Successful = Good

It’s interesting that people hear “he is successful” and immediately interpret it as “he is a good human being.” Like when I was desperate to find proof that the successful academics I admire are good human beings with an admirable moral compass. It’s an effect of the neoliberal worldview that positions the source of success inside human beings. If you are not successful, tells us this ideology, that is because you are a faulty human being. something is not right with you.


32 thoughts on “Successful = Good”

  1. You’re on a roll today. Two strawman arguments in two posts!

    a) “It’s silly that people are acting so stunned by the fluidity of Trump’s team.”

    If anything, people are remarking how on-brand it is for Trump to have hired wife-beaters in the white house. I don’t think anyone is ‘stunned’ at the incompetence of this administration anymore. ‘X has my full support’ and ‘X resigns two days later’, followed by ‘I never liked X anyway’ has been a constant pattern in this white house. Nobody’s surprised at this.

    b) Literally zero pushback to your previous post was based on the idea that he’s a bad man so he couldn’t be successful. I don’t know where you got this from.


    1. I have to find an explanation for why people are denying the very obvious fact that a billionaire who is also a TV star and the president is wildly successful. The only explanation I can find is this one.


  2. Are you talking about our responses to your previous post? I think bad people can be financially/economically successful. Jeff Bezos has some HUGE ethical issue but I would never deny that he’s a successful businessman. You stated that Trump was successful in business. I don’t think Trump is. (For what it’s worth, I think stupid people are rarely good at business and I personally think Trump, unlike Bezos, is quite the dullard.)


    1. Yeah, exactly. I’d go even further and say that all billionaires/one-percenters are massively ethically compromised and are utter pieces of shit.

      A person who couldn’t borrow a single dollar from banks is not what I would call successful. I trust those banks know more about his financial condition than we do.


      1. A person who couldn’t borrow a single dollar from banks is not what I would call successful. I trust those banks know more about his financial condition than we do.

          When you have little money, the bank charges you to handle your money. When you get above a certain threshold, the bank pays<i> you</i> to handle your money.  A rather simple example of this is savings account balances.  If my balance is below a certain amount, the bank wants to charge me a monthly fee to have the account. In contrast if I have more than a certain amount the bank pays me interest. And I'm talking about very small sums of money. 

        If you’re poor you end up taking payday loans — something like 400%. Richer people get more reasonable rates to borrow money…such at 4.25%…

        I can only imagine what it’s like for someone like Bill Gates to borrow money.


    2. Are the founders of Uber successful? All they do is spend billions of their investors’ money. Amazon also has issues in that respect. But the brand names are strong, and that’s all that matters.


  3. This isn’t a neoliberal idea, though. There’s evidence of this in the Old Testament, as well — the thought was that if you were poor, or were sick or had some physical impairment, those things were a direct punishment for being a bad person in some way.


      1. “That’s one reading. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that grace doesn’t have to be earned. It’s awarded based on criteria we can’t fathom.”

        -But the Old Testament has nothing to do with any sect of Christianity and their belief in grace. The Old Testament has everything to do with the mythological origins of Judaism. The ideas present in these passages are far older than those of the New Testament, which outline the concept of Christian grace (and divine forgiveness, for that matter), and didn’t even occur until a very specific period in Jewish history.


  4. “an effect of the neoliberal worldview that positions the source of success inside human beings”

    It’s also an effect of the neoliberal worldview that positions ‘business’ as inherently good and constructive so that someone who accumulates wealth and power through less than good and constructive deals is not a ‘real’ businessman.

    Saying Trump is a good businessman strikes at two core beliefs of neoliberalism in feel swoop.


    1. “Saying Trump is a good businessman strikes at two core beliefs of neoliberalism in feel swoop.”

      Not sure about that. Saying Trump is a good business man strikes at the idea that “good business” equals “self made financial success.”

      I suppose good businessman can be defined in a lot of ways of course. But I think most people think good businessman is “one who achieved financial success on his own”. So Prince Charles of England, despite his vast wealth, is generally not considered a good businessman. Jeff Bezos, ethically compromised but undoubtedly self-made, IS widely considered a good businessman. I maintain that Trump is more like Prince Charles than Jeff Bezos.

      Not making a moral judgement here. Just a financial one.


    1. “In Jane Eyre”

      Not a serious novel, but a teen girl fantasy. It’s interesting in that respect, but I can’t take it seriously beyond that.

      I should piss off everyone with that, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw it mentioned….


  5. I’m speaking as a sample of one here, but it would never have occurred to me to interpret “he is successful” as “he is a good human being.” The two seem entirely unconnected to me, in the same way that “He has brown hair” is not linked to “he likes to eat fish.”


    1. “it would never have occurred to me to interpret “he is successful” as “he is a good human being.””

      I hear you, I don’t understand how anyone who likes art (any type) can hold onto the idea that competence or being gifted in one area translates into being ‘a good person’ since a very high percentage of great artists are not…. nice or good people (let’s leave it at that).


  6. Okay, here’s something presumptuous and rude.

    Some of the stuff you are very fervently arguing against now seems to very much be something you would have easily signed off on just a few years ago. Right? I understand that the Trump election was a fairly major turning point for you intellectually – you called Hillary winning, were wrong, and seem to have decided remake the way you think about political issues. The move itself and recognition for the need of one I respect immensely, but it’s not really tracking for me how you arrived at some of these new beliefs instead.

