A reader writes:
"But considering all Gladwell has to lose, and how easy it would be just to ignore you, perhaps he should be given some credit for how far his honesty and intellect take him. He knows he's giving you free publicity; and though he's conflicted about it, at least he doesn't mind much.
"He sounds like he's almost agonizing. He seems to have just enough of a conscience to realize that you deserve to be heard, as well as just enough intelligence to understand that your arguments are actually substantial.
"As far as I can see, what he's missing are 3 things.
"Courage--He's got too much to lose; he's too afraid of losing it
"Humility--I have a feeling that he would be far more welcoming of you if he didn't think you would consistently outclass him.
"Audacity/Zeal--distinct from courage, I refer to the kick one gets from sticking it to the man, taking down sacred cows, exposing charlatans, etc come hell or high water. Gladwell's a bit timid and deferential."
One thing to Malcolm's credit is that he really does like new ideas. Most journalists have a small stock in trade of novel ideas that they came up with by age 30 or so and just keep using those over and over. Malcolm, in contrast, is constantly out there searching for new ideas. Of course, when you swing for the fences, you are more likely to strike out.
Malcolm's boyishness, lack of cynicism, naiveté, cluelessness, whatever you want to call it, is one of his most endearing qualities. It comes out in his "Gee willikers, sir, what a great idea! I would never have thought of that" enthusiasm for every single promoter he endorses in the pages of The New Yorker.
Malcolm reminds me of Asok the Intern on the Dilbert comic strip. When a manager comes to pitch his new idea, the Pointy-Haired Boss introduces the team: "Asok will be full of enthusiasm for your concept because he hasn't yet learned how the world works."
I have no idea how at age 43 Malcolm gets so fired up for each new half-baked idea that comes down the pike. He's like the world's highest IQ Labrador Retriever: "What?!? You want to take me for a walk? What a fantastic idea, Master! How did you ever think of that?"
Malcolm's guilelessness leads him into poor decisions and hence into humiliations, like picking a public fight with me by dishonestly slurring me, and then getting voted down on his own blog 127-44! And then failing to cut his losses and proceeding to slam his head into the wall on his own blog a second time, a third time, and then a fourth time.
It ought to be pretty obvious that I'm just about the last person any famous public intellectual in his right mind would choose to get into a battle of wits with. Do you think, say, Jared Diamond would be so short of cunning as to go out of his way to tangle with me? There would be no upside for him. If he won, big deal, he beat up so guy most of his readers hadn't heard of. And Diamond would also realize that in all likelihood he'd get beat like a drum by me. And who needs that?
Malcolm certainly doesn't. When the world's hottest movie star, Leonardo DiCaprio, is attached to play you (more or less) in the film version of your business advice book, well, arguing with me makes no sense whatsoever from a practical career advancement standpoint.
The especially bizarre thing about Malcolm choosing to go to war with me this month on his own blog over Ian Ayres's study of discrimination by car salesmen is that … we had already fought that battle a long time ago. And I had won. Big time.
Back in 2005 or early 2006, Gladwell had written on his website a highly aggrieved 1,000 word response to the criticisms Judge Richard A. Posner and I had made of his interpretation of Ian Ayres' car dealer study in his bestseller Blink. (This is where he famously sputtered, "Sailer and Poser [sic] have a very low opinion of car salesmen.") When I discovered Gladwell's reply last February, I unloaded on him with both barrels in "Malcolm Gladwell Blinks Again" in VDARE.com.
And yet last week he still decided to fight me on the same grounds again!
When somebody makes as much money as Malcolm does, it's natural to assume that he is a conniver who has consciously plotted his every move to fame and fortune. But the more I deal with Malcolm, the less that seems true of him. He now strikes me as an artless innocent, Forrest Gump with a felicitous prose style.