The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

On Patreon and Life (Yes, and Socialism)

| 30 Comments

Some time ago a combination of medical bills, veterinary bills, delayed payments from my publisher, and financial mismanagement landed me in a horrible position.  I woke up in the morning terrified about not being able to afford food (or, worse, tobacco), and spent most of the day trying to put it out of my head, with as much success as you’d guess.   I was over a year behind on rent, which would have been worse if I didn’t have the World’s Most Understanding Landlord, but it weighed on me all the same.

Eventually, Jennifer Slaugh wore me down and convinced me to start a Patreon—just the kind of thing that is naturally difficult for a Minnesotan.

The response was humbling; it seemed there were a lot of people who wanted to help me.  And help me they did.  In a fairly short time, there was enough pledged to make a huge difference in my life.  The day I pulled in that money, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.  I mean, seriously–that day, I sat down and words started tumbling out of my fingertips.  I was no longer terrified.  I could sit there, relax, groove, and just do what I wanted, which was write, which was tell stories.  My gratitude to those who have supported me is too great to express, and I can only hope that the work I do going forward will please them enough for their sacrifice to feel justified.

I am telling you this now for a particular reason.  I was talking to Will Shetterly, relating the story to him in reference to the Patreon that he’s started, and he pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to me: For many of us—I would even think most of us, perhaps nearly all of us–we do not work better because we are terrified about not having enough; on the contrary, many of us work better when we don’t have to fear for our basic necessities, when money is not an issue, or at least not a pressing one.  This is certainly true when our work is not “toil,” that is, the sort of mind-numbing body-killing, soul-destroying labor that provides a paycheck but little or no satisfaction—the kind of work that in a rational society would either be done by machine or not done at all.  For those of us fortunate enough to make a living doing something that gives us satisfaction, it’s different.  I have been much, much more productive since the fear of being broke has been removed.

I am not saying this to ask you to support my Patreon.  On the contrary, right now, I have what I need to keep going, and not be scared, and that’s all I can ask for.  If you’re going to support someone, consider supporting Will, because I, like all right-thinking people, want to see more of his fiction.  I’m saying that those who think people (and they always seem to mean “other people”) have be kept in a state of financial terror or they won’t do anything are, not to put too fine a point on it, full of crap.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

30 Comments

  1. This wanders off the beaten path for discussions with you, Steve, but I have to bring up Alfie Kohn and the psychology research he’s collected. It backs up your point: when we take away negative and even, interestingly enough, positive incentives for people to work and give them autonomy they tend to be most productive.

    I can’t do the ideas justice, but if you’re not already familiar with his writings and the mood strikes check out his books at a library. The content is fascinating. The writing style is dry, though. He could benefit a few lessons in engaging writing. If only I knew someone skilled at that. Hmm… I’m sure the name will come to mind if I think about it for a bit. But I digress.

    I’m glad your situation has improved.

  2. Fear and greed are the primary tools of capitalism. There are all too many people (who are indeed full of all too much crap) who think that fear and greed are the only ways to motivate people.

    People want to do things. Removing fear unleashes the potential to do things of interest.

    Patreon and the other small scale funding resources (kickstarter, etc) are good things to have in the environment we find ourselves in. Of course, it would be great to live in a society where we didn’t need to rely on semi-random ad hoc features to stave off terror. If only there were a way to build that into the system.

  3. Guaranteed Basic Income would be a brilliant concession by the masters to prop up the current, dying system and would free up tons of creativity and productivity as skzb aptly described. But I think they are too wedded to their “work yourself to the bone or starve” mindset to give GBI a try.

  4. skzb

    Steve and Kragar: Yes and yes.

  5. With GBI I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t do anything visibly good. Some of them would just do the minimum it took to get their drugs.

    People who object to anybody getting away with anything would be infuriated by that. They wouldn’t notice the highly visible things done by a minority of the people who depended on GBI.

    I don’t know what to do about people like that.

  6. Jonah:Define “a lot” and the relationship to some in your sentance. I would guess there would be a very few who “just took drugs”and “a few” would equate to less than 1%. In states that have tested welfare recipients for drugs, that has generally been the outcome.
    The myth that welfare recipients only do X where X is “buy drugs” or iPhones or name your poison, appears to be a myth.

