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What Happened To Techno-Libertarianism?

The more I look around a the tech leaders of today, the more disappointed I am. When I joined the tech field back in the mid 90s, you could not find a more cantankerous, individualist, and anti-authoritarian gathering of minds this side of a militia group.

But today tech leaders are  hosting flashy, celebrity studded, inaugural parties for Obama.  They are being hired by the campaigns of prominent progressive Democrats.  Over the past decade we’ve gone from Geeks with Guns, to Americans for Gun Safety.  Where we once hoisted the Jolly Roger to do battle with the man, now it seems that the man is increasingly us.  The tech field seems to have most decidedly joined the establishment, rather than standing apart from it. This is not the tech I knew.

My own personal anecdotal evidence bears this out as well.  Tech workers, particularly younger ones, are becoming increasingly progressive and pro-establishment, and less libertarian and individualistic.  Is this a natural progression of the industry?  Is it a generational difference?  I think a bit of both.  Perhaps paradigm shifting technological breakthroughs will always be the realm of out-of-the-box thinking non-conformists, which begs the question of which new breakthrough will attract the next generation of individualist malcontents.

20 Responses to “What Happened To Techno-Libertarianism?”

  1. Alan says:

    Back when I started, we were happy to have jobs doing what we would have done for free.

    Then someone realized computer geeks made good money, and it was over. Now we have paper MCSEs, and people who don’t know a Token Ring from an Ethernet, only interested in a paycheck instead of the joy of tech.

    I think that is what makes the difference.

  2. XD-TKE says:

    When I was in college and when I entered the Tech industry it was the wild-west. Only those that wanted to work Hard and brave the possiblity of failing multiple time on the way to a successful application, hardware design, etc. dared to brave the frontier. Early technolgists were frontiersmen. They were not in if for the money or glory but for the personal satisfaction.

    Now we have application design philosophy, cookie cutter patters, applications that write code for us, cushy chairs in rooms full of boxes with padded walls and oh yes good pay. This has attracted the liberals who want to get alot for little.

    There are still conservatives and libertarians but they keep their head down to aviod getting flamed by their neighbor in the next padded room.

    I guess I am one of the lucky ones. Out of an entire floor of IT staff there is a handfull of namby pamby Dem Progressives and one outright Socialist. The rest of my breatheren have been buying firearms like theres no tommorrow and getting their CHL licences. The more likely conversation would be I killed another hog this weekend, or the lifelong .9mm, .40, or .45 argument than cooing over the new president. The conversations about him typically contain alot of disdain.

    Of course maybe I am just lucky enough to be working for an oil Co. in TX.

  3. XD-TKE says:

    One additional thought. The open source revolution while interesting is not so different from socialism.

    Hmmm…. Open Source econics sounds like the latest stimulus package.

  4. Phil says:

    @XD-TKE

    I understand your point about OSS being socialist, the difference here is that you are not being forced to join the ranks, nor are you being forced to fund it. It’s individuals choosing to do what they do. I am an OSS advocate, but a staunch libertarian and I obviously enjoy firearms as well or I probably wouldn’t be reading this blog.

    I find more that people who use Linux and other free *nix’s to be the most classic liberal, and those who use Commercial software tend to be the most socialist. Think about it, you get charged tons of money in lic. fees, then get updates forced upon you. EOL your favorite version of your favorite app. No recourse. In the land of OSS if I don’t like you or what you are doing I take the code and go elsewhere.

  5. Matt says:

    I would argue techno-libertarianism is alive and well. I guess it depends on what subset of tech you’re referring to. As a software developer, I can tell you the majority of my colleagues fall into a conservative/libertarian camp.

    Admittedly, I only have my own limited experience to go on but I think hands-on technical people tend towards the libertarian end of the spectrum. Management, on the other hand, is across the spectrum.

    I think once you pass a certain experience level, the Democratic/Socialist views tend to diminish. Pay is not an indicator since you can have well paid people who are as dumb as a wet noodle but know enough to get by. Once you have time to figure out who has real talent, I would say in the vast majority cases you’ll find they hold libertarian views. It takes time to really figure that out. Good indicator is look for the quiet folks, the energetic folks, folks who seem just a little odd but otherwise forgettable. This observation has yet to fail me.

    I have one die hard Socialist in my group (BDS-type). Another was a big fan of government being the solution to everything but he’s converting as he sees it dipping more and more into his pocket. Stimulus packages will do that, I guess.

    Short version: If someone is actually solving a problem, trying to do good for the company and not being noticed while they’re doing it, they’re a frontiersman. Otherwise, a poser in a nice suit drawing a paycheck.

  6. XD-TKE says:

    @Phil,

    Good point. I was not trying to accuse anyone reading this blog becuase unless you are a gun control advocate reading to stir things up you would not be here.

