For a long time, I refused to pay for membership to The Guardian despite reading it multiple times a day. “Fifty pounds?!” I’d cry. “And for what? Shit I don’t need and junk mail? I’ll pay when it’s half the price and they fire Jonathan Jones.”
I was being a dick. If The Guardian disappeared tomorrow, I’d be all over Twitter rending my clothes. I really do appreciate their journalism and commentary, and while a small part of me would be glad to see the back of their anodyne lifestyle articles and flaming garbage pile of a comments section, and yes, Jonathan Jones, I’d regret not having done more to support them.
There is a segment of the population — let’s call them Silicon Valley Optimisers — who feel intellectually and morally superior to the rest of humanity. One can observe them in their natural habitats of Hacker News, Lesswrong, and Slatestarcodex. They work in technology, they earn a good salary, and they want the best.
No, scratch that — truthfully, I spend a lot of time in Optimisation Land. We want the best, because the world and the conomy expects the best from us. We are hyperanalytical cost-benefit maximisers. There is no charity so pure that we can’t criticise for wasting money; no non-profit too noble to snipe at for using the wrong tech stack; no institution too valuable to be explosively disrupted.
Whether it’s journalism, healthcare, transportation, social security, or politics, we could do better, if we tried. But we don’t care to try, because we’re too busy trying to make shit tons of money, and you don’t make money by working in non-profits or journalism. So fuck anyone else for trying and failing to attain perfection, and what’s more, fuck them for having the temerity to ask us for our hard-earned cash.
The time for that attitude is well and truly over. We cannot afford your perfectionism any more.
If you read the New York Times or the Washington Post, or you listen to NPR, or you value living in a society with civil liberties, you must support those organisations — even if you object to a lot of what they do. The people working there are doing hard work for comparatively little pay, and they need your support.
If you’re always waiting to donate to the perfect organisation that deserves your money, you will never be part of the solution. You will be part of the problem.
The Guardian is not going to fire Jonathan Jones, as much as I might complain. They probably aren’t going to change their shitty comments system, even though I was told several years ago that it was happening ‘any time now’. And like the NYT and Washington Post, they aren’t going to stop producing hard-hitting investigating journalism that tries to speak truth to power. So if that’s something you value, you need to support them now.
Likewise, organisations like Liberty, the ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center — they may be inefficient. They may do political things that irritate you. But if you share their ideals, you need to support them now.
Don’t be an Optimiser. Be a Human.
Photo CC-BY Trevor Hurlbut