Jens Oliver Meiert

Why I’m Suspending Interviews with U.S. Companies

Post from June 13, 2017 (↻ August 23, 2017), filed under .

Over the last few quarters I was in conversations to move back to the United States. For the most part I was in talks with Google, where I had already worked for more than five years and whose spirit, as with googliness, I still value much (I interviewed successfully yet wound up with organizational headcount issues, and had since stayed in an actually convenient holding pattern). I had also been in touch with a few San Francisco startups. When I found myself typing the following into an email to an SF-based founder, I thought I really had to make a call:

[…] I’m watching the whole political situation with much concern (military aggression, discrimination against muslims, climate neglect, &c.). I want you to know so to be transparent about the factors that matter to me, and in case I make a decision to suspend talks until conditions improved.

And when I was speaking to a friend in Istanbul last week, indicating how concerned I was and that returning to the U.S. had actually turned into a no-go for me at this point, I figured I really, really had to make a call. And so I informed Google about my officially suspending interest until values were more in line again, and cancelled two VCs scheduled for this week. In another email to a startup I explained (links added for this post):

[…] essentially I see too big of a discrepancy between the values of the U.S. administration and of my own. It’s unsettling enough to see myself in an immigration database under special surveillance, and to have my civil rights violated with that, but even more problematic is to see fellow people, whether Mexicans or Muslims or wherever they’re from and whatever they believe in, systematically and continuously being harassed and discriminated. I also struggle with the fact that the U.S. keep on fighting and invading other countries (like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Syria), keep on illegally detaining people who must, by law, be considered innocent (Guantánamo), keep on torturing, &c. pp. I also believe that the way toward more global stability is not only through more peacefulness, but also more cooperation—which includes ratifying accords about justice (the U.S. is still not fully accepting the International Court of Justice) as well as climate.

I know from my time in the United States, and particular in California, that many Americans support these views. The criticism and concern is clearly not un-American: People usually criticize when they care, and I believe in [the possibility of] a strong and free America. It’s just that someone who reigns with disregard for human rights and the law, who spreads violence, and who ignores people’s fundamental needs, including their own, is neither truly strong, nor truly free.

I was wondering whether it would be useful to point to the treatment of visitors, how the U.S. had threatened to demand social media passwords from foreigners and just extended their visa process to request all social media handles. (If being forced to increase one’s own surveillance target wasn’t terrible all by itself, how’s one legally protected for forgetting one of the many services?)

I was wondering whether it would be useful to note how Americans are struggling with a broken healthcare system that lets down those of their fellow countrymen who are in most need, and an ineffective and overpriced education system that gambles on the future of the country (I believe that education should be good and free). Whether it would be useful to add how there are grave problems around social justice, ranging from police violence to insanely high incarceration rates. Whether it would be useful to point out how there’s repeat failure to investigate, punish, and correct administrative wrongdoings.

I was wondering whether it would be useful to discuss issues around U.S. economic policy, issues that raise the concern that neither the American nor foreign people get enough protection from negligent if not criminal conduct of major banks and corporations.

I was wondering whether this would be useful to add but don’t believe it is, because many countries struggle with these or comparable problems, including countries in the European Union.

If any of this was useful to note then only to emphasize how we’ve all learned to ignore and suppress these issues quite well. When we only fly at news altitude we sometimes miss how fundamentally, unacceptably f’ed up some things really are, for when we’ve seen the umpteenth report on people struggling somewhere, whether with illiteracy or injustice or poverty or hunger or oppression or war or terrorism or whatever it is, we think that’s normal and okay. No. It’s not. Sometimes we need to look at things from a high enough altitude to see anything at all.

The point behind my suspending interest in working for a U.S. company at this point is that I’d feel like I was supporting U.S. policy. Like I was supporting the violation of fundamental human rights, including the systematic violation of our privacy; the discrimination against people of others nations, religions, or preferences; the political and economic aggression; the violence that actually fuels terrorism and contributes to so many people, including fellow Europeans, dying; the ignoring of the needs and interests of so many people both non-American and American; the resistance against and active sabotage of international cooperation and justice; the lack of character and maturity. This is a discrepancy between values that I just cannot ignore anymore. I do not support such kinds of policies.

What puzzles me is how much must happen that we start to take action (peaceful action, of course). For me, most of what I describe was already reality when I first moved to the U.S. Why had I moved in the first place? There are many reasons, and challenge, excitement, and juniority were certainly three of them. The real reason is probably that we’re incredibly tolerant when it comes to bullshit. Just as there are children who don’t see how they got abused and even go to the extreme of blaming themselves for their being abused (I’ve been one of them), there are we as citizens who don’t see that our administrations are not acting in our best interest, and make-believe as if they would.

There’s so much more to be said to so many of the points here, but I’ll close with something more uplifting. On the one hand, I love Google, the Bay Area, the United States. Otherwise I hadn’t gone there in the past and otherwise I hadn’t thought about returning. I will contemplate doing so again once conditions for doing so improved (and once I can, like others, sadly miss many of aforementioned issues again). On the other hand, I want us to focus on the things that take a turn for the better, too: France, for example, has effectively voted to stay in the European Union (the European idea is beautiful and important) and has also taken a stance for ecological awareness (we cannot have enough constructive, cooperative spirit). This is what we need more of: Let’s elect competent, trustworthy, peaceful administrations, let’s strengthen people’s rights, let’s not support or engage in any more armed conflicts, let’s put military spending into education, let’s grant everyone healthcare and benefits, let’s create new models for cooperation, justice, tolerance, forgiveness, kindness—and let’s do this all together. (It works.)

I’d have loved not to write this post, and I haven’t even said “Trump” once.

Special thanks for the understanding feedback I received from the Googlers as well as the heads of the startups I talked to. My thanks, too, to every American who accepts criticism of their administration. I know this isn’t always what we want to hear. We all care about our countries.

About the Author

Jens Oliver Meiert, photo of July 27, 2015.

Jens Oliver Meiert is an author, developer (O’Reilly, W3C, ex-Google), and philosopher. He experiments with art and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.

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Last update: August 23, 2017

“The end does not justify the means.”