Social Justice

Basecamp Becomes the Latest Tech Company To Ban Talking Politics at Work

Silence isn't violence, and recusing your company from political discourse, as Basecamp and Coinbase have done, is a perfectly valid line to draw.

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On Monday, productivity software company Basecamp announced a ban on talking politics at work and the discontinuation of "paternalistic benefits" like fitness-related stipends, farmer's market shares, and allowances for education. "Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit, or wading into it means you're a target," co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post announcing the changes. At work, political discussions have become "a major distraction," and, somewhat relatedly, "by providing funds for certain things, we're getting too deep into nudging people's personal, individual choices."

"We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company," Fried said. "We don't have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but…they're not what we collectively do here."

"No comment thread on Basecamp is going to close the gap on fundamental philosophical and political differences," wrote co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, widely known as DHH, in a companion post.

As Casey Newton reports at Platformer, the founders neglected to mention the impetus for the new companywide policy in their public statements. The trouble allegedly started circa 2009, when customer service reps at Basecamp began keeping a list of funny-sounding names, some of which were American or European in origin, others of which were names of minorities. And in December, a newer employee sought to create a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee, recruiting 20 volunteers—a third of the company's lean workforce.

Earlier this month, "two employees posted an apology on the internal Basecamp for having contributed to the list in the past" which "included an image of 'the pyramid of hate,' an illustration created by the Anti-Defamation League to show how the most extreme acts of extremist violence are enabled by a foundation of biased attitudes and acts of bias." The pyramid places "biased attitudes" like stereotyping and non-inclusive language at the bottom, with "acts of bias," "discrimination," "bias motivated violence," and "genocide" in ascending order. DHH's internal response to this included a condemnation of the mean-spirited list, but also an objection to the use of the pyramid. "He told me today that attempting to link the list of customer names to potential genocide represented a case of 'catastrophizing'—one that made it impossible for any good-faith discussions to follow," Newton wrote. This seems eminently reasonable; an attempt to take a shitty list, made years ago by an employee who is no longer with the company, and depict it as potentially the first rung in a person's conversion to carrying out violent, genocidal acts, is an enormous stretch.

If this ruckus sound familiar, it may be because Brian Armstrong of the cryptocurrency exchange platform Coinbase issued a similar statement last September, saying his company would no longer tolerate people engaging at work with political issues "unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus."

"We could use our work day debating what to do about various unrelated challenges in the world, but that would not be in service of the company or our own interests as employees and shareholders," wrote Armstrong, who asked that employees who don't share this mission of advancing global economic freedom resign, offering them four to six months of severance. Ultimately, 5 percent of the workforce—about 60 people—chose to take this exit ramp. Shortly thereafter, The New York Times published a piece alleging that discrimination against black employees had led to this "exodus." Coinbase reps disputed the Times' characterization, saying that the company had a record of only three formal complaints over the time period in question and that all were found to be unsubstantiated.

In any case, a company can have good reasons to recuse itself from such statements. When parroting social justice–infused jargon via internal statements to employees and outwardly facing corporate accounts—"there's still more work to be done," after all—becomes commonplace, a recusal may look like you're saying that the grave injustices that plague society are fine and not worth fixing. But a recusal ought to be seen as an admission that a particular company isn't qualified to offer solutions for a problem of bad policy or distorted incentives; or an admission that the people who chose to work for said company did not consent to advancing a particular slate of political priorities; or maybe simply a statement that a particular company has chosen to do something else with its time, because that's its damn prerogative. Just as companies are well within their rights to wokify themselves, they should also be free to opt out, and employees who have disdain for that choice have a right to seek employment elsewhere—maybe with the help of a few months of severance, courtesy of Armstrong.

"Basecamp pulls a Coinbase and decides to exclude marginalized people by prohibiting 'political' discussions at work, despite our lives and existence being inherently political," tweeted Liz Fong-Jones, principal developer advocate at Honeycomb. But there wasn't any indication that marginalized people will be excluded from companies like these, and there's no reason to expect a racial or sexual minority to be less capable of the situational awareness needed to understand when to talk politics versus when a conversation ought to serve more relevant work-related ends.

Critics have raised objections that people for whom politics is central to their identity may be stifled—a queer person might not be able to speak about their spouse at work; a parent might not be able to talk about public schools; a transgender person might not be able to get their colleagues to call them by their desired pronouns. And what about issues with pay, time off, or workplace sexual misconduct? But all of these feel like deliberate stretches, and the Basecamp heads have clarified that this policy will not be applied with disregard to labor-related issues. There's an enormous difference between engaging in good etiquette (calling people by the pronouns they prefer, using the proper term for their spouse, etc.) and engaging in work-unrelated political discourse. Adults can generally tell the difference, and the message seems clear and simple: Focus mostly on work when you're at work, please and thank you.

