Rate and Review of “Models: Attract Women Through Honesty” by Mark Manson

There are a lot of attraction, “pickup,” and dating advice books for men out there – and many of them are terrible. The advice you find encourages you to do everything from being a dancing monkey in nightclubs with memorized lines, all the way to encouraging you to be a sexual predator. With the advice of many of these books ranging from manipulative to horrifying, it can be hard to take the entire genre seriously – let alone find good advice.

“Models: Attract Women Through Honesty” by Mark Manson takes a different approach. As the name implies, his advice is centered on honesty, self-confidence, and self-development. Rather than giving you lines to say, you find ways of saying the interesting and attractive things that you already have – but aren’t confident enough to say. Rather than taking on an aggressive and macho facade, you share yourself with the world in an open and vulnerable way – and by doing so, demonstrate incredible self-confidence. Rather than manipulating women into having sex with you, you live your life in a way where you quickly find the women you’re most likely to have a genuine emotional and sexual connection with.

If you want to quickly describe his approach: seduction, not as emotional manipulation, but as an honest emotional connection between two people.

Discussion

I can hear someone out there asking, “Why read a book like this? If you want to become more attractive, why not just work on every part of your life? Why not just read all kinds of books on psychology, go to the gym, and work on your career? Those will make you more attractive!”

Sure, they will, and Manson talks about reading/gym/career. But even if you work on every part of your life, and become one of the most successful people on the planet, that doesn’t mean your dating life is going to sort itself out. The most extreme example of this is probably Elon Musk. I read his biography earlier this year, and it partially inspired me to read this book. The man is ambitious, in great shape, a genius, a billionaire… he has all kinds of things going for him, and still has a ridiculous number of relationship problems. I love the man, and he’s a huge inspiration to me, but I don’t want to have his relationship problems.

And even if I hadn’t read Musk’s biography this year, this is one of the areas of my life I’ve had problems with. I want to fix that.

I’ll be honest up front: I really like this book, and at this point I’m mostly trying to find something to dislike about it.

This feels like an unfair nitpick, but while he does talk about how women and LGBT people would adapt the book to their needs, there is at least one group of people where this book will be less useful or not very useful: traditional conservatives. Traditional conservatives will either A. believe that casual sex is immoral, and will be turned off by the book’s implicit endorsement of pursuing it, or B. have their own standard models of courtship that make Manson’s dating advice less useful.

Something that I think a person should keep in mind while reading this is that Mark Manson is a former pickup artist/dating coach, and it shows. He references other methods, he’s read all of the pickup books, and has loads of stories from his days of coaching men. Interestingly, rather than say that pickup lines and tactics don’t work, he says that they’re not psychologically healthy. They’re a band-aid solution to the real problems standing between you and genuinely connecting to people. The man might be a former pickup coach, but his “method” is anti-pickup. Forget the lines. Forget the jargon. The only real dating advice is self-improvement.

Manson does this interesting thing where he lays out how the nice guy and the narcissist are surprisingly similar. They seem like opposites, but the nice guy and the narcissist are dark mirrors of each other founded on internal insecurity. Nice guys are meek and nice in order to win approval, while narcissists brag about their greatness for approval. Nice guys invest in others at the expense of themselves, while narcissists only serve themselves. Nice guys put women on a pedestal, while narcissists have a wide range of negative beliefs about women to justify using them. Nice guys have no boundaries, while narcissists overcompensate by respecting no one else’s boundaries. Both attempt to control and manipulate others into approving of them.

Instead of being a nice guy or narcissist, be honest. Be vulnerable. Be open about who you are and what you think. Have boundaries, and be willing to walk away if they aren’t respected. Invest in yourself. Authentically express who and what you are, even at the risk of getting rejected or hurt. Don’t hide yourself.

If you’ve ever heard the advice to “be yourself” in dating, or even the advice “be your best self,” this is really what that’s trying to get at. Tackle your insecurities and anxieties, figure out who you are, and share it with the world so that the people who will appreciate you most can find you.

I suspect that if asked, Manson would agree that there are limits or caveats to this. If you’re 16 and your parents will kick you out if you reveal your sexuality, hiding your identity is less about insecurities and more about survival. Being open about your weaknesses and faults might display security, but probably isn’t a smart move if you have enemies who can and will take advantage of those weaknesses. And I do mean enemies – if you are as polarizing and controversial as Manson encourages you to be, you won’t just attract women who like what you have to offer, you’ll also attract people who hate those same things.

I also suspect that if asked, Manson would say that having people hate you is the inevitable risk of living honestly and courageously. The alternative is a life not worth living.

If you’re living honestly and courageously, but a woman is unavailable or uninterested? Move on. Manson doesn’t use the term, but when it comes to rejection he has what other authors might call an “abundance mindset.” There are many paths to success. There are millions of opportunities out there. She’s in a relationship? She just wants to be friends? You’re the right guy at the wrong time? Move on. I could see it being interpreted as an almost low-effort, even lazy approach, where you move on at the slightest hint of resistance – but that’s not what he’s trying to get at. Move on to better opportunities. Try new things, meet new people, go new places. Find the women who are most likely to be receptive to your unique gifts.

At one point he lists a bunch of interesting and great places to meet women, along with some commentary about each. This is good, and is a great start for men (and anyone) looking to expand their interests. It’s implied that you should go to these places to pursue your interests, not just to meet women – I wish he would have stated this explicitly. You should go to education and public speaking classes to improve yourself, not just to meet public speaking women. Even if yoga classes are “a goldmine” for meeting women (I mean, they are), you should still only go to yoga classes if you want to do yoga. I’m 99% sure Manson would agree if asked.

The area where I expected the entire book to fall apart was sex, and more specifically consent. You don’t have to look far into the men’s dating advice industry to find coaches who are “less concerned” (i.e. not concerned) about consent as they are about getting men laid. “Be concerned about consent at all” is a pretty low bar, but it’s one that many do not pass. Manson does. He tells you explicitly that if a women tells you to stop, you need to stop. You need to look for consent. Don’t be a rapist. So good job Mark Manson! You passed the lowest of possible bars!

I’m being sarcastic, but there are lots of people who have problems with the entire genre of men’s dating advice. Feminists, who will encounter advice for how men can manipulate women into sex. Traditional conservatives, who interpret the entire genre as evidence of a culture in decline. Or maybe you’re like me: you read a pickup book or two back in high school, and it turned you off to most of the men’s dating advice genre.

Overall though, I agree with about 95% of the book. It’s not perfect. There are some parts where I think he repeats himself more than he needs to, and there are a few grammar or wording problems where I had to reread a line in order to understand what he was getting at. But those minor problems don’t detract from the fact that while I was reading, I didn’t want to stop reading.

The only place where I really disagree, or think there are some caveats in order, is on the question of “who pays.” His basic advice is that unless she physically pulls out her wallet to pay/split the bill, you should just pay for the whole thing. While this is a lot better than some other advice (“IT IS YOUR JOB AS A MAN TO PROVIDE, PROTECT, AND PROFESS! IF YOU DON’T PAY FOR THE MEAL, YOU’RE NOT A MAN!” “Okay Steve Harvey, calm down.”), I don’t fully agree. I’m planning on writing an entire essay on the topic, but basically – I think it’s more complicated than that. In order to get an ethical and consistent answer to the question of “who pays,” there are more things you need to take into account than just gender.

Overall, I feel pretty positive about having read this book. I feel good about publicly reviewing it. I feel good about recommending it. I feel good about telling other men about this book.

Even more importantly, I feel good about recommending this to my hypothetical sons.

Descendants Review

If I created a list of the 100 most useful books of all time, and my descendants read that list to have the greatest possible chance of success in life, would this book be on that list?

  1. Definitely Yes
  2. >Yes
  3. Maybe (Leaning Yes)
  4. Maybe (Leaning No)
  5. No
  6. Definitely Not

I’m reading books for my own education, and my own self-improvement. But I’m also looking for books that I can recommend to my hypothetical children, so that they can reach their goals and be successful, whatever that means for them. Chances are I’ll have at least one son – I don’t want him to have the difficulties in dating I’ve had in my life, or at the very least I want him to solve the problems I’ve faced faster than I did. That means I need to read men’s (and women’s!) dating books… without accidentally giving my sons a book that encourages them to be sexual predators.

Models fits the bill.

There is a risk that this book will be outdated in 20-30 years. Even between the 2011 and 2016 versions, he did note that he deemphasized the role of calling women as opposed to texting. Chances are by the time my children would be old enough to read this book, some other technical/societal change will have happened that impacts dating. I’m pretty sure every dating advice book is going to have the same risk attached to it.

Regardless of that risk, this book is a winner.

Overall Review

10/10. Possibly the best dating advice book for men that currently exists.

Notes and Quotes From “Models: Attract Women Through Honesty” by Mark Manson

A shockingly good book on attraction and dating for men. No pickup lines. No complex charts. No crazy jargon, acronyms, and so on. Just advice on inner development, and living a lifestyle defined by honestly pursuing your desires (towards women and everything else).

My overall thoughts and review of the book will be posted soon.

Notes and Quotes

Originally published in 2011, Manson rewrote/updated the book in 2016.

The book is mostly directed at heterosexual men, but the core concepts “apply to all human beings, regardless of gender, orientation, genitalia, or whatever.” Whatever your dating life looks like, you can apply most of the advice in this book to your own situation.

What does it mean to be a man in today’s world?

Two movements have emerged: one that is calling for a new masculinity in the face of deep uncertainty, and a second movement that calls for men to do inner work to improve their interactions with women.

Manson’s approach isn’t about lines, it’s about an internal mindset for dealing with intimacy in a healthy (and more attractive) way.

The book is divided into five parts:

  • Part 1: Attraction
  • Part 2: Dating Strategy
  • Part 3: Honest Living
  • Part 4: Honest Action
  • Part 5: Honest Communication

Seduction is not about emotional manipulation, but about honest emotional connection between two people.

Part 1: Attraction

Chapter 1: Non-Neediness

Neediness: placing a priority on other’s perceptions rather than self-perception. Non-neediness is the opposite.

A non-needy person does things for their own enjoyment, rather than trying to control what others think.

A non-needy person is more invested in themselves than they are in a woman.

A non-needy person is very similar to being high status. When you’re at the top of the social hierarchy, you don’t need to beg for anything or defer to others unless you want to. Those at the bottom only survive by begging and deferring.

All relationships require investment (and that’s what makes them worthwhile), but whether you’re needy or not is defined by this: are her perceptions/thoughts/feelings/enjoyment more important, or are yours more important?

Needy and narcissistic people do get into relationships, but mostly dysfunctional relationships with people who are also needy or narcissistic.

Being attractive isn’t about the things you say or do. It’s about being secure in yourself, non-needy.

The costs of sex are higher for women (9 months of pregnancy), and they have to be picky for who they choose as a partner. Hence why they are looking for a man who makes them feel secure.

Security isn’t just about a man being physically fit or financially wealthy. Those things help a man be attractive, but if his behavior is unattractive, he will be passed over.

“Seduction is the process by which a man induces a woman to become as invested in him as he is in her.” This applies to marriages, relationships, one night stands, etc.

You can learn pickup artist tactics – lines, game, etc. – in order to generate attraction. But pickup is a form of performance. It’s needy, revealing insecurity about who you actually are. It’s not fulfilling in the long term and covers up the real problem. The alternative is to be secure, and to express your sexual desires in a secure way.

To keep long term relationships working, you need to invest in yourself.

Performance might work in the short term, but not in the long run. (AKA “You can’t game your girlfriend.”)

Stop thinking about whether you are attractive enough or good enough for her. Ask if you will like her, whether she will recognize your good qualities, if she is interested in the things you enjoy, do you want to be with her, etc.

It sounds like selfishness, but is actually the foundation of non-neediness: strong boundaries, high standards, and high self-esteem.

“The only real dating advice is self-improvement. Work on yourself. Conquer your anxieties. Resolve your shame. Take care of yourself and those who are important to you.”

