Last week, two friends and I and delved into one of our many deep existentialist conversations during lunch in a French Bakery. We really enjoy these talks, and it gets us firing the intellectual pistons at full speed, because we challenge each other’s thoughts at extremes.

This time we were talking about why people keep going, especially the entrepreneurs and very driven humans that we all admire. Why people that have “made it” already for the history books, put everything at risk to start all over again. Why is there no end to the discovery of human intellect? Why do we continue our journey in the pursuit of happiness not as an accident, but instead in self-awareness and consciousness? We talked Ghandy, Leonidas, Newton, Jobs, Hitler and Edison.

Food, Sex and Social Recognition were the “Crepe of the Day”, our answer to everything. This is not the first time we approach these subjects, but somewhat everytime takes a slightly different direction and new information surfaces. Food, Sex and Social Recognition turns out to be the only three things that cause human pleasure and happiness, and therefore the things we live for. We are not geniuses, nor the very first to arrive here, and we do get validation from Frankl, Nietzsche, and even Dale Carnegie. The food and sex part are easy, and almost everyone gets it… they put primal animal instincts at play when we are truly hungry and we eat, and when we have sex and feel aroused. There is no thinking, only enjoyment.

But what about social recognition? That one sounds out of the left field, with so many other “obvious” things to go for. Where do you leave the money? How about “making the world a better place”? Or family first? How come you can say social recognition if you only care about your children? Some people are not media friendly, how can they care for any recognition? How about the selfless acts of Gandhi, Mandela, or MLK? There’s your counter argument!

All self-driven individuals are so because they seek social immortality

The only way to prove that social recognition is the only leg self-driven individuals stand on, and what drives our human nature (and more prominently the entrepreneurship nature), we need to use a thought experiment. We’ll call this one thought experiment #1:

Place yourself in a world where you are all along. You are the only human alive in the whole world (and therefore, there’s lack of social context).

The great thing is, you can have all the pleasures you can imagine, there is magically new movies that come out on theaters everyday. There are stores full of the most exquisite and exotic foods you want and love. Unlimited forms of entertainment, technology, and power in your control. You have at your disposal all the cars, yachts, planes, and every single toy you may imagine. Robots that fulfill your every need all around you, waiting for your command.

Would you still be a driven person? Would you still want to make the world a better place? Would you still seek purpose, passion, mastery, want more of X?

If you feel that world is paradise, you are already NOT a self-driven person. And there’s nothing particularly wrong with that (although I secretly want to fix you), you are just not seeking alpha, and maybe you have a god.

For the rest of us, that world is hell.

What are you talking about Michel? That sounds like paradise! If you think so, you are either not ready to consider the proposition in a serious way, OR you are already broken and you are already a social parasite.

And what about the money? Well… if you have money, you have a lot more meta-freedom, which gives you influence and power, and that gives you the opportunity to change the world in meaningful ways (for better or worse)… aaaand that’s social recognition.

I’m a contributor to OSS, I do it because I love it, and I make no money from it. But contributing to it increases your craft, which increases your mastery, which increases your public profile as a master of the subject, which gives you social recognition, because you are making the world a better place. Would you still be a contributor to OSS in that world where you are alone ? (I’ll let you ponder the question — for what?)

Thought experiment #2 will help us further consolidate the cases that money, love and mastery are nothing more than avenues to Social Recognition, and it goes something like this:

Let's assume you have a Magic Banker, from “Magic Bank Inc”, and this Magic Banker is ready to serve you (and nobody else in the world) with UNLIMITED cash anytime you want. You have the absolute freedom to ask for any amount of money you want and he will give it to you and to you only. But there are two rules:
1. Every other person in the world knows you have effortless access to unlimited money. In other words, everyone understands that you didn't earn it, and that was given to you with no effort.
2. You can not do any action for yourself or anybody else if you think may elicit admiration from your effort in other people. 
In other words, you cannot donate your time in humanitarian causes, or help other people in any way, unless the act itself results in these people having a SOLID understanding that doing so required no EFFORT from your side, and therefore you will never receive any ADMIRATION, because you really didn’t give a flying fuck.

Would you still want to live in that world?

An interesting realization after thought experiment #2 is that people may still admire you for your wealth, but never for your efforts, which looks more like a source of envy. The other observation is that getting recognized for effort is key in the attainment of social recognition… and effort is something very personal, and you cannot trick yourself into believing you stretched yourself in achieving something, when you didn’t.

Social recognition is almost a recipe with some ingredients that come from you, like how much EFFORT was required from you, and some ingredients like ADMIRATION or ENVY (or disdain) that come from how society perceives your efforts. That’s why:

  • Self-made millionaires, entrepreneurs: admired from overcoming adversity (effort)
  • Leaders, Heroes: admired for leading others overcome adversity (effort)
  • Inventors, Artists, Athletes: admired for their talent and skill (effort)
  • Lottery winners: envied for their luck (no-effort)
  • Son of a Billionaire: envied for their family’s wealth (no-effort)

It doesn’t matter if you are Hitler, Jobs or Gandhi, had it not been for your efforts and some form of admiration or hate from others, you would’ve not ended in the history books.

Admiration can come from different sources, not only the popular vote. A father whose life has been devoted to the growth and success of his children, is admired by his family, and that may be enough for him. Many people receive a huge source of their happiness from the recognition they get from a handful of close people, or even one other person. That’s still social recognition, and they feel immortal because of it. It transcend life, because you exist through someone else’s perception of you.

Immortality. That’s the fuel that keeps us going.

We had coffee and french pastries, and left with more clarity around what makes people tick, and keep going, and it looks something like this:

Conscious Effort + Social Recognition = Happiness

Everything worthwhile in life, looks like a battle that is worth fighting, is never an easy one. No effort, no story. No people, no transcendence. No conscious decision, no admiration. Without effort and admiration, there is no happiness… unless you are having sex or eating out of pure animal pleasure… which is also amazing!

PS: Thanks to Leo and Christian for helping craft the ideas on this post; and for their unwavering desire to explore human nature.