I went out to dinner and drinks last night with some people I’d just met and someone I’ve known for a very long time. She brought up the topic of how I probably wouldn’t like one of her friends because he worked in coal. One of the guys then turned to me and asked “Do you think it really works like that? That you wouldn’t like someone just because of their job?”
And I thought about it, and I said Yes, and gave the example of someone who worked in advertising for a tobacco company. He didn’t look very convinced, but dropped the topic anyway.
I’ve been thinking about it some more. Is it unreasonable of me? Shouldn’t people have the right to earn a living without me judging them?
The answer is: probably, yes, but it’s a very grey area. Is there something else you can do? Are you creating more harm than good? Are you deliberately enabling death or sickness or treading on human rights?
Some people make the mistake of letting degrees of separation get in their way. I think about it this way. Would you be friends with a serial killer who killed for kicks? Probably not. How about a contract killer who killed indiscriminately, so long as there was money involved? Also, probably not. How about his personal assistant/secretary, then? They’re not directly killing anybody, but certainly enabling the contract killer to. And they’re just doing their job, anyway. And so on and so forth.
I’m not saying that, for example, somebody who works for coal is necessarily a murderer, some nth degrees removed. There is no doubt they are providing some good for the world - energy, afterall, is what gives us our current high standards of living. But they must also be thinking about the negative impacts of their work. Is there anything they COULD be doing to counteract that? Is the company they are working for engaging in coal for the meantime and encouraging the global transition to sustainable (both in a green, and in a constantly replenishing kind of way) forms of energy and investing in research and development in those areas? Or are they holding back a global move to more sustainable forms of energy and deliberately muddling the waters on how laypeople understand the science of climate change?
I’m friends with somebody who works at a tobacco company. Her job is to find out the pathways through which tobacco harms people and try to reduce or eradicate those harms altogether. That’s fantastic. I’m not a fan of tobacco companies, but that’s the best form of enabling of a tobacco company I could imagine. If she succeeds, I won’t even care about whether anybody works at a tobacco company or not anymore.
I also don’t like the argument “If I didn’t do it, somebody else would do it”. Then why you? Why can’t you do something constructive?
At the end of the day, I know. People are just trying to get by. But there are ways and ways of getting by, and the educated, privileged people I tend to meet often always have choices, and they have chosen.