Essay

The Rise of Digital Hipsterism

By Eric Schiller on July 25th, 2011
Bengal Tiger Cub at the Cougar Mountain Zoo

I attended a small liberal arts college that had a strong hippy bent.  I would often encounter freshman or sophomore guys at parties who wanted to tell me all about the ‘revolution’ that they were were a part of or planning.   It seemed that they read the first half of the communist manifesto, attached it to some kind of organic farming bent, and then watched the film “Zeitgeist.”  Not long after they discovering “Zeitgeist” they could be found running around at parties trying to change the world, blindly threatening violence against the “status quo” with protests and false threats of violence against corporations and religion. After running into a few of these guys I started calling them “college revolutionaries.”  Having read a substantial bit of Marx, Gramsci, and so on, I often argued that it was time to hit the books instead of the riot gear.  Unsurprisingly, they often tried to fight me physically instead of verbally.

This anger isn’t restricted to liberal college students who read half of a blood stained Marx essay, it can be seen all over the United States since the so-called ‘economic collapse’ of 2008.  The quarter life crisis has become the norm, and millions of college students graduate every year to dead-end jobs and little hope of long term success.  This has sparked nihilistic twenty-something cultures of coffee fueled inquiries into novelty and an embodied sense of postmodern murkiness.  Digital hipsterati have proclaimed themselves liberated of the status quo and free to pen the neo-manifesto’s of the cybernetic age without concern for whose work they bastardizing or the rhetorical traps in which they are ensnared.  I will term these self aggrandizing rebranded self-help digital hipsters ‘dipsters’ throughout this essay.

Misunderstanding paradigms and texts are the norm, as dipsters are not concerned with understanding the texts they are building on, or citing them. Dipsters are only interested in creating writing that merely has the appearance of intelligence and depth.  Dipsters are often found constantly masturbating to inspirational TED Talks, content to be inspired by the future but not actively involved in its creation.  Dipsters are potent generalists, often directing this energy at the creation of short flamboyant PDF documents they call “ebooks.”  The intellectual task of reviewing literature, understanding the texts, and then synthesizing them into new ideas is lost on them, the only task that matters is putting their own unique paradigm out there for other dipsters to read in implied great acclaim.  Digital hipsterism is purely anti-intellectual. Depth of research and well reasoned arguments are not valued, but merely the appearance of depth is regarded as the ideal.  Criticism is dismissed by way of suggesting that the criticizer is ‘just being negative,’ that they should go and do something else ‘useful’ by creating a movement of their own, or that they simply aren’t sophisticated enough to understand the new paradigm being created.

A perfect example of a digital hipsterati manifesto is “How To Be ExPoMod” by Drew Jacob.  Jacob argues that there have been “changes in technology, art, the economy, and what people want in life” that are enough to “establish a new zeitgiest” and “a new paradigm.”  In order to rhetorically establish this new paradigm, Jacob has taken it upon himself to single handedly declare postmodernism dead.  In a completely fallacious appeal to popularity Jacob begins his post: “It’s an open secret that postmodernism is dead. Most people say “dying,” out of respect for the old king. But the position is vacant.”  Funny, nobody informed the critical theorists of this so called “open secret.”

Jacob calls his new paradigm “expostmodernism”, and suggests that it is descendant from the enlightenment, modernism, and finally postmodernism.  Like many freshman English and Philosophy students, Jacob has taken it upon himself to once and for all create a response to the postmodern problem without reading nearly enough of the bounty of available literature.  I must admit, I myself have skated across this cliche in my early studies of rhetoric and poststructural theory, but I was fortunate to be steered by a wise advisor to foundational poststructural texts from minds such as Lyotard, Baudrillard, Foucault, and Derrida, and I had the foresight to settle down my academic horses realizing that I was being fucking stupid.

Jacob describes postmodernism as set a attitudes: relativism, cynicism, and alienation.    Missing the massive elephant in the room, he passes over the vast philosophical insights of poststructuralism, and blindly assumes that postmoderinity’s reign is dictated by it’s influence on the attitudes feelings of the people at large.  The fact that he believes that the validity of postmodernism pivots around the attitudes of the people is the primary problems of his analysis.  He argues that the main shift centers around what youth chose to do: “In popular narrative this led to an iconic lifestyle arc: the youth who is rebellious and individualistic, but eventually settles down, gets a job, and does what society expects.

“The new narrative is a radically different arc: the individual who was settled, had a job, and realizes they can leave it behind to follow their passion—successfully.”  In most pathetic form, Jacob presents the successor to postmodernism as lifestyle design.  He supports this by suggesting that people are now able to receive “satisfaction” in more ways than ever because of increased availability of choices and that this increased “satisfaction” is the replacement for postmodern alienation.

Laypeople mistakenly think that postmodernism requires an additional post at it’s bow because of their fundamental misunderstanding of what poststructuralism is, and how subjectivity functions.  Poststructuralism suggests that is there is no Truth with a capital T, in the sense that there is no way to accurately ascertain what it is, and even which it is.  Foucault often wrote about access to truth as if it were layers of an infinite onion.  The sophomoric mistake is to take subjective truth as a detriment, as alienation, or a problem.  Jacob has done exactly this.

The deliciously ironic twist in Jabob’s essay is that without realizing it, he has written a postmodern critique of modernism.  His “proof” for “expostmodernism” all center around decentralized power, the ability of the individual to choose what’s best for them, and the notion that the artist is the true “cutting edge” of society.  These themes are decidedly postmodern, and in the end his “expostmodernism” means exactly nothing. Furthermore, Jacob’s underlying thesis is that lifestyle design is the way of the future, however lifestyle design itself is the same old capitalistic story of an individual picking themselves up by their boostraps and living their way in the world, and shaping it in their own image.  Thus Jacob’s essay awkwardly walks the divide between the subjectivity of postmodernity and the patriarchal individualism of modernity under the guise of being new and progressive.  Ultimately suggesting that lifestyle design is the response to postmodernism is a pathetically uninformed thesis that even a freshman English student should be embarrassed of.

