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?

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