When tech leaders announce an aspiration to disentangle work from politics, they're acknowledging that homogeneity of political beliefs within a workplace is a myth. There will often be employees who disagree with a company's political statements. Such workers are often kowtowed into silence, knowing they'll face unforeseen costs for stirring the pot, or pushed into stewing in their own resentment if they feel there's no way to speak up. That type of resentment can push even well-meaning people with principled objections into bitterness. When your company that sells email tracking software suddenly has a party line on things like reparations and the Green New Deal, it's perfectly reasonable for the leaders to reconsider, back off, and say Nope, that's not what we're qualified to speak on, that's not why we're here.

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  1. Yes, we need more of this.

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    3. I agree. Hopefully Google can muster some courage to do the same and eject the 5% of their workforce that is too woke to work.

  2. They are a private company and this is legally OK to violate norms standards and rights. Remember anything in defense of corporations is koch liberaltarian correct.

    1. If you’re an idiot, sure. Believe what you want. If you have to rely on strawman views, go ahead.

    2. They didn’t violate any norms, standards, or rights. They (or at least Coinbase anyway) went out of their way to abide by them. The company can let you go for any reason at all without obligation. That’s the standard. Handing out severance pay exceeds that standard.

      Phoning up your competitor a telling them not to hire undesireables, then phoning up Visa and telling them to cancel your accounts, and then airing all the dirty laundry in the press (conventional or social media) is exceedingly substandard. If YouTube hadn’t interacted with Paypal/Visa and gave Alex Jones 3-6 mos. to get off the platform, or if Amazon gave Parler 3-6 mos. to find another provider, I don’t think people would be complaining about anti-trust or TOS violations. It’s the good faith that generally goes hand-in-hand with being identified as a good Samaritan.

    3. Yeah because a lot of real work that the company pays for gets done when the woke political religious factions bicker back and forth all day about which book speaks for the one true and almighty deity.

    4. That’s right. It’s their business. If they want to stop treating their employees like children, it’s up to them.

  3. Two examples doesn’t make a trend. I would hope more companies get out of the business of kowtowing to whatever the twitter mob has lost their minds about on a given day but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  4. People viewing their lives as “inherently political” is a major part of the problem here and I suspect led to the ban on political discussions, since I suspect it led intolerance of different political views.

    1. I’m pretty sure if I were an employer I would want to avoid employing anyone who sees their existence as inherently political as much as possible.

      1. The problem is, people who view their lives as “inherently political” tend to be members of the sanctified victim castes, and avoiding employing them on the basis that they will probably be confrontational assholes who degrade the productivity of everyone with stupid bullshit like Diversity and Inclusion committees, will be construed as discrimination against their sanctified victimhood status and grounds for suing you directly out of business.

        1. There are less victims out there than woke honkeys being offended on their behalf.

          1. I sometimes call them DWPs (pronounced “doops”)– Disturbed White People.

          2. Seconded. I’ve met an awful lot of black people who are bored by and uninterested in politics, despite the efforts of woke white people to convince them they shouldn’t be.

    2. Those people need to get a life.

  5. Now, this is ok. But if it’s Twitter not ok. Am I doing this right?

    1. To guide you in the future: you are never doing it right. Ever.

    2. Same rules apply to everyone. Twitter is arbitrary and doesn’t ban politics, just conservative politics. They also don’t enforce their anti-harassment and inciting violence policies equitably, either.

      1. They also do it whimsically *sub*standard and collude with other organizations to do the same. It’s not like Coinbase phoned up Binance or Bisq and they all agreed to make sure these people were summarily unemployed industry-wide on the same day and had their payment processing shut down.

    3. “Oh, sure, Basecamp bans discussing politics it’s fine. But when tech giants collude to punish conservatives and help the Democrats win elections suddenly it’s bad!”

    4. No you are doing it very wrong.

      This (Employer saying what employees can talk about during work hours when they are on the clock) is okay.

      Twitter (who purports to be a platform for user’s speach) telling their users what they can not say: legally okay, but morally bankrupt.

      1. The leftists have to use strawmen rationalization to ignore their own hypocrisy.

  6. Where will I get to discuss Democrats and their demonic blood libels. There’s not a Hobby Lobby or a pillow store near by. I guess I’m fucked.

