Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2021/ Ideal World

Ideal World

One of the many excuses I use for keeping myself unemployed is "I don't want to use my work hours to build a dystopia". From my high horse grazing in the ivory tower, I haughtily sniff at certain kinds of employment (production of addictive substances, surveillance capitalism) as unworthy of my labor. I peer over my glasses and tell others that I want to "do work that helps build the world I want to live in". Well, la dee dah. I'll just be the most principled destitute person you have ever seen sleeping on the street.

What do I even mean when I say I want to build the world I want to live in? I dreamed up the following definition while riding my bike (well, la dee dah) the other day.

My ideal world is one in which people live:

This is not a genie-proof definition. There are all kinds of edge-cases that a malevolent wish-granter could exploit. But I feel the core is pretty robust.

"environmental means" is intended to represent sustainability. If you are living at a level that destroys habitat for others (human and nonhuman) then you are not living within your environmental means.

"economic means" means you are not bankrupting yourself to live in a certain way, and neither are you bankrupting future generations.

"in good health" is admittedly wishy-washy, but it is an important factor. If your lifestyle makes you sick then that is not ideal. If aliens come and enslave you in vats, then that is probably not condusive to your health even if you are content.

"contentedly" is approximately "happiness", but I think "contentedly" fits better. "Happiness" feels like a dangerous word. Heroin makes me happy, but not content. (On the other hand, heroin is also bad for my health, so might be ruled out on that basis.)

I like this description because it is not prescriptive. There are many different kinds of lifestyles that might work. A hunter-gatherer tribe might satisfy this definition, if it did not hunt its prey to extinction, and if its members felt content with their lives. A hunter-gatherer tribe that faced constant famine or disease probably would not fit this definition, but if people lived healthy lives and expected to die at age 30, then maybe they would be living in my ideal world.

On the other hand, there is a place for the immortalist techno-utopians here as well. If they really manage to conquer aging and feel more content for this, then that is fine -- but if they bankrupt Earth's natural resources to do so, then that is a problem. If their technologies made them less content and not more content (FOMO, anyone?) then that is moving further away from living in an ideal world.

This is kind of an individualized definition, but kind of not. If you are Elon Bezos and grow incredibily rich at the expense of others, then surveying those others would reveal that this is not an ideal existence. The veil of ignorance applies here. There are weird utilitarian thought experiments that might make my definition fail, though. If you have a society where one scapegoat has to live in misery while everybody else benefits (yes, I am thinking of Le Guin's story here, even though I have not read it) then nearly any random sample of people will likely fit the definition, even though the system as a whole is unjust. Nonetheless, there are aspects of group value that this definition captures.

The definition is only about people. I worry there is not sufficient protection for non-people here. This is an issue because one way to achieve this definition is to define anybody you don't like as nonhuman. In addition I care about charismatic mammals like whales and orangutans and elephants, and I want them to live good lives too.

Is this applicable to my job search? Probably not as much as I would wish. I do not know of any job that does not involve moral and ethical tradeoffs.

Maybe there is a way to distinguish jobs which have a net benefit from those that don't? Maybe there is a way to characterise the ways in which the jobs move us further from my ideal and they ways they move us closer? These days I feel frustrated because the majority of jobs I see do not feel like honest work, and they feel as if they are building worlds farther away from the one in which I want to live. I am not alone in this. Techbros build apps to monetize our attention and then prohibit their kids from owning smartphones. Techbros "revolutionize learning" via computers and send their own kids to Montessori schools. The Internet runs on advertising and surveillance, but the techbros install ad blockers on their computers. None of this feels right, and I don't want to participate in any of it. Is another way even possible?