Human 26: Hamish McKenzie
Co-founder of Substack
In case you missed it, you’re reading this blog on a platform called Substack, a company co-founded by Hamish McKenzie. Hamish is from Alexandra, a town of 5,000 people in the South Island of New Zealand. He is a journalist and writer by trade, having worked for a range of publications, from a digital marketing trade magazine to an entertainment and listings guide, to a website that covered start-ups and technology companies. As a freelancer, he has written about all sorts of things - books, culture, politics, technology - for magazines and newspapers in the US, Canada, Hong Kong, and New Zealand. He has also written a book…
“In 2013, I asked Elon Musk if he’d be interested in co-operating on a book about him and his companies, and instead of agreeing to that he offered me a job at Tesla. So I joined Tesla as lead writer in January 2014. I left just over a year later to write a book about how Tesla catalyzed an electric revolution to end the oil age. The book is called ‘Insane Mode’, and it came out at the end of 2017, just after I started Substack with Chris Best and Jairaj Sethi.”
Hamish is a human mammal. Here are his thoughts:
What brings you the most joy in life?
Moments of peace in nature (preferably in New Zealand) with my two young sons.
What does success mean to you?
Being able to live a life with a good balance of resource security, physical security, and psychological security.
What do you see as your greatest achievement?
Starting Substack with Chris and Jairaj and seeing it change some writers’ lives for the better.
What are you most grateful for?
The love and support of my family throughout my entire life.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
I’m part Māori.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your life?
Losing my brother when he was 14 and I was 11.
What do you regret?
Not starting a family at a younger age.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What advice would you give your younger self?
Learn how to pay attention to and respect your emotions.
What is the most important thing we can teach kids in school?
Consideration for others.
If you could have a conversation with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
Kurt Vonnegut. He would be a great conversation, I’m sure, full of wit and wisdom and humility and good cheer and ideas, but also a kind of cynicism from having borne witness to horrors. He saw humanity at its worst and decided it was still worth betting on, specifically as a storyteller. Please keep in mind that I haven’t thought about this question too deeply and I probably should have said Joan of Arc or Leonardo da Vinci or someone like that, but we’d probably have to talk through a translator, which would just be cumbersome.
What do you doubt most?
That the advent of agriculture was a positive development for humanity.
When did you last have a significant change of mind?
Last week, with something about Substack’s strategy for attracting writers to the platform.
What is the role of luck in our lives?
It’s like the weather – unavoidable, out of our control, a necessary part of the ecosystem we inhabit, and it can make or ruin your life at any moment. It’s hard to do anything about bad luck except to make the best of it, so my attitude has always been to focus on making the most of good luck.
Do you have a favourite quote? What is it? Why do you like it?
“If this isn’t nice, what is?” – Kurt Vonnegut. I like this because it’s a reminder to appreciate what you have rather than focus on what you lack, and an exhortation to savor life’s good moments because they are what make it worth living.
What would you do with your life if you had unlimited financial resources?
Continue to live it.
If you could have the definitive answer to a single question, what would you ask?
What is consciousness?
What concept/fact/idea should every human on the planet understand?
You don’t have to tweet.
Do human beings have free will?
Do you believe in God?
Could we be living in a simulated universe?
Will the continual development of technology have a net positive or negative influence on humanity?
What is the single greatest achievement of humanity?
Figuring out how to start a fire seems pretty significant.
What do you see as the biggest existential threat to humanity?
What does it mean to live a good life?
To have enjoyed the love of others, and to have returned it many times over.
What is a good death?
One that comes when you are ready for it.
Thanks for your time, Hamish!
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