This article is an excerpt from my book, How To Be A Superior Man
An overwhelming majority of modern men lead lives of quiet desperation and for those who want to turn their lives around, the most commonly available resource for help is conventional wisdom which sucks in all aspects of life that matter, be it fitness, finance, relationships, or education.
Good luck if you want to get in shape by following conventional fitness advice because that’s unlikely to happen. The first problem with conventional fitness wisdom is that it treats fitness as an afterthought rather than a priority, which is why people fall out of shape in the first place. Exercise is seen as a temporary measure only to be remembered at times when people want to lose fat and when it finally comes into the picture, it comes in the form of time-devouring, boring cardio. Conventional diet advice is littered with myths such as “eating fat makes you fat”, “eat six small meals a day if you want to lose weight”, or “eating at night causes weight gain”, etc. People of the world have been getting fatter and fatter for five full decades but still, an overwhelming majority of people have no idea about the real reason why they are fat.
Conventional wisdom’s track record in financial matters is as awful as its track record in fitness, evidenced by the fact that most men who have followed conventional finance wisdom are two paychecks or one recession away from broke. The conventional path to making a living is “go to school-get good grades-find a job,” without any consideration given to the fact that if everyone is encouraged to find jobs and no one is encouraged to build businesses, there will inevitably be a shortage of jobs, which is exactly what’s been happening to millions of college graduates who fail to land a “good job”. The conventional path to financial independence is to retire in the twilight years of your life and it doesn’t even work because 80% of boomers admit that they have to work past retirement age1. Widely held conventional beliefs that “money is the source of all evil” or “money doesn’t make you happy” are of no help either.
The current state of male-female relationships is another casualty of conventional wisdom which has it completely backward in matters of romance. Conventional relationship advice tells men to be nice guys who put women on pedestals, which results at best in relationships where the average modern man is a doormat, at worst in a completely barren love life often with no reciprocation to his hopeless advances.
Last but not least, conventional wisdom’s understanding of education is limited to school education which is interested more in indoctrinating people than educating them. Since what separates us from animals and puts humans at the top of the food chain is our ability to think, most people’s education being limited to school education is a waste of tremendous potential. Following conventional educational wisdom is also bad for your finances because a college diploma might put you in tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Moreover, the conventional way to stay informed is to follow the mainstream media which also is more interested in propaganda than to inform people.
Actions Reflect Beliefs
Conventional wisdom basically refers to the body of beliefs commonly held and generally accepted by the public. Consider your brain as the hardware and your belief system as the software your brain operates from. Your beliefs are the sources of our actions. For example, if you believe cardio is the best exercise to lose fat, you’re likelier to buy a $1,000 treadmill rather than a $5 pull-up bar. If you believe that a college diploma is a ticket to financial independence and that 90% of businesses fail, you’re likelier to get a $100,000 student loan to go to college than to start a business. If you believe that money doesn’t make you happy or money is evil, you’ll subconsciously sabotage yourself and you’ll never get rich. If you believe education stops after graduation, you’ll guarantee to operate massively below your potential.
The impotence of conventional wisdom is best observed in men who have done “everything right” but ended up living in desperation. Unfortunately, hard work isn’t an antidote to the perils of following conventional wisdom because conventional beliefs lead to impotent actions that fail to deliver the desired results.
One of my ex-colleagues is a great example of a hardworking man who did everything right and still ended up living in desperation. He was a good man and we used to talk a lot during lunchtime or coffee breaks. This man did everything conventional wisdom told him to do. He went to school, got good grades, graduated from a reputable university, got a good engineering job, got married, and had a kid. He didn’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. He was a friendly guy who got along with everyone at the workplace. While everything looked good on paper, he was one of the unhappiest men I’ve known. He couldn’t figure out why he ended up desperate although he never made a major mistake.
His problem was that he didn’t actually do “everything right”. He did what conventional wisdom told him to be right. Big difference. He bought into conventional wisdom’s teachings without questioning them at all so it’s not surprising that he ended up frustrated with his station in life. He is a great guy and I feel sad about his situation but I am also aware that it’s his mistake to blindly follow the rules.
Modern societies are filled to the brim with frustrated men such as my ex-colleague who did “everything right”. These men have been duped into playing a rigged game the rules of which were designed to keep them down — a game in which they had no chance of winning. They’ve bought into the teachings of conventional wisdom and their actions reflected their beliefs. They’ve never bothered to question the veracity of the conventional advice they received from their teachers, parents, and the mainstream media, and paid the price by wasting the only life they had, living in desperation instead of thriving. Most men live and die without figuring out what exactly they’ve done wrong. Among those who realize the impotence of conventional wisdom, many of them have already wasted the majority of their lives.
