Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Hunter S Thompson: A Man Has to BE Something (lettersofnote.com)
167 points by 40acres on June 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

These sentences capture my takeaway from this article.

Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day?

...to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

I don't mean that we can't BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal.

...beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

In doing this... he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it

Summary: rather than fixating on specific goals, find a way of life that maximizes your potential for self-development and lets you be your most authentic self.

Reminds me of John Boyd's call "To Be or To Do".


I kinda think what literature enthusiasts really enjoy are simply words and the creative use of language and so on.

There could be some interesting ideas in there too, but that is not the main meat of literature.

I think its important for the sake of intellectual rigour not to confuse the two.

There are a lot of things that need to come together for great literature to happen. Qualities of the author's use of language are some of them, but not all. It is true that if a piece's language is poor, or simply unremarkable, it's probably not going to gain many fans from the lit crowd. If there's nothing going on but good/interesting language, though, that's also not going to get it much lasting interest, typically.

I'd say expression coupled with insight and excellent taste is the sweet spot for the really good stuff. Putting together a great novel, say, is a lot more than knowing how to make yer words purty and fancy. It's also more than just telling a well-structured story. It's more than lifelike characters. It's more than prompting sharp and lasting emotions on the reader. It's more than atmosphere. Than having the confidence to let an amazing, beautiful idea slip by like a passing stranger's hint of perfume in a crowd. More than honesty. And so on. It's all of those things, continuously, for a few hundred pages.

[EDIT] though I'm not defending this letter as any kind of top-notch literature (is it supposed to be?). The parts I've read so far seem obviously too thin to qualify.

"I'd say expression coupled with insight and excellent taste is the sweet spot for the really good stuff. Putting together a great novel, say, is a lot more than knowing how to make yer words purty and fancy."

Yes. It's fashionable right now to be florid, but writers like Hemingway can punch you in the gut using simple, declarative sentences:

"This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist."

I'm reminded of the distinctly short and punchy urban myth attributed to Hemingway:

> For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I don't understand what that has to do with this very article and the meaty ideas it does indeed contain. I for one disagree with this ivory tower view of literature. Words and ideas therein contain power, and have, however "creative", changed the course of history by their influence of mankind.

I mean, that's just wrong lol. Obviously that's apart of it, but to imply that it's not so much about ideas is profoundly wrong. In my opinion, anyway.

The language needs to support the idea in the story. To kill a mockingbird has a southern folksy feel that draws you in. Hemingway couldn't write that story. It would be something very different. Harper Lee couldn't make you feel sympathetic to a pedophile. It's a whole jigsaw puzzle. the ideas, the story, and the words all fit together to make something extraordinary.

Really? :/

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won't hurt.”

Really struck me in the feels. Rest In Peace.

I wonder if Hume Logan took the advice, and what became of him (other than becoming a name in the associated context of a great letter).

If this piece didn't have a famous person associated with it, no one would read it on it's merit alone.

I feel like he had the inklings of some good ideas in there, but none of them fleshed out. As all ideas about life are when you're 20 :)

The people to look up to, are those you relate to, who are past 50. Who've raised children, who know how to communicate to younger people AND have a wealth of life experience and hopefully wisdom.

No 20 year old has ever given me solid life advice - you just haven't lived long enough.

> If this piece didn't have a famous person associated with it, no one would read it on it's merit alone.

He wasn't famous when he wrote it, and one person did presumably read it - his friend, who asked for it.

I don't know what his friend did, but Thompson seems to have taken his own advice and succeeded. He lived a life that fit who he was, rather than being a person who fit the life that he fell into.

Like many people, I'm the second type: my life has revolved around the job I'm in, and changes to my life involved finding the next job like the current one; SCDC (Same Cubicle, Different Company). There's been no particular period of discovery, of not knowing what I'd be doing a year from now.

And because of that, I've always felt like I was missing something. I wonder if I ever met myself in passing, the real me.

As I've gotten older it's becoming increasingly clear that most of what older people told me about life has usually unapplicable, flat out wrong, or something they said to make themselves feel better.

This idea that everyone over the age of 40, 50, or 60 somehow magically becomes wise is completely ridiculous. Of course I am not saying that they aren't a lot of wise older people who've really experienced and learned things - of course there are. But wise perceptive people of any age are the exception - not the norm.

The chaff I've heard from elder spouters of wisdom outweighs the grains of wisdom by a large factor. I'm no spring chicken, so I've had time to hear plenty, indeed a surfeit. Survivorship bias has generated more crap than can easily be navigated.

I think you are missing the whole point here. This is as specific as he can get, being still applicable to everyone - "a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES". He also points out a man's desire is shaped by his circumstances and heredity. So there's no way he can "flesh out" details for anyone. That part can be done by the individual alone. This dictum gives you a tool to navigate your thought process and arrive at an answer on your own.

There are few 20 year olds with the imagination to recognize "But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance."

