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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.

 

On the Nature of Freedom

FREEDOM!! We all want it… whatever it is. People in movies will die for it. So it must be pretty good. No one dies for CARAMEL ICE CREAM, though maybe they should.

I scream for ice cream, but maybe it’s not worth dying for.

But freedom is.

Why?

Have you wondered what freedom is? Well, I have thought about it a little bit after being a nomad. Nomading around means finding a new place to stay every night. Every night, I have to make a decision. I have to make a choice. What are the risks staying here? How much will it cost me to move from here to where I want to go tomorrow? Will I need to visit my storage area, PO box, my friends, or a gym where I can take a shower? Is it legal to stay here? Will the police knock on my van? Will taggers graffiti up the van while I’m asleep?

I weigh up the pros and cons and make a decision about where to stay… mostly a different place every night. Those of you who stay in the same place every night don’t have to make this decision. Those of you who have a mortgage or rent have made a decision to remove this choice from your every day life. For you non-nomads, this one long-term decision to rent or buy a house is safe and free of consequences. There are no variables in cost, safety, access to wifi or showers, or many numerous considerations that you wouldn’t want to be bothered with.

But there is a subtle difference of thinking when you do this. When I make a choice, I’m aware of the consequences. I’m aware of when I’m in a high crime area. I’m aware of when I’ve commuted kinda far from my friends. I’m aware of many kinds of risks of having my entire home with me and possibly losing it at any time to an accident or to crime. I’ve already damaged the van a few times in my travels, but I accept that is a consequence and cost to this kind of lifestyle. I accept the consequences because I made a conscious choice which weighed those risks.

I find this in contrast to my pre-nomadic lifestyle which removed choice and decision from my life so that I could follow a pattern. A lot of self-help books and blogs write about success. And a lot of those writings suggest following a routine in order to be more efficient. Einstein and Steve Jobs famously had a closet full of the same shirt so that they wouldn’t have to think about what to wear each day. Removing this decision, this choice, allowed a little more time each day for their other activities. Every day they wear the same shirt, they have made an unconscious choice to do so. It’s still a choice. They can still choose a different shirt on any day. But mostly, they don’t because they no longer consider it a choice that can be made.

But how many of you would go as far as to have only one outfit? How many of you enjoy the small choice of something different to wear each day. How many of you enjoy eliciting compliments or showing off your personal style? That small amount of choice is freedom. And what that freedom grants us is a little bit of joy. A little bit of human connection every day. Relinquishing that freedom and sending it into the unconscious means you’re giving up on a small amount of joy in order to be efficient!

Now, what I’ve discovered after nomading around is that I had to stop many patterns of living a typical silicon valley lifestyle that had taken away the joy that I never knew existed underneath! Today, I feel more connected, present, and aware. I have far fewer patterns and thus am far less robotic. And less robotic means more human.

Freedom. It’s worth dying for because it is the same as choice. And choice is the same as joy and happiness.

But you don’t have to die for it. We all are privileged enough to live in a time and place that has an enormous capacity for personal freedom. But we constrain ourselves from ever coming close to realizing the potential freedom that our lives grant us. We are constrained by our own patterns in order to make our lives efficient and regimented and structured and safe.

But I challenge you to break those patterns every so often. Try the opposite of all of the above: Less efficient, less regimented, less structured, less safe. Going on vacation is a good break in the pattern. Make conscious choices about things that have seemingly already been decided. If you find yourself saying, “I keep doing this, but I’m not even sure I like it,” then stop. I found that was easy with video games. They have an addictive nature. But once I stopped, I didn’t feel the need to start again.

Ask yourself what percentage of your life could be reproduced by a computer program? Are you that consistent that you are running a loop that is the same from day to day? If the percentage of routine is how much of a robot you are, then the remaining percentage of non-routine is how human you are. Now, there is a purpose to the robotic regimented side of us, which is to buy more time for us when we are doing the human things in life. But, it’s easy for us to get carried away and take too much joy away from our day-to-day lives by regimenting it so strictly.

Einstein and Steve Jobs were each free to choose not to wear that same shirt on each day. Mostly, they chose not to exercise that particular freedom. What particular freedom are you choosing not to exercise today?

 

Use the economic forces, Luke


Economic forces making previous way of life less attractive

Increased rents and real estate prices

Diminishing opportunities for creative career fulfillment for older tech workers

The commute traffic


Economic forces which make a nomadic way of life more attractive

Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)

Telecommuting work opportunities

Airbnb allows more opportunity for travel or more semi-permanent rental

Uber and various ride rental systems replace the need for a car

Free or very cheap rent

Motorhome vehicle prices are relatively fixed nationwide and do not suffer the inflation of bay area real estate prices

Stronger US dollar vs. foreign currency (makes staying in other countries cheaper than staying in the Bay Area)


Other technological advances which make a tech nomad way of life possible

Cellular tethered wifi connection

Skype/Google Hangouts, github, cloud-based productivity tools

Solar power

Cheap gas/diesel due to fracking

Free Wifi at libraries, McDonald’s, and various other commercial places


Where we’re going we don’t need…

Overpriced San Francisco rents to earn a chance at a “unicorn” mobile/web startup run by 20-something hotshots with no previous history.

To be caught up in the inevitable bursting of the tech bubble once again.

To work super-long hours for no equity.

To study Big O notation so that I can pass programmer tests at a tech interview.

A lot of money since we’re reducing our expenses to match our income.


In place of all of that we have new experiences and gain so much more.

The luxury of time to spend with friends

Freedom of expression through self-motivated work projects

An adventurous, can-do spirit.

Learning and adaptability.

An open mind to new experiences and different cultures.

The ability to dictate how I live my life and spend my time rather than have all of those constraints dictated to me by responsibilities on whatever project I happen to be working on.

Financial freedom to lift a light anchor and drop it anywhere else in the world.

Bravery in trying to do something that could be considered throwing money away if I have the opportunity to make money, but decline to do so.


 

2015 – Where we’re going we don’t need…

2015 – Where we’re going we don’t need…

…a lot of things. But we do need roads.

Doc Brown came from the future, and now that future has come to us. And although Doc Brown had flying cars, Mr. Fusion and a world series winning Cubs team in his future, we in our future have a great many things that Doc Brown and his writers could not have envisioned. Those things have been thrust upon us so quickly that we have yet to process and adjust to the tidal wave of technological change.

Soon, will come the inevitable social change that stumbles behind technological change. No one really knows or plans the following social change. And so our society and culture meanders unplanned and unguided behind technological innovation like a drunken tech worker on Friday night stumbling towards the glow of his iPhone as Siri tries to guide him to his Uber ride.

One small social change is little ol’ me and what I’m now doing— wandering and existing as a tech nomad, roamin’ homeless, free-range programmer, cybergypsy, wifi surfer, or middle age crisis guy. Various changes have nudged me in that direction. Some forces are facilitating, others are powerful economic forces beyond my control. Let’s examine some of those forces which have nudged me in this direction. Will these forces affect others in the exact same way? I’m not sure, but I think it might because many of the forces are economic in nature.

I will touch on these subjects again here and there later and offer more tangible insights as they occur. But for those who are interested in this adventure or those who may inevitably follow due to social and economic forces of their own, this serves as a starting point of my assumptions and motivations. Things may not work out at planned, but that is why they call this sort of thing an “adventure”.

Join me on this adventure, and I will do my best to keep you entertained, informed, and thinking about your own life’s priorities and opportunities. I’m off to try new things and will report back here periodically with the results.

Ming