    You do make a good point about OSS vs Commercial. However you lease one important group out your assesment. That is the conservative. They typically fall into the commercial market but they do not spend spend spend on the bleeding edge they typically hold onto software until it is being obsoleted then upgrade to the latest version or if it is too new the previous. Take the evil microsofts sql servers. The bleeding edge has started the transition to 2008. The conserative unless otherwise necessitated is on sql 2000 and starting to plan their upgrade to stay in support or just transitioned to sql 2005 and won’t upgrade again for several years.

    I know I work in a rare environment so my perception may be distorted. I as well as the others in my group are majority conservative with the exception of 1 sociaist and we work with .net. I can’t gauge the oracle group becuase they are mostly foriegn, they tend to bring a different perspective, and the rest are still coding for our mainframe. Out of ~30, 8 do .net, 2 oracle, and the rest are mainframe.

    As a company you can choose spend on people to support OSS, spend on products and get support. The second is usually the choice. As an individual you have much more freedom and can choose OSS. I like a good blend. I use many oss tools and utilities. N-Hibernate is one of them. However I do not run linux. I find using MS for the OS is less painful because it has support and I know how to support it. Also I do not have to take time to fix a bug myself I can spend it with my family. OSS developers do wonderful work and I thank them for their efforts.

    I use commercial so that I can have time to see my kids and play with my toys.

    I am a conservative and a constitutionalist. I may not agree with all the libertarian views but I am open to them and accepting of them. In this day and time conservatives and libertarians are more alike than dems and libertarians.
    I am not open to nor will I negotiate with socialsist or communists.

  7. Have to agree with some of the comments here. Techies are becoming less and less “techie” because they’re not learning anything on the job due to the aforementioned cookie-cutter design patterns, template code, etc. While the “Not Invented Here” syndrome killed many good companies and their projects, the one benefit it had was that it required the developers, engineers, IT analysts, etc. to think for themselves, learn HOW to do something, and WHY it works. Now, if you need to accomplish something, you throw some blocks into one of a myriad of code “generators”, or download the latest snippet from an open source project, and you have what you need with little to no effort.

    To tie it all together, because there’s so much available to techies without having to learn, IMHO the spirit of independent thinking and self-reliance, both core beliefs of libertarianism, is evolving out of technical fields.

    In addition, techies are smart people, and relatively practical. When one looks at the political landscape, why would one want to cling to a political belief that gets little to no support at the federal level? There’s never been an exact match for libertarians, but in the past those who valued civil rights leaned left, and those who valued conservatism leaned right. However, in today’s world, do either of the dominant parties REALLY espouse these beliefs any more?

  8. Tom says:

    @XD-TKE:

    “I am a conservative and a constitutionalist. I may not agree with all the libertarian views but I am open to them and accepting of them.”

    I don’t want to stray off-topic, but what about constitutionalism and libertarianism is markedly different?

    wrt to OSS support — there are many companies which sell support services for OSS tools. RedHat jumps to the front, but there are many more.

    @Alan,@Matt:

    I think you’ve nailed it. The ranks are being diluted by posers with paper certs and no skill/intuition/love for the technology they’re working with. They don’t have the drive to thoroughly understand the fundamentals of a system. I find it quite sad.

  9. Mike says:

    Tech issues aside, this is mostly an instance of government capture – let the government grow large enough, and businessman regardless of their political leanings have to get on board or the competition will – kind of a prisoners dilemma situation.

    Liberal, conservative, libertarian or other, you kiss up to the 800 pound gorilla or you go out of business.

  10. DirtCrashr says:

    What I see, having got out of Tech is a whole bunch of M’softies and bubble-wrap folks gone for the Lifestyle – like at Google. They are institutionalized in perpetual student-hood and catered-to by cafeterias and doorstep managed health-care, they ride around on free blue Googlecycles to various “campus” buildings (like the Amsterdam experiment – or The Prisoner?), in a lovely park-like setting. It is a Techlife of carefree abandonment and earnest mixing on social issues – until last year you could get $2k to help buy a car as long as it was a Prius. But Google didn’t start it, it’s a Valley thing – and 3Com was like that when I was there.

  11. Joe says:

    I think Microsoft’s experience with the justice department and Mr Hatch, showed the dangers of assuming that you can get by with writing software and running your business without currying government favor at the same time. The younger people seem not to have as much libertarian mindset, the older people are battle scared.

  12. Rabbit says:

    I dunno, there are several of us at Big Blue (still, despite the layoff rumors) who wear the Hairshirt of Heinlein. Within my group, we’ve been diligently passing around copies of L. Neil Smith, Heinlein, John Ringo and John Scalzi books. Most of us have copies of the Fairtax book and Ayn Rand visibly displayed on our desks.

