I try not to be overtly political in this weblog, unlike Rocky in his recent post. This post dances closer to the edge than usual, but it is still mostly about Notes/Domino and IT, even if it doesn't start that way. That said...
When U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige called the largest teacher's union in the U.S. a "terrorist organization", his hyperbole raised an uproar. Unfortunately, I am not sure that the many offended teachers (and relatives of teachers, since my mom was a teacher for many years) focused on the right issue. What Mr. Paige said is appalling in an Education Secretary, but it shows a dangerous tendency that those in the current administration would do well to nip in the bud. That is the tendency to label anyone opposed to you as "evil". Now, it is natural to disagree. I should know, as I am a Unitarian Universalist, and it is said that every group of five UUs has at least six conflicting opinions. But disagreement is one thing, and labelling anyone who disagrees with you as inherently evil, immoral, or even stupid, represents a serious degradation of our civic discourse. Actually, some of the responses on both sides to Rocky's post demonstrate this.
When Mr. Paige referred to the National Education Association as a "terrorist organization", he was wading deep into dangerous waters. If the current administration starts taking advantage of the current "war on terror" to label opponents, or even those who shouldn't be opponents but have a certain disagreement with you, demagoguery is not far behind. Many a dictator has slipped down that slippery slope, and I don't think that anyone in the U.S. from either party really wants the U.S. to go in that direction. After all, when the South Africans are lecturing us on civil rights
, we should know we have to watch our step.
"Whoa!", you may well say. "I thought we were going to steer clear of politics. What place does this have in a technology forum?"
OK, I'll tell you. Ron Paige is not the only one straying over the edge. I have in recent months read of jubilation over the security woes at Microsoft. I have read fierce debates over whether J2EE or .NET was the "true path". I have heard Linux and the Open Source movement accused of destroying intellectual property. I have been accused of drinking the "IBM koolaid" for believing IBM when they say they will continue to add value to Notes/Domino. All of these seem to me to be doing a bit of wading in dangerous waters as well. Much of the world still runs on Microsoft platforms, and it is bad for all of us when those foundations are shaken by destructive viruses. J2EE and .NET are two plausible directions, both with a fair amount of support and good arguments for their use, and they are still only two of many possible directions. Linux and the Open Source movement are powerful forces for diversity in IT, which will serve everyone well, including Microsoft (the last really great innovations Microsoft made in Windows were due to competition with OS/2, and they sorely need a bit of competition). IBM has demonstrated good faith in talking publicly about not just one, but two major upgrades to Notes/Domino, and occasionally we could actually believe them.
So, while we are right to jump on the Education Secretary for his deplorable characterization and contempt for a large group of dedicated professionals, let us not be too quick to gloat. It is all too easy to see those on the other side of any issue as "evil". I am certainly guilty of it myself all too frequently. Let's remember that those involved in the "red scares" of the 1950's were genuinely scared, and were generally scaring themselves by convincing themselves of the inherent evil of the "other". Whether the topic is social or political or technological, let's try to keep the discourse civil and skip the perilous view of our opponents as "enemies".
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