The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Lene Rachel Andersen. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Lene Rachel Andersen, and she’s back for part two. In part one, we dug into her book, Libertism: Grasping the 21st Century. Lene’s an independent futurist, author, philosopher, and publisher, and she’s a member of The Club of Rome. She’s appeared on the Jim Rutt Show at least three times previously, including an EP 89 on Meta Modernity, and in Current 043 where we talked about the Global Bildung Festival. Welcome back, Lene.
Lene: Thank you very much.
Jim: Yeah. We’re not going to do any recap of the first episode, because we got a lot of ground still to cover. This is a book chock full of stuff, so we’re just going to hop in and-
Lene: It’s not even a very thick book, so…
Jim: And it’s very readable by the way, so don’t be scared off by the fact there’s a lot of stuff in it, but those who listen to me regularly, although I like to get down into the nitty gritty, and there’s a lot of nitty gritty, so we’re just going to hop in where we left off, I guess for a little bit of framing.
We were talking about Lene’s 18 patterns, which are important in… Unfortunately, I’ve seem to have missed my page before that one, but I don’t even remember what the 18 patterns were patterns of, but maybe you could just give a couple seconds on that and then we’ll jump back into pattern number 12.
Lene: So the basic idea here is that I’ve taken Greg Henriques’ UTOK system or a tree of knowledge, and say that there are four different kinds of patterns or systems that we’re part of.
There’s physical matter, and we cannot change that. I mean, we can use it, but we cannot fundamentally change atoms, molecules, thermodynamics, for instance.
Then there’s the second system or kinds of pattern, which is biology, and we can manipulate that, we can use it to our advantage, but fundamentally it’s 1.5 billion years of evolution, and 550 million years since the Cambrian explosion.
And there is part of biology that is just there like the metabolism of oxygen and CO2, and how we interact with the plants. And if we kill the oxygen and let out too much CO2, I know we don’t kill oxygen, but I mean if we mess up the balance, we’re literally going to die.
And then there is mind, which is part of the animal kingdom, and that is part of what allows us to grasp this world. But there is also a culture with which we grasp this world, and we can manipulate the mind as well, but fundamentally, we can’t change the brain or the way that we psychologically, emotionally interact with the world. We can manipulate it with the medication, for instance, psycho-pharmaceuticals, hormones. But other than that, we have a special kind of mind as human beings, that is luckily different from bees and dogs and other animals.
But then we get into culture and here we could, in principle, change everything. We’re still parts of systems that regulate our lives and thank God for that, because otherwise we would, spend all our time perhaps protecting ourselves or go looking for food all the time. So we create systems that provide a lot of stuff that’s really useful for us, but we’ve also created some systems that are not useful for us any more. And we need to figure out, so what are the systems that we can change? What are the systems that we cannot change? What are the systems that we can manipulate, and what would be useful ways of manipulating them? And then what we can manipulate and we can change, what would be a good idea and what might not be such a good idea?
And so once we have that awareness, knowledge, consciousness, whatever you want to call it, we can start creating or making much better decisions. So that’s the basic idea of those systems or patterns.
Jim: And there’s like 18 sub-patterns. We went through some subset of the first 11 on the first episode, and now number 12, mind, genes, and memes. This is kind of interesting. This is when you add memes, you’re starting to approach the borderland between animal and human.
Lene: So Richard Dawkins wrote an amazing book in 1974 called The Selfish Gene, and he defined genes, so the little molecules that are in all of our cells, and the cells of all life. And I’m actually sitting here with a desk with a piece of wood on it. And if we go far enough back, you and I are related to that piece of wood on that desk.
He called that, the DNA, a replicator. And so he coined the term, or I don’t know if he coined it, but used it, the term “replicator” about the genes, the building block, the thing that builds, he calls it vehicles around it in order to keep replicating and producing more genes. And he is rather radical in his view of how the genes are really just creating these vehicles in order for the gene to exist.
So you and I, as complex as we are, are really just here because genes made us, and for the genes to make more genes. That’s an explanation and I think it’s a really interesting mental exercise.
But then he came up with another contribution, which was that maybe there are other replicators, and maybe culture is also just a question about a replicator that keeps making more copies of itself.
And then he took the French word même, which means, “the same,” and created the meme. And it’s rather clever that it rhymes with gene or almost rhymes with gene. And then he goes into, briefly, sort of presenting this idea and then other people pick up on it. And the idea of the meme is that it’s anything that you can copy from person to person.
So if we go way back in history, the first thing that could have been a meme was when some monkey or chimp took a stick, put it into a hole with some ants in it and got the ants out and could eat them and some other, and here’s the crucial thing, somebody else watched it and thought, “Ooh, I can copy that,” or just did it without thinking it.
And so there was a copying of a meme. We could also imagine taking a little rock and cracking a nut or something to get what’s inside it. And the copying would be the copying of the meme.
There is animal behavior that is not copying of memes, like when some birds build very elaborate nests, they don’t see other birds doing that and then copying them. They just have it genetically as a reflex then, that when the nature is in a certain way, they start building this kind of nest. So it has to be something that you copy from one person or monkey to the next.
And I have, in other books, gone deeper into this, but I just present it very briefly here in this book, that the copying mechanism for genes has to stay sort within the family.
It’s a vertical, you and I cannot, I mean, we could exchange genes, but there would have to be a child coming out of it. I can’t send them over to you, but my memes, I can present an idea to you, or pick my nose in a certain way, and you can look at it and say, “Oh, I’m going to pick my nose in that way for the rest of my life.” And then you’ve copied a meme. Or it can be something I said.
And so memes can spread horizontally, and they can spread a lot faster than the genes. And therefore cultural evolution is much faster than the biological evolution, because whenever we have something that is copied, and that is what Darwin realized, and that’s what Richard Dawkins kept exploring with the selfish gene, once there is copying, there will be variation. And once there is variation, there is something that survives better than other.
And so you have a selection of sort. And so we have reproduction, variation, and selection, which is the basic mechanism of evolution. And that can be extremely fast in culture. It takes a lot of time in biology, particularly with species that have a very long reproduction phase, or where it takes a lot of years between the generations.
But in culture, we can just send out our memes, and compilations of memes, which Dawkins called memeplexes, into the world and parts of them or entire memeplexes can then be mutated and sent, passed on into the world with variations in them. And he also says that maybe memeplexes or memes get copied better if they team up with other memes, so that they’re copied together in the same narrative. And I think he’s the one who uses the story about the Virgin Mary and the Christian memes, not at least because he’s sort of an anti-religious philosopher scientist.
And so he uses the Christianity as an example of an unproductive memeplex that gets copied anyway, because the memes themselves are appealing to us, particularly as they’re brought together in a memeplex.
The story of a virgin on its own would not get copied, but with the whole package and rituals and church music and everything, the story gets copied. So memes tend to build vehicles of their own, which are the memeplexes, the conglomerates of memes.
But it could also be books and libraries and institutions that reproduce memes. So the challenge that we’re facing is that we are biological creatures who have learned to copy and reproduce memes, but we may not be smart enough to always know what kind of memes we’re producing and what kind of memes are good to us. And so right now, with social media and cell phones and memes just spreading around the globe, we may just keep producing.
And this is my, because in ’74 when Dawkins wrote this, there wasn’t no social media and cell phones, but he gets into this about maybe we are not up to figuring out what are the best memes to reproduce.
And in our day and age now, it’s even worse, because we’re constantly being bombarded with memes, and we’re constantly tempted to share memes and spread memes. And we even have companies that have dedicated themselves to creating technologies, and they’re collaborating with psychologists and other people who know how our minds work, in order for us to keep spreading memes that are not necessarily good for us. Or not necessarily good for the kids who turn up in a pedophile’s pictures of their sexual temptations. So our brains are kind of behind with regards to our culture and the memes that we can spread.
And I then also philosophize about, “So what are the memes that we choose to copy?” And it’s most likely the memes that confirm what we already think, the things that we already find pleasurable, that we align with, that confirm other memes that we’ve copied. And we’ve made this memeplex in our brain that when things fit in, we accept them. And when memes do not fit in, we reject them and don’t copy them.
We perhaps tend to copy the memes that give us the biggest emotional kick. And so we become, maybe without being aware of it, meme-copying machines. And Susan Blackmore actually wrote a book called The Meme Machine. So that may be what we are, if we’re not aware of what we’re choosing and not choosing to copy, and to accept as truth and pleasurable memetic encounters. So we’re in this loop of biology, mind and memes.
