The 1% Mindset by Oliver McCann: When the Unsayable is Brilliant and Repugnant

The 1% Mindset: Nietzsche, the Noble Spirit, and Why Low Pay is Good is aimed at people who have read self-help books and then given up on them. And who can blame them? The genre is much neglected by book bloggers, and I suspect it’s because self-help books are evangelical, hyper-mystical, and so thoroughly work-obsessed that they can induce the very anxiety they’re supposed to remedy. So as I embark on reviewing a few self-help titles, I thought I’d start with the most original and contentious.

$3.49 from Amazon, and persumably a similar price on other e-book outlets.

$3.49 from Amazon, and persumably a similar price on other e-book outlets.

McCann’s offering appeals to a niche that could be, paradoxically, a large one. For I would imagine that a lot of self-help readers get tired of it all as they discover that the odds of being in the smallest percentage of the population are correspondingly unlikely. Duh! Regardless, McCann insists that it is possible to become ultra-rich and privileged. All you need is a ‘noble spirit’, and, most importantly, ‘the right mindset’ before you use any self-help products.

What makes this book stand out from the ocean of nonsense that I’ve encountered so far is its honesty, realism, and originality. No metaphysical appeals here to the power of the universe or other invisible forces! Its originality comes from its being positioned before or between self-help as a sort of mind-adjustment. That’s not to say that it’s relaxing. Its honesty is in its description of the way that top performers sometimes need to be cruel. Hooray! Self-help books typically talk as if being nice all the time will inevitably lead to success. What McCann points out is that, funnily enough, people like Donald Trump aren’t usually that pleasant. Struggle involves misery, setbacks, and sometimes doing things that are against your social conditioning. McCann talks about this in terms of the way that we’re held back by what we think we should or aught do. His, what you might call anti-ethics, involves numerous examples and a smattering of Nietzsche.

The book isn’t about Nietzsche’s philosophy per se. It just explains its relevance to getting ahead. And lot of the advice is what you might have suspected but never put into practice. There’s advice on how to do better in annual performance reviews. There’s advice on how to manage your appearance in the presence of your workmates. And a long chapter discusses how to make the best of a low paid job.

Yet this is where we encounter the core of McCann’s unpleasantness. I felt very uncomfortable reading about how poverty is an opportunity (I précis him heavily here, you understand). This is especially so when you consider that the author is cushioned by enormous wealth. I dare say that he struggled to get it. It’s just that it’s got an it’s-alright-for-him feel about it. And it doesn’t end there. The action really hots up in the chapter that effectively advises you on how to exploit people once you’re an employer (I précis him again).

I dare say that if you do the kinds of things he says then you’ll get ahead in the world and find ways to clear your conscience. And that’s what’s maddening about the book. It’s hard to argue against it without sounding like a sentimental humanist who’s out of touch with the realities of modern capitalism. His analysis of unpaid internships is brutal and current. His assessment of refugees crossing the Mediterranean is prophetic, given the news in the past few weeks. Even his argument for ‘why money is more important than values’ got into my head in a way that made me do a double-take.

Yet there’s something deeply repugnant to all this brilliance. Despite his gamut of examples, he never left me entirely clear about what he means by ethics. Are we supposed to cheat, lie, steal, betray etc? And it’s not clear to me how I know if I’m lucky enough to have a ‘noble spirit’. Or maybe I missed something and need to re-read it all again?

McCann has a brass neck. He seems to have put down in words what nobody would ever dare to say even if they think it, suspect it, or just plain do it. None of it is too structured or like a course – it’s more like a series of themed provocations to get readers to reach for their inner bastard. And it may have worked on me. My disgust at the widening wealth gap isn’t enough to stop me from dying to know what depths the next book in the series will encourage its readers to sink to.

Next in my self-help reviews will be Hero by Rhonda Byrne.

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10 Responses to The 1% Mindset by Oliver McCann: When the Unsayable is Brilliant and Repugnant

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    Sounds intriguing, but basically immoral – but then, in many ways human nature is immoral….. :s


    • Jeff says:

      I couldn’t quite make out how to take it in terms of morals because he writes about what we actually do rather than how we’d like to appear or how we think of ourselves. I just noticed that he’s since released a free book about solving the ‘immigration crisis’ (i.e. in Europe) by setting up work camps for refugees. Again, where does that sit? I mean, politically it’s left (let them in) as well as right (make ’em work). Interesting stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Eric Wayne says:

    Does this come in a roll form so I can wipe my ass with it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff says:

      That’s quite an image because it seems to me that the book is the perfect reflection of the way the world is and the way it’s going.


