We Are All Tim Ferriss, Brian Cuban, Alex Wagner, and Hillary Clinton

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into a debate between author/entrepreneur Tim Ferriss and author/attorney/Dallas Mavericks fan Brian Cuban.

Entirely unrelated to this, and without any involvement from me, MSNBC host Alex Wagner (among many others) criticized Hillary Clinton for including income inequality in her platform because husband Bill Clinton gets paid six figures for speeches. 

Entirely unrelated incidents, but I realized they are merely different sides of the same coin, a coin most of us (myself included) too often carry around with us. 

Let me explain. 

Ferriss’s blog runs the gamut. This morning he posted about his favorite type of tea. A few weeks ago, he posted a really personal story involving suicide. 

After telling the story, Ferriss presented an argument about why people should not commit suicide. One of Ferriss’s several points is that a person who commits suicide “might” cause more sadness among friends and family than he or she experienced themselves. 

Cuban took issue with the word “might,” arguing that this suggested that it “might not.” 

At a technical level, perhaps Cuban is right. But, to me, Cuban provided a clear example of one of my favorite words: a synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole.

Ferriss’ point, as I read it, is that suicide is BAD. You SHOULD NOT do it. But, by picking out this one word and ignoring the rest, Cuban could point and say: “Look! Look! He wrote an article that said suicide MIGHT be bad.” 

Words are imperfect, and meaning cannot be derived without the context of other words. 

I Tweeted something along those lines and my comment became Ferriss' closing argument, and my Twitter account, and this blog, gained some steam. 

Back to Hillary Clinton and MSNBC’s Alex Wagner.

You can always find something about someone—or about someone’s argument—that can be used as a synecdoche. Sometimes, these synecdoches are apt. 

Other times, they obscure the debate. 

Words are imperfect. And so are we. We are all bundles of hypocrisy. 

Does an environmentalist lose all credibility when they buy bottled water? 

Does Al Gore lose all credibility when he flies across the world on fossil-fueled jets? 

Is he a hypocrite unless he rides a horse? 

In conclusion: conversations and debates regarding suicide, income inequality, or climate change—or any other serious topic—are far better served by people arguing with the whole of someone’s argument. 

Do I think Cuban and Wagner were wrong? 


But I also know we are all subject to mental models, including myself. And we just need a reminder sometimes. 




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