As I sat with the TCM crew at Jay’s (for those who don’t recall, TCM means the creatively maladjusted), I realized that they were living up to their name. The ideas they came up with for the sanitarium people were pretty far outside the box.
One idea, for example, was to keep a rolling stock of Uber driver credentials, which could be abandoned after each tax season (or if Uber noticed their fake tag numbers) and replaced by another. And before I could complain about innocent people being hassled, they explained that they would only use IDs from the deceased. I warned about Feds going after them anyway, but they had heard my argument before. Besides, for some of them skating on taxes made the difference between a plain life and destitution.
I’m not sure if they’ll do this or not (and they had the idea of doing the same for all the “gig economy” professions), but since I believe the threat of destitution is real for some of them, I left that subject aside and tried to insert a few ideas on being clear about the morality of what you do.
“Legality is about state punishment,” I explained, “but morality is about what we are. That’s something we can never skate on.”
Again I thought about the barbarity of a system that forces productive people to choose between parasitism and criminality. It’s an evil choice, and it condemns the status quo in no uncertain terms.
Another idea was to keep the sanitarium busy scouring the darknet for the newest opportunities that might arise. The real service there wouldn’t be to find the ideas, but rather to curate them: to determine which of them were real, didn’t involve crazy levels of risk, and involved honest, voluntary commerce.
Regarding this curation idea, a question came up: How should the sanitarium sell this service? The fact had dawned upon them that if they did things in false names, there could be no legal protections they could call upon.
“You wouldn’t have them anyway,” I told them.
They looked at me with confused faces.
“There’s no legal protection at the low end of the economy,” I said. “Are you really going to sue someone who rips you off for a thousand dollars? The lawsuit itself would cost far, far more.”
This they understood.
“There’s no effective protection for small players anymore. So, you either get payment in front, or you adjust.”
“Adjust how?” they asked.
“Do business with people you trust, don’t let the amounts get large, and withhold services to anyone who pays late. People did this all the time in the old days. They just don’t think of it now, since the system became God.”
Then came a brilliant idea. It was from Jordan again, our resident computer genius.
“If any of them have specialty skills,” he said, “they could open a darknet-based certification agency.”
I thought I knew what he meant but waited for him to explain.
“The only reason real names matter for commerce,” he said, “is that customers need to be assured about honesty and skills.”
Everyone nodded their understanding.
“So, someone who was really good at plumbing, for example, could certify that the bearer of a certain PGP key was a competent plumber. He could be tested in the same way government certified plumbers are, and even more carefully. And if he did bad work, his certification could be yanked. The protection for the customer would be equally good or better than government certification.”
This again set the table humming. They came up with a long list of jobs that could be digitally certified and paid for in cryptocurrencies. The market for this was gigantic. With just a little bit of creativity and courage (or desperation), the vast majority of lower- and mid-level jobs could be conducted this way… crypto-only.
“And no one is already doing this?” asked Adam, our budding biologist.
We all looked at each other and shook our heads.
This, I thought, is a prime opportunity. I’m not interested in such things these days, but 20 years ago I would have jumped at it.
They continued talking, but just a moment later I could see where these “creative maladjustments” were heading: The sanitarium would end up as a kind of umbrella organization for these things. That would put tremendous responsibility upon its scarred residents, and they’ve never had “pretty people” relying on them before. That would be tremendously validating for them but also intermittently terrifying.
I see interesting days ahead for these people.