The Question of Employment


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In her essay, The Question of Scholarships, Ayn Rand wrote,

"The principle here is as follows: it is proper to take the kind of work which is not wrong per se, except that the government should not be doing it, such as medical services; it is improper to take the kind of work that ~nobody~ should be doing, such as is done by the F.T.C., the F.C.C., etc. But the same limitation applies to a man's choice of private employment: a man is not responsible for the moral or political views of his employers, but he cannot accept a job in an undertaking which he considers immoral, or in which his work consists specifically of violating his own convictions, i.e. the propagating of ideas he regards as false or evil."

So here are my purely hypothetical questions:

Should a dedicated Objectivist accept projects from her private employer in which her responsibilities are to create and/or keep operational a website whose sole purpose is to promote ideas which she has publicly declared herself to be vehemently opposed, such as, say, those of an environmentalist organization which lobbies government to pass environmental laws?

Additionally, if after her employment with that private employer comes to an end, she accepts an assignment from the same environmentalist client on a ~freelance~ basis to restore their completely broken website, has she betrayed her Objectivist beliefs?

If, after she has publicly berated other Objectivists and their organizations for what she believes to be their false positions on Objectivism, she is questioned about having worked on the environmentalist website on a freelance basis, and she responds by downplaying the significance of having single-handedly restored the environmentalists' completely broken website by stating that her involvement was brief, minimal, distant, and purely technical, what implications does that have in regard to the career choices that ~I~ may make and still consider myself a good Objectivist?

If I keep my involvement in the projects brief, minimal, distant and purely technical, can I accept, for example, freelance projects in which I print and distribute brochures advocating murderous communism or Christian-inspired government censorship and still shriek about the evil of other Objectivists because I disagree with their views on one thing or another?

According to Rand's official, closed-system Objectivism, if I only work for a mere 5 hours on a project in which I repair Islamic radicals' completely broken television signal transmitters -- through which I know that they intend to continue to broadcast nothing but their advocacy of the initiation of physical force against innocent people (specifically, Americans) -- when questioned about my repair work, would I be correct in holding to the position that I do not accept that my actions were any kind of error?

J

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Jonathan,

Context plays too important a part in evaluating something like that to make any hard and fast rules. Rand herself worked for Hollywood companies that produced mountains of works propagating ideas she thought were despicable, evil, etc.

I believe that balance plays a strong part in determining such context. In the case of your friend, the existence of that particular environmentalist website probably will not make any critical difference in the present state of affairs, so I believe that her technical work should be considered as offering services on a competitive market where freedom of speech is a value. That's a pretty Objectivist thing, too.

However, if such an organization grows into a regulatory agency and closes down companies unjustly or other such activities, and she stays working there, then that situation gets dangerously close to the Nazi "I was only following orders" defense.

I am not advocating philosophical pragmatism, but evaluation of what is more important within the context she is living - both in terms of her own life and in terms of the world at large. My take is that paying her bills is vastly more important than the benefit to today's world of that particular website encountering difficulties.

If she is financially stable, she can work on spreading her own ideas. If she is struggling to eat, she is silenced. Her voice depends on her financial success.

Thus, within the context of today's world, I hold that providing technical services to a mainstream moderate Islamic organization would be fine, so long as she did not get caught up in the philosophy, but providing services to an Islamic organization that promotes terrorism and the annihilation of Israel is not good - not good at all.

If she is true to her ideals, and if she did work for a religious organization, it would only be for a limited time anyway - just until she got on her feet, or at the most, as a sporadic free-lance client. I can't see her doing that over a lifetime unless she is a professional organist or works at something else where the most of entire job market is church-related.

Michael

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I guess it basically comes down to the reality of having to make a living. We all don't have the luxury of being able to cherry pick our jobs (Howard Roark is fiction), but there certainly is a line that should not be crossed. For example, even when I did not have a permanent job, I decided against interviewing for a company that published Bibles and seems to have a very faith based corporate culture. I'm sure that they were probably the nicest, most altruistic folks in the world, but I realistically could not work in such an environment. On the other hand I have worked for a small company run by libertarians who were more in line with my thinking, I had a blast working there, but didn't make enough money and insurance costs were too high so I left.

Right now I'm with a huge company that is really big on the corporate responsibility thing and altruism is considered a major virtue. There is some pressure, such as the rather heavy handed United Way campaign and things like having to give to the cause of their choice in order to wear jeans on Friday. This type of thing seems to make people like working there, although I would say I was a bit shell shocked at first by the corporate culture. They have all this politically correct stuff, mandatory diversity training, and stuff like that. We are even rated on our involvement at review time as they consider giving to the community a core value of the company. Personally I value real skills over soft skills, PR and mandatory altruism, but try to find a company nowadays with that type of mindset anymore. Luckily, I'm working in mergers and acquisitions which I consider to be good old capitalism. I also work with nice people, can occasionally telecommute and the pay and benefits are pretty good, so overall it works well for me.

The key is balancing your own core values with what you have to do to achieve your goals. I gotta make money to support my family and the type of work I do is generally outsourced. I am willing to make some compromises for permanent employment, but I do have my limits, too.

Kat

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Thanks for your responses, Michael and Kat.