I learned this lesson before I was twenty, and I am far from the sharpest tool in the shed. It just so happened that I had the opportunity to learn it the hard way due to the circumstances I was in at the time. It's one of those concepts that are simple in and of themselves but require a painful experience to really sink into your brain and inform your future behavior.

It's beautifully written but all it's saying is "choose or the choice will get made for you".

Which I've heard variations of from teenagers, let alone 20 year olds.

Tho none with Hunters gift for verbiage

The critical point here is he's saying it because he's read it in a book, and it rang true.

That means he had good upbringing or just good life intuition to recognize that to be a good idea.

Wisdom is knowing in your bones, that something's true. Thompson's merely trying to convey what others have conveyed to him, coupled with some intuition.

Which's my entire point - don't bother listening to people regurgitating something they read in a book, go find folks who've lived it. They tend to be older :)

So if a 50-year-old wiseman writes a book, a 20-year-old reads it and copies its ideas into a letter for a friend in need of some wisdown, and I read the letter 60 years later, what do I do? To help with the prescription: I'm in my mid-twenties and, as you now understand, quite a simpleton.

I'd like to throw in that Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is quite a famous staple of stoic reading, but it's mainly a compilation of lessons from other great stoic teachers that resonated with him.

Not choosing is a choice in itself.

No 20 year old as of today's standard for 20 year old, has ever given you solid life advice.

Age per se doesn't always reflect experience - and 20 years is a long time still if you take the time to experience something - master an instrument, doing drugs, thinking about shit.

Today most of the people extend their teens as far as they can - with partying and stuff before they actually take responsibility for their life.

In the time of my grandfather he started working at the age of 12, grinding hard at 14 until he mastered bakery craft at 16. My other grandfather started working since he could remember, in the farm.

I'm not saying that work means experience - I'm talking about perspective : at that time hunger and famine were the status quo, if they didn't work they would die.

I mean, pretty much all the founding fathers were under 50. Jesus. Buddha. Mohammed when the Bulk of the Quran was written. Alexander the Great. The list of youngins goes on.

There is no age-restriction on wisdom and knowledge, and the words on a page are only as much as you give them credit for. If you can't ever listen to the words of a 20 year old, then, by all means, go right ahead and dismiss them, but you could miss out on some great ideas.

I do agree that you are more likely to get better life advice from those with a wealth of experience, but youth is hardly a reason to discredit anyone's words.

20 years old have had only very limited exposure to all facts of life, they have had a full working brain for a very short time compared to older adults, and they have no idea about what can and cannot be done. that is their strength at the same time as their weakness, and I certainlY would not use wisdom to qualify any 20 years old for the above reasons. Does not mean I see them as incapable or stupid either.

No human being, regardless of age, has been exposed to all the facts of life. Unfortunately, it takes more than direct personal experience to understand the human condition. Those rich in personal experience are nonetheless poor in extra personal experience. Universalizing personal experience, which is widely and unashamedly practiced, is both narcissistic and pointless, as it holds no certain relevance beyond its originator. Honestly, I think the advice of this 20-year-old, although diffuse, is perhaps more meaningful than much offered by the "wise".

Although brain development is subject to significant individual variation, most experts suggest that the brain is fully developed by age 25. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2015/02/18/at-what-age-is-the-b...

Actual sources on the bottom of the article, including nature.com

Wisdom and knowledge, by definition, require time. Age is directly related to time.

To drive this point home - a week-old baby has no knowledge or wisdom to offer me.

I may derive insight from being around a week-old baby, and that insight is because I am of age, and have accumulated wisdom and knowledge, not because of the baby.

It could just be that realizing people have no clue until they're at leaaaast 25, more realistically at least 30, more realistically most people never get a clue, is part of the wisdom that I've acquired, and am trying to convey here, for the 20-somethings to ponder.

I'm not writing this to toot my own horn - I was completely clueless at 20. I was so clueless I'd argue with people twice my age on the internet and get defensive when I'd get asked my age :)

No, wisdom and knowledge don't correlate linearly with time. Wisdom and knowledge come from insight, reflection and experience. Sure the 40 year old has most likely seen more and done more than the 20 year old, but that means nothing if he does nothing with what he has seen, and just seeing these things does not impart anyting but the most shallow definition of wisdom on a person. I've met 40 year olds far wiser than most 80 year olds, and I've meet 20 year olds far wiser than most 40 year olds. The length of time someone has been alive is not a valid excuse for dismissing what they say or the insight they've developed. Life is a subjective experience and the length of time involved means very little compared to what they've experienced and what they've gone through.

As my dad taught me, some people get twenty years of experience and some people get one year of experience twenty times.

But the letter title was interesting to me: in Silicon Valley where I work, there are engineers who enjoy doing things and engineers that seem to have some big plan to become famous and rich. The former are a lot happier and usually more successful over the years.

Not sure where you read anyone saying wisdom and knowledge correlate linearly with time, the parent poster definitely didn't say it. Other than that, I agree with your post, but know that you can pretty much straight substitute "experience" and "time."

