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No politics please, we're hackers, too busy to improve the world (jacquesmattheij.com)
420 points by Xylakant on June 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 274 comments

Jacques M,

Presumably, you have read through the comments of the referenced thread[1]. If so, your essay omits a perspective about politics dicussion that many HN participants have. I'll attempt to summarize that position:

1) Yes, politics is extremely important.

2) Yes, politics touches every subject.

3) Yes, HN readers perform technical work in programming and hardware that affects politics, and vice versa.

4) All that said, the politics discussion on HN and similar sites is low quality, bad signal-to-noise ratio, full of emotional comments instead of insightful ones.

5) The overall net effect of political discussion on HN is negative and we'd rather not have 1 of the valuable 30 slots of the front page taken up by a political story (e.g. "Trump denies climate change.")

To reiterate the points above, it does not mean "climate change" is unimportant or that HN posters are "burying their head in the sand". That's a 1-dimensional caricature of the people who'd rather get their diet of political discourse from somewhere else besides HN.

Therefore, it's possible to simultaneously hold the view that politics is super important and they don't want it on HN. Your essay doesn't address this perspective.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13108404

Another intrinsic problem with politics on HN:

A lot of the best posts on HN are narrowly specialized, so that apart from maybe asking questions, most HN commenters can't contribute much (but benefit from reading!).

But political arguments are available to every member of the site, no matter how specialized the story might be.

So we get situations like Amazon announcing Route 53, and the thread being hijacked with comments about how Amazon handled Wikileaks, or a new paper on measuring and mitigating statistical bias in machine learning algorithms hijacked with comments about political correctness.

Politics often literally prevents us from discussing technical stories, by forcing us to wade through banal political detritus to get to the comments that have anything to do with the technical issues.

We also inevitably get technical threads being derailed by people complaining that the posted site blocks their ad-blockers, is behind a paywall or uses javascript, but for some reason those aren't considered as off-topic as tangential politics.

Those are in fact all off-topic, and get off-topic-detached by 'dang and 'sctb routinely!

Maybe the quality of the political discussion is so crappy because we don't talk about it?

My experience is that one has to express their emotional relationship to problems and be aware of it before they can actually insightfully engage with problems; if people don't, they just introduce their emotional biases into their problem solving and pretend they're not.

That works in personal therapy. If you expect people in a thread of hundreds of partisan comments to have some kind of catharsis, please see r/politics.

It's too complex of a topic and too emotional to be discussed in a large group setting.

You make a good point, but I don't think it's a foregone conclusion - think this is an area of open research - could we build UX for discussion forums that don't encourage and highlight shouting matches? I think the wide-open nature of twitter, for example, where everyone can immediately jump in on any conversation without context or consequences encourages such shouting matches and abusive comments.

There's a reason a one-on-one discussion is much likelier to at least be resolved in amicable disagreement and a greater understanding of perspectives, versus online "discussion" is often about vast hordes of people participating in one single "conversation" one comment at a time, while also trying to get upvotes.

I think it's quite possible to alleviate this, but requires getting over the simplistic per-comment upvote/everyone can comment on every thread model.

The primary reason for the immense difficulty is that casual political discussions are almost entirely wild speculation and conjecture. The topics are too vast and complex. Most people don't have the tools and understanding needed to have deep insights or meaningfully predict the actual impacts of different approaches. Throw in the emotional and tribal components, and it's not surprising that politics is a never-ceasing shitstorm.

This isn't true for every issue. Some things are relatively simple, like gay marriage for example. But the more obvious issues tend to get settled eventually, even if takes a few decades or centuries :)

It amazes me that I rarely see this discussed. Of course, I also fall in this bucket.

But wait a second, the "detox experiment" was abandoned after only two days. 'dang summarized the learnings as

"it's impossible to define 'politics' with any consensus because that question is itself highly political, and that HN is at its best when it can meander through all the (intellectually) interesting things, some of which inevitably have political dimensions."

More at https://medium.com/a-change-is-coming/learning-from-hacker-n...

Yes, and the key words there are "intellectually interesting" (as opposed to other kinds of interesting) and "some".

The other thing to understand is that this has always been the policy. It hasn't changed, other than the few times we've run explicitly temporary experiments, like the no-politics one or Erlang day as described elsewhere in this thread.

Right. In fact, I included your quote saying "the existing guidelines have it about right" in my essay. So I thought it was pretty entertaining that the top-rated comment here summarizes the discussion in the post announcing the experiment without paying any attention to the result of the experiment.

>without paying any attention to the result of the experiment.

The results are not relevant to my criticism of JM's specific essay:

He's misrepresenting the people who don't want politics discussion as "ostriches". The extra nuance he ignores is that many HN'rs acknowledge the pervasiveness of politics. Many also desire political discussion -- but not on HN.

He equates "avoidance of politics" == "politics not important fingers stuck in ears"

His essay does not address the issue of "avoidance of politics" == "avoidance low-quality emotional posts".

By omitting the full nuance of the opposing position, he's distorting the argument in his favor.

The people you're citing in that thread were supporting an absolute ban on political discussion on HN. That certainly sounds like ostriching to me. And sure, JM could have pointed out the specific nuanced intellectual incoherency of the people in that thread acknowledging pervasiveness of politics and then trying to exclude politics from discussions here - 'dang described it as "delusional" - but I don't see him leaving that out as distorting his argument.

>incoherency of the people in that thread acknowledging pervasiveness of politics and then trying to exclude politics from discussions here

It's not "incoherent" at all and by using that label, you're falling into the same trap as JM using the label "ostrich mentality".

Imagine a political science professor that lived and breathed "politics" all the time such that he teaches classrooms, writes books, and sits on panels debating various policies with others. Now, imagine a friend's mother invites him to Thanksgiving dinner. It is suggested that politics not be discussed. Yes, the professor could be impossibly obstinate about it and say, "that's delusional -- there are politics in the production of that turkey, the food lobby, the creation of the Federal Holidays, etc. Politics is embedded in _everything_!"

However, the professor doesn't have to be that inflexible. He can avoid politics talk during that dinner and the very next day, sit on a panel with Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens and debate every political hot button topic under the sun.

Turning off-and-on the political discourse switch for certain venues is not "ostrich mentality" nor "incoherent". Perhaps there's a different reason that some people don't want politics on HN: the political comments are low quality.

Likewise, the mother isn't delusional/incoherent in thinking that politics doesn't exist everywhere. She's just attempting to set the tone for a pleasant agreeable evening.

I'd paraphrase this last interaction as

me: it's incoherent to see politics as pervasive and then try to exclude politics from discussions of technology

you: it's not incoherent to see politics as pervasive and then exclude them from a social holiday dinner where the goal is a pleasant agreeable vibe

We seem to be speaking at cross-purposes.

Anyhow, I agree with you many people on HN say they don't want political discussion on HN because they see the comments as low-quality, or breaking what they otherwise see as a pleasant and agreeable vibe. And I think I understand your perspective:

- you think the OP would be stronger if it had mentioned that - you don't like it when people characterize your position (acknowleding the importance of politics but still not wanting to have political discussions on Hacker News) as avoidance ("ostrich mentality") or intellectually incoherent

> 4) All that said, the politics discussion on HN and similar sites is low quality, bad signal-to-noise ratio, full of emotional comments instead of insightful ones.

Disagree. Because what about that phrase from extreme programming / devops: Bring the pain forward.

Maybe if there hadn't been censure, we'd be inclined to work here on better ways to have controversial, emotional conversations. See: pol.is https://blog.pol.is/pol-is-in-taiwan-da7570d372b5

I was personally really disappointed in premise of the detox -- though perhaps more retrospectively as time wore on and I saw this place neutered. I now go elsewhere for my fix of political ideation and creativity.

> Therefore, it's possible to simultaneously hold the view that politics is super important and they don't want it on HN.

I grudgingly fell into this category. For a long time, I was frustrated that certain technology-related political topics were being banished from HN, but watching what is happening to other online communities I must accept that this is the best practice. I used to love Slashdot, but that community has grown completely toxic, and I blame the flame-war political discussions for its decline.

I heavily follow the Science Online community on twitter because I loved the sense of wonder I got from the articles all the PhDs were sharing. Now I open twitter, get infected with their outrage, and take it out on my political-opposites on Facebook. I've had to limit my social media exposure and unfollow a lot of people in an effort to stay out of that bad mental place.

I need a place where I can forget about politics and recharge my sense of wonder. We need to keep HN a sanctuary for rationality and promoting human-improvability.

This is just a rationalization.

Yes, much political discourse on HN tends to be lower quality.

However, trying to establish HN as a "politics-free zone" is not only impossible but deeply problematic when so many of us work on things that are politically important. (I'm trying to avoid rehashing the whole article's argument again here.)

Getting your diet of political discourse somewhere else effectively means staying in your ideological filter bubble when you talk about politics. The political discussions here are valuable precisely because we can't do that here; HN members are self-selected by interests that cross-cut political lines.

The perspective that politics shouldn't be discussed because it is difficult is the rationalization, and the underlying motivation for some is the desire to treat tech and the work we do as apolitical, because to do otherwise would have uncomfortable consequences.

The political discussions here are valuable precisely because we can't do that here; HN members are self-selected by interests that cross-cut political lines.

That's only the case because the guidelines and moderation practices are set up to keep political flamewars off the site. Those benefits would evaporate very quickly if HN was allowed to become a political free-for-all.

The perspective that politics shouldn't be discussed because it is difficult is the rationalization.

The difficulty of political discussion isn't the rationalisation; the rationalisation is the predictability and mundaneness, and pointless incivility; i.e., people get emotionally heated, but resolve nothing and nobody learns anything. Nobody benefits and the quality of the site only degrades.

Topics related to politics are discussed here quite successfully all the time, and when it happens it's because the topic and resulting discussion is gratifying to one's curiosity and/or evidence of some interesting new phenomenon , as per the site guidelines.

the underlying motivation for some is the desire to treat tech and the work we do as apolitical, because to do otherwise would have uncomfortable consequences.

Few people are intelligent and socially-aware enough to be a high achievers in their business or career and yet naïve enough to think that their work is apolitical. And plenty of prominent HN contributors are perfectly capable of expressing strong political positions in their tweets and blog posts but keeping them out of their comments on HN.

> That's only the case because the guidelines and moderation practices are set up to keep political flamewars off the site.

I agree. But it's not the political topics that are the problem, it's the incivility.

Keeping incivility out of political discussions is more difficult than keeping politics out of technical discussions.

However, there are discussions that we should be having, around professional ethics, data privacy, censorship, advertising, etc, that are inseparably both political and technical.

I do think plenty of people are high achievers as engineers but want to regard their work as apolitical.

While we should not tolerate incivility, we should also be willing to face political issues and differences with consideration and respect. If the people on HN can't do that, who can?

>However, there are discussions that we should be having, around professional ethics, data privacy, censorship, advertising, etc,

Those tech topics intertwined with politics wasn't what I was talking about. (That is why I used the more purely political example of "Trump denies climate change" instead of a tech story like "Facebook attacks data privacy.")

And that example is the same theme dang was explaining in a previous comment[1]:

2016-12-06 -- "We can clarify, though. The main concern here is pure politics: the conflicts around party, ideology, nation, race, gender, class, and religion that get people hot and turn into flamewars on the internet. We're not so concerned about stories on other things that happen to have political aspects—like, say, software patents. Those stories aren't going to be evicted from HN or anything like that."

dang's examples are very different from your political topics such as "professional ethics, data privacy, censorship, advertising". You'll notice that your examples are the type of topics that virtually all of HN readers will pile on the comments in violent agreement. Those topics don't create incivility. In fact, (modulo a few contrarians) they tend to foster a lovefest instead of flamewars!

Unfortunately, dang buried the "politics" clarification deep in that thread instead of spelling it out at the very top of the detox announcement so a lot of people got confused into thinking that political topics like "data privacy" and "software patents" was being censored.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13108614

I'm actually talking about the conversations we don't have here about those same issues, because many people's salaries depend on them not understanding them.

(I'm stating that in general terms because any specific example would be subjective and would tend to sidetrack the discussion.)