    A lot of people don’t notice a lot of things done by a very few people who really should be noticed. Van Gogh would be a classic example. Allowing current marketplaces to value the potential total worth of the activities an individual is engaged in is yet another flaw of capitalism.

  7. With respect to drug use, a common cause of use and addiction is mental illness. So a better medical system would reduce the problem. And to go back a step earlier, mental illness is often caused by stress from a lack of medical care or from financial concerns. So universal health care and GBI are a one-two punch to reduce drug use.

    But further, it’s cheaper to pay a drug addict to stay home and get high than to have them steal or commit robbery to fund their habit, go through prosecution, and live in prison. So being “tough on drug users” isn’t just needlessly puritan, it’s also an economically inefficient way to handle the problem.

    GBI is a hard fight because our economy is built on cheap labor. An awful lot of money the oligarchs should have never possessed will have to go into it, either in terms of tax to fund it or higher wages to people who are no longer forced to work for peanuts under demeaning conditions.

  8. “Define “a lot” and the relationship to some in your sentance.”

    By “A lot” I mean people who have not yet had their 15 minutes of fame.

    By “some” I mean enough to get the media to pay attention to them, and for conservative pundits to blow it way out of proportion.

    I agree with Mike S. that if you can’t do something really useful about addiction, it’s better to arrange that the victims be warehoused in some way that keeps them from causing a lot of trouble. GBI would assist with that, with completely minimal attention.

    “So being “tough on drug users” isn’t just needlessly puritan, it’s also an economically inefficient way to handle the problem.”

    Agreed. But people who want to make sure nobody gets away with anything are willing to pay a lot of other people’s money to keep it from happening.

  9. The “poor”, “drug addicts”, “welfare recipients”… yes, the first step in demonizing the idea of distributing the products of a society to everyone that needs them is to dehumanize a segment of that society, so the rest can feel superior and justified in denying them what they need. There is no reason to accept that framing and do the oligarchs work for them.

    “Drug users” are human beings that also happen to use drugs. That includes anyone that takes prescription pyschopharmaceuticals, drinks coffee, drinks alcohol, smokes tobacco or marijuana– more or less everyone. Identifying some of us as criminals or moral degenerates is the work or a justice system designed with oppression as its goal. Why are heroin, cocaine, and, in most places still, marijuana illegal drugs whose users are jailed? It isn’t because they are more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco, which kill 8.5 million people a year. It’s because they were popular with a segment of the population that the ruling class wanted to oppress.

    “Some of them would just do the minimum it took to get their drugs.” accepts that framework, that users of the wrong drugs are somehow less than the rest of us. You might as well say that paying any wages at all just encourages the lazy to do the minimum it takes to earn their coffee, or their after work beer, or their morning bagel. Do you think William S. Burroughs didn’t deserve to live? How about Hemingway? Once they had their drugs, did they manage to do anything visibly good? How about Freud, Chopin, Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, Edison? Now I admit, some of the names on that list were assholes, but you can’t say that any of them sat around the house not contributing.

    If your goal is really to maximize the contribution everyone makes to society, then removing the stress and fear of poverty is the most logical step.

  10. Alcohol and tobacco being more dangerous depends on what danger one’s referring to. Pure physical health? General well-being? Psychologically?

    There’s a way to think of this as what’s on one’s “Things Most Important to Me” list. Tobacco, alcohol, caffeine… what percentage of users have “My next cig/drink/latte” higher than say, “My contributions to society” or “My family”? Compare that to heroin or crack. “My next fix” is medalling on the lists of the vast majority of users.

    What’s more of a problem? I don’t know, but oxy is no morning bagel, and the average opioid or crack addict is no Chopin.

    “If your goal is really to maximize the contribution everyone makes to society, then removing the stress and fear of poverty is the most logical step.”

    I’d think making sure contributions are recognized and rewarded fairly and consistently would be number one. I agree with this too, however.

  11. In the context of the typical conversations here, perhaps it might be most useful to ask the question: Who is most unfairly taking advantage of society as it is currently constituted? As I see it, the vast majority of rich people do not, in all fairness, *deserve* to be rich.

  12. larswyrdson–

    I like the way you write, but I love the way you think. Thanks for your contributions here.

