The Burden of Privileges

Last night, right after finishing work, I sat down to read the day's newsletters. The usual stuff; Seth Godin's daily blog, Subtle Maneuvers, Subtraction's latest post, and Jason Fried's latest post about changes at Basecamp.

I glanced through it quickly. But one paragraph caught my eye instantly:

No more societal and political discussions at Basecamp. Today's social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit, or wading into it means you're a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It's not healthy, it hasn't served us well. And we're done with it at Basecamp.

At first, I thought: oh well, I'm not the only person tired by politics. The never-ending, relentlessly unstoppable train wreck that political discourse is these days. Hell, I get my news off of Wikipedia, I don't own a smartphone. I am very much, and always will be, in the middle ground. Jason and David sure must be tired, just like me. It's time to focus on work, not fool around.

It's easy to push away problems that do have direct influence on you. It's easy to say "I'm out" when being out doesn't make your life harder. And for white millionaire men like Jason and David, it certainly does not. Things go bonkers in the US? They can just move somewhere else. Buy a new citizenship. Buy a fucking private island. David still holds Danish citizenship - what a lucky guy. Options, sir, options.

But what constitutes this obscene level of optionality? Privilege. The worst kind of privilege. The one you're born with. The color of your skin, your place of birth, your gender.

It's so fucking easy to be a white man (speaking from personal experience). Like, there's nothing we can't do. We get paid better. We get more time and space to work on ourselves. Investors trust us more easily. Our opinion is more important. The balance of power is clearly and unapologetically tipped towards white men. Anyone denying this is benefiting from keeping the scheme running.

There are two things we can do: keep enjoying these privileges - keep grabbing all there is to grab and use the power bestowed upon you by centuries of abuse. Or we can stop. Say: we've had enough. We've had enough of enjoying our unjust power.

Banning discourse doesn't solve anything. It's not like issues - issues some people's livelihoods depend on - will disappear. They will get pushed aside, marginalized, even by the very people they impact most. A responsible human being, and a responsible human company would create space for and facilitate discourse. It is possible to exchange opposing views with grace, respect, and understanding. Ever attended a debate club in high school?

Sure, don't spend an important status meeting on politics. But banning discussion - it just cements your privileged position - and keeps the scheme going. Create a dedicated space, a dedicated time, where in a civil and time limited manner people can be honest. It is a responsibility shared between all of us. But especially all of us white men.

When you act in absolutes you create more absolutes. It's a dangerous game, friendo.

It's hard to do the right thing when not doing the right thing is so fucking comfortable. When it means more time spent on Basecamp the company, more money in the bank for it's founders. Tired of politics? Just ban them. You own the place.

It's great to know that DHH doesn't fall along the right/left division. I do too. I agree with a surprisingly significant amount of Trump's policies. But I also think he is a racist moron. But, tell me - how do you form these carefully weighed and deliberately shaped views? By engaging in meaningful discourse, wherever it happens to be. At home, at work, at your weekly group run. If we want people to stop dividing themselves all the time, we need to let them talk. Let them hear the other side. The counterargument. The opposing view. We shouldn't just let them - we should encourage them.

Only through this excruciatingly tiring and tirelessly slow process of meaningful discourse can we solve anything, ever.

In a time when the majority of our human interaction happens through the remote work we do each day, it is immoral, to say the least, to prohibit people from doing the most important work of their lives - discourse & empathy.

This cowardly and marginalizing decision enabled by the very mechanisms of injustice people need to argue against, has made me reconsider my support for Basecamp and my usage of their products. I will stop recommending Basecamp to people I work with, and I'll stop paying for my own accounts. In capitalism we vote with money and exposure - and I can't vote for keeping the scheme of injustice running.

So, yes. Privileges are a burden. Because if you have them, you need to get your shit together and stop fucking around.


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