The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Max Borders. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Max Borders. Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author, and an entrepreneur. He’s the founder and executive director of Social Evolution, a nonprofit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. And he is just an all-around interesting guy who I always enjoy talking to. It’s great to have you back, Max.
Max: It’s great to be here again.
Jim: Yeah. Max has been on three times previously, where we talked about his two previous books. I think we spent two episodes on one of his book. What were the name of those books again?
Max: The first is The Social Singularity and the second is After Collapse. And we spent two episodes on that, which was an absolute delight. I hope it was for your listeners.
Jim: Yeah. I definitely got good feedback on it. So check out those books. They are all worth reading. The interesting thing about Max’s books is they’re short. But man, are they dense. And not dense in a hard to read sense because they’re actually quite easy to read. He’s quite a gifted wordsmith. But there are just a shitload of ideas in those books. I mean, this current one I think is 200 actual pages plus or minus, and yet condensing it down to short enough to be able to do it in 90 minutes or two hours was quite a job, and we’ll have to move right along. So if you want to have your brain tickled, read some of Max’s books. They’re pretty good.
The one we’re talking about today is The Decentralist. And I will say unlike the other two, which were surveys of ideas and this and that, this is a damn manifesto. Max rears back and let’s fly, says what he thinks, doesn’t attribute stuff to other people. This is just the shit. So if you want to get Max’s straight thinking, get The Decentralist, available on Amazon. Do you have paper version or just the Kindle?
Max: Both. Yep.
Jim: Both. Good. Yeah. I always use Kindle for podcast. I have a little workflow. But anyway, let’s get down to it. So one of the first quotes I wanted to pull out in the book is, “I want to be happy. You want be happy. If not, you might want to see a therapist. But assuming we both share this fundamental desire, we have found a nice, green patch of common ground.” So how essential is happiness?
Max: This is an interesting question for a number of reasons, some personal and some, I guess you could say professional. But my boss, my mentor, Chris Roofer, he’s not really a boss because well, he just resists the hierarchical nature of firms, and that’s another story. But he in conversation with me, took me back to, I guess you could say my eudaimoniaic roots. And by eudaimonia, I’m referring to the Greek or Aristotelian notion of happiness, happiness as fulfillment, as meaning, and includes meaningful activity. It is also about the journey as well as the destination, which is the feeling of happiness, but there are broader definitions.
And the idea behind this is to invite the reader back into a eudaimonistic sensibility, this idea that we only have one life. We’ve got to spend it do doing good. And part of spending it doing good is to find some measure of fulfillment on the way. Now it doesn’t tell you what’s going to make you happy because certainly, everybody has a different conception of the good and of happiness. But grounding it there, at least starting the conversation in the introduction on the subject of happiness, broadly construed, is an invitation into a theoretical construct.
Jim: I like it. It’s a good base. You got me to go look up… How do you pronounce it? Eudaimonia? Is that how that’s pronounced?
Max: Yeah. I learned it in Germany, so oy was the pronunciation there. But eudaimonia, eu in Greek is good, and daimon is a spirit. And the idea that our good spirit is our affective disposition to be happy. So it goes back to the Greek. And today, we have certain kinds of, I guess, nods, you could say to this with language like that that you could find in the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of happiness. We’re all on this pursuit. It can be construed by many is an American phenomenon, this obsession with being happy, but it really does go back to the Greeks in terms of the way it’s instantiated in scholarship. And indeed, I think it has a universal character.
Jim: Yeah. And the important part is that it means something far richer than sitting in front of the idiot box, watching the Three Stooges while smoking a dooby. That can make you happy for a few minutes, but I Googled the term and first thing Google came up with, “The closest word for the ancient Greek term is probably flourishing,” which is an interesting and rich concept.
Max: It is.
Jim: And it also mentions that Aristotle considered a broad concept about a life well-lived. And I found elsewhere in Aristotle’s Ethics, he says that it means doing and living well. Again, all rich concepts. And I think that’s because we’re going to always be pointing back towards this, that somehow the foundation is very important to keep in mind that this is happiness broadly construed and in a rich sense.
Jim: But to your point, we all have different versions of the good, which makes the problem quite interesting.
Max: It does. And I will admit to many nights in front of the idiot box smoking joints, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Jim: Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I specifically mentioned the Three Stooges because my freshman year in college, that’s what we did every afternoon at 4:00 was sat in a little lounge we had actually built watching the Three Stooges on a 12-inch black and white TV while rolling up a dooby and smoking it.
Now here’s another interesting thing, though. You hit on this a bit in the book, but I think it’s actually perhaps even more fundamental, which is the concept of happiness and time. And you refer to the famous marshmallow experiment. Maybe you can tell people about that and what you intended by pointing to that famous experiment.
Max: Yeah. I mean, look. First of all, there’s the experiment. It happened, I think back in the late ’60s, early ’70s, but it was quite a while ago. And it’s probably familiar to many of your listeners, but the punchline is this. They took kids and set them down at a table in a room basically by themselves. They put a marshmallow at the center of the table and said, “If you can resist eating this marshmallow, we’ll come back in 15 minutes and you’ll get another one.”
And what they’d found was… And they did this as a longitudinal study over many years, that first they wanted to see which kids had this deferred gratification, that if you could wait on the first one, you would get even more by waiting, which is an important lesson for us in general, no matter how you look at it, no matter if you want to take this basically positive claim of social science and extrapolate from it, it’s a good lesson. And that’s really why I mentioned it.
Now I will say as an aside that they’ve done more recent studies on grit, which is this idea of deferred gratification. They’ve tried to replicate some of these studies with the marshmallow test and have been unable to, so there’s some controversy around it. There’s also controversy around the idea that grit or deferred gratification is inborn or whether it’s something that you can learn and to what degree it’s inborn or learned.
Jim: Well, the answer is, as always, both, right?
Max: It is both. Right.
Jim: I’ve never seen one of these social science dichotomies that was ever actually a dichotomy.
Jim: Actually, there’s some other good research. A guy I know pretty well, Warren Bickel at Virginia Tech, he and some of his collaborators wrote a very famous and highly referenced paper called Understanding Addiction as a Pathology of Temporal Horizon. And what they found was to an amazingly predictive degree, people’s propensity for addictive behavior has a whole lot to do with their discount rate.
Max: Yes. Interesting.
Jim: Literally, and it makes perfect sense. If your brain is discounting the future 100% a day, then shit, doing heroin every day actually makes economic sense within your own brain. If you’re discount rate is, let’s say you’re a good Scotsman and your discount rate is 1% a year, you probably aren’t going to fall for heroin because the fact that you’d be a piece of shit in a year actually matters to you.
And this is hugely important. And what Bickel and his collaborators have found subsequently is that you can teach or you can get people to do exercises to impact their discount rate. And now you can’t move it all the way, but you can move it some and enough to get a lot of people off of what otherwise seem like pathological addictions. So I’ve come to take this idea of discount rate quite important. And when you think about designing a society or evolving a society, coming up with something like a normative discount rate knowing that individuals are going to vary is actually a pretty important part of it.
Max: Well, it’s interesting that you mentioned that. I don’t want to get on too many rabbit trails, but the way that we have constructed the matrix of the dollar… Well, I don’t say we. I’d say authorities have constructed the matrix of the dollar over the last… since 1913, certainly, but also since Bretton Woods, and since coming off the gold standard in ’71, we’ve had varying levels of inflation.
And there’s a lot of arguments about the impact of inflation on the economy, but a lot of people don’t take into direct account the way inflation affects discount rate. If this giant network effect around our money, prompts us through incentives to spend now and not save, that changes our behavior to a considerable degree. And so we have to be very careful in thinking about what kind of society we want to have in thinking about the kind of money we use and how we use it.
Jim: We’ll come back to that point later when I bash Bitcoin a little bit. Good. Has the opposite problem. Now, next you talk about something that’s been part of the conversation about wellbeing for a while, and that’s Maslow and friends’ hierarchy. Let me just do a quick 90-second run through.
Max: Yeah. So basically, the old Maslowian trope of the hierarchy is that people have basic needs. And so the first rungs of Maslow’s ladder, if you will, are things like food, shelter, sex, all those basic needs. And then atop that we start to build other kinds of values. Once we satisfy those fundamental values, those basic needs, we can then start to do things like engage in activities maybe our bodies don’t require, but that our spirits and our intelligence requires, and we pursue those endeavors first. So I cheekily referred to the old Bertolt Brecht line, “Grub first, then ethics.” And that’s a really short way of describing Maslow in a certain sense, grub first, then self-actualization. It’s sort of in parallel. But the idea behind Maslow is that we have to meet our basic needs. And then after that, we can start to begin to pursue all manner of things that we might really talk about in that broadest sense of eudaimonia.
Jim: Very good. Then you start moving closer towards the center of your argument by quoting Von Mises and his theory of praxiology. I don’t know if you actually quote him. You’re paraphrasing him. You say praxiology rests on the idea that individual human beings act, which means they engage in conscious activities towards goals. People are motivated to achieve satisfaction through action.
Max: Yes. And that might be through inaction too. There’s something strangely complementary about praxiology and Buddhism say, because even the Buddhists are seeking through the goal of non-attachment, I guess you could say, a measure of satisfaction. So there’s an interesting interplay there between East and West, but I think both are complementary and interesting in their own right.
I do want to, however, talk about the idea of individuals acting in pursuit of goals because we can easily hypostatize, which is to say, we can go from talking about individuals acting to groups acting, and the way groups act in concert as a very different thing. It requires some sort of consensus mechanism, and that of course gets us into conversations about politics and so on. But it’s important to remember that fundamentally, it is an individual agent that acts.
