Uji. Kyoto, 2017

Universal Basic Income

Uji. Kyoto, 2017
Uji. Kyoto, 2017

Dear friend,

I’m been contemplating a lot on this concept of ‘universal basic income’ — whether it would be good for humanity, or horrible for humanity.



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Life = progress, leveling up, and growth.

First of all, I think we all need something to look forward to in life.

For example, a life in which you had nothing exciting, novel, or interesting to look forward to wouldn’t be a life worth living.

Video games & Netflix

I grew up watching a shitload of TV, and playing a shitload of video games.

On one hand– I can see the benefits, on the other hand, I can see the downsides.

The good thing about video games– being able to socialize virtually. The good thing about TV: (some) TV programs which encourage you to think more critically of the world — like documentaries, or great films.

Critique of tv/video games/passive media

Downsides of TV/Video games: we are distracted into passivity, and we are trapped inside the soma-induced cage of pleasure, excitement, and ‘leveling up.’

Real life isn’t an RPG

I loved playing RPG’s as a kid (role-playing video game, where you kill monsters, and you can ‘level up’). The reason is because I was able to ‘quantify’ my progress. If I killed 100 monsters, I could increase 1 level. And every time I gained a new level — it was exciting. I would gain new weapons, new magical powers, etc.

In real life– we kind of get that in school. We ‘level up’ by doing well on tests, and being put into ‘advanced placement’ classes. We have a general progression in school — we change grades, we get new classmates, we have some old classmates, and we work hard, pile on the extracurriculars, and we have some choice in terms of choosing college. When we get to college, we can choose our major, our classes, and (hopefully) our career.

But the problem I’ve encountered in my life is this: once you enter the ‘real world’ of business, office politics, and answering emails in a ‘timely manner’ — life loses all zest, excitement, and fun.

To me, office life sucks. You don’t have a clear progression or trajectory in life anymore.

For example — there is no clear-cut path on how to get ‘upgraded’ or get a promotion. How do you get more money? How do you get a new position?

You feel trapped — like a video game character who is stuck at level 25 — trying to become level 99. And no matter how many monsters you kill, you cannot see your ‘experience meter’ go up. And you will never gain new skills, you will never gain new weapons, or explore new uncharted lands.

I hate nay-sayers

On one hand, the good thing about ‘free market’ capitalism– or the ability to choose your destiny, is that you have more autonomy, freedom, and a sense of control in your life. Some folks don’t like making decisions, or having choice. For myself, I thrive on it.

I fucking hate it when people tell me that I cannot do something, or say ‘no.’ I hate nay-sayers more than anything else.

For myself, I love chance, opportunity, and this idea of ‘meritocracy’ — that the harder you work, the more you will be rewarded. I like a society in which ‘merit’ = rewards.

The truth: Those born into shitty circumstances can never escape.

At the same time, not everyone was fortunate enough like me– to be born and raised in America, with resources, tools, and opportunities. If you are born in the hood with a mom who is hooked on crack cocaine, a father who is in jail, and all your friends who are gang-bangers — how the hell can you get out of the ghetto, and become ‘successful’ in life?

I’m lucky, being born as an American

A lot of folks have no escape– no matter how hard they work. Or, if nobody has given them belief, or confidence in themselves– they won’t even have the opportunity to want to think big, or change the world for the better.

Why starting off at level 0 (for everyone) might be good.

So in one sense– a universal basic income would help level the playing field. It would encourage everyone to start off on the same footing — like a new ladder match in the video game Diablo, where everyone starts at level 0 — and everyone works hard, and hustles, to quickly get to level 99.

So in a sense, everyone starting off at level 0 is good. Why? Because it encourages everyone (or at least people who are ambitious) to try to get to level 99. Of course, the people who are lazy, can have the choice not to play the game.

What happens once you’re level 99?

In video games and RPG games– once you reach level 99, and have collected (almost) or all the rare weapons– the game gets boring. You got nothing to look forward to.

So what do most people do?

They start over.

They start ‘character building’ another new character– a new class, at level 0.

For example, if you have a level 99 Paladin knight, you might start over the game and start off as a level 0 Rogue. And you can get the excitement of ‘leveling up’ your new character, exploring new skills, etc.

