Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical. Having strong critical skills shows that you will not be easily fooled. It is a sign of sophistication, especially when coupled with an acknowledgment of one’s own “privilege.”… But this ability will not take you very far beyond the university. Taking things apart, or taking people down, can provide the satisfactions of cynicism. But this is thin gruel.
The skill at unmasking error, or simple intellectual one-upmanship, is not totally without value, but we should be wary of creating a class of self-satisfied debunkers
Read this and pass it along to every college student and every parent of a college student you know, then revisit Daniel Dennett on how to criticize with kindness and argue intelligently.
As I’ve written before, ours is a culture where it’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. But, in the end, Vonnegut put it best.
It seems that con artists, for all their vices, represent many of the virtues that Americans aspire to. Con artists are independent and typically self-made. They don’t have to kowtow to a boss—no small thing in a country in which people have always longed to strike out on their own. They succeed or fail based on their wits. They exemplify, in short, the complicated nature of American capitalism, which, as McDougall argues, has depended on people being hustlers in both the positive and the negative sense. The American economy wasn’t built just on good ideas and hard work. It was also built on hope and hype.
Of course, the fundamental difference between entrepreneurs and con artists is that con artists ultimately know that the fantasies they’re selling are lies. Steve Jobs, often enough, could make those fantasies come true. Still, that unquantifiable mélange of risk, hope, and hype provides both the capitalist’s formula for transforming the world and the con artist’s stratagem for turning your money into his money. Maybe there’s a reason we talk about the American Dream.
The New Yorker's James Surowiecki on what entrepreneurs and con artists have in common.
Surowiecki is the author of the indispensable The Wisdom of Crowds.
For those of you in New York City, here’s a sneak peek at the limited-editon MDB calendar that will be on sale at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, Thursday at 7pm as a part of Tumblr Prep! All proceeds from the sale of the calendar will go directly to Housing Works.
You may notice it’s a dual 1863 and 2013 calendar—that’s so you can coordinate your schedule with your Daguerreotype BF when he’s off fighting at Gettysburg. On the reverse side are letters from Civil War soldiers to their ladies at home.