Two Interesting Gervais Principle Follow-Ups

I thought I’d share two recent ‘Gervais Principle’ related posts that crossed my radar. There have been quite a few blog reactions to the GP series over the last 6 months, but most don’t venture beyond an editorial comment or two. These two go further, in a couple of rather dangerous (and fun) directions.

First, a few weeks back, Pete Carapetyan emailed me about his post on dealing with passive aggressive. He doesn’t cite or relate the ideas to GP directly, but he tells me that the post is “inspired” by GP (dangerously ambiguous linkage term there).

Working with Passive Aggressives

Working with a PA is the most counter-intuitive thing you will ever do. That is their primary tactic, coming across exactly opposite from what is really going on, which also includes covering their tracks. Well honed PA skills never show on the radar, that is how the whole system works.

In a different vein, Jacob, writing in the extreme early retirement (nice name for a blog, that), has a post riffing on the idea that if you can’t join the sociopaths, perhaps you can beat them by owning them, by turning to capitalism? Jacob suggests that this requires giving up addictive consumerism.

A Cure to Careerism

Of course there is a third way, extreme early retirement, which sadly is considered too extreme by many. The reason is that it means giving up consumerism which to consumers is like giving up cigarettes for smokers. Not only are many people suffering from careerism, but they are also suffering from consumerism believing that it is impossible, at least for them, to live a satisfying life without shopping.

Note that this is a different exit strategy than the ‘exile/exodus’ strategy described in Managing Language (With Extreme Prejudice), on Tobias C. Van Veen’s Fugitive Philosophy blog, which I highlighted earlier.

I’ll withhold my own opinion for now, other than to note that I agree that the questions being raised are important, even if I don’t entirely agree with the answers. Click on, check out the articles, and comment. I’ll be following the discussion with interest of course.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. Giving up consumerism, which can be thought of as merely a larger structure (all companies) that acts as a sink for the productivity of the clueless (and the losers), is probably the strongest card one can play without joining the high income sociopaths or without spending multiple years joining the clueless.

    At least, that’s the best I have been able to come up with.

  2. Ben Lehman says:

    I’m not sure that owning stock is actually a ticket to owning the sociopaths. Sociopaths play metacapitalism, right? Your investment is stuff for them to manipulate. Believing that the stock market will save you is basically a clueless sort of interaction: you get bought off (in the form of miniscule return) in exchange for your faith that the system works.

    I say this as someone who owns stock.

  3. The Gervais Principle model would lend an interesting analysis of the “Job Hopper” debate I mentioned on twitter.

    The notion of executives/founders of startups (sociopaths ala Gervais) having a vested interested in minimizing salary/benefits using intangible concepts of loyalty in a dialog with Engineers (losers ala Gervais).

  4. Ben: I think I agree with you on owning stock. Unless you own enough to be a market mover/exercise clout at shareholder meetings, you lack the information to exercise the ownership rights as effectively as professionals and those who operate within the letter, but not spirit, of insider trading laws. Plus stock as an early-retirement plan, in Jacob’s model, relies on the (very dangerous IMO) axiom of “assuming 8% historic returns will continue”). Small individual holdings that don’t have enough dollar value to be properly hedged are just too risky as an “financial independence” plan probably. I think I prefer Kiyosaki’s idea that cash-flow generating assets are far more important to financial independence and security than small wealth holdings.

    Winfield: Yes, I followed your links and read the whole job-hopper debate. My top-of-the-head opinion is that it is being misframed. It is not the frequency of job-hopping that matters but the timing of entry/exit. Like Calacanis, I too would not hire a “bad timing” job-hopper, who (for instance) enters after startup work and leaves before touchdown work. But if somebody is being smart about timing, I’d consider working with them (example, people who are great at starts, but don’t like growth phases, or people who can’t envision a project, but can ‘finish’ one started by others). People with ‘good’ entry/exit timing patterns are predictable value-adders and can hope for a good market value (after all, good consultants are basically legitimized job hoppers).

    Is there a relation to GP? Not directly I think. A ‘good timing’ hopper might still be doing loser-hopping and going from one exploitative situation to another. A serial loser basically. I’d say such people are possibly better of staying in one place as much as possible, if they can find a good niche, to save on switching costs. Jumping around is only valuable if you are jumping diagonally, with advantageous lateral moves of increasing power.

    But there’s more here… I might blog about it if interesting/novel thoughts occur to me. So far, all my thoughts are unsurprising and I am sure most people have thought them.

    • Thanks for addressing the issue, Venkat.

      I have a feeling there is some interesting potential for analysis here, but I haven’t been able to get a good grip on it.

  5. @Venkat – “My” model simply assumes 3% real returns. You could make that 2% if you are worried but in my opinion that is like wearing belt and suspenders while gluing one’s pants on, etc.

