Earlier this year I was on a mission to put together 15K so that I could participate in Hidden Founders, an accelerator/development service that accepted Sealed into their inaugural class of non-technical founders. In pursuit of forming a relationship with a wealthy benefactor, I reached out to several VC firms in the Boston area with a cold email. Much to my surprise, one replied, we met, and one of the partners decided to introduce me to a bunch of his helpful friends: a few lawyers, serial entrepreneurs, and angel investors.
The next week, I met with a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, who we’ll call Bob. We met at a Starbucks in Framingham off of route 9. He’s a kind-eyed man with a wandering energy and the assuredness of someone who has seen his words come true. He sat me down at a table and proclaimed,
People are good, selfish, and lazy.
I stared back at him and said, “OK”, digesting, thinking about rational actors and Pareto efficiency. He launched into a spiel about his latest project and how he is catering to the customer.
I don’t remember much of what Bob said after that, but those initial words stuck. Good, selfish, and lazy. It’s almost self-contradictory, but not quite. It’s different from pure utility maximization, which doesn’t adjust for normative evaluation or social forces. It’s also not groundless idealism. It’s a matter-of-fact encompassment of Bob’s experience with people, a descriptive trifecta that somehow neatly describes human behavior.
That people are selfish and lazy is an easier truth to swallow. Rational acting theories have dominated our economic landscape for much of the last century, and evolutionary behavioralism would certainly indicate that each man seeks to maximize his gains while expending the minimum amount of effort, lest he tire and get eaten by a saber toothed cat.
But is that really true? Does every man always claim resources to the detriment of each other man? What if we introduce a woman to the picture, or a child, or a friend? The internet is filled with long angry conversations about whether the inherent man is good or bad or neutral, and oftentimes, society becomes the culprit in turning neutral babies into bad men. And from a systems perspective, that may in fact be true. Sending millions of men to prison is a societal pathway that is likely to have a deleterious effect on neutral or even good men.
But I think that it is society that saves us. Not our dear consumerist and classist society at large that we’ve grown to love, that’s more the result of the selfishness and laziness.
It’s our immediate society that saves us. Our friends, our family, our relationships. I am a good person because I want a tribe, and if I were to be a bad tribesman, people wouldn’t like me. It’s as simple as that.
Of course you could argue that ensuring success for one’s tribe is a selfish act, and that may be very true, but regardless of the source of the goodness, everything comes down to relationships. There is nothing we care about more. It is the kernel of good that can singularly upend our desire to lie, cheat, and steal. It causes us to do things that are completely at odds with any “rational” man, such as jump in front of a train to save a stranger or work excruciating 70 hour weeks for decades on end.
It is this centrality of relationships to the core of mankind that I think will allow Sealed to take root and grow. Sealed offers an easy way to reaffirm relationships in an apparently thoughtful way. It taps into that highest power in a way that can easily be used in one’s self-seeking while simultaneously demonstrating affection and goodwill.
Of course this is all speculative and self-congratulatory, but in my head, the math works out. All that’s left is to find out. Until then, stay selfish! I’m counting on it.