Most of the people we’ve met on the first few weeks of this journey have been intrigued by what we’re doing. People like the idea of traveling around the world and seeing new things, but they’re also taken in by the idea of trying to live a life without money. In fact, we think that part of the incredible generosity we’ve encountered at every turn can be attributed to the fact that people, consciously or unconsciously, want to believe such things are possible. People are frustrated with having to structure their lives primarily around the obtaining and the exchanging of federal reserve notes and their plastic equivalents. So, people give to us partially because they want to help create a reality where life doesn’t always have to depend on money. But one question that I think is present in a lot of these interactions, on the part of the people we meet and in our own minds, is one that’s not usually explicitly asked. What would happen if everyone did what you guys are doing?
So, I’m’a try to answer this in three parts because the question can mean a few different things. Today is PART 1!
PART 1: The most general meaning of our question probably deals with the most fundamental choices we have to make in our lives. That is, should we follow the general path society lays out for us, perhaps pursuing our dreams and trying to make change on the margins, in the time and space left for us outside of work and the other conventional strictures by which we bind ourselves? Or should we commit ourselves to following our beliefs to their logical conclusions and living out our dreams and questions, even when doing so results in lifestyles so different they force us into facing difficult questions about what’s right and wrong, what’s necessary and superfluous? Here we might reframe our question as: what if everyone did what they wanted, while making a sincere effort to make the world a better place?
Our societal conventions aren’t stopping war, poverty, or global warming. They’re creating them. (Maybe they’ll also help to stop them someday; we’ve solved problems of our own creation before.) Maybe our most sincere efforts beyond or outside of those conventions can’t make the world better either. But maybe they can. Do people contribute to the systems that create mediocre or awful outcomes for themselves and other humans because, after careful consideration, they’ve decided it was the best option? Or do they do what they do and work the jobs they work because that’s just what you do?
I think people don’t question their actions mainly because societal conventions give them positive reinforcement. By our society’s implicit logic, the measure of whether or not you’re doing right is whether or not you’re earning enough to support yourself (and your family, if you have one). All other considerations are tertiary. The fact that this metric often collides with common sense is not something we deal with… ever, really. If I told my grandmother that I got a job selling toxic mortgage-backed-securities for Goldman Sachs, making enough money to afford a luxury apartment in Manhattan, she would be thrilled for me. She would not question the impact it had on the world. She would not question whether it made me happy. It would earn a lot of money, and we live in a society (I’m careful not to say “a world”) where the amount of money you make and have determines your value.
That system is shit. It makes people more polite to lawyers than to janitors. And it makes us think that somehow people don’t deserve a house or health care or decent food if they haven’t secured enough banknotes to pay for it.
So, imagine an alternative world where we assess actions based on whether or not they improve the human condition and where people strive to do what they want and think is right, without regard to how it conforms to society’s expectations. That’s what we’re doing. We might be doing it wrong and we might be making the world worse. We worry that we’re burning too much gasoline. I, at least, worry that we might not be doing enough to help people. But I don’t doubt for a second that living by our conscience and our desires is the right thing to do. And I don’t doubt that if everyone did so, we’d have a better world.