MrBeast is a multi-millionaire and doesn’t need my support. I’m not here to make you feel better or worse about him. I’m here, because he is a really interesting figure within capitalism and worth examining. One of the few rich who actually transfers wealth downward.
I warn my typical reader that this article isn’t my normal brand of goofy or surreal horror. This is more “regular” horror! So, skip this one unless you’re super into talks about ethics in capitalism!
(Don’t tell my editor I told you to skip my article, he hates when I do that! “Brand building” he says in between sobs. Not because he’s my editor, his wife recently left him. Granted she did leave him because his clients are “no talent hacks.”)
MrBeast has been under fire for years for the content he creates that often involves giving people challenges to win money. While it’s often good natured or humorous, some of it doesn’t really stray that far from “bum fighting” when we look at it ethically for the power structures at play.
However, even if what he is doing may at times be considered ethically dubious, the outcomes of giving people wealth and opportunity they didn’t have before is transformative in their lives.
And when we examine this within broader systems and measure him not as a poster child of capitalism or the representative to throw stones at, but rather look at him within the capitalist framework itself — some interesting things emerge.
Referring to his work as glorified “bum fights” seems extremely condemning from an ethical standpoint. But one could consider that 9–5 jobs for people in poverty, really aren’t that different either. The only difference is the acuity of harm is just less visible when it’s spread out over 8 hours or decades of your life, rather than in a couple of minutes.
I don’t want to undermine the seriousness or horror of exploitation and violence inherent to “bum fighting”. What I want to do is equip you with the understanding to realize the seriousness and horror of spending forty years of your life in a job you find no value in just to eat and have a roof over your head.
Understanding the Goal of Capitalism
If you explore the articles I write, you will see that I talk about economics pretty often. People often think about capitalism within a lens of being good or bad for the world, but that isn’t particularly useful.
It is way more important to recognize what a system does and if it’s achieving the goals we want it to achieve. And capitalism is an incredibly tight and efficient machine at transferring wealth to a few individuals. It is fantastic at turning human life into a battery to charge the abstract wealth machine.
But the best way to understand it outside of these big concepts like humanity or ethics or consumption or harm is to consider the goal these individuals have with that wealth. For sake of argument, let’s say the goal is to create paper clips.
In an economic system of capitalism, where the goal is to create paper clips, all wealth is collected and serves towards that goal. And let’s say the top 1,000 richest people in the world combine their wealth to transform earth into a paperclip factory, very little stops them.
And this system is (…checks notes) what most people want or are told they want. The promise people are given is that the new paperclip world is going to benefit them. Capitalism nor wealth intrinsically have any intersections with ethics. The complaints against capitalism all presuppose that we should be ethical and care about life.
They’re not effective complaints against Capitalism or towards change, because we didn’t get into Capitalism to care about people. It’s doing what it is designed to do — turn life, labor, and value into paper clips! The only effective complaint is it’s not turning enough people into paperclips and suggestions on how to make it more effective!
When thinking about capitalism and the goals it has, it would be very silly to think we’re generating all of this wealth simply to make paper clips. That would be insane. But we’re actually doing something sillier and more insane. We’re just amassing abstract value in the form of wealth for no reason. At all.
We nearly made our world into an NFT Factory because it offered a compelling way to simply gamify wealth. Capitalists do not give one F to what they’re doing, what their businesses are doing, what they’re making or so on — beyond the value it makes them. They buy millions of acres of land to justify green emission for their “wealth producing” companies.
200 billion dollars of assets and stocks would be better served as paperclips than what it currently represents: absolutely nothing but the mined labor, time, effort, and actual lives of people to produce it.
A great example is movie studios and reboots. A movie studio does not care about making a good movie. They will pump out whatever metric driven shlock possible so you donate to the wealth machine of entertainment. This means mining properties with intrinsic value within the market.
Movies represent an avenue of generating wealth, your entertainment is only warranted and actually secondary to the primary goal of turning the wealth machine. Same with games or music.
The whole ideal of capitalism within a scarcity model was it would breed innovation through need and supply/demand side economies. But we’ve moved into a post scarcity world with an information economy. We can now feed everyone. We can now make infinite paperclips. And now we’re only moving forward with capitalism because we’re addicted to numbers getting bigger.
MrBeast Turns Abstract Wealth Into Opportunity
MrBeast is currently the most famous YouTuber and rapidly becoming one of the most famous people on the planet. He went to Antarctica, he has a burger operation, he cured blindness, and frequently has entertaining videos on YouTube that amount to sharing money with people.
The money he shares is often legitimately life changing and even life saving. And we can dissect the cow all day long, but no matter how we codify and classify these actions within an ethical, capitalistic framework, he is changing individual lives for the better.
One can argue our systems of capitalism, planted and fruited on the seed of colonialism, operates on exploitation and upholds systems of oppression. We can get into the critical thought of many black revolutionary leaders or Marxist thought on class consciousness. We can denote even attributing positive action to any actor in this system only reinforces the inequities that will perpetuate continual harm.
But the curious thing to me is that the focus is MrBeast. Let’s look at his Squid Game Video in 2021.
