17. Gems in the trash heap

When taste makes war on curiosity.

Issue #17

Hello again! As November nears its end, I return with yet another letter.

We’ll try a new format this week:

  1. A tiny essay

  2. A longer list of things I’ve been working on this month

Let’s jump into it.

Gems in the trash heap

An odd thinker once said:

A man should be able to get as much value from Transformers 3 as from the Iliad.

What a moron! (That thinker was me, so I won’t hesitate to call him out.) Transformers 3 is terrible, and the Iliad is a treasure trove. To speak of these in the same sentence is insulting, not to mention misleading; how could each yield equal fruit?

They can’t! I was wrong. Let me try again:

A man should be as prepared to gain value from Transformers 3 as from the Iliad.

I believe this is more defensible, and also more worth defending. Because, you see, I occasionally interact with people with what you might call ‘very narrow intellectual tastes’.

There is nothing wrong with taste. At the same time, there’s a vice in underestimating - proactively, motivatedly - how much value we can get from ‘that which is not best’.

Taste can be a defense mechanism. To ‘keep the bad thing away,’ we excessively criticize objects of study, blaming them when we don’t learn. We could instead ask: why did we wait passively for value to hand itself to us, rather than uncovering and grasping it for ourselves?

“When he fails, the student blames his art, whereas the master blames himself.”

‘Taste’ can be the enemy of curiosity, and thus the enemy of learning and growth.

To put the point more crisply:

Despite one work being far superior to another, it does not follow that (a) the inferior work has no insight in it, or that (b) an insight gleaned from the inferior work is false.

It’s a simple point to understand, and a harder one to live by. Many so-called intellectuals choose to condemn the Classics, as a category; or condemn scientific studies, as a category; or condemn fiction, or poetry, or religious works, or texts with political motivations, categorically. With all this condemnation going on, one begins to wonder what these thinkers like or enjoy at all; what’s wrong in their lives, such that everything seems so gross all of the time. This kind of person is disgusted, while pretending to be discerning.

So perhaps it’s helpful to keep the simple point in mind: rarely, one does find gems in a trash heap.

Things I made this month

This is the part where I guide you to the trash heap. 😂 😉

1.

I made a new video:

In it I describe the idea of ‘reading that shapes the self’. It’s indirectly related to my essay above, as well as our broad theme of situating oneself well with respect to the things that one consumes and encounters in the world.

2.

I started an unofficial, Discord-based discussion group for Great Founder Theory, Samo Burja’s framework for institutional analysis.

We discuss GFT every Sunday at 10AM PST, and will add more times as useful. Our aim is to learn and concretely apply the concepts of GFT. If you’d like to join, DM me on Twitter or email me at contact at michaelcurzi dot com with a bit of info about who you are and where your interest is coming from.

3.

I made two companion documents for the GFT reading group, with more on the way: (1) one for Institutional Failure As Surprise [summary doc] and (2) another for Live versus Dead Players [summary doc]. These may be useful for anyone interested in learning institutional analysis.

4.

Reading update: My main reading this month has been Tragedy and Hope by Carroll Quigley and The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. I also started reading Sun and Steel by Yukio Mishima - the fiftieth anniversary of whose death was a few days ago. Sun & Steel got me lifting weights again, which is more than I can say for 99.99% of other books I’ve read, let alone philosophical works.

I discovered and was moved by the story of Mishima’s life around 2005. I had no idea that anyone else had heard of him — but was bemused to discover, fifteen years later, that Mishima had been taken up as an idol by none other than the BAPpists! Strange bedfellows indeed. Nevertheless, a person of honest spirit will not consider Mishima contaminated by those who affiliate themselves to him fifty years after his death. Mishima is worth grappling with on his own terms, no Bronze Age Baggage required.

I highly recommend the Paul Shrader movie about his life, called Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters.

5.

Thinking update: I’ve begun trying to understand some things about the varied lifestyles and cultures of elites - the rich and powerful, those people who seem to ‘run things’.

The best fiction I’ve consumed on this front is The Leopard, a 1963 movie by an Italian director with some kind of royal ancestry - followed by Crazy Rich Asians (lol), both the movie and the book.

The best non-fiction I’ve consumed on the topic is Class, by Paul Fussell.

The best activity I’ve done on this topic is, unsurprisingly, talking to real people who live in that world. A few such people have been down to chat with me 1-1, which has been wonderful.

In any case, I’m still looking for great book/movie/documentary recommendations here, or other sources of knowledge if anyone has them. Hit me up!

6.

I still run a Twitch channel, which has continued to be fun as hell, despite my absurdly low follower count:

7.

Finally, I still offer paid 1-1 training/consulting! Sign up for an intro session here.

Exeunt

Stay warm, friends, and enjoy this winter season, in whatever way you know how. :)