Tucker Max on Writing and the Importance of Understanding How You Differ

I recently heard Tucker Max speak about writing books. He said he had succeeded because he told the truth about himself — including the unpleasant stuff. Most people don’t. That, plus an ability to make it entertaining, was what he could do that other people couldn’t. He was saying that “being yourself” — more precisely, building on how you are different — was the only good place to start. Imitating other people is not a good place to start. Jane Jacobs said the same thing about how cities should develop. She said it was pointless to try to imitate other cities — to imitate them by building a stadium or convention center, for example. Each city should figure out what its unique strengths are — what makes Springfield Springfield — and build on them. Amplify them.

I was pleased to hear Tucker’s remarks because I never hear such stuff said publicly (or privately), except from Jane Jacobs. When I was at Berkeley, now and then I’d tell other professors: It’s a mistake to treat all students in a class the same (by giving them the same assignments, the same tests, etc.). They’re not all the same. They differ greatly. A lot is lost by treating them all alike — a lot of self-esteem, for instance. My colleagues didn’t like hearing this. It was convenient to treat all students the same. And it was status-boosting. My fellow professors worked in a system where the dimension used to gauge success was something they were good at. The notion that there were many other useful ways to excel was undermining. If there is only one measure of success and I am #1 on that measure, I am #1 period. If there are thirty measures of success, all equally valid, and I am #1 on only one of them, my superiority is less clear.

Tucker’s presence at the Ancestral Health Symposium was criticized. Here is an email that the organizers (who include me) received:

One thing neither I nor my attendee friends can explain:  Tucker Max as a speaker?  Really?  His claim to fame is having rough sex with drunk girls and then writing about it.  I’m pretty sure the majority of his speaking gigs take place at bars and frat houses.  From his own website:

“I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead.”

If you have a chance, could someone please explain this choice of speaker?  I’d love to support this conference in the future, and I’m all for challenging social norms, but not those that have to do with basic respect for other people.

I replied:

I wanted Tucker Max to come and went so far as to give up half my presentation time to allow him to speak.

Why did I want him to speak? Because he is a big supporter of paleo, because he had something fresh to say, because he would say it well (and he did), and because he is deeply respected by an audience it is crucial to reach — college students. Sure, some things he writes offend some people. I don’t think that means he doesn’t have something helpful to say.

I don’t think college students respect him so much because he writes about getting raging drunk, etc. I think they respect him because he speaks the truth about subjects where most people don’t speak the truth.

The connection between “being yourself” and speaking the truth about difficult subjects is simple: Being yourself inevitably involves being different and being different inevitably involves some people scorning you. As Tucker said things that caused people to scorn him. As some people scorn my self-experimentation. In a society where being yourself isn’t valued enough, the fear of scorn wins, people self-censor, and, as in the above email, they censor others. Everyone’s loss.

The effect of an educational lifetime of being treated the same — from kindergarten thru college — is that the notion that you are different and have something unique to add becomes less and less plausible to you. Because it becomes implausible, that possibility doesn’t enter into your calculations about what to do with your life — in particular, what job to choose. You begin to think that success = imitation of successful people, when that is misleading. Imitate successful people like you, yes, but most people aren’t like you. I chatted with Tucker after his talk. He said it isn’t enough to be different, you have to act on it, become better and better at exercising your unique talent. I agree. In a better world, you would do this starting young, like 10, and slowly become better so that by the time you needed to make a living you would have substantial skill. But our educational system, by treating everyone the same, or nearly the same, discourages this.

 

24 Replies to “Tucker Max on Writing and the Importance of Understanding How You Differ”

  1. It’s ok you guys! I degrade and humiliate women, and have profited handsomely from it, but I don’t pretend I’m not degrading women. Telling the truth makes it ok. I’m an ideal choice for speaking at your conference.

  2. When I was hiring people into my team, while sifting CVs, one of the criteria I used was ‘Does this one have something special about themselves ?’. In building a team it is much better to have individuals with different strengths than to have a group who are all average at everything. If college doesn´t get this, it´s college that is wrong.

  3. “…the notion that you are different and have something unique to add becomes less and less plausible to you. Because it becomes implausible, that possibility doesn’t enter into your calculations about what to do with your life — in particular, what job to choose.”

    This is so true. Growing up, I always wanted to be a writer, but there was this idea that so few writers are able to make a living at it… what makes me think I could be one of them? Instead, I ended up going into a field (software designer – i.e., programmer) where “success” is practically guaranteed.

  4. Fear is central to most discussions dealing with anything ancestral. Thought provoking post, Seth.

    Robert Greene’s book, The 50th law deals with the issue of fear and highlights another figure that is not popular with the pressed and polite crowd. Fantastic book that made me cringe a bit.

    Odd thing about not exposing who we are is that it creates the very anxiety (of not wanting to be found out) we are trying to avoid. A prison of sorts. One that we have constructed.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Interesting, would you find a man bragging on beating his wife/child as “he speaks the truth about subjects where most people don’t speak the truth”?

  6. Jscott: I’m sorry if it is sounded like an accusation. No, it was an example. The guy is bragging of being an asshole. I gave an example of a different type of asshole, bragging and being honest about it. I don’t see big difference between the two: both being honest.

  7. I unerstand ya Olga.

    Wanna dive deeper?

    What can you share that is scary? Something that is disappointing to the mainstream, offensive, or embarrassing?

    The asshole is just a category. Some people can benefit. It matters not to me. I might need your category of honesty. One that OTHER people might find offensive and “wrong.”

