The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Douglas Rushkoff. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Douglas Rushkoff. Douglas is a professor of media theory and digital economics at City University of New York, Queens, where he founded the laboratory for digital humanism. Welcome, Douglas.
Douglas: Hey, good to be with you.
Jim: Yeah, it’s like the fourth time I think you’ve been on our show, something like that.
Douglas: Yeah, third or fourth in all different ways. I love you more each time, which is good. You’ve seduced me into the Rutt way of looking at the world.
Jim: All right, the whole reason I do my podcast is gradually one person at a time to seduce them to Rutt’ism. I’ve got a few other things to tell you about. Douglas, before we hop into our topic today, he’s the author of the book, Team Human, as well as more than a dozen other bestselling books on media technology and culture, including one of my real favourites. Let’s get a little old now, but really an excellent book titled Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. Back in 2016, my wife and I were both reading it while we were spending a month in the Marina District of San Francisco.
We had been seeing these unlabelled white buses sneaking around the fancier parts of town and picking people up. And then maybe two weeks in, we’d start reading the book. So we go, oh, shit, those must be Google buses. And then we started looking carefully at the people getting on. We said, oh, yeah, those are definitely Google buses. It looks like definitely people on or near the edge of the spectrum.
Jim: So yeah, that’s them. So that was good. In addition to writing a dozen or more books, this is also the host of the Team Human podcast, which is a really interesting podcast. And he has a great sub-stack title, simply enough, Rush Cough. And in fact, our conversation today was triggered by one of the essays that appeared in his sub-stack, which I subsequently noticed was transcribed from a Team Human podcast, apparently. Is that right?
Douglas: Yeah. You know, I’ll do a monologue or just something more off the cuff. And then go, oh, that could actually make an interesting essay. And then kind of take it in on the edges and it’s a nice way of writing.
Jim: That’s actually a great idea. Anyway, the title of the essay, as it appeared in my sub-stack inbox, was Why I am Finally Leaving X and Probably All Social Media. You go way back on social media. Don’t you know, you’re no spring chicken to the game.
Douglas: No, I mean, I was back on social media when it was social. And people actually connected with each other in meaningful ways. If you consider, it depends what you mean by social media. I mean, for me, I mean, I used to argue this back in the early 90s, that the internet is social, that this is a, I was the guy who actually, I believe coined it, saying this is a social medium after the dot com boom and bust. I remember I said, this is the second time the internet has fought off an infection. You know, first, it was the government and the military trying to use these networks for defence purposes. And the scientists were all trading recipes and Star Trek episodes. So they kind of gave up on it.
It’s a nice way to tell the story. They kind of DARPA, I gave up on it, like, fine, let these nerds have it. And then, you know, then business came in and tried to dot com the whole thing with the web and we fought that off. And so I was always happy that the more social agenda of the net would come through. But, you know, social media, I guess, starting with blogger and then Friendster and Orkut and Facebook and Myspace, I was never really a fan of it. I mean, oddly enough, in the early days of blogger, I felt it would be inappropriate as a professional writer to go on social media. You know, I had a platform, I had a New York Times syndicated column. How dare I, you know, invade the blogosphere as a professional? Because that was the people’s space.
That was, you know, a beautiful, amateur place. I felt like I would be too loud, you know, and I had a platform. It’s not that I didn’t need it. It was that I was already platformed, right? So, so why do that? Why crowd their space with more of me? I always felt that when professionals went into the social media space, and especially when magazines and journalists and columnists started to go there, I felt like not only were they kind of reducing kind of the sanctity and validity of their own platforms, they were kind of going into the public park and standing on soapboxes with everybody else who’s shouting rather than using the platform they had. But they were making that space more serious, making a joyful, beautiful, crazy place where people are being poodles and changing genders and being Martians.
You know, this is a, it was a play space. And all of a sudden they made it serious. Oh, no, there’s news here. There’s headlines here. Once they lost control of that, it’s like, oh, he who sups with the devil must have a long spoon. You know, if you try to do serious work in a playful social media platform, eventually people will start trusting what’s happening in that space. You’re giving up all the centuries of editorial privilege that you may want to hang on to. And now it’s gone. People trust social media more than they do real media, real journalism.
