“The problem here is not the message. The problem is the messenger.”
Today’s post is basically going to consist of me wishing I’d written this Gawker piece which was actually written by Hamilton Nolan and was entitled “It Would Be Great if Millionaires Would Not Lecture Us on ‘Living With Less’”.
To enjoy it as much as I did, you’d have to read this New York Times Opinion piece first, in which Graham Hill, who made a bajillion dollars in the dot com era, realizes he had too much stuff and now has less stuff and is telling us how great it is. Most cloying line: “the things I consumed ended up consuming me.”
At the risk of quoting Nolan’s entire article (the title of my post is his), let me start you with this:
There is something about achieving great financial success that seduces people into believing that they are life coaches. This problem seems particularly endemic to the tech millionaire set. You are not simply Some Fucking Guy Who Sold Your Internet Company For a Lot of Money; you are a lifestyle guru, with many important and penetrating insight about How to Live that must be shared with the common people.
We would humbly request that this stop.
I’ll skip over some parts and get to where he talks about Amanda Palmer:
The problem here is not the message. The problem is the messenger. More specifically, it is the messenger using his own life as supporting evidence for the message. Were Graham Hill to simply write a fact-based essay arguing that Americans should cut down on material possessions in order to save the environment and gain peace of mind, he would doubtless hear a chorus of support. But for Graham Hill, a young millionaire who was fortunate enough to sell his “pre-Netscape browser” at the high point of the internet bubble, to say to the average American, “My journey through the perils of great wealth has bestowed me with wisdom that is directly applicable to you” is simply false. It is no wonder that Hill loved the recent TED talk by millionaire musician Amanda Palmer, in which she argued that it was perfectly fair for her to, for example, accept a free night of lodging in the home of poor Honduran immigrants and not pay them for it, because the beauty of her music is payment enough. Both are insulated enough from the realities of personal finance to forget about them entirely.
True! And I’d add more in the Amanda Palmer case. She and I went to the same high school and I have known her since she was in 7th grade.
I’ll tell you what. She’s not your average artist. She’s hugely exhibitionist. This has worked great for her, but is not a typical artistic personality. In fact she’s essentially a cult leader. So yes, when you’re an artist/ cult leader, it makes sense to “let your fans pay you”. But if you’re a typical starving, introverted, sensitive soul, then not so much. How can she speak for all artists and ask them to do stuff just like her? Or rather, why does she think it would scale?
Mind you, I’m guilty of this problem too. When I give advice, which I do all the time, I pretty much always tell people what works for me. But my evidence that the same approach would work for them is slight.
That begs the question, how do we do better than this? How do we tailor our advice to make it useful?