Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Good ideas in an ugly package

I found a bizarre rant by John Campbell, a slightly famous writer of internet comics.  He has decided to stop writing comics and is burning a copy of his book for each person that writes him about how he has reneged on his promises made during the Kickstarter campaign to write the book.  He talks about how money is a fiction (well, duh) and that he just wants some people to pay for all of his needs so he can sit around and do whatever he likes.  The standard response to this is to slam entitled liberalism and call him a nutjob, and while I understand that response I mostly think he has some good points buried in a big pile of rubbish.

I am of two minds.  First off, I actually do support the idea of a universal income for all adults because our society can definitely afford this and it really has all kinds of fantastic benefits.  It certainly wouldn't be much of a living and nearly everyone would take a job to supplement their universal income both for monetary and pride purposes but there are a ton of edge cases that are so much better in that scenario.  Unemployment insurance, welfare, and other parts of the social network are very patchy and random and hard to navigate for many people and a universal income is just so simple that it helps the people who truly need it the most.

On the other hand parts of the 'everyone should take care of me why should I participate in the system' rant drive me crazy.  People don't necessarily want to drive trucks, farm, lift crates, wash vegetables, write spreadsheets, and operate cash registers and yet all of these things must be done to get food to you.  Somebody has to do them, and the attitude that other people should just do them and there is no need for *me* to do anything anybody else would find value in is deeply frustrating.  That attitude is incredibly selfish and naive and ignores the fundamental truth that many things need to get done to take care of people's basic needs and there are simply not enough people who will volunteer to do them - incentives are necessary.

I seem to want to give John Campbell his money but I think he is a delusional ass.  I can't tell if this is hypocritical or not.  I do think we should set up a system so people can just do what they want and still have enough to live but I find a lot of the people who want this for themselves to be ridiculously entitled and self centred.  I guess I am weird in this regard because I don't particularly advocate for a universal income on the basis of justice or mercy or 'it is the right thing to do' but rather I advocate for it because it seems like the most practical thing to advance joy and mitigate suffering.  I do understand the appeal of the American Dream but I recognize how bullshit it is in practice.


  1. I advocate for it because it seems like the most practical thing to advance joy and mitigate suffering.

    Isn't that just "the right thing to do" in a utilitarian ethical framework?

  2. I think there's a pretty big distinction to be made between Campbell's position that he that he should be allowed to do whatever he wants and have other people support him, and your position that it would be good if everyone could do what they want and still have enough to live on. For one thing, Campbell seems to be ok with the fact that the way he went about achieving his situation was essentially by stealing from other people on false pretenses. And more importantly, we have no reason to believe that he thinks everyone is entitled to the same basic standard of living he sees himself deserving, and this is where your totally correct sense of entitlement and self-centredness in his position comes in.

    They're very different positions, is all I'm saying, and I think your aversion to his attitude is extremely reasonable. :P

    1. I don't know how someone could read what he (based on what he wrote, maybe not he right pronoun, but he wasn't specific on this) wrote and think this.

      "When I have established a means for a small group of people to directly meet my needs, and I know that the people involved understand the value of what they are doing and would continue without me, I will transfer these relationships to someone else. This will provide for the basic living necessities of a person who would not usually have the opportunity for their needs to be met by strangers on the internet. They will not be asked to do anything to keep these relationships going. They will simply have their needs met."

      Is a reason to believe that he thinks that he would like to see others have their needs met in the same way he would like to have his own met. Which, I would add, is different than being entitled to and deserving:

      "Why should I prove to people on the internet I deserve to eat and sleep? I don’t deserve to eat and sleep. I don’t deserve anything good or bad. There isn’t “good” or “bad” and there isn’t an “I” to deserve them."

      I can understand how that would sound like bullshit babble to most people. I don't think there is a classification for people who think and feel this way.

      I don't really think he stole anything from anyone either. It sounds like he made mistakes when estimating the cost of printing and shipping his books and found that he couldn't pay for the shipping in the end. Having self-published a book (and one that did not have a dead wasp inside it) I am not surprised that he was simply mistaken that $25 was sufficient to fund the printing and shipping of a such a book. That he shipped the books to the $25 backers "at the expense of" the $75 is not right or wrong.

      If a kickstarter fundamentally fails because the people who started it are bad at business, that's not theft. By the very design of kickstarter, putting money in is a risk. In this case, it was money risked on a shaky business model and a person of questionable emotional stability. Literally taking the money and running would feel a lot like theft, trying and failing to meet the obligations does not - there's no more blood in that stone.

    2. I don't think he 'stole' from kickstarter people exactly. Having looked at the kickstarter promises and dollar values I think it is obvious he was never going to be able to do what he said with the money provided. He is certainly guilty of being terrible at business and having a kickstarter that made no financial sense. If someone puts money into kickstarter they should probably be okay with that money never coming to anything at all. That said, I don't at all like the idea of destroying books just to piss people off. So I guess he is bad with money and unstable and random and people feel gypped and there really isn't any good way to fix the situation. It's complicated.

      The quote you listed suggests that he is going to try to direct a constant flow of cash from a few random internet donors to a person in dire need, if I read it correctly. That is noble, if a bit of a disastrous way to try to solve problems. Random charity based on knowing the right people isn't, to my mind, a good solution, though it is better than nothing certainly. A lot of the rest of his rant doesn't read the same way though and seems a lot more angry at the world for wanting something in return for food and shelter and bitter at people for wanting a book he so recently wanted to create.

      I feel like if his rant was clear and had an overarching point then I could much more usefully deconstruct it. Unfortunately it seems very random and incomprehensible so I am left arguing a feel and the feel of it really turns me off even if I do agree with some of it.

    3. It made a lot of sense to me. We're at a point in time where food and shelter would be trivial to provide but instead we support the rich getting needlessly richer. It is something to be angry about because it doesn't feel like there's any constructive way for him or I to deal with the problem.

      I also understand completely being baffled that someone might want something he created. I don't understand how anyone could find extra value in what I could provide for money either.