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Intolerance

Intolerance

A few of weeks back, Jack McDade, creator of the much-loved content management system Statamic, decided to express his political views in an “I voted” blog post. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem but

  1. Jack voted for the Republican “platform”

  2. The web community is largely left or centre-leaning.

  3. The Republican party is not so much a platform right now, but a populist cult with trimmings of fascism.

With over 500 replies, the Twitter community pulled Jack's post apart. While he no doubt deserved the fact-checking, many people went beyond, and those attacks were ugly to watch.

As someone who has recently joined the Statamic community, I spent a few days reconciling my feelings. Sure, Jack’s post was a little more nuanced than “I support Trump”. Nonetheless, Jack voted for Trump’s party, which troubled me. It seemed like I wasn’t the only one struggling, a few notable people reached out to me privately, and other Statamic users have been soul-searching…

It shouldn't matter, but it does. It just doesn’t sit well with me, although I'm taking time to think about it. —Jon Hicks, on Twitter

What do politics have to do with technology?

Maybe politics shouldn't matter, but in this election, I think they do. Like, I dunno, would you shop at a grocery store that wilfully gave money to the Nazi party? Not exact equivalence but we're getting there, and I think this is what lies behind the outrage and intolerance in the tech community. To clarify how important I think the US 2020 election is was, even though I’m British, and I live in the UK, I was hugely worried about what a Trump win would mean for the world.

If you think my Nazi metaphor was ham-fisted, then let's take a moment to reflect on how Trump is attempting to undermine democracy as I type this. As Greg Gilbert said, “This really is a defining moment for American morality and intellect: if you can't see the fascism on display, you understand nothing; if you do and still support it, you lose all credibility”.

So which side of this statement is Jack on? Ignorance, or wilful support? As a supporter of his product, I‘d really like to know, just like Matt Damon really needed to know if Sarah Palin thought dinosaurs were here 4,000 years ago.

And while the idea of "voting for the platform" rather than the leader usually adds up, it's too difficult to accept this logic with Donald Trump at the helm of the GOP. Even now, after he’s been voted out, his crony supporters continue to wage war against the media free-speech, science, and immigrants (which America is founded on). I find all this offensive, and I guess lots of the web community on Twitter do too.

I wonder, as a white British guy, how much I can truly understand the impact of Jack’s post, even if I think I understand most of it. —a member of the Statamic community, annonymous

Separation of Concerns

It’s a shame the world is so messy and complicated. Ideally, we’d easily be able to buy food, clothes, and products from companies and people we respect and align with at competitive prices. Despite new feelings of conflict I have for Statamic, I feel nothing but good vibes from its community. There is no snark or vitriol—a far cry from the feather-spitting Twitter comments I’ve seen recently.

Here are two of their community guidelines:

  1. Treat others in the way you want to be treated. Respect each other; we’re all on the same team here, so let’s have fun, share what we know, and hopefully learn something new! No bullying, harassment, foul language, racism, sexism, or bashing other software and/or communities. Generally, just be awesome to each other.

  2. Don't bash other platforms (e.g. WordPress, Drupal, Craft, etc). They all serve their purposes, markets, and provide livelihoods for thousands of developers. Please be welcoming to those coming from those communities to check out Statamic. Hopefully, they'll find something they love more, but it won't happen every time.

This is the kind of community I want to be in—and despite Jack’s views, there is no mention of religion or politics to be found. I literally searched the entire Discord history for “Trump” and “Christian”—and found nothing. Nadda.

I totally understand the people that no longer want to use Statamic—drawing a line in the sand is a valid way to protest. I also considered leaving the Statamic community, “voting with my wallet”. For those not already invested in Statamic, it’s easy retribution. For those already invested, things are harder. “I wonder if that investment has made me more willing to accept/work to rectify the dissonance Jack’s post brought”, someone said to me.

Finding myself similarly conflicted, I’ve decided to continue using Statamic (for now) because:

  1. Jack followed up his initial post with something more thoughtful.

  2. The team and community are good people (unintentional reference, I know, I know).

  3. I have invested too much in the product to abandon it, and as much as I kid myself, I am a business.

  4. I don't believe the other CMS choices are anywhere near as good. Craft and Kirby—yes possible—but nowhere near as polished.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Someone Else

There is so much gutless reductionism in the tech industry. Incidents like these break out every few months, and I see people descending like sharks, often rephrasing identical points just to be part of the feed. I've seen popular Twitter tech folk get attacked in the past—two names come to mind—both decent people. Debate and critique are great, but people do get personal—even if they say it's not personal.

