The Anxiety of Having to Work For a Living, Research Time, 13/06/2018

We think of the millionaire – or billionaire these days – businessman as the bold entrepreneur. A fearless experimenter. We hear the rhetoric all the time, and have for years. The startup business is where people take risks – develop new ideas – transformative new ventures.

Can't spell adventure without venture (capital), after all.

Look, I know that wasn’t even funny. It wasn’t supposed to be. I just want to make one brief point that I found very insightful – it appeared in Jeremy Gilbert’s book on the history of Cultural Studies, and Antonio Negri’s new book Assembly.

The will to become epochal is equally inspirational and ridiculous.
Entrepreneurial culture is a homogenizing force, risk-averse to the point of cowardice. Their fear is a psychological affect of life in capitalistic economies. It’s the fragility of the wealthy.

The entrepreneurs we lionize in our culture are those few who’ve taken great risks and been incredibly successful. They’ve transformed our culture with new technologies and business models. For better or, from many perspectives, worse.

But that’s only a very small number of people. They were uncommon, not just in their luck but their personalities. Every biography of a legendary entrepreneur is fascinating because they are genuinely remarkable, singular personalities. Brilliant to the point of mysticism, ruthless to the point of infamy, driven to the point of mania.

Such people are rare. Very rare.

So what about all those thousands of people I see in shared office spaces all over Toronto?

Graphic designers. Intellectual property lawyers. Call centre. Dudes developing an app to create insurance packages for you. A really good SEO guy.

But innovators? People out to transform the structure of an entire economic sector? An entire global economy? My buddy is a really good SEO guy, but that is not his goal. Dude just wants to pay off the mortgage on his condo, maybe pump out a kid or two with his wife in a couple of years.

Only a few people understand how rare that combination of the
inspirational and ridiculous truly is in society. So rare you can, for
the most part, only find it in fiction. Usually, they're the
supervillains. The fictional versions too.
The losers of a rat race die in poverty. That’s the problem with the rat race of a new liberal economy. It doesn’t actually empower most people to innovate their way to a bold new future. Desperation drives people to anxiety and heart disease, not creativity and risk. When you know you can lose the mortgage on a bad bet, you’re less likely to make bets at all. You’ll just be desperate for some security.

This is how most people live under our economic system. It’s a desperation that breeds poor decision making, anxiety that perverts reason with constant worry. People do not take risks when they are terribly worried, unless they’re so brilliant, ruthless, and driven that they can drown worry out with the raw screams of a sustained explosion of all-consuming volcanic will.

My buddy is a really good SEO guy, but I don’t think he’s really capable of that kind of thing. I haven’t asked him yet, but I’m pretty sure he’d agree.

When a dense theorist* talks about how capital is a homogenizing force, this is one of the actual mechanisms they’re talking about. The anxiety that quiets most people into complacent, frightened, risk-averse, desperate conformists whose judgment has been warped into thinking selfishness is a virtue.

* In both senses of the term.

Concepts express life at its most abstract. A good philosopher unfolds her concepts into reality, not more and more ideas.

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