Jim: Very good. And I’d also point out that I believe one of the other sources of the idea of meme, I don’t know if Dawkins actually knew this or not, but he probably did, Rene Girard’s idea of mimetics with an M: M-I-M-E-T-I-C-S, which is about copying per se, whether it’s verbal or otherwise. And for instance, deer, one of the animals I study, the young deer, the fawn, copies their mother with respect to what they eat. That’s not actually innate, as it turns out. Without a mother, and sometimes there are deer whose mothers die. We have two on our farm right now, and they’ll try anything. But the ones with a mother eat what their mother eats. And so along a matriarchal hierarchy, there’s mimetics.
And to the idea of the responsibility of replication. Yeah, big deal today. This takeoff of mimetic propagation kind of started an upward inflection back in 1450, with the invention of the printing press.
And then we got the telegraph, and then we got newspapers, and then we got radio, we got TV, and now we have social media and email. And don’t forget email. Email’s a big meme-copier. People forget that. Have my mother, dear mother, when she was around. The right-wing cracked pottery she’d send around, that she got from all of her friends, that would have 32 sub-copies in it.
So all these electronic media have massively upregulated the ability to send around memeplexes. And I think we have not internalized that there is a significant moral obligation to replicate a memeplex. When you say “Like,” you are actually making a moral judgment at some level, and when you “Share,” you’re making a stronger moral judgment. And when you email it to somebody with a personal note, you’re making an even stronger moral judgment that this has, it deserves to be sent around in the world. And I suspect that there are an awful lot of people who do this…
Lene: Or if you make a TikTok video…
Jim: Don’t do that.
Lene: Which is the really big thing. And they spread even faster, because the algorithm is made such that it learns your preferences. And so you get more of what you already like, more of that stuff that feels yummy to you. Plus it’s these little very short sound and video bites, so that it is like, ooh, it’s like a piece of chocolate. I could eat another one and I could eat another one. It’s not like you know from the beginning that I’m going to watch an hour and a half, but suddenly an hour and a half of your life just disappeared. So our brains are really not, the evolution did not prepare us for TikTok or any of the other social media.
Jim: TikTok is a particular pet peeve of mine. As a person who’s been designing online products since literally the very beginning of the online world, 1980, when I looked at TikTok this spring, my immediate reaction was, “Oh my God, somebody has designed the fentanyl of online.” It’s the perfect product. And I fell into it like you couldn’t believe, and I try to be a pretty prompt person, conscientious, et cetera. I had an important Zoom call set up and I said, “Well, let me kill 10 minutes looking at TikTok.” It was like the second time I looked at TikTok. Next thing you know, it’s 15 minutes after the hour. Oh shit! And so after about two or three weeks, I deleted it from my phone. Just as like, “This is terrible.” Any parent in particular, you should no more let your kids have TikTok on their phone than you should let them smoke cigarettes.
And I would say it may actually be worse than cigarettes. And I’m not kidding about this. This is really, really bad. And it’s amazing to me. Perhaps the one good thing Donald Trump tried to do was kill TikTok, and then Biden kind of fell back from that. If some politician that has some guts, go out there and kill TikTok. You’ll be doing the human race some good.
We are absolutely not genetically designed to deal with that. It is the perfect understanding of how to hook people, and it can be used very maliciously. I don’t know if it is or isn’t, but the parent company is controlled by the Chinese government. If they wanted to, let’s say they chose one candidate over another in the presidential election, they could show you more positive things about Candidate X and more negative things about Candidate Y with just very subtle turnings of the dials in the algorithms. And we are essentially defenseless against such manipulations.
Lene: We already saw it with Facebook and one American election, and we probably have seen it definitely in the British election, maybe in the French election as well. The open and free society and democracy and human rights and rule of law are really at the mercy of some companies and some algorithms already now, because our brains are not ready for this.
Jim: And probably never will be, right? We’ll need new social relations. We alluded to that a little bit the other day, that wouldn’t it be great if we could mutually curate our flows?
If somebody shows up and Lene decides they’re no good, they’re actually a Nazi misogynist, despite the fact that they are glib and have a golden tongue, and I’ve subscribed to Lene’s feeds about curation, and so I just never see this person. That, I think, are the kinds of new tools and new systems we want to have. Unfortunately, our late stage financialized capitalism gives Facebook, let’s say, or TikTok, no incentive whatsoever for me not to look at things. The only incentive they give us is to look at things, so they have an economic disincentive to help us curate these flows that we’re not designed for.
Well, we could talk about this topic alone for a couple of days probably, but we got to move on now. We go across the line from memes to memeplexes, to culture, which is, well, yes, there is some very rudimentary culture in some animals: elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, bonobos, et cetera. But full-bore flowering, highly diverse culture, that’s a human thing. And your pattern number 13 is culture, the sacred, and hope. Take it away.
Lene: So what we call the sacred is generally the highest organizing principle. And for hunter gatherers, it has been the spirits in nature. And if you transgressed the nature that they provided you with, the animals, the plants, whatever you need in order to survive, they would withhold the animals, and you wouldn’t get enough food. The shaman or the medicine men, whatever, would have to go into a dialogue with these spirits and restore the balance or negotiate how to restore the balance. And then the prey would return to you, and you could eat again.
So that’s, in very rough terms, the Stone Age sacred. So nature itself and its spirits. Once we get to the Bronze and Iron Age, we have the gods, and they are perceived in a different way, but it’s still this invisible being that has a consciousness, and that we’re dealing with, and we’re creating temples and social norms and narratives that tell us how to behave. And we have to internalize them because society is so big that everybody can’t go to the same priest or shaman in order to get to know what they did right or wrong.
So we have an idea of the sacred that is different, and it usually comes with the nuts worth, the Dawkins perception of Christianity and the memeplexes about the Virgin Mary. And the salvation comes into connection with this, because religion provides us historically with the idea that there is hope, maybe not in this life, but in the next life, if we behave in a certain way.
And that has been an extremely efficient way of getting hundreds of thousands of strangers within the same ring walled city, to play by the same rules and have the same moral norms. In the modern world, after the printing press and capitalism, colonialism and the whole package of modernity, the highest organizing principle becomes individual freedom, democracy, human rights, and science.
And they provide us with hope, and they actually deliver a lot of reasons for hope in this life. For instance, science, which gives us vaccines and clean drinking water, we discover bacteria and there’s all kinds of useful stuff that allows us to live longer and better. And I’m going to get electricity and indoor heating and all that stuff. And so we get hope.
And the highest organizing principle becomes voting, democracy, a certain kind of society, and human rights, and everybody’s right to live happily ever after.
So that becomes different memeplexes, and different stories, and different ways of organizing the moral values and sense of collective self and imagined communities, that allow us to have peace internally in our societies. Usually the other can be another nation, can be another religion, that is, the ones that we are not, because we’re better than them. And that is part of the story that keeps the internal peace in our society, in our group, our “in” group.
And then when we get to the postmodern world, where we deconstruct everything, it’s really hard to find any kind of hope, any kind of sacred, any kind of higher organizing principle, except deconstruction and ironical distance itself, which means that we become miserable. And it’s really hard to find meaning and purpose if there is no hope, and if there is nothing to aim for, and if we don’t have a higher organizing principle that we can perceive as sacred.
I don’t think even the most devout human rights defender will look at the human rights as sacred in any spiritual sense. But I definitely see them as in a secular sense, sacred, and would want to defend them against almost anything, because I think it’s so crucial that we have human rights, and that everybody has equal rights, because otherwise we’re going to get into some kind of violence sooner or later, and oppression and persecution. And we’ve seen how bad that can go.
And so we need to have these higher organizing principles, and I hope that we can promote them all, and more of them, in order to keep hope, and in order for us to have meaningful lives. But we’ve been deconstructing this for the past 30 years, and there’s a generation of young people who’ve grown up without a sense of hope, and who’ve grown up with without a sense of the sacred. And somehow we need to reestablish that, and create something that is sacred. And it has to be something that serves all of us. Can’t just be those who are exactly like myself, or who subscribe to one set of moral norms. It has to be bigger than that.
Jim: And your answer to that, at least a lot of the work you’ve been doing in your life for the last many years, is your pattern 14, culture bildung.
Lene: Yeah. So bild is a German word and it means image. And so bildung is about developing, evolving, growing, maturing, unfolding, everything that’s you, and becoming you in the image of everything that is you. And the way that I describe it, I mean there’s 250 years of bildung philosophy that’s secular. And before that there was a pietistic movement that also used the concept of bildung, but they use it in a Christian sense, where the bild was the image of Christ. So you shape yourself in the image of Christ. But in the secular sense, it is unfolding everything that is you and that is uniquely you. But you do that in a culture, you do that in a social setting and social relationships. So it’s not just imposing your feelings and desires on the world, it’s about you taking in and taking up the moral norms and the culture and the behaviors and the symbols and the memes of the culture you’re in and the family you’re in.
