Nobody You Follow Is Real, Says The Pseudonym

On Monday morning, while penning yet another update on China’s anti-monopoly crackdown, I initially inserted a quote from a popular commentator who writes about monopolies. Then I removed it.

The omission spoke to something I grapple with every day in the course of writing for public consumption: How important is it that the people who inform public opinion actually live up to the persona they cultivate and the ideals they espouse, both implicitly and explicitly?

One of the central tenets of my life is that, generally speaking, you can’t trust anyone, nor can you take very many people seriously. I don’t mean that in a paranoid way. Often, the problem isn’t that people are wittingly “bad” (with the scare quotes to denote that I’m not a fan of normative language), it’s that they’re accidentally disingenuous, hypocritical by necessity or unwitting accomplices in the perpetuation of the absurd.

For the vast majority of people in advanced economies, it’s impossible to avoid being disingenuous or hypocritical.

For example, the quote mentioned here at the outset (the one I started to include in one of my own articles before deciding against it) came from a Substack post. As noted, the author is a reasonably well-known commentator on monopolies. Again and again, readers refer me to his work and an analyst whose dailies I’m fond of likes to quote him.

Try as I might, though, I can’t bring myself to take this person seriously. Why? Well, he leverages Twitter to promote himself, published his book through Simon & Schuster, sells that book on Amazon and has a rather large footprint on Google. That’s a lot of monopolies!

Even writing on Substack represents a concession of sorts. After all, is Substack not engaged in an attempt to monopolize blogging? If you’re interested to know what kind of reception you’re likely to get if you proposition me or otherwise venture a cold call, see the entertaining screengrab (below).

To quote Denzel Washington’s wildly idealized depiction of Frank Lucas, “Nobody owns me, though. Because I own my company. And my company sells a product that’s better than the competition at a price that’s lower than the competition.”

Now that I think about it, Frank Lucas probably isn’t the best way to make the point. After all, he had one of the most famous monopolies in modern American history.

Anyway, it’s mostly impossible for regular people to avoid hypocrisy. The gentleman I mentioned above could scarcely be expected to eschew interactions with all of the monopolies he leverages. He feels like his message is important, and as such, he wants to expose himself (don’t laugh) to the maximum number of people. What good is a great message if nobody receives it?

Relatedly, it’s unfair to point out the eyebrow-raising juxtaposition between a Progressive who once attempted to identify with America’s downtrodden masses by saying she doesn’t have $40,000 laying around, and social media images depicting a fabulous lifestyle, complete with chauffeured trips to conferences in a Mercedes S-Class worth at least $120,000. (It’s safe to say there isn’t a single S-Class owner on planet Earth who doesn’t have $40,000 in the bank.)

Finally (and although I can’t go into specifics, this is among the most poignant real-world examples I’ve ever come across personally), what are we to say about an independent media company whose founder and majority owner built his reputation on “red-pilling” the masses, when in fact, the entire business model is built on the dissemination of patent falsehoods, misinformation and, in some cases, outright lies?

There’s no greater irony — no more glaring example of hypocrisy — than a Morpheus figure whose “red pill” immerses the public in a fictional world of his own construction.

Over sushi, dumplings and too much alcohol in Manhattan, I once asked that person what his site’s actual mission was. Naively, I expected to hear some idealistic manifesto. Like the one posted on the site. Instead, he offered this: “My goal is to make my employees rich.”

The implication was twofold. First, he was already rich. Second, the entire premise of his media company (which still exists, by the way, all these years later) was a total fabrication. He had no interest in being “the genuine article,” despite the fact that his entire reputation was built on the idea that only he was capable of delivering the unvarnished truth about capital markets and, eventually, geopolitics, to the public.

A quick Google search is all you need to turn up at least one instance of our best-selling monopoly author mentioning our fake Morpheus in a tweet. Go figure, right? It’s not a conspiracy. It’s a testament to the fact that people credited with penning the definitive take on issues as important as monopolies in America are apparently incapable of identifying misinformation and propaganda when they see it.

Can we blame any of the people mentioned above for what I’ve suggested are personal shortcomings? Maybe. But probably not. It’s exceedingly difficult to be the genuine article. It’s even harder when what you’re trying to be is an advocate for some ostensibly noble cause, but your advocacy ends up enriching you. Don’t forget, Bernie Sanders is a millionaire.

I’d argue that this matters now more than ever. As one reporter once proudly told me, while boasting about a story she wrote on America’s misinformation epidemic, “it says a lot about where people get their news.”

