Shalom! Welcome to this week's digest. This is a very special "Fuck it! We'll do it live" edition, because I overcommitted to my consulting clients, and am now rushing this out the door without that pristine quality and reality-shattering perspective you have come to know and love... so welcome to stream of consciousness commentary, and be very afraid ;D This week's topics include Aztec philosophy, choosing purpose over goals, and sociopathic start-up stories. Enjoy!
If you like this, share the digest with a friend, drink 4x more caffeine than your RDA, and / or meditate until you become one with the universe. If this e-mail was forwarded to you, join 315 other subscribers. xoxoxo <3
BOOK - Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Thank you Greg for sharing!!)
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"...beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living within that way of life." ~ Hunter S. Thompson
BEST OF WHAT I CONSUMED THIS WEEK
RESOURCE - BRICK - Their tagline, "Put down your phone, pick up your life.", says it all! I'm experimenting with Brick mode, it's pretty daunting to turn on actually, but curious to see how it turns out.
ARTICLE - Aeon: Life on the slippery Earth by Sebastian Purcell - Alternative philosophical systems! Learning from other perspectives! Halloween candy bingeing! What a fun read. Love the focus on embracing our imperfection, and leveraging social ties and systems to build a margin of safety for managing through that inevitable imperfection.
This little episode illustrates two aspects of Aztec virtue ethics that distinguish it from ‘Western’ forms, such as Plato’s or Aristotle’s. The first is that I did not overcome my vice so much as manage it. The second is that I didn’t manage it on my own, but rather did so (almost entirely) with the help of another person.
...according to the Aztecs, we should look around to our family and friends, as well as our ordinary rituals or routines, if we hope to lead a better, more worthwhile existence.
Aztec virtue ethics has three main elements. One is a conception of the good life as the ‘rooted’ or worthwhile life. Second is the idea of right action as the mean or middle way. Third and final is the belief that virtue is a quality that’s fostered socially.
The Aztecs held, in short, that it’s unrealistic to think that anyone can lead a perfectly good life, one in which you never slip up. A better goal, then, is to try to lead a rooted life, which they called neltiliztli: literally, rootedness. In this kind of life, one is able to manage the mistakes and slip-ups well, rather than avoid them altogether.
The Aztecs thought all this because they believed that we humans lead lives on the slippery earth (tlaticpac). The best guard we have against this eventuality, then, is each other.
Wisdom in human affairs consists in the recognition that the best that we can do is to learn to stand with the help of others, to alter our circumstances for the better, and to clasp hands so that we can pull ourselves back up when we fall.
Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.
Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH... a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.
...beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.
...no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.
BOOK - Bad Blood by John Carreyrou (Thank you Greg for sharing!!) - When I was searching for my Wharton MBA summer internship (early-mid 2015), Theranos was my #1 choice. Elizabeth Holmes' mission and vision were so damn inspiring, I just had to be along for the ride. By sheer good fortune (in hindsight), my friends' attempts to connect me with an employee there (Duke frat pack!) never panned out. Not everyone was so lucky, and Bad Blood goes into all of the tantalizing detail behind who and how so many brilliant people fell for Theranos' lies.
This is one of those odd books that doesn't make you a better person, in fact I am more cynical and jaded for having read it, and yet I strongly recommend that everyone read it. This is simply one of the best examples of the power of confirmation bias, and our ego's desperate need to cling to being "right", that I have ever seen.
A few additional, random thoughts:
Based on the legal tactics used to bully whistle-blowers, I have lost a fair bit of faith in the U.S. judicial system. Purchasing legal outcomes and threatening people's livelihoods was never quite this explicit before.
There is *so much* danger in ends-justifying-the-means reasoning. Sure lots of start-ups get away with it, and that can lead to successful outcomes (at least in terms of vanity metrics). But Theranos hurt a LOT of people with their lies. Delusional visions of grandeur can be both inspiring and dangerous.
This story belies the importance of figuring out your principles and boundaries for guiding action *before* getting into the heat of the moment. It will often be quite tempting to deviate from our values, especially if we come to those complex moments unprepared. With some upfront internal work, we are more likely to act in ways that we won't regret for the rest of our lives.
I recently stumbled across the concept of restorative justice, and this concept became more appealing to me after reading this story. How could Theranos and Elizabeth make this right for everyone they hurt, not just receive punishment (leaving most victim's lives damaged)?
There is an empathic lens to take on this story, too. For example, if you took all of my worst moments from my 20's and packaged it into 200 pages with eye-witness accounts, I would look like a pretty terrible person. Add 100x the pressure, public scrutiny, and weight to my decisions, and I would probably look way worse than Elizabeth does. Just saying :D