The Insurgent Who Loved Me

On class traitors and eight-year-olds

I’m on my book tour (The Algebra of Happiness, Penguin Portfolio), and I’m spent. The 30–40 interviews, talks, and podcasts have me not just tired, but sated on… me. Talking about happiness this much feels like virtue signaling, or the third bag of SweeTarts you ate as a teen. I feel like if anybody, including me, consumes any more of me and my advice on happiness, they’re going to throw up all over the back seat.

Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, summarized every argument made to date for breaking up Facebook in the New York Times. Any credible voice adding to the chorus of sanity on the need to correct the greatest DOJ/FTC failure (approving the acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp) is welcome. There was nothing original here other than that a Facebook co-founder has come out as rational. Mr. Hughes is more lucky than talented, but his opinion piece is relevant, as Chris is a class traitor. Just as Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt turned on the people who put them in the White House, without enemies within the midst of the top 1% we’ll never sustain a countervailing force to private power. Without class traitors, we lose key warriors in the battle against the melding of government and the powerful — a key step to tyranny.

So, brother, welcome to the resistance.

Reputation is a weapon and an asset people can leverage several ways. One way is to offer it for ruin, to the highest bidder. General Colin Powell is the gold medalist of heat shields for this millennium — trading a life of service, courage, and integrity to fool the UN and conscript allies in the most catastrophic geopolitical decision since our entrance into Vietnam. The silver medal goes to Sheryl Sandberg, whose charisma and leadership coopted 51% of the population into believing she was their leader, only to find her negligence may overturn Roe v. Wade after her business helped elect an illegitimate president. A contender for the bronze? Dara Khosrowshahi. I met with Dara 20 years ago when I was pitching him on one of my soon-to-be-failed internet startups (he was CFO of Expedia). He is impressive, likable, and reeks of integrity.

He’s also lipstick on cancer. Ride-hailing is the tobacco of the gig economy and the most recent battle waged by the lords against the serfs in the US. We’ve sequestered the mostly non-white, mostly non-college-educated drivers (3.9 million of them) from the mostly white, mostly college-educated employees (22,000 of them) at HQ, who will split, with their investors, the value of BMW and Ford. Btw, BMW and Ford employ 334,000 people. Pretty sure most have health insurance. The average hourly wage at Ford is $26/hr. At Uber, it’s $9/hr.

Uber is going public today. Unlike Lyft, which will either be acquired or go out of business, Uber has a global brand and has demonstrated they have a flywheel — Uber Eats. CNBC reported they were pricing at the low point of their range. However, they are putting more lipstick on the pig, as Uber’s valuation is down 33% from the $120 billion reported earlier this year. “Let’s hope the markets haven’t put down the crack pipe,” said the board/bankers at Uber.

If Uber leverages their formidable brand, culture of innovation, and flywheel, they could be worth $40 billion, even $50 billion — a 50% decline from their pricing the eve of the IPO.

We have an insurgent living with us. He’s terrifying, determined, and eight. Constantly observing, testing, and gathering intelligence, he assesses our vulnerabilities. He strikes, announcing he no longer wants to eat. Next, he says his feet hurt, all shoes are instruments of torture, and he can’t leave the house. He tracks other villagers (his brother) and commits random acts of violence — punches him, sneaks up behind him and screams, throws anything within reach of his stubby arms at his sibling’s head. His brother, three years his senior, despises him, but respects him, as he fears his temper. Last weekend I went into my older boy’s room to tuck him in, and he jumped, then sighed relief as he recognized it was me, not the insurgent.

The result is simple: there is a thin layer of anxiety, even terror in our house. At any moment, he might strike. Will he refuse to take a bath? Will we hear an unnatural thud from upstairs, a pause, and then a scream from his brother? Despite the Hallmark Channel trying to convince us otherwise, research shows people who don’t have kids are often happier (see above: climate of terror).

I can no longer remember specific moments or occurrences in a single year, as I’m now the owner of so many of them. As you age, your reference set becomes larger, and years perceptually become seasons. Also, I’m having trouble recapturing moments. As a child and younger man, I was so focused on having a good time that I was immune to any real introspection — always in the moment. As I became more thoughtful, I’d review my past actions and try to learn from them.