And it’s about upbringing and education. And one of the ways that I describe bildung now is that it’s two different kinds, and it’s also in the book, two different kinds of knowledge. The relatively easily-transferable kind of knowledge, which is what our schools tend to be focused on. So that’s math, science, how to bake a bread, and I don’t know, book a train ticket online. I mean, it’s not just academic knowledge, but you can test if the other person has got it when you try to teach it to them.
The other kind of knowledge is almost impossible to transfer. And so if the transfer of easily-transferable knowledge is horizontal from one person to the next, and you can keep expanding your horizon, the other kind of knowledge that is almost impossible to transfer is the vertical kind of knowledge. And it’s your emotional depth and your moral aspirations.
So how high do your moral aspirations go? And how deep are your moral values? How deep are your emotions and your connection to other people, to culture, and to your sense of self and who you are in this world? I mean, is this deep and true? And this vertical kind of knowledge, this understanding of life, this connection to other people and to culture and everything that you’ve encountered, comes from life experience. And so it can be every time you mess up, every time you fail at something, it can also be all your successes. It can be your saying the wrong thing to a friend.
Lene: Successes. It can be you are saying the wrong thing to a friend and hurting somebody. It can be raising a family, having children, falling in love, being heartbroken. And the interesting thing about this is that I can tell you as much about my emotional experiences as I want, but if you have not had a similar experience, it’s impossible for you to understand what I’m talking about. I cannot transfer it. And so if we have both been in love and we’ve both been heartbroken and my boyfriend just broke up with me, and I tell you, it resonates in you. It lands in a place in you where you know what I’m talking about. And so now you can comfort me and you can say, oh, I understand what you’re going through. But if you haven’t been something similar, it’s really hard for you to understand what this is.
And so, I don’t have children and therefore I don’t have grandchildren, but I can tell that my friends who do have children and grandchildren, they’re going through something that is very unique and very significant, but I do not know that feeling. But they can tell me about it and I can empathize with it and I can be happy on their behalf, but I cannot find that feeling inside me. So it’s a different kind of knowledge. One way that we can transfer this kind of knowledge relatively well is through literature. So if you write a character that is well written, what actually happens is that in the very active process of taking these little black signs that we call letters, turning them into words, turning them into a narrative and creating our own imagery in our brain, our mirror neurons also get activated.
So if I read about a poor peasant in Africa a hundred years ago, if that is well written, I can almost feel what it’s like to be a poor peasant in Africa a hundred years ago. And so that can stretch and train my emotional muscle and my imagination. And then when I meet somebody who is in a similar situation or confront the world or am confronted with the world, I can draw on that experience that I got from literature. But it’s still not the same as experiencing it yourself. I’ve never tried to go hungry for a week, but I can get closer to understanding what that is through literature and other kinds of art. The building is the process and the result of exposing yourself to the world and learning about the world. And the philosopher [inaudible 00:28:35] who wrote around the year 1800, he says that build on comes from pushback. So whenever you encounter the world and experience something that you did not expect to experience, or you bump your head up against the world, so to speak, that is when building happens. So if you live a very protected life and never had anything not go your way, you’re not going to end up with a lot of building. You’re probably going to be a spoiled brat for the rest of your life.
Jim: There’s a lot of that in our culture today, particularly in the US. The idea of helicopter parents and safety first and all this stuff. I’m very concerned about the fact that we no longer allow children to free range and that the parents will go and argue with the teacher when the kid gets a bad grade and all this stuff. Not allowing kids to fight. All the things that build that. Yeah. Oh, that’s bad. You can’t tell him that. You’re going to traumatize some poor millennial by telling them to suck it up. Tough shit, millennial. Suck it up. But yeah. And it makes them frankly more susceptible to manipulation by things like TikTok and Instagram. And you have missed three meals in a row, or you have broke your arm from falling out of a tree that you were climbing in when your mother specifically told you not to.
Lene: Yes. You’re having to explain how you ended up breaking your arm without saying that you climbed up the tree.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. Those, I suspect, would make you more resistant to some other girl saying mean things about you about your bikini picture on Instagram. I would hope.
Lene: And that is how you train your empathy. Because if you fight with somebody or push them off the swing on the playground or something and they cry, that is where your mirror neurons make you sad. And so that is where the empathy grows from. That’s what the empathy grows from. If you do not have these experiences and you are constantly doing what everybody expects… Nobody constantly does what everybody expects. Everybody does fail, thank God. But if you’re not allowed to fail, and that’s actually one of the freedoms that I mentioned in the book, if you’re not allowed to fail, there is no freedom. So part of freedom and part of becoming you and becoming who you are and becoming a whole human being and maturing is to make mistakes and learn from them. And of course there are some mistakes that are worse than others. I’m not just saying that people should go out in the world and commit mistakes, but you have to have the freedom to do that. And it’s a crucial part of growing up.
Jim: Absolutely. Let’s go onto your next pattern. Number 16. This is a topic, a concept, I’ve only learned about very recently. Schismogenesis. Originally came from Gregory Bateson. In fact, I learned about it from his daughter, Nora Bateson.
Lene: Yeah, I learned about it from the book The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David…
Jim: Yes, they do talk about it quite a bit in there.
Lene: They talk about it quite a bit, but [inaudible 00:31:48] comes from Bateson.
Jim: It does. And anyway, it’s a very important topic. It essentially means that the dream of us all always saying kumbaya together across the whole world is rather unrealistic. So let’s hear about schismogenesis.
Lene: Yeah. So whenever you have a group of people, they live close by each other or they are two groups of different people to begin with, in order to create an in group feeling and internal cohesion in a sense of who we are, there’s a story about the others and the schismogenesis is the genesis, so the creation, the birth of this schisma, the split between the groups. And we tend to strengthen the differences in order to tell ourselves that we’re the good guys. And that is very natural. It’s deeply rooted inside us and we do it from almost as early as we start creating peer groups and can say anything. And I don’t think it’s inherently bad, but we need to understand that that is what we’re doing and that we also need tolerance and acceptance of the people who then [inaudible 00:33:12] away from us and that they want to do things in a different way, that they have different stories and that they’re good people too.
And that this is fundamentally about us all wanting to be moral people and to connect with the people who share our memes and memeplexes. And there is unfortunately a tendency to think that we are the moral people, the other people are the bad people who do not have moral values. And if they have moral values, they’re the wrong moral values. And sometimes they are. There are sets of moral values that are bad. We mentioned Nazis before. I think that is bad and I don’t think it should be promoted. As a matter of fact, I think it should be fought. But there is the same kind of dynamics going on inside a humanistic, tolerant, human rights defending culture and a Nazi culture of them versus us. And I don’t think that the way to fight a Nazi cult is to stigmatize them even further, but it is figuring out ways for them to loosen the grip on the Nazi ideology and wanting to join the human rights freedom and democracy tolerant culture.
And instead of schismogenesizing them into the other, we have to understand this process of appreciating that people are born into this world with different needs. People are growing up with different moral norms in their family, and people have a universal need for in groups. And so how can we create in groups that are meaningful for everybody but that do not contain the potential for genocide or random killings of people that are different from oneself? So we need to understand this process and we all do it. And if people have this humanistic idea of just one global culture, one culture, and we will all sing kumbaya and be friendly to one another and there will be no differences and we will all agree on everything, I will just have to say that as long as there are two people on the planet and the other person is interested in soccer, there will be schismogenesis because I’m not going to be interested in soccer.
So already there, you will have two cultures. One with a soccer ball and one without it. And so accepting and respecting schismogenesis in a healthy form I think is the path. But it requires that we can all also be tolerant and accept that this is part of being human. We do want to be together with people who think and feel the same way as we do because that is where we can relax. And we do not need to have those places where we can relax and just be interested in joke about the things that we like and understand each other again at this deeper level. Because there are things that we do not need to say because we share the same memes, we share the same cultural codes, we share the same references, and so we can let go of ourselves in a different way than if we’re around people who do not have the same references.
Jim: This is very interesting and very difficult actually. And in our game B world, we had kind of stumbled upon this because we realized even within our small community there are people who have just fundamentally different tastes for things. And we came up with the concept of coherent pluralism. That there needs to be a small core of things that we all agree no. Now of course that’s going to be hard too to get that thing right. I think we can all say no to genocide. But what about patriarchy. There’s sort of a strange return to patriarchy or patriarchy light. The trads, the millennial trads, return to traditional role models. And frankly seems to be working for them. Not to my taste, but I would by no means say that trads should be outside of game B.