Jim: And which I think gives a very distinctive individualistic flavor to your work. And there’s of course, a lot of discussion about this, the idea that it’s Western man who thinks individualistically while Eastern man considers himself first and foremost part of the group, the extended family, or the agricultural village in the traditional sense of literally actually some fairly decent lab research to show that people from those kinds of traditions literally think about these questions differently. But you put your-
Max: They do.
Jim: … flag down pretty strongly on what I would call the Western synthesis, that we are individual actors and that group action is essentially collective individual action.
Max: That’s right. Now, I don’t want to overstate that, and I don’t want you to draw a conclusion that I would not hope to make. I fully acknowledge that human beings are interdependent, and that interdependency is a vital piece of understanding ourselves individually and collectively. What I don’t want to do is for anyone to confuse collective action and collective action problems for individual action and conflate one for the other. So while I do, in some sense, acknowledge our interdependency as beings, I wouldn’t want to argue on some sort of strange collectivized notions that would take us too far afield. And at the same time, I’m very interested in this idea of non-duality from Eastern traditions. And I think that we can reconcile our individualistic notions of the idea that individuals act towards purposes with our more collectivized notions of interdependency.
Jim: Okay. Yeah. That’s a good balance. And it seems to be again, in both, there’s got to be a tension between the fact that we are indeed individuals in some sense. I’ll get that later. I’m actually fairly hardcore on that. I say, “Oh, no. The concept of the individual is actually well-defined.” A lot of people say it’s not. I can give you a very strong argument that it is. Yet at the same time, a human without a society is dead in a couple of days. Both are true and both are important.
Now I’m going to go down a little bit of a rabbit hole just for fun. And this is from the book. Of course, not everyone wants to spend time pondering the universe, writing books or arguing in the Agora, but there is something uniquely human about our ability to indulge these upper-level drives. We push humanity forward with cognition, aesthetics, and self-actualization. On the other hand, Curtis Yarvin says, “Hobbits just want to grill.”
You wrote a interesting article about Yarvin called The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Quillette, which I enjoyed reading. I’ve had Curtis on the show a couple of times, once fairly recently, and he is a very smart guy, but he has his own fairly peculiar set of views. But back to your point that not everybody wants to do these upper-level things. And I think this is really important, particularly for people that come from a libertarian perspective, is we have to take pluralism and human motivation and human capacity as real.
I think as you may recall from one of our earlier conversations, I criticized libertarian anarchy as, yeah, that’d be a system that would work if everybody had an IQ of 130 and everybody grew up in a stable family and had a good education, but none of those things are true. And whatever system we design has got to take into consideration that humans are going to very considerably on their biological, their social, their economic endowments. And gives the monarchist answer, which is, well, most people actually want to be serfs. And so therefore, there must be nobles and kings.
I think you and I don’t want to go there, but there is some sense of truth that people do vary considerably on these things. And not all people are us, part of this shattering class trying to figure it all out. We have to keep that in mind.
Max: No doubt. No doubt. I think it’s funny. We take this, let’s call it a Rorschach blot of reality, that is, the fact of pluralism, the fact that we’re all different. And in that sense, we are stratified in society by our cognitive capabilities and certainly our athletic capabilities. We’re pretty much not equal in any single vector that you can imagine. We’re radically different from one to the next in terms of our ability to contribute to some effort or to solve certain kinds of problems. Hell, I’m terrible at math. And my kid comes to me for help and I throw up my hands and I have to get friends involved.
But when it comes right down to it, the fact of pluralism extends also to our moral sensibilities as well, not just our personal values, but the way that we think that the world ought to work and the way we interact with each other as moral beings, if you like. So acknowledging that pluralism if there were a Meta goal of peace has to start with the acknowledgement of the fact of pluralism, but at first we don’t make any kind of moral judgments about that pluralism. But we do have to reverse engineer from it, in some sense.
Jim: Yeah. Now I think this is one area where you and I think about the world a little differently. In fact, you say, “Our mission is to create a condition of radical pluralism, a garden of forking paths, decentralization.” Well, the work I do in the Game B space, we have a somewhat related… And this is where it’s an interesting conversation. We call it coherent pluralism and we make sure that we emphasize both words, pluralism but that if we are to survive the 21st and 22nd century, we have to abide by a relatively small number of important guidelines and norms. Otherwise, pluralism brings us back to the multipolar trap and the other known self-terminating conditions in society.
In fact, if you want to cook down our coherence, we, I think now can state it in two terms. One, humanity must be about upgrading human wellbeing and human capacity because our problems keep getting harder. And second, whatever we do, we must do in balance with nature. And if we don’t have those pruning rules, then pluralism by itself just takes us back to the bad old days.
Max: Yeah. I think we also have to be careful. And I’m not accusing you of this, but I just want to make sure that the listener doesn’t confuse, there is the fact of pluralism, which is a positive claim, the idea that people are different from one to the next, particularly in their capabilities. But then there’s the idea of normative pluralism, that is that we ought to be able to self-organize into distinct tribes that are a fuller expression of community values to the extent that my values overlap with someone else’s.
And yes, that’s going to have constraints. I mean, I spend a lot of the book as we’ll talk about on my own set of constraints for how that can work and how that can work peacefully as well as sustainably. I have no particular beef with the idea of living in harmony with nature. To some extent, we don’t have a choice because nature can be a solemn severe master, and we can all end up extinct. But also, the idea that we ought to live in harmony with nature, to treat nature as ourselves as a part of nature because we are a part of nature, without getting to…
In fact, I think a lot of people who are committed to this idea of the respect for nature tend to want to separate human beings out from it as if we’re not a part of it. And we can go into some of that in a moment, but I like those two. And depending on how one interprets them, I think we may not be as far apart as it seems at first.
Jim: Yeah. And I think we’re not very far apart, as we’ve discovered many times in our conversations, right?
Jim: Here’s that goddamn hippie rut and there’s that goddamn capitalist swine Borders, but at the end of the day, they’re pretty damn close.
Max: Exactly. The only thing I think that we have severe disagreement about is I heard you say one time that you’re to the left of Bernie Sanders, and I don’t think I can go that far.
Jim: Yeah. And of course, in truth, my politics are now completely orthogonal to team red and team blue. And it’s only if you do a very forcible collapse onto the left-right schedule could you make that argument. But I could make a whole bunch of other arguments that says I’m completely different than Bernie as well.
Max: Well, I was reading Noam Chomsky the other day and realized that, geez, and I wrote a big piece about him, that I actually agree with Chomsky on a heck of a lot more than I had first thought, and that that his syndicalism, which is basically the adoption of syndicalism that goes way back to Marx and even before, is not so far off.
Jim: Not at all. In fact, Douglas Rushkoff, very smart guy who I’ve talked to several times said, in his mind, Game B is essentially a variant on Anarcho-syndicalism, and there’s some truth to that.
Max: Seems so. It seems so. And that’s why I’ve been a fellow traveler at least with the Game B group, not quite at the center of the activity, but certainly have enjoyed pursuing those ideas, because I’ve always seen them as a framework for investigation and an inquiry, not really any kind of specific principles that have to be adopted in order to be a part of the club. It’s really an inquiry-based group, and I’ve enjoyed that.
Jim: At least it’s an inquiry-based group for the moment. I think at some point, it’ll start to become more normative, but will always honor coherent pluralism in a way that’s much stronger than most people feel comfortable with.
I like to say, for instance, I could imagine a Game B community that is organized as a 19th century Victorian village with all the inherent repression and hypocrisy. I could also imagine one that’s organized as a sex cult with a leader and his two or three droogs doing all the reproducing. Both could be Game B. So there’s quite a lot of room in the pluralistic parts as long as you don’t violate the coherent part. Interesting.
So now let’s get to essentially the core of what you call the consensual society. You say, “We need a revolution. Must be built upon comprehensive doctrine that transcends and includes the anti-federalist view of decentralizing power. The mission can’t be some freestanding political idea involving rationalistic fantasy or bloodless liberalism. Instead, it must take on the character of justice and religion originating from within the human heart where morality and meaning live.” Those are pretty strong words.
Max: Yes, indeed. Yeah. So look, I consider myself a liberal. So let me first talk about my liberal bona fides for a moment. And one of the things about liberalism… And when I say liberalism, I mean the liberalism of the Enlightenment.
Jim: John Stuart Mill, et cetera, right?
Max: Correct. Yeah. John Locke, Mill, basically the thinkers who informed the American founding, I think the American founders would be considered liberals. There’s been a bastardization of the language. As time has gone on and in America, the idea of a liberal is meant to be the opposite of a conservative, but I mean a liberal as a neither left nor right kind of phenomenon. But the idea of the classical liberals, Lockean, Millian, and so on frameworks, I believe, tend to… They rely too heavily on abstract notions of morality, which is to say the way you deliberate about ethics or right and wrong tends to be in abstraction land. And occasionally, you encounter some situation and you pluck the abstraction from the sky and try to apply it to your particular situation to determine whether or not you’re going to do something that’s right or wrong in response.
So my critique of this comes from the East, and I believe that morality should be practiced, like jujitsu or karate or yoga or any other practice that makes you more excellent. You might even go back to the idea of the Greek virtues, where you practice compassion, where you practice something to become more excellent at it. My hope is with this movement from the bloodless liberalism to active continuous practice, we become more agentic beings, not just embodied beings with thoughts and feelings, but also contextualized beings, i.e. in the context of community, of real people with whom we’re interdependent. And so that resistance to that bloodless liberalism is to say this idea of a consent-based society is really about an active practice of a discovery process that involves the affective and the moral dimensions of real people, not just abstractions from political philosophy.
