I’m in my early 20s. Startups seem to be the only way out of 40 years of mediocrity in TPS-land for me, so I don’t really think I have much of a choice. It’s startups or nothing for me.
Or maybe I am being myopic? Are there more options to be had in life than mediocrity/wageslavery vs glory/startups?*
— Random HNer
Startups are glorious! So raw, so close to the bone, so mettle-testing: 100-hour work weeks, sleeping under your desk, ramen, putting it all on the line, changing the world.
You know what else is glorious?
“Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori,” is one of the most famous lines from Horace. You’ve probably heard it. It means “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s fatherland.”
Here’s another one – drawn from Plutarch, allegedly said by Spartan women to their sons, as they gave the boys their shields before battle:
“Come home with your shield or on it.”
Come home with your shield – honorable, glorious – or die, for it is to better to die than to fail or disappoint.
Ancient times were all about glory. Glory’s not so big any more, but it used to be huge.
Glory was a way for fat old statesmen and generals, who never saw battle, to tempt young men to die by proxy for politics and petty schemes.
When glory failed to tempt, it was used to taunt, disdain, and guilt.
Or, as jwz puts it, “trying to make the point that the only path to success in the software industry is to work insane hours, sleep under your desk, and give up your one and only youth, and if you don’t do that, you’re a pussy.”
It’s about fucking time we talked about the fact that the worship of glorious death, and the startup mythos, are the same damn thing.
Every fucking time you see somebody using glory to hagiographize young men & women who are doing something clearly stupid, you must ask:
What is this raft of shit, and why are they trying to get me to paddle it?
And make no mistake, bartering away your “one and only youth” (jwz again) working 100-hour weeks on a web site for the promise of a big fat carrot on the end of a stick 80 million lines long, dangled by a fat statesm–excuse me, venture capitalist, who will make 3x or 10x or 100x more than you, in the vanishingly unlikely scenario that you “succeed”… is clearly stupid.
So what are the motivations of the people pushing glory – pardon me, startups?
Money. Follow the Money. They want a piece of you. Investors have to have projects to invest in.
The more kids who buy into the crazy dream, the more racehorses the venture capitalists can bet on, the more little soldiers the VCs can set on the board. The harder those kids work, the more theoretical chances the VC has that of one of his many investments making it big.
The harder those kids work, the less they question.
Post-hoc justification kicks in the more pain you inflict on yourself – because obviously, if you’re so terrible to the person closest to you, you’ve got a good reason, right?
It must be worth it, right?
I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.
— General William Tecumseh Sherman
Remember, if you question it, you’re a pussy. Startups are hard. So work more, cry less, and quit all the whining.
You’ve lost your fucking shield so you might as well lay down and die.
Who are these crazy fuckers who say these things? What the hell do they get out of it?
But wait! Questioning a speaker’s motivations is an Ad Hominem Fallacy! Paul Graham says so in How to Disagree.
Oh, he did, did he? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but isn’t that nice and pat?
As someone who has certainly studied rhetoric more than Paul Graham the Instant Expert, let me assure you:
Questioning a speaker’s motives is not only not a fallacy, it is a sign of healthy debate.
Otherwise you’re a wide-eyed sucker just waiting to be taken.
It’s especially critical to question the motives of the speaker whenever he urges you to glory, by tempting or guilting – and whenever he tries to sell you his religion.
You must be sharp, questioning, alert. You must be on your guard.
Inevitably – without fail! – those who sell glory, who sell religion, who sell noble wars, will not be in the trenches with you. They risk your skin instead of theirs.
And that, my friend, that is all you really need to know.
There is no Mojito Island. There is no pot of gold at the end of this evil rainbow of suffering. There is no Asgard. There are no 70 virgins.
When you die, however sweet and fitting, you are dead. As the Roman poet Marcus Valerius Martial wrote, “Glory paid to our ashes comes too late.” Glory paid to the ashes of your days, burnt and gone, comes too late.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: mors et fugacem persequitur virum nec parcit inbellis iuventae poplitibus timidove tergo.
How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country: Death pursues the man who flees, spares not the hamstrings or cowardly backs of battle-shy youths.
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