My views on bettering the world....

(this post will be rewritten in the near future.... consider it a first draft)

When I ask people what they care about in life, answers are usually similar. Family, helping others, economic security... but I wonder what people would really say if they spent time thinking about what they ultimately enjoyed, and had at least some measure of faith that pursuing their own interests would make the world a better place. What would their answer then be. What I am saying is what would the world looked like if peoples interests = what they valued most.
Years ago, I got caught up in a cycle of rationalization, that ultimately results in inaction. What I mean is that when I wanted to do something I could always convince myself that there was a higher and better use of my time... When I started to prioritize what I was interested in, it would go something like this...

Want to teach kids how to read? What about the ones caught in domestic abuse?

Want to help those with a violent home life? Well what about the ones in Africa who can't eat and will stave to death?

What to feed the kids in Africa? What about the AIDS epidemic that is killing millions?

Want to cure AIDS? Well what about cancer? or global warming?

Want to cool the planet and "go green"? Well what about the fact that the sun is going to blow up and burn earth... shouldn't be be exploring outer space for places where a future civilization could live?

Well, won't the entropy in the universe ultimately mean it just turns into darkness? So shouldn't I seek ways to understand the cosmos in hopes that thousands of generations later we can alter the course of matter?

Yada yada yada... there is always something more grave, more serious, more momentus.


But obviously if everyone pursued highly advanced science we would all die. No one would grow food, or run water treatment facilities, or work at installing cable so I can get on the internet and help spread ideas and information.

The guy studying what my rational mind decided was the most important thing wouldn't be able to do it because he would have to spend all of his time growing his own food. Milking his own cows, ect... But instead, because of our increasingly capitalized, globalized world people are working on what they are good at and they can, for the most part, assume that the basic necessities (and pleasures)of life will be taken care of by the paycheck they earn doing something else.

For the past one hundred years we have had a capitalistic system that is based on a a tradeoff between money and time, but I would argue that tradeoff is becoming a worse and worse exchange. I am not urging a shift from capitalism to something else, but a shift in the values of its participants.

In the past, food and clothing costs made up a very significant amount of individual's needs. Seventy years ago, if you didn't work, you would starve. Even if you did work, you might go hungry (Great Depression). Today you can do nothing and have your basic needs met by the waste from society: dumpster diving for food, goodwill for clothing, abandoned homes for shelter. It's not idyllic, but compared to life a century ago, you would actually be quite comfortable. You just become socially ostracized.

Anyway, what I am getting at is that I think if we:
1) have faith that this system will continue to meet our basic needs and
2) took the time to pursue our disparate interests,
I don't think the world would be any worse off than if we just chased our economic security. In fact, it might even be a good bit better.

I think that in large part, creativity of the past century has been almost entirely linked to this productivity boom. Why? For one of the few times in human history, large masses of people have been free to pursue leisure activities and not worry about fulfilling the basic needs for survival. Since then, they have created new forms of art, cinema, music, cuisine, sports, architecture. It's the greatest outpouring of human creativity since ancient Greece, and possibly ever.


My views have changed a lot in the past year, and right now, they are quite simple: do what you love.

I say all of this because I never would have expected to allow myself to do something as seemingly insignificant as working to better my neighborhood or plant flowers and trees to make one little corner of the planet nicer.

What I realized was that if I hadn't stepped up in my neighborhood, the vision I had for the area would have never materialized. There was no other individual who was going to do the things that I did. The same thing goes for every other neighborhood in Columbia, and in South Carolina, and the world. I began to see how this patchwork of pet projects really did make the world a better place. Some groups cleaned up the river. Others sought to restore historic buildings. Others sought to create parks or sports leagues. If each person had trivialized their goals, there wouldn't be a city.

I know it might seem a bit far fetched that this voluntary system of participation would ever succeed, much less be used a means for a society to allocate resources, but the inspiration and basis for my philosophy comes from none other than Wikipedia and capitalism. They are both completely voluntary systems where people simply choose to do what they love. I think it's amazing that even without compensation, something like Wikipedia is able to be created. With capitalism choices are influenced by the intersection of interest and money. With wikipedia it's simply the intersection of interest and competence. Totally free (well almost, they do have some hosting costs and few employees to monitor malicious activity), yet it is the most comprehensive collection of human knowledge, ever.

That doesn't mean I don't think manged systems can work. I think people can take guidance from others and still create good results (look at old encylopedias or a successful communist state [ie China]). However, the more an individual enjoys something, the less (if any at all) compensation is needed to induce participation. As a result you get much higher output for each unit of limited amount of resources.

Anyway what I take away from all of this is that since I really don't have to worry about my basic human needs, and if I am willing to continue to have faith in the system to provide for my needs, then I should be using my time to become the type of person I really want to be, and not be tempted/influenced by money or prestige.

For a long time, I thought my plan was to make a lot of money, secure economic freedom, and then use what was leftover to "purchase" the change I wanted in the world. But when I really think about it, I don't think I could ever earn enough to compensate the world for not giving it my talents.

For instance in a best case scenario, I end up like Warren Buffett and have $50 billion. Now on the other hand, take someone like Steve Jobs or Larry Page and Sergey Brin (founders of Google). The products of Google and Apple easily provide more than $50B benefit to society. They probably give this much on a quarterly basis. To mean it seems clear that the knowledge one adds to the world is greater than any amount of wealth he might be able to use to reallocate resources later in life.

What I am starting to realize is that my time should not be spent on things where I am looking at the intersection between interest/time/money but should be looking at things from the lens of the intersection of passion/ability.

I don't mean this in the sense that I should eschew all income, but I am saying that people should seriously consider the marginal ultility of money after it secures your basic needs - I am suggesting it's not very high. Basically, I don't think the differences in happiness for a single person making $30k and one making $100k or $100M would be attributable to money. So far I am proving myself right...