Broke writer or rich entrepreneur

THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2016

A thought last night bounced from one thing to another, and before I knew it I had asked myself: What would I rather be, a broke writer or a rich entrepreneur, with the understanding for argument’s sake that I won’t do any creative work as the latter?

It was a tough question.

Ten blocks later (I was on my bicycle) I was satisfied with my initial answer: It’s hard to say, I thought, because exactly how poor will I be, and exactly what will I write?

The implication was that I was still prepared to lead a simple existence for the sake of spending a significant portion of my days writing, but I am not prepared to suffer for the sake of an essay every week or two about the weather in Kaohsiung or something similarly frivolous. The question is also how simple my existence will be. I don’t want to sleep under a tree, even if that means losing some good, inspired pieces in the process. (How much will I produce anyways before a transient poet steals my notebook?) Another thing is that I am not alone. Do I expect my partner to suffer with me? Or will I claim that I am prepared to suffer knowing that it will not be necessary because my partner will take pity on me and share her food with me?

The question, and the thought stemmed from things I need to do over the next few days for one of my sources of income – a freelance service I provide to a few customers. I thought about how I do what is necessary to keep the business going; that is, as long as I do not have to stand on a street corner – so to speak – selling my wares or my service. I also remembered something else I wrote some time ago – about why I should crush any ambitions of starting my own business. Why? I was of the opinion that I didn’t have it in me to dedicate myself 100% to a business. Of course there are other people who are regarded as successful business people or entrepreneurs who are struggling with the same things as me. Why are they successful? Why do they get away with it and I do not? It is not complicated to work out: they employ people or work with people otherwise who do what they cannot or will not do.

It is thus not a case of being unable to attain success as an entrepreneur; I just don’t work with the right people … or rather, I still try to do everything myself.

Another reason why I asked myself the above question is because I have often wondered what I could accomplish if I write full-time rather than trying to keep a half-dozen income sources running. Of course this is an open question. Perhaps all the literary exercise may lead to a few short stories or articles that will actually be read by more than 10 people, and – who knows? – I might even make enough money to buy a new bicycle. Or maybe I will be forced after a year or two to take another look at things I had previously considered beneath me, only now with a pair of hungry eyes.

There is after all nothing like hunger and humiliation to make one forget your bohemian dreams.

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To know how to sell

WEDNESDAY, 13 JANUARY 2016

I spent the last few days reading notes from 2010. One thing that became clear was that I had tried desperately to sell things that year – products, services, things that I had thought or believed people needed. That I largely failed is part of a less exciting part of my personal history.

On the way to Fengshan last night I wondered what I would do if I had to try and sell something now, since I have a little more resources at my disposal.

I couldn’t say what I would do.

The idea then pushed up from where all ideas come from that selling may simply not be everyone’s cup of tea.

And then the counter-argument: What is selling? Is it not the same as trying to convince someone of something?

I thought: there is a fundamental difference between trying to sell something to someone and trying to convince someone of something. When you try to convince someone to buy something, you expect that person to spend money that both you and he know will be of benefit to you.

I realized that I do not have a problem with trying to convince anyone of anything. And I do not really have a problem with telling someone something is not for free. To talk about money, especially if someone has to give me money, is definitely not my favourite subject, but I can take care of business. The problem is to convince someone to buy something from me feels to me like a form of begging. And when it comes to begging, my pride kicks in. I would rather die.

I will therefore rather die than to try and convince someone to buy something from me, if I have to carry the story to its dramatic conclusion.

Of course there are situations where I would not have to excuse myself to immediately go and commit suicide in a back room rather than to provide service to a customer. If, for example, I work in a hat shop, and a bald guy walks in and asks for a good cap, I won’t really be too embarrassed to show some caps. Chances are that he may show a preference for a specific cap, which he would admit is slightly outside his budget. In this situation I can see that it would not be too hard for me to try to convince him that the more expensive cap is indeed the one he should strongly consider. I can for example point out the higher quality, the shape, how well it fits on his head, and so on.

The difference is that he already wants to buy a cap. He walked into my hat shop. He asked me for a cap. We both know I am going to smile more enthusiastically if he buys the more expensive cap, but there is no chance that I will feel that I am begging. I will do him a favour. And he knows he will do me a favour by spending more money. But we will both be happy with the deal.