The Origins Of Conventional Wisdom
Animals are limited by their instincts. They fail as soon as their instincts fail them. Humans, on the other hand, have conscious minds to rely on, especially at times when their instincts fall short of informing them how to navigate complex habitats such as agricultural or industrial societies.
By the time we started to live in agricultural societies, human behavior has increasingly been divorced from instinct and become culturally and institutionally programmed for the purposes of adaptation and control.
Cultures are systems of adaptation to specific living conditions peculiar to an era. Indoctrination is a set of beliefs instilled in the minds of the populations by the ruling classes to facilitate the exercise of power. Conventional wisdom has historically originated from a mixture of culture (to bridge the gap between instinct and the necessities of real life) and indoctrination.
For example, the culture of agricultural societies programmed the average people of the era for survival because ordinary people were often one crop failure away from starvation. Risk-taking used to be matter of life and death so it was discouraged in premodern societies by taboos and social constraints even if it meant living in poverty for a lifetime.
Another consequence of the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies has been the emergence of the ruling classes. Anytime a particular ruling class ascends to power, the first thing they do is to dig moats around their winnings. Indoctrination is one of these moats. Ruling classes have always sought to indoctrinate the population with beliefs that rendered the people easier and cheaper to govern and exploit. Every era has its own set of indoctrinated beliefs that are aimed at governing the population in an efficient and cheap way.
For example, medieval populations were indoctrinated with the belief that poverty is an apostolic virtue. If people believed that poverty is a virtue, they would not only not revolt against the ruling classes due to poor living conditions but they would also donate to the church any excess resource they happened to gain possession of. This, in fact, is exactly what happened during the Middle Ages. Corrupt ruling classes got away with their plunder and continued to live in extravagance at the expense of everyone else, unabated by a discontented population that could otherwise revolt. Also in the Middle Ages, there used to be a code of manners called chivalry, which also facilitated the exercise of power by facilitating the mobilization of military power.
There are many problems with both sources of conventional wisdom. The problem with culture is that what used to be advantageous to the people of one era can be counterproductive for the people of another era. Obsolete beliefs may continue to persist although they have long exhausted their potential because most people never question their beliefs. For example, an aversion to risk-taking persisted in modern societies as a cultural relic of premodern societies although modern people, especially those who live in richer countries, won’t starve because of taking risks. When life changes fast, as is the case now, cultural adaptation is too slow to answer the necessities of new living conditions. Another example of the failures of cultural adaptation is that when food wasn’t abundant as it is today, people didn’t need to watch their diets in order to stay lean. The sudden explosion in food production got the people of the world fat but culture is still too slow to adapt to the realities of our times which is why there’s no end in sight to the obesity epidemic.
Counterproductive cultural programming requires critical thinking skills to be overcome, which ironically gets destroyed by school indoctrination. This dual-pronged attack on the unsuspecting modern man traps him hopelessly inside the confines of conventional wisdom.
The other source of conventional wisdom, indoctrination, is even harder to overcome because unlike culture, which tends to be rigid, indoctrination is fluid since it’s consciously tailored by the ruling classes according to the necessities of the era. For example, the chivalry code of the Middle Ages wouldn’t work in modern societies so it was replaced with citizenship indoctrination.
The indoctrination of the modern man starts as early as he starts to gain a conscience and reaches school age. Modern people are duped into thinking that schools are centers of education when in reality they are centers of indoctrination. Unless he educates himself otherwise, school indoctrination stays with the person for a lifetime because it happens at a time when he’s young and impressionable. Childhood beliefs, no matter how irrational, are extremely hard to change so the ruling classes bank on not the logical soundness of the ideas they instill in the minds of the people but the reluctance of people to question and change their beliefs.
The greatest casualty of school indoctrination is critical thinking, which is not only essential to overcome counterproductive conventional beliefs but also to overcome obstacles and get ahead in life. If you can’t think critically, you simply can’t get ahead in life. You become an automaton that follows the rules, which is exactly where your rulers want you to be. The rules are there to ensure that you stay mediocre and never threaten the status quo.
As we’ve already covered, many men do “everything right” and still end up living lives of desperation. This is not a bug but a feature. The mistake these men did was to think they could win by following the rules that are designed to keep them down.
A Self-Sustaining Mediocrity
Donald James famously said that “The ideal tyranny is that which is ignorantly self-administered by its victims. The most perfect slaves are, therefore, those which blissfully and unawaredly enslave themselves.”