I'm not taking issue with the way HN is moderated. What I do want to point out is that there is a tendency in this community (and among engineers) to avoid political ramifications and pretend that technical work exists in a vacuum.

It's this problem that I believe Mr. Mattheij is also getting at, and the idea of HN as a politics-free zone is just one of many manifestations.

I agree that the net effect of general political discussion on HN is negative.

Jacques M did not post his article to HN though - that was someone else. He put it it on his own blog, where surely he's entitled to talk about politics if he wants to.

Furthermore, in the article there's no mention of Trump anywhere. He's taking about the intersection of politics and technology, and surely there needs to be a metaspace to talk about that somewhere, even if that space is not on HN? (For example, SO has a meta.) Otherwise, if we Hackers cede that metaspace entirely then the lawyer types who run the world from Davos will just decide for us. [1]

[1] I don't agree with everything he says, but IIRC I first read that sentiment expressed by Eben Moglen, though I don't

"Trump denies climate change" is not a political story.

It's a story that takes a place of a tech politis story that could be there.

True, but unfortunately, those are the stories we're talking about - because those are the ones media write.

If you can and post a story called "Detailed analysis of Trump's new energy policy", that features credible facts and figures instead of opinions, simplifications and insults, it will have pretty good chances of sticking on the front page here.

You can find those analysis, but try submitting a link to the CATO blog and just watch. They are a libertarian site with good articles on climate, taxes, and government abuse; mostly police misconduct.

the whole recent climate issue is a bunch of people not understanding the Paris accord and assuming it did so much more than it would. it was a "in name only" agreement much like other agreements created and implemented in the last decade

And thanks to "political" discussions between highly informed HN members I learned that (Paris being toothless).

I'd say I benefited a lot from that discussion, as did a lot of other people. So I guess create controversy with whatever links you like, so we all can learn something.

I disagree with you on 4): there are quite a few insightful interesting discussions on HN about politics I've observed and been part of. They have changed my mind and made me think about things. I find political comments on HN to be noticeably higher quality than other sites, though I'll grant political HN comments are lower quality than technical HN comments.

But the main point I'd like to bring up is this: what you're saying is true about politics in general. But there are a lot of politics which are explicitly about technology and more specifically software technology. Political decisions are being made and laws are being passed that effect our industry, livelihoods, and lives and the community as a whole is infected with this head-in-sand "I'm above politics, politics isn't truly 'geeky' so I don't deal with it, I check out when people describe their emotions or lives instead of technical runtime analysis" attitude. I've observed it online in forums, in industry, in academia, it is an unfortunate facet of the cultural place the tech community inhabits.

But if all of the technical experts eschew politics then these political decisions that seriously effect our lives and our work will still be made: but without our input. By refusing to discuss and create politically active technical communities we cede all power to people who know nothing and care even less about the important technical issues of our time.

The tech community is pretty wide ranging in its political beliefs, but when we discuss the politics of technology there is general consensus on many issues among most: NN is good, banning encryption is bad, unrestricted access to the Internet is of fundamental importance and a liberating force, it would be better to have a choice of ISP, software patents are too broad, copyright/IP law is too extreme and stifles creativity, mass surveillance is troubling (whether you think it is also necessary or not).

There are a variety of extremely political issues that are fundamental to tech:

1) Should developers have a professional organization or union with e.g. ethical standards and certifications?

2) As a fundamental moral question, how do we feel about/what should we do about the millions of workers we personally displace and leave jobless through automation?

3) How, if at all, should the Internet be regulated? Is it a utility? Antitrust?

4) Immigration and outsourcing technical jobs.

5) What should happen when law enforcement demands information that is protected by encryption? Should encryption that the FBI cannot break be allowed?

6) How should copyright and IP work with respect to software, algorithms, APIs?

7) Should developers be held accountable for writing software that leaks data? Should users have fundamental rights to their own data? Privacy?

8) Regulations on IoT devices like cars

The list can go on and on and on. While I'd agree a thread on climate change might not be particularly insightful or interesting here, it is crucial the tech community discusses the issues above regularly so that when a bill is put forth, or input is elicited, there is an actual community of experts that present a (reasonably) united front, who have discussed these things amongst themselves.

If we had banned political discussion on HN and sites like it, SOPA would probably be law right now. It was stopped because the entire tech community discussed it constantly, came to an agreement that it was bad, and took extreme collective political action against it.

>While I'd agree a thread on climate change might not be particularly insightful or interesting here, it is crucial the tech community discusses the issues above

Your "tech politics" isn't what the detox experiment was about. Please see my other reply that repeats dang's clarification: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14476525

I'd agree here. There's no reason to discuss politics on HN when there are numerous other places to do so.

HN is a forum about technology and the startup world, let's keep it about that.

I kinda like the eclectic mix of articles linked on HN, and offers something in terms of content discovery.

Why not just browse Reddit, then? r/all should give a good mix of content. If that's not to your taste, pick subreddits that interest you.

EDIT: Sorry if this came off as snarky, but it wasn't intended that way.

No absolutely, don't apologise - I get where you're coming from, sometimes the stuff that gets posted isn't necessarily current or even particularly important, but its regularly /interesting/.

I like to think of it as being in a bar with a whole bunch of super smart, interesting people. Sometimes I've got nothing to add or I simply don't get it, but its consistently interesting, and occasionally unexpected and brilliant.

Heck, there was an article about butterflies the other day, it was pretty damn good, and something I'd never have read otherwise. For me at least that is HN - nerdy stuff with occasional flashes of brilliance.

I would add though that the HN community at large, when we do slide into politics, does have by far and away the most interesting discussions on that topic I've ever read. There's no comparison to Facebook IMHO.

If the net effect of political discourse on HN is negative, it's a pretty good sign that the community needs to grow the fuck up. If we're unable to examine our role in the world -- what is happening and how our work fits in -- anyone advertising a startup as "world-changing" is dangerous, naive, or dangerously naive.

That said, dang almost ran me out of here for daring to call out conspiracy theorists out on their BS, so perhaps things are broken by design.

Please note, this is just my 2 cents.

Political discourse ruins online communities for people looking for technical and not political discussions. It's ruined Reddit as a technical forum; I have to filter several subreddits from r/all because I'm trying to avoid Trump news, and r/technology fought long and hard to keep political posts from dominating their subreddit, which it now does.

More here: https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/23y1j4/meta_doe...

Basically, I want there to exist a safe space for computer engineers that I may disagree with politically to talk solely about solutions and products that solve technical problems, and not get sidetracked with whether or not I agree that Donald Trump having Patriot Act powers is terrible. I don't need yet another circlejerk in my life, I want the news.

You know how you have that hacker meetup, or small conference that starts off as all meaty tech topics? How great that feels to be able to learn/teach/demonstrate advanced topics knowing that everyone is on the same page. Then gradually money/business interests get involved to the point that the fundamental flavor of the group changes, and the first ones to leave are the most interesting. Five years later it's just a bunch of business/sales guys in suits giving power point presentations to each other. Of course no one would say that money, or business interests aren't important, but something has been lost here that is difficult to rebuild.

It's true that we should all consider the ethical ramifications of what we do, but opening the floodgates on politics will have the cost of reducing the utility of HN. The most hyper specialized and interesting hackers are also the least likely to have time to waste arguing about the political battle of the day.

I miss Erlang day.


After the Second World War, the part of the city the Technical University of Berlin was in came under British administration.

They quickly passed a decree mandating classes in philosophy, politics, languages, and other social sciences to be required for every student–engineers, physicist, chemists etc.

The idea was that never again should a generation grow up with the power of scientific knowledge but none of the tools to judge the ethics of using that power.

Meaning: there are times where enjoying purely the wonders of technology is a luxury you can't afford. For HN, it doesn't mean a need to debate the Paris accords. But this community has quite a few people sitting at the levers of power, and where technology and politics/policy intersect, it can make a meaningful difference for people to know that the group of peers whose judgement they may value would, for example, applaud them for walking off the job instead of handing over the iPhone encryption keys.

But I doubt they mixed politics lectures into the physics course.

Of course politics is important. Doesn't mean Hacker News is the best place for a high quality discussion of politics.

HN is emphatically NOT a physics course imho. It's a social space, not a forum for content from authority.

Maybe the thing we need is a mechanism to "dose" on sharing of political thought every so often, without allowed it to overwhelm: A day of the week or a megathread, where we can then engage with our community in political convo of substance...

> we can then engage with our community in political convo of substance

This is damned optimistic. It's not as though politics doesn't show up on HN, and when it does the results are usually unpleasant and uninformative. I'm not opposed to politics-on-HN because it's a formal space, I'm opposed because historically the results have been inflammatory and useless.

I suppose its possible that structured exposure would work better than 'natural' discussions arising from politics-related links, but I"d intuitively expect the opposite. "Political threads" with no clear prompt are especially easy to derail, and I'm scared that any major experiment with this would damage HN.

That's strange because that's not how British universities work at all. Our education system from age approximately 14 onwards is concentrated on specialisation.

In the US, going for a baccalaureate usually requires "core classes" of math, sciences, arts, and politics. You're saying this is not the case in the UK?

Going for a baccalaureate in the UK you pick a subject and that's it really. The concept of majoring/minoring isn't common (possibly doesn't exist). You pick a course (e.g. CS, Law etc.) and that course will have a curriculum you follow. There may be times (usually in the latter part of the degree) where you can pick modules from various options but that generally involves even deeper specialisation (e.g. Law > Human Rights Law, CS > Machine Learning).

Specialization actually starts by the equivalent of the 12th and 13th grades of high school, fwiw.

Yes, because the British, so versed in politics, language and philosophy never created concentration camps, starved hundreds of thousands of innocents, carried out chemical warfare, did summary executions, ... /s

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_war_crimes [1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/worst-atrocit...

You know, I think you could actually swap out "tech" with "political", in your first sentence, and make everything you said equally true about politics. Because most of what actually happens in politics, starts with passionate talented people, who are creating brilliant new ways to do things better.

The more groundbreaking something new is, the more the businessmen take over. Only in politics it's the bureaucracy and career politicians rather than shareholders and MBAs (though there are more and more MBAs on the political scene as well).

I recently wrote major parts of the digitization strategy for the municipality where I work, and I participate in a lot of multi-municipality "unions" where we're working out how to digitize our future, so I may be a bit colored, but I see a lot of similarities between making politics and creating new tech.

> The most hyper specialized and interesting hackers are also the least likely to have time to waste arguing about the political battle of the day.

I find the opposite to be true. The most intelligent and experienced hackers are not hyper-specialized, but have wide ranging knowledge of computing, mathematics, science, and people. They have strong, well-considered opinions on many topics, including politics.

Spending time arguing about it on Hacker News, probably not, but face-to-face with people they respect, yes.

You'd really enjoy the Chaos Communications Congress. It's something like 20 years old I believe, it's among the best in its niche of security/hacking/thats-great-but-why??-projects, and you won't find a suit there.

It is, however, extremely political, with a strong anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalistic message.

>> You can help the spike subside by making HN look extra boring. For the next couple days it would be better to have posts about the innards of Erlang

Interesting concept, but, I (and I guess I am not alone on this one) would have found this particular topic extra interesting, and would have generated a few more site-interactions this way (instead of the other way around). But I can understand the gist of it...

Yeah, that's the point. People like you would stay, people who want cheap news discussions would leave.

Besides some minor experiences start-up world is the third worldwide phenomenon that I participated in while it grew. It was really exciting, a lot of fun, a lot of stories to tell, a lot of experiences made. But there is no reason to be sad about that it's over. It will happen again. Another topic, but it will happen, and it will be just as good and for the same reasons.

Also, it wouldn't be as good if it would stagnate at some point. I am/was also part of communities that stagnated, some since long before I was born. It's not the same level of engagement, not the same glory, not the same amount of brave, smart people. So if HN stagnated on a smaller level it wouldn't have been as good either.

For me I really found the best approach is to take it like a surfer. There are good waves and bad waves, but each one will end. Ending wave just means it's time to get ready for the next.