Jacob’s essay fits very neatly in to the dipster ethos by presenting a seemingly inspired piece that in fact has no depth or inertia whatsoever.  The dipster anti-intellectual elite is a growing cancerous mass in the online sphere.  They call themselves lifestyle designers,  revolutionaries, non-conformists, unconventionals, connectors, and world dominators.  Their obsessive writings about pointless self-help drivel and pick yourself by your bootstraps capitalism claims to be a new digital revolution of freedom for the world’s working class, but the reality is they are only supporting and strengthening the capitalistic and social status quo by means of very public masturbation.

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80 Responses to “The Rise of Digital Hipsterism”

  1. Evan says:

    Hi Eric, I agree with your critique of the essay. The latest incarnation of capitalism in life style design is as you say nothing new.

    However I find postmodernism (post-structuralism isn't quite the same) to be incoherent. Eg the common post-modern assertion, "Poststructuralism suggests that is there is no Truth with a capital T, in the sense that there is no way to accurately ascertain what it is, and even which it is. " sounds an awful lot like a truth claim to me.

    I don't think the philosophical insights of post-structuralism are vast. Most of them are already in Nietzsche, and you don't say what they are or go on to state their significance or demonstrate their validity. This too is sophomoric.

    Drew isn't the only person to think that postmodernism is dead – in some parts of academia this is basically a cliche now. I, for one, hope they are right but fear there is much more of it to be endured.
    My recent post Speaking Our Truth and Caring About Others Part 3 of 4

    • EricSchiller says:

      Evan, it is not the point of this essay to deeply explore poststructuralism. It is not sophomoric, but a matter of scope (you should probably look up what it means to be sophomoric philosophically). If you think Nietzsche created most of poststructuralism, then going deeper into the subject will do nothing for you anyway. You take the same sophomoric and fallacious appeal to popularity stance as Jacob by claiming it's "basically a cliche now," these types of arguments are futile, and disappointing at best.

      • Evan says:

        So you not writing about post-structuralism means you can dismiss my view of it. Don't see that as much of an argument Eric.

        From Dictionary.com "soph·o·mor·ic   
        [sof-uh-mawr-ik, -mor-] Show IPA
        –adjective
        1.
        of or pertaining to a sophomore or sophomores.
        2. suggestive of or resembling the traditional sophomore; intellectually pretentious, overconfident, conceited, etc., but immature: sophomoric questions."

        I don't see how your dismissing of my position (without argument) will lead to a productive argument.
        My recent post Speaking Our Truth and Caring About Others Part 3 of 4

        • EricSchiller says:

          Evan,

          You claimed that most of poststructuralism was mostly created by Nietzsche, that the work of poststructuralists isn't compelling, and used the fallacy of appealing to popularity in claiming that post-modernism/structuralism is "basically a cliche."

          I'm having trouble understanding what your argument is? You claim that you want to have a productive argument, but so far all you've brought to the table is fallacy, ad hominem attacks in the form of calling me a sophomore without support other than a poorly cited dictionary definition, and loose unsupported generalizations about poststructuralism.

          Duff and I have both have had futile discussions with you in the past regarding subjectivity and related topics, it is clear that much of your writing is based on the notion of personal authenticity. It should be clear by now that this blog is founded on notions of loose subjectivity and the ability to see things in variety of compatible perspectives.

          Finally, this post is not about arguing about the validity of poststructuralism, and I will not continue this discussion with you if you insist on focusing on it.

          • Evan says:

            Fair enough. It seems to me that digital hipsterism needs to be replaced with authenticity. I have no problem with enquiry.

            I think capitalism requires and creates inauthenticity – persons being asked to fit structures that they had no part in negotiating and so on. Lifestyle design thinks it is creating a better world but my conviction is that it is perpetuating the current inequities and disasters.

          • For what it's worth, Evan is clearly living a notion of personal authenticity in that he communicates his perspective regardless of whether it agrees or disagrees with what is written. Also, I'm not sure I entirely occupy a perspective of "loose subjectivity"! Perhaps my perspective is more obvious to others than myself, but I have a difficult time clearly seeing my own biases and point of view.

            As far as this article goes, I think it was great. :) The dipster phenomenon is disturbing in its anti-intellectual rhetorical force.

          • EricSchiller says:

            Well, "looser". I'll try not to speak for you next time :-P .

          • Well, I certainly have critiqued the idea of authenticity here, so looser fits. :)

    • I think stating "postmodernism is dead" is different than addressing specific claims from postmodernist thought (which is not homogenous and can thus appear incoherent). For instance, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson attempt to refute some postmodern claims as well as some modern claims about the nature of mind and language in their book Philosophy in the Flesh, an accessible academic work from cognitive science. But they don't make more generic claims like "postmodernism is dead," nor do they attempt to answer all the claims of the various postmodern thinkers or continental philosophers which would be a monumental undertaking.

  2. @GregLinster says:

    Nice piece, Eric! It sounds like penning manifestos has merely become the latest marketing ploy.

    When you think about it, lifestyle design is built on a pyramid scheme; in order to make money writing about it, you have to be able to develop a following and convince others that you're an authoritative expert on the subject. The problem is that you don't actually have to be an expert, you only have to appear to be one. I'm all for people starting legitimate businesses and living life however they want to live it so long as they're being ethical about it.

    I often wonder, however, how some people who haven't actually done anything, or started a business, have been able to rise to the top and take themselves seriously as experts. Ultimately it seems like a game of sycophancy to me.

    I would add that the word "philosopher" is often frequently abused by the dipsters. It's a lot easier to call oneself a philosopher than it is to actually be one.

