An Interview with Alain de Botton

Alain de Botton thinks you’re a hellish proposition.

It’s nothing personal, mind. Basic sanity is simply beyond our reach. Everyone has an appalling amount wrong with them. The only people we can think of as profoundly admirable are those we don’t yet know very well.

I’m eager to establish my muttonhead bona fides as soon as possible, so I botch six separate attempts to secure the Skype connection to London. De Botton waits patiently, gently offering suggestions as if to a rather dim child.

That ought to do the trick. Now we have a clear line, from one hellish human to another…

Better to Reign in Hell Than Serve in Heaven

‘Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven’ is the fervently-held belief of many freelancers, entrepreneurs and digital nomads I’ve met over the last few years. They’ve all walked away from overbearing bosses, steady paychecks, and nine-to-five office hours to build their own dominions.

There are no rules in hell! You can set your own hours and fire annoying clients and be your own boss and blow off work to go drinking at 11 in the morning. But liberty always comes at a price…

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How to Make Your Own Luck

There’s no such thing as cosmic justice. Plenty of good people suffer in various horrible ways; plenty of bad people die rich and happy and surrounded by loved ones. This is not part of some grand plan. It doesn’t ‘mean’ anything. It’s just the arbitrary shuffling of atoms bouncing around a universe-sized billiards table.

There are three common ways of responding to this situation. Unfortunately, two of them are kind of messed up…

The Brave New World of Wireheading

The rat’s paw moves constantly, sometimes becoming a blur as it depresses the lever over and over. Once, twice, ten times, a hundred times, five thousand times in the space of an hour. With each push, an electrode sends a jolt of electricity coursing through its tiny rodent brain. The rat will push the lever for as long as 24 hours without stopping. It won’t eat, or sleep, or make any effort to leave the confines of its stainless steel cage. Unless the men in white lab coats cut off the current, it will stimulate itself to death.

It’s 1954, and science has just stumbled upon the brain’s pleasure center. Heady days! The excited researchers repeat the experiment on monkeys, and find, again, they can reach right into the hypothalamus and light it up like a Christmas tree, transforming their subjects into blissed-out automatons. The seminal paper concludes that these results could “very likely be generalized eventually to human beings—with modifications, of course”.

Of course…

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Is The Law of Attraction Real?

Napoleon Hill was a pretty shitty human being, but you have to give him props for being perhaps the the greatest conman in history. It’s not just the sheer brazenness of the con, but that he got away with it scot-free, and continues to be revered long after his death. Think and Grow Rich, published in 1937, is still a bestseller today. It has 4.5 stars on Amazon.

None of the glowing reviewers seem to be aware that rather than soaking up the principles of the greats, curated and distilled over 20 years, they’re reading fiction cut from whole cloth by a conman whose only expertise lay in parting fools from their money.

As incredible as this is, it’s not the topic of this post. Ideas must be judged on their merits, and Think and Grow Rich is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the positive thinking phenomenon.

Hill didn’t come up with the ‘Law of Attraction’ himself, but he perfected the archetypal self-help format: if you trace back the explosion in gurus waxing lyrical about the the power of belief, Think and Grow Rich is ground zero. Every purveyor of inspiration porn for the last 80 years—Tony Robbins, Oprah, Deepak Chopra, The Secret—has a direct lineage to this book.

It all starts with this idea: If you believe in yourself, the universe will provide. Conquer your thoughts, and you conquer the world…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is Batshit Crazy, and I Love it

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is Utterly Deranged, and I Love It

Marie Kondo—queen of decluttering, bestselling author, empire-builder—hears voices in her head. They spoke to her one fateful day, as she kneeled in supplication on her bedroom floor after another failed attempt at tidying up:

“Look more closely at what is there.”

Most people who start hearing strange voices might take it as a sign that maybe their obsession is getting a little bit out of hand. For Kondo, it was a divine epiphany. This event set her down the pathway to developing her famous ‘KonMari Method™’, which she has used to help thousands of clients organise their homes. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,  has sold more than four million copies, propelled her into superstardom, and attracted admiring hordes of Konverts.

I’ve been meaning to read this classic of the genre ever since I first got interested in the minimalist lifestyle, and conducted a great big dreamy purge of my own possessions. Now that I’ve finally got around to reading it, let me tell you, it was… not what I expected. To be completely blunt, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is certifiably, lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key, batshit crazy…

Best books 2017

The Best of the Best Books I Read in 2017

It’s been another self-indulgent year of funemployment for yours truly, which means I’ve had the time to read as much as I want; basically cruising around the library with my mouth open like some sort of bibliophilic basking shark. Since most people don’t have this luxury, I hope I can provide a small public service in filtering out the tastiest morsels that have passed through the bristle-like gill rakers encircling my giant, unhinged jaw…

Self authoring review: Sorting myself out with Dr Jordan Peterson

Self Authoring Review: Sorting Myself Out With Dr Jordan Peterson

Imagine your dad giving you a stern talking-to about the facts of life, except your dad is Canadian, has an IQ of ~150, and is voiced by Kermit the Frog. That’s Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto psychology professor whose lectures I’ve been binge-watching recently. When I heard he used a research-backed ‘self authoring’ program with his students to great success, I had to give it a try. Here’s the verdict…

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100+ Money Saving Tips to Slash Your Spending

These are the exact strategies I used to save $100,000 by age 25 – with a few bonus extras thrown in for good measure. Over the years, I’ve written more than 300 columns and feature articles about money. Now I’ve crunched all that research down into a summary of the very best saving tips, which will help you free up a tidal wave of cash…