Coding in an age of impunity

Do you prefer that your coding not be mixed with politics? That your libraries stand alone in pristine neutrality? You are already doomed to disappointment, whether you know it or not; but especially on this blog from this day forward.

Consider this: when all the laws are smashed flat, what chance do codes of conduct and codes of ethics stand?

I hope we do not all find out; I fear we might.

To say that the election of Trump marks the beginning of an age of impunity is of course a lie: the unanswered trampling of the oppressed that has been going on for years, for decades, for millennia did not start last Tuesday.

And yet, things can get worse; have gotten worse. I can link to this without betraying confidences; I can point out this for an example near my home; I can listen to my friends who walk a much more dangerous path than mine.

Suffice it to say that Trump need not sign a single law, appoint a single judge, to cause ill during his tenure — those emboldened by his ascension can act on their hate and have done so. And who is going to advise Trump to repudiate them… Stephen Bannon?

Thought not.

What follows seems almost laughable in its insufficiency, particularly if the Trump administration goes full fascist, but defense in depth, perhaps?

We need to look to our codes, and buttress what we can.

Codes of conduct for professional conferences? I’m under no illusion that the Code4Lib Code of Conduct or the ALA Statement of Appropriate Conduct guarantee safety for anyone… but implemented correctly, and with teeth, they might at least maintain spaces where hate cannot operate with complete impunity.

The ACM Code of Ethics? Principles 1.2 (avoid harm to others), 1.4 (be fair and take action not to discriminate), 1.7 (respect the privacy of others), and 1.8 (honor confidentiality) are more important than ever: nuclear weapons may kill us quick, but software is all too easily turned into an instrument of oppression.

The ALA Code of Ethics? Privacy has always been a matter of life and death for especially vulnerable library patrons. Now, we live in a time when Newt Gingrich is, unironically, suggesting that that the thing to do is to revive the House Un-American Activities Committee and Trump threatens to silence those who mock him.

What can we expect in an age of impunity? For some, the disaster is now. Trump may well lead us into a quick general disaster: nuclear war, global depression, genocide. Against that, computers and libraries may not amount to much — but we can but use whatever tools we can seize to survive and to perpetuate our stories.

A longer, slower disaster is possible — and here, we must watch for more subtle traps: compromises that may or may not mitigate immediate pain, that may or may not pave the way for worse and worse. Or perhaps, we may yet see change for the better (though climate change looms over all).

Either way, we must look to our codes, strengthen what we can, protect life where we can.

And yes, the preceding feels utterly laughable. In fact, I would relish being taken for a fool, a chicken little whose reputation for prognostication is so bad that my assertion that the sun will rise tomorrow is met with cries of “pull the other one!”

I don’t expect that hope will come so easily.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Coding in an age of impunity by Galen Charlton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.