The Poor, Poor Rich

I have started to notice something while reading public discussions, Facebook comments, and other expressed sentiments, and that is that normal people tend to have a great deal of disdain for rich people. This is probably obvious to most. It’s common to hear people talk about ‘the rich stealing from the poor’, ‘exploitation’, and of course the catch-all Wall Street.

Business, perhaps surprisingly, is often times very fair. Every participant in a business relationship is accepting of their role. Unfairness does make its appearances, but very often it is the case that people take mutually beneficial actions. Profits are to be maximized, and so under that operating premise, labor, for example, tends to get displaced overseas where it is cheaper. Many say that these workers who make very little each day are being exploited, and yet they don’t know much about the conditions these workers live in and what they would otherwise be doing with their time. It is often the case that this new labor is a big step up for them, and the addition of jobs en masse provides a significant boost to their local economies.

Overseas workers are jumping at the opportunity to work for U.S. companies. Perhaps you should ask them whether they feel exploited. Personally, if I had the option of working as a farmer and working at a call center or factory for a U.S. company for relatively more money, it would be very obvious to me what the better option would be, and I would think it rather strange for you to call me exploited because of it.

What is it with this idea that the middle class has about the upper class, that they are mostly over-privileged, greedy, an unworthy of compassion if they are to ever suffer? This attitude speaks little of them and volumes to the person who is clearly resentful.

When Humans of New York posted a series on attendees of the Met Galla, there were popular “woe is me” comments disparaging the personal experiences of the rich, as if they have it made so well that they are unworthy of any further attention. Of course there was a backlash, “it’s Humans of New York, not Poor Humans of New York,” but none the less, the fact that this conversation arose at all was telling.

I always try to keep a distance from the conversations to understand the different perspectives, because I find it interesting that these perspectives exist at all, and I’m curious why they do.

The way that I see it is it’s ridiculous to consider rich people as being all of one type, sharing any qualities at all, other than happening to have much more money than they need to live on alone. They got this money for all different reasons. Some inherited it (within this camp there are plenty of assholes). Many earned it through deliberate and sustained hard work. Some choose to live simple lives despite their wealth, and some loose their minds and buy as much as they possibly can. They are all individuals, and everyone is different; everyone has a different story and a different character.

Somehow, when wealth is achieved, there is a piece of humanity that is lost in the wealthy individual through the eyes of the public. This lost piece of humanity seems to have been driven out of perspectives via nothing other than envy. It’s really rather sad.

Of course there is reason to resent those that flaunt their money and cry over losing a $60k diamond earring while wading in the water on the shore of a south Pacific island (of course I’m talking about Kim Kardashian). That is indeed absurd. But everyone suffers. Humanity isn’t lost to the wealthy internally, and humans are highly adaptable. Problems are always relative to ones own experiences.

Allowing oneself to respect the grievances and complaints of the wealthy, barring ridiculous reality TV fiascos, perhaps requires that one come to terms with the fact that you don’t have as much money as they do.

The thing is, the way to get rich if you aren’t already in this world, if we are to do so in a self-made and dignified manner (i.e. not marrying someone for their wealth or inheriting wealth), is to create value. If you aren’t making as much as your boss, it’s because your work isn’t as valuable to the company as his. Another way to think about it is successful entrepreneurs who turn billionaires tend to solve major problems, with solutions that are so big they continuously effect the lives of millions for generations. Steve Jobs solved the problem of the absence of personal-sized, straightforward to use computers, and because of that he changed the way we interact with the world. His solution was so fundamental that it led him to achieve a net worth of 19 billion.

Famous actors have one of the highest paid jobs in the country. They create a lot of value–people eat up everything they create, say, and endorse. They are famous for a reason. We make them famous, because we watch them, read about them, and talk about them. They affect our thoughts and our lives, and they are duly compensated. They also tend to work 15 hour days shooting films, flying all over the country doing interviews, and whatever else, barely any time at all for a social life. They live large but they pay the price, and part of that price is losing their anonymity, the sincerity of the people they attract, and the compassion of the many that envy their success.

Instead of complaining about the dastardly rich exploiting the poor, maybe look inside yourself, and see that you are free to create your own success, to create value, to solve problems, all the while retaining your right to the entirety of the human experience.

 

 

 

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The Evolution of Fame

Fame is a rapidly evolving phenomena in society. The form it has taken and means it has been carried have changed drastically over the centuries, albeit slowly. However, in the last century, since the invention of the radio and television and now the internet, fame is evolving at an overwhelming pace.