There was a nice long essay that looked at that same phenomenon from the context of underground music that gradually shifts in tone as it gets more popular, until the particular genre now names simply a kind of pop music that isn't really what it started off as. Sadly, I can't find a link to it, so I'll be grateful if anyone can provide one.

Still, politics are probably important and if we could engage in politics with non-techs with amazing efficiency, we might be able to have our cake and eat it too - address the political issue in 5 minutes at the start of the conference, then get back to business.

> opening the floodgates on politics will have the cost of reducing the utility of HN

I'm not apolitical, far from it, but that doesn't mean I want all the spaces I use to be politicized. And when HN does veer into politics, it almost always lowers the level of both insight and courtesy several notches from discussions of other topics.

I'm relieved to see politics stay tangential, because I think the alternative is not HN gaining insight on politics but losing it on everything else.

I think that it's more about politics and investors/advertisers not really clicking. The rest I just don't see, we already opened the flood gates to stuff like discussing "another trivial update of this piece of software a bunch of us use". Most of the comments aren't technical, and it's not like anyone ever got downvoted for telling an anecdote about their child or their parents, and "X is awesome" is exactly as valuable as "X is shit". Yet one is allowed, the other isn't.

> Wal-Mart will pay employees to deliver packages on their way home

What's the hacker angle? There isn't one. It's interesting to people who care about politics and for people with dollars in their eyes. Amazon being "in the industry" is enough. How's that interesting? Maybe it's the idea that having a lot of users or commanding a lot of investments makes something intellectually interesting, a notion that is as widespread as it is mediocre.

All in all, I often feel the best analogy to some HN subcircles is the beam breakers in Stephen King's The Dark Tower. Don't think too much about it, just do what feels good, and just avoid what scares you, nevermind how that feeds into what disfigured and forced people into settling for such a life to begin with. Gotta keep those attention spans short while pretending to be deep.

For every 10 stories about people labouring under psycho bosses for years there's one of someone standing up to them the second they violated boundaries. The opposite ratio would be a start, and people who don't do that in their life I genuinely have no business and no politics to discuss with, and I don't care for their rationalizations of their weakness and accomplicehood, either. I read and comment because different people write and read here, too.

> "political battle of the day"

That doesn't require you to not think or respond deeper than that. How many "0.001 release of the day" posts trigger people into tirades about general programming principles? How much do we learn from that? There is no consistency here, either, and if you find one interesting, why don't you find the other even more interesting?

If people understand intellectual curiosity, why don't they understand the combination of intellectual curiosity, a moral grounding, and a will? Maybe because those who don't have it can't possibly accept that they are indeed the weakest link. It's like when we assume attractive people are dumb -- we wish! Sometimes they just have and are everything we do, and then some.

The HN that had Erlang day was a lot less moderated, and people posted about politics at will. The new, heavily moderated HN is the one filled with the same bland reposts of today's stories from top 10 news sites that are on every other aggregator.

What makes HN so great is that when a topic is discussed, often someone with direct participation in the topic is somewhere in the thread, to give an inside view.

What I miss about mixing HN and politics, is that HN doesn't have politicians who can pop in and say 'oh hi guys I wrote this bill feel free to ask me some questions'.

(I'm not saying nobody on HN participates on politics, I remember reading an interesting post about someone who ran for governor(?), but those posts are rare).

For example, a podcast I love is Planet Money, and they take the time to interview economists on both sides, people who write some controversial bills, people who take part in lobbying, and even senators. This approach has really opened my eyes to the political process and I have heard many well formed counter arguments which made me reconsider some of my positions.

I cannot say I have ever experienced this on an online forum.

Personally I do not enjoy seeing politics posts in HackerNews, similarly how I don't enjoy seeing them in /. or /r/programming. Specially because they are usually US politics and I live outside that country.

I definitely enjoy my share of the circus that is happening in that space. I watch CNN usually in evenings while having dinner as a form of "light entertainment". And in the mornings I do have my share of political news reading on my preferred sources.

But when I get to a science or technology forum, I love to see science or technology news and information. Thus when suddenly the majority of items are related to politics, it turns me off.

I live in the US and still dislike political posts, largely because political differences are such a source of hatred. It always devolves into bad Hitler analogies even among otherwise intelligent people. I imagine there are some people who are just annoyed that HN won't let them spread their thinly veiled political hate; I recognize this isn't a charitable interpretation, but it's been so long since I've heard a productive political conversation online, and I've never heard one involving someone as angsty as the OP.

> a podcast I love is Planet Money, and they take the time to interview economists on both sides

Planet Money is better than average on this, but is definitely in the NPR bubble from my perspective.

I think EconTalk does the best job of airing different perspectives on (at least tangentially) economics related issues. The host has his own perspective, but he's very candid that he knows he has his own cognitive biases and often invites his guests to enlighten him by challenging those biases. It's also a longer format, so there is more time to unpack issues.

...which is a really good point. I think a lot of shallow political dialogue happens because of a lack of attention and space as much as anything else. Explaining why net neutrality is a big deal in emotional terms takes some technical explanation and some narrative building, for example.

I think what the article tries to say is that everything that has at least two people is political by heart. HN is political. Giving you the option to respond and upvote and flag is political. You doing any of this is political. You are a politician, automatically just by being here and interacting with me.

The article is ostensibily about explaining that technology is political, with the tacked-on truth that HN must allow more actual politics. If HN 'squelches political debate', I'm not sure if this refers to whole submissions, or the posters within threads - submissions get flagged for appearing to be preachy with no real intrigue, posters get downvoted and detached for derailing threads. At first I wouldn't know why this submission was flagged, but now I understand it comes on the heels of a spam of Paris threads.

Well. PG is a hacker. By creating HN he didn't just write software, he influenced politics and gave us means to be political.

How you interpret the article isn't contrary to my interpretation. It's part of it. I'd argue that the article also wants to show that by developing technology you can't avoid being political.

PS: Political action does not have to be responsible or ethical. Political just means that it influences other people's life, doesn't have to be positive. And in that regard hackers shouldn't be more responsible but be more aware that they are already participating in politics by writing software, and don't think these are two separate worlds.

That's a big issue. HN has no special insight on politics so the discussions turn into the same old canards and groupthink on Reddit or anywhere else. There's just very little informative or useful about those discussions.

It's pretty often that stuff which is factually wrong but meets emotional needs gets upvoted without a second thought. Disagreement with the notion the world is ending or Trump is literally James Harden and is gonna start the Holocaust (a popular feeling at HN 4 months ago) gets swiftly downvoted because it doesn't meet how people feel.

Every time one of those groupthinky discussions happens it makes HN less attractive to informed discussion.

I'm sitting at -12 in a thread from yesterday in which a guy responded "No offence you don't seem to have much knowledge of post ww2 history" after he was the one who made a weird historical analogy and I more or less copypastad part of a wiki article on the issue. I don't really care about being wrong or losing Internet points, but when stuff like that happens it just convinces me that even really intelligent people would rather agree with their biases over actually debating something. No thanks. It's the kind of behavior expected on r/politics.

I cant find the thread, but last year someone posted something close to 'all Trump supporters are idiots, I don't know how he got so popular,' and someone replied, 'I have a top uni degree, successful career and I am voting for Trump, so start with reassessing your assumptions about Trump supporters if you want to understand them,' and everyone just downvoted him. Nobody asked him anything.

For the record I'm not a Trump supporter, but I can see that when it comes to politics people think emotionally and ideologically, and very few are asking themselves "have I not made any mistakes?" in the same way we do (everyone does make mistakes) when we care about being proficient.

I studied economics and had a passion for public policy and realized how corrupt that all is. There's no moral excuse for anyone to still suffer in 2017--but it persists. People are irrational, greedy, and selfish. Not all, but enough.

As a counter-anecdote, about half a year ago a a self-described 'Alt Right Trump supporter' posted, and I posted a comment asking him about his beliefs, since I had only heard people hating on 'Alt Right' from my own sources, and was curious why he believed what the believed. You can see it here:


So not everyone here tries to silence alternate viewpoints, at least.

Here's an example.

The parent post was at +5 and now it's in the grey. The downvoters don't bother responding, they just downvote, because differing opinions aren't welcomed.

It's presumably because you're breaking the HN guidelines by complaining about downvotes and calling names (in the sense we use the term), and posting unsubstantively while complaining about the lack of "informed discussion".

> a podcast I love is Planet Money, and they take the time to interview economists on both sides

Great tip. The solution to so many problems is to involve challenging opposing points of view.

There is a big problem with the left in America rejecting opposing points of view. "Safe space" and "shut it down" culture, etc. Mainstream media newsrooms packed with only liberal reporters, etc.

But unfortunately everyone gravitates to places of comfort around people with like-minded views, because its too difficult to constantly be questioning your beliefs or challenging someone else.

Good examples are Fox News' Hannity and Colmes and CNN's Crossfire. Both shuttered, and just ended up with replacement shows with one point of view.

I find that more and more Trump people can make the arguments of left-wing people, but the inverse is not true.

I would love to have an open and honest (and civil) AMA from people who are writing these bills. Especially "cyber" legislation.

I personally helped create a government commission in Oakland, California that now decides on privacy topics that go to city council. We need more things like that.

Here's a challenge: how to enable honest AMA for a politician? Every thing a public figure says is read by the media, which gives a very strong incentive for them to not say anything that could damage their public position.

I would absolutely love to get insight into thoughts of politicians and problems they face, but it's hard to trust anything they say on-record, simply because of media pressure.

This is why the Planet Money approach works so well. Rather then an AMA, perhaps there should be two guest economists, and a political topic is chosen to be discussed. The discussion could focus on the economics, which would appeal to the technical side of HN and remove a lot of the typical emotional appeal. I would also propose that for those topics, voting be disabled for the guests replies. The purpose is to show both sides a discussion, and voting typically turns populist on political discussions. (I know about false equivalency fallacy, but I think for politics it is important both sides have a voice)

That being said, I wouldn't be surprised if there is already a HN economical equivalent website somewhere, just its outside our tech bubble so we (I at least), have not stumbled across it.

The very framing of "both sides" is a fallacy: most issues have many distinct sides, not two.

It's hard to fault them for this tendency–they have seen too often that complete openness tends to be risky, without rewards. They're reacting to the incentives the public sets.

One very small thing I'm trying to do is to speak up against unreasonable criticism when it's coming from "my side". That could be conspiracy theories (although the left is somewhat laking in those), or just the silliness of making a big deal out of some misspelled tweets by Trump.

It's much more effective, especially if people know I'm "on their side". I also hope that it could create a "culture of good faith", where politicians could be less afraid of their statements being taken out of context, or being interpreted in the worst possible way.

I have, from time to time, seen some excellent interviews with politicians actually showing that they have deep understanding far beyond the talking points. What usually works is: long (an hour or more), one-on-one, with an interviewer who is genuinely interested in the conversation, and mostly non-confrontational. There was a series of these interviews, called "Through the night with...", I believe, that had a few excellent episodes with this basic setup. "The fog of war" also comes to mind, although it's a different format.

> It's hard to fault them for this tendency–they have seen too often that complete openness tends to be risky, without rewards. They're reacting to the incentives the public sets.

I agree. The problem is systemic. That's the reason why e.g. I never say that some politician is stupid, and very rarely try to attribute malice.

I see how the system is broken, I just wish for some way to work around it, so that we could have a honest and factual conversation with the political sphere.

> One very small thing I'm trying to do is to speak up against unreasonable criticism when it's coming from "my side".

I try to do the same. People look at me weird sometimes, because it's not common. I've raised some eyebrows over the family table by being able to, in the scope of a single conversation, defend both atheism and religion from uncharitable attacks from the other side.

Find a retired politician. They tend to speak the most honest about issues, especially if the issue is over & they're no longer working on it.

There's no "answer" in AMA.

I must be misunderstanding you. Answers are the whole point of AMAs.

AMA is incomparable to anything society had experienced before and it is that way because ordinary me could ask anything unordinary them.

That is unprecedented, and the other part, the answers, are just an usual part of the process - "unordinary they" could use and have used all the tools society has developed since the beginning how to not answer if that suits them. That's called diplomacy.

