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    Where do "moral refugees" from the tech industry go? ask

At some point, we all realize (or will realize) that we’re working for the bad guys. Most of us, if we don’t work directly for companies involved in vampire capitalism, serve clients that do.

For example, one of my recent contracts involved performance-monitoring software for truck drivers. If a driver went two miles off-route for a cheaper lunch, or drove under the speed limit due to snow, he’d get a call and a reprimand because of a product that I helped build. Except for the few who have the pedigree to get jobs in basic research, most of us are making the world worse every day. We’re vassals to vampire capitalism.

We can get self-congratulatory about it and say “Software is eating the world.” No. False. Corporate capitalism is eating the world. Software is just what it shits out after the world’s been eaten.

To make it clear, I don’t have a moral objection to capitalism per se. I don’t believe that markets are inherently evil. I recognize the social value that private businesses can, in theory, provide. Business is played as a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t have to be that way. However, it’s observably true that circa-2017 corporate/vampire capitalism is, with every step it takes further into all aspects of human life, making the world worse. And now that the id of the business elite– a man who shares an uncanny amount in common with Bay Area tech founders, despite being from a completely different business– has talked its way into the presidency of the United States, it’s making the world dangerous.

When conscientious programmers can’t stomach being the bad guys anymore, where on earth do they go?

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    There are loads of companies working on things that aren’t evil.

    My recommendation would be to look at companies that do boring things without anything like machine learning or something. Go work for an inventory tracking system for vegetables. A company that makes metro cards.

    There’s also a couple open source projects out there that have a “consulting/development” angle. For example, I think EdX works like this

    I think it’s easier to find this in small teams. 10-20 people. Might be harder to find in some places more than others.

    Bootstrapped startups might also be a good place to look. People who were never tempted to get investors because they’re fine growing slowly

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      Seconding the point about looking at boring things. I’ve worked mostly for what would be considered “good” companies (in the nonprofit sector, for example), and the work is almost always boring or un-glamorous.

      This can be pretty frustrating! But every time I’ve looked into trying to find something more “interesting” technically, I am left disappointed by the types of ends I’d have to end up working in service of, as described by the OP.

      I’m not sure of the correspondence here, but my theory is that “good” orgs more frequently need boring things: they want their CRUD app to work a little better, want their spreadsheet workflow to be more automated, etc. I think this is because one way to measure the “goodness” of your work is to measure how “close” to actual people it is. In other words, how person-centric it is.

      It’s a democratization of tech thing. The smaller a group is, the more likely they are to have comparatively mundane technical problems. Similarly, most people are not technical, so chances are that any one individual’s technical problem of choice is also going to be fairly boring.

      To put it another way, there are probably some investment banks who’d love to have you crunch some stuff through some “interesting” ML and put together an analysis for them. But if you stopped a random individual person on the street, their most pressing concern would probably be for you to help them fix their iPhone.

      I think the challenge for programmers is to recalibrate our senses of self-worth so that they are oriented along how much we are helping people, not how fancy the work we are doing is. I am finding that this is extremely difficult to do!

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        I mostly agree, and would restate it in a slightly different way.

        Filtering jobs both on cool tech stacks solving challenging problems for top pay and morally pure business purpose isn’t going to leave you with many jobs. You’re gonna have to bend on a few of those points. It’s probably not too tough to find something you don’t mind doing morally if you can handle doing basic CRUD webapps in Java or PHP or something for low to middling pay.

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          if you can handle doing basic CRUD webapps in Java or PHP or something for low to middling pay.

          Yeah, but then why do this shit at all? Why not get a real career, at that point? (Unfortunately, I may be too old for that.)

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            I second the emotion you’re hinting at here (doing cool shit is definitely a prime motivator), but this was the other thing I was hoping to get across in my post. One reason to do basic CRUD webapps “at all” under these circumstances may be that you’ve found a good org of good people, and when you deliver a basic CRUD app to them, they may be delighted.

            It’s another yardstick available by which you could measure your worth. It’s not easy to get in that mindset, I agree with that. But I think it’s available if one wants it.

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              I’m guessing you never tried to build automatic programming tools that automate CRUD apps. When I had to do some, I built my 4GL toolkit I occasionally reference. Even boring jobs can be executed in interesting new ways. Try doing them in Prolog, Flow-based Programming, etc. I’d say automate them without telling the boss. You have more time to bullshit around with cool stuff. Alternatively, pick an awesome language that compiles to the language for CRUD apps.

              CRUD jobs suck. I agree there. I’m just saying even the most boring of all IT jobs present opportunities. I haven’t even mentioned homebrew, static analysis and refactoring tools some companies allow people to attempt.

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                What’s a “real career”, and why isn’t tech one? Seriously, if you know of something that has better overall pay, working conditions, and lack of lifestyle interferences, with fewer formal qualifications, please tell us, and I’ll go do it.

                I have my beefs with the tech world, but I’ve done a lot of different things, and I think it’s hard to beat overall. No job, career, or field is perfect, but life is much easier if you can recognize the good, tolerate the bad, and go home to something else at the end of the day.

                I also think it can help to work somewhere where you can see and talk to your users. You can temper disappointment at not using cool trendy languages and building deeply innovative things by seeing every day how much time and frustration you’re saving your users. I’ve done things like cut the loading time of a screen from 2-4 minutes to <100ms (short version: multiple layers of N+1 queries in NHibernate replaced with a single SQL query) just because it was annoying me when I was doing testing, and seen how thrilled the users were at how much faster it was.

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                  Because technology can drive tremendous positive change in places like that.

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                There’s some truth to this. Small companies tend to have tight budgets and want specific things done, and there isn’t a lot of room for experimentation or growth. If you can solve a specific, usually boring, problem in time, great. They probably don’t have the resources to justify a full-time role doing only interesting work. Large companies, on the other hand, tend to have ample budgets, but the power is often held by sociopaths who belong in prison.

                This said, there are a lot of terrible small companies out there, too. There are plenty of efforts and people that I would not feel good about helping. The moral argument for capitalism is that business is potentially positive-sum, but the reality on the ground is that 90+ percent of the people play it zero-sum, and that seems to be true whether we’re talking about corporate executives (whom everyone hates) or small-business proprietors (whom we like to see as “the good guys”).

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                Go work for an inventory tracking system for vegetables.

