Factpinion Anecdote #1: "But Where's the Money in it?"

So what are factpinions? Put simply, they are opinions masquerading as fact. Obviously there's more to it than that, but figured I ought to at least touch on that one early on…

This blog came about as the result of many a heated discussion with some formidable, challenging, intellectual peers. After realizing that, gee, I've got some pretty strong opinions – often on the significance of, and process behind, opinion itself – I thought I'd write a blog on this. But for every concrete thought of mine, a small moment in my life arises by free association. Some of these went on to form cornerstones to the way I look at the world, and I have a vague feeling these anecdotes might get this viewpoint across better than my sometimes heavy-handed arguing.

Around five years or so ago, I was touching base with an old acquaintance with whom I hadn't spoken in years. Let's call him E. Our connection had been through a formal framework, so I can't say we ever chose to be acquaintances, but we had gone through quite a bit together, and so at one time we were fairly close. The conversation took the form you might expect in this situation – nostalgia mixed with slight awkwardness. Anyway, we were asking the standard battery of update questions, and inevitably he asked about the band I'm in, which already at that time had been around for a while. "You're still playing with them? Wow, that's a long time. You seeing much money off that?" I had to answer that frankly, no, but I enjoy it tremendously, on many levels.

In the back and forth that followed, it was clear he was genuinely struggling to wrap his head around this. E. was (and is) highly intelligent, and certainly wasn't trying to give me a hard time, but he could not imagine what would drive someone to invest considerable time, effort, and yes – money, in a non-financial endeavor. Again and again it came back to, "yeah, but where's the money in it?" It took one conversation for me to feel worlds apart from him. Sure, I'd always felt a bit off the dial, in that I couldn't believe so many people actually bought the horrible mainstream music that for years has been foisted on an undeserving public, but this was a new situation. How to explain something so obvious to me, so intuitive, to someone for whom money is the sole – not even prime – motivator? Depending on where you're coming from, E. was either the ultimate pragmatist, or sorely lacking in imagination. To him, what I do makes no sense. Yet clearly, I'd never want to stop doing it.

This seemingly mundane conversation remains stuck in my head, an example of a recurring observation; namely, that people see and experience the world very (very) differently. Which begs the question: What do we do with this?

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  1. How I hear this. I've had so many people ask me why I'm not trying to sell more of my writing, or do freelance articles, or work for a magazine, or — heaven forfend — why would I concentrate on writing what I like, rather than what's in or profitable. It's like someone is speaking Klingon at me. That's not how it works for me!

    Paragraph #2: This is actually kind of how my college degree program was. The idea, as I saw it, was to see what happens when you take these so-called Great Books from all different ages and cultures and you ask them to talk to each other. In the end, I found it a profoundly forward, optimistic course of study, because if storytellers and thinkers from wildly different times and locales can offer insights on the same Big Problems, then surely it can happen in other arenas and on other topics too.

    So, even if people like you and me can't understand people who see skills and art as a means of profit, it's through that juxtaposition that I really do believe we can find some useful third place that will shed light on both of us. What that might be is another question. It might beg an investigation of what a person defines as value, and what the commonalities and divergences are, and why. There might be some translational worth. Or I could be making up high-scoring Scrabble words. Either way, I think the most useful/profitable approach is the one that finds functioning analogous forms. Three cheers for common ground!

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