Jim: Of course, they kind of were under the gun, right? Because, you know, particularly print journalism and the attempts of print journalism to then get established in the online world were very heavily parasitised, particularly by Facebook, right? Where if you didn’t post your stuff on Facebook, you weren’t going to get the traffic and some of the, you know, leading online news sites were getting half or more of their traffic from Facebook.
Douglas: Right. It was all coming in sideways. And the problem with it, though, was when it was coming in sideways, you were getting it piecemeal. So people were coming in sideways into your publication, just seeing that one thing and then darting out. So nobody had the experience that I had as a kid or my father used to have when the New York Times would come as the newspaper. You’d see the whole front page. You might just choose to read this article, but that article down on the bottom left about that war in Cambodia, at least you know that war is happening.
Right. You see the headline and you’re choosing not to actively read it, but now you just come in from the side, read the one article in that one section you want to see, and then you’re out. So you’re no longer in a newspaper. You’re no longer even a magazine. You know, our gun fans will know what a magazine is, but most people forget a magazine is a collection of things sorted into one place. It’s no longer a magazine. It’s an article.
And that’s very different. So everything you read is decontextualised. And what the newspapers and magazines didn’t realise is they were getting piecemeal traffic at the expense of their of their magazines, of their publications, of their editorial frame that undermined them. And once it’s just individual articles, then it might as well be people, you know, individuals on their own blogs or sub-stacks writing individual pieces rather than a real place.
Jim: So let’s go back in time a little bit to when the internet was more social. And it wasn’t called social media. That we were both members of The Well. In fact, I still am a member of The Well. And in fact, this would be my 34th year in two weeks that I’ve been on The Well.
Douglas: Yeah, I got on in 89, I think. Yeah.
Jim: So did I. Yeah, same year. And it was really a happening place. It was never very big. At the very top, it was about 12,000 people, but it was an amazingly tight knit community, a lot of face to face interactions, even though half the people were in the Bay Area, even us people, not the Bay Area managed to show up there from time to time. And man, interesting things happened there. Wired magazine was concocted on the well. The EFF was concocted on the well. Even you can argue that Craig’s list was concocted on the well. Craig Newmarket was an early member of the well. And but it wasn’t at all structured like so called social media today. It was we called it online community in those days.
Douglas: Yeah, it was a bulletin board. Well, the interesting thing about the well, the real difference between the well and what we would call social media today is I guess for people who are around now, the well is more like a discord or a subreddit. It was never meant to scale. Right. It wasn’t. It was a closed in the best sense, a bounded community. I don’t mean closed like there was an entrance fee, although I guess there was. Eventually, you know, it cost a tiny bit.
Jim: There still is. Still costs you 10 bucks a month. In fact, the theory I have about social systems is that you have to be very careful about the nature of the membrane you put around any social organism. And the membrane needs to be semi permeable, but you need to understand what the terms of transition through the membrane are. Right. And so, for instance, the well had two rules. One, you had to pay and the second was absolutely real names only.
And for a longest time, they would actually call you on the phone and verify you. A credit card wasn’t enough. And while you could have playful pseudonyms, if anybody clicks on it, they immediately see who you are. And those two things were quite foundational to this very different kind of truly social community that existed and still exists today at small scale.
Douglas: Right. Exactly. And the one really rule of the culture was you own your own words, which meant two things. I mean, it meant one, you know, in terms of your own, you own your word. Someone can’t just publish what you’ve written without your permission. But second, you own what you say. What you say is attributable to you. So remember, you know, you can you can hurt people, whatever. But you’re responsible for what you say.
But it was the boundedness of it that’s so different from a Twitter or a Facebook, except a Facebook group, maybe. But for the most part, these networks or Instagram or TikTok, they are boundless. The object of the game is to scale infinitely. So everything you tweet is to the entire world. Right. And
Jim: At least in theory, right.