Narcissism is a shield used to protect your inner insecurities.

Narcissistic men overcompensate for their insecurities by only serving themselves, and believing a wide range of negative beliefs about women to justify using them for their own ends.

A needy man (AKA nice guy) is meek to gain approval, while a narcissist talks about how great they are to gain approval.

Women are attracted to narcissistic men if they are 1. extremely needy, or 2. narcissistic themselves and want to lift up their own greatness.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is ultimately another form of performance and insecurity.

Sometimes the nice guy will become a narcissist in pursuit of women, but ends up only attracting emotionally unstable women.

Chapter 2: Vulnerability

Most men have negative associations with “vulnerability,” but it’s the key to non-neediness.

Vulnerability is not about sharing sob stories or telling everyone about your insecurities, it’s about putting yourself in a position where you can be rejected or risk your emotions being hurt.

Vulnerability is a form of power that demonstrates internal security. “A man who’s able to make himself vulnerable is saying to the world, ‘Screw the repercussions; this is who I am, and I refuse to be anyone else.’ He’s saying he is non-needy and high status.”

What does this type of “vulnerable” man look like? They look people in the eye, they share their emotions at the risk of having them be rejected, they are unfazed by negative opinions of them, they stand up for themselves when challenged, while also admitting fault and weakness when appropriate. They aren’t trying to hide themselves.

The more bottled up you’ve been during your life, the harder it will be to start being vulnerable.

Neediness is only cured through vulnerability – sharing who you are, rough edges and all.

Women will like you for your ability to authentically express yourself, and conclude that you’re a person she can be emotionally and physically open with.

“We always think that we’re the ones that are fine. It’s everyone else who is screwed up.”

“It’s not about words or behavior, it’s about intentions.”

If you’re worried about whether something you do “doesn’t work,” you’re still performing. You’re being needy. Authentic expression doesn’t “work” or “not work.”

Vulnerability is about honest expression of emotion. When you say or express something you have to mean it, state your honest feelings, give honest compliments.

Chapter 3: The Gift of Truth

The intentions and implications of why you say something are far more important than the words themselves.

You can say almost anything, even disgusting and stupid things, but if you say those things from a place of rock-bottom investment and high vulnerability (internal security), it displays incredible attractiveness.

THE TRUTH IS ALWAYS SHINING THROUGH.

Give women more credit, they have a sixth sense for your motivations and emotions.

Vulnerability requires honesty, and honesty requires a lack of ulterior motives.

We don’t trust people who are extremely invested in us early, they’re either an axe murderer or trying to sell us something.

“I don’t know you, but I’ll do anything to win your approval.” Very needy and pathetic attitude. If you go up to woman in a bar (or anywhere) with that mindset, you’re communicating that your only value is money and compliments.

Nice guys always give. Narcissists always take. Both are desperate for approval.

Compliments aren’t a bargaining tool. Stop using them like one.

Trying to buy a woman’s affection or trying to impress her will make you unattractive.

It’s about being less invested, rather than not invested at all in other’s perceptions. Nice guys are completely invested, while narcissists have zero investment. Non-needy people are less invested.

Non-needy people set clear boundaries. Because they have clear boundaries, they are willing to tell scathingly honest and angry truths if it makes those boundaries clear.

Nice guys have no boundaries. Narcissists pay no attention to the boundaries of others as a form of overcompensation.

Needy people only respect others. Narcissists only respect themselves. Non-needy people respect themselves and others.

If women play games with you, or give you all sorts of “tests”: Make it clear you won’t tolerate games. The women you attract will stop playing them, and you’ll stop attracting game-playing women.

Non-neediness is demonstrated by having clear boundaries, and being willing to walk away if they are violated.

Establish boundaries. Learn to say no. Have opinions. Define what you will and won’t tolerate. Be as painfully honest as you have to be about all of these things.

In order to be painfully honest, you need to have self-awareness. Know thyself. Sit down, and figure out who and what you are. Define your values. Understand your own motivations about why you do what you do. Set boundaries based on your new self-awareness.

Come to terms with your old wounds, your insecurities, your motivating emotions, all of your rough edges. Therapy might be useful (only as a tool – not as a solution).

Remember that even if someone is incredibly attracted to you, that doesn’t mean they’re going to jump into an intimate relationship with you. There can be friction and projection that get in the way.

Friction: a values mismatch, or other circumstances that make acting on mutual attraction impossible.

Projection: the person is not comfortable with their sexuality (or sexual men), and will project their anxieties and insecurities onto you. Often related to abuse, or a long series of disappointing men. (Note to self: this probably also applies to men uncomfortable with sexual women and female sexuality)

“Incompatibility is a fact of life. No matter how you behave or what you’re into, the majority of women out there at any given time are simply not going to be interested or emotionally available to you. Our job is not to attract every woman, but to screen for women with a high potential for being attracted to who we really are.”

Part 2: Dating Strategy

Chapter 4: Polarization

Manson is giving advice with the intent of it being effective and practical.

Remember: Rejection exists to keep people apart who aren’t good for each other.

Having all women attracted to you through pickup, by saying the right lines, is a fairy tale.

First, eliminate all of the women you’re not attracted to. Then sort the remaining women into three categories:

  • Unreceptive: Unavailable or uninterested. You’re too needy. They’re in a relationship. There’s friction. They’re not looking for anything, period. They aren’t reciprocating your advances.
  • Neutral: Need to be swayed one way or the other. As a man, you should never have a woman spend too long in this category. They’ll most likely become Unreceptive if you don’t make a move. Your actions, and your authentic expressions, will force her to decide one way or the other.
  • Receptive: They initiate, or reciprocate your advances. There are several signs that she is receptive (strong eye contact, unprovoked touch, making excuses or reasons to spend time with you away from her friends, etc.), and you need to watch for several of them in a row.

Women initiating is very rare, for personal and cultural reasons.

Very important to watch for the difference between a woman responding positively to your advances (Receptive), and a woman not responding at all (Neutral).

How many women around you are Unreceptive, Neutral, or Receptive is called Demographics (just not the Census Bureau kind).

You’re not going to win an Unreceptive woman over. Stop. Your only job with Unreceptive women is spotting them as quickly as possible.

If you don’t act on your sexual interest, you are demonstrating neediness, caring too much about her potential rejection to go for it. You need to indicate your interest early and make a move, or you will only be a friend. At best.

If you’re now in the “friend zone” with a woman, it’s probably because you waited too long to make a move, and she became Unreceptive (or was from the beginning). Move on.

Don’t waste time with women in relationships, for obvious reasons. She won’t cheat, and if she will, it’s not worth it. Don’t sabotage relationships so you can swoop in. Don’t be arrogant and manipulative waiting around for her to “wake up” to how great you are. Women in relationships sometimes flirt for fun – don’t take it seriously.

If a woman tells you she has a boyfriend, Manson recommends taking it at face value. Even if it is a “test” he still recommends against trying to win her over.

Your goal with Neutral women is to quickly make them decide between yes or no. Express yourself freely, look for friction, don’t be needy by trying to adapt yourself to her.

Narcissists cause an extreme reaction, while nice guys cause no reaction at all.

A Neutral woman is where you need game, or good communication skills. Get her to make up her mind about whether she is Unreceptive or Receptive.

Even if she becomes Receptive, she will go back to Neutral and then Unreceptive if you don’t make a move.

Woman who are Receptive from the very start of your interaction will often be Receptive indefinitely – including into and out of the “friend zone.” But don’t count on it.

“The percentage of women who are Receptive to you will increase proportionally to the quality of your lifestyle, your social status, and your looks. The percentage of women that you’re able to move from Neutral to Receptive will be proportional to how good your “game” is, or how well you’re able to communicate and express yourself with women. And your ability to sort through each type of women and meet as many as possible will be determined by how fearless and bold you are when it comes to meeting women.”

Rejection is not only unavoidable, but is a tool to sort out women you aren’t compatible with from those who are.

You need to be polarizing, even controversial. This will very quickly weed out Unreceptive women (who you’ll be able to tell aren’t interested) and push more Neutral women to be Receptive.

Sexuality is by default confrontational.

Everything that is attractive is polarizing. The things that make you extremely attractive to one person will make you extremely unattractive to someone else.

If you’re too invested, you’re not going to be able to express your desires and will defer or conform to the people around you.

Express your emotions and desires boldly. A surprising number of women will become attracted to you simply because you were willing to stick your neck out.

Even if they’re not interested/available, bold men get introduced to available friends.

“In my experience, the more polarizing a man is, the more they are flooded with opportunities with women. This is true for every man I know who is incredibly successful with meeting and dating women.”

Chapter 5: Rejection and Success

Some people will be crazy or act inappropriately when you approach them. It can’t be helped. You can’t control how other people react to you.

95% of attracting women has nothing to do with you. There are so many circumstances out of your control. With that in mind, you can (and should) do what you want.

“Right person at the wrong time” happens all the time. Don’t worry about it and move on.

Rejection is a tool keeping people apart who aren’t meant to be together. Whether she falls in love with you on the spot or throws her drink in your face, you have found out the truth.

You need a healthy concept of “success” – success is about maximizing happiness with the woman or women you prefer, pushing the interaction to a highest point it can go. It’s not about validation, phone numbers, “field reports” or number of women you sleep with. It’s about getting the fulfilling interactions you want.

Vulnerability is practiced through being honest in our values (lifestyle), intentions (bold action) and sexuality (communication).

Chapter 6: The Three Fundamentals

  1. Honest Living: Creating an attractive and enriching lifestyle.
  2. Honest Action: Overcoming your fears and anxiety around socializing, intimacy and sexuality.
  3. Honest Communication: Mastering the expression of your emotions and communicating fluidly.

Improving these three things will improve your interactions with women, along with your general wellbeing.

Honest Living: What do you want as a man? Do you like your life, or are you living a life you hate for the needy approval of others? Have your compromised your identity for the approval of others? If you’re spending 40 hours a week at a job you hate investing in what others want, that’s fundamentally needy, and you will always be unattractive compared to living a life true to yourself.

Honest Action: You need to overcome your fear and anxiety around women. If you don’t act on your desires, you’re being dishonest with yourself and overly invested in her opinion. You’re afraid of sexual reality, and more invested in not getting rejected than in your own happiness.

Honest Communication: “Game” – humor, forming connections, storytelling, being engaging, having charisma, expressing sexuality openly. Communicating your thoughts and feelings in the best possible way. Those who don’t have this will have a lot of missed opportunities simply due to miscommunication.

You need all three – most men lack at least one, and success will be rare without addressing the underlying issue. Approaching more women won’t help without the inner work.

In Manson’s experience two types of men struggle the most with women: socially anxious men and socially disconnected men.

Socially anxious men are skilled with the third fundamental (Honest Communication), but are far too aware of what other people are thinking and feeling to take Honest Action. Funny and charismatic, not brave enough to make a move.

Socially disconnected men are skilled with the second fundamental (Honest Action), but are completely oblivious to the feelings of others. Socially fearless, but socially clueless.

The first fundamental (Honest Living) is a work in progress for everyone.

Part 3: Honest Living

Chapter 7: Demographics

You need to ask yourself: “Which women do you want to meet and what kind of relationship do you want to have with them?”

Demographics: the context of where and when you meet people you’re potentially compatible with.

Important principle: Like attracts like. People attract other people that are similar to themselves. The women you attract into your life are much more likely to be a reflection of your qualities than the fundamental nature of all women.

If you have a basic mismatch of values, lifestyle, or personality – he’s an engineer, she’s a party girl – it’s not going to work out.

Short term attraction can happen with lines, but strong mutual attraction comes from similar demographics, and a common ground to build strong attraction off of.

Timing is forever important: Right person, wrong time.

If you want to expand the number of people you’re compatible with, expand your identity and passions through interesting activities and new ways of expressing/presenting yourself.

Your lifestyle choices have a huge impact on who you meet.

Manson presents a list of over a dozen great places to meet women, including dance classes, yoga classes (“a gold mine”), dog parks, etc.

