How to become a billionaire

Here is the process, in full

First, begin with a piece of string. A solid, useful, reliable piece of string that can be used for many purposes. Trade it for a rubber band. Travel to an office building, and trade the rubber band for a pen. Go to a flea market, and trade the pen for an antique cassette tape. Go to a record store and cash in this unique Genesis bootleg. Buy a bagel for the bum outside. He will give you a harpsichord. Take the subway across town and enter into a musical contest after the announcement that another act had to cancel last minute. Lose utterly. Ask one of the attendees if you can crash at their place, seeing as you’re down on your luck and far away from home. Steal their prized buffalo trophy belt. Travel across town again. Wear the belt to impress onlookers. Ask the celebrity for an autograph. Learn to copy it flawlessly, then use it to set up a nigh undetectable stream of revenue. Use this money to pay rent and buy a nice suit. Show up at a bitcoin scam convention and impress everyone using fancy language. Sell the bitcoins twice on the dark web. Rent a room at the conference center. Secure a contract from the Department of Defense by talking to the drunk man in the toilet. Use the fake signature. Visit the Orkney library. Read the newspaper, then gracefully accept the impromptu dinner invitation. Tell the story of how you lost a music contest once. Go home. Sell the bitcoins a third time. Repeat the conversation with the drunk man as many times as is necessary; should the need arise, use the belt to generate new celebrity signatures

Enjoy your new life as a bona fide legit billionaire

The wisest of men

“I don’t know but I’ve been told” he began, unwisely. He never got to continue his retelling of whatever fascinating anecdote he had in store, as a philosopher suddenly interjected himself into the situation:

“I must object to this proposed state of things. According the standard model, knowledge consists of true justified belief. Thus, you believing it after being told means that you do, in fact, know it. Yet here you are, maintaining that you do not know the thing, despite evidently being in the know. How do you account for this discrepancy?”

Bewildered, our protagonist stood silent for a moment, until he half-remembered something about togas and drinking parties. Inspired, he proclaimed:

“I don’t know”

Proactive self-expression

He took a lot of selfies. Like, a lot. If called upon, it is very likely his selfies alone could constitute a substantial part of the empirical material of an ethnographic study regarding contemporary culture (for any given definition of contemporary between now and the invention of selfies). It is safe to say that in his case, quantity took on a quality on its own

Then, he disappeared

More accurately, his wish came true. He finally, after much meditation and unrelenting application of chaos magic, managed to become a selfie

This is not to say that he became a picture. Rather, he relocated into the picture frame (be it analog or digital), choosing which of his many selfies to display at any given moment. Thus, he could move from room to room, talking – in his own way – to anyone observant enough to notice his presence. Very attentive observers eventually noted that some selfies seemed to be taken after his disappearance – a curious state of affairs, never explained

Closing in on the encounter

It was a mystery to everyone involved. Children all over the world had started to draw very similar pictures, seemingly without talking to each other. All explanations as to why this happened drew a blank. At first, it was thought to be cultural influences – kids drawing what they saw on television. As pictures were reportedly seen in places like North Korea, the deepest Nigerian interiors and remote villages of the Amazon, this hypothesis was rejected. For the same reason, the notion that it was a group of artists roving the lands teaching kids to draw this way (for purposes unknown), were dismissed. Scientists were, to use a popular word in the press, baffled

A comprehensive research program was put in place to solve the mystery once and for all. Every scientific discipline (and a few unscientific one, just in case) got funding to figure it out. Most scholars made the rational decision to treat this as free money to finally do some actual work instead of being forced to hunt grants nonstop, but a few took to the mystery. And, after a daring adventure involving a container ship experience a week-long timelapse, many formal interviews and a whole lot of informal restaurant chatter, they finally solved it

Turns out, it was aliens

More specifically, it was aliens trying to send a message. The problem was, they had no conception either of money or how art circulates through society, so they blindly sent it to anyone willing to draw. Given that drawing is something that kids do, the images primarily ended up in their heads, resulting in the geographical distribution that so baffled the world. Given also that kids’ paintings are not seen as meaningful communication, the message remained unheeded

The scientists in question decided not to report their findings. Instead, their article opened up with the immortal words: “As Jung postulated,”

To have love and lost

And so it came to pass that the League of Exes was formed, on the basis of the Compact, signed under the aegis of the Old Ones:

Yeah, I can see that we are all kinda alike but also kinda similar, and that there would be reasons to like each of us for who we are. Upon finally meeting all at once, we also seem to get along pretty well, without any sense of competition or jealousy. A relationship is not a situation wherein you own someone, but rather a commitment to make life work in the loving (and sometimes not so loving) presence of someone else, as best it can be managed. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not. Sometimes it fails based on the persons who are involved, sometimes it fails because of the habits they fall into over time. Sometimes you just fall out of love, and that’s okay. We’re all just happy we got to be with this wonderful person at different times of their life, even if it came to an end eventually

An addendum was later made to the Compact, as follows:

We are also rather confused as to who send the invites to this gathering? No one here seems to know? What’s going on? The décor is really creepy, to be quite honest. Where even are we?

And thus it was so

Gridlock city

And so it came to pass that the city imposed parking fees. Not just on the parking spots it owned directly, but all of them. The legalese was technical and involved, but it amounted to this very straightforward practice: if you parked anywhere for any length of time, you pay the fee. The more you parked, the higher the fee. No ifs, no buts, no refunds. Even if it happened to be your own parking spot at your own house.

At first, riots. This was not a popular move, by any measure, and discontent rose among the masses. But time went by, and everyone still had to go to work, and life moved on, and everyone got used to it. It made no sense, but as with so many other things in life that do not make sense, it would simply have to get in line.

