What is Success in an Immoral Maze?

Previously in Sequence: Moloch Hasn’t WonPerfect CompetitionImperfect CompetitionDoes Big Business Hate Your Family?What is Life in an Immoral Maze?Stripping Away the Protections

Immoral Mazes are terrible places to be. Much worse than they naively appear. They promise the rewards and trappings of success. Do not be fooled. 

If there is one takeaway I want everyone to get from the whole discussion of Moral Mazes, it is this:

Being in an immoral maze is not worth it. They couldn’t pay you enough. Even if they could, they definitely don’t. If you end up CEO, you still lose. These lives are not worth it. Do not be a middle manager at a major corporation or other organization that works like this. Do not sell your soul.

When one works for an immoral maze, what is one hoping for? What is success?

Suppose you persevere. You make the sacrifices. Become the person you need to become. Put in the work day after day. Fortune smiles on you and you win out against all the others doing the same thing. You succeed.

What is success? What do you get in exchange?

For some managers, the drive for success is a quest for the generous financial rewards that high corporate position brings. For others, success means the freedom to define one’s work role with some latitude, to “get out from under the thumb of others.” For still others, it means the chance to gain power and to exert one’s will, to “call the shots,” to “do it my way,” or to know the curiously exhilarating pleasure of controlling other people’s fates. For still others, the quest for success expresses a deep hunger for the recognition and accolades of one’s peers. (Location 955, Quote 118)

This a warning. “Success,” in context, does not mean happiness. It does not make you healthy. It does not improve your reproductive fitness. It does not reflect or spread the values that you (one would hope) had when you stared down that road.

It gives you money. But in terms of actual meaningful personal consumption, you can’t really do much with it beyond status competitions. If you had plans to do something good with the money, by the time the day arrives, it is highly unlikely you’ll do it. You have changed yourself to succeed on your journey.

Even after you ‘succeed’ you probably keep putting tons of hours into the job in ways no amount of money can compensate for, once you already had basically enough.

What was the point? What are you even doing?

Note that failure is indeed much worse than success. You still paid all the sunk costs, including everything you are. You’ve invested a ton in and become very invested in local status hierarchies, and in the quest to climb them, which you have failed. Being ‘under the thumb’ of others who succeeded where you failed is deeply unpleasant – and is the most likely outcome, since the math says most who try will fail.

This is a song with some explicit content about what happens when one disregards this warning, and chooses poorly, although it misses perhaps the most important questions. Who am I? What have I become?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5IsSpAOD6K8

Lyrics here.

Remember that maze conditions are not unique to corporations.

All of this holds true in any sufficiently large organization, to an extent that increases with its size, and will have the same effects if you seek to ascend the hierarchy within.

Size matters, but size is far from the only thing that matters. Some very small organizations effectively have very high maze levels. Some large organizations have relatively low maze levels.

Avoiding mazes is easier said than done. The first step is identifying them, where I will offer some heuristics in the next post. 

The second step after that is what to do about it, especially in difficult circumstances. Many of us believe we need the support of mazes in order to survive. At least for the moment, not all of us are wrong. 

Next in sequence: How to Identify an Immoral Maze

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7 Responses to What is Success in an Immoral Maze?

  1. Calvin Ho says:

    This recent article seems like it shows a moral maze:

    https://abovethelaw.com/2020/01/kirkland-ellis-non-equity-partners-know-exactly-where-they-should-be-somewhere-else/

    Although if you do make equity partner, you are pretty much set and can scale back the amount you bill/work every year.

    • TheZvi says:

      The whole ‘make partner/tenure’ thing is definitely a key feature of some alternate mazes, where there is life on the other end if you want it. I should make sure to note the partner thing in the right place (which is 2 posts from now).

  2. Pingback: How to Identify an Immoral Maze | Don't Worry About the Vase

  3. zzbbyy2017 says:

    There is a traditional term to that: rat race.

  4. Pingback: How Escape From Immoral Mazes | Don't Worry About the Vase

  5. Pingback: Stripping Away the Protections | Don't Worry About the Vase

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