In ancient times, few people were capable of writing histories, as literacy was not widespread. In many early societies such as Egypt and China, all that exists of history is a list of kings.

The first recorded “individual” in history is considered to be Akhenaten, a pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, who ruled from 1351/3 BC until 1334/6 BC. He attempted to shift the predominant religion at the time from polytheistic to monotheist–namely the solar deity, Aten. This was a major proposed shift, and he would go so far as to place a ban on images other than Aten and erase inscriptions of other gods and pluralities around the kingdom.[1] Akhenaten was the first person that you get a sense of. Not just a name and list of what they did, laws decreed, etc., but a sense of their minds and ideas and character as a person.

Individuality, its expression, and its preservation in recorded history has since proliferated.

The desire for recognition and universal praise is natural to humans and we have been seeking it out probably ever since humans developed the ability to give praise. In ancient times, however, fame was often reserved for royalty, leaders, and military heroes.

Fame is generally carried through the times in proportion to how much the individual changed and influenced society and its members. The most famous person who ever lived by far was Jesus, and he achieved this by influencing the majority of people’s belief systems, the way they view the world, and to this day he influences the behavior and thoughts of billions.

How we conceptualize present day fame is drastically different. Fame is now often earned from people’s ability to entertain us, and entertainment is just about the most fleeting type of experience there is. Sometimes entertainers cause movements, which are founded on deeper ideas rooted in individuality, freedom, creativity, and the normalization of previously underrepresented and oppressed groups within popular culture, such as what Ellen Degeneres did for the LGBT community and Kim Kardashian did for body positivity.

Another article written on this subject notes how differently actors used to be regarded:

Actors were once considered the lowest of the low in many parts of the world. While the ancient Greeks tended to hold some actors in fairly high esteem, the Romans were not overly fond of them. Many were slaves, or considered to be people without any morals, capable of performing any lewd act on stage if asked to do so. Actors were definitely not favorites with the philosopher, and Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate.

In Britain, a general anti-theatrical feeling pervaded the upper echelons of society for a very long time. The Tudors were particularly suspicious of actors, believing most to be up to no good. Acting was viewed as a “profession” of beggars and drifters. People who gave nothing back to society. The entertainment and happiness of the humble masses mustn’t have rated too high on the list of priorities for the Tudor Government. [2]

History used to be written and culture molded by the most educated, intelligent, and talented people alive. This has been turned upside down by globalization and the popularization of the internet. Now culture is being molded by the average: if people want a voice in the larger community, they must tailor their content to align with those of average intelligence [3].

In addition to this, the sheer number of influential voices is growing exponentially. People are fighting tooth and nail to gain recognition and prominence, and the younger generation is opting for more superficial means of acquiring this: via social media, Vine and other basic entertainment, and You Tube channels.

This social change is occurring in parallel with increasing levels of individualism:

P. M. Greenfield’s (2009) theory of social change and human development predicts that, as learning environments move toward more complex technology, as living environments become increasingly urbanized, as education levels increase, as commerce develops, and as people become wealthier, psychological development should move in the direction of increasing individualism. As a value system, individualism prioritizes the independent action of the individual as well as the development and expression of individual character and personality (Individualism, n.d.; Stein & Urdang, 1966). [4]

Studies show [5] that there is evidence for this: the use of individualistic words and phrases have steadily increased in music and literature since the 60’s. Individualistic words and phrases include but are not limited to “unique,” “personalize,” “self,” “all about me,” “I am special,” and “I’m the best”.

In a sense, the increasingly substance-less content output fixes itself in the long term: it’s influential only in the very short term. A vine that gets 10 million views because it made 1 million people laugh for a minute will fade into oblivion rather quickly. Even Kim Kardashian, one of the most famous people alive today, will be completely forgotten in a couple generations’ time, because what she doesn’t offer is substantial influence. Gossip, entertainment, and fashion/beauty obsessions are not enough to keep affecting people for centuries. Luckily, what effects people in the very long term will always be what is deeply important to the human condition: world views, values, belief systems, philosophies, and real knowledge.

Millennials should be striving for lasting fame, and since lasting fame is hard to come by, short term fame might just be a fad destined to fade away once the majority of people realize how unfulfilling the superficial rat race is.

What is interesting to note is that society is trending toward a limit of information processing, not that of the internet and technological data processing (as far as we know, that’s boundless), but of human information processing. We simply can’t direct our attention to everything at once, and this inevitably puts a limit on how many people are able to be known by us.

