Hustle hustle hustle (Part 3): Terre Haute is bust

Terre Haute is Bust (December 30, 2006)

Relationships, like tires, wear down, little by little, before they wear out. (Oh, but how we tire of tires. They too get old.) For hundreds, no thousands of miles, no for months on end, there had been a whirring coming from somewhere around the left front wheel. That whirring grew louder as the car went faster, and on the interstate the car–in this case, a fetching red Pontiac Grand Am–was inclined to go faster and faster. This, as Aristotle would have said though, come to think of it, he wouldn’t have said, was its natural disposition, the natural disposition of my red Grand Am to go faster and faster as it ranged hungrily over Pennsylvania and Indiana en route to St. Louis, Missouri.

St. Louis, lejana y sola

This is a story about the final unraveling, in letter and in spirit. That is to say, the tire finally unraveled as, concomitantly, did our relationship. The tire unraveled just outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, but it did not unravel before it collapsed, crumbled, buckled, and crammed the remaining bits and mass of bits deep within the wheel well. I wasn’t sure how I managed to wrangle the car off the highway and onto the shoulder–dear Jane was sleeping beside me–without meeting some other fate: some sublime end-over-end, twirl-about, or dervish plunge into the grassy knoll. But I did, and there we were, and there, shortly, were the policemen.

Quite nice, in fact, were the policemen as they watched me put on the spare.

In the motel, I said to Jane, “So what’s the point? There’s no point to a 3-year relationship if it ends. It was all for nothing, wasn’t it?” This, I can assure you, was the voice of reason, not the spirit of anger. A comforting thought despite the niggling fact that it–the thought, I the thought–happened to be dead wrong.

Love or Hustling

Perhaps love is the kind of experience to which posing the question, “So what’s the point?,” doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps the assumption that you’re going to get something out of love implies, as it did here, that love is over–implies further that love, now gone, is well on its way to becoming hustling. Because hustling starts off from that little itch in the back of your head, that smallish itch that says, “What can I get from this person? What’s to be gotten from him?” and then lards up the conversation with helloes and how nices, with chit chat and backscratching, and with… reminders.

The trouble with hustling, unlike that of love and its vicissitudes, is that it cannot work as a general strategy for getting on in the world. For one thing, it violates Kant’s humanity formulation of the Categorical Imperative according to which one ought never to use another as a means, only ever as an end in himself. Hustling, on this formulation, is the first principle of Human Resource Departments.

For another, hustling is surprisingly ineffectual, failing therefore even as a policy of prudence. Consider how absurd it is for one stranger to ask another stranger to do something on his behalf despite its being the case that they are present to each other only as strangers. Granted, they may be on friendly terms, but they are not friends. Ask yourself how often you have benefited or profited from a stranger’s granting your request, fulfilling your demand, replying to your inquiry, speaking on your behalf, completing a project of your devising. On statistical grounds alone, the strategy seems worth betting against.

In my experience, hustling has born a striking resemblance to commedia dell’arte, and I have often played the buffo.

Conversation as the Art of Silding Up

I have learned since to sidle up. I invite someone to have a conversation with me. My only condition is that the person seem fascinating, intriguing, or simply interesting. We get together, we meet, we talk. Apart from that, I expect nothing. The paradox is that it works.

I get acquainted with another, I listen and inquire, I get closer, I get in touch. In a way, I mean to partake of love, I mean to give. For me, it’s an experience that goes beyond craving, that gets me out of “wanting more from,” of “expecting this of.” As I argued in “Of Craving and its Supersession,” I imagine, as far as possible,

  1. That this is all there is.
  2. That this is more than enough.
  3. That there need be nothing more or other or else.

The objection may be that it seems inconceivable that this would be a way of “getting anything done,” so let me conclude with a Pascalian argument, one that I wouldn’t otherwise make but that may make some headway with you. It goes like this:

  1. Either this all there is, or there is something more.
  2. If this is all there is, then I’ve been “fully present” in the conversation. Hurray!
  3. If, contingently and beyond my expectations, there happens to be something more, then what a windfall. What serendipity!
  4. Either way, I feel joy.