Some years later, the city raised these parking fees. A lot. So much so that it became cheaper to just drive the car around. The price of gas, sure, but it would still amount to less than the parking fees. The math checked out, and eventually this too became a new state of normalcy.

A few years on, another increase. Suddenly, it became a sensible deal to hire others to drive your car around. Sophisticated ride-sharing schemes were developed, to ensure that the car was in motion at all times, never stopping for anything other than red lights or driver changes. Some of these arrangements approached levels of complexity only ever seen in advanced computer modelling or ecological systems, yet ordinary folks seemed to take to it. Traffic skyrocketed, but as usual, this too became the new status quo.

Science happened here, of course. A social scientist found that, when asked a representative sample of citizens if it would be possible to simply not have a car, the average response was a facial expression conveying that a brand new and profound chasm in ontological comprehension had suddenly been revealed, an abyss which was gazing right back at them. More often than not, this was the totality of the response, all thought ceasing upon the grand design of this cosmic incomprehensibility. On more than one occasion, specifically trained Kantian trauma teams had to be called in to suture the philosophical wounds.

On the pragmatic impracticality of equality

“So here’s what I do. I go to free speech rallies, and I wear my trademark outfit”

“A trademark outfit, you say?”

“Oh yes. It takes very careful and deliberate attention to detail to pull it off. Just winging it won’t work; they’ll see right through it. Gotta effort it, make it just right”

“So how do you prepare?”

“At first, I tried various methods of artificially inducing the look. None of them worked, but they all took a lot of time and effort. Determined not to give up, I persevered, and then it struck me. The one surefire way to get everything just right is to actually bona fide do it”

“So you became homeless?”

“Well, no, of course not. I just spend a lot of time in the urban outdoors, day and night. This had the desired effect, and made me look the part. I also learned that there are a lot more alleys, overpasses and forgotten side streets in this city than I’d previously thought. Also, newspapers are golden”

“And then you looked the part?”

“Oh yes. But I didn’t act the part, so I had to integrate myself with the local community. Turns out it’s easy to do if you actually sleep outside; shared miseries become a bond of sorts, if you’re not a jerk about it. Bringing booze helped as well”

“Yes, about that”

“See, I looked and acted the part, but didn’t smell it. Again, you can’t wing it. Smelling like any old alcohol won’t do. You have to know the streets and what’s cheap on them. Fancy whiskey is a no-no, gives it all away. There is this guy with a still up on Third, however. Get some of that on you, and you’re right as rain. I would not recommend getting it in you, though”

“So. Looking, acting and smelling the part. All set, then?”

“For my purposes, yes. So here’s what I do. I show up in my best homeless, slightly drunk impression, and demand that my voice be heard. Moreover, I insist that as a citizen I am entitled to the same freedom of speech as any person who has taken it upon themselves to wear a suit. It’s a universal right, see, unalienable even”

“How does that turn out?”

“Usually, with throwing. Sometimes at me, sometimes me. Turns out some people are less equal than others, when push comes to shove. Or throw”

When you see it

The video clip began

Immediately, it was apparent that this was porn. Nothing in the proceeding seconds did anything to dispel this insight. Strangely enough, they also did very little to support it. As the moments went by, very little of a pornographic nature took place. Very little, in fact, took place. There were no characters to speak of, barely even anything in motion. Still, somehow, the very essence of porn was evident all over, communicated loud and clear to anyone who saw or heard it unfold. All this without bothering with people, plot or anything else beginning with the letter p. This video clip managed to convey everything without everything – a masterful subversion of genre and medium

Needless to say, a great many academic articles were written about this relatively short video clip. Not a single one of these articles dared mention it directly, leading to a powerful surge of circumlocution, some more skillfully performed than others

The most philosophical arguments

He had a peculiar hobby. He liked to find philosophical disputes and trace them back to their point of origin. The longer and more bitter the dispute, the better

Needless to say, he was not popular among philosophers

Given, however, that these philosophers were on the methodological record as saying that unless something was explicit it did not count, it has to be said

The thing that gave him most enjoyment out of the whole ordeal was that, more often than not, the inciting accident was a minor gaffe that lesser minds would think very little of and promptly forget with ruthless pragmatism. Surprisingly often, these gaffes were translation errors, hastily constructed sentences which could be construed as insults, and other such linguistic unclarities. Once, it had all begun as an offer in jest to take a lift on an escalator, and proceeded from there for decades. Another time, a letter had arrived a day later than expected due to a bank holiday, prompting an all out denouncement of every thing the sender had ever said or implied. Yet another feud had begun when a philosopher took the last bagel without asking if anyone present had dibs on it. And so on. The reasons were very seldom philosophical, yet the disputes proceeded fully dressed up in formal wear

Needless to say, he was never invited to anything even remotely philosophical

Kafka does not live here

“You say your story is Kafkaesque”

“Yes”

“What makes you think it is?”

“Well, see, there is this bug that has to navigate what seems to be a routine bureaucratic errand, which turns out to be the start of a series of inexplicable events, and”

“Let me stop you right there and give you some of my impressions”

“Shoot”

“Here’s the thing. Your protagonist seems to have a firm grasp of who he is, even though he is – as you said – a bug. Moreover, the worldbuilding you do seems to indicate a stable set of circumstances whose particulars are known and relatively unchanging. Atop of that, the plot is intuitive, possible to grasp without too much in the way of close reading. It is very easy to follow along and know just exactly what is going on, and why. The antagonists – no pun intended – have clear motivations, and act on them in an understandable (albeit unfortunate) manner. Lastly, there are virtually no emotional confrontations with father figures of any kind”

“I do not understand”

“Indeed. Let’s continue this discussion with the shared understanding that this story is not, in fact, Kafkaesque. What do you see in the future of our protagonist?”