    • LucyMontrose says:

      A cult of personality is what pyramid scheming (and lifestyle design, therefore) is all about. No wonder there's so much emphasis on building your charisma and personal mysticism; businesses modeled after pyramid schemes demand these traits for their very lifeblood. It would be funny if our whole friggin' economy hadn't become so much like this. And so you have everybody obsessively marketing themselves, referring to themselves as "priests of many gods" and in general making huge narcissists of themselves, because selling yourself as the bestest product in the whole wide world has become the coin of the realm. And I think our economy and society have suffered for it.

  3. RufusOpus says:

    I prefer being a rhetoricist to being a philosopher. You're not constrained by the boundaries of truth.
    My recent post Discussions on Y so Srs

  4. EricSchiller says:

    I just spent the last hour clearing out a virus that somehow infected our installation of WordPress. If any comments are missing or you experienced the site being completely gone, that is why.

  5. Felix says:

    Digital hipsterism seems to be just narcissism in its most modern form. Someone with little more to offer but a high level of self-importance and a free blogger account presents himself as the new messiah. Narcissists just found a new medium to get their kicks.
    I like the term dipster. Mostly because it implies that reading their garbage ebook-manifestos can now be called dipster-diving. :-)

  6. LucyMontrose says:

    The sophomoric mistake is to take subjective truth as a detriment, as alienation, or a problem.

    Well… I'm not sure you can blame Drew or other 20-somethings for having a problem with subjective truth. For HR managers have been making our lives miserable for a while now, keeping us from getting jobs just by exercising their subjective truths. Ditto for romantic prospects who reject us; it's not hard to see how subjectivity can become the enemy ;-)

    And am I the only one who kept thinking, "Drew Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt?" ;-)

    My recent post Sexy people bring in more Benjamins… even in high school sports.

  7. LucyMontrose says:

    Dipsters are only interested in creating writing that merely has the appearance of intelligence and depth.

    If only they knew that crafting an appearance can take just as much work as actually cultivating intelligence and depth. And that it helps to have a lot of dough in doing so… which is not something that is supposed to have anything to do with intelligence.
    Deluded into thinking they're nonconformist is right: what could be more conformist than buying into and perpetuating a system that rewards those with more privilege? Going further than that, even; implying that people with more money have more capacity for revolutionary thinking? Marx would spin in his grave.

    • EricSchiller says:

      They definitely think that having more money means they have more revolutionary capability. Another dipster, Jonathan "Mead" Nasman has rattled on for years about his "revolution." The revolution? Working for yourself by joining the self help blogging pyramid scheme. One of his former compatriots named Clay Collins used to give 'hearfelt' talks about how his business was designed to help people here and in third world countries. These days he has become a full blown internet marketing scam artist.

      So it goes…

      • LucyMontrose says:

        I wholeheartedly agree that we should increase the number of people in small businesses. They are the most reliable, steady producers of wealth out there, and were instrumental in Argentina's recovering from their economic collapse in less than a decade. What they don't do is bring insane profits on a quarterly basis, though; so I guess they hold no interest to these get-rich-quick types.

        We really don't need any more MLM-type businesses, and we especially don't need them being the bulk of small-business job creation. Not only are they an unsustainable business model, but they might sour people on self-employment– thinking that only that kind of person, a Clay Collins type of person, can succeed at it… and who can, or even wants to, be that kind of person?

        Better to look to the local-business movement and books like The Small-Mart Revolution for inspiration.

      • You know, I am glad to see this today, because if we are talking about the same Jonathan Mead, I was on his teleseminar last night and he was making an offer for a marketing program, and I almost went for it but then I checked in with my intuition – this may sound weird, but one of the things I do is not only check in with my own body, but also put my awareness inside the other person's body – yes, I imagine them even if it's someone on the Internet I'm talking to far away – and I got a really angry, manipulative energy, I was "turned off" to say the least….
        My recent post Unsolicited Advice

        • ….and then he says you only get the bonuses if you sign up during the call, because he wants to "reward people who take action" and at that point the turnoff was complete.

          I actually think some of his blog posts convey a fairly high level of understanding about personal growth, and sound to me like he's done the work, so I am wondering if this may be a new level of sophistication….draw people in with quality blog content, but then give them the same old scam…
          My recent post Unsolicited Advice

          • Scamtastic ur-guru Tony Robbins is the king of this kind of scarcity marketing. I will no longer buy from anyone who uses such tactics. Note that impulsivity is not exactly a "success strategy"!

            Good on you for listening to your intuition. In NLP that technique you used we call "taking 2nd/other position," i.e. using your imagination to step into the other person's shoes.

          • Haha "ur-guru"!

            Intuition, yes I did, but I'm not saying I haven't been sucked in by gurus in the past. That was part of it too, I felt like I had seen this pattern before, where I start feeling that by taking this risk (to purchase the seminar) I am honestly doing something good for myself, taking positive steps to change my life.

            I believe that scammers exploit this.

            My recent post A couple of inspiring articles

          • Yea, that's how I learned too, specifically by being gullible enough to follow Tony Robbins.

            Scammers explicitly exploit this, often saying things exactly like "by taking this risk, you are doing something good for yourself" and even the opposite "if you don't take this risk, that's just your limited beliefs that will keep you poor and lonely forever."

        • EricSchiller says:

          Yes, we are talking about the same Jonathan Mead. His actual last name is Nasman, but his uhh internet name is just Jonathan Mead (which is his middle name). He is a very crafty and manipulative internet marketer. His blog is called Illuminated Mind because he originally started blogging about psudeo Buddhist self-help spirituality, and then later moved on to internet marketing and selling yourself through social media because he found that taking on Buddhism wasn't working so well (early on he declared himself enlightnened, and then attempted to use it to sell self help products).

          They seem so nice, so dedicated to helping you, but the reality is that they have no real skills other than conning you into buying their programs. The skills you will learn from them will only teach you how to con others too. It is effectively a pyramid scheme.

          If you ever want more info on anybody else, feel free to drop us an email through the contact form.