Still not sure what you mean (besides AMAs being something new on the world stage).

I'm interested in making AMAs more likely to produce honest answers.

You're having some strange attitude toward politics and politicians, precisely you're thinking there's some kind of consequences that block politicians' "honest" approach to things.

So with the AMA too, you're kind of thinking some politician would tell you things in four eyes differently than they would do in front of the millions.

That's the feature dude, not a bug!

There are serving politicians from a variety of legislatures around the world who have accounts on HN and have made comments in the past.

I haven't seen one from the US, however.

I love how this article became an example exactly of what's wrong in politics in general. There is a huge group of people in every political unity, that doesn't care about general consensus, understanding problems, considering different points of view. Yet, these people tend to turn on their political flak cannons from time to time and march into the political landscape like elephants into a porcelain shop (thinking about a funny picture with Trump here).

Many IT guys are like this. They hope their desires are simply well known by everybody and the results ought to be handed to them. That there is a self-responsible process going on that desires not just the fulfillment of a single person's desire but group consensus is just outside their spectrum. They don't even see that it exists.

So instead of discussing about responsibility they decide to use the consesus finding methods like flagging a post to just shut down what is oncomfortable to them, no matter what the results for the group are.

I'm really confused about what could be done with these people. They have the highest amount of participation options anybody ever had on the planet. Yet they don't want to participate. They just want to get fed. And you can't just ignore them because they are so many.

I totally agree, but there are two things to note:

- I think for many the "flag" button is in a grey area between downvote and an actual flag button. I am pretty sure many people use it as a downvote button with the original meaning of StackOverflow's downvote, so it might be partially unintentional and with no ill intention.

- HN should probably implement a downvote for stories, leaving the flag for truly abusive behaviour. Then implement their algorithm based on (Up/Downvotes radius) * (Total votes).

This would probably allow for conversations like this, polarized/controversial but still valid, to remain in HN.

My observation from other communities with downvote buttons is that they encourage more groupthink, not less.

With no downvote button, it's at least possible for a subcommunity to get a thread near the top for a while. Downvotes let the majority suppress these.

But what's worse, an actual downvote button, or not being able to stop people from using flag as one?

Yes, it is mostly used as a downvote, which doesn't make it always right.

Btw. in fact there was a downvote for stories for some time. But leadership decided to take it out due to it being misused like flagging is misued by some now. At least by calling it "flag" for many people it's still clear that "this is content that doesn't belong on HN, like Spam, ads, sexual content etc".

Hacker News now has the ability to hide stories. This should be the default reaction to stories which one simply doesn't want to engage with, but which are not obviously egregious, rather than flagging them. It also hides comments from those stories.

Maybe better tools like "Dialogue Mapping" with IBIS (identifying Questions, Answers, Pros & Cons on a shared display as a conversation proceeds) can help solve the issue of constructive participation by all parties? For a start, see Jeff Conklin's book on: "Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems".

This is a process. Like every other process it requires people to participate in it. Or does it pro-actively contain methods for near-majority amount of people not participating in it? In that case please make an example or explain it a little more, because it is not obvious. Pretty much all methods I know require participation. Example: What would SCRUM be if nobody writes or interacts with the stories?

Dialogue Mapping with IBIS takes an existing common participatory process of discussions or meetings and makes it more effective. It involves a trained facilitator constructing an IBIS diagram in real-time in a shared display which supports the groups collective memory.

It potentially supports people discussion complex "wicked" problems like those frequent in politics in a way where controversy and disagreement can lead to collaborative construction of a shared knowledge map.

There are limits discussed in the book where people in politics may not want to participate in IBIS sessions because they don't want their private agendas exposed or challenged.

Ultimately the hope in reasonably healthy organizations is to find out what feasible solutions have the greatest buy-in from the group to make a decision to move forward with them.

Of course, you can also use IBIS tools just by yourself -- but that may miss out on some of the group's collective knowledge and wisdom.

Here is an example of Dialogue Mapping by someone using IBIS to dialogue map the "Lord of the Rings": "Dialogue Mapping The Lord Of The Rings with Paul Culmsee & Nick Martin" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-sv5I59Fxw

i'm constantly surprised at how many people in our industry have a problem with articulating their own desires / needs in general.

i wouldn't be surprised if the same people asking HN how to get a higher salary are the ones hitting 'flag' on individual posts they don't like. you can't just push a button and get what you want in life.

"The eagle's hunt is direct, straight down to the goal" - Friedrich said.

What he would say today when every eagle's goal is the good cage and feeder?


Damir Avdić - God is concept


Everything worth "reading" about ex-Yu wars and world/EU politics one could find in the works of this guy, afaic the greatest artist of 21. century - the position took in 20th century by the Jew is now taken by the Muslim.

What are you trying to say?

Your last paragraph reminded me on the verses of this guy Avdić.

The rest is politics - in 20th society turned a deaf ear to the hint of the holocaust and artist like Dylan had well shaped our souls afterwards.

At the end of that century there was a war in the middle of Europe only few understood at that time and those few are even decimated these days.

Zaev took the cabinet yesterday and there's no link on HN about that and that's fine. Still, don't think because of that that Zaev wasn't the greatest news in European politics this year.

And about daily politics, what you guys think it would have greater impact on US economy: Paris withdrawn or Riyadh drawn?

Oh dear. I couldn't disagree more with the assessment of this story's position on Hacker News.

There is a difference between sticking your head in the sand politically and having a forum where people with differing political opinions can come together and discuss ideas in other areas than politics. You can both be politically active AND participate in a forum that avoids politics. Hacker News policy and avoidance of most political issues is precisely right in this regard. I know I come here to listen to stories dealing with computer technology and expert/practitioner commentary on those stories and business people engaged in the business of technology, particularly start-ups. At those times public policy has direct bearing to these subjects, such as patent law or net neutrality, I do expect to see discussion here.

Some here have been saying this has to do with US/Paris Accords. I agree with those topics being purged from this forum. I mean, really! How many readers of Hacker News do you think are on the fence about this subject: probably not zero, but my money says pretty damn close. I would wager that most here not only have already formed opinions on the subject, but strongly held opinions on the subject. If that's the case what possible value is yet another place to shout how right you are and wrong the other guy is at the top of your lungs given the number of other venues for such virtue signaling? I doubt you move the needle in one direction or the other on such terms.

So, what can you possibly achieve by being political in all venues and discussion forums? I suppose you can further entrench the move to ideological purity in all endeavors, further degrade any ability to find common ground with people that don't otherwise agree with you, further degrade the political discourse, and achieve a flourishing sense of tribalism in a large, complex society.

Is politics important? Sure it is. But so is time and place.

I guess jacquesm would like to see a political discussion of the same high quality many technical topics are discussed here. But it won't work - you can't shove politics into a quality tech forum and expect quality politics to come out, simply because political discussions inherently invite low quality. They're rarely about facts, mostly about status and opinions.

Hence, I agree HN should keep limiting political discussions.

That too. There's no necessary connection between 'good at programming' and 'understands politics well'. Or being good at anything else a forum covers and knowing much about the politic world and current situation within.

I mean, you wouldn't necessarily expect a site populated by mathematicians interested in discussing what's going on in their field to give you a good political debate. Why would you expect it on Hacker News?

1. The author is saying, the outcome of an election dominate our lives in a negative way more than our positive contributions via technology. In fact, technology can and does in some cases increase the chances that people have a bad day (eg. tyrants crushing dissent via tracking).

2. If we are serious about improving the world, we can't ignore these significant downsides/risks in the world that occur along the political/power dimension.

3. You can do this a positive way. I like how Elon's tech has a (not so) subtle political/power dimension. For example, he does not believe that power should be concentrated in the few hand that figure out AI first, but rather diffused into the many (via OpenAI). Stallman did some impactful political hacking in the (corporate) software world via GPL.

4. I think chatting about this can be helpful if only to remind us of what some of our elders have contributed in the past. Maybe we can alter the power dimensions to hack our way into a more free, humane and well-off future.

AD 1. I suppose it depends. From my POV, the outcome of any election that happened during my lifetime in my country had close to zero impact on my life. But maybe I'm just fortunate. Or maybe the talking heads change, but the general direction stays mostly the same way anyway. Honestly not sure about that.

AD 2. People here are not ignoring them. The issue is about the difference between knowing about important changes, downsides and risks, vs. discussing every trivia of political sphere. A lot of the things said out loud don't mean anything, but they still invite outrage and flamewars.

AD 3. This is my personal outlook. Technology is more powerful than politics because it can unilaterally shift the playing field. If you talk Elon Musk, skip the OpenAI. Think Tesla, and how it basically forced the hand of all the other carmakers. It fought hard to make EVs a viable product, very much against the market.

AD 4. See my comment to 2.

> AD 1. I suppose it depends. From my POV, the outcome of any election that happened during my lifetime in my country had close to zero impact on my life.

From a tech perspective, the dismantling of net neutrality came pretty fast after this last election. More generally, If you're gay or smoke pot, then you've felt the foot lifted off your face recently. Also, if you're in the insurance market, you have some protections (for now) against preexisting conditions. These last few aren't tech specific, but I just wanted to illustrate important change as the result of an election.

> AD 2. People here are not ignoring them.

That's good because I believe we should have some non-zero amount of political consideration/discourse. Not too much, but some.

> AD 3. This is my personal outlook. Technology is more powerful than politics...

I tend to agree. In 1. there should be a 'can' in the sentence, because politics CAN ruin your day if you don't respect it. If we took a blase approach to seatbelts, it might work out fine for a while, but that doesn't mean it's something to be done. I believe casual conversations about politics early on can prevent a shouting match later.

Tech is wonderful, but I believe we should guide it towards broadly empowering uses if we are to meet the goal of improving lives. For example, building companies like Tesla where there are few imaginable ways that the outcome could be negative.

> Hence, I agree HN should keep limiting political discussions.

I don't believe that it does, though — at least not consistently. The moderators will periodically squelch some particular point of view, but which they silence and which they leave along, and where, are all over the board.

This is part of the reason I've decided to read HN less (first time in over a week!): I could deal with a mostly-unfiltered feed, and I could deal with a well-curated feed, but as it is I feel that it's just not worth the bother anymore.

As I understand it moderators rarely kill any discussion, and it's usually user flags that do it.

"There is a difference between sticking your head in the sand politically and having a forum where people with differing political opinions can come together and discuss ideas in other areas than politics. "

Yeah, this is what's important here. Hacker News doesn't need to cover politics for the same reason your average sports, celebrity gossip, fashion or gaming forum doesn't need to cover politics. Because people aren't going there for a political debate, and if the site owners and community decide they want to keep strictly to that, they're entirely fine to.

> "Hacker News doesn't need to cover politics for the same reason your average sports, celebrity gossip, fashion or gaming forum doesn't need to cover politics"

Indeed. And when sports forums (e.g. ESPN) start getting involved in politics, then invariably end up alienating half their audience. This has happened with ESPN, which has contributed to its downfall.

I don't want that to happen to HackerNews.

I come here for love of the software craft, not for subjective, divisive political stories.

Right. But are you comfortable with the fact that not all hackers will be on the same political side?

I wouldn't go as far as voting for Trump, but I am one of those crazy ultra-libertarians you occasionally encounter (I support tax cuts AND free migration). There are some well-educated people, even some with PhDs, who actually _did_ vote for Trump (I know a few), and most certainly, there are many Trump supporters right here on HN. Will you be comfortable with that, enabling political discourse?

Everyone wants to change the world, but not everyone is sharing your direction of change.

I don't really care what this <political figure> or <this party> means about an issue, I enjoy the discussions here on HN as they often present well-presented arguments from multiple positions, without appealing to authority or what side in politics means what.

On the other side I do like discussing topics with people with opposite ideologies. Some of the most interesting discussions I've had started with something like "Imagine that machines continue automating jobs and in the future there is only 10-20% of jobs today. What would you do with the rest of the people?".

Edit: I normally take the opposing side of the person that gives the argument just to explore the topic in-depth, so probably people from the left thing that I'm from the right and the reverse as well.

