It's sad to admit that as human beings, we are innately wired to give help to those who need it least. We punish the weak, and give endless support to those who are already successful. We recoil from those who need our help to survive, somehow feeling that their failure and weakness is contagious.
Both failure and success become endless feedback loops. Those who are poor and struggling are forced to show a weak face to the world, which will instinctively bully them down further. Those who have achieved some measure of success will only attract more and more attention if they know how to present themselves to the world. Any hint of weakness will result in merciless attacks which will refuse to die out, but if you're already in a position of power, the masses can't do all that much damage.
It has been said that those who have been bullied and abused as children will be bullied and abused all their lives. We don't mean to be bullies, but we can't fight our instincts. Body language, actual language - in a million small ways we can sense that a person is used to being smacked around and treated like garbage. This person may attract a certain sympathy, for awhile. But that's only surface-deep, and doesn't last for long. As instinct kicks in, some ancient part of our brains tells us that this person is easy, and fun, to kick around. That this person is used to failure and should be allowed to fail in everything. That this person should not be helped, unless it's being helped to fail. That failure is contagious, and that this person is toxic and should be avoided.
We believe, on an unconscious level, that those who have failed must deserve it somehow, and those who have succeeded must deserve it as well. We are competitive by nature, and hope to enlarge ourselves by pushing down others who seem easy targets, or by attaching ourselves emotionally to those who have already succeeded.
Luck and success can be manufactured quite easily, given enough money to do so. Most of our biggest stars were born into privilege. Once we have succeeded, we convince ourselves that it was only our own hard work that got us there, rather than the privilege of birth and circumstance, and the help of thousands of people along the way. And luck.
No one succeeds without a strong helping hand. There's nothing wrong with that. We achieve nothing alone. We are a product of those who helped and shaped us along the way. Those in power now got there because someone took a chance and extended a helping hand. The apprentice system. You start as an assistant and work your way up. That's how the world works. But those in power are increasingly unwilling to extend that hand. In a lot of ways the world has stopped working.
On the internet, we have access to an entire world of art and artists. An artist (or filmmaker, or other personality) is suddenly competing with the entire world. An artist with a profile on Deviantart is competing with over 25 million other profiles, and probably not going to get noticed, in a world which expects artists to work for free anyway.
I see amazing art every day, and while talent and especially hard work play quite a role, success seems increasingly arbitrary, and it's a struggle to survive for most. People are popular because they're popular, and get work because they get work. Others don't get work because they don't get work.
Let's imagine the latter category. An artist who, in two months, makes three hundred dollars. Begging for work. Pleading. Showing all sorts of weakness. Let's watch that artist fail and fade away and disappear.
We're not comfortable with that, but we'd feel better if we could come up with some reason why the artist deserved it. But it's better not to think about it at all.
Because we've all got our own problems. In a time where the poor are poorer than ever, and the rich richer, and the middle class has vanished almost entirely. People don't have the spare money to spend on frivolous things, and an artist trying to live off commissions is in a tough spot, unless that artist has achieved a level of fame that most artists don't.
We live now, more than ever, in a world designed to reward the rich and punish the poor. To give help to the strong and a backhand to the weak. The average CEO makes 9.7 million per year. The average American worker is unemployed.
In theory, crowdfunding can level the playing field a little. In practice, people who are already somewhat famous and successful have a much easier time on Kickstarter, as in real life. Still, it's one part of our reality where people with money are asked to give it to people with ideas, and we need a lot more of that.
Here's something I've said before.
Most Kickstarter campaigns ask for five thousand dollars. And that is kind of a lot of money. That's enough money to change a life, for awhile. To make a small creative project happen. A lot of Kickstarter campaigns fail, because they're asking too much.
My car, which hasn't started in two months, cost about five thousand dollars. For many people, that's their entire paycheck for four months. And in 2011, if you were Google CEO Eric Schmidt, earning 5 thousand dollars would take you an entire 26 minutes. His yearly salary is 100,980,262.
Wouldn't you like to have five thousand dollars? In your hand, right now? Maybe you could buy a used car. A 2005 Chrysler Sebring, before the battery died.
Okay, fine, we'll aim a little higher. Let's take our five thousand dollars and imagine having twice that much. Or three times. Five times. Ten times. One hundred times. A thousand times. Let's imagine having twenty thousand, one hundred and ninety six Chrysler Sebrings. That's how much money Eric Schmidt made in 2011. I bet he doesn't drive a Sebring.
I only have the one car. This is my $5000. If I had 2 million, 660 thousand of these cars, I'd be Mark Zuckerberg. If I had 4 million, 600 thousand of these, I'd be Larry Page from Google. If I had 10 million, 700 thousand of these cars, I'd be Warren Buffett.
But I don't. I just have the one and it doesn't start.
Of course everybody's hurting, the economy's so messed up, no one has money. And here's a possible reason why.
I bought one of these cars. With insurance money from when a drunk driver crashed into my last car. But what if I said, hey, I like this car. I think I'll buy another one. And maybe another one. And another.
Or hey, what if I'd just gotten paid today and thought, hey, I've got the money, why don't I buy one million Chrysler Sebring cars. Because I like to buy American. No, ten million cars. No, one hundred million cars. No, one thousand million cars - I've been informed that's not a real number. Yes, I would like to buy one billion 2005 Chrysler Sebring cars.
I still will not have paid for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They cost more than that.
That's a lot of cars. The population of the United States is 313.9 million. For what it's costing us to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could have bought three of these American cars for everyone in the entire country, and had plenty left over.
We could have solved hunger, solved every problem our country has. Instead we bombed Baghdad, and solved the problem of world peace, by making sure there's never going to be any. And it took a toll on us. Our economy is in trouble, and there are some obvious reasons why. But we're supposed to ignore those.
Just like we ignore the person in trouble.
A lot of us are in trouble these days. And if I'm in trouble, I can't help you. Or help anyone. If you're in trouble, you can't help anyone either. If your life's a mess, and you've taken a fall, you can't help someone else stand taller.
We all stand or fall together.
I like to think I'm a kind-hearted person - that I care about people and want to help them, and help make the world a better place. But that's not worth a damned bit of good right now. We are judged not by who we think we are inside, but based on what we do. And I haven't done any good for anybody in a long while.
I've been broke for awhile, and worse, I've become needy. I've needed people to buy and commission art from me. I've borrowed money. And at times friends have simply donated money to me, when they ought to be ignoring me and taking care of their own houses. I've become the worst type of person. Someone who takes and doesn't give back, because I simply can't.
Inside, I feel like a caring, giving person. But I have nothing to give. If I assume I'll have something to give sometime down the line, I'm waiting for a day that may never come.
And suddenly it's not so hard to understand why we help the successful and ignore the weak. Maybe failure is contagious, as our primitive brains would like to tell us. If we care too much and give of ourselves, we fall a little further into the mud. We all stand or fall together, but not if we don't care.
The internet age is curiously isolating. We get a certain simulation of human contact, within the cold white and blue confines of a computer screen. There is communication without physical community, and it's easy to feel more alone than ever. To stand or fall alone. To turn away from the world rather than be judged harshly for any sign of weakness.
I could talk about my own life, but I already say far too much on these channels. I show my weakness. That's just how I'm wired. I seem to keep writing about myself then deleting it, knowing it does no good. I've already damaged my prospects enough, and I'm sure to keep on doing it.
If you're reading this, I care about quite a lot of you. And maybe I care quite a bit.
But I'm not sure that helps you at all.
As Opposed to Giving Up
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- Garrett Gilchrist
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As Opposed to Giving Up
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