Goodbye Philadelphia


I’ve lived in the same one bedroom apartment for most of my twenties, during my undergrad and grad studies. If you’re reading this, you may have visited there on occasion. But if you have not, I’d say it’s a cross between a library and a cave. A dozen bookcases line the walls, full of books and countless trinkets: two staplers, a postcard from a high school friend who I never really got to know, a mug from France or Germany or Italy, who knows… and hundreds of other things that gathered dust and watched as I made mistakes of all kinds but mostly with cooking.

All those things are now gone. I got rid of 99% of my possessions, and moved out of the apartment. Most of what I own now fits into a carry-on suitcase. All I’m left with are the phone numbers of people I love and the chaos of ideas rumbling around in my head, waiting to spill out. Yesterday, as I walked around on this year’s first snow, I couldn’t help but miss every little thing about life in Philadelphia before I even left. Everyone is still here, within reach, but I already miss them.

I miss the people I’ve worked with in academia: long hours chasing deadlines, enthusiastically tossing around ideas like kids building a LEGO castle without the instructions. I miss the people I’ve trained judo and jiu jitsu with: blood, sweat, and tears spilled on the mat over a pijama game that somehow forced me and everyone else to confront fears, weaknesses, and the absurdly delusional ramblings of the ego. I miss the friend with whom I traveled across the country with: the Neal Cassady of my life “on the road.” I miss my mom, my dad, my brother. I miss playing music at shady bars: guitar in hand, singing songs in front of people who were too drunk to care about anything except a good Hendrix cover: “Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?” I miss the long runs on Kelly Drive. I miss the late night diners: the grey faces, the burnt coffee, and the feeling that nothing matters and everything is beautiful. I miss the long bus rides north, alone. I miss the people. I miss the conversations. I miss being younger… and stupider.

Goodbye Philly… for now. I’ll be back.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The photo up top is taken by my brother. I love you bro.


Shut Up and Work: Do It Every Day, Do It All Day, Do It For Years

I just finished reading Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. It’s quick, simple, and profound. The advice: dedicate yourself fully to your art, your work, whatever it is that you want to succeed in. Distraction, laziness, risk-aversion, fear all prevent us from finding deep fulfillment in work. The best quote from the book:

“Resistance hates two qualities above all others: concentration and depth. Why? Because when we work with focus and we work deep, we succeed.”
– Steven Pressfield

The distinction that he draws between pro and amateur is instructive. There’s a list of 11 qualities of a professional from his earlier book that resonate with me, and is where the title of this blog post came from:

  1. The professional shows up every day.
  2. The professional stays on the job all day.
  3. The professional is committed over the long haul.

writeOr as I put it: do it every day, do it all day, do it for years. All that requires a passion for the work. So, combining with the first quote above, I would say that the three qualities required for any significant achievement are: concentration, depth, and passion.

Okay, now, back to work.


“Everything in Moderation” Does Not Work as a Diet

I’ve been told by people who care for my well-being that I suck at moderation, especially with things I’m passionate about, and that this very fact will be my downfall. This is true. I do suck at moderation, but I believe I’m not alone in this. We are many. And I don’t believe it has to be anyone’s downfall. In fact, if handled properly, this “flaw” can lead to a beautiful way of life, with the help of self-analysis and self-awareness.

The goal of any diet should be lifelong happiness.

moderationThe path to that goal is in learning the strengths and weaknesses of your own brain. Everyone is different, so above all: know yourself. For me, there are some things (lets call them Apples) I can do in moderation and be really happy. There are other things (let’s call them Pizza) that I can’t do in moderation, and I’m never truly happy with them except in the brief moment of indulgence. If I moderate on the Pizza, I’m not happy long-term. If I indulge in the Pizza, I’m not happy long-term. So the path to a happy diet, for me, is saying yes to Apples and no to Pizza. Here’s why…

In a world of excess, moderation requires willpower. And willpower is something that most of us only have when we’re motivated by a goal. (Example: you have to fit into a wedding dress or you want to make a specific weight class for a grappling tournament.) But goals come and go. A good diet is one that doesn’t rely on goals. A good diet is a lifestyle that makes you happy, that is as natural as breathing.

