The Death of Advice—We’ve Reached Saturation, Chief!

Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay

Deep down, it's insulting for a grown man to tell another man how the world works.

Unasked advice is pricking up against one's manhood. Putting one's hand on another man's shoulder, rhetorically, and saying "let me explain how things operate" is asking for a rhetorical punch in the face. That doesn't mean we don't study, don't go looking for expertise. The man who can't learn is stunted. But part of what we won with our adulthood was sitting in the council of other adults and trading our thoughts without a running ad hominem of 'you just don't understand'. We associate that with childhood. When a guy calls us 'chief', it's a recognition that we're a chieftain. We'll listen to the thoughts of others. We've no childish need to run from fear of other people's ideas. We will listen to any other chief's counsel for the society as a whole. Men can do that, even if they deeply disagree, and not be affronted by the difference.   If we're not fragile of ego, we might even ask for counsel from a smaller, trusted circle. That one distinction—we'll ask—is pretty important. But we don't get talked down to and remain sitting with such people. The last person who can do that, once we're of age, is our mom. We'll let that slide, to a point, because she's our mom. But the moment anyone else says "I will tell you how the world works," we cease regarding that person as a respectful member of the tribe, and we don't need to listen—even if they've got the antitoxin and we've been bitten by a rattlesnake. Find other friends, or suck the blood out, yourself, if need be. Or at least that's my practice.

The self-help industry is always standing by.

It was helpful, at first. It still can be. One of my favorite self-help books, if not THE favorite, is Do The Work by Steven Pressfield. Seminal (for me). But ever since "content marketing" became the gospel of 'getting found' on the internet, we're saturated with advice, and a great deal of it is from people who a) don't know what they're talking about or b) even if they did, they're insulting in the manner in which it's delivered.  Do these look familiar? We've all seen some version of them somewhere . . .

  • Four Things You Need to Know About Dressing Properly: Yeah, because we've lived this long and still haven't figured that out.
  • Three Things You're Doing Wrong at Home And Don't Even Know It: That's what I need, MORE opinions on what I'm doing wrong.
  • Seven New 2021 Fashion Trends You Must Follow: So, if I'm not doing whatever the latest thing is... what? I can't go to your parties?
  • Nine More Ways to F*ck Up Your Marriage:  OK that one's pretty good. But how do I know THAT guy knows diddly about it? He could be a ten-year-old in a country with arranged marriages selling ten penny content via a content mill. He could be a psychotherapist who sleeps with his patients and is on his third broken marriage. Let's take drinking advice from a drunk, shall we?
  • Eleven Ways to Be a Better Man: How about 12 ways to go f*ck yourself? We will never do this here. If you're at Manhearted™, it's because no one has to TELL you how to be a man, and a MAN would understand it's insulting if someone did. Yeah, screw that guy, right Chief?

Advice is rampant. Not only unasked advice, but advice shoved at us in every crevice of the internet and through every orifice of digital connection. And not only unasked advice (I mean sure, SOMEONE is searching for that, but how much do you see vs. how much you actually WANTED to see?)... but also advice that insinuates we basically suck if we don't know what the advice is. Click or be a bad husband. Read this or be a slob. Do what I say or be hopelessly out of touch with the times. Do it or bad, bad things will happen to your life. Do it, because you're insecure, aren't you?  You really ARE afraid you're doing it all wrong and don't know anything after all. Right? God, it's offensive. Is it not?

The surest way to break a life might be trying to fix it.

It's not without merit. This guy who wrote the bestselling book "Unfu*k Yourself: Get out of your head and into your life" is making the point. Nothing will throw us off our game more than being sure we need people to tell us how to play the game. Nothing will queer our relationships with others, break down our self-esteem, and send us chasing an endless treadmill of needy, weepy cure-yourself programs than consuming a lot of content about having better relationships, building self-esteem, or weepy cure-yourself programs. I say that as someone who has done a couple. I'm deeply indebted to one of them: Landmark Education™. I found it intensely helpful, because it made a different pitch: "We're going to give you some extra tools." (Who doesn't like TOOLS?). Take them or leave them; up to you. Jeez, that sounds like my grandpa. I'll do it.

Advice for sale—it's mostly helping the other guy.