Jim: Yeah. That’s good. And as we’ll get into, you lay in a whole bunch of recommendations on how to actually think about this. It’s not just talk-talk. My first reaction… I actually saw a note that I wrote when I was reading it… was damn, this thing sounds pretty bloodless too. It’s like blockchain and consensus and blood. It doesn’t have quite the motivating battle cry of no taxation without representation or even no boarding of soldiers in our home. But you do get to these other parts of it later, which we’ll get to. However, it is true that particularly early in the book, but here and there throughout, you put down a pretty strong marker for the current flavor of crypto technology. I read Satoshi’s paper when it came out and said, “Holy shit. Fucking brilliant.”
Jim: … Satoshi’s paper when it came out and said, “Holy, fucking brilliant.” On the other hand, it’s not at all obvious to me that this current hyperfocusing on Satoshi style blockchains is really a good idea. We’re putting an unbelievable amount of mental energy into a tiny little piece of design space. And in fact, it’s a part of design space that, while intellectually interesting, has a number of operating aspects, which I’m not a hundred percent sure are congruent with the good unfolding of society. In fact, I’ll throw one out, Bitcoin, you mentioned the problems of inflation and how it skews discount rates to make you want to spend now.
Bitcoin has the exact opposite problem. It’s a highly deflationary currency. Since 2015, it’s inflated how much, 40X? Deflated 40X essentially. And so a deflationary currency has another, and probably worse attribute than inflation, in that you have a propensity not to spend money or not to invest, and rather to keep your social surplus in the form of sterile money.
Bitcoin is just like gold, only worse, I would argue. And one of the great problems of gold was that people hoarded gold rather than investing in factories and businesses and things of that sort. And my own explorations, in the quantitative modeling of financial systems, is it strikes me that probably the worst thing that you can have in a monetary system is a deflationary money, and optimal is probably slightly inflationary. The number I’ve said is GDP growth plus two percent puts the incentives about right. And in fact, it’s surprisingly close to what Milton Friedman proposed.
Max: That’s exactly what I was going to say, that was what Milton Friedman said. Look, these are all interesting discussions about the properties of this cryptocurrency or that blockchain, and to some extent, I might agree with you, to some extent I might disagree with you. You’re right about the change to discount rate, it does incentivize hoarding on the way up. As more and more people adopt, it gains in value. The more it gains in value, the less likely you are to want to let go of it, and so on. And on the flip side with the dollar, the more there is inflation, the more you have an incentive to spend it before it loses its value in the future. And that is also unhealthy, depending on the circumstances.
Another way I like to look at this and you’ll see this in my writing a lot lately, but particularly in this book, is this idea of the one true way. One of the through lines of this book is there is no one true way. And the fact of pluralism means that people are going to want to pull from a menu of different options in terms of properties of money, of digital commodities. If you think of Bitcoin as being a digital commodity, that completely reframes it such that it can become an inflation has. But if you think of Bitcoin as being like a tech stock, then people are going to drop it as soon as the market fluctuates and this and that.
So what I like to say is like, let’s click out a couple of orders of magnitude and look at the big picture, what cryptocurrency does, even though there’s this narrow band of the design space that privileges a deflationary scheme, the entire ecosystem says, “Maybe we want a stable coin. Maybe we want a stable coin that actually works, unlike Terra Luna. Maybe USDC is going to turn out to work, or maybe…”
Jim: Well, USDC did work. I mean, that’s where I stash my proceeds. I fortunately sold 40% of my crypto hoard in November and December last year. And I did analyze the stable points. I said, USDC is sound. And so you can hear it from Rutt, Rutt says, “USDC is as safe as any of this shit,” right?
Jim: At least minus a crypto hack, which could happen.
Max: It could. And, look, hacks happen in people’s bank accounts all the time. People’s wealth is appropriated all the time. You know, Peter Schiff, this famous finance guy, who likes to shit on Bitcoin all the time, and says that, “You can’t trust it, because people hack it,” ended up having his bank account frozen in Puerto Rico, because of some regulatory instance that happened there. The point is the idea is in this great churning ecosystem of value that is the crypto space, you have things like Holochain, for example, which is one of my-
Jim: Which I like a lot-
Max: … favorite technologies.
Jim: … one of my favorite.
Max: It is not based on a blockchain at all. And what Bitcoin did and what things like Holochain have done have said, “Look, there are all manner of properties that we can instantiate and code, and they will constantly improve. And in fact, you might have these, there are bottlenecks in the system with these crypto winters.” That’s usually a time when innovations happen that strengthen and shore up some of these new properties that can suddenly be revealed in the next wave of innovation. So it happens in these, I guess, you could call it not punctuated equilibria, but like real stages of advancement that are based on evolutionary forces.
Jim: And, frankly, something very similar happened with the internet, the famous dotcom bubble. It did not end the internet, it just swept out a bunch of bogus shit.
Max: That’s right.
Jim: And, hopefully, I think the crypto winter is just getting started and I’m sure it’ll get quite a bit colder. And one of the benefits it’ll freeze out a fair bit of the shit, and particularly some of the ill-conceived DeFi stuff. Which a lot of the DeFi I’m laughing my off watching these things collapse one after the other, because it’s just like, exactly like the subprime-
Jim: … mortgage.
Max: Yes. Yes.
Jim: Exactly the same.
Max: Same stuff.
Jim: They made the algebraic assumption that things would not change. They were all leaning forward. And as soon as the wind changed, they fell on their face.
Max: And it was so many parallels with all of these exotic debt instruments that were floating around in 2008, 2009, and everything went tits up. But you’re absolutely right. I mean, the market punishes as well as rewards, and the same thing can be said for the stock market. A lot of people don’t realize that recessions are really the time of healing. This is when malinvestments get cleaned out of the system. Recessions do have a positive aspect to it, especially when we’re dealing with all of this phony money that’s floating around, and that shores up artificially these boom bus cycles in ways that are unhealthy.
They have to happen. The bust has to happen. No matter what the antics of the Fed or fiscal policy from Congress, you’ve got to be able to have a rational basis for removing malinvestments. And that is a decentralized process, whether the central bank or whether Congress likes it or not.
Jim: Now, of course our system actually amplifies these cycles.
Jim: It’s exactly the wrong kind of monetary system. As you people can find out, if you look at my YouTube video called Dividend Money, where I propose an improved monetary system that doesn’t have this exactly ass backwards effect. Because our current system generates money on the way up near the top at ever increasing amounts. And then as soon as the top is reached, the money supply starts to contract at exactly the wrong time. It should be the other way around. There should be valves that cause the money supply to slow down as things heat up, and then to expand as things turn over. And you’ll still have ups and downs for a whole bunch of fundamental reasons, to your point, bogus shit happens, people make wrong decisions. People think trends will go on forever, when they can’t possibly.
So you do need to harvest. But our monetary system is specifically the exact opposite of what you’d want to moderate these cycles. So I’m definitely with you there. And certainly there’s some wonderful thinking coming out of the crypto world. So my fairly harsh critiques of it are about specifics, and not the idea of something like, for instance, a public ledger, hugely important idea. The public immutable ledgers is a gigantic idea. Smart contracts are an even more gigantic idea, but I would argue that most of what we have today are toy versions of it. Not really suitable for much anything except collecting ransoms, maybe.
Max: Well, and that’s right. You said earlier, like, “Max, then I encountered all this stuff about cryptocurrencies and Dows, and I thought about how bloodless that is.” And granted for many people, hitting those spots, especially if they’re unfamiliar with the technology, can be boring as shit. But here’s the thing, when you have these new mechanisms, things that the world has never seen, the advent of Dows, even though they don’t work very well, and they’re based on some fundamentally shoddy premises, they’re constantly being adapted and changed. And we’re throwing spaghetti against the wall. We’re throwing that blockchain against the wall and see what sticks.
And, yes, there can be a lot of pain in that experimentation, but at the end of the day, the point is, the meta point, and I hate to say meta, because it’s kind of a prefix that gets beaten to death, but it’s a way of saying, “Look, it is through experimentation that we find these better genomes within niches.” The niche landscape, the evolutionary fitness landscape, as you well know, is constantly changing.
Jim: It’s co-evolutionary, is why, right?
Max: Right. You’re right. And so these events, these innovations are attempts at mutation, guided mutation, and they’re going to work, or they’re going to not in Darwinian fashion. The ones that work are going to get stronger, we’re going to shore up those efforts, and they may persist in time for a while and also fall.
But this is also true for the system that we have, these monolithic systems, like the Federal Reserve and the dollar matrix that we exist in now. They’re showing their cracks now, too, and that sort of comprehensive scale the dollars matrix failing is an absolutely frightening thought. And I’m trying to make a case for something like the Antifragile in our social systems.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a good goal. And, hopefully, the next generation of people will take these lessons learned and do these. And sort of a final part, I’m going to put out there before we move on to the next big topic is, I’ve having this conversation with Peter Wang, who I think you know, in fact-
Max: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: … we had some drinks with him the other night. He and I are good friends. We talk all the time, once a week. And we were musing about smart contracts. And we realized that both of us have lived our lives in places where we have to do a lot of business contracts. And most real business contracts cannot be made algorithmic. You inevitably run into terms like shall not be unreasonably withheld, and how the hell do you turn that into an algorithm? You can’t.
And so in the real world, the contingencies of life, things change, and one of the big problems with Dow, especially the earlier ones, they didn’t have intelligent amendment processes, or they were too easy. And you have, it’d be like a corporation that couldn’t change its strategy from its earliest days. They get locked into a rigidity that they can’t change, and the whole thing just falls apart. And so there has to be some realists involved in this stuff who actually know what business contracts are for. And, yes, there are certain classes of things which can be done algorithmically, but they’re actually not the more interesting set of things. A lot of them are just sort of the shit like currency trading, which is a fairly low value-add proposition.
In fact, we know that currency trading has to be low value-add because the total volume of it so goddamn huge. Currency trading per day is bigger than the GDP in the United States. And it’s just these micro little swings around currency. And it’s useful for providing market discipline, currencies, but it’s not actually generative of wealth. And something like that could be handled algorithmically. But the real things like real business contracts, in general, can’t be, so people have to think more generally about the problem of the promise. Because what’s a contract, but a set of promises under uncertainty, under changing realities, et cetera.
