The Art of Insubordination – Book Review

When I read a book that isn’t very good, I’m conflicted about whether or not to write a bad review. Should I let other people know not to waste their time on the book? Usually, I just move on to the next book and forget about it. But, I sometimes find writing negative reviews helpful because they allow me to clarify my thinking about what the author got wrong.

The book, The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively, was one of those books that I felt compelled to write a negative review. I read it because I enjoyed the author’s previous work, The Upside of Your Darkside.

Painfully, I read his latest book, The Art of Insubordination, twice because I did not want to give an unfair review based on first impressions. A better title for his latest book would have been, The Art of Being a Social Justice Warrior: How to Annoy Your Colleagues, Family, and Friends.

Kashdan writes as if every idea which buts up against existing social norms deserves thoughtful consideration for incorporation into our lives.

The problem with this sort of thinking is that most of our social norms evolved over long periods of time and are still with us today because they work for us. Rather than being audacious with new ideas about how to run society, we must be humble. We need to consider that maybe Grandma had some wisdom in demanding we follow existing social norms.

We shouldn’t follow our every whim just because we think we know better. There is a great cost involved with considering new ideas, and even more, the cost involved when people attempt to implement their ideas which they imagine will be good for the rest of us.

The great economist Fredrik Hayek said:

“This idea that we can make everything to our pleasure, that we can design social institutions in our working. That is basically mistaken. Social institutions have never been designed, and do much more than we know… Knowledge is distributed amongst hundreds of thousands of people.”

Writers like Kashdan think that simply because we can imagine new possibilities for our world, we must work to implement our imaginings for good of the rest of society. He presents a vision of the world that Thomas Sowell called, The Vision of the Self-Anointed. It is a type of vision that says: “If only us smart folks were in charge, the world would be a better place and we could eliminate all suffering.”

This type of thinking is very dangerous because it lacks humility.

I am a big fan of thinking outside-the-box, but I also try to be careful to consider the idea that existing norms and institutions may have a good reason to exist.

If you contrast Kashdan’s ideas with those such as Hayek and Sowell you can see how even though Sowell and Hayek are radical thinkers by the norms of our day, they do not make broad pronouncements about changing society to their liking.

Kashdan implores us to push divergent ideas forward. He loves rebels, insubordinates, and dissidents of all sorts. He uses his book to encourage people to create problems where none exist. This, of course, is good for his bottom line because he can sell more speaking gigs.

An example of Kashdan’s poor thinking is how he says in Chapter One that when it comes to divergent ideas, authenticity matters. Really? Why? Sure it is great to be authentic, but being authentic doesn’t mean you have a good idea. What really matters is if the idea is any good.

Kashdan loves to use statistics to draw conclusions about large groups of people. Social scientists do this because they see people as statistical abstractions which they can remake to their liking. They think they can remake society as if they are moving pieces of chess on a chessboard.

When writing about whether teachers should carry guns in classrooms to protect themselves and their students in the event of a school shooting, Kashdan says it would be better is to have teachers release the gases from a fire extinguisher at the shooter because perhaps all the gas will deprive the shooter of oxygen. He writes that teachers should focus on poetry, not on guns. That is a very nice thought, but it doesn’t match up with reality.

John Stossel interviewed school districts that allow teachers to carry guns and found that they have fewer shootings. One teacher who carried a gun even stopped a shooter from killing more people.

Kashdan fails to remember that we need to look at the positives and negatives of our actions and ideas. He only looks at the positive side of divergent thinking. This may be the reason why he used poor judgment as a professor. Apparently, Kashdan felt the need to be insubordinate by recounting his personal sexual exploits to his students during class. He also told about his experience at a German brothel while sitting in a hot tub with his grad students. According to the news article, Kashdan felt that it was appropriate to tell his students this because it was within the context of teaching about human sexuality.

Much of the book is actually focused on how other people should be more tolerant of your divergent ideas. In my opinion, this is a poor way to approach life. It is better to focus on changing yourself. It is better to live in a way that exemplifies your principles rather than focusing on changing others.

Kashdan also focuses on promoting idiosyncratic psychological techniques for dealing with the pushback you will face when you try to implement the radical ideas you’ve come up with whilst philosophizing in your parent’s basement. A technique he espouses multiple times is something he calls, psychological distancing or self-distancing. This is basically psychobabble for talking to yourself. Kashdan says that you should refer to yourself in the third person and say things like: “What does Todd think about that idea? How does Todd think this idea will help others? What kind of resistance will Todd face from this idea?”

It is hard for me to believe that this was the same author who wrote, The Upside of Your Darkside. It seems that a lot must have changed in the 7 years since he wrote that book. Maybe he went through one of those Ayahuasca ceremonies that causes people to change their way of thinking that Michael Pollen talked about on Rogan. I have no idea, but the change is pronounced.

I would not recommend wasting your time with this book. If you want to learn more about different ways of thinking, read Fredrick Hayek’s speech he gave when he accepted the Nobel Prize, read any book by Thomas Sowell, or try Ludwig von Mises’s book Human Action.

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