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Zero to One and the Contrarian Question

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Zero to One begins with what Peter Thiel calls the contrarian question (and it’s a question he asks during job interviews): “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” This question serves as the basis for Thiel’s business ideas.

The contrarian truth can be political, social, or financial. I have used the contrarian question without knowing it existed for my own journalism. “What important stories are the media refusing to cover?

Thiel later applies contrarian thinking to starting a company, “The business version of our contrarian question is: what valuable company is nobody building?”

While we take PayPal for granted, the idea of sending money via email was a contrarian truth. It’s obvious to us now. It wasn’t obvious then.

PayPal had to pay people to use their serve ($10 for each new user, with a $10 affiliate bonus for every friend you referred.) If you have to pay someone to use your product, then clearly it’s ahead of its time.

“Most answers to the contrarian question are different ways of seeing the present; good answers are as close as we can come to looking into the future.”

zero-to-one-book-review-peter-thiel-blake-masters

Today a contrarian truth could be that BTC and other cryptocurrencies are the future. When I mentioned opening a BTC account, most people told me it was a scam and crazy. Maybe they are right, or maybe BTC is the future.

My own contrarian truth hit me years ago. I believed that masculinity and free speech were the future. Rather than write a general-interest mindset book, I put a Gorilla on the cover and sold my book primarily to a male audience. People said this was crazy, bad branding, and that I’d alienate 50% of my potential audience (women).

Men loved Gorilla Mindset and I have a large female audience, too.

Thiel is a magician (masculine archetype)

Zero to One mentions the word secret dozens of times. There’s an entire section devoted to secrets, and Theil asks in his book, “Why aren’t people looking for secrets?”

Those who have read Carl Jung or “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine,” would see Thiel is a magician.

Indeed Zero to One is premised on the idea of alchemy. When you take a business from 0 to 1, you create something out of nothing.

(Guardians of the Secret, Jackson Pollack)

art and unconscious mind

 

What is your contrarian truth?

When I ask that question, even of people anonymously, the answers are often disappointing – too banal.

Finding a contrarian truth requires you to love secrets, to marvel at life’s mysteries. Without that genuine curiosity, you’re unlikely to see what others miss.

A contrarian truth should be shocking and outrageous, as by definition you are going against the crowd. As Thiel later writes, “If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth.”

What is Peter Thiel’s mindset?

On conflict. “Sometimes you do have to fight. Where that’s true, you should fight and win. There is no middle ground; either don’t throw any punches, or strike hard and end it quickly.”

On free will. “You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it.”

On vision. “In the 1950s, people welcomed big plans and asked whether they would work. Today a grand plan coming from a schoolteacher would be dismissed as crankery, and a long-range vision coming from anyone more powerful would be viewed as hubris.”

Go from Zero to One.

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Zero to One is a must-read for anyone who wants to think more deeply about the world. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in there about start-ups and business, and that’s what most reviews focus on.

Most news and commentary is a commodity business. Why read Carlos Slims blog (NYT) when you can read Jeff Bezos blog (WaPo)? It’s the same SJW, anti-Trump hoaxes. The same is true of Vice, Buzzfeed, and Daily Beast. If every newspaper except for one failed, would anyone notice or care? If every basic blog except for one closed down, what would be lost?

I treat a business book like a work of philosophy, which the financial and tech press lacks the intellectual depth to do.

Zero to One is not another basic bitch business book. It’s a work of philosophy by a philosopher.

Buy it now.

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Book Reviews

Hippie by Paulo Coelho

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“A man in search of spirituality knows little, because he reads of it and tries to fill his intellect with what he judges wise. Trade your books for madness and wonder – they you will be a bit closer to what you seek. Books bring us opinions and studies, analyses and comparisons, while the scared flame of madness brings us to the truth.” – Paulo Coelho, Hippie

Paulo Coelho, whose book The Alchemist has been read by somewhere between 50 and 100 million people doesn’t like agree with that, although if you read Hippie you’ll understand the context of the quote.