So my process with food is simple. It’s the scientific method applied to myself. I put food into three categories:

  1. Yes.
  2. No.
  3. Yes, but rarely.

I evaluate food not on some abstract Platonic ideal of a diet, but on personal experience. For each food I have in front of me, I ask two questions (the first being the most important):

  1. Have I shown in the past that I’m able to eat this food in moderation?
  2. Is this food healthy?

I believe that people don’t change. You are what you are. Accept it! Don’t live in denial about what foods you can control yourself with and what you can’t. You might see that your past as something you have grown out of, but sadly, the past is one of the most brutally honest indicators of who you really are.

Sure, I might show restraint now, when I’m motivated. But what about a week from now, a month from now? So, based on these questions I put food in the three categories:

  1. Yes: Healthy food I can eat in moderation.
  2. No: ANY food I can’t eat in moderation.
  3. Yes, but rarely: Unhealthy food I can in moderation.

It’s simple. My diet is made of things I have proven I can eat in moderation (while being happy about it). That might seem at first glance like a diet that is denying me the many pleasures of life. That might be true to an outside observer, but to me, as I live day-to-day, I’m really happy with the food I eat. My brain adjusts to the diet and derives a lot of pleasure from it. No restraint required.


The only pressure there is on me to eat otherwise is peer pressure: the pressure of society to eat the food I don’t have a desire to eat. To me, that’s like coming up to a man happily involved in a monogamous relationship and saying: “Come on! Live a little! There are so many beautiful women out there. Are you really happy with the same girl, day after day?” My answer to that is yes. If I wasn’t happy, I wouldn’t be doing it. I am a man in control of my decisions, my actions, my present and my future.

“Moderation in everything” is an ideal, not a practical likely-to-work strategy for the long-term. It is the gateway drug to excess. It is a myth peddled by dopamine dealers of society who profit by dragging you into overstimulation. Capitalism excels at getting you addicted to more, more, more.

We live in a society where excess, over-indulgence, greed is accepted, often encouraged. In the midst of such social norms, the concept of moderation is nothing more than veiled flirtations: a Siren song luring unsuspecting sailors to their death.

My diet is “select few things in moderation”, because I believe MOST things cannot be handled in moderation, so I cut them out, completely. It’s not restraint. It’s common sense. I am who I am. I know myself. I acknowledge it. I accept it.


Dunning-Kruger Effect: The Illusion of Superiority or How the Stupid are Too Stupid to Realize They’re Stupid

“One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.” – Bertrand Russell

Dunning-KrugerIn researching some material on skill acquisition, I came across the mention of the Dunning–Kruger effect. It describes the cognitive bias of incorrectly estimating you own competence at a skill. The Cornell University researchers after whom the effect is named (David Dunning and Justin Kruger) highlighted that the unskilled often over-estimate their abilities, while the skilled often under-estimate their abilities. In their own words:

“The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

Put more simply: The stupid think that everyone else is stupider. The smart think that everyone else is smarter.

homer-everyone-is-stupid-except-meI have experienced this effect in my own beliefs with many of the activities I’ve undertaken, and perhaps there is a good reason for our minds to work like this. If we correctly estimated our own incompetence when first learning a skill, the sheer enormity of the undertaking might be too overwhelming to continue. At the same time, once you become an expert in a skill, it may be beneficial for continued growth to believe that there are a lot of people out there who are far more skilled than you. This gives you reason to continue striving to improve (in as much as competition is a motivator).

The practical conclusion I draw from this very human self-delusion is that I need to constantly look for ways to gauge my actual skill-level in the most objective way possible. For sports, that’s easier because often you can evaluate yourself directly against others in organized competition. For intellectual pursuits, like in academia, this is far more complicated. You have to seek feedback from your peers and social circles. However, this process is fraught with bias as the following video describes:


The Power of Books: They Reveal the World As It Is Not As You Wish It To Be

Good books challenge me, terrify me, force me to question everything, force me to see that I’m not special, that I’m mortal, that life often lacks clarity, certainty, and meaning.