  8. Eric Normand says:

    Now everyone can be a publisher. Everyone can find a little corner of the internet where he/she sounds smarter than everyone else. It's easier to read some bullet-point manifesto than it is to read Marx in the original. It's easier to write some BS manifesto than it is to contribute to philosophy.

    That's why we find these things. It's just easier. I don't think there is a solution to this. It's not a new problem–just a new manifestation.

    But thankfully, the same tools are available to everyone. While it's easier now to find drivel, it's also easier to find intelligent and thoughtful pieces.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    • LucyMontrose says:

      It's easier to write some BS manifesto than it is to contribute to philosophy.

      The dipsters think that writing their BS manifestos IS contributing to philosophy.

  9. NellaLou says:

    This lifestyle design movement represents a kind of niche capitalism that seems to relish and thrive on it's own ability to broadcast from the viewpoint of a connoisseur. Another w(h)ine club for the bourgeois palate. Bit of a closed circle.

    Radicalism requires a deep examination of total context not a rearrangement of furniture. The Titanic deck chairs and all that.

  10. Dipsters! I got a genuine chuckle out of that one.

    There are some insightful points here, especially about the appearance of intelligence and depth. I’ve lost count of the amount of times it’s been highlighted to me how clever certain dipster communities are when they are, as you say, profoundly anti-intellectual (and not even having the tools at hand to realize this fact).

    I find the real challenge is not to identify this fact but to counter it with “I don’t know” statements. I’ve been consciously working on this issue when people ask me questions I’m not confident about: instead of giving the impression of an intelligent response (which is quite easy), I’ve started saying “I don’t really know”. This causes me some anxiety, as I want to give the impression of knowing what I’m talking about, but I’m more interested in cutting through the kind of BS you mention with a form of radical transparency. I think the vulnerability of publicly not knowing is possible one of the only honest signs of intelligence there is.

    • Hmm, I like that. I'll add a second thing, which is to be open to genuinely changing one's mind on a subject in the moment of discussing it with someone.

    • EricSchiller says:

      Thanks for coming by Joseph. The biggest criticism of Beyond Growth by far is that we almost never offer solutions to problems. If I target scammy bloggers, people want a profitable alternative to being a scammy blogger and so on. The problem is that the solution means quitting being a blogger for profit, or spending a great deal of time actually writing meaningful content. Obviously these options are not very attractive.

      I often write from the perspective of trying to 'wake people up' from the bullshit of anti-intellectual communities. While this isn't so effective, I have over the years seen backlash in the communities to aspects of them that we brought up in posts.

      So yes, other than criticizing, I don't really know. It is interesting that some have tried to target the poststructural parts of this essay, I'm neither here nor there, the problem that I have is when people attempt to critique or expand fields or ideas without doing their own due diligence.

      • LucyMontrose says:

        The problem is, how do you know you're actually writing meaningful content… especially if the feedback you get from others is misleading? Both positive and negative feedback can be colored by the person's impression of you, or what they think you can do for them, and not what you're writing.
        And the world is full of people who believe wholeheartedly in the soundness of what they write and think, and are still wrong. Even those people who have a pretty well-developed intuitive and intellectual filtering system inside themselves, can be wrong if they miss a few key points or details.

        • EricSchiller says:

          I think three parts are necesssary to know that your content or thought is 'meaningful':
          1. You are well read on your subject
          2. Use logical reasoning as a guide
          3. Have group of intelligent people to bounce your ideas off of
          4. Strongly self criticize your own ideas.

          Unfortunately, these are the exact sins of the dipsters. They are not well read, they don't use logical reasoning, they bounce ideas off of an echo-chamber, and they are not self criticizing.

      • I offer solutions to problems sometimes! :) But I don't think offering solutions is always necessary. Seeking immediate solutions shows a kind of impatience to dealing with the real problems, and the kind of personal growth I'm interested in is the kind where we sit with the problems, pondering them, questioning their root causes, and being willing to suffer in the space between solutions.

    • LucyMontrose says:

      Uh-oh. So my suspicions are true: when I ask someone else a question and they tell me they don't know, they could be saying it merely to express their discomfort with the question (or even with me). So I guess if I really want the answer I'm looking for, I need to change my approach…

  11. bayouborne says:

    Let's hope Digital hipsterism doesn't always go hand-in-hand with illegible type sensibilities..

  12. Chris Haseman says:

    While I agree with your analysis of digital hipsterism as something that needs to die a horrible death, but I take issue with your tone.
    As you yourself stated, we all go through the 'nothing is real, nothing can be proven, postmodernism is nihilistic' phase during the early days in our philosophical study. But, as you say, we are guided through this time by our betters.
    It is satisfying to smash idiots into the ground and, let's be clear, you've done a fantastic job of it in this post. But I'd argue that this practice is both short-sighted and petty. By labeling these people as 'digital hipsters' and dismissing their thinking as juvenile and simplistic (which, right now, it probably is) you alienate the very audience who probably needs your help the most.
    I can't help but walk away from this article with the thought that you've only succeeded in proving yourself a bigger hipster than the author who's writing you've taken on.

    Respectfully,
    Chris

    • EricSchiller says:

      Hi Chris, thanks for the rhetorical analysis. Based on the issues you've brought up, I'm willing to bet that you came here from HN. I made a few tweets last night that highlighted those criticisms: https://skitch.com/ericschiller/fck9s/eric-schill…

      This article is written in the style of cultural criticism. Cultural criticism isn't usually intended to be direct attack against a culture target, but a discourse between like minds. I've often found that the business hacker news types have no idea what to do with this, and find it to be very much masturbation and pointless. In the past, I have written articles more targeted directly to lifestyle design bloggers, which were received widely. The lifestyle designers thought my ideas regarding bringing more more criticism and thought into the culture were great, but they immediately then went back to scamming and building their cults. There is a strong culture in place here, and unless you are raving about how amazing blogging and affiliate marketing is, it's difficult to make a dent.

