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I've been an activist for as long as I've lived in the Bay Area – almost a decade now. I'm passionate about equal rights for all, fighting unfair evictions, LGBT protection under the law, and reducing carbon emissions, among other things. The thing is, I'm just so tired of being poor. I got offered a job doing some design work for a startup and it pays really, really well. The start-up is basically a parasite of the tech boom, though; their product is totally unnecessary for the furtherance of humanity, and I seriously doubt they'll be around this time next year. But I have the chance to make my entire 2013 earnings in the next three months with them. This could give me time to work on the things I'm passionate about later in the year. I'm torn. On the one hand, this company is part of the machine that's crushing SF's micro cultures. On the other hand, I haven't been handed much in life, and this opportunity just got handed to me. What do I do? -Alec
There’s a gold rush in this town, Alec, and there’s no use in denying it. There’s so much money to be made and there’s more than enough for everyone, but of course we both know that’s not how things shake down. There are countless ways to promote change and live ethically, just as there are countless ways to create and hold on to wealth. What we all must do is find the ways that work for us as individuals, based on our needs, and for those of us so inclined, our ethics.
I encourage you to do what you have to in order to support your activism’s longevity. The reason why a disproportionate number of activists tend to be younger people is because it gets exhausting to go into the world and fight for what you believe, and then come home and fight for your own survival. It isn’t always sustainable and people burn out. So by all means, use your design skills to make as much money as you want, live a great life, and continue to do the work you believe in! Just don’t sell your soul to do it.
I have a hard time telling from your question if this start-up that offered you a job is a symptom of the cultural problems you see, or a creator of those problems. There’s a huge difference between the two and you may need to reexamine your attitudes in this quickly changing world.
I have a hard time telling from your question if this start-up that offered you a job is a symptom of the cultural problems you see, or a creator of those problems. There’s a huge difference between the two and you may need to reexamine your attitudes in this quickly changing world. Technology is part of our future, Alec, and like it or not, it's where more and more jobs will be found. Don’t put all tech companies in a bucket named “Culture Killers”; it’s a shortsighted view of things. Whenever we look at things in an “us versus them” perspective it provokes judgment and leaves the door open to hate. In the wise words of Ms. Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, “us hating them because they have money is the same thing as them hating us ‘cause we don’t.”
The truth is always more nuanced than good versus evil. There are startups and tech companies that strive to do well in the world, and even more that are benign, but the same is true of any old fashioned jobs. Wherever you work, you’ll have to compromise something. If this company is in opposition to your value system, don’t work for them, but if not, I say get in there, make beaucoup bucks, and get out. We’ve all done work that stretches our ethics. We've all gotta pay rent, and there’s a season for all things, including getting in the black. You just need to weigh the psychic dollars against the cash money dollars of your choices, Alec, and come out in the balance on the side of integrity, even if you choose some compromise for the next three months.