A Citations Needed Live Show Beg-A-Thon: The Grim Popularity of Rise-And-Grind TikTok #Influencers

Citations Needed | February 28, 2024 | Transcript

Citations Needed
48 min readMar 5, 2024
Still from a David Goggins running video (Fuel the Mind YouTube channel)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Yep, that’s right. You know we are. And welcome as well to another Beg-A-Thon edition of Citations Needed, our periodic virtual live show fundraiser. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Thank you, everyone, for joining us as we stream live on YouTube. Of course, you can follow the show, in the meantime, onTwitter @citationspod, Facebook at Citations Needed and if you’re not already, we’d obviously really like you to become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/citationsneededpodcast. All your help and support through Patreon so incredibly appreciated as we are 100% listener-funded.

Adam: And when you become a supporter, you get access to over 140 news briefs, extensive show notes of every episode, and more fun stuff like these live interviews, for example, that we do and obviously, helps keep the show sustainable and the episodes themselves free forever.

Nima: So tonight on Citations Needed, we will be talking about the phenomenon of the #grindset guys on social media, the elite performers, the sigma males, their personalities, or shall we say influencers or thought leaders who urge people to be solipsistic, jingoistic rise and grinders and to get theirs now.

Adam: Yeah, we want to look at the militaristic reactionary soft eugenics tendencies of these figures. It’s not the highest hanging fruit we’ve ever picked. But I’m sort of personally fascinated by these guys. And so we do think there is a lot of ideological baggage that’s kind of worth dissecting. In addition, they’re also just kind of absurd and funny, but we’re gonna go over the kind of fitness advice, productivity, worship, motivational speaking cliches, that almost always revolves around the words “mindset” or “mentality.”

Nima: Indeed. Joining us on the show tonight, all the way from the wilds outside London, England, where it is very, very late at night is our guest tonight, journalist, author, editor, co-host of the popular podcast Trash Future and Ten Thousand Posts and a media producer in his own right, Hussein Kesvani. And if that’s not enough, he’s also currently completing a master’s degree in Digital Anthropology at University College London. A very, very motivated individual, the perfect guest. He will be joining us in just a bit. And we are really excited to get to the conversation. But first, let’s also note, part of why we’re doing this show tonight. Our periodic Beg-A-Thon. Citations Needed takes a team and a ton of work to produce the shows. Not many podcasts do the research we do at the pace we do it. And since we started this little show back in July of 2017, we’ve done nearly 200 episodes, over 140 news briefs, we’ve welcomed more than 275 guests on the show in that time. We love doing this. We are grateful for every single listener every single download every like every share 10s of 1000s of you wonderful people listen to the show every week, which is amazing. I cannot thank you enough. We’ve had about 20 million downloads since we started six and a half years ago.

Adam: Yeah, we’ve never run commercials or have been sponsored by any companies. We have no advertisers. We aren’t subsidized by grants, foundations, nonprofits. The way we stay completely editorially independent is that we rely on our patrons and their support for the show. And so every now and then, we have to come hat in hand and prostrate ourselves and beg you, thus the name Beg-A-Thon. If you haven’t contributed to the Patreon, please do so because it does require like we say quite a bit of work and a lot of hours of research, writing, and recording. So this is us begging. This is us prostrating. This is us imploring you.

Nima: That’s right. Do it for the Citations Needed team.

Adam: Do it for Citation Needed so we don’t have to sell you razors or mattresses, which we probably wouldn’t do anyway. But just you know, so we’re just trying to emotionally extort us. Hopefully it’s working.

Nima: [Laughs] That’s right. Because here’s the truth. Like, even with the millions of downloads, again, incredible, relatively few listeners actually support the show financially and the work of at least seven people give or take on the team. And so tonight, again, we are asking if you have the means and if you’re able, please do go to our Patreon page. Again, that’s patreon.com/citationsneededpodcast and help us out. It really does keep it going.

Adam: There’s one other manipulative tactic we want to use, which is my favorite, which is the PBS NPR flatter a listener. You like sophisticated podcasts, you’re not one of those people who watches The Masked Singer or Navy NCIAFBIS. You’re advanced. You’re better than those people. Is that working?

Nima: It’s working on me.

Adam: I love when NPR does that. You watch masterpiece theater. It’s like, do you really? But yeah, your support helps keep the show sustainable and helps keep the episodes themselves free, which has kind of always been a foundational goal of the show. So, we’re grateful for that.

Nima: So, let us get down to it. Adam, I think we should start the show.

Adam: Yeah. So tonight, we’ll be focusing on a very specific type of public figure, one that espouses rugged individualism propelled by fitness, salesmanship and quasi-fascist principles. It exists on a spectrum, which we’ll discuss in this show, but basically, that you are the protagonist of your reality and your Ubermensch, your kind of great man journey is what’s central to your identity and overcoming obstacles, etc, etc. And generally, it’s a subgenre called grindset influencer. So on this show, we’re going to look at three examples. It’s a little bit arbitrary. It’s a very flooded space. We chose these guys because they’re kind of our personal favorites because they’re the most ridiculous and also, they’re popular. David Goggins, Andy Elliott and Ed Mylett. They have nothing really new to offer. But like any proper salesman, they’re very good at finding an angle, finding a niche to motivate you to get off your ass and go out there and conquer the world. The hustle subculture that these three personify has kind of evolved recently, which we’ll discuss with our guests. It’s been criticized everywhere from the BBC to the New York Times. So, this is not the most unique criticism. But we do think that its popularity on social media, especially as it’s kind of pivoted, which we’ll discuss to lower socioeconomic ladders kind of invites its own problems for obvious reasons. And so these guys are kind of the three main most popular social media — again, there’s going to be ones we omit, we can’t cover them all. I’m sure that anyone who spends more than five minutes on social media, TikTok, YouTube, whatever has seen these guys, so if you have your favorite, let us know. And by favorite, I mean the worst. Let us know.

Nima: So let’s talk about where this kind of grind set even came from. The “rise and grind” culture as we know it is fairly young, the use of terms like “rise and grind” and “hustle culture,” effectively synonyms, has proliferated since the start of the millennium. Some sources attribute the development of this subculture for lack of better term to the Move-Fast, Get-Some value systems of the US tech and fitness worlds. Author Nick Srnicek also has explained that the phenomenon is really a product of the nature of white collar desk work, internalized competitiveness, and the pursuit of fulfillment in a society where fulfillment is often hard to find. As Srnicek told our own guest who is about to join us, Hussein Kesvani, back in 2018, this, quote,

What you find is that, like fitness people who want to show and talk about their gains and what they’ve been working on, you’ll have guys who want to show off their life hacking. You’ll have people who want to talk about how they wake up early in the morning to start work, or how they stayed in the office all night working. It’s almost as if they value themselves based on this performance, which makes sense, because if you think about it, in an industrial economy where people made things, they could say that they went to work and did something. Whereas in an office environment — and in a service-driven economy — that’s harder to determine. So some people end up thinking they have to do particular things that their colleagues don’t do to justify why they haven’t wasted their day.