      I did consider that some would take this article as an inflation of my ego and a 'taking back' of intellectual ideas from the anti-intellectuals. This was not directly my intention, but it does seem to be a byproduct of the essay. Intellectualism has always been very elitist, but it is only recently with the rise blogging and other mediums have we found that the anti-intellectuals are elitist too.

      But you might be right, my method could just be futile. One thing that self help bloggers often do is to 'translate' philosophy to laypeople. Perhaps consider this post to be more on the level of philosophy. Someone else will have to come along and write the translation for the laypeople.

      • Chris Haseman says:

        While I did come here from HN, I don't agree with any of the criticisms you responded to in your twitter messages. (I too went to a small liberal arts college and got a degree in both computer science and philosophy)

        There's an element of masturbation to any philosophical text from Palto to Heidegger (honestly, who does lectures on 'thinking about thinking') and you're right, business, and even some engineers, don't usually understand the 'use' of this kind of writing. Expecting direct practical application (read: usefulness) from philosophy is like expecting gold to leap out at you from a ditch.

        I see what you mean about calling out cultists, and some very tough love is essential to shake up or call out the cults of personality. Given that proving you can out-think a amateur thinker wasn't your stated goal, I'm left wondering exactly what you were trying to do? Perhaps I was distracted by what read like intellectual chest thumping and missed the point.

        On a side note: I criticize your rhetoric only because it was all I could find fault with. I'll admit, with some guilt, that it was a very fun read.

        • EricSchiller says:

          I think the thesis is simple. Demonstrate that lifestyle design and other blogging 'cults' are anti-intellectual, and suggest that the solution to that problem is reading more of the available literature and fostering additional criticism. Perhaps I should have pointed those out in the conclusion.

          The major problem with lifestyle design is that it's followers constantly talk about how much smarter they are than 'normal people' with real jobs and the like, but the reality is that they are nothing more than egotistical scam artists. People are easily caught in this hype, and find themselves staring their own self-help or lifestyle design blogs, thus continuing the cult cycle. I don't think there is anything wrong with giving an intellectual thrashing every now and then. I definitely appreciated my faculty advisors that did it for me.

          I think this essay ended up being a bit front heavy, losing it's focus a bit towards the end. Next time I'll keep an eye on that.

          • I am grateful for the intellectual thrashing (done with kindness from friends) I myself received. A good friend of mine was just the other day recalling our first argument which was from when I was deeply embroiled in a self-help mindset. We were arguing about me wanting to become a millionaire, lol. Thank goodness he and others challenged me on this kind of egotistical crap, and thank goodness I was open to listening.

          • LucyMontrose says:

            I've also noticed that MLM-type businesses are most rampant in right-to-work states. The MLM business model is structured like that of an evangelical church– especially the constant need to recruit and make a fast, intense emotional bond with their "customers".

            This article about Dick DeVos, founder of the prototypical MLM, Amway; shows a neatly fitting, unholy alliance between right-wing politics, evangelical religion, and a business model that foments magical thinking in the name of salesmanship.

  13. "….however lifestyle design itself is the same old capitalistic story of an individual picking themselves up by their boostraps and living their way in the world, and shaping it in their own image."

    Thank you for confirming my suspicions!! Something that I think is a pivotal question to ask yourself is, "A social trend is occuring (in this case, no more job security). Is this person who's trying to sell me something questioning the implications of the trend, or are they running after the trend desperately trying to keep up with it (and possibly framing that as "progressive")? Lifestyle design definitely falls into the latter to me.
    My recent post Whose “success language” are you using?

  14. Maus says:

    Long time lurker, first time poster. I've really enjoyed the ethos of this blog. I tried to post this a couple days ago, but had problems with the conneciton timing out…

    Rhetoricians in the 80s loved post-structuralism because it put paid to the absolutism birthed by Plato. I was fed a steady diet of Barthes and Derrida and Foucoult, whilst being urged continuously to disparage my beloved Aristotle. The fact remains that in the aftermath of postmodernism truth statements cannot be ultimately grounded and become nothing more than dogmatic pronouncments (even this one). Dogma implies faith, which requires belief rather than the assent of reason. Rhetoric was disparaged in the 17th and 18th centuries as nothing more than an adjunct to flowery speech. But it is hardly more noble now, and discourse can apparently only be evaluated for its aesthetic qualities or entertainment value. All is babble and "de gustibus non disputandem."

    • EricSchiller says:

      Thanks for the comment Maus. I was trained that postmodern rhetoric should be evaluated for how it's audience receives, perceives, and acts upon the message instead of the modernistic intentions of the author. I think rhetorical criticism is a useful tool, however it is mostly imprisoned in academia, and rarely applied elsewhere.

      I think it is a bit of a stretch to claim that postmodern truth values are necessarily dogmatic. It is my understanding that it goes at the underpinnings of belief itself, in as such that when I "believe" something, that very act is repositioned in the semiotic space instead of being thrust into dogma. But perhaps we are saying the same thing.

      • Maus says:

        Yes. Dogmatic was perhaps an infelicitous word choice because of the religious overtones. I'm suggesting that the first principles that ground most postmodern arguments are themselves subjective. I like how you've summarized the evaluative scheme of pomo rhetoric. That is decidely how it was framed when I was getting my degree in the early 80s.

  15. Maus says:

    WRT lifestyle design. It strikes me as nothing more than a digital recapitulation of the old classified ads in magazines promising the secret to making money at home for a $5 submission. Those deluded enough to send their money and a SASE soon received a single sheet document advising them to place a similar ad in another popular magazine. Folly then, folly now.

  16. @32000days says:

    There's a lot of smoke and fire going on around a few very simple questions (online business, internet marketing and sales, lifestyle design, etc).

    Usually, it boils down to something really simple like "how do I create a business to earn a few thousand bucks a month online so I can quit my job, sell all my stuff, and travel perpetually?"

