Worth

Experience, value, worth, profit, and the true currency of the world

Photo by Thomas Hawk via Foter.com under CC BY-NC

What is something worth?

It’s not its price tag. Its price tag is how much someone took from you in order for you to have it. That’s not its worth. If a watch costs five dollars, is it worth five dollars? Hardly. Five dollars is what you had to give up in order to get it. But is that its worth? Conventional wisdom says yes. Of course the answer is no.

What you had to give up to get something is not its worth. Its worth is what it does for you. Its worth is how it makes you feel. Its worth is how much it contributes to your life. Its worth is how much it contributes to your bliss.

Consider love, sex, orgasm. It may cost you nothing, but may be worth very much to you in terms of the life it gives you..in terms of its contribution to your bliss. Or it may literally cost you hundreds of dollars and contribute very little to your bliss (if, say, you have a mediocre experience with a prostitute). Is worth determined by cost in this case? No it is not. They say the best things in life are free. They are right.

I might climb to the top of a mountain for free. At the top of this mountain, I may see views, I may be privy to vistas which change my life and my perspective forever. The cost is nothing. The value is everything.

I am not saying buying a Lotus will not change my life. I am not saying that the fact of spending money on something makes it worthless.

I am saying that what a thing does for you, what you get out of it, the relationship you have with it, and how that thing changes your life is closer to its worth than is its cost.

A $1000 laptop that lasts five years costs $200 a year. I might use that laptop to play 20,000 games of solitaire. I might use it to write 20 books. Its worth is very different in both cases, even though its cost is the same. A thing’s worth has basically nothing to do with its cost. Like I said at the beginning, cost is just what someone took from you in order to have the thing. Worth is something else entirely.

What is up with the phrase net worth? In truth, this is one of the most disgusting and meaningless phrases and concepts I have ever encountered. Net worth is not a measure of worth. It is not a measure of value. It is a measure of how much you have taken from the world. Is that worth? No it is not.

Consider Linus Torvalds. I don’t see him on Forbes’ list of The World’s Billionaires. According to one source, 97% of the top 1,000,000 internet servers run Linux, which Torvalds created and gives away for free. 2% of those servers run Windows, which Bill Gates’ Microsoft sells. Yet Bill Gates is listed as the #1 richest billionaire on Forbes’ list—the person in the world with the most “net worth.”

How can this be?

Torvalds’ creation powers virtually the entire internet, while Gates’ powers almost none. Of the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world, 99% run Linux. 0% run Windows. So why is Torvalds’ net worth so low, while Gates’ is so high, when Torvalds has, in these critical domains, created vastly more value than Gates?

It’s because net worth has nothing to do with value.

Net worth is not how much you have given. It is how much you have taken. How is what you have taken a measure of the value you have given?

Simply, it is not.

How much money you have “made” is not a measure of the value you have created. It is a measure of how much you have held back in order to release that value. Profit, therefore, is a carving out of, a carving into, the value that you have created. It is what you have kept for yourself. And what you have kept for yourself is not value you have created. It is value you have withheld.

Bill Gates is lauded as being one of the most generous philanthropists in the world. He gives away his money to good causes. This is true; he does. But who is the greater philanthropist? A man who withholds 75 billion dollars while giving away a moderate portion of that, or Linus Torvalds, who gives away perhaps the most valuable piece of software in the world, powering most of the internet and every supercomputer worth mentioning, and withholds nothing?

Net worth is nothing to be proud of. It is a mark, plainly, of stinginess. It is a mark of fear.

It is not what I keep that creates value. It is what I give.

“Net worth” is just a measure of hoarding. It is a measure of taking.

Taking doesn’t create value.

Giving does.

The thing is, we are living in a world of fear. We are afraid that we won’t have enough. We are afraid that someone else’s success will take away from our own. This is why all the hoarding.

It’s silly.

We live in a world with enough food to feed everyone, enough housing to house everyone. Yet, there are still starving people and homeless people.

There are people who own two houses, one of which sits empty, while homeless people walk by the empty house on the sidewalk and sleep on the sidewalk in front of the empty house. All because of fear. Fear that the resources will run out and I will have nothing. Fear of unfairness: that someone else will be able to enjoy life without having done as much work as I have done in order to be able to enjoy life.

Imagine if Linus Torvalds had had that fear. The fear that others would be able to utilize his product without having done the work that he had done to create it, or else paid him enough money to prove that they were worthy to use his work. It would have vastly crippled the development of the internet. We would have a vastly inferior internet. It would have literally changed the recent course of humanity, given how dependent we all are on this worldwide network built primarily on servers running an operating system given to the world for free.

There is more than enough to go around. We live in a world of incomprehensible possibilities, incredible abundance, and essentially infinite physical resources.

Imagine the entire universe.

Now imagine our tiny blue ball.

Now tell me that there is a situation of lack.

Far from it. We find ourselves in a situation of unbelievable abundance, yet our fear causes us to do things like extract as much as possible from another person, a member of our own species even, as we transfer something of value to them.

This is incredibly immature.

Profit is dead.

Net worth is exposed as ridiculous.