                That might have been intended as a joke example. The funny part is I actually used one of those things at a prior job. The IT department there found their job boring outside of the people that had to go to production locations for fixing equipment, deploying cables, etc. They had some diversity in work. However, the whole IT group got paid to help the business deliver products to customers that they wanted. Also, to do it more effectively. None of them would write a post like the OP.

                They’re not an exception. Far as I can tell, most of the businesses in at least the U.S. provide some kind of benefit to consumers that keeps them in business. Most of the IT work is about delivering that. The scheming bullshit in those companies, startups, or purely-evil companies seems to be a minority even if some of them are massive. One can avoid a lot of it by just not applying for jobs at such companies.

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                I hope these Zebras succeed.

                But I worry about the Thatcher Effect. ie. I hope they can succeed without losing their soul.

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                  I like the “zebra” concept quite a lot. The mid-growth / mid-risk businesses– not the bureaucratic corporations and especially not the get-rich-quick startups– are actually the companies that make capitalism a tolerable system.

                  (On unicorns, I can’t see that word without thinking that some San Franciscan VC coined it because he wanted to be anally penetrated by a horse. I mean, why else would these jackasses be yammering on about unicorns?)

                  For low-growth / low-risk companies like parking garages, you have bank loans. For high-risk companies, you have this VC throw-shit-at-the-wall / see-what-sticks game. For mid-growth companies targeting 20-40% annual growth without compromises to culture and quality, there is literally no financing available for them. I can’t find a good reason for it, insofar as 40 percent growth over 10 years is 29x– not bad if you can pull it off.

                  The problem with contemporary capitalism isn’t capitalism but the extreme short-term nature of it. That’s a breeding ground for hucksters and sociopaths. It puts reputation and that “personal brand” bullshit at a premium while substance gets overlooked.

                  I’m not a Trump supporter but, economically, America really was more “great” in the 1950s-60s. (This is not to insult women, minorities, or LGBT people by claiming that it was “great” on the whole. It was not.) Our economy grew at 4-6% per year instead of 1-2%. The reason? A lot more funding for R&D, and a long-term mentality in the business world. If we can get back to that, we can be a powerhouse country again. If we don’t, and if we stick with this short-term managerial capitalism, we’re going to fall to shit.

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                    Don’t get me wrong, but from your posts you seem to be really tired of and/or upset about the US startup/tech scene. Did you consider just leaving your natural habitat for a while and work in another (perhaps more egalitarian) country to get a fresh/more joyful perspective on things? For instance, in Europe there are many small and mid-size family companies with strong values (ethics, environmental, etc.).

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                      Can you give any names of these “mid-size family companies”?

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                          Germany-specific, but these should qualify for example: http://www.software-made-in-germany.org/zertifizierte-unternehmen/

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                          Don’t get me wrong, but from your posts you seem to be really tired of and/or upset about the US startup/tech scene.

                          Absolutely, but to be honest, I have a hard time believing that it’s better in the EU countries. Everything I read tells me that it’s harder to raise capital. This would suggest that employees have even more leverage over talent than they do here. Of course, there are many things that make EU life better (like healthcare that isn’t terrible, 4-6 weeks of vacation, and not having a fascist billionaire as one’s president). It just doesn’t seem like a great place to start a company.

                          Also, I have personal reasons to want to stay in the US for the next few years, as bad as things may get over here.

                          For instance, in Europe there are many small and mid-size family companies with strong values (ethics, environmental, etc.).

                          That’s a good thing to know. I’d like to know why there aren’t more of those in the US.

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                            Did you consider just leaving your natural habitat for a while and work in another (perhaps more egalitarian) country to get a fresh/more joyful perspective on things?

                            I think many of us have considered this but the anti-immigration sentiment everywhere makes it harder and harder to pull off. All the EU jobs that show up on the job boards I frequent are only open to people already authorized to work in the EU.

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                              I know that patriotism is seen as atypical for the left, but ideally, I wouldn’t flee to the EU just because the US is in a period of hardship and (reversible, I hope?) decline.

                              I’d like to fix this country instead. I was born here and my family has been here for almost 400 years (by American standards, that’s a long time). I see the appeal of an easier climate or a country where you can actually get fucking healthcare, but the orange leaves and blue sky of New England autumn are deep in my blood. My attitude may change, but for now, I’m inclined to fight to save this place until I’m fucking dead.

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                            Something like Fog Creek? At least in the pre-Stackoverflow times. It was bootstrapped via consulting income.

                            Why doesn’t a bank loan work for this segment?

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                              Why doesn’t a bank loan work for this segment?

                              Bank loans are for ventures where the risk of failure is low and total principal loss is virtually impossible. They usually require personal liability, even if you’re fully incorporated.

                              They’re great if you want to start a parking garage, where even if you fail, you’ll have some revenue and collateral. They’re not well-suited for technology companies where, even if you do everything right, total principal loss is a possibility.

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                              I always think of “The Vulgar Unicorn”, the tavern where most of the action in Robert Asprin shared world begins.

                              VC throw-shit-at-the-wall / see-what-sticks game

                              It’s not “sticking” that they are looking for, it’s exponential growth they are looking for.

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                                Businesses should be aiming for exponential growth, but there’s a qualitative difference between 20-40% per year and the 300% per year that VCs demand.

                                If you grow at 20-40 percent per year, you still generate a lot of value, but you can grow more slowly. You don’t throw culture and caution and moral decency to the wind in order to make that speed. Ten years of 30% growth is still 13.8x. Not bad, right?

                                The problem is that VCs don’t have the patience for that. Y Combinator demands 7% growth per week, which is unsustainable and dangerous. The Zenefits Scandal was largely triggered by the unrealistic growth demands of YC– an incubator that, miraculously, managed to escape bad press for it.

                                To make it worse, if you’re a client service business, it’s impossible to make VC growth targets without the VCs also lining up all your clients. (When you take VC, you implicitly agree to buy services from other tech companies funded by those VCs.) Silicon Valley is an incestuous clusterfuck, of startups buying each others services in order to inflate the metrics and valuations. Like an art scam, it’ll fold, but who can predict when? This also means that the VCs hold ultimate power, because not only do they decide if you get funding, but they also determine whether you get clients.

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                                  aiming for exponential growth

                                  Aiming for exponential growth is the philosophy of cancer, and should be treated as such.

                                  Aiming for appropriate share of addressable market, that is sensible.