They want to build communities, and one of the things about game B which is so interesting is that we believe society should be built up from smaller cells. No bigger than a couple of hundred adults. And if there’s villages of a couple hundred adults that want to run their society in a trad style, as long as they adhere to the other commandments of game B, mostly about living within ecological and human nature capacity, that’s probably okay. And those of us who are more interested in a more egalitarian gender style, we live in our villages and that’s how we practice things. But this is the hard part, and this is where we see in a western societies even that the trads, these days not so much the trads, want to suppress the egalitarians as the egalitarians want to suppress the trads. And really hard to resist that temptation. And if we’re going to transition to what comes next, I’m going to argue part of [inaudible 00:38:17] got to be an education for tolerance of difference.
Lene: Right. And you can’t demand of people that they’re tolerant, emotionally, but you can demand of them that there are certain behaviors that they don’t start a fight with somebody who lives in one of the other game B pots. I don’t know what you call them.
Jim: [inaudible 00:38:40] we call them. Yeah.
Lene: What do you call them?
Jim: Proto bees.
Lene: Proto bees. So you’re basically creating a little tribe of 200 people. And so the different tribes need to accept that there are other tribes that live in a different way. And you will then have this schismogenesis going on and people will start talking about the other tribe on the other side of the road who are doing awful things to their wives and their children because they live in this patriarchy. And then you have the patriarchy people saying that they’re doing awful things probably to their husbands cause they’re living in this gender equal tribe. And I think one of the ways to get around it is that you have a basic rule saying that anybody who wants to call himself a proto bee and use the logo or whatever it is needs to understand or listen to the other models. Doesn’t mean that they have to agree, but they at least need to open their ears to what is the explanation behind the reason why they do the things that they do when they do it differently.
And I think that is where we all need to go at some point. We need to open our ears and our minds. Not necessarily our hearts, but definitely our ears and our minds to why people want to live in a different way than I want to live. And that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, but it means that at least I need to be able to see the other human in that person. And I think another important rule is that when we have these pockets of subcultures, which is what you’re creating and what you’re creating, whether it’s a liberal modern version or it’s a patriarchal version, everybody must have the right to leave.
Jim: Exactly. Voice and exit. Those are two fundamentals in the coherent core. And that includes things like economics. If you’ve helped build a commons and you decide to leave over time, the commons needs to buy out your interest. Because one of the failure modes we see is cult behavior and lock in. And that is pervasive. And that has to be in the coherent core. And so let’s say you’re a child that grows up in trad land, but you decide that’s not to my taste. You’ve read Ursula Laquinn and you go, wait a minute, I like her model hell a lot better than my goddamn parents, then when you’re 16 or 17, you might go out and tour some other proto bees and you go, oh, this one over here, this is more to my taste. And it needs to be very easy for you to migrate from one to the other with not even no penalty, but perhaps you are able to liquidate your citizenship share in proto bee A and move it to proto bee B. And then of course you get some gentle, maybe not so gentle sometimes, competition between the cultures and people sort themselves out. And the hard part is the mutual tolerance. Oh my God. They’re stealing our kids over to perverted hippieism. Doesn’t mean we have to put an army together.
Lene: Or they’re stealing your children to the organized group where everybody knows that what father says is the right thing.
Lene: Which has a different kind of appeal. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I can absolutely understand why some people are attracted to it.
Jim: I agree. Yeah. And I think the words I like to use, and actually I got this from my mother who was a remarkably tolerant person living in a very relatively intolerant time, which is not to my taste, but if it works for them, who am I to say? And if you could just say that when you see things that are not [inaudible 00:42:21], but not to your tastes, that would be a big improvement. Well, we got to move on here. We can, again, talk about this one all day. Next up, and this is really important, culture capitalism. You make the point that many of our religious and ethical systems, specifically you name Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but it’s also true certainly of Buddhism and Daoism, tend to be intention with market forces and the concept of particularly capitalism.
Lene: It’s really interesting because formally capitalism started in the 14th, 15th centuries depending on how you count. But it’s definitely the mechanism behind colonialism because people bought stock shares in the ships that went to the other continents and raped and pillaged and stole everything and then returned to Europe with gold and silver and all kinds of stuff. And the slave trade for that matter. So that is the modern capitalism. But when you read the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament and the Quran, you realize that interest on loans is really a fundamental problem that they struggle with in these societies. And you have in Judaism the concept of the jubilee year, which is every 49 years there is you have to get rid of all debt and restore all the loans and so you reboot the economy and start all over again.
What happened was that the closer people got to the year 49, they would stop lending money to people, and then it was the year 48 they stopped lending money, and then 47. And eventually it was like this system doesn’t work either. So they had to regulate it in different ways. But what you have in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible legislation around and the moral rebuke of people who take interest on loans. And you have the stories about people who cannot. That’s the New Testament. If you’re so poor that you have to give away your shirt, you have to get it back at the end of the day because you can’t go to bed without your shirt on. So poverty and the concentration of wealth and the interest on debt has really been at the core of this whole development of the big societies.
And I bet the Sumer and earlier cultures have struggled with it as well. As soon as they had any kind of money, people were borrowing stuff. So it’s always been there. But here we have it in writing and we have the story about the New Testament and Jesus in the temple who throws out all the merchants. And particularly in the Quran there is a ban against interest on loans. And therefore there is a whole Islamic banking system that is fundamentally differently structured than the capitalism in the west and the way that we generate more money by creating more debt. And so this is a struggle that we’ve had for at least three and a half thousand years and in writing. Probably in writing for 2,500 years. But anyway, this goes to the core of our civilization and I bet other civilizations as well. And there have been different money systems, and I don’t go into this in this book, and the reason why I don’t is that the book itself could just swell to become thousands upon thousands of pages.
But here I just mentioned capitalism as a mechanism in our society that we tend to just take for granted and say, oh, that’s the way the world works. But there are the models and it’s one of those systems or patterns that we can choose to change. And one of the problems with capitalism is that once it has capitalized one part of society or one part of our life, because it needs to keep growing in order to pay back interest on the existing debt, it just keeps going for the next thing it can capitalize, and it is capitalized nature and is capitalizing more of nature. And it’s capitalizing even more parts of our private lives and our privacy. And it’s capitalizing our time.
Jim: And our attention.
Lene: And our attention. And now it creates a whole new realm called cyberspace that can also be capitalized. And the danger of doing this, and I really see this as a danger, is that cryptocurrencies and everything that we can use to pay for things in cyberspace, particularly once we have a metaverse or we can put on VR glasses and mask and spend our entire day in there and buy and sell stuff, this market in there can, in principle, grow exponentially, indefinitely, and thereby extremely quickly grow to completely outgrow the real economy. Which means that if we do not regulate the barrier between the cyberspace economy and the real economy and figure out a model to put a wall between them, we risk that somebody can buy and sell perhaps via an artificial intelligence some kind of stuff in cyberspace that will allow them to have a gazillion trillion whatever they’re called, digital bananas, within half an hour and then they can exchange those gazillion trillion cyber bananas to US dollars and come out and buy, I don’t know, the United States or Canada or Denmark or some other country because the wealth or the cyber wealth can grow so much compared to and faster than wealth and the money mass can grow in the real economy, the meat space that you and I are in right now.
And so we need, as a civilization and as lawmakers, philosophers, tech developers, to make sure that we don’t have an AI and one person owning that AI who can take the money created on cyberspace, bring it out into the real economy, and just wreck havoc to everything, and actually own everything. And that will be the end of capitalism. So capitalism is actually its own worst enemy right now. And it doesn’t have a stop button. It doesn’t have a break even or a slow down mechanism. And we need to create that.
Jim: And truthfully, I could go into technical reasons why that arbitrage between virtual money and real world money is not going to happen, but it’s not really relevant to the bigger picture. The more important point is your last one, I think. That capitalism has two built in engines which make it like the shark. If it doesn’t move forward, it dies. One is, as you point out, the fact that at least for the last 300 years, since 1694 to be exact, much of our money supply has been created by bank debt, which does not create the money supply to pay back the interest. And secondly, this one is, frankly, these days probably even more powerful is the fact that the allocation of capital is in a game theoretical arms race. If anybody has accumulated savings, which is basically production that was not consumed, it needs to be invested somewhere.
And because we’ve institutionalized how investing is done, oh, I give it to some mutual funder, I give it to some venture capitalist and I move it if they don’t perform. So there’s a competitive arms raise to get the highest possible money on money return. And when that happens, every operating entity has to look for growth above all else. Now, for instance, Facebook, they didn’t actually need any investment money. They went public for weird psychological reasons. They could have just been Facebook. But nope, they went public and then now they’re caught on the treadmill. Because otherwise people will move away from their stock if they don’t do exponential growth. So competitive capital allocation plus debt based money create a system with no brakes. And in fact, it’s even worse than no brakes. It’s a system where the foot is on the accelerator and there’s every incentive to push it as hard as you possibly can every second. And if you don’t, and let’s say you’re a CEO, I can predict what will happen, you’ll get fired and be replaced by somebody who will. And of all the things that we need to change, the way capital is allocated as investment and the nature of our money, there are pretty deep ideas. But if we don’t change those, nothing else is going to work.