    But it might help me and 100 others.

    Anything to share? I will show you mine if you show me yours.

  8. Seth:

    Q: Is there a transcript of his talk?

    BTW, couldn’t help thinking of this routine by Bill Cosby:
    I said to a guy, “Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful,” and he said, “Because it intensifies your personality.” I said, “Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?”

  9. I am so bored by the “Olgas” of the world and their blithering hatred of anything male.

    And I am disgusted that these liars have cowed 99% of our society with their moronic, libelous shrieking.

    And I am delighted that the AHS is in the 1%.

    It makes sense that AHS would be. But God damn, it’s a delightful surprise, nonetheless.

    And even though most of the people blogging about TM have written about being “surprised” about his acquitting himself well — I think they’re lying, too. Even John Durant — he’s LYING. I think Durant KNEW Tucker Max would take his AHS slot seriously and KNEW Max would do a good job. But Durant is PRETENDING that this surprised him — because for Durant to acknowledge that he expected an intelligent, interesting talk from TM might cause others to think that Durant holds the “wrong” opinion about TM in other areas.

    Lying is so fucking endemic in our culture that people don’t even know when they’re lying any more.

  10. Jscott: I am not really following your thoughts here. Why is honesty associated with offensive and ‘wrong’?
    I would agree that admitting that one is wrong is honesty. But I don’t see it here. Bragging of insulting other people is not. Using other people for advantages of one person without regard for other people feelings is not. Again, an asshole is just an asshole. There is nothing really heroic about it.

    Tom: I do not have blithering hatred of anything male. An asshole can be a female. It is just a category. I just don’t see anything heroic to be proud to be an asshole. On some level, it simply assumes that everybody around is an asshole – just uncertain about it.
    However, I do wonder why you consider somebody’s bragging of using, humiliating, and degrading other people as highest standard of honesty. Or is this so difficult for you to accept that women are human too?

  11. I think this blog post misses the point entirely. Written from a male, privileged perspective, its easy (but disappointing) to see why.

    Max is consistently celebrated as a, bold, ballsy, writer who isn’t afraid to speak truth.

    Fine.

    But, I think it’s dangerous to ignore his content. How he treats women, how they (at times) allow themselves to be treated, and how he takes advantage of them (or situations) when they’re intoxicated – isn’t bold, new and different. It’s actually cowardly, old and extremely common.

    A majority (not all) of women are deeply offended and emotionally affected by his writing. Personally, I think exploring “why” is far more interesting than Tucker Max himself. There’s nothing, at all, new about him.

  12. “Olga”
    It seems that T.Max might be blinding you from Seth’s point. You do not like that he is not contrite and that he is elevated because of his antics. Fine.
    The highest form of honesty comes when dealing with myself. The inner world. You are associating things with me I did not say. So, fine Tucker has been a bad bad boy.

    Now what?

    We could have been talking about individuality and fear and why so many of us stay in the middle of the back instead of doing something great or at least something real.

    This, at least for me, started once I was able to express myself without protection of anonymity. To be able to take criticism and to deal with me while leaving the judgement of the world at large alone. You know, a Buddhist or Gandhi type of thing. Awake to awaken others or be the change you want to see in the world blah blah.

    Now, back to fear and individuality…

  13. “Olga”
    It seems that T.Max might be blinding you from Seth’s point. You do not like that Max is not contrite and that he is elevated because of his antics. Fine.

    The highest form of honesty comes when dealing with myself. The inner world. You are associating things with me I did not say. So, fine Tucker has been a bad bad boy.

    Now what?

    We could have been talking about individuality and fear and why so many of us stay in the middle of the pack instead of doing something great or at least something real.

    This, at least for me, started once I was able to express myself without protection of anonymity. To be able to take criticism and to deal with me while leaving the judgement of the world at large alone. You know, a Buddhist or Gandhi type of thing. Awake to awaken others or be the change you want to see in the world blah blah.

    Now, back to fear and individuality…

  14. Jscott: You are right, I have deviated from the bigger point in this discussion about individuality and Seth’s remarks on the importance of being different and unique. I got caught up in the example of an individual instead of the main point itself because I do not think that it is a good example. I disagree with Seth that the speaker is being respected for telling the truth. I think that it is exactly because of his drunken stories.

    Trying to change the world to be a better place, Gandhi style, takes courage and guts. Being a proud asshole, praised for ‘individuality’, does not. There is not much individuality in being an asshole. Being individual is much more than that. And by the way, both Buddhist philosophers and Gandhi emphasized not using other people.

    I guess I got diverted because I really like the main about individuality, but I do not like the example lacking it.

  15. You got diverted because you only like individuality that conforms to your beliefs. ie, you despise individuality.

    TM outrages you because he gets how irrelevant non-individuals like you are and acts according to it. That courage, plus hard work and tremendous intelligence, have given him more of a platform than you’ll ever have. Despite (actually because of) the fact that you only ever say the “right” things.

    You flatter yourself that you’re striking a blow for something. But you’re just being predictable, common and snotty. Even after a talk universally regarded as one of the most interesting at AHS, you’re lobbying for him to be silenced in the future.

    That makes you the asshole.

    Parrotting PC contempt counts for nothing. Multiply you by ten million, the product is still nothing.

  16. i don’t see why womanizing and acting like an asshole is a mark of individualism. in the society i was brought up in, it’s just a sign of lack of respect for other people. can someone enlighten me in this?

    for instance, can you tell me, does he like women that match society’s ideal sense of beauty or does he make up his own mind about this?

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