So, all right, let’s move on to the next big point. The decentralists way of seeing is a general skepticism of all claims to political authority. That’s a big statement.
Max: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And for me sometimes this stuff comes down to very, very simple matter. And I go back to this idea of, let’s be careful not to hypostasize when talking about who acts. Actions are taken by individuals. Now, they may be clustered together in the context of some set of institutions or relational properties that give them power. But at the end of the day, we’re all people you have to have a mighty, mighty justification for exercising compulsion against someone who has done no one wrong. That should be a high bar.
And so what I’m saying there is that if any individual person claims the authority to compel others, they better have damn good justification to do it at the very least. And most of the justificatory responses that I’ve heard for people’s claims to authority, aren’t worth a damn. Because a majority of people voted for this person, to me, does not… A majority of people like the top 10 songs on the billboard charts that I think are shit, that is a different state of affairs altogether. But politics, which is this idea that we’re sort of, we engage in the spectacle to determine which grouping of authorities is going to get to hold the whip is a very strange thing to me.
And I’m hoping to sort of carry the idea that it should be strange to others too. It is this authoritarian instinct, it’s usually based on because I can, not because I ought to. And that first authoritarian instinct I think is very dangerous. But it’s, perhaps, no more dangerous than the idea because I ought to, because that’s where you get the fires of idealism and that’s even worse. That’s your, like a Marxist authoritarian for example.
Jim: Or a fascist, right? [inaudible 00:44:59]-
Max: Or a fascist, yeah.
Jim: Now, let me probe on this a little bit, because I think this is really interesting and important, the idea of stacks of authority. And one of the things that I think you miss, or at least you don’t address, is that political authority is different than, say, business contracting or economic relationships, in that it is tied to an actual piece of land. And the really simple example I give, because it’s not very… Well, it’s controversial, but in kind of a minuscule way, is what about the rule in a town for drinking alcohol in public.
It’s a quality of life issue. If people drink alcohol in public, the streets are going to be rowdier, more dangerous. There’s going to be more pedestrians run over. Kids are going to be hassle when they walk around. And so it strikes me, at least arguably, as a perfect example of something that a geographic based policy ought to be able to say one way or the other, whether there should be alcohol drinking in public.
Now, actually, I have a fairly nuanced view on this, which shows you that politics can come up to a nuanced view. I spend half my time in the small city of Staunton, Virginia, nice charming little city of 25,000 people. And it has a two block, three block kind of entertainment district of restaurants and clubs and bars and little shops and what have you. And my proposal is that open containers, drinking alcohol in public be allowed in that three block area, but not elsewhere, as an example of how politics can make a series of subtle trade-offs that determine behavior on the land. And it’s not entirely clear to me how your decentralist model deals with the issue of things on the land that have effect upon the commons.
Max: Look, I mean, that’s not a bad point at all. And, look, to me, the way I like to describe this for people is asymptotic anarchy. And I hesitate to send your listeners scattering when they hear the A word. But the idea is an asymptote, you get closer and closer to the line not ever actually getting there. You have a curve that’s approaching a certain level and it never actually gets there, that’s an asymptote. The idea of asymptotic anarchy is that you decentralize until you find somewhat stable equilibria, there is no idealism. The idealism is a north star, but it’s never going to be some perfect thing.
So my ideas of decentralization can be simply the application of a subsidiary rule. And that may mean, I live in the state of Texas, it’s a big state, we might have some jurisdictions that permit alcohol on the streets, some that don’t, some sections of town that do it, some don’t. But the idea is at the very least, the governance system gives us choices, where those decisions can be made at the most local, feasible level. And at the most local, feasible level, it may be that what is feasible in a town is more governed by statute rather than by common law. However, the common law may make determinations about regulatory features of a jurisdiction as well.
Now, we could get into the meat and potatoes and that go all day, but, of course, I’m not going to make the perfect the enemy of the good by asserting that you can’t have a town that forbids people from drinking on the street. Instead, I want to say the more jurisdictions you have, and particularly, asking the question, if your regulation or rule is based on features of proximity to other people, that is a much more important and indeed better justification for instantiating.The relevant rule then is half the shit that the United States government does, the federal government.
Jim: Or even the state governments. For instance, my example of drinking in public. Virginia is the so-called Dillon Rule state, where the state holds all the power, and municipalities only have that power, which is explicitly granted to them. And changing the liquor laws is not one of the powers that has been delegated to the city of Staunton. So we cannot actually do what I described, which is to carve out a three block area, allow drinking in public. And I’m a 100% with you that the tendency against subsidiary is one of the worst things about the current forms of the nation state.
There’s absolutely no reason that a town of 25,000 people should not have control over a whole lot of those kinds of rules. I would also include things like gun control. If the city of Staunton wants to allow open carry or not allow open carry, that ought to be up to something the size of 25,000 people, or maybe even less, maybe at the neighborhood level.
But I guess my one really strong kind of negative reaction to your proposal was I don’t see how you get away from the ground. And that there will always need to be a state-like entity that is in charge of the ground. Another example is, of course, pollution. I came up with a nice little toy example, thinking of a specific place, where imagine there’s a blue jeans factory sitting at the top of a watershed of a river. And it’s making its blue jeans, turns out that the blue dye in blue jeans has mercury in it. And they’re polluting the fuck out of the stream that’s going downstream on the people.
But because they’re at the top of the watershed, they’re going to actually export their blue jeans over the ridge and then down somebody else’s creek, so that the people downstream can’t embargo their commerce, for instance, as a possible response. It seems to me, you’re getting into a really complicated ways to ensure the non-abuse of the commons at all scales up to global, of course, we’re talking about the atmosphere here, is an area where state-like governance may just not be something you can get rid of.
Max: Maybe, maybe not. We go back and forth on this one, and we have in the past, but I think it’s worth revisiting. At the highest echelons of power, the highest authority that is capable of enforcing some rule, regulation, law, what have you, however arbitrary, if it’s big enough to bring about final justice, it’s big enough to bring about totalitarian injustice. So life is about trade-offs. We can try to speak in terms of ideals all day long, and I want to do that, but I also recognize we have to figure out how to operationalize some of this stuff. And I think it’s not only possible to have competitive and private means for governing the ground as it were, territorial goods. But most of what all of the battles over are over non-territorial goods and services.
So we had the common law, it worked perfectly well, and it was working tremendously before… Now, it’s more difficult to have the common law over the air, so that might be one of those places where asymptotic anarchy stops getting closer and closer. I don’t know. But suffice it to say were it the land, the groundwater, you can bring a suit against someone who is a polluter and they must cease and desist. And the standard is roughly 50% preponderance of evidence, which is not as high a standard as criminal law standard, which is beyond a reasonable doubt.
So even if you thought that the jeans factory is probably polluting, reasonable amount of evidence, you can get them to cease and desist. And I guess the question becomes, does there have to be some giant leviathan power in order to be able to execute that? Or are there other more decentralized mechanisms of enforcement and of adjudication that are possible?
I want to say that we have many of these right now in the way the international sphere works, and in the way the common law works. And this idea of decentralized governance processes and enforcement processes doesn’t mean that we don’t have enforcement. It means that enforcement looks differently and happens in a way that isn’t exactly about this final leviathan power that we have to oblige to be with the angels, because it almost never is.
Jim: That, of course, Madison’s great insight, that the beast must be chained or the beast will eat us. But I would argue that’s a somewhat different problem than getting rid of the state entirely. As an example, one could have governance, state type governance, that’s multipolar that you have state type governance over the watershed. And its only authority is about the watershed, but it does have the power to compel. At the end of the day, if you don’t stop polluting, it sends a guy with a gun and tells you got to. Because let’s be honest,, is that’s what a state is somebody who has the right to send a man with a gun and tell you, “You got to do what we told you.”
Max: Remember I’m not arguing necessarily for a stateless society, although that can be considered a north star. What I’m arguing for is something a little subtler. And that is that we get to choose our own governments, and we can opt out of our governments once our contracts are up. So I’m talking about real social contracts. And my belief, and I could be wrong about this, in certain circumstances you might have a mighty imperial power that takes over everything, and that is the interest of the stronger. That’s not an argument, that is not a justification. That’s simply, who’s got the biggest guns? Right now that happens to be the United States.
Jim: Yeah. Let’s go onto that, because that was my next… I’m going to summarize this and move on. We are having too much fun here. We’re not going to get through the damn things, but we don’t keep moving.
Max: Okay. All right. All right.
Jim: Well, so I’m going to summarize this as, Jim postulates that there still needs to be a base level that deals with things on the ground, and whether those are social commons like drinking on the street, or environmental commons, like polluting rivers, or global commons, like using the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas dump, that something that is state-like and not consensual, is still going to be necessary. And sounds like Max says, maybe Jim is right, but if we could avoid it, that would be good.
And in any case, where we do both agree is the doctrine of subsidiarity, if there is some form of coercive state, for every given topic, it should be at the lowest possible level with respect that it’s feasible to deal with that class of problem. But, for instance, using the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas dump, that’s global. So at some level there has to be, Jim would argue, some form of global governance.
But now let’s move on to my next step, which is, all right, let’s say Max is right, and that we could actually virtualize all things as a consensual series of contracts with alternative providers of service. And I’ve gone down some of these rabbit holes. Oh, yeah. We don’t need police, we can have vigilant organizations that if someone robs you they’ll go kill them. And maybe that works. I’m not sure I like it, but it’s possible. But let’s ignore whether it would work or not. Can you ever get there for the reasons that you articulated, which is the purely Machiavellian ones? Can your method of withdrawal actually succeed? Or does the state just say, “Sorry, Charlie”?