Lene: And I just want to bring a short defense for capitalism because until we had capitalism, it was all almost impossible, definitely if you were not prepared to murder and steal, for extra wealth. It was almost impossible to create that wealth surplus that allowed us to develop modern science and research in the way that we do have it. So out of capitalism did actually come some very useful institutions and knowledge and things that we would not want to be without, but it has reached its peak as a useful force in society and we need to rethink it and figure out how do we make a sustainable free market that is open to free initiative and for entrepreneurship and for investment and for doing things that is cool and fun and meaningful without having to have a centralized decision making. Could be government, could be an independent board, could be all kinds of stuff. But where we do have that kind of…
Lene: … could be an independent board, could be all kinds of stuff. But where we do have that kind of distributed self-organizing mechanism for inventions and coming up with new solutions, and where people can also pay their electricity bills and send the kids to school and live and safety and make sure that there’s police and all kinds of stuff in society while they do it. But the whole technological development is completely rewriting the human condition, and we’ve not started talking about that yet.
Jim: I’ve scanned the horizon looking for people with new operating systems that at I’d call the macroeconomic scale. And I’ve yet to see one that actually fully addresses the things you’re talking about, but I also see no proof that it’s not possible. Unfortunately a lot of the talent in this space has been pulled over into crypto, which is, to my mind, an interesting explanation of one small part of the phenomena, but it doesn’t address the bigger questions. And so I would certainly hope that some good thinkers over the years ahead seriously work on a literal post-capitalist system for investment and distribution.
Because to your point, I a hundred percent agree. Capitalism actually worked quite well when humans were small relative to mother Earth. And around 1950, when humans started approaching the planetary sustainable boundaries, the lack of breaks came to the fore. And now that we’ve shot past four of the nine planetary boundaries, we’re in a world hurt. And there’s no apparent way to make the car slow down. I mean, think about all the horseshit that goes on the climate change arena. We promise this, we promise that. You add up the promises and we’re looking at three and a half degrees Celsius by the end of the planet, by the end of the-
Lene: By the end of the planet. Exactly.
Jim: By the end of the century, which won’t quite be the end of the planet, but it’s going to hurt like a lot, right? It might take us into the end of the planet. So this is really at the core. But we could talk about this one all day. Let’s move on to the next one. This is where it gets even more interesting. Number 18, exponential growth.
Lene: So that is the way things have been until now. And if you look at the really long stretch of time from the Big Bang, and I hear that the Big Bang was not even the Big Bang. There was something else, and there was something before that, and I’m not updated on that part of physics. But the exponential growth and complexity has been going on since forever. And it has been going on in matter, in physics, and the physical world. It has been going on in biology, and it has been going on in the expansion of our mind. That’s where I bring in these four categories again from Greg and Rickus. And it has been going on in culture and the development of technology.
And there are some mathematicians who have looked at this exponential growth, and they say that around… especially two papers, and I’m not a mathematician, so I cannot go into the mathematical details and the math behind it, but I can tell from the graph and read their abstract and their conclusions, which is that either 2027 or 2029, the current exponential growth and exponential growth in complexity technologically or culturally or whatever it is, will go into some kind of singularity. Something will happen and cannot keep growing with what we have.
One of the suggestions is then that technological development will not continue growing exponentially in complexity, but we will get to some kind of S curve. If you go to Ray Kurtzweil and his friends, it’s that we will upload our mind to cyberspace and we will live forever in cyberspace and on different planets. I don’t get what the purpose should be of that, but apparently it’ll make him happy. My own take on this is that this could be 2027, 2029, the point where we reach the conclusion or hopefully before that, that we need to detach ourselves from this exponential growth and complexity in technology and cultural development and focus on something else, because we cannot have this kind of exponential growth on a planet where the surface does not grow exponentially. And that is why, by the way, we’re going into cyberspace and creating exponential growth there.
But what kind of exponential growth and what is that going to do to us as human beings, and how are we going to… Are we going thrive in that, or are we just going to be slaves of our own invention where we need to upgrade our mind either psycho-pharmaceutically or with implanted computer chips in order to be able to continue somehow interacting with this exponential growth? Or are we going to create artificial intelligence that is just going to take over, and then we will be the creation or the servants of this artificial intelligence that is so much faster and more intelligent than us?
That could be the singularity, that could be what happens in 2027 or ’29. Those four options can be quite interesting from a philosophical point of view. The problem is then in between now–and it’s already started–between now and 2027 or 2029, our institutions, our rule of law are not going to be able to handle this. The technologies that we do have, the legislation that we do have is not going to be able to handle this. Our minds, our education, our understanding of the world is not going to be able to grasp this. And people are going to lose foothold in their own lives and they’re losing footholds in the globalized economy and their economic safety and security already.
And then we have a war in Ukraine, and I think it’s actually part of the same big picture, because the way that the west has evolved economically and culturally and financially and technologically since the collapse of the Soviet Union has at least given us a little bit of better grasp on the world than what people are stuck with in Russia because Russia did not join that cultural development, intellectual development and economic development the way that we did. So we actually do handle it a bit better, but we’re going to lose our grip pretty soon as well.
We have an election coming up in Denmark, and I can hear from the public debate here that the politicians are really top tuned for, I don’t know, 1986 or something, and it’s a political debate that’s falling apart. And we saw that with the American election with Donald Trump. We’re going to see it again in the upcoming elections and we’re going to see it in the UK, and it’s just our political systems do not grasp what is going on. We talked about economy before, and you mentioned macroeconomics. The macroeconomic models that we have and what we mean when we say macroeconomics is national economy. It’s the nation state economy. We do not have a macro-macroeconomic theory that is global. And where we have a macro-cyber economic model that can grasp the cyber economy, cryptocurrencies and so forth, in relationship to the traditional macroeconomic theories which are national, nation-state based.
So the systems that we have cannot grasp and explain the development that is going on. And we’re at the really steep part of that exponential curve going into some kind of singularity in 2027. The closer we get, the more the political debate, the economic systems, energy crisis, inequality, the inflation, I mean, all these things, our governments and political systems are not going to be able to handle them, and people are going to be anxious and angry and we’re going to see more social and political turmoil. So it’s not going to be happy.
It’s not going to be going very well unless we freaking realize this and we do it very fast and we have this conversation, and we have it in the political sphere and that it happens at our universities and at the leadership level in the big companies where I hope, because our smartest and most well-educated people are in positions of great power, but if they only think according to the old system, and they don’t get this, if they don’t grasp the 21st century and what we’re doing right now, they’re just going to make really poor decisions. And that is what we’re seeing right now.
So we need to have a completely different kind of conversation throughout our societies. We need to educate in different things, we need more people to understand what’s going on, but we definitely need leadership in all parts of society to come to terms with this, and to look into how are we going to handle the inventions that we’ve made.
Jim: Yeah, there’s a lot there. Now, while I’m not a mathematician, I do study quantitative complex complexity science and agent-based modeling and such. I would suggest, be very skeptical when someone says 2027 to 2029.
Jim: In a complex system, calling your shot at that level of… Yes, you can set up a set of assumptions that will tell you that.
Lene: No, but I mean if somebody had said… And I don’t know, maybe there are papers that say 2100 or…
Jim: Yeah, but people say all kinds of things. Ray Kurtzweil says 2042. February 15th, 2042. It’s all based on your assumptions. The reality is we have overshot planetary balances in a finite world while continuing to drive our systems forward exponentially. And that just don’t compute. But on the other hand, humans are remarkably adaptable. Remember in the ’70s I’m old enough to actually remember in the ’70s when people were making these predictions, Paul Erlich and some of the writings about the Club of Rome, not the Club of Rome itself, but the limits to growth work done at MIT were predicting worldwide famines and global war over resources in the 1980s and early ’90s. Didn’t happen. Lots of human inventions came along the way. And so the reflexivity of our systems, where humans react to their predicament in various ways makes these kinds of predictions basically a fool’s game. And our ability to actually say what will happen is much smaller than we think it is.
But nonetheless, the bigger principle is still true. We can’t have exponentials, high powered exponentials in a finite world going on forever. Herb Stein, actually conservative Republican economist, said something quite profound once when talking about this back in the ’70s I think, which was, if something can’t go on forever, it won’t.