      • Eric Wayne says:

        As in it’s shit and it’s going down the toilet? I’m sure there are kernels of wisdom in the book, and one can gain insight from it in the same way perhaps as from reading Machiavelli, or even de Sade. One can gauge how this type of successfully selfish mindset operates, but should not be tempted into subscribing to it. The idea of using refugees for labor, while better than turning their boats around and aiming them towards schools of sharks, is just the demented opportunism of the smugly privileged who can’t recognize himself in the disadvantaged, who feels entitled and is unawares that sheer dumb luck was probably the biggest factor in his own success. I’m guessing he wasn’t born in Bangladesh, for example.

        The idea of wanting to be a part of an unaccountable, irresponsible, oligarchic class in 2015 is about as appealing as wanting to be the morbidly obese person in a room full of starving children, eating pizza after pizza while they quietly die without even dreaming that they might be entitled to a slice themselves, so radical is the stupidity of class and how humanity is defined as priceless or worthless in relation to mere capital. Sure, there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be successful, but when you are planning on expanding that success with a guidebook on how to “exploit workers” for personal gain (which means to damage their potential quality of life for ones own) your book might end up with a new title scrawled over the original in black marker: “How to Recognize an Asshole!”.

        Of course I haven’t read it, but want to about as much as I want to pour over instruction manuals for extracting information from people via devious bodily harm.


        • Jeff says:

          You hit a nail on the head that my review doesn’t quite get to. McCann spends a lot of time attacking any idea of bringing an ‘aught’ to the way the world is organised. He keeps referring to how the ‘resentment’ in how things aught to be stops the ‘weak’ from achieving and even gets them to prevent the ‘strong’ from achieving too. This is perhaps the Machiavellian part (or the Nietsche). His central point seems to be this: that ethics are the brakes to progress (both in world and personal terms). Only by being realists and embracing more self-interest can we overcome our ethical instincts and do something new for ourselves and thereby the world.
          This leads us to your observation. There’s a question as to whether we ‘subscribe’ to the consequences of putting all this into practice. Let’s take the example of work camps. According to his view, not setting up work camps on the ethical basis of preventing any harm that might arise would prevent any possibility of refugees working to cover their costs. I think your ethical concern (and mine, incidentally) would be about who benefits. This would be how we’d define ‘exploitation’. I couldn’t really comment further on that though without reading his freebie book on immigration (I’m only assuming his view here from the book I reviewed).
          His description of the way the world ‘is’ is compelling. I was originally interested in how self-help books address the rise of minimum wage and zero-hour contracts. How can self-help gurus make claims about limitless achievement when opportunities are rapidly shrinking? What you find is that they don’t bother at all. It’s as though the (developed) world hasn’t changed in the last decade. I don’t approve of McCann’s dog-eat-dog attitude towards this. But the fact that dog-eat-dog is what people do to get ahead seems to me a reality that he at least has the hubris to acknowledge and address.
          Interestingly, while you or I may not ‘subscribe’ to his views, he points out that millions of people subscribe to having a powerful elite, and moreover, want to join it. He referred to the popular financial support of sports, among other things. I think you can also see it in the rise of designer handbags and the hiring of limos for celebrations. Maybe the world is ‘going down the toilet’ as you say.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Eric Wayne says:

            Right, and basically I think his view is outmoded and everything wrong with the world. I think we need to evolve socially away from the dog-eat-dog world into the panda-eat-bamboo world. In other words, predation and competition – (apocryphal) survival of the fittest – are not really necessary for survival. For example, research comes out that we have enough resources to feed everyone on the planet, but somehow that option is not even on the table. I’ve wondered for decades why everyone needs to work 40 hours a week (in America)? Is that a real necessity, or an ancient convention that is related to slavery, in which the mass of humanity is and must be engaged in some sort of servitude to someone else in a higher station?

            I suppose if you are just in this life for yourself, and you measure your success at life in terms of money and acquisitions, and more directly in what you have versus what others have, there’s no “cognitive dissonance” in not cultivating your breadth of understanding of humanity and reality. Is it better to own a priceless painting, or to appreciate it fully? I like to talk about a very rich boss I once had, whose favorite musical group was Huey Lewis and the News [authors of one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard, the dreadful, “I want a new drug”.] He even had them play at our company Xmas party. Despite his hundreds of millions, black Mercedes Benz, mansion, and so on, I wouldn’t trade places with him if for no other reason than his abysmal appreciation of music.

            There’s a famous episode of the Twilight Zone where a guy who works at a bank is addicted to reading literature. Finally when he’s in the vault doing this or that, there’s a nuclear explosion. When he comes out (they left out the radiation aspect, conveniently), he finds everything destroyed, except the books from the library and canned food. The horror then comes when his thick glasses fall and break. But the real moral for me was that the richness he found in literature far surpassed what most people in his life were passionate about.