    Sub-questions include
    "How do I build a following and an audience for what I do?"
    "How do I build a distinctive personal brand?"
    "How do I produce and sell online products and services without annoying the audience?"
    "How do I practice affiliate marketing?"
    "What should I do in order to steepen the learning curve for this process?"

    None of this is rocket surgery, but it does require some focus and diligent effort to make it work. It's not like there are university courses or certifications in small-scale online business, so a lot of the education available is self-created (trial and error) or delivered by the early pioneers in this area. Caveat emptor, etc.

    None of this process specifically calls out for philosophy, manifestos, etc. but these kind of founding documents seem to help with the marketing effort and distinguish one offering from another. ("We love A, we hate B.")

    It may be Marketing 101, but creating hype and excitement out there about your brand helps you sell what you've got. And the more people who know what you stand for, the more you can attract your real audience, and push away those who have zero chance of being your audience. (The so-called "One Thousand True Believers" cited by Seth Godin)

    The challenge is that the bar's been raised. No one likes conformity and fear; everyone likes risk, adventure, and adrenaline.

    Frankly, an overly complex philosophy is counterproductive since it's accessible to much fewer people (unless your business model is specifically aimed at elites who view themselves as smarter than other people). Most customers don't care whether your business philosophy is post-modernist, post-structuralist, post-colonial, post-feminist, or Post-It Notes(™) as long as you just give them what they want and expect (plus a little more).

    My recent post The power of minimalism

    • EricSchiller says:

      Jack, I find the over-hyped, over-promising, cult like methods used by these marketers to be very unethical. Jonathan Mead, Chris Guillebeau, and others sell their products as if they were revolutions, but in the end this subverts actual political action. People now cannot tell the difference between a marketing revolution and an actual social revolution. See Glenn Beck if you need more proof.

      I think there is a necessity to separate these bullshit manifestos out. Mead, Guillebeau and others claim to be more enlightened and down to earth than corporate marketing, but they commit the same abuses of trust and manipulation as the powerful corporate entities. Both use pushy newsletters, long form sales letters, high pressure sales calls, censored product reviews, and high social pressure to make their sales.

      I for one was very disappointed in Guillebeau when he went from insightful travel blog to 'make money online and buy my info products' blog, same goes for Leo Babauta.

      • LucyMontrose says:

        My skin crawls when any businessman wants you not just to trust in their product, but to believe in it, as if it's your very ethos. Just like I want to avoid any employer who wants me not just to see my job as a profession, but a mission.

        I think MLM-sterism is yet another symptom, in this context, of our losing the ability to relate to anyone who doesn't resemble us or share our deepest hearts' desire. We want everyone we meet and associate with to be our soul mate. And so a disagreement becomes a betrayal.

      • tankparksalute says:

        I couldn't agree with you more about people like Chris Guillebeau. (Although I do have a copy of one of his 'e-books'. I was weak. I think it was free.) I quickly got very jaded by the whole 'information products' world. I still can't see how it's long-term sustainable. Eventually everyone is going to be selling 'e-books' to everyone else.

        I think it's a symptom of us living in (just to add another mindless cliche to the mix) 'an knowledge economy'. How do we quantify knowledge if, as you point out, there is no one truth? So, as my friend Chase Night laments frequently, affiliate marketing means that 'those at the top' are 'forced' to charge more for their 'labours' because they provide affiliate cuts. It's a massive pyramid scheme.

        On the subversion of political acts point, I wonder if it's not safer in the long run for people to vent in the digital world. At least here, no real damage can be done. I think that is preferable to having them test out half-baked ideas of Marxism (I mean, who even reads whole books anymore? (I haven't read any more than the first page of "Das Kapital")) on the real world.
        My recent post On Creatives, Money and Survival

  17. @32000days says:

    [i]People now cannot tell the difference between a marketing revolution and an actual social revolution. See Glenn Beck if you need more proof.[/i]

    I avoid Glenn Beck, but your point is taken.

    Marketing has long attempted to position products and services in association with radicalism and revolution (e.g. the old "1984" Apple ad, Taco Bell ads from the 90s in a Marxist / Che style http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bv7QtUhHxEg ).

    I don't think anyone's mistaking buying a computer or fast food – or an online course or ebook, for that matter – for a particularly political act. Sellers use this kind of language because it's emotionally persuasive and makes customers feel like they are part of something. As for subverting real political action, no one's who's politically active is going going to quit the DNC or the Tea Party because they bought an ebook on lifestyle or entrepreneurship.

    The question becomes, how does somebody earn a living from a blog [i]without[/i] doing some serious selling? I don't fault entrepreneurs for trying to make money from what they do – as always, it's up to the buyers to make an intelligent decision based on their needs, budgets, and assessment of what's on offer. (Which of course includes cutting through the pitch, sales techniques, and driving forward to the real value proposition, like any smart customer should.)

    My recent post The power of minimalism

    • I don't think anyone's mistaking buying a computer or fast food – or an online course or ebook, for that matter – for a particularly political act. Sellers use this kind of language because it's emotionally persuasive and makes customers feel like they are part of something.

      I think those two sentences together contradict themselves. Here's a related example: nobody believes (rationally) that by purchasing a particular brand of beer advertised with bikini clad young women that they will become more sexually attractive to said women. But they feel like they could so they buy the beer.

      But why do they buy the iPad or the beer? The rhetorical force of the politically- or sexually-charged advertisement does in fact commodify politics or women's bodies, and both are highly problematic.

      • @32000days says:

        I think those two sentences together contradict themselves. Here's a related example: nobody believes (rationally) that by purchasing a particular brand of beer advertised with bikini clad young women that they will become more sexually attractive to said women. But they feel like they could so they buy the beer.

        Yeah, part of it is the fact of advertising operating on the conscious / unconscious mind in different ways.

        Conscious: As a graduate from Vassar in post-cultural Nigerian semiotics I'm far too educated to be swayed by such pre-feminist vulgar imagery. I can't imagine what kind of barbarians would take such things seriously.

