If Books Could Kill

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

November 21, 2023
If Books Could Kill
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Show Notes Transcript

You stare, mouth agape, at the bookstore display. It’s a self-help book, but with curse words in the title?! This must be a revolutionary new framework, not simply the same dull, reactionary ideas repackaged as hip and new.

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 Thanks to Mindseye for our theme song!

Michael: I'm making coffee, so it sounds like someone is peeing in the background. [Peter laughs] 

Peter: Classic reassurance. You're going to hear someone peeing in the background, that's actually coffee? 

Michael: I'm actually hosting a piss party right now. It's a golden shower party. [crosstalk] 

Peter: [laughs] I know that there is gay shit happening in the [Michael laughs] background. Michael, you do not have to lie to me. 


Michael: I have a zinger for this one, Peter. Are you recording? 

Peter: I am. 

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: I am. Let's do it. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: Michael?

Michael: Peter. 

Peter: What do you know about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck?

Michael: This is the first time we have done a book where the title also describes my approach to making an episode about the book.

[If Books Could Kill theme]

Peter: All right, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. 

Michael: Ooh. We're swearing, we're bad. 

Peter: There is one nice thing that I will say about Mark Manson before we get going. There are worse Mansons. [Michael laughs] I'd say he's the third worst Manson. 

Michael: Surely, there are better Mansons though.

Peter: I would assume there are.

Michael: Nothing? 

Peter: We often say-

Michael: No?

Peter: -that these self-help books should have been a blog post, and this one actually was.

Michael: Oh.

Peter: Mark Manson was like a rich kid with a business degree. He got quickly bored of his job in finance and he left to become a blogger. He starts off writing about dating. 

Michael: Oh, no.

Peter: In 2011, he writes a dating advice book titled Models: Attract Women Through Honesty.

Michael: Oh, new approach for us. Tell her about your yeast infection [Peter laughs] before you get to know her better. 

Peter: He segues into general advice blogging. In 2015, he writes a blog post titled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, which gets very popular, and of course scores him a deal for a book by the same name. And here we are. It sells like two million copies and change, something like that. 

Michael: Does it actually say, like, based on the blog post? That's just like a funny phrase to me. 

Peter: I don't think so. 

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: If they did, it's sort of hidden. I don't think that they advertised it like that. 

Michael: The only thing better than that is in Pirates of the Caribbean where it says, based on theme park ride. [Peter laughs] [chuckles] Just a really weird thing to think about. 

Peter: So we can start off talking about the blog post, because the blog post is a very distinct thing. I'm going to send you far too many examples to get you into the proper headspace to just do what I do, which is initially just get you upset a little bit- 

Michael: Okay. [laughs]. 

Peter:-in the same way that I'm upset. 

Michael: What year was this published?

Peter: 2015.

Michael:  Oh, so this is recent. Okay. He says, “People often say the key to confidence and success in life is to simply not give a fuck. Indeed, we often refer to the strongest, most admirable people we know in terms of their lack of fucks given.” Like, “Oh, look at Susie working weekends again. She doesn't give a fuck. Or, did you hear that Tom called the company president an asshole and got a raise anyway?" Holy shit, that dude does not give a fuck.” We don't need a third example, but fine. [Michael laughs] Jason got up and ended his date with Cindy. After 20 minutes, he said he wasn't going to listen to her bullshit anymore. Man, that guy does not give a fuck. Okay. 

Peter: I'm going to keep it coming here. 

Michael: Now, while not giving a fuck may seem simple on the surface. It's a whole new bag of burritos under the hood. I don't even know what that sentence means, but I don't give a fuck. A bag of burritos sounds awesome, so let's just go with it. Okay, I was upset, but then he saved it. The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give a fuck about the rude gas station attendant who gave us too many nickels. We give a fuck when a show we like was canceled on TV. We give a fuck when our coworkers don't bother asking us about our awesome weekend. We give a fuck when it's raining and we were supposed to go jogging in the morning. 

Fucks given everywhere, strewn about like seeds in motherfucking Springtime. And for what purpose? For what reason? Convenience? Easy comfort? A pat on the fucking back maybe? This is no way to live, man. So stop fucking around, get your fucks together, and here, allow me to fucking show you. Okay, I'm not upset, but I'm really annoyed. It’s so annoying.

Peter: It’s just shut up. Shut up.

Michael: Shut up. 

Peter: Shut up.

Michael: Oh, my God. 

Peter: This is how the entire piece is written. And look, I want to remain aware that I am-

Michael: Oh, God.

Peter: -on two podcasts, both of which have received the occasional criticism for using too much profanity. 

Michael: Yes.

Peter: That is actually how I talk though. I was raised outside of Philly by a contractor. [Michael laughs] This is not how Mark Manson talks. I know that because I've heard him talk, and I also know that because this is not how anyone talks. 

Michael: This just convinced me to never swear again. [Peter laughs] It's not edgy to do this anymore. 

Peter: Yeah, it's tedious. It's like, if you've ever been around someone who's a little too sex positive and it makes you a little more puritanical, [Michael laughs] where you're like, “All right.” So this is a 2,300-word essay give or take. The word fuck appears 110 times or so. 

