Is Sabotage Ethical?

Mike Monteiro
4 min readFeb 17, 2020

This is an excerpt from Ruined by Design, a book about design ethics and activism. You can find out more about it here.

In 1944, the CIA (or technically, the OSS, its precursor) published one of the greatest design manuals of all time, and by far my personal favorite. The Simple Sabotage Field Manual was clandestinely, and I hope very carefully, distributed to people living in Axis or Axis-controlled countries who sided with the Allied cause, including our good friends and role models in the French Resistance. It was declassified in 2008. The manual is filled with dozens of little tips and tricks about how you can sabotage your workplace in ways that won’t be too obvious. (You can do a lot more sabotage if you’re not getting caught.) Why do I call it a design manual? Because, like we’ve discussed before, design is the solution to a problem within a set of constraints. We have a problem: Nazis. We have a solution: sabotage. We have constraints: don’t get caught. It’s a design manual. Among the highlights are:

• Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.

• Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.

• To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.

• Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.

• Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

And my personal favorite:

• Act stupid.

Reading these, I wonder if Silicon Valley hasn’t accidentally been following this manual of sabotage for the past thirty years.

So, is sabotage ethical? If you got the right lessons out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you realize that the Axis (Nazis and friends) were the bad guys and the Allies are the good guys. So, this is a manual for sabotaging bad guys, and I’d argue that Nazis are about as bad as you can get on the bad guy scale. In fact, I’m not even gonna argue that. I’m just gonna call it a universal truth. Nazis were/are hateful fucks, and sabotaging their work isn’t just ethical, but is your duty as a good human being. Now, I’m not going to do the thing where I compare the place…

Mike Monteiro

English is my second language. You were my first.