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Talent: A Review

[1]2,148 words

Tyler Cowen & Daniel Gross
Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2022

The identification and proper allocation of talent is essential to the success of any organization. Hiring the wrong people is costly, especially for groups with limited capital. It would thus behoove White Nationalists to become amateur talent-spotters and students of human behavior. The book in question is a solid starting point.

Tyler has a habit of couching unorthodox stances in progressive language, which is probably why he has never been canceled. This book is no exception. For instance, the authors frame themselves as champions of “disabled” people — that is, smart guys with bad social skills (autism) or an abundance of physical energy (ADHD). The book also claims that women are “undervalued” but blames this on innate differences between the sexes. The chapter on intelligence begins with the bold declaration that intelligence is “overrated,” but goes on to clarify that it is a robust predictor of success in many areas. Tyler admits in an interview [2] with Richard Hanania that intelligence is underrated by society at large. It is only overrated by the self-important cognitive elitists who follow his blog.

If you can get past this annoyance, Talent is worth a skim. It is refreshing to see a mainstream book on talent and success that acknowledges the unfashionable truth that talent is innate and unequally distributed and does not use the phrase “growth mindset.”

The meat of the book is devoted to the topic of human variability, beginning with personality psychology. Much of it is common sense, but it nonetheless warrants discussion.

The dominant theory of personality is the Five Factor model, which posits that there are five fundamental dimensions upon which humans differ with regard to personality: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Despite its limitations, the Five Factor model provides a decent framework for understanding personality.

Conscientiousness is the trait employers typically value the most. The authors prefer to emphasize stamina over conscientiousness. The latter encompasses the “facets” of dutifulness and cautiousness, which can backfire in certain contexts. Of course, stamina and conscientiousness are not unrelated; two other facets of conscientiousness are self-discipline and self-efficacy, which contribute to stamina. Closely related to the quality of stamina is what the authors call “sturdiness,” or the ability to work every day without fail and consistently produce good work. To assess people for this quality, you could meet with them a handful of times over the course of months and observe how much they have accomplished.

Whereas conscientiousness is the trait that correlates most strongly with positive life outcomes, neuroticism (i.e., one’s susceptibility to negative emotion) is the one most negatively correlated with them. Neuroticism is generally a liability; you certainly do not want emotionally unstable people to occupy positions of power. On the other hand, neurotic people are more effective at stirring up a sense of righteous indignation and galvanizing audiences. This is something the Left has harnessed to their advantage. Elevated neuroticism may also be linked to creativity.

It should further be noted that of all the Big Five traits, neuroticism is the one that can most readily be modified. An extreme basket case may be beyond repair, but some people who are above-average in neuroticism — especially bright, introspective ones — can alter their thought patterns (e.g., through CBT). So it would be foolish to write off a talented person for having a bit of a neurotic streak.

Openness to experience and extraversion are straightforward. Extraversion is often undervalued in intellectual movements. Highly connected, social people are ideally positioned to serve as vectors [3] for the spread of ideas, and the movement needs more of them.

Agreeableness is the weakest link in the Five Factor model. To begin with, I have never been fond of the term “disagreeableness,” as it smacks of the girlish belief that being competitive and challenging the status quo makes one “mean” and an “asshole.” A man can punch someone in the face and have a beer with him afterwards. Natural variation in agreeableness certainly exists, but the trait is highly context-dependent. The authors’ concept of “selective agreeableness” as an ideal is useful. A good leader both stands firm in the face of social disapproval and has the capacity to be gentlemanly and diplomatic.

Personality tests are actually reasonably effective. Surprisingly few respondents contrive to obtain a particular result, and those who do lie about their personalities still communicate useful information in doing so (social savviness and a willingness to bend the truth for personal ends). If you choose to administer a personality test, I would recommend something like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the most popular personality test but is much less rigorous (the 16 types provide a useful language for discussing personality, but the test itself is highly unreliable).

Interviews can be more useful than personality tests. The authors rightly dismiss the trendy belief that interviews are “useless.” Nothing can replace a face-to-face conversation in which you are able to observe how someone acts and responds to questions on the spot.

The authors offer several questions that depart from convention and do not lend themselves to the canned answers interviewees rehearse. Some of them are better than others. “If you joined us and then in three to six months from now were no longer here, why would that be?” is a good alternative to the old “What are your weaknesses?” (which is apt to elicit something along the lines of “I work too hard”). “What is it you do to practice that is analogous to how a pianist practices scales?” is a good way of gauging someone’s seriousness and “sturdiness.” (Most professional pianists do not actually practice scales, but that is a minor quibble. Deliberate practice is what distinguishes people who are serious about their craft from dilettantes. I recall Camille Paglia mentioning that as a child, she would copy passages she considered particularly eloquent by hand.) “What tabs are open on your browser right now?” yields revealing answers, as does “How successful do you want to be?” (Peter Thiel poses this question to interviewees). The authors also note that pressing an interviewee for several answers to a single question will elicit honest, unrehearsed responses and reveal how they respond to unpredictable events.

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You can buy Greg Johnson’s The White Nationalist Manifesto here [5]

One should be cognizant of the altered dynamics of interviews conducted via Zoom or telephone. It is harder to accurately assess someone’s personality or leadership abilities in the pared-down setting of a Zoom call. Conversely, the lack of direct eye contact offers the opportunity to ask more probing questions.

