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Libertarians And Irrational Centrists: Tech Nerds Don’t Get Politics

Ugh, politics, am I right? Nobody likes politics, and nerds seem to like politics the least of all. They also don’t understand it, as David Roberts points out at Vox. Considering the very real power of technology, and the nerds who own, make, and make money from it has over the world, their ignorance is frustrating at best. At its worst, it’s dangerous, especially if you’re not a moneyed technology nerd.

Roberts splits nerd political ignorance into two camps. There’s the side that just doesn’t want to deal with it at all that “shades over into ideological libertarianism.” In other words: government sucks, and it’s often useless, so let’s just build our own floating, lawless Libertarian utopia with blackjack and hookers.

There isn’t much you can do about these types, sadly, and Roberts lets them off the hook, citing their stance on the effectiveness of private sector innovation over government mandates. It’s a stance that’s not entirely wrong, but not entirely right. Even beloved, politically disengaged tech nerd Elon Musk’s company Tesla, as Roberts explains, “got off the ground in part because of US policy, including an early Department of Energy loan and an ongoing electric vehicle tax credit.”

This leaves us with the other set of politically ignorant nerds. These ones have a “conception of politics as a contest of two mirror-image political philosophies… and a common center, which is where sensible, independent-minded people congregate…” These ones are the really dangerous ones, especially since they’re the ones who can do the most political damage, and that damage often comes as a result of their choosing not to do anything at all.

Rational centrism, the non-Libertarian tech nerd political stance, is anything but. I can’t put it any better than Roberts does:

The right-wing base has a coherent position on climate change: It’s a hoax, so we shouldn’t do anything about it. The left-wing base has a coherent position: It’s happening, so we should do something about it. The “centrist” position… is that it’s happening but we shouldn’t do anything about it.

Sure, it stakes out a stance that’s squarely in the middle, but it benefits nobody. And this assuming there’s even a middle that’s actually… in the middle, politically speaking. The entire mirror-image parties conception is built on a fundamental misunderstanding of American party politics. In short, the Right is a unified force committed to their ideology, while the Left is a bunch of fractured groups who can sometimes manage a coalition.

On social issues, from climate change, to police brutality, to LGBT rights, the Right manages to show up and pull the levers—especially in midterm elections, while the Left does not. This is what makes the politically disengaged tech nerds so dangerous. If they actually care about these issues, then they need to learn how to apply their knowledge, power, and money in ways that make things happen within the existing system, rather than just throwing their hands up and saying “I’m not political.”

It’s obvious that the tech nerds care about issues—just look at Elon Musk and Tesla—but they don’t like engaging with the political system to promote those issues they care about. But, disengaging from the political system only encourages the pre-existing status quo, and actually strengthens the pre-existing polarization of politics. After all, as Roberts says, “[P]olitics is about who shows up.” If you care about an issue, and you’re not adding your voice to the political discussion and backing it up with votes, nothing will change. Fundamentally, it’s mathematics: the group with the most votes wins. Something any nerd can understand.

You can only “disrupt” politics so much without actually engaging in the system. It’s annoying, it’s inefficient, and it’s full of loud, angry, annoying “irrational” people, but so is real life. You don’t see tech people trying to escape that do you? Well, aside from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s floating Libertarian Utopia—which is not a joke, he really wants to build a floating Libertarian city-state—and the Oculus guys, and the Facebook campus you can live on… okay, I take it back.

The point remains: unless the tech nerds start showing up to the game, we’re all going to lose. If you’re a politically disengaged tech nerd, pinch your nose and start reading up and learning about politics. David Roberts’s piece is a good place to start. And then, share that knowledge with your equally disengaged friends.