How geeks can get involved in politics (and why they should)

Thomas Gideon, host of the Command Line podcast and technical director of the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation gave a great speech at the Northeast Linux Fest. His talk, which is outlined in detail here, was about getting free software geeks involved in political activism, and was a thoughtful explanation of the differences between the way free software stuff gets done and the way that Congress gets stuff done. (MP3)


  1. Smart people absolutely need to get involved in politics. As Howard Dean says you no longer get an A in Civics just for voting. You need to get involved. Very important. 

    1. I have an MA and have studied politics in depth including writing a book on how electoral reforms can lead to policy differences and lower corruption by physically going to New Zealand and interviewing several former Prime Ministers. 

      But I’m also a bisexual, liberal atheist with high functioning autism, living in Texas. 

      Yeah, getting involved in politics would be a *great* idea, (he said, sarcastically.) 

      Look, I probably would be a GREAT state senator or assemblyman.  I’ve got big ideas and I know what I’m doing.  The problem is that I couldn’t get elected in a million years, if I did get elected, I’d be smeared to oblivion, and I don’t actually have any of the skills that make successful politicians.  

      Politicians are concerned about how to please the populace.  Geeks are interested in finding problems and building solutions.  We need the latter, but only the former are going to get elected.  We get the politicians we deserve. :( 

      1.  “I probably would be a GREAT state senator or assemblyman.  I’ve got big ideas and I know what I’m doing.”

        Uh… there’s a disconnect there.

  2. Why should I help government and democracy when most of the time government and democracy serves to disenfranchise me and others at best and be violent towards me at worst?

    Why as a geek, do I praise decentralized systems’ robustness, flexibility, and efficiency,  should work to support rigid, top-down, centralized governance, bureaucracy and waste?

    This seems like a lose-lose proposition.

      1. What else do you think I should do other than working towards dismantling of and destroying these violent power structures?

        1. Dismantling it is not a solution. Anarchy has some appealing concepts, but is pretty crappy on the whole.
          Try fixing the system from the inside!

          1. …has some appealing concepts, but is pretty crappy on the whole.

            You have described every political theory ever.  Try again.

            But please don’t go with “It’s a nice idea in theory, but it can never work in practice”.  Because it’s pretty obvious that geeks can, in practice, reduce the control that politicians have over the lives of individuals, that in very many cases this is a positive thing, and that we can usually do it most effectively from “outside the system”.  Even a cursory look over this very blog is testament to that.

            There’s a reason geeks don’t get involved in politics, and it’s not because we’re not smart enough, or don’t care.  It’s precisely because we’re too smart to be fooled by smoke and mirrors, and we care too much about actually getting things done to be satisfied with the BS that passes as “progress” in political circles.

          2.  Many geeks are political, of all political stripes.

            It doesn’t take intelligence, aptitude with technology or obscure interests to realize that politicians and governments will lie, many by default.  It’s also known that bureaucracies tend to be inefficient.  And yes, governments do bad violence.  This is not news.  These universally recognized truisms predate the internet.   Unless you have a concrete example of how you’ve helped make people more free with your interests and activities, I’m think opting out of being involved in politics is more indicative of laziness, intellectual or otherwise. 

    1. There are better and worse governments and better and worse democracies.  Something happened to make the better democracies/governments better. Guessing it wasn’t adolescent ennui and apathy.  They’re a universal, and don’t seem to change much.  

      1. Thanks a lot, Snig, now I have Ennui and Apathy to the tune of “Ebony and Ivory running through my head.  Stupid brain.

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