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Mind the Gap - A mid-level development manifesto
I sell software... not judgment
Thu 16 Apr 2015, 12:08 PMTweet
by Ben Langhinrichs
Copyright © 2015 Genii Software Ltd.
What has been said:
1074.1. Lars Berntrop-Bos (17-04-2015 03:56)
Wow, I wonder what triggered this.
1074.2. Ben Langhinrichs (04/17/2015 08:09 AM)
Lars, there is a very sad movement in the United States toward people using the shield of their religious beliefs as an excuse for not selling things to people whom they disapprove of for some reason. This ranges from bakeries who won't make wedding cakes for same-sex marriages to pharmacists who won't fill prescriptions for birth control or morning-after pills to stores that won't to deny service to Muslims. Some politicians are jumping on this and trying to pass laws to make such discrimination acceptable.
1074.3. David Navarre (04/17/2015 09:01 AM)
Quick question: Should a bakery be required to make a cake that celebrates Hitler's birthday? Should a printer be required to print signs against abortion that show graphic images? Would you be comfortable designing a database that would be used to track and publicize the activities of people whose sexual interests differed from the person paying you?
Can you refuse to design software for someone who verbally abuses their employees in front of you?
I think it's a business decision like any other. Sometimes, something goes against someone's beliefs enough that they would prefer not to be associated with it. While I think deciding based on someone's religion or sexual preference is foolish, the main one the business owner hurts is themselves and I think that is their prerogative.
1074.4. Ben Langhinrichs (04/17/2015 09:40 AM)
I am not in the business of deciding my customer's ethics. While these all sound like just the sorts of examples that tend to push the envelope, it is similar to the argument about free speech. It is better that almost all speech be free (the inevitable exceptions for shouting "Fire" in a movie theater aside). If someone wants to use my products to make databases that I would find offensive, that is their right. I would say it is a valid business decision to decide what you will produce, but not for whom you will produce it (again, aside from the obvious exception where you are selling the tools for your own destruction - I would not sell ISIS software that I thought could be used to attack the U.S.). If it is within your ethics to produce it, the customer should not be a factor. If you agree to sell the products of others (e.g., pharmacist), you have tacitly agreed to the ethics of all of what they sell, and should not insert yourself in the middle.
Besides, this post is about what my company will do. I have sold software to companies whose ethics and business practices and goals are not mine. I sell software, not judgment.
1074.5. David Navarre (04/17/2015 12:22 PM)
But Ben, isn't the pharmacist choosing not to sell morning-after pills to everyone (not discriminating against anyone) or the bakery choosing not to sell a wedding cake that says "Ben loves Dave" simply deciding what they will sell?
Should the pharmacist be obligated to sell snake oils that they know are ineffective as well? I mean, is agreeing to sell some medicines an agreement to sell all medicines?
1074.6. Ben Langhinrichs (04/17/2015 12:52 PM)
No, it isn't the same. If you are in the business of selling cakes with people's names on them, deciding not to sell depending on the names or the people is wrong. You could decide not to sell cakes with large phalluses on them if you refuse to sell them to anyone, but the reason we have laws in this country against discrimination is so that people can't decide they won't sell to black people or handicapped people or people with children or whatever. If your core business is selling wedding cakes, making it alright for you to refuse to sell wedding cakes to some people opens the door to making it alright for you to refuse to sell to any group, such as Jews or blacks or whatever.
Similarly, if you are a pharmacist, you are hired to sell what the store offers. That means selling cigarettes even if you abhor them, selling snake oil if it is on sale, and so forth. You also have a professional ability and even obligation to tell people that you don't recommend something such as the snake oil or cigarettes, but that is due to medical reasons. Your religious reasons shouldn't play into it for all the same reasons as the cake maker. If you can't abide by that, you should quit the job. Similarly, atheists should not be allowed to refuse service to Christians even if they think religious bigotry is ruining our country. We are a country that protects the rights of the minority from the whims of the majority, not the other way around.
These have been the norms for many years. It is only recently that the argument is made that you should be allowed to impose your religious views on others. It is a terrible trend, in my opnion, and a slippery slope toward a society where hatred and bigotry are not only allowed but embraced.
1074.7. David Navarre (04/17/2015 03:42 PM)
In regards to the pharmacist, I was thinking of the pharmacy, not of an individual working for the store. For example, CVS no longer sells cigarettes in it's stores because they are unhealthy. So, I read your remarks to imply that the store be required to carry products they don't believe in. I would not support the right of an employee to refuse to sell a product that the store sells. I would support the right of the store to refuse to sell products that it doesn't want to sell, whatever the reason given.
I think that forcing people to sell products or services regardless of their religious beliefs is imposing our religious views on them. That is also a slippery slope.