Also, budding ambition made me much more centered on the future, again taking me out of the moment. School, religion, society all link success with planning your future — focusing your current capital (attention, thought, effort) on shaping your life ahead. The MBA program at Stern and my boys’ 2nd and 5th grade teachers train us to lose the moment. It works. Always thinking about tomorrow (need to review client PowerPoint deck), next week (what investors should I set up coffee with, as I need to set the groundwork for our Series C financing). Never in the moment. When I’m lying in bed with my boys as they fall asleep — not proud of this — I often check my email on my phone. If time is a series of moments, being in the here and now, I’m losing time. Years become seasons, and then a series of fewer moments that find purchase in my brain.

Life… is… slipping… through… my grasp.

When the kids are awake, I’m not allowed to touch the remote. The TV is a tool for getting the kids to eat or generally be less awful. My oldest stumbled upon CNBC, and I blurted out, “Daddy is on CNBC a lot, you want to watch?” Despite paying their rent and buying them Legos, I still feel the need to try to impress them. They love me just enough to delay Boss Baby for two minutes and watch the old men, and younger women, talk about numbers as colored charts whiz up and down. The show has been on for three minutes, which means we were due for commercials. My sons are fascinated by commercials, as they never see them. Advertising has become a tax the poor and technologically illiterate pay, and my boys are neither. The errant commercials they see are usually for sugary cereals or the latest action figure. This is different.

CNBC is less business television than catheter television. The average age of the CNBC viewer is 67. Since my sons are eight and 11, that means there were two viewers in Osaka or the San Ysidro Valley (two “blue zones”) aged 122 and 127. The typical viewer of CNBC is a guy and his oxygen tank, wondering if he should buy or sell Amazon for his 401(k). He loves the hotties on catheter TV, and thinks that young whippersnapper Cramer (64) is a real hoot.

The commercials are a four-minute lesson in how much it sucks to be old — catheters, CPAPs, Life Alert, and opioid-induced constipation. Broadcast television has become so desperate, they’re willing to run commercials that are thinly veiled attempts to defraud seniors. For just $49.99 you can learn to “Trade like Chuck!” Who’s Chuck? An old man who discovered a “proprietary” trading method and can now take his kids and grandkids on beach holidays. So, order now. The mushroom cloud s**tshow that is a corrupt Facebook provides shade for blatant attempts to steal from seniors vis-à-vis respectable business journalists. But I digress.

A commercial for a statin that lowers cholesterol levels comes on catheter TV. My eight-year-old is in new territory, as TV has taught him that not only do we not get sick, but most people have some sort of superhuman power like controlling the weather, being immortal, or the ability to read minds. But seven minutes of catheter television, and the harshness of life has hit him square in the eyes. He asks, “What’s cholesterol?” His older brother knows everything, and reminds us several dozen times a day. “It’s how old people die.”

The insurgent absorbs this information, pauses, and his lower lip begins (no joke) to quiver. He glances at his brother (nope, he’s safe), shifts his gaze to his mother (okay, she looks young), and then fixes his eyes on me. The room feels still. He is discovering mortality… that it’s possible to lose people you love. And his dad is old. He flops over like a fish on a boat, scrambles across the couch on his elbows and knees, like a GI in training traversing under barbed wire, and wraps himself around me, hugging me like a tree. He demands/requests/begs: “Daddy, don’t catch cholesterol.” Time’s inevitable march stops.

It’s a worthwhile query: Who are the people who arrest time for you? These people are your life. The rest is just filler.

I’ve been self-involved my entire life. Always ensuring I received more from relationships than I gave. Never really earning the complete love of anybody, other than my mother. And suddenly, it’s here. The insurgent looks up, nose to nose, stares at me for a second, and burrows his face back into the crease of my neck. His mom has teared up, and his brother is trying to process what’s going on.

This is it. An instant.

Time is barreling me toward the end. But all things past and future are rendered obsolete by the present — this moment. He is an insurgent, wreaking chaos in our house. But he loves me… completely. And that’s enough.

Life is so rich,

P.S. As a preview of my new book — Recode/Decode interview with my partner in crime Kara Swisher.

Prof Marketing @NYUStern · Founder @L2_digital @redenvelope @prophetBrand · Contributor @bloombergtv · Cohost Pivot podcast · Weekly musings

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