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                                There’s a different kind of Unicorn in the bay area. https://twitter.com/isislovecruft/status/382922302716801024

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                                  I don’t know why you were downvoted. You can’t hear a Bay Area venture capitalist use the word “unicorn” (because we’re too tee-hee puritan to say “a billion dollars”) and not picture something perverted. It’s like, “I get it, you’re into anal penetration and horses. You’ll fit in perfectly on Sand Hill Road.”

                                  San Francisco used to be a place where people into kink went for consensual pain. Now it’s a place where people into money go for nonconsensual pain.

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                              I’d say save up a couple hundred thousand and get out…move to some nice part of the world and start/continue a family and just let the thing rot through.

                              The users aren’t worth saving, our colleagues are collaborators, the art is sold and dead. The nominally “good” side (whatever that means) is busy cannibalizing itself.

                              What’s the point in maintaining principles when they aren’t valued by the people they protect?

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                                the art is sold and dead

                                This is the part that hurts the most.

                                Ideally, this’d be my long-term strategy. Most of the institutions of the modern world are f-ed to some degree, so reducing my dependence on them is vital for maximizing autonomy over the rest of my life. I just hate the idea of disengaging with everything, it is too passive.

                                There are degrees to this, of course. I’m happy to live in a small-ish house (that I own someday) working as few hours as I can and still saving for retirement. I can work on my art in the remainder of the hours and maybe find some place to serve in the community.

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                                  Eloquently put, and I’ve had that short story open on a tab for the past week as I slowly read it. But I think you’re making the demagogue’s fallacy from the other direction. The demagogue sees profit only in giving people what they want. You’re suggesting not giving people what they don’t want.

                                  Even if it takes us a few more iterations on civilization to do it, it’s still worth trying to get people to value that which is truly valuable. What else is there? There’s no place to get out to that’s out of reach of the rot.

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                                  Michael, you appear to have fallen in the trap of projecting negative things you’ve noticed much further than it actually applies for at least the IT part. It’s a common, bad habit that happens to most people if their mind is full of a depressing or negative topic. I learned about that studying psychology and cognitive therapy. (This is for other readers, too.) When this happens to you, you should just literally stop thinking, immediately look for as many counterpoints as possible for 10 minutes to an hour, lay the good and the bad on paper in front of you, and revise the views based on that. Rinse repeat if the “everything is evil” thoughts start coming back in your head. Nice that you’ve studied and called Silicon Valley’s bullshit but you’re letting the bad consume your mind. Step out of that bubble to a magazine section to look at field-specific magazines to see what people are doing. There’s IT people or engineers behind most of the great stuff.

                                  On the bigger picture, rtpg’s overall argument was going to be mine when I got back to this post. There’s tons of companies that aren’t so bad. There’s tons of products that aren’t bad. There’s companies that are bad, will be there inevitably due to economics, and still make money on goods that benefit customers. Maybe not so bad helping them out if you’re ensuring that benefit or others continues being delivered. Then there’s companies like Goldman Sachs, Oracle, Facebook, Intellectual Ventures, and so on that seem straight-up evil by design. Just avoid those. When I do the overall cut, most of the uses of IT are either good or neutral whereas many of the suppliers dedicated to it are corporate scumbags. From there, most of the solutions still benefit the customers with the scumbaggery affecting price, quality/security, lock-in, employee compensation, etc. Still not as bad as you describe. The evil IT seems like a niche in comparison to the rest.

                                  Note: If it is a niche and so avoidable, does it make those sticking with it extra evil by implication? I default on thinking they’re apathetic to how their interesting, high-paying work is being used. People thinking on ethics might find it worth exploring further, though. Those wanting to do ethical work might need to avoid that niche entirely.

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                                    Note: If it is a niche and so avoidable, does it make those sticking with it extra evil by implication? I default on thinking they’re apathetic to how their interesting, high-paying work is being used. People thinking on ethics might find it worth exploring further, though. Those wanting to do ethical work might need to avoid that niche entirely.

                                    My guess is a lot of them don’t view what they do as evil. Plenty of developers at Facebook and Google probably don’t view surveillance as a bad thing, or don’t view what they do as surveillance, but as a necessary feature to deliver their product. If you trust what these corporations say about how they use personal data, it’s not necessarily evil. I (and most of us here I assume), don’t trust what they say, but it is conceivable that some people may. Even with the Snowden leaks, it can still be argued that the backdoors are there for our safety, and not for evil. Again, I don’t believe that, but a lot of people do.

                                    Long story short, I guess what I’m saying is it’s possible that at least some of the developers at Facebook, Google, et al are working in good faith.

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                                      I agree. I added more details about some possibilities in my reply down-thread to Michael. I even know it’s true because we got to test it with that Never Again pledge. Here we had a pledge saying nobody would build databases or methods that would help the government profile specific types of people in a way that could get them targeted. Something like that. Then, there’s a bunch of people on the list working at companies like Google or maybe Facebook that specialize in doing exactly that. Even in Snowden leaks as compelled or intercepted parts of mass collection the same, exact government would use for evils the pledge was about. We got one person here working at such a company defending it as not a problem. Either sophistry or the person genuinely believed in the company to the point of thinking neither their actions nor data could ever harm minorities in a police state.

                                      So, they definitely exist.

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                                        I was that person. Here is a link to the thread so people can read for themselves (even though I got downvoted as a troll for my trouble and no doubt will be again). I also was the person to downvote you as incorrect in your above comment where you equated Goldman Sachs, Intellectual Ventures and Facebook. (Where’s Palantir on that list? You’ve got issues, man.)

                                        A vote for that pledge isn’t a claim that the company I work for can never ever harm minorities in a police state. That’s an idiotic strawman since nobody can be sure their actions don’t harm others, minorities or otherwise. The world is a complex place, and someone helping Google build balloons is arguably doing less to help the surveillance state than someone delivering lunch to the Pentagon. There’s shades of grey here you aren’t seeing.

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                                          Oh yeah, you were definitely the one who showed up here. Ignore the downvote as some people will do that. I refuse to censor posts that are contrary from a different perspective rather than just trolling or easily-debunked BS. That’s ironic given you downvoted me for “equating” Goldman Sachs, Intellectual Ventures, and Facebook as “evil companies” whose IT or other workers support doing damage to the general public (including innocent parties). They certainly are equal in that they can be categorized as such. Main thing that’s not equal is the damage they do or what benefits they might provide trying to justify it. Palantir would also go into the same niche as Michael’s claim and mine on that niche was selfish, damaging companies where employees working for them would be potentially contributing more damage to society by supporting them. Palantir is a company tight with police state also full of internal bullshit.