Lene: That’s a good one. I do want to say, with regards to the limits to growth, I mean first of all, it was in 1972, it just celebrated its 50th anniversary. And the new thing was that somebody actually did take a systems perspective on the interaction between resources, people, population growth, limits to consumption on the planet, and pollution. And then they put it into the biggest computer at the time at MIT and it kept calculating for I think three months or something like that. And on [inaudible 01:03:51] lists, you had all these graphs being printed out. It was a different world, it was a different kind of computer, but the interesting thing is that many of the predictions are actually still valid. Then there were other predictions that were not valid, and one of the criticisms that I’ve heard about it is that, and this is from Thomas Homer Dixon who is in Canada, is that the limit to growth was assuming that it was the non-renewable resources that we would run out of.
It’s actually the renewable resources that we do not regenerate fast enough. So we overuse the water, the fish, the trees, the birds, the nature, the living part of the system. And that is disastrous because chaotic living systems have tipping points, which means that we may think that things are going well, and then suddenly, a system collapses. And that is why also whenever the exponential growth is going to go into some kind of singularity, yes, there are different scenarios probably, but they are in this century, and they are around here, and they are… we can see that the systems that we have in order to have governance are not grasping what is going on. And it’s not even on the political agenda.
Jim: And politics is completely lost. You have literal reactionaries coming forth. Even Sweden just voted for a right-wing government, very narrowly by three seats in the legislature. But
Lene: The Danish social Democrats are not any better. I mean, they’re just working from a different ideology, but they’re also in 1986.
Jim: Exactly. And here in the United States, our progressive movement has been hijacked by this weird woke stuff, which has nothing to do with this question. And there are some legitimate things in wokery.
Jim: There’s a lot of bad things in wokery too, particularly that proto-totalitarianism in it. But it’s frankly irrelevant to this question of making these institutional changes and have all of our energy sucked into that on the progressive side, that we don’t… There’s no political things going on. Oddly enough, the capitalists, some of them, a small percentage of them, one or two or three percent of them are now starting to become aware of this, and are interested in moving funds into these system change areas. Because they’re not caught up in the game theory of how to win elections in bad institutional structures, they have more freedom to maneuver than do partisan politicians, which is kind of curious.
I don’t expect the answers in the short term to come from politics. It just takes too long. If you’re right about 2029, let’s say, there is no way you’re going to get anything to accomplish any Western democracy in 2029. We won’t even have resolved abortion in 2029 in the United States. And well, abortion is I think an important human rights issue. And I think it was fucking stupid what our Supreme Court did. Nonetheless, it also is irrelevant to this question. It has nothing to do really with making the institutional changes that we will need to make if we’re going to get off these exponentials that have no breaks.
So anyway, let’s not be too dire. Let’s give a little positive spin on this, which is in complexity science, when systems start getting this way, there is another path that’s not just collapse or overshoot or even S-curves, but rather it’s called a phase transition where the system literally changes into something entirely unanticipated.
For instance, from knowing about chemistry, it would be exceedingly difficult to predict that at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, zero degrees Celsius, water turns into ice. There’s nothing about physics that would tell you that, but it happens. And so those of us playing around or working, whatever one or the other we’re doing, with systems change, our looking for ways that phase transitions can occur to something that it’s still dynamic and powerful and fun and good and improving all the good things about capitalism, but get rid of the bad things about capitalism. It’s domination, it’s crushing indigenous cultures, it’s having no breaks, it’s consuming every external thing it can without paying for it. There may well be a phase transition to a new social operating system. What are the details of that social operating system? I don’t know. But it’s at least possible that if those of us keep working on it, we may find a road for a phase transition to a good future for humanity.
Lene: But if that is going to happen peacefully, it has to be an extremely good idea that everybody can understand and feel like, “Okay, I’m willing to exchange the current situation that we’re in for this one. And I see myself working towards it along with these other people that I know and don’t know.” Unfortunately, because we’ve had those phase transitions in our culture, and one of them was in the aftermath of the printing press and the whole colonialism and the Native Americans, we’re not so happy about the results for all the worst reasons. And we had the 30-year war and the hundred-year war in Europe, and a lot of the people who went to the US were people who did not fit into the religious landscape that emerged out of it.
So the amounts of violence that we as humans have had a tendency to create whenever we do have a phase transition are not really that encouraging. I’m a party pooper who comes up with all the bad news. But I do think that we… there are definitely things that we can do, but it requires that we can see the big picture and that we can grasp what is going on.
Jim: Yep. And that’s where your work has been very, very helpful. If people would ready your books, they would have a much better sense of what’s going on. You know what? I think in the interest of time, we’re going to skip the discussion we had scheduled about AGI. I talk about that all the time on the podcast. Artificial general intelligence. Well, let’s talk about it briefly. We’re not going to talk about it in depth. Let’s talk about it briefly. I think you call it autonomous artificial intelligence. The other term for it is artificial general intelligence. I kind of like artificial general intelligence because this is kind of the universal solvent, and artificial general intelligence is defined as when an artificial intelligence can essentially do everything a human can do, but better in essentially every category.
And as my good friend Ben Goertzel says, and he was the one who coined the term artificial general intelligence, and he is, I will say, a techno-utopian and transhumanist, that artificial general intelligence is the last invention humans will ever need to make.
Lene: Or the last one we will make.
Jim: And the last one we will make, if some of the fast takeoff scenarios about AGI are true. And again, we could talk all day about whether artificial… There’s one theory that says six weeks after AGI is invented, it’s first thing it’ll do is improve itself until it’s a million times… It starts out at 1.1 time smarter than we are. It’ll use its power to improve itself and reinvent itself, reinvent itself, reinvent itself faster and faster till in six weeks it’s a billion times faster, smarter than we are, and it might as well be God and we’re done.
There are also significant arguments against the fast takeoff theory. So hearing one of the others [inaudible 01:11:28], but point being is that it does seem likely that at some point, Ben I think is now saying within five years, and there we are, 2027, the consensus of AI researchers is more like 50 years. That would put us out around 2070. But only a relatively few people are saying it’s after this century. So sometime this century, the consensus view is that we have to deal with intelligence that’s considerably smarter than we are.
At one level it could be an amazing boon for humanity. It might actually bring us luxury communism, if literally these things are way smarter and more capable than we are, but are our loyal slaves and do what we tell them. Goddammit I hate washing the dishes, right? I’d love it if it turns out something that’s hard for robots to do. In fact, it’s one of the tests for artificial general intelligence is plop a robot into a kitchen at random, have it make coffee and then clean up the mess. That’s actually really hard. No robot can even come close to doing that today. But I’d love not to watch the dishes anymore, goddammit.
And they take that much further. Why should eight-year-old children be working themselves literally to death in the coltan mines of Eastern Congo? A artificial generally intelligent robot could easily do that, and probably do it better. There’s so many things that AGI could liberate humanity if we keep control of the leash, but if we don’t, we’re in a big trouble.
Lene: Yeah. And so that is why I talk about the autonomous intelligence because that is where we lose the control. Or if we let it make decisions without human oversight. And it is now that we need to have the conversation. It’s not when it’s there. So it’s not something that we need to have when we have invented it. It’s something that we need to have now and we need to have oversight over the companies and the governments that work with artificial intelligence, and China has said that they want to lead on artificial intelligence by 2030. And unless we find out a way to see what they’re doing and to regulate that globally, one way or the other, we are going to be screwed, and you can just see what China is doing to the Uyghur minority. They’re building concentration camps for the slightest sign that you may not sing the Chinese anthem in the morning. I don’t know what the signs are, but you just disappear, or people don’t hear from the family members for months or years.
So China being ahead in the development of artificial intelligence is not a good sign, but it’s also not a good sign if we just let all kinds of capitalists or other interests, personal interests develop this and we lose control over it. And one of the things that, I don’t know if it’s technically possible, but I suggested, and I think we need to figure out how to do that, is that two things actually, one, that there is a switch off button on all kinds of artificial intelligence, and that we have a sort of digital black box on it so that we can track the decision making whenever an artificial intelligence does make a decision so that when a plane crashes and we need to find out why did this plane crash.
We also need for all artificial intelligence algorithms to have sort of a track record of how did it get to this conclusion. We might actually learn something even when they make good decision, but we also need to have this kind of oversight of what is going on in there. And right now we’re developing these black boxes and they may be more or less advanced and have more or less autonomy and maybe they don’t have autonomy at all because they’re still in labs and we’ve not let them out there. Some of it is out there, but it’s still rather limited in how much autonomy it has. But we need to have this conversation now. We need to make the legislation now. We need to make the institutions now. And maybe we need an institution that’s actually an algorithm through which any kind of AI that will be led out into the free world, the real world, needs to be checked by this algorithm or needs to show that it’s only doing what we allow it to do and that there is nothing else.