Hippie is a book Coelho’s fans seem to struggle with, as judged by reviews at Good Reads, likely because Hippie has a lot going on. One fan of Coelho writes:

Even though I enjoyed learning a little more about Paulo Coelho, his rebellious stage and his emotional journey to find the meaning of life, for me, Hippie fell flat. Written like a story, but based on his real life, I didn’t think it portrayed Coelho’s vibrant youth and his travels in a compelling and powerful way. There were tidbits of insight and lessons but the characters were not developed enough for me to care

Readers prefer a book about _______, where ________ can be summarized on an elevator or at a cocktail party.

  • Watch Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories.

Is Hippie about Paulo Coelho’s travels as a young man, ala Into the Wild? Is Hippie a love story?

While Coelho was ostensibly the protagonist, the book was as much about his travel companion and lover Karla as it is as him.

“All she’d ever done in her life was outrun others, but she would never be able to outrun herself,” was how Coelho described Karla, who convinced him to travel around the world with her on a bus trip from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Karla’s emotional and spiritual journey is what makes Hippie, which is why it’s understandable that Coelho’s literary groupies were upset. They wanted more of him.

Coelho’s writing style flows and he has resisted the modern trend of overwriting stories. Most books, especially memoirs, tend toward tedium.

If you’ve taken a speed-reading course, you read memoirs or biographies quickly and are rarely drawn in. (Read the first sentence of each paragraph. If the sentence is good, read the middle sentence. Otherwise move onto the next paragraph.)

The setting of Hippie was among the more curious aspects of the story.

In the 1970’s it was possible to ride a bus from Amsterdam to Kathmandu, Nepal.

Steven Pinker and others have argued that humans have never been safer from violence.

Take a look at this map and tell me whether this ride, which many took a few decades ago, would be possible.

If you enjoy semi-autobiographical fiction where the narrator is on a spiritual quest, you’ll enjoy Hippie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Reviews

The New Right: A Journey to the Fringe of American Politics by Michael Malice

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“The New Right is of the fringe, and the fringe is where both innovation and insanity lay.” – Michael Malice, The New Right.

When a writer asked to interview me for a book, I almost declined. I was burned out of talking to media people and not interested in explaining the same events over and over again.

But a mutual friend vouched for Michael Malice, and after being impressed with his Joe Rogan interview, I sat down for the interview.

Malice’s intellectual curiosity was evident immediately. Most writer or “journalists” want to argue during interviews. It gets boring. “OK, since you brought up x, you’re not going to bring up y.”

Malice was genuinely interested in my ideas, which as my recent interview on the Rubin Report show, are often “left wing.” Example – I believe CEO pay should be capped at a ratio of 100-to-1 of median employee wage.

Rather than attack or defend anyone, Malice showcases the points of views of people ranging from controversial to persona non grata. (Gavin McInnes is not only banned from Facebook, it’s also illegal for you to say you like him on the platform.)

Malice explains positions held by the populists and others, and criticizes those views where appropriate. As one example:

Activist Mike Cernovich’s movie is titled Silenced: The War on Free Speech…. The universal claim and concern in the New Right is that attacks on our free speech are unprecedented and fiercer than ever.

They are wrong.

Virtually all the Founding Fathers, including George Washington himself, were still alive when the Fifth Congress passed the Sedition Act, signed into law by John Adams. The act made it a federal crime to criticize the government or the president, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of several journalists.

While Malice has his history correct, one central theme of Silence was, We are doing it to ourselves.

Silenced was prophetic, and showed that the real threat to free speech wasn’t the government. It was all of us, as I describe in introducing Silenced:

Things are different than they used to be. We all know the feeling of dread when posting or talking about something controversial, and this dread has silenced us. It’s not censorship. The government isn’t doing it. We are. To ourselves. Across business, education, politics, and entertainment.