While I agree with what you're saying, allowing politics tends to mean EVERY thread gets a discussion of politics over time.

I've watched a lot of forums gain the axe grinders who don't debate, they fight. Over time, it's simply people yelling at straw men.

I don't come hear to get lectured, and that's what most political discussions and articles really are. I come here because of the creative techy vibe and relevance to things to which I can actually make meaningful contributions. I have a dozen other places to read impassioned rants about the issues and hot buttons of the day. I don't respect nor value those sites because they're junk food. Politics is where celebrity gossip meets sports.

I often read hacker news articles and threads from ten years ago and find value. Go find a political argument that old that isn't as quaint as the things we wrote in our high school yearbook.

Keep hacker news focused on what it does well. Don't create division.

The one problem I see with most people discussing things with "the other side" is that they don't genuinely care, nor would be ever swayed by what the other person says. It's just a game of "gotcha" most of the time and thus unproductive.

Some people are so anti-Republican or anti-Democrat that you might as well be trying to convince a Jihadi to eat bacon or a Catholic to abort a pregnancy or a Baptist to star in gay porn -- or a Mormon to play blackjack -- or an Atheist to become a Buddhist monk. Online forums (and newspaper comment sections) have created such a political balkanization as to make participating nothing more than sadomasochistic entertainment.

I used to care about those sorts of discussions with the "other side," but I've found that the level of discourse has devolved into to some variation of "Trump wants to send people to the gas chambers and destroy the planet" or "Hillary hires hitmen and Bill took a payoff from the Russians." Or, often it's "America is horrible and should be boycotted" -- or some other hyperbolic rant based on an anecdotal news item about a brown person at an airport.

I've got no use for it. I vote, encourage my like minded friends to vote and that's about it. Occasionally, I'll get sucked into a political discussion on Hacker News, but pretty much instantly regret it. I'm ok with the "crowd" disagreeing with my politics -- but I definitely don't relish getting into intense political debates with people here that I'd probably like to call my friends in real life.

Maybe it's my age (I just turned 40,) but I feel like engaging with deep economics and political discussions with those under 25 to be bordering on pointless. There are exceptions obviously, but when a 19 year old college sophomore wants to tell me about business unit economics, tax policy or building permits -- I'm pretty closed minded simply because they're generally citing other people's ideas rather than ideas based on actual experience or original thought grounded in experience. But that's ok. Views change as we begin to see the world for what it is rather than as what we want it to be. Everyone has the right to be wrong -- even me, as rare as that is. ;)

I'll leave you with a quote that is attributed to many people but this version came from Anselme Batbie, a 19th century French politician..

Celui qui n’est pas républicain à vingt ans fait douter de la générosité de son âme; mais celui qui, après trente ans, persévère, fait douter de la rectitude de son esprit.

That is exactly why I only have these kind of discussions face to face and with people I trust. More than trust, maybe I'd say I'm comfortable with. Anonymity is great for some things but not for having a conversation about politics.

And my reason to talk about these topics is to learn and understand them better! Many times the other person might not have a formed opinion (so we both "learn" or at least share what we know), the person knows about the topic (I learn) or that person has a one-sided view of the topic and just wants to play politics (run!). Always with a super-skeptic point of view of course, so my learning is NOT what they are explaining/teaching but still related to it. And after talking about it we can accept we have different points of view and still being friends.

I don't feel identified in your extreme examples so I'll put one of my own. I'm a strong atheist but I'm probably quite knowledgeable about several religions after years reading. First (when I was a teenager) I was kind of what you describe, trying to find flaws and argue about it. Then I started to ask myself, "wait why so many people believe?" which also led into being interested in psychology.

Now I have a quite decent picture about Japanese and east Asian cultures and religions and Spanish and Western ones. This allows me to understand why there's basically no vegans in Asia, why they overwork so much, family and relationships, etc. In turn this allows me to have more meaningful conversations and keep broadening what I know. The opposite would be those people who go to Japan and stick their chopstick in their meat (;

> ...you might as well be trying to convince...

The bar is much lower right now. People aren't even treating each other with due respect in a political context.

I consider it a first step to productive cultural dialog when I can come across as a decent person with reasonably derived opinions, even if they are honestly mistaken ones from many perspectives.

When we withdraw politics and other subjects from polite dialog, we are saying there is no hope for productive civil disagreement, which doesn't bode well for progress or lasting peace.

> or an Atheist to become a Buddhist monk

I know an atheist who became a Buddhist monk. He's still an atheist, as Buddhism doesn't require anybody to believe in God (or a god).

There's nothing much to do. UBI is economically impossible with current population levels.

Usually, in times of global economic transitions such as this one, a world war happens. There are no unemployed in wartime.

Why do you think UBI is economically impossible? Studies I've seen point in the opposite direction (though they haven't been tested in really so far)

Modern pension / retirement plans are barely possible and probably will be significantly downsized.

UBI will require 20-30x more resources, which firmly put it in the realm of fantasies.

(I'm not saying anything about moral aspects of UBI. Just that it is impossible to actually implement, at least with modern population levels).

That's mostly a function of taxation though, isn't it? I agree that UBI won't be possible with the current system of mainly taxing workers and reducing the taxation of everyone else (common trend in most western countries), but that's not a given or do you think we won't be able to change that?

It is impossible even with taxing everybody 100% and redistributing everything.

"Mainly taxing workers" provides the bulk of taxation revenues not because it is the easiest thing politically — it is because of where the money is. The money is in the middle class. The rich are too few, and the poor are too poor.

We all have plenty of opposing views on non-political matters, many of them quite polarizing, so I don't see why discussing opposing political views would be inherently more problematic or difficult.

Most other views are amendable to facts. Politics, by a) dealing with the most complex and messy aspect of reality, which is human interaction, and b) being very strongly based off opinions and status games, inherently invites bad discussions.

Agreed, but I don't think that's a good reason to avoid those sorts of discussions. HN has a much stronger tradition of moderation than most other sites, and while I wouldn't expect discussions involving politics to be perfect, I would still expect bad actors to be downvoted into oblivion.

While on paper your objection stands, I feel that in practice things are different. This I derive from observing and participating in such threads.

The problem is politics is so opinion and status-based that it crosses this magical threshold where even otherwise level-headed people just lose it. It's toxic beyond what even HN's regular moderation mechanisms can handle. The other thing is, it's easy for politics to drown all other topics - political issues speak well to our "someone is wrong on the Internet" instincts, and there's always something outrage-inducing to be posted.

While I personally don't mind an occasional political discussion (and I like when it's not political per se, but more e.g. economical or military-strategy type, in which people post many interesting facts and ways of reasoning I haven't seen before), I wouldn't like those topics to keep dominating the front page (happened a few times in the past).

How does that relate with the blog post?

Leaving politics aside allows e.g. me to collaborate productively with e.g. ultra-left socialist bicycle-driving UBI-supporting people. If we leave politics aside, we can agree to disagree and still work together on something useful. If we will discuss politics, our time will be spend in unproductive discussion without actually changing the world in any direction.

> ultra-left socialist bicycle-driving UBI-supporting people

I think that's the problem right there. I suspect you didn't intend it to sound that way, but that part of your statement comes across as dismissive and condescending.

I point that out only to suggest that there's no reason why people with different political views can't work together, as long as they respect each others' views and don't discuss them in a demeaning way. I don't think that necessarily means you're "putting politics aside", and in fact I think that can be harmful in some cases.

I am not saying this in any diminutive context. For some of my friends, all these are the points of pride.

I think for many people political views are quite tightly bound up with their sense of identity and therefore in practice political debates tend to end up being quite personal and negative. I tend to avoid politics except with very close friends for that reason and therefore agree with atemerov that working relationships should be preserved.

Exactly this! My political views may be on the extreme side, but I want to work with all kinds of people regardless of their political views, because it is humanizing and there is so much common ground. If ignoring a subject allows that it seems worth it to me.

> If we will discuss politics, our time will be spend in unproductive discussion without actually changing the world in any direction."

If I shared this belief, I don't think I could support democracy.

What does one have to do with the other?

Supporting democracy means you vote to the best of your knowledge, not that you have to engage in what usually are unproductive conversations with strangers.

> Will you be comfortable with that, enabling political discourse?

Yes we should if the alternative is singing "la la la can't hear you" and pretending we were all of the same opinion when in fact we aren't.

Have you seen how the poli discussion goes usually around here? Endless circlejerk where every voice out pf the choir is downvoted to oblivion

Truth is this place majority comes from a verry narrow social bracket, and thus has a very narrow mindset and as such a very small set of ideas keep resonatin

I have seen enough heated discussions and diverse opinions on here that I can't share that.

(To clarify: I think it's important but to stop discussing and acknowledge which other views exist and are widespread and why they are. That doesn't mean I share all views or think they are all equally valid. I personally think Trump was the worst that could happen and the climate action was once again proof of that.)

I am a lobbyist and I work in Washington, so I'm surrounded by politics every day. I think what makes HN great is that it avoids politics, for the most part, and true intellectual stories and debate is able to take place. Politics is extremely polarized, and permeates every aspect of our society to the point of extreme. I prefer an HN sans politics, without incendiary articles and commentary, because I learn a lot more about the world and society that way.

One of the more interesting lines of political inquiry that I think has arisen lately outside of HN, is the question of the actual true affect "hacking" (and I don't just mean in the Security sense -- I mean in the Hacker News "Comp Sci" sense as well) actually had on recent elections around the world. In what way, technically speaking and regardless of your personal political affiliations or beliefs, could US and other electoral processes (and let's just say government in general) have been directly affected by technical means? Maybe there are some good links to technical resources that others could direct me to?

I think the rest of the world desperately needs the Hacker News viewpoint on this, in detailed, non-partisan technical manner. I believe there is some deeper, non-polarized, apolitical (think, "highest bidder") aspect to what is actually happening right now around the world.

Well in the interest of discussing that, I do have some thoughts:

>could US and other electoral processes (and let's just say government in general) have been directly affected by technical means

One could claim that an intrinsic variable in democracy is the "voice" of any one citizen. For lots of years that has stayed stable. If a politically minded individual wanted to affect change, they could only "shout" so loudly.

They could spend day and night lobbying, petitioning, speaking, getting elected, but all that effort is only a constant multiplier. Technology in politics, just like in other areas, can move the needle orders of magnitude more effectively. When any one person or organization can use technology to add voices (apps, hacks, robots, etc), it can exacerbate issues and cause secondary effects that weren't present when 1 person = 1 voice.

That's a very astute point and speaks to the concept of grassroots advocacy (my specialty) and multiplying one voice into many on an issue. A problem arises, however, in that increasing voice through technology for political means is in a constant battle with government systems designed to minimize that voice. Like spammers versus spam filters.

For example: When I worked in a congressional office back in 2005 we used a system called IQ to log, process, and respond to all of our mail. Emails that came in that were the same were reduced to a single message. We never saw the 4,000 individual emails, only one with a counter. The system then would parse that out and show us how many were actually in our congressional district. Often it was between 1 and 2 percent. Thus we had the option to ignore that issue because it was only 1-2% of those who "mattered".

Newer systems do this so much better, and really block out those apps and the technology. The spam filters are incredible. So now the tactic is to go hyper local, recruit local, and use a lobbyist to leverage those local numbers. "Hi I'm a lobbyist, and on behalf of 300 of your constituents and eleven companies in your district, I'm here to talk about something important...."

I find this point to be very insightful, thank you. Hits the nail on the head of what I think is happening as well.

I think this has changed politics in fundamental ways that the public is not yet ready to understand.

I agree with everything you've said. There's enough politics in everything else; I come here to be a nerd and learn about nerdy things.

Also I've noticed that even though HN tends to promote discussion pretty well on technical subjects, even here political discussions tend to devolve into flame wars.

The irony in this entire thread is that sufficiently broad technical leadership is indistinguishable from organizational politics. It's all about talking stakeholders into doing "the right thing".

I would love to just be able to solve Big Problems by hacking on them, but the more experience I get, the more I find that the biggest roadblocks involve changing minds, not changing code.

