What is politics?

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

I am astonished at how naive this is:

Political conflicts cause harm here. The values of Hacker News are intellectual curiosity and thoughtful conversation. Those things are lost when political emotions seize control. Our values are fragile—they’re like plants that get forgotten, then trampled and scorched in combat. HN is a garden, politics is war by other means, and war and gardening don’t mix.

Worse, these harsher patterns can spread through the rest of the culture, threatening the community as a whole. A detox week seems like a good way to strengthen the immune system and to see how HN functions under altered conditions.

Why don’t we have some politics but discuss it in thoughtful ways? Well, that’s exactly what the HN guidelines call for, but it’s insufficient to stop people from flaming each other when political conflicts activate the primitive brain. Under such conditions, we become tribal creatures, not intellectually curious ones. We can’t be both at the same time.

A community like HN deteriorates when new developments dilute or poison what it originally stood for. We don’t want that to happen, so let’s all get clear on what this site is for. What Hacker News is: a place for stories that gratify intellectual curiosity and civil, substantive comments. What it is not: a political, ideological, national, racial, or religious battlefield.

dang followed up with:

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.

ritchiea makes the obvious response:

Hacker News is an unfair place for people to speak up about about the lack of racial and gender diversity in tech. I have been downvoted for comments where I felt like I was making uncontroversial critiques of the status quo. I have seen HN users say that black neighborhoods need more policing than other neighborhoods. It’s not an easy place to be non-white or non-male.

ben0x539 said:

I feel like trying to ban discussion of these conflicts will lead to the same outcome that reddit’s weird “free speech” policy had, if more subtly. If Hacker News is the place where racist, misogynist, fascist hackers can feel particularly safe, that’s going to be the kind of people you attract, at the expense of marginalized hackers.
There is no neutral option around this kind of politics and I’ll be sad to see HN throw marginalized people under the bus to ensure the comfort of the privileged.

adrienne says exactly what I would have said if I’d checked in on Hacker News this day:

I am quite sure (from both here and on Twitter, where i follow you) that our politics are roughly comparable, although i’m rather to your left. I have no problem with you – in fact i respect the hell out of you – and you are indeed someone I see Doing the Work over here on a regular basis.
I have zero issues with your position here, which I think is well-thought-out and held with integrity. I don’t even disagree that HN is a poor venue for many kinds of discussions – that’s why i almost never come here, because of the repulsive bullshit. My problem is with the laughable inconsistency of a community that thinks “diversity in tech” is a “political” topic but “cryptocurrency” and “East Asian investment in the US” are not. That is a fucking ridiculous, dishonest, and supremely entitled position to hold. “No political topics”, in practice, just means “anything we don’t want to think about” or perhaps “anything people might have strong reactions to”. HN’s mods and members are making a political statement here and they refuse to acknowledge it.
Anything even vaguely related to race, gender, or class, or in general anything that challenges HN members’ certainty that they are übermenschen, is going to go poorly here. And probably always will, because it is a self-reinforcing issue. Good moderation is hard, especially when a community and its moderators tend toward free-speech absolutist positions. HN won’t get better on these topics until the moderators stop putting up with horrible bullshit, and i have zero confidence that they’re ever going to do that.

3 days later, dang realizes his error:

Among what we learned is that 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. The current story is a good example: it’s not apolitical, but it isn’t purely political either, and it’s clearly on topic for HN.

I also like this bit from jasim :

There is a rather strong quote by the German dramatist Bertolt Brecht that for me drives home the point of how economics and politics are inseparable.

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

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