The One Week Book Timeline: Prelude

by Aaron on December 22, 2011

This is Part One of a series of posts going through the One Week Book Project.



Sebastian wanted to share a book with the world. As far as I can tell, it was about his general strategy for accomplishing things in life and moving up in the world.


He was super psyched when he Simon and Schuster offered to work with him.


Then, they paid late and didn’t take his input on things. Okay?


Then, they continually had fake deadlines which he busted ass to meet, then found out were pretty much unimportant. He’d wake up at 4 AM for a call that the person wasn’t around for. He’d drop everything else to submit while his editor was on vacation. They jerked him around, and nothing happened for him. The book was moving slowly, and took forever to release.


So he decided to take a principled stand. He published his Open Letter to Simon and Schuster, where he talks about his experience in depth. It went viral.


Some people called him crazy and a prima donna. Others called him a literary hero and were glad that someone finally said it. Mostly Sebastian got on with his life.


Meanwhile, I’m travelling around Boston and San Francisco, following his blog and wondering what’s going on in his life that’s been causing his posts to get so confrontational and interesting. I don’t know what Sachit and Kendall were doing.


The Project Starts Forming

A week and a half later, Sebastian posts asking for people to work on “crazy world changing stuff”. I, along with more than 110 other people, respond with examples of projects that they’re proud of having worked on. I talked about my experience as Vice President of my FIRST Robotics Team. It had lots of fun things like resolving engineering arguments with Science! and moving into a mentor’s house to build a robot during a blizzard.


At first I’m really excited to wonder about what Sebastian is planning. Then I start feeling slightly anxious about getting hired. Not totally sure why, probably something to do with the whole high upside based on something I consider close to my identity thing. Or something.


Anyway, Sebastian’s really swamped with emails and he’s trying to read them all and see who to hire. Over a few days he brings on a dozen or so people to work with him on various things.


I get an email asking me to fly out to Beijing. I’m excited. I also feel conflicted as hell because there are some things I want to wrap up in DC.  I send him an email thanking him for the opportunity and asking him on what time scale he was talking about, because there were some things that I wanted to consolidate in DC.


That night, I feel really anxious, again. I was worried that I may have messed up and would miss out on working with him, and my parents were worried about this whole businessman in China offering me a job over email and asking me to fly to Beijing thing. For some reason.


Then, he sent an email about this project. He casually mentions that he thinks that we can have a book in the kindle store in the next week. I suggest “The One Week Book” as a marketing angle. We Skype about it. I was to be the Project Manager and put together a book for him. He sent a few more emails to the potential team.


I start thinking about ways to do this. There wasn’t a team in place yet, so I also considered the possible outcome in the case that there isn’t a team (it involves tapping a few friends and writing some software to help me). I start my archive binge…


To be continued


When one human attempts to force another human into doing something that they don’t want to do against their will and against their interest, it’s considered violence.


There are forms of violence which show no marks, which leave no trace, and – most disturbingly – force the victim into thinking that they agreed to it.


Whenever someone says something like “I really don’t want to argue with you” and they mean “This is already decided and I want you to shut up”, they’re doing that. When someone makes an intern stay in till 3 AM working on a report, they’re doing that. When someone politely shoehorns someone into doing something they don’t want to do, they’re doing that.


Nurse Ratched is really polite, and she’s also totally evil. She calmly emasculates and coerces the characters in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, and she does it with a smile.


Submission To Authority


Polite hostility often flows from the top of a hierarchy down. Why do people put up with it?


Society expects you to put up with shit form people above you, and to dump it on people below you. So long as the shit flows down the latter, everyone looks the other way.


The Milgram Experiment showed that most people are willing to deliver shocks of electricity to a screaming patient past what’s labeled to be a lethal voltage, so long as an actor in a lab coat tells them to. In the experiment, the patient was actually an actor, and he wasn’t actually being harmed.


When someone did a replication where puppies were (actually) electrocuted instead, compliance increased. Women would be openly weeping, while continuing to electrocute puppies.


This is a scene that if it happened in fiction would need to be proceeded by some sort of implied intense psychological manipulation and psyche breaking. Turns out that all you need is a lab coat, and an expectation to obey. (Fewer people comply in the Milgram experiment when you conduct it in a shady neighborhood, compared to Yale).


How it Works


What the hell happened? According to Wikipedia…


It was pretty straightforward. Participants were told that they were participating in an experiment studying the effect of punishment on learning. An experimenter (actually an actor) in a lab coat would tell them when to shock a learner (who the participants thought was another participant, but who was actually an actor). They had a dial to increase the voltage, and at the high end it gave warnings like “DANGER: LETHAL”.


