Sunday, July 17, 2011

Employment & Philosophy

There are times when thinking deeply leaves me with a troubling question.

It is an assumed fact in America that a man, having possession of a marketable idea, creates a business in order to bring it to fruition. Employees, insofar as they are necessary for the functioning of the business, are brought in. Especially given the world as it is today, you could be an excellent employer and very respectful of them, but they may still not actually want to be there; it is another assumed fact, after all, that a man, having possession of a marketable skill, takes whatever job, out of those offered him, that he hates least, or which puts him on the road to a job he someday wishes to have.

That's a little cynical, but the basic problem worries me. I have long thought to myself that it might be nice to be of my own business, bringing my ideas to fruition, rather than being someone else's labor. However, in principle, this only puts others in the same position I would have been in; they will be hired for no other purpose than to see my dreams completed, and they are given a paycheck for no other reason.

If I could afford to pay employees enough, with a flexible enough schedule, that I was furthering their dreams, or at least keeping them fully happy, that would be one thing. But without being a highly successful business (or a billionaire, or striking oil/gold/rare earths/whatever), there is no way to provide so much extra to employees. If I did manage to be a runaway success, without question there would be competition, and how well my company functions would be a major factor in whether or not it continued to be successful. At that point, "maintaining the company" becomes the dream which I am asking others to do for me, instead of chasing their own dreams.

That's not quite correct, I'm sure, and it's a jumbled mess of thoughts in any case. The more basic question still stands--if I wanted to build a company or small business that didn't betray anyone, how could I do it? If I was hiring the business-standard way (take applications), the people who are coming to me are people who are looking for a job; they most likely didn't seek me out because they want to do what we're doing, and they almost certainly didn't seek me out to help me with what I want to do. Isn't it a bit cold to ignore that? But what other option do I have?

Even if it were some sort of communal projects company where all employees have their own babies that we help each other out with--and that's slow, risky, and for something as specialization-of-labor as software, may not be really feasible--even then they're all still restricted in what they can do by the people I'll hire, or in other ways, what assistance I render.

This all ignores, of course, the glaring fact that I have no money to invest in the first place. However, as a philosophical question, I think it's important. Since the dawn of corporations--and probably before--the soul-crushing single-mindedness that a company can impose has been felt by all sorts of people who wanted options but found few if any. Who hires me and how they work me will be a serious consideration for the rest of my life; if I have good money and free time, I may be able to make my projects myself, and go into business for myself. But if I'm only accomplishing others' goals, and if they see me as nothing more than a means to their ends, could I lose myself? Haven't so many before me?

I don't want to betray others, not if they're going to offer to help me with my dreams. What can I do? Is it just because of inexperience that I don't have an answer?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Open Letter to the Few

Dear Rich People, National Leaders, &etc:

I have something to say to you. You're probably not going to understand it right away; the reason for this is that I'm really bad at getting to the point. Proof of this, if it's needed, is that I haven't said what I'm going to say to you yet. You may want to skip ahead.

What I'm going to say is that I was playing Minecraft today. If you don't know it, it's a tedious computer game in which you dig, and by digging receive blocks with which you can build. It's the sort of game where you spend so much time digging that you end up spending more and more time building new tools; I dug in the sand all day and made new shovels for digging the next day before I went to bed. There are other things I could do in the game, but I wanted to build a fortress, and that involved getting and using a lot of resources.

This is where the point begins: Building that fortress is boring. I have already spent hours of my time, days and days game time, working with little immediate payoff. I do it because it's a project that I want to see done, and one I'd like to do. I do it, in short, because I'm a geek. Perhaps more importantly, I do it because I it's something I think is cool.

I'm willing to spend inordinate amounts of time doing really boring things in order to be part of something cool. Work happens. Shit, being BORED is work. I spent my childhood being bored in as interesting a way as I could, because nobody gave me anything interesting to do. I took my toys and built with them, and wove stories and games into them. Do I have anything to show for that? Hell no. This is the second part of the point.

