Should you accept a pull request from a very bad person? (Part III)

Why the rise of crypto makes this question timely

November 19, 2018
Jonathan Libov

Continued from Part I and Part II

If you believe, as I do, that the primary innovation of cryptocurrencies is a means to monetize open-source software, which in turn enables and incentivizes coordination of life-sustaining work outside a firm, then there's good reason to believe it has a bright future: Open-source cryptocurrency projects are censorship-resistant at the level of exchanging one’s capital—particularly time—for money.

One can contribute their time and financial stakes to Satoshi, Vitalik and Zooko with no fear of rejection; conversely, if Apple, Google and Facebook all decline to offer you a job—which they do for Population of Earth less the number of Apple, Google and Facebook employees—they are censoring you from participating in and contributing to the upside of Steve Jobs, Larry and Sergey, and Zuck. It's an odd application of "censorship-resistance", but I think it's a far, far more salient form of censorship resistance than censorship of media, which is more commonly discussed amongst promoters of blockchain.

This is even more pressing in light of the governance issues that Facebook, Google and others are experiencing: Lack of action on sexual harassment, James Damore, protests over cooperation with China and with US intelligence agencies, disinformation campaigns to suppress publicity of disinformation campaigns, and unease around Trumpism. If you work at Apple, Google, or Facebook, this thing of yours is a lot more morally ambiguous than you ever could have known when you bought in. More precisely, when you were allowed to buy in.

It's possible that we're at a local maxima for political discord, just as it's possible that we're somewhere on a linear slope. But it's also possible that we're on the early portion of an exponential curve, and that as this trend accelerates while these companies increasingly dominate their markets, previously agnostic organizations will increasingly represent political alliances between a staff and the consumers of their product. It's difficult to imagine things splintering this badly, but all exponential changes are, nearly by definition, difficult to imagine. As Chuck Klosterman put it in But What If We’re Wrong?, "All strengths become weaknesses, if given enough time."

For those who joined Facebook or Google in the last few years, it's been like a "Come for the now-unattractive stock options, stay for the moral crisis" sort of deal.

"I’m f-ing exhausted of cleaning up after the sloppy and careless mistakes that made so many of the people responsible for them so, so rich," lamented one Facebook employee in response to the company's latest scandal. "Why does our company suck at having a moral compass?", asked another. By contrast, working for an open-source organization either requires no moral compass (because the project belongs to the commons) or enables infinite moral compasses (because the project can always be forked).

If given enough time, I think significant talent will migrate to open-source environments to flee the moral consequences, which is a form of freedom.