Sarah is an artist. She lives comfortably, holding a day job at the bank that pays well. She works on her art at night.
She spends almost no money on her artworks. For the most part, she uses as her materials things she normally would have simply thrown away.
About two years ago she was particularly inspired, and began work on what would turn out to be her Magnum Opus.
Now, Sarah never sells her work. Much of it she keeps around her own house, some of it she gives to friends. She doesn’t sign it. No art critic knows of her. It does happen to be true, though, that were some art critic to have her attention drawn to Sarah’s work, she would take Sarah’s work very seriously. Sarah is a great artist.
For two years, she’s been working in her spare time on her magnum opus, and tonight, she’s completed it. She’s quite proud of it. She recognizes it’s the best artwork she’s ever done and possibly ever will do.
Let’s make the following fact salient: She put a lot of labor into this artwork, but risked no–or almost no–capital in its production.
There’s a knock on Sarah’s door. When she opens it, she meets a stranger who introduces herself as Allison. Allison points to Sarah’s sculpture, and says, “I’ve come to take posession of that.”
Sarah’s taken aback of course. “But–it’s mine.”
“No,” Allison says, “It’s mine.” And she procedes to tell a strange tale.
Almost two years ago, Allison and her friend Michelle happened to be walking by Sarah’s house when they glanced through her window and saw her working on her sculpture. Both of them immediately recognized it for its greatness, but they had very different reactions to this.
Michelle is a nihilist, and believes things of beauty should be destroyed lest they fool us into thinking we live in a world where there is any real possibility of permanent happiness. So Michelle immediately began making every effort to destroy Sarah’s sculpture.
Allison, meanwhile, restrained Michelle, believing (as any normal person would) that great works of art should be nurtured in their production and preserved once created. The struggle between the two went on all night until, exhausted, they retreated. Each kept tabs on the others’ movements for the next two years. They hired security types to form small militias–Michelle’s militia being dedicated to the destruction of Sarah’s artwork, Allison’s militia being dedicated to seeing it preserved.
Michelle went the psy-ops route sometimes, trying to trick Sarah into abandoning her work. Allison’s group had to work quickly and carefully to prevent such contact between Allison’s people and Sarah from occuring–and minimizing its effects when some subliminal messages did get through.
Allison believed Sarah’s artistic impulses would be distorted, perhaps even quashed, if she learned anything about this huge conflict going on around her, so she made sure Sarah never learned anything of it.
As you can imagine, Allison’s operation cost a lot of money. Millions and millions of dollars.
Allison’s victory was never assured. Michelle could have won. Sarah could have spontaneously given up. Allison risked a lot–she risked millions and millions of dollars worth of capital–to make sure the Magnum Opus was produced.
“And so,” she said, “As you can see, I’m the one who undertook all the risk here. The Magnum Opus is able to exist only because of the immense investment in capital that I put forward. Therefore, all benefits of its existence belong rightly to me. So I’m taking posession of it. Don’t worry, I’ll cut you a check for your time. It’s a win-win! You risked nothing, and I’m writing you a check anyway!”
After a bit of hesitation, Sarah replied, “Yes, I see, that makes sense. I guess go ahead and take it then.”