Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Leaving a mark

Most people in all of human history didn't leave much of a mark. The greatest, longest lasting contribution for most of them was simply having children.

So it's actually rather arrogant, but goes well if you have the ambition, to try and make it your life goal to leave a big mark somehow. This drive isn't a bad thing, without it much progress would not have been made.

But one shouldn't feel bad if one lacks the drive. We don't all need to save the world, we don't all need to fill our every waking hour trying to make some difference. It's ok if you do no better than the average human ancestor in the last few hundred thousand years -- it's ok to do rather worse, too. And if you don't plan to have kids, or don't see that happening for other reasons, you probably will do worse. Fine.

Even for those of us without kids, society offers a straightforward way to be net-positive with our time on this earth: work. At least a bit. Enough to overshadow the support of others, if you can, but certainly it's not evil to be dependent. For most of history, half of all humans were rather dependent on men. That half still worked in various ways, and even if you could argue some (even among the men) were not net-positive, their labors still left a mark, even if not long lasting. Working now will do the same.

Most ancestors since ~10k years ago were sustenance farmers, but even in the hunter-gatherer days people's work was mostly identical to providing for themselves and their family. The marks left by the work itself was mostly in supporting the bigger mark of children. A few geniuses left bigger marks, like the pyramids. Nowadays, we live much higher than at sustenance levels, we can work and many jobs offer high return on effort where a mere 8 hours 5 days a week is enough to support the necessitates of yourself and any family.

Work leaves a mark. It may not be long lasting, but if someone paid you for it, there is some value there that is realized when the work is complete. Even if you stop working, as everyone eventually does, the fruits of your past work happened and can't be retroactively rescinded.

If you have a bright idea to start a niche website selling, for example, bingo card templates to various organizations (schools, libraries, religious groups, or even the head of a large family), complete most of the labor within several months, sell the business for a cool few million, it's perfectly ok to be done with work. You may not have left a big mark through work, but it was enough of one to enable you to retire. That's great. And perhaps you'll find ways to leave more marks through interesting spending decisions, but you don't have to, you've already landed pretty far out relative to human history. Have a few kids and you'll probably be well above average, if you care.

Many die without leaving a mark at all, most common if they were young. Their existence was still something precious.

Posted on 2023-12-20 by Jach

Tags: philosophy


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