LIT & CRIT : FINANCE : CULTURE
JAMES ALTUCHER
Cryptogenius Guru or
Just A Nice Guy?

Continued from Page 3

 

Originally, that's what I had wondered about James in the past when he was first revving up his hype machine. I asked: is he promising people self-actualization a little too freely in order to sell books? Was he doing podcasts and exploiting a formula based around wealth envy to build his brand in a way that might shun a harder examination of the prosperity ethics wrapped in a confession of past failures that he championed?

Those were the questions I had in my mind when I initially shat in his living room in 2014.

It wasn't really his literal living room or literal shit, but those were his words. It was just Facebook. James had done a podcast with a guy who had paid millions to settle a Federal criminal lawsuit concerning the accounting he had overseen in his medical software company, and then wrote a book painting himself as a "The Promise" style meditation guru out in the Florida swamps or something.

 

And James did not mention his crimes at all, just allowed him to --with a straight face-- explain why giving up and letting the universe do with you what it will leads to wealth and happiness. In other words, the guy seemed to be spewing bullshit.

Then James talked the guy up via a Facebook post. So I called him out a little on it. It wasn't meant to be mean, but I was firm that James had missed an opportunity to call someone out on their BS some, or at least acknowledge that a journalist would have felt obligated to try.

 

He responded that I had shat in his living room via a Facebook instant message to me soon after. I responded with some righteousness, telling him I was writing a piece on guru types and also his blog writing technique, but that I thought he was pretty good at what he was doing.

 

So I offered to let him read the article I was writing so that he could make sure it was accurate, a little like a kind of an interview or Platonic dialogue about his style and approach to interviewing. His response was to kind of take it personally. Which was sweet, actually; it confirmed to me that he really cared

 

I mean, most famous, rich and powerful people would just blow that shit off and never respond. I know, because I've tried!

During our FB correspondence, I let him know the article was going to be about being a critical consumer of writers in the self-help marketplace, but that I thought it talked him up as one of the good guys. As well, I felt that I was a kind of amateur journalist trying to do something similar to him in the self-publishing world, with his inspiration as one of my guiding lights. Indeed he seemed to be explicitly encouraging this kind of approach, so I hoped he saw it in the right frame.

We ended up going back and forth on Facebook some (see below) and I kowtowed to him a little for being in his face earlier. I said that if he didn't like the article, I'd can it. And it seemed he didn't, so I did.

Until now.

During those conversations, I got the idea that he did actually care about doing the right thing, so much that he was taking time out of his busy schedule to confront some rando who had called him out over it. Not only was it just nice to get a response, but I got the impression he was sincere and looking forward to really helping others for the sake of helping others, that he got gratification out of that mission.

 

So I canned the article though I thought it was complimentary to him overall, admiring of his technique while still skeptical of gurus and what they sell, and incisive about his style.

So, as you read the rest of the resurrected article below, keep in mind that the reason I am bringing it back to life is because it seems that James' pitch has become so aggressive it is again kinda approaching the borderline between legit and questionable, or at least demands an examination.

 

I mean, his Crypto pitches are so aggressive that if they weren't dealing with unregulated BTC he would be getting calls from the NY Attorney General by now.  I admire him for being balls out and full of conviction (some others might call it being full of something else), but real people can lose real money if they're not careful. So there's that.

Nonetheless, as you read the rest of the article, keep in mind that overall it's not written to tear him down or expose him as a fraud or something. He's a good guy, I think, regardless of the fabulist claims of future potential for cryptos based on Amazon adoption or Wall Street continuing to push it or whatever else his thesis is about investor psychology and technological game-changing advances and how they are adopted over time.

I mean, just look at how hurt he got when I just raised some doubt about whether he was hard enough on the guru or not! 

 

Really, to me he doesn't seem to be a Tucker Max self-involved prick trying to inflate his own ego. Looking at the totality of his public interactions, including his personal one-on-one responses to me and others on Facebook, I think we see a human being instead of a monster or a Wall Street scammer.  (Though the same might not be said so easily about some of his associates, perhaps).

Just see below. Look at how much he stresses it's not about him and making a dime off the suckers. He really has a Gospel of self-actualization he wants to preach, and he really wants to make people money. That his appetite for such things might cause his ambition to overbite a little might be forgivable in that context as long as the critical consumer is able to digest and critique his style and substance.

Well, now to get to the gossip.

 

It started like this: the podcast interview he did was with Oprah new age guru Michael Singer, author of The Surrender Project (Now that I think about it, I bet James' ultimate goal is to get an interview with Op, or appear on her show.)  The promo James posted to his Facebook page was full of his usual wonder and awe at people who have some seeming secret to life that allows them to tap the energy of the ether (aka rich friends). 

 

I was tempted to suggest that the only surrendering that Singer ought to do would be to the FBI for accounting fraud, ha ha. 

 

But instead of that snark, I modulated the tone a bit and posted this on the wall:  "Maybe you should have asked him about his fraud case, James. It seems you gave him a pass."  James then sent me an instant message that read:  "Hey man. You should probably do your research a little more carefully before you decide to shit in my living room. There's many sources for the actual story."

We then had a back and forth conversation.

 

I let him know I was a writer intending to write about his approach to self-help and guru marketing, and that I generally liked his style. (That original article now all buffed up and ready to publish can be found here, or just keep reading). 

 

Basically, I will reprint most of our conversation from FB to prove the point, but it boils down to the fact that James professed to me personally care about not being an asshole.

 

He proves it in the way that he bothers to even reply, for one thing. For another, he makes his case fairly well. He may have wanted for this to remain private, but at the same time he was explicitly told that I was a writer working on an article about him and his techniques, so I think he was aware that his words were going to be subject to scrutiny and could appear in public as part of the discussion. In fact, he also uses the phrase "this is off the record" at one point, so it was understood that the rest might be on the record.

 

To the degree that his own blog talks about interactions with famous people even when they seems to dislike it because it is told from a memoir point of view, I think I have that right as well.

 

With that in mind, here's what I replied back after he suggested I was a simple defecater instead of someone with high standards for holding those in power accountable:

   "Thanks - someone cares enough to reply! I bait sometimes just to feel less lonely, I think, using my outrage as energy to fuel my day. Else, I'd just snicker but not post.

    "Let me know when you want to interview me about it (Singer's issue) on your podcast and I'll research the hell out of it. Sure, there's always another side to the story, but bottom line he was CEO and made excuses for why the buck did not need to stop with him. I'm not interested in giving him a break just because he made money and wrote a few esoteric books. Either a CEO runs a tight ship or they don't and have to face investigations.

     "You know as well as I do a lot of your present writing success comes from the wealth envy of your readers. That is the same impulse that gives Wall Street a pass too often despite its mendacity. I love your stuff, it's honest and you are inspirational to many, in fact you're better than most, but that doesn't mean you can't be open to criticism when you host someone on your show and give them a pass on their scandals. 

      "Nonetheless, I'll not shit on you or your posts in the future, that wouldn't be cool, but don't be surprised if people sometimes offer counter-factual opinions. That is one of the hazards of being in the public eye. Hey, at least I avoided profanity or scurrilous innuendo! Good luck to you, keep up the good work! 

Thanks, Kevin"

What was his reply?                                                                Click here for page five

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