How I dropped Out of Society Into a Fourth Social Class

There are three social classes in America. I have chosen to be in none of them. This is not a choice normally available to people. Let me explain a little bit why I dropped out and how I’m basically classless now.

First, let me define the three classes.

There is a worker class who produces material goods. Then, secondly, there is a capitalist class who creates an organization to collect the surplus value of the workers after paying the workers. The market decides what the workers get paid. In America, we rely on the market to balance many things, and worker wages is one of these things. However, when only a single class (the capitalist class) competes in the market for workers, it is difficult for the workers to receive full value for the product of their work whose labor surplus is inevitably skimmed for profit by the capitalist class. What capitalists are competing for in “the market” is this labor surplus. However, competition for this surplus never causes the surplus to go to zero, otherwise, the capitalist has no incentive to start the company at all. Thus, by the very nature of the system of capitalism, it is guaranteed that the worker class can never receive the full total of their labors, for by nature, the capitalist must be incentivized by equity in order to risk his capital to receive the surplus.
The worker’s only choice is which capitalist they choose to skim their profits. Occasionally, workers may band together in a start-up company in hopes that their skills and labor allow them to become elevated to the capitalist class themselves. Ironically, such a gamble requires selling a significant share of their labor to the capitalist class in the form of equity to angel investors, venture capitalists, or Wall Street investors.

Aside from the worker class and the capitalist class, there is one other class that I am not a part of. That class is the incarcerated class. That is the class you fall into by design if you choose not to be a worker for the capitalist class. As a person who has chosen not to be in any of those three classes, I am constantly in danger of falling into the incarcerated class due the laws which rig it that way.

An example of a law which would put me into the incarcerated class is the law which bans sleeping in vehicles. Although you can eat in your vehicle or do just about anything else in your vehicle, many cities have outlawed sleeping in your vehicle because they don’t want homeless people living in their cars.

Our society purposely doesn’t want homeless people because they fall into a non-category of peoples who have rejected the rat-race of being a worker who has her surplus value skimmed by profiteering capitalists. Once you have decided you don’t need a home, then you certainly don’t need a job and thus you don’t need to enter the job market for various capitalists to choose how to exploit you. This is very bad for a society of capitalists. So, it is discouraged. And one way it is discouraged is to arrest you and fine you so that you remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and incarceration so that you will want to join the worker class to escape your spiraling predicament.

I have to be very careful while skirting the fringes of society not to accidentally fall into the incarcerated class. Once one tendril of poverty has grabbed you, it won’t let go until you are trapped in the incarcerated class. So far, I have managed to avoid it with previous wealth accumulated when I was a worker and by continually disguising myself as a “decent” worker class citizen.

Worker class people are afforded certain privileges in society that we take for granted, and I know how to act and present myself as a worker having been one myself for decades. Fortunately, many well-to-do technologists look poverty-stricken and disheveled; so a crazy homeless van dweller, a wealthy start-up app creator, and a math professor at Berkeley are indistinguishable to a police officer.
It is this guise of normalcy which affords my safety in society. It is not the laws which protect me. It is the disheveled appearance of my fellow Silicon Valley workers which affords me the most security.

Let me make this clear. It is not the laws which make me safe from imprisonment and harassment from police. It is my old CodeWarrior and OpenGL t-shirts from 10 years ago that allow me a disguise to slip past laws intended for homeless people. These old clothes are mostly still stored in my storage area. Ten years ago, I could not have known that they would serve me as a uniform of the worker class that I dropped out of and be as valuable as a literal license to participate in society.

There have been many times I have been told to move or threatened with a ticket or various anti-homeless measures that I have been able to thwart by convincing the police that I was “programming” or “visiting someone” in my obviously expensive van and then hastily moving away. I have had the privilege of select enforcement of the law because of the privilege or illusion of wealth, I am not ashamed to admit. I am truly sorry for the treatment that less wealthy citizens would receive due to these laws, but that is not something I am prepared to go to jail for and fight a civil liberties battle over at this point. Such a move would certainly put me into the incarceration class for good. And these laws will remain precisely because no one who is ever put into that legal position could afford to fight those laws.