And with that, we will welcome our guest, journalist, author, editor, podcaster, media producer, Hussein Kesvani to the show. Welcome to Citations Needed. We so appreciate you staying up late with us, Hussein. Welcome.

Hussein Kesvani: Thank you. No, I’m very glad that I could also rise and grind to do this podcast, which is one of the things that you’re supposed to do if you are like hustling and making cash. So I’m glad that I can sort of live this philosophy that we’re going to talk about today.

Hussein Kesvani

Nima: [Laughs] Awesome. To start, I’d love if you you know, as a very kind of deft analyst, observer, and also commentator on these kinds of subcultures, I’d love it if you could kind of introduce our viewers tonight and listeners to the show to this “sigma grindset” mentality and its convergence of the nihilist/incel manosphere, hustle and grind culture motivation, and fitness influencer content, how that all kind of comes together to make the sigma grindset.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, thanks for having me. So like back in 2018 and like roundabout, that period, I was working for a men’s magazine, which I think is where you may have read Nick’s quote from if I’m correct. And so, there’s sort of questions about masculinity, what that was, how that was expressed online, was very much like a beat that me and a few of my colleagues were sort of always sort of fixated on. And at the time, I was, I must have been like 26 or 27 at that time. And it was a really interesting period because I think I’m very much not the target demographic of a lot of this content now. And we might get some time to speak about in a second. But back then, I was very much like that. I was a young man who had a white collar job. And also was just trying to figure out like, you know, what am I doing with my life? You know, especially, I’m like a bachelor at that time. Like lots of young men. I have lots of these questions. And I also spend a lot of time on the internet, both for my job and for my life. And at the time, it was mostly like YouTube and Twitter and everything, but all this content just seemed to sort of be throwing itself at me. And so, I became really interested in It especially as I saw other people becoming more influenced by that type of stuff.

To answer your question about what the sigma grindset is, so the sigma grindset is really, I mean, it is a meme for the most part, like, it’s not something that these guys like, they don’t take that term, sort of seriously because it is like a bit, sort of derisive, but the sort of underlying basis of it is that these are guys whose missions are to self optimize in various forms, right? So like, in most cases, it’s self-optimization through fitness. And that isn’t just like, sort of going to the gym and everything, it’s sort of like, it’s very much about the sort of dozens of supplements that they take, and so on. And like, again, is like a very complicated, very fluid area. Sometimes, you know, a lot of it is sort of linked to business, and the idea that, like, you know, you hustle and grind, and if you’re able to sort of do that, and that can vary from waking up at like four or 5am to like go do a three mile run and then do emails and also listen to a podcast at three time speed while you’re doing all of that. That’s like real stigma, grindset shit. But like on the sort of incremental level, it’s very much about over-optimization over-productivity. And back in 2018, as you mentioned and the quote that you actually gave was really interesting because like, I think a lot of these guys now, they wouldn’t necessarily frame being sigma as like, linked to a rooted in an office job. So, it is interesting that back then, like, so much of it was just like, well, how do you perform like, you know, productivity, and how do you perform, your sort of best optimized self within, like, you know, this sort of high-end city job whereas now, I think a lot of the sort of like mindset stuff is actually about like getting away from the office, right? It’s very much just like, you know, what, if you were at home, and you had like seven screens rather than, like the two screens you have at work, but you’re still like, overworking and you’re still over-optimizing. I think COVID did quite a lot in terms of sort of like shifting some of that and also sort of accelerating some of its worst excesses. All of which is to say that I think that the time when I was much more plugged into this space, and what like that type of optimized grindset influencers is now, it’s not to say that it’s different, but it’s evolved in this very strange way. And part of that is like sort of a reaction to sort of the political moments and the political events between 2018 or like, between 2016 to the present. But also on a bigger level, it is also like the sort of grindset guys now are almost a reaction to the failure of the grindset guys back in 2016.

Nima: Oh, that’s fascinating.

Adam: Well, it’s like any drug, it has to get more hardcore and more sort of targeted because you said there’s so many different kinds of ideological and philosophical currents here, we’re kind of lumping them all into one by necessity. So let’s narrow it down a little bit here. Let’s see some examples here.

Nima: So Adam, before we get into the three personalities, I want to get us really pumped and get all of our viewers really fucking excited about this shit. So let’s kick it off with a clip by one of these wonderful grindset influencers, Jocko Willink.

[Begin clip]

Jocko Willink: Quit waiting for the perfect time. Quit waiting for the perfect situation to occur. It’s not gonna happen. You want to know when the time is right? The time is right now. So what are you doing with your time? Are you doing something productive? Are you moving towards a goal? making yourself better? Are you letting time slip by wasted? Stop wasting time. Get after it.

[End clip]

Nima: The perfect intro.

Adam: Do not listen to Citations Needed? It’s a complete waste of time. Yeah, so that’s the sort of good intro. I want to start by talking about again, I feel very motivated, by talking about David Goggins who’s very popular, he was on the Joe Rogan show a bunch. He’s on Fox News now and then. His claim to fame is he said he lost 100 pounds before joining the Navy SEALs, I believe. He’s the “the only man in history to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller.” which I guess makes him kind of a MacGruber you know, 47 tours in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Afghanistan. He would have a good resume scene. Goggins has leveraged his story into what he calls a “warrior mentality” or “warrior mindset.” He has a lot of popular videos on Tiktok and YouTube where he’s running. He’s an ultra marathoner. So he does these 100, 150 mile runs. And he talks to the camera in a sort of very aggressive way. He likes to swear a lot. He’s not sort of family friendly. And his whole thing is like a lot of these guys, which is a current we can get into later, he’s obsessed with this idea of haters. So there’s a mysterious cohort or confederation of haters who presumably stalk him. I don’t know if it’s again, I don’t know if it’s his wife’s divorce lawyer or FBI. I don’t know who’s sort of stalking him that are his haters. Presumably, it’s the comments on YouTube. I don’t know. So let’s watch a clip from David Goggins talking about how you need to get off your proverbial ass.