For instance, the state could and may well forbid crypto tokens that don’t include, know your customer on their wallets. Would not at all surprise me that doesn’t emerge in the next few years. And it may be that it should. One of my objections to this whole crypto architecture exists today is this fascination with pseudonymity. It’s not entirely clear to me that pseudonymous behavior is good human behavior. In fact, I think there’s a awful lot of evidence to say that it’s not, and that making people do business in their real name, their good name is hugely important. Wall Street’s actually, oddly enough, in this case, a great example of the good. An awful lot of trading in Wall Street’s based on your word, on the phone.
Jim: … Wall Street, based on your word. On the phone, I’m good for 50,000 bushels of corn or whatever, if you ever renege on a verbal commitment, and nowadays they record these so in case there’s ever a discussion or a dispute, you are banned from Wall Street forever by social consensus. You can’t get a job in the mail room on Wall Street if you ever, even once renege on a trading deal. In crypto land with pseudo anonymity, well, you won’t be able to do it with that particular wallet anymore, but we all know how easy it is to gin up another wallet and you’re off to the races again, you become a fraudulent shit bird. So the lack of solid grounding to a named and shameable individual, I believe is a fundamental weakness of the current architecture. But anyway, so that whole bundle of things is even if what you say is true, that the state could be obsoleted by these contracts, could you ever get there because the state, the Leviathan, can probably stop you.
Max: I don’t know. My hope is that that is not the case. Just compare the number of people who died or were somehow violated through private actors and compare that to the democides of just the 20th century, it ain’t even close. The kind of mayhem, the kind of damage that has been dealt by nation states, or proxies of the nation states, these are real people, not abstractions, real people in the name of a nation doing damage to other people through ethnic cleansing, genocides, you name it. They are private actors doing bad things. It doesn’t hold a candle to that. So my argument is, if you’re just doing it in terms of trade off and risks trusting authorities to be good with that authority is a non-starter. Now, we go back to the idea that in crypto land, as you put it, there are all of these problems.
Most of those problems have to do with people who just don’t understand the space. It’s hard to say, “Okay, all you got to do is give me this code, this special code, and then I can help you and make you a bunch of money,” and they get their coins ripped off or whatever. There are Ponzi schemes and scams and all kinds of shit going on out there, but that happens with U.S. dollars. It happens all over the place. Part of this is the best defense of against being violated is for more and more people to adopt a moral disposition, and that is part of this, but you can’t expect that there be a universal adoption of moral principles.
What you can do, though, is you can imagine high-trust societies. For example Japan is a very high-trust society. They have very little crime. You can drop your wallet on the street and pretty much guarantee that you’ll get it within the next week, because someone gave it, money and all, to some authorities or whatever and you’ll get your money back. If you did that, you drop your wallet in the United States, you’re pretty much guaranteed never to get it back or at least you’ll get it back, but it won’t have any money in it.
Jim: If it’s in a big city, not true here in rural Vermont [inaudible 01:01:36] You’ve had some cases where people put their wallet on the roof of their car drove off, in fact, we had one not too long ago. A Boy Scout literally found it and turned it into the police with all the money in it. It was a few hundred dollars.
Max: Yeah. I found a man’s wallet on the beach when I was 10-years-old. It had $57 in it, had his driver’s license, credit cards, the whole works; called him up. He was thrilled to bits, let me keep the money and I send him the wallet. It does happen. I’m just talking about throwing a statistical stone into the population. What are you likely to find? So we need moral sensibilities, and I’m going to zip ahead, I hope not too far. But one of the problems we have with the mentality of what I call the church of politics or the church of state, is that people tend to outsource their sense of responsibility for their fellow man or for being good, or for doing right by others, to these distant capitals. So much so that becomes a kind of religion on its own. When we have to deal with each other in person locally, more and more, we’re more likely to get this cultivating of the moral virtues and moral practice.
Also, when we are in communities where we self-govern, or more readily self-govern, people look at each other in the eyes. Now inverting from that, we can also imagine situations where the idea of escrow and the idea of certain narrow band of arrangements are done on blockchains, and so exchanges can happen without intermediaries. That is still also true. I hope you’re able to get Balaji Srinivasan on the show to talk about the network state, which is very much in alignment with the kind of things that I’ve been describing for years. In fact, I remember coming out with a talk that I’d done in 2012. My friend finally put it out in 2013. At the same time where Srinivasan’s talk on exit voice and loyalty came out where he did the first stirrings of this idea of opt-in governance. What we’re both saying in this is not that there’s some kind of ideal. Again, the ideal is the North Star.
What we’re saying is, is that people are more likely to trust and use the institutions that they build together. That can happen locally, where we get more tête-à-tête, more community interaction, or it can happen globally, where we find each other through technological means, use cryptographic, escrow, and so on to make exchanges; but otherwise, have shared moral sensibilities across borders. In time, Balaji believes that will have to sit on a patch of terra ferma. Whether he’s right about that, I can’t say. There are certain things that never needs to happen, but there are certain things that do. My particular view on it is, our ability to seek out people who are fellow travelers and form communities on smaller patches of terra ferma make it more likely that we will be good and more likely that we will have trust in our institutions.
Jim: I agree. Well, by the way, Balaji, if you’re listening, I’ve been pinging you on multiple dimensions trying to get you to come on my show. So answer one of the messages and let’s have you on I’m about two-thirds of the way through the book and I’m ready. I think we’d have a really good conversation, so anybody knows Balaji, tell him Jim Rutt wants him on the show.
Max: Balaji, you should come on Jim’s show. It’s absolutely wonderful.
Jim: Yeah. He’s clearly inundated, so I understand. But I’ve gotten one communication going with some person in his world, but even that person’s gone radio silent on me recently, but that’s all right. I will eventually get to him. He does raise very some interesting issues, and I can see where he and you come from a similar intellectual tree.
Jim: There’s a lot of logical similarities. Let’s talk about this idea a little bit of, we can reduce the amount of coercion if we have high levels of look- them-in-the-eye trust. I 100% agree, which is why Game B is oriented to on- the-ground communities, so whether they’re co-housing projects or villages that we call Proto-Vs, we think that’s usually important that those things can in the main be managed without any technology, without any software. There’s a whole series of practices like holacracy, which I think he mentioned in the book; sociocracy, Forrest Landry has a very clever idea called the Small Group Practice where groups of people can reach decision making without up and down votes, at least not on most things, something more like consensus, but not pure consensus, because even David Graeber will tell you pure consensus is … Well, he would tell you except he’s dead, but before he was dead, he was a big proponent of consensus. But he admits that at the end of the day, you have to have a way to break roadblocks.
So anyway, there are a whole bunch of practical problems on how self-governance can be done, but we think that face-to-face is a huge part of it. Let me give you another example. People don’t realize this, how new the idea of the police is. The first police force in the modern world was in the 1830s in London. The first police force in the United States was about 1880 in New York City. Prior to that, communities did their own policing under the common law, which you referenced, there’s the concept of the hue and the cry that if you are robbed or let’s just say just a theft; let’s say you have a storefront where you’re selling fruit and somebody comes up and grabs three oranges and runs, if you yell, “Stop, thief!” It is the legal and moral obligation of everybody in town to give pursuit and to apprehend the perp, and if they put a few extra punches on them so much the better.
Then he’s hauled to the justice of the peace for something like theft of an orange, probably put two hours the pillory and two hours of cleaning out the shopkeeper’s bathroom or something, but the community self-policed everywhere in the world until 1830, essentially, and that’s actually very interesting. I think that Balaji Land, and maybe less so Max Borders Land, but certainly Balaji Land where everybody has these anonymous, distant, pseudonymous relationships, we thought each other, including in virtual reality, “That ain’t going to happen,” because you don’t have the level of human trust and human willingness to act together and take risks. If you chase a criminal, there’s some chance he’s going to turn around and knife you. But under the common law, that was a moral obligation for all men over the age of 15 or 16, I think it was.
Max: This is not in the D-Central list, and I’ve wanted to keep it short, and so some things you have to leave out. Basically. Everything that’s not in the book, you have to leave out.
Jim: You did a good job, by the way. You moved it right along.
Max: Oh, well I appreciate that. No, but I do enjoy thinking about how you deal with criminal justice. There’s this excellent book, and you may decide to put this in the show notes, called The Enterprise of Law. They show the various different ways that they used to administer justice in the Middle Ages. For all the shit we give the Middle Ages, they had some really interesting stuff come up, particularly in England, and in Britain more broadly.
One of the things that they did that I think we ought to return to is they had a restorative and compensatory system of justice. The way we think of it now with our policing is that you owe a debt to society, which just means to the state, you’re not making victims whole, right, and that’s even a separate kind of law. It shouldn’t be a separate kind of law. Justice should be centered around making victims whole, perhaps with some punitive measures. But as far as I’m concerned, if you steal my car or my TV, your job is to make it such that I have my car and my TV back, or some reasonable facts similarly thereof.
Jim: And some punitive, because otherwise, unless your probability of getting caught is 100%, it’s game theoretically smart to be a criminal, right?
Max: That’s true.
Jim: If you all you have to do is pay. So think about the concept of triple damages, like we have an anti-trust. Steal my car and do $5,000 worth of damage, you owe me $15,000 worth of service.
Max: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. The other thing that I think is a through line through the book that extends beyond criminal justice to other domains is the idea of, people think of this all the time, and it’s almost intuitive for them in other domains, is the idea of breaking up monopolies. Okay. We don’t like the idea of large corporations you call it corporate gigantism, right?
Jim: Yep. Absolutely.