Is organizational politics inevitable once you reach a certain size? Any ideas or lessons in avoiding politics in favor of solving problems – short of a mind meld?

The less people are there in a group and the less formal the area, the less organizational politics. The more difficult the problem, the more people you need to tackle it. Problems are made simpler by better tools (and smarter people).

Idea: make more tools reducing complex problems to something tractable by small groups of people. Couple that with freedom of association and let people self-organize.

TL;DR: I think the appropriate thing to do is talking about ETHICS here as that's universal and some times it will involve politics, but not just politics for the sake of it.

From an opposite point of view to this article, politics vary greatly around the world and I'm guessing that by politics the article mainly refers to USA politics. For instance I ignore my country's politics talk since it's too old fashion and USA politics talk since it feels quite pointless arguing/bashing for the sake of it most of the times. I do enjoy a meaningful politics discussion from time to time, normally in person and with someone I trust already.

While I do agree on the big picture--USA is one of the most influential countries, politics there affect all the world--this article seems to be setting the prerogative to get into everyday politics. I do not really care whether or not Hillary or Trump were talking about their cat on Twitter (metaphor) during the elections and for many months after it and it became quite unbearable at points TBH.

So I would say that the things we should continue doing is talking about ethics (especially when it is related with hacker ethics). My short list of rules for HN topics are (the more the better):

- It is about hackers/startup/programmers/IT/privacy/etc.

- It is interesting for a global audience.

- It is something new or happening right now.

- It is noteworthy or at least interesting/geek.

> this article seems to be setting the prerogative to get into everyday politics. I do not really care whether or not Hillary or Trump were talking about their cat on Twitter (metaphor) during the elections and for many months after it and it became quite unbearable at points TBH.

I didn't get that from the article at all, just that we should be discussing politics when it's intertwined with the technology we build and care about.

I am not certain ethics are universal. I think "The Righteous Mind", by Jonathan Haidt, does a fairly good job showing that there are different aspects or flavors to ethics, and that not everyone can agree on which aspects 'count'.

Your comment is political. It adds a point of view to the discussion about politics in HN. It also tries to achieve something (talking about ETHICS). This is politics. No need to talk how US government politics is different from Russian government politics. We can just talk about our politics here.

If you take such a broad definition of "politics", then the word becomes meaningless, since everything is "politics".

'jacquesm wrote about politics as in what politicians in the governments do. This is a particular thing, and I personally believe it's rarely useful to discuss it on HN.

No, eating a cake is not politics. Buying a cake may be though.

How would you call this thing that is there when multiple people interact with each other?

PS: This interpretation of the word "politics" isn't mine. I try to bring you closer to what the author is talking about.

From my point of view, discussing politics is a waste of time. We don't make progress by discussing the daily musings of the people who appear to wield power in the world.

I'm more interested in the technology that will eventually render their power useless: counter economics.

For me the goal isn't to find the right people at the right time to seat the power of nation-states, but to make it impossible for them to wield any meaningful power at all.

I am deeply interested in politics, governance, and the way humans interact at scale, but that doesn't mean I'm interested in what bills get passed, who gets elected, or what Trump said in a tweet. While these small blips in history do have an impact, I think technologies such as bitcoin, uber, etc., have a much bigger impact on the world because they usurp political power.

Lets all waste time virtue-signalling about things we have no experience or expertise in, that are dominated by charismatic dummies we can barely communicate with, and that we'll have no measurable impact on!

Or we can keep doing what we can do well and has actually, fundamentally changed the world for the better and made us rich.

Well, if you negate what "politics" mean and conflate it with the current politicians star-system, your reasoning holds.

Although I can raise doubts whether it has made the world better, it certainly has made many people rich, at the expense of others. What you said is very political, ironically.

Very solid points, totally agree.

That being said, I'm not sure about how discussing politics on HN would go. While I think it's essential to assess the political implications of any project, especially in CS where things go global real fast, it will be difficult (although interesting) to have meaningful interactions between people of wildly different viewpoints and axioms when decrypting reality.

I'm not sure if I agree with the author. Hackers do care about political issues. My question is whether political discussions over short form text do more harm than good to a community. To me, HN detoxing politics seems more like the librarian enforcing a rule of silence rather than encouraging ostriching. And polarizing topics like politics, especially over short form text, to me, seems like it would destroy that ideal of HN.

That being said, the Internet sure could use a proper forum for political discussions.

Why is the post flaggeg, then?

Because enough HN users clicked the "flag" link, most likely.

I don't think one must devote themselves to politics. However, this thoughtful essay by regular contributor here should be UNFLAGGED. It is piercing, but measured and in line with the ideals here on this site AND the reasonable discussion.

If dang or another moderator could weigh in; this is not how I believed flags were meant to be used. We defend free speech here unless we have a strong reason.

It's tedious bullshit that makes a bunch of mistakes - some of which have already debunked.

In particular it mostakes the reason for the detox. This was only ever about stopping tedious pathological arseholes making the same boring hyperbolic bullshit flamebait arguments that a not particulary bright 16 year old would make.

HN thinks of itself as smart but the political discussion here is normally embarrassingly weak.

> mostakes

> Not particularly bright 16 y/o

I found his write up of the custom Lego sorter hardware design he made to be innovative. With a treadmill and some spare parts he made a classifier and trained a neural net.

Either way; I think your comment is rude. If you don't like his piece-- which again I am not sure I agree with either; use <hide> not flag.

The second thing you quote ("not particularly bright 16 y/o") isn't about the piece, but about the type of content that happens and what HN political detox was meant to limit.

<personalOpinion> The problem with political or religious discussion is that much of it is irrationally about 'tribes' and self image.

Some positions cannot be easily influenced with mere 'facts' because you're arguing against people's feelings and cognitive dissonance is very powerful.

Bringing politics up on Hacker News will rarely positively influence anyone's opinion but will almost always be divisive and distracting. </personalOpinion>

Sometimes the goal isn't to "convert" people to your political or religious views. There is immense utility in reinforcing that there are intelligent and congenial people (who deserve the benefit of the doubt) that disagree with you on important issues.

I think pushing "controversial" discussions to the edges of polite society has been shown to make us more culturally ignorant.

I'm sad the posts about USA withdrawing from the Paris deal all got purged fro the front page yesterday. Yes, some political issues aren't relevant on HN, but this I think was.

Edit: Kinda ironic that this post is now having the title [FLAGGED] and being dropped from the fp as well. Edit2: Still flagged but back up, interesting

It is ironic. It was briefly at #1 but seems to be dropping again now.

No HN only allow political ideologies or narratives they agree with. The moderator team do not hide that they are SJW's.

As another example, currently HN's narrative of choice is how Uber is literally the worst thing since Hitler and you can't go a week without seeing 3 or 4 top-voted links bitching about Uber. Perhaps some people like being able to conveniently travel from point A to B without caring about what some whiny keyboard warrior hates about Uber this week.

What's an SJW?

Not playing dumb, just interested in what it personally means to someone who applies it to others as a (pejorative?) label.

A Social Justice Warrior, though it's mostly used to refer to people who weaponize feminist ideology and use it to disturb peace in a community.

I don't know what SJW accusation has to do with Uber here, nor have I observed any particular SJW inclination within the mods. There's plenty of SJW action on HN, especially in threads about diversity in IT industry - but I'm yet to see a HN mod behaving that way.

I went and checked, and the OP seems to have been offended over this post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14358379

The OP posted "*he" as a "correction" for a "she" talking about Chelsea Manning, and seems to have been offended they got downvoted.

Apparently they may not be familiar with the difficulty of assigning gender. The least politically charged way to seeing this is to look at Olympic sports, and https://www.buzzfeed.com/azeenghorayshi/sex-testing-olympian... is a good overview.

I'd draw particular attention to the case of Ewa Klobukowska who was stripped of an Olympic Gold medal for "failing a chromosome test" (ie, exactly what the OP is claiming should be the arbitrator of gender).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Jos%C3%A9_Mart%C3%ADnez-... is another case.

Ewa Klobukowska later had a son, and had her medals returned.

Yeah. It was a surprise to me when I first discovered just how complex sex/gender is, in purely factual terms. I suppose over time society will have to develop sub-qualifications, because having just one binary category (man/woman) doesn't properly work at categorizing various aspects of a human being, like:

- grouping by the way someone looks (influenced by hormones)

- grouping by reproduction capability (can or can not be pregnant)

- grouping by reproduction hardware

- grouping by which group of partners one finds sexually interesting

- grouping by various other aspects of biology (chromosomes and all)

Different areas in life really want to categorize by a different set of those aspects, and bundling it all under one word starts to become problematic. My programmer intuition tells me we need to become more explicit about which aspect we mean at any given moment.

And of course it gets even more complex when you consider how things like hormonal changes (either natural or unnatural) effect gender.

Also there seem to be other factors which aren't understood yet:

The researchers identified a region of the hypothalamus, known as the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc), as being responsible for sexual behaviour. This area is always larger in men than women. However, in their study of six MTF GID sufferers, a female‐sized BSTc was present in all subjects. Additionally, the size of the BSTc was not influenced by taking sex hormones in adulthood. This implies that these individuals had a powerful biological force compelling them to be female, rather than just a psychological conviction.


But.. I guess yelling "SJW" is much easier, or something.

> Ewa Klobukowska who was stripped of an Olympic Gold medal for "failing a chromosome test" (ie, exactly what the OP is claiming should be the arbitrator of gender)

Chromosomes are the arbitrator of sex. We know about intersex people and have known about them for some time. None of this means men can become women and women can become men

> I don't know what SJW accusation has to do with Uber here

This is why I mentioned political ideologies and narratives too.

I'd still love to see a citation for "the moderator team do not hide that they are SJW's".

As for allowing in only what mods agree with, I haven't observed such a thing. In fact, Uber stories serve as a great example. Since the first stories many years ago to this very day, HN community remains essentially split between those who love Uber and focus on the benefits it brings vs. those who hate Uber and focus on their anti-social business practices. Nowhere I've seen mods trying to force the discussion in favour of either side.

(And Uber stories are like catnip for me, so believe me, I follow those discussions closely.)

I'd agree with this - having previously been active on reddit and other social forums, HN is generally the most open to debate and alternative opinions that I've come across. Perhaps not so much with politics, where you'll get a mixed bag of genuine debate and left-leaning bias, but most subjects are treated as open for debate and that's one of the biggest draws for me.

I disagree. I got indoctrinated with left wing ideology here. It wasn't until I actively went and looked at right wing arguments to consider them seriously that I realized that those ideas are being misrepresented here

that's why I say I'd exclude politics when it comes to neutrality on HN - as a conservative/classical liberal myself, I've had very few productive political conversations here. Most other subjects are up for debate though.

I'm interested in politics, I follow it closely and I am a member of a political party. But I don't want to see it here, I don't think HN is a good venue for it.

That's a shame, because the things we discuss here have political consequences, and it's irresponsible to ignore them.

I wouldn't want to see posts strictly about politics on the front page, but I think discussion of political topics that relate to technology and our industry is not only interesting, but necessary.

It's not irresponsible to keep discussions in their right place, of course politics will seep in everywhere but if I want to talk about the US pulling out of the Paris agreement (and I do) then there are better places to do that than here.

The problem is "the right place" is always somewhere else.

"political discussion" gets 252,000,000 results on Google.

This simply isn't true.

One of the reasons I think that we hackers like to stay out of politics is we feel that politics itself, as a subject, is broken - and we can fix it by computerising everything.

This may or may not be true. In the meantime, computer programmers all over the world are working on computerising subjects that are traditionally used to having political power/influence involved. Pulling the humans out and replacing them with shell scripts, in this scenario, is of course a source of contention.

Fundamentally, governments and politics are broken. Computers can be used to fix them. However, this is one of the most controversial areas of computerisation and - like politics itself, along with governance - a cause of never-ending social strife.

Its almost like something, "ethical", is missing in the equation.

> One of the reasons I think that we hackers like to stay out of politics is we feel that politics itself, as a subject, is broken - and we can fix it by computerising everything.

I agree with the first part, but personally disagree with the second part.