In real life, we do the same. When we are retired at age 70, we might take on a new career, or path in life. My friend Richard Reed was a psychologist most of his life– and in his early 70s picked up a new career pursuing photography. He is one of my heroes, and he inspires me.

Destroy your past self to create a new future self

For myself, I try to do the same.

This is Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal destruction’ and ‘eternal creation.’

You destroy your past self, and your past artwork and photos. Then you try to eternally create new artwork, pictures, and a new self.

In practical terms, what I try to do is this:

  1. Be appreciative of my past work, but try not to hoard onto too many images from my past.
  2. Every once in a while, format my memory cards, and intentionally FORGET my past pictures, and look forward and be excited to take NEW pictures.
  3. To find inspiration from past master photographers, yet not become slaves to them. To find inspiration from their working methods, but not try to be them. To try to become a new type of photographer– to promote a new type of photographic culture, technique, and approach.
  4. To not be a slave to my past self– to not impose ‘self-tyranny’ on myself as a photographer and artist. Which means, not shooting the same way for 30+ years (like Daido Moriyama or Henri Cartier-Bresson). Rather, to be like a David Bowie, Bob Dylan, or Kanye West, and constantly re-invent myself, and constantly change, and evolve. To be like water, to shift, change shapes, and never stay the same form — but still be the same DNA and molecules.

Being self-employed and having enough money has helped me thrive, and give back to society.

In some ways, I think if we had a universal basic income– we would be able to free up our mental energy, time, and resources, to CREATE MORE ART.

I know for myself, when I was stuck in the trenches, always having to worry about working and making money– I never had the chance or the opportunities to explore more of my artistic interests.

For example, when I worked a 40-hour week job, I was the slave of the company– to do the bidding of the company. Now, that I no longer work there and now work for myself– I suddenly and miraculously have an extra 40 hours a week to explore the masters of photography, art, or any of my personal interests.

My theory: because I no longer have to worry about money, and can pursue my intellectual interests– I have benefited all of humanity.

How so?

I have put together a pretty magnificent and basic introduction to the masters of photography. If I had a full-time job, I doubt I would have been able to do that.

And everyone has benefited. Now, any amateur or beginner photographer can learn the fundamentals of photography, free.

Because I am wealthy, I can share more.

Another idea: because I no longer have to worry about money, I can make all my ebooks, information, videos for free. More open access to anyone– regardless of how rich or poor they are. Therefore, a net-sum to helping humanity, and the whole field of photography.

My fear for universal basic income

Yet, my fear is this:

With universal basic income, humans lose all passion and zest for living. We just get addicted to smoking weed, drinking alcohol, taking Instagram photos of cappuccinos, traveling and exploring without producing, spending all day on Instagram and Facebook, and just becoming made PASSIVE consumers, rather than ACTIVE creators and makers.

With capitalism, we generally have this idea:

The harder I work, the more I will be rewarded.

I know for myself, this gave me hope, energy, and vitality and life. I knew that if I just hustled hard enough, I would be able to achieve greater things in life.

Part of that was because I was raised by a single mother, who had to hustle and work hard to support the family. My mom had to work 3-part time jobs, at minimum wage, just to put food on the table and pay rent. Seeing my mom suffer, is actually what motivated me to work hard.

Yet– if my mom never suffered, or had to work — would I have learned this spirit of hustle, or chasing ‘The American Dream’? I think not.

So in this sense– seeing my mom suffer and have to work hard, woke the giant within myself. Because we were poor, it taught me resourcefulness. I learned a strong work ethic. I had hope and optimism.

I would have never reached my potential if my mom didn’t suffer.

If my mom were rich, or perhaps if she just had a ‘universal basic income’ — maybe I would have grown up just playing video games for the rest of my life, and doing nothing useful for society. Maybe she would have just strapped an iPad to my face, and I would have been made a happy, pleasant vegetable– clicking things on a screen for hours a day, and occasionally and accidentally clicking on advertisements– to help Google, Facebook, or Amazon.

How could society thrive?

On the other hand– if we had a universal basic income — and more folks who had creative inspiration and fire within themselves– these people could finally have the time and energy to create beautiful art, which could empower all of humanity.

So maybe this is my social theory:

With universal basic income, there would be two classes of people. 1) Degenerates who just end up becoming addicted to video games, television, media, and passive forms of entertainment and 2) Creators, artists, poets who actually have the energy, time, and resources to make art to help the masses.