Max: So the idea of breaking up monopolies is a very trust-busting, very anti corporate mentality. I just say, “Hey, apply that rationale to states to a very large degree and the apparatus of state power, such as policing.” If we can have a polycentric set of police forces, then we are much more likely to have competition and much more likely to have alignment around the incentives, not of the bureaucratic class, but of customers. So if let’s say I don’t know what it is, by the way, nationwide in the United States, but it’s not high, 20% of cases are closed and the criminal is found and tried, what if that could be extended to 50% under a different, more competitive regime where essentially, the trust is busted. If we start to think of it in the same kind of terms, because after all, states are just corporations that use sticks instead of carrots, then we can, I think, do a lot of work indeed towards getting better outcomes.
Jim: You know what? Let’s move on. There’s lots of cool things that can be done with policing. I think we’re in agreement that outsourcing police services is perfectly reasonable. The idea of having multiple police having simultaneous jurisdiction over the same piece of dirt, I would argue, is problematic, dangerous, and probably a step too far, but we may have to [inaudible 01:12:23]
Max: Well, let me just reiterate one quick point, and that is this: a lot of people have this idea about monopolies, corporate monopolies and that they tend to provide lower quality at higher prices because they enjoy monopoly. This is no truer than with governments. Okay. We’re seeing that play out now, even with the subsidiary that we have. For example, there are a lot of really shitty cities like LA, like San Francisco, like New York, like Chicago and people are leaving them in droves. This is jurisdictional arbitrage.
This is a way of voting with your feet when you can’t exercise voice, when it’s no longer possible to use your voice to make any kind of change, or at least it’s exceedingly difficult to make any kind of meaningful change, it takes a long time. So people vote with their feet so they can have an immediate payoff. Some of this, the more pragmatic view of this is like, “Okay, let’s try that. Let’s try smaller jurisdictions. Let’s try subsidiary rules, and let’s try competitive bidding for different kinds of firms that provide these services in a jurisdiction if it’s not turning out for the population.” So all of these attempts experiments can be made, especially if they’re more localized.
Jim: All right. Let’s move on to another closely-related topic, which is again, fairly cordy with your work, and that’s the distinction between compulsion and persuasion.
Max: Yeah. Yeah. I open this chapter with this idea of the fist-wrapping right, and I think a lot of people will have seen this in martial arts. It is an open palm and a closed fist. The open palm represents wisdom arts and so on, and the closed fist represents the power of violence, basically. Of course, in Eastern martial arts traditions, you don’t just use that power willy-nilly, you want to constrain it with wisdom. That wisdom and restraint is part of those traditions and for good reason. So I’m basically making the distinction between persuasion and compulsions as the two primary means of social change, or two means of getting another person to do what you want to do. So we tend to extrapolate the institutions of politics in ways that I think don’t take enough care to realize that the foundational substrate of politics is violence, and we forget that at our peril.
In justifying such violence, we have to consider, a lot of times people like to argue from a failure of imagination, and I’m not accusing you of that. You said to me, “Max, well, what about this, could it work? Might it work? Might it not?” My answer is, “It might work, it might not, but it’s more important that the persuasive means be exhausted before we resort to the compulsory, and power as such doesn’t like that argument.” So we have to treat it as we would, in my view, like malaria or any other force of nature or hurricanes or any other destructive force of nature we don’t like, hopefully people will come around in evolved consciousness to resist compulsion as a mechanism of social change.
Jim: Yeah, I would agree. It would be lovely. I remain skeptical, and I do believe that the land-related physical commons is going to be an exception to that, but maybe I’m wrong, and that would be great. Let’s move on to the next step where we start to run through a series of interesting maxims, if you want to call it, Max’s maxims. They’re kind of cool, I wouldn’t say agree with all of them. First one is the three governors, the head, the heart, and the gut. Talk about that a little bit.
Max: Sure. Some of your listeners may be familiar with the ideas, I guess, of Gurdjieff and the Enneagram, for example, or the Eastern traditions of the different kind of paths to enlightenment, but they all share similarities with, I guess you could say, three ways we govern ourselves as human beings; the head being the cognitive, the heart being the emotional and the gut being the intuitive. In that sense, the gut folks, if that is your primary, you’re a person of action, you like to take action. You like to lead. If you’re a heart person, you’re more centered on relationships, and indeed those folks tend to be able to be good matchmakers for other people. They see the social dynamics and how people can compliment each other.
Of course, you have your head people, and I happen to be one of those where I’m guided by ideas and wanting to gain and share knowledge. But I also realize that life is not just about cognition, nor is it just about emotion, and certainly it’s not just about leadership intuitions. So I am trying to bring across this idea of alignment of head, heart, and gut. In aligning head, heart and gut, we are, I think have the potential to be more reflective and more peaceful beings because we can train ourselves to basically, not to fast forward too much, to occupy the space. The space is that area where we reflect before acting and that has applications in morality, but also in the way we conduct our daily lives from moment to moment.
Jim: My take on it was useful, but probably way over simplistic. Then I expect most people, and you alluded to it, that are actually combinations or a mix, right? I thought about myself a little bit, not using this formula. I said, “I think I’m 40% head, 40% gut and 20% heart.” This seems about right, and other people are different mixes, which doesn’t really change your premise much that people should spend some effort to be aware of what their mix I. then you move on to the fact that when we think about teams, we should be careful building teams that are complimentary so that if you have some head- gut people that better, make sure you have some heart people too.
If you have some pure head people, you definitely need to have some gut and some heart people, or some gut heart people and thinking about that, I think is actually useful. But I would also say that the heart part, the emotional part is more indispensable perhaps than you might think. Though, you mentioned him, António Damásio, in his work, in his clinical psychology work, psychiatry work, actually neuroscience, he’s a neuroscience guy, he found that people who don’t have emotion can’t decide what to have for breakfast. We all use emotion, as it turns out, all the time, even those who think of themselves as the heaviest guys in town, in reality, they’re 80% slaves to their emotions, so that I think that’s worth knowing as well.
Max: Right. We don’t want to be slaves to any one of the governors, and that is rather the point. We can’t deny that our desires really are what motivates us at some fundamental level, and that belongs in the emotive dimension. Damásio’s patient couldn’t make any decisions because he didn’t have any desires. It was like his cognition, his ability to reason was cut off from any desires, and that made him completely unable to make a decision about the simplest things. Most of our decisions are about something we desire.
Jim: That’s actually a very good point. So let’s go on to your next set of maxims, kind of cleverly chapter four, there’s four forces. You lay out the masculine and the feminine. I like your descriptions, even though they’re maybe a little old school; masculinity, fuck, fight, force; femininity, flirt, fawn, facilitate. Then you add a second dimension of Eros and Thanatos. Why don’t you run through that fourplex, basically, a two-by-two, and what does it mean?
Max: Yeah. We have to cross them into a matrix to get the real energies out. So if you buy the relatively old school, and this is coming from a boomer, so I guess I’d better look out for the contemporary feminists to come after me. But the idea here is, look, we have these endocrinological forces operating within us, and indeed everybody has both forces operating in them to some degree. It just so happens that through our hormones that men have, generally speaking, more of these fuck, force, fight kind of urges, and women have more flirt, fawn, facilitate kind of urges. There are biological reasons for that, and we can’t deny that biological substrate. However, that’s really wholly irrelevant to the idea of bringing these into balance. The two other forces as it happens are Eros and Thanatos, which is actually presented as a duality in Freud.
The idea behind Eros is this is the generative instinct. This is the idea that we want to create something or bring something into being; whereas, Thanatos is the idea that we want a dissolution or an end to something, to bring something to a close. When you cross these various dimensions, you get the four forces: Eros masculine, Eros feminine, Thanatos masculine and Thanatos feminine. These four forces really, I believe, are out of balance in society. I think we have put a lot, and this includes up to, and especially the radical social justice folks that they’re operating according to a masculine paradigm, which is to say that they want to force things. The force, fight instinct has become too pronounced. Part of that is because of our institutional substrate, which is the two-party system and so on.
The idea that we have to dominate others in order to realize our conception of the good and oppose it on everybody else, but there’s also this idea that you can be, for example, Eros masculine, which is, I’m going to build something. I’m going to generate something. I’m going to build it. I’m going to build it big. I’m going to build it tall, and we’re going to have this successful business, or I’m going to do this thing, and I’m going to will it into being. That’s a very masculine sensibility for Eros, generative instinct. Likewise, with Thanatos masculine, which is for the masculine instinct, it’s just like, burn it down, shut it down. I’m going to kill them, burn the village, whatever, stop it now, end it now, that kind of sensibility. Those masculine forces are really what’s governing people’s thoughts, particularly in the face of fear right now. COVID was a very good example of this in that it made people fearful.
Whenever we have fearful people, we have this submission instinct that tends to come over us, and that allows people who are channeling more of this masculine paradigm, whether it’s build it now, will it into being, or end it now in a very forceful fashion, that tends to be the way we imagine our response ought to be in the face of certain kinds of circumstances. But in a more complex civilization, as we become more complex, I want to really defer to the flow paradigm, which is much more feminine. In a feminine paradigm, it’s about flow or facilitation, where the Eros would be generative, but it would be much more natural or emergent systems.
So your experience in complexity science really shows the feminine, organic emergent systems as being less forceful. They come into being through relationships of flow rather than force, and likewise for the need to end things. The Thanatos feminine is really about letting things go, letting things die with dignity and transitioning out of a state of affairs in a fashion that isn’t mercy killing it immediately, but letting it pass away and letting a new paradigm emerge. So it’s really, this is about pointing out that another way that we can orthogonal to the three governors is how we can bring ourselves into balance with those energies, because they’re all important.
