There’s a great video online of a bearded dragon marauding a field full of innocent crickets. The video has subtitles that give voice to the thoughts of both the dragon and the crickets. The dragon is thinking, “Food!”, while the crickets are thinking, “Ruun! Run for your lives!”

At one point, the bearded dragon ignores a cricket, who runs away. The cricket appears to escape by running under the dragon’s tail in a daring maneuver in which it “bypasses doom”. As the dragon turns around and sees the cricket, the text onscreen shows “NOPE” as the cricket is speedily devoured.

That reminds me of the way that creative people are treated in the larger world of passive observers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only “The Man” — meaning the stereotypical powers of oppression like the government, your teachers or your boss — will try to keep you down. The fact is that society itself is defined by, and operates fundamentally by, keeping people in particular places. If you’re not born in a privileged environment full of useful influences and mentors, society will put you in the “worker bee” slot and tell you the standard mantra of “work hard, get ahead, live happily ever after.”

We all know that mantra is a lie.

Most people work hard for every dollar. This means that for every dollar, they sacrifice their time. Dollars are literally expendable; you can never make more time. So exchanging dollars for time will always leave you behind unless you’re doing what you love.

Capitalism is designed around paying as little as possible while getting as much as you can (i.e. everybody wants the best possible deal). People consistently fall for the idea of “free” (although nothing in life is free) so they put up with advertising online that steals their privacy and profits from selling their identities. And unless you work for yourself, your boss is almost certainly underpaying you. It’s just how capitalism is designed. Other socioeconomic systems are usually even worse because they ignore this fact, and so greed rears its head anyway under the name “corruption” or “graft”.

This is the life of the worker bee. I’ve also written more about this elsewhere, so we can leave it at that for now.

Is your boss oppressing you? Maybe. Think, though, about what you can see online every day. The presence of “haters” and “trolls” has come to define the Web, largely by exploiting the ideals of privacy (i.e. anonymity) and effortless communication (i.e. places like 4Chan and Reddit). You see haters constantly antagonizing celebrities for no real reason (see: Zelda Williams being driven off Twitter after her famous father committed suicide).

Think also about offline forms of trolling, like hecklers at a stand-up comedian’s show, or those who try to distract actors and musicians who are performing onstage.

These are all signs that point to one fact: people at the bottom are just likely to oppress creativity as those at the top. An old metaphor for this is the “crabs in a barrel” idea where crabs at the bottom will grab and pull down any individual crab who tries to claw out of the container, rather than help each other reach the top.

Why do people do this? One reason is related to the narcissism that propels social networking. Everyone wants to be (and is told that they are) “special”. We love the idea; it’s why we worship anyone who is successful — as long as that person “humanizes” him- or herself by pretending that “it all just happened” rather than being a combination of hard work and luck. If it “just happened”, it could happen to you, too.

Obviously that’s not how the real world works, and we’re constantly reminded of it. If you have ever studied any creative domain (take the cello or violin as an example), you know that it takes years to start to get good. Most people, though, desperately want it to be as easy as a video game where you can learn and be a virtuoso in a matter of hours.

When the non-creative person realizes that “hey, this ‘art’ stuff is hard!”, they fall into another trap: they elevate artists to the level of “the gifted ones” who have some innate “talent” that is inborn and therefore unlearnable. Notice the terminology: An actor, writer or musician isn’t considered to be “skilled”, he or she is “talented”. It’s really just an easy way for most people to rationalize their lack of desire to put in the time and effort required to learn; even a genius has to put in years of study before being able to operate at an elite level. The rest of us can’t rely on prodigious raw ability, so we have to find a different way. Whining about how everyone else is “gifted” is a sure sign of someone who isn’t doing their part. And that’s fine — just be sure that person isn’t you.

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