That’s why we need this sort of black box for the way that it operates, so that we can see what is the logic within this AI that got it to the conclusion that it produced. And once AI starts creating its own algorithms and it’s already out there, that is one of the things that this AI also needs to make is the monitoring of what is going on. And as far as I know, this is not happening.
Jim: There is work. I mean there is the whole AI risk field, which is fairly well funded by, and again, I talk about these, a small number of billionaires are starting to think about this. Open AI funded by Microsoft, and Elon Musk, and Sam… hell’s his name, Mr. Y Combinator, Altman, and some others. And so they are thinking about these things and working on it. And I would say that I know some of the people in the AI sections of Google, and they’re very aware of this and they’re working with considerable care. And I just want to make the one point before we move on is autonomy is yes, one area where risk could manifest, but probably not where the risk is created. For instance, my example of the coltan mining robot in East Congo. If it’s programmed rigidly, though with freedom to make its own decisions, but rigidly to operate in a geographic box and to do nothing but dig looking for ore, I’m not too concerned about it. The real problem is not so much autonomy. It’s self-modification.
Lene: But it’s ultimately there is the possibility of hacking if it’s online, if it gets updates.
Jim: Yeah, those are other issues. Yeah. Updates are an issue. And in fact, self-modification, or the one you wrote, you talked about where it’s starting to write its own algorithms. When we have AIs writing Ais, that’s where we got to watch out. And again, here’s another topic. I’d personally love to talk about going for three hours easy, but we got another half hour here at most. So let’s move on to the next thing. You come down quite strongly for the benefits of liberal democracy.
Jim: Let’s talk about that.
Lene: So the reason why I do that is because when I look out at the world, particularly as a woman, that is the only place-
Lene: … particularly as a woman. That is the only place where somebody like me has not been coerced with violence or oppression. It’s not that everything is perfect, but it’s the best system that we’ve ever been able to produce. And I could quote Churchill here and I won’t. But the alternatives, and one of the weaknesses of liberal democracy is that everybody who has the right to vote and participate in this public discourse needs to understand what is going on. Otherwise people will vote on something that is irrelevant.
And that is what we’re seeing right now with the woke agenda on the left and the abortion agenda and other traditional agendas on the right, particularly in the US. We have some slightly different issues here in Denmark and Europe, but we are still seeing a left and the right in politics that are going for some agendas that are emotional, and that are not what is most crucial with regards to our own future and wellbeing.
So liberal democracy depends on citizens that are willing to not only understand what’s going on, but also to see the full picture and vote for what they think serves the whole system, the whole country or the whole continent in case of, you could say North America, the US, a lot of states with individual legislative power, and then you have the United States. I mean still different from Canada. In Europe, we have the EU and then we have nation states that constitute the EU.
But in order for people to vote sanely, they need to understand what’s going on. And that’s why Grasping the 21st Century is so essential. And we have not found another way to secure that non-males in their reproductive years and with money, and in our day and age power over the algorithms, can just end up deciding everything on behalf of everybody else.
And whenever that has happened, at least half the population has suffered, usually more. But the only way that I know where the vast majority has had freedom and the opportunity to live rather well and nobody being totally oppressed, because there’s still racism, there’s still things going on that are not perfect. But the overall wellbeing of overall everybody in society, the only society that has been able to produce that is the liberal democracy, but on certain terms. And I’m really afraid about keeping up those terms and having everybody in our society capable of understanding and grasping and living according to this. And that’s what we’re seeing right now.
Jim: It has done a greater job for liberation. People talk about slavery, for instance. Slavery has been ubiquitous I like to point out.
Lene: I mean there are still 50 million people living in slavery today around the globe.
Jim: And Jesus, Moses and Mohammmed, all three of them assumed slavery. Didn’t speak against it. It was only something like liberal democracy, particularly the British, starting in the early 19th century that actually realized it was morally repugnant. And of course there was lots of hypocrisy. The famous example is Thomas Jefferson wrote the immortal words, “All men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” while he owned 200 slaves and was having probably coerced sex with underage ones. But nonetheless, despite the hypocrisy and hypocrisy has been terrible, it was liberalism that put us on the road to abolish slavery.
Lene: Yep. And the core idea in liberalism and liberal democracy is that the individual is the core building block of society. And the individual has unalienable rights. And the individual must be protected from the state and by the state from everybody else around them so that they can live in freedom. Traditional societies and non-liberal societies tend to protect the family or the group, and once you are not talking about the individual anymore and you talk about protection of the group, then individuals within those groups are not protected from suffering, or coercion, or oppression because then it’s about the wellbeing of the group. And that group can be the family, or it can be a village, or it can be a tribe. And usually within those families or tribes, somebody ends up beating the women and the children.
So that is really why I speak of liberal democracy and liberalism in that sense, because that is where somebody like me, not just feels safe, I am safe and I don’t want to lose that.
Jim: So again, one of the things I do want to point out. I do understand that the patriarchy has been particularly bad for women. But it’s worth noting that even in tribal hunter-gatherers, 75 to 80% of violence has actually been targeted on men, mostly men on men violence. And men have been even bigger losers from the game of patriarchy than women. But somehow they don’t see that, so it’s worth noting that.
Lene: I mean, they were sent out as soldiers. And one of the things that you see in many polygamy societies is that if one man can have more wives, there are not enough women for the young men. And so society is more violent because the young men have to fight among each other, technically, in order for there to be fewer men so that whoever survives can get one of the women. And so society is more violent in general. That is not the case in hunter-gatherer tribes though, but there are different mechanisms. And usually it’s a fight with the other tribes. But still.
Jim: Or internally. One of the interesting things about hunter- gatherers, many hunter-gatherers show 10% of male deaths being homicidal jealousy fights, which again, in a patriarchic context which is interesting. But anyway, let’s move on.
To your point, liberal democracy’s done a good job. However, the democracy part of it seems to be reaching a dangerous point. Schismogenesis might in fact be the underlying macro phenomena here. A remarkable number of democratic countries are now becoming bimodal, where the two sides barely tolerate each other.
One of the most amazing statistics in the United States now is that something like 45% of parents would be upset if one of their children married somebody of the opposite political party. That number was like 8% in 1960. And of course 1960, it was about 80% for race, and now it’s 5% for race. And it was like 50% for religion, and now it’s like 2% for religion. So that in the United States, at least, the division is around politics, and this is mostly simplistic. Team red, team blue politics is now much more powerful than the divisions around race and religion, which is a strange change.
And it’s again, becoming more true all over the world. Look at the Brexit, no Brexit. In France, we had Marine Le Pen getting a fairly significant vote in a country that more or less invented liberal democracy. Right? I wouldn’t say they invented it, but they were one of the more extreme proponents of it at one point.
Lene: One of the drivers of that development, absolutely.
Jim: And a very important contribution, particularly in the French Enlightenment. And here’s one of the problems with democracy. I had Forrest Landry on my show a few times and he talks about it quite eloquently, that when you put something to a vote, inevitably a large percentage of people are pissed off because they lost. Right? And maybe there are other forms of governance. I like to try to open the window of thinking about this problem from a problem of democracy to a more general problem of governance that has attributes that allow good things to emerge.
Listeners to my show know I’ve written a fair bit about something called liquid democracy that doesn’t even imply legislatures, or could or could not. I have a version with the legislature and one without. And it’s quite radical and substantially reduces the number of times you’re voting for things, or things that are happening that you didn’t agree with.
And there may be other forms of governance that have good attributes but aren’t parliamentary or presidential style liberal democracies, and particularly where we’re getting pluralism in a strong sense. We really are two cultures in the West now. How to live together as two cultures may require something other than our traditional nation-state level liberal democracy.
The other one I like to talk about fair bit is the concept of subsidiarity. And this was originally developed by the Catholics of all people, which is that decisions should be made at the lowest level in the political stack, and this is the important caveat, that is appropriate for solving that problem. For instance, global warming can’t be solved at the community level. That’s a global problem. Defense has historically been done at the nation-state level, but there may be some ways around that.
But things like should marijuana be legal? No reason that couldn’t be done at the village level. I know here in Virginia, our little town, there’s a faction that would like to allow open container drinking down in our restaurants and nightclubs district. But Virginia state law forbids that, and Virginia state law forbids the city for overriding it. Subsidiarity would say, Let our little town have a district for open container drinking if it wants to. Why not? Why the hell’s it’s a bigger entity’s business?
