Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:
One of the major surprises I received when I moved out of childhood into the real world, was the degree to which the world is stratified by genuine competence.
Now, yes, Steve Jurvetson is not just a randomly selected big-name venture capitalist. He is a big-name VC who often shows up at transhumanist conferences. But I am not drawing a line through just one data point.
I was invited once to a gathering of the mid-level power elite, where around half the attendees were “CEO of something” – mostly technology companies, but occasionally “something” was a public company or a sizable hedge fund. I was expecting to be the youngest person there, but it turned out that my age wasn’t unusual – there were several accomplished individuals who were younger. This was the point at which I realized that my child prodigy license had officially completely expired.
Now, admittedly, this was a closed conference run by people clueful enough to think “Let’s invite Eliezer Yudkowsky” even though I’m not a CEO. So this was an incredibly cherry-picked sample. Even so…
Even so, these people of the Power Elite were visibly much smarter than average mortals. In conversation they spoke quickly, sensibly, and by and large intelligently. When talk turned to deep and difficult topics, they understood faster, made fewer mistakes, were readier to adopt others’ suggestions.
No, even worse than that, much worse than that: these CEOs and CTOs and hedge-fund traders, these folk of the mid-level power elite, seemed happier and more alive.
This, I suspect, is one of those truths so horrible that you can’t talk about it in public. This is something that reporters must not write about, when they visit gatherings of the power elite.
Because the last news your readers want to hear, is that this person who is wealthier than you, is also smarter, happier, and not a bad person morally. Your reader would much rather read about how these folks are overworked to the bone or suffering from existential ennui. Failing that, your readers want to hear how the upper echelons got there by cheating, or at least smarming their way to the top. If you said anything as hideous as, “They seem more alive,” you’d get lynched.
Worth quoting, I think, especially in an era where much redistributionist logic stems from an assumption that money and ability have little relation.
We all have different goals in life, and some, like I, choose to do something out of love or reverence and perhaps a shot at greatness. In doing so, we often renounce the opportunity of doing something else that might have led to more money. However, it is important that we do not confuse this voluntary decision with some sort of moral superiority. There is nothing wrong with the fact that people with more money have better healthcare, better food, better recreation and better opportunities in life. Money may not be a perfect denomination, but it is the best that exists. And there is nothing more important, in these troubled days, to reaffirm the morality of a world that deals in it and rewards some more than others.
Let me end this post with an excerpt from a glorious passage by Ayn Rand, who expresses this idea more eloquently than I ever can.
To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a COUNTRY OF MONEY—and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being—the self-made man—the American industrialist.
If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose—because it contains all the others—the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to MAKE money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity—to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted, or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality.
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