David Mandl on Tue, 15 Oct 2013 18:31:11 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> "Arresting the Unjustly Homeless while they Learn to Code"

Good piece on the failed attempt to "rescue" a homeless person by teaching him to code:


The whole "[Some disadvantaged group] just needs to learn to code" argument is probably too ridiculous to get into here. But this case highlights another sad fact about many people in the tech community: They seem to have no clue at all about how the everyday world works. Governments, laws, social classes, and all the rest--it's like they've never heard of any of these things.

Back in the '90s Cypherpunk days (I was involved with the group, and thought they were generally a great bunch, so I don't mean to criticize them), you'd hear people say in all seriousness that "governments are no match for our mathematics," or words to that effect. This always struck me as dangerously naive. There were nods to "rubber-hose cryptanalysis"--if the bad guys can't crack your algorithm, they'll just get your password by beating it out of you. But it was always a footnote, when in fact it might be the number-one tool that authoritarian governments (for example) will employ for "decryption."

This attitude toward tech is megalomaniacal and shows a real ignorance about how things work in the real world. Dictators have had to deal with WAY bigger threats than your app, and they've survived just fine. There's this well-meaning slogan:

- "If the people lead, the leaders will follow"

To which some people responded:

- "If the people lead, the leaders will probably shoot them"

I don't mean to be defeatist, but Welcome to Reality. The homeless aren't homeless because they failed to learn Ruby on Rails. Freeing even one person from homelessness by teaching him/her to code would be a great thing, but that's not the way homelessness will be abolished. It might even do more harm than good (except for that one person, obviously) because it'll reinforce the wildly simplistic view that this is how we change the world.


Dave Mandl
Web: http://dmandl.tumblr.com/
Twitter: @dmandl
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