On not getting a job as an option

This was origi­nally a com­ment to VipulNaik’s re­cent inda­ga­tions about the aca­demic lifestyle ver­sus the job lifestyle. In­stead of call­ing it lifestyle he called them ca­reer op­tions, but I’m tak­ing a differ­ent em­pha­sis here on pur­pose.

Due to in­for­ma­tion haz­ards risks, I recom­mend that Effec­tive Altru­ists who are still wa­ver­ing back and forth do not read this. Spoiler EA alert.

I’d just like to provide a cul­tural differ­ence in­for­ma­tion that I have con­sis­tently noted be­tween Amer­i­cans and Brazili­ans which seems rele­vant here.

To have a job and work in the US is taken as a *de facto* biolog­i­cal need. It is as ab­nor­mal for an Amer­i­can, in my ex­pe­rience, to con­sider not work­ing, as it is to con­sider not breath­ing, or not eat­ing. It just doesn’t cross peo­ple’s minds.

If any­one has in­sight above and be­yond “Protes­tant ethics and the spirit of cap­i­tal­ism” let me know about it, I’ve been wait­ing for the “why?” for years.

So yeah, let me re­mind peo­ple that you can spend years and years not work­ing. that not get­ting a job isn’t go­ing to kill you or make you less healthy, that ul­tra­v­agabond­ing is pos­si­ble and fea­si­ble and many do it for over six months a year, that I have a friend who lives as the boyfriend of his spon­sor’s wife in a triad and some­how never worked a day in his life (the hus­band of the triad pays it all, both men are straight). That I’ve hosted an Ar­gen­ti­nian who left grad­u­ate eco­nomics for two years to ran­domly travel the world, ended up in Rome and passed by here in his way back, through couch­sur­fing. That Puneet Sa­hani has been well over two years trav­el­ling the world with no money and an In­dian pass­port now. I’ve also hosted a lovely es­to­nian gen­tle­man who works on com­put­ers 4 months a year in Lon­don to earn pounds, and spends eight months a year get­ting to know coun­tries while learn­ing their cul­ture etc… Brazil was his third coun­try.

Oh, and never for­get the Uruguay cou­ple I just met at a dance fes­ti­val who have been trav­el­ling as hip­pies around and around South Amer­ica for 5 years now, and showed no sign of own­ing more than 500 dol­lars worth of stuff.

Also in case you’d like to live in a par­adise valley tak­ing Santo Daime (a re­li­gious rit­ual with DMT) about twice a week, you can do it with a salary of aprox­i­matelly 500 dol­lars per month in Vale do Ga­marra, where I just spent car­ni­val, that is what the guy who drove us back did. Given Brazilian or Turk­ish re­turns on in­vest­ment, that would cost you 50 000 bucks in case you re­fused to work within the land it­self for the 500.

Oh, I for­got to men­tion that though it cer­tainly makes you un­able to do ex­pen­sive stuff, thus re­mov­ing the para­dox of choice and part of your ex­is­ten­tial angst from you (uhuu less choices!), there is nearly no de­trac­tion in sta­tus from not hav­ing a job. In fact, dur­ing these years in which I was ei­ther be­ing an EA and di­rect­ing an NGO, or study­ing on my own, or do­ing a Masters (which, let’s agree is not very time con­sum­ing) my sta­tus has in­creased steadily, and many op­por­tu­ni­ties would have been lost if I had a job that wouldn’t let me move freely. Things like be­ing in­vited as Visit­ing Scholar to Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute, like giv­ing a TED talk, like di­rect­ing IERFH, and like spend­ing a month work­ing at FHI with Bostrom, Sand­berg, and the clas­sic Less­wrong poster Stu­art Arm­strong.

So when think­ing about what to do with you fu­ture my dear fel­low Amer­i­cans, please, at least con­sider not get­ting a job. At least ad­mit what ev­ery­one knows from the bot­tom of their hearts, that jobs are abun­dant for high IQ peo­ple (spe­cially you my pro­gram­mer lurker read­ers.… I know you are there...and you na­tive English speak­ers, I can see you there, un­nec­es­sar­ily wor­ry­ing about your earn­ing po­ten­tial).

A job is truly an in­stru­men­tal goal, and your ter­mi­nal goals cer­tainly do have chains of cau­sa­tion lead­ing to them that do not con­tain a job for 330 days a year. Un­less you are a worka­holic who ex­pe­riences flow in virtue of pur­su­ing in­stru­men­tal goals. Then please, work all day long, donate as much as you can, and may your life be awe­some!