April 27, 2014
I could work for a Curmudgeon. I do not think I am actually one myself, though I do have some curmudgeonly qualities. All the same, I did enjoy Charles Murray's The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life Being betwixt the curmudgeon and the go getter, I can sit back and enjoy his life's suggestions as a spectator (though there is probably some good advise about not using "betwixt...") I mentioned that today's Review Corner would address income inequality. Let's fire the big guns.
Here's the secret you should remember whenever you hear someone lamenting how tough it is to get ahead in the postindustrial global economy: Few people work nearly as hard as they could. The few who do have it made.I'm not one to write off the millennials as slackers; I know too many of tem that are hard-working and ambitious. But they have been a ill-served by many of their teachers and parents. Not everybody gets a trophy when you leave school. Those who are prepared to look for the field in which they can compete and toil to get the trophy will thrive even in the Obama economy An improving, dynamic and growing economy will always provide greater opportunity for the talented, intelligent and hard-working. That will distance them from those who lack those traits. Instead of government solutions, the career tips in Murray's book would go a lot further (not farther, Charles, I'm in) to keep up. The book provides a reality check, plus some great practical advice. Your pedantic blog brother could not keep up with his writing and grammar. He provides a page of "know the difference between these words." I hope he is grading on a (Bell) Curve because they were difficult -- and I'm giving myself full credit for further/farther. Here's a random tasting:
Which one do you use for "give up in abject humiliation," Charles? The target is a young person just starting in the workplace. As it is AEI, writing is emphasized. The entire project started out as a web reference for new hires and interns to check for writing and style questions -- he added the body-piercing bits to fill it out to book length. Curmudgeons are key players in meritocracy and one suspects Murray may be the "Devil Wears Prada" of AEI:
Furthermore, you should keep in mind that the people who are most likely to recognize superior performance are successful curmudgeons. Suppose you are stuck with a job as an administrative assistant and want to break out into a managerial career track. If that's your ambition, you don't want to be assigned to a friendly, sympathetic boss who forgives his assistant's mistakes. You want to be assigned to a successful curmudgeon, the more demanding the better. He is more likely to have a gimlet eye for mistakes --and by the same token is more likely to notice when they don't occur. Being successful himself, he is likely to be in love with excellent performance and to be impressed when he detects it.The part of the book that is career advice I figured out most on my own, and am too late for the rest. But there is a considerable emphasis on happiness or a life well lived.
You don't need to be an Aristotelian to be good. For two millennia, the world's other most influential ethical system was Confucianism. The central virtue in Confucianism is ren, the summation of all subsidiary virtues. Ren translates as humaneness or benevolence, but the Confucian conception of ren is richer than either word conveys. Ren incorporates the idea of reciprocity (a form of the Golden Rule), which overlaps with Aristotle's concept of justice. Ren incorporates courage. Confucianism is emphatic about the need for temperance.As long as it does not apply to coffee, I could try me some temperance. You get the idea. It's an engaging and interesting book of practical advice.
In any case, I'm not discouraging you from going for the big bucks and the spotlight. I wish you luck. But suppose you arrive at age forty and you enjoy your work, have found your soul mate, and are raising a couple of terrific kids, but must recognize that you will probably never become either rich or famous. At that point, it's important to supplement your youthful ambition with mature understanding. That's where the clichés come in-- the ones about money not buying happiness and fame being empty.And a last one, I may not be too old for. Murray channels somebody else I know:
Taking religion seriously means homework. If you're waiting for a road-to-Damascus experience, you're kidding yourself. Taking one of the great religions seriously, getting inside its rich body of thought, doesn't happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets, and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree. Even dabbling at the edges has demonstrated the truth of that statement to me for Judaism, Buddhism, and Taoism. I assume it's true of Islam and Hinduism as well. In the case of Christianity, with which I'm most familiar, the church has produced profound religious thinkers for two thousand years. You don't have to go back to Thomas Aquinas (though that wouldn't be a bad idea). Just the last century has produced excellent and accessible work. But whomever you read, Christianity considered seriously bears little resemblance to your Sunday school lessons. You've got to grapple with the real thing.Sounds like work. I'll give the book four fulsome (or does he mean emphatic?) stars and a hearty recommendation.
UPDATE: Murray is interviewed by Marry Kissel at OpinionJournal. The second section is about this book. Review Corner Posted by John Kranz at April 27, 2014 11:47 AM