are we all just rats on a wheel?

the problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat

this post is inspired by communities

many of my friends ask me why i left a high-paying, low-stress corporate career track to go work at a startup, leaving behind perks like a plush office, ample holidays, and all the other trappings “middle managers” get to enjoy.

i left because modern institutions like corporations do not serve me as an individual. they institute arbitrary rules, useless process, and social hierarchies that eat away at one’s time, one’s sense of purpose, and one’s sense of self worth. modern institutions have been carefully designed to make us believe we are part of a community, and organizations have been designed to provide psychological rewards to those who obey the hierarchy of that community. the communities i would like to be a part of have no hierarchy – they are meritocracies where goodness begets more goodness, a willingness to help lends help

think of your average company: friday happy hours, corporate retreats, days of giving where you volunteer at a soup kitchen for two hours and then go drink and celebrate how you “gave back” afterwards – these are all mechanisms that are supposed to generate the illusion that you are part of a larger purpose, a community that does good in the world. however, these events simply mask the powerlessness of those who are not at the top of the hierarchy and soften the blow of obedience. “but… i won the award for best analyst / associate / choose your word here in the mid-west region! surely that means something?”

institutions offer us what we crave most:

  • esteem: a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of accomplishment
  • belongingness: community and office friendship
  • financial security: enables physical security and the ability to meet physiological needs

however, very few organizations offer the individual self-actualization, because the goals of the organization are fundamentally opposed. note the order below.

maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
Sourced from WikiMedia

for large scale institutions to work, and for obedience to be enforced, employees must be completely replaceable, or perfect substitutes for one another. we’ve seen this commoditization of labor at the lower end of employment, with labor-intensive jobs becoming mechanized, but it is continuing to work its way upward into corporations and the more affluent “knowledge worker” economy.

i imagine a not-so distant future where most of the labor done in large organizations – regardless of its nature – will be completely commoditized. this gives the corporation optimal power, while rendering the employees utterly powerless, unless they obey the structural hierarchy created for them. even then, power lies at the top of the pyramid while workers at the bottom rungs continue to grasp at straws of power by pushing more layers of obedience down to the workers below them. or as they say, shit rolls downhill.

this is why I believe the future is not dependent on large institutions, but rather, communities of people who care deeply about a specific problem. because in small, mission-driven organizations, the shared vision between employees nurtures authentic community, while enabling maximum expression of creativity. organizations that strip away hierarchy and empower the individual with choice, creativity, and flexibility will ultimately yield the most productivity.

so how is this about bitcoin? good question! i am not entirely sure but i believe the future of distributed systems – not just in computing but also in human society – are an important social experiment. while distributed autonomous organizations (#theDAO ahem) are still in their infancy, there is a lot of interesting systems design we can glean from computer engineering and apply to human engineering. we forget that the most important systems in our society aren’t just financial or regulatory – they’re systems of people and ideas, things that are incredibly difficult to replace with machines (for now).

 

if you like this sort of thing, this is a great read

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