Whatever you are, go to places that you enjoy – you’ll likely meet women who enjoy you. If you’re a dancer, go to dancing events with women who love dancing. If you love to travel, go to places where travel-loving women or foreign women are likely to be.

The Assortment Effect: Your beliefs about women, sex, relationship etc have a huge effect on which women come into your life. Your beliefs are reflected in your behavior, and behavior determines which/how many women are attracted to you.

If you believe all women hate sex or should hate sex, the only women who will stay around you will be women who also believe that. If you believe all women are lying cheating gold-digging whores, you will attract women who not only embody that, but are proud of it.

If you want to improve your relationships, you need to start with the conscious idea that your previous beliefs might have been wrong – and possibly enabling the poor behavior of others.

Age, Money, Looks, and Status are universal demographics that can cause friction. They matter – but not as much as many men think. Even if you’re doing great on these metrics, you still need to have attractive behavior. The more a woman overvalues or exclusively values one of these traits (i.e. money), the less interesting she’ll be in other areas.

“The more money/looks/success you have, the less attractive behavior you need. The less money/looks/success you have, the more attractive behavior you need.”

Social Proof: When we see others valuing something, we start valuing it.

Your goal with women is to raise your individual social proof within your demographic through positions of leadership and power – don’t just have interests, be a leader in your interests. BE something attractive, show your identity, don’t just talk about the things you like.

Chapter 8: Lifestyle and Presentation

Men and women don’t judge attractiveness the same way. A good looking man, in spite of his good looks, can still present himself in an unattractive way. Your goal is to be attractive.

Your outward appearance is a reflection of your self-investment.

Three basic rules of men’s fashion: 1. Wear clothes that fit. 2. Wear clothes that match. 3. Dress to your personality.

Get rid of any clothes that don’t fit, and get your measurements. Manson gives suggestions for what a basic wardrobe should look like, but beyond that – dress to your personality.

Exercise, no matter what. Get a gym membership. Clean up your diet, and eat right.

Body language is king. Body language improves through intentional practice, exercise, and internal work. Manson gives an outline for what a confident stance and confident walk looks like.

Your ideal vocal tonality is sexy, expressive, and loud. Speak from your chest, not from your head/throat. Speak slower, talking fast can be a sign you fear being interrupted – a sign of neediness. Speak louder. I said, SPEAK LOUDER!

Develop your character. Don’t just “go with the flow,” attractive men are polarizing and uninhibited. Attractive men have unique opinions, experiences, and have uniques lives that they share with the world. Make your own decisions. Develop your tastes, preferences, and opinions. Enrich your life.

Start looking up lists of “the best” things – best movies, best books, best music – and start exploring them. Assume that each of them has something of value, and find out why.

Being a well rounded human being will expand your demographics – and even if reading or watching something doesn’t make you attractive to more people, you’ll gain a better perspective on life, relate to more people, and deal with life better.

“Get your life taken care of. Get healthy. Find a happy group of friends. Find a few hobbies that you love. Develop opinions. Start caring about what you spend your time doing. This increases your self-investment and will make you less needy around others. This, in turn, will give you the courage to take the correct action and the wherewithal to communicate effectively. This is honest living.”

Part 4: Honest Action

Chapter 9: What Are Your Stories?

Many excuses can stand between you and relationship success: Anxieties, defense mechanisms, resistances. Some of them are real, and will change shape rather than going away as you improve. Others are invented in order to resist change. Fight your excuses.

Common defense mechanisms to meeting new people:

  1. Blame Game – Blaming anyone and everyone else for your fear of meeting people. Often leads to anger and resentment towards the people you want to meet.
  2. Apathy and Avoidance – You don’t “actually” care about meeting people (newsflash: you do, and avoiding it won’t make the situation better).
  3. Intellectualizing – Avoiding taking action by continually studying (AKA Analysis Paralysis). Actually leads to increased anxiety, and an even lower chance of taking action.

We all have a favorite defense mechanism – examine yourself, figure out which one you use the most. Become aware of the pattern, and use self-discipline to break it.

You Are Not A Victim. The reason that you’re single most likely lies with you, rather than your stereotypes and prejudices about the women of the world. Don’t kid yourself that all of the good ones are taken – 40+ million single women in the United States alone, and none of them are acceptable? That’s just pure laziness on your part.

Blame is another form of neediness. Take responsibility for your choices, and open yourself up the the possibility that you may be wrong, and your problems start with you.

Porn harms your motivation to pursue women in the real world. While there’s no scientific basis for porn addiction yet, it has confirmed harmful side effects. If you have issues with porn, Manson lays out a four step diet for increasing your real life motivation.

Chapter 10: How to Overcome Anxiety

Rejection isn’t fun – especially for women who want to meet a great guy. Women are secretly rooting for you, hoping you’re the great guy they’re looking for. If you screw up, but a woman already likes you, she will give you an amazing amount of second and third chances hoping that you succeed.

You need to take action. You can’t remove the anxiety, but you can channel it in productive ways. Turn nervousness about talking to someone into excitement.

Non-neediness is feeling the fear around meeting someone (or around anything else), and deciding that something else is more important.

Many books and coaches in the dating industry want full immersion – just go out there, talk to women tonight, get her number tonight. This is more likely to lead to panic attacks than success. Use a stair step approach, divide each part of the process into a step to get better at. Don’t uses earlier stages of the process (saying hello, conversation, etc.) to avoid later stages (asking for a number, dates).

Courage is a habit, and a form of discipline.

Be aware of when you violate social norms, otherwise you’re just oblivious. If you’re talking to someone at an unusual place or time, mention briefly that you know it’s unusual.

Greater boldness = greater polarization. The bolder you are, the more you’re going to stand out compared to other men she’s talked to.

Bold behavior only gets you so far, you also need great communication.

Part 5: Honest Communication

Chapter 11: Bankruptcy Your Intentions

As a general rule, men communicate with facts and stories, while women communicate with feelings and intentions.

The key is SUBCOMMUNICATION.

If you try to impress her, you are going to subcommunicate neediness. If you simply express yourself, you are subcommunicating vulnerability.

What you say to women ends up mattering less than your intentions. Needy men are going to be unattractive no matter what they say.

Creepiness is inevitable, even for celebrities and men who should be attractive on paper.

“There’s no such thing as a man who is adored by women who isn’t also creepy some of the time.”

Women intuitively know what creepiness is, but have a hard time describing it. Manson believes that “Creepiness is behaving in a way that makes a woman feel insecure sexually.”

He elaborates that creepiness often comes down to incongruency – if your actions and behavior are not aligned, she can’t and won’t trust you. Just stating your sexual intentions directly is not going to fix this, since women have far more to lose from expressing sexuality than men do. The consequences of sex are higher for women, and they always have been.

Vulnerability is subject to the right intentions – being open about a sad moment in your life to make women sleep with you is creepy.

Mutual vulnerability is how trust is built – a woman trusting you enough to have sex with you is a side effect.

You have to accept the possibility of accidentally being creepy, otherwise you have to wait for women to come to you. It goes without saying that this limits your options.

Flirting is the opposite of creepiness. You’re expressing your sexuality to a woman in a way that makes her feel sexually secure, secure enough for her share her sexuality with you.

Flirting using teasing: Teasing generates tension, a “story” without end – the human mind wants to complete that story.

Flirting using boldness: Bold statements are polarizing. They demonstrate desire, non-neediness, and create an endless number of potential exciting situations.

Flirting (and expressing your sexuality more generally) require effective communication. Creating an emotional connection requires emotional self-awareness.

The blueprint of seduction (as defined by romance novels read by millions of women): a strong, high status, fearless, attractive man opens up, and shares his vulnerable side with the female protagonist.

Emotional connections are far more powerful than pickup lines and tactics. A woman might be attracted to a lot of men, but forms emotional connections with very few of those same men.

Become aware of your emotions, motivations, and life story. Take the lead, be vulnerable and share these things. Sharing creates trust, and encourages her to share similar things with you. Your vulnerability, combined with hers, creates a deep emotional connection that builds on itself.

When sharing yourself, challenge yourself to go one level deeper. Always relate what you say back to emotions, not facts.

Communication skills are habits. They can be good or bad, they can be made or broken. Focus on the habits you want to build or break until it becomes second nature. Not too many habits: the less habits you intentionally build, the more room you leave for your personality.

Fixing your external behaviors will make it easier to fix internal mindset problems, and vice versa.

Chapter 12: How to Improve Your Flirting

You’re going to be misunderstood in the long run. You can make this less likely by developing and using effective communication skills.

First impressions are very important. However, what specific words you use when introducing yourself matter less than your intentions and level of anxiety.

Mark Manson’s super sophisticated opener: “Hi, I’m [name]. I wanted to meet you.” Even more sophisticated: “Hi, I’m [name]. I thought you were cute and wanted to meet you.”

First impressions are mostly based on your self-presentation, level of anxiety, and how clearly you communicate.

First impressions best practices: don’t scare her, avoid fancy or creative lines, approach quickly when you see her if possible, walk straight towards her rather than lingering around like a weirdo, smile, and have confident body language.

Common reasons for getting rejected: poor self-presentation, approaching for the wrong reasons/intentions, not following first impressions best practices.

Quality of communication is far more important than quantity. Say more with less. Remove fillers. Pay attention to things like tone and inflection.

Questions are boring, make statements – especially statements that imply you know more about someone than you actually do (AKA cold reading). When you make statements, they’ll either 1. correct you, 2. ask what made you think that, or 3. be amazed at how perceptive you are. Combined with word association, you have plenty of ways to keep a conversation going.

The best communicators are great storytellers, using the basic format of set up, content/conflict, and resolution.

The only two real subjects are you and her – everything else needs to relate back to that.

What kinds of things should you share and relate about?

  • What are your passions, and favorite things to do?
  • What are your dreams, ambitions, and life goals?
  • What are the best or worst things that have happened to you?
  • What was your childhood, family life, and upbringing like?

Write down at least 3 things from each of those questions, and be willing to share them. If a woman knows you, remembers you out of all the men she’s met, and is attracted to you, she’s going to text you back.

Humor is a big deal. Being able to laugh at yourself and the world? That’s the core of non-neediness. Humor naturally creates good feelings and emotional connection, which are the foundation of security. But you need to be careful – different people like different kinds of humor.

Core types of humor: Misdirection, exaggeration, sarcasm, wordplay, and roleplay. Be careful with sarcasm and wordplay – they’re very intellectual, and many women don’t like them, while those who do like them A LOT.

Teasing polarizes quickly, and you very quickly find out whether someone likes you or hates you.

Beware self-deprecating humor, or too much humor – both suggest low confidence.

Just because she’s laughing and likes you, doesn’t mean she’s attracted to your or wants to date you. You’re not trying to be a dancing monkey. You still need to display other attractive behaviors, and pay attention to all of the other parts of this process.

Chapter 13: The Dating Process

There is a standard way dating works in the western world. Be aware of it.

Phone Numbers:

Don’t worry about flakes, they happen for a million reasons. Be more concerned about being so attractive people won’t want to flake on you. Just take it as a sign of disinterest and move on.

Only ask for someone’s phone number if there seems to be mutual interest – this isn’t about validation.

Don’t overthink this or make a big deal out of phone communication. Don’t use fancy lines or made up reasons to ask for a number – you want a phone number, it’s no big deal. Don’t use complex rules about when to text, or get fancy with text messages. Text her pretty soon after getting her number to set up a date, and only use texting for logistics – seduction doesn’t happen over the phone.

Dates:

Avoid lunch time and afternoon dates if possible. Aim for the evening, around 6-9 PM. Ideally you’ll have time for multiple things.

No movie dates early. Avoid dinner dates early (you want her to have fun, not stress out about eating in front of you). Look for dates that are participatory and make flirtation possible. Find interesting places near you that are a short drive from where you live, or better yet within walking distance.

Your ideal goal, besides having fun and getting to know them? Have the most experiences in the least time possible. Do multiple things, get to know each other in multiple contexts. Go on a date worth remembering.

