Impolite Conversation

On the matter of certain topics some people consider taboo ...

What are the origins in social etiquette, of the notion that it is impolite to discuss politics, religion, and a host of other topics that often seem central to daily living in modern society, especially modern American society? It is often apparent in many social settings that people believe they shouldn’t discuss any of their personal opinions or beliefs publicly. One social arena where this phenomenon is strikingly apparent is among people who hold positions of corporate power, in companies both large and small. For quite some time, I’ve maintained a similar posture with regard to the content on this, my own, personal, public, web site, out of concern that one never knows when a potential employer might take offense at a given political view or philosophical belief, regardless of the nature of that belief. Like most people though, I believe steadfastly in my political and philosophical views, on social issues, on economic issues, on constitutional issues, and on the entire range of controversial subjects that impact everyone’s lives, our country, and our planet. Whether on public display, or cloistered privately, I know my perspectives remain what they are, informed by a lifetime of experiences, born of wisdom derived from both knowledge and epiphany.
 
As a technologist for example, I recall taking note many years ago that Carly Fiorina had been appointed CEO of Hewlett Packard. The public façade Fiorina emitted was that of the typical cookie cutter corporate executive who had risen in seemingly magical fashion by walking on water up the corporate control salmon ladder, toward the executive spawning grounds, where almost all of them also reach the end of their corporate careers in eventual failure. It quickly became apparent that Fiorina was primarily a smooth as silk corporate politician whose ability to seize the reigns of power at Hewlett Packard had nothing whatsoever to do with any understanding of computer technology, not even at its most rudimentary levels. It was only after Carly Fiorina’s technology devoid notions of corporate leadership had nearly destroyed Hewlett Packard and she was forced out of power with the usual jackpot lotto $21 million golden parachute, did Fiorina’s political core become starkly visible. I had never known anything about her political views until she had left Hewlett Packard, had entered politics and begun to openly express her opinions, in quite influential public settings. It wasn’t long after Fiorina’s exit from Hewlett Packard that she started appearing, once again seemingly quite magically, on the Sunday morning political talking head television programs. This time however, she was putting her politics, in the formal notion of politics, on full display. She revealed herself as a bizarre form of Republican influencer who made it plain and obvious that her goal was to strengthen the Republican associated corporate control power base in American, at the same time she expressed her views on social issues without reservation. Using her jackpot lotto corporate executive golden parachute, she then attempted to launch herself into elected politics in California by unsuccessfully trying to unseat U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, although she had zero experience as a public elected official. Despite Fiorina’s abject failure as a politician, she remains visible on the public speaking circuit and on television’s political talk shows. Importantly however, while Fiorina was active as a corporate executive, she seemed to have kept her political views private, while maintaining a façade as a completely obtuse cookie cutter cutout. 
 
Along the foregoing lines, the management team pages of technology companies large and small demonstrate a similar phenomenon. For example, most people in corporate power rarely have facebook pages, and aren’t likely to be found commenting on topics as mundane as their hobbies on public facebook pages, at least not using their real names. The few who have twitter accounts most often seem to use them primarily to distribute corporate propaganda. It also seems apparent that corporate boards of directors insist that corporate leaders be publicly anonymous individuals whose identity is impossible to separate from the public image of the corporation itself. The reason corporate Boards of Directors hold such views is obvious. They don’t want the personal lives of their corporate managers to distract from the missions of the corporations they control. It seems to remain rare for even the few mythological technology visionaries that remain at the helm of technology giants to put their personal views on public display. Among them, people like Steve Jobs rarely seemed to have made his political views public apparent during his lifetime, and then most often only by implication. The rare corporate executive who expresses person political or religious views publicly is often called a maverick. Among the few contexts in which executives of corporation reveal their political views is by making the public lists of individuals who contribute to political campaigns. Often political contributions are the only clues to the personal beliefs, values, and ethical systems of corporate managers. Middle managers below the level of corporate officer often seem expected to be even more socially opaque. 
 
Meanwhile, Americans live in an era where controversial political issues (i.e. disputes) have injected themselves directly into the hearts of peoples' everyday lives, where those controversies have the ability to influence nearly every aspect of daily living. Even trying to mention a few highlights of such matters reveals which of those political topics might be on the mind of the person writing about them. One can only wonder how people might live comfortably in social settings, whether professional or personal, where it is apparent that people around them may have differing views and differing beliefs and values, while maintaining an objective ability to operate fairly with them, especially within business and professional interactions, and during the recreational social interactions that people often want to intersect with business life, and elsewhere?
 
Imagine an American society where it might be acceptable for people, especially professionals like technologists, to express their personal views outside of work without fear of reprisal at work? How do contrary social protocols continue to persist in contemporary culture anyway, where nearly everyone awaits the next faster CPU chip, the next larger data storage card, the next fastest internet connection hardware and service, and the newest astonishing technological advancement of every kind, when sociologically and anthropologically many people are struggling to maintain harmony and social acceptance at such rudimentary levels, as is apparent not just in Western society, but globally on planet earth?
 
Marilyn Perry