From experience, I can say that my life has gotten better since I began to think this way. Mull it over before you reject it. A life without hustling may not be all that inconceivable after all.

Hustle hustle hustle (Part 2): 2 chefs and a definition

2 Chefs

I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Soho. It’s dark, abnormally dark for a coffee shop, and I’m re-reading my copy of Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. On my right, two men, dressed in suits, are talking hurriedly. I take them to be investment bankers working on Wall Street, but I come to find, through the half-clipped phrases I can only barely make out, that they’re talking about food. They’re young chefs, just starting out. One says to the other: “Yeah, you’ve gotta hustle.”

Chefs also hustle?

The Scene of Hustling

In the most basic terms, P wants to get something from Q but that something is not easily gotten. So P resorts to words, not to force, or to the force of words rather than the use of force.

More specifically, P wants Q to purchase or accept something (transaction); to do or perform something, typically on P’s behalf (service); or to put him in touch with someone or with some institution (access).

Why all the roundabouts, the end-arounds, the back-door entries? We’ll come to that.

A Definition of Hustling

To hustle is to pursue your self-interest by means of cunning and without direct institutional support. The key ingredients: cunning and lack of direct institutional support.

Our World

Why is hustling the way we live now? Let’s first tease out the implications of hustling.

Hustling implies

  1. that there are high obstacles or great barriers to entry;
  2. that a supreme, and often praised, effort is required;
  3. that the agent is filled with great ambition;
  4. that the world abounds with individuals pursuing their own self-interests;
  5. that institutions, which had hitherto supported individual advancement, are in the midst of collapse or have already collapsed (consider that the notion of hustling would not occur, nor could it occur, to the Organization Man);
  6. that the use of cunning or cleverness seems to be necessary in light of conditions 1-5.

Our world is constructed, not entirely but increasingly, according to the metaphysical premise that we are first strangers who meet in the abstract land of the marketplace. In the marketplace, we do not know each other as neighbors, stewards, or hosts; we regard each other instead as abstract agents who strive to fulfill worldly ambitions. Is there an afterlife? We do not care nor do we think to ask. All this is what is; all this is what life offers. Yet because the opportunities are few and resources scarce, because institutions no longer guide us, we must use cleverness in order to make our way where others, essaying the direct route, have failed. We have learned from them and thus plot like chess masters.

And what are hustlers doing? A paradox: They are making strangers into acquaintances, making a stranger world less strange and more friendly without becoming genuine friends. They convince, when they do, because they are likable without being lovers; because they are are agreeable without becoming friends. This is not to say that they live without a sense of conscience: they are doing what they think is necessary in a fallen world. A necessary evil.

At night, they half-smile. They are almost wretched. To them, to us is bequeathed the not-quite. A necessary evil. Nothing to be done.

Terre Haute, Indiana

On the interstate, my car idling, Terre Haute, Indiana, a few miles off. Where I grew up, Terre Haute, Indiana, a dead city. It’s the last day of 2006, and I should have realized then that hustling could not be a way of life. I didn’t. That would come later.

Part 3: Terre Haute, the end of love, and the art of the conversation.

Hustle hustle hustle (Part 1)

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series. Below, I pose a set of questions to make you think about the nature and prevalence of hustling. In Part 2, I examine these questions. In Part 3, I aim to replace the vocabulary of hustling with that of the conversation.

1.) Word Association: What comes to mind when I say “hustling?” What connotations would you attach to “hustling,” as when you hear the sentence, “You’ve gotta hustle”? My guess is that you had a mixed reaction. What would explain this? What about hustling seems praiseworthy, what blameworthy?

2.) Prevalence: According to Google Ngram Viewer, the use of the word “hustle” peaks around 1920 and then has yet to peak after 2000. In fact, the period from 2000 – present slopes upward dramatically, rising higher and higher. What would explain the prevalence of “hustling” after 2000?

3.) Thought Experiment: Imagine the kind of world in which hustling is at home. Under what material, social, and economic conditions does “hustling” come into being and become common sense?

4.) Explanation: What might explain the collective belief that hustling is at once desirable, necessary, inevitable, and misguided? If hustling is a “necessary evil,” why might this be?