I Only Dev Free

The overarching theme of the second season of Free! is about what the third year students plan to do once they graduate. Being good at swimming offers them the potential to use that skill to support themselves.

I empathize most closely with Haruka. He wants to swim free, devoid of any sort of chains that might bind him down. He doesn’t want to swim to get good times or for recruiters to scout him for their universities. They do, because he is quite good at swimming, but that merely piles unwanted stress on his shoulders. So much that he up and stops swimming in the middle of a race.

I understand that feeling one-hundred percent. There is an overwhelming push from modern society to take what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and use it to earn a living. Some people do very well at this. They take their skills and find a way to monetize them, turn them into a business.

That’s all well and good for them, but such a thing makes me uncomfortable. Taking what I like to do and turning it into a business takes the enjoyment out of it for me. I’ve realized this over the last few years. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is, but making something fun matter leads me to start hating it. I don’t understand it. I can’t explain it. But there it is.

The way in which society has structured the world stands against this. It expects you to earn the right to continue living. Life is not a right, it is a privilege. You have to do something to make money. If a hobby is done for fun there must be something else you do to pay for food and housing and other such necessities. Doing that takes time away from what you enjoy. Therefore, if you want to spend more time on what you actually like doing and less time as a slave to an artificial economic system, you have figure out how to monetize your joys.

Buckminster Fuller, one of my favorite people, understood this quite well. I’ll let his words speak:

We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.

Ah, the dreaded youth of today. Always wanting things without putting in the effort. Don’t they realize that the only reason they can have leisure today is because earlier generations worked so hard? But wait a minute, Fuller wrote that way back in 1970. That was 44 years ago. The same people complaining about today’s young people acted exactly the same way when they themselves were younger.

Another one of my favorite people, Robert Anton Wilson, expanded on that notion ten years later in his essay “The RICH Economy.”

Unemployment is directly caused by [the] technological capacity to do more-with-less. Thousands of monks were technologically unemployed by Gutenberg. Thousands of blacksmiths were technologically unemployed by Ford’s Model T. Each device that does-more-with-less makes human labor that much less necessary. Aristotle said that slavery could only be abolished when machines were built that could operate themselves. Working for wages, the modern equivalent of slavery — very accurately called “wage slavery” by social critics — is in the process of being abolished by just such self-programming machines. […] The only reason [that] prediction has not totally been realized yet — although we do have ever-increasing unemployment — is that big unions, the corporations, and government have all tacitly agreed to slow down the pace of cybernation, to drag their feet and run the economy with the brakes on. This is because they all, still, regard unemployment as a “disease” and cannot imagine a “cure” for the nearly total unemployment that full cybernation will create. Suppose, for a moment, we challenge this Calvinistic mind-set. Let us regard wage-work — as most people do, in fact, regard it — as a curse, a drag, a nuisance, a barrier that stands between us and what we really want to do. In that case, your job is the disease, and unemployment is the cure.

If the recent state of the world economy is any guide, no one ever even considered changing things so radically. It would mess up the status quo for the people whom were already benefiting which, surprise surprise, are the ones running the show. Entrenched parties won’t even allow for tiny changes to occur, much less a massive overhaul of the entire system. Humans are, as Scott Adams once wrote, naturally three things: stupid, selfish, and horny. It is nigh impossible for people in power to willingly give up their short term gains in exchange for long term gains for everybody. Selfishness is a virtue because they define the value of their lives by how much economic activity they can stir up. And then they tell themselves that their lives are more valuable because their contributions to the economy are more valuable. Excuse me while I cough up a lung in laughter. Pfffffffftttt—

Ahem. My apologies.

The internet has done much to upset the preexisting dynamic and I commend it for that. People can avoid being someone else’s slave by becoming their own boss. The only tenet of the economy that actually matters is your ability to convince other people to give you money. Everything else is concealing fluff. It’s great that people now have this option. But they are all still slaves to the wider system that says that the only parts of their lives that matter are the things that have dollar signs attached to them. They only removed a step in the chain and advanced themselves closer to the source. Supreme Master Money still reigns from the throne of exploitation.

Consumerism is vociferous. It seeks to consume everything, to convert every human action into wealth. But in this universe of ours nothing can be created or destroyed. It must be converted from one form to another. What turns into wealth more than anything else? Time. Human time. And what is human time? It is human life. Every second of your transient time, of your limited life, converted into wealth for others. And your body becomes a vessel to enable these actions, the device that is always either creating things for others to consume or consuming the creations of others.

This is a variable that always arises when I create and one that constantly frustrates me.

I fear a world in which everything has been commoditized, where everything is assigned a monetary value based on what others are willing to pay to obtain it. I fear that such a world declares the value of human beings on their ability to make and spend money. Money was invented as a tool to make human lives better, but it has been subverted and now reigns as master instead of servant. Instead of money working for people, people work for money. It is lord and any action is justified if it serves to make wealth grow. It is practically a sentient being that acts in its own self interest to grow endlessly.

This isn’t a new conniption. People have been decrying the capitalization of human culture from the get-go of the markets themselves. But the system has become so powerful and so artificially necessary to human society that no one dares try rewriting things from the bottom up. Everyone eventually gives in because the pressure is too great to bear on fragile human shoulders. I think there is still value, though, in revisiting the worries that make my bones quake, my nerves tremble. There is no existing power that can stop the creative mind. But I don’t like it when a single system comes to dominate the conversation, when the expectation is that, to have any measure of notice or success or even survival, you have to follow the one and only path laid out by others. I don’t like feeling that to achieve a particular result, I have to follow the exact same steps of the others that have reached that place. It feels narrow and exploitative. It’s an obey or die mentality.

If you’re not independently wealthy and want to create, crowdfunding has arisen as the method of paying for art. That’s a really good thing. Many people are able to make things that they couldn’t otherwise, raising a set amount for a specific project via Kickstarter or getting periodic payments for numerous projects via Patreon. At the same time, these don’t dismantle the economic model, they just alter a few details. And the success of these new plugins to the existing system puts a massive amount of pressure on other creators to join in. If you want to create you have to crowdfund. I don’t like the coercive feeling that gives off. I hate the pressure of you have to do it this way. That implicit message is everywhere. Obey or die.

By the final episode Haruka has taken some time to look at things from a different perspective. Going to see the competition pool in Australia gave him a dream, a desire through which he can accept unsavory expectations. He comes to realize that there’s a lot of crap to put up with in order to achieve the position he now desires. He has to be willing to accept doing things he doesn’t like in order to do the things he does. Obey or die wins.

Of course, much of this is coming from a place of fantasy. I’m merely passing through the denial phase before my mind finally gives in and accepts the degrading reality of how humans have forced an extremely narrow and limited system onto the infinite possibilities of the universe. What a waste. What a disappointing lack of imagination. How pathetic it is that the desires of the people in power to remain in power prevents any other systems from being tried. You can go ahead and call me hypocritical when I eventually buy into it myself, when the desire to create overrides my aversion to this whole rotten mess. But that knowledge does little to quell what swirls around my mind when contemplating this sloppy affair. Not having to swim through all that manufactured bullshit would make things so much easier.

That’s why I dev free.


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