Living & Working

Purpose Over Profit

May 7, 2014

Is Wikipedia more useful than the Encyclopedia Britannica?

It’s a difficult question to answer, with many ‘depends’. But there are a couple of factors which say that it is:

  • It’s free to access;
  • It gives people a hobby – editing and writing;
  • It creates discussions on topics, and foments different views.

All these factors emerge from Wikipedia’s nature as a Free (public, open source) encyclopaedia, with many uses being made of it that weren’t in the original plan, but might have been catered for, if nothing else, by the way it was built.

Wikipedia is an example of Purpose Over Profit, which means that it employs as few people, and raises as little money, as it takes to carry out its job.

The people who write and edit Wikipedia do it because it’s a free, accessible resource that they want to help build and be a part of (and boss others around and delete stuff they don’t agree with). They don’t do it for monetary reward.

The problem with money

You’re looking at that heading and saying: ‘how long is this section going to be’, right? But the problem I’m thinking of is the one whereby money creates its own focus. This focus is at the expense of everything else, even if you don’t realise it.

I’ve found that, while trying to be creative and come up with cool things that people might like to look at, to read, I’m constantly pulled between one thing and the next by an analysis of which one will make money. Which one will justify the time I spend on it?

The key word in that last sentence is: justify. I’m trying to justify things on the basis of money, not on the basis of the thing itself. This naturally creates a conflict between the activity and the aim, and leads to failure.

There are many lucky people who do jobs where this is not so true: the more you act, play football, write songs, the more money you should make because you’re getting better at it. Get worse at it, and the money goes. Whereas, for the likes of Buzzfeed writers, the more work they do, the more money comes in, even though it’s doing society very little good compared to Wikipedia and its ilk.

The result is that we get bombarded with things which do us very little good, because their very existence makes someone, somewhere, some money.

The alternative: National Allowance

Political parties on both sides of the spectrum (for different reasons) support giving all citizens an unconditional income, whether they’re employed or not.

It wouldn’t be a large income – it would still be more profitable for a person to work – but it would be enough to live on frugally if you needed to. It would likely ensure you had a roof over your head, but there’d be no plasma screen TVs or a Porsche in the driveway.

This would enable people to choose how to live their life. For someone like me, I could spend time finding the perfect balance between an income and doing what I want to do, or I could dedicate myself to my Historic Liverpool website and the novel I’ve been wrestling with for a couple of years.

The main benefit would be: my motivation would become intrinsic to the activity. I’d be doing it for the sake of doing it, for Purpose Over Profit. People might not be interested in the novel, or the website, but that is no longer a gamble I need to take. I’m no worse off afterwards for having done something creative for the benefit of others. Maybe I’d even have time to contribute to Wikipedia.

Side benefit: the environment

Maybe you’re not (right now) desperate to show the world your project. Maybe you just want a quiet life of contemplation, of a bit of travel, get to know others, help the community. Maybe you’re the kind of person who just wants to keep their head down and get on with things.

But at the moment, you need a job just to stay alive. You need to commute, or have a computer, upgrade it, buy fuel, take holidays just to avoid the crushing numbness of full-time employment which you don’t want. But removing the money motive destroys this extra and unnecessary pressure on the environment, on resources.

Then we can just get on with our lives on our terms, rather than whoring ourselves out to companies we disagree with. I mean, that woman who recorded the PPI message that oozes down your phoneline knew what she was getting paid for, right? And she was fine with that? Perhaps ‘fine enough’, where employment is concerned.

We can let the bankers and multinational CEOs get on with their crazy schemes, for whom money is not a life-essential resource but a score card between themselves. Our lives shouldn’t be more mean just because they need to wave their private jets in each others’ faces. A National Allowance would separate their financial web from ours, and give us back the control we deserve.

But, money is power. How do we get money from the powerful, if the powerful believe in keeping it for themselves? Well, time and energy are money too, and so therefore are also power. If we want to withhold our time and energy from the powerful, until they give us the small slice we want, then there will be a way.