But most advice seems like it's designed to sell more advice. Click the blog post, find a company selling you... big surprise... clothing, a marriage course (because all those people 10,000 years ago, straining a living from the tundra had courses), a personal dresser. Even a f*cking man-course so you could, at the end of it, get an official certificate that tells you you're a man. Look in the mirror, John. You only THOUGHT you had balls. Now that you've paid nine easy installments, we've sewn them on for you. Yes, they're as real as the grump, piss-colored 'aura' your sister in law sees every time you drop in on vacation. I like the TV show Frasier. He's a radio psychotherapist who also sees patience. He used to joke that the best patients were ones with lots of money and incurable conditions you pick apart one paper-thin layer at a time.

Hilarious because—yeah, we all suspect the coach in our lives has designed a program to keep us needing coaching. Yeah, yeah, I know there are some legits out there. Now tell me 9 of your competitors aren't full of crap! Some people are even professional "mentors". Just think about that for a moment—who becomes a professional mentor? A person whose purpose in life is to tell you how to live yours. Hey, for every parasite, there's a willing host. Spiritual movements breed need (just ask a fortune teller or faith healer); political movements form voter blocks that keep a relatively small number of 'professionals' in steaks or 'influencer' revenue (just look at who hit the Deplorables Party in Trump's Swamp—you never saw so many kids charging by the tweet), and the pure version—advice just because you don't know how to live your own life—oh boy, that's the gold standard. That stuff exists almost for its own sake.

Maybe nobody knows nothing (or anything).

My father said you reach a point in your life where you quit asking questions. I think that's ass-backward. A lot of guys I knew who were country boys said "a man doesn't go trying to learn new things". I thought that was dumbfuck stupid. Really? THAT's manhood? The men I know, who I admire as men, ADAPT to new circumstances. They get stuck in a different economy, different metal shop, different context (like the Viet Nam jungle), and they LEARN because NOT learning gets the Darwin Award. Or else you end up a sore, weepy bastard complaining about how the world treated you unfairly and you've got no choices and it's someone else's fault. We heard a LOT of that in 2015. I don't respect it. I didn't then, and I don't now. Learning is what a SPECIES does if it wants to go on living. If we're too delicate to learn, too fragile to grow, we're not men—we're house plants.

But I also think William Goldman, the screenwriter who gave us one of my favorite movies—All The Presidents' Men, and another great Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid—was right when he said "Nobody knows anything." At some point, we figure out half the advice about life, love, and finding one's way in the world is coming from people whose lives we wouldn't choose, whose loves are dubious or different than what we want, and whose way in the world came about first and the ideas second. They don't know how they got there; they just think they know how it would have been easier to get there if they knew something different at the time. But if hadn't been for the hurdles they faced, they'd have faced other ones. The other half of the advice comes from people's false consensus effect—the misperception (cognitive bias) that most people are like us (statistically untrue) and therefore what would work for us, would work for them. Nobody knows nothing, but nobody knows anything, either. If you don't agree, I'm sure you'll write a blog post about it; that's what I'm doing 🙂

Self-improvement is manly where "I can't learn" is the coward's way out.

I find a certain freedom in accepting one's life. I both accept mine and don't accept it. I want more and better and won't relent. But I also accept what I have and won't be ashamed of wanting more and having less. I can't tell another man how to 'be'. I don't understand people who don't want to continually improve. If I was building a table every day, I'd want to make jigs, shims, and special tools that simplified the process and gave me a better product over time. I build my life the same way.

If it dawned on me I could sell ten times as many tables going wholesale as retail, I'd look into it. Maybe I wouldn't accept the tradeoffs. Maybe I would. But I'd keep thinking about how to make it better. I think my country was built on those ideals, even if it was built on a lot of other shit that's less honorable. I think too, if there were a trade fair, and I saw other men building more and better tables than me, I might ask them for advice.

But if someone barged into my shop and said, "Brothers and sisters, you don't know tables. I'll show you tables! Right here in this catalog, quick to assemble, disposable, made of sawdust and glue, and the dreams of little Bangladeshi children, and..." I think I'd have to chase him down the street with a couple of my specially invented tools. Guess what I'm saying is: just because nobody knows nothing, and nobody knows anything, doesn't mean all advice is useless or that I'm going to walk around with letting people trip me up with an endless stream of it.