We can imagine a person who’s not as forceful, who may be ought to be in certain circumstances, and more of a leader more an initiative taker. But we can also imagine someone who’s too type A and who wants to run rough shod over the other party right now. We’re seeing, for example, and look, I’m not a Trump fan, I’m not, but just today we see the Department of Justice led by Merrick Garland, who was denied his spot on bench engaging in what by outward appearances seems to be, “Let’s find a reason to nail Donald Trump and make sure he can never be elected again.” It’s not just vengeful, it also is liable to set up a tit-for-tat of partisan domination, so that we’re going to have to have these violent mood swings between parties every time a party takes power. This is not healthy for a society, and so I want to show that a feminine way is possible and that that feminine way is really more about allowing for-
Max: … is really more about allowing for emergent systems and flow systems to come about. And those are possible through good protocol design, not through edict or command or statute.
Jim: Yep. That’s actually a good point. And it’s timely that women have started to begin moving towards real equality around 1975 or thereabouts, and are a fair bit of the way there, still work to be done. But we have plenty of women CEOs and senators and crypto people and all kinds of stuff, not enough, but we have a lot more than we did when I entered the workforce in 1975 when it was just starting. So I think that’s actually a place where our social trends and our needs for the coming modern world are actually in pretty good alignment.
Max: Indeed. Absolutely. It’s probably going to be hard to get some men to imagine that freedom is feminine, but I think it is. And I think that framing is really important in certain contexts, particularly in the context of turning inward. The Decentralist is really a book about reckoning with our inner life, not so much the systems that I try to describe and articulate in some of the other books. It’s really about disposing ourselves in such a way that we become more radiant in terms of peace and efficacy. And that has to be described in some way metaphorically, and this is rather an effort to do that.
Jim: Yeah. And another key point which you made is that both men and women have both the masculine and the feminine in them. And men in particular, I think are the bigger offenders here, need to learn to embrace their feminine. Can you believe Jim Rutt just said that? Men need to be willing to let loose the feminine side of themselves. It really is important. And I think you make a very good point here. Let’s take a look where we want to go next. We are going to be short here on time. So I’m going to skip over the five disruptions, which is actually interesting, but I’m going to get to what I thought was the single most interesting chapter in the book, which are your six spheres. That was my favorite chapter. Didn’t mean it was the chapter I agreed with the most, by the way. And in some sense, your spheres are kind of like virtues or norms, I would say.
Max: Yeah, that’s really, really a good insight, Jim. It’s really for me an attempt to identify what you might call, I think virtues is the best way of putting it. And this is another way I want to describe moving away from what might be the bloodless abstractions of enlightenment liberalism to active practices. That’s really the core lesson of this chapter, but I do enumerate six moral spheres.
Jim: Let’s go through them. Let’s spend the rest of our time. Let’s spend the rest of our 15 minutes on these six.
Max: Fantastic. Okay. So the first moral sphere is nonviolence, is a commitment to nonviolence. And by the way, I didn’t make this up. This is thousands of years of active practice in the, forgive my pronunciation, especially people who are well versed in Sanskrit, but the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali share this as their first and primary virtue. And that is non-violence in thought, word, and deed. So in every moment we ask ourselves, ought I to be thinking this thought about this person? Is it a violent thought? Is it a thought that would make this person worse off if the act were to come into the world, or if the utterance were to come out of my mouth. This sitting in the space. So first the reason, you said as a rather simplistic chapter, but getting our head, heart and gut in alignment so that we can sit in the space of reflection before we act or talk, especially on social media, is an important exercise. And it’s really important for the exercise of the six spheres.
So when we think about nonviolence as a practice, we’re really always asking ourselves about the necessity of the potential of doing another person harm or making them worse off in some way. So that’s the first one. And it is as important to me and to The Decentralist as it is to [dhantic 01:31:48] traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
Jim: Does it really work, in a game theoretic world though? Remember even Gandhi himself said his system of nonviolence would not have worked with the Nazis.
Max: Yeah, no, look, nonviolence is not pacifism. So let me just clarify that right now. Nonviolence is a disposition to radiating peace in your goings and doings, but that did not mean you shouldn’t defend yourself. In fact, some of the Buddhist monks, and remember we articulated this metaphor of the fist wrapping rite that the martial artists use. It’s always there. We should all be prepared to defend ourselves and defend ourselves vigorously against unjustifiable power or against crime.
Jim: This I like.
Max: Yeah. And so that’s why you and I probably share some Second Amendment sensibilities, and I think we’ve had conversations about this in the past. But that’s not to say that we should think about actively using violence against innocent people in any way with the Second Amendment as a justification.
Jim: Yeah, I agree. And in fact, you use words I used when I was growing up. 0I grew up in a rough and tumble place where there were lots of fights, but I could proudly say I never started a fight in my life. And I just thought it was wrong. On the other hand, I ended quite a few.
Max: Yeah, I was such a fighter as a kid and I’m too small to have been. It’s amazing that I’m still alive, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize just how small I am. And I started fighting with my wits a little better then with my body.
Jim: But yeah. So as long as we understand that from a game theory perspective, we must be prepared to defend ourselves. Then non-initiation of violence is a good way to make for a better world. And actually lets us back away from a number of the very dangerous multipolar traps. Think about how much of the world’s resources are wasted in military preparedness, right, which does no good for anybody.
Max: Oh my God, it’s terrible. Yeah.
Jim: The met loss and of course is always the chance it spins out of control and destroys the world.
Max: That’s absolutely right. The military industrial complex, particularly that is the locus of which is in the United States, is really to my mind, it’s game theoretically and morally sub optimum. But we could go on just that for an entire episode. I agree with you, it’s time to scale that back and it’s time to make any sort of, not only military polycentric, we skipped over chapter five, polycentric military order, but also to think a little bit more strategically about what masters our military is serving, which seems to be a lot of government contractors, because the way we allocate resources to national defense is just stupid.
Jim: Yeah. It’s a lot of it’s just pay off to the congressional districts of the guys that sit on the Budget Committees. So let’s move on to the second one of your six spheres. Really important one to me, integrity.
Max: Yeah. This is one of my favorites, too. And it’s so easy in this day and age, the age of cell phones where we can communicate and make plans in real time and then adjust things on a dime, to forget that integrity is about honoring our commitments and being true to ourselves and being true to others. Integrity can describe a disposition, a practice. I really want to show up in the world for people in a way that allows them to make plans and such that they can count on me as an individual. But that disposition extrapolated to scale also gives us a certain level of, what’s the word? Tensegrity, with respect to our society, that we can count on each other and trust each other to show up to come, to come through on things.
And I’m seeing a little bit of, in fact, I’m seeing a lot of dissolution of that. And I think some of it can be laid at the feet of intergenerational considerations, a generation, frankly, of people who raise their kids to be sheltered and not emphasize integrity, but also because of technological features of our society that makes for so many distractions and make it so easy to cancel plans. That’s a footnote to the conversation, but the core of this virtue is that in order to have high trust societies, in order to be able to count on each other, in order to be able to be prosperous and free, we have to be able to honor our commitments, whether those are written down in contract or whether those are done via handshakes, such that people can count on us and we can count on each other. The idea of mutual aid, which we’ll get to in just a minute, also depends on that, but let me not linger.
Jim: Right. Let’s move on to compassion.
Max: Yeah. So this may piss off a lot of your listeners, but I’m going to put it like this. The more we outsource our compassion to distant capitals, the less we tend to want to practice it. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, I pay my taxes, that is usually an excuse for why people aren’t supporting others and being compassionate and acting out of compassion in their communities. And this is another reason I like an idea of subsidiary. Welfare as such should at least be a county level phenomenon, maybe state level, but certainly county level. But more importantly, a personal level. To the extent that you can outsource your compassion to others is the extent that people will outsource their compassion. The idea of a welfare state, people have this other phrase that Scandinavian countries are compassionate societies. I’m not sure about that, because it’s not that they practice compassion. It’s just that they’re willing to tolerate high taxation to go to go to the welfare state.
And what I’m saying is if you want to cultivate a virtue, you need to remove the incentives for people to have an excuse, not to practice compassion. And the welfare state to a very great degree does that, which exacerbates the sort of greedy capitalism that is left over after the welfare state takes care of what it takes care of purportedly. So I want not to make this into a political critique, but rather let’s just say, whatever the state does, whatever large institutions do, we must return to active practice of compassion, because there’s a lot of pain in the world.
And in so doing, we can give rise to new institutions, new structures like that of mutual aid, which were so abundant at the turn of the century and even in the 18th century. Mutual aid societies, the Masons, the Odd Fellows, but even ones that really, really did provide social insurance and welfare at the local level, where you could look at your fellow members in the eye. This idea of localism as it being associated with the affective dimension of compassion is so important. And it’s being lost as people go off to worship the church of state.
Jim: Yep. We didn’t have homeless people in our cities in 1850. As you say, it’s almost a fractal set of structures, whether it was the church, whether it was the municipality, whether it was extended families, whether it was the ethnic groups, the Sons of [Aiera 01:39:35] took care of the Irish in New York City, for instance. And instead we have these cold, mechanical welfare states that frankly, aren’t doing a very good job.
Max: Yeah, they disperse resources by algorithm in a way that’s faceless and lobotomizes the recipients of that largess, to such a degree that it creates dependency. It creates corruption. And I don’t think it does a whole lot of social good for those people. Now I know that a lot of your listeners going to be like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” But I’m not saying that we should get rid get rid of welfare. I’m saying we should reconstitute it in ways that allow each of us to be plugged in more directly to it.
Jim: Yeah. And I think actually a lot of my listeners will agree that the current top down bureaucratic method is so inhumane and so different from the way people’s wellbeing should actually be managed. I think you might be surprised that a goodly number of my listeners are going to agree with you. Let’s move on the next one. We talked about this a lot, but I want to talk about about pluralism is, it seems hard, really hard. Intellectually it makes sense, but do we really want to tolerate the village next door operating as if it were reenacting A Handmaid’s Tale. They respect the fact that we’re running a hippie sex cult. How do we get to that point where people does not seem to be what humans have generally done over time? And we know the number of slaughters that have happened over even obscure details of religious doctrine, for instance. What is the actual nature of the Trinity? How many people were killed over that one over the years?
