Monday, August 22, 2011

Why People Hate James Altucher (by Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I'm a semi-popular blogger. The grand plan is to someday become the world's first (millionaire) professional philosopher-blogger. As such, I follow a couple blogger luminaries who seem to me to talk straight wisdom. Not just "blah blah blah iPhone JSON congress," but stuff I can take and home and use to change my mind, and my life.

One of these is Venkatesh Rao.

Another is James Altucher.

Ok. I just heard the crowd scream "booo." I'll put off checking feedburner for a while to see how many of you quit my RSS. If you don't know who Altucher is, this post will be meaningless to you; skip it.

If you do, you're either a die-hard fan or a hater. Probably a hater. Why? That's what I'm going to try to figure out.

Altucher is a guy who made one hundred bazillion dollars in the tech boom and then lost it all. He's tried to be an entrepreneur, go player, writer, and a half a dozen other things, in turns (or possibly at the same time). He admits this with scandaous candor (shouldn't he be ashamed!?). He writes honestly about times when he's been on top of the world and had no fucking idea what he was doing. He writes honestly about tricking his wife into loving him. He just writes honestly. And he gets a lot of mail, much of it containing the words "fucking" and "idiot." He recently wrote a post speculating about why this might be (maybe these people had hard lives and their mothers didn't love them?) I have my own ideas. Well, not my own.

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I read the other day some verses written by an eminent painter which were original and not conventional. The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost,—— and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

Altucher says what he thinks. How dare he. Where are the citations? A man can't just go around saying what he thinks. Who does he think he is, Ghandi? He's not even dead yet, or the founder of a religion. Doesn't he know that thought is the exclusive prerogative of the dead?

The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner, and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one, is the healthy attitude of human nature. A boy is in the parlour what the pit is in the playhouse; independent, irresponsible, looking out from his corner on such people and facts as pass by, he tries and sentences them on their merits, in the swift, summary way of boys, as good, bad, interesting, silly, eloquent, troublesome. He cumbers himself never about consequences, about interests: he gives an independent, genuine verdict. You must court him: he does not court you.
Altucher doesn't care what you think. Isn't that what you're supposed to learn in college? Be conciliatory. Don't talk controversy. Hedge. What are you, a child? (Maybe the best thing I learned this year (hat-tip Johnstone, Venkat) was that adults are atrophied adults.)

I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation.

Altucher values himself.  He links himself. He talks about himself as if he's interesting. That internalized restraint, ten thousand years in the offing (ever since the sedentary shift (buy my book!)) is somehow lessened in him. The asshole.

Ultimately, my take? People are jealous. Did you ever get furious in college when the dumb girl who wouldn't stop raising her hand told the class about something, yet again? That idea you already had, of course, bu weren't so annoying you'd say it? I did. I've come to see it as seething subconscious jealousy. Hatred for our own chains, and the fact that she's not dutifully wearing them.

Hi. Blog post is done. 


(1) RSS me. (Don't worry, you'll love it. I'm a genius.)

(2) Read about my book and tell me if you'd buy it.
(3) Buy Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Never say "no." Negotiations, the Japanese way.

I was a kid, an anthropology student, at the bar with my bad-ass cousin Dave Yaeger. Dave, in a way, lived my dream. Texas Instruments flew him all around Asia to do something—I don't know what— involving silicon chips. I launched my routine language-bother.

Me: "How do you say 'hello' in Japanese?
Dave: "sdf;lkjasdf"                     (look man, I don't remember)
Me: "Awesome! How do you say 'no'?"
Dave: "You don't."

Dave said that in Japan people circumnavigate and imply instead of refusing things. A few years later, on the subject of business deals, Dr. Thomas Ricento clarified, giving me the fateful socio-linguistic insight that turned into a way of life:

"Instead of saying 'no', just make the terms of agreement impossible."

I think that the Japanese are on to something. The fact is, my "yes" always has a price. There is always a "yes, if " that I can wholeheartedly mean.

There was a time in my life when I made $18 an hour teaching free workforce ESL classes in a community center. I had already been a professor and a writer, and I felt like this was one of my life's major downswings.  I had moved back in with my parents and felt like a complete waste of humanity. I got an offer for a $50/h full-time job writing textbooks. "Quit!" everyone said. I did. In a way.

I made an offer: "I love workforce ESL, and I'd love to stay here. Care raising my pay to $50 an hour?"

They said no.

This was, of course, patently absurd. My boss didn't even make that much. I was soon writing textbooks. You could say that all I did by asking was waste a few minutes of my time. Maybe.

Eventually, the textbook company went bankrupt. (It was absentee-run by an American expat on a beach in Thailand who was prone to impromptu month-long disappearances from the grid. Freaking cool guy, actually.) I scored an adjunct gig at the local college. It was hard times, again, and I was applying everywhere. I got a few strong maybes from the Georgetown English Language Fellows Program and an Emirati college, and later a solid offer from Yasar University in Izmir.

Serendipitously, I was introduced to my college vice president at an otherwise pointless thing that involved meatballs and powerpoints. She asked if I would stay around for the next semester.
Nnnn . . .yes.
. . . if, 
. . . well, the Emiratis pay $50K tax-free and throw in a house, a car, and private school for my kids. . . . so, yes, I'd love to keep working at Grayson, just {patently absurd demands listed here}.

I'm the only guy I've ever heard of working in college governance at under 30 years old.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fixed gear bikes and programming languages (or, "This language is AWESOME: it can't do anything!")

Austin is Texas's San Francisco. I hate San Francisco. Well, I love San Francisco. I love-hate San Francisco. And Austin.

What I love about these places is their intellectual ferment and diversity of things to do. (Wanna play go? There's a free class by a 3-dan player at the Dobie Mall. Wanna learn Esperanto? Talk to Anderson at the go club.) What I hate is fixed gear bicycles. Fixies. 

When you ride a fixie, there's a certain kind of hat you're supposed to wear. Also, you need to put a playing card in the spokes. Also, fixed gear bikes are SO much better. Why? Because you can't shift gears. It's harder. It makes you a stronger bicyclist. Why be a stronger bicyclist? So you can ride your fixie without being winded. Why not just keep your old bike and choose not to shift gears? Because, man, just because.

Imposing needless difficulties on yourself to make yourself better can be a good thing. The Spartans opted not to build walls around their cities so soldiers would have to be more on-guard and ready for battle. I think it mostly worked out for them. A tribe in Africa refuses to sweep their floors with long-handled brooms because doing housework without back pain is just lazy. I don't know how that's working out. Sometime artificial difficulties are used to make you better. Other times they're kept around to signal status, folksy wisdom, totems, or team spirit.

Prolog taught me to think declaratively, and FORTH taught me to write re-invent a thousand wheels. There are tasks I would choose implement in these languages even if I knew I could do the same in something mainstream. But the real gifts of these explorations have been the satoris they have given me. Having cried in the dojo, I can laugh on the battlefield. Having removed the ankle-weights, I come back to Basic a stronger man.

I can always shift gears when I come up against a big hill. But I don't have to.

If you read this far, you should definitely RSS me, vote me up, send me fan mail, and all that. Also, I'm having a hard time deciding if I should write a book. If you have an opinion, it would mean a hell of a lot to me if you said so on this two-click form.