The only real value is the experience of bliss. If you can create the experience of bliss for someone, there you have value. To hold back money in exchange for this gift is silly to the point of being infantile. You are measured by your gifts, not what you take. Forbes’ list is a list of people who have taken the most. That is not a measure of people who have created value. It is a measure of people who have withheld value. That is not worth. Frankly it’s the opposite.

Worth, in a nutshell, is not the price tag on the car, but the feeling of the wind in your hair as you drive it.

Presence (Ability and Freedom)

A therapist once suggested this as a definition of presence: that one was able to think, but not compelled to think. I do not know if that definition was hers or someone else’s. It occurred to me today, about nine years after that therapy session, that you could extend that idea like this:

free compelled
able present addicted
successful
unable useless
irrelevant
anxious
failing

The definition of presence that my therapist presented to me, is here expanded, suggesting other states. When I am able to think (or act) in a certain way, and also not compelled (free) to think or act in a certain way, then I am present. When I am able and compelled, I am addicted (or successful, or enslaved). When I am compelled yet unable, I am anxious or failing. When I am not compelled to act, and also unable to act, I am irrelevant, useless, or disconnected.

With each action in my life, each state, each moment, consider which of these quadrants best fits.

Also, consider that in small scopes (like the scope of one day, or the scope of one aspect of my life), when my state moves around those quadrants, it most often moves one square at a time, either horizontally or vertically. Because, generally, one of the variables (ability/inability or freedom/constraint) changes, and then, somewhat later, another (or the same) variable changes in sequence. When I’m anxious in a relationship, I’m not likely to switch immediately to presence, with respect to that relationship…more likely I’ll go to either success or irrelevance first, and from either of those positions I may move to presence. When I’m addicted in a behavior, I might get tired, at which point I’ll become unable, moving to a state of anxious failing…but the point is that to go from addicted to disconnected (or from anxiousness to presence) involves two distinct shifts, which most likely will happen in sequence rather than at the same time.

The presence quadrant of this square is special, and the variables that make up the square’s axes are relevant, when you consider a third variable: desire. Of the four quadrants shown, only one of them is such that regardless of whether you want or do not want (to think, to act in whatever way), are you able to act in accordance with your desire. In the other three quadrants, desire either is, or can be, an impediment to bliss.

Because I want to feel this way.

The only reason I feel the way I do today is because I want to feel this way.  If I choose to be drama-free by not going to facebook, if I choose to feel high by running for an hour, there is only one reason, and it is the best one and a simple one and a tricky one too.  I want to.  I laugh when I see ads for schools offering careers in criminal justice, because to seek a career in criminal justice is to expect that there will be criminals.  Worse, it is to require there to be criminals, otherwise you’re out of a job.  Mere intellectuals argue that to expect a world without crime is naive.  We need less intellectualism in our world and more horse sense.  If your job is to bring criminals to justice, then you need for there to be criminals and you will participate in the world in ways that ensure that remains the case.  Too much of our world is oriented toward disaster response (via which we ensure that disasters continue to occur).  Einstein’s phrase says it most cleanly: “intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them”.  Anyone who thinks that we cannot make this world what we want…and by that I mean make every part of it wonderful…is truly naive.  Our impressions create economies.  Our perceptions create realities.  If you don’t see that that is true it is because you haven’t thought it through.  We should not strive to be progressive.  We should strive to be miraculous.  Everything else is fear-based inefficiency.  Our job is to become unafraid, completely, 100%, absolutely unafraid right now.  I don’t think my job is to be part of the problem.  I don’t think my job is to solve the problem.  I think my job is to create, to play, to feel, to be.  I don’t think there’s anything naive about that.  I think that takes daring, I think it is the result of a great deal of consideration and reflection, I think it is the responsible thing to do.  I think we can try to avoid suffering, as the lazy do.  I think we can accept that life is suffering, as the Buddhists do.  I think we can understand that life isn’t any less-worthwhile spent one way or another…that, essentially, no one is pitiable.  No path is pitiable.  The fearful, the squeamish, the ill-informed are the only people I’ve encountered who think that the world is what it is, separate from us.  We are making this happen.  We are making all of this up.  Our political world, and larger, our cultural world, and larger, the connective world of reality, of the world, is a universal creature dreaming itself up.  We, individual people, are part of this universal creature that is dreaming itself up, that is improvising, that is creating itself over and over, imagining itself and how it could be, and then trying that.  There isn’t a way that things should be.  There isn’t {what god likes} or {what god wants to happen}.  There isn’t {right} or {what I like, what I like absolutely}.  This universe doesn’t know what it likes.  It’s playing, trying to figure that out.  But it doesn’t know already.  It’s planning, and executing that plan, and seeing what it can do.  It’s trying out a new set of wheels, it’s taking itself for a spin.  And only as a result of trying things does there become a sense in which our world likes things to be a certain way.  Sometimes I think I have to start with how the world is, and then decide how to feel about it.  That is not the case.  That leads to confusion.  First, start with how I want to feel (blissful).  Then, feel that way.  Then, and only then, decide what to do in the world.