    Now 3% real returns is something which has been the state of the world for thousands of years. The only exception was the dark ages when trade broke down completely. In this case, I don’t think a career in marketing, tech, banking, etc. is going to fare better.

    An interesting book describing all this is “A History of Interest Rates”. Sounds dry, but it’s very interesting (Ha!). Personally I don’t have the guts/trust to invest in a broad index. I prefer cash generating companies which typically trade at a low enterprise value/EBITDA which is equivalent to P/E for growth companies but which in a sense value the stock as it was private equity. Typical equity yields for growth stocks are 5%. Typical EBITDA/EV for cash generating companies is 15-20%. Now find a high yielding payer. This ensures that the payback is on the order or 1-2 decades instead of a close to a century.

    So yes, as someone living off of savings for a long time to come, the cash flow is what is most important. For someone who retired at 65, and who is living their savings down; they can use other strategies.

    • kind of tangential, but real returns only shot above near-zero during the industrial revolution

      • @econ – How do you define real returns? In organized (trade exists) and stable (no invasions) societies, inflation is close to zero (except since 1973), and mortgage rates, say, are around 5%. This was the case in Roman times even. In unstable/unorganized societies, rates are (much) higher. If trade/society breaks down, there are no returns to be had (buy guns and ammo).

  6. ERE — Thanks for the clarification, and ‘A history of interest rates’ sounds fascinating (generally I find the dull/dry to be fascinating :D). Added to my reading list.

    Venkat

  7. hi Venkat, thanks for these links which lead into quite different directions. Aspects of the Early Retirement blog I think approach some of the pragmatic elements of exodus, at least a micro exodus occurring at the level of individualism which, although it rejects consumerism, still relies upon the monetary and financial system of capital. For this reason, you are right, this is not exodus is the founding of the new Republic, but exodus as opportunist parasitism. I am thinking of this post:

    http://earlyretirementextreme.com/2009/06/how-to-spend-very-little-money.html

    The thing is, none of these suggestions are all that radical: growing your own garden, reducing consumer spending, using online networks of sharing, being smart about purchases, and using all available tricks of the capital system to further your own gain are hardly revolutionary principles. But perhaps posts like these demonstrate the impoverishment of our times, if the idea of being as self sustainable as possible is seen as such a radical break from Western culture.

    What the “extreme early retirement” approach must sidestep, however, or rather, takes as implicit, is the site of meaning in one’s life — where one places the value of life. Evidently, having more money later is valued above participating in the pleasures of life now. Or rather, what determines pleasure has been radically revalued, not only against consumerism but in a way which rules out other ways of living and being. While it’s one thing to rail against consumerism, it’s worth noting that the author has strictly limited his engagements with society. If one is, say, a climber, And climbing means more to you and careerism, money, or the fetish objects of consumer desire, then the material necessities of what is necessary to have value in life — climbing — are often so costly that the rest of one’s life is, by comparison, impoverished; but this impoverishment is only measured against the immense value of being able to do what one wants to do, as in this case, climbing, encompasses the supernumerary value of life itself.

    Point being, this kind of individualist Exodus is nonetheless still consumerist: it values the accumulation of money as a means toward living the good life, and it implicitly grasps life as a linear timeline in which the (perhaps painful) savings made now will pay off later. Which assumes, that one is still alive, and in good health, and able to do the things in the future that one is financially unable to do now. Any sense of carpe diem, hedonism, or jouissance, must be either revalued into implicit categories of non-consumer activity or negate it. In this sense, there is a “back to the land” feeling in this approach akin to the neo-primitivist anarchists and Maoist communists. Of course, this approach does not reject technology nor does it call for the transformation of society into agrarian communes. But it does call for an austerity of living, and a revaluation of values, which is more than just financial, but a redistribution of value at the ontological level. What troubles me, is that money is still seen as the means for the good life, and that the processes of savings developed now are merely the means and not recognized as the already implicit ends toward happiness.

    • An approach must necessarily be pragmatic, otherwise it is not going to work (by definition). To be pragmatic is must necessarily work within the present system. A change is continuous.

      I think it is unwise to take suggestions of alternative choices or lifestyles to its logical conclusion. Asking what would happen is similar to asking what if everybody suddenly decided to become hairdressers. What would we eat? How would we live? Factually, this is just not going to happen. The agents in a system are NEVER going to assume the same state of being. If a substantial number of current agents change, it would change the system. It is impossible to make linear conclusions on something as complex as the economy.

      In the present vocational framework my approach can be classified as a poor capitalist. I simply derive a little income from my investments. In that sense, I work.

      In an ecological framework, parasitic is not as accurate as a decomposer. The economic system consists exclusively of producers and consumers. An ecological system would have resources and decomposes as well resulting in a complete sustainable cycle. Currently, (human) consumers just create waste in landfills, lakes, and oceans. There are no economic way to produce resources — instead we rely on what we presume is infinite supplies, where the infinite comes about from the economic theory of substitution. This is very naive. Try to find a substitution for water.