Douglas: In theory. Right. And the object of the game is, I guess, to have the whole world read it. And like it and push it. And that’s not what you’re doing on the well or in any genuinely social experience. The social sexual experience is not to have sex with everyone on the planet. Right. But to have good sex with a few.
Jim: Will Chamberlain tried? Even he only got to 20,000.
Douglas: Twenty thousand. It’s a drop in the bucket. That’s, you know, you know, none of your county is that big, right? In Virginia. But even that’s a bounded community. But it creates a very different feeling. And, you know, that’s what you talk about in game B. And what I talk about in terms of bounded economics, you know, a community, it makes for a better economy, a better community when you have various bounds. So you have maybe 120 people, a nice little Dunbar number in your conference, you know, and then maybe there’s a couple of thousand people in the in the group of conferences that you belong to.
And then 10 or 12,000 people on the whole platform. And you can kind of scale out that way. And I remember, you know, scale was a really dangerous thing. People would ask permission if you had an interesting conversation going. They might say, oh, could we kind of co-host this conversation in a different conference? So we’re having a conference about consciousness in the minds conference, say. And then we get on to this, oh, that Grateful Dead song that talks about consciousness is really interesting.
Oh, can I link this over to the Grateful Dead conference? So now you’ve got two going. And that already felt like, oh, it’s so big. You know, there’s those hundred people and our hundred people in the same conversation. But we were so aware of it. And when you’re aware of scale, you don’t get into those sort of musky and X problems where, you know, you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people arguing from different contexts and different nobody even knows what they’re saying.
It’s a frigging mess. You know, and that got to that article. I mean, when I decided to leave finally, I mean, I’ve left X and Facebook and all this a number of times on Facebook in 2013, when they were, you know, they started using people’s posts to make ads without telling the people, like someone would say, oh, I’m at Starbucks today.
Jim: And yeah that’s true very briefly.
Douglas: Yeah. But it was just like, I didn’t feel it was appropriate for me as a media literacy figure of some kind to be doing something that puts people who want to connect with me there in danger. I can’t be there imperilling others. And I can’t put enough warnings to say, don’t I’m here for publicity just to make sure people read my book, but don’t actually friend me because you’ll be made owner, just leave.
There’s only ethical thing I could do. Now with this one, I was on X after the October 7th tragedy in the Middle East. And I’m on the eighth or the ninth and I’m looking at one of these really angry conversations going back and forth between otherwise you meet them in person, very nice pro-Palestinian people and pro-Israel people having a big argument, of course, crazy on X about this picture of a suffering or dead baby.
And I saw them all the way down in the discussion after all this heated exchange. Somebody says, wait a minute, is that a Palestinian baby or an Israeli baby? I don’t know how to feel. It’s like, oh, so X is a platform that could get you so polarised that you want to make sure you know which kind of baby this is so you know how to feel about its death. Like, oh, man, I’m out of here.
This is just so over, you know, between that and Musk’s, thermonuclear war, you know, when he moved up to kind of trolling chief. And if that’s the king of this platform, if that’s the person that people are modelling, that’s just not a behaviour. And I felt like if I leave and show that life is fine, I’m surviving, I’m okay. It’s okay out here that it could help hopefully model that behaviour for others.
Jim: Well, you know, my own relationship with social media is very peculiar. I actually looked it up 16 years ago. I started taking extended sabbaticals from the well anywhere from seven months to 18 months. I’m currently on one that will end in January. There’ll be 20 months break. And I’ve been doing it continuously for 16 years. And five years ago, I added Facebook to the rotation, but with a more regimented style where I’ve been off Facebook six months a year and on six months a year from the second of January to the 30th of June every year.
And then I’m off for the second half of the year. And two years ago, I added Twitter to the rotation because I really wasn’t much of a Twitterer until I started doing my podcast. And I sort of realised, you know, part of the responsibilities of a podcast is publicity and Twitter. I think I had like 300 followers on Twitter. But once I got my podcast rolling, you know, gradually, the number has risen to some reasonably respectable number. That was the main reason I got on Twitter.