    1. The way you get fucked, you probably need a pillow store.

      1. Wait… that isn’t hot?

        1. Fucking you?

          No. It isn’t hot.

        2. You know what’s hot?

          Paying your mortgage.

    2. you’re as bad at this as sarcasmic is.

    3. “…I guess I’m fucked.”

      Not nearly as much as you deserve, nor as much as your family and the world is by your existence.
      So do us all a favor, pay your mortgage, parasite, and then fuck off and die.

  7. ” . . . principal developer advocate . . . ”

    What the hell?

    1. Kind of like “chief diversity officer”.

  8. “Basecamp pulls a Coinbase and decides to exclude LAZY people by prohibiting ‘political’ discussions at work, despite our lives and existence being inherently political”

    How totally weird that an employer might want you to actually WORK at work!

    1. The woke don’t work.

  9. Of course, if a company silenced a worker who talked about how the election was stolen by Democratic baby fuckers this would be an infringement on the 1st amendment and, also, an example of the worst thing since Attila the Hun— namely, cancel culture.

    1. Deranged much?

    2. You disregarded sound advice, and didn’t do it right once again.

    3. You have no First Amendment at work.

  10. I think most of us know this. Work is for work. There are some things you just don’t talk about.

    1. This one time my cousin Walter was on a plane and the landing gear turned off. Everyone thought they were going to die. So Walter just pulls it out and starts jacking it. Soon everyone follows suit. Then at the last second the landing gear turns back on, everyone puts away their parts, and sobody mentions what happened.
      Well did he come?
      Damn it man there are some things you don’t talk about

      1. Heh heh

  11. And in December, a newer employee sought to create a Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee

    More informally known as a D.I.E. Committee. With good reason.

  12. One reason I quit my last job was because of the incessant political talk. I started there during the end of the 2016 election season, and for a year there was literally no other topic of watercooler discussion other than how Hillary/Trump was a poopyhead. It was nonstop. I resorted to wearing earplugs. People thought it was because the workplace was noisy, but it was because I got fucking sick of hearing these stupid HIGH VOLUME arguments from across the building.

    I was neither a Hillary supporter nor a Trump supporter, and gosh, that made me the ultimate outsider, and people made sure I knew it. Three years later it still had not changed, despite a new company policy to NOT talk about politics at work. So I left. Fuck that shit. There’s more to life than who sits on the throne.

    I certainly had my strong opinions on every topic, but worksplace was not the place for me to air them.

    1. Yup. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue when people state their political views as if they are obviously true, but we’re here to do a job, not solve all the world’s problems.

    2. I am that way too. It’s funny when I have been around people talking politics and I just casually say “oh I am a libertarian” they just kinda go quiet. And move to the other side of the room.

      1. Similar except I was/am less team-oriented and more concrete/pragmatic about it. At a work-based social gathering the news was on and they were talking about Trump favoring nuclear weapons or not pre-emptively taking them off the table.
        Coworker: “[sic]Can you believe that?” [sic] was asked aloud.
        Me: “Makes it seem like he isn’t averse to nuclear power.”
        Coworker: “[sic]Nuclear power isn’t worth the risk of a nuclear attack.”
        Me: “Is nuclear war a greater threat than global warming?”
        *Coworker silently leaves conversation*

        I suffer no delusions that I changed any minds, but I’d like to think I nudged the Overton window in the right direction at least a little bit.

        1. but I’d like to think I nudged the Overton window in the right direction at least a little bit.

          Good luck, because it’s floating around 700 nautical miles off the coast of San Francisco.

  13. These policies are all fine and dandy, until you get called out by the NLRB. Talk about pay disparity is political and protected.

  14. “Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target,” co-founder Jason Fried wrote in a post announcing the changes. At work, political discussions have become “a major distraction,” and, somewhat relatedly, “by providing funds for certain things, we’re getting too deep into nudging people’s personal, individual choices.”

    I don’t know who this guy is, or what this company does, but what I sense here is that he’s either attempting to get his employees to start acting like grownups– or perhaps more darkly, has realized that this new generation of young people CAN’T act like grownups, so he’s throwing up some rules around the situation.

    It seems to me that corporate America– at least coastal corporate America seems to have the same problem coastal governments have: they’ve forgotten how to govern.

    There was a time when employees were expected to act like grownups, and were thrown out if they couldn’t. You keep hearing about petty, internal fainting-couch spells and revolts from employees about every perceived slight– spotify employees having a conniption out of a mildly controversial Joe Rogan podcast, book publishing employees going into fetal-position paroxysms over some problematic person getting a book published.