[Begin clip]

David Goggins: What the hell are we all waiting for? Start attacking life. Waiting for the fucking stars to align? Back when I was growing up, this song came out. “All I Need Is a Miracle” Well, guess what? That miracle ain’t coming. There is no perfect time to start. You gotta start now with changing your life. We’re all being tested in life. And guess what? This is one test you can’t cheat on. We all have our own test. Some of us are obese. Some of us are depressed. Some of us are insecure. In the military, we have this big ol’ rucksack on our back. Have batteries, water, extra gear. Your extra gear is your shit you’re dealing with in life. And the only way to overcome it is for you and you alone to face it. You have to do your best work when you’re least motivated. So those days you don’t want to do it? Guess what you got to do? You gotta suck it the fuck up and do it. Stay hard!

[End clip]

Adam: His tagline is “stay hard.”

Nima: I love that one. I also like how he uses the baggage metaphor from George Clooney’s Up in the Air.

Adam: Yeah, no, it’s been done, which is really fantastic.

Nima: So yeah, there’s this common refrain from Goggins and others like him that you should never blame other people, right, for any failures or shortcomings, anything in your life. Really, that is like a barrier to ultimate success, you have only yourself to blame, right? It’s a pretty convenient, pithy, motivational tidbit that reflects a right-wing ethos designed to divert people away from thinking about systems or communities or of collective responsibility in favor of total self-reliance and rugged individualism. Hussein, as you kind of are watching the clips we’re playing, but also in your own observation of this, what do you see as the kind of danger of the motivation to right-wing fascist pipeline?

Hussein Kesvani: Can I do a little segue just for a second? Because there are two things. First of all, I want to find out this song that he’s referencing.

Nima: “All I Need is a Miracle.”

Hussein Kesvani: Oh, yeah. Mike + The Mechanics, right? I was like, the song sounds familiar. But I just thought it was really funny because it made me remember the second David Goggins fact that I know and like lives rent free in my head, which is that he doesn’t listen to music like at all like he doesn’t engage with pop culture at all. And he went on like Joe Rogan, and Joe Rogan was sort of like, hey, like, do you listen to music when you work out? And he goes, in his very intense way like, no, I don’t. But then the thing that he says afterwards is the thing that floors me every time. So Joe Rogan asked like, okay, so you have headphones on, what you listen to? And David Goggins says, I record all the people who are haters and say bad things about me, and I just play them on a loop. And that is, like, genuinely one of the most insane things I’ve heard. And I don’t think it’s fake. I think he does it. And like, with the David Goggins thing, I’m sorry, I will get to your question in a second. But I think it’s a really interesting insight into the David Goggins thing because like, I read, like, little segments of his book today, not enough to really sort of make a comment or judgment on it and watched a couple of his clips. And to me what seems really evident and like, you know, again, I don’t want to psychoanalyze in any official way, but it does seem like this is a guy who is just so deeply insecure. And it’s like one of those tendencies of people who like, kind of were underdogs when they were younger, and they finally sort of got the success and recognition that we don’t really know how to survive without the adversity that they sort of believe they grew up with. I don’t doubt that David Goggins probably went through shit when he was younger, especially regarding his weight, and like, you know, the racial element and everything. I don’t discount for a second all those things. What is interesting is for a guy who’s sort of like, ignore the haters, just focus on your goals and everything like he needs his haters, and he needs like this deep insecurity of himself to actually function as a person to the point where like, he can’t even listen to like, a couple of nice, like bits of pop music, like while he does his runs. That feels really strange and also quite sad and melancholy.

Adam: Yeah, there’s a recurring theme about haters, which I do want to talk about because I’m sort of fascinated by this idea that haters are this kind of morally agnostic thing. It’s like, well, some haters, you should probably listen to because they may have merit and other haters are probably racist bullies or assholes or whatever. There’s not some idea that you need to like, sort through the haters and sort of figure out and do some self-analysis. It’s just haters.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, I think you’ve touched on the thing that you were saying about like the sort of disregard of community and disregard of systems and also the recognition that you sort of do exist in a society and in that, you do, like, have responsibilities and duties and like, you do have to participate in society whether you like it or not. And it seems like the sort of haters argument is a really convenient way of just sort of removing yourself from that cognitively. And to sort of like believe that, you know, you are morally a better, more elevated person because you are choosing not to engage with society as a whole. And you’re sort of placed within that. And you don’t want to recognize your place within that. And so you can simply dismiss all these people as being like, oh, yeah, they just want to keep me down. They want to stop me from running like 10 miles a day or something like that, right? And again, it’s like as a point that you make, no one is stopping you from doing that. You can go outside and do that. I can go outside and do that right now if I want to.

Nima: But you don’t have to yell at me while you’re doing that.

Hussein Kesvani: [Laughs] But I’m not gonna listen to people like kind of saying shit about me. I didn’t think that’d be a very nice run, what can I say? But to like, touch on your bigger question about the pipeline, I do think that a lot of it is recent. It feels different with the rise and grind guys right now. But in terms of the sort of, like, right-wing politics pipeline. Yeah, obviously the sort of like, individualism element was very much there when I was first looking at these guys, right? And this was like, in the sort of 2016 era like in the run up to the 2016 election, and then also sort of in the aftermath of that. And so the sort of, like, right-wing kind of individualistic narrative seems to be a lot more present. And just sort of this whole idea that the state shouldn’t provide anything, a lot of the Trump narratives were around the idea of, like, you know, defunding before like, “woke” became, like, you know, sort of commonplace in the lexicon, the idea that, like, you know, there was sort of like, institutional rot, and like, you know, traces and stuff, like haters in the government and everything, right? It’s really just sort of extended to that point. And so the only person that you can really trust as yourself. You know, a lot of this was an extension of, like, you know, because this is also the period when, like, Jordan Peterson, for example, becomes really famous. And his sort of like thing about, you know, make your bed and his whole sort of broader politics around, you know, you can’t change anything systemically so you shouldn’t participate in politics and ergo, you shouldn’t participate in broader society at all. You should just sort of focus on yourself and your immediate family like very sort of like old school Thatcherism. Now, I think it’s sort of like it’s still there, but it takes a very different flavor. And I wonder whether part of it is because like the post sort of COVID or post 2020 election and also sort of COVID really sort of did a number on the idea of how far individualism just on its own can really take you. And so for a lot of these sort of like rise and grind, guys, I think, and especially where they’re sort of turning or they’re sort of becoming a lot more invested in politics in a way that they at least performatively weren’t doing in 2016. A lot of that comes from his recognition that like, oh, like, actually, I can sort of be a rugged individualist. And I’m still like having a really shitty time about it. And so, my haters are now much broader. And so, you have to engage with politics because how else are you gonna find your next set of haters that aren’t like, you know, your family or former friends who have left you because you’re being weird.

Adam: Right, so let’s go to another clip here. This is also Goggins. Let’s do a clip too where he’s in the rain. The rain is both a thing, you run it and also a metaphor.

