Do You Have to Be a Jerk to Be Great?

Navigating the tension between work and relationships.

Soren Kierkegaard asked God to give him the power to will one thing. Amid all the distractions of life he asked for the power to live a focused life, wholeheartedly, toward a single point.

And we’ve all known geniuses and others who have practiced a secular version of this. They have found their talent and specialty. They focus monomaniacally upon it. They put in the 10,000 hours (and more) that true excellence requires.

I just read “You Must Change Your Life,” Rachel Corbett’s joint biography of the sculptor Auguste Rodin and his protégé, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and they were certainly versions of this type.

The elder Rodin had one lesson for the young Rilke. “Travailler, toujours travailler.” Work, always work.

This is the heroic vision of the artist. He renounces earthly and domestic pleasures and throws himself into his craft. Only through total dedication can you really see deeply and produce art.

In his studio, Rodin could be feverishly obsessed, oblivious to all around him. “He abided by his own code, and no one else’s standards could measure him,” Corbett writes. “He contained within himself his own universe, which Rilke decided was more valuable than living in a world of others’ making.”

Rilke had the same solitary focus. With the bohemian revelry of turn-of-the-century Paris all around him, Rilke was alone writing in his room. He didn’t drink or dance. He celebrated love, but as a general outlook and not as something you gave to any one person or place.

Both men produced masterworks that millions have treasured. But readers finish Corbett’s book feeling that both men had misspent their lives.

They were both horrid to their wives and children. Rodin grew pathetically creepy, needy and lonely. Rilke didn’t go back home as his father was dying, nor allow his wife and child to be with him as he died. Both men lived most of their lives without intimate care.

Their lives raise the question: Do you have to be so obsessively focused to be great? The traditional masculine answer is yes. But probably the right answer is no.

In the first place, being monomaniacal may not even be good for your work. Another book on my summer reading list was “Range,” by David Epstein. It’s a powerful argument that generalists perform better than specialists.

The people who achieve excellence tend to have one foot outside their main world. “Compared to other scientists, Nobel laureates are at least 22 times more likely to partake as an amateur actor, dancer, magician or other type of performer,” Epstein writes.

He shows the same pattern in domain after domain: People who specialize in one thing succeed early, but then they slide back to mediocrity as their minds rigidify.

Children who explore many instruments when they are young end up as more skilled musicians than the ones who are locked into just one. People who transition between multiple careers when they are young end up ahead over time because they can take knowledge in one domain and apply it to another.

A tech entrepreneur who is 50 is twice as likely to start a superstar company than one who is 30, because he or she has a broader range of experience. A survey of the fastest-growing tech start-ups found that the average age of the founder was 45.

For most people, creativity is precisely the ability to pursue multiple interests at once, and then bring them together in new ways. “Without contraries is no progression,” William Blake wrote.

Furthermore, living a great life is more important than producing great work. A life devoted to one thing is a stunted life, while a pluralistic life is an abundant one. This is a truth feminism has brought into the culture. Women have rarely been able to live as monads. They were generally compelled to switch, hour by hour, between different domains and roles: home, work, market, the neighborhood.

A better definition of success is living within the tension of multiple commitments and trying to make them mutually enhancing. The shape of this success is a pentagram — the five-pointed star. You have your five big passions in life — say,

  1. family,
  2. vocation,
  3. friends,
  4. community,
  5. faith —

and live flexibly within the gravitational pull of each.

You join communities that are different from one another. You gain wisdom by entering into different kinds of consciousness. You find freedom at the borderlands between your communities.

Over the past month, while reading these books, I attended four conferences. Two were very progressive, with almost no conservatives. The other two were very conservative, with almost no progressives. Each of the worlds was so hermetically sealed I found that I couldn’t even describe one world to members of the other. It would have been like trying to describe bicycles to a fish.

I was reading about how rich the pluralistic life is, and how stifling a homogeneous life is. And I was realizing that while we’re learning to preach gospel of openness and diversity, we’re mostly not living it. In the realm of public life, many live as monads, within the small circles of one specialty, one code, no greatness.