Of course I have no idea what would happen– but this is just my theory.

Theory, shmeory — let us control our own lives.

In practical terms, it is pointless to talk about economic and social-political theory.

To me, it makes more sense to figure out what we can change in our lives, as individuals.

Universal Basic Income (For Yourself, By Yourself)

My theory for myself — create a ‘universal basic income’ for myself.

That means, enough money to pay for lodging, pay for my food, coffee and wifi — to have the maximum amount of mental and creative energy and freedom, with the minimum amount of stress, toil, or having to work on things I don’t want to work on.

The only way possible to do this in today’s world is to become an entrepreneur — a risk taker, someone who makes an income for themselves, by selling themselves, their products, and services– for money, which can be exchanged for food, shelter, coffee, etc.

Entrepreneurship is the secret to freedom (in modern-day capitalism)

This is what has inspired me to create my Photography Entrepreneurship 101 series — because in today’s ‘free-market’ modern-day capitalist world, it is the only way we can secure freedom for ourselves.

I heard a story of Warren Buffet — who just wanted to build his own business, not to have a lot of money for the sake of it — but to have money to have FREEDOM to NOT do stupid shit he didn’t want to do. So essentially rather than having money for the sake of money — to TRADE money for FREEDOM.

And I agree– money is useless by itself. Money, if you can trade it for more time, flexibility, convenience — is insanely valuable. Because in real life, you can always earn another $100, but you can never ‘earn’, ‘gain’, or add another 1 year to your (theoretical) lifespan of 120 years (roughly the maximum lifespan known to human beings).

Universal basic income will be good for society.

This essay is all over the place and makes no sense. My apologies– I wrote this mostly for myself, to work out some ideas and theories inside my own head.

All things considered, I think that universal basic income would be a good/positive thing for society.

My (current) theory is that if universal basic income were made possible, this is what would happen:

  1. Many people would fall into passive consumerism, and made into screen-clicking zombies.
  2. (Some) people would be able to achieve their maximum creative potential — which would help the sum of humanity.

The people in crowd #2 would be few. But even if you had 1 individual from 1 million people who could innovate, and create useful things for the other 7 billion people on planet earth– I think this would be worth it.

To me, I do believe that 1 great individual can change and help all of humanity. And that 1 great individual can be you.

Hope is bad.

But once again, we shouldn’t fall into the danger of hoping for this idealistic, utopian society of ‘universal basic income.’ Why? Because HOPE is dangerous. Hope makes us passive– and makes us complain, and blame politicians, governments, and society.

For me, I have NO HOPE. No hope to me is good– because it means that I am 100% responsible for my own actions and life.

That means, rather than sitting on the couch, twiddling my thumbs, and wishing for the world to be a better place– I am on the FRONT LINES, taking on enemy fire, and actively trying to create a new world– which will help benefit myself and others.

So for me — that means continuing to read deep and philosophical texts about art, aesthetics, ethics, morality, society, politics, economics, biology, physics, to better understand some ‘hidden truths’ or knowledge about humanity, society, or the universe.

Of course, all these ‘truths’ I learn is ultimately for myself– to better orient and understand the world around me. Because I don’t think there is one ‘objective’ reality — it is all subjective. And what works for me (ERIC KIM) will probably not work for you — it might help you find yourself, and discover the truth for yourself, but you gotta find the truth by yourself, and on your own. I can just be a guide, maybe a Yoda-like creature. But when you have had enough of ERIC KIM — just wave goodbye, smile, and move on.


Therefore, to move forward in your life — screw economic and social-theoretical political ideas and ideology.

Don’t try to create a revolution in the world. My suggestion: see the world as it already exists, and figure out how to exploit, and profit from the world you already live within.

To me, this makes more rational sense, will be a lot easier, and more fun.

So if you are an artist, or photographer, writer, or creator/maker who wants more freedom, time, and autonomy in your life — I encourage you to read my Entrepreneurship 101 series — to give you some ideas, and encouragement and inspiration. Once again, please be skeptical. Because I only write from my personal experiences which have worked for me — and might/probably won’t/ work for you.

But ultimately, never give up, and always have faith in yourself. Create the world in your own image. Morph, shape, and mould your old reality for yourself– and don’t just seek to survive in this world and life– seek to THRIVE.