And so I’m suggesting while this spirit of liberal democracy, I am certainly with, I’m more and more concerned that the actual institutional structures are not a good fit for our times and that it’s necessary for people to think much more creatively. Just like we talked earlier, we need a much more creative thinking about what replaces late stage financialized capitalism. I’m going to suggest we need something that is a significant upgrade to our current institutions of liberal democracy.
Lene: Absolutely. But I mean we already have a number of different democratic structures in our societies. So I mean in Europe we have the EU where you have the United States. Then we have the nation states under that in Europe, and you have the individual states in the United States and they have legislative power. Then you have municipalities. But we also have myriads of associations and guilds and unions and all kinds of democratic structures that are regulated by either national or federal or continental institutions, usually the national, so the state legislation.
And once you start an association or a guild or something, depending on which form you choose, there are some rules for taxes, some rules for membership. You can take the stock company for instance, that’s a legal structure. And in its own way it’s democratic. In other respects it’s definitely not democratic, because usually the employees do not vote. But if you have a cooperative, then you have a different kind of structure, and it’s even more democratic.
So we have these many. Already we have all these many different kind of democratic structures in the liberal democracy. And what I think is missing is that people actually go out and engage themselves in it. And I think people would be more happy if they did, and just let TikTok and their cell phone stay at home and went out and met some people and got engaged in their local water supply, and school systems, and sports clubs and all that. Many, many different kinds of organizations and entities that are already out there, and where you can actually locally gain a lot of power, participate in a lot of decision making and make a huge difference locally. We rarely talk about that, and I think a lot of people are not really aware of how many possibilities there are for going out and engaging yourself in this.
So I think in the liberal democracy, we actually do have these many opportunities. And when you look at the rest of the world where they do not have the liberal democracy, they also do not have all these many different kinds of democratic organizations locally. And so there is not this whole very complex fabric of people who are engaged in unions, and local water supply, and school boards, and sports clubs, and churches, houses of prayers of all kinds. And we just take it for granted in the liberal democracy in the west that that is how you do it. And if we have an interest in something that we would like to promote together, it’s like, Okay, who writes the bylaws and who calls the banks, and gets us an account so that we can get started? I mean it’s really easy. The whole system is set up for it.
We can start a political party. We don’t have to ask anybody. We just have to go out. And here you need, I think it’s like 22,000 signatures and you can run for a parliament and nobody stops you. You don’t have to ask anybody. You get just have to register and get started. You can start a demonstration. You just have to announce it to the police, and unless they think that you’re going to use violence or promote an illegal agenda, we just need to know what part of town you want to be in. So we do have all these opportunities. And I think it’s very much the same, I don’t know, five or 10% of people who use them all the time. And that may be a problem.
Jim: Yeah, a very good point, that more of us need to be involved, particularly at the local level. Though I would also point out, institutions do matter.
Jim: For instance, in proportionate representation countries like many in Europe, it’s relatively easy to start a new party and actually get some traction. In the United States with our first past, and UK, first past the post voting systems and such like that there are institutional arrangements which were not considered because frankly the founding fathers were opposed to the idea of political parties, how naive were they, that actually make it exceedingly difficult for a third party to get any kind of traction in the US?
Lene: Well, you could probably start it locally and you might even be able to, and I don’t know the American system well enough, to make alliances locally so that you could with a Green Party, a Game B party, or I mean any other party have local influence. So that’s one thing. The other thing that I would like to say about this red-blue split schismogenesis in our societies, so we’re having pretty soon nobody knows when, elections coming up in Denmark because it’s the prime minister who has to decide when we’ll have elections, but it has to be at least every four years.
We also have now the red side and the blue side, and everything is organized according to the red and blue. It’s just the opposite. So the reds here are the socialists and the blue are the conservatives. But anyway, we talk about the red and the blue camp, or the red and the blue agenda, or the red and the blue, whatever.
And so we’re also creating this divide in politics. And I think that the reason why it’s becoming so nasty and the reason why it involves schismogenesis and this we are the good people, they are the bad people, is because where red and blue used to be about economics and ownership of the means of production. And I do sound like a Marxist when I say this, but I mean he was the first one to really make this analysis. I do not like his solutions, but his analysis is actually very sharp.
So until around the 1980s, the left and the right was about who owned the means of production, and how much money could the workers make, and the workers were to the left and the owners of the means of production were to the right. And when you struggle over economy and money, you can start negotiating, and you can reach a compromise, and you can look at how much money is in society, how big a pie should we bake together, and then how should we divide the pie afterwards? And you can do that without getting all kinds of emotions involved. I mean, usually emotions were involved, but you can do this rationally and you do not necessarily see the other as morally inferior to you.
But what has happened the past 30 years, particularly with globalization and with robotization and with a lot of the workers eventually owning their own house and a lot of people owning the means of production through their pension funds, the left-right spectrum got all mixed up. And so we’re not fighting over money anymore. We’re fighting over moral values. And once we’re fighting over moral values, it’s our emotions that are at stake. And so if somebody disagrees with me emotionally, they must be bad people and it’s impossible to compromise. And so the political debate becomes about something else that goes much deeper than whether we have enough money for, I don’t know, free school meals or something like that.
It becomes a moral question of free school meals. And then it becomes really nasty because some people really want their kids to eat their own food, and other people really want all kids to eat together. And it becomes a moral issue and not a question of do we have the money for it? And then you can bring in all other kinds of agendas or political questions where it becomes a moral issue.
And so apart from the left-right axis that goes from left to right horizontally, there’s a vertical axis in politics that I have named order which is up, and chaos which is down. And so that is where you have a very rigidly ordered society at one extreme, and a society at the other extreme where there is no regulation at all. And of course liberals would like to have, I mean liberalists in the original sense of the word, would like to have as little order and legislation and regulation as possible. So they would lean towards the chaos and openness of everything. And both conservatives and socialists tend to lean towards regulation, and a very highly ordered society from a different side of the left-right spectrum.
So I created this political pie that people can see in the book, but it’s also on the website nordicbildung.org/libertism, where the political pie has three ideologies, socialism, conservatism, and liberalism. And if we see the whole political system as a balance between those three ideologies, and there are three different approaches to economy. There are three different approaches to redistribution. There are three different approaches to moral norms, and what is a good person and what is a good life. Then we can start looking at politics as a balance among people who have different moral inclinations, emotional needs, emotional inclinations, and personal talents and interests.
And some people who are more towards the liberalism will be their entrepreneurial types who want to really try and do something new all the time. And you have conservatives who just hate that. The conservatives on the other hand, they really want to preserve, conserve the moral norms and the family structure and everything that has shown itself to last and work for a long time. And institutions are really hard to create so breaking them down by creating all this havoc and new stuff all the time, that’s a really bad idea. And that’s a valid viewpoint too.
And then you have the socialists and the workers and the poor people and the very compassionate people who think that everybody should share everything and we should all be economically equal. All this economic inequality is a fundamentally bad thing, and so we do want a lot of redistribution. And in order to have this redistribution, we need a very strongly ordered society and a strong government, which is also a valid viewpoint.
And the question then is, how do we balance this so that everybody gets a chance to live life the way that they like it the most, while allowing everybody else to live their life the way that they like it the most? And if we could get to that kind of tolerance and open-mindedness in politics and actually appreciate that other people want other things out of life than I do, so I should actually let them do that and help. Or we should have a conversation about a compromise where we figure out how do we balance this?
And if I’m a liberalist who really likes to create all the new stuff all the time, I may not be interested in doing all the social stuff or preserving, conserving, all the conservative stuff. But somebody else will do that and I can happily let them do that because then I don’t have to do it. And likewise, from the other points of view.
And that is how I have come to look at politics, and it has given me a tremendous freedom with regards to the people that I disagree with, because I can see that they are pursuing something that is meaningful to them that is not necessarily meaningful to me. But why should they be less happy than I am? We need to have that kind of conversation in politics.
Jim: Yeah, though of course, as we just talked about earlier, that’s not the trend currently, right?
Jim: People are quite the opposite saying, “All right, I’m on team left, and preservation of traditional attitudes about families as an option is not tolerable. God damn it. We’ll burn those people at the stake, or at least get them fired from their jobs in academia. Anybody dare say such a thing.” Right?
Jim: And that’s not good. Well, I think we’re going to have to wrap it up here. We did not make it all the way through my notes, not even close. This book has lots more interesting things in it. I would certainly recommend people read it. Liberatism, what’s the subtitle?
Lene: Grasping the 21st Century.
Jim: Yeah. Pick it up. It’s well worth the read. I enjoyed reading it very much, and I would like to thank you for your return visit to the Jim Rutt Show.
Lene: Well, thank you very much for inviting me. Always a pleasure.