August 13, 2022

Williams is one of many celebrities to have jumped into this cultural current. Back in the early 2000s, he started a streetwear label called Billionaire Boys Club, a name shared with a notorious 1980s Ponzi scheme; in 2013, he co-wrote the Robin Thicke hit “Blurred Lines,” which was criticized by feminists for its “rapiness.” Now he sells goods under the brand name Humanrace, “in the belief that taking better care of ourselves can teach us to take better care of each other,” and talks about having his “mind opened up” by reactions to the Thicke song and realizing “how it could make someone feel.” From a branding perspective, his Masterclass makes perfect sense.

But from most other perspectives, it’s a strange offering. For one thing, its takeaway tends to be disappointingly self-serving. In his second lesson, Williams describes how his solo hit “Happy” made him a less selfish person — because he’d made a song that made others genuinely happy, and then watched as it became hugely successful. Gloria Steinem talks about starting Ms. Magazine as an act of empathy. The ultramarathon runner and Peloton executive Robin Arzón tells of a sudden diabetes diagnosis that did not stop her from running an important race, and how this inspired other diabetics. Much of what’s described seems to climax with personal achievement, rather than anything having to do with others.

Self-actualization is, of course, different from empathy. And while some forms of…

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