At the time he received a ton of criticism for doing what people felt was exploiting individuals and completely missing the point of The Squid Game: A Netflix special revolving around exploiting desperate and poor people for the entertainment of the incredibly wealthy.
They said he should've just given away the money. It was wrong to profit off of that. Except…if we’re holding judgment to MrBeast…why is Squid Game curiously free of that criticism? Netflix made that show, Netflix benefited from that show, that show served to profit mega wealthy companies and give no benefit to anyone except for the individuals hired on. None of that money went back to anyone who needed it. It was all within the capitalistic structure of a business venture. Yet…no complaints. Why?
MrBeast created a real life Squid game where nobody died. Everyone who participated got to be part of the experience. I believe they all got $2,000 dollars for participating at minimum. And he created an episode around it that millions of people watched and enjoyed. He created opportunity, experience, and wealth for people who wouldn’t have otherwise had access to any of it.
Recently he was under fire for curing blind folks. People said he was exploiting them for views or clicks. A 1,000 people can now see and what MrBeast produced was an 8 minute video that barely showed more than a few seconds of any one of those people. But that’s also because his jump edits are legitimately super annoying, my god, stay on a scene for more than five seconds, please.
(With this criticism against MrBeast, I now welcome my trophy of fair and balanced coverage.)
Anyways, MrBeast could’ve made a thousand other videos and he does. He didn’t have to cure blind people. He doesn’t have to give any of his money away. He could be like pretty much every other wealthy person and just reinvest in the wealth generation machine for the purpose of money for the sake of money or making paper clips. But he did use it to help people directly. He is giving money to folks. He is materially improving the lives of people both through entertainment and direct charity that you really don’t see any rich person doing.
The Ethical Defense of MrBeast
Capitalism is not ethical as the system breeds inequity. It sucks that we’re grinding life and potential into the paperclip machine in a post scarcity world. But I think it’s an immature take to look at these systems of capitalism that are bad and through that lens just equate MrBeast as bad and throw your punches at him. We are all bad in how we share and participate in this system, even if it’s for survival or if we’re victims in it.
The system we’re born into does not allow any meaningful separation as it holds the means of not just production, but quality of life. We live in an ethically compromised world of horrible tragedy. Which means so long as these are the operating conditions, the lens of ethical behavior has to be adjusted to what’s possible within the system. Ethics can only be determined by the actual agency and choice we’re afforded in a system while not compromising ourselves.
Ethics in a perfect world or through an absolute lens could dictate that our society isn’t ethical, is beyond redemption, and should be greatly restructured. Awesome. That’s the right answer. But…that’s not our world. We have to operate with what is here.
And in that regard, what more quote, unquote, good can MrBeast do? Global positive of entertainment, charitable person with donations, and makes connections with people. His entire start, unless I’m unaware of some diamond mine his father gave him in a will, was earned with positivity people wanted to see.
He benefited from every power inequity in the system to get there, absolutely — but that is our system. And thousands of people just like him took that benefit to just sit on the abstract wealth paperclip machine or donate their wealth into massive charities that don’t help the people who really need it.
People throw punches at him because he is accessible, when there are tens of thousands with greater wealth, influence, and direct harm and destruction on our planet and the people in it. And what I hate is that he is at least not making paper clips.
In an equitable world we don’t need to depend on a random charitable entertainer. But in our world, he’s one of the only fucking things we have that transfers wealth downward. That isn’t change, that won’t change the world, that doesn’t stop the unethical aspects of capitalism or all of that other noise. But it’s good. It’s a good thing that’s happening. And it didn’t have to.
He isn’t making videos at personal harm or cost to himself. But sacrifice is not inherently ethical and working towards self interest is not inherently unethical. We don’t actually have to work against our interests or have a compelling reason to do so and working towards systems that benefit others and ourselves are still operatively ethical.
Fighting against these systems, for an example, is still operating within a person’s own interests. And while the benefit of it would be equity for all people, you still have a stake in that benefit if you’re marginalized for any reason. I say that as someone who experienced poverty, homelessness, and worked to the point my body gave out in kitchens. I also have a number of privileges that gave me protective factors in that life.
I do want to have systems that are more equitable. I work on them at a local and state level as a volunteer and activist. Me talking about MrBeast isn’t activism for me, it is what I’m doing for fun to unwind from actually engaging in improving communities and opportunities.
This essay doesn’t stop the harm of capitalism either. But the mistake folks get into is thinking there is one answer, fight, or a right way to do either. The fight is everywhere, all of the time. Every conversation. Every action. Every direction. Every Article. And at every intersection we can consider how these micro interactions build into global change towards the world we want to see.
In this regard, I don’t think Mrbeast BAD is a useful message. I think the effective move here is to ask why other wealthy folks can’t just give their money away like MrBeast does. Make that the trend. Leave a legacy. Solve homelessness in a small country. End hunger in a 500 mile radius. Go wild. Get weird.
The machine is still going to pump out smoke, blood, and oil — but least we can have a 20 mile water slide or something instead of just a pile of paperclips. I’d rather we left interesting ruins than a bunch of paperwork with numbers on it. And honestly I’d rather have the paperclips than NFT farms.
Or I’m wrong about some parts or the totality of what I’ve said here. (My editor likes when I cover all my bases!)
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