Basic Human Dignity


Sam Altman

Re: Basic Income Researcher

Dear Mr. Altman:

Thank you for considering me for the position of Basic Income Researcher, pushed into my TL by Tom Preston-Werner.

I am here to reassure you that money offers no substitute for the pursuit of happiness. As you can see, while earning next to nil income, the last decade for me has nevertheless been the some of the most productive, challenging, and rewarding years of my career.

A destitute, middle-aged, multiracial woman who began writing code in the late ‘nineties, I can help the Bay Area with its age problem and its gender problem. You can help me get caught up with the changes occurring in tech while I have been working on brute survival and writing my analysis of the problems in one state’s failed mental juridical health system. Together, we can work on finding solutions for the nation’s problem of narcissistic aggression:

Looking forward,

Jana Brubaker

Following find my responses to the questionnaire included within your job application form fields:

Tell us about the work you’ve done that you’re most proud of. Please explain what you did and why it mattered.

What research experience do you have that would prepare you for a project like this?

As you may see from my cv, blog writings, portfolio, and multimedia portfolio, my research experience spans from assisting with basic research in the hard sciences to design research in the “soft” field of education, in hopes of 1) networking into an actual, paid job while 2) better understanding how/why my former post-9/11 and post-No Child Left Behind students arrived at university deeply traumatized and with so few coping mechanisms necessary for critical thinking and collaborative problem-solving, by 3) applying my educated expertise to real-world problems. Along the way, I have been privileged to observe designers and engineers from some of Seattle’s most elite design consultancies and technology firms in action as they conduct their design research and struggle to collaborate on solving problems, including one memorable conference co-sponsored by Pepsico and AIGA, our national professional association for design, where they worked very hard to avoid solving the correlative problems of obesity and poverty by 1) devising several stereotypes, which they referred to as “personas,” 2) chasing around the city to find people who matched their preconceived stereotypes, who were neither obese nor poor, and 3) inventing products to later market to these stereotypes, even after the original problem had already been identified for them by another conference attendee, an NSF- and NIH-funded University of Washington social sciences researcher. Curious if that was how Alan Cooper intended others to emulate his “persona” method of empathizing with end users of his products, I went directly to the source and asked. Currently, I am researching the problem of poverty, both my individual experience wading through the staggering mountains of paperwork required by America’s poverty industrial complex, and collecting the systemic qualitative data most frequently missing from published research studies – not the pie charts and bar graphs, but personal narrative, as told through sometimes audio, audiovisual, or visual data, though most often my journal notes from encounters with my research subjects.

What have been your most impactful publications, if any? Please explain their impact.

Obesity is the body’s physical manifestation of the soul’s lack of nurturing. Thus, no sophisticated technology product combined with cultural shaming will ever substitute for adequate nurturing missing from early childhood. Strong correlations, too, between abuse and poverty. Not just abuse in families, but as you’ve observed in your Request for Research, the government deploys an abusive, fear-based system for managing poverty. This question I examined at the crux of my MFA thesis research: is it the presence of abuse, or the absence of nurturing? I pulled my argument from strictly text-based into the design, printing methods, and even the structure of the book itself, which meant petitioning my graduate school for permission, a process the administration tried to sweep under the rug until an article in the campus paper attracted warm responses from students, faculty, and staff at two universities, including the support of our conservation librarian, and eventually my thesis was exhibited in Moscow and Chicago, and still won me glowing praise from students five years later. That said, I feel prouder of the publication of my healthy communications model, Unplay the Shame and Blame Game, which takes up where my graduate research left off. Unlike the communications design funded by our Department of Justice to mediate domestic violence, or the designers who maintain Liz Claiborne’s global portfolio of brands, basing their models on the false dichotomies between victim/abuser, black/white, female/male, etc., my model is based on the structure of trauma. A humble contribution: I have reduced all of human communication to just five little dots. As you can see, not very many views yet on the motion graphic version, but that’s just a matter of marketing to my intended audience.

If you have any ideas, please tell us how you’d design the study.