[Begin clip]

David Goggins: It’s 44 degrees, and it’s nice and rainy outside. But no one cares about that. It’s not about the rain. It’s what the rain represents. Life is always giving you a test, trying to give you a way out, trying to give you an excuse not to show up.

[End clip]

Adam: So yeah, let’s watch clip two as well. Let’s just watch him back to back.

[Begin clip]

David Goggins: The second you look at your phone, the second you turn the TV on, you’re in a battle, I want to win the war in the morning. If you do something you don’t want to do every morning, you’re already given yourself the proper self-talk to attack people that don’t like you, to attack your insecurities. to attack what the world’s gonna give you. I once had that mentality that no one understands what the fuck I’m going through. And if you keep that mentality, you’re gonna stay in the same exact spot that you’re in.

[End clip]

Adam: So, I want to talk a bit about this idea of the sort of sociological reason why this stuff is popular because I mean, we mock it, but these videos do rack up millions and millions of views. Typically, in the show, we go after large corporate media, we actually don’t really do social media, but I thought, this one’s worth doing a) because I found it kind of funny but b) because it has a ton of views.

Nima: Yeah. When we say that they’re like influencers. It’s because they reach a lot of people.

Adam: More than like The New York Times editorial board, unfortunately. And so clearly, there’s some organic market, right? This is not something that’s being sort of manufactured by Rupert Murdoch or whatever. There’s an organic market there. A lot of it overlaps with sales, and people with very precarious jobs like gig jobs, right? This idea that you’re gonna wake up at 5am and go drive Uber for six hours. And so, it’s not just your kind of upwardly mobile types, and I think in many ways is really not actually. Like you said, I think it kind of migrated from the Silicon Valley budding millionaire, budding billionaire mentality into a kind of subprime grifter pitch for people that basically really do have to wake up every day at 6am and go work, again, cutting meat at some restaurant. They have a job that’s drudgery.

Nima: Yeah. Well, it’s kind of like you Glengarry Glen Ross your way into feeling motivated about your actual work, like work work.

Adam: And so, not to get too sort of Marxist here, but I do want to talk about the alienation of labor and how like these things do, I think, rise in correlation with precarious labor. Typically in the sales world, there’s a lot of sales sort of stuff we’ll talk about then we get to Andy Elliott. But I want you to talk about that.

Hussein Kesvani: One thing I actually just remembered was that I actually spent a lot of my life rising and grinding in the sense that my parents ran a store, sort of like a grocery store when I was younger. And like every immigrant family business, I had to work there. And we used to open that store at 6am, which meant I had to get up at 5am for pretty much for all my teenage years. So I’ve been rising, grinding longer than so many of these guys. I just want to just like put that out there. And I did not get any benefits from that at all. I feel like I have the right to make these videos. And yeah, I don’t see any of the benefits that David Goggins is talking about. But no, I think on a serious point, you are right. This example has sort of been used quite a lot, especially like when critiquing these guys. I think one of my colleagues wrote a really interesting piece in MEL Magazine, the magazine I used to work for, where she pointed out that like, actually the people who’ve been rising and grinding and doing the sort of like, degrees of like self-ops and the people who will always be way more optimized than any of these sort of like business bros are like, mostly immigrants who do multiple gig economy jobs, or, you know, immigrant mothers in particular, who like, look after kids and look after like multi generational families and have jobs as well, right? And like, none of them have the time to like, make a David Goggins-style or like Jocko Willink-style, like highly edited video where, you know, they have like, the epic music playing in the background. Like for so much of the actual precarious labor that drives a lot of like Western economies, like, especially here in Britain, in particular as well, these people are not sort of seen as like the bastions of hard work or even sort of examples of why capitalism as a system is superior to any other system. These are people that are kind of considered to be even like parasitic to the economy by like, right-wing governments and you know, right-wing media or at the very best are sort of like relegated to like the invisible shadow economy. And so, the people that are left who are kind of, then the vanguards, the virtues of hard work are like these weird sales guys who are sort of mostly self-employed. And also for the most part, you don’t really know what they’re doing or like what they’re trying to sell. I have always just sort of found that really amusing with a lot of the sales guys where they put out so much content, which is like day in the life type of stuff where they sort of show that, you know, they have cold plunges at like 5am and sort of do all the runs and everything. And then they have this section in videos often where it’s like, now I sit down at my office and do some work, and they never tell you what they do. Or like, what they’re doing or what they’re selling. And you really have to like, go through quite a lot of websites to like, actually figure out that, oh, what this person is doing is like, kind of software as a service, but not really, it’s sort of like a drop shipping thing as well.

Adam: Yeah, it’s usually shady.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah. And there’s a course attached to it. And like, in order to find out more, you have to sign up to that course and everything. And so, it’s sort of like selling, I don’t even know whether like lifestyle is necessarily the right word. But it’s sort of selling like, abstractions, I guess?

Adam: Well, it’s a lot of multilevel marketing. Like Andy Elliott especially has multilevel marketing or kind of Trump University type stuff where it’s like be a winner like me. So in many ways, you’re kind of selling that you’re a salesman. It’s sort of like the George Hamilton, famous for being famous, right? In the 1920s, they would put a little baseball card in a pack of gum to sell the gum, and then they would remove more of the gum, and then eventually, you just have baseball cards without the gum and then they just got rid of the gum, there’s baseball cards, but it’s sort of traditional, kind of Marshall McLuhan. You’re selling that you’re a winner. It doesn’t even actually matter if you are because kind of like how, again, a lot of rockstars are selling an image of rappers are like selling an image, and then they get rich and famous, but then that kind of becomes self-perpetuating. So, a lot of these guys, like you said, you have absolutely zero idea what the original thing they were doing was before they became social media influencers.

