It’s difficult for me to describe why it bothers me so much to see successful people giving talks about their good fortune, attributing it instead to hard work and trivializing the luck involved. There’s probably a more appropriate logical fallacy to describe it, but this idea that a person can simply work hard to achieve success seems to be an odd form of legitimizing one’s outsized results in a socially acceptable format, presumably to escape the “Why me?” feeling that ought to accompany ridiculous success.
I’m jealous, to be sure. I’d love to be able to never worry about money, food, or housing ever again. I’d like to be swimming in job offers and never need to take any of them. Who wouldn’t be envious? It’s just that the “hard” work thing sticks in my craw. What does that mean, hard work? Does that mean long hours? Doing things that make you morally uncomfortable? Does it mean physically challenging?
According to Maynard James Keenan’s biography, the band Tool was signed to a record label after just a handful of live shows. Less than ten. (I’m being vague here because I can’t remember the number and I can’t be bothered to look it up. The impact is the same. I think it was eight.) I love Tool’s music and it’s been great to see their success. I truly believe that they deserve it. Certainly they worked “hard” to make their music, but I can’t help but point out that they got ridiculously lucky in being signed to a record contract so soon, and I can’t help but think that it was the luck that played the more significant role. There are countless acts working their asses off, touring, playing shows everywhere, and they either get ignored or end up producing their own stuff to lukewarm reception. Go ahead and try the ol’ ten-show record contract plan today.
So when does the work end up determining the success? Is it possible to be successful without the work? Of course it is, and not just because “successful” is also a moving target. However, keep a D6 in your pocket, and when listening to these successful folks describing the roots of their success, roll it to remind yourself of the role chance plays, because a great many of these people will be, consciously or not, reluctant to admit that they probably didn’t work any harder or better than the hordes of less-prominent people around them. While I enjoy a good inspirational talk as much as the next person, simply saying “I got lucky” tends to take the wind out of the sails a bit, though it shouldn’t.
This might be a peculiarly American thing, or a feature of any culture that tends to over-emphasize the value of labor. Randall Munroe has succinctly described my thoughts on the matter in one frame, in either case.
I am trying to restrain myself from making comparisons to past nationalistic regimes, not because I’m opposed to such political hanky-panky, but because I don’t think it’s helpful. Are there parallels? Of course. The problem is that by comparing the current administration to something so horrifically memorable, it’s far too easy for supporters to simply wave a hand and say, “This is completely different. You’re overreacting.”
In this, they’d be correct. This is its own brand of ignorant. Remember that there were comparisons to national socialism when Obama was in office. I won’t say they were informed comparisons, but they were there. It’s become a crutch to be used whenever someone wants to say, “I think this is a really bad thing.” It’s like when someone gets called a hipster.
So I want to encourage criticism related to the current abuses, the lies and idiocy of the present day. Keep it in a context that doesn’t raise the problem to the level of the evil and absurd. There’s plenty to use here. Because comparisons to a Jew-slaughtering, book-burning, people-gassing, war-starting psychopath can’t really be made without throwing the judgment of the user into question.
But criticizing an unapologetic liar; a backpedaling administration desperately trying to avoid looking foolish in front of the world; a scared little baby who also believes that everyone else ought to be quiver-lipping the pacifier; people who believe in taking money away from the things that actively keep our fellow citizens (and non-citizens, for that matter) alive in order to re-direct those funds into the things that actively make other people dead…
Criticizing those people? In present-day terms? That just shows you’re a person who pays attention. We don’t need no stinking swastika to do that.
Book Number Three has reached 50,000 words. I’m not announcing the title yet, because in a selfish, paranoid, tin-foil-hat kind of way I don’t want someone else to steal the title. It’s not that the title is really witty or amazingly unique, it’s that it fits the book so well that I can’t imagine it being called anything else.
For the writer geeks out there, I almost always have a title before I’ve written much of, or sometimes any of the book. The title is like my battle flag, and I keep that held up in front of me so I know which way to march. Or charge. Without a title, it doesn’t really feel like a thing. Your results may vary.
I feel like I’m nearly half-way through on one side or the other. I don’t just want to say that because 100,000 is a nice round number, or because that was my target. I just feel like we’re nearly halfway there, the book and I. This is the easy part, the writing. The hard part is the countless re-reads, re-writes, and edits that come next. We’re a bit of a way off that step, though.
Shelving books at the library today, I handled a gem from 2011. From the book’s own jacket:
For an entire year, otherwise clear-thinking members of the most affluent, over-educated, information-drenched generation in American history fell prey to the most expensive, hi-tech, laser-focused marketing assault in presidential campaign history.
Twitter messages were machine-gunned to cell phones at mach speed.
Facebook and MySpace groups spread across the Internet like digital fire.
YouTube videos featuring celebrities ricocheted across the globe and into college students’ in-boxes with devastating regularity.
All the while, the mega-money-raising engine whirred like a slot machine stuck on jackpot.
The result: an unthinking mass of young voters marched forward to elect the most radical and untested president in U.S. history.
The bolding is mine. The president in question is of course Obama. I’ll leave you to figure out who the author most likely voted for in 2016. Talk about instant irrelevance.
To the gentleman at the Indian restaurant today, who will never read this but it feels good to type it anyway:
The protests were not because someone “lost”. People in Australia and Europe didn’t lose anything and don’t feel a sense of loss. What they feel along with many people here is that they’ve gained an ignorant, unqualified liar who has yet to prove himself otherwise, and that the rhetoric is treading dangerously close to the type of drivel that oozed from the corners of the mouths of men who’ve inspired worthless fanaticism and slaughter.