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On Choices and Mistakes

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Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Last night, my partner and I went to see the premiere of a documentary called The Great Hack at the Science Museum. Yes, we're geeks. The film is about the Cambridge Analytica and the role it played in the Trump election and the Brexit referendum. I'm guessing that was a pretty charged Q&A for a science museum event. They talked about data rights, which is an important issue, and you should look it up and read about it as part of being a citizen and a human person.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about Brittany Kaiser. She was the lead character of this documentary, and I get that. She's an interesting character. She's complex. She was a teenage activist and then worked for the Obama campaign, before going to work for Cambridge Analytica and being involved with the Trump 2016 campaign.

Her character isn't resolved in the film. In general, the impression I got from the whole thing is that no one knows what the truth is anymore. You can't know. The journalist could have construed something that wasn't entirely true; Brittany could be lying; people forget things. The truth is complicated, and you can't tell what happened just from reading the paper or listening to interviews. It's unfortunate, but that's also not what I want to talk about.

Brittany talks about making mistakes in the documentary. She says that she should have walked away earlier. She says she should have seen how wrong it was. But she also talks about how much fun it was to work for CA, how there were good people there, and how Alexander Nix (the CEO) had treated her well. She talks about how none of the Democratic campaigns she worked for paid her, and when her family lost their home, she needed to go work for someone who paid her. And CA paid her.

It reminded me of an interview with Tim Ferriss I heard on the TED Interview podcast. He was talking about something entirely different, but at some point, they talked about "Hard choices easy life; easy choices hard life." I remember thinking then that it was BS. I mean, I respect Tim Ferriss and Chris Anderson greatly, but that is a sentence spoken from privilege. Some people don't have easy choices, only hard choices. Sure, Brittany could have continued to do unpaid work for a cause she believed in, but then who would have paid her parents' bills? I know some moms who mostly feed their kids junk food. Now, I know how bad junk food is for a developing body, and I cook meals for my kids, and we always have fruit and veg. But I don't have to deal with a child with special needs, I don't have to worry about the drug-dealing neighbour, I don't have to wonder whether I can get the kids new clothes or do I need that money for rent or to pay the gas bill so that we keep having the heat on. I don't even have to work so that we have an income. I'm privileged.

Besides, what Tim Ferriss calls a "hard choice" (get up early) can be an easy choice for someone else. For example, I get up at 6:30 every morning and I'm considering moving it up so that I'll have time to also write in the mornings. It's not a hard choice for me. I like getting up early and being responsible only for myself for a little while. In those minutes, there's no school to get to on time, no kids to feed, no laundry, not even blog readers. Those quiet minutes are precious to me.

My point is this. Some people have more choices than others. I don't know Brittany Kaiser, but I know people like her. People who make mistakes, but those mistakes are generated by having really shitty choices to begin with.


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