George Hamilton

Hussein Kesvani: Well yeah, the interesting thing now is also like, that’s sort of where they begin. So I think like, with the old version, the rise and grind influencers, a lot of it was like, okay, you’re working in an office, right? Or you’re self-employed, but you sort of work in an office and you sort of do like marketing. I get it, I sort of get it. But with the new type of rise and grind guys, especially like those who sort of kind of came up during COVID. Or like during the lockdowns where they were sort of like sharking NFTs and sort of weird crypto altcoins and stuff and doing drop shipping and everything as well. It starts off at this weird point of abstraction. And this is sort of where I didn’t know whether it touches on what your point was about, the point at the beginning about as labor becomes more alienated, this idea of having to differentiate the idea of having to individuate. The pressure of that becomes higher. And so, where I was initially sort of writing and studying from the context of like people in white collar office jobs, desperately trying to differentiate themselves in environments where it was increasingly difficult to do so. The sort of new versions now feel like the pressures are even heavier. And it also is much more aestheticized as well. So, it’s like the importance is much more about showing that you’re successful. And I think these are why these videos sort of do quite well or like they seemingly are quite popular — the thing I wanted to sort of point out and every time I talk about this, it’s like, yeah, a lot of these videos are stupid. And a lot of these videos are sort of like manipulative and everything. But like the reason people search them out, I think, is like a very real thing that shouldn’t necessarily be wholly dismissed, right? Which is about like, there are lots of people, and I don’t just mean like young men and stuff, I think just like young people, middling millennials and stuff who like are very much like, fuck, what do we do like, you know. I sort of say like, it’s like the sort of like monikers of transitioning into different stages of your life, be it like in terms of homeownership, or like the ability to like, raise a family, or even just the ability to like, look after your parents, for example, or something along those lines. The fact that like, almost every facet of that progress has now become increasingly expensive, if not sort of impossible to attain in many places kind of means that like, there is this sort of sense of well, what are the sort of measurements of progress? And what are the measurements of how does someone as an alienated young person, not even in a city, but even like, in a small town or something like that, how do they know they’re doing okay. And so, these guys then sort of come up, and like, they’re not sort of saying to these young people that oh, yeah, you’re doing all right, like, you know, bearing in mind the current situation of things like, you’re sort of doing okay, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. These guys are like, no, you’re doing shit, you’re doing awful, you suck. I don’t care if you have like a high pay job. And like, you know, you can sort of look after yourself and everything. You’re doing, like shit. And that’s because you don’t go running at 5am in the rain, and like, listen to your podcast in four times speed, right?

Nima: No, exactly right. That it’s like your own antidote to precarity is to perform better, be better.

Hussein Kesvani: Because it just touches on this sense of like, well, even if you’re sort of like on the higher end of things, even if you have your job, and you’re able to sort of pay your rent and everything. In a lot of cases that doesn’t actually like meaning you’ll be happy at all. And so like it does really prey on this sort of sense of insecurity and unhappiness and this promise that like the only option you have is to optimize yourself. It’s the only motive I guess I can really give because, again, like even to sort of like have the very bare minimal comforts of life at the moment, that does quite often require you to sort of move away from the societies and communities and move to places where fostering societies and communities of that sort of work on like reciprocity, become less accessible, if not impossible to attain.

Adam: Well, let’s go to grindsetter number two, Andy Elliott, who, like Goggins has a kind of military theme. His fans are called the Elliott Army, which refers to his sales and fitness clients. We’re gonna watch a clip where he stands at a whiteboard and talks about maximizing your potential and total recreation. So, let’s watch that clip. We have a good Glengarry AIDA whiteboard situation here. So, let’s watch that.

[Begin clip]

Andy Elliott: Most of you guys, the reason why you’re not getting what you want is because dude, you got to get a minimum wage mindset here. You don’t have a nine-figure mindset. You’re freaking broken. Instead of breaking records, you break mentally every time there’s a problem.

[End clip]

Adam: Alright. So, if I can have a nine-figure mindset, why not have a fifty-figure mindset? Let’s take all the world’s economy with our mindset.

Nima: There’s the next clip. Let’s do that right away, just to really maximize the Andy Elliott here.

Adam: Yeah.

[Begin clip]

Andy Elliott: Now, I want you to shoot me that text that 918–210–0254. I want you to join Elliott Army. And by the way, listen to me, if you’re uncommitted and you won’t make the decision, don’t even send the text. But if you will, and you’ll do the work, and you’ll grind, and you want to change your life, I’ll tell you exactly what to do. It won’t cost you nothing. I’ll tell you exactly what to do. And all you’ll have to do is hold that commitment to yourself. And if you do I guarantee in 90 days from now, you’ll look up and the person that you see in that mirror undeniably blow you away. By the way, there’s different levels.

[End clip]

Adam: Different levels, okay.

Nima: It’s not just one thing. There are also different levels.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, if you stack the levels, it sort of makes this kind of very strange triangular shape.

Nima: [Laughing]

Adam: Exactly. This isosceles-esque multi-level marketing.

Nima: [Still laughing]

Adam: Yeah, this is actually the opposite of what Citations Needed does. We actually make people miserable and stay in bed all day. Andy Elliott, specifically, I think it’s more sales-oriented. A lot of people who do smilin’ and dialin’ and cold calling and all that kind of miserable stuff. If one has ever had to do that, it’s not fun. And so his focus is very much on kind of concrete results. Again, a lot of these things have an MLM or kind of Trump University-type dynamic. Let’s talk a bit about sales or marketing. There’s a lot of sales and marketing overlap here. If one goes through the fans of a lot of these people, especially Mylett and Andy Elliott, kind of maybe less on the fitness side and more on the sales side. Talk, if you could, about, I don’t know if you’ve ever done sales personally, if you know anyone who has or has been involved in the kind of humiliation involved in sales. It’s an extremely hard job. My father was a salesman for 40 years, and it came to him naturally. I tried to do it a couple of times when I was in high school and college, and I was horrible at it. When I was 14, I got a job selling newspapers door to door. I sold zero.

Nima: You were probably just criticizing the headlines the whole time.

Adam: Yeah, exactly. Maybe that’s where my hatred, Joker origin story. But I had a friend who was just Ricky Roma. I mean, he made like thousands of dollars at the age of 14. Talk a bit about this sort of overlap with the rise and grind culture and the kind of increasing sales and marketing industries in your mind.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, it feels like a very American phenomenon. It’s not to sort of say, but it’s not, doesn’t exist — but I think in the UK, looking at some of the sort of British rise and grind guys, they sort of copy American methods and like sales techniques and stuff, which I think is like a really interesting observation. So a lot of this sort of comes from just like an outsider’s observation of what that type of sales culture is like. And my thinking is like, well, I imagine this sort of crossover in terms of how you sell because I think, you know, on the very basic level, I haven’t had like sales experience, but I did work my parents’ store for most of my life, which involves selling things and like trying to get people to buy like, name brand cereal over, like, you know, for sort of cheaper brands and stuff, right? And I was also not very good at it. I wasn’t like a particularly competent person. I’m also like I’m a very bad liar. So when I was trying to lie, I would just give the game away immediately. And I think you need to sort of know how to sort of be a particular kind of character. And so, I think when it comes to sort of like self-improvement spaces, sales techniques are the sort of foundation of doing that. Because I think if you’re selling a product, or selling anything, or trying to upsell someone, what you’re trying to do is like, convince them that oh, you’re first of all, like finding people’s like, insecurities, right, and the whole job is sort of exploit that in some way versus like the way that the game works. And then the second element of it is like, well, if you go with this product, it will change your life. And so, you’re sort of overselling just by nature because what you’re trying to do is tell people that like, this sort of sense of deep unhappiness you have right now can entirely be changed if you just spend some money to go do it. And I think that like that seems to sort of be the foundation for a lot of the sort of like sales strategies. And then like the social media element, I think that online platforms and stuff really provide the incentives or like, provide the structures in which like, you can then build that out into flow systems. I don’t know what the sort of technical term is. But a lot of these sort of rise and grind guys are sort of like put out content for free, as you know, and then like, you know, you’ll sort of have your subscription tiers and like a lot of those tiers since Andrew Tate sort of showed up on the scene, a lot of those tiers have kind of been like, various sort of copycats of his version of the War Room or like Hustlers University. Like the sort of university, college things seem to be quite popular. And I think that’s a really interesting contemporary phenomenon.