So two years ago, I added Twitter to the rotation. And so I am literally on sabbatical from social media six months of the year. And people say, how do you do that? You won’t know what’s going on. I go, yeah, I think I probably will. And most importantly, I’ll waste a shitload less time and more importantly, emotional energy reacting to all this garbage. So I can imagine the food fights on Twitter and Facebook about, you know, October 7th, but fortunately, I haven’t had to look at it.
Douglas: Yeah, I like the word you use react. Right. So when you are on social media, really, your only your nervous system is compelled to react, not to respond, right? Not to respond in a thoughtful way, but it’s designed to trigger nervous system reactions, right? Impulses. And that’s not the state of consciousness that you want to be in as a thinking, feeling person, especially if you’re trying to wrestle with and confront major issues. It also, it creates the illusion that you should have an opinion on everything. You know, I remember someone was asking me, this is last year, the year before I was doing even a podcast.
Oh, Rushkoff, how do you feel about Biden’s withdrawal strategy from Afghanistan? And I’m like, well, I mean, I see it on TV. It looks bad, but honestly, I don’t know how you withdraw from countries after I really know nothing about war withdrawal policies. And I just don’t. I have no opinion. Oh, silence is violence. It’s like, no, it really isn’t. But on those platforms, it’s like, wait a minute, I’m supposed to tweet something back about this or that. And it’s like, does anybody who’s arguing on there know any of the history of the Middle East region or this or that? Of course not.
They’re doing the Musk thing. That sounds cool. Let’s retweet it. Oh, that’s a Nazi thing. I just retweeted. Okay, I’ll un-retweet it. And then it started to make me think how many, and I don’t mean to put one’s head in the sand or anything, but how many global issues do most people really need to know how to think and feel about them? You know, can’t we just leave, say, one percent of people, which is what? How many hundred million on the planet? Can we leave 100 million people to do that kind of geopolitical figuring? And the rest of us can like meet our neighbours, take care of people, raise food, do all the kinds of things that take the pressure off these giant systems.
So those hundred million people that are working on globally scaled problems have as little work to do as possible. Because we’ve taken care of ourselves and each other locally and in our neighbourhoods. And that is a worldview that just doesn’t make sense on social media, where everything is global. Everything is scaled. Everything is everything.
Jim: Absolutely. And in fact, listeners of my podcast are probably sick and tired of me saying it. But I see the next trillion dollar opportunity out there for so one of you young entrepreneurs get on this, you want that trillion dollars, right? What the hell are you going to do with a trillion dollars?
You can’t even spend 100 million on hookers and blow. But you know, I don’t know why the people keep stacking the chips up, but they do. I eventually said enough chips. I got enough chips. Bye bye. But there are people who just can’t say no to chips. So for those who want the trillion dollar stack, create an info agent that allows us to very thoughtfully and personally and intelligently filter out all that noise. And you know, one of the examples I’ve given on, I have not thought about it deeply, but I’ve thought about it shallowly multiple times.
One of the things I love is a slider. It says I only want X number of inbound’s a day. And the number I might set it to might be five, right? And that would include news, anything, right? I want this thing to know the five things that I really need to hear. Plus throw two random ones in from the cloud of possibilities. You do want some serendipity. You have two sliders, serendipity slide. And you think I want to know slide.
And maybe the total is, I set the total to 10, I put the sliders as proportions. I think that would be amazing because here’s another Ruttian philosophy. You know, we all notice that the world is going nuts, right?
Douglas: Yes. Yes.
Jim: Seriously, businesses are not functioning very well. Government isn’t functioning. The discourse is basically insane. We’ll get back to that later. I have a very, you know, say, oh, it’s social media. Oh, it’s, you know, this and everything. I’ve actually got a highly reductionistic, very simple, hypothesis, conjecture, it’s not even a hypothesis, it’s a conjecture. Somebody needs to turn into a hypothesis and then do the study, which is what is destroying our ability for individual and collective sense making is not the payloads much.
