A wealthy friend of mine recently told me, “You get successful by saying yes, but you need to say no a lot to stay successful.” If you’re perceived to be wealthier than those around you, you’ll have to say “no” a lot. You’ll be constantly approached with requests, offers, pitches, and pleas—whether you’re in a Starbucks in Silicon Valley or the back streets of Calcutta. Refusing sincere requests for help doesn’t come naturally to our species. Neuroscientists Jorge Moll, Jordan Grafman, and Frank Krueger of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke have used fMRI machines to demonstrate that altruism is deeply embedded in human nature. Their work suggests that the deep satisfaction most people derive from altruistic behavior is not due to a benevolent cultural overlay, but from the evolved architecture of the human brain.
nil, this one's for you.
You can sense how my household might have been a bit of a minefield growing up. My old man would come home from work screaming due to stress. Yet still, I had a rich uncle who we needed to impress. When my rich uncle came over you bet the tablecloths got changed. You bet we had to put on nice shirts. You bet we had to watch our tone and the words we were saying around him.
And why? It drove me fuckin' bonkers son, because they were assholes. They tried to give me $10k for university at one point provided I "write them a letter telling them why I was so grateful to be receiving this money." I wanted to fuck 'em in the neck.
It felt like pure insanity. It felt so endlessly trivial. Why was it that I reacted with disgust as a child about these things yet they felt like life or death issues on the social hierarchy for adults? Why did my parents have such low self-esteem they couldn't blow these people off? I was doing third grade preparation homework over the summer under the tutelage of my rich aunt when my parents disappeared to the cruise ship in 2004.
It was one of many things you experience as a child where you think "this is messed up" yet feel powerless to escape from. Because maybe, that's how adults are supposed to act. Just maybe, there was some logic behind it. Just maybe, I was going to have the same destiny. Just maybe, it's normal to get off on the power you have over teenagers. Who takes themselves this seriously?
So I noped out of that logic when I was very young. I wasn't going to degrade myself because I didn't want to live in Victorian England. I knew money couldn't buy you happiness. I knew there were higher values on this planet. I knew the environment was going to be fucked pretty soon so I mentally viewed poverty as sexy. I knew that despite growing up in intense wealth there were a Iot of dehumanizing things going on around me.
I felt like I was just being dragged along by forces that had been established decades before I was born. I resented the fact that nobody lived in the present. I resented that I was a smart kid yet the other smart kids didn't want anything out of their brief journey into matter except the 2019 Nissan Qashqai with Lane Departure Warning and Pedestrian Detection. I resented that as life got more confusing we sought simple answers. I looked for dreams elsewhere.
I found my peers, and that lateral move took me over the edge. Not the ledge beyond the edge like Keith Richards. I mean genuinely falling face-first towards the rocks before a gust of wind rushed forth from the ocean and delivered me to the world of waking up feeling okay with plenty of self-control.
Everyone lives in the social hierarchy. Even as kids. I teased a kid in 5th grade about the fact his parents lived in a condo. In most high schools there's always a group of 10-15 people that seem to run everything. That are in the student council. That plan all the events. That nobody likes. I had infinitely more friends, because I talked to everyone. I would have been elected president if the teachers let me. Yet in spite of the fact I was the most popular, people responded as if they were on top. Nobody liked them! And it's not like four years later any of that shit held.
Then if you're me you get to college and all of a sudden everyone is better dressed than you. People have had less varied life experiences than you. It's even more homogeneous. There's a lot less diversity. And this time nobody talks and those student council assholes are still there.
We need to have a serious conversation about human nature in this society because I deeply sense that nobody has any clue what it is. It isn't Steven Pinker or Chris Ryan or T. Mack that have their finger on the pulse. It's as confusing as life itself. I don't feel my neighbours' $11 million as a threat to my $10 million on an animal level as I just don't find it appealing. But I think mentally I'm attracted to a different form of glitter. And that's probably a function of some of my life experiences. I haven't even had luck trying to change who I am to be the head ape. I still felt like shit. The challenge is to somehow get other people's animal impulses to a higher level.
Watch out for Chris Ryan. He's kind of a nut. You can't have freedom without responsibility.
And when you don't want to live in the world of black and white? You must select a new society. Social isolation will kill you. You have to find the people with similar goals, dreams, and values. Who aren't playing a game where even winning isn't worth it.
There are rich people who aren't assholes. There are successful people who don't act like their shit doesn't stink. There are winners capable of speaking honestly and truthfully. Who aren't putting on a facade. You can get there without dropping out of society entirely. You don't have to dress up like Victorian England.
That was the edge. Being fake. One should never be fake in pursuit of the spectacle. Absolutely nothing is worse in this reality than fakeness. Philosophers have been talking about it for centuries. We were tripping dick at 16 watching Pulp Fiction and all of a sudden we knew. "they're definitely in a car." They weren't. It's a green screen. That scene was fake.
To me, this is the biggest challenge with wealth and empathy. I don't know how one can not isolate themselves if they're constantly approached by people asking for money. Who are doing cold math rather than loving them for who they are.
And to the extent people still desire a certain vision of wealth, people will try to conform to the illusion of that aesthetic. Aesthetic. Aesthetic.
Could it be the difference is merely aesthetic? I find the business school ugly. Gold plates and glass and weird looking bricks. A kind of fascist attitude. An inability to laugh at yourself. It's such an expensive building yet to me it looks tacky. Like the Trump Tower. In South Korea you're cooler the whiter your skin is. That ain't money, that's aesthetic. That's the look of power. That's dehumanizing yourself. That's degrading yourself. Because you haven't mentally figured out where real self-esteem comes from. You're chasing an image rather than the thing itself.
That's the Society of the Spectacle. That's where our illness resides. I don't chase the spectacle.
I chase colour. I chase weirdness. I chase complexity. I chase the world that will never make sense. And to me that's where you find real fulfillment. And once you do that you'll finally feel okay about yourself whether you're rich or poor. The opinions of the people at the grocery store won't matter. And everyone else will love you more.
edit: awkward language