Why read Camus, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Hesse, Becker, Nabokov, Beckett, Orwell, Coetzee, Hemingway and their ilk? Is it just because we silly apes seem to derive pleasure from tasks that are more difficult to complete? No, there is more to it, I believe:

These books reveal the world as it is not as I wish it to be. They do so not purely through the content of their words, but through the very fact that they challenge me. Being challenged puts the brain into a whirlpool of humbling questions. It forces me out of my comfortable self-centered cocoon. I begin to re-evaluate the conventions and assumptions of my upbringing, my social circles, my inner and outer world. That way lies madness, but also enlightenment, so I proceed carefully…

kafka-keyDespite the heaviness of its lows, this process is ultimately life-affirming. After being dragged along the bottom of my skull by a tough book, I always emerge on the other end with a quiet contentment that feels unshakably real.

It seems that happiness is earned through fire.

This post was inspired by this Reddit post and the Franz Kafka quote:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.

Off the top of my head, here are ten authors (and books) that chipped away at that frozen sea for me:

  1. Camus: The Stranger, The Plague, The Myth of Sisyphus
  2. Hesse: The Glass Bead Game, Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha
  3. Kafka: The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, The Trial, The Castle
  4. Dostoevksy: The Idiot, Notes from Underground, The Brothers Karamazov
  5. Kerouac: On the Road
  6. Orwell: Animal Farm, 1984
  7. Philip Roth: American Pastoral, Sabbath’s Theater
  8. Salinger: Catcher in the Rye
  9. Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms
  10. Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil, The Genealogy of Morals

How to Argue Like a Man: Don’t Be a Whiny Bitch

2014-05-22-teddyTheodore Roosevelt photograph courtesy of Reddit: 19-year-old Theodore Roosevelt during his freshman year at Harvard, 1877

Side note: If the phrase “like a man” or “don’t be a whiny bitch” offends you, please read this article on Misogyny and Feminism. What I’m saying applies to men and women, and has little to do with the literal meaning of the words in the expression. “Man”, as absurd as it may sound, is something that both a man and a woman can be. The word (in this case) simply means integrity, strength, empathy, and intelligence. I wish our language was less misogynistic, and I’m sure it will evolve so, but for now it is what it is.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” –  F. Scott Fitzgerald

The following are some principles of argument that should be followed by people with the guts to care more about the truth than about their ego.

Do not get emotional

Anger and irrational verbal aggression is not manly. It’s a form of whining. Example: when arguing about the justification for the Iraq war, don’t start name-calling or questioning the other guy’s patriotism. Be calm, cool, collected, focused. Victory in an argument is not achieved by being “right”. It is achieved when a step is taken towards the truth.

Shut up and listen

Most problems in life can be traced back to you talking too much. Shut up and listen. That’s when learning is done. Also, that’s when thinking is done. It’s not easy to deliberate on a thought while flapping your mouth.

Fully consider the arguments for the opposing side

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

Empathize. Empathy is hard. It takes time. It takes self-sacrifice. It takes temporary suppression of ego. You have to ask: “What world view is the person I’m arguing with coming from?”. You also have to ask: “Does his/her worldview have less or more objective validity than my own?”

Be willing to change you mind on any subject, no matter how personal

You might’ve spent years passionately arguing for (and even living for) an idea. Do not be afraid to discover that you were wrong. Do not be afraid to accept that you “wasted” all those years, and that it is now time to change your mind. This is really tough. Albert Einstein argued against quantum mechanics for decades, long after the majority of the scientific community has accepted it as a valid theory. However, the flipside of that (see next point) is that sticking to your guns (as long as you are brutally honest) is also important.

Do not be afraid to be an outsider, a heretic

“I don’t care what others think” is a popular claim to make, but one that very few people can actually live by. To be an independent thinker goes against human nature. It is hard. You have to value truth more than happiness and sometimes more than your own well-being. An example is Giordano Bruno who in the 16th century proposed several radical cosmological ideas and stuck by them despite overwhelming opposition. He turned out to be right, but was executed for his beliefs.

Above all: Think.


5 Lessons Learned from Einstein’s Work and Personal Life

This month I read (and listened to the audiobook of) Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. Here are some “lessons” I drew from it. Before reading this book, I knew very little of the man and process behind the theories. I was pleasantly surprised but also saddened.