Michael: Oh, God.

Peter: So fully 5% of the essay is the word, fuck. 

Michael: This is a right-wing podcast now. [Peter laughs]. What's wrong with these liberals? 

Peter: Return. We must go back. 

Michael: Dude, also, the thing that you just sent me is so big that I have to scroll numerous times to get through it, like, this is a massive brick of words. All he's really saying is that, in general, you care about stuff and it would be helpful to care less about stuff. It could be two to three sentences. 

Peter: But he's not trying to say something simple. He's trying to convey the image of a cool dude. 

Michael: Yeah, he's flipped the chair around backwards and he sat down before he typed us out. 

Peter: Right.

Michael: Peter, we tried so hard to be nice and fair on this podcast. We're on the first excerpt. [Peter laughs] We haven't even gotten to the book yet. We're both just like, “Fuck this guy.” 

Peter: You always want me to be fair, and so my initial goal is always to just get you to hate the author, [Michael laughs] so then I can proceed as I want to proceed.

Michael:  So we can make it a Peter joint from minute five onwards? 


Peter: So this book is part of a trend during the Books With Swear Words In The Titles[?]. 

Michael: All right.

Peter: It starts off, I think, with that satirical children's book, Go the Fuck to Sleep, which comes out in 2011. There is a cookbook called What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: Just a few months before the Manson book comes out, there's another one published called The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

Michael: So this isn't even the first like, l don't give a fuck book? 

Peter: No, it's like how Hollywood studios used to release two of every type of summer blockbuster. [Michael laughs] Although, I will say, his blog post came out before that. My guess is that they were actually ripping off him, but I don't really know what was happening behind the scenes there.

Michael: This is Armageddon, not Deep impact, Mike. It should be clear. 

Peter: [laughs] Right.

Michael: This is the better of the two.

Peter: There was one called Get Your Sh*t Together. There was one called Busy As F*ck. There was Unf*ckology. This is just like a small slice. I found so many of these. I don't entirely understand what the social psychology was here, but I am calling upon experts. Someone look into this-- It's like a midlife crisis for all of society.

Michael: Now I understand the people that complain about the cursing on this podcast. This has already radicalized me. [Peter laughs] This is so annoying. 

Peter: So before we get into the substance, I will say that after reading the blog post, I was just fucking dreading reading the book. I was like, “It can't all be like this.” But he actually tones it way down, like, an editor got to him or something. The word fuck only appears a 175 times in the whole book.

Michael: Okay. I was about to turn off the Zoom, Peter. I was like, [Peter laugh] “I don't know, if I can go forward with this.”


Peter: Let's talk about the book itself. Obviously, the purpose of the cursing and the aggressive, edgy energy is to present the veneer of a book that is not like other self-help books.

Michael:  Right.

Peter: This is a cool self-help book. That's how you know you're going to get the truth. I'm like, “I'm telling it like it is. I curse. I don't hold anything back.” Manson says stuff like this explicitly throughout the book. He's comparing himself to other books, other gurus, etc. There is an irony to that because the real surprise of the book is that beneath that veneer is like a very generic self-help book with advice you've heard a thousand times before. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: It's not very interesting. It's frequently a little bit questionable.

Michael: Right.

Peter: It's also not quite dumb enough to be fun to read, you know?

Michael: [chuckles] Dreading the rest of this episode, Peter. Dreading. Where you're taking me? 

Peter: It's just a boar. Zero stars. Not fun. 

Michael: Also, the minute you told me you were doing this book, me with my zero knowledge, whatsoever, I was like, “Oh, is this going to be one of those diet books?” It's like, “We're not like the other diets. We're like the don't give a fuck what you eat diet.” And then it's just like, “Oh, you should eat less and exercise more.” [Peter laughs] It's like, “Okay, so it's just a diet.”

Peter: Have you ever seen the TikTok’s of that lady that smells chocolate while she's eating broccoli? 

Michael:  Oh, God. No, that's dark. 

Peter: She's trying to trick her brain into thinking she's eating chocolate while she's eating broccoli. That's what this book is. 

Michael: Oh.

Peter: You're smelling cool guy telling the truth, and you're actually [Michael laughs] consuming generic self-help. So the book opens with a little anecdote about Charles Bukowski, the writer, and the famous degenerate, of course. 

Michael: Yes. 

Peter: The epitaph on Bukowski's tombstone says, “Don't try.” Bukowski meant like, let your art come to you. Don't force it. 

Michael: Okay.

Peter: Manson extrapolates upon that to say that Bukowski was successful, because he stayed true to himself and didn't care about what society told him to care about.

Michael: Oh, like women? 

Peter: It's a weird example because as Manson admits-- Bukowski was like a complete asshole, a famous asshole, an aggressive drunk, a misogynist. If you look at his life, it seems like a pretty good example of why you should try in various regards, like, you should make conscious [Michael laughs] efforts to better yourself. 

Michael:  Right.

Peter: He makes the argument that not trying is actually a path to success in a lot of ways. I'm going to send you this excerpt. 

Michael: He says, “Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place?”