I strongly suspect that my problem is so-called cold selling – to go over to a complete stranger to try and sell something to him or her. Or the internet version where you try to convince visitors to your website to buy something from you. (To be clear, they may be on your website because they are looking for something specific, but not necessarily what you are trying to sell to them.)

Millions of people live out a full existence from birth to death due to old age without trying to sell so much as a glass of water or a new pair of socks to someone else. But if you need to do it, or if you have some items that are of no value to you and which you would like to dispense of at a reasonable price, it is always good to keep some useful rules in mind: It is much easier to sell something to someone if what you are trying to sell provides a solution to a problem, or if what the person is buying from you is something that provides them great pleasure or satisfaction.

I never thought I will be in a position to offer advice on how to be a more successful salesperson. But if you have paid dearly to learn something, you can just as well share it, right?

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Liberal arguments – checking my beliefs

WEDNESDAY, 23 DECEMBER 2015

For a while now I have been following the fiery verbal battles amongst leftist/liberal writers and other intellectuals on social media, in interviews on talk shows and in articles on the Internet. To make it easier for myself to distinguish what differentiates one from the other, even though all these people can broadly be sorted on the more progressive side of the political spectrum, I have come up with very elementary descriptions. Note that the descriptions are not comprehensive. For example, just because I say one person is pro-freedom of speech and it is not mentioned in the description of another person, is not to say that it is not also important to that person. What I tried to do is to basically point out a person’s primary focus areas.

Sam Harris, Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens: anti-religion; pro-science; non-religious ethics and morality; pro-government action against Islamism

Richard Dawkins: anti-religion; pro-science; non-religious ethics and morality

Noam Chomsky: freedom of the individual; anti-aggressive, imperialistic American foreign policy; pro-people against power (whether own government or foreign invader)

Glenn Greenwald, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden: pro-freedom of speech (Greenwald with caveats, for example anti Charlie Hebdo cartoons, called them “offensive and bigoted”); individual liberty, especially against “Big Brother” government

Michael Moore: anti-aggressive, imperialistic American foreign policy; pro-people against power (whether own government or foreign invader); anti-discrimination based on race, gender, sexual preference, etc.; pro-equality on health care, education, etc.

In case you haven’t been following the action, here is a sample:

Sam Harris & Noam Chomsky

The Limits of Discourse – As Demonstrated by Sam Harris and Noam Chomsky

Scoring the Noam Chomsky/Sam Harris debate: How the professor knocked out the atheist

Sam Harris & Glenn Greenwald

Sam Harris vs. Glenn Greenwald on Islam

Christopher Hitchens & Noam Chomsky

A Rejoinder to Noam Chomsky

Reply to Hitchens

Ben Affleck & Bill Maher, Sam Harris

Real Time with Bill Maher: Ben Affleck, Sam Harris and Bill Maher Debate Radical Islam (HBO)

Can Liberalism Be Saved From Itself?

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20:27

Ask yourself whether you will still do X, or worry about what Y thinks of you, if you knew you will no longer be alive in five years’ time. Then ask the same question about three years, two years, one year …

20:29

Every now and then I check my mental processes for what I believe in.

Answer: I believe in reason, and being reasonable. And I believe in Civilization. I believe that people can get along better with each other, and that more people will be able to lead happier lives, and perhaps get more done with their lives, if everyone worked together.

This most recent spot check was done on the sidewalk of a street in Kaohsiung as I was walking back from where I buy dinner on a Wednesday evening. For the umpteenth time in recent weeks I had seen how people kept driving even though they should have been able to see they were not going to make it before the traffic light turned red. Of course they end up, along with a dozen or more other motorists in the intersection when the traffic has to start moving in the other direction – and when pedestrians have to cross the road. “Imagine what the world will be like if people just cooperate better,” I murmured in the direction of a motorist who, as could be expected, sat there as stiff as a zombie, looking straight ahead.

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The real or not real purpose of our existence

WEDNESDAY, 16 DECEMBER 2015

Stir up the topic of the possibility of a purpose of human existence, and you necessarily have to bring in human origin.

There are three possibilities: humans were created by a deity; humans were slowly evolving from earlier life forms, then beings from outer space arrived and injected their DNA in an earlier incarnation of what would eventually become modern humans; humans evolved slowly over millions of years from earlier life forms into the organism we see today, without any interference from deities or aliens.

