What You'll Wish You'd Know
January 3, 2018 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn't have an engine, you can't fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind. So I propose that as a replacement for "don't give up on your dreams." Stay upwind.
In an undelivered high school address, Paul Graham discusses what anyone can do to develop towards finding and pursuing a good future.
posted by rebent (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Don't listen to anything Paul Graham says about life.
posted by Nelson at 8:17 AM on January 3, 2018 [10 favorites]

I don't know who Paul Graham is but the part about following your curiosity is a pretty solid distillation of my entire life philosophy so as for right now he's okay in my book.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:22 AM on January 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Cool, overall nice advice, but obnoxious in the way it writes off studying the humanities. Yes, a physicist did once publish nonsense in a journal that wasn't peer reviewed. No, that doesn't mean you get to write off an entire branch of philosophy just because it's often hard to read. Jeez Louise.
posted by Gymnopedist at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Apologies for the lazy drive-by on PG without explanation. He's well known in my tech circles, and IMHO is the classic example of the engineer who thinks that because at one time he was good at writing code, his opinions about every topic are pearls of wisdom.

Here's some of that context. You can read his opinions on founders with strong foreign accents, economic inequality, or unions. There's also his opinion on girls in computing; he says he was misquoted.

This hypothetical graduation speech is more or less harmless "work hard on things that matter" pablum. It's very long. But even here he injects baffling things like "Collecting donations for a charity is an admirable thing to do, but it's not hard. It's not getting something done." which bely ignorance of a whole noble career some people undertake.
posted by Nelson at 8:41 AM on January 3, 2018 [26 favorites]

Nelson has done the work.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:43 AM on January 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Kudos to whichever school thought better of inviting him, with his meandering forty minute speech.
posted by Molten Berle at 9:13 AM on January 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

This rambling, long-winded smugfest puts down just about everybody at some point. I didn't know who Paul Graham was before I read this, but I'm not surprised to read some of Nelson's links above. The whole thing made little sense to me but some of it seems to be from an alien planet, like:
At most colleges, it's not the professors who decide whether you get in, but admissions officers, and they are nowhere near as smart. They're the NCOs of the intellectual world. They can't tell how smart you are.
What? He could not have ever been an officer or even in the military because this is backwards. Or maybe NCO means something else at Harvard but I'm too busy thinking I can't be Einstein to understand.
Smart people tend to clump together, and if you can find such a clump, it's probably worthwhile to join it. But it's not straightforward to find these, because there is a lot of faking going on.
He might want to take a break from doing 'great things' and 'real work' to re-read the last part of this a few times.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2018 [6 favorites]

>They're the NCOs of the intellectual world. They can't tell how smart you are.

Speaking as a former NCO: I could easily tell how smart my LTs were, and it saved their lives and mine on more than one occasion. I'll leave it at that.
posted by arkhangel at 9:34 AM on January 3, 2018 [8 favorites]

Nelson is, of course, correct. That said, no Paul Graham post is complete without a link to Dabblers And Blowhards, which has stood up very well over the years.
posted by mhoye at 9:36 AM on January 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Watta dope. NCOs, sargents, CPOs, etc., run the whole shebangs.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:48 AM on January 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

When Engineer's Disease is pathologized in a future edition of the DSM, Paul Graham's career will be provided as the defining case study. (Incidentally, google for "engineer's disease" and the first four entries are, in order: ask.metafilter, reddit, ycombinator, and dilbert.com.)
posted by at by at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

The NCO-to-college-administrator comparison is actually very apt: people who don’t understand what they actually do love to dump on them, but the whole institution would collapse in about twelve hours without them.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

Wow, lots of PG hate here. Not that he can't be an ass (which does show in places here), but I actually thought this had some good stuff in it.

In particular, it would have helped HS-age me to hear this:

People who've done great things tend to seem as if they were a race apart. And most biographies only exaggerate this illusion, partly due to the worshipful attitude biographers inevitably sink into, and partly because, knowing how the story ends, they can't help streamlining the plot till it seems like the subject's life was a matter of destiny, the mere unfolding of some innate genius. In fact I suspect if you had the sixteen year old Shakespeare or Einstein in school with you, they'd seem impressive, but not totally unlike your other friends.

Which is an uncomfortable thought. If they were just like us, then they had to work very hard to do what they did. And that's one reason we like to believe in genius. It gives us an excuse for being lazy. If these guys were able to do what they did only because of some magic Shakespeareness or Einsteinness, then it's not our fault if we can't do something as good.

It took me a long time to disabuse myself of the idea that life worked like a story, that your life doesn't unfold naturally toward some endpoint. Narrative is always a fiction that distorts and misrepresents the messy, stochastic reality. So if you don't know where you're going, and don't feel like you're treading a path toward that goal, that doesn't mean there's something wrong, that's just how it works.
posted by bjrubble at 11:20 AM on January 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a (mediocre) glider pilot and while it's good to stay upwind when you're starting out, you also study and train to fly against the wind, too. Most glider flights of any distance tend to start and end at the same airport, and it would be somewhat rare weather that allowed you to fly the entire task upwind of each successive turnpoint.

(Sure, the whole task could be kept upwind of the field, but in many settings that could be inconvenient or even impossible.)
posted by tss at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

you also study and train to fly against the wind

Is there a name for a metaphor that's built on something that isn't true? Years ago, I read an article that was describing some kind of high tech finance display thing (a Bloomberg terminal?), and the writer said that the trader, staring at their Blinkenlights and all, was able to see all the possibilities ahead, like a chess grandmaster peering into the future of the board - "except they forget that one grandmaster always loses the game". It was well-done and very effective - but, In reality, at least half of grandmaster chess games are draws.
posted by thelonius at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Here are his essays, which are concise. He doesn't tell you what everyone else does. He doesn't pad what he does say. He doesn't talk down to you.
posted by de_novo at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2018

He does, however, say a lot of thoughtless stupid shit.
posted by Nelson at 4:49 PM on January 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

He doesn't pad what he does say. He doesn't talk down to you.

The very existence of this 'graduation speech' undermines both these claims.
posted by Molten Berle at 9:13 AM on January 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Fortunately his writing is sufficiently un-padded that reading a paragraph or two, at random, of any of his essays, is enough to enable anyone to make up their own mind.
posted by de_novo at 11:46 AM on January 4, 2018

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