Yeah. Peter, you should see me flirt with women. [Peter laughs] Sometimes I'll chat to some lady at a bus stop or whatever and I'm like, “Dude, this is like a Rock Hudson-Doris Day movie.” We're zinging back and forth, and then if I'm around somebody that I'm attracted to, I'm just like, [onomatopoeia]. Just vowel sounds.

Peter: So I guess to some degree, I understand what he's saying. Your example is a better example than anything he talks about.

Michael: Right. 

Peter: Sometimes when you don't care about something, it removes the anxiety. But generally, I don't think that it's my experience that I do better at things I care less about. 

Michael: Yeah, I mean-- [laughs] 

Peter: That is not my general experience. 


Michael: I don't think my experience at the bus stop is a useful rubric for understanding all of my behaviors. [Peter laughs] I think I should care about some stuff. 

Peter: There's a weird tension here where he's saying that, if you don't care about the things that you want, they will eventually come to you. But isn't this a roundabout way of caring?

Michael:  Right. This is like those diet books that are like, “The minute you stop trying to lose weight, you'll lose weight.” 

Peter: Right. [laughs]

Michael: So it’s like, this is another way of trying to lose weight. 

Peter: That's the thing is like, you're not not trying, if you have the same goal. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: Now the heart of his book revolves around, what he calls, the three subtleties. Remember, this is The Subtle Art-

Michael: Oh, the subtle art. Yeah.

Peter:  -of Not Giving a F*ck. Subtlety number one. Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent. It means being comfortable with being different.

Michael: Okay.

Peter: Okay. Subtlety number two. To not give a fuck about adversity. You must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity. 

Michael: What?

Peter: This one is actually the central message of the book. When he says not giving a fuck, he mostly means not giving a fuck about adversity in the face of your goals.

Michael: Okay.

Peter: Subtlety number three. Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about. He says, “The idea of not giving a fuck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important and what is not.” 

Michael: So it sounds like he's just saying like, “Set a goal, try to bust through any barriers toward that goal.”

Peter: Sort of. So you can essentially see that he's very quickly abandoned any literal reading of the title of the book.

Michael: Right. 

Peter: It's not about not giving a fuck generally. It's about prioritizing. 

Michael: As a person with anxiety, I know that I can think about the things that I want to think about. I can just choose not to overthink things that don't matter. 

Peter: Piece of cake. 

Michael: Easy. 

Peter: At the end of the chapter, he says, “Maybe that crazy alcoholic Bukowski was onto something. Don't try.” 

Michael: Okay. Mm. He brought it home. 

Peter: Did he? [Michael laughs] Because what does that have to do with not trying? I don't really understand. Bukowski anecdote is not in the blog post. He does the classic airport book thing. Every chapter opens up with anecdote that's illustrative. But in this case, he's building around this preexisting blog post. And so a lot of the anecdotes are just a little bit forced. 

Michael: Also, we're already in it depends territory-

Peter: Immediately.

Michael:  -which all of these come down to it depends. So it's basically like, you should give a fuck about some stuff and not others stuff which-- Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: I put aside some of this because it's so generic. But he very quickly is like, “People these days care too much about social media.” And it's like, “Yeah, okay.”

Michael: Yeah, okay.

Peter: Sure.

Michael: Kids be on their phones. 

Peter: So this made me think about filler because I was like, “The Bukowski thing feels like filler.” It's not part of his original post, but he needed anecdote to open the book, and so he jams this in even though it's not a perfect fit. 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: Usually, the filler in these books, as you know, is fucking worksheets.

Michael: Poems. Yeah.

Peter:  Right. Incredibly obvious. But with this book, there's none of that. The substance of the book is like his original blog post and the filler is everything else.

Michael: [Laughs] A book of filler. So the core content of the book is filler.

Peter: Right. So I think because he's forcefully stretching a very simple idea out to book length. There's a lot of general incoherence, unresolved tensions within his ideas. Even in the opening chapter where he's laying out thesis, it feels a little bit like he's rambling at times and saying different things at once. First, he gives the Bukowski anecdote saying, “Don't try.” Then he concedes that Bukowski was a bad person. Then he says like, “When I say don't give a fuck. I mean it's about being different,” and then he pivots to not giving a fuck about adversity. It feels like the difference between wanting to write a book and writing a blog post and being told you should write a book, you know?.

Michael: This is the same dilemma as having a podcast about bad books when all of the bad books are the same.


Michael: How do we not say the same thing over and over again? [laughs] 

Peter: There is one substantive part of the book that I want to drill down on its slip. The idea that you shouldn't try to avoid suffering or adversity. If you are suffering in service of some greater goal, it is character building and also a gateway to happiness and satisfaction. That is a key part of this book. I don't really have a problem with it as a broad principle. I do think it's worth noting that it's some of the most common advice on planet Earth. 

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: No pain, no gain. 

Michael: Or, a league of their own. What makes it hard is what makes it great. 

Peter: That's right.

Michael: There's no crying in baseball. 

Peter: That's the bait and switch of the book. It's got cool curse words on the cover, and he's saying he's going to teach you the art of not giving a fuck. And then very quickly it's like, “Okay, it's not actually about not giving a fuck. It's about how adversity makes us stronger.”

