has genuine interest in learning more about this, then rhetoric should not be necessary to ask questions, and so this would not come up in the first place.

So if I call out rhetoric, then there is a good reason for that, and I do expect it to be taken seriously, without “no actually you are the one doing…”-style arguing. It doesn’t have to mean the end of the session - I understand that for some people, rhetoric is an integral part of how they’ve learned to discuss, and that it takes time to change that, but I do expect a serious effort to that end.

In summary: yes, this is a genuine offer, but I do also need to set personal boundaries that I will not budge on to make this sustainable for myself. Those boundaries are not going to be for everyone. That is fine. For those who can accept those boundaries, they will get exactly what is promised here.

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Thank you for the extensive reply, @joepie91. It does however not yet lead to an entirely mutually satisfactory conclusion on a nature of these discussions. For some reason the lack of clarity that concerns me repeats itself in the response. So I might need to approach this from a different angle once more.

What appears to be the case with your proposal as I perceive it, and which might of course be entirely wrong, is this: from what appears to me to be the case, you reserve yourself the right to engage in rhetoric when you see fit. You then claim that for some people rhetoric is an integral part of discussion, making it seem as if it wasn’t for you. However we have just seen that it appears to be the case for you as well. And this appears to be not just accidental to you, as you make it the essential precondition you set. I would call that a strange tension. And it’s an interesting one I think. This tension appears to be apt to divert attention from the fact that you are arguing rhetorically yourself in many ways. Furthermore, you also do not want to be called out on that one, yet you do wish to call out others. I would call that a double standard. Furthermore, not only do you apparently not want to be called out yourself while doing it to others, you also appear to entertain the wish to be the final arbiter of truth on calling out others justifiably, as you simply presume that “there is a good reason” (notice: you say is and not most likely is, which might be warranted by your presumed expertise, should it exist) and “expect it to be taken seriously”. This latter part, the expectation against someone else to make the existence of good reasons for you their own good reason, and hence the presumption of a power to give good reasons to other people, I would call a presumption of authority and an establishment of hierarchy. It is at this point that any genuine conversation as I understand it would come to an end. So this chain of appearances is most unfortunate.

Hierarchy typically has the characteristic of not being very much interested in gaining “mutual understanding of each party’s needs and concerns”. Rather it prioritizes one party’s needs and concerns over the other. For why else would you need hierarchy?

So from what I perceive right now, your entire proposal is characterized by an approach that is “combative instead of constructive” by your own standard. Much harm, I fear, might arise from this if people engage with this proposal without understanding it’s problems.

I do wish to join @rhendric very much in seeing this offer succeed. But it is important to be clear that it needs to be genuinely concerned with what it claims to be concerned with and not its opposite.

Once the things that I so far perceive as unclear presumptions are acknowledged to be clearly open problems in a genuine conversation which both sides wish to entertain without hierarchy and the need to calling things out.

I will now disengage from this thread for the future. But if you can clarify this sufficiently in a mutually satisfactory way, I will let you know that you have done so to me.

(final sidenote @Kranzes : I am not sure what your point is here. You don’t think that when someone sees statements like “the only way to counter manipulation through irrationality, is by manipulating people back into rationality” they will feel encouraged that this is an honest open offer? Note: I read this only after what I wrote outside this bracket.)

Edit: this version has been shorted considerably upon request from a community member in order to protect the cognitive resources of people reading it.

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As I have indicated in the original post, I do not intend to discuss the merits or lack thereof of this offer, in this thread. Critical discussions about my approach can be had, and I regularly do so, but this is neither the time nor place for that. And this is very clearly veering into debating the approach, rather than asking genuine clarifying questions.

If the terms of the offer are not to your liking, then that is fine, it simply means that this offer is not for you.

I think clarifying the approach’s nature is important, though. But yes, it might mean it is not for me. And as I said before, I don’t intend on commenting on any aspects of it any further. I suggest we leave it at that and let people decide on their own.