One can’t blame Malice for not having examined my entire body of work, because honestly how is that even possible?

Malice’s point about free speech is well-taken, though, as people today like people of all times believe our era is unprecedented. When really we aren’t special.

Malice also takes a look at Gorilla Mindset, and unlike most in the media, gets it:

In 2015 Cernovich self-published Gorilla Mindset…. Yet despite his swagger and the book’s title, his writing is far more new age than neo-reactionary. Many of the ideas have been staples of women’s magazines for years, including the benefits of meditation and “being present.”

Cernovich has cleverly repackaged such concepts in a manner friendly for guys, and in the process has given men permission to engage in these activities without feeling stigmatized. It’s akin to when Coca-Cola was invented Coke Zero, which was conceived as a male alternative for those too embarrassed by the perceived effeminacy of ordering a Diet Coke.

I’ve been on Malice’s show Your Welcome once or twice and am fond fo him, so you might consider this review to be PR, and that’s okay with me.

Those who know better understand that I’m a tough reviewer when it comes to books, and sometimes needlessly downgrade an excellent book as a way of antagonizing authors.

If you want to truly understand what is happening in America today, read The New Right.

As Malice observes, the new right has a largely male audience, and he asked me to explain why:

“Men are told today they’re living in a man’s world,” Cernovich told me, “and they’re looking around and thinking, Well, not for me. With men there isn’t any real help with alienation.”

Much of contemporary feminism is based on things like the relative number of male CEOs.

“It’s called the apex fallacy,” he said. “Too many men at the top. OK, what about the men at the bottom? Male suicide is four times the rate of female suicide. Look at homelessness, drug addition, and suicide rates. Men are often the biggest winners and the biggest losers.

You can get the New Right in ebook, paperback, and Audio.

P.S. While you’re there, in anticipation of my next book, I’ve discounted Gorilla Mindset by 90% for the ebook, 50% for the paperback, and the audiobook is here.

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Book Reviews

Book Review – The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom

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The problem of evil has had no shortage of takes from college students, philosophers, and theologians. Howard Bloom, one of America’s most original thinkers, explains the problem of evil and much more in The Lucifer Principle. Bloom’s hypothesis, painful though it may be for us to accept, is that creativity and innovation are driven by the evil impulse to take over foreign ands and to destroy your adversaries. Skins vs. Shirts. Us vs. Them. Sapiens.

Howard Bloom’s work has a devoted cult following, myself included, because his sentences are heavy thoughts with a breezy flow. His writing style takes some time to get used to.

Bloom recognizes that evil is within all of us, “We must build a picture of the human soul that works. Not a romantic vision that Nature will take us in her arms and save us from ourselves, but a recognition that the enemy is within us and that Nature has placed it there.”

“Superorganism, ideas, and the pecking order – these are the primary forces behind much of human creativity and earthly god. They are the holy trinity of the Lucifer Principle.”

Bloom believes each of us belong to a much larger superorganism, which he called the “global brain” in a book of the same title. Although we all see ourselves as special individuals, we often feel ourselves moved by forces we can’t fully explain, and one easy way of demonstrating this is by the self-censorship occurring today. “If you say that, they’ll come after you.”

Who is they? They is the hive mind. The collective consciousness.

  • “You can put distance between yourself and the center of your nation or your family, but you can never totally cut your lines of connectivity. Even when we turn inward, an army of invisible others speaks through our thoughts, twists our emotions, and populates our privacy.”
  • “Our institutional cruelty often pushes peculiar individuals to society’s outskirts and sometimes shoves them out entirely, while it squeezes the rest of us into a conscious or unwitting team. Conforming-enforcing packs of vicious children and adults gradually shape the social complexes we know as religion, science, corporations, ethnic groups, and even nations. The tools of our cohesion include ridicule, rejection, snobbery, self-righteousness, assault, torture, death by stoning, lethal injection, or the noose. A collective brain may sound warm and fuzzily New Age, but one force lashing it together is abuse.”