Conventional wisdom acts as the modern society’s gravitational pull to mediocrity instead of greatness. It ensures that you massively operate below your potential and never become exceptional. Once limiting conventional beliefs that are either outdated or designed to keep them down are successfully instilled in the minds of the population, mediocrity becomes self-sustaining. The members of the population will self-limit with little to no intervention required from those at the top. They’ll usually hold on to their self-sabotaging beliefs for a lifetime.
Even if a man somehow attempts to rebel against conventional wisdom, modern societies have powerful mechanisms in place to nudge them back into normalcy. At any point you dare to attempt at being exceptional, you’ll find mediocre people taking objection to your decisions without the self-awareness that their own mediocre wisdom led them to live lives of desperation.
Unsuspecting Partners In Crime
Your parents, teachers, and other adults you look up to are often the products of the same conventional wisdom which is why they lead lives of desperation themselves.
These people are unsuspecting partners in crime, who parrot, purvey, and disseminate impotent conventional wisdom, thinking that they are doing their kids a favor when in fact they are setting them up for a lifetime of frustration. Many of these people are well-intentioned but unfortunately, good intentions aren’t a shield against mistakes.
Following the “wisdom” of mediocre people, even if they’re your parents or teachers, is a reliable path to mediocrity. If these people’s wisdom worked, they wouldn’t be living lives of desperation in the first place.
Misery Loves Company
Unfortunately, not all people who disseminate conventional wisdom are well-intentioned. Humans are an envious bunch. Misery loves company. Many average or below average people hate to see one of their own rise to the top. They don’t want you to succeed beyond their own paltry “success” because your success reminds them of their failure.
If you start doing things to leave the average behind, expect average people to take an objection. These people operate from a crabs in the bucket mentality. Whenever you want to leap to get out of the bucket, there will appear average people to try to talk you out of it.
If you decide to build a business, you’ll be reminded that 90% of new businesses fail. If you decide to focus on yourself in order to improve your life, you’ll be accused of being selfish. They’ll play mind games to make you doubt your self-worth, abilities, and potential.
If every other tactic fails to stop you from deviating from the norm, shame comes into the picture. Societies have powerful shaming mechanisms to bully you into living a “normal” life. The key phrase is “everybody else is doing it.” Everybody else is buying a house so you should buy a house too, no matter if it will shackle you to a 30-year long mortgage. Everybody else is going to college so you should go to a college too, no matter if it will shackle you to $100k student loan debt. Everybody else who is your age is getting married so you should get married too, no matter if you can’t yet afford to support a family. Most people fold under the pressure and end up sentencing themselves to a mediocre life that sucks.
Normal is two paychecks away from broke with a load of debt and little to no savings; 20 pounds overweight; depressed; having trouble attracting the kind of women you want; having little to no close friends; and being a man who no one needs or looks up to. You can’t worry about not being normal.
Unless you’ve surrounded yourself with exceptional people (which is unlikely to happen unless you become exceptional yourself), at no point in your life you’ll be encouraged to become exceptional.
An Unconventional Mindset
Your mindset is the total of your beliefs that govern your choices which in turn govern the trajectory of your life. Greatness isn’t found in conventional wisdom but in doing exactly the opposite of what it tells you to do.
The immediate red flag with conventional wisdom should be that you can’t expect to be unlike everyone else by doing what everyone else does. The only way to lead a good life is by leaving the average behind, which can’t be done by following the teachings of conventional wisdom.
Assume that everybody wants you to fail because why not? Many people really want to see you fail and others who have well-intentions are of no help as they parrot impotent conventional wisdom. If you want to make it to the top, it’s in your best interests to disregard what others think of you and ignore their attempts at nudging you into normalcy. You’re on your own.
You can’t expect to win in a game the rules of which are designed to keep you down and sentence you to an average existence at best. The people at the top never obey the rules they make because rules only benefit those who make the rules, not those who play by them. When you play by other people’s rules, you make them thrive at your expense.
Due to the limitations of conventional wisdom, the average modern man not only operates massively below his potential as if he’s locked in a cage with invisible rails, but he’s also not even aware of his potential. Awakening your potential starts with adopting an unconventional mindset suitable for your goals and taking massive action to accomplish them one after the other.
This article is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of my book How To Be A Superior Man: Master Yourself, Get Leaner And Stronger, Achieve Your Goals, Become The Man You Want To Be. Read more here.
- BOSTON COLLEGE, CENTER FOR WORK & FAMILY, The Aging Workforce: Exploring the Impact on Business Strategy.