05 August 2016

Why is it so hard to think about something that I’ve been deprived of? Maybe because unless I’ve experienced the new perspective, I don’t realize I’ve been missing it? What have I been missing?

Well, for one part - I was not exposed to much education about how to be successful in life and how to negotiate. I’ve been living with the impression that I simply need to do a good job. The way I’ve always imagined achieving success is to work harder, do better job, and get paid more. And that has worked so far. By the book. I’ve done a good job of solving math problems in high school and qualified to participate in IMO. I’ve done good job applying to universities and entered MIT. I’ve done good job studying computer science and gotten a well-paying job. I’ve eventually improved on the job and gotten a raise. I’ve noted the pattern - I improve my skill and get rewarded for it.

But is this how most successful people came to be? No. This is how highly paid professionals came to be, but not how world leaders came to be. Not to say that they didn’t develop mastery in their fields. They did. But they went beyond that and figured out how to best extract value from this mastery. How to sell their skills. They didn’t fully rely that there will be a market for their outstanding skills. Nope. By definition, if their skill is rare and extraordinary, it will be unique and there wouldn’t be a market for it.

Mavericks will develop amazing mastery in something just to see that nobody will reward them for it. Nobody rewarded Van Gogh during his life about pushing the state of the art. Only after his death, his relatives figured out how to present his work in a way that it attracts attention. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t know of his genius.

For me, as get better and better at my professional job, I eventually will reach a ceiling if don’t learn how to present my work in a appealing way. Achieving mastery is a prerequisite but it is not enough. Mastery multiplies by salesmanship. This has been a truth that I had lived without knowing. All my life I’ve proceeded happily about my business, without feeling that I’m missing out.

To put it in nerdy terms - I’ve been descending only along one dimension of the success gradient.

Sometimes privilege is about knowing certain truths and strategies about life, which you can only learn from other privileged people. They might be hard to discover for ourselves by chance. We as humans are pretty bad at imagining things we haven’t experienced before. New cuisine tastes, the feeling of bunjee jumping, the freedom of not needing to work. We are born without knowing how these taste, and unless we experience them, we never learn them.

Oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if everybody could taste all experiences and decide for themselves what kind of life they want to have! And then have to knowledge and skills to achieve it. And achieve it in the best way that doesn’t stop others from having their best life? Yes, it would be wonderful, but it’s a dream. There are powerful forces working against it.

These are not necessarily explicit forces such as a conspiracy organization, trying to control the people. I think these forces stem from unavoidable mathematical and economical limitations to the availability of tasting variety in life. I think that these mathematical necessities induce the creation of control schemes such as government, education system and religion. These, explicit and overt systems set a frame for the society in which to distribute the goods and the experiences. When the society is weak and poor, these systems form its backbone and keep it from collapsing. Without these systems the society will devolve into anarchy, violence, and disorder. Until a strong force comes and takes over - either from within or from outside.

In the happy case, these systems work well and make the society stronger and richer. However, these systems like to preserve themselves even after they’ve solved the problem they were designed to solve and are no longer needed. The reason for this is that these systems always favor a certain group of people over the others. Patricians and plebians, academics vs uneducated people, men vs women, citizen of one country versus another. When a system fixes a problem and creates surplus of experiences, the group of people who were benefiting so far stands to lose their advantage. If the system is replaced by a more fair system, these people may lose some of their exclusivity and surplus. In the long run, they might benefit from a system change, but in the short term they stand to lose their privilege. They fight back and try to preserve the current system in which they reap the benefits.

If the suppressed group can see the benefits that are available but not given, it will fight. Socially, legally, even violently. Either side may win so there is a risk for the dominating group.

The dominating group doesn’t want this risk, so they naturally keep the benefits hidden. If the suppressed group doesn’t realize they are missing out, they will not fight. Thus, the dominating group often wins the fight before it even happens.

Certain benefits are harder to hide. In those cases, the dominating group can provide some other small unrelated benefit to the other group making the other group more comfortable and complacent, without sacrificing its dominant position.

It is the game of classes. Similar to the game of thrones, but involving entire groups of populations and a lot more time. And this game can be played without necessarily involving much of ill will between the classes. Everybody works for their interests and the interests of the dominating groups are to stay dominating.

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