Michael: Sure. 

Peter: It's like, yeah, I've seen Braveheart. Now I get it. 

Michael: [laughs] And I've seen A League of Their Own

Peter: [laughs] I love how we have the most quintessential straight and gay. 


Michael: Those are our two Dutch stones. I'm like, “Let's bring it back to Dottie[?].” 

Peter: I did just think of Braveheart off the top of my head. And the idea that A League of Their Own came to your mind, it's so good. Okay.

Michael: And I had some Mariah Carey lyrics ready.

Peter: [laughs] All right. And a lot of his attempts to illustrate this point are just forced, half baked. I'm going to send you some illustrative examples.

Michael: Oh, no. Okay. He says, “The misadventures of Disappointment Panda. If I could invent a superhero, I would invent one called Disappointment Panda. He'd wear a cheesy eye mask and a shirt with a giant capital T on it that was way too small for his big panda belly, and his superpower would be to tell people harsh truths about themselves that they needed to hear but didn't want to accept.” Oh, I don't even know really what he's saying here, but it's just annoying.

Peter: His whole point is that people need to hear harsh truths or whatever. But we do not need Disappointment Panda to illustrate this point. What is it doing, Mark? 


Michael: Yeah. All he's really saying here is just, you should have a realistic assessment of your skills. If you want to be a singer and you're not very good at singing, you probably shouldn't try to do that, I guess.

Peter: Sometimes he just rambles on for half a chapter like this. People need to be aware that they're not good at everything.

Michael: Sure. 

Peter:  There is a chapter called The Value of Suffering, where the primary anecdote he uses is the story of the holdout Japanese soldiers after World War II. Do you know that story? 

Michael: I think vaguely, but I feel like if I try to summarize it, I'm going to get something egregiously wrong and embarrass myself. So why don't you tell me? 

Peter: [chuckles] So there were Japanese soldiers deployed throughout the South Pacific. When the war ended, many of them did not get word. When they were told that the Japanese had surrendered, they thought it was propaganda from the enemy to get them to surrender. And so there were several people who just held out for decades. And the last holdout is Hiroo Onoda. He returns to Japan in the 1970s. He had spent the whole time bending for himself, launching attacks on local populations. 

He says that he doesn't regret staying in the South Pacific. And in fact, he was proud. He was content because even though he suffered, he suffered in service of a goal that he felt was admirable. He thought he was doing a good thing. So I'm going to send you--

Michael: Oh, I feel a lesson coming on. He says, “Hiroo Onoda's highest value was complete loyalty and service to the Japanese empire. This value, in case you couldn't tell from reading about him, stank worse than a rotten sushi roll. It created really shitty problems for Hiroo. Namely, he got stuck on a remote island where he lived off bugs and worms for 30 years. Oh, and he felt compelled to murder innocent civilians too. So despite the fact that Hiroo saw himself as a success and despite the fact that he lived up to his metrics, I think we can all agree that his life really sucked. None of us would trade shoes with him given the opportunity, nor would we commend his actions.” Okay. He's reached the I guess correct conclusion from this.

Peter: Weird, racist sushi roll wine-

Michael: Yeah, that's a weird.

Peter: -in the middle of it. 

Michael: Could have picked anything. Could have picked anything that smells bad. 

Peter: Could have picked anything. So he's basically said so far that facing adversity is character building. It's affirming. And now he gets to this example that shows the inadequacy of it. Onoda was content, but he wasn't a good person. And so you want to face adversity? yes. But you want to face it in service of good values. And Manson gives five. One, taking responsibility for everything that happens to you. Two, acknowledging uncertainty. Three, willingness to accept failure. Four, the willingness to say and hear no. And five, awareness of one's own mortality. That one's a bizarre outlier, but he says, ”Paying vigilant attention to one's own death is perhaps the only thing capable of helping us keep all our other values in proper perspective.”

Michael: Want to better at tennis, but okay. 

Peter: If you paid attention in sophomore year philosophy, some shades of stoicism here-- A lot of people pointed this out when the book came out and then he wrote a blog post being like, “I'm actually not an adherent of stoicism and here's why.” And then other actual adherents of stoicism were like he completely misunderstands Stoicism.

Michael: [laughs] Yes, you are. 

Peter: [laughs] So we've transitioned from don't give a fuck to actually there are five values that we must all care about in order to be good and valuable people. This is the opposite of not giving a fuck. This is giving a very specific type of fuck. 

Michael: But then, of course, it is, because even in his opening example from his blog post, he's like, “We all love people who don't give a fuck.” I mean, not really. 

Peter: No. 

Michael: We like people who selectively don't give a fuck or don't give a fuck about things that don't really matter. But somebody who doesn't give a fuck about anything would be like Bartleby, the Scrivener

Peter: I want to hone in one of Manson's ideas, one of his values, the idea that you should take responsibility for everything in your life. 

Michael: It's nice to see a self-help book finally advocating for individual responsibility. 

Peter: It's refreshing.

Michael: Bold stuff. 

