21 Comments

I had this argument online a couple of years ago re: working at Facebook. I think part of the problem is that some people treat their politics as kind of a game they play on Twitter and every two years at the ballot box rather than as an expression of the morals that guide their life.

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Thanks for this essay. And your moral clarity in general. The decision to quit instead of (fruitlessly) trying to "fix it from the inside" is a very Thoreauvian strategy that would 100% work at dismantling these organizations if more people did it ("When the subject has refused allegiance and the officer has resigned his office, then the revolution is accomplished"). And at least frees up one person of good conscience to try to do good stuff instead of bad stuff, which makes it already worth it on balance.

I used to work as a software engineer at Facebook and went through this exact moral dilemma. I quit in January of 2020 and now work as a programmer for my local government. I make probably 20% of what I would've been making had I stayed (60k vs 300k), but I couldn't handle taking Zuck's blood money any more.

Peers would say things like "you could fix them from the inside" -- they don't want to be fixed. Or "well you're just a tiny cog in this massive machine so who's to say whether your personal impact is good or bad" -- my salary still comes from the bad stuff and I don't want to benefit from that. Plus I want to DO GOOD, not have no impact at all (in the best case). Or "oh they'll just replace you with someone even less scrupulous so now it'll be worse without you" -- I thought you just said we were tiny cogs making no impact, so what's the difference? Plus is it really the best I can do for the world to just be a placeholder at an evil company so someone more evil than me doesn't take the reins?

Back then I wrote this essay: https://benhub.io/blog/DeadCodeSociety.html to articulate to myself how I got into that position and why I quit, in case anyone is interested.

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Dec 21, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

I did this about 26 years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did. Sure, I suffered financially for a few years, making less money and loaded with debt for a few years, but I'm a better, happier person, bringing good to peoples lives, rather than ruining them.

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Dec 21, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

This is especially true for lawyers. All “big law” jobs are actively trying to keep the rich richer but there is a plethora of ways to use your law degree in the public interest. Even personal injury and employment law are at least trying to help people and pay a decent wage. There is no excuse to use your education giving aid and comfort to the enemy (although yes it was easy for me since I wasn’t offered such a job)

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Dec 21, 2023Liked by Hamilton Nolan

I preempted the issue 37 years ago by deciding not to go into advertising and became a teacher instead. No regrets.

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This is the very essence of programmer work, to which the law/medicine takes a close second. If your job is to use your imagination to build robots, your compensation is based on making manual work go away. It is not possible to be a coder who has control over the way their work product is used.

I’m very good at my job and it has practical applications, but I’m still nervous that the pay is good.

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I love this piece so much because it embodies the beautiful, ethical, humanistic, critical thinking that can change the world. Thank you so much @hamiltonnolan. Merry Christmas! Upgrading to paid to support you. :)

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All of this!

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I've spent my life serving the public in one of the country's poorest states, first as a teacher and now as a librarian. I find that I'm really not proud of any of the work I've done. The irrational anger and frustrations and grievances that people vent on me as a low-paid but captive public employee have ground me down. Both of these thankless jobs have also become politicized by the most deranged people on this earth. I find myself imagining every day a version of my life as a soulless but well-compensated corporate lawyer or some shit. I wish I could try on a different life for size. Many well-paying jobs may indeed be evil, but sometimes they sure sound like a relief from all the low-paying care-based jobs helping people who hate you in return.

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I worked my first salary job at a shitty, evil company, until they did me the favor of laying me off. Not long after this a young woman I knew there dropped dead, no warning, in her early 30s. One of the things this episode impressed on me is that you might think you're biding your time while working at shitty, evil company X, until you can carry out your plans for something else, but you really don't know how much time you have left.

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Huzzah. Brilliantly articulated. 🩷⚖️🕊️

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As a wise friend once told me, you are what you do.

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Re: Fetterman. Saw him on a TV talk show a bit ago and it is clear his brain is broken, he didn't really recover from his stroke and by now it's clear he never will. He can't help it that he is now the servant of all the putrid lobbyists and their money - there is no one home at his house. Sad.

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From https://endlesschain.substack.com/p/christmas-presents:

"When Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus, he is paid for his endeavour: 30 pieces of silver. Because the place of money in our material world is so established and entrenched and understood—or so we would have it—we label the wages of Judas’s sin as blood money, and that, pretty much, is that.

"We do not, on the whole, pause to consider in how far our weekly wage is blood money. Or corporate profits. Or tax revenues (the funds for raising an army often come from taxes paid by a country’s citizens, so it is, is it not?, the citizens who by proxy shoot the people of other countries against which their own government wages war … If it works for felony murder, why doesn’t it work here?)

"Nor do we dwell, when using the term blood money, on whether the blood is the responsibility of him who accepts the payment or, on the contrary, the responsibility of him who makes the payment, in order to procure the act of … betrayal, nonchalance, blind eyes, adherence to rules, disregard for injustice, doing as you’re told, whatever. The lack of proximity between the job of work that we do and any harm that might be occasioned by the activity to which we thereby contribute is so remote that we do not regard ourselves as earning blood money, whether through a weekly wage or an annual dividend, and it can be that it would be right for us to do so, and it can be that that would be nonsense. When so-called whistleblowers reveal details of nefarious goings-on in corporations and governments, one wonders whether the denials that are then forthcoming can even be serious, whether the retribution wreaked against the whistleblower is fair, or even whether the whole whistleblowing procedure isn’t there simply to out the heretics among us.

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Being alive in this incredible historic moment makes, doesn't it make people who are privileged want to take the world in the right direction?

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Don’t worry I don’t justify working to myself. I’ve just been very passionate about food and shelter since a young age haha

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