The Religion of Creation

David Foster Wallace on Worship

In his famous “This is Water” speech David Foster Wallace had a great closing:

“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping… The only choice we get is what to worship…

“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…

“Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you…

“Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

“Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out…”

David strongly suggests we should be constantly aware of those default settings, but doesn’t really offer an alternative choice on what to worship.

I’d like to do that today.

The Religion of Creation

What idea could we elevate and – importantly – protect that would be beneficial not to just to each of us individually but to all of civilization?

If I had to pick our new religion it'd be creation. Building things.

Everything that makes it such a blessing to live in modernity - housing for billions of people, the CPU, massively efficient food production, dams, airplanes, the Internet, the smartphone - all these things were available to our ancestors in the earth as the same raw materials we use today.

The difference is we figured out how to use those raw materials to make things.

We know how to turn silicon, copper, and aluminum into a CPU.

We know how to make millions of homes using steel, concrete, wood, and stone.

(And - thank god - we know how to make air conditioners.)

Creation enables everything else we take for granted. The people who complain about modernity can do so because they have inexpensive food filling their bellies and CPU robots distributing their words.

By the luckiest circumstances we happen to be self conscious beings alive on a water rock circling a giant fireball in the vastness of space.

Let’s see how far we can push our luck in moving civilization forward.

What Does a Religion of Creation Look Like?

It means things like:

  • We trust builders more than talkers
  • We let people try crazy ideas instead of mocking them as silly or privileged
  • We bestow the highest status and wealth to the people who make the most valuable things
  • We have a holiday set aside to celebrate useful creation
  • We optimize society for helping people build and sell, easily w/o boundaries, startup costs, or bureaucracy
  • We use pop culture to imagine a potential future of creation, not dystopia
  • We glorify people who expand the size of the pie
  • We teach everyone that wealth is literally made, that the pie is not fixed, and that life is not zero sum.

We already do some of this a little with things like Hollywood, in the sense that people are famous for what they’ve made. [1]

But we can do much better.

How to Participate in the Religion of Creation

  • Make something useful!
  • Defend a creator who’s trying something crazy! Give them the benefit of the doubt.
  • It’s easy to offer ideas on why something wouldn’t work. Instead, try to offer ideas on how it could work.
  • If you’re still going to attack a maker, critique the idea instead of the person.
  • Turn off the talking heads on TV, social media, and podcasts, and pay attention to people who actually make things.
  • Grant status to all the random business owners you’ve never heard of.
  • Respect the quiet creators and makers who have to get through all the state bureaucracy, politicking, and the rest of the Paper Belt[2] to bring their creations to market.

The religion of creation would recognize the historical moment we’re living in: the wealthiest time in history, where more people on both an absolute & relative basis can create than ever before.

And we’d optimize society to juice that number of creators as high as possible.

We could encourage more people to become makers by giving them more status than, say, politicians and some types of newspaper writers.[3][4]

There’s a quote I like because it sums up the current world order:

“If you want to be successful, start a business. If you want to be more successful, start a country. And if you want to be the most successful, start a religion.”

Here’s to making creation the highest status religion ever.

Share this issue of How It Actually Works here.

[1]: But this is a perverted, socially hacked version. We’re really more worshipping their popularity (“I just saw a famous person!”) than we are their actual work (“Who movie was she in?”)

[2]: Paper Belt talk by Balaji Srinivasan here, transcript here

[3]: Are there sociopaths who are makers? Of course. But at least they have to keep making things to maintain power. There’s sociopaths in far more powerful positions of society (enter your least favorite American president here) and all they have to do to maintain power is persuade people to click Like on them in the ballot box.

[4]: This isn’t a right/left political thing. You can sub in your newspaper or politician of choice into the example.

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