"But let’s be clear: this position is bullshit and disingenuous. There are all sorts of positions, behaviors, and statements that white cis-gendered straight men don’t consider “political” just simply because they represent the status quo."

This seems like such an odd thing to say, especially considering you migrated to substack from an organization whose toxic internal politics are well-documented by Bari Weiss (note: not straight, not a man).

Unsurprisingly, people who use this lazy framing tend to be affluent and part of majority groups.

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This comment strikes me as a dive-bomb, with little content besides an attack on the character of the author. What about the framing do you find "odd" or "lazy"? What aspect of the NYT politics is relevant to this article, besides the fact that Warzel used to work at the NYT?

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Sorry if I wasn't clearer—The situation at the NYT illustrates how toxic these internal culture war politics can be, and that critics of it aren't easily reduced to "straight cis white men." It's a lazy oversimplification, and one that paints the author as a cheerleader for this domineering behavior in the workplace (which he had a front-row seat to).

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This was a really good piece, but I think something that's underrated here is how much leadership in the open source and cryptocurrency is swimming in the currents of neo-reactionary and NRx adjacent politics (believing it would be good to end democracy to preserve "liberty" which they narrowly define as extremely strong property rights) and are basically just uncomfortable with the fact that most of their staff are liberals, socialists, and left leaning liberaltarians.

Bajali who you cite in the piece is a known neoreactionary. He came out of the Peter Thiel pipeline and eventually ended up at Coinbase which is a great ideological fit for NRx folks. Crypto is super popular in NRx circles since it creates a way to decouple money from the democratic accountability mechanisms that incentivize inflationary monetary policy (which these lunatics perceive as a violation of property rights)

I think the Basecamp folks are probably less sinister than Bajali, most of the true believer NRx folks come out of the Peter Thiel pipeline, and Basecamp's founder\CTO has publicly criticized Thiel for being a fascist lunatic, but yeah I'm really skeptical of all the idealistic west coast tech people. I'm pretty bullish on Chamath Palihapitiya ruining society in 5 -10 years.

This was sort of an incoherent rant, but yeah I liked this article and I am also extremely suspicious of this trend!

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The idea that this sort of management tactic aims to create an "apolitical" workplace, is a dreadfully imprecise use of language that obscures more than it reveals.

Different people have different ideas of what is and is not "politics". Marginalized folks will retort that their existence and identity is political, but that only tells part of the story. Is it "political" to have a corporate mission statement about making the world a better place? Is it "political" for a company to oppose its workers' unionization? Is it "political" for them to offer unpaid internships, or to sponsor conferences with political content, or do business with government agencies?

A big part of why workplaces increasingly find themselves entangled with the sort of debates here characterized as "politics", is that those debates have high overlap with professional *ethics* - how to hire, how to fire, how to communicate and socialize with co-workers, whether or not to circulate documents that mock of customers' names, and so forth. And to tell your workers that any "political" discussions are now a verboten distraction, is a sweeping and vague statement - and many will justifiably interpret it to mean that they no longer have a voice in the ethics of how their company does business.

The vagueness is not merely an oversight, but potentially a weapon. Selective and biased enforcement of what constitutes "political" content that should be discouraged, and what should be allowed, is inevitable - and will cultivate an ideological bent within the organization. This is a phenomenon that takes place in a lot of tech-heavy discussion forums. I don't think it's always designed as such, but it's effective all the same.

All of this is why the announced change was such a blunder (or masterstroke, if the aim was an ideological purge). The fact that it was so public - that employees were finding out about a company policy change affecting their job via a blog post being discussed on twitter - was the icing on the cake.

All of that said, the political discussions taking place within modern day workplaces can indeed be fraught, explosive affairs, in which people can feel a real fear of participation. An element of this story has really stuck with me, and I think it points to a cultural change that would actually be an improvement, unlike the Basecamp folks' ham-handed at best approach.

