Surviving Free Culture
This is a blog post that I wrote in May 2014, however, due to the controversial subject of it, I decided to hold off until I could tighten it up a bit and come to a happy ending. However, the problem is, is that there is no tightening up controversial subjects without turning it into a piece of nonsense, and I don’t know what the happy ending is. So it’s time to publish it, see what happens, and move on. Feedback encouraged.
It seems for those wanting to change the world, the options distil into these three primary categories:
- Support the system you disbelieve in
- Live moneyless
Ironically, these options are very similar to those confronted with the absurdity of our existence:
- Find meaning in the meaningless
- Accept there is no meaning
- Escape the question
Let's cover each.
Supporting the system you disbelieve in
This is definitely the option that most people go for, the most perpetuated by our society’s indoctrination of economic theory, and the easiest of the three categories to accomplish. It’s implementable in a few ways:
White-collar contracts, including investment
Sign a contract or two, indicating your desire to corrupt your mind with confidential information for a quick paycheck, and you're good to go. Thanks to the lust of innovation brewed by productivism, there’s companies everywhere seeking talented self-motivated creatives to unquestionably follow orders, to ensure their company is the winner out of many losers; albeit providing your contributions to free culture haven’t already made you unemployable as a potential intellectual property risk factor. This work is great for bringing in idiosyncrasy credits which can then be exchanged later for leverage when you wish to enact your desired change… providing you still have the fire burning inside to do so.
Get a job doing something completely unrelated, something where your creativity goes to hibernate, where your purpose is to follow the roles of the system, as a cog in a larger machine. A machine that represents everything of society you disagree with, needless endless consumerism.
Donations, including sponsorship and crowd-funding
This is a great option… though you have a better chance of being hit by a car, than to live off donations. There are a handful, a select few of the world’s best, earning minimum wage a through Gratipay. There are also a handful earning enough through sponsorship. And a few doing it through crowd-funding.
The reality of Gratipay is that it’s promise of sustainability is exclusive to those who've already added tremendous value to the world and were able to accumulate a huge following.
The reality of sponsorship is that it is unstable, coming and going whenever it pleases.
The reality of crowd-funding it that is an unpredictable pre-order, requiring tremendous initial and recurrent investments and successful campaigns.
This option is a breath of fresh air, or at least is was for me when I discovered the Moneyless Man, and his community’s Moneyless Manifesto (the bedrock guide for living moneyless). Living moneyless is the practical application of switching your everyday question from how can we get enough money to pay our bills? to the question how can I live without any bills? Ingenious, and ecological.
The moneyless movement isn't just a few radicals, but rather diverse communities consisting of all sorts of people doing it to varying degrees; varying from living completely without money, to those just trying to reduce their money footprint, and everyone inbetween.
Its foundations appear to stem from the ecological hippie movement, and often partners itself with such concepts as ridesharing and hitchhiking (getting into a strangers car along a journey they were doing anyway), freeganism and dumpster diving (growing, making, foraging, and acquiring wild, free, and thrown out food and materials), earthships (often self-assembled homes from readily found materials), couchsurfing (sleeping at other peoples homes for free), and even freeskilling (free exchange of skills and knowledge) are just some to name a few.
While you can't go completely moneyless overnight, you can instantly begin small gradual steps towards it; getting tap water more often, cancelling superfluous subscriptions by using free alternatives, exercising to and from your local gym instead of exercising inside it, getting your clothing and household items second-hand including from charity bins, commuting/cycling/walking to work more often, hitchhiking to your next conference, couchsurfing for a few days in your local area, asking your local grocers and restaurants if you can get access to their leftovers they couldn't sell. There’s plenty of ways to get your ecological footprint down to zero in different areas gradually and instantly. If this excites you, the Moneyless Manifesto linked earlier is a terrific resource.
