Do you remember that moment in Economics class where your teacher sat you down and said, “Kids, today we’re going to talk about what money is,” and you talked about barter economy and the development of currency and you realized that money has no intrinsic value, basically it’s just something we made up and pretended has value so we could trade in between seasons and not starve after the harvest?
And you had that, “Whoooa” moment?
Now imagine having that moment about
Guess what. A business is a bunch of people who got together and said, “Now we’re a business!” A school is a bunch of people who got together and said, “This is what you should probably know! Now we’re a school!” A document is something some person wrote on a piece of paper and said, “If I write my name on this in print it doesn’t mean anything but if I write it in squiggly letters then it’s suddenly super important!”
I think my adult life is one long process of realizing that everything that makes up society and civilization was invented by a person like me or a group of people like me. Declaration of Independence? Some guy wrote on some parchment, got his pissed-off buddies to sign, and rallied people around it. SATs? Some people that everyone now hates thought, “Wow, it’s hard to tell how smart kids are and we want to have some way of categorizing them so let’s just have multiple choice be the most important thing in the world.”
I went through my entire childhood with a strong though implicit sense that the world was organized in the manner it was because that was the way it was meant to be. That there was something inevitable or Platonically Ideal or Capital “R” Right about the curriculum of the second grade and the number of snow days we’re allowed. Well guess what, tiny Laura! A bunch of people just argued about that stuff until they came up with something they could agree on and said, “Okay, this is the law!”
AND THIS IS TRUE OF EVERYTHING.
Drugs being illegal: Some people decided it.
Age of consent being eighteen: Some people decided it.
The electoral college: Some people everyone now hates thought it sounded like a good idea at the time.
And these weren’t people like our vision of the Founding Fathers, the wise old souls with a vision who hit upon the perfect balance to begin a new country of promise. These were people like your coworkers. And your friends. And your parents. And you.
a) This is terrifying.
b) This is liberating.
Because you know what it means? It means that if you don’t want to get married, don’t get married. Whatever. There is literally no reason you should if you don’t want to. Because guess what: marriage is something we made up, and if you don’t believe in it, you don’t have to do it. If you can find a squat and farm your own vegetables out of pots and can manage to have a standard of living that you’re okay with, cool, do that. If you don’t like math YOU NEVER HAVE TO DO MATH. Sure, it might be helpful if you learn how to do it anyway, in case it helps with things you do want to do, but there is no Math Lord in the mountains looking down for all the people who can’t multiply and sending out random lightning bolts.
Does this lead to potential moral relativism? Sure, okay, maybe it does. But all you need to be is a thinking person. We were practically still Neanderthals when we decided that murder and stealing and the things you wouldn’t want to have happen to you were bad and should be prevented and punished. Give yourself the Golden Rule, be considerate of other people because you will sometimes need them to be considerate to you, and go get ’em. If you can make a life that makes you happy without harming other people or making them supremely unhappy, you’ve won the game.
This is why everyone should start a business sometime: You realize that the biggest component of being “real” or “legitimate” or “professional” is saying you are and acting like you are. There’s no magic keys someone hands to you and says, “Here, we’ve selected you to be an entrepreneur, now you are qualified.” You do it and you figure out if you’re qualified by whether or not you make it.
We all make it up, pretty much all day every day. And that’s awesome. Once we accept that, we can take a breath every so often and enjoy the alchemy of make-believe into reality.
*(Note: This entry can and should be read in the voice of Patton Oswalt)*