Tribalism and the Mid-term Elections

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- Milo Yiannopoulos, the social critic and provocateur, gets into trouble with both the far right and the far left for mixing his intelligent insights and critiques of social and political movements with lowbrow humor.

He’s gotten into trouble; for example, by criticizing women celebrities for the way they look.

His vertical range of discourse is one thing I like about him. I like that he’s willing to be vulgar when he believes it can work. But I don’t believe his vulgarity enhances his public image. Nor do I think it’s impressive. When he goes low, I find myself wanting to coach him. Why not take a lesson from Bill Buckley? You can be witty and devastating at the same time if you challenge your higher brain.

I feel the same way about smart people who are rabid sports fans. I can appreciate the range of their experience and can accept their addiction, but I can’t say that I see it as a positive. I see it rather as a forgivable flaw.

Here’s what I want to say. (And this will offend probably 70% of the people that read this.) Being a sports fan is not something to feel proud of. It is an indulgence in one of the lowest aspects of emotional intelligence. It is an indulgence in tribalism and mindless bigotry. It is, like pornography, something best done in the privacy of one’s home.

The tribal mentality is one that rejects reason. It is groupthink that defines goodness by the team. It is the sort of thinking that supports the worst instincts of human social behavior. It is what evolution is meant to deselect. It is the lowest use of one’s brain.

Now I know whereof I speak. For a period of several years, I was a rabid fan of the Miami Heat. During that frenzied time there was nothing the Heat could do that I would think of criticizing. Every bucket they scored was a nod from God himself. Every foul they made was justified.

And every game they won gave me the sort of thrill I had experienced only through drugs. Every game they lost put me in a long state of despair.

I was mindless, fanatical, and irrationally attached to a billion-dollar franchise that cared nothing about me except for my lifetime value to them in dollars.

I have the fortune to be acquainted with many, many highly intelligent people. Among them, I would include most of the members of my family and most of my best friends. A minority of them, like me, is uncomfortable with tribal allegiance. But the rest of them root mindlessly for their teams without giving their behavior a second thought.

If this tribal mentality were confined to sports, it would be one sort of problem. But I find that the same mental illness affects them when it comes to politics. They have a team – Democrats or Republicans or one of the totally ineffectual splinter groups – and they support them unthinkingly to the bitter end.

This was glaringly evident during the mid-term elections. I talked to several of them, all very bright, and they told me that they voted strictly along party lines. They didn’t think they had to bother to actually understand their candidate’s platform. If he was wearing the right colors, that was enough for them.

I wake up every morning to a culture that is more divided than it has ever been in my living memory, with the possible exception of the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War. And what I think about it is this: Tribalism is scary. I had imagined we would be done with this sort of groupthink mentality. But that hasn’t happened. And one day, if things continue as they are, I will have to abandon the better parts of my brain and choose a side.

Today’s Word: distrust vs. mistrust (noun) – Distrust and mistrust have different meanings. Distrust is the complete lack of trust based on an experience. Mistrust is a complete lack of trust based on gut feeling.

Did You Know?: The shortest verse in the Bible consists of two words – “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Worth Quoting: “Let yourself go. Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.” – E.M. Foster

Read This

I read this essay by James Altucher expecting to be entertained. The guy can be very funny. And, indeed, I smiled a lot while reading it. But the crazy thing was that – however crazy his proposals for political reform sound – I found myself agreeing with each one.


A “Simple Question” With a “That Depends” Answer

Monday, November 5, 2018

Delray Beach, Florida.- “I have a simple question,” RS wrote. “How can you calculate the odds for losing your money before you start a business or invest your capital? I’ve read what you said about it, but I can’t figure out how to do it! (I can, though, tell you that the odds to roll a 6:6 with two dice is 2.77%.)”

I like the critique implicit in RS’s question. The answer is that you cannot mathematically calculate the odds of losing money in a business. But you can figure out if the odds are in your favor.

I told him to start with this:

* Have you ever started the same or a very similar business before?