    But, god, I’m sorry to say this to you, as it’s probably the rudest thing I could given who I’m talking to, but some of it just feels… incredibly trite. “If you are not successful, tells us this ideology, that is because you are a faulty human being, something is not right with you.” Minus the thesaurus words, I could get about the same level of insight while overhearing a conversation at a local store. It’s true, I’m sure, but it’s a well-worn truth, not an incisive one. And you owe me nothing, obviously, but I do feel slightly perturbed when I come away from one of your posts thinking that I heard that somewhere else before already, and that it wasn’t that convincing then.

    Would you mind talking in a bit of detail where you’re at, currently, in terms of broad political/philosophical convictions and approaches?


    1. I agree this is all self-evident, or should be. But turn on the news, listen for a while. Look at what goes viral on social media every day. And I’m not saying among the grievously undereducated. I don’t even have anybody with fewer than 3 degrees on my FB.

      I’m sure it was always there but I didn’t know about it. And now after the Trump election it’s all coming out. If anybody told me that the most disappointing thing about the Trump election wouldn’t be the election itself of Trump but the reactions of the people I know and always cared about, I’d never believe it. It’s not about politics at all, you know? I can easily coexist with people of any political opinions. This has never been my problem.

      You have absolutely nothing to apologize for because I know I sound like an idiot saying ridiculously obvious things like “you can’t be for open borders and Medicare for all simultaneously.” But this is the kind of thing I hear from people every day. And if I don’t express it here, at least, I will explode.

      I already silence myself on so many issues. Because it’s crazy what’s going on. And I’m in academia. So it’s even crazier. I wrote a cof because I was asked to and then discovered that it was censored without even asking me if it was ok. Every time I used the word “feminist”, it was changed to “transfeminist.” Which I don’t even know the meaning of!

      Sorry for the rant but yeah, here’s where we are.


      1. Another example. Somebody I have to work with on a project. First, he sends out a rant about “rampant sexual abuse” (sic!) in academia. Then he changes “colegas” to “colegxs”, although it’s the same form for female and male. Then he posts a rant a propos of Trump saying that he wants to abolish immigration lottery in the vein of “some of my best friends are lottery immigrants.” And to top it all off, he tells me that he doesn’t get why I’m getting naturalized right now “when the country is such a mess.” He cares so much about immigrants, you see. He thinks we have a fucking choice when to undergo the naturalization ceremony.

        I swear to God, he was a normal person. I don’t know what happened to bring this out of him. And it’s one person after another. The shithole controversy alone robbed me of at least 3 people. And I don’t know that many people. It’s like people collectively moved to an alternative reality and are sending incomprehensible messages from there.


        1. A middle-aged person I know, an academic, stopped me to ask if I have “joined the Resistance ” Zero irony. Completely seriou. Showed me the pussy hat she knit herself. I couldn’t have been more embarrassed if she’d stripped naked right there. Again, this is not some simple-minded fool who doesn’t know better. You don’t get more educated than this person.

          It was so hard for me to establish a circle of acquaintance but now it’s being wiped out because people have massively lost it. It’s very sad.


          1. I am afraid there is a certain clique mentality present in leftwing/progresive/liberal circles. Some of those incidents where/when people are policing each other’s political correctness remind me of high school and “mean girls” movie.
            I do not imply that only women do that or that only the leftwingers do that… But it seems that for some people progressive ideology is just the vehicle of forming cliques while still feeling good about themselves in the process… If the stuff they are forming cliques around were not “progressive ideology”, their bullshit self-awareness radar would go off long ago… Well, hopefully…

            And on the idea that successful people are good human beings… If you think back to the Soviet times – there was a variation of this idea among the intelligentsia, except it was not so much about material success, but about being talented in some field, be it music, art or science.


          2. I was talking less about the American political scene, which is important, but of which I know preciously little and am happy to have those better informed lead the discussion.

            I still vividly remember the defence of consumerism you mounted who knows how many years ago, and I remember it because it was the first cogent one I read that wasn’t just pragmatic (it was in relation to power shortages in Ukraine, and how more consumerist-minded people would not stand for that sort of stuff, and that them not standing for it would be both a moral and a practical improvement).

            It’s in comparison to memories like that your current attitudes feel so odd to me – a lot of these arguments against neoliberalism I first heard in communitarian circles… And it feels so damned odd half-expecting you to go into a defence of the importance of local communities for the well-being of politics as a whole.


            1. These are great observations, and once again, completely unoffensive and profound. I rarely feel this well-understood.

              Here is my dilemma. I’m personally very comfortable with fluidity. I’m rocking this neoliberal thing. And I’m a happy consumer. I rock the maximization of productivity thing like a motherfucker. So I’m good. And I always thought that the people who weren’t dealing as well with it are pathetic losers who deserve whatever they get. Freakazoids, dumbasses who “cling to their guns and religion” because they are “on the wrong side of history” and fuck them. (The quotes are from Obama.)

              And then I met these people. I talked to them, I saw their suffering. I saw whole little towns full of people who are left behind by the fluidity I’m so successfully rocking.

              And it wasn’t the same as seeing them on TV and laughing at them as backwards and dumb. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I wrote my second book in response to this experience because I wanted to figure out what was causing this pain, why people were so unmoored and so devastated by this.

              If I had stayed in Montreal or on the East Coast, I would have never thought about the other side of all this. I would have still been applauding the ideas about the wrong side of history and idiots clinging to religion. And I’d probably be posting selfies of myself in a pussy hat right now.

              It has, indeed, been an enormous change for me. And I’m glad somebody noticed. 🙂 I feel like I’m a completely different person yet nobody seems aware. But I’m glad I had these experiences because I think they made me a better human being.


              1. And as we can all see, I’m using the word “experience” in every other sentence, which is a hallmark of a person steeped in consumerist mentality.


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