Perhaps I could have been more clear in outlining the context of our fictional freelancer. She would be in the advanced stages of converting to Official Objectivism, which implies that if the opportunity arose, it would be completely unacceptable to her to even consider taking an assignment, no matter how briefly, as the sole technical rescuer of Barbara or Nathaniel Branden's broken websites. She would see doing so as an unforgivable act of enabling evil. In that context, wouldn't it be odd for her to hold to the view that, as an informed, active Objectivist, she was not in error to have accepted freelance employment as the sole rescuer of a national, influential, environmentalist organization's website?

And, sorry for belaboring the point, but the practical issue of her needing the money really wouldn't be a consideration since her work would be ~extremely brief and minimal~. She'd receive a pittance in exchange for giving her environmentalist client a hell of a lot of value. In fact, the issue of payment is an argument ~against~ her accepting the work. If she were to refuse the project, the tiny amount of money that she would miss out on would be a very small price to pay for the hardship that she would cause her philosophical enemies. In seeking to hire her, her client would be asking her, in effect, "Since you worked on our website when you were previously employed by Web Company X, you're more familiar with it than anyone else and may even have a backup copy of it in its original, unbroken condition. Will you please accept some pocket change in exchange for effortlessly restoring our propaganda machine so that we don't have to spend a significantly larger amount of money hiring someone who is unfamiliar with the site to struggle to restore or completely redesign it?"

In that context, would ~you~ accept the project? I'm far from being fervently, Officially Objectivist, yet even if I were living in a pile of gunny sacks under a bridge, I can't imagine not relishing the opportunity to tell the client to get lost.

As for Rand working in Hollywood, did ~she~ propagate ideas which she thought were false or evil (by, say, converting novels about the glories of communism into screenplays), or did she work for studios which employed others who produced some "false or evil" films in addition to the non-evil projects that she worked on?

J

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I think cartoonist Objectivist Steve Ditko is a good measuring post for this. He worked on several projects for several different companies but what he is known best for is co-creating Spider-Man for Marvel Comics. Just as the book was begining to reach its height he got called on several recent decisions (such as potyraying hippies in an unflattering light, not wanting to take the character of an industrialist and have him to turn up as the key villain of the story). After a number of arguements with management he simply walked out at the book's height. Another issue he had was how marvel's writing style worked.

He then went to work for smaller publisher Charlton comics (a much smaller publisher who always gave him total creative freedom). It was smaller checks but he was happy with the work. He also took work at Marvel's biggest competitor DC comics. He developed several projects there and tried applying his Objectivist worldview deeper into the stories, but since he didn't write the dialogue it was often removed by this phase of the process. After enough of this, he left DC as well and went back to Charlton.

Over the years he also took the iniative to self publish to keep total control of his work. He did this to modest sales but great personal satisfaction.

At this point he takes small projects at whoever is willing to pay him. He takes work wherever he can get it, but he has a cut off point. It's not an arbitrary cutoff point and it's not up for debate, you cross that line he won't work for you. If you keep that in mind he's one of the best employees you could ever hope for.

But Kat I think you're forgetting something. Roark is fiction but he didn't always cherry pick his jobs. At times her took jobs completely out of his area of expertise.

Basically I'm saying if the only jobs available are a high position at a Christian recruiting office or a Janitor at a Truck stop... take the latter. There will always be options, some just won't seem appealing, but you'll thank yourself in the long run.

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  • 2 months later...

Jonathan,

When I read your first post, I wondered if she was Diana Hsieh. On reading your 2nd post, I figured that this was pretty likely a confirmation that she was. If this is so, then your posts are very funny.

Personally, I would not care to take a job working for an environmentalist website. There are so many websites with rational purposes, it should not be difficult for a competent website designer to find work. Of course, any Objectivist website designer should be competent or too embarrassed to admit it, unless maybe they were in the initial stage of their career.

My materials analysis laboratory takes in work from many clients. I do not know what all of their purposes are, but since almost all are American or Canadian companies in the private sector, most of their purposes are probably rational. Indeed, I often come to know a substantial bit about some projects and most of those I can make a judgment on give me a great deal of satisfaction as a contributor. I have refused a few clients for moral reasons. I have also had a few clients who hoped that analysis would support some claim they have made and I have told them forthrightly that I expected the analysis would prove otherwise. I have had requests from Iran and other such countries in which they have asked me to provide analyses for purposes that as given would be fine, but because I suspected that there was a good chance that the use for the analysis might be very different than that claimed, I sent them packing.

You can live on surprizingly little income. What you may want and what you need are very different things. Compromising your own ethics to own a nice car or home is just plain foolish. It is much better to hold your head high. In time, you will establish yourself in your profession and so many customers will come to you that you can pick and choose from them. There are nowhere near enough competent people in almost any profession. Be poor and establish your competence, then you will flourish.

Some of the worst Christians I have known are those who most pretend to be good Christians. When a Christian wears his faith on his sleeve or has a Bible on his pickup dashboard, watch out. They seem to figure that the more dogmatically correct they are, the fewer acts of normal human benevolence and honesty they are required to perform. The same is true of the dogmatic Nazi or Communist. Could it also be true of the dogmatic Objectivist? Please pardon this internally inconsistent phrase. Actually, no Objectivist can be dogmatic, so those who think they are Objectivist are no such thing when they are dogmatic.

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