Teaching People to Fish

When people tell me that Cartesian systems are optimized, I want to laugh. Of course they are, but we’ve optimized for the bits we know about. We’ve focused on optimization of output, not on optimization of adaptability. And the Quest for the Upper Right Quadrant (aka Capitalism, aka the Singularity, aka any overly simplistic idea of infinite growth and eventual overall simplicity) is always about output. In systems in which the power distribution is also hierarchical (aka, the ones we’ve got), people are not empowered to deviate from set tasks to cover those unknown parts. This is why the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship is so fraught. To some, it’s about empowering for adaptability and connection, for gap filling. For others, it’s about hurry up faster to that upper right.

Which brings us to this article I referenced a bit ago as abhorrent.

The following comments are worth looking at, as well.

Please Do Not Teach This Woman to Fish

After all, which economy is more productive — one in which every single person is an entrepreneur, or one in which a minority of entrepreneurs employ the majority of people?

To understand why, consider a common-sense question: How big can a business be in a rural village? There aren’t many customers there, and incomes aren’t very high either. A business would have to serve several villages to start creating jobs in any significant numbers. Now, consider rural women with families. They may be reliable repayers of loans, but they’re much less mobile than single men. Single men can move to cities, or at least cover a lot of ground in the countryside, in an effort to win new customers.

Of course, these jobs won’t always go to the rural women helped by microfinance programs. Microfinance programs may be one of the best ways to help them, short of having their children take jobs in cities. Nor are these jobs necessarily the ones that fulfill the social goals in the mission statements of Western nonprofit organizations. But they are the kinds of jobs that brought hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and could someday do the same for Indians, Haitians, and Congolese. In these countries, the quickest way to escape poverty is likely to be via bus to the nearest city for a manufacturing job. Hundreds of millions of economic migrants know this, but so-called antipoverty experts are just beginning to understand it.

Two things in this that bring out my “are you fucking kidding me” reaction.

  1. I find it distracting and ridiculous when untenable living situations are equated to financial poverty, and focus only on the funds, not on the conditions which the funds MIGHT alleviate. It’s possible to work and still be miserable. Wage labor rant. Being slowly crushed by capitalism (or communism!) rant. Capitalism is but one way to attempt to interact, not the only way. Sure, it’s good at propagating ideas quickly, at fast iteration, etc, but too often it leads to:
  2. The idea that we have a hierarchy as a necessity in any business. That there are employers, and there are those who do the shit jobs to keep things running. We are all humans, we are all equal, and it is just as possible to find joy and honor (or misery and bitterness) in driving a taxi or gutting fish as it is to find the same in leading a multinational business or making the internet work. To insist otherwise is to discredit the experience of millions (billions?) of people. To want to reinforce the idea that those jobs are actual shit is to actively demean everyone doing them.

No business, organization, relationship is dependent upon power structures being in place, where some work is “more important” than other work. A business, organization, and relationship where all parties are encouraged and expected to examine, innovate, and contribute is one which is adaptable and successful. It is one which is scalable in a complex and networked world. So yes, teach that woman to fish. Better yet, ask her to teach you. She’ll catch more than you ever will, with all your business and economics training.