”You won’t be held responsible”

Everyone became unsure if they wanted to continue. The guy in a lab coat would tell them that they would not be held responsible. This was normally enough to get people to continue.


Most participants abdicate their moral responsibility as soon as someone told them they would not be held responsible.


Manufactured Inevitability

Even after that, some people would still want to stop the experiment. Every time they said so, the guy in a lab coat would tell them, in order:


  1. Please continue
  2. The experiment requires that you continue
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue
  4. You have no other choice, you must continue


Basically, 66% of people will blindly obey authority, even if it involves torture. They don’t take responsibility for their actions, and they buy into people telling them that that’s just the way things are.



What does this have to do with politeness again?


Polite hostility lets people who seem powerful do terrible things to everything else. Most people will go along with what they’re told is acceptable.


The mechanism of polite hostility is to force people into doing things by beating them over the head with societal expectations. These expectations aren’t necessarily endorsed by the victim, but the Milgram experiment shows that most people will abdicate responsibility, will abdicate their ability to make choices and decide for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong, so long as they think they have to.


Politeness has covered up some really nasty stuff in the past. “Comfort Woman” referred to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during WWII.


Defiance is a Virtue

But there’s the other 33%, right? The third of people who will refuse to torture just because a guy in a lab coat tells them to. That’s nice. Like, at least they didn’t torture people or anything.


None of them tried to stop the experiment.


None of them tried to stop other people from torturing, or stood up to the experimenter and told them to stop torturing people, they just didn’t do it themselves.


That is why rebellion is rare.


Among the few with the courage to opt-out and not do evil, even fewer have the strength to try and stop it.


In a world where people will electrocute puppies because a guy in a lab coat told them to, defiance is a virtue. In this world, rebellion is heroism.


There is hope. In versions of the experiment where the participants see other people refuse, people overwhelmingly refuse.


If you’re strong enough, please call people out on their shit. You can do it politely, politeness isn’t bad in and of itself, but you shouldn’t remain silent.


Many forms of authority try to strip people from their judgment and morality, and many people allow it to happen.


You don’t have to give into expectations that you don’t endorse. You don’t need to listen to the man in the lab coat.


I’m not going to say that giving into polite hostility is the same as electrocuting puppies or going on a massive rape campaign, but I am going to say that the mental process which leads to submission also enables those.


So please do me a favor.


The next time you start to follow along with what someone with higher status tells you to do, ask yourself:


Is it something you want to do?


Sebastian Marshall is a Great Boss

December 16, 2011

I woke up this morning and saw Sebastian’s new videos on his blog. After watching them, I wanted to talk about why working with Sebastian is great.   He talks about friendliness (looking out for other people’s interests) vs. politeness (following social norms) in the context of a business deal that he conducted and the […]

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Join the Rebellion

December 15, 2011

The One Week Book is complete!   Not only that, it’s in Amazon, and approved. Buy it here now: http://www.amazon.com/Ikigai-ebook/dp/B006M9T8NI/   It’s worth it to do a quick recap of why we’re doing this.   Traditional publishing is slow, we put together a potentially life-changing book in a week. Want to help us promote it […]

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We submitted!

December 15, 2011

Kendall put the book into Kindle Direct Publishing. Look for us in Amazon soon!

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How do you publish on Amazon?

December 15, 2011

It’s actually really easy. Basically you just go to this website: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/signin. and follow their instructions. They give you help here: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help You need a title, description, contributers, language, publication date, publisher, ISBN, categories, keywords, a cover, your book, and some questions about if you want DRM, and have publishing rights for the book. They even walk […]

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Creativity and Inconvenience

December 14, 2011

Nothing sucks momentum like having to wait for something.

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Taking Stands and Speaking Clearly

December 14, 2011

There were a few email threads as we were hammering out the final details of the book. Like the title. Or the cover.   A lot of the time, my writing is pretty tame. Lots of qualifiers, etc. I think it’s something I picked up from trying to speak carefully and beat around bushes and […]

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Killing Two Birds with One Stone

December 11, 2011

There was a friend who was talking with me. I was totally spending too much time talking with him. Now if he wants to talk, we have to talk about the book. Welcome to the team?

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Doing the thing that I would do if I were trying to just decide based on reasons

December 11, 2011

There’s a mental pattern that I’ve been executing roughly whenever I’ve been successfully compiling the book. Basically, I’ll be working, then I’ll hit something I’m averse to, then I’ll back up and look at the aversion, then I’ll run it over. “Eurgh” Step back “What would I do if this didn’t suck?” Do that. Basically […]

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