Adspeak is presumptuous. Stop talking that way.

It's not like most of this stuff is Mad Men quality. "Lucky Strikes. It's toasted." It's manipulative, but still pretty good, relatively speaking. "Is it live, or is it Memorex?" Not bad. "Isn't it time for a Caesar?" with a picture of Mott's Clamato juice (Caesar salad edition), not. God no. And it's not helpful that even good ideas are getting wrapped by ordinary people into bad adspeak, as though we're that gullible, or that desperate for guidance. Jeez—without you telling me, I wouldn't have know to consume a beverage right now, or which beverage—there are so many choices. Thanks, pal! Thank goodness for advice.

I tune it out. Half of it I can dump by giving the finger to "list-posts". When some article offers me 5 things, 6 ways, or 7 whatever, I just flip it the bird, because why is some number of things an occasion to get my attention? That's like saying, "It's time to buy a new Chrysler!" Is it? Right now? January freaking 25th? Did I miss this on my calendar? Was there an act of Congress that made right now... f*ck, and I'm late too. Do you think they still have any left? I mean, I try to play decently and by the rules. I pick up my dog's sh*t rather than leave it on the sidewalk like some savage (or Michael Rapaport). But gosh, I didn't even know I NEEDED a new car. Etcetera. The fact that you have 3 things to tell me, 4 things you think I could do better, or 5 things to bitch about doesn't mean I need to give 2 shits or 1 moment of my attention to it. F*ck list posts. F12345ck them. That takes care of most of the crap filling up search at a rate of 4.4 million blog posts per day. Imagine if you deleted all the list posts? It would be like 1996. You'd search for a plumber and get three options, not an article on 3 reasons you shouldn't try to change your own wax ring, or 4 ways you can damage your copper fittings. I just want to cram my head all the way up into that porcelain crevice and pull the chain. What you don't have a chain on yours? Here... write down these reasons you're wrong.

The other thing I do is trim the noise in social media by asking someone, when they get all pissy about their pet issue, if they're telling me how the world works. If the answer is yes... boom! You just flushed the conversation. I'm done. I'm out. Knock yourself out talking to the mirror—where later, you'll be standing when they mail your 3 ways to tell if your dick is too small kit. Smile and apply the patented lotion, first. Only an insecure man has to make sure I accept his view of the world and, if he's that insecure, I don't think there's much he can teach me. I'm not going that direction.

And no 'tips'. You ever notice how "tips" is the wussy way to sneak in some advice without calling it advice. Sure, tweet me your tips. I'll know you're joking. But God, the garbage that comes in. "Tip: Consider backing up your website, in case they take it down." Jeez thanks. Where do I start? We have continuous automated incremental backups. Wait, you need a moment to look up incremental? And we're not going to get taken down, because we aren't going to become crazy town. And what other tips do you have for us? A 24/7 chatbot, huh? You see, don't you, Chief? Tips are telling us we didn't already think about that stuff and either went a different way or rejected the idea. Tips presume we're just stumbling around like Frankenstein's monster with our head newly sewn on our neck and bolt still sticking out of it, passively figuring everything out as we go... what's that—a pigeon—is it food or not food? Wow, a door handle that isn't round. Do I still twist it? What's that button for? And we're just waiting for tips: "You gotta push it! Push it! No, the other way!" OK, OK! Jeez, mister, I wasn't even going to go into this funeral home, but I guess I HAVE to now. It must be TIME for a new casket!

Too much advice. I don't think we can take it in anymore. No one's reading those 4.4 million blog posts. Most of the traffic is bots. That's why I want to have conversations. Real ones. Like chiefs sitting around a council fire, not like people trying to see who can rally the most followers for their pet ideas. Here's the last bit. I think a lot of advice is given out so often, so loudly, not just as a loss leader but FREE, partly because there's a desperate insecurity haunting people who live in a world of advice. It's as though... if we don't get enough people to agree with us, WE might be wrong, and oh God no, then what? You mean... it might not be TIME for a bigger penis? And I bought this pump off of Amazon Prime for NO REASON? AAAAAAAahhhhhhh!

Asher Black

Asher is a fabulist, maximist, humorist, and raconteur. By day, he works with companies to find and tell their story effectively. By night, he is a human bonfire.

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