Master branch considered harmful  

Sitting on the fence with respect to political issues leaves me with few allies at a time when lines seem so firmly drawn. Looking in on US discourse, where this polarisation has become most acute, is odd for someone with a European mindset. The insular nature of American politics, and the myopic framing of issues by Americans, makes it difficult for an outsider to wade into, even when the outcomes affect them.

That said, this is important.

git logo
GitHub recently unveiled plans to alter the name of the master branch for git repositories to something less politically heated. This is quite a noble sentiment, and selecting main as the branch name would bring it more inline with quite old though widely used version control systems like perforce.

However that is entirely overshadowed by the fact that GitHub will not stop supporting ICE1. The C.E.O of GitHub, who came out directly in support of the default branch rename said later in an all-hands meeting that he would “not be considering” whether to continue supporting ICE. Leaving no indication that GitHub will ever terminate services to them.

I understand why; cutting off one federal agency would rally support in government for removing all GitHub services (and by extension, Microsoft, presumably). But I think if you’re going to change language for 40 million people then you can snub a few thousand for UN Human Rights violations even if it costs a little money. Assuming it’s truly what you believe in.

GitHub has previously shown its hand in being quite progressive in terms of gender and race and not always in ways I agree with (sometimes calling out women as being problematic, or stating that they think white men aren’t capable of empathy or compassion).

My problems with this kind of tokenisation are that in general it comes from a place of bad faith.

Slavery as a practice is not a race issue, there are modern slaves of all varieties and a whole classification of people who are even ethnically named “slave2” but are white (I am one of those), so if you look at the word “slave” and think black person, then I’m afraid you are a little bit racist- and I know that will be painful to hear for people.

Changing language surrounding slavery does seem very hypocritical anyway since the industry can only exist using computers that are almost entirely dependent on modern slave labour.

The argument here will be “incremental change is good” and that “this is a nice step” but it’s not, it is barely a token step that solves nothing and controls speech unnecessarily, worse, it gives a sense of accomplishment when nothing worthwhile has actually been accomplished. Not only that, altering language for global services based on US politics is exactly the kind of overreaching colonialist attitude which garners universal denigration.

I am reminded of that one guy who “can’t be racist” because “he has a black friend”. If you’re going to die on this hill then this kind of terminology is your “black friend” equivalent.

This is not ‘whataboutism3’ this is a cry against armchair activism and energy spent on causes which are neither truly noble nor pious. They exist only to make people feel good that they enacted change and not to actually promote the betterment of our culture or species. and I understand why, tackling the actual issue is harder, and more expensive, but we do not take this fight because it is easy, we take it because it is hard and the right thing to do.

So, sincerely, I think this is a stupid hill to die on; this is not the fight. The fight is modern slavery, exploitation of those in prison, and company propensity of outsourcing to less developed countries where they profit immeasurably, forcing people no less worthy than us to work in torrid conditions only for our privileged arses to whine about verbiage. Even as I write this I realise the irony in my bitching..

While we’re on the subject of changes in language (sincerely):

  1. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a federal law enforcement agency principally responsible for protecting the U.S. from transnational crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety. It has had a significant role in the controversial destruction of migrant families. 

  2. The word slave is derived from the ethnonym (ethnic name) Slav. It arrived in English via the Old French sclave. In Medieval Latin the word was sclavus and in Byzantine Greek σκλάβος. Use of the word arose during the Early Medieval Period, when Slavs from Eastern Europe were frequently enslaved by Moors from the Iberian Peninsula. An older interpretation connected slave to the Greek verb skyleúo ‘to strip a slain enemy’. 

  3. Whataboutism, also known as whataboutery, is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. 


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