Adam: Yeah, you just call everything a boot camp now.

Hussein Kesvani: Well, this is the interesting part because a lot of these things used to be very military, right, or, like, militarily inspired? So, you’d have your bootcamp, your subscribers would be your armies and so on.

Nima: Exactly. The Elliot Army or every morning is a battle. Right.

Hussein Kesvani: Exactly. In more recent years, I’ve sort of noticed that the university model has kind of become taking a more popular approach whether it’s like the University of Austin, that weird Barry Weiss University, which I’m not sure exists anymore. I think in the UK, there’s this influencer, whose name I won’t mention just because I’m still sort of looking into him, but he was sort of like, a religious influencer who over COVID, got divorced and decided to go become a crypto guy. Claims he made like a bunch of money selling cryptocurrency at like the right time. And now, he sort of set up his own university where he basically like, goes to event halls in East London where he’s sort of like paying customers or teenagers mostly, like kids in their early 20s and stuff and teaches them. I looked at one of the itineraries of these university courses like the sales courses. Bearing in mind that this is supposed to be about finance and trading, there was only one class in that nine class session, but it’s actually about finance. There was one called mindset. There was one just like fully about like diet, nutrition and going to the gym, which I thought was a bit weird. So much of this, again, is marketed around this idea that you sort of have to improve yourself holistically. Approaching it that way kind of gives a lot of these people various avenues in which they can exploit people because the narrative is ultimately like, if you don’t have enough money or if you don’t have the money that you want, if you don’t have the job you want, if you’re sort of struggling to make ends meet, if you’re on minimum wage, that’s not a problem to do with your relationship to the society or the economy that you live in. It’s not a relationship to the material world that you have. It’s a sort of personal failing. And so, the only way to get out of that conundrum is to holistically change yourself in every possible way. And like, that’s a big thing to ask of anyone, right? Like a very big intimidating thing to ask of anyone, especially people who are very, very desperate. So, the idea of someone being someone, you know, who’s very slick and very charismatic. To say that look, no one in your society is going to help you do this, but I alone will help you do. I think that’s a very powerful message for people who are just kind of really down on their luck.

Nima: Yeah, totally. I mean, in that first Andy Elliott clip that we played, he uses the term “minimum wage mindset.” It is right out there. It’s not only preying on people who are struggling, I mean, to like make a living, to get by or with mental health, like all this stuff it’s just wrapped up but then there’s an easy fix even though the fix isn’t easy because you have to like grind, right? But it’s still like a get-rich-quick thing, which just speaks to the kind of salesman mentality.

Adam: The third and final grind set influencer who had a viral clip that was mocked. Ed Mylett, he’s probably the most popular, does the mainstream media, sells a lot of books. And he’s kind of right-wing adjacent. He does a lot of seminars and getaway stuff with some conservative influencers. He’s been pushing this idea as part of a sales-maximizing productivity thing. Let’s just watch the clip. It’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I think it may have been what prompted us to do this episode. But let’s watch this right now.

[Begin clip]

Ed Mylett: My day is 6 am to noon, and I’m not crazy. You’re crazy for thinking it takes 24 hours just like some dude in a cave did 300 years ago. My second day starts at noon and goes till 6 pm. That’s day two. What I’ve done now is I have changed and manipulated time. I now get 21 days a week. Stack that up over a month, I’m gonna kick your butt. Stack it over a year, you’re toast. Stack it up over five years, my entire life is different than it would have been otherwise. And if you do this for about 90 of your traditional days, that you think are, you will come back to me and go, that profoundly impacted my life.

[End clip]

Adam: Alright, so there’s a lot to unpack here. First off, for those who are listening to this later, you have to imagine that Mylett is like Mickey Rourke, steroid, facelift like he looks like a human blood vessel like that’s about to explode. And so, he’s very intense.

Nima: I also liked that he thinks that people were living in caves like 300 years ago.

Adam: The caves 300 years ago, maybe they were hiding in a bomb shelter somewhere. But yeah, the general idea is I’ve looked this up, I guess there’s “three days” three six-hour days in a day, your traditional days. And you need to like maximize that six hours. Obviously, it’s semantics. Obviously, he’s just doing an ontological trick. He’s not actually warping, what do you say, manipulating time with his hands. But it’s part of a broader idea, which is like you need to basically work yourself to death. Now, of course, if you actually follow these people like how they market themselves, they don’t actually do any work really. That’s what’s so funny about this.

Nima: What is he doing during his six-hour workday?

Adam: Yeah, so it’s unclear but comment if you could on how you can get three days’ work in one day by simply redefining a six-hour period as a day.

Nima: I should note, it’s not just three days’ work. It’s three days’ work and life and rest and fun and love.

Adam: And yeah, and by the way, the fourth six-hour period, I think, is when you sleep. So, just to be fair to Mylett. Because they weren’t adding up. But go ahead.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, I mean, I fully support like any rejection of linear time.

Adam: Okay.