The vexing quandary for the masses is that the best information often comes from people you’ve never heard of. People who, for one reason or another, have dedicated themselves to a kind of severe asceticism. Sometimes, that’s because they’ve discovered, to their dismay, that popularity, and especially mass appeal, are incompatible with authenticity. Other times, they’ve just decided that most people are so stupid as to be a lost cause, and that the ones who aren’t will find good information, even it’s buried on an obscure island somewhere.

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19 thoughts on “Nobody You Follow Is Real, Says The Pseudonym

  1. You are motivating me to paint my garage floor today. How’s that? If you can crank out quality article after quality article, I can at least paint a small section of floor. Assuming my paint is still good…

    1. In defense of the gig economy – some meaningful number of gig workers at least seem to like the flexibility i.e. agree it is “freedom”. The problem is more with the other workers – those that are forced into gig work when they’d rather have a stable job… and the system can’t provide them with one (or they aren’t able to find one, however you want to phrase that mismatch).

      1. My forty something nephew, who has a modicum of talent, has just gotten his first actual job with benes and everything. I had a few side gigs in my long career as a professor. I made myself available as a expert witness until I just couldn’t take the stress of telling people their child victim of wrongful death was only worth something like $90k economically and I quit. I was also a strategic planning consultant for more than 20 years. Even that work became harder and harder to do because too many clients wanted me to back them, no matter how stupid they were so finally I retired. Gig work is not freedom. You must meet a client’s expectations like any company or worker. You have to bust your butt getting jobs if gig work is your whole source of a living. It is not freedom. I once had a man in my office (I ran my school’s MBA program at the time) and he wanted to apply for our program. He had an undergraduate degree with honors from a top liberal arts college and a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern, a top school. His problem was he couldn’t hold a job. He had like 25 positions since graduation as was fired from all of them, including a few as an Editor-in-Chief. Worse, he was nearly destitute and desperate. His problem was with “freedom.” He thought a journalist’s was to find nasty topics and tell the unvarnished truth about them no matter who didn’t want to read what he wrote. Technically, he was right in principle, perhaps, but just couldn’t read the room, as it were. There are many ways to be truthful without pissing off everyone. That’s why gig jobs are hardly ever the road to freedom.

  2. I discontinued my at home internet connection in October 2019. The reason was connected to the exploding nature of news and politicized crap that started to be virtually everywhere, from workplaces to outspoken neighbors and beyond. That noise became increasingly ugly and it didn’t help that my internet provider kept raising rates — so I cut the plug — and it was wonderful.

    I basically forced myself to spend more time with creating art and found myself enjoying my renaissance, but then in early March 2020, I felt a need to replace my highly dated flip phone with a smartphone, because it seemed like there was strange stuff on the horizon with a possible pandemic.

    I had a limited data plan and didn’t surf news much, but as time went on, it was increasingly easy to see that the disinformation and crap I wanted to get away from, was evolving into a mutated and dangerous threat, which was supercharged by the Capitol Attack which subsequently laid the foundation for a new lower class of Americans to build a supply chain of stupidity.

    The main reason I’ve returned to Heisenberg is because it strikes me as being authentic, real and focused. I’ve had numerous posts deleted, but I respect the integrity here that has been built here. I appreciate not seeing noise and thoughtless rants about half-witted mindless slop from third-grade mentalities searching for like-minded hillbillies.

    I continue to enjoy my art and I enjoy reading the high quality efforts that are created here — thank you very much!!

  3. H – Saw the screengrab. Ha! You could make hundreds of thousands of dollars! This newsletter writer has obviously achieved some lofty height from which he promotes Substack to other content creators. And it likely is an automated solicitation. Cultivating a public persona is not my bag. I also believe it has necessary pitfalls.

    You could certainly take him up on the offer if you would enjoy the activity, need the money, and can spare the time. But I reckon you’re busy. And who has the time? No me. Nor would would I speculate on a bad investment of my time when I have a winner in my portfolio, as you do. I would rather paint the garage floor if I had it on my to-do list.

    What is a human being? Apparently It can be a product of imagination, supported by a social network. More power to this gentleman you describe if he benefits by promoting Substack. But as for me, I’m just part of a foursome – in a condo with my wife and two cats. Like the garage floor chore, I invest myself where it serves purpose. I comment here when I have time to invest myself and share thoughts in conversation. I care about policy, well-being, peace, and tranquility. Unfortunately for me, I have no time for Twitter, Facebook, etal.