Yes, I find politics broken, but I have absolutely no faith in fixing it in any way. So I hack away on problems I feel like I can solve or at least improve on. This keeps me sane.

Same here. I don't buy fixing politics with computers - not until we take politics entirely away from humans and give it to a superpower AI that will act as a god.

The argument for this belief is this: people keep gaming stuff. No matter how smart your system is, given enough interest someone will hire someone smarter to cheat it. Even mathematics won't save you here, because math is too narrow-scoped. For any theoretically secure system on paper you can find holes in its messy real-life implementation. See e.g. quantum entanglement used to create untappable communication channels being defeated by simply tapping at the classical endpoints.

Right. There's no incentive to "fix politics" with computers from a business standpoint. If anything, there is plenty of incentive to break politics from a business standpoint with computers.

A well known example: Target people with a particular political persuasion, make them mad or shocked with some bait headline, and get clicks. Basically the well known phenomenon of "clickbait", which is also implemented non-politically. As implemented in politics, such might reinforces "echo chambers" or epistemic closure. But they also made some people a fair bit of cash.

The same goes for what large social networks probably are already doing to keep everyone happy in a polarized environment: curate people's news feed to match their "political tribe". EG: the red feed blue feed concept reported on in the Wall Street Journal (http://graphics.wsj.com/blue-feed-red-feed/). Again, same concern: such may reinforce "echo chambers" or epistemic closure. But the alternative might be users quitting there social network = less ad dollars. So there is no incentive to promote balance.

Unfortunately, humans are very tribal creatures. To break away from this requires active resistance of what is a very human trait. I don't think hardly any human alive has done this completely.

So even in the "superpower AI god" case, probably another "tribe" would come along to make another "superpower AI god" with a completely different filter, and we'd be in the same place.

We're hackers, too busy helping extract wealth from the population as efficiently as possible.

You do know wealth can be created?

It can but the market is currently showing us this is far less profitable than collecting rents and Phishing for Phools.

There are two different types of politics and we often conflate both. The type that many people hate is "politics the art of manipulating people".

The second meaning refers to actual policies and their effect on people's quality of life. I don't think anyone would have trouble discussing that - that is, if it were somehow magically separated from the manipulation. But often its not.

If you look at the first meaning, things like "detox week" make a lot of sense - its about getting rid of the manipulation so that your brain can process information better again. "Squelching political debate" means stopping discussion that attempts to manipulate, and so on.

Since the tools used for manipulation are currently better than ever before, and we don't like manipulation, I suppose the best approach would be to work on things that expose manipulation and/or defend people from it.

edit: exercise - try to replace the word "politics" with "manipulation" in the article and re-read it. The point that we shouldn't burry our head in the sand still stands, but the reasons why that happens become much clearer.

Politics, from my Norwegian social studies textbook, is defined as "the subject of distributing the burdens and surpluses of society". Nothing to do with manipulation there. The same definition can be used for office politics.

Manipulation only enters into it when people use dishonest means to pull the surpluses over to themselves, and the burdens over to people who shouldn't carry them.

> The same definition can be used for office politics.

> Manipulation only enters into it when people use dishonest means to pull the surpluses over to themselves, and the burdens over to people who shouldn't carry them.

... which is pretty much the exact meaning of the term "office politics". You don't talk about "office politics" when people get rewarded appropriately for their contribution to the company. You only talk about it in the context of e.g. sucking up to managers, backstabbing cow-orkers, taking credit for something you didn't do, etc.

As for the government-type politics, "the subject of distributing the burdens and surpluses of society" is as good a definition as "the subject of distributing land and wealth of a society" is a good definition of war. It's technically true, yet totally misses the important and problematic aspects of it.

Definitions are a way to draw a broad-stroked border in thingspace, so that you know the general area in which the meaning of a word lies. Nothing more.

Thats a fairly naive way of looking at it. Modern politics is all about manipulation (mostly emotional manipulation) from all sides, even those that fight for just causes. Simply laying down the facts and research about what we know is not enough to change people's minds. Instead, political messages are crafted to have emotional impact: the goal is to cause people to feel empathy, outrage, shame, fear etc depending on the circumstances.

That's an interesting and enlightening perspective. Thank you for sharing.

Have you read the famous book How To Make Friends And Influence People? I found it changed my definition of "manipulation" substantially. In a democratic society, distributing the burdens and surpluses of society is an exercise in persuading people.

--A bit of a Rant---

I would argue that politics have infiltrated tech too much already.

Don't believe me, try being a open, vocal Trump supporter or conservative at a major tech company in Silicon valley. You will be labeled a hateful, racist (fill in your favorite derogatory term) based on your political beliefs irregardless of your actual actions both at work or even in your personal life. Most people who are conservative are afraid to talk about their political beliefs due to the very real threat of losing their job.

Look at Larry Garfield with Drupal. In the course of things stuff went as far as people in the Drupal association actively trying to ban conservatives among other things.

The ruby community is just as bad. Rails Girls, Rails Bridge and later on tech404.io banned a woman because she was conservative https://code.likeagirl.io/thoughts-from-the-editor-172e93ecc.... Then there was Opalgate where a community diversity leader tried to get a key contributor banned over his personal conservative beliefs.

At this years Lambdaconf a black, first time speaker and military veteran, who grew up dirt poor in the projects, but pulled himself up by his bootstraps was blasted by a group of people because in his personal life he believes in the red pill, specifically, in his own words seeking the truth, not being anti-woman.

As a moderate I really don't need to be concerned about someone's personal beliefs work with people or to even have a friendship with them. People are messy imperfect beings and there are many shades of grey with people and beliefs even when they hold views that I'm against. The only time that becomes an issue is if someone acts on it. IE: they steal from the company or murder someone etc. but that is not what I am talking about here. In all of the cases I mentioned here, these people did not act inappropriately in a professional setting. They didn't harass people, try to convince people about their personal beliefs, make sexist statements etc..

People who dedicate their lives to parsing out complex political/moral issues have a tough time doing it. If I go to a tech event I'm there to talk about tech not a political conference. The irony is that if people on all sides of the political issues have a place where they came come together and see someone as a human it also may be more effective than the division that the politicization of tech has been creating. Could that open us up to some bad, maybe, but politics being combined with tech are causing a lot of damage to the industry and people already. More importantly its not working. ---Rant over--

We can argue all we want, but it is clear that in 2016, blocking one Twitter account could alter the course of history.

Yes or it could have the opposite effect. What I think is that a lot of people feel hated upon from the rest of the society.

In my country there is a political party that has been excluded from a lot of public things, other politicians telling them they are fascists, racists and just any kind of slur basically. They were even excluded from a party where Saudi Arabia was invited. Just think about that.

Now, they are the second largest party in the country and well on their way of being the largest. They had everything to gain being the underdogs and their opponents has been their best ad for gaining trust and votes.

Fascists are excluded from public discourse in many societies, and I'm not positive it makes the situation worse in any respect. People still supporting them no matter what are typically like-minded bigots rather than some sort of libertarians sticking up to authority.

If they had done that, that would have just played into his narrative about the media being against him, along with vindicating a lot of accusations against twitter for "shadowbans".

Lets say, theoretically they block that one account. What would be twitter's recourse if the POTUS decides to Gitmo their CEO/developers/prod engineers in retaliation.

I read it as: Blocking that one account would have blocked Trump from becoming president.

I think you underestimate the brand recognition of Trump's name. His twitter profile pales in comparison to the years of Movie and TV exposure, the construction business and so on.

Trump has been a brand for an upwards of 50 years.

Let's start with the techno-essentialism that many in the tech world depend on for their mental well being: Yes developers impact the world, no they do not impact them as much as TV (still), comedians and most other fields of science. Dumping movies, 0days, user databases online, developing some new prediction market with whatever cryptocurrency doesn't change that. Still, I completely agree one should be aware of the ethical implications in the code they write.

Relevant quotes from article:

> and that hackers, more than any other profession, create the tools and the means with which vast changes in the political landscape are effected.

> The ability to influence with disproportional effect on the outcome of all kinds of political affairs compared to someone not active in IT, the ability to reach large numbers of people, the ability to pull on very long levers, far longer than you’d normally be able to achieve

> Between ‘Wikileaks’ and ‘Cambridge Analytica’ it should be more than clear by now

stop this. Go back and look over CA's marketing material. They brag about taking Ted Cruz from a field of 20+ into 3. Not exactly a winning pony. And I'm sure there were plenty of other analytic companies that would have used it to their marketing benifit if their pony got further instead. The "we predict you better than your mother with just 300 likes" is a line people already wanted to believe. Someone just made a good story for us to bite into it.

Still, I do agree "everything has a political dimension"

We are, right now, influencing each other through a filter. A filter designed by Paul Graham and friends with some values in mind. For instance, there is no picture of each other, no reference to sex, nor race. That prevents many prejudices from being activated. That is impact.

If actions speak louder than words, infrastructure, that which dictates which actions are possible at all, speaks much louder. Developers are building new infrastructure all the time, for every action and human need. Right now I can buy groceries online, get a remote job, and find a date on an app. That is techno-essentialism.

The future belongs to the hacker in much the same way that medieval Europe belonged to the knight and the bishop. The power of the computer is obvious to anyone that isn't living under a rock, naturally, this brings many fakers, if you focus on them it all seems like a bubble, because you are focusing on the bubble. Treat yourself better and focus on what pervades. The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Does it ever occur to people who want to introduce explicitly political conversation to a project, that a "lets focus on the task at hand" policy might be for their own good? That bringing the political dimension in might chase away contributors with whom their interests were temporarily aligned?

I can understand bringing up politics when the topic is something like deliberately using psychological manipulation against their users. Because if you think it's morally wrong, your interests were never even slightly aligned, and the goal is to be off-putting. Hopefully in a way that puts people off of what they're building, rather than putting them off of venues where you can converse with them.

But using that case as rhetorical cover for bikeshedding a minor slight that occurred in the context of an otherwise noncontroversial piece of software? That is why people hate "politics."

(I wish I had the link to where I saw this argument presented first, but I'll guess my poorly rephrased version will have to do.)

Political discussion tends to be of a fundamentally different type vis-à-vis technical discussion. Discussion mechanics like voting and flagging (particularly apropos here) which work well for technical discussions are often...lacking...when it comes to political ones. This is literally what much of the article is complaining about.

If someone is pounding in nails with a screwdriver, I might suggest that they use a hammer instead. That doesn't mean that I think nails are beneath me.

"The ability to influence with disproportional effect on the outcome of all kinds of political affairs compared to someone not active in IT, the ability to reach large numbers of people, the ability to pull on very long levers, far longer than you’d normally be able to achieve comes with some obligations."

If this is true, then "some obligations" would almost certainly include a reluctance to abuse those long levers or alienate a large swath of users. Power ought to be used responsibly.

Back to reality, though, the reason why hackers and other tech-minded folk are averse to politics is the exacy reason why they're hackers: because politics is about as far away from the hacker ethic as possible. It'd be like asking a racecar driver to take up an interest in gardening; yeah, some NASCAR drivers can probably grow one hell of a vegetable patch, but it ain't exactly something one could or should expect them to do.

Hackers would rather focus on being immune to politics. It should be no surprise, then, that they tend gravitate toward things like cryptocurrencies and other technologies resistant to governmental control (or providing a means for such resistance).

Are you kidding me? It's not that I'm not political, but this isn't a place for doing anything with politics, it's for hacking and talking about that. Go away with this crap.

Politics is OK to get into but I skip over any comments that directly provoke flame wars. I don't flag articles but I sure did flag this. And I deleted a personal insult from that first part. What are you thinking??

It's not that politics don't matter, it's that political discussions are not just useless - they're harmful.

Political discussions almost always become emotional, rather than intellectual, discussions. They work on the wrong part of the brain.

Virtually everyone takes absurd positions and then viciously attacks their fellow human beings who take a different absurd position.

I never saw an article that was both flagged and still on the homepage...Didn't know that could happen. Badge of honour really.

I would guess moderator influence here. And it's reasonable to keep it on the front page, since it doesn't contain anything flag-worthy.

