The profit police are as old as eternity, but insidious as the devil. They threaten to steal our happiness, to sour us with envy, hatred, and guilt. Their orthodoxy is codified in institutional policies all over the world. They kill everyone. They are us.
Profit is not just money. Profit is also prestige, notoriety, and mere exposure. The profit police take keeping up with the Joneses to the extreme. They tell us that promoting our names or starting a business is selfish, greedy, and wrong. They are responsible for the professionalization of jobs that have no business being bureaucratized. They create sad terms like vanity press, as though not having a book approved by a committee makes the author an egotistical lunatic. Their influence starts with us, at the micro level.
The Junior Anti-Profit League is alive and well on the forums of the Internet. Well-meaning adults persist with policies of “no advertising, no self-promotion, no links to your website, no ‘commercialism.'” They cry foul at affiliate links, for no reason further than to stifle the success of their users (my photography articles are proudly littered with them). Brilliant computer-programmers publish free software with the clause, “no commercial use,” as if every dollar earned with the help of their applications comes straight from their wallets. As if profit is bad. As if the very act of seeking prosperity—called the American Dream by many—is the bane of humanity. Run the phrase, “free for non-commercial use” through Google, and you get 264,000 web pages, all of people afraid of something.
What are they afraid of? The success of others. Why are they afraid of it? Because they perceive that it diminishes themselves. We all do this. Charles Wheelan, financial blogger, elaborates:
“There’s a very interesting strain of economic research showing that our sense of well-being is determined more by our relative wealth than by our absolute wealth.
In other words, we care less about how much money we have than we do about how much money we have relative to everyone else. In a fascinating survey, Cornell economist Robert Frank found that a majority of Americans would prefer to earn $100,000 while everyone else earns $85,000, rather than earning $110,000 while everyone else earns $200,000.
Think about it: People would prefer to have less stuff, as long as they have more stuff than the neighbors.”
This scales down to the minute level. I am guilty of it myself. When I opened my website, I set my Google AdSense advertising up to filter ads for other photographers. I stopped doing this after a week, realizing how silly it is. But the fact is that fear of the success of others is a subconscious human response. It’s also irrational. Another’s persons success is not my loss, no matter how it may seem.
I’ve had my own encounter with The Profit Police as of yesterday. If you’ve read The Thievery of richardxthripp, you know of my rush to secure my name on the popular blogging, photography, and social networking websites after richardxthripp.blogspot.com was claimed by spammers. One of the sites I registered for was 43 Things, a destination for sharing your life’s goals with the world. I’ve admired their community for a while, so I added to the discussion to help others with two things I’ve done, and to drive visitors to my website:
I added to the goal, have a blog:
“I’ve done this now. Set up my blog for my photography: Brilliant Photography by Richard X. Thripp. Started three months ago, but it’s an ongoing project. I’m using WordPress as my blogging software; it’s worth it to have your own domain name so you aren’t tied to any third party.”
And, sharing my knowledge on playing the piano:
“Playing the piano is a great hobby for reflection, mental and finger dexterity, appreciating music, and enjoying with others. I’ve been playing since ten; here’s a performance from January.
What I don’t buy, is that you have to start when you’re young. Plenty of adults learn to type quickly (with our newfound reliance on computers), yet that takes dexterity, skill, and practice, like piano. And also—you can look at your fingers while playing. You may come to memorize a song just from working on it a lot, and then begin watching your fingers so you don’t miss the keys; don’t fight it.”
Don’t bother looking for my entries; they’ve been vaporized now, along with my page. I’m alive in the Google cache for now: have a blog, play the piano (2008-07-31 Update: now removed). Little did I read that they have a policy against my kind of writing:
“43 Things is for personal use only. If you sell or promote products, services or yourself through your 43 Things page, we will suspend your account.”
So promoting yourself is not personal use? Sure, if you own a social network you can enact whatever rules they want, but that doesn’t mean you should. This is the cowardly, suicidal behavior that profit policing drives us to. It is cowardly because it sweeps under the rug the work of others, as if the publisher deserves no credit for his insights. It is suicidal because it destroys discussions and useful information at the fear of others’ gain, reducing morale and alienating users.
I used to release my stock photographs with a license that said “no commercial use.” It took me months to finally give it up. The question: What if someone gets rich from using the resources I provide? They’d be earning money off my hard work! The answer: So what? This is not a Reversi game, where every acquisition by your opponent is an equal blow to you. 200 A’s do not necessitate 200 F’s. Life is not a zero-sum game. It’s time we stopped playing it as one.