Following their discussion of personality, the authors devote a chapter to “disability and talent.” The authors acknowledge that their use of the term “disability” to describe conditions like high-functioning autism and ADHD is questionable, and they admit they like its “shock value.” Naturally, there is no discussion of intellectual disability in this chapter.

Mild autism is generally an asset. The main issue with autists is obviously their social ineptness, which renders them ill-suited to public-facing roles. Even this is not always a hindrance, however. A smart autist can, with practice, cognitively model how normies think and can potentially have more insights into human behavior and social situations than the average normie, as the authors point out.

The same applies to ADHD, arguably more so. The label is recklessly applied to anyone who is unusually physically exuberant. People who are high in extraversion and openness are particularly likely to be diagnosed with the condition. Such individuals are often entrepreneurial and charismatic.

People with schizotypal traits, who are disproportionately represented in counter-cultural scenes, are less suited to public-facing roles than autists despite being less socially impaired. Clarity is important when communicating with the general public, and disorganized speech is one of the hallmarks of schizotypy (the authors express a similar sentiment in their description of “clutteredness”). Schizotypal people are also prone to paranoia, which creates social discord, so they should occupy solitary roles. Conversely, there appears to be a connection between schizotypy and artistic creativity.

People with unmedicated bipolar disorder wreak havoc on their surroundings, but they likewise have elevated creative abilities and are highly productive during manic episodes. I like the idea of putting them in a room somewhere and feeding them through a little slot in the door.

If normies are apt to overlook talented people who appear a bit “odd,” we have the opposite problem: We are, ironically, too welcoming and do not discriminate enough. Talent search involves not only the detection of virtues, but also of pathologies. Every White Nationalist should study the characteristics of pathological personalities. (I recommend the work of Sam Vaknin, a self-aware narcissist.) Such people should be kept at arm’s length or outright shunned, depending on the case.

Continuing their discussion of people whose abilities they believe are “undervalued,” the authors discuss women and minorities in the following chapter. They are deluded if they think talented women and non-whites are undervalued or neglected by today’s employers, most of whom are desperate to hire them. Nonetheless, it is true that talented women can be overlooked in everyday settings. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but it is worth bearing in mind that one’s first impressions of a woman’s abilities may be incorrect.

Women possess certain useful skill sets. They are often more astute judges of character than men, particularly once they reach middle age. They pick up on subtle cues men miss, and their intuitions about people are more accurate; the authors cite Jessica Livingston [6] as an example. They are also good at community organizing.

On a large scale, the most undervalued demographic right now by far is middle-/working-class white people from middle America. Ordinary white people are systematically being excluded from elite universities, which primarily admit affluent whites and poor non-whites, and they are being replaced by immigrants in the workplace. Middle-class white America is a reservoir of untapped talent. The authors briefly hint at this in their chapter on intelligence.

It turns out that a surprising number of supermodels are from the Midwest. Model scouts flock there because there is much less competition from other scouts in less urban parts of the country (it also helps that the Midwest boasts a high concentration of tall Nordics). I propose that we should focus most of our efforts on bright young white people from middle America for similar reasons. Centers of elite power are saturated with the political equivalent of model scouts. And realistically, it is unlikely that affluent whites who have attended elite universities and have been groomed by the establishment for their entire lives will give us the time of day. We should not avoid them altogether, but the greater portion of our efforts should be spent elsewhere. (One strategy that would allow us to “have our cake and eat it too” would be to identify smart high schoolers from poor backgrounds who can earn admission to elite universities on the basis of being low-income. See Daniel Schmidt [7], a student at the University of Chicago from Tennessee, who is making a name for himself in conservative activism.)

Coincidentally, Tyler recently did an interview [8] with Marc Andreessen, who is from rural Wisconsin. Andreessen remarked that he considered himself an odd duck compared to his peers back home until he read Tom Wolfe’s profile [9] of Intel co-founder Robert Noyce, which points out that a number of engineers in the early days of Silicon Valley were from small towns in the Midwest. One reason for this was that there was less of an establishment presence in the region.

There is also a lot of untapped talent in the gaming world. Successful gamers are brighter than average, as one would predict given that gaming rewards strategic thinking and fast reflexes. Some of them are naturally unambitious and lazy, but others dedicate themselves to gaming because it has never occurred to them to set their sights on something greater. The benefits of converting young people like that and encouraging them to become more serious about life would be enormous.

The alternative to actively searching for talent (which is rarely as easy as roaming malls and diners in search of would-be models) is to cultivate a platform that will attract talented people. This has essentially been Peter Thiel’s approach. As Andreessen put it in the interview mentioned earlier, Thiel “puts out the Bat-Signal” and sees who shows up. As I see it, Counter-Currents accomplishes precisely this. (That ought to placate people in the movement who disdain articles on esoteric philosophical topics.)

In any era, genuine talent is often overlooked by the establishment. This is doubly true now given the undue weight given to credentials and ideological subservience over ability. Likewise, talented people are increasingly being driven away by the mainstream’s intellectual vacuity. We already have an edge over our enemies; we simply need to exploit it.

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