I wrote something once, about how at a certain point in life, you have to put aside your identity as a student of life, so that you can lead your own .
And this, like many of the truths the muse has whispered to me, I have forgotten time and time again. Thankfully I wrote them down .
Still, I nonetheless, as is my nature, have been an eternal student of life. I don’t know how many books I own, but 2,000 wouldn’t surprise me .
And it was in reading one of these books  (Pauses to dig it up) that I came across a lesson I needed to hear at this juncture of my life. The lesson was a story about how one of the author’s friends invited him to a seminar once, and what transpired.
I’ve transcribed the story below for you, starting with his friend’s “pitch” of the seminar:
“See, man, we’re all conditioned to respond to things in a particular way—from our parents, school, government. It’s the whole capitalistic programming of mind control that makes us chase after these material things. I’m talking about self-determination, about ending slavery to the almighty dollar, man.”
“That’s what the lecture’s about?” I asked, reminding him that my work schedule was pretty tight.
“That’s the problem,” he went on. “Wanting material things, wanting to be middle-class, aspiring to be bourgeois. You think that your work is who you are, right? No, man, who you are is who you are, not what you do.”
Sounded interesting enough to get me there. Even then, at what turned out to be a seminar called EST, run by a guy named Werner Erhard, nobody would explain what IT was all about. In fact, you had to get IT. And if you couldn’t get IT, you had to be trained to get IT. And you had to pay a lot of money to be trained to get IT.
Sitting on the floor, cross- legged, in a room full of nearly a hundred people, my three friends and I kept exchanging frustrated expressions as Werner Erhard and his lieutenants took turns yelling at us, just like in the military, and telling us how our lives weren’t working and how we had all this baggage that we wouldn’t take responsibility for. How could we do that? We had to get IT. But nobody could tell us what IT was! What was more, they didn’t want us to basically leave until we got IT. No eating or going to the bathroom. With my three friends, Bill included, I soon began to roll my eyes in frustration.What I wanted to say was, Look, just tell us what IT is, because maybe we could get IT if we knew what IT was.
Maybe we got IT already.
It occurred to me, that not even the seminar leaders seemed to knew what IT was. When that became apparent, after about an hour of all this berating, I stood up and finally said,“Yeah, I got IT.”
Just before the EST army could move in, I added, “Fuck IT. Fuck IT, and fuck you, and fuck that.”
The four of us became very vocal. “Yeah, fuck IT!” repeated one of the guys.“IT ain’t shit!” shouted another. Bill yelled,“I don’t want IT!” I finished up by saying,“Keep IT.”
As the only brothers in the room, we started to sense there was going to be a racial issue, but pretty soon most of the white people in the room began to give us looks like, Ah, they do have IT. All hell just about broke loose when one white guy stood up and joined us, saying,“Yeah, that’s right! Fuck IT!” This was enough for us to be escorted quickly out because we had definitely messed up the game. That little experiment proved to me that I didn’t need other doctrines to enlighten me. But Bill kept on searching.
The author goes on to tell how he heard of Bill again in 1978, when he [Bill] and 900 other people who followed a charismatic leader to Jonestown, Guyana, would drink cyanide laced kool-aid in a mass suicide. This, gave rise to the expression drinking the kool-aid, which I first heard when I was 21 and in an office where people were drinking the figurative kool-aid .
Not long after I worked in that office, I was invited to a seminar (Some MLM Amazonian “miracle” beverage), which would be my first and last seminar, and while I didn’t have the courage to stand up and yell “Fuck IT”, my girlfriend at the time (3.1) and I actually quietly left – before peeling out of the parking lot of the strip-mall loudly enough to let everyone inside know how we felt about their kool-aid .
Now it has been a long time since I thought of the expression or connected the dots between the people in the office and the people in that miserable little strip-mall seminar, but I think when you really are drinking the kool-aid, you don’t know it.
At least, the last time someone invited me to a seminar (Which coincidentally was an offshoot of EST, known as Landmark), she didn’t know it .
But this isn’t about seminars. That’s the obvious kind of kool-aid – but that’s not the only kool-aid. I think there are lot more people trying to get you to drink their kool-aid than you know, which is to say, there are a lot of people who benefit in you thinking they know better than you do.
I will admit: I may have dodged a few kool-aid laced doctrines in my life, as far as footnotes tell, but I have drank the kool-aid – from relationships to just about every facet of life, I drank the kool-aid. Whenever I subscribed to the belief that other people knew better than I did, I was drinking the kool-aid, which, at thirty, is a hell of a lot more often than I’d like to admit.
But it’s true. You see, unlike Chris Gardner, I didn’t extract the same lesson he did from dodging the kool-aid; where he said, That little experiment proved to me that I didn’t need other doctrines to enlighten me, I simply said, don’t buy what people are selling to you if it sounds too good to be true.
Maybe this was a difference in our years, but now, having read his anecdote about the seminar, I see the larger message – the one he extracted:
I don’t need other doctrines to enlighten me.