  13. Kragar- ummm, thanks! I always look for your posts too.

    Nathan- even if you think opioids are inherently more dangerous than alcohol (and I have to say, the science might not be on your side) what is the best way to make sure that users aren’t a drain on society? Criminalization isn’t it. That just assures that a user is marginalized, shamed, driven to break laws, separated from their family safety nets, barred from employment, forced to spend every waking moment planning that next fix rather than putting mental energy into anything else.

    People use drugs for a lot of reasons, always have. Not everyone who uses ends up with a substance use disorder, not even with tobacco, and not everyone with a disorder is completely disabled by it. You want to reduce drug addiction? How about universal health care driven by results, not profits. Remove the incentive for doctors to over prescribe opioids, include free treatment for anyone struggling with dependence, and, this is key, universally available mental health care for people who will otherwise have to try to self-medicate.

  14. Oh, I’m for legalization of softer and decriminalization of (the use, not distribution of) harder drugs. I think that carrots overwhelmingly work better than sticks. I also agree that healthcare of the poor, especially in regards to mental health, needs to be better.

    However, certain drugs tend to drain a person’s soul (for lack of a better phrase) in ways that others don’t. A question like ‘what’s more dangerous’ seems like more of an unspecific moral judgement/interpretation question than a scientific one, hence my response with this angle.

  15. Nathan- Fair enough! I don’t know anything about souls, but it is pretty easy to compare how many people are killed by one drug or another. The legal ones kill more than their share.

    Mitigation of harm is more important in matters of health than moral judgments, I think. Or mitigation of harm should be the highest ethical concern? However you want to look at it.

  16. @Nathan S.,
    I support decriminalization of distribution and legalization of it. If it’s criminal to distribute, the price will still be artificially high and it compounds a lot of the related problems – theft and robbery to support an addiction, inability to cover other expenses, and so forth.

    Alcohol is utterly soul-draining. It’s not legal because it’s useful or valuable, it’s legal because criminalizing it caused more damage than it fixed. Heroin, crack, and everything else that wrecks lives is no different.

    The War on Drugs has been a cover for racism – since blacks get harsher sentences on drug crimes than whites. It’s been a funnel to the prison-industrial complex, a source of millions of cheap laborers used by corporations. And almost as bad it’s a dog-and-pony show for politicians. They can shift focus away from real issues like reproductive rights, economic treatment, and universal health care with discussions of crime policy and funding police and the DEA and job creation through prisons and so forth.

  17. Mike S.: “Alcohol is utterly soul-draining. It’s not legal because it’s useful or valuable, it’s legal because criminalizing it caused more damage than it fixed.”

    Alcohol has much more utility and popularity (for myriad reasons) than heroin or cocaine, and that is precisely why the pushback to the 18th was so pronounced in a way unrivaled by any other reactions to prohibitions of the time. And I’d hardly call something the vast majority of consumers use regularly as anything from social lubricant to relaxing diversion with little to no ill effect ‘utterly soul-draining’.

    “Heroin, crack, and everything else that wrecks lives is no different.”

    Different in the reaction to prohibition, or different in the effect on lives? I’ve addressed the former above. If the latter, are you suggesting that if heroin and crack were legalized, the rate of users that become addicted to the point of self (and others’) destruction would be equivalent to alcohol’s current rate? I find that extremely difficult to believe, although there’s an argument to be made that the people who are willing to risk the consequences of seeking out these drugs are more predisposed to be life-alteringly addicted to them.

    And I’m sorry but I can’t stop thinking of this: https://youtu.be/uUPHlAbAf2I?t=13

  18. This is all veering away from the larger topic that Steve raised and from my point that the framing of the poor and otherwise needy as morally inadequate is a tactic to invalidate their deserving help, but…

    I am not an expert in substance use disorders, but from all I have read, if you actually want to decrease the societal damage of substance misuse, criminalizing behavior, denying health care and financial support, and stigmatizing people with substance use problems are not the way to go. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

    Education is what lowers usage rates. Reducing the stress of poverty is what lowers usage rates. Improving access to mental health care decreases usage rates. Harsh jail terms don’t.

  19. “it is pretty easy to compare how many people are killed by one drug or another. The legal ones kill more than their share.”

    Being legal, they get used more.