Here's a passage from Newton's piece:

> But Hansson went further, taking exception to the use of the pyramid of hate in a workplace discussion. He told me today that attempting to link the list of customer names to potential genocide represented a case of “catastrophizing” — one that made it impossible for any good-faith discussions to follow. Presumably, any employees who are found contributing to genocidal attitudes should be fired on the spot — and yet nobody involved seemed to think that contributing to or viewing the list was a fireable offense. If that’s the case, Hansson said, then the pyramid of hate had no place in the discussion. To him, it escalated employees’ emotions past the point of being productive.

The "pyramid" itself, has this descriptive text:

> Although the behaviors at each level negatively impact individuals and groups, as one moves up the pyramid, the behaviors have more life-threatening consequences. Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels. If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or “normal,” it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted.

Notably, that descriptive text talks about whether or not to treat *behaviors* as "acceptable or normal", not *the individuals who engage in those behaviors*.

Hansson above, seemed to treat the pyramid as a sort of slippery slope of guilt; implying that anyone guilty of an offense at the base of the pyramid is effectively guilty of contributing to the genocide at the top. But the ADL doesn't actually say that - it doesn't refer to a cascade of individual culpability, but instead notes that if a a community does not discourage the behaviors at the bottom, the behaviors farther up will be able to take root and develop.

The real cultural change that is necessary, is that organizations need to find a way to discourage and prohibit what one might call "low grade" or "tier one" behaviors - those at the bottom of the ADL's pyramid - without invoking any kind of judgment or condemnation on the *character* of those who (perhaps mistakenly!) engaged in them. And conversely, people do not get to evade consequences or refuse to apologize for "tier one" misbehavior on the basis of their character. "Oh, he's a good guy, you know he doesn't mean it" is not enough.

The reason for this is that the character and intent of individuals is not easy to truly determine - but very easy to falsely assume. Natalie Wynn called this attribution "essentialism" - the attribution of actions to individuals' core characteristics; the leap from e.g. "X did something homophobic" to "X is a homophobe".

Obviously repeat offenders, and more severe offenses, need to be treated more severely; eventually, poor character becomes the only plausible explanation for behavior. But whatever you think the lowest grade of unethical/unacceptable/racist/sexist/etc behavior is, it needs to be prohibited and discouraged without attributing any of it to the character of the person involved. The insight of the pyramid is that you don't eliminate bigotry from an organization by identifying, judging and purging bigoted individuals - you instead focus solely on behaviors.

The second order effects of this policy prevent incidents like Hansson's from occurring. If everyone (most importantly Hansson himself) understands that the pyramid is invoked not as a condemnation of character, but as an argument for the importance of discouraging or prohibiting behaviors, then it stops being "catastrophizing", and good faith discussion *can* follow.

There's simply no way to avoid "political" discussions, even amongst family or at work, but we can and should improve their quality.

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Great piece, Charlie. Just pre-ordered the book, December is a long time to wait, hope we can get nuggets of it shared here.

The Basecamp situation was saddening to me, as I looked up to those guys for years as a paragon of scrappy bootstrapping brilliance.

I think you really are doing helpful work here of helping us think about what a new frame of reference looks like in corporate leadership. I think there is a coherent way for company’s to legitimately express their desired “public disposition” towards movement and identity politics (because let’s be honest: that’s more specifically what they meant by “political”) without telling the entire company they don’t have a right to express themselves as whole people at work. Having a range of types of companies has been and always will be the case, and that is good. Employees vote with their employment. But we are in this strange turbulence of the moment as we self-sort out a new coherency... I don’t know what that will look like yet. What does a “politically minimalist but healthy” company look like in 10 years versus a “positively political healthy company.” Exciting challenges, and thanks again for attending to it!

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To survive we must be in a state of denial. To innovate we must recognize our denial which is why company culture, diversity and listening are important. All three show a way forward that is hard to navigate. But that is easily shut down by calling "politics". For that reason I find calling "bullshit" such an important reaction to Basecamp owners.

"Education is war and war is education." -McLuhan

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