"It's better to ask forgiveness" only works when there's a positive disparity in power

by @edent | | Read ~155 times.

When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me
Emo Philips

Perhaps, in the context of technology, you've heard the phrase "Better to seek forgiveness than beg for permission"? It's usually said when someone is trying to do something that the "grown-ups" in the organisation probably won't like. It will take ages for someone to approve X - so let's just do it anyway because its utility outweighs the consequences of potential punishment.

I think it's generally a good maxim to live by. But… The unwritten part of the saying is that it really depends on who you're targetting.

The Rolling Quads were a group of disability rights activists who - without permission - cut away pavement kerbs to make them wheelchair accessible. They were battling against a large, powerful, and indifferent government which wasn't meeting their reasonable demands. So they sought forgiveness (well, I don't know if they sought it - but they certainly didn't beg for permission). What they did was (probably) illegal but (certainly) morally justified.

Imagine the reverse. Imagine a city council taking away wheelchairs from those who needed them. Just rocking up and stealing mobility aides without permission. I think most reasonable people would find that morally indefensible. When there is a negative disparity in power - there is no threat of punishment, so there can be no effective forgiveness.

If you are, say, a small software developer - and you can't get access to a large company's API or service without disproportionate effort - seek forgiveness! Reverse engineer that API, MITM yourself and figure out the certificates you need, whatever lets you demonstrate value.

If you are, say, Google/Microsoft/FacebookMeta - and a small company won't do what you want - tough!
You can't claim the moral high-ground when you intentionally mess with them.

Why write this?

Without wishing to name-names, I've recently seen a few large organisations behave as though they were still small and scrappy start ups - rather than the giants they are.

When you are the big kids in the playground, your attempts to "stick it to the man" by bullying smaller rivals just looks pathetic.


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