One of the “solutions” to the homeless problem is to put people to work. I see this as problematic for various reasons. For one, some people may have chosen to drop out of the rigged game of workers and capitalists. I know that we in the worker class believe in the stigma of being homeless as being mentally ill or having substance abuse problems. I don’t know enough about the topic to determine whether this stigma is one of causation or correlation or whether the stigma serves more as a warning to the worker class to not become homeless and to keep maintaining a steady pace on the treadmill for their capitalist of choice.

For me, I tried to get out of the worker class by starting my own company and joining many various start ups. I didn’t quite succeed. I’m not sure I have what it takes to be a capitalist anyway. So, now, I’m adrift neither here nor there.

What I want to do is just create stories and experiences for people to enjoy using the skills that I’ve learned over a couple of decades. I think I can do that without spiraling into the incarcerated class.
But I’ve also chosen to do that without attempting to join the capitalist class or to beg them for help. This is not really a rational thing to do because what I would like to do requires resources beyond what I can muster myself.

And so, things are going slow. That’s okay. I don’t care about deadlines, and I don’t care about milestones, and I don’t care about making money. I’ll let things sort out on its own. Maybe I’ll make money, but I’m certainly not counting on it. And if I don’t count on it, I think I can properly enjoy the process of creating. I think the journey of creation is what matters to me now. Once I strip away all of the stress of starting a company that has to balance income with expenses and has to hit a market window and has to choose the right people, choose the right platform, and choose the right moment, I can truly enjoy what I always wanted to do when I first played Space Invaders in 1977 as a 7 year-old kid— to make his own game.

I only need to get back a fraction of the value of work that I put into my own game to make it worth my while. After all, I’m only getting paid a fraction of my value by any capitalist that’s making a profit anyway. So, for now, I’m not going to worry about what that fraction is going to be. I must accept that that fraction is exactly zero and go on doing what I want to do anyway. It’s not worth worrying about at this point. I’m too far from completion on any of the projects to even think that far ahead anyway.

And so I’m hoping there is a fourth social class in America that joins me. Perhaps there will be enough wealth from an automated and nearly workerless society that a fourth social class can emerge and can simply create art, literature, and entertainment while sustaining themselves with occasional gifts or purchases from the worker and capitalist classes.

This class, like me, will leverage the skills gained from years in the worker class to create novel things that could never be commercially successful enough for the capitalist class to want to exploit.

There are many small things too specific and niche and weird to ever be mass market and thus never be commercially viable to a capitalist class. Such things can be created by a mature post-worker artisan class simply because artisans love to create things and such crafts were not allowed to even be attempted when under the yoke of a capitalist.

And so that’s what I’m going to be doing— sometimes. I hope I can succeed, not so much to make money, but as to serve as an example to others that it is possible to be done. If freedom affords you this luxury, I hope you can take it as I have. I don’t think you have to be brave or anything to do this.

You have to realize that being in the worker class is merely a more comfy kind of incarcerated class. I think Fight Club touched on this a little bit. But you don’t have to be violent or disruptive to break free of the seeming stranglehold of the worker class. The prison is an illusion.

You can live just fine and be happy with less. You can be happy with your relationships without your things. It’s a matter of elevating your most important values to the top of the priority list and then shedding the rest. Once you’re accustomed to not dealing with the rest anyway, it becomes easy to focus on only the necessities.

It’s simpler and less complicated and more fun to focus only on what matters to you, even if it’s trivial or not understood by others. In fact, not being understood by others is what makes it special and enjoyable to you and only you. People might ask, “won’t you get tired of it?” I don’t think you can ever get tired of being a kid every day. Besides, if you miss any aspects of worker society, you can always put on a uniform and blend in and experience a taste every now and again.

Now, granted, I have built myself a bit of a cushion in finances in order to do this, and not everyone will have the same flexibility. But I think the fundamental concept is sound. We are really much more wealthy and capable than we think we are. We’re under an illusion that running out of money will result in homelessness or mental illness or substance abuse as if all of the latter were one thing.