Towards unification

Albert_Einstein_photo_1920What drove much of the curiosity and passion of Einstein’s work is the belief that the universe may be governed by a single law: a theory that unifies all the forces of nature without the messy uncertainty of the mysterious quantum mechanics and its ilk. He hoped for there to be a simple truth underlying all of nature. In a way, it is a hope that all of us share, because part of what makes existence so damn terrifying (in a existential philosophy sense) is how messy it is and how little we understand about it.

More practically, I think, the inclination towards unification can be applied day to day in your own life. The goal of searching for the unifying theory of whatever you do is a fruitful one in the long-term. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details as you specialize further and further in a particular subject or activity. Taking a step back to search for the bigger picture is often the most productive step you can take (even if it is technically a step “backwards”).

Work alone

Einstein was the ultimate outsider. Many physicists and academics in general prefer to work in rich collaborations. Even when the collaboration is not a direct one, the set of ideas with which scientists work is usually pulled from the pool of consensus. There are many disagreements, but there are also many agreed-upon assumptions. Einstein was able to step beyond the assumptions of the day to explore space and time solely through the power of his mind. It can not be overstated how difficult it is to ignore the agreed-upon belief of you brilliant peers (especially in formal theoretical fields like mathematics and physics).

Einstein worked alone in a literal sense but also in an intellectual sense. He was not burdened by the pressures of his scientific community except for the one-time hurried race (related to general relativity) between him and David Hilbert in November of 1915. This stubbornness/reclusion was a blessing for science at first, but in the eyes of some, a curse later, as he stubbornly resisted the quantum-mechanical description of the world for his whole life. The following is probably my favorite Einstein paper from 1935: Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? In this paper he suggested a simple thought experiment that (in his mind) invalidates the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that puts strict limits on how accurately one can measure the position, velocity, energy, and other properties of a particle:

Imagine that a particle decays into two smaller particles of equal mass and that these two daughter particles fly apart in opposite directions. To conserve momentum, both particles must have identical speeds. If you measure the velocity or position of one particle, you will know the velocity or position of the other—and you will know it without disturbing the second particle in any way. The second particle, in other words, can be precisely measured at all times.

The absurdity of quantum mechanics is overwhelming at every level. It would have been a show-stopping achievement if Einstein peaked behind the curtain of QM to in fact arrive at a theory that unified general relativity with electromagnetism.

Try a lot of things

“Most of my intellectual offspring end up very young in the graveyard of disappointed hopes” – Einstein, 1938.

The variety of ideas and approaches that Einstein entertained in his life is remarkable. Even the final years of his life that did not produce any grand theories was a story of bold exploration.

Obvious advice: Try new approaches to problems that you have failed to solve in the past.

This is advice that everyone knows is true, but most people don’t follow.  The better an old dog gets at doing its old trick, the less willing he is to learn a new one.

Inspiration and innovation can come from the strangest places, arrive suddenly, and pass just out of reach if you are not ready. So, be open to the freakiest possibilities.

Escape the emotional “whirlpool” of personal experience

The follow statement of Einstein saddened me. It is a cynical view of the balance between his work and his love life. At the age of 39, he declared (in a speech if I remember from the book) that scientific thought can be an escape from feeling:

“One of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness. Such men make this cosmos and its construction the pivot of their emotional life, in order to find the peace and security which they cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.”

It is interesting to think about the genius of Einstein as merely a way to deal with a world he was not emotionally equipped to deal with otherwise.

You can love passionately or marry comfortably

Einstein married twice, first was Mileva Maric at age 24 and then Elsa Lowenthal at age 40. The two women represented very different types of companion that a man can have. Mileva was a talented physicists who worshipped Albert in the way that is perhaps standard for any good love affair between strong minds. But she couldn’t create a simple, peaceful life for him where he could work in isolation. Elsa, on the other hand, had neither ability nor desire to understand Einstein’s work, but instead dedicated herself fully to serving the role of wife and caretaker to Albert, meaning she took care of everything and made sure that he could work when he wanted to work, and would not be disturbed. Their connection was purely of comfort. They slept in separate beds.