    “what is the best way to make sure that users aren’t a drain on society? Criminalization isn’t it. That just assures that a user is marginalized, shamed, driven to break laws, separated from their family safety nets, barred from employment, forced to spend every waking moment planning that next fix rather than putting mental energy into anything else.”

    Yes, but what are the downsides?

    Society is set up with a class system where people can do things to raise their class some, or they can drop back. It’s a giant competition, people constantly competing and scheming to get ahead.

    The point of criminalizing drug use isn’t to make things better for drug users. It’s to make it completely clear that they have lost their social status and are no competition to the other competitors.

    Caffeine is an accepted drug because it theoretically makes people better workers. There’s no social stigma about that one at all.

    The others — if you can do them after hours and it doesn’t affect your work at all, then you can still compete. If your work or social interactions suffer, then you’re circling the drain.

    When there’s only room for so many successful people, anything that clearly defines somebody as a failure is a plus.

    And It’s possible that many drug addicts are not addicts because the drug has got them. Maybe they are addicts because they just don’t want to pressure of competing, and find a socially-defined route to get themselves declared as failures.

  20. skzb

    larswyrdson
    19 October 2018 at 8:43 am: Yes, yes, and yes. Also, sustained applause. And what Kragar said.

  21. Jonah:
    “When there’s only room for so many successful people”

    Unless you’ve got a super-high bar for “successful”, we are LONG past the point where there is plenty to go around for everyone. The problem is that the wealth isn’t going around, it’s being concentrated more and more.

    I wish more people knew elementary game theory, especially the concept of a non-zero-sum game.

  22. “Unless you’ve got a super-high bar for “successful”, we are LONG past the point where there is plenty to go around for everyone.”

    Not so! We still have enough for everyone, and we might still have enough for the next 20 years or more.

    But isn’t the society set up as a competition, where there are winners and losers, and people are expected to compete? Independent of whether there’s enough to go around.

  23. Jonah:I believe Alexx meant that yes there is plenty to go around but it is not being distributed.

    It also appears that you are agreeing with this and asking about the state of the current system.

    Yes, Capitalism nominally involves competition. However, the current system fails in producing competitive distribution in several ways.
    A) While there is plenty, there is not an infinite amount of the means of producing and then distributing that plenty. Thus, individuals end up controlling an ever increasing amount of the limited means of production/distribution and then they use that control to further limit future competition against themselves.

    B) Since individuals get to select to whom they pass on the control of production/distribution, there is never any chance that competitive interests gain control and so non-competitive monopoly power gets increasingly concentrated.

  24. Steve: I agree with all that. My point is that the society is based on people competing on their levels, and scrabbling to rise to a “higher” level.

    When people are intensely competing to stay middle-class, they don’t mind so much if drug users cannot continue to be middle-class.

    Except if it’s housewives whose MDs addicted them, then it isn’t their own fault and they deserve treatment and forgiveness.

    Something like that.

  25. I would agree that American society pays *lip service* to the notion of competition as a good. And I even agree that, in many contexts, competition can improve society. But a lot of the “competition” going on now is of the sort “which incredibly rich non-human entity can most effectively drain value from the mass of people”. And a lot of the remaining examples of competition are designed to make imdividual people “compete” in such a way that, no matter which of them “wins”, some giant corporation profits more than both of them put together. I argue that these forms of “competition” are actively bad for society.

    I also would not say that society is “based on” competition. Indeed, I would argue the opposite: Society is based on *cooperation*. That’s what society IS — people working together, for the common good.

  26. Alexx:Yes, exactly. A society is formed from cooperation.
    A focus upon competition is what the holders of all of the capital want everyone else to do. Divide and enslave.

  27. “And a lot of the remaining examples of competition are designed to make imdividual people “compete” in such a way that, no matter which of them “wins”, some giant corporation profits more than both of them put together. I argue that these forms of “competition” are actively bad for society.”

    Agreed.

  28. I learned this the hard way myself when I was trying to make a living full time as an artist. There were times when I amazed myself by seemingly pulling $$ out of my ass to pay bills, but I was no longer producing work that I found meaningful. Stress does not inspire creativity in me at all.

    Peace, love and happiness are better motivators. Stress and worry take up too much energy and distract from creativity. So now I support folks via Patreon so I can give them a little peace of mind so they can write and make music.

  29. Absolutely fascinating discussion. Thank you all for sharing it!

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