I’m amazed at people who grow up poor but wind up having a huge number of kids anyway. Well, if they can do , then anybody who works in tech in Silicon Valley can also. People working tech jobs in Silicon Valley have a tremendous amount of wealth compared to people in other parts of the United States and other parts of the world. Yet, they’re always comparing themselves with each other and their neighbors which makes them feel poor.

So rather than bemoaning that you can’t buy a house in Silicon Valley, be grateful that you can do things that many people in the world cannot even begin to comprehend, like spending $5 for a cup of coffee and then not even finishing it.

Because wealth is relative like this, I have chosen to focus on how wealthy I am compared to the rest of America even though I’m not working, and to change my perspective on life to appreciate the luxuries that that wealth affords me. And what it really affords me is time. I can have time to do the things that I want to do without worrying about spiraling down into the incarcerated class. I see the danger in that for those who are closer to poverty. Perhaps I am skirting a bit close to the edge of poverty, but I have chosen to not be afraid of it and to be confident in my ability to stay out of the trap of poverty.

So, maybe for this part, you do have to be a little brave. If you or your family has fought hard to come out of poverty, I can see how this part would be scary. However, if you’ve made it into the worker class and saved up some money, have confidence in yourself that you can re-enter the worker class at some level if you so choose. It may be at a lower level than you were accustomed to, but just accept that that was part of the cost for chasing your dreams and experiencing real freedom in your life.

I understand. You don’t want to lose your place on the ladder. You’ve worked very hard to get to that rung and you don’t want to lose it, so you grip tightly. I get that. But don’t cling to the ladder just for the sake of the ladder’s position itself. Remember that you got to that rung for some reason. What was that reason? Do you still remember? You had something else you wanted to do and climbing that ladder was the way to achieve it. It’s not too late to try to achieve it. Even though you haven’t reached the top of the ladder, maybe you’ve reached a high enough rung that you can simply let go and try and achieve the original goal you had in mind. Climbing the ladder certainly wasn’t your only goal until you got onto the first rung, right? The ladder was meant to lead somewhere. Maybe you don’t need to climb the rest of the ladder to get there right now. That’s what is worth considering.

 

4 thoughts on “How I dropped Out of Society Into a Fourth Social Class

  1. Came to this through Kevin Chen’s repost of a post of mine on FB. This resonates with me – it feels very accurate to me to describe being in the worker class as, quite literally, a comfy prison. I want to step out in the way that you are doing, and I feel lucky & privileged to be in a position where I can even think about it as a practical and emotional possibility, but – but – I feel like I need a savings cushion of somewhere between $200k and $1 million to do it. I’d be curious to hear how that matches up with your own sense of what a sufficient cushion might be.

    Like

    1. I can’t place a dollar amount on what you would need as a cushion. Perhaps, I’m different than you in that I need no cushion because I nearly died. We all die. I almost died quite unexpectedly. It’s hard to justify coming back from that to work on someone else’s project primarily for their benefit while mostly breaking even in my own household economics.

      My cushion is my self-confidence that I can figure it out. Whatever happens, I’m alive and I can be happy in a minimum wage job to pay for my phone and internet. I can still play games and watch movies with my friends and eat good food. I don’t have a family nor any kids, so I don’t need a career. I don’t need to climb the corporate ladder which was never my thing anyway.

      The only reason I had wanted to build my career was to be able to do what I want in games. Well, as I got further and further up on the management ladder, I realized there were other constraints that were far more limiting than when I was a lower level programmer who had creative command of AI, physics, graphics, game engine structure, etc. It was satisfying to have complete control over those things. Once you get higher up, you don’t have control over the market, over scheduling pressures to make Christmas, over changes in technology, over staffing issues, over personality conflicts, over many difficult matters when it comes to running a business. So, the end result of these constraints is that you are even farther away from being able to do what you want.

      So, now, I just strip it all away. I just dump the extra weight like a space freighter dumping unprofitable cargo into space. I just do what I want. I don’t care about the lost investment in my career because it’s never going to get me any closer to doing my own thing anyway. I just choose to do my own thing immediately, right now. No reason to work up to that level. The reason to work up to that level is because you have leverage. The company’s power becomes a projection of your will. I don’t want that. I was never really good at it. And I feel that I don’t enjoy the stresses that come with that kind of power.

