The American Dream, The Lost Frontier, Entertainment, Book Update | #188
July 9th, 2022: Greetings from Connecticut, we are in New England for the next couple of months enjoying the lovely weather. Let me know if you are around these parts…
Today's issue is sponsored by my book The Pathless Path, which has sold every day since launch without any launch plan or marketing strategy. Trust the people and buy this book!
#1 The American Dream, 1931 Edition
Marc Andreessen mentioned in a recent podcast that “The American Dream” was first mentioned in a book from 1931 called Epic of America. I decided to dive into it to see what it had to say.
It’s an interesting book, a sort of history of the world and the US up to that point and it had quite a bit to say about what the American Dream was. I’ve shared some of the parts where it defines the American Dream and also some parts where it talks about how America no longer has a frontier to conquer (in 1931!):
Bolded parts are mine:
But there has been also the American dream that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.
It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it, It is not a dream of motorcars and high wages merely but a dream of social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are innately capable, regardless of the circumstances of birth or position.
I once had an intelligent young Frenchman as a guest in New York, and after a few days, I asked him what struck him most among his new impressions. Without hesitation, he replied, “The way that everyone of every sort looks you right in the eye, without a thought of inequality.
No, the American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtless counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class. And that dream has been realized more fully in actual life here than anywhere else, though very imperfectly even among ourselves.
the American dream itself opens all sorts of questions as to values. It is easy to say a better and richer life for all men, but what is better and what is richer? In this respect, as in'many others, the great business leaders are likely to lead us astray rather than to guide us. For example, as promulgated by them, there is danger in the present popular theory of the high-wage scale. The danger lies in the fact that the theory is advanced not for the purpose of creating a better type of man by increasing his leisure and the opportunity for making a wise use of it, but for the sole and avowed purpose of increasing his powers as a “consumer.”
The more interesting part to me was the author’s argument that America in 1931 no longer had a “frontier” to conquer and this was leading to all sorts of stagnation:
If the influence of the frontier has been what most historians now consider it to have been, then, from the time of its passing, we can look for a slow but gradual change in American life. When “going West” ceased to be a great adventure shared by thousands all the time, a sort of mass movement led by dreams, and became a mere solitary venturing for a better job or a better piece of land somewhere else, evidently a great incentive would be removed. For a century and more, our successive “Wests” had dominated the thoughts of the poor, the restless, the discontented, the ambitious, as they had those of business expansionists and statesmen
For a century and a half we had been occupied in conquering and exploiting a continent, and by 1890 the task was complete. It had been an adventure of youth. Now it was over. There were plenty of empty spaces left to be filled, chinks in the structure, but the country was ours, peopled, bound together, politically organized from coast to coast. Henceforth the work would be one of consolidation rather than expansion. The problems would be those of ruling a vast population with divergent interests, not of organizing new States; the economic and social problems of the new world era of machinery and the conflicts between capital and labor; the problems of world markets and world contacts; the supreme problem of whether a Jeffersonian democracy could survive in a Hamiltonian economy.
Our intensified problems would henceforth permit no escape. America began to near the day when she could no longer be vaguely optimistic and youthfully buoyant. She would have in time to become maturely self-critical and thoughtful
Those might take care of a little surplus population or become playgrounds when we came to enjoy Nature instead of exploiting her. But they were no longer a solution of our problems, no longer dreams to relieve the sick bed of injustice or discontent. The colt had been roped and thrown. Thereafter he would have to get used to the harness of a complex civilization. It would take a long time, but a generation in the lifetime of a nation is short, and the most important change in direction in our history had occurred, almost unnoticed at the moment.
I have a full tweet thread too if you want to explore some more.
Nat Eliason had a thoughtful essay on what it means to consume and engage with information in 2022. I liked this quote:
But creating entertainment with others requires a bit of work. Conversation is work. Play is work. Social activities like cooking, hiking, traveling, and hunting, all require work. And if your locus of entertainment has been too severely externalized, you will not want to put in the work to create entertainment with others. You will want to be entertained.
The whole essay is worth a read and I recommend subscribing to his newsletter - I’ve really been enjoying his shift to longform essays.
#3 The Thinker And The Prover
My discussion with Jim O’Shaughnessy triggered a curiosity in Robert Anton Wilson and I’ve been reading a bunch of his essays. This essay on How To Tell Your Friends From The Apes was packed with interesting ideas, one of which was the idea of the thinker and the prover:
Leonard Orr, founder of the Theta Seminars, in the simple proposition that the human mind behaves as if divided into two parts, which Orr calls the Thinker and the Prover. The Thinker can think virtually anything; it can think it is mortal (materialist view) or immortal (theological view) or both mortal and immortal (reincarnation model.) It can think its way into creation of a Christian uni-verse, a Marxist universe, a Nazi universe, a nudist universe, a vegetarian Lesbian universe, etc. ad, infin.
The Prover is a much simpler mechanicism and operates on the simple rule: What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves. If the Thinker decides to become an anti-semite, the Prover will prove that Jews are evil; if the Thinker becomes a Marxist, the Prover will prove that Capitalists are evil; if the Thinker becomes a Womans Liberationist, the Prover will prove that men are evil, etc. and ad. infin. again. Conversely, if the Thinker thinks all people are basically decent really, the Prover will prove that, and if the Thinker decides that holy water from Lourdes will cure its lumbago, the Prover will often prove even that, to the astonishment of medical doctors.
Today’s world provides abundant information to drop into the prover mode but far fewer paths to simply play the curious thinker.
#4 The Eight-Hour Workday
I rarely work eight hours. Sometimes I do work more than that when I’m really excited about something I’m working on but after a couple of days of that, I usually have to take a few days off. I’ve found my most sustainable rhythym over very long stretches of time is anywhere from 4-6 days per week and about 3-6 hours per day.
This brings us to Morgan Housel’s article I stumbled across:
It worked. Congress passed the Adamson Act, and overtime pay after an eight-hour day became railroad workers’ right.
Twenty years later, the New Deal pushed for broader workers’ rights. It used the Adamson Act as a template, as no one wanted to favor one field over another. The eight-hour, five-day workday was standardized for all industries.
Eighty years later this work schedule – originally designed for the endurance constraints of railroad depot workers – has become so ingrained that we rarely question it, regardless of profession.
Which is crazy.
Morgan is generally a great writer, you can read the full thing here.
#5 Book Update
I crossed 3,500 sales this week, driven by a Kindle sale in the UK. They let me opt in to a “monthly deal” where my book would be promoted for £0.99. So far it seems to be leading to a massive boost in income. Here is my analysis :
Generally, I want more people to read my book so this seems good. However, it could simply just be leading to a lot more people buying but not reading my book. It’s pretty wild to know how much power Amazon has to just increase sales though.
Overall here are my stats on the book so far. Still pretty wild to see steady sales.
There was a big spike in sales in June from this VGR tweet thread:
His tweet led to my highest sales day (66 sold). It was also pretty cool to receive this feedback - if anyone could write a better version of my book it’s probably him.
Finally, at least 3,000 of you have not bought the book so if you want to change that you can buy it here (or I’ll gift you the ebook if you ask nicely).
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