* If not, have you worked as a senior person in the same or a very similar business?

If the answer is no to either question, the odds are against you.

If I feel the odds are against me, the only way I will invest in a new business is if I can do a series of marketing tests to identify its optimal selling proposition within a timeframe and a budget that I can afford.

That will be different for everyone. For me, the timeframe would normally be up to but not more than 2 years. And the dollar limit would be $50,000 to $100,000.

Today’s Word: legerdemain (noun) – Legerdemain (lej-er-duh-MANE) is sleight of hand, the skillful use of the hands to perform magic tricks. As used by A.A. Milne: “A clever conjurer is welcome anywhere, and those of us whose powers of entertainment are limited to the setting of booby-traps or the arranging of apple-pie beds must view with envy the much greater tribute of laughter and applause which is the lot of the prestidigitator with some natural gift for legerdemain.”

Did You Know?: A blue whale can produce sounds up to 188 decibels, detectable up to 530 miles away. For comparison… conversational speech is about 60 decibels, a jackhammer is about 90 decibels, and a thunderclap is about 120.

Worth Quoting: “A single feat of daring can alter the whole conception of what is possible.”  –Graham Greene

Something to Think About

Believe the Woman… Always?

Sexual assault is a despicable crime. The damage it does to the victim and the family is huge and long-lasting.

In most civilized countries of the world, there have been great strides towards investigating and prosecuting sexual offenders. Reports of sexual assault, once treated randomly and even casually, are generally taken seriously today. As they should be.

But the pendulum will have swung too far if we accept the idea that “the woman should always be believed,” an idea that is on the ascendency.

The proposition – one I’ve heard frequently and which actually appeared recently as a full-page ad in the NYT– that “nobody would ever make up such a thing” is simply idiotic.

In response to this craziness, reports of false accusations are finding their way into the media. Not the NYT perhaps, but other, alternative media.

Here’s one example in which 5 young girls accused a young man of sexual assault on two occasions. As a result, he was fired from his job and forced to endure multiple court appearances, detention in a juvenile facility, and loss of his liberty. Finally, several of the girls reluctantly admitted that their accusations had been false.





Life Is Good… How Did I Get So Lucky?

Saturday, November 3, 2018

New York City.- I’m at Club Macanudo on 63rd Street, in between Park and Madison in NYC. It’s a stately, turn-of-last century townhouse, not unlike Agora’s offices in Baltimore.

The doorman greets me as I enter… like I’m a regular customer. I consider sitting at the oak and glass bar, but it looks a bit busy. So I advance to one of the cigar rooms, past a dining room where men and women are enjoying steak dinners.

I sit down in one of the comfortable leather chairs and order a Smoke & Fire cocktail. “I don’t need the cigar menu,” I tell the server. “I’ve brought something special of my own.”

The lighting is soft. The air is surprisingly fresh, despite the fact that there are about 30 men in the room and they are all smoking. They are mostly middle-aged, but there are some youngsters and a smattering of older men like me. Everyone seems unusually relaxed. No one is working. No one is on the phone. They are smoking and drinking and conversing. I feel like I belong. I’m not an intruder. I’m not an imposter. I’ve earned this.

And there’s more…

Tomorrow morning at 8:30 I will have a private Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) lesson from Marcel Garcia, one the world’s most celebrated world champions. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s not easy to get a roll with MG. I’ve known his head instructor, Paul Shreiner, for a couple of years. He hooked me up. I can’t wait to tell one of my BJJ buddies back in Delray Beach about this experience.

I’ll be back at the hotel by 10:30 and I’ll get in an hour or two of writing before K returns from her morning walk. We’ll spend the afternoon at the Met and visiting a midtown art dealer I’ve worked with in the past. He has a 1905 Andre Derain landscape that I’ve been jealously following for nearly 15 years. Maybe tomorrow will be the day I own it. Dinner will be at a favorite restaurant in Brooklyn Heights with Number One Son and Daughter-in-Law and their twin girls.