Behavior:

As a man you should be leading the date, making decisions and expecting them to be followed. Interact with them. Aim for deep and personal conversations, talk about the important issues. This isn’t supposed to be a job interview, but you need to talk about the deep issues and look for friction.

Manson says that unless your date is physically pulling out her wallet (not just offering), you should pay for the date. Manson considers it a “no-lose move” and will win you points with many women.

Chapter 14: Physicality and Sex

Women want sex – just not for the same reasons that men do. Many women have a wide variety of sexual fantasies that would confuse and shock men if they knew about them (Manson references “My Secret Garden” as an example).

Getting physical with women, and getting physical quickly and comfortably, is ultimately the difference between having a lot of female friends, and having a lot of girlfriends and dates.

Manson makes it very clear: if a women stops you, either verbally or physically, you need to stop. Otherwise you are a rapist.

Physical touch isn’t just bold, it’s polarizing. Integrate physicality into your conversations.

Touching happens in a progression – from the outer parts of the body, then inwards. Don’t skip ahead.

Men are in kind of a weird place when it comes to touch – men are expected to initiate, while also reacting to a woman’s desires, along with her fundamental right to her own body.

Once again: women give different signals for how receptive they are to your advances. They give different signals before you talk to each other, during conversation, and when she wants you to escalate. Watch for these (a stream of them, not just one in isolation).

Kissing: How do you know when she wants you to kiss her? Men, the bad news is that we’re really bad readers of this. Really bad. So bad, that chances are if you’re confident that you could go for it, you could have 10 minutes ago. Manson says when in doubt, go for it.

If she pulls back, respect it. Find out why, and how she’s feeling. See if it’s too public, or if there are too many people (or if she’s not interested).

There’s good kissing, and bad kissing. Learn the difference. Don’t be afraid to touch her while doing so – just don’t get ahead of yourself.

“Moving Forward and Consent”

Men are like a microwave, women are like an oven. Women need to be “warmed up,” and men by comparison are ready at the push of a button.

If a women tells you she doesn’t want to have sex, there’s only one thing you should say: “That’s fine. We’ll do whatever you’re comfortable doing.”

Sometimes women will change their mind out of nowhere, and will want sex when they didn’t earlier (and vice versa). “Just accept that these things are often fluid and both you and her can opt in or opt out at any time without shame or judgment.”

For a second time: Don’t be a rapist.

“The important thing is to see sex as not something you are earning or taking from a woman, but rather something you two are participating in together. It’s a team effort. Because, believe it or not, women want sex too. They want wild, passionate, crazy sex, just like you do.”

Foreplay: it’s a great thing. Do it. Go slow, be teasing, create expectation.

Sometimes things are going to go wrong or be weird. “Have a sense of humor. Be understanding. Relax.”

Be honest. Honest feedback and honest compliments are the foundation of good sex (and a lot of other things, for that matter).

Chances are if you’re reading this book or books like it, you’ve faced or have sexual anxiety. There are lots of potential causes: maybe you’re inexperienced, you had a strict religious/cultural upbringing, negative past sexual experiences, past emotional trauma, low self-esteem.

Two major symptoms can emerge: premature ejaculation, and erectile dysfunction. The larger problem is not being comfortable with sexuality.

There’s no quick solution to this, you’ll need to work on making yourself secure and comfortable until you’re able to have sex. Find ways of dealing with your individual issues.

If it’s not clear already: this book isn’t about long-term commitment, and it’s a topic beyond the scope of this book.

Closing and Epilogue

Manson provides a small action plan for how to move forward, with steps to complete after reading (completing one of the parts years ago doesn’t count, complete it with your knowledge from this book).

There are going to be weird, uncomfortable, even tragic things that will happen in your life. Everything that happens, good or bad, ask: “What if it was a gift?” Make the most of your time here, even the tragedies. Accept the gifts that life gives you, and make them into something great.

Changing How I Review Books

Over the past several weeks, I’ve run into a few challenges when it comes to reading (and reviewing) books. I suspect that these are very similar to the challenges that all readers and lifelong learners face when trying to read consistently:

  1. Lack of personal discipline. (What can I say? I’m honest.)
  2. Reading books that are either uninteresting, not personally relevant to me right now, or that I dislike so much that I dread having to read the book.
  3. Finishing a book, but then struggling to turn my detailed notes into a concise summary.

Thankfully, these are all solveable problems.

The first problem is solved like all people (except those whose personalities and upbringings make them naturally disciplined and conscientious) have to solve it: improving your level of personal discipline. Using your willpower to do the things you know you need to do. Remove distractions. Focus on what you need to get done. Make a damn schedule, and stick to it, bucko. Then go slay the dragon and rescue your father from the underworld. Dominance hierarchies! Noble way of being! Gulag Archipelago!

Anyway. The second problem is solved by being more willing to put a book down. Maybe a book is just plain uninteresting. Maybe the problem is you – most books can be interesting with the right mindset. Maybe it’s just the wrong time to read it, and you can read it at a later date. Maybe you start reading a book, hate it, and should read something else more worth your time. Maybe you need to read 10+ other books to properly describe what you hate about it, and you’ll read it again once you’ve read the other books.

There are literally millions of books out there, and not a lot of time to read them. Even if a book is popular and everyone seems to love it, the world won’t end just because you stopped reading a book, or want to read it later.

The third problem probably shouldn’t have been a problem in the first place. When I started seriously (“seriously”) reading this year, it was partially inspired by Derek Sivers, and the detailed notes he takes from the books he reads. When I started this blog and reviewing books, I would take the detailed notes I was writing and turn them into a concise summary, along with my overall thoughts. It would work, reasonably well… until inevitably I finally got to a book where summarizing all of the notes takes a long time, even longer than it took to actually read the book. This slows down reading and reviewing to a grinding halt.

Reflecting on this, I went back to Derek Sivers’ page and took a look at the notes from the 250+ books he’s read… and suddenly it was obvious what I should have been doing from the beginning: JUST POST THE NOTES. Maybe clean up the notes, add some punctuation, reorder things, but other than that – type them up and post them. Don’t bother with summaries, there are lots of summaries out there that are freely available. Thinking deeply about a book’s ideas and restating them has their value (especially for learning and long term memory), but that’s kind of the point of notes. Taking forever to restate a book’s ideas into a beautifully written 500-2000 word summary really isn’t worth it.

Besides, as much as I’m sharing what I read in order to have people think about interesting and useful ideas… I’m reading books for myself. I’m taking notes for myself, so that I don’t have to read the book again unless I want to. Having other people read my notes and thoughts on a book is a side benefit to my own understanding.

What I’m going to do now is that whenever I read a book and want to talk about the contents on here, I’m going to write two different posts. The first will be “Notes and Quotes” from the book, that I write or type down while reading – anything that I thought was interesting, useful, or significant. The second is a “Rate and Review” of the book, where I give my overall thoughts, get specific about how much I recommend the book, and think critically about how useful the book will be in the future. Whenever I do this with fiction books, I’ll probably have to write something at the beginning about the possibility of minor or even major spoilers – then again, if you’re reading someone’s notes, quotes, and overall thoughts from a novel they read, I’m not sure what you expected other than spoilers.

So for myself, lesson learned: When trying to solve a problem, try and see if someone else has solved a similar problem. Better yet, try and see if it’s a problem at all.

Turning Inward – Politics, Empathy, Selfishness, and Human Destiny

[Previous: Becoming a Political Indepenent in the Age of Trump]

In light of the recent Kavanaugh slow motion train wreck hearings, this might be incredibly poorly timed.

When I was fifteen years old, I was in a state of radical open-mindedness. I was in a position where all of my previous beliefs had proven to be false or incomplete, I was reading from multiple conflicting thinkers, examining my own motivations, and looking for ways to improve myself.

Over time, this attitude faded. I accepted one ideology or another, and lowered my priority on self-examination and self-improvement. I went to college, I made friends, I observed the political movements around me and tried to make sense of them.

I’m at a crossroads in my life, and I believe I need to adopt an attitude similar to the one I had at fifteen – hopefully without the emotional volatility of puberty or the risk of being quickly seduced by an ideology. I’ve come to a couple of realizations over the past year or so – about politics, life, and my own motivations, and I’m going to need that attitude of skeptical open-mindedness and concern for self-improvement to get anywhere.

Politics

I’ve said something about this in the political independent essay, but over time I’ve had a realization. I’ve come to the realization that many (if not most) people aren’t advocating for their ideologies or policies out of the pure goodness of their heart, let alone from disinterested careful examination of reality. You’ll also find more dubious or primal motivators: resentment, disgust, fear, embarrasment, pride, and other feelings or biases that most people are smart enough to hide. Alongside those motivators is the king of motivators: pure unadulterated self-interest, whether in the form of self-preservation, maintaining current power/privilege, and support for your tribe (and therefore, yourself).

This isn’t limited to the left or right. The current political climate is full of attacks on the left and left-leaners as being motivated by identity politics and political correctness – supporting policies and laws based on how good they are for specific groups (along lines of race/class/gender etc.), and then shaming anyone who bring up inconvenient facts or alternative policies as wrong. From the perspective of those bringing up unpopular facts/policies, they got rejected not for being wrong, but for being politically incorrect.

Yet as far as I can tell, these exact forces of identity politics and political correctness also exist on the right. In the current political climate, you’ll observe people on the alt-right publically taking on the mantle of white identity politics, advocating for what they believe are the interests of white people.

Less obviously then that, it’s possible to interpret gun rights activists as those whose identities are centered on being a gun owner. Obviously not every gun owner makes it a part of their identity, but those who do most strongly will join the National Rifle Association, and vote against any politician who isn’t sufficiently opposed to gun restrictions (even if they agree with them on every other issue). So it goes with every other group, to the point where it’s hard to draw the line between “identity politics” and “interest group.”

And if you think conservatives are immune to political correctness, consider how difficult it would be for a modern American conservative to be honestly and publically concerned about climate change (or any other environmental issue) without being suspected of being a secret liberal. You only have to go back a decade to observe current Republicans talk openly about believing in climate change and the need to do something about it – you don’t see that anymore.

I know. I realize that these probably aren’t radical ideas, and at least one person reading this is rolling their eyes, saying “Wow, look at the top quality galaxy-brain-meme thinking from this guy!” Alternatively, this probably stinks of BOTH-PARTIES-ARE-THE-SAME-WHATABOUTISM that tries to conflate the flaws of both parties, and justify apathy or inaction. But you have to admit: tribalism, and tribal epistemology run rampant in the current American political climate.

Questions

But when all of this comes together – that almost everyone has ulterior motives for their political beliefs, and most people are being influenced by their tribe to support certain people or reject certain ideas – I have to question large parts of my life that may have gone differently if I had realized this earlier.

What ideas have I supported because they were good ideas, and which ones did I support because they were popular at my school?

What groups did I declare my support or allegiance for out of ethics, and which ones were because those groups were the ones my peer group or generation supported?

What ideas, books, schools of thought, or people have I rejected not because those things were wrong, but because my political tribe rejected those things?

Worst of all, I suddenly have to ask a question I really don’t want to ask. I’ve spent about 75% of my political development on the left, in one form or another. On quick reflection, one of the biggest motivators I’ve had for my liberal and left-leaning beliefs has been a sense of empathy and compassion for those in need. But in this moment where I’m questioning the motives of myself and others, I have to ask:

What have I believed because it was true or good… and what have I believed because someone hijacked my empathy?

It sounds like a bizaare question, and I don’t like asking it. I don’t like considering the possibility that someone manipulated me into believing something or supporting something that I otherwise wouldn’t have – even unintentionally, even if the goal or belief itself is noble. I don’t like the idea that I’ve been manipulated to ignore toxic people and ideas on the left, or label any uncomfortable realities as toxic only because the current available solutions to those realities are toxic solutions.

I don’t like being manipulated. I don’t like being lied to, exploited, or influenced to do something I wouldn’t normally do. I don’t know if any of those things have happened during my time on the political left (or currently, for that matter), but if they have, that’s unacceptable – and it’s a possibility I can’t ignore.

