Ben Cashnacho claims to be a writer and executive of some repute,i at least in the SV area. While that’s a tricky thing to take at face value, we’re going to use him as a jumping off point anyways. Bear with me, it’ll be worth it. His tackily-SEO’d blog post entitled “Happy Ambition [Status Cocaine]” contains the following excerptii :
Wall Street titans, Hollywood moguls, and tech billionaires do not physically duel. And they’ve often made so much money that they all have nice watches and cars and houses. But they do continue to race each other for prestige and power and other non-monetary status markers.
And that horse race is a zero-sum attention game. It’s zero sum because if you and I are peers or competitors — say, we both live in California and we both work in the tech sector — and if you get more status in whatever social sphere we operate in, then I have less status. It’s an attention game because for the rich and successful, status manifests in things like lifetime appreciation awards, media profiles, and charitable recognition. There are only so many New York Times profiles to go around in any given day.
Leaving aside the leftover scraps of NYT in the wake of Herr Trump’s thumping, the recognition of the cognoscenti is a game, of that there can be little question, but zero-sum games imply that a sum is calculable, which therefore further implies, whether Cashnacho knows it or not, that said games live in rationalised domains. Frustratingly, little do he and so many of his fellow pundits realise that outside of athletic arenas and certainly their less active casino counterparts, there exists an undefined and undefinable scope of complexity. This includes but is not limited to the number of status positions within a group (of which there are an unknowable number), the quality of that status (because it’s never binary), and the relation of that status group to others (tenuous or tangential though it may be). These three factors are of absolute criticality. Which makes sense, because that you’re a hot commodity in the Delaware kitty rescuing community buys you a whole lotta nothing-on-a-stick with the strippers at the Davos after-parties ; and vice versa. Similarly, that you’re the talk of the town in the music scene in Thompson, Manitoba buys you a whole lotta no-shits-given with the thieves in Thebes ; and vice versa. In short, there’s no such thing as universal status and certainly no such calculable status score quite in spite of what the hollywood-klout gargle would have you believe.iii And yet all the time you hear about “zero-sum” x and “zero-sum” y from youf who don’t know their Schelling points from their mutually assured destructions. At this point “zero-sum game” is practically a code for “other people winning at games that I’m no good at.” To wit :
But like all appetites, the excesses of status-driven ambition can also drive you down the road of misery. The zero sum, social nature of the status game goads people into a life of continual dissatisfaction. Status-fueled ambition might be a decent tool to spur you to take action now and then but it’s a terrible master of your career and your life. Status is like fire: it can heat your home and cook your food, but if not managed thoughtfully, it can burn down your house and kill you.
It’s really very sweet that Cashnacho is looking out for you and I – making sure that we don’t kill ourselves in the pursuit of ‘apenis – but most every positive production, invention, or innovation in the history of human progress to date has been the result of continual dissatisfaction. Examples of this phenomenon are almost too numerous to count but the lightbulb, the airplane, and the combine wheat harvester come readily to mind.iv Furthermore, as someone who’s had the good fortune to be successful, at least for his age, and yet who is still unsatisfied with most of modernity to say nothing of his relatively paltry status in this enormous world, I find the thrust of ambition all too motivating and all too rewarding.v
But the hit doesn’t last. Like a drug, status is insatiable. Just like you crave a greater and greater high with cocaine—needing to up the dose over time to achieve previously-felt pleasures—so too with status. You’ll inevitably be unsatisfied by whatever it is you thought would finally make you happy, be that material possessions like a big house and nice car, or non-monetary status wins like an honorary degree from Yale, your name on the outside of a hospital, or the long media profile heralding your accomplishments.
So what if it doesn’t last ? Nothing does save the satisfaction that your children will have the opportunity to maintain their stations.vi That alone is hardly worth of status or recognition, especially given that your mother-in-law hardly qualifies as cognoscenti, but if you want more than a one-hit-wonder-drug and some semblance of balance, a family in a midsized city isn’t a bad place to start. It’s no mean accomplishment to balance even this, of course, and you won’t win favour from everyone in doing so,vii but there’s also no Excel Spreadsheet Of Life telling you the answer is 42.
Still, we’re not all family types and you can’t settle down without settling. Some of us can never be fully sated, nor fully stopped, and can delay continual gratification into the after-life. Said strivers are destined to achieve the highest status of all : that of history.
___ ___ ___
- Yet I’ve never heard of him and he’s not in the logs so he really can’t be that reputable in the grand scheme of things. Seriously, tens of millions of words over a half-decade on every subject matter under the sun and not a single mention of Cashnacho despite his incessant mentions of his friendship and business relations with start-up bajillioinaires [↩]
- His homepage also includes this lulzbomb :
Which is obviously never happening. So if anyone with a Twitter account is inclined to drop him a line there with a link here, far be it from me to stand in your way.
And lest we start being too harsh on ol’ Cashnacho, Ben isn’t completely out to lunch on every score even if he lives and works in the San Fran bezzle bubble. At the very least he correctly identifies the price of entry into the “Fuck You Money” Club ($10mn), lending considerable credit to his perspectives on wealth, success, and status in contrast to so many other invariably indebted journosaurs, particularly of the Jizmodo variety who chirp “OMG A MILLION DOLLARS ISN’T CHUMP CHANGE.”
Cashnacho’s recommendations aren’t bad either. He suggests: 1) Become mindful of status triggers with mindfulness meditation, 2) Set fewer goals. Love the craft itself: be process-driven, not goal-driven, 3) Choose work and set goals where relative status is harder to compare or measure, 4) The people around you shape the nature of your ambition, so pick your peer group carefully, 5) Diversify your identity by operating a portfolio, 6) Operate a dashboard, not a leaderboard. Play against yourself, not an opponent, and 7) Physically move and be a big fish in a small pond. [↩]
- Hate to break it to you but being YouTube Famous doesn’t get you discounts on groceries. Owning the market does. And yet you’ve never heard of the market owner by reputation, have you ? And you think things’ll be different when you’re on top… Oh butterstuff… [↩]
- Not to mention FUCKGOATS and most every other Republican innovation to date. [↩]
- Plato said that there are three classes of men in this world : lovers of wisdom, lovers of honour, and lovers of gain. I swear I’m
burdenedgifted with all three. [↩]
- Not improving their stations, mind, that’s just a lottery. Even maintaining their station will be no small feat in globally hyperinflationary times. [↩]
- Although your fellow car enthusiast fathers won’t help but nod in approval as you steer your E63 Wagon or SQ7 to the skating rink, everyone else will wonder if your dick was too small to just buy a minivan. [↩]