One could but need not read The Global Brain before diving into the Lucifer Principle.

The power of Bloom’s work is that he let’s you see into the future by explaining timeless principles of human nature and behavior. Published in 1995, Bloom’s best chapter is on memes.

  • “Genes, says Dawkins, swam through the protoplasmic soup of earthly earth, nourishing themselves on organic sludge. Memes float through another kind of sea – a sea of human brains. Memes are ideas, the snatches of nothingness that leap from mind to mind. A melody wells up in the reveries of a solitary songwriter. It seizes the brain of a singer. Then it infects the consciousness of millions. That melody is a meme.”

A biologist by training, Bloom even compares the smells of rats to human memes:

  • “How do rats know who’s kind and who’s not?…Each rat household has its own telltale odor.”
  • “Early humans were stuck with the same problem. How do you tell who’s family and who’s not? How do you know who shares your genes? Like rats, primitive humans turned to external signs. Fortunately they didn’t rely on their noses. Instead, the inventive homo sapiens used ideas, manners, morals, and peculiarities for clothing. The Children of Israel were typical of the tribal nations of the time….Your god, your mannerism, and your ideas were the outward labels of your genetics.”
  • [To the conformity enforcers out there: Neither Howard Bloom nor Mike Cernovich is comparing any people to rats. It was the scene of rats Bloom discusses, and memes or outward mannerisms are compared metaphorically as a scent.]

Memes began as patterns traced to specific genetic markets until, in Bloom’s telling, the Apostle Paul created cross-cultural memes.

  • Paul was one of the early innovators of a new concept: transferrable religion. He broke free of the old notion that a god was an emblem of tribal heritage and sliced the ties that bound divinity to genes.”

And now, “history is no longer the sole province of the gene. History is the environment of the meme.”

At the risk of making a review of Bloom’s book as long as the work itself, let’s end by saying you must read The Lucifer Principle in order to understand modern culture.

There is even a chapter on China’s cultural revolution. Does this sound familiar?

  • “Mao took advantage of a simple peculiarity of human nature: the rebelliousness of adolescents.”
  • “Students examined everything their teachers had written. In the subtlest turns of innocent phrasing, they uncovered signs of reactionary villainy.”
  • “The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a microcosm of the forces that manipulate human history. It showed how insubstantial things we call ideas can trigger the loftiest idealism and the basest cruelty. And it demonstrated how under the urge to heroism and the commitment to the elevation of all mankind there often lies something truley grotesque – the impulse to destroy our fellow human beings.”

Highlighted quotes from the Lucifer Principle:

“Hard work and the pursuit of challenge have seldom been demonstrated to hurt us, but we can be damaged powerfully by the lack of control. And without striving to achieve, we cannot control our lives.”

“The Japanese know what we have forgotten: that work and challenge are the keys to a vigorous life. They have kept alive the essence of two American buzzwords that disappeared from our vocabulary in the early sixties: American ingenuity and American workmanship.”

“Our pains do not proceed from over-activity but from the loss of control and the feeling that we are allowing ourselves to be shuffled from the pecking order’s peak. The solution to our problem is not a good vacation. Our hope and our pleasure lie in rolling up our sleeves and going to work.”

“In a person with little to do, the mental clock slows down. In a person with a great deal to accomplish – or a person excited about what he’s doing – it speeds up.”

“For him, every micro-instant is filled with meaning. But for the person lying on a beach catching some rays, a whole morning can go by without a single meaningful moment.”

“The existence of the American frontier, he said, had invigorated the American mind. The possibility of unending resources just over the horizon had filled Americans with zest, imagination, and exuberance. We need a new horizon, a new sense of purpose, a new set of goals, a new frontier to move one against with might and majesty, with a sense of zest that makes life worth living, through the world in which we live.”

“Space is a common frontier although your own mind is an even greater one.”

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