A Turn Inward

“Okay, you’re wondering how many of your previous beliefs were your own rather than being influenced into having them, what are you going to do about it? You already said you recently became a political independent, what else are you going to do?”

I’m making an intentional decision to turn inward, and focus on myself for the foreseeable future.

There are a lot of problems in society, and problems in the world. Problems that haven’t been solved because they require complex solutions, or the cooperation of large numbers of people who wouldn’t normally cooperate. Meanwhile, I’ve got my own set of personal problems, faults, weaknesses, and obstacles towards making the world look more like I would like it to look.

How am I supposed to solve the world’s problems, when I can’t even solve my own?

I’m going to focus on understanding myself, and improving my competency as a human being. I’m going to focus on understanding my motivations, my goals, my desires, and my overall psychology. I’m going to focus on improving my skills, improving my health, improving my thinking/decision-making, and improving my overall quality of life as a human being. I’m going to ask “What would it look like if I got everything I need, everything I want, and everything that would be good for me?”

In short, I’m going to be selfish (at least more than I consciously was).

However, as they say: no man is an island. It’s hard to ask what you want for yourself without also stating what you want for the world. It’s hard to understand yourself as a human without understanding humans in general. So I’m also focused on increasing my knowledge about reality, about humans, about society, and about the world at large.

While doing this, I’m prioritizing psychological health over ideological purity, and prioritizing knowledge about reality over social approval. If someone tells me that it’s unacceptable to have a certain belief, then that’s the belief I need to explore. If someone tells me that listening to a toxic person will make me toxic, I’m going to listen to them regardless. If someone tells me that reading a certain book will make me an evil person, then that’s the book I need to read.

In short, becoming a better man is the priority. Everything else is secondary. Any distractions from my own improvement are unacceptable, as are any obstacles to getting the knowledge and perspective that I need.

“Okay, so you’re becoming a better man, but whose side are you on? Are you on my side? Are you on the side of the people who hate me?”

None of the above. I’m on my side.

“You can’t stay neutral on a moving train!”

I’m aware of that. I’m trying to figure out 1. How do I make myself the best train-mover possible? 2. Why is the train moving in the direction it’s going? 3. Where do I want the train to move instead?

Regardless, even as I explore new ideas and taboo ideologies, there is one belief that I doubt is going to change: my belief in the importance of preventing human extinction. It should go without saying that you can’t improve your life if you’re dead, you can’t improve your family’s lives if they are dead, and you can’t improve your society’s political situtation if your society no longer exists.

I say that, knowing full well that it’s not enough to just want to avoid complete disaster. When the bar is that low, any outcome is acceptable, even extremely negative futures.

With that in mind, if I wish to avert disasters, I must be capable of averting disasters. If I wish to fix the problems outside of myself, I must fix any and all problems within myself. If I want to believe the best (or least flawed) ideas, I need to be aware of the full spectrum of ideas, and why people support them.

But first: I need to bring home the bacon for myself.

If You Wish To Change The World, First Change Yourself

There’s a reason you’re told to put your oxygen mask on first.

If your flight loses cabin pressure, and you only have seconds to breathe, it’s tempting to help your children or other family members put on their oxygen masks. You care about your family, and it’s natural to want to put their needs before your own.

But the fact that you care about them is precisely why you need to put on your mask first. You can’t help the people you care about if you’re struggling for breath, or unconscious. Before you can help others, you must first help yourself. If you wish to improve the world, you must first improve yourself.

Think about firemen, and all of the other everyday superheroes who runs towards danger, towards gunfire, towards people in dire need of saving. For every normal person who decides to be a hero and run toward danger, 99 professionals put in hundreds of hours of training before they start fighting fires or healing the wounded.

Firefighters need training before they fight fires, and so do you.

Think about every innovator, inventor, genius or visionary who changes the world through their inventions and organizations. You can probably name them before I do: Benjamin Franklin. Steve Jobs. Thomas Edison. Henry Ford. Buckminster Fuller. These people did not do great things upon exiting the womb; they had years of practice and training before they made their contributions to humanity, with hundreds or thousands of failures along the way.

Inventors need practice before they invent something extraordinary, and so do you.

Think about the great leaders, rulers, and conquerers of the past. George Washington. Alexander the Great. Nelson Mandela. Teddy Roosevelt. Napoleon. Winston Churchill. Genghis Khan. Saints and despots alike, they came to rule vast empires and great nations at the most critical moments in history. Those that succeeded were those who made sure their personal problems did not command more attention than the problems of the nation. Those that didn’t were brought down by their own weaknesses.

If you wish to rule a nation, you must first rule yourself – even many leaders today do not understand this.

Read the histories and biographies of important people in history, and you’ll notice patterns. These people were not perfect, not angels, messiahs, enlightened beings, or paragons of virtue. Many come from impoverished, and even abusive circumstances of birth. Many are born into the middle of wars, revolutions, feuds, and catastrophes you would not wish on your worst enemy. Many experience early tragedies that would break even the strongest of people.

They had flaws – often incredible, mind boggling flaws you can barely imagine – but found ways of fixing or managing their weaknesses, so that they could focus on the great work. You’ll find again and again that these people who accomplish extraordinary things don’t do so because they lack weaknesses or obstacles – they do so in spite of them, sometimes arguably because of them.

What you’ll also see over and over are intense periods of training, learning – and failure. Students kneeling at the feet of living masters, so that they might become great. Voracious reading, to try and get the answers to important questions they have, or to make their own answers. Violent battles not with opponents or armies, but with their own weaknesses, desperately trying to overcome their own demons and create something larger than themselves.

If you have even the vaguest ambition of doing something important or noteworthy, ask yourself which is more likely: Making an impact while leaving your personal problems unsolved, unmanaged? Or succeeding after long periods of training, learning, and self improvement?

Is it wise to walk into a hurricane, when you can barely withstand the breeze?

It is easy to look out into the world, and find it lacking. It is to easy to find problems to be solved, corruptions to be fought, people to save. Much harder is looking at yourself, solving the problems that afflict you, fighting the corruptions within you, and saving yourself.

From the New Testament: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

Focus on the problems within you, that might prevent your movement or vision, before seeking to challenge the problems afflicting others. If those problems are a current threat to your existence, always ask if this is a problem you need to solve now, or one that can be better challenged when you are stronger, smarter, and more competent.

“But what if I’m called to action? What if I’m forced or challenged to solve something before I’m ready?”

Then it’s even more important to prepare now, to learn now, to train now, and to conquer as many of your inner demons as you can right now. You never know when when you will hear the call to adventure – or be forced by circumstance to avert crisis and tragedy. The more competent you become now, the more you will be able to do when your time comes, whenever that is.

If you wish to rule a nation, you must first rule yourself. If you want to improve the world, first improve yourself.

Before putting on someone else’s oxygen mask, put on your mask first.

Proteus Reviews: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

How much of our lives are made of habits, and how do we change them? These are the central questions of The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It’s one of those books you see on dozens of self-improvement reading lists, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a couple of years now.

Summary

Habits are not memories – they are governed by completely different sections of the brain. You can suffer from major brain damage to your memory center, and still “know” how to make breakfast or make it home from a walk. What the part of your brain responsible for habits – the basal ganglia – is trying to do is create habits from new situations, so that your brain doesn’t have to work as hard in the future. Habits follow a basic structure: Cue (input that tells your brain to go into automatic mode), routine (automatic behavior following the cue), and reward (positive stimuli that tells your brain that the habit was successful and worth reinforcing). Your brain is trying to be efficient, and will create good habits or bad habits based on the cues in your life.

To create a habit, or recognize why you created a habit, follow 3 simple rules:

  1. Find a simple and obvious cue
  2. Clearly define the rewards
  3. Create (or recognize) a sense of craving

The most persistent habits – whether those created by advertisers, or those created by our brains – have addiction-like responses that motivate people to act on the habit in spite of strong reasons not to, like loss of money or relationships.

If you want to have better habits, you can’t just create new habits to replace your old ones – you need to take the cue and reward from the old habit, and replace the routine to one that still moves you to towards the reward (and the motivating craving). The more aware you are of the cues and triggers that activate the habit, the more likely you are to replace the negative routine with a positive one. Beating a habit isn’t just about changing your neurology or behavior, it’s about finding new ways of dealing with life. But, even if you find the cues and replace the routines, habits are most effectively changed if you believe it’s possible to do so, and are part of a community or team that makes change possible.

Some habits matter more than others, affecting dozens of other habits and parts of your life. These are keystone habits, and can make the difference between a dysfunctional organization.person, and the opposite. These habits give you consistent small wins and get the ball rolling for other positive change. Exercise, making your bed daily, visualization of success, families eating dinner together, writing down your meals… Keystone habits create structure around which other positive change can develop, and are important to focus on so that you don’t overwhelm yourself with change.

The most important keystone habit? Willpower, or self-discipline. Willpower touches everything, and your ability to plan and follow through on tough things is far more important to your success in life than IQ or natural talent. Most importantly here, willpower is more of a muscle than a skill; it gets tired when you use it too much and can be made stronger through practice (this is the point of things like piano lessons or basketball practice – developing discipline, not music or sports). Writing down plans for dealing with setback and temptation, and deciding ahead of time that we want to act a certain way, create a sense of control and raises the chance of success immensely.

When it comes to dysfunctional organizations, it’s not enough to just to recognize bad habits or commit to changing them – sometimes they’re so dysfunctional that only a crisis can shake them out of their bad habits. Organizations, especially large ones with prominent divisions of labor or expertise (such as a hospital between nurses and doctors, or a train station between management, tickets, maintenance etc.), often only work because of uneasy truces between different groups, where each has their area of power and they don’t interfere with the other groups.

These truces, unstated rules, and hidden hierarchies can go from conscious decisions that maintain peace, to habits that interfere with or even destroy the ability to get work done. Even worse: if there’s a problem, and there’s no way for information about the problem to reach the relevant people with the power to solve it, people can die. To solve this (or stop it from repeating), the old truces need to be thrown out in favor of truces that balance power and keep the peace, but more importantly put one priority or individual above all others in times of crisis.

If you’re not aware of your habits, other people will study your habits and use them to manipulate you. Especially large corporations, who are studying you and purchasing data about you in order to successfully advertise their products. They have your demographic info, search history, purchase history, and statistical models to predict your behavior from this data.

With this info, they can not only advertise specifically to you, but also show you ads at specific points in your life (such as when you’re pregnant or about to give birth) when you’re more likely to make large purchases. So that you’re not aware of this, they take a lesson from “playlist theory” used by radio stations – sandwich a targeted ad between random innocent ads, placing the unfamiliar between the familiar to create a new habit without you suspecting anything.

But just because someone is trying to create a habit in you, doesn’t mean that habit is bad. Movements and communities alike are founded on habits, and if you know how to create these habits you can change lives for the better. To create a movement (such as the American civil rights movement), you start off with strong ties built from friendships and acquaintances, expand outward to weaker ties in the larger community, and then give people a new identity and new habits to unite people around that identity. Combined with clear goals and peer pressure, these movements endure for decades, through hardship and persecution.

To create a community (such as Saddleback Church, the church of Rick Warren), you need these basic elements, but almost have to work backwards. You find people seeking a community, create situations where the consistently meet to form weak ties between each other, and then create small groups for them to form strong ties of friendship. Combined with peer pressure and new habits to unite around, you can create one of the largest churches on the planet – or any other kind of community.

Everything talked about in this book – habits, neurology, brain chemistry, big data, corporate hierarchies, peer pressure and social structures – brings up questions of free will. When we look into the brains of people who can’t control their habits – of gamblers, people who suffer from sleepwalking or sleep terrors, or Parkinson’s patients who took medication that accidentally ended their impulse control – we see the same parts of the brain becoming active, altered, or damaged compared to people who don’t have the same problem. And yet we say that someone who committed a crime while having a night terror, or someone taking a misfiring medication, are not responsible for their habits like a gambler is. The dividing line for most seems to be “awareness of the habit,” and the possibility of changing or avoiding the habit.