Explicitly talking about politics is exactly what everyone who doesn't have any access to long levers is doing. Using those levers to accomplish something doesn't necessarily look like "doing politics". It might instead look like writing the bitcoin whitepaper, or running some tor exit nodes, or just improving wikipedia.

Politics divides us. The more we can do together whilst holding opposing world views the better.

If the left didn't excommunicate anyone they disagree with maybe there would be more a chance to have reasoned political discussions, but so far, anywhere online where there is a left-wing community, all opposing viewpoints are silenced. See Reddit, etc.

I'm yet to see a political discussion among people not dedicated to that or with no in-depth knowledge that actually accomplished[1] something. Several (hundreds) of posts/comments asserting opinions before dying out, or turning into a flamewar of insults, doesn't do much to change the world, as far as I see anyway.

With that in mind, I don't see the point of promoting even more (it's not as if there isn't plenty of it already) political talk in HN.

Is it important to be aware of political ramifications? Maybe, and that's why I personally follow several general news publications in my RSS feeds and not only tech blogs. Is it important to discuss it? Following what I said above, not, in my opinion.

[1]: Even among knowledgeable persons, most of the accomplishment is swaying people from one side to the other and that can be good or bad.

In many people's view just being broadly aware of political situation around you is not enough anymore, they seem to believe that you need to have a strong emotions about (certain) political subjects, you need to take actions... even though for the most of time they don't do anything constructive about it either, except for venting off the frustrations on twitter or with friends over a beer. Which is perfectly OK, I do it all the time, but you need to be aware that some people just don't get that much emotionally involved in politics as you do. And that it's perfectly OK, because not taking active part in politics is also a form of politics. IMHO one should be free to choose his role in the society, without being forced into one or the other by peer pressure.

I tend to think of politics as resource arbitration. Say, you have limited resources (as we all do) and there are too many contenders who want to settle this without resorting to any sort of violence, then you need pretty much politics.

Technically, a kernel scheduling algorithm or packet forwarding algorithm are politics too (hence they're called "policy"). The problem is that the real world is so messy and complex and has too many variables unlike CS stuff that we can hardly reach any sensible solution in a timely way. In theory we can tackle on politics in a somewhat objective manner but it's typically waay harder than any software project.

See the book: "Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making" by Deborah Stone for an exploration of this issue of resource arbitration and politics.

One simple example she uses is how do you divide up birthday cake? Equal pieces? What if come people arrive late to the party after you start cutting the cake and giving out pieces? What if some people are full but others have not had dinner yet? What if some people don't like the pieces with chocolate icing?

While we can be "objective" within a set of established priorities, we can't be objective about designing a set of priorities. Albert Einstein wrote on this in "Science and Religion" about how science can tell you about what is and how it is all connected, but it can't tell you what should be.

One other point Stone she makes is that when people are on the outside of an organization they want transparency of the decision making process -- while then the same exact people move to the inside of an organization they suddenly have many reasons why they want decision should be opaque. "Yes, Minister" has a great comedy episode on that called "Open Government".

The problem with politics and a great many other things is that talking about it is just talk. The vast majority of these problems are so outside the scope of any one's frame of reference and that creates two problems. Even the most educated of all people are only able to say "it's complicated" and most people only have opinions. It's glib to say that it will just turn into FB with everyone spouting their own un-educated opinions. But the reality is that unless you have actionable YES/NO type ideas, no one in the tech industry (or any other group) cares much about opinions other than their own.

I think this title would be so much better without the ironic voice (or whatever the english term should be for saying one thing but meaning another).

Something like "All technologists should care about politics" is so much more meaningful.

"Sarcastic" would probably be the best fit. Good point also.

two things, firstly don't confuse hackernews with hackers as a group.

secondly and the most important is that politics posts here usually devolve into flame wars, and people don't like that.

Finally this submission has already been flagged, I notice.

There are two claims here that should be considered separately.

1. Hackers are reluctant to acknowledge that their work has political ramifications. I believe this is true, and a problem.

2. Politics should be discussed more on HN. This is what most in the comments are disagreeing with, and I think with good reason. I like that HN avoids politics for the most part, but I'm also very glad to see someone point out that too many intelligent and technologically-inclined people insulate themselves from taking questions of values seriously.

The topics of impact of tech on society, and of ethics in technology, are something that I too would like to see discussed more. Separated from politics as much as possible, per your point 2.

Even the Snowden leaks seemed not so important to me. Unless there is good oversight of who views what as long as there is due process, I don't see any reason to view those things as politically charged.

Honestly I prefer having a nihilist point of view about politics in general, having a minimum amount of trust towards separation of power, always weighing the pro and cons, trying to guess what public opinion wants. It's much more freeing to see voters as children expecting things.

Geopolitics are much more interesting honestly.

The tools we create can be used for both good and evil. It's not my place to decide who can and can't use the tools I create and what they can use it for. Frankly, I simply don't care at all about any kind of politics, which is why I got into programming in the first place.

And if the author doesn't like that, than that's just too bad for them.

> It's not my place to decide

You are still responsible though.

"It's not my place to decide who uses the torture devices I design. My job is only to make them as painful as possible."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You've got a problem in your design specs, buddy. Torture devices aren't supposed to cause pain, they're supposed to generate compliance.

Now you also have to consider your market segments. Some folks--we'll call them the Jack Bauers--need to maximize the compliance per time unit ratio. Sure, those devices are probably going to be painful. And expensive. So good profit margins there.

But also consider the compliance per energy unit ratio. Your basic oubliettes and music-blasting oubliettes fall into that category, along with emetic-laced meals and gratuitous bureaucratic nonsense runaround. That kind of customer is looking for something cheap, almost by definition. So maybe we look at that like a subscription service.

...wait. The torture device was a metaphor, wasn't it?

So let me point out the problems with your metaphor.... ~

What kind of geek doesn't at least temporarily lose sight of the big picture while obsessing over the cool and interesting details?

I make kitchen knives. People use kitchen knives to kill each other. Am I now responsible for these deaths?

You're not responsible, perhaps, but you should think about it. Choosing an extreme example like kitchen knives is a bit disingenuous (hooray cherry-picking); there are plenty of things you could build that have positive, innocuous uses but also could be used for bad in a much less trivial way than a simple kitchen knife... and for some of those things, one might suggest that the builder is responsible.

> Choosing an extreme example like kitchen knives is a bit disingenuous

I completely disagree, I think most of the things that we build as developers are as innocuous as kitchen knives.

If you're building (for example) pen-testing software then I completely agree that you should be thinking about how this software might be used against others. But if you're building some software which helps run processes across multiple nodes then I don't think it's up to the developer to police how this software is used (What would they even do about it? You can't not write software like this just because it could be used for nefarious purposes.).

And I genuinely believe that 99% of us are writing software which is much more like the latter than the former.

A bit late for this thread, but, still, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lb13ynu3Iac

The German army leaders thought straight this way.

This directly led to the 2nd World War.

Just curious: Why I am downvoted here?

Any person with a little history knowledge would be able to say that everything is correct, I stated.

But people don't know about history any more, since they think, we are so different today.

We are not -- but who does refrain to learn from history, is bound to repeat it.

Now go on down voting me, and refrain from learning! This generation just builds up the ingredients for the next downfall of humanity.

I think it's because you presented a very simplistic point.

Any person with a little history knowledge would indeed be able to say that what you said is correct. Any person with a little more history knowledge will understand that the reasons for WWII were complex, and the more you try to generalize from Hitler and his circle of friends to the entire population of Germany, the less clear it makes sense.

If WWII teaches us anything, it's that everyone is vulnerable to the same forces that created the Reich. It also teaches us that the more hate and more division isn't going to help anyone. This is what I fear "builds up the ingredients for the next downfall of humanity" - more hate, more outrage, more division between people. More politics and status games.

I did never say, that I gave a full record of why the 2nd WW happened. I just gave one valid reason that made it possible.

But of course, everybody just wants to see his view of the world and nobody wants to be questioned in his style of living. Just don't think about politics and make a ton of money making the world worse, is so much easier.

Snowden took a stand. You do not.

> Snowden took a stand. You do not.

You don't know about me and the stands I took. As for Snowden, this kind of illustrates the point. Snowden took a stand, but not a political stand. Not in the meaning of "political stories" some of us don't want to discuss on HN. Snowden leaked NSA surveillance program because he saw people actually doing something harmful to everyone else. He was dealing with cold, hard facts, not with opinions and party preferences.

Did you read any of the posts, or are you just copying your own old posts?

You also don't know me and you are just doing some guessing game here.

Just posting good sounding shallow words, is not enough (to get high marks here, it is, but that is nothing that makes better humans, I regret to tell you)

Nah, no copying, I'm just a fast typer :P.

Seriously though, please then make your opinions explicit, in the form of beliefs about the world and the merit of discussing political issues (or the merit of minding the consequences of one's creative work, as per this subthread). That'll make it easier to have a constructive conversation.

Please stop.

Inconvenient truths are rarely popular.

I'm intrigued - so you're open to all any approaches from wealthy blackhats? You'll work, no questions asked?

Technology development does directly affect trajectory of where the humanity go as the whole. Yes.

But I think that HN shall be the place where we can discuss how AI moves us from post-industrial to post-human world for example rather than particular fluctuations of the trajectory (a.k.a. realpolitik).

I'm pretty sure a lot of my favorite blogs on political subjects I discovered from reading hacker news, so im a bit skeptical of the premise. What I see get (mostly) rejected here is outright political activism -- but it doesn't seem like the place for that.

Hacker News is a high quality forum because it disallows political discussion.

Maybe someone could build a forum that enforces civil discussion on political issues, either with automated or manual moderation, but Hacker News' moderation isn't nearly strict enough.

> Hacker News is a high quality forum because it disallows political discussion.

It's interesting that you think so, because this very discussion is extremely political, though perhaps meta-political.

I think Hacker News may be unique in that political discussion can take place in a technical forum.

The main barrier to thoughtful discussion may be the HN points system.

I suspect that many insightful posts are not written due to self-censorship (fear of losing points). It's completely irrational of course, the points are meaningless, but when they are lost it can cause some distress. Nobody likes to lose a game.

> Hacker News is a high quality forum because it disallows political discussion.

Hacker News does not disallow, and but for a brief experiment never has disallowed, political discussion. This non-existent ban does not, therefore, explain HN's quality.

By "disallow", I'm talking about the guidelines:


> Off-Topic: Most stories about politics ...

and most people's willingness to support these guidelines with downvotes.

> too busy to improve the world

I would say I'm just busy trying to improve the world.

Politics is driving people away from the Google homepage.

Hackers don't bother with politics because they understand that it's the people who change the world and not the politicians. Politicians' job is to get re-elected, everything else is irrelevant.

Agreed, but not entirely - people in position of power do have a theoretical opportunity to make some meaningful change, but they seldom make use of it (often exactly because they focus on being re-elected).

The way I phrase it is usually this: if you want to change the world, politics is waste of time. It's one of the least efficient ways of helping, because you'll end up stuck in constant battles over trivia, status and, well, office politics. By the time you wind up in position of actual power, you'll likely be up to your ears with various deals, and you won't be really helping society anymore.

(Corollary: I don't buy that the higher up you go, the more power you have. Looking at the dynamics of political parties, it's very rare someone will let you achieve position of power if you've not proven again and again to be open for deals and preserving status quo. My current belief is that usually, the higher you go, the less actual agency you have.)

Politicians are people, they definitely are changing the world and affecting people's lives. If you care about your society, the world in general, then it is relevant.

I think the question isn't whether it's relevant, but whether it's an efficient way of doing things.

Efficient or not, politics does change the world (both for the better and worse), so it'd be foolish not to at least pay attention.

True. The problem is - most of the political public sphere is just noise. To the point that e.g. following regular media sources is just a waste of time (and risks infecting the brain with lies).

Being efficiently engaged in local or global politics has little to do with discussing e.g. the latest media blunder of a politician, or whatever promise they made that probably won't happen anyway.

Showing no interest in politics is like having no self-preservation instinct. You, as a hacker might hope that your work will change the world someday, while the politicians are busy changing the world to their liking right now. So it is better to keep an eye on them.

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