    You work for a book publisher you little twat, if you don’t like it, then fucking quit or clean out your desk.

    1. The problem is the employers more than the employees, although the latter are useless wastes of life. If the employers fired their asses instead of giving in to these tards, things would improve dramatically.

      Further proof that Milennials and GenZers are the most spoiled-ass generations in US history.

  15. Does this mean BLM won’t get a multi million dollar check from Coinbase? That’s just racist.

    1. I suspect that the number of multi-million dollar corporate checks from corporate America have dropped off noticeably.

  16. Does this mean I can’t talk about how Hillary KkkLinton is swilling baby blood to her from dying of Parkinson’s? Sky net is a public company you know and having some corporate CEO elitist prevent me from talking about how great the 2nd amendment is is pure totalitarianism. Fuck that, slaver.

    1. Sure screech talk about whatever your pedo mind wants.

  17. I remember being told, on my first job, in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t to wear my Goldwater button in our office or when making deliveries to clients or auditing in their offices. Today, employees seem to be able to put up campaign stickers, posters and political signs in their cubicles or private offices. I wouldn’t doubt you can get away with a Che poster in many offices.

    1. Putting up a picture of a child murderer is pretty bold. But, then again, most people don’t know shit about history.

      1. Do you have a picture of child rapist Joseph Smith in your work or office?

        1. Asshole flag

        2. Hi KARen!

          Do you have a picture of Charles Manson in yours?

          Haha. Just kidding. You don’t work.

  18. “global economic freedom” sounds pretty political, just not partisan.

  19. “people for whom politics is central to their identity ”

    If that’s the case your identity sucks and you’ve failed at life.

  20. Dept of nitpicking: the author misused the word “kowtow” as a synonym for “bully” (“…are often kowtowed into silence”…). In reality the kowtow is a kneel and prostration before the Emperor in ancient China, often understood as groveling in colloquial American speech.

    1. Maybe the author meant to write “cowed into silence” and an automated editor got carried away.

  21. >>a ban on talking politics at work

    “did you see the BLM sign @Globe Life Field during the Rangers game last night?”

    1. The NBA let players use social justice phrases on their jersey instead of names in the bubble last season.

      “I was watching Lakers Heat and Black Lives Matter was crossing up How Many More all night!”

      1. so are we fired if we’re @Basebase?

        1. Yes

      2. More education funding needs to rebound better. He’s no protect minority voting rights that’s for sure!

        1. It sounds like a horse race! LOL at woke black people protesting second-class citizenship by identifying as ilvestock.

        2. I miss republicans buy sneakers too.

        3. 3 asshole flags

    2. I saw an add from Budweiser telling me to take the fn vaccine.
      Wtf

      1. mass-sterilization via panic requires a broad effort.

  22. At my company, most people follow the old polite advice of avoiding discussion about Sex, Religion, or Politics.

    This last election cycle we did have one particularly progressive woman who broke that rule often and loudly, but for the most part, people keep it to themselves.

  23. “”We could use our work day debating what to do about various unrelated challenges in the world, but that would not be in service of the company or our own interests as employees and shareholders,”

    This is the most important part of any discussion on woke corporations. The moral, ethical and LEGAL obligation of employees, executives, and ultimately the board is to serve the interests of shareholders by maximizing their returns.

    Going woke at a corporation is like your defense attorney not defending you properly because you’re white and he thinks you benefit from systemic racism. The legal obligation of the role is elevated above all else. In practice, I’ve seen disturbing trends in the opposite direction.

    Also, devil’s advocate. Let’s say I wanted a corporation I was invested in to go woke. If popular pressure is all it takes for that corporation to adopt alternate values, would I really want to place my trust in them being truly woke beyond providing lipservice to me? What if Nazism became wildly popular and shareholders started demanding that corporate boards liquidate Jewish employees from their firms? When corporations go woke, it comes across as shallow because it is.

  24. “…”by providing funds for certain things, we’re getting too deep into nudging people’s personal, individual choices.”…”

    Sign at check-out counter:
    ‘Would you like to add something to your charge to benefit (whatever)?’
    No. I gave at the office. More importantly,why would I let *you* choose where my contributions go? Can I take some off the charge and add it to my contributions to IJ or PLF?

  25. Good development. I hope more follow suit.

  26. Who cares about DISCUSSING politics at work, when you can just come to work with suitable firearms and WASTE your (former) colleagues?
    I’ve got your controversy right here!

  27. Wow, 5% took severance rather than accept not discussing politics at work? Sounds like the company really dodged a bullet there. More companies need to stamp this out while the SJWs are still a small enough minority.

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