The lesson to draw here is a complicated one for me. I too am an academic, and perhaps a difficult one to get along with at times. But at this stage in my life, I will always dive into the passionate love affair without consideration for the consequences. When a beautiful girl looks at me with admiration (even obsession), and I share that feeling, the impossible becomes possible. There is magic in that connection. Escaping the chaos of that for the comfort of a recluse intellectual life seems dull and life-draining, but perhaps I’m still just an ignorant teenager in a 30-year-old man’s body. Maybe I will grow wiser and more cautious one day.

I’ll close this blog post with the picture of the two ladies (first Mileva and then Elsa):

Mileva_Maric elsa-einstein



First Impressions: Cauliflower Ears, Tom Waits, Bukowski, Camus, Military, and Atheism

redfrogAposematism is the use of warning coloration (e.g. RED) by animals to signal that they are not to be messed with. A red frog is telling the world: if you eat me, you will probably die. So, when I meet a red frog in the forest, I usually don’t put in my mouth. At the same time, it is very true, that if a beautiful princess was a frog that only needed to be kissed to realize her true form, she would probably be a red frog.

Color is just one of many qualities that animals use to make first impressions. Most such qualities they can’t control, except indirectly through the frustratingly slow process of evolution. Us humans on the other hand can make first impressions by things we learn to do with our face and more specifically: with our mouth (aka talking).

I’ve long ago learned that the person I believe to be is not always the person I appear to be on first meeting or even to friends of many years. I am, like everyone else, one giant misunderstanding. Philip Roth in American Pastoral puts it most beautifully:

“You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion. … The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that — well, lucky you.”

And yet, despite all that complexity, over the years, I have develop certain positive prejudices. I will immediately make a connection with a person without knowing anything else about them if one of the following is true. In other words, I will have a drink with you and likely enjoy the conversation, if:

  • You have cauliflower ears. This means you wrestled or grappled. Anyone who has trained long enough to get cauliflower, has likely been taken to the limit of their physical and mental capacity, and in that process was humbled. A humble man is often a wise man.
  • You have competed extensively in a combat sport like wrestling, judo, MMA, jiu jitsu, etc. Or better yet, you’ve been in a lot of street fights. This is basically the same as the first point. You’ve been through some shit, and so much of the useless stupidity of ego is out of your system. You are not pretending to be something you are not. Anyone who’s been pushed to the limit, usually doesn’t see any value to pretend to be anything.
  • You saw combat (war) AND are an atheist (secular, agnostic, all the same). Some of the most real people I know are former Israeli military who don’t give a moment’s time to bullshit of any kind . Sometimes, if you are religious, the kind of brutal lessons you might take away from war are clouded by a kind of mystic relationship with a supernatural being. Soldiers, in my experience, are almost always good people, more real than most. But I’m a man of cold rationality and religion can often spoil a perfectly honest conversation.
  • You are a blue collar worker. A man who does manual labor is a man who doesn’t have his head in the clouds. The conversation is real and so is the drinking.
  • You like Tom Waits or Charles Bukowski. This means you live on the edge of normal, sticking to the outskirts of the room at a party.
  • You read more than one novel of Albert Camus or Fyodor Dostoevsky (and their ilk). This means you have a mind that is prone to bouts of existential dread. Prolonged thoughts over big life questions make for an interesting brain.

These are some “human colorations” that I have discovered for my own self. Everyone is different, and many of my friends (including my best friend) do no have any of the above qualities. Still, if you do, I’ll buy you a drink, and talk for a while.


Eat 7 Fruits and Vegetables a Day: A Study Shows a Decrease in Cancer and Heart Disease Mortality Rate

grilling_vegetablesI eat a lot of fruits and vegetables: apples, green beans, cauliflower, etc. I’m not some health nut. I just like to eat large portions of simple things. That includes fruits and veggies, but it also includes steak, chicken, oatmeal, almonds, etc. I don’t particularly care about long term benefits of this kind of diet, but it’s nice to read studies that tell me my diet is at least good for something.

