I’m Vinay. I’m 40, and an extremist. I’ve never really fitted into the world as I found it - too smart, too aggressive, too brown, too fat and first too young, then too old. I always seem to be out of place, so I’ve become something of a chameleon. Am I the energy policy analyst, or the open source guru, or the military thinker, or the environmentalist, or the poverty activist? I seem to play these different roles, wear these different hats, much like a ship sailing into the wind, first moving too far to the left, then moving too far to the right, to find it’s true course.
What drives me is the realization, which has matured over some years, that we are all fundamentally alike. But the world we live in seems to make some suffer much more than others, and we seem to be poorly socially organized to do anything about this. I’ve struggled over years, mostly by copying people who’s successes I respected, to get some leverage on the problems of the world. From Mahatma Gandhi I took the definition of the problem. From Buckminster Fuller I took one method to a solution.
And then I worked my ass off, for years!
In 2002 I had the big breakthrough; I invented the hexayurt, an easy-to-build refresh of Buckminster Fuller’s dome idea. It was ideal for Burning Man, and in only a few years, the Playa has been covered in hexayurts - many hundreds are built each year, involving perhaps a thousand people. Some units are being tested for refugee use in Haiti and Sri Lanka, and I continue to talk to different charities about the project. They even build them in the Pentagon, which is a long story! It was a chance to put some of the theories into practice, and even though it has all taken much longer than I would have hoped at the beginning, I built something that could not be undone or defunded, so slow progress will eventually result in major change. This is an insight I took from Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” which discusses how long it takes a paradigm shift to actually happen: years, and then all at once!
Now I am negotiating with being 40. I’m thinking about people I know who are sixty, and trying to figure out what I have to do now to wind up in good shape then. I’ve started to pay more attention to diet and exercise, moved to the country where the pace of life suits me better, and started to work more on packaging my earlier theoretical work into resources that others can learn from and use to teach themselves. I’m also figuring out how to transfer even more control of the Hexayurt Project to the community, which is a long, slow process because it’s a lot of work, and persuading people to take it slowly and steadily, and not to expect too much too soon is an endless task!
Part of the reason I’ve done so many different things is that I keep failing. Most of the time, culture tells you to do something well, find a nice stable job doing it, then buy a house! I, for whatever reason, did a lot of very risky things, things where a success would change everything, but the most probably outcome was failure. I often worked for free or for almost no money for the chance to do what I really wanted, what I thought was important. I hit 40 with nothing, no property, no stable job, just a reputation and a suite of projects and a very, very strong network. But watching the global economy move, I would rather be me than almost any of my peers with two kids and a mortgage, because what I’ve invested in is usefulness, real utility in a time of global transformation. I consider that real value, and I think it will take care of my future needs, and hopefully the needs of the world, far better than any amount of money.
Nobody said money had to be the goal. That’s a cultural value that, once you let go, allows you to see the world much more clearly. Of course, you have to have a roof over your head, but once that basic need is met, I found I could set my sights on forms of success that mattered to me: influence on the future, which some people would call power. I express it as toolsmithing, building artifacts which differentially enable the kinds of change I want to see in the world, and in going through the most difficult territory mapping out possible solutions, so nobody can pretend that it cannot be done, and must simply admit it is not being done.
All this involves a lot of hardship, but it’s better than a day job. It’s living! It’s having the adventure of freedom, and being outside of the normal ways of life which seem to confine most people, for the sake of following my own star.
So that’s me. Who are you, and how did you get here?