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.
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.