                                          “That’s an idiotic strawman since nobody can be sure their actions don’t harm others”

                                          Google’s whole business model is spying on people in as many ways as possible to build profiles to assist 3rd parties in targeting them [for ads]. The government the pledge was worried about also taps into such things or might compel its assistance. Far from a strawman to suggest a business profiling people the pledge tries to protect working with the government the pledge worries about might do the profiling the pledge worries about for the government the pledge worries about. No, this one is pretty straight-forward where it was a huge risk in terms of the pledge. You can take money building balloons for that company all you want but you’re still in that scenario taking money from a company profiting from evil things the pledge worries about. You could be taking money from a company not doing those things to do balloons or stuff more beneficial to society since pledge members supposedly worry about such distinctions. Your example is funnier still given you think people building balloons for a surveillance company that specializes in trying to globally profile and target people partnered with a police-state is harmless to targets of either organization. As if they know the evil company won’t do more evil with that work later on. Better not have monitoring, storage, or geolocation built into it.

                                          Yeah, the world is complex. Yet, Google has been doing the same kinds of scheming shit many people predicted long ago because they’re a surveillance and advertising company. Those are rarely complex in their goal. Just their schemes for achieving or sustaining them. Start out about any scheme trying to maximize ad impressions or revenue. Then, if they IPO, it’s about squeezing as much money out of their market as possible for investors by any means necessary. Things are simpler than you’re letting on. So, I didn’t sign the pledge since I find Google useful despite its evils. A necessary evil in current system.

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                                            I appreciate the vote that I’m not a troll :) I don’t mind the downvotes. It’s being called a troll that I object to.

                                            a) I didn’t claim Google was saintly. I pointed out that there’s plenty of evil to go around. Just reiterating the ways you think Google is evil doesn’t really address my point. (Though pointing out why you’d oppose balloons is useful, thanks. I’ll just point out that lots of good things like the Internet have come from evil places like DARPA. Things get used in unanticipated ways, so their initial planned applications are not the final word.)

                                            b) I’ll thank ye not to put words in my mouth. I said A. You think A = B. That does not give you the right to claim I said B. Like you, I find Google useful despite its evils, a necessary evil in the current system. Unlike you, I don’t find this contradictory with the pledge. But I didn’t claim Google’s actions were not a problem, and I didn’t claim my actions were guaranteed to never harm a minority. If you think this is sophistry, just don’t quote me anymore and I’ll shut up. I don’t actually feel a burning need to argue this over and over again. But please do me the courtesy of characterizing my arguments correctly if you refer to them.

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                                              “I pointed out that there’s plenty of evil to go around.”

                                              There’s plenty of evil to go around. Most IT jobs aren’t evil, though, far as I can tell where it’s mostly just helping companies sell products better to willing customers. Many IT shops also don’t delve deep into the personal lives of their customers that are Muslims or something. IT workers have many choices if trying to avoid surveillance-oriented companies per a pledge.

                                              “balloons is useful, thanks. I’ll just point out that lots of good things like the Internet have come from evil places like DARPA. ”

                                              They’re both a good instance of something a non-pledge member might support. They’re neutral things that could be used to violate the pledge. They can also be used for good. Balloons have for a long time. Potential telecom applications, too, that some companies are looking into. DARPA is the shit with one, great contribution to high-assurance security after another. And tech in general given the Strategic Computing Initiative laid foundations for much cool tech today. Google likewise made many useful tech happen with esp Chrome and Android being massive enablers in FOSS space. They’re also massive surveillance platforms but FOSS lets people keep removing those things should they choose to invest the effort. Lots of little things like Protocol Buffers. Their greedy ass has also led fighting a greedier company, Oracle, going after all kinds of mobile efforts with patent attorneys.

                                              Things like this are why you won’t see me signing a pledge like that. I’d only pledge to do what I can in morally complex situations. That included using tech from Google such as search, Gmail, and Android when I was too poor to afford paid, private alternatives. There were clear benefits to all kinds of people with me being active online. I thought it weighed against the risk of indirectly supporting deportation, jailing, or murder. I move away where possible such as using Firefox because Mozilla is low surveillance, a Swiss email account w/ GPG for people wanting privacy, private servers with stuff that’s a known quantity when I can, and a cryptophone if I can ever afford one. I’m not breaking promises on a pledge since I can’t agree to impossible goals. Just take it a day and weird situation at a time. :)

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                                        I guess what I’m saying is it’s possible that at least some of the developers at Facebook, Google, et al are working in good faith.

                                        I think that most of them are, actually, working in good faith.

                                        Engineers want to make the world better. Executives find a way to make the world worse. That’s how the software world turns.

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                                          I think that most of them are, actually, working in good faith.

                                          I really doubt that except for the word faith. The word faith implies there’s a belief or practice that isn’t subjected to reason. Like in religions, one might build all kinds of brilliant reasoning on top of the faith-based beliefs or practices. Just not those that are core to one’s life. In Googler’s case, they working for a publicly-traded, surveillance company whose leaders are increasingly tight with a police state. It wasn’t a secret to me that Google was free for a reason & maybe joining them might lead to evil. I held off on it for that reason. Means the workers are either apathetic about the situation (esp for self-interest), think surveillance companies + police states are a good thing (eg many right-wingers), think there’s a benefit to helping Google that outweighs the risk they create, or possibly think the specific work they’re doing is good so working in a possibly-evil company is therefore not bad.

                                          Quite a few possibilities. I think the word faith applies to a lot of it. While you’re talking about executives, though, remember that most people smart enough to work for Google know that the advertising and surveillance industries are pretty evil. They all had a choice between that nice job and trying to get with a less evil company. Many smart people continue to join it. Their brains execute the executives vision. It’s not just the executives causing the problem. Individuals choices as a group matter, too. That’s why Google is even relevant.

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                                            The individual makes far more difference than whether or not you are an executive or and engineer.

