There is an interesting debate currently going on in the world of information technology. Along with de-gendered pronouns and inclusive language, we too have our own internal debates. Currently on the table are the terms master/slave, used to designate among other things the centralized control of communications, a hub configuration. The master controls who may speak in this arrangement.

Soon, the terms blacklist and whitelist came to the chopping block. Isn’t ban list better? Permit list?

Anyway, it’s a conversation that people are having, and the voices of the status quo promptly accused them of being social justice warriors, virtue signaling, creating controversy where there was none.

They’re just words, you’re ruining our history. It’s always been this way. It’s fine. You’re just a liberal snowflake!

It’s funny how, like a fractal, the larger conversations happening in society repeat themselves in other smaller sub-communities, but maybe that’s a topic for another day.

First, words are important.

The words we use have an impact on the way we think and the way we think has an impact on the words we use. Language is recursive in society. If we make the effort to change it, it will in turn shape how we interact with the world. Remember fireman, policeman, and mailman? We changed those, because we wanted a social construct that didn’t default to “man.” There was no reason to gender type those professions. When we realized how archaic it was, that it didn’t reflect our values, we modified those terms and now they sound weird. Congressperson, congressional representative, not congressman. Chairman… chairperson, or just chair.

The master/slave terminology outside of just the obvious ugliness of the relationship, can have a pervasive effect on how we perceive interaction of things. If one thing is always subservient to another, it shapes us. We expect to see this subservience in all things. Bosses have to be on top. Employees at the bottom. There’s got to be this rigid hierarchy in all things, ’cause that’s just the way things are. We see it, we replicate it, we again say that’s how it should be.

What if bosses were just team members or coordinators? They are resource wranglers, interference runners, rather than mandate bringers. The team structure is flat now, all members have a role, and we start to get away from “I’m more important than you are” because I’m the boss. We now see the “boss” as just another resource in the chain. Maybe their task requires more training and education, so they get paid more, but they are not certainly “above” anyone.

Maybe the master/slave language masks other truths when we consider it as part of a system. If we consider one thing as always subservient to the other, perhaps it causes us to not consider that perhaps their communication can flow in two directions sometimes the “slave” taking control. Master/slave just doesn’t cut it anymore and what’s worse it can obscure real truths.

Anyway, it’s a lot, I know, but this stuff isn’t just “libs” virtue signaling. The words we use can have a dramatic effect on how we interact with the world, what structures “make sense,” and how we can make better systems not hindered by outdated ways of thinking.