  4. IIRC the ascetics turned into parodies of themselves once they gained some notoriety. High up on their towers, preaching authenticity to a crowd of loyalists.

    Speaking of, when can we get some H laptop stickers?

    1. I thought about laptop stickers and branded trinkets, etc. The problem with that kind of “merch” is that you either 1) get it done by some company you don’t know, have no business relationship with and who ships it for you, in which case you have no visibility into the process or the quality, or 2) you have to hold a bunch of inventory. Number one is a non-starter (I’m too obsessive — I tried it late last year with my first shirts, and I didn’t like it), and although the monetary outlay for the inventory isn’t an issue for me, the kind of inventory is. Long story short, I don’t want a garage full of unsold Heisenberg Report laptop stickers, coffee mugs and Christmas ornaments. I can’t do anything with those. So, instead, I decided to go high-end with apparel, starting with the shirts. This latest batch is admittedly expensive, but they ship with a matching 12X16 print. Ultimately (and you can tell I put a lot of thought into this), I can wear nice shirts and I can frame prints as gifts, etc. So, if they don’t sell, I’ll be happy to just keep them for myself. However, I can’t do anything with 1,000 unsold laptop stickers or 250 coffee mugs. 🙂

  5. I realize how clueless I am- as I have no idea who the “monopoly guy” is. Nor do I care.
    I do know that I trust your written words even though I can do math and have estimated the suggested profitability of The Heisenberg Report. Do I think you write to secure more subscribers and therefore, ads? No I do not.
    I prefer to think of you more as a Hemingway man, of the caliber who understands that “there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

  6. ” … it’s that they’re accidentally disingenuous, hypocritical by necessity or unwitting accomplices in the perpetuation of the absurd.”

    My daughter is fond of reminding me that of necessity everyone tells stories, to themselves and others. The trouble is very few people can keep their stories straight so even the most well-intentioned have (many) accidents. Actually, a couple of years ago I was reading some recent research about how memory works (to me one of life’s deepest mysteries). What this researcher discovered was that each time one recalls a particular chunk of long-term memory, as to tell a story, the brain physically embellishes the chunk of memory by expanding the neurons associated with it, and in the process that chunk of memory is changed so the next time it is recalled, it will be slightly changed, as will be the story. The more often one tries to tell the same story, the more it will be changed. We can’t do anything about this, it’s just how the brain works. I thought that was interesting.

  7. My approach:
    1. Don’t accept anything you read as a truth
    2. Treat everything you read as a view
    3. Go find the facts and consider the views
    4. Reach your own conclusions

    Of course, this only works if the reader have experience, knowledge, judgment, research ability, etc in the particular issue.

    Sadly, this approach also leads some to anti vaxxism, because of the preceding paragraph.

  8. It is an interesting point about being the genuine article. I have intersected many people who I found to be genuine, throughout my life, that ended up disappointing later. Opportunity can often allow someone to convince themselves to change. The problem isn’t that people find it difficult to remain genuine, the problem is that we (who also struggle to remain genuine) expect these people to behave differently than we would or could. It points back to the overly judgmental nature of human beings. Where, in one instance, you can hear someone saying “everyone is human”, I guarantee you will find that same person later judging another for not being their own vision of perfect. Humans are flawed and we supposedly all know that except we seem to forget it when it comes to judging others in whatever context we’ve decided we have a right to do so.

    Finding real news is a journey we all should embrace, with the notion that you will never find a perfect source of information and that if that source changes course so then should you. H does a great job of providing wisdom and experience peppered in with comedy and perspective. Maybe someday that will change and I will cancel my subscription. Who am I to judge if that occurs?

  9. As the current board member of a cannabis corporation and former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said “A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk.” So if you just want to be a leader; find a mob, be the most outspoken, yell the loudest, tell people what they want to hear, shove your way up front and you too can be a leader. Lack of commitment and vision are irrelevant if your only goal is to be a highly compensated leader. That’s how the Trump crime family ascended to the White House and why well educated Congressmen still make excuses for the January 6th riot. They just want to be leaders and they have found their mob. It’s a sad and very dangerous circumstance for our democratic republic.

  10. It seems to me that the largest source of misinformation is coming from the various social media platforms and unfortunately, most people these days use social media as their primary news source. I don’t see any solution other than making social media companies liable for demonstrable falsehoods published on their websites. It will never happen though, they are protected behind layers of legislation.

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