What happens when you take an otherwise intelligent student and brainwash him into thinking that he ought to feel guilty for his successes, for his company’s successes and for his nation’s successes?
You get someone who can do the job but who is otherwise morally debilitated. To the point where he writes in to the New York Times Ethicist column, whining about his good fortune.
Take a gander at this letter:
I am a filmmaker and recently graduated from a university. I was shocked when, by a stroke of good luck, hard work and fortunate timing, I managed to get myself booked onto a huge advertising job. The work was extremely fulfilling, fast-paced and well paid.
Despite this, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the company I was working for, a giant tech company, was using me to sell a product that is made by employees who make very low wages and work very long hours. Not only did I feel bad for my role in pushing products onto consumers, but worse, I felt very guilty knowing that the extremely high figure I was being paid for a week’s work might be two years’ worth of work for the people who made the things I was selling. At the same time, this job fell from the sky at a time of extreme financial need, and I really enjoyed it.
My question is: How can I navigate this situation in the future? I enjoy the fast pace of advertising and the creative opportunities it brings, but I am acutely aware that I am becoming part of the inequality machine every time I accept work like this.
Got it: success, good work, good compensation make him part of the “inequality machine.” If you think that these young people are going to be able to compete against their peers in Asia or even Europe in economic competition, you should think more clearly.
Ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah answers appropriately, with a brief lesson from history:
Big corporations, like every collective human endeavor, have good effects and bad ones, and sometimes it can be hard to be sure which predominates. On a global level, extreme poverty has decreased by more than 50 percent since 1990, as countries like China and India entered the world economy. Could your tech company have played a role in that? Is it really just a wart on the face of history? Still, if you remain convinced that Giant Tech is evil, you might spare yourself some anxiety and step aside for someone who will do the work with a less- burdened heart. If this company wants you, there are bound to be plenty of other bidders for your services.