Wow! How did I get so lucky?

I remember what my partner said to a young man who came up to him at a business event and introduced himself. “I so admire everything you’ve achieved in your life,” the young man said. “Someday, if I’m lucky…”

Smiling, my partner interrupted him. “You get to work at 7 a.m. and go back home at 7 p.m.,” he said. “You do that six or seven days a week for 40 years and the luck takes care of itself.”

Today’s Word: ineluctable (adjective) – Ineluctable (in-ih-LUK-tuh-bul) means inescapable, unable to be resisted or avoided. As used by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “The Christian doctrine of sin in its classical form offends both rationalists and moralists by maintaining the seemingly absurd position that man sins inevitably and by a fateful necessity but that he is nevertheless to be held responsible for actions which are prompted by an ineluctable fate.”

Did You Know?: In Japan, you can buy all sorts of things from vending machines. Not just condoms and cigarettes and snacks and cans of soda, but comic books, hot dogs, light bulbs, women’s underwear, and alcohol.

Worth Quoting: “Fashions, after all, are only induced epidemics.” – George Bernard Shaw

Watch This

When I was younger I found Frank Sinatra’s I Did It My Way to be a mawkish thing. But as I am in the years when one must evaluate the bits and fragments of one’s life, I find it to be…well mawkish, but in a good way. This septuagenarian Korean drummer accompanies what looks to be a karaoke singer doing it not her way but his way.


White Male Privilege: Where Do You Stand on the Social Justice Scale?

Thursday, November 1, 2018

New York City.- “That’s because you are a privileged white male,” she said.

She was explaining why my perspective on… I don’t remember what… was wrong. Not just wrong, but invalid.

White Male Privilege. A catchy phrase, to be sure. But what, exactly, does it mean? The more I thought about it, the less logical it seemed. So I looked it up.

Most of the sources define it as “institutional” or “social” advantages available to white men that are not available to women and people of color. Like Jim Crow laws in the South… apartheid policies in South Africa… and some Muslim and Jewish religious traditions.

But in contemporary Western societies? In the USA today?

I could find no laws, regulations, or policies that favor white men. I could find plenty that gives preference to women and/or minorities. But none for white men.

But this belief in white male privilege isn’t going to go away. There’s a lot of emotional force behind it. I’m guessing it has something to do with two ideas, incubated for decades in academia, that are now spreading like wildfire:

  • Entitlement– As a living being, I am entitled to everything the world has to offer. I don’t have to earn it. If others have it, I should have it too.
  • Dependency– I am not responsible for my own wellbeing. Someone or something has that responsibility.

If you buy into these ideas, it makes perfect sense to say that if there are inequalities in the world they are inherently wrong and necessarily the fault (and the responsibility) of whatever group or person is at the top.

This, of course, is not just idiotic. It’s dangerously destructive. We all know this in our bones, even if some of us don’t know it in our heads.

My friends that believe in white male privilege wouldn’t allow their adult children to act on the basis of such beliefs. They tell them, “Hey, the world isn’t fair. And although I might not have been the perfect parent in your estimation, it’s up to you to solve your own problems.”

This sort of hypocrisy is lost to proponents of white male privilege. And you can forget about pointing out the irony that, by definition, the phrase “white male privilege” is both sexist and racist.

But perhaps this will work. It’s a very simple test. And it is not in itself a refutation of the concept of white male privilege. Quite the contrary, it begins with the assumption that there is such a thing.

And it is very simple. Just two steps. Here they are:

Step One. Put white men at the top of the privilege scale.

Step Two. Fill in the rest.

(Note: For simplicity sake, we are going to take the very white male perspective that there are two genders and four racial groups. Feel free to make your list longer.)

For my first attempt, I’m going to assume that gender trumps race, but that race still counts. With that as a guiding principle, the privilege scale might look like this:

* White Men

* Asian Men

* Hispanic Men

* Black Men

* Asian Women

* White Women

* Hispanic Women

* Black Women

But hold on. That would indicate that all white women are less privileged than all black men. With even a very successful white businesswomen being less privileged than an unemployed black man.