      Instead of bending everyone to my will, I manage just one person— myself. Occasionally, I might write something here and there. But in this corporation of one, there are no deadlines and there is no pay. Sometimes, I make some money playing poker. Not everyone can do that, or maybe I’ve just been lucky. So far, it’s been working. I don’t need to look any further. A career is all about looking forward and planning for the future. If you die, there is no future. So there is the flip side of that opportunity cost of not progressing your career. And that flip side is that you’re not living your life for yourself, but for someone willing to pay you for your life.

      So, you went to study and learn everything you do just so that someone else can benefit most from what you’ve learned? I own only the skills and knowledge from the companies that paid for my work. They went off and sold it to build the company. I in turn exchanged my salary for an expensive place to live which serves a place to keep a bunch of toys and stuff. Well, I got rid of those things, so now I don’t need the place anymore.

      Now, I have no salary, but I can still make stuff with my skills and knowledge. But I’m not receiving any money from it. All things considered, it’s not much less equity than what I was getting while I was employed. So, by quitting, perhaps I’m encouraging others in my situation as a knowledge worker to do the same.

      If that’s the case, the burden is on the capitalist class to find a reason for us to work for them. If we’re just barely above breaking even while working for an owner, then why not simply barely break even by dropping out and working a minimum wage job or none at all and simply use our skills for purely selfish and/or artistic reasons?

      The worker revolution is going to be going to the couch and watching Netflix and playing video games all day. Entertainment and food is cheap. Housing is expensive. Just move somewhere where housing is cheaper. There are places in the US which are cheap. But that’s not where the jobs are which is why no one lives there. Well, if career is no longer your major concern, then it’s not a problem. Just bring some of your friends and your pets and whatever else you love to a new place and do your own thing.

      It’s costing your life by NOT doing that. How much is your life worth? You’re exchanging your life for money. What are you doing with that money? Are you getting more life out of it? If not, then maybe it’s not worth it. Maybe it’s worth it for someone else to buy your life and sell it at a profit so that they can use the money to buy more life for themselves.

      A life is a coin. Someone wants to buy it from you because it’s worth whatever they’re paying you for it. But at any time you can refuse to sell your coin. Instead, you can choose to spend it. Spend it doing whatever you want, even if it’s nothing at all.

      For me, I can make the excuse that doing nothing is “healing my brain.” But really, do I even need an excuse to spend the coin however I want? So what if I mis-spent it? It’s my coin to waste. No one else’s.

      I can devote my time to writing, connecting with other people, and making games that could never be commercially successful. Because why not? Who else is going to have 20 years of game programming experience and not make a game for commercial audiences but to satisfy his own strange creative urges? No one. It’s literally throwing money away to do what I’m doing. It’s called opportunity cost.

      But there’s the other side of opportunity cost which is that someone is paying you to do their game for them and you have no time left to do your own.

      Also, not being pressured by time to do something or to accomplish something is very relaxing. So for me, it’s part of my healing to reduce my stress level until some later time when I can handle it again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Came to this through Kevin Chen’s repost of a post of mine on FB. This resonates with me – it feels very accurate to me to describe being in the worker class as, quite literally, a comfy prison. I want to step out in the way that you are doing, and I feel lucky & privileged to be in a position where I can even think about it as a practical and emotional possibility, but – but – I feel like I need a savings cushion of somewhere between $200k and $1 million to do it. I’d be curious to hear how that matches up with your own sense of what a sufficient cushion might be.

    Like

    1. The best safety cushion is changing your expectations of what it takes to be happy. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would be happy with a dog who loved me and who I loved back. I see homeless people with dogs. And rather than pity them, maybe we should consider whether they’ve discovered something that the wisest of us may never discover.

      That is that you have a limited amount of time on this rock and if you’re happy during that time and you have some love, then maybe all of the other things don’t matter as much as you think that do.

      Once you’ve accepted that you could be happy with your best friend being your dog and that eliminating everything simply reduces the complexity in your life, then you accept that everything else above and beyond that state are sprinkles on your happiness.

      Like

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