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                                        Hi, we’re over here.. o/ . I exited real life in 2013, to pursue using my 20+ years of experience from tech for doing something good. I travelled for a long time and had the luxury of a safety cushion of cash from evil tech companies which gave me room to explore, over a number of years, alternative styles of social organisation and economics. When you are open to it, and you’re actively searching, and manage to leave behind the startuppy mindset about how products and projects should work, there is a ton of opportunity out there to do good stuff. Of course by opportunity I mean for social good; it is necessary to leave capitalist mindset completely behind, or to carefully understand how to transition to a more sustainable life.

                                        Two things I want to add that I think are important:

                                        1) that this transition away from ‘evil’ is (I though ‘should be’) an involved and deep transition, where it’s necessary to reasses and question many of the patterns about western life that we take for granted.

                                        2) the non-tech, non-capitalist world is DESPERATE for people who cross the product/engineering gap. There are many many social / non-profit tech projects based on some combination of terrible assumptions, bad technology, bad design, or misapplication of technology (I’m looking at you, blockchain-for-everything). People great at requirements analysis or product management as well as hard core tech could make huge contributions.

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                                          I was in a situation where I found my software was being used to track people in Iraq. So…. Yeah, I left that gig. My payment back is to write Free Software. Pay your penance with Free Software my friend. Also don’t feel bad about not liking Capitalism. Capitalism is terrible which is why most of the people on this planet hate it.

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                                            My payment back is to write Free Software.

                                            If you write free open-source software, you still have no control over whether it gets used for bad purposes.

                                            Capitalism is terrible which is why most of the people on this planet hate it.

                                            Capitalism was actually decent in the 1950s and ‘60s. (This is why Trump’s message of “Make America Great Again”, as much as I can’t stomach the disrespect to the minorities for whom that period wasn’t so great, resonated with so many people.) We had 4-6 percent real GDP growth and companies took care of their people. We had low economic inequality and no one would pull the kind of shit that you see today on a regular basis.

                                            In the ‘60s, getting let go by your company meant that the CEO took you out to dinner, explained that you were not getting the next promotion, and that you had a year or so before the accountants would expect him to fire you. (“At absolute most, I can keep you on for two years, so I want you to take your search seriously.”) He’d offer you his Rolodex and give you an excellent reference for where-ever you wanted to go next. In the worst-case scenario where he couldn’t get you hired, he called up his friend at an MBA or PhD program of your choice and got you in. That’s what getting fired was.

                                            That’s obviously not how it works today. Even people who don’t get fired get treated like garbage.

                                            I agree that the 21st-century style of corporate/managerial/vampire capitalism is a disaster that must be overthrown, preferably nonviolently, but through whatever means are necessary to get the job done.

                                            I don’t think capitalism is an innately terrible system. I do think that, like Soviet communism, it worked for a time and then failed. Communism managed to turn a frozen backwater into a world superpower from 1917-50. The implementation was morally reprehensible (Stalin) and the system began to collapse by the 1980s, but it worked for a time. Likewise, organizational/corporate capitalism worked for about sixty years (1914-73) and remained semi-functional for another 28 years in the West Coast tech industry, but is now in such a state where it needs to be replaced with something else… but I have no clue how one goes about that.

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                                              In the ‘60s, getting let go by your company meant that the CEO took you out to dinner, explained that you were not getting the next promotion…

                                              I call out hagiography. Things were generally better for many people (and as you noted, worse for others) but there’s never been a golden era of corporate beneficence for most people.

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                                                Corporations were often bad for the environment and sometimes to customers, but they used to be good to their own people. That’s the difference.

                                                Companies did some bad things, for sure, but once you were in, you were guaranteed support and they’d bend over backward not to hurt your career. You could go into the CEO’s office on a random Tuesday and ask to be his protege and he’d say “Yes; what department do you want to lead?” (You might have had to work until a solid 4:00, and occasionally even 5:30, to complete the workload and training that comes from being fast-tracked. But those are the sacrifices one makes.) Once they got in, it really was a lot easier for the Boomers, which is why they’re able to pay $7 million for 3BR houses.

                                                The 1957 objection was “E Corp is polluting local rivers and overcharges its customers.” I don’t intend to diminish those objections. We needed the consumer and environmental protections for a reason. The 2017 objection is “G Corp uses stack ranking to disguise layoffs as firings and thereby destroys the reputations of departing employees to preserve its own.” So, these days, companies are bad for the external world and, additionally, evil toward their own people.

                                                The Boomer hippie movement was literally a revolt against having to show up at a place 5 times per week for at least half a day (three-martini lunches made afternoon attendance optional) and having to wait a solid 3 years (!) before getting the VP-level job where you can fly business class and expense it. Meanwhile, as for Millennials… if it weren’t for World of Warcraft, there’d be a civil war by now.

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                                                  I thought OP was about making the world as a whole worse, without distinguishing between customers and employees. Is your notion of “vampire capitalism” only about treating employees poorly?

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                                                    They’re related. If companies treat their workers better, then other companies have to follow suit in order to compete.

                                                    For example, Henry Ford (who was not a nice person, but knew a good play when he saw it) doubled the wage of his factory workers, to $5 per day, in 1914. (That’d be about $120 per day in 2017.) Historians note that he did this in order to have buyers for his products, but it wasn’t just the first-order effect that he was after, because that wouldn’t justify the cost. He knew that his doing so would raise wages across the board, and increase his buyer base nationally. It worked.

                                                    Employers can be better in all sorts of ways. They can pay more, treat workers better, or treat the environment better. It’s all connected. Right now, we have an environment where employers hold all the cards and don’t have to do jack shit for anyone. They don’t compete to be better; they just pay their executives as much as they can get away with. We need to reverse that. It’s a moral imperative.

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                                                The 50s and 60s existed in that form because of massive government spending through the Great Depression and WWII, creating a massive, socialized infrastructure that permitted the growth of business. Private sector factories scaled up for wartime production, thanks to government investment, and then turned that excess production capacity to consumer goods (and along the way, we had to invent entirely new “needs” for consumers to fill, planned obsolescence, etc. because we had briefly hit a post-scarcity level of production for the current levels of population). Air travel was heavily regulated, utilities were heavily regulated, telecoms were heavily regulated.

                                                If anything, the 50s and 60s are a sign that markets work best when they are heavily managed by the state.

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                                                  This is absolutely correct.

                                                  You need a strong public sector to keep the private sector honest. Even if you’re a money-hungry capitalist who would never work in a government job, you should still care about what government jobs exist, because that will heavily influence the wages and conditions that are available to you.