Unfortunately, despite it’s taboo, suicide is an area that must be covered. For a lot of people in free culture, this is an option often considered, and in some cases even followed through. While I wish it wasn't the case, the worst thing we could do, is pretend otherwise. I hope that through writing this piece, other options will be identified, created, and selected instead.
Lets start by identifying the reality:
- I am aware of the suicides of Aaron Swartz and Ilya Zhitomirskiy.
- I am aware of the information suicides of Why the Lucky Stiff and Mark Pilgrim.
- I am aware of the stance of The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
- I am aware of how programming is often coupled with depression and how entrepreneurship is often coupled with anxiety. I am aware of articles that imply these mood disorders are necessary in order to be good at these professions.
- I am aware of how difficult it is for open-source maintainers to stay sane and the role open-source consumerism plays.
- I am aware of Patch Adam’s encouraging quote “Don’t suicide! Start a revolution! (sic.)”
- I am tired of considering this an option myself, and wish to identify a better option, for myself, and for everyone else in a similar position. Hence why I'm writing this article.
The common thread throughout this option appears to be the toll that economic theory plays on those evangelising free culture:
- Suicide appears to arise when the pressures of conformity to economic theory, including the pressures of open-source consumerism, become overwhelmingly suffocating.
- Digital suicide appears to arise as a defensive attack against the culture of open-source consumerism.
- Voluntary human extinction appears to arise as an ecological defense to counter the grim reality of the unsustainability of consumerism.
- The depression of programmers appears to arise when their work is primarily mechanical and meaningless instead of primarily playful and innovative.
- The anxiety of startup folk appears to arise when the cognitive dissonance of these options comes into play.
The uniting problem between all three of these movements seems to be the cognitive dissonance that economic theory pressures on people, then the subsequent lack of support for the radicals that realise this and want to get out.
It seems this cocktail is perpetuated from our society’s tendency to run in any direction without ever asking “why?” enough times, because when they do, they get depressed. In fact, the best and most common advice for depression is to more or less, distract yourself with “work” or to euthanize yourself with addiction to technology/drugs/television/sex/whatever, with the aim to forget the reasons of why you were depressed in the first place.
The unfortunate reality is that we end up in a situation where we are destroying the world in a zero-sum game. Eventually, without radical change, it’s gonna hit a brick wall, and slam into it hard.
I don’t know what the solution to these problems are. I really hoped I would have found out when I initially wrote this back in May, however, now that it is September, I still don’t know what the solution is.
It’s time to just bite the bullet, hold onto my butt, and get this out there. Time to acknowledge the problem. Time to look together for a fix. As evidently, a fix can’t come alone.
While, I don’t know what the fix is. Here are some concluding thoughts:
- Moneyless isn't perfect either, a day full of surviving isn't a day of play — however Mark Boyle does say even with the challenges of living moneyless, it is more rewarding, as it is “heart” work, not “mind” work, plus has none of the cognitive dissonance that money is inherently bundled with.
- Accepting white collar and going to prison for an intellectual property incongruency, is very similar to denying a white collar role and living without money. Considering prison is a risk, whereas unemployment is a reality, it may be better going with definite corruption and risking prison, than going with definite unemployment and risking unease. However, with the consideration that prison doesn't have freedom, and is just forced employment, it seems more as a living suicide than a solution to the problem.
- Perhaps moneyless dwellings for hackers, funded by white collar attendees wanting to learn and innovate, plus 10–30day open-source retreats including accommodation. Possible implementations: Startup Hostel, unMonastery, Hackbases.
- More things like commercial companies giving back. Possible implementations: &Yet Gives Back, Stripe’s Open-Source Funding, Champion Service.
- Less open-source consumerism. How this can be achieved? I don’t know. Perhaps discouragement via licenses like what Bevry is pondering.
- More Gratipay, Patreon, Subbable, funding.
- More internationally friendly and open-source crowd-funding. Possible Implementations: Open Tilt.
- Perhaps a middle ground of sponsored living as an alternative to moneyless. Some initial thoughts here.