“Distrust those cosmopolitans who go to great length in their books to discover duties they do not deign to fulfill around them.”—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile (1762)
I’ve dealt with a number of famous authors and activists who rail against materialism in their books and interviews. They claim to have nothing but contempt for worldly things in public. Yet in private they turn into hard-nosed capitalists as soon as the subject of “getting paid” comes up. They want to be put up in the finest hotels, taken out to the finest restaurants, paid top dollar for their talk. It’s always so disappointing, so gross. These people, who talk about how much they love humanity in their books and interviews, are often abusive assholes in person. I watched one famous Canadian environmentalist (who shall remain nameless) reduce a teenage waitress to tears. Why? Because her salad wasn’t quite right. She was a terrible tipper too. It was actually embarrassing.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb isn’t like this. Not at all. The man is consistently kind to taxi drivers and waiters, janitors and hotel staff, bartenders and street people. What’s more, he cares about getting heard and spreading his ideas far more than he cares about getting paid and spreading his brand. I could give you numerous examples but the following should suffice. When the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability asked Taleb to come up to Montreal for a talk, the event organizers made it clear that, due to budget cuts, they had no money. Taleb said that was fine: he’d do the Concordia talk for free and pay for the entire trip out of his own pocket. And he did! Seriously, dude wouldn’t even let us buy him a shish taouk! Meanwhile, two weeks later, a well-known environmentalist, who rails incessantly against capitalism and greed, told us, in no uncertain terms, that he wouldn’t show up for less than $10,000.
It’s nice to know that there are public intellectuals out there, people like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who walk their talk; people who remember what philosophy is, what the examined life looks like, and what this whole ideas thing is for.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)