Hmmm. That doesn’t work.

Let’s try giving priority to race, with white at the top and then Asian and Hispanic and black. Like this:

* White Men

* White Women

* Asian Men

* Asian Women

* Hispanic Men

* Hispanic Women

* Black Women

* Black Men

But that puts white women nearly at the top of the scale. We can’t have that! It would mean that they can no longer be considered to be oppressed. They would be the oppressors.

I’m sure there is a way to do this that would work. It wouldn’t be the same for everyone –  but you could do it your way, and I could do it my way, and Uncle Ted could do it his way. But what good would it do the social justice movement if everyone had their own idea of privilege?

It would be tantamount to suggesting that, yes, we live in a world that is unfair and also unequal and that we can’t agree on a scale of gender-race privilege. And if that is true, what then? We’d have to get to work on improving our individual situations. On getting more of everything we want by working against the obstacles, whether they are racism or misogyny or our personal limitations. Limitations like each individual’s health and intelligence and ability to acquire financially valuable skills and willingness to work as hard as it takes to be a success.

But then we would have to give up the happy notion that we can do it by blaming white men.

Today’s Word: interloper (noun) – An interloper (IN-ter-loh-per) is a person who interferes or meddles. As used by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Let a man then know his worth, and keep things under his feet. Let him not peep or steal, or skulk up and down with the air of a charity-boy, a bastard, or an interloper.”

Did You Know?: Some facts about women in education*

  • Since 1976, girls enrolled in gifted and talented education programs have outnumbered boys.
  • Girls are evenly represented in biology and outnumber boys in chemistry, but are underrepresented in physics.
  • Girls outnumber boys in AP science, AP foreign languages, and several other AP subjects. In AP math (calculus and statistics), however, boys have consistently outnumbered girls.
  • 57% of students in higher education are women.
  • In 2009-10, females represented 57.4% of students receiving a bachelor’s degree and 62.6% of students receiving a master’s degree.

*Source: the US Department of Education

Worth Quoting: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King

 Watch This

Wanis Kabbaj on How Nationalism and Globalism Can Co-Exist

We are trudging through a bog of polarizing ideological arguments. Here’s a little branch of helpful logic you can grab onto…



Show Me Your Freak Card

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Delray Beach.- I liked him the minute he introduced himself. Poised, intelligent, and energetic, he wanted to interview me for his podcast. We did a short, extemporaneous bit on entrepreneurship. Afterwards, I sat down with him for a chat.

We talked about his career. He started from scratch, prompted, he told me, by reading Ready, Fire, Aim. (He could recite passages from chapters I’d forgotten that I’d written. I was flattered.) Little by little, he built a company that was now making nearly $20 million a year. I was impressed.

Then he told me a story about how, when he was starting out and still living at home and working for his father, he had tried to create a competing business by stealing his dad’s employees.

“But he found out what I was doing and put a stop to it,” he said.

I looked at him skeptically. He wasn’t joking, although he seemed to think I would find the anecdote amusing.

Because he was otherwise likable and even admirable, I decided to hook him up with our global CEO. Before making the introduction, I briefed her on his many positive qualities. But I also told her what he had told me about trying to knock off his dad’s business.

“That freaked me out,” I said.

“Good!” she replied. “That means you know what his ‘freak card’ is. Everyone has one.… well, most people do. It’s a personality quirk that could eventually freak up the relationship. And when someone shows you their freak card early on, you know what you are up against… and you can assess whether or not you can handle them.”

I thought about that. I thought about all the business relationships I’ve had. Most were good to very good. And most of my counterparts in those relationships were people with quirks. Their quirks were more often comical than annoying (as I presume my quirks were to them). But the bad relationships? Those guys? Their quirks were serious. And damaging. I do wish I’d gotten a look at their freak card a lot sooner.