            So is the point of life acquisition or appreciation? Sometimes when I have been poor I have been forced into circumstances I wouldn’t let myself be in if I had more control. And in this way one learns a certain humility, and to see how the less privileged live. These are tools for a writer or artists, who needs to have understanding in order to create anything worthwhile, but, again, for Donald Trump, it is about a hideously over-inflated, and probably megalomaniacal ego.

            Dickens tackled this beautifully with “A Christmas Carol”, but people don’t even value understanding literature anymore, and don’t go to university to expand their horizons, but to make more money.

            The real purpose of life, if anyone were to ask me, is to GET it, and wealth, power, and privilege can create a protective self-delusional cocoon (the kind that allows royalty to believe that they are actually royal) that can prevent one from growing by removing real adversity and challenges: the kind of hurdles that make people jump higher.

            When people already have more than enough for dozens of lifetimes, and they are looking at their spreadsheets and financial portfolios to determine how well they are doing relative to the other billionaires, they’ve lost touch with reality, a condition that should not be seen as desirable. And this is just the sort of space McCann seems to occupy.

            Our sense of morality or justice is not what is holding us back, and I think he’s stupid for thinking such a thing. If you look at humanity as a whole, it is our selfishness that is holding us back. Our comical lack of empathy, as exemplified in our easy ability to use Napalm on people, is the problem. Our inability to apprehend the nature of consciousness, or appreciate other humans as the embodiment of that self-same sense of “I am” is the problem. Wars, violence, and predation are a sure sign of selfish stupidity. Tragically, stupidity has as much power in the physical world, and perhaps more so, than does higher forms of awareness.

            If I believed in enlightenment (I’m very skeptical), I’d say that THAT, an evolution of consciousness, was the sure goal of life. What I do believe in is art, culture, understanding, and grappling with reality, none of which expressly need more than just enough money.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Jeff says:

            I concur. I’m more interested in abstract and existential texts and discussions than making money. And yet, everyone I know would claim to not be materialistic, nor subscribe to celebrity-driven ideology. Somebody somewhere must be to prop up all the glittered crap.
            As much as I think of my values similarly to yours, I can’t help reading someone like McCann and suspect myself and those around me of having absorbed his kind of worldview enough to have accumulated more living space and stuff than is necessary. One person’s black Merc and mansion is another’s modest but sporty coupe and a couple of spare rooms. What can feel like clear ideals might be closer to a despised ideology when that ideology has been so absorbed that it prevents its own visibility in oneself.
            So what holds us back from changing things? Is it, as you suggest, selfishness? Is it, as McCann suggests, resentment? Maybe it’s a lack of solidarity. The slavery you’re talking about is something that’s widely recognised yet there’s never enough solidarity to change it. McCann suggests that if people didn’t want things this way then they wouldn’t purchase things that obviously keep things this way. I agree with him. If there was a poll – dog-eat-dog vs panda eats bamboo, or if you like, in more contemporary art terms, Koons-McCann 1% vs You-I-rest-of-the-99% – then you could count on the vast majority clicking that 1% button frantically. No more than a tiny minority wouldn’t want a world without the Koons’ and McCanns of this world in this world. The transfixing power of the bad guy? Click-click-click, oh yes please! This is the life we seem to inflict on ourselves, eh?


  3. Ste J says:

    Interesting, I think to a certain extent screwing over work colleagues or what have you to gain what you want is acceptable, if it will ultimately benefit you more than socialising at work. Having said that if it was the norm then it would a cut throat world indeed. Having said that exploiting employees isn’t really going to be effective as they will just stop giving a toss and probably end up being more of a problem than a solution…well I know I would be.

    I don’t think I could join the ultra rich club, it would make me nauseous although I would buy myself many capes and wear one each day, affectations worked for Chris Eubank so why not.


  4. Jeff says:

    Can’t remember if there was anythign about screwing over colleagues. There might be by implication though.
    I don;t think that the psychological effects of exploitation aren’t gone into either. In fact, I doubt the word ‘exploitation’ is used- it’s probably my import – he might even deny that his advice amounts to exploitation. I seem to remember the word ‘opportunity’ appearing a lot. I can’t say that my experience of low paid work became an opportunity. My best efforts turned out pointless because there was no budget to keep new people on. In the land of self-help, I would normally have to blame myself in some way. We’ll get to that ‘mindset’ in my review of Hero soon. By McCann portrays low paid work as a slog. Pretty realistic. I don’t know as I felt ‘resentment’, but that’s where he lays a lot of blame for failure.
    There’s some interesting stuff that’s against self-help coming up too. The 1% Mindset has an early part that spells out some disadvantages to it. But McCann is clearly on it’s side, in the balance. The real assault on it comes from Barbara Ehrenreich. Later.


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