Peter: He says, “There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we individually are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don't always control what happens to us, but we always control how we interpret what happens to us as well as how we respond.”

Michael: Sure. I don't know. 

Peter: I don't really think this is true. 

Michael: Yeah, whatever. 

Peter: But there's an argument that like, you know what he means. There are a lot of things in this book that are presented as harsh truth, but I think a lot of people want to believe that just because something is harsh, that means it's a harsh truth, right? 

Michael: Yeah, that's true. 

Peter: They're not truths. They're just like a cold, isolating view of the world. You're not solely responsible for dealing with every tragedy that befalls you, because we have responsibilities to one another. It means you have a responsibility to others and they have one to you. I don't think that's like hippy-dippy bullshit. I think that's just the most basic element of existing in a society. 

Michael: For example, if your sister is really good at pitching and you used to be on the same team but then you get transferred to a different team, you can also come back together and reforge the relationship. [Peter laughs] Just to pick a random example out of my brain space.

Peter: [laughs] I love that this bit relies on people remembering the plot to A League of Their Own


Michael: It did take you a while. God damn it. Our gay listeners got that immediately though. Like, sister pitching, “Ooh, I'm with you so far, Mike.”

Peter: Every older millennial gay guy was like, “Yes.”


Michael: Someone just said, yes out loud on the bus. [Peter laughs] Also, to be fair, if you tried to say anything about Braveheart to me right now, I would be lost. 

Peter: If I'm being honest, I was trying to think of a Braveheart parallel as you said it, but I can't really remember the plot to Braveheart

Michael: Okay. See?

Peter: I do remember that his enemies sent a woman to undermine him, but she just falls in love with him. [Michael laughs] Classic. The classic thing that happens to cool dudes. [Michael laughs] I want to send a lengthy excerpt that reveals in my mind just how hollow and disgusting this worldview is.

Michael: He says, “A few years ago, I had written about some of the ideas in this chapter on my blog, and a man left a comment. He said that his son had recently died in a car accident. He accused me of not knowing what true pain was and said that I was an asshole for suggesting that he himself was responsible for the pain he felt over his son’s death. This man had obviously suffered pain much greater than most people ever have to confront in their lives. He didn’t choose for his son to die, nor was it his fault that his son died. 

But despite all that, he was still responsible for his own emotions, beliefs, and actions. How he reacted to his son’s death was his own choice. Pain of one sort or another is inevitable for all of us, but we get to choose what it means to and for us. Even in claiming that he had no choice in the matter and simply wanted his son back, he was making a choice—one of many ways he could have chosen to use that pain.”

Oof, relitigating a comment on your blog from years ago by a guy whose son died. I don't know. 

Peter: What is the advice here? What choice is this man being presented with exactly, right? 

Michael: Right.

Peter: The weight of his trauma is extremely difficult to bear. The fact that he's responsible for bearing it is what makes it difficult. And the implication here is that he could take this pain and segue it into something. I don't really think that that is true. I don't think that you are responsible in the sense that you can change what you're feeling. 

Michael: It's actually much better advice to like, “Give yourself permission to feel the way that you feel.” It's objectively really fucking awful to go through that. 

Peter: Later in the book, he talks about the work of a polish psychologist, Dabrowski, I think it is, who studied victims of the holocaust and basically discovered that a lot of them felt that they were better people in a lot of ways for having gone through these severe traumas, and he introduces this theory called positive disintegration, which is very interesting. It's not really what Manson is getting at, but he's trying to address large, severe trauma in a way. But he never quite gets there and he never squares it with his like, “Take responsibility bullshit,” because it's not really meaningful advice.

Michael: You need to become 1% better at ignoring your son's death every day. 

Peter: [laughs] Oh, shit.

Michael: That’s the math. That's the scientific way. 

Peter: Obviously, what was happening here is that that guy's comment shook him up a little bit and made him realize that there was something inadequate about what he was offering, what he was saying. And rather than try to look inward and think about what was missing from his philosophy, he's like, “Look at this loser, complaining about his son's death.”

Michael: Am I the problem? No, it's the internet commenters that are wrong. 

Peter:  I will say this is something that it feels like you would do, where it's like, “Here's this guy I've been Twitter beefing with.” 

Michael: I know.

Peter: There's an entire chapter in your book about it. [Michael laughs] I could see that from icon.

Michael: 100%.


Michael: This is why I haven't written a book yet, Peter. It would just be fucking Twitter beefs. 

Peter: I would read a book just called Beefing with Hobbes. [Michael laughs] Every chapter is just a distinct Twitter beef you've had. [Michael laughs] Oh, God. The rest of the book goes through each of his five values that you should prioritize. I'm not going to cover them all in detail, but there is a thread running through the book that I want to pull at a little bit. Michael, what is my favorite pet theory on this podcast? 

Michael: One book[?]. 

Peter: One book baby. The book that this consistently reminded me of was a self-help version of The Coddling of the American Mind. 

Michael: Oh. 

Peter: At one point, he even uses the phrase, “the pampering of the American mind,” which made me think that he was inspired by the original essay, The Coddling of the American Mind. And also, Mark Manson now recommends the book. 

Michael: Is he about to take us to Oberlin? 

