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Starting with the most recent release of my Webmention library for Perl 5, I have begun adding a quiet political position statement to my open-source software projects. This comes in followup to my previous post about mixing politics with business — or, rather, the wisdom of not masking the politics already inherent in running a business. I consider my open-source work an extension of my own professional identity, and as such, I felt called to make plain the ways that it intersects with my politics.
I bring attention to this here in the spirit of transparency. In practice I attach the message at the very end of the software’s embedded documentation, after all the contributor-credits and license information, and certainly after all the programmer-useful reference text, because I don’t want it to leap up into the way of anyone trying to use my software. But as I also don’t wish to treat the message as an insidious hidden payload, I want shine a light on it with this post.
The current draft of the message runs thus:
My ability to share and maintain free, open-source software like this depends upon my living in a society that allows me the free time and personal liberty to create work benefiting people other than just myself or my immediate family. I recognize that I got a head start on this due to an accident of birth, and I strive to convert some of my unclaimed time and attention into work that, I hope, gives back to society in some small way.
Worryingly, I find myself today living in a country experiencing a profound and unwelcome political upheaval, with its already flawed democracy under grave threat from powerful authoritarian elements. These powers wish to undermine this society, remolding it according to their deeply cynical and strictly zero-sum philosophies, where nobody can gain without someone else losing.
Free and open-source software has no place in such a world. As such, these autocrats' further ascension would have a deleterious effect on my ability to continue working for the public good.
Therefore, if you would like to financially support my work, I would ask you to consider a donation to one of the following causes. It would mean a lot to me if you did. (You can tell me about it if you'd like to, but you don't have to.)
I don’t say so in the text of the message, but I chose those three charities because, as a group, they possess pretty good time-scale coverage: today, tomorrow, and long-tomorrow, respectively. This falls in line with my own overall charitable giving strategy.
As for the message’s content, I obviously decided to make it about me, armoring the larger truth I wanted to share with the unassailability of expressing it through a personal lens. As much as I enjoy talking about myself, I found this a challenging exercise: acknowledging that I count among the least vulnerable groups within my society, but then resisting the too-easy conclusion that I therefore have little to lose from the threat of that same society’s decay.
Just as I wrote, the three closest human members of my legally recognized family all find themselves with less certain personal stability because of the current American government. My wife is a civil servant, a class of citizen under current and recent threat by a populist government whose supporters delight in such displays of self-diminishment. Her career advancement has already been blocked more than once since the start of 2017, always due to impulsive decisions made by highest-level officeholders that affect whole agencies. Meanwhile, both of my older brothers, now in late middle age, have cognitive disabilities that preclude full-time employment. As such, they benefit from the meager but extant health-care programs the United States provides for its needier citizens — programs that the controlling party has already undercut, and continues to assault.
Should any of these employment or support structures fail, then I would expect much of the free time and attention I currently have to work for the public good — whether on open-source software, or for the non-profit company that I help lead — to disappear. I would instead have to turn that attention to keeping myself and my family afloat. I could do it, and I’ve done it before, but I hope I don’t need to commit permanently to it. I do in fact believe that this outcome would fall into the worldview of the bastards in power, who believe that all is in its place only when each person looks out for number one, and to hell with everyone else.
And I want to resist that, as much as I can, anywhere that I can.
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