Work, politics and ethics

In most disciplines, including technology, work and politics are best kept separate. The arguments in favour of keeping them distinct are pretty straightforward; you want to avoid unnecessary conflicts with colleagues and even more so with superiors.

Even excluding differences of opinion, simply mentioning or talking about politics could be seen unfavourably, as it could be considered by some to be a form of recruitment. Additionally, political ideas and ideologies are often the subject of prejudice, hence revealing your political leanings before colleagues get to know you personally could give them a false impression of who you are.

So it’s pretty clear that both work ethics and social reasons advise to err on the side of caution. But where should the line be drawn? I think two factors can justify disclosing political dispositions.

The first one is very pragmatic and concerns human nature. You can decide on very strict distance between work and politics, but unless you refrain from socializing with your colleagues, sooner of later your values will show during a regular conversation. This is just normal, and though I think it’s best to remain cautious, it’s OK to have an opinion. This is not so much a question of ‘should’, but rather a question of ‘could’.

The second factor concerns duty and ethics. Holding convictions is important (of course, given that they are justified). And politics being what it is, there may be a time where a professional situation goes against your convictions. Sometimes you have to weigh your values against your professional status. Given that other work opportunities are available, it’s a good idea to reconsider your involvement in a project that’s at odds with your beliefs. I’m thinking here of values such as justice, human rights or truth.

Of course there are idealists, who don’t want any part in any industry they don’t wholeheartedly approve of. Taking this approach makes professional fulfillment very difficult.

But there have been times where people have hid behind the mantra of “taking orders” or of “only doing [their] job”, leading to great consequences. The recent Volkswagen emissions scandal is a good example, so is the less recent but much more horrible involvement of IBM in Nazi concentration camps.

The answer is rarely simple. But in all matters we must remain critical of both ourselves and the situation at hands.

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