                                                  For example, when research jobs are easy to get because of ample public funding, the private world has to compete for talent. You get Bell Labs and Xerox PARC. When the research job market is in the shitter and has been for over 30 years, you get business-driven development and “Agile” shovelware.

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                                                  Capitalism was actually decent in the 1950s and ‘60s. (This is why Trump’s message of “Make America Great Again”, as much as I can’t stomach the disrespect to the minorities for whom that period wasn’t so great, resonated with so many people.) We had 4-6 percent real GDP growth and companies took care of their people. We had low economic inequality and no one would pull the kind of shit that you see today on a regular basis.

                                                  …iff you were a white dude.

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                                                    Though you did mention that minorites didn’t have it so great, though that’s kind of an understatement :)

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                                                      It wasn’t capitalism’s fault that minorities had it bad in the 1950s and ‘60s. Capitalism is not the only cause of human awfulness, as Jews persecuted by Communist Russia– and, of course, black Americans who suffered in pre-capitalistic slavery– can attest. The extreme racism that afflicted, and continues to afflict, our society runs deeper than our economic system.

                                                      Society is better in 2017 than it was in 1960, insofar as we’ve made a lot of progress toward racial and gender equality. Capitalism itself is a lot worse.

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                                                        I concur.

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                                                          I know it’s not your main point, but what part of treating people as owned assets as in slavery in the Americas is pre-capitalistic?

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                                                            People with real expertise would probably disagree or put it better, but:

                                                            We’ve had slavery in the America’s since about 1500. Neither England, France or Spain were a capitalistic society until sometime in the 18th or 19th century. They were feudal societies that later turned into mercantile societies.

                                                            My understanding is that the difference has to do with who can participate in markets, as well as whether there are markets. In feudal societies everything is down to the king. The king decides whether there are markets and what type of people may participate. The king issues charters to companies to allow people to act collectively. Colonial America was quasi-governmental, even if they called it “the Virginia Company”. It also took a royal writ to create.

                                                            As the industrial revolution went on we got to recognizable modern capitalism, but there was a mercantile stop off, where trade is recognized as good, but only within a country. External trade was viewed as harmful. The government had a much larger role in defining who could participate and what markets were allowed than it does today.

                                                            My understanding is a little shaky, though I’ll admit

                                                            As to your point about slaves, they are capital, and very expensive capital at that. I’m not sure I’d call any slave owning society capitalist though, because even with massive inequalities in a capitalist society, the lowest can still own things and trade things. Slaves can’t do that. Everything a slave has belongs to their master, everything a slave creates belongs to their master. A slave’s offspring belongs to their master. A slave’s ability to have offspring belongs to their master

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                                                        It depends on where you were. Contrary to what’s portrayed in Hidden Figures, NASA was never segregated. Mad Men makes 1960s office life look terrible and sexist, but advertising in 1965 was analogous to investment banking in 2007: a macho career with long hours and a lot of unsavory characters in it, that people only did because you could be a millionaire before 30 if you played your cards right (and stole a few clients, a la Season 3).

                                                        Professional life, if you could get an office job, was a lot better in the ‘50 and '60s than it is today. You were a trusted professional, not a suspect held under constant surveillance and expected to show daily progress according to bullshit metrics (“story points”).

                                                        It was, unfortunately, astronomically harder for women and minorities to get into professional life in the first place, and of course they had to deal with all kinds of other garbage (lynching, poll taxes) that arguably makes the decline in office conditions trivial by comparison. Your boss might be more likely to be a decent human being, but if psychopaths are burning crosses in your neighborhood, there’s not much comfort there.

                                                        No one with an understanding of history can say with a clear conscience that the 1950s-60s were better. They weren’t. However, some things were better. Economic growth was 5% per year instead of 2% per year, economic inequality was nothing like what exists today, and once you were inside a corporation, you were treated with a lot more respect than is typical these days.

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                                                          At least post some statistics before you do the lazy “hurr durr white cis men oppressing everybody amirite”.

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                                                            Please point to any data or conclusion presented in the link you posted that says anything but, “hurr durr white cis men oppressing everybody amirite”. The claim was that economic inequality was lower in the 50s and 60s, but that is true only when comparing across uniform demographics.

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                                                              The reading I had of the quote you were replying to was that capitalism was “actually decent”, in that it was providing returns for a broader section of people. If you look at the data, the 50s-60s clearly didn’t solely benefit white dudes–women’s wages went up, men’s wages went up, blacks and whites both made more money than they used to.

                                                              Everybody’s wages went up. You suggested “if and only if”, and you’re wrong, as shown by data.

                                                              The period after the 70s clearly had a more unequal tenor to it. The “Return to Stagnation in Relative Income” summarizes it nicely:

                                                              The years from 1979 to 1989 saw the return of stagnation in black relative incomes. Part of this stagnation may reflect the reversal of the shifts in wage distribution that occurred during the 1940s. In the late 1970s and especially in the 1980s, the US wage distribution grew more unequal. Individuals with less education, particularly those with no college education, saw their pay decline relative to the better-educated. Workers in blue-collar manufacturing jobs were particularly hard hit. The concentration of black workers, especially black men, in these categories meant that their pay suffered relative to that of whites. Another possible factor in the stagnation of black relative pay in the 1980s was weakened enforcement of antidiscrimination policies at this time.

                                                              ~

                                                              You made a cutesy little comment and are just being told “Hey, it’s more complicated than you’re representing”. Try to elevate the level of discourse instead of playing to the crowds.

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                                                                As I clarified, I was referring to the statement that economic inequality was low, which is true if and only if you are comparing across uniform demographics. I made no statements regarding increased wages across the board.

                                                                Try to argue to the point instead of feeling butt-hurt that someone suggested there are structural inequalities that benefited white men more than anyone else.

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                                                                  However, economic inequality was lower in the 1950s to ‘60s. It’s a well-studied fact. You can debate social inequality, which is subjective and qualitative to a large degree, but economic inequality is numerical. Measured by the Gini coefficient, we’re at a level of inequality that we haven’t seen since the 1920s. Look here for some data on it. For example, in 1964, the 0.1% had 2% of the national gross income, whereas now it’s 8.8% (or 88x an equal share).

                                                                  The only measure on which we seem to be doing better is the poverty rate, but that’s largely because the official poverty line is rarely moved (it would be politically disadvantageous, just as including discouraged workers and the prison population in unemployment statistics would make this country look like a shitshow).