Peter: Don't worry. He doesn't get that detailed. That would require a level of research that Mark is deeply unwilling to engage in.

Michael: The eight minutes of googling that the authors of The Coddling of the American Mind did to write their book, that's beyond his skills. 

Peter: Mark doesn't give a fuck about research. [Michael laughs] So like I've said, he talked extensively about willingness to face adversity, and a big part of that is complaining about kids these days. 

Michael: Hell yeah. 

Peter: Now people are too soft, unwilling to face challenges. I mentioned that there is a chapter called You Are Not Special. I am going to send you some of it. 

Michael: Sometime in the 1960s, developing ‘high self-esteem’ having positive thoughts and feelings about oneself became all the rage in psychology. Research found that people who thought highly about themselves generally performed better and caused fewer problems. As a result, beginning in the next decades, the 70s, self-esteem practices began to be taught to parents, emphasized by therapists, politicians, and teachers, and instituted into educational policy. Grade inflation, for example, was implemented to make low-achieving kids feel better about their lack of achievement. Participation awards and bogus trophies were invented for any number of mundane and expected activities.” 

The funniest thing about this is that he says, “In the 60s, self-esteem,” and he's like, “The next decade, the 70s”. 

Peter: [laughs] Blast that word count up, Mark. 

Michael: None of this is fucking true. 

Peter: Basically, none of this is true. So first of all, the next thing he says is, “It's a generation later and the data is in. We're not all exceptional.” But there are no citations in this book at all. 

Michael: Oh, really?

Peter: So I was like, “I guess we have to trust him. The data is in.” The grade inflation thing is just not true. He says that it's the result of an effort to boost kid’s self-esteem. I found absolutely no evidence of this. Grade inflation in, both primary and secondary schools over the last half century is very real. The causes are complex. The consensus seems to be that it's the result of perverse incentives among the schools. Schools want high graduation rates. They want to place students in good colleges. Colleges want to place students in good jobs. All of that creates upward pressure on grades. It's not because they're just trying to be nice to the kids. 

Michael: Yeah like, “Ooh, they can't handle getting a D.”

Peter: The participation trophy thing, barely worth addressing. But someone over at Slate looked into this a few years ago and traced participation trophies back like a hundred years. It's just a way to encourage kids to get into sports. So all of this is just bullshit. He hits on all of the dumb, conservative talking points here. He says, “Numerous professors and educators have noted a lack of emotional resilience and an excess of selfish demands in today’s young people. It’s not uncommon now for books to be removed from a class’s curriculum for no other reason than that they made someone feel bad.”

Michael: Oh. 

Peter: “Speakers and professors are shouted down and banned from campuses for infractions as simple as suggesting that maybe some Halloween costumes really aren’t that offensive.”

Michael: Oh, my God. Chapter 12, what is a woman? [Peter laughs] Can you define it? They're using different bathrooms. Oh, I didn't think it was going to get so explicitly reactionary.

Peter: At one point, he says like, “This is happening on both the right and left. But if you needed proof that he read that Coddling of the American Mind essay, this is it, right? He's just ripping from it. 

Michael: Halloween costumes. 

Peter: Apparently, a little bit of face paint is unacceptable. 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] What was the paint? What was the paint mark? Let's get specific. What did they paint? 

Peter: [laughs] 

Michael: It's also so fucked up that my brain is so fried that when he says Halloween costumes. I actually know the specific incident that he's talking about. It's like I have all these fucking fake anecdotes bouncing around in my head and I'm like, “Oh yeah, that was the one at Yale where the guy reactionary and gotten fired.” It's like, “Fuck, [Peter laughs] why is this in here?" Mariah Carey lyrics and fucking cancel culture anecdotes is all I have left. [Peter laughs] And then you're like, “Tell me about World War II.” And I'm like, “Oh, no, tell me about it.” 

Peter: The more cancel culture anecdotes enter your brain, the more you lose your grip on Mariah, you know? [Michael laughs] One day you'll be listening to All I Want for Christmas Is You and not quite remembering the lyrics and you will know that you have gone too far. 

Michael: It's very funny to me. That's the only Mariah Carey’s song that you can name. 

Peter: No. First of all, I know fantasy. I know. 


Michael: Keep going, Peter. What else you got? That’s it?

Peter: There are a lot of Mariah songs you could play and I could sing along, but I'm not sure that I remember the titles. [Michael laughs] We played some at the wedding, okay? We played some at the wedding.

Michael: Okay. That's true, you did. 

Peter: All right, there is a section titled Victimhood Chic, and I'm going to send you a little bit of it. 

Michael: He says, “Unfortunately, one side effect of the internet and social media is that it’s become easier than ever to push responsibility for even the tiniest of infractions onto some other group or person. In fact, this kind of public blame/shame game has become popular; in certain crowds it’s even seen as cool. “Cool.” The public sharing of “injustices” garners far more attention and emotional outpouring than most other events on social media, rewarding people who are able to perpetually feel victimized with ever-growing amounts of attention and sympathy.” I love that he puts injustices in quotes. 

Peter: Well, you can't concede any ground to these fucking libs.