      (In the economic system, the extreme early retirement approach would fall under the producer category.)

      • Thanks ECE, I’ve been enjoying your blog and finally have a bit of time to catch up on it. I admire your project, which is one I see adopted in more & more places, though of course ironically the style is that of the underclass everywhere.

        I wanted to think some asides to your comment — namely that political economists have acknowledged (since globalization) a world without exterior, meaning that all possibilities are inside the “system” as you put it. That said, since the colonization of all available territory capital has taken to establishing “internal” boundaries to then transgress — Virilio called this endocolonization. So the possibility for internal rupture is there, as it is this same possibility that keeps capital going (recently these folds have become so complex that they were mistaken for foundations and built up to tower unsupported — crashing the economy with the credit crisis).

        I think you’re right, “lifestyle choices” are not meant to be adopted by all (I don’t think anyone suggested this?) but exodus is not a “lifestyle choice” but rather the condition of emergent political movement today; it is a passage through the open terrain of the political or through this fold of capital, and is observable in broad, global movements such as (in the 80s and 90s) rave culture — I have a paper coming out on this soon, will drop a note when it does, as it goes into some detail on this claim.

        I quite like the ecological framework (Mathew Fuller’s work on ecology in this respect is very worthwhile), however I think that even without it the economy has far more capacity than producers/consumers, as if locked in some kind of dialectic. At the very least, “service” economies have become the de facto basis of Western wealth as “real production” has shifted to the global underbellies, and political theory over the past 30 years has done much to debunk services and their relation to production. As you say the economy is complex, needs to be thought in the plural, and possibly in the parallax (various economies are networks that at points don’t meet up or rather, if layered, there is excess that doesn’t correspond point-to-point). All of the research on cognitive labour, precarious labour and precarity, the collapse of labour and leisure as distinct categories (existential and activity) and other concepts of micro-economy, credit and time banking have undermined the producer/consumer distinction substantially.

        So in this sense, as a decomposer (which I quite like) you are both consumer and producer, but you are also recycler, investor, parasite, cognitive labour, and quite precarious — in short, though your material conditions might differ through “lifestyle choice,” your economic conditions are the same as many Westerners.

  8. (my apologies for the typos in the above post, I am using voice dictation software)

  9. tV:

    I think you nailed the problem with this approach: “Point being, this kind of individualist Exodus is nonetheless still consumerist: it values the accumulation of money as a means toward living the good life, and it implicitly grasps life as a linear timeline in which the (perhaps painful) savings made now will pay off later. ”

    I think it would be interesting to devise a good ‘test of reasonableness’ for exile/exodus strategies. One question on that test would be: “if everyone adopted your strategy, would it still work for everyone?” In this case the answer is no. It is, as you say, risky “parasitic opportunism” which needs a healthy host.

    A slightly more robust version of the strategy is monetary isolationism by a community, where you tightly control ‘export/import’ as a group, and try to make the internal economy self-sustaining as much as possible. The Amish seem to do that quite well actually. More ‘plugged in’ examples of local currencies haven’t worked as well (for example, in Ithaca, NY, there is a local coupon currency, meant to create a parallel non-dollar ‘exile’ economy, that hasn’t really unplugged Ithaca in any real way).

    Venkat

  10. dear Venkat, interesting to hear about the credit system in Ithaca. Though alternative forms of barter have existed not only as the underbelly of capital — it’s the heart of the cashless contract — they’ve also been explored in a more organized fashion. I’m thinking about contemporary discussions on “time banking”. The recent issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest (Google it, the issue is online) has a few articles that explore time banking. The most organized example is from China, where you can volunteer to help the elderly and your time is logged in exchange for the same kind of help when you oo get old. It’s a very interesting concept as it removes volunteerism from “Christian charity” or sacrificial altruism. In a way, it’s a practical process that combines both collective activity with the principles of fair exchange while avoiding the token of money — there is no interest nor debt to this economy. That said, of course it requires an extraordinarily strong institution, robust and with longevity, that is also strong enough to convince society that there will be a long-term payoff; an institution that is as much psychological as it is realized. China is quite different than the West in this regard given that the elderly often live with their families.

    If one shifts the conversation concerning Exodus into exploring alternative dimensions to using money then I think there still is room to outmaneuver and outwit the personality types and structural inequalities found in the corporate Gervais principle. Even though the Psychopaths are masters of psychic debt economies — guilt tripping others into doing the work for them — and even if their endgame can operate in both short and long-term their position excludes the possibility of alternative forms of exchange that completely remove the accumulation of money as its chief objective.

    As always, a pleasure to read your thoughts here and those with whom this conversation has engaged.