The Real Diehl
Helena Lind talks with Gregory V. Diehl, bestselling author, world traveler and opinionator extraordinaire.
HELENA LIND: Welcome Gregory, I know how busy you are, so thanks for making the time.
GREGORY V. DIEHL: Thanks for the opportunity Helena. I’m a big supporter of what you’re doing with Destinosophy, helping others realize some of the unconventional avenues their lives can take if only they are brave enough to look beyond the maps their societies provide for how their lives can go. I’m excited to share with you all the ways I think our different approaches to the subject of destiny and heroism intertwine, even if we sometimes use different labels or psychological shortcuts to get to the same place.
LIND: Wonderful. Please tell me something about you thats not published all over the web already. Tell me about the real Diehl.
DIEHL: For as long as I can remember, I've felt almost completely alienated from my peers. Eventually, I came to realize that it wasn't just my peers, but seemingly all of humanity no matter their age or cultural background. My greatest existential dread and drama has come from trying to resolve the impassible distinction between myself and the rest of humanity as I perceive it… to learn to live both as part of the world and as an outside agent affecting it from my own isolated platform.
LIND: Even though you are quite young in years, you have come a long way. Through now how many worldly countries?
DIEHL: I started traveling out of California when I was 18. Now at 30, I've been to more than 50 countries as part of my journey to expand my understanding of myself and humanity. That's not to suggest I think that you can measure a person's development by how many countries they've been to or how many memorable experiences they've had. It's just been the path I needed to take to gather enough information about the world to make sense of my place within it.
LIND: What is your destiny?
DIEHL: I believe in a grounded, naturalistic concept of destiny. I believe destiny is the inevitable result of one's nature applied in the context of the environment they are in. The more one understands of both of these sides of the equation, the clearer vision they will have about the inevitable outcome of their life.
Understanding this, I can say that I believe my destiny is to improve the way people think about the state of the world and their own identities. I'm very meta in that way. My destiny is to help other people achieve their own destinies. The world is a very broken place in my perception of things. I just want to make it work a little better.
LIND: That’s why you’re here. In your new book, you give excellent advice to aspiring and serious writers. I find it very generous and giving that you share so much tried and tested knowledge with others. Tell me more about your inspiration.
DIEHL: My motive with The Influential Author: How and Why to Write, Publish, and Sell Nonfiction Books that Matter was to give other thinkers the tools and advice they would need to share their knowledge in profitable and productive ways as I have so far been able to do with my own books. I believe there is an enormous amount of untapped potential for nonfiction self-publishing. Think of how many brilliant people live and die never getting a platform for their ideas and expertise. Think of how many people the world over and for generations to come could benefit from their unique insight. Writing and publishing have the power to fix that unfulfilled opportunity.
LIND: You own and spearhead a successful publishing company - Identity Publications. There are many “how to get rich with any book on Amazon with just the right marketing strategy concepts” out there. Your new book, The Influential Author, is far more profound. As a thriving publisher, is The Influential Author also your way to make your aspiring authors keenly aware of the many, necessary quality requirements of a book?
Helena Lind: How to create a book that will stand the test of time for all the right reasons?
DIEHL: In the few years that I've been a self-published author, I've observed the dominant attitudes that currently pervade the self-publishing community. It makes sense that many of the first people to take advantage of this relatively young industry are those who already have experience in launching and marketing trendy products online. The barrier to entry is low for them compared to people who strictly have a passion for writing.
A consequence of this is that many of the problematic practices and values of people who will do anything to make a buck online transfer over from the old school long-form sales pages to hastily produced Kindle e-books on Amazon. If you look at almost any of the dozens of books written about self-publishing, you'll see that the trending qualities are things like "quick," "fast," "easy," etc. Everyone wants to write the next ultimate guide to some hot new topic in a week and make easy passive income or add more hungry prospects to their online sales funnels. It's a far cry from the prestige that once accompanied making through the arduous journey of getting one's work published as a real book.
My goal with Identity Publications has been to bring some of the missing honor to self-publishing. The fact that you handle most of the creative work yourself instead of going through a publishing house does not mean you have to release shoddy work or corrupt your intentions. Writing all 400+ pages of The Influential Author was a difficult task that took over a year to complete, but I wanted to make sure I included everything pertinent to the philosophy, strategy, writing, editing, presentation, and promotion of books that actually carry deep meaning and could even change the lives of the people who read them.
I believe power now rests in the hands of anyone with a meaningful message to get their work out to the world as a prestigious and successful nonfiction book through self-publishing or by working through a reputable third party like Identity Publications.
LIND: What's your view on humanity in this day and age?
DIEHL: I wish I had a more pleasant or optimistic answer to this question. Much of what I've seen of the world and its people, on both small personal and large impersonal levels, gives me very little hope for the world. I believe I've witnessed some of the worst of what people are capable of. They are the types of experiences that permanently alter major parts of your behavior because you can't forget what you've seen and you can't ignore the implications they carry.
