I will always remember my encounter with the writer and cultural icon Susan Sontag, largely because it was on the same day that I met the great Benoit Mandelbrot. I took place in 2001, two months after the terrorist event, in a radio station in New York. Sontag who was being interviewed, was pricked by the idea of a fellow who “studies randomness” and came to engage me. When she discovered that I was a trader, she blurted out that she was “against the market system” and turned her back to me as I was in mid-sentence, just to humiliate me (note here that courtesy is an application of the Silver rule), while her female assistant gave me the look, as if I had been convicted of child killing. I sort of justified her behavior in order to forget the incident, imagining that she lived in some rural commune, grew her own vegetables, wrote on pencil and paper, engaged in barter transactions, that type of stuff.
No, she did not grow her own vegetables, it turned out. Two years later, I accidentally found her obituary (I waited a decade and a half before writing about the incident to avoid speaking ill of the departed). People in publishing were complaining about her rapacity; she had to squeeze her publisher, Farrar Strauss and Giroud of what would be several million dollars today for a book advance. She shared, with a girlfriend, a mansion in New York City, one that was later sold for $28 million dollars. Sontag probably felt that insulting people with money inducted her into some unimpeachable sainthood, exempting her from having skin in the game.
It is immoral to be in opposition of the market system and not live (like the Unabomber) in a hut isolated from it
But there is worse:
It is even more, much more immoral to claim virtue without fully living with its direct consequences
and this will be the main topic of the chapter: exploiting virtue for image, personal gain, careers, social status, these kind of things –and personal gain is anything that does not share the downside of a negative action.
By contrast with Sontag, I have met a few people who live their public ideas. Ralph Nader, for instance, leads the life of a monk, identical to the member of a monastery in the sixteenth century.