Each of these possible origins has unique implications for the possibility of a purpose of our existence. If a deity created humans, it makes sense that we should start our search for the purpose of our existence with this deity: Who is this deity? What does this deity want from us? Why did the deity create us? What will happen if we do not do what we ought to do or if we fail for various reasons to figure out what we ought to do? If what we are today is the result of interference from beings from outer space, the questions are similar: Who are they? Where did they come from? Why did they come all this way to mess with our genes? What are we supposed to do? What will happen if we fail to do what we should do or if we cannot figure out what they want us to do? If we have developed slowly over millions of years, and if perhaps as many as hundreds but probably at least dozens of different incarnations passed before we came to be the organism we call Homo sapiens today, we cannot really look at a force beyond us that had, at one stage or another, some kind of plan or purpose in mind.

If we owe our existence to the latter process, a highly probable yet strangely enough highly controversial possibility, we can make a reasonable conclusion: It means “purpose of existence”, like identity, is something we came up with ourselves to help us get through the proverbial day. In other words, it is not really real.

But something does not necessarily need to be actually real to have practical value. Like identity, the idea of a purpose of our existence has real value in the world in which we live. An example: I am not really “Brand Smit”. Or “Brand Smit” is not a real thing like a dog or an elephant or a pencil. It is something that was originally devised by my parents, and then I contributed a little, and others lent a hand, and when I became older I got a little more creative with it, and nowadays other people sometimes play along with what I say, and sometimes they do not. But “Brand Smit” does have practical value. Not only does it help the author of this text get through his day and get along fairly well with other organisms and creatures in the environment, but it may even motivate me to assist other people and animals – who won’t care too much how I think about the purpose of my existence. For example, I can start a soup kitchen to feed hungry people sleeping at the train station, and I reckon they will not really grumble too much if I declare that I do so because I see it as the purpose of my existence as revealed by beings from outer space.

* * *

There is a good chance that both identity and belief, or presumption, that our existence serves a purpose are things we invent ourselves. It is also true that some of us view these things as if they are holy truth that we cannot really do much about.

Is it good to think your existence serves a purpose?

I have mentioned the example of someone providing hot soup and bread to hungry people without compensation and at no cost to the person who gets the soup and bread, possibly because he or she believes it is an expression of the purpose of their existence. Then there is the guy who does not believe his existence serves any purpose; that he was born and that he will eventually die, and in between will do his best to get along well with his neighbours, stay out of trouble most of the time, and make his life as much worth the effort as he can manage, since he can easily enough end his own life. Personally I have no problem with the latter person. And if the person at the soup kitchen says he is a creature of extraterrestrial origin who is simply doing what he was commanded to do, I will not have a problem with him either – as long as the soup and bread are of a quality that can sustain ordinary earthlings through the day. On the other end of the spectrum I will mind if someone wants to cut off my head because he says it is not because he wants to but because writings from 13 centuries ago instruct him to do so, that it is indeed part of the purpose of his existence.

The belief that your existence serves a purpose is, like identity, not inherently good or bad. Both can help you get through the day in one piece and in reasonably good shape, and not end up in prison or a mental institution. Both can also make your way to the prison or a mental institution remarkably short and straight. And both can enable you to live in relative peace with the majority of the community, or it can set you on a warpath with other members of the community or with the majority members of other communities.

Who are you, at the end of the day? And do you believe your existence serves a purpose? If you do, what is this purpose, and from where did you get the idea that this ought to be the purpose of your life?

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A few truths – Friday, 13 March 2015

Most enterprises are doomed to fail.

Most investments never pay a dividend.

Most books are read by very few people.

Most websites get very little traffic.

Most new music is heard by relatively few people.

Optimism and faith sometimes propel you forward, and sometimes it leads to your downfall.

It should also be mentioned that if you launched a business venture and it becomes successful, the likelihood increases that your next venture will also be successful.

If you have made an investment and it turns a profit, chances are that you may just repeat this success with your next investment.

If a book you have written is read by at least a few hundred people, the probability is relatively good that your next book will also be read by at least a few hundred people.

If you develop a website that regularly gets visitors, chances are that your next website will also get decent traffic.

If you produce an album of your own music and a few thousand people listen to it or buy it, chances are relatively good that these people will also listen to your next album or song, and maybe they will even tell other people about your music.

Success, after all, generates more success, and if you have little of anything, chances are that you will have even less in the future.

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