Michael: These fucking losers, man. 

Peter: So surprise appearance by San Francico[?] here. Remember victimology. Here we are. One book, baby. I'm never wrong.

Michael: Is the next paragraph about how to use this to get girls [Peter laughs] and like, “Oh, be shitty to her and nail her sister.” 

Peter: That's the only thing-- There is the lightest hints of-- I won't say there's sexism in this book, but there are times when he talks about how having a lot of sex isn't fulfilling, but in a way where it feels like he's trying to mention that at one point in his life he had a lot of sex. 


Michael: I want to make it clear that I have had lots of sex. 

Peter: Look, getting tons of pussy, being the coolest guy in the club, [Michael laughs] that's not all there is. Being a millionaire. 

Michael: I knew you were going to go into your voice. 

Peter: I can't help it. 

Michael: I could feel it coming. 

Peter: It doesn't matter that none of our authors sound like that. I have to do it. 

Michael: [laughs] I know. You placed him firmly in New Jersey. 

Peter: I want to step back and gaze out upon what we have learned at a high level. Do not give a fuck about adversity because it makes us stronger and better. Do give a fuck about important things, specifically the five great values, right?

Michael: But not important things like the death of your child. 

Peter: The subtle art of not giving-

Michael: It’s a subtler.

Peter: -fuck about your child's death. Lingering over the entire book is this question of like how. 

Michael: Right.

Peter: It's simple enough to say like, “Change your priorities, prioritize the important stuff, deprioritize the dumb stuff.” Sure. That's not very insightful. How do you actually do that? I thought that was what the whole book was going to be about. I know that there are things in my day-to-day life that I pay way too much attention to. 

Michael: I know that about you too. 

Peter: But how do you rewire your brain, right? 

Michael: Right. 

Peter: I am going to send you, what I think I can fairly say is, the sum total of his advice on this front. 

Michael: He says, “You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else, It really is that simple. It's just not easy.” Oh, well, yeah, we're just back to be a different person. 

Peter: This made me so mad. This is like, if you opened up a financial advice book and the advice was like, “Get rich,” we have all of these chemical impulses, social and cultural influences, etc., etc., that come together in our brain to form what we view as our priorities. And the sum total of the practical advice in this book is just like, “Yeah, you got to change that.” 

Michael: Pay yourself first, Peter, is one book. [Peter laughs] 

Peter: One of the first things I said to you was, I'm going to send you a bunch of long ass excerpts in this book because he carries on in his writing. And then you get to the part that you actually need to know. [Michael laughs] All of a sudden, he's quite suspicious.

Michael: And he punts.

Peter: I just got so mad reading this because how dare you? How dare you even pretend [Michael laughs] that this is a passable way to address this? Just give me a shitty chapter with fake psychological tricks like every other book.

Michael: In fairness, he is implementing Bukowski's rule about not trying. [Peter laughs] He's doing it. He's living it. 

Peter: Treat me like an asshole. That would better than what you do here, which is just be like, “Poof. Yeah, you got to change that.” It's like, “Oh.”

Michael: We're on page 247. He's like, “Care about other stuff.” Peter, have you tried caring about other stuff? 

Peter: I was desperately flipping forward in the book like, “No, this can't be the end.” [Michael laughs] This brings me to the last section of this episode, and I think it's time we talked about this. So I'm going to ask you a question. I'll give you a minute.

Michael: Okay.

Peter:  In your view, Michael, what is a grifter? 

Michael: Oh, this is something that has become a more commonly used term. All commonly used terms, I think has taken on a kind of muddy definition. But I think of it as someone who knows that they are scamming you and are scamming you. 

Peter: Yeah, I think that you're onto something there. I think there needs to be a bad faith element. I think maybe a simple way to define it is someone who aggressively monetizes themselves in a way that undermines the authenticity of what they're doing. 

Michael: Ooh.

Peter: So it seems the true goal is the money rather than whatever they say it is. So Mark Manson was a blogger, like I said, right? He publishes a dating book, one of thousands on the market. He keeps blogging, writes a popular post, spins that into a book deal for this book. The book is a hit, and from there, he just keeps it going in various ways. He puts out another book in 2019 called Everything Is F*cked.

Michael: Okay. 

Peter: He cowrites Will Smith's memoir in 2021.

Michael: Okay. That's actually the most respectable thing he's done so far. I feel like ghost writing is a real art. 

Peter: He sells monthly subscription content on his website, where you get access to articles and his eBooks, video courses. He posts videos on YouTube, some of which is just him summarizing his own content, a lot of which is him summarizing his own content. He recently launched a podcast. Just this year, he put out The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck movie,-

Michael: oh, God.

Peter: -which I watched 10 minutes of last night before I realized [Michael laughs] I hadn't watched this week's Survivor, and I was like, “No.”

Michael: You tried. You tried and you made it 10 minutes. [laughs] 

Peter: From what I could gather, it was him doing loose narration over stock footage. I did not. I couldn't do it. I was like, “No.” 

Michael: I've always wanted a sequel to Koyaanisqatsi. That's mostly complaints about internet commenters and college sophomores.