Max: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting. I think Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, where he really describes this religious toleration in detail. I think that was the document. I’m not sure, but anyway, or it was called On Religious Toleration, I think, if it was part of his whole series on Virginia. In any case, it’s no accident that we have a First Amendment that is about religious freedom. And the United States, for better or worse, has been a beacon for religious freedom for a long time. And that doesn’t mean mean that certain sects and subsects haven’t had their excesses. The WASPS being antisemitic or after 9/11, people being mistrustful of any Muslim. However, our tradition of religious pluralism in the United States, I think is an object lesson compared to the wars of Europe that happened over the stupidest interpretations of scripture.
So earlier you said something about Game B that struck me as a parallel set of concepts that I’ve had. One I got from the great philosopher, Robert [Nausic 01:42:28] and it’s called Organic Unity. The idea of organic unity is that diversity and unity must be brought into balance. So the unifying force is if you go too much into diversity, you can have warring tribes for example. If you have too much unity, you can have a totalitarian system that is imposed on all of the people, and it’s only unified because people fear for the worst. So the idea of organic unity is that there’s a sweet spot between unity and diversity. And pluralism is really about constructing an architecture where people can peacefully live by their own conceptions of the good to the greatest extent possible and still be unified in the same cosmopolitan framework of peace and pluralism.
And that is going to be hard for people to get their heads around. But it requires the disposition of toleration, is to say, does that person’s beliefs, such as they are, actually harm me or make me worse off in any way, or make others worse off in any way? And one might say, if that person’s a Nazi, that potentially if their awful ideology were to burn out a control, we might want to not tolerate that level of intolerance.
But otherwise really trying to understand people from different perspectives, whether it’s their religious traditions. So it goes beyond toleration. The practice goes beyond just saying, “You do your thing and I’ll do my, neighbor. And I don’t want to see, I don’t want to know what you’re up to.” It’s really about trying to have a synthetic understanding, not so much a Hegelian synthesis, although partially so. It’s really trying to hold into juxtaposition your views with others to see if there’s a way to bring them into a greater unified conception that allows for you to tolerate their conceptions of the good and allow it to coexist with yours. And that is a practice.
Jim: Yeah, not easy, not easy.
Max: Not easy.
Jim: Maybe the hardest thing that all of these radical social change movements that are based on pluralism may have to confront, are humans really capable of dealing with radical pluralism with their neighbors? I hope they are, but I don’t think we’ve proven it yet.
Max: Well, they’re certainly deal breakers, and I have hard time with those deal breakers. What gets to be a deal breaker? And everybody has different deal breakers, but there are communities that perform ritual female circumcision, for example. And that’s a tough one because a 13-year-old girl who’s surrounded by a community of otherwise loving and peaceful people, are wanting to tell her to undergo this in ritualistic fashion as a rite of passage. And for a lot of people that is a bridge too far/ I am not suggesting that there is a hard and fast set of rules for the practice of pluralism and toleration, but rather that we have to make the fucking effort, because nobody’s making the effort right now. Or few are.
Jim: Yeah. And to the point of coherence being added to it. Things like, and again, for the Game B version, which is human wellbeing and capacity, you could say, let’s say there was a Taliban village that was not going to let the girls go to school past fifth grade. We’d say, “Wait a minute. That violates our coherent principle of improving human capacity. So you can’t do that. You can do a lot of other crazy shit. You can make your women wear black bags if you want, but you can’t keep the girls from going to school,” as an example of where one might draw a line. And it’s going to be hard, because you’re right. There are some bottom lines which are going to be exceedingly difficult to tolerate. We probably shouldn’t tolerate them, but how you draw the lines going to be very hard.
Max: I think one good rule of thumb, Jim, on this is to consider the other spheres. I have these illustrations in the book, which you may not have seen in your edition, but they happen to be linked to NFTs, but they’re illustrations that symbolize each of the chapters. And in chapter six, I have this network looking idea among the six spheres that creates a hexagram configuration. And that really is about that all of these are meant to be coherent. And so the rule of thumb is, if any of, in your practice of toleration, those you seek to tolerate are flagrantly violating any of the other virtues or spheres, then that might be a deal breaker.
Jim: That’s interesting. Let’s go on to the next one. Stewardship. One of my favorite guests, he’s been on the show four or five times, is Tyson Yunkapora. And he has a really cool idea, which he came up with that comes from the indigenous Australian people who he belongs to. And that is the idea that humans, because we’re the first to have reached what we call general intelligence, the indigenous people have a different term for it, should be thought as the custodial species for the planet earth. This is the only home we have. Now we fuck it up, we’re done.
Max: Yeah. Yep. And I actually agree with that. A lot of people, I think, mistake some of my issues with political means to solve social problems to do with the environment as being anti environmental. But I think nothing could be further from truth. And I think our stewardship actually begins with ourselves in turning inward to understand this. If we apply not just the rule, but the practice of all of our property and offices as being ephemeral to us, because they are. It’s not just about not being greedy, although that can be true as well. But it’s also about this idea that anything that’s in your possession, and it can be something completely modest, your car, a book, whatever you have is thinking of it as being someday transferred to someone else to take care of that office or to take care of that property, such that you left it better than you found it, or at least as good as you found it, is a practice that I think… I fall short of it all the time, but writing this book has made me want to practice these things more.
So just thinking of your home as being someday owned by a young family of the future. You want to leave it in good condition. Thinking of the planet, of the environment, as being that you’re participating in the stewardship of it is really important. Do you really need to throw that trash out of the window? Do you really need to illegally dump something in the water? That the moral disposition has to accompany the external enforcement mechanisms, so that we really value people and plan it through that continuous practice of stewardship. That’s really the lesson there.
Jim: Yep. That makes a lot of sense. And in fact, the more we have made moral progress in that dimension, the less structures we need for enforcement.
Max: That’s right. The best defense against violation is more people behaving morally.
Jim: What a good idea. All right. The last one, and we’re going to wrap it up here. We’ll have a little exit discussion, but the last main topic will be sphere number six, and this’ll probably be controversial with some people, but not with me, is rationality.
Max: Yeah. It’s funny. I’ll go ahead and talk about why this might be controversial to people. I find that, especially people who are involved in the integral space, and I’m one of them. I love integral thinking, Spiral Dynamics, [aquil 01:50:43], the Wilburian universe. I’m really interested in this stuff, but I find that sometimes you get people who are interested in integral who want to poo poo rationality as being some sort of lower order thinking. And I don’t agree with that. I think it’s obviously something that we need to transcend and include, but it must stay front and center as a moral commitment in all of our dealings, particularly our communicative dealings. We need rationality all the way up our levels of development, because rationality is really the foundation for interpersonal communication and indeed of truth seeking.
And that doesn’t mean that truth seeking is easy. It doesn’t mean that the universe doesn’t present us with lots of problems and puzzles with respect to how we regard and understand the world. It is rather to argue that we must be circumspect and indeed use the tools of rationality and logic in our investigations of the world, particularly those of a more communitarian sort, that is collective intelligence. A lot of the Game B community is interested in the idea of collective intelligence, particularly those things that we need to know together to make decisions in some sort of aggregate. And having access to good information and eliminating biases, biases that may indeed take us on a wrong path, requires persistent deference to rational thinking and indeed of good empirics, but also good theory and the interrelationship between those.
Now we can argue endlessly about what that actually looks like in terms of how we operationalize it and those less wrong folks do that all the time. But that’s not to say that we can wholly dispatch with rationality, because when we do, we start to get some of the absurd bullshit that’s coming out of the… Look, I like postmodernism as well, but I think postmodernism invites too much contradiction and irony for us to orient ourselves in the world, which we must do.
Jim: Yeah. I absolutely agree. And we also have to keep in mind how precious the enlightenment turn was. And I know that’s unpopular with some people in some of our allied spaces here. The Enlightenment is now said to be a bad word by some people. Wrong people. Before the Enlightenment, we really did not know how to rationally think and how to actually evaluate evidence and how to apply it. It’s no coincidence that the rapid takeoff of the capacity of the human race began almost exactly at the time of the Enlightenment. Because without rational thinking, you’re inevitably submerged in a sea of the augaries and chicken entrail readings of the Roman Republic and the various gross superstitions of medieval Christianity. And of course, even in our current world, some of the absurd beliefs people have about the consent of the governed. So we must not lose track of the Enlightenment basis of breaking away from 200,000 years of basically stupidity and ignorance and hyperbolic discounting, and many other well-known cognitive biases and not by any means are we free of them, but we need to continue to work from that base.
Jim: All righty. Well, Max, this has been wonderful. We had a few little technical problems here. We’ll stitch it back together. I’ll give the readers who want to read the book a couple little headliners. We have a chapter seven on seven rituals. Guess what we get to have high priest Max Borders. He even gives us a prayer, God dammit, amazing. And then he gets into a fairly clever eight levels of development with cool names like the Nautilus and the Lotus, et cetera. Now I did put in my notes that I would say level eight is baloney, but unfortunately we won’t get to have that discussion.
Max: Right on. The meta modern folks agree with you on that.
Jim: Yeah. As I say, when I hear the word metaphysics, I reach for my pistol. And then a good section on markets and the nine principles of markets. And a very curious, interesting, and thought provoking afterward on Manichaeism. And so we must become more comfortable talking about good and evil again, kind of cool. Not afraid of that. So anyway, I want to thank you, Max, for a very interesting conversation and I will certainly encourage the people to read The Decentralist, Max’s new book. Only 200 pages, believe it or not. All the stuff we covered and the stuff we didn’t, he covers in a painless 200 pages. So get his book and get the details.
Max: Thank you, Jim. I had a blast.