On Monday, John Scalzi posted an excellent piece, deconstructing the idea of a “self-made man” (and here I had the impulse to write “self-made person,” which is funny, because generally, many of the people who believe in Self-Made as a brand seem to think of it only in male terms) through a concise analysis of his own life, and the people who helped him along the way.
Because he was writing in a clever, artful way, Scalzi didn’t say what I’m about to say now: There’s no such thing as a self-made person. To paraphrase Scalzi, at a very minimum, two people had to push their DNA together to make a new person. Beyond that, there are other broad problems with claiming to be self-made, especially when we’re talking about economic success:
-If you are speaking English, or one of the many other languages we feature here on planet Earth, you are using a system of communication that you did not create. Same goes for telecommunications systems, and, really, the whole idea of communication, which depends heavily on someone else being at the other end to hear your drivel.
-If you are using money, perhaps to measure the quality of your self-madeness, you are using a system that you did not create. From printing money, to moving money between institutions, to economic theory, to the markets themselves, there are huge swaths of economics that you did not create, and on which your success depends.
-If you are running a business, you need other people to supply labor, services, infrastructure, a customer base, etc., before you can do anything big. I’m interested in the pathology of the idea that somehow paying other people for labor, services, or infrastructure flattens out their contribution to your success and makes it invisible. Unless you are Paul Bunyan, you can’t build that interstate system with just your two hands.
-If you have any sort of education, public, private, home-schooled, or otherwise, you have taken in ideas from people and smashed them together with ideas from other people. The very idea of education is that you don’t come pre-equipped with all the knowledge you need, that you are, by nature, an incomplete person, who needs a little help to reach your potential.
-Somebody taught you how to wipe your own ass after taking a dump.
None of this is to say that you aren’t integral to your own success in directing money toward yourself. The point is that it’s all symbiotic. You need other people, other people need you.
At the risk of beating the deadest of all horses, we’re all in this together.