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.


  1. Thanks for explaining me why I like James Altucher writing: he simply candidly tells what he did and what he thinks.

    Also, people like it or hate it, a few insightful ideas slip in and he seems to have an endless supply of silly anecdotes.

  2. Venkatesh is amazing, thanks for bringing his work to my attention.

    Altucher...has his moments too.

  3. Altucher is a genuine writer, no bullshit, no fancy mambo jumbo and he actually say SOMETHING, he gives real advice and very practical. He's not fooling around writing useless things just for the sake of it. He's original and you can feel that the writing is his, he is 100% Altucher-proofed.

    And yep, I will read everything he writes and buy everything he publishes. He writes honestly and genuinely and that became a rare commodity these days.

  4. The problem with writing what comes up in your head in that moment is... you're almost never right with respect to doing research before writing? I stopped following him when he wrote something on the lines of "the US should just pardon the national debt they have with themselves", which showed a complete lack of knowledge of how the economy works. It's like asking an astrologist how to go to the Moon and appreciate the advice when he says you'll need protection from the cheese smell.

  5. The problem with Altucher is that he censors any blog comments that disagree with him, even when they are civil and rational. This gives a very stilted and dishonest view of his blog and followers. Unfortunately it isn't obvious - you have to check his blog frequently to notice that this is happening.

  6. I muted him on Quora before knowing much about him. All I knew is that (1) he was posting answers on everything, regardless of whether he had expertise in the area, and (2) he was *incredibly* long winded, the king of TL;DR responses. Tried his book, Choose Yourself, but quit almost immediately: same problem. Since he's incapable of editing or condensing his thoughts, I find him far too annoying to (figuratively) stay in the same room.