If you want to change a habit, Duhigg provides a basic framework:

  • Identify the routine (What is the habit? Why are you doing this?)
  • Experiment with rewards (Can you find a reward that fills the same need?)
  • Isolate the cue (Location? Time of day? Emotional state? Other people? Immediate preceding action?)
  • Have a plan (When the cue comes, what action will you take to achieve the same reward?)

Discussion

This book is an easy read, at least compared to some of the other dense tomes I’ve been reading. With reading and taking notes, this book took me around 9 hours to read, while books of similar length can take me 12 or 15 hours to read. Some reviews I’ve seen complain that Duhigg uses a simple style or talks down to the reader, but I didn’t sense that. I’d say that Duhigg was more concerned with communicating clearly than he was with using complex language. I’d also say that if you’ve been turned off to reading for the past few years, this might be a book to get back into the… habit.

This might be odd to say, but some of the sections almost seems sponsored. Chapter 2 has a large section on the success of Febreze, Chapter 5 heavily features Starbucks – part of me wonders if Duhigg got some great sponsorship deals with P&G or Starbucks to be so featured in this book. I doubt it though.

Oddly enough, this book changed my view of teams. For most of my life, I’ve been either avoidant of, or outright hostile towards team activities, team sports, and anything that really involves me being a “team player.” I’ve always been an individualist at heart, and I’ve never been comfortable with peer pressure. With the sections on how teams can change their habits for the better, along with how habits fueled the civil rights movement, my feelings on this have mellowed. Teams aren’t inherently good, but peer pressure isn’t inherently bad. To use a metaphor from Principles, playing a symphony only becomes possible when you have a central conductor, along with lots of people playing in time to the same beat.

There are some sections that caught my attention for possibly being false or misleading, but I don’t have the background to investigate fully. The famous “marshmallow experiment” (where toddlers were tested on their ability to resist eating a marshmallow, and those that resisted had more life success) features heavily… but I’ve occasionally read that it’s one of the experiments that’s failed to replicate in the latest social science replication crisis. During the chapter on crises, there’s a part where Duhigg mentions that President Obama passed healthcare reform, the stimulus, and a lot of other legislation because of the 2008 financial crisis… but that’s not the full story if you follow the politics of the era, where the path to get things like the ACA or TARP passed was a lot rockier than it’s described here. I suspect that Duhigg knows that, being a New York Times journalist, but he’s just being brief.

This is not a book to read if you’re squeamish. Over the course of the book we meet a man who had part of his brain removed by a viral infection, people recovering from hip surgery, people dying from drug overdoses or head injuries… Duhigg goes into the details of these things, and it’s not pretty. On the other hand, it makes me want to read The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which he wrote in part to try to get doctors to use checklists for avoiding medical mistakes.

I’m not sure I agree with the section on free will and habits. Duhigg concludes that the test for whether someone is guilty for their habits comes down to whether they’re aware of their habits and could potentially change them, but I have to say it’s more complicated than that. The fact that we can look inside people’s brains and see habits take over, overriding free will, overriding social concerns, overriding even the most loving or empathic person you know, call into question the idea of free will entirely.

And there’s another question of whether someone is a victim of someone creating a habit inside their brain. I don’t necessarily like using the word victim, but survivor doesn’t exactly fit. When you have massive corporations – gambling corporations, video game companies, sugary food producers, drug manufacturers – actively manipulating you and trying to make you an addict, are you fully responsible for your actions as a result of that addiction? Does some blame fall on the corporation for using predatory tactics?

Are these corporations or groups merely trying to get you into their business as a customer, or are they actively trying to control you in ways that could be described as an attack on your freedom, on your ability to make choices at all? Or is it all just “arbitrage” – just as someone might buy gold where it’s cheap and sell it where it’s expensive, are casinos (and similar addictive businesses) just a test of discipline where money is transferred from the addicted and poorly disciplined, to those who are either highly disciplined or don’t play?

I’m surprised by how much there is to say about this book, considering that the main part of the text is under 300 pages.

Descendants Review

If I created a list of the 100 most useful books of all time, and my descendants read that list to have the greatest possible chance of success in life, would this book be on that list?

  1. Definitely Yes
  2. Yes
  3. >Maybe (Leaning Yes)
  4. Maybe (Leaning No)
  5. No
  6. Definitely Not

This book covers a lot of topics in a short time. Habits (obviously), neurology, social hierarchies, movements, free will… Part of me wants to put in on “my list” just for the part about predictive analytics – large corporations using data to predict your behavior is huge, and will continue to be huge into the future.

Another part of me is hesitant to put it on because so much of the book relies on current research – in 20 years, will most of this book be outdated? I doubt it, but with the current social science replication crisis, where so many classic and widely-cited studies are proving not to be true, this book might need an update in the near future.

Other than the predictive analytics section, the other section that comes up as significant is in the same chapter – the section on introducing new things (in the chapter, songs) to people who crave familiarity. It’s possible for something to be extraordinary, and to have all of your analyses show that it will be important, popular, or loved – and for the thing to fail, because it’s too new. You need to introduce this new thing – whether it’s a new song, a new food, or a new technology – sandwiched between familiar things, or put in a context where it seems more familiar. I think beyond the sections about the structure of habits and habit change, this insight is one I’m going to be thinking about for quite awhile.

Overall Review

4.0/5. A good introduction to habits, habit change, and how these things influence us beyond our personal lives.

Daily Habits I’m Building

Every action falls into two categories – either a long term action in pursuit of a goal, or a short term action that can become a habit.

Think about everything that’s a part of your day – when you wake up, what you eat, where you go, who you talk to, what you create or consume – most of these things are things you do over and over again. The bulk of your life is made of habits, and if you want to create something bigger than yourself, you need to craft these daily actions into ones that support a larger goal.

This isn’t a list habits I currently do daily – not yet anyway – it’s a list of habits I’m trying to build, in order to build a good life and work towards greater things. Feel free to critique it, add suggestions, or even take these and build a habit list of your own.

  1. Consistently sleep for 8 hours a night, or more. Opinions differ on how much sleep you need. Some people need 8 hours, others get by on a bare minimum of 6 hours. There’s even a minority of people in the sleepless elite who need less than 6 hours – chances are I’m not in that 2%, and sleeping more than 8 hours is the bedrock of my (and your) ability to get things done.
  2. Wake up early (or at least earlier). This is something I struggle with. You read up on the sleep habits of uber-successful people, and you’ll keep coming across CEOs and billionaires who get up before dawn, at 5:00 AM, 4:30 AM, 4:00 AM. Me? In my adult life I’ve normally woken up much later than that (imagine the person you know who gets up the latest in the morning: I rise later than them). It’s often seriously interfered with my ability to work with other people… not to mention high school. I’ve gone back and forth about whether this is a bad habit I’ve built over the years, or whether recent research about chronotypes will justify my sleep schedule. Regardless, I probably need to have a sleep schedule slightly resembling other humans.
  3. Lucid dreaming and dream recording. I’ve been interested in lucid dreaming (conscious awareness during dreams) for nearly a decade, but have never succeeded (that I can remember). I’d like to change that.
  4. Morning planning. In spite of quotes about the futility of planning (“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”), I’d say starting your day with a basic plan of what you need to get done is better than winging it and hoping for the best.
  5. Ask a list of daily questions. Steve Jobs has a famous quote (I know, how cliche can I get?) from his 2005 Stanford Commencement speech: “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Maybe you like Jobs, maybe you don’t; I think this is good advice. Im making a list of basic questions that I ask every day, to keep my life on a path I can live with, if not celebrate.
  6. Make my bed every morning. You see this advice from different people in various forms, from admirals to Jordan Peterson. The theory behind this is that making your bed not only keeps your physical space under control, but also gives you a small win that sets you on a productive path for the rest of the day – I want to put this to the test.
  7. Exercise in the morning. Lifting weights, jogging, anything that (literally) moves me, and prevents an early death from sedentary computer work.
  8. Meditate. Supposedly the most common habit of high performers in business, art, sports etc. is some kind of meditation or daily mindfulness practice. Like lucid dreaming, I’ve had the interest for years, but lacked the consistency to make it a habit.
  9. Consistently eat a healthy diet, and track it. Looking back on my life, I can point to key points where I had some of my worst struggles, and also had the worst diet. We all know the basic ideas: count calories, avoid foods high in sugar and fat, eat regularly scheduled meals, get some vegetables and protein in your diet. The hard part is actually following through on all of these things, and avoiding the temptation to eat dozens of donuts. Which I have. Because donuts are delicious.
  10. Take daily supplements that complement my diet. Unless I’m extremely careful about creating a diet the covers 100% of nutritional needs, chances are I’ll be missing something. That said, I obviously shouldn’t just take anything that says “supplement” without doing a little research about what is, what it does, and if I need it.
  11. Showering, flossing, and shaving everyday. I know, really obvious things. But I doubt I’m the only one who hasn’t ever though “I’m not going anywhere, I don’t need to shave my face.” or “I just brushed, I don’t need to floss.” I also doubt I’m the only one who’s thought back on these things at the end of the day, and regretted their lazy decisions not to engage in basic hygiene.
  12. Networking and volunteering. Again, really obvious. That’s the thing I’ve found with most healthy habits – it’s not about doing clever things, it’s about consistently avoiding dumb things or consistently doing obvious things. Like going out, meeting like-minded people, and forming connections to build bigger and better things together.
  13. Daily reading: At least 100 pages or 4 hours a day. What can I say? Readers are leaders, the more you learn the more you earn, having fun isn’t hard… This is actually the habit I’ve had the most success building these past several months, to the point where I’m managing to read at a pace around 50 books a year. But quick math reveals that if I was reading daily, I could read 80 or even over 100 books a year. There are millions of books out there, with millions of ideas to consider and lessons to learn from; I want to learn from as many of them as I can.
  14. Daily writing. If I’d been practicing this, college would have gone very differently. Ha. Anyway, it’s another no-brainer. If you want to get better at some craft or some art form – writing, singing, drawing, sculpting – you need to practice or work at it daily, and I’m no exception.
  15. Daily language learning. I’ve wanted to a multilingual polyglot for a long time, and I wrote an entire post about languages worth learning (and implicitly, why it’s worthwhile to learn languages at all). I have no excuses.
  16. Actually use social media. This is probably a weird one, where most people are trying to use social media less, and make time for other things. I actually have a bad habit of ignoring social media for long stretches of time, or only using one for weeks and accidentally ignoring the rest of my accounts. I’m not sure what that says about me.
  17. Limit video games, or quit video games completely. This is an area I’ve struggled with, and I go back and forth on this a lot. I have to admit that there have been weeks of my life where I’ve played 40 or 50+ hours of video games, and gotten nothing done. Then again, I can point to weeks where I played no games, and still got nothing done – the problem isn’t necessarily video games specifically. Then again, over the past 12 months of reading books, the weeks where I’ve read the most were the weeks where I played no video games. I’ll sometimes think about famous and accomplished people who play video games, but then I’ll remember that comparing my ability to work-while-gaming to Elon Musk’s 130 hour weeks probably isn’t the best comparison.
  18. Evening tidying/sorting. No-Brainer #7409. Even just 5 minutes putting random things where they need to be, straightening things out etc. is an improvement over living in a nuclear warzone a disorganized living space.
  19. Evening review and planning. This is the counterpart to the morning planning from earlier, where I reflect on my day, think about what went right or wrong, and make plans for tomorrow.
  20. Put my smartphone in another room before sleeping. Getting tempted into a Youtube rabbit hole when you’re trying to get to sleep isn’t helpful, to say the least.
  21. Go to bed early (or at least earlier). The counterpart to getting up earlier. The same challenges apply here as well.

There are other daily habits out there that could be better called daily mindsets: expressing gratitude for good things, not complaining (especially about things I can’t or won’t change), not making excuses for myself, controlling my emotional state in the face of stressful situations, and so forth. But I think all of the habits above cover 80-95% of the good habits I could try to build.