Folks at University College London published a paper in March 2014 that analyzed the data in the Health Survey for England. What they found is kind of amazing: Eating 7 or more fruits and vegetables a day reduced the relative probability of death (hazard ratio or relative mortality rate) from any cause by 40%. That is amazing! In more detail, eating 7+ fruits and veggies:

  • Decreased all-cause mortality by 40%
  • Decreased cancer mortality by 30%
  • Decreased heart disease mortality by 37%

What if you eat less than 7? Here is the results for the less fruit-veggie-crazed:

  • Eating 1-2 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 16%
  • Eating 3-4 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 29%
  • Eating 5-6 portions decreased all-cause mortality by 37%
  • Eating 7+ portions decreased all-cause mortality by 40%

The reason this result is more powerful than previous results is because the sample group is more representative of the general population. The number of people considered is huge. They follow a random sample of the “free-living” general population, rather than a local sample or a cohort based on occupation or disease status.

Here are some of the specifics of the experiment they ran:

  • 65,226 participants
  • All 35+ years old
  • Duration: 8 years

Its main strength is following a random sample of the free-living
general national population, rather than a local sample or a


48 Laws of Power and 50 Shades of Grey

Unpleasant truths vs comforting liesI’ve been thinking and reading about the topic of honesty lately. First, I read The Honest Truth About Dishonesty that describes that we are liars by nature and the kind of incentives/forces that are needed to keep us honest. Then, I read the essay Lying by Sam Harris that advocates complete honesty for a happy life. Finally, I went to the other extreme and re-read 48 Laws of Power. This is a popular book that basically advocates deception in all aspects of human interaction: from business to relationships. But… it also advocates boldness:

“If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.”

A lot of guys connect with the 48 laws the same way they connect with the movie Scarface. It feeds the fantasy of the world as a game of strategy, with the self at the center alone where the ultimate goal is ultimate power. In such a world, most of these rules are perfectly rational and even admirable. However, in a world that is more honest and cooperative, many of these rules do not apply directly or at all. So really, it all depends what kind of circles you move around in, and what kind of things brings you happiness.

game-of-thrones-season-4In many ways, 48 Laws of Power is to guys what 50 Shades of Grey is to women and Atlas Shrugged is to college undergrads full of promise and ambition. It’s mental masturbation to the caricature of the world as a game of power. Or, should I say: A Game of Thrones. It’s a good show, but most of it does not apply to daily life in the 21st century United States. And that’s the main criticism I have for the 48 laws is that the examples given for each law are anecdotes reaching far into the past that sound like distorted versions of the truth, the distortion serving the author’s point.

All that said, there is truth underlying many of the laws, and in some ways the 48 Laws advocates extreme honesty, brutal honesty, but with yourself only. That is the most difficult and the most important kind of honesty.

Here are some select things that do contain a kernel of value for the more peaceful world I personally move around in:

  • #4. Always say less than necessary. The “than necessary” part is silly. The goal is to say exactly what is necessary, and not more.
  • #7. Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit. This sounds evil, but the first part is actually a job description of a good manager and leader. Delegation is part of working in a team at any level. The second part is the more evil sounding part, and the one I don’t agree with. Take some credit, but not more. Do all things in moderation, including modesty.
  • #16. Use absence to increase respect. We are creatures of habit, and it’s easy to take the good things in our life for granted. Absence can help remind us of the true value of things. Again, everything in moderation.
  • #20. Do not commit to anyone. Again, an evil statement that contains a kernel of a good idea. A part of this is the idea of “under-promise and over-deliver”. This latter way of life is one everyone should live by.
  • #34. Be royal in your own fashion: Act like a king to be treated by one. Fake it till you make it. Or as Joe Rogan says, be the guy you are pretending to be when you’re trying to get laid.

Overall, for me, anyone who lives by the 48 Laws to a considerable extent is a douchebag who should be avoided. But it does serve as a reminder that the world is not all sunshine and rainbows. In such a world, the goal is to be your own man, constantly learning, adjusting, and growing:

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define if for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

The best advice from the book, in my view, is to be a master of your emotions. Though I don’t like the phrasing (and that it refers to a “game of power”), the ideal is solid and should be an ever-present character trait of any man:

“To succeed in the game of power, you have to master your emotions. But even if you succeed in gaining such self-control, you can never control the temperamental dispositions of those around you. And this presents a great danger.”