Sheryl Sandberg Can’t Have It All

The truth is, Sheryl Sandberg has been preoccupied with her own P.R. — and has been a master of the cold science of optics — ever since she was a teenager. One of the most revealing stories in “Lean In” is about her senior year, when she was voted Most Likely to Succeed. Believing that the title would interfere with her chances of getting a date to the biggest party of the year — “Who wants to go to the prom with the smartest girl in the class?”— she got a friend on the yearbook to remove the designation.

.. Much of the advice Sandberg gives in “Lean In” is, frankly, unapologetically strategic. And why ever not, when the obstacles to female advancement can seem as high as the moon? But controversially, much of it was also retrograde, a nod to realpolitik: Ask for a raise because women as a group tend to be underpaid, not because you personally deserve it. Note that someone more senior to you suggested that you ask for this salary negotiation in the first place. Be “relentlessly pleasant,” to borrow a phrase from Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities.

.. What makes Sandberg’s current behavior so unsavory is that she put corporate interests — and her own image — ahead of the needs of democracy. She would sooner downplay Facebook’s involvement in a national security crisis than compromise the integrity of her reputation. And in so doing, Sandberg, one of the country’s most influential and renowned feminists, may have contributed to the historic loss of the first viable female candidate for president of the United States.

Why I Am An Anti-Feminist – The Fiamengo File, Episode 1

Professor Janice Fiamengo from the University of Ottawa explains why she identifies as an anti-feminist. Fiamengo, a former feminist who in earlier years marched in “Take Back The Night” campaigns, has given lectures on feminist-related topics at the University of Toronto, Queen’s University, the University of Ottawa, and more, and has been featured on The Agenda with Steve Paiken as well as many videos here on Studio Brulé. Thanks to Jack Carter for bringing to my attention that the current “Yes Means Yes” laws sweeping across the continent actually first appeared at Antioch College in 1991, and were criticized for being impossible to obey. “Adopted in 1991 at the prompting of the “Womyn of Antioch,”” here are some links : https://www.thefire.org/antiochs-infa… http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jham…

What Happens to #MeToo When a Feminist Is the Accused?

Nimrod Reitman accused his former N.Y.U. graduate school adviser, Avital Ronell, of sexually harassing him, and the university found her responsible. But some leading feminist scholars have supported her in ways that echo the defenses of male harassers.

.. In the Title IX final report, excerpts of which were obtained by The New York Times, Mr. Reitman said that she had sexually harassed him for three years, and shared dozens of emails in which she referred to him as “my most adored one,” “Sweet cuddly Baby,” “cock-er spaniel,” and “my astounding and beautiful Nimrod.”

.. “We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” the professors wrote.

.. Mr. Reitman, who is now 34 and is a visiting fellow at Harvard, says that Professor Ronell kissed and touched him repeatedly, slept in his bed with him, required him to lie in her bed, held his hand, texted, emailed and called him constantly, and refused to work with him if he did not reciprocate. Mr. Reitman is gay and is now married to a man; Professor Ronell is a lesbian.

.. “Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities,”

.. “These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”

.. In Mr. Reitman’s recollection, he was afraid of his professor and the power she wielded over him, and often went along with behavior that left him feeling violated. Professor Ronell said that Mr. Reitman desperately sought her attention and guidance

.. Professor Ronell invited him to stay with her in Paris for a few days. The day he arrived, she asked him to read poetry to her in her bedroom while she took an afternoon nap, he said.

“That was already a red flag to me,” said Mr. Reitman. “But I also thought, O.K., you’re here. Better not make a scene.”

Then, he said, she pulled him into her bed.

“She put my hands onto her breasts, and was pressing herself — her buttocks — onto my crotch,” he said. “She was kissing me, kissing my hands, kissing my torso.” That evening, a similar scene played out again

.. He confronted her the next morning, he said.

“I said, look, what happened yesterday was not O.K. You’re my adviser,”

.. The Title IX report concluded that there was not enough evidence to find Professor Ronell responsible for sexual assault, partly because no one else observed the interactions in his apartment or her room in Paris.

.. Professor Ronell said she had no idea Mr. Reitman was so uncomfortable until she read the investigators’ report.

.. Mr. Reitman also said that Professor Ronell retaliated against him for complaining to her about her behavior, in part by sending pro forma recommendations on his behalf, thwarting his job prospects. But the Title IX report found that her recommendation letters “were comparable to those for other former students” and he did secure two postgraduate fellowships.