Hussein Kesvani: Critical support because linear time is bourgeois. No, I mean, obviously, like, it was a very funny video. I laugh whenever I see it. And I think I laugh for all the reasons where it’s just kind of like, obviously, it’s a sort of insane. The hands thing, just adds so much to it’s a very, like, Doctor Strange type of thing. But it reminds me a lot of this video that actually really had a profound impact on me in a really bad way, a few years ago and also one of the things that actually made me quite interested in the sort of rise and grind stuff because before I was looking at it as a journalist, as I mentioned, you know, in my mid-20s, I was sort of having a bit of a life crisis. And at the time, I was also working on my book, and I had two jobs at the same time to like, try and support all that. So, I was very short on time, it just sort of felt like I just didn’t have enough hours in the day. And I remember watching this Casey Neistat video, Casey Neistat being sort of one of the sort of OG YouTubers. When he did this video, I think Jocko Willink actually showed up in that video at some point or something similar, but he talked about how he’s sort of like, arranged his day. And he did that thing where he sort of woke up very early and also went to bed quite late. And he sort of had five hours of sleep. And like, I don’t know what the video is called, but you can probably find it quite easily on YouTube. And I remember watching that and being like, wow, like, actually, that’s a really sustainable and healthy way to live. And so, clearly, I should just copy that, not really thinking about okay, well, this guy not only lives a very different life to me but also has way more money than I do. And if something happens to his heart, he’s going to be fine, but I’m fucking not going to be fine. If I just like live off energy drinks, it’s gonna kill me, and it’s not going to kill him. But it sort of came out of this sort of sense of desperation. And like, I don’t know, I feel like one of the other interesting elements of this is just also the fact that as rise and grind content has developed over time, they haven’t really got any new ideas. They’re just sort of repackaging stuff that sort of already existed. And so, the fact that like, this is not really that different to that Casey Neistat video from years ago sort of suggests a lot about the limitations of this type of stuff. And it could also explain one of the reasons why some of these people are kind of having to engage with politics now because one of the things that they sort of have to realize is that like, well, okay, well, even if I can manipulate time with my hands, I can’t really manipulate the material world around me. And there are still things that will be frustrating. And therefore, I must engage in politics in some capacity. And the going towards right-wing politics seems to be a way in which like vacant sort of maintain the idea that they are sort of extraordinary individuals that are sort of being held back by mysterious dark forces or be it like, woke students or immigrants or something along those lines, right? That theme would sort of be my observations around this.

Adam: Because it’s not a huge leap from some of these mentalities, which again, I think, like a lot of fascist adjacent self-help, whether it’s Jordan Peterson or Ed Mylett. There’s always this sort of element of practical advice like we talked about when we’ve talked about self-help before where it’s like, treat your wife with respect or be nice like or brush your teeth, work out. Like these are all sort of reasonable devices. And then they start building on that a bunch of kind of ideological claptrap in some ways, as you know, to kind of differentiate themselves in a market that is ultimately, again, a settled market, there’s not really any new things under the sun. There’s only so many ways you can skin the self-help cat. And every self-help book pretty much regurgitates the same general principles with bullshit added on top to give them an angle, to give them a schtick.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, and I think there’s a few things going on there. Part of it is just like the fact that you can run out of stuff to say really quickly. There’s only a certain amount of times where you can just be like, yeah, drink salt water in the mornings, and go for like, a run and stuff. This is why now you just have like, all the weird stuff. So like the Andrew Huberman type, just kind of weird, obsessions of cold plunges, this sort of new obsession of different kinds of nootropics. The thing that’s like, advertised to me a lot on Instagram are like, different forms of companies trying to get your biometric data on the basis that like, oh, we just want to optimize your diets and like so we’re not going to give you diet plans. But instead, we’re going to tell you your exact nutrient breakdown. So you know, like how many oranges to eat in a day or something like that, right? They become weirder and weirder. But I think at the same time, the sort of online ecosystem around the self-help stuff has really changed. Because in the same way that a lot of these kind of self-help guides, rise and grind, but also the self help guys sort of veer towards right-wing politics. I think, right-wing influence and stuff have sort of realized that they can also sort of manipulate that space or sort of get entrenched into it. So like, I don’t know, whether you guys what you guys came across, but in the UK, there are a lot of YouTubers and shows that kind of fluctuate between what is overtly right-wing politics and then they’ll interview like a self-help guy or interview David Goggins or something and then, they can just frame themselves as being like, oh, we’re an ideas podcast. We just want to teach you how to live a better life. But it’s also kind of like, well, no, you are a politics show that kind of uses these types of people to run cover of whatever you’re trying to do.

Adam: It’s not a huge leap from the haters or the woman who turned you down, right? Or your ex-wife. Obviously, the misogyny informs a lot of those.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, it’s other influences who I don’t want to name because I don’t want their freaks harassing me in the DMS. It happened once, and it was really exhausting. But people know who they are. But it’s like, if you point out that no, you are a politics show or you are getting people in to make political points. And like, just because you every couple of weeks, you get a fitness guy on to talk about, you know, what types of new nootropics they’re trying or whatever or what types of energy drinks they’re having doesn’t mean that you aren’t kind of engaging with that. But I think the confluence of that sort of means that I think in the same right-wing kind of influences, in particular, kind of realize that this is actually like a very efficient avenue to spread their ideas and also make them palatable to like, a younger and to like, a lot of these political people that come on these sort of self-improvement shows and everything. They won’t go in and like talk about their desires for political change, or like, political revolution of any kind as you mentioned. You know, they will frame the individual as being held back by what they kind of think is a left-wing system even if objectively, but it’s just not the case, right? Or a system that is like being held back by feminism and wokeness or whatever. And I think in terms of sort of the engagement of politics, it does sort of seem like what seems to be happening is the right-wing ecosystem has moved towards that space. Whether that was inevitable or not, I’m not entirely sure. But it does open up a question sometimes that people are asking. I’m not sure whether you guys have any important thoughts on this about whether various space for like leftists or like left-wing influencers. I don’t like using that term, but just for the sake of it whether they should be engaging with these kind of self-help guys, almost as a way of like preventing self-help and like right-wing politics to be more intertwined than it already is.

Adam: You know, we did an episode, I want to say four years ago or maybe it was three years ago about self-help. And we discussed with our guests, can you have a kind of left-wing self-help?

Nima: If you count each day as six hours, Adam, I think it was like 120 —

Adam: [Laughs] In lightyears. And I think it’s a great question. It’s kind of the obvious logical follow-up question, which is like, okay, you’re dunking over this dumb shit. But like, what would be alternatives? Clearly, you know, like we talked about, there’s a market there. There’s a loneliness, I think it’s fair to say it skews male. I think that’s probably accurate. There’s an alienation from community. There’s people, again, who are driven more from you need to move to a place for economic reasons versus family and friends, and people are divorced from their cultures and things of that nature. And yeah, people have tried to sort of approximate some of those social systems via things like unions or things like political actions. Whether or not you can get a kind of more overtly self-help, you know, that’s a good question. I’d be sort of curious to hear what people think in the comments or is the idea of self-improvement kind of inherently fascist? You know, I don’t think it is. But I think it’s such a like, leap. You know what I mean? Because there’s something inherently fascist about self-improvement, right? That’s obviously absurd. But going from like, on a very basic level of like, what motivates people, one can see how making one Ubermensch or the protagonist of his grand narrative of haters can kind of lend itself to that. So, that is a good question. Forgive me for not having a sufficient answer.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, someone asked me like, years ago, and I didn’t have an answer for that in any case. It was just something that sort of comes up. I think one of the other parts of that was actually quite interesting, as you mentioned, about being divorced from your communities. It’s kind of like what replaces that. And like, one thing that probably isn’t worth really thinking about is how online cultures and online systems, it’s not to say that they’ve replaced like material cultures, but it’s more like for a lot of people, that’s sort of what they have left. And so, where you sort of have like a lot of the self-help content, sort of existing in a purely online ecosystem, and the ways that people relate to that are kind of like through these forms of digital mediation, it’s not to say that it’s like a direct pipeline, but the idea that when you sort of watch a self-help video or David Goggins video, you’re not that far removed from the worst right-wing shit that you’ve ever heard in your life. The fact that there aren’t that many degrees of separation does sort of suggest something about the fact that when we sort of talk about these things, the content element of it is one interesting aspect of it, but the other interesting aspect of it is the medium of which it is being distributed. And if the antidote to that, for lack of a better term, is to revitalize communities or remind people of the importance of their material obligations, then yeah, it’s something sort of worth thinking about in terms of how to combat that in a more direct way.

