So a couple days ago I did an AMA on Reddit.
It was fun. I enjoy goofing off, interacting with my readers, and answering questions. So this sort of thing is a good fit for me.
The day after the AMA, I went back in to see if I’d missed any particularly important/interesting/clever questions.
And I found one. A really good question.
I started to answer it. Then I kept answering it. Then I realized I’d written about 400 words and stopped myself from going any further.…
So rather than post my answer there, buried deep in a thread at the bottom of a dead AMA. I’m answering it here with the author’s permission.
* * *
This is going to sound pretty awful, but why all the charity work?
I’ve always been… well, financially challenged (at young Kvothe-like levels at times), and from what I’ve read, you were in a similar state for a long time. I can’t imagine doing so much for strangers even if that changed, and sometimes…
Well, it kind of bugs me. There are loads of things that you do that I would love to give you money for, but when you do them for charity, I feel like I wouldn’t be supporting you, my favorite writer, by supporting those charities.
This sounds intensely selfish, I know, but it comes from ignorance, not malice.
Thanks for being honest here Jason. This is an interesting question for me to see. And I think it’s an important question to answer.
The simple truth is, Jason, at this point in my life, I have enough money to live comfortably. And in my opinion, if you have enough money to live comfortably and you keep trying to get more and more and more money… well… it’s kind of an asshole thing to do.
It’s like this: if you have one piece of cake, and you eat it, that’s fine.
If you have two pieces of cake, you should probably share some with a friend. But maybe not. Occasionally we could all use two pieces of cake.
But if you have a whole cake, and you eat *all* of it, that’s not very cool. It’s not just selfish, it’s kinda sick and unhealthy.
And if you have *two* cakes, and you keep trying to get more cakes so you can eat ALL the cake? Well… that’s really fucking mental. And awful. And about as close to real evil as actually exists in the world.
Right now, I have… well… probably somewhere between 2-4 cakes, financially speaking.
But some people out there don’t have any cake at all. Some people don’t even have dinner, let alone desert.
That’s why I run Worldbuilders. Because some people out there have no cake at all. There are kids out there that are hungry all the time. There are kids out there with no books at all to read. There are kids out there with no beds to sleep in. No homes to come home to. No safe places. No sweet dreams.
That’s why I do all the charity work. Because the world isn’t as good as I want it to be.
We all feel this way sometimes. Because honestly, the world is a fucking mess. It’s full of dragons, and none of us are as powerful or cool as we’d like to be. And that sucks.
But when you’re confronted with that fact, you can either crawl into a hole and quit, or you can get out there, take off your shoes, and Bilbo it up.
The work I do with various charities is my attempt to Bilbo the fuck up.
Now it’s true that I could just devote myself to making a ton of money, then donate however much I liked to charity. A lot of people have suggested this to me. Smart people. People who care about me.
And y’know. It’s not terrible advice. That’s what Carnegie did…
But honestly, that’s not for me. I don’t like the thought of spending my whole life being utterly rapacious, getting *all* the cake it is humanly possible to acquire. And then, ten years before I die, giving a chunk of it back to the world.
One reason I don’t like this philosophy is that it means you have an excuse to act like a total bastard until you’re 60 years old. And y’know, Carnegie did a lot of ethically dubious things back in the day. There’s a reason they called him a robber baron.
My other problem with this is that after 60 years of being a bastard, most people aren’t going to make a sudden transformation into being kind-hearted humanitarians.
But the main reason I don’t like this way of thinking is that it’s predicated on the thought that you, my readers, are selfish, self-centered individuals. Carnegie’s philosophy implies that I should take as much money off you as I possibly can. Then, eventually, I should do something good with it, preferably getting my name on a building the the process. Because *obviously* the lot of you are not smart enough to make the world a better place on your own.
I don’t believe that. My philosophy is that people are inherently good. I believe when given the chance, people will happily line up to make the world a better place.
I think this is doubly true of fantasy readers, and trebly true of my readers in particular.
As evidence, I give you Worldbuilders. Over the last five years the geek community has given over two million dollars to Heifer International.
This year, I hope to raise another half-million. (Though I wouldn’t cry if we managed more.)
The truth is, you don’t have to be a billionaire to change the world. You don’t have to build a library. The truth is, if you donate 30 bucks to Worldbuilders, it will change someone’s life. Forever.
And sure, when you donate you get the chance to win a bunch of cool books, too. But that’s just a perk.
I know the truth. I know why you’re all *really* here. I know why you’ve read all the way to the bottom of this post. It’s because you’re good. It’s because you want to make the world a better place.
The truth is, Jason. I don’t think you’re selfish. You want to support an author whose work you enjoy. That’s not a selfish thing.
But here’s the thing. I don’t need twenty bucks from you. That’s not the support I want. That’s not the support I need.
I need you to help me make the world a better place.
You can do that by donating to Heifer International over on the Worldbuilders team page.
If you can’t because you’re broke, that’s fine. Believe me, I’ve been there. But you could still lend your support by spreading the word about Worldbuilders on facebook or twitter. You could write a blog. You could make a video. You could tell a friend.
Thanks for helping everyone,
- 12:30 – Since posting three hours ago, we’ve raised $3,000.
That’s enough to provide 150 families with flocks of chickens.
Chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available scraps; this allows families to make money from the birds without spending much. A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year, so a flock of chickens provides a steady source of nutrition and income.
- 2:30 pm – Five hours after posting, we’ve raised $6,000.
That’s enough to purchase biogas stoves for 6 villages.
“For most families in the places where Heifer International works, cooking usually means gathering firewood by hand, which often depletes the soil and robs the environment of its trees. In addition, smoke inhalation in poorly ventilated homes often leads to chronic lung and eye diseases.
A biogas stove is a better option. It runs off methane gas captured from animal waste, and burns cleanly, reliably and efficiently. This is not only better for the environment, it is more sustainable and healthier for families feeding their children.”
- 7:30 pm – $10,000.
That’s enough to train and equip 50 Community Animal Health Workers.
In many countries, access to veterinary care is limited. So Heifer International trains Animal Health Workers. Participants receive training in animal health, husbandry, breeding, and nutrition as well as tools such as thermometers, stethoscopes, hoof trimmers, gloves, disinfectants, medicine for animals, and more.
This training and equipment gives someone the ability to support themselves in a lifelong career. What’s more, the presence of an animal health worker improves an entire community with healthier animals, more successful farms, and better education about sanitation and disease.
- 6:30 am – $15,000.
That’s enough to supply clean water to 50 communities.
In many communities where Heifer works, most homes lack running water, and some families do not even have a well nearby. Instead, they spend a huge portion of each day fetching water. This is often a chore left to children — especially girls — leaving them no time for school. Without a good education, those children have little hope for good jobs in the future.
Heifer helps families and communities install irrigation pumps, usually muscle-powered treadle pumps that are easy to maintain and repair. Heifer also provides education in terms of water conservation and sanitation, improving community health and making local farms and gardens more productive.
- 24 hours after making this post…
…lovely people have donated an additional 18K to Worldbuilders, bringing our total at this moment to more than 317,000 dollars.
That’s enough to start 850 small businesses.
Enough for 2600 goats and the training to care for them.
Enough for 10,000 hives of honeybees that will improve crop yields.
Enough for 17,000 trees that give fruit, provide income, and prevent soil erosion.
I won’t be updating our total on this blog any more. Instead I’m going to put in our donation thermometer so you can watch it climb yourself.
If you want to be a part of this, it’s easy. Click here to make it happen.
(P.S. For every $10 you kick in, you get a chance to win books.)
(A LOT of books.)