Proteus Reviews: Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve been meaning to read Player Piano for awhile. It’s Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel… plus the main character is “Doctor Paul Proteus.”

I kind of had to read it.

Summary (No/Minimal Spoilers)

“This book is not about what is, but a book about what could be.”

Player Piano takes place in a fictional city of Ilium, New York after World War III. The final outcome of the war wasn’t just victory for the United States over its enemies, but the complete mechanization of all production, with humans increasingly absent from both traditional work and from meaning in their lives. Doctor Paul Proteus, factory manager of the Ilium Works, is the ultimate insider, having spent his adult life climbing the corporate ladder into one of the few remaining unmechanized positions. His perspective is one of increasing dissatisfaction with the system, with his occupation, and with the barrier between his daily life and his ability to express himself as a man… and as a human.

Occasionally we see the perspective of the Shah of Bratpuhr, the fictional spiritual leader of an unnamed impoverished country (although with his name being “Shah,” we can assume this is somewhere in the Middle East or Southern Asia). He is the ultimate outsider, marvelling at the technological wonders around him, and the bizarre society Americans have constructed as a result.

With complete automation of all factory work, and increasing automation of all other work, there is a widening divide between the elites of this America and the common people. At the top are the managers and engineers, who have the required advanced degrees and IQ scores to retain the few occupations that haven’t been fully automated. While they are at the top, their positions are precarious, the possibility of being fired instantly upon their jobs being automated (or an audit revealing a missing college credit requirement) looming over their heads.

At the bottom are regular people, who don’t have the degrees, IQs, or skills to work any of the jobs available even a decade ago in Ilium. The only jobs available to them are a non-existent private market competing against automated factories, working in the Army occupying faraway foreign countries, or working in the “Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps.” (“Wrecks and Reeks”), which mostly does construction work – or other jobs that haven’t been automated yet. With an increasing lack of meaningful work for the majority of people, the common people lead increasingly meaningless lives, defined by various addictions and social problems.

In the middle is a very tiny middle class (though Vonnegut doesn’t call it that) of jobs like bartenders that couldn’t be automated or resisted automation. They look up to and think of themselves as part of the elite class, but the elites largely look down on them as part of the irrelevant commoners.

Paul Proteus meets his old friend Ed Finnerty, an unhygenic iconoclast (literally how the book describes him) who doesn’t fit into the elite class of monogamous Eagle Scouts. He’s just quit his important job in Washington D.C., and is the main driver for Proteus meeting several people outside the elite cogs in the system. These people, including a preacher, a hustler, and an old-time farm hand, put Paul Proteus’ dissatisfaction with the system into plain view.

Proteus is forced to make a choice. Should he join the budding Ghost Shirt Society, a movement of luddites dedicated towards reclaiming America from the machines? Should he become an informant about his friends’ dissatisfaction, and move up the corporate ladder? Should he move to an unmechanized farm, and work the land like a real man? He has to decide – events are moving in a way where Proteus’ life is about to change dramatically.

Discussion

I’ll try not to give too many spoilers here either, even though discussing the book at all makes that difficult.

First of all: Kurt Vonnegut is an amazing writer. I already knew that from some of his short stories I read back in high school, but I’ve never actually read any of his full novels. Even though I had a vague prediction of what was going to happen, I was still constantly surprised by events in the story, even up to the very end. I say this knowing that this is Kurt Vonnegut’s first novel, and from what I’ve read he hadn’t yet developed his unique style.

The setting is truly a universal dystopia. There might be a complete lack of war, poverty, and starvation, but on top of that are things that every possible reader will dread. This is a society built on IQ scores and degrees, with zero social mobility or options for those on the lower end. Most jobs have been automated, depriving people of meaningful work. The factories are owned and run by a shrinking elite of managers and engineers, who become richer as all other people grow poorer – the worst excesses of capitalism. And while distinction is made between this system and communism, it’s explained that decisions of production and the economy are made by a small group of managerial committees and supercomputers – which to any self-described capitalist, sounds like something out of an advanced communist regime.

This book is highly prophetic about issues current American society is facing. Increasing divide between haves and have-nots, driven by increasing automation of skilled work, opening up the society to the arrival of a Messiah who promises returning America to real Americans…

If Vonnegut were alive today, he would probably laugh and cry.

(Sidenote: If you’re skeptical so far, read this book just to meet “Checker Charley,” a machine that can play checkers better than a human, and written right here decades before Deep Blue or Alpha Go. I won’t spoil how it goes, that chapter is amazing.)

I have a feeling that this might be a bit of a spoiler, but reading this gave me heavy flashbacks to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (not to mention Brave New World). A dissatisfied corporate drone with father issues meets an irreverent smoking radical, with an anti-technology movement in the background… if Palahniuk didn’t read Player Piano before writing Fight Club, I’ll be pretty surprised. Or maybe irreverent writers think alike.

Player Piano was published in 1952, and it shows. References to vaccuum tubes, tape recorders, magnetic tapes, everyone smoking, complete lack of birth control, 1950s gender dynamics…

Speaking of gender dynamics, Anita Proteus, Paul Proteus’ wife, is a horrible person. It’s heavily implied (if not outright stated) that Anita is a gold digging social climber who convinced Paul into marrying her by faking pregnancy, and only did so because it was her only avenue to escaping life with the common folk. She’s a useless and horrible person, and their entire marriage is a toxic union of deceit, lies, and miscommunication. Not to say Paul isn’t blameless; some of his behavior could be accused of being misogynistic. Still, their entire marriage is toxic, and the last mentions we get of her are toxic.

As much as the last part of the book engrossed me, it was… I don’t want to spoil the ending too much, but in my opinion the story ended with the worst possible outcome. Some parts of it could be considered a success, other parts a complete failure, but these successes and failures combined in a way where the story ends even worse than the terrible conditions we started with. Part of this comes from the fact that Paul Proteus is a character who made very few of his own choices, either being pushed into one path by the ghost of his father, into another by his wife, yet another by his dissatisfied friends, and yet another by the common people (if you happen to be a lover of Ayn Rand characters, you’ll probably hate Doctor Paul Proteus). He makes a few genuine choices, but most of them end terribly.

While this might be even more of a spoiler (can you spoil a 70 year old book?), I’ll leave off with this: It’s revealed in the end that Paul (and a couple other main characters) had some of the worst possible motivations for their actions. One was motivated by not having a comfortable place for him anywhere (how does that justify ruining everyone else’s lives?), another went through his actions as an experiment (join or create a lab?), another went through his actions as a symbol (symbols are for traffic signs, not redesigning society), and another “for the record” (even though you, in particular, accomplished nothing).

There are other things to discuss – Vonnegut’s not-so-subtle self-insert, the weird IQ distribution used here, Vonnegut not foreseeing the gig economy (there’s a point where Proteus can’t get a cab to pick him up from the train, leaving me shouting about Uber and Lyft at the book), but this review is already too long.

Before I end, there’s one quote that really jumped at me, one of the few I copied in full:

“Well you know, in a way I wish I hadn’t met you two. It’s much more convenient to think of the opposition as a nice homogenous, dead-wrong mass. Now I’ve got to muddy my thinking with exceptions.”

Descendants Review

If I created a list of the 100 most useful books of all time, and my descendants read that list to have the greatest possible chance of success in life, would this book be on that list?

  1. Definitely Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Maybe (Leaning Yes)
  4. >Maybe (Leaning No)
  5. No
  6. Definitely Not

As much as I enjoyed the book, and as prophetic as it is about current issues, I don’t think either of these things are enough for Player Piano to make “my list.” The fact that it was published in the 50s makes its predictions about the future interesting, but also makes it so that a reader who wasn’t male, or white, would probably have issues with how a lot of the characters are presented, especially Anita and probably the Shah of Bratpuhr. Reasonable accusations of racism, misogyny, and even Orientalism would probably be the result.

That’s not me trying to be “politically correct,” that’s the reality of the book being published in 1952.

Even those predictions and explorations of current issues leave something to be desired. While Player Piano describes issues that America is currently facing, it doesn’t describe any solutions to these issues beyond “destroy the machines so that real Americans can have jobs again.” There are better descriptions of the issues around automation, and better places to look for potential solutions that take economics into account. On my end, I suspect Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari is going to explore many of the same themes as Player Piano while being far more relevant.

Overall Review

3.4/5. While the book is oddly prophetic about issues that modern America faces, the book is stuck in the 1950s on multiple levels. Read if you’re concerned about the ethics of using automation (or to read Kurt Vonnegut predict Deep Blue/AlphaGo), but skip if you’re more concerned with solutions.

Becoming A Political Independent In The Age Of Trump

Some might say becoming a political independent during the age of Trump is poorly timed.

I doubt there’s a good or bad time.

But why now? Why become a political independent during the Presidency of Donald Trump, and during one of the most divisive times in political memory? Let me tell you a little bit about my political evolution over the years.

Political Development

My interest in politics actually started quite young, sometime in middle school. Between those prepubescent years and now, I have held nearly every single political position in the political spectrum.

“That’s not impressive, everyone has their politics change as they get older.” True, but when I say my politics have been all over the spectrum, I mean I have been a paleoconservative, a progressive liberal, a libertarian, a technocratic utopian, a radical environmentalist, a centrist, and a dozen different flavors of socialism – not in that order, or with smooth transitions between positions.

The only thing I haven’t been is a fascist – I plan on keeping it that way.

One thing that’s become clear: all conventional wisdom of how a person’s political beliefs are supposed to develop has utterly failed me. Conventional wisdom I’ve been told through my life holds that you’re supposed to start off really liberal, and then get more conservative as you get older. Winston Churchill (and a dozen other political thinkers) supposedly said that “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

Meanwhile (in broad terms) I started off in right wing politics, became a libertarian, entered left wing politics, and then came around more toward the political center. Maybe that puts me right on track to being an adult conservative, but for all I know I’m going to shift gears and become a Trotskyist. No, I don’t think that’s likely.

Why have I held so many political positions? I’ve been reflecting on this, and there are a lot of reasons – the process of growing older, learning more about history, encountering more ideas and thinkers, all of which are pretty normal reasons people point to in their political development. Aside from those, I think there’s a larger reason that’s stayed constant through my life.

Meeting Like-Minded People (Or Not)

Looking back, my life has been defined by realizations that the people around me that I think are like-minded don’t actually share my beliefs… or understand them very differently than I do.

I’ll meet someone, and we share a common goal or ideal. While talking to them, I’ll bring up what I think is a related goal, or a goal that comes from the same principle… only for them to start insulting me, accusing me of derailing, or not being a true [political position].

Or maybe I’ll be around friends who share my ideals, and I’ll make a seemingly simple suggestion or uncontroversial statement, maybe related to our shared politics, but maybe not. Suddenly they’ll start accusing me of everything under the sun, of secretly holding dozens of other possible views and traits based on that one suggestion… none of which are true.

Or worst of all: I’ll be talking to someone where we agree about how serious a social or political problem is, and they have a solution in mind. Hearing their solution, and noting some of the potential problems with it, I’ll suggest an alternative that lacks these issues. Maybe I disagree with the solution, maybe I just want all options on the table. Rather than discuss which solution is better, this person will declare me their enemy, despite knowing I agree about how serious the problem is.

When that happens it’s hard not to conclude: they care just as much (if not more) about that particular solution as they do about solving the problem – or worse, they don’t care if the problem gets solved! They’re just justifying the “solution” that benefits them most, regardless of whether it helps or harms anyone else.

The charitable explanation for all of these cases is that I simply misunderstood their views, and I lacked the social intelligence to know that ahead of time. The less charitable explanation is that I’m more open-minded than average (but everyone says that), and I’ll mix views and principles in ways that make sense to me and no one else. Or maybe if two people talk for long enough they’ll find something to disagree about, and I need to learn to deal with that.

I suspect it’s a mixture of all of the above.