In my perspective, the hope of the future of the world rests on a small minority who feel compelled by their own nature to rise above the disappointing standards of their cultures. Most of the people living today are not capable of self-reflecting enough and enduring discomfort to change the course of their lives or the course of our societies. We need disruption from the norm.
LIND: Let’s revisit this topic in our next talk. Where is your strong desire for justice and truth coming from?
DIEHL: Maybe I watched too many superhero movies as a kid. More likely, I think what I desire above all else is an intimate relationship with reality. Dishonesty and immorality represent humanity's break from reality. They create errors and imbalances in the system of the world, and those errors only compound over time as new lies get built atop old ones. Enacting and promoting justice is how we restore balance and order to the system of the world. In principle, we must always value it, even when the matter at hand seems relatively inconsequential.
LIND: Why so seemingly restless? Are you running from something? Someone? Yourself? Or, where to?
DIEHL: I'm not restless. I'm hungry, and I'm frustrated. I'm hungry for more meaning than I've so far been able to extract from my life. I'm frustrated that no matter how far I search, I keep running into the same evils and inefficiencies. More than that, I keep finding more and more things wrong with how the world works and how individual brains work. Every time I think I've seen the depths, new low points emerge. I don't think I'm running from anything scary. That's not how I react to fear. I run toward it.
LIND: I hear you. Tell me about Gregory V. Diehl’s heroes.
DIEHL: Heroes are idols we look up to because they embody certain virtues that we identify with most. In real life, I can't say I have known many actual people who fit this category. Most people seem far too caught up with the drama of their own lives to seek real heroism. In fiction, however, I am granted the luxury of seeing character condensed down to the core defining elements of their stories. Superman matters because he is a concentrated mass of the best aspects of real humanity, only magnified through a comic book setting and superpowers. I think the closest thing we have in real life is the major innovators, artists, authors, entrepreneurs philosophers, etc., who dedicate their lives to meaningful humanitarian purposes. Elon Musk comes to mind.
LIND: And your pet antagonists and villains?
DIEHL: Most people don't realize how much heroes and villains have in common. We think of them as opposites, but that's only because they tend to work for opposite ends. Internally, they exhibit many of the same traits. They both believe in what they work for, often to the point they are willing to die for it. They both think they're improving the world according to their subjective interpretations of what that means. The key difference between a true hero and true villain is that the hero is willing and determined to reflect on the totality of the nature and effect of their actions. A hero must be sure that their actions are really in line with the laws of nature and that the outcome they desire is really the best possible outcome. Self-reflection makes all the difference.
My villains include many people who are determined to change the world in big ways, but for whatever reason do not seem to be capable of reflecting on the nature of their actions and desires. Politicians are great examples of people whose determination easily becomes destructive to humanity, no matter how noble their intentions. They are playing the game the only way they know how, and they will probably never wake up to the fact that most of them are causing the exact opposite of whatever social progress they intend. They don't build. They just commandeer what others have created.
LIND: Have you ever felt misplaced in the here and now?
DIEHL: I have trouble identifying with the problems, concerns, and values of people. It's part of why I have always felt alienated from my peers. It's part of why I don't have many real-world hero figures. It's like we are running on completely different operating systems. We can interact and communicate with each other to a limited extent, but any too deep or complex means that something is going to get lost in translation.
Despite my disappointment with the present, I can't think of any particular point or place in human history in which I'd rather be living. We humans have come a long way since the days of the caves or serfdom. I certainly enjoy my technological comforts. But still, I cannot ignore this impression in my mind about how much more peacefully, efficiently, and cohesively we could be living as a species on this planet. My ideal is a projection of certain base values I have for human functioning and relationships, extrapolated to a logical extreme. That is the world I yearn for.
LIND: Do you feel normal? You are highly productive and succinct. Personally, I agree with CG Jung: 'Normal life can be your making. Yet it can dull the spirit of some.' Are you one of the some? And if so, how did it play a role in your decision to live your life as you do?
DIEHL: No, I don't feel normal. I suspect that people who feel normal don't have any concept or perspective on how they could ever be any different. They just are how they perceive that they must be. Normalness prevents one from experiencing enough disruptive discomfort to make grand changes to their life. Normalness prevents people from honestly assessing the conditions of their lives. People have to risk not knowing what they are supposed to be doing and make a lot of mistakes before they can find their unique grooves in life.
LIND: Do you believe that your life has a built-in roadmap?
DIEHL: I believe the roadmaps that most people follow are the unconscious products of their cultures. Yet, they feel totally natural and innate to them. They don't know any better, so they never question them. They can't consider the possibility that perhaps their lives could have gone any number of other ways with any number of other maps assigned to them.
I believe human beings do have a design, but that design varies from psyche to psyche. I believe when we see certain themes and patterns of excellence, heroism, and achievement showing up throughout history and across many mediums and genres of storytelling, we are actually getting insight into some of the invisible, truly innate design of people who seek out challenge and purpose in their lives. This type of map cannot tell you specifically what to do, but it can tell you the categories of emotional reactions you will have to depend on the types of choices you make.
