08/22/2011 11:15 am ET Updated Oct 22, 2011

The Hustler

The hustler is a special type. An American original. He may crave success, fame, money or power. The real thrill, though, comes from playing the game and winning. For some hustlers, it's the game itself that counts above all else -- gratification comes from beating the system even more than beating others.

Hustlers are in perpetual motion. They are compulsive schemers -- plotting stratagems, working angles, recalibrating them. It's a non-stop activity. They are never at rest -- physical or mental. Hustling has no obvious starting point, no point of resolution. Hustlers are utterly self-centered; it's the hustler against the world. Everyone else is a 'player' in the game, whether witting or not -- a few close family members excepted. Their ego mania is of the narcissistic sort. Everything out there is screened so that it can be fitted to a mental map where he is the only pole. That self is the one fixed reference point. Convictions are alien to his personality -- stable convictions, anyway. With the hustler relentlessly assaying everyone and everything, the field of play is in constant flux. He is always evaluating but never committing -- to people, to ideas, to any external standard.

Totally lacking critical self-awareness, the hustler counts on quick reads and agility. Tactical course correction is the norm, but the pattern remains the same. He can't change. His nemesis is a streak of lucky breaks. Success inflates self confidence -- and recklessness. The predestined fall comes out of the blue. It is the Icarus moment -- except that the hustler never admits failure or error -- even to himself. Picking himself up and starting another game unfazed is his instinctive modus operandi.

Hustlers can team up. The mastermind and the nuts-and-bolts operator; the designer and the salesman; the dream machine and the fixer. They both admire the fit. Each overestimates the other; they overestimate themselves. Politics is a natural habitat for the hustler -- especially America's contemporary celebrity politics. Formless and fluid, incoherent -- intellectually and structurally, unaccountable and unmonitored, it suits the hustler's skills and personality. Motion masquerading as action is its hallmark, just as it is the hustler's trademark. He often heads for the door before he knows where he's going; opens his mouth before he knows for sure what he is going to say. If he moves fast enough, all accidents happen behind him. Verbal dexterity is just another form of motion. It's about self-affirmation -- not serious communication. Spin is what life is all about for the hustler. He spins others, he spins life -- and in the process spins himself.

The hustler is drawn to other hustlers. He understands them, he respects them -- especially those good at the game. Those whose trappings of success signal that they've come out on top irresistibly attract him. Money is the ultimate measure of the successful hustle -- it trumps all else. It buys celebrity, it buys influence and it ensures the envy of others. Anyone who has achieved that, by whatever means, can serve the hustler's own unending craving for self-esteem. The reflective, the habitually honest, the earnest, the selfless hold no interest for him -- except as they figure in his calculations.

The $2,012 question: who fits the profile?