Note that I’m not naming any particular issue or group: whether I thought of myself as left wing or right wing at the time, no matter what social identity I had taken on, these kinds of events would keep happening with “like-minded” people.

Political Priorities

“Okay, what does this have to do with becoming a political independent?”

Over the course of reflecting on these cases – of realizing that the people around me don’t share my ideals – I’ve realized that I’ve never actually fully settled in any political position. By the time I had ever declared myself to be one thing, I was already transitioning to something else, even if I didn’t fully realize it. But the people around me did. The “like-minded” people around me, fully settled into their views, sounded the alarm over and over again that I had political principles they did not, concerns they did not, and potential solutions they did not.

Looking back on my political development, it’s become clear that my ability to predict my own future beliefs is nonexistent. If you had told me about any of my future political beliefs at any point, I wouldn’t have believed you! Maybe that’s true of everyone… and if so, I believe I need to embrace that fact. I could be wildly wrong about many things (or even everything) right now, and I would have no idea.

Here’s a thought experiment I’ve been thinking about recently: If a time portal opened up, and out stepped the older and wiser version of you from the future… wouldn’t you want to know their beliefs? Wouldn’t you want to question them about how their beliefs differ from yours, if at all?

I know I would. If the older and wiser version of me believes something, that’s evidence (but not certain evidence) that’s the better belief to have.

Meeting the older and wiser you is impossible – but opening yourself up to the factors that will make you wiser, and rejecting those that make becoming wiser harder, are definitely possible.

If I want my views to shift towards the beliefs of the older and wiser version of myself, then I need to be radically open-minded. I need to open myself to all possible political positions, all possible political beliefs, and all possible political priorities.

But haven’t you already done that? You said you’ve held nearly every political position on the spectrum. True. But the difference is that if you pointed to any point in my political development, and asked me if I was open to going towards a past or future point in my development, I would have said no. If I’m going to be radically open-minded, I need to honestly consider the idea that I might become a conservative, or a liberal, or a communist, or an libertarian, and yes, even a fascist, as much as the idea boils my blood.

If I’m going to be radically open-minded, my first and foremost political priority needs to be towards finding truth. Scientific truth, historical truth, personal truth, and every other kind of truth. If a force prevents me or anyone else from understanding the truth – whether by design, in the case of censorship and coercion, or whether by effect, in the case of political allegiance and social unpopularity – that force is something I need to reject. Or worse, if a force puts me in a position where I feel like I have to lie, I need to reject that force. Especially now, in a time where in my country, partisanship is at the highest anyone can remember it reaching. To my eye, more and more priority is being placed on declaring your allegiance, rather than on understanding truth.

If something is true, it is a part of reality, and not understanding it will only hurt me and the people that surround me. If something is true, I want and need to believe it, no matter what that fact is. My first and foremost political priority is creating a world where I can pursue truth, understand the truth, and publicly discuss or declare what I honestly believe to be true.

I want to be in a position where if someone states something to be true, and I don’t believe that’s true, I can honestly and openly state what I believe is true instead. If they demand that I stop, I can’t – it’s not personal, it’s strictly business. The same goes for if someone makes an ethical argument, where I don’t believe that’s ethical.

If I believe I have access to the truth in ways that others do not, I want to live in world where I can openly share and persuade others of the truth. Especially if I believe that not understanding that truth actively harms me or the people around me – in a case like that, it would be unethical to not persuade others of the truth, to try and avoid the negative consequences of people acting based on an understanding of reality that doesn’t match reality.

This is a hard path. It’s become clear over the years that for most people, their political views aren’t a collection of logical arguments they’ve brought together into a unified whole. Their political views are deeply personal, an intimate reflection of their personality traits, personal history, religious/metaphysical views, who they are friends with, and certain traumatic or life-changing events. Telling someone that one of their views is wrong, especially when it’s based on any of these deeply personal things, never gets a good reaction. But it’s not personal. It’s business.

So there I am. I’m declaring myself a political independent. Not because I’m about to #WalkAway from my political party, or because my views have radically shifted between this month and last month. I’m becoming a political independent because it has become clear that I can’t predict my future views, and if I want to pursue the truth in its unadulterated form I cannot let political allegiance or unpopularity stop me. I need to be free to form my own political views, craft my own political priorities, and pursue my own political objectives without external forces stopping me from doing so.

But what about other people? You talk a lot about creating a world where you can pursue truth and say what you believe freely, but what happens to everyone else? How are your other political objectives going to affect other people? What principles are you going to use to determine which effects are acceptable or not?

Those are all good questions to ask. I even have a few answers in mind… in another essay.

Proteus Reviews: Principles Life & Work by Ray Dalio

What are the principles that lead to a good life, good work, and good relationships? The aptly named Principles by Ray Dalio covers just that. Over the course of managing Bridgewater Associates (which manages over 160 billion dollars in assets), Dalio wrote down the principles for how Bridgewater operates; after first releasing a 100 page ebook of those principles in 2011, he wrote this book.

Summary

Principles is centered around three things: Principles for good living, principles for getting work culture right, and principles for getting the people right.

Life Principles:

If you want to develop yourself into the best possible version of yourself, you need to embrace reality and deal with it. Be a hyper-realist that embraces truth, deals with pain, and understands the long term consequences of everything. If you can do this, you can have almost anything you want – just not everything you want. You need to pick your goals carefully, and relentlessly look for and fix problems in order to make continual upward progress.

Dalio subscribes to the idea of radical open-mindedness, where you need to make sure your emotions don’t hijack your ability to reason about the views of others, or delude yourself about your own level of knowledge. While being open-minded, you need to be aware that all people are wired very differently, with different abilities or ways of thinking, but similar challenges in thinking.

Ultimately, you’ll need to pull all of these things together to make decisions effectively, overcoming the common emotional barriers, interpersonal barriers, and barriers between you and the truth.

Getting The Culture Right:

Based on Bridgewater’s success, Dalio advocates for creating an organizational culture built around idea meritocracy, where the best ideas win out regardless of the authority or status of the speaker. This is difficult to do, but doing it requires a cultural commitment to radical truth, and radical transparency. In nearly all things, whether it’s relationships between coworkers, relationships to management, or in how meetings are run, everyone has the right to honestly state their views, criticize the views of others, and make suggestions in the pursuit of truth and prosperity.

Unless making something transparent would cause personal, legal, or business problems, there should be as few secrets and censors as possible. While being transparent can hurt relationships with people who aren’t prepared for it, what is even more harmful is a failure to cultivate meaningful work and meaningful relationships, built around mutual generosity, clarity of purpose, and people with character. In pursuit of transparency and meaningful work, you need to create a culture where it’s OK to make mistakes – but unacceptable to not learn from them. Mistakes are a part of a person’s or organizations’ evolution, and you need to worry less about acceptable mistakes that merely make you look bad, than you need to worry about unacceptable mistakes that detract from achieving goals.

If you want to achieve those goals (or anything), you need to understand how to work through disagreements by believability weighting your decisions (giving more weight to the suggestions and conclusions of believable people), and staying in sync in spite of necessary conflict.

Getting The People Right:

When building an organization, you need to keep in mind that who you hire, and who you make a responsible party, are far more important than what they do. If you’re in a position where you manage and hire people, you need to hire right, because hiring wrong has huge penalties in the long run. You need to constantly train, test, and evaluate people for both their capabilities and their fit in the organization – you’re not just managing an organization, you’re building a machine in order to achieve a goal.

Always be perceptive towards, and don’t tolerate, any problems that detract from achieving that goal. You need to diagnose those problems, and then change the machinery to fix those problems. These solutions, and everything else you do, needs to come from principles-based tools and protocols, with clear and transparent logic behind them for why they are done that way. Even with all of these things, even the best principles or policies can’t replace a great group of leaders, great partnerships, and good governance of the organization.

Discussion

First things first: this is the MUCH better version of The Effective Executive! This book covers 90%+ or the same material in that book, without being horribly outdated. “Well of course it’s not outdated, Executive was published in 1967, and this was published in 2017!”  I know. Still, I’m glad I can now recommend this book instead.

Although I’ll be honest: there’s a good chance that Dalio would say that I read it wrong, where I read the book all at once over the course of a week, rather than just reading what was most relevant to me and ignoring the rest. Part of me thinks I should have just done that – I ended up skimming the last 10-15% of the book as it became less relevant to my immediate situation.

This book is far more up to date on the capabilities of computers and artificial intelligence than Executive, for obvious reasons. Bridgewater Associates makes heavy use of computers and predictive algorithms in order to understand global markets and make the best financial decisions possible. Dalio ultimately advises people against fully trusting AI to make independent decisions, and remains skeptical of the idea that AI will soon or even ever fully compete with human beings. I’d be curious to see a conversation between Dalio (who, to his credit, works with computers to make the very successful predictions and transactions at Bridgewater) and the people who most predict that artificial intelligence will outpace or threaten humans in the near future (Kurzweil, Bostrom, maybe even the people at DeepMind).

What’s curious to me is Dalio’s… I guess you could call it ideological neutrality. Or maybe even political relativism. There’s a section near the beginning where Dalio is having dinner with Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister of Singapore, where Yew comments that Angela Merkel of Germany and Vladimir Putin of Russia are some of the best leaders in the world, with Xi Jinping of China being the best overall leader. Maybe if you’re judging these people by some abstract concept of leadership this judgment makes sense, but if you value things like open dialogue, free press, civil liberties, or fair elections, you’re not going to put Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping all in the same category.

Dalio has… a unique relationship with China. He tried to open a subset of Bridgewater in China a couple decades ago, but he ultimately focused his efforts on Bridgewater in the United States. He’ll quote a leader praising Xi Jinping without batting an eye, and he’ll also sit down to dinner with the Dalai Lama, who China considers an enemy of the state. He refers to the events at Tianenman Square as an “incident,” which is really bizarre. The fact that it gets a mention at all is really weird (this is a business book after all, and no one wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t there), but referring to it as an incident simultaneously angers human rights activists (who call it the Tianenman Square Massacre), and makes the book unpublishable in China, which commonly censors all references to the events of June 4, 1989. Maybe Chinese censors will give it a pass if it’s called an incident?

In any case, my website is probably blocked in China now.

I would be curious to see a discussion between Xi Jinping and Ray Dalio. Would they be able to see eye to eye on openness, transparency, and radical commitment to truth? On not censoring the opinions of others? Of being open to criticism from your subordinates? On the free exchange of ideas? Somehow I think they wouldn’t.

My guess is that Dalio just doesn’t care all that much about politics or ideology, and cares much more about meaningful work and meaningful relationships. He’s a successful capitalist who honeymooned in Soviet Russia (yes, really), quotes leaders praising Xi Jinping while also having dinner with the Dalai Lama, and advocates for radical commitment to openness, truth, and transparency while working in countries that either partially value those things or don’t value them at all.

A more worldly concern: There’s a section of the book that talks about visionary leaders and the qualities that unite them… and front in center in that section is Elon Musk. I think Elon Musk is an incredible human being, even in spite of his flaws, but I will say this: I REALLY hope Elon Musk ultimately succeeds in his mission. Otherwise all these business books that mention him are going to be really weird to read in the future.

Descendants Review

If I created a list of the 100 most useful books of all time, and my descendants read that list to have the greatest possible chance of success in life, would this book be on that list?

  1. Definitely Yes
  2. >Yes
  3. Maybe (Leaning Yes)
  4. Maybe (Leaning No)
  5. No
  6. Definitely Not

There are a lot of business books out there, self development books, management books, and so on. That much is certain. What I’m uncertain of is whether there’s another book out there that covers as much ground in one volume as this one does. I have a feeling that barring something completely unexpected like Bridgewater filing for bankruptcy, Elon Musk merging with AI, or Xi Jinping starting a war with Russia, this book is going to be up to date and relevant to readers for decades to come. It’s not a perfect book, but this book is going to be essential reading for those interested in developing themselves or developing a business for a very long time.

Overall Review

4.7/5. While not a perfect book, Principles is essential book for anyone looking to develop themselves or build a business.