PHP internals and the battle for Ukraine
When PHP meets politics
I don't do political posts on my blog and this is not a political post. I am not expressing a view on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. That doesn't mean I don't hold a view, but this is precisely the distinction I want to explore in this post.
A thread on the internals list came to my attention the other day. I haven't posted directly on the mailing list about it, nor do I intend to, but it's a discussion around the idea of the php.net site showing a Ukrainian flag and some kind of "anti-war disclaimer".
Parts of the thread get a bit heated. We have the people passionately in favour of doing this, in a few cases to the extent they consider inaction a tacit approval of what's happening in Ukraine right now, or an endorsement of the Russian state's actions.
We also have the people who believe that as the PHP community, through php.net or any other medium, has never collectively taken a stance on wars or world affairs in the past, it would be inappropriate to do so now.
I wanted to take a few minutes to write about where I fall on this, what it means to me when I say I keep my blog non-political and why I don't have some symbol or statement regarding Ukraine on my own site, or a desire to get involved in the discussion on internals.
Social media has been awash with "statements of support" and Ukrainian flags as of late. Of course it has, there's a war going on and we don't need to analyse the obvious as to why people are doing this, or why we're seeing the topic come up in places as neutral and far-removed from being forums of world events as a mailing list for people interested in the inner workings of the PHP programming language.
Some of these posts are genuinely making a difference, even if it's a very small one. If you as an individual or representative of a larger organisation have a significant following on the web or social media and are providing information about ways people can directly help, whether that's through donating to the UN Ukraine relief fund, or where you can bring food, clothing and basic necessities to donation points, or lobbying your government to provide safe refuge for those forced to flee their home - great. I wholly support you doing that.
What I don't get and what I'm not so much onboard with is all the other posts which are just a picture of the Ukrainian flag, or "I stand with Ukraine", or similar non-specific "shows of support" or "anti-war statements", such as what appears to be proposed by some in the internals thread.
I appreciate it may be a view controversial to some, but I don't think it's a helpful thing to do. I don't think it adds anything to the conversation, I don't think it makes anyone's life better or does anything to alleviate the situation for those caught up in conflict. Straying slightly in to the philosophical, I don't think it's even a good or meaningful moral gesture.
Sure, it's not harmful either and I don't begrudge anyone expressing their feelings on Ukraine or any other world issues. I don't specifically object to any website putting up a flag or saying they're anti-war, I just don't get what it's supposed to achieve or for whom.
Do you really need me to say I deplore the suffering of civilians in war zones? Why do we suddenly, en mass, feel the need to explicitly inform strangers that yes, we are definitely against people being murdered? Would you walk up to a stranger you passed on the street and tell them that, apropos of nothing?
Moreover, since when was the absence of such a statement tantamount to a personal declaration to the opposite? It seems to me a kind of social contagion in recent years that we expect everyone to be sharing their entire lives online and by extension, a belief that which isn't shared by the individual must not be part of the individual. In other words, don't speak up about something, your silence is to be taken as a declaration that you don't care.
This judging people by the content of their social media is deeply unfair to everyone. We hold all sorts of common moral views we don't share as a matter of routine. The overwhelming majority of humans on the planet are normal people like us just trying to get by and live in peace. We might occasionally be selfish, or short sighted, or in all sorts of ways fall short of being paragons of virtue, but we're not knowingly malicious.
I'm not going to walk up to you on the street and proudly inform you I meet the most basic, bare minimum standard of humanity by not being pro-murder because I don't think you should need to ask me that. I don't need to ask you that, either. Unless you've already said or done something to make me believe otherwise, I will readily give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you're probably against people being murdered too.
Much as I often describe myself as a cynic, truth be told my default view of humanity and what most of us are at the core is at least cautiously optimistic.
My blog is non-political because my intention in creating it was that it would be focused on technical and programming topics. Even the "musings" which are more personal diary style posts were something I intended to largely keep to themes of my profession.
That doesn't mean I don't hold political, moral and philosophical views, it just means I don't want this to be the forum for them. I don't share everything about myself online, and my blog or my presence on any social media doesn't represent the entirety of who and what I am.
If Ukraine hadn't come up as a discussion in the PHP community, I wouldn't be writing about it here. That doesn't mean I don't care, it just means it's not what my blog is about. But it did come up and even a cursory read through the thread shows the only thing it's achieved so far is, ironically, to cause argument, division and conflict between those on the mailing list.
And this at least makes me wonder, wouldn't it be better for discussions on PHP internals to be limited to the subject of PHP? If Ukraine or anything else happening in the world is a subject about which you are passionate and want to speak out about, raise awareness, direct support or make charitable efforts - there are many spaces in which you can do so.
But the world doesn't need more sources of disagreement and conflict. PHP is a global community and I believe the disagreement on the internals thread only goes to show, sometimes the best thing we can do in that respect is just not say anything.
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