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                                                                    Fair!

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                                                                    As I clarified, I was referring to the statement that economic inequality was low, which is true if and only if you are comparing across uniform demographics. I made no statements regarding increased wages across the board.

                                                                    Your original post–the one I replied to–lumped in several distinct statements.

                                                                    Try to argue to the point instead of feeling butt-hurt that someone suggested there are structural inequalities that benefited white men more than anyone else.

                                                                    I did–you’re the one who has failed to bring any evidence into this. I’m not “butt-hurt” that you are asserting white males enjoy a structural advantage: I’m annoyed that you didn’t substantiate your point.

                                                                    There are lots of structural inequalities that you should be able to point to–use some numbers, reference some papers.

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                                                            What I think we have here is a case of the body snatchers. Will the real Michael please stand up?

                                                            You know full well that when you say something was good at any time you must qualify with ‘for whom’. I implied that for the majority of people capitalism was NEVER good. Yes, was it good for millions of white American men in the 50s? Sure. My message does not contest this.

                                                            Not sure why you want to defend Capitalism for that tiny minority of people. You also do realize critics of Capitalism called the Soviet Union a state capitalist system. To the average worker , working at an America firm is indistinguishable from a Soviet one in all the important ways.

                                                            Now in regards to Free Software, I didn’t say it was a big penance. Thinking more about it I would say Venture Communism as stated by Dmytri Kleiner is a better approach.

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                                                              Whether industrial capitalism is good is somewhat of a value judgment. I think we can agree that it was morally better to the slave-powered economy and that preceded it. I would also argue that, for a time, it worked. We had 4-6 percent annual economic growth (3 times more than is normal today) in the 1940s-70s. Whatever one thinks of an economic system, the fact is that it did produce wealth. I think it’s also clear that capitalism is ceasing to work well and that we may have to move to something else. Certainly, it will look more like welfare-state socialism as see in Scandinavia than the psychotic, mean-spirited capitalism of the U.S. circa 2017.

                                                              At my core, I’m a pragmatist. There was a time when industrial capitalism, despite its flaws, worked very well. It is now working very poorly and probably needs to be replaced.

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                                                                I would just like to clarify your value judgement here. When you say it “worked” in the 1940s-1970s you are specifically talking about the USA and white men right? You are certainly not talking about the child laborers that mined the ore for minerals in Africa? The important thing to keep in mind is that all systems have global consequence now and even then. Also important to note is that there are many different modes of production happening at the same time. While there was some capitalism in th 1940s-70s USA, there was also some socialism, some communism, some welfare state. They worked at various levels and fed off one another. The reason the capitalism computer explosion happened in the 80s was built on huge government funded research and expenditure in prior decades.

                                                                So there is no totality of Capitalism then and even now. It was a interplay of many many systems. There is no ROOT cause for why “capitalism” worked then and doesn’t work now. We live in a complex adaptive system.

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                                                                  When you say it “worked” in the 1940s-1970s you are specifically talking about the USA and white men right?

                                                                  More than that. The US prospered, but US prosperity allowed us to rebuild Europe and Japan (Marshall Plan) and make the world more peaceful in general.

                                                                  The reason Eastern Europe is poor and Western Europe is rich is the Marshall Plan. If the US hadn’t rebuilt W. Europe and Japan, they’d still be poor. We did this because the punitive handling of Germany after World War I led to Hitler and we didn’t want to see that again. After that mistake, we realized that our enemies were governments, not countries, and that rebuilding our formal adversaries was a way to prevent them from going bad in the future.

                                                                  I don’t love capitalism. Pure capitalism is atrocious. However, I think it’s important to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Restrained capitalism seems to be better than command-economy socialism, as the latter has failed every time.

                                                                  While there was some capitalism in th 1940s-70s USA, there was also some socialism, some communism, some welfare state.

                                                                  Absolutely. Pure capitalism is bad, no question. Capitalism when tempered with 30-50% socialism (and the proportion of socialism that we’ll need will increase, as technological unemployment mounts) is much more humane and also works better. Pure capitalism will never fund the R&D that you absolutely need if you want to get back to 4-6% economic growth instead of the shitty 1-2% we’ve got going on now.

                                                                  The reason the capitalism computer explosion happened in the 80s was built on huge government funded research and expenditure in prior decades.

                                                                  100 percent correct. And the lack of research funding (and the attendant three decades of low economic growth) is the main reason why this country is going into decline.

                                                                  So there is no totality of Capitalism then and even now. It was a interplay of many many systems. There is no ROOT cause for why “capitalism” worked then and doesn’t work now.

                                                                  I can agree with that.

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                                                                    Restrained capitalism seems to be better than command-economy socialism, as the latter has failed every time.

                                                                    I think I found the source of our disagreement. It is often that people use the term capitalism to mean free market and private ownership. I mean it as a select few owning the means of production. The way Marx meant it. To me capitalism IS command and control.

                                                                    If you look at most capitalist corporations, they are command and control. Tiny fiefdoms. I suspect when you say capitalism you mean private ownership and markets.

                                                                    I guess I am using the term as it meant by the people who coined it. A derogatory term to hark back to feudal times.

                                                                    In other words as you move from the spectrum of Capitalism->Socialism->Communism you move from command and control to democratic to social ownership.

                                                                    This is why it is perfectly sane to me to call the Soviet Union state capitalism. Because the social relations are capitalist in nature (in other words, few own the means of production).

                                                                    When you think communism you think command and control. When I think communism, I think everyone owning their production. When you think capitalism, you think markets and private ownership. When I think capitalism, I think command and control.

                                                                    In other words, if you take the idea of capital ownership to the extreme, where everyone is their own company and own their own production, that’s communism to me. Oh and of course communism doesn’t even have money, because money is another command and control tool created by the state. And communism is stateless.

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                                                          I’m actually excited at the prospect of increases in the state of the art of automation, because if you combine that with open source, you can start to make a real difference in terms of both reducing toil and increasing autonomy (or decreasing the ability to be coerced into wage slavery). So my goal is to work on automating things as low as possible in Maslow’s hierarchy, and giving away the designs. Think of automated food production as an example.

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                                                            I’m actually excited at the prospect of increases in the state of the art of automation, because if you combine that with open source, you can start to make a real difference in terms of both reducing toil and increasing autonomy (or decreasing the ability to be coerced into wage slavery).

