Inspiring Success Stories vs The Great Chain of Being

Dave Gutteridge
From the Gutt
Published in
9 min readMar 4, 2022

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An old medieval print depicting the Great Chain of Being.
The Great Chain of Being, where all life is ordered from rocks and plants at the bottom, people a little up from the middle, angels in the upper half, and I guess Yahweh is in the castle?

My friend wanted to share with me the sense of inspiration she’s been getting from reading Will Smith’s biography. I told her, hopefully in a successfully tactful way, that I just don’t care about celebrity biographies. I didn’t want to rain on her parade by diminishing whatever joy she gets from it, but I didn’t want to have to patiently feign interest in a topic that I would be just waiting to end either. It’s the kind time usage issue that you become more sensitive to as you get older, and hopefully I’ve developed the social skills to cope with it.

I especially don’t care about actor biographies because of all performing arts, actors, in my view, are the most reliant on timing and circumstance for their opportunities. I don’t want to piss off any actors by diminishing their craft, though. It’s not that it doesn’t take skill to act well and bring a character to life, it’s just that the market that rewards actors is much more reliant on gate keepers imposing criteria that often includes many factors beyond an actor’s abilities.

Which is also true for just about any other arena of success among humans, it’s just a matter of degree and nuance. It may be harder to push a less talented musician into the lime light than a less talented actor, but it’s still true that many great musicians don’t get wider fame because they didn’t correctly negotiate the pathway to wider exposure. It’s not just that they didn’t get the right agent or producer, it’s also that, as with many performing arts these days, it’s not even clear where you should be putting in the effort. Do you put your music for free on YouTube? Do you sell it on Bandcamp? Try to get it on Spotify? Focus on live concerts…?

Going further, it’s not even just media and performing arts. The western oligarchs like Bezos, Musk, and Gates all are where they are because of the runway given to them by the luck of where they were born and to who. It’s true that a lot of people who were born into similar circumstance did not reach the same highs, which seems to indicate some amount of deliberation on the part of those who are now the capstones of the capitalist social pyramid. But it’s also true that we can definitively say that had any them been born in a slum in Pakistan or a favela in Brazil the odds that we would now know their names is…

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Dave Gutteridge
From the Gutt

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.