Peter: I said right up top that he rambles. The result is a bunch of different ideas that just don't fully mesh. The latter section where he's talking about how you need to be aware of your own mortality, it's just him going on about death, and its meaning, and what it means for how we should live our lives. And he says, “The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself, to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you.” This is the basic root of all happiness. 

He has this very atomized presentation. And then all of a sudden, he pivots into being like, “Well, you're part of something bigger. You need to have values that reflect that.” But the bulk of the book is talking about taking responsibility and facing adversity. It's all very, very individualistic. There's nothing that really goes into any depth about building community, developing connections with other people. So I really do feel like this is just a 30 something rambling. So these different tangents come out. He hasn't really thought it through, and that's because he's a guy who wrote a fucking blog post and then got offered a book deal and was like, “Yeah, all right. Sure.”

Michael: [laughs] Yeah. I feel like these guys have to throw in something that acknowledges that we live in a larger world and like, “Yeah, you should care about values and morality and community.” But that's always the part of the book that they've thought about the least. And it's like, “Well, if this is your worldview, why should I help other people? If I'm going to a soup kitchen to help the homeless, well, they're homeless because they didn't work hard enough and they're lazy?” The whole worldview is based on the idea that it's their fucking fault. So of course, I'm not going to engage with my community. 

Peter: I'm going to allow Mark Manson himself to articulate this for us. This is from the book, and it features the phrase, the pampering of the modern mind. 

Michael: I like how he used synonyms for two of the words to make it seem like he wasn't just wholeheartedly lifting that. 

Peter: The cradling of the United States mind. 

Michael: [laughs] He says, “The pampering of the modern mind has resulted in a population that feels deserving of something without earning that something, a population that feels they have a right to something without sacrificing for it. People declare themselves experts, entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, mavericks, and coaches without any real life experience.” Oh, it's one book.

Peter: One book, baby. 

Michael: He's telling you the grip that he's doing. 

Peter: [laughs] How do you write that? How do you write that, dude.

Michael: [laughs] 

Peter: You're a finance dropout who started blogging, and you're talking shit about people without real life experience.

Michael: Yeah. 

Peter: This can't be fucking real. 

Michael: Look, people are going to use curse words to make themselves seem edgy [Peter laughs] while actually repackaging reactionary bog-standard advice for you and selling it back to you. 

Peter: Can you believe it? Can you believe that [Michael laughs] there are people doing that? 

Michael: They're going to use an aggressively folksy tone with you. 

Peter: One thing I read when I saw people chatting about this on Reddit was someone saying that they read this book a few years ago and they thought it was so insightful and helped them a lot. And they read it again a few years later and were like, “What the fuck is this?” [chuckles] 

Michael: Yeah. [laughs] 

Peter: I think a lot of self-help is like that, where it's just getting people at a time when they need advice more than they need any specific advice and are using advice. It's like the feeling that you're receiving advice is itself therapeutic. And so a lot of people, I think, are just at a crossroads in their life for whatever reason, they read a book like this, and they come away with a good impression because they just needed to be talked to.

Michael: But this is also why I have basically no contempt for people who read and enjoy these books but bottomless contempt for the authors, because they're fulfilling a real emotional need for people. And sometimes you just need a little pep talk. 

Peter: Absolutely. 

Michael: I think that's totally fine. I think, honestly, there's ways of writing these books that are not that shitty. I get that they're in an individualistic frame and they never cover structural solutions, etc. The limitations of the genre are inherently baked into these books, and that's fine. But there's a responsible way to do this. Tell people like, “You're not a piece of shit and you can do stuff and everything's going to turn out okay.” I think fulfilling that emotional need is totally fine. And even in this book, it sounds like the actual core advice is like, set a goal and try to work through adversity. It might be hard sometimes. That's at the bottom of it, pretty reasonable advice.

The problem is, when you then package it with this weird worldview stuff and this weird like, “Wow, kids have too much participation trophies and stuff that is basically misinformation” or a way of looking at the world where it's like, you're not just getting this pep talk, you're getting a pep talk that makes you think that it requires you to step on other people or that other people are doing this wrong, as opposed to like, “Hey, everybody's going through it.” You're going through it. Other people are too. And let's all just be as nice to each other as we can while we're trying to achieve the goals that we have.

Peter: Yeah. No, I think that's right. I understand wanting to read a book about functionally bettering yourself. That's a very normal impulse. I can't look down on people who do that. I watch probably three hours a month of Kansas City Chiefs highlights from the 2019 playoffs. [Michael laughs] I watch them and I'm ready to tackle the day.

Michael: It's your emotional support playoffs. 

Peter: [chuckles] I don't know, everyone has something that perks them up a little bit. I think that, for most people, it's not the details of these books that matter. It's like a feeling that we're all in this together, and you tap into little things you pick up on in these books. And like you said, the core of this book is not super objectionable. It's just that Mark Manson can only talk for so long before he says something stupid and gross.

Michael: Yeah, he's pretending that he's telling you harsh truth. But actually, he's just spinning a sweet, sweet fantasy baby.

Peter: [laughs] Of reference, I understand, Michael. 

Michael: [laughs]

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