.. Professor Ronell and some who are backing her have tried to discredit her accuser in familiar ways, asking why he took so long to report, and why he seemed so intimate with Professor Ronell if he was, in fact, miserable. Maybe, Professor Ronell suggested, he was frustrated because he just wasn’t smart enough.

His main dilemma was the incoherency in his writing, and lack of a recognizable argument,” Professor Ronell said in a January 2018 interview submitted to the Title IX office

.. Diane Davis, chair of the department of rhetoric at the University of Texas-Austin, who also signed the letter to the university supporting Professor Ronell, said she and her colleagues were particularly disturbed that, as they saw it, Mr. Reitman was using Title IX, a feminist tool, to take down a feminist.

“I am of course very supportive of what Title IX and the #MeToo movement are trying to do, of their efforts to confront and to prevent abuses, for which they also seek some sort of justice,” Professor Davis wrote in an email. “But it’s for that very reason that it’s so disappointing when this incredible energy for justice is twisted and turned against itself, which is what many of us believe is happening in this case.”

Cardi B: American Rapper (wikipedia)

Belcalis Almanzar (born October 11, 1992), known professionally as Cardi B, is an American rapper.

 

.. Upon being fired from the supermarket, her former manager recommended she work at a strip club. She has said she became a stripper to escape poverty and domestic violence, having been in an abusive relationship at the time.[21] Cardi B has also said becoming a stripper was positive for her life in many ways: “It really saved me from a lot of things. When I started stripping I went back to school.”[22][23][24] She says stripping was her only way out, a way to earn enough money to escape her dire situation and get an education. Nonetheless, she eventually dropped out of college.[3]

In 2013, Cardi B began to gain publicity due to several of her videos going viral on social media, on Vine and her official Instagram page.[5]

 

Cardi B identifies as a feminist.[95][96] The New York Times wrote “on Love & Hip Hop: New York some viewers saw her as a hero of female empowerment, as she made pronouncements like

‘Ever since I started using guys, I feel so much better about myself. I feel so damn powerful.'”[97]

When commenting on her rise to stardom The Fader wrote “one video in particular tipped her popularity over the edge. It was a 13-second clip that doubles as a neat précis of her ethos:

‘People be asking me, ‘What do you does? Are you a model? Are you, like, a comedian or something?’ Nah, I ain’t none of that. I’m a hoe. I’m a stripper hoe. I’m about this shmoney.'”[20][98]

Cardi B’s logo

Cardi B was a member of the Bloods, and has said she became a gang member at the age of 16.[15][16] However, she since has stated that she would not encourage joining a gang.[99]

The Handmaids of Capitalism

American feminists gradually went along with the logic of capitalism rather than resisting it. This is a particularly useful description because it’s happened so consistently across the last few decades: Whenever there’s a dispute within feminism about a particular social change or technological possibility, you should bet on the side that takes a more consumerist view of human flourishing, a more market-oriented view of what it means to defend the rights and happiness of women.

.. They were divided over pornography, often bitterly — but over time the sex-positive side increasingly won out over the Andrea Dworkinish dissenters, even as the online realm was overrun with images and videos that more than justified her arguments. They were, and are, divided over prostitution, but it’s pretty clear that the version of feminism that supports the rights of sex workers to sell their bodies in the marketplace has the intellectual momentum.

.. the most culturally important strands of American feminism have been the ones devoted to making women’s lives safe for market capitalism rather than the other way around — with “lean in” and egg freezing for Silicon Valley elites and the temporary sterilization of I.U.D.s and LARCs for the working class, both together encouraging the idea that professional goals are the heart of personal fulfillment

.. The rather important female reality of motherhood, a Guardian essayist noted recently, “comes up in less than 3 percent of papers, journal articles or textbooks on modern gender theory.

.. At best, Christians may hope to build a counterculture, but in the wider landscape our ability to shape trends or resist them is at a historical low ebb.

.. it is a grave mistake for feminists to assume that because the moralism of the past was often patriarchal and sexist, they must always choose “consenting adults” individualism over a more holistic morality, a presumption for choice over a defense of human dignity, the logic of the market over more communitarian alternatives, a consumerist interchangeability of the sexes over a social architecture that respects their differences.