Discourse on Twitter is dead. There is no nuisance, understanding that people’s views are a result of their experience—in Jack’s case I’d suspect a relatively privileged bubble and heavy Christian influence. It takes discourse to change someone’s view: not a pile on.

Mob mentality is lazy, boring, and hypocritical, and to assume you know someone because of how they vote is shortsighted and dangerous. Realistically although we try to follow our values or help the environment, we end up also supporting people and companies we have disagreements with.

I bet you’ve bought from Amazon before, where workers are treated no better than robots and aren’t allowed to have bathroom breaks. Maybe you continue to occasionally use Facebook despite its complicity with Cambridge Analytica scandal, Brexit, and the 2016 US election. Maybe you continue to take an Uber after the Travis Kalanick scandal. Or if none of this, you've probably had an iPhone, and may want to check Apple’s ethical score. We all have our blind spots.

I hate to play the vegan card but I'm going to. As someone who’s been broadly vegan since 2015, I know and continue to enjoy the company of lots of people that overlook murder because they conveniently enjoy the taste of meat—despite the ubiquity of substitutes and growing scientific evidence that meat and dairy cause cancer. Heck, I still follow several high-profile web Twitter people that proactively post photos of murdered carcasses on their BBQ. How much thought do you think they've put into their photos? Do you think they spare a moment to consider how the meat got there? How did the cows feel? How did the pigs die? Out of sight, out of mind; an inconvenient truth; I digress.

My point is—have the capacity and compassion to understand there are shades of grey. Resist condemning people that may not understand your point of view.

Being loud and aggressive doesn't make you more righteous. It might make people who already agree with you go “Yeah!” but it also causes people who don't agree with you to dig in even more. If your aim is to persuade then try having a conversation rather than an argument. Remaining calm doesn't mean you agree with or accept bad things. It means you are able to keep a clear head which might sometimes serve you better. —Pete Clark

What I Wish for Jack and Statamic

American companies succeed thanks to the talents of entrepreneurs of all races, religions, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations—Chris Sacca

More Leadership and Less Gentlemen

One thing I had quietly observed since being in the Statamic community is a lack of diversity in leadership. Three white males (and at least two very-Christian) run the company. Collectively they call themselves the ‘gentlemen’. If you need help, you can even email “gentlemen@statamic.com”. I appreciate this is no-doubt designed to inspire some kind of gallantry and it's kind of warm-feeling, but in reality, it keeps the company—along with its views—small.

“Gentleman” while used to refer to a passing collective is fine, e.g. “There’s a group of gentlemen over there having drinks”. But “Gentlemen” as a club—feels like antiquated gate-keeping language. You may baulk at this—“trust a liberal to find meaning where there is none”, etc., but think how you would feel as a woman joining the Statamic community. I would consciously or subconsciously feel an invisible ceiling—like the Statamic team are unlikely to consider a woman employee. I've been in the community long enough to know this is not their intention, but language matters.

Jack’s post was a personal one but maybe if he had a more diverse team—one more affected by Trump‘s policies—he might have considered running it by them first, and it would never have passed critical thinking and review. Experiencing the periphery of other people’s struggle is how we grow to understand.

Please drop the gentlemen thing. Call yourself super-heroes, team, or whatever, and move out of your bubble.

Improve Your Values and Critical Thinking

Jack, please follow through on the “New Focus” promises you made in your follow-up post. Maybe add another channel to Discord where ideas can be discussed in a safe environment. A related point: I find it truly weird how nothing has been said about this incident in Statamic’s Discord channel—not even something diplomatic in Jack’s defence. I can only assume the silence is awkward embarrassment or disagreement. I’ve had private conversations with a few notable members of the group and one pointed out “I wonder if the Statamic community is more tolerant of Jack’s post because of the demographic. Almost all white guys in the Discord group—a bit of a silo/bubble”.

Another idea from a member of the Discord group—“I wonder if Statamic could do more to highlight social issues. They were noticeably quiet during the BLM movement. Understandably, a company might choose to stay silent—their v3 upgrade notification says something like ‘integrity is what you do without anyone noticing when it won’t benefit you’. But now that Jack has been so vocal about his stance, he’s single-handedly spent all of the goodwill capital built up, and one way to reverse that might be to more visibly support causes that contradict Trump’s policies (climate change, BLM, etc.).”

As much as I try to separate Jack and his values from Statamic, it’s pretty hard—he's put himself and his personality into its marketing more so than other CMS platforms. If you want your product to be successful amongst a—let's face it—widely left-wing segment, your values are important.