This is the fifth newsletter of Book Lovers sent on September 6, 2015, raising the not-so-easy question of how to behave in a changing world. It also reminds us not to trust blindly the great thinkers, thanks to a contribution of @mathieudaix. This edition of the newsletter features Alessandro Baricco & Friedrich Nietzsche
Don't miss the following letters:
1. Old vs new
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty." — Maya Angelou
There is an endless war in the cultural field between the Ancients and the Moderns: the former believe they’ve reached the apex of human achievement and view any divergence as a decline, the later believe in an endless course of progress and feel an urge for a wind of change, more adapted to the “changing world“.
Eventually, after the shift of paradigm, the moderns become the ancients and the story keeps on indefinitely.
That is also our everyday life in the tech industry: the new world of startups wants to overhaul the old economic world.
But is NEW always better? I doubt it.
Is NEW something we can fight? I doubt it too.
So what should we do when we don’t believe in the virtue of one gigantic wave of new?
We can complain.
We can be resigned.
We can try to build an alternative.
Or we can try to acknowledge change and protect what is dear to our heart. And the best way to do it, might be to understand the new wave and to find a way tointegrate some of the old parts in the new reality.
If this topic is appealing to you, I highly recommend the book The Barbarians (Les Barbares), written by Alessandro Baricco. He tries to explain what most intellectuals consider as a “cultural apocalypse“ where our civilized culture is being sacked by “predators with no culture or history“.
He describes our today's mutation as “a sort of mental and architectural restructuring“ where there is a shift of the idea of experience.
How can we understand this restructuring? How should we act? You need to study the new animals and to understand their new social rules, he says.
If you are sometimes wondering whether we are at the top of the cultural hill or just climbing, if you don’t know what are the inner forces of the mutation, just read the books.
A quick teasing of the new rules revealed by the author :
1. Technological innovations that shatters the privilege of a caste, making a form of action possible for a new population.
2. Commercial bliss taking up residence in the expanded playing fields.
3. Spectacularity as the only untouchable value.
4. The adoption of a modern language as the fundamental language of all experience, as the precondition for any occurrence.
5. Simplification, superficiality, speed, middlingness.
2. The usurpation of objectivity
This second part is a contribution Mathieu Daix (@mathieudaix), one of my business partner & long time friend. He invites us to remember not to trust the Great Thinkers by default and to remind ourselves that rationality might be the worst enemy of Honesty.
In front of a new dish, a painting or the last Jeff Koon’s giant marble crocodile, our teachers invite the students to say a brief and dry “I like / don’t like it“ instead of a lyrical and passionate “It’s sooooooo beautifuuuuuuul!!!!“ or “aaargh it’s disgustiiiiing!!!!!“
Why? Because it opens the necessary door to subjectivity. It forces us to explore why we like it while our mother doesn't. We all like to believe our thoughts are the Truth, but we learn to see that as an usurpation of objectivity.
Well, Friedrich noticed another usurpation of objectivity. And when Friedrich says something, it’s loud and clear. M. Nietzsche writes that the wise and well-educated philosophers, the same who asked us to say “I think“ and “I like“ instead of “it is“ are damned liars. Indeed, they spend their life building thinking systems dressed with the veil of universality, rationality and objectivity. They always say “it is“ and never “I think“. Worst, philosophers, instead of working on the issues of the world are actually working on their own issues, never admitting and writing down “I think“.
All thoughts are confessions.
Nietzsche simply warns us about something that philosophers and of all us keep doing: we use rational thinking not to build universal models and concepts but only to justify our deep believes and feelings. Well, that’s not bad in itself, but it asks us integrity, I mean saying “I think“ instead of “it is“. Your grandma was right.
Here is Nietzsche writing:
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown. Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: "What morality do they (or does he) aim at?" Accordingly, I do not believe that an "impulse to knowledge" is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse, here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. But whoever considers the fundamental impulses of man with a view to determining how far they may have here acted as INSPIRING GENII (or as demons and cobolds), will find that they have all practiced philosophy at one time or another, and that each one of them would have been only too glad to look upon itself as the ultimate end of existence and the legitimate LORD over all the other impulses. For every impulse is imperious, and as SUCH, attempts to philosophize. To be sure, in the case of scholars, in the case of really scientific men, it may be otherwise—"better," if you will; there there may really be such a thing as an "impulse to knowledge," some kind of small, independent clock-work, which, when well wound up, works away industriously to that end, WITHOUT the rest of the scholarly impulses taking any material part therein. The actual "interests" of the scholar, therefore, are generally in quite another direction—in the family, perhaps, or in money-making, or in politics; it is, in fact, almost indifferent at what point of research his little machine is placed, and whether the hopeful young worker becomes a good philologist, a mushroom specialist, or a chemist; he is not CHARACTERISED by becoming this or that. In the philosopher, on the contrary, there is absolutely nothing impersonal; and above all, his morality furnishes a decided and decisive testimony as to WHO HE IS,—that is to say, in what order the deepest impulses of his nature stand to each other.
-- Beyond good and evil, Nietzsche
3. Weekly #MustRead articles
1. Walter Frick shows us that we humans need to trust thinking machines and gives us tips to manage it in When Your Boss Wears Metal Pants (HBR)
2. In Rethinking work (NYT), Barry Schwartz wonders “in the face of longstanding evidence that routinization and an overemphasis on pay lead to worse performance in the workplace, why have we continued to tolerate and even embrace that approach to work?“
3. In « Comment faire d’une théorie inefficace un phénomène de mode en entreprise » - How to make a inefficient theory a corporate phenomenon? (HBR France), Ludovic François & Romain Zerbib show us why dubious theories can be appealing:
- managers lack time -> they look for simplicity,
- managers are rational beings -> they look for data-driven frameworks,
- managers are in a quest for new -> they look for modern theories,
- managers are sheeplike -> they are likely to follow what others do
- managers are sensible to experts -> they are likely to follow what experts says.
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Looking forward to having your feedbacks and your impressions after the readings.