Of course I have ideas. I am an educated artist and designer, which means I am an unlimited fountain of imaginative problem-solving expertise, or the reason why a Gates Foundation blogger tried to brain drain me for free to work on finding solutions to poverty and other sustainability design issues. Because his own imagination suffers under the limits of capitalism and he is not able to envision solutions for problems beyond seeking still more money is the reason why homelessness has increased over 20 percent in the years since I have been away from the Gates Foundation’s own headquarters city. Last year, despite the very best combined efforts of nonprofit CEOs and local politicians, they finally had to concede their 10-year plan for solving the problem had failed. Like consultants to the Gates Foundation, Seattle’s current mayor cannot imagine a solution to the communications problem of dire poverty beyond declaring a state of emergency and asking for still more federal dollars. The Emerald City is blushing so hard with shame soon they will need to rename it the Ruby City. No amount of money will ever solve the communication problem of dire poverty. Only healthy communication can do that. Your budget “well above market” and five-year timeframe sound reasonable to me. Before I give you still more of my ideas for free, let’s hammer out details and sign that contract, okay?

Why do you want to work on this?

Obviously, I want to work on basic income because I am personally and profoundly affected by the problem of narcissistic aggression, or disdain, if you prefer Code for America’s terminology. While I can appreciate your Bay Area perspective that you are getting an early start with this pilot study, from my perspective, you are 10 or 20 years too late. Basic income, for me, would have meant spending less of the last nine years writing job application cover letters like this one and more of that time simply rolling up my sleeves and getting to work on the larger social problems that designers at the world’s most prestigious design firms either do not know how or seem to be afraid to solve. Basic income would have protected me from labor trafficking and being locked up without access to competent counsel or fair trial while my family lied to authorities about child abuse, elder abuse, rape, homicide, and our shared genealogy in an attempt to force their will over me. Basic income could potentially solve the many social problems larger, wider, and deeper than mere fear of not being able to eat. While Bill Gates, with his funding research for new toilets or local waste treatment systems without the need for costly infrastructure, has rightly figured out that what goes into the mouths of the world’s poor must come out, the United States government, with its non-food limitations on food stamp budgets, demonstrates its lack of comprehension of basic biology. In a sense, the USA already does provide a “basic income,” of sorts. It’s just a matter of asking, but what is the quality of care? What bang are you getting for your taxpaying buck? Because right now you have a graduate school graduate, better read in psychoanalytic theory than anyone employed within at least one state’s entire mental juridical health system, who might spend three days tracking down one roll of toilet paper, while another state spends $4,500/month supplying antipsychotic injections for one methamphetamine-addicted victim of unremediated childhood trauma, who then blows his taxpayer-funded SSI or SSDI payments on more meth. The other reason I want to work on basic income or finding better solutions for poverty, or, more correctly identified, the problem of disdain or narcissistic aggression is because I think my combination of educated skills and experiences might more deeply inform the limits of your current research, working together to devise heathier systemic solutions.

Would you commit to this for the next 5 years? Would you be willing to move to the Bay Area? (Answering no to either does not disqualify you)

My willingness to commit to your project for the next five years depends on the health, or emotional intelligence, of the members of YCombinator. Will you respect my educated expertise in areas that may overlap with or provide alternative perspectives multiplying your own? Is your working group able to listen to multiple perspectives and resolve conflict without pouting or shouting? If not, are you open to learning collaborative working skills? I take it as a good sign that you recognize the value of working together in meatspace, despite all of the communications technologies available in the 21st century, in wanting your basic income researcher to move to the Bay Area. Another bullet point for our contract negotiations: I am happy to relocate to my native state of northern California, but I also plan on starting law school in fall 2017. Would you be willing to schedule our group meetings around Stanford’s classes? Or if I choose an urban school as I would prefer, and work very hard to get your project off the ground before then, maybe we could thereafter deploy 21st century tech with fewer in-person meetings for the duration? Alternatively, if our group works very well together and your project looks like it might lead to others, solving still more real-world problems, then I am still open to skipping the logocentric environment of law school altogether.

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