On what basis do you think you've actually attained a wise understanding of life? (not asking this in a hostile way, just curious)

I'm wondering about this because I've heard this exact same series of ideas in different forms from several people in their old or advanced middle age, most of whom actually had an outdated understanding of the world as they had seemingly stopped paying attention to its evolution and set out to experience new things once they had settled down with a family. Not that I can blame them, of course.

Since there is so much to learn about the world and so many lives that are utterly different from one another that I wonder if it's even possible to ever "get a clue" or if it's just a comforting illusion. Of course, I'm sure there are general useful patterns and rules of thumb that can make it easier, like the ones outlined in the letter to Hume.

There is one anecdote which I think can illustrate this point quite well. I came across a book by Martin Gardner that detailed his wisdom about the world that he had accumulated during his life. One of the reviews caught my eye however, with the following statement:

"Suppose I tell you no more than the following: Martin Gardner lived in the U.S. in the 20th century. Once you've read that statement, there is absolutely nothing in this book that will surprise you."

And they were right. The guy had essentially absorbed the ideas of his environment like a sponge. He saw them as insights wise enough to regurgitate them over the course of an entire book. This was not an average man but a person who had grappled with difficult abstract thought his entire life and made a career out of it, and yet his wisdom was still in canned form.

I haven't attained it :)

There are some universals that one gets to understand as he/she gets older - one of them is how clueless one is at the young and tender age of 20. There is just no way around it and it's not a bad thing at all.

It's just true.

The reason it may not seem true - is that a lot of people, and I mean most, tend to carry shame and insecurity, which prevents them from growing emotionally, well into their 30s, 40s and even to their grave. As a result, it may feel like 'I'm not clueless at 20-something, I know better than a lot of the 30 and 40-somethings I meet!'.

To which I'd reply - you're right! They're ALSO clueless! Like you! :)

It's not a competition. It most definitely is possible to get a clue - and the clues will be different for everyone. The way to close up and remain clueless is pretty generic - remain defensive, follow the established rules, don't question too much.

The way to get clues is fairly unique, because you have to follow your heart and your gut, see how it plays out and adjust, a lot. That'll be unique to you, but not so unique that you can't find some helpful ideas along the way from people who've gone down a similar route and that you admire.

If you admire what a 20-something has done more than what some of the older folks have accomplished, it may be a sign that you need to look into what you want to get out of life, that takes more than a decade or two to accomplish. Dream bigger :)

As an older person one of the more amazing developments I've seen in my life is the recent rapid rise of 'tall poppy syndrome.' While it's good to remind people that cultural heroes are just people, there is such zeal for that idea now and even for the odd notion that humanity will someday stop having fame effects. It's cute.

its merit

he shoulda just ended the letter at "WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES."

..."i apologize for the length of this letter; if i'd had more time, it would have been shorter"

I have seldom related to such articles. I feel deeply about them. After reading this twice, I feel different, motivated and emotional. But I also know that I will be back to default mode (the floating with the tide mode) in a few days. Is it my job that makes me so? My habits? My psychology? Unsure.

Is this something very American to hunt for all quotes and stories of a famous person once he's dead ? Happened with Hunter, happened with Steve Jobs. Successful people seem to reach some kind of cult status in America. Even quite vague stuff he said is fished out and accepted, because he now has level 253 on Battle.net forums.

I don't think you can learn from positive examples exclusively. To solve a nonogram, you need to mark squares that are black and those that ARE NOT black for sure. Another example, survivorship bias. In WW2 the British were sending bombers to Berlin and other German cities. Engineers were tasked with putting more armor plating on bombers. They examined where round (bullet) holes clustered on the returning bombers, and added extra armor in the biggest clusters. Fewest holes were found around the fuel tank and pilot's cabin, and those got no extra protection. It was a perfectly rational decision they made based on available data. But they could learn a lot from losers.

Being wise, or intelligent, is not following some great personas. It's forming insight based on your observations. Hunter S. Thompson's advice may be sound, but it would be equally sound if he was a garbage collector. That you must get such advice from him, suggests, sadly, that you can't recognize it when you see it. (I'm not saying I'm better)

Considering that the creator of the site we’re having a discussion about is English, I would say no, this is not something particularly American.

Is this something very [whatever place you’re from] to make condescending sarcastic comments whenever people from other places find something interesting or meaningful to them, and want to share and discuss it?

Your bomber story is steeped in urban legend.

The closest real, substantiated event is a paper published by Abraham Wald, an Austro-Hungarian who immigrated to the USA, in which he applies the correct statistical analysis accounting for survivorship bias. I can find no evidence that anyone ever published the "opposite" conclusion, or added any armor to real planes either way.

The story is also attributed, without evidence, to Patrick Blackett, who was indeed British.


i am fond of hunter thompson's breakfast routine..

are you the same pizza as on tumblr?


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact