What We Can Learn from Rich Dudes Who Vanish from Society

Everyone wants to escape.

What We Can Learn from Rich Dudes Who Vanish from Society

You probably know the story of Tom Anderson. He built one of the world's first social networks and sold it for half a billion dollars.

Then he ghosted.

Every now and then, stories of Tom's whereabouts surface. There's one floating around right now, talking about the lessons we can learn. I'm not interested in starting any fights, but if you post something on the internet, be prepared for someone's alternate take.

Here's mine:

So Tom Anderson made $500 million and then vanished from society. So, what does that tell you about society?

Maybe it's not so great.

Tom abandoned any pretense of corporate life. He didn't try to start anything new. He travels around. He dabbles in photography. He attends the occasional music festival. Otherwise, he keeps to himself.

Do you blame him?

Most of us would do the exact same thing. The minute we achieve any kind of financial independence, we're bailing. Nobody really wants to waste their life sitting through pointless meetings and managing spreadsheets. Nobody enjoys it. Look at what's happening with the great resignation, with quiet quitting, with the remote work revolution.

Now, here's the thing. The fanboys who worship dudes like Tom will tell you that anyone can be like Tom. It's a popular trope, the elusive ultra-millionaire who retreats from the public spotlight. They could do anything, but they choose to lead a relatively simple life.

Well, that's a lie.

No, not everyone can be like Tom.

Our economy can't make anyone and everyone ultra-millionaires. The entire premise of our economy depends on hierarchy. There has to be a bunch of pawns down at the bottom doing all the thankless grunt work. Without them, nothing else can happen. The entire point of these stories is to drive a fantasy engine. The economy needs millions of desperate wannabe entrepreneurs willing to do anything to be like Tom. They need everyone to believe the only way to do what they love is to make millions first, and to screw anyone who gets in their way, especially all those pesky progressives.

There has to be a bunch of losers in the stock and crypto markets. When everyone tries to cash in their Bitcoin or Apple stock, guess what happens. The markets collapse.

It's all one giant pyramid scheme.

It's amusing that the startup bros constantly pile insults and trash talk on the ordinary people who keep this economy running while a tiny handful of dudes and girlbosses reap all the rewards and benefits of everyone else's labor. They'll constantly tell you not to waste your life sitting behind a desk all day. They'll tell you to quit your lousy barista job as soon as possible. And yet, you working your lousy job while dreaming about a better life, while doing nothing to change society, is precisely what drives their engine.

What if everyone actually achieved Tom's dream?

Society would collapse.

And, look, that's exactly what's happening. Nobody wants to do the hard jobs anymore. Nobody wants to be a teacher. Nobody wants to be a nurse. Nobody wants to be a public defense lawyer. Nobody wants to actually design a decent app. (Yes, I'm overstating things a little, but not much.)

Everyone wants a 4-hour work week and an army of peons to boss around from their yacht. That's the kind of society we live in now.

It's what we created.

How is that working out? Look around. Everyone's tired. Everyone's stressed. Everyone's broke. Everyone's ready to snap.

The startup bros tell you it's pointless to get mixed up in politics. I'm never sure what they mean. So, you're not supposed to vote? You're not supposed to pay attention to what your elected officials are doing? That seems dumb. We pay these people a third of our income. When I say the word "politics," that's what I mean. I'm talking about holding those assholes accountable. I'm talking about at least trying to make sure the third of your income you're forced to pay them gets spent on something other than guns, bombs, and tax cuts for the rich. I know it's a losing battle right now, but should we just give up?

Look at what's come from everyone trying to cheat their taxes. We can't find good teachers. Our roads are falling apart. Trains are derailing. Recently, someone accidentally drove a ship into a bridge.

A lot of people died.

So, we're not supposed to care about trains derailing and bridges collapsing? We're not supposed to care about fascists and white supremacists holding marches and rallies in broad daylight, with impunity? We're not supposed to mind genocides happening halfway around the world, that we're forced to fund?

We're supposed to be okay with mass shootings happening every single week, while the police do nothing to stop them?

To me, that's politics.

So that's the lesson I glean from the Tom Andersons of the world. The second someone can afford to do it, they bail on society. They make art for its own sake. They travel. They have fun.

They don't want anything to do with society.

And yet...

Their lifestyle is funded and enabled by the rest of us, the ones who would love to just fly around and take photographs.

I don't want to read more stories about dudes who sold a startup for X Hundred Million Dollars and then left society. I'd like to read more stories about dudes who stayed in society and made it better.

My hero is Jonas Salk. He invented the polio vaccine. He gave it away. He didn't patent it. He didn't didn't make $500 million and ghost. He wrote a blueprint for a better society. He called it Epoch B.

Look into it sometime.

My hero is Rosalind Franklin. She did the hard work of providing actual photographic evidence of DNA's double-helix structure. Her male colleagues took the credit and got the Nobel Prize.

She died at the age of 38.

They made fun of her.

My heroes are Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. They were the Black female mathematicians who did the calculations that drove NASA's space program. They battled racism and sexism, and all they wanted to do was serve their country. They never dreamed of bailing on society.

They stuck it out.

Now look at all these little aspiring millionaires running around acting like it's some deeply noble thing to leave society. They don't believe in creating something that's better for everyone. They've been conditioned to believe that's impossible. They've been trained to believe it's more realistic to try and make $500 million by building a website.

How realistic is that, really?

These people say they don't want to waste their lives behind a desk, but they're happy to let millions of other people do that in order to enable the dreams of an elite few. They're happy to waste their lives daydreaming about making a fortune one day, while the planet they live on burns down around them. How realistic is that?

Here's a question:

Do you really need $500 million to fly around and photograph sunsets? No, I don't think you do. So from a purely economic standpoint, tell me the point of all these super-rich folks hoarded hundreds of millions and billions of dollars.

It's to keep that money away from the rest of us.

Isn't it?

According to the Federal Reserve, 1 percent of Americans now possess 30 percent of the total country's wealth.

What's the point of that?

It seems to me like the point of all this wealth inequality is to make sure a bunch of us stay down at the bottom, slaving away at jobs we hate, because those jobs ensure that this tiny handful of jerks can go around doing whatever they want. After all, someone has to fly their jets. Someone has to clean their mansions. Someone has to cook their food. Someone has to run the hotels they stay at. Someone has to run the internet they use to generate their passive income.

That's the lie.

These startup bros can pretend to eschew materialism all they want. They talk about stoicism and grit all day long. It changes nothing. The economy runs on cheap, expendable labor. It can't afford too many people to retire early and live like Tom Anderson.

We could build a different society.

It would require those at the top to share some of their wealth with the people who made them rich. It would require them to buy slightly smaller yachts, and maybe spend some of their precious time doing something that doesn't directly gratify themselves.

The real lesson here is that our current economic system only allows Tom Anderson to be Tom Anderson. It only allows Michael Burry to be Michael Burry. It only allows Jeff Bezos to be Jeff Bezos. You can't be like them, because they need you to run the economy and the infrastructure they need to live their dreams. And on top of that, they're going to insult you. They're going to make fun of you.

We work for these people. We make their stuff. We cook their food. We take care of their kids. We clean their homes. We run their internet. We buy their books. We support their podcasts. We dream about being them. I know, I know, you personally don't. But half of your friends do.

We don't have to live in a society everyone wants to escape from. We could make a society that we actually want to live in. At least to me, that sounds more realistic than trying to make $500 million.

That's the lesson.

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