There are some authors (I could count them on one hand) who have a transforming effect on the human mind.
My list of people who changed me fundamentally would include H.L. Mencken, Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand, Noam Chomsky, and Arthur Schopenhauer.
After reading Totally Incorrect, this week’s e-book download in the Spy Briefing Club, I would add the name Doug Casey to the list.
The ebook releases on Friday in the Club, free to all members. You can claim your physical copy of the book by clicking here.
I can see why his book Crisis Investing became such a huge best-seller back in 1979. It’s not his ideas about investing that matter the most. It’s his completely contrarian way of looking at the world and his willingness to think out of the box. It’s his bravery and creativity that make him compelling. Very few writers achieve this in our time.
As you read such authors, the feeling is nearly physical. Their flaunting of civic convention creates delight and enlightenment, but also discomfort. You wonder as you read: Are people really allowed to think that? Will I get in trouble if I agree?
From time to time, you are outraged. This is good. It proves you are engaged. Our brains can take it. In fact, we need it.
Following such exposure to civic heresy, you realize that things look different to you. Even if you resist, the ideas were planted in your brain. They keep coming back as you read the news, watch events unfold, and process the barrage of information that slams our brains every day. The voice sticks. It rings in your ears. You are slowly convinced. In time, you realize something: This radical thinker is my benefactor. He changed me.
It is never enough to encounter such an author once in a lifetime. We need to revisit them every few years or even every few months. We need to do this for the same reason we have to plunge our sinks every once in awhile. Normal use of the brain introduces muddled thinking and conventional habits of mind that are contrary to truth and reality.
One way to think about such writers is by analogy to computer code. Every piece of software deals with the problem of old and useless code that makes it run more slowly and inefficiently than it should. Such code is called cruft. It builds up over time. The cruft has to be cleaned for the new code to do all it can do. It’s one of the challenges a programmer faces.
As with managing a kitchen, you have to clean while you cook.
In the world of ideas, cruft is the buildup that occurs in your brain just from being part of public culture. We hear only two sides on every political debate (gun control, foreign policy, taxation, government spending) and it does not automatically occur to us that the debate is artificially narrow. We put these conventional assumptions in our heads even without thinking about them. They build over time.
Casey is the one-man cleanup crew. You can agree or disagree with what he says. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that he shocks the brain out of its stupor and fires up new thoughts and new ways of looking at the world. I happen to think he is mostly right in the way he views the world. It’s the exposure alone that is valuable, even if you end up rejecting his ideas (or so you think, until you wake up one day agreeing with him).
Totally Incorrect is better than a book of prose. It is a book of interviews, topic by topic. This way, the reader is able to catch him in the most candid way possible. I know from my own conversations with him — just in passing at conferences — that he has a way of formulating things that is absolutely unforgettable. This entire book of 350 pages does exactly this on every important topic of our time.
In Doug’s book you’ll learn:
The best way to rob a bank..and you don’t need a gun;
Whether you should seek the quality over quantity of life;
What you can do with your money that is better than getting a $100,000 MBA;
What things are so critical that government should never be trusted with;
Whether it is evil or moral or avoid taxes;
Why pirates and smugglers are humanity’s benefactors;
Why war is great for governments but terrible for the rest of us;
Why the jails are filling up with good guys and the bad guys are running the country;
Why we were better off when fist fights would break out in Congress;
Why you should consider getting out of the country ASAP;
The best way to fight official corruption in government (hint: no officials, no corruption);
Why America has embraced the “deadly combination” of “Nordic efficiency and American neopuritanism.”
The book allows you to experience such thoughts in the context of a very civil conversation, so you can see how his mind works. It is brilliant, and it inspires brilliance. Someone like Casey comes along very rarely. He’s been called the only viable contender for Mencken’s legacy. I can see the point. But I would go further to say that he is a leading intellectual light in the anarchist tradition.
You can live a life in the cruft of old code or you can clean it up and start fresh, using Casey as the cleanup crew.