        Unconscious: ME WANT BOOBIES HOT LADIES MAKE SEXY TIME WITH ME DRINK FUN GOOD PARTY

        But why do they buy the iPad or the beer? The rhetorical force of the politically- or sexually-charged advertisement does in fact commodify politics or women's bodies, and both are highly problematic.

        I agree that there's some kind of political agenda embedded in most ads, however cynical or meaningless (or commodified). I don't think that people view their purchases as a political act in response to most ads, at least not consciously (unconscious association as mentioned above can be a rather powerful force…). (Although there are explicit exceptions – e.g. where the product donates to a particular cause, Equal Exchange coffee, Credo phone service, organic produce, …)

        I didn't buy and use my MacBook out of some political agenda or desire to "rebel" – I bought it for technical reasons. because I like the user experience of the software and hardware and I prefer to use a platform that offers a Unix command line. (Although some unconscious part of me probably likes the "pose" associated with Apple. That would be more of an aesthetic / style decision rather than a political one.)

        My recent post The power of minimalism

    • I'd also like to add that almost all people I know who sell ebooks on lifestyle design or entrepreneurship have an anti-political stance that lines up with a neoliberal economic and political view. I don't think this is an accident.

    • Hi Jack,

      Thanks for the Twitter follow by the way. I don't understand anyone here to be saying "don't sell". No, it's bigger than that.

      Societal trend occurs (economic downturn, lack of job security, dissatisfaction = UNCERTAINTY, FEAR, BOREDOM)

      Creates opportunity for unscrupulous "leaders" to assuage fear/boredom and gain followers by

      1) Promising not only certainty and personal victory over obstacles, but also an exciting lifestyle

      2) Deliberate bypass of target market's rational thought process to appeal to base desires. Now, you might say to me that one must appeal to the emotions in order to sell. I am undecided whether I would support this in a situation where "the end justifies the means", i.e. use sales tactics to reel them in and then meet or exceed value expectations. However, combined with point 3) below it becomes unethical: (cont'd)

      My recent post A couple of inspiring articles

  18. 3) Deliberate misrepresentation of what value is being offered – also, consequently, gurus can take advantage of cognitive dissonance = people likelier to believe they themselves are flawed for not being able to follow the program, than acknowledging they paid for something with little/no value

    4) Relative rarity of critical debate on popular gurus (takes courage to say "the emperor has no clothes", and some critics may indeed have been shot down, metaphorically, by those who WANT to believe)

    You seem to be claiming that perhaps not the only, but at least the primary, method of regulation here is the onus on the "smart customer" to critically evaluate, and "caveat emptor". Given all of the above, this starts to sound like the schoolyard excuse, "His face shouldn't have been in the way of my fist."
    My recent post A couple of inspiring articles

    • 32000days says:

      @careercreatrix

      [YW re: the twitter follow. I'm a fellow Torontonian btw, though I live mostly in Boston now.]

      Your points 1 and 2 read like a boilerplate description of advertising. Whether pitching a new car, a vacation time share, or an iPad (or an online course, ebook, digital product, etc), most of what advertising and the sales process does is to promote the sizzle, not the steak. Almost any salesman focuses on the excitement, emotional benefits, and positive outcomes of the purchase in order to get the prospect over the like and make the sale. I'm not saying this is right or wrong – just that it is.

      I try to be a skeptic, and assume that without evidence to the contrary, any advertising is simply a game and con intended to separate me from my hard earned dollars.

      As an engineer and scientist by training, I usually prefer to cut past the hype and go to the core of what's really being offered. Since my emotions are as susceptible as anyone else's to a well crafted and persuasive pitch, I like to go past the hype to focus on the tangible facts of the offer. What I feel emotionally about the offer is basically irrelevant.

      Point 3 is a definite problem where it happens. If you're promised X, Y, Z and only get 0.5X and 0.25Z, that's a real disconnect between what's promised and what is actually delivered. I haven't personally had this happen in an online offer, but then, I haven't bought too many such products (most of my consumption of information products has been either the free version or a review copy). In general, I've seen sellers promise money-back guarantees and the like in order to assuage customers' reticence. (Again, though, I've never had to exercise one of those myself.)

      This leads into point 4. Since we're talking

      (1) relatively small investments
      (2) small customer bases (not usually more than 10s, 100s, 1000s …)
      (3) fairly high-touch interactions with solo-entrepreneurs

      criticism and analysis are a lot sparser than they would be for something mass-market like a smartphone or a car. They are also a lot more likely to be experienced personally. Steve Jobs won't lose sleep over one tech journalist saying the iPad sucks. On the other hand, a blog post that so-and-so's ecourse or ebook is no good is almost inevitably going to be interpreted as a personal attack.

      I don't have a solution to point 4 beyond suggesting what you've already done – talk one on one with the seller, talk to existing and past customers, follow your intuition, and self-educate about what you can realistically expect information products and courses to do for you. When you do that, you can find the products that resonate with your needs (if any do) and bypass the ones that don't work for you.

      My recent post The power of minimalism

      • "In general, I've seen sellers promise money-back guarantees and the like in order to assuage customers' reticence. (Again, though, I've never had to exercise one of those myself.) "

        In the case of many popular "make money online" products, refunds are offered but not fulfilled. To quote the Salty Droid http://saltydroid.info/refund-kryptonite/:

        Refunds are like scammer Kryptonite. Symptoms start with diarrhea and frequent sneezing … and end with the scammer on the floor in the fetal position mumbling incoherently about “opportunities and automated incomes” :: They all promise refunds in spite of this danger because people rarely, if ever, request them. People don’t like to admit that they’ve made a mistake … and the scammer spends a good portion of his time bellowing about how only the worst kind of loser bastard gives up and demands a refund.