Nima: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really important to note, this idea of the medium continues to kind of atomize and silo while also kind of creating this formed and found community. So, it kind of does this, you know, breaks apart, but it also pulls together in almost like a very cultish kind of way, right? We have your very motivational leader kind of leading the way. And you know you have a community, but you maybe don’t know them in real life, but you don’t need to because really, everything is on you. So like, you just need that video or that voice in your earbuds, as you’re, you know, running in the rain at 4:45 in the morning after going to sleep at 3:45 in the morning. Like all that kind of fits together to create these new communities that form online but have very real life implications.

The only other point I wanted to make with that and it only because it’s a good follow-up to what you were saying is that one of the key things to bear in mind about the online kind of community as not a replacement but as something else. These are also interactions of which the people who are making these videos, your David Goggins, your Jordan Petersons or anything, they don’t owe you anything. And they’re very clear, sometimes they say it very directly, in the terms of like, yeah, well, if you’re not paying to join my course, I don’t owe you anything. And by the way, even if you do join my course, I owe you shit. Like, it is something where you look at that and say yeah, this doesn’t end well for anyone. But if that’s kind of all you’ve got, especially if you do feel lonely and alienated. Well, like, you know, for lots of people, they’ll take it, and I think that’s like a really dangerous situation where the default if you are feeling undervalued or underappreciated or you’re just not feeling sort of motivated to, like, live the life that you deserve, for lots of different reasons, I think there should be like, better ways of communicating with people otherwise you’re just sort of left with this shit, really.

Adam: So, the real question is how does socialism get people shredded? I think that’s the big political question. I remember when in Lebanon, there were these gyms popped up out of nowhere, and they were widely understood to be kind of either Saudi or Emirati-funded recruitment vehicles for ISIS. That like they would actually sort of actively recruit ISIS members in gyms, which kind of tracks, right, in a sort of alienated early, mid-20s. The idea of using fitness as a kind of gateway drug to more sinister politics is not original. But of course, it’s also not inherently right-wing, right? Not necessarily. So yeah, I guess the first like left-wing rise and grind fitness guy will be its own niche. Although, again, left-wing politics is so inherently neurotic, I don’t even know what that would look like.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, there’s a serious element to it too, which is also like, the ways in which fitness is sold and commodified and commercialized. It’s not to say that it wasn’t always that, but it does sort of feel like that element has sort of accelerated as well. And you know, there is also precarity when it comes to — I think, like, before we were recording, I sort of mentioned something about like a personal trainer that I had whose personality sort of changed in a matter of months after he went sort of down like this weird online rabbit hole. But so much of that also just had to do with the fact that his job as a personal trainer, being employed by a gym and stuff, like over the course of the COVID lockdowns, so many personal trainers found themselves in these very precarious work environments where the only way they could really make ends meet was to sort of become like de facto influencers as well. Some of them, they did really well out of it, but a lot of them actually didn’t really do very well out of it. And they had to sort of pivot to other things. But at the same time, it is an interesting insight into the accessibility of fitness whether it’s like the kind of closures of community gyms or the fact that gym memberships are not cheap by any means. That sort of like public spaces, parks, I don’t know about like you guys in the States, but I do know that in London, for example, the amount of public parks that people can actually run in or people can exercise in, it’s not really that much, right? And depending on where you are, they are not particularly accessible places. And so like, if you actually do want to go into those because I think the gym, by and large, is like one of those few spaces where there is sort of like a communal element to that in a sort of secular manner, like these are one of the few places of like communal engagement, and socializing, and so on.

Nima: The libraries and gyms.

Hussein Kesvani: Right, but even then, like in the UK, again, there are not really very many libraries, right? And so with gyms for the most part, especially if you’re like a young sort of working-class person, that might just sort of be all you have. I guess the point I’m trying to get to is that, as these places become more scarce, the barrier to access to them becomes a lot higher. And it becomes like a much more elite product, like actually sort of creating the safe environments in which people can even just form communities. Forget about any sort of broader political project, even just forming their own like that becomes way harder to do.

Nima: Well, I think as we start to wrap this, that’s a lot of really, really good points. I think we need to figure out how to do, you know, shredded socialism. We got to figure it out. But I just really want to thank our guest today. Hussein Kesvani. Has been so amazing to talk to you, journalist, author, editor, co-host of the popular podcasts Trash Future and Ten Thousand Posts. A media producer in your own right, also, a diligent student, I’m sure, in the digital anthropology department at University College London. Hussein, thank you so much, again, for staying up late with us today on Citations Needed.

Hussein Kesvani: Thank you so much for having me on. This was a lot of fun.

Adam: Yeah, thank you so much for staying up late. We’re very grateful. But please go to sleep. Get your rest. Wake up at 4:30pm.

Nima: I mean, you gotta get up really soon. And start your running regimen.

Hussein Kesvani: Yeah, I’ve got like 10 miles to run in like an hour and a half.

Adam: Could be easy.

Nima: Well, that will do it. Thank you everyone for listening to us. Thank you to everyone who continues to support the show. We really cannot thank you enough. We are so grateful for your support of course. In the meantime, you can follow the show on Twitter @citationspod, Facebook at Citations Needed. As we have been saying all night, become a supporter of the show if you’re not already to Patreon.com/citationsneededpodcas as all your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated.

And if you are just jonesing for that Citation swag, head over to bonfire.com. Search for Citations Needed, and you’ll see our merch store there. All of your support is incredibly needed and also appreciated. Everything you buy, if you buy merch, that helps us out too. So, that will do it.

I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed’s senior producer is Florence Barrau-Adams. Producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Mahnoor Imran. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed live Beg-A-Thon was recorded with a virtual audience on Tuesday, January 30, 2024, and released on Wednesday, February 28, 2024.

Transcription by Mahnoor Imran.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.