    As for me, I’m proud to say I learned Bell Labs Unix on a PDP-7. I don’t personally find anything inherently socialist in OSF/OSI/OSS, as much as I find it egalitarian (if not ego-driven) and Free is Not Bad. However, I do support our premium OS product for money and do so, proudly. Our sole liberal on the team (and, I add, the oldest member of the team) keeps quiet but does keep a picture of himself and Hillary on his desk, though.

    Regards,
    Rabbit.

  13. Phelps says:

    It’s simple. The libertarians ran tech when tech was the frontier. Tech isn’t the frontier anymore. When a new space opens up, libertarians will be the first ones there.

  14. Linoge says:

    The short (if somewhat impertinent) answer: They got old.

    The longer answer: It stopped being the heady days of the dot-com bubble, and started being more about what you can keep/protect/defend/exploit. The mad rush is more or less over, now it is just territory-defense maneuvers, and that inherently favors the establishment given that the establishment gives those maneuvers credibility, if not outright support. It stopped being about making those new breakthroughs, and started being about how much money you can generate off them.

    But that is just me… a part-time, unprofessional nerd.

  15. Tom says:

    open source, I see it as innovation. I’ve grabbed a few programs, why, because they’re always getting better.

    It’s quite libertarian, I make something that does what I need it to do, release it. Now someone else comes along and adds to it. I grab that version and I’ve now got something better from my initial investment, just as that person I gave it to did. Of course you have the monetary side as well, that allows others to make books and videos and all the other crap that goes along with software and learning how to use it. The only people being “hurt” are those who stagnate and demand insane amounts of money for what essentially comes down to a status symbol and support of all the parasites that you’re complaining about.

    Another things on OS, It reduces piracy as folks move to it and reduces government power to meddle in yet another area of your life. How can THAT be a bad thing?

    And just one last thing on it. I can see it, I can change it. Can you show me one single commercial software program that allows for that under the terms of their licensing agreement? You don’t OWN any commercial software, you’re just permitted to use it until they say otherwise.

  16. Jim W says:

    About 10 years ago, tech became an easy choice for making money. People began going to school for it.

    The tech industry 10 years ago was full of people that were doing tech because they enjoyed it. Then the industry matured- the jobs switched from being inventive jobs to being assembly line and maintenance level jobs.

    Also, the companies that survived being startups eventually became bloated mega-corps. A startup is a gamble with a small chance of a big payoff, but a successful one eventually ends up becoming more and more cautious- they have deeper pockets and more to lose if they screw up. The culture within these companies shifts and creative people find they are less and less welcome. They leave.

    I already left the tech industry a couple of years ago. I’m going into patent law.

  17. Tomare Utsu Zo says:

    Hate to give the old guy credit, but, Marx was right about the history of class struggle. Those who are agitating for change and freedom will upon achieving success realize that they now have a stake in keeping those who haven’t achieved success down or risk losing to others. *hmmm* The left wing version of growing up and becoming conservative?

  18. Zendo Deb says:

    It isn’t all that hard to figure out…

    The younger generation hates the Republican Party, more than they love the Dems’ socialism.

  19. Zendo Deb says:

    Also, from a not-so-young techie… the reward for doing a good job was to see that job sent overseas.

    That and working for management that was straight out of a Dilbert cartoon convinced me to leave tech. Human factors? We have the web! Response time? Isn’t the web fast? Redundancy? Security? Mean-time-repair? but we have the Web!

    And all those old-school techno-weenies (propeller heads, bit twidlers, whatever) were awful hard to work with if you weren’t an old-school white male. Been there, done that.

    Consulting you say? Yeah, that’s right. I spent the last part of my career cleaning up the messes left by the consulting arms of the Big 6 accounting firms.

    Never installed SAP. But I did work on several other ERP and CRM applications. Not very rewarding. And they didn’t work very well when all was said and done.

    The current state of corporate information services doesn’t lend itself to free-thinking. Unless you are working for a cutting edge org doing data mining, or something like that, you pretty much an adjunct to accounting or cost accounting in a manufacturing environment. And until just recently, you could make more money in accounting (by moving eventually to finance).

  20. I think there’s still quite a bit of conservative and libertarian sentiment among techies–but remember that the rich ones are overwhelmingly hard left. I worked with a bunch of people who are now billionaires and multimillionaires, and many of them were hard left when they were still midddle class. Hard left attitudes about how there is nothing right or wrong, just what you can get away with, are powerful advantages to becoming obscenely rich.

    In addition, part of what makes people go progressive is a profound contempt and hatred for traditional values, especially anything that smacks of Christianity–and even techies that I worked with who were libertarian when they didn’t own their fleets of jets, seem to have moved left out of hatred for anything that seems even slightly traditional.

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