LIND: Why do you, too, have such an affinity with cats?
Cats are complex creatures, and their complexity emerges depending on how they are nurtured and treated. They're like people in that regard. It is rewarding for me to be an agent of interruption in the downward spiral of a homeless cat's life, to inject care and support so that their higher-level social traits and intelligence can start to emerge. I guess in many ways I see that they have many of humanity's best assets and fewer of their detriments.
LIND: How did the living and working in China affect you so profoundly?
DIEHL: In China, just like yourself, I saw new extremes of implementation of the great evils human beings are capable of. It's not that I didn't know what we could do as individuals before. China just shocked my system with its society-wide adherence to a strict doctrine of subjugation of the individual and all his virtues. I couldn't go back to pretending that all was right with the world after living and working there for several months. Its image was seared into my paradigm thereafter.
LIND: What are your thoughts on mentoring one's romantic partners?
DIEHL: I've formed many close relationships with women who, from my point of view, held a large amount of unique potential for insight and personal growth. They seemed drawn to me because they recognized that same spark they carried in themselves within me. In most cases, I was the first one in their life to openly encourage them to develop the traits that set them apart from their peers instead of trying to be more like what social convention demanded from them. Each time, I thought I had found a complimentary mirror, a partner I could bond with for the rest of my time on this unconventional path in life.
What I've learned is that people will often show you exactly what they think you need to see in order to get the response that is most useful to them from you. If someone who grows dependent on my mentorship, affection, economic resources, or other forms of influence sees that I value virtues like righteousness and intelligence, they will mimic those traits in front of me. They will learn to tell a very detailed story about who they now are and what they want because it is what is necessary to maintain their influence supply from me or anyone else playing a beneficial role in their life. In this way, human beings become commodities to them.
This is the danger of bonding with someone based on who they tell you they would like to become, not who they authentically are. What is true should be present whether or not you are in the picture. You cannot be the sole catalyst to their growth.
LIND: Let us talk a bit about your upcoming book topic ‘exceptional people’: do you regard yourself as outstanding?
DIEHL: My new book (working title: The Exceptional Individual) will be about people whose operating systems don't match with the operating systems of the world. They are literally "exceptions" to the rule (i.e., "exceptional"). So, they need a different set of rules or a different roadmap through which to live their lives. They will face different types of challenges and experience different types of rewards. They cannot ever be content with ordinary lives. They must become strong enough to accept the unique responsibility of their designs and their uncommonly adept awareness and abilities.
Gregory V. Diehl: Do you believe I am an exceptional person?
LIND: Nah. I know that that you are uniquely exceptional. Extremely complex. Uncomfortable. A challenger. The next 20 years, your future books and other work will continue to prove me right in retrospect.
LIND: Back to your past. Did you enjoy your childhood?
DIEHL: I can honestly say I did not enjoy many things about being a child. It was an ongoing case of knowing too much and having too little power to do anything about it. And as we all know, knowledge without power leads to idle suffering. Inexperienced and immature as I was, I had managed to piece together many unexplained truths from my limited observations of the world and the many contradictions I spotted in the things my parents and other societal authority figures said and did. Feeling such disparity between myself and the world, I was compelled to pursue catching up on the power and experiences I perceived that I had lacked since before I had even hit puberty.
At 30, I still don't feel like I've grown out of this childhood frustration fully. I don't feel as though I have attained the levels of power, experience, and awareness I foresee for myself. Perhaps when I'm closer to 60 or so I will feel like my life is finally beginning. We'll see.
LIND: Where and how do you envisage yourself in 10 years from now?
DIEHL: The trend of my life indicates that the longer I live, the more isolated I become from my fellow humans. I've seen so much of their world, been so intertwined in their lives, and so much of it has only brought me chaos, pain, and disappointment. I don't want to waste any more of the time I've got playing their game or suffering their consequences. I've been burned by worldly societies and seemingly noble people more often than I can remember. The world is not ready for someone like me to be living within and among it. I want to concentrate my focus only on the tasks and relationships that have proven to be worthwhile.
This is one of the primary reasons I've been so focused on exploring different parts of the world so that I can find environments that work for me as my authentic and unhindered self. It's why I've developed the hobby of purchasing property and homesteading in relatively undeveloped but promising parts of the world, such as Vilcabamba, Ecuador, and Kalavan, a traditional village undergoing massive restoration in my ancestral country of Armenia.
LIND: Gregory V. Diehl, are you an Agent of Destiny?
DIEHL: I live to enact the challenges I perceive are missing from the structure of the world. It is the most meaningful pursuit I can fill my time with. Thanks again for pushing me to expand on my experiences and philosophy. All of this will help me during the final refinement stages of my upcoming book on being exceptional in an ordinary world. I look forward to see what you and Destinosophy have to say, given your unique and detailed approach to all things related to the mythology of personal excellence.
LIND: Thank you Gregory. I rest my case. Looking forward to our next talk about hope & humanity.