As I was reading through the various articles lauding Steve Jobs, I stumbled over one in Gawker that, essentially, called him a fat cat industrialist who was rich and was inferior in meaning and in purose to another fellow who had died the same day, a minister who had devoted himself to a life of sacrifice to make others lives better. It was a provocative article and it made me think...
I think everyone agrees that making the world a better place for others is a laudable goal. A life well lived. A life of meaning. How should we measure this?
Should we measure it by how much one has sacrificed or should we measure it by how much one has made others lives better?
Is "sacrifice" all that it is cracked up to be? Is sacrifice laudable if it does NOT accomplish the goal of making others lives better? Does 'sacrifice' in and of itself make the world better?
I don't think so.
Take a man who has a blueberry pie. He shares it with his various neighbors, leaving none for himself. He has fed his neighbors for a short time, and dies of starvation in the process.
Take another man who bakes blueberry pies. He trades his pies with his neighbors for what they have to offer... one makes bread, another candles... or, even, God Forbid, evil MONEY, the stuff we use to exchange blueberry pies for bread, candles and other things we need but the other guy doesn't necessarily have, although the guy down the road, who doesn't want blueberry pie actually DOES have. In any case, he feeds the whole town blueberry pie for a long time.
Who has done more Good? From an objective standard of having people eat, the baker has done more societal good. Of course, this depends on the others in the town doing what THEY do best in exchange for unlimited blueberry pie.
What if the baker gets filthy rich and gorges on blueberry pie every day? In other words, his blueberry pie is so popular that more people want to eat it than the average of what other people want to consume? His product is in more of a demand than others? Is he eating more than "his fair share"? Should he quit selling blueberry pie?
He has still done more objective good, because he has fed more folks for a longer period of time, and those folks willingly gave him more of a share of the collective labor because of it. It is "sustainable". This sustainability is based on others doing work making or doing things that others want to trade for. If too many don't do anything valuable enough to support themselves, then the system changes from Producer to Consumer. This is unsustainable.
Sustainability is Noble, Unsustainability is Not Noble. Actually, it is venal.
Our goals should be to make others sustainable and contributors. Those are noble efforts. They make us all contributing members of the tribe. Efforts to make the tribe unsustainable are fundamentally destructive.