If You Really Cared About This ...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-10-16 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Recruiting for privilege – Tobbe Gyllebring – Medium

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WRITING CODE OUTSIDE OF WORK. But I no longer consider it, by far, a reasonable expectation in a hiring context. What changed? I came to realize that a expectation of sustained free labour was a horrible criterion. It dawned on me that it’s ideas like this one that’s responsible for much of the mess we’re in. I’ve now come to view that view as symptomatic for the brokenness of tech. So what do I think follow from that expectation? It excludes anyone not in various ways privileged enough to have substantial free time that can be spent practicing or contributing, for free. That excludes a whole lot of people that aren’t young and from fairly well off backgrounds. It excludes those with other hobbies and/or families. It’s an expectation that essentially forces emotional and household labour to be taken up by a significant other. What seems like selecting for “passion” ends up being selecting for privilege. ...

What the meme of the midnight oil burning, all-night-pushing ever productive coder ought to signal, apart from being a reflection of our love for lone hero mythology, is that many environments are not conducive to learning, does not provide a challenge. It’s also virtue signalling, it’s taking what’s actually a joyous delight and trying to frame it as something moral. ...

True passion then prioritize self-care, knowing that it’s consistent effort over time that matters. Not that spikes of furious effort and heroics aren’t useful. They are, and at times they’re necessary. But passion gets up each morning, goes to work and realizes that the journey continues tomorrow. Passion arrives rested. Passion takes the long view.

First emphasis theirs; second and third emphases mine.

Among the many pieces of advice given to aspiring creatives, one of the most annoying is the idea that only people who care about their chosen creative thing above all else in their lives will find success in it. This isn't advice; it's an incarnation of survivor's bias.

It took reading the above piece to peel back another layer of b.s. from all this. Some people are only able to devote major time and energy because they're lucky enough to have it in the first place. From there, it's a short hop (not even a skip) to blaming someone for not being able to scrape together someone else's idea of what constitutes proper time and energy. If they can't overcome odds that wreck many people who do put in the time and energy, it's somehow their own fault.

One of the things I have come out most decisively against in life is what I guess could be called taking the "morality play" view of things. Easy example: We like to believe that drug addicts are just morally weak, because it absolves us of the responsibility of thinking about drug addiction as a society-wide problem or a medical crisis. It allows us to push the blame back on the failed individual, all however many millions of them exist at a time. It's a way for us not to grapple with how these things stem from systematic issues.

We hate thinking about this stuff, because we think if we pull on that thread even once, the entire sweater of personal responsibility will unravel. But we don't even try to think about it the other way — that there are some things in life that no amount of personal responsibility can counterbalance, because they're just too big and all-devouring and invisible. We resent the idea that things are not under our control, because it runs contrary to the notion of the self-actualized person, a mythology some people have to preserve at all costs.

We don't need to write personal responsibility out of the picture. We just need to stop acting as if it's this magic sociological fairy dust that solves any problem, no matter how grand or systematic it is. If a certain class of people is routinely singled out for arbitrary abuse (traffic stops, stop-and-frisk, etc.) where other classes of people get a pass, then insisting that said first class of people "clean up its act" is a dodge, because the problem never really stemmed from any one person's good or bad behavior anyway.

People ask, okay, where do we draw the line? If someone has the flu, and they don't confine themselves to bed and make a concerted effort to get better, aren't I justified in shaming them when they get pneumonia? To which I would reply: What is the function of shaming them in the first place? To change their behavior (which rarely works, or works only at self-negating costs), or to make yourself feel better about your own responses to such things?

This kind of morality-play hectoring isn't actually about solving the underlying problem, but attempting to use it as a cheap way to be morally superior. I yelled at him for being "lazy"; therefore, I did something about it and he didn't, so I'm the better man.

Why situations like this need to be turned into competitions over who's the better person is beyond me, but we seem to be stuck with it. When I was young, I was acutely aware of mechanisms like this within myself, because I indulged in exactly this kind of crap all the time. It took a while to notice it and knock it off. Then a funny thing happened: I told myself I must have been a special case. Surely other people, "ordinary people", didn't walk around with junk like this in their head all the time, driving them to take a compulsively moralized view of life. It turned out I was wrong about that, too. It's everywhere, and we are not well-equipped to notice just how insidious and prevalent it is.

The problem, again, is that we have this this mythologized, morality-play view of personal responsibility that has almost nothing to do with actual responsibility as it's actually practiced by actual people. It's more about deflecting attention away from how many of us are either ignorant of the real problems or complicit in them, and about not wanting to be accused of perpetuating something most of us have no idea how to undo anyway.

I've gone far afield, so I'll try to get back on track. With creatives, this kind of hectoring usually comes in the form of something like, "If you really cared about your art, you'd commit more time and effort to it," or some variant of that formula. Almost always you see the first part of that formulation: If you really cared about this ...

Again, I can't help but feel this has nothing to do with encouraging other people to rise to the occasion, and everything to do with deflection. People who work back-to-back jobs that don't give them a moment to stop and reflect are going to have a hard time creating anything. Subtly, or not-so-subtly, insinuating that every aspect of this is their fault says more about the person casting the blame than anything else, and does nothing whatsoever for fostering creative work. It becomes more about being right than solving the problem.

[Edit: Broken link fixed.]

Tags: creativity creators psychology society sociology