        The Salty Droid has in fact found that refund rates for many "internet marketing" products are expected—by the sellers—to be 20-30% or more! (Can't find a link right now unfortunately, but he has recorded conversations from some folks doing their calculations for launches including their expected 30%+ refund rates.)

        Also, regarding "(1) relatively small investments," two things:
        a) some, if not many "make money online" and "internet marketing" products are $1000-5000 in price, not exactly a small investment for many people.
        b) even when they are small investments, as in a $14 book like The Four Hour Body, I want to say that scamming a lot of people for $14 vs. a few people for $1000 is still wrong if the information is misleading in some fundamental way.

        • 32000days says:

          [for some reason the email didn't trigger for these responses]

          That sounds like two separate issues.

          (1) If refunds are offered to look good, but aren't actually honored, then that's simply a lie that can be exposed.

          (2) If refund rates are 20-30%, but everyone who seeks a refund receives it, then it sounds like the system's working. Not everything works for everybody – some people take the risk, try something out, decide that the course / system / program doesn't fit their needs, and return it for a refund [*]. I don't see a problem with this.

          I agree that for most, the thousand-dollar scale investments are not small. I was referring mostly to the $10-50 ebook sales. Courses, audio, video, mentoring, etc – these are almost always at a higher price point. At either price point, of course, correctness of the material is key.

          [*] It's like girls with clothes, I've noticed. Guys seem to scope out what they want, buy it, have what they need. Girls buy lots of clothes and then return like 60% of them. I don't get it.
          My recent post The power of minimalism

      • @32000days

        you wrote
        "Almost any salesman focuses on the excitement, emotional benefits, and positive outcomes of the purchase in order to get the prospect over the like and make the sale. I'm not saying this is right or wrong – just that it is. "

        OK, I am going a step further and saying that it is wrong, or at least unethical, and there's a distinction I didn't really spell out here: recognizing someone's problem (that they may suffer emotionally over) and selling them a solution to it, vs. exploiting a vulnerability in order to sell them something that is not only *not* a solution to their problem, it is (as per one of the points in the original essay, which I agree with) selling them quite the opposite, speaking of "revolution", iconoclasm, freedom, non-ordinariness, and what they actually get is PYUBYOB capitalism.
        My recent post Criteria for Evaluating Service Providers

  19. Mark says:

    The internet is rife with opportunities to dismantle thought-frameworks. Most of the money-makers are chic ponzi schemes.

    What value do you see in "beyond growth"? Is there a genre for intelligent public discourse for net writers?

    What's the difference between LD and personal development? In the next post you mention your disbelief in "original sin," and the idea that "we must embrace ourselves." A Calvinist would argue that every damned sperm has evil cells and we are born evil and it's only by grace that we have a chance at moral excellence. Do we embrace the 2-year-old bastid that slaps his sister as part of our shared humanity? If I am inherently evil, I'm able to identify with the serial killer because I'm him. I'm not merely white-knuckling judgement and flaunting tolerance. I am the guy–and I see his sorrow, and it is my sorrow.

    I love where this site is going::::but when you deconstruct DL it makes the reader more likely to fuss about what could be called "pop-psychology" in next week's blog (we're all trying to get better, be whole, tolerant and share).

    I imagine your problem with "expostmod" is that it is gimmicky? If it's a part of an "identity cluster" it's not a big deal. The "messianic" or "quixotic" or "our Ford" self-idolatry. I don't think Drew has aims to rule the world. I thought "expostmod" was kind of a tongue-and-cheek return to existentialism. His blog's about the stuff of heroism and self-creation.

    I'd just be careful when you call out "pop-philosophy" then write what (Foucault) might call "pop-psychology."

    That said, immensely true points (especially about the guys who are making money from trend-words and first-world fads).
    M
    My recent post The mythic power of migration

    • EricSchiller says:

      Mark, it is important to note the latest post was written by Duff, not myself. Confusing our ideas would probably lead to… confusion.

      We called our blog "Beyond Growth" to point out how absurd it is to believe in infinite personal growth, similar to how self-helpers go from one 3 step program to another. There isn't any termination point. Beyond Growth then is about rethinking growth itself.

    • The opinions of the authors on this blog do not necessarily overlap! Each author writes on his or her own topics of interest, and as Eric mentioned, I am the author of the most recent article whereas Eric is the author of this article. Feel free to add your critical comments of my article to my post! :)

  20. Steven says:

    Reading through these posts and comments, I'm still not exactly sure what kind of people we are talking about here, but I'm having a strange feeling that I may be considered a dipster.

    I DO think social paradigms are shifting due to the potential of online communities and entrepreneurship, and I DO enjoy the individualistic "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality.

    I'm also accepting of information products, and I don't have problems with information being sold on the market.

    In general, I DON'T have a problem with profit-driven behavior, as long as it is profit based on voluntary and honest exchange. One of my goals for my own site is to make a living off of it. I feel I'm doing way more good by trying to make money on my own terms then work for some company that I have no passion for.

    In fact, I actually see entrepreneurship as the best kind of social revolution, and I have near-zero faith in political avenues for positive social change.

    So, am I a dipster?
    My recent post Beliefs and Your Map of Reality

    • EricSchiller says:

      Hello Steven, I define dipsterism as more of an anti-intellectual online movement, rather than a set of attributes that apply to a lifestyle or individual. Dipsterism defines inexperienced writers or would-be philosophers who sell themselves as intelligent, but lack the discernment to actually produce productive and progressive ideas.

      Dipsters are only interested in creating writing that merely has the appearance of intelligence and depth.

      Many of the beliefs or communities that I list are anti-intellectual, however, a belief in such things does not necessarily make one a dipster, rather you must directly promote mindless anti-intellectualism through the writing of shallow blog posts, manifestos, and so on.

      I'll leave the diagnosis up to you.

      • EricSchiller says:

        In regards to information products, I don't have a problem with information products as a thing, rather I have a problem with information products that are scams, worthless, or overpriced. There is a difference.

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