When silence just isn't an option

Disclaimer: The opinions I will be expressing will be solely my own, they will in no way be related to Mozilla or the work I do there.

Today, I will be doing something I didn’t think I would ever be doing. I will start to post publicly on topics that may be considered somewhat political. My personal opinions and thoughts, if you will. This is something I have always said I would never do, once something is written, it is unlikely to ever go away, and may always be associated with you and the work we do. Having said that, I do believe the climate we currently live in has reached a point where I don't think I have any other choice.

Why wouldn't I speak up?

As engineers, scientists, and other types more concerned with what we're building and discovering about the world around us, it seems to only make sense that we wouldn't publicly take a stance that could be considered political. Above all our task is to follow the data, wherever it leads and use that data in various ways to benefit human kind. In this process our personal feelings about topics only pose a threat to our scientific integrity, every one of us is susceptible to biases, and all we can do is try as much as possible to eliminate them from our work. Throwing out a bit of data because it doesn't seem to support the hypothesis you're trying to prove, building something that inherently puts one group at a disadvantage compared to another for personal gain, all those things are fundamental crimes against our professional integrity. And not only that, they will always backfire eventually, but more on this later.

And this is where it all started. If I speak openly about my political opinions, won't the data I present, the things I built, inevitably be viewed as colored by them? I have genuinely seen someone comment on a crash once along the lines of 'Firefox always crashes when I go to conservative websites, it never does when I go to your liberal websites. If you don't stop promoting your liberal agenda I will switch browsers.'. Whether that is true or not (it is not), it was exactly that phenomenon, an organization perceived as liberal produced a product, and people believed that product was inherently designed to put them and their ideas at a disadvantage. Considering the amount of effort I put into letting the data I collect and the things that I produce not be colored by my personal positions, this is something I want to avoid at all costs.

After all, as long as scientists collect a wealth of data, ensure that experiments are reproducible by any group of people, and the knowledge we gather is then used to build things that obviously and visibly work, we don't need to make a public political stance, right? People will look at the data we collect and the things we build, realize that they're good, and be able to make well-informed opinions for themselves, that fit within their ideological views. Since I believe only a tiny percentage of the population is inherently evil, things will then work themselves out just fine, so we're good!

So what changed?

With the tools we're building, giving people the ability to communicate with people from all over the world, people with different ideas and cultural backgrounds, I always believed an atmosphere of compassion, understanding and a desire to help others, whoever they are, would automatically arise. I thought that with the knowledge we were collecting and spreading - about our place in the universe and how small and vulnerable we are on a cosmic scale - we could automatically foster an appreciation of life on this planet, we would cherish it going forward.

I thought we were at a point where history wouldn't repeat itself, where things would only get better from here.

I have now come at a point where I can no longer deny that it seems that I was wrong. Both new and old problems are festering among our species, and we have to find new ways of dealing with them, because the old ones aren't working. As humans we appear to be inherently complacent, particularly when our own livelihood isn't directly threatened, but the time for that is past, we have to change course now, the risk of 'sitting this one out' is simply too great. As engineers and scientists we have given humanity the means to do a tremendous amount of damage, and now we have a role to play in making sure it doesn't.

What are you going to do about it?

It is likely not many people will ever see what I write here, and most likely much less of those people will read anything they didn't already know. However it has occurred to me that if I can say just one sensible thing, give just a couple of people a nudge in the right direction, that may have a trickle down effect that makes something of a difference in the world, and that, I have to try. Perhaps more importantly for me directly it will help me structure my thoughts, give me a place to point to rather than explaining standpoints over and over again, and possibly even get some useful feedback to improve on my own understanding of the world I live in.

And so, I have decided that over the next couple of weeks I will write a couple of posts in which I outline my thoughts on a number of topics that seem to apply to the troubles of the world today. Feel free to disagree with me, but please do so respectfully, and if you want to have a debate, support your argument with (conventional) facts. On most of the topics I will be writing about I will not be an expert, sometimes I will presumably be wrong and say things which aren't true, although I will do my best to include reliable references whenever I can. I'm okay with all of that, because even in the cases where I am, somewhere I might spark a debate, create some more understanding and ever so slightly nudge someone towards my utopian fantasy of a world where we all live together in peace on a planet (or multiple planets) that we care for.


# Jim Beam Nelson on 2017-02-10 at 20:45

Guess it’s time to roll my own web browser that isn’t coded and maintained by a bunch of retarded leftists.

# [Member]   on 2017-02-10 at 21:43

@JBN: Thanks for contributing to the debate! :)

# Jens Finkhäuser   on 2017-02-12 at 11:11

Yeah, I reached that point a few weeks ago. It’ll be interesting to see your thoughts.

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