But, until now, I didn’t think of overtly manipulative beliefs as doctrines, I simply thought of them as some bullshit I wasn’t stupid enough to buy; however, now, I’m starting to examine all the bullshit I was stupid enough to buy – and the list is huge.
Basically anything I blindly accepted, and in particular things I accepted from those whom it was in their interest for me to accept things from, is on the list; every time I didn’t question why I was being told something, I was drinking the fucking kool-aid.
This may sound extreme, but I think we all drink the kool-aid in our lives. Society serves us up it’s kool-aid starting in our formative years, and this is particularly true for those of us who grew up under “I pledge allegiance” Bush era nationalism. I can’t even imagine how strong the kool-aid was for my father’s generation, where the Indians were the bad guys in every movie.
Today, however, the kool-aid we are served is much more palatable – approved even, by the PC police.
It is the Kardashian kool-aid, which supports a multi-billion dollar advertising machine for cosmetics; it is, in essence, anything, which unquestioned, you let rule your values and choices.
According to Wikipedia, “Drinking the Kool-Aid” is a figure of speech commonly used in North America that refers to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination.
That’s a broad stroke.
How many unquestioned beliefs, arguments, or philosophies do we hold without critical examination?
I’d dare say most of our beliefs, arguments, and philosophies are held without critical examination.
School teaches us to learn, but rarely to think. Philosophy, after all, isn’t about finding the right answers, but about asking the right questions.
Because the right answers, the truth, it has to be your truth.
For your truth is not my truth. My truth is like the truth known to all men who have awakened to their individuality; my truth is as unique as I am; however, unlike Herman Hesse, I still question stars and books, for, while I hear them, I have not quite begun to follow the teachings my blood whispers to me.
But I feel it is time. It is time for me to realize that no kool-aid, no external belief, argument, or philosophy is going to be a substitute for living my life, particularly when the beliefs, arguments, and philosophies I hold already remain so unquestioned, unchallenged by my truth.
It is time for me to live by my truths, to remember that, at a certain point in life, you have to put aside your identity as a student of life, so that you can lead your own.
Here are 10 of my truths, to serve as reminders:
- I am entirely capable of fulfilling my specific desires, which I have for a reason
- I do not need anyone to complete me
- I know who I am, and I am not lost
- I have permission to be fully confident and sure of myself
- I deserve the things I want
- I do not need any more “answers” other than those necessary to solve the problems I set out to work on
- My intuition knows best
- I know better than anyone else does for me
- I am fully capable of leading myself
- It is better to learn and reason from experience and first principles than through analogy
Edit: The day I published this, my father emailed me a link to a brilliant Wait But Why long form article on Elon Musk, titled: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce
In the piece, the author ironically starts out using the “drinking the kool-aid” analogy to describe his allegiance to the Elon Musk cognitive model, which he breaks down, before addressing the problem of dogma and providing a solution for us to trust our own software rather than the programs society runs on.
“Eventually, you must hit a tipping point and trusting your own software becomes your way of life—and as Jobs says, you’ll never be the same again.”
If what I wrote resonated with you at all, I highly implore you to read the Wait But Why piece: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce.
It is the absolute perfect pairing for this, and it definitely feels like synchronicity is at play, given the path I am on.
Edit 11/14/15: Just published an entry titled, Hacking an Open Source Cognitive Model for Goal Prioritization and Attainment, which addresses the aforementioned Wait Buy Why piece.
1: Notes and Lessons from Napoleon Hill’s 1928 Masterpiece: Outwitting The Devil, brilliant stuff.
2. Start a journal, start a free blog on wordpress.com, just write. Your future self will thank you. So will your children.
3. Keep in mind, my book collection, with the exception of a few keepsakes [3.1], has only really began this year… The Black Family Library is happening.
3.1 If you’re reading this, yes, I still have those books we got in Seattle. Also, it’s great never thinking of you; with the exception of a few of our things I held onto, you are now a mere footnote in my life.
4. The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner. Fantastic book. Also, if you want to read another amazing autobiography, check out The Measure of a Man, Sidney Poitier. I’ve read both at 30, and I think the timing could not have been better. Also, if you have any autobiographies or biographies worth noting, please comment – I’d love to read them.
5. At aged 21, during the height of the refi boom in the 2000’s, I steered clear of drinking the kool-aid, so to speak, and last I heard, the two men I worked for went to prison for mortgage fraud.
6. 3.1 (I think I’ll make that her new moniker), she may be a footnote but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love her. Man, we laughed so hard after we peeled out of that lot. Sigh.
7. Boy meets girl at gym in LA, boy asks for girls number. Girl invites boy out, he arrives – she is with another boy. Boy leaves. Two months later girl calls boy to apologize because she was “totally brainwashed” and just wanted him to go to the seminar, which she was “pressured to invite people to”. Boy forgets girl’s last name. Footnoted.