                                                            I’m pretty sure that the world is going the other way, though.

                                                            Automation, even while performed with no ill intent, is killing jobs faster than society can create new ones. I don’t see this as likely to change, with the right wing in charge of the government, I don’t expect meaningful public solutions when the country seems to be headed the other way.

                                                            Thus, I consider it likely (and deeply unfortunate) that employer leverage over the worker will increase, and that it will be partially our fault as the people building technology. This concern even makes work that would otherwise be morally acceptable– prima facie, automation is a good thing– uncomfortable.

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                                                              Hey, sorry for the very late reply, but there’s an unstated assumption in your reply: “Only those with jobs deserve to live with dignity.” I’m not accusing you of taking that position, but rather, I’m pointing out that in order for the world to go the other way, that must be true.

                                                              The idea I’m pushing is that with open-source automation, you are distributing the means of universal production to the masses, making jobs unnecessary in order to have a good quality of life. If you’re starting with automating food production, then you can live without toiling. Add in automated home construction, or groundskeeping (gardening, forestry, etc.) and you can be comfortable without toil. Add in automated mechanical construction, like vehicles (which are also autonomous) and most importantly, more robots, and you can be prosperous without toil.

                                                              And the benefits of automation compound. If you’ve decoupled “right to live” from “ability to get and hold a job in a world where jobs are disappearing”, then it’s a given that the robot labor A) must be more productive than manual labor, or else they’d not be displacing a human worker, and B) that the fruits of their labor can be shared among many people, because of the greater surplus abundance created by their efficient automated labor.

                                                              This can be put in place by anyone; they don’t need to wait for the system to give them permission to start living like this. If automated labor were easy to create and distribute, lots of people would have it. You could just walk away from the rat race.

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                                                                And yes, all of that requires people to decide that creating that abundant future is important enough to work to make it so, by working on free and open automation technology. How could they not, though? Look at all this amazing free software we have already; look at this volunteer-run site/community. People want to work; work is productive effort, and is a basic human need. People don’t want to have a job, which is where you are compelled to work and most of the benefit goes to someone else.

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                                                            At some point, we all realize (or will realize) that we’re working for the bad guys. Most of us, if we don’t work directly for companies involved in vampire capitalism, serve clients that do.

                                                            This is a ridiculous blanket statement. I can’t speak for Silicon Valley businesses and culture, as I have never worked there or even been there. However.

                                                            A lot of the more “boring” software in the world is not evil. For instance, I work for a large shipping company. Most of the work I do is improving the our quoting and booking systems, as well as finding ways to make current manual processes more efficient and less error-prone. None of this is inherently evil.

                                                            Medical software, though stressful, makes the world a better place. Avionics software makes the world a better and safer place.

                                                            It’s crazy to claim that somehow because via the butterfly effect you might be helping the “evil” people that makes your software evil. Especially since there is a flip side to that, your software could just as easily be indirectly helping to promote what is “good”.

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                                                              Most of the work I do is improving the our quoting and booking systems, as well as finding ways to make current manual processes more efficient and less error-prone. None of this is inherently evil.

                                                              Do you know how the efficiency gains are being invested? If the executives are using the value you create to expend more money on R&D, then you’re not working toward evil. If they’re cutting jobs in order to pay themselves higher bonuses (and you a piddling raise) then you are on the wrong side.

                                                              Most of what we do unemploys people. We replace a process that employs people with a process that doesn’t. This would be morally defensible if the businessmen up top were reinvesting the value we created– thereby, creating new jobs and growing the economy– but they’re not. They’re hoarding cash and paying themselves higher bonuses.

                                                              Medical software, though stressful, makes the world a better place. Avionics software makes the world a better and safer place.

                                                              I would generally agree, but the vast majority of the jobs are in business software and that’s what most of us do. Real Technology is hard as fuck to get into if you don’t have a PhD.

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                                                              Suprised to find no mention of commerce. I do ecommerce, and have done it for the better half of my career. It seems like it’s a pretty reasonable value proposition. In ecommerce your customers are your customers, none of this bullshit facebook/google “customers are the product” stuff.

                                                              E-commerce seems like a pretty honest living to me.

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                                                                I hope my story helps lift your spirits.

                                                                I worked for a very tiny company that didn’t look after it’s workers, then a medium sized company that didn’t look after customers or employees, then a medium sized company that had a very flat structure, 1 boss from hell and 30 employees that loved the work but unanimously hated the boss, but he was the dictator, sorry, owner of the company.

                                                                Then after 10 years there I got my latest job. It is with a giant multinational company. In other countries this company works in some “grey areas”. In my country the work they do is very important, highly respected and a public good. The way I see it we are doing good work and making the world a better place. On the other hand we may be indirectly helping the company in their other business areas overseas.

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                                                                  You’re Chicago-based, right? Have you looked at Chi Hacknight? It involves programmers working with community leaders to make stuff that helps people. I used to be pretty involved and can vouch for its effectiveness. It’s mostly volunteer efforts, but sometimes people are offering full time jobs there. Civic Tech in general is an area worth exploring.

                                                                  The other thing you might want to look into is, well, pragmatic hypocrisy. Work for a glitzy startup, make money, and do pro-bono programming for charities. A lot of nonprofits are struggling technically and can’t afford to easily fix that. As some very rough numbers, if it costs $150 per hour for a software consultant, then if you volunteer for two hours a week that’s the equivalent of donating $15,600 to the charity.

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                                                                    I’d recommend doing tech in your countries Civil Service, preferably in a department where your work can have a positive impact on citizens lives.

                                                                    The work can be boring, but offers the chance to do “good with a capital G”

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                                                                      Not a bad suggestion, but I live in the US, so my country’s civil service is being gutted right now. You may remember hearing about who we recently elected into office.

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                                                                      It might depend on your definition of bad guy, but there is plenty of programming work in government that does good things and is even with good team. There’s the weather, or managing fisheries, or sending stuff to space, or any number of things, really.

                                                                      I mean, they aren’t hiring, and a lot of the programming jobs are contracted out or involve the DOD or NSA, but when hiring starts up again they’re out there. Lots of social good happening via government

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                                                                        I’m fortunate enough to have had this realization (and others that have left me disillusioned with technology) at a young enough age that I’m switching careers, starting with enroling for a humanities degree. Others may not have that option.