Before this limit is reached, it seems the sheer amount of people we know of continues to grow while the depth of our knowledge of them decreases. It’s the difference between deeply knowing the intricacies of Aristotle’s philosophy and historical context versus knowing nothing but the name, image, and genre of contribution of a particular celebrity.

There is now a lot of energy invested and money being made off of one of the newest and fasted growing categories of research: SEO and social media optimization and Youtube, blog, and general website promotion.

Many people are beginning to wake up to the dynamic and interactive, rather than static and limitedly informative Internet. A our lives become increasingly intertwined with information networks, our feeling of “presence” becomes increasingly dependent on our presence within the online world.

I could write everything there is to know about me–every memory, every thought, and every secret, and I could post it all onto the internet, to last there for all of eternity. But 500 years from now, who will search that information, how much will that information influence anything in the future? This is the general question of fame in this dawning age, and the answer for all of us, however well-known, is yet to be evident.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten#First_.E2.80.9Cindividual.E2.80.9D

[2] http://weeklygravy.com/lifestyle/the-evolution-of-fame/

[3] https://pjmedia.com/drhelen/2016/03/06/the-curse-of-the-high-iq/2/

[4] http://greenfieldlab.psych.ucla.edu/Media_studies_files/The%20value%20of%20fame-1(1).pdf

[5] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0040181

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels…

Our culture has a fascination with heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits. We glorify them in pretty much every movie. They are the ones who save the day, who shake things up, who complicate the story and make it interesting.

Over the course of history, our society has begun allowing and making it possible for more and more individuals to make a lasting difference in this world. Any individual in the US can now start business with the possibility that the business that will become famous at the scale of millions of knowing people. Celebrity has become a kind of shared economy and meritocracy in itself, with the widespread use of social media and Youtube. Anyone can post a video to Youtube, and if they are interesting, have value to add to the community, and are unrelenting in their efforts, they can quickly become rich and famous.

The age of entrepreneurship is booming, and the many pioneering it can be described as daring, determined, and creative individuals, the successful of which are also adding value–copious amounts of it. The competition for value itself is unprecedented. Let me give an example. There is a market teeming with competition for websites that claim to teach you how to become successful at hosting on Airbnb. Success itself is exponentially growing, with many piggybacking on the success of others to the extent that demand will allow.

There is something fascinating happening in our world today, and that is the turbulent balance between creation and consumption. Each of us has one foot in each, but some are determined to capture success, to live deeply and meaningfully, or to rebel from everything everyone tells them they should do to live deeply and meaningfully. The less you consume and the more you create (either for others or yourself), the more of an individual you necessarily become.

Beyond this growing relationship, there is something else interesting happening here. Many pursuing fame are doing so in shallow, easy ways: perfecting their comedic vines, getting 20k followers on Instagram, and selling out by writing how-to ebooks on how-to-be-successful.

These people I believe are not unapologetic “individuals” in the sense I previously described. Their fame is like delicious, gooey, triple chocolate cake everyone jumps for in their moments of weakness only to completely forget about the experience a week later. They won their game, but their game exists within the confines of a very limited amount of time.

What I want to focus on here is the heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits. We all seem to take a stance towards them: we either want to be them or decidedly do no want to be them. Conformity is oh, so sweet. The feeling that you truly belong is a christmas by the fire, opening presents with your dear family kind of feeling. There is a price to pay for everything, however, but for many that price isn’t a loss that really pains them.

Those that want to or can’t help but be them, however, have a more difficult road ahead of them. The thing is, no one can escape their instinct to desire the sense belonging. The heroes and heroines, rebels, and misfits must know themselves very, very well. Because since they can’t find their places in the world, they must make their own places. They have to create their own world and build their own bridges. All of us have at least a little of this spirit in us. The sooner you realize that life is generally what you make it, the better.

Once again, the world is creating more and more individuals and people desperately trying to forge individuality. Two things are in opposition to this: the comfort and pressure to conform and consume and the overwhelming competition amongst the creatives.

I believe the greatest thing anyone can do for both themselves and the world is to rebel without disengaging. Even the protagonist in Mr. Robot, an anti-social, anxiety-consumed addict and skilled hacker decides he wants to do what he can to change people’s lives for the better. This makes him more interesting, it makes his life more interesting, and he gets to actually interact with other human beings. Regardless if your endeavors are geared toward fame and fortune or if you’re a misfit tucked away in your mother’s basement, life gets a lot more interesting for the former if they rebel and a lot more interesting for the latter if they engage. As long as you welcome the price you pay, the world we are living in today welcomes you.