We're waiting for you, rich people, powerful people, to have anything at all that's interesting for us to do. You remember this thing called money? Perhaps you've encountered it in your life before. It's the resource we would use, if we had it, to fund our ideas and make our own cool things happen. We don't have it. We don't have it because we don't have good-paying jobs, and/or because we don't have large pools of funding to do with as we please.

Meanwhile, that money isn't doing anything in your hands. But wait, you say, it's going into investments, with some in the bank gaining interest. Well, here's the thing about banking and interest: You are supposed to get it back. That means that the money was never actually spent, and the people you're giving money to don't actually receive anything. Every single penny that they receive they are obligated to make later. That rules out hundreds of thousands, maybe millions or more, of projects that would be really really cool. Maybe even useful. Projects that could change the world, or change people's outlook on life.

Another game I've been playing is Sid Meier's Civilization IV, a game in which you basically simulate a new world history given the technologies, history, and cultures of the world as it stands today. Funny thing about civilizations: When you build libraries, when you build statues, when you build aqueducts and roads, you aren't actually making all that much money back. What you get out of it is a change to the world around you. People are educated, inspired, healthy, and mobile. Wonders of the world? They inspire your entire civilization, nay the world, but the inordinate amount of resources it took to construct them are lost for good. Period, the end. If you constructed a wonder of the world today, something so amazing you'd be remembered forever, you'd likely go bankrupt.

Back in the early days of humanity, nay continuing even today, private citizens didn't tend to have the resources to do anything until someone gave them a task. For most of human history almost everyone was growing the food they would eventually eat. Now we do all kinds of labor, but the end result is the same: nothing new happens because we don't control the means of production; rather, we ARE the means of production. YOU have to give us something to produce.

But here's the interesting thing. When you look at the world today (by which I mean the first world, which has admittedly far too much time on its hands compared to places that are worse off) you see people doing what they want to do. Sports, gaming, writing, movies, music, all of these are indicative of the idea that people want to be part of something interesting, and they want it so badly they'll pay money and spend their off-hours doing it.

But you guys, who have the means of production that we lack, aren't spending any money on interesting things that we could make for you. If you're doing anything, you're investing, which means that we aren't allowed to do anything that doesn't turn a buck. Me personally, if I had a million bucks (or more) I'd be chasing after any number of projects I have whirling around in my head; video games, tabletop gaming, books, movies, computer architectures, buildings, philosophy, and plenty of other things. Many of these could actually be businesses, but not being a businessman, there's no way I'd ask for an investment or even take an investment. I'm depressive and inexperienced; even though I dream big, even though I'm the sort of technically-minded dumbass that could put it all together eventually but doesn't, there is no way I'll ask because you want a guarantee that I'll succeed and pay you back. Depression doesn't work that way, and neither do most of the really interesting projects out there. I'm not doing what I'm doing to make profits, or even break even. I'm doing what I'm doing to see something awesome get done.

(None of which is to say that I wouldn't pay people back if I made it big. I'm not a greedy sonofabitch, I just don't honestly believe I'll succeed. Could succeed, sure. Could do something really awesome if I DID succeed, heck yeah. But WILL succeed? Nobody's ever treated me like I was going to be a success at anything. I'm not wasting other people's money on a person who shows no promise, even if that person is me. That's all beside the point.)

The point is, ask. Not ask me, but ask of the world. Say, "You know, a giant-ass statue carved into a mountainside would be great. What do we need to do, and what should it be?" Or ask, "You know, a giant school in the middle of nowhere that takes up 1000 acres and is filled with the best minds from anywhere, who'd want to be a part of that?" Or perhaps, "If I organized the best dog trainers around the world, and gave them access to whatever dogs they wanted, and we kept a project going for dozens or hundreds of generations, how intelligent could we get those dogs? Would they be as smart as humans? Would they be smart enough to live in the civilized world without owners? Could they teach other dogs?"

You don't have to take my word for it, but there are an inordinate number of things you could do that would really alter the way we look at the world--that would alter the way the entire world sees itself. The only thing America has had to look up to in the last 20 years are sleazy corporations, lawyers, technology, a dying space program, religions that haven't been updated in millenia... what is that we're supposed to be inspired by? Or are you just all happy being part of a world that doesn't care anymore, because there's nothing else to accomplish?