The Noble Geek

Patrick McKenzie published an excellent post on What I Would Do If I Ran Tarsnap and I wanted to write a post in response to the Hacker News comments I’ve participated in, over the dialectic of Patrick’s post (that’s a generous word to use when referring to internet based forum discussion).

The key archetype I’m observing in most of the commentary is The Noble Geek. I want to recast this archetype from its shadow representation to its clearer, forceful and enlightened form.

I’ll begin by describing the naive archetype: the belief or idea that in charging users with a profit margin (value based pricing) instead of for cost or low enough profit to live off of you are treating them unethically and contributing to corrupt capitalism and immoral restriction of something valuable to only those that can afford it. Thus you have The Noble Geek, someone with knowledge in an abstruse domain and specialized skill, and a belief that they are serving the 99% or helping to fight against bad capitalism when really, they just have an ill-framed relationship with abundance.

The reciprocal of The Noble Geek is clear and powerful, not powerful in the Jordan Belfort way but in the Elon Musk way (or any entrepreneur noticeably improving the state of society without a buggy money paradigm). Both men allow abundance, one of them had an unhealthy relationship with it — on the opposite end of the extreme to our Noble Geek — and the other has such a healthy relationship that it not only sustainably flows for him but creates more for him and for society (the specific effects I do not want to enumerate here — but they are much more than economic).

Allowing people their beliefs and ideas is important to me so I’d like to state that I don’t believe this difference in paradigm is bad but I do think the expansion of well being, for individuals in contact with a person reifying the demiurge archetype and for society, is much greater when intellectuals and geeks and scientists and engineers allow themselves to be at ease with the acquisition of resources.

By allowing resources to flow to yourself, you enable the efflux of resources to the things that matter to you.

Opensource software, free software, the FSF and GNU: all projects and organizations that are socially and technologically innovative that a large portion of the world’s population benefits from but also doesn’t really know or care about. Even many of the corporations, not lead by geeks, that benefit from this innovation don’t care to support it!

Who are the real supporters in this example? The geeks, engineers, scientists, and intellectuals — these people are at the leading edge of innovation and fuel an enormous amount of economic expansion, yet many of my beloved peers cut themselves off at the knees by believing that money is the root of all evil. News for all of you: money is an abstraction like the computer — evil people do evil things with money and evil people do evil things with computers — good people do so much good with both, both.

What could a Noble Geek with a healthy relationship to money do with their intelligence and (usually) evolved social paradigm? Donate excess income to struggling free software projects? Sponsor an engineer for one of those projects? Donate to the FSF to defend internet and software rights? Have all of their bills paid for so that they could donate their own time to these projects?

That’s the altruistic side of it. What about building another business? Or angel investing in potentially disruptive businesses / founders / engineers? The good that can be had from good people doing powerful work who are aligned with resources, is mind numbing.

This is my ask to all of you: treat money like a machine, like you do a computer. Use it to solve problems, big ones and little ones, instruct it to automate things for you so that you can focus your mind on the issues that really matter in the world. Thinking about housing, food, a broken car, are all impediments — let money handle that for you just like you let Chef handle provisioning a new server for you.