It’s just the number of interrupts per day that we are receiving. And that, you know, we evolved as hunter-gatherers on the Savannah in Africa, in East Africa to engage in a certain kind of life. And then we learned how to do agriculture and it got a little bit more complicated, not much more complicated. And there was a certain number of interrupts per day that you dealt with. And it was probably in the tens to maybe a low hundred or so a day of things that got your attention. And when you get a number above some critical number, and I suspect it varies for person, what their critical number is based on their, their neuro-typicality or non-typicality and the various other things.
Once you get above some number of inbound, something seriously wrong. What happens in one’s information processing? These things you talked about, you know, the alert signals that they’re trying to get out of you from Facebook, right? The dopamine hits, the outrage hits, or, but even, you know, the sappy shit that are on TV ads, right? That are hitting the oxytocin button. Every single one of those is an interrupt deep in your nervous system. And when you get above some number for you personally, it’s going to be different. We get above that number. You start to become more and more and more just plain old dysfunctional.
Jim: So that’s the root conjecture of that. It’s the absolute number of interrupts, not the payloads that matter. Yeah.
Douglas: I mean, I made this controversial argument back in 1995 after Wired announced that we’re in the attention economy and all. I argued that attention deficit disorder, the reason why the prescriptions and diagnoses of attention deficit disorder went up, you know, 5,000 percent in the two or three years after Wired announced that we’re living in an attention economy is because it’s an adaptive strategy to a world where someone is trying to interrupt you with a message or program you everywhere you look, you know, and that was in the, in the pleasant days of the early World Wide Web where I was talking about how a young person, wherever they set their eyes, you know, a bus stop has an ad and, and, and anywhere you look, there’s someone trying to interrupt you. And beyond that, you know, and that was nice.
That got me in trouble. But I remember Robin Williams quoted that on a TV interview. I was like, Oh my God, Robin Williams is quoting RushKoff because he had such total ADD, you know, it was, but he attributed it to that too. But what bothers me about the digital realm, even though I’m a cyber-boy digital type or cyberpunk is that digital is so staccato compared to analog. You know, the, when I got my first CD ROMs, those 44,000 Hertz CD ROMs, they all sounded to me like somehow I could sense the sampling rate. Something about digital felt so staccato compared to listening to an album that was continuous.
And all of the, the networks and platforms that are built on the digital medium seem to be maximising. the number, the number of hits that you get rather than any sense of continuity. The long read, they call it. What we used to call an article is now called a long read because it’s not a…
Jim: Yeah, a classic New Yorker article of, say, 1975 would be something that they wouldn’t dare publish today.
Douglas: No, it’s a book. Then we call that a book now.
Jim: People still think I’m weird because I read 100 books a year, right? And I’ve never backed off on that because I find that it’s a qualitatively different experience to read a book than it is to read a bunch of articles about… I do that too, of course. I read lots of articles, several hundred articles a year, but I certainly… Well, I started 100 books and finished 75 and that’s been my pattern since I was 10 years old. And I do consider myself quite the contrary. It wasn’t that contrary. It was kind of excessive, but not contrary for much of my life. But in the last 10 years or so, people say, huh, what? Who the hell reads 75 books a year? Are you crazy?
And I go, no, quite the opposite, right? Because it’s a complete… As you say, it’s completely… It’s continuous. You’re getting somebody’s argument. And if it’s an argument or a story, I still read a fair bit of fiction. Used to be 50-50 fiction and nonfiction. Now it’s probably because of my podcasting mostly. 75% nonfiction, 25% fiction, but either a argument or a narrative about history or a beautiful story or a terrible story or even a terribly written story. They are somebody trying to project their mind into my mind at length. And there is something really interesting about that.
That’s the other opposite of the staccato that you’re talking about. You get on fucking Twitter and actually my producer posts my podcasts on Twitter and Facebook and a few other places. But I do still log on once a week to check if I have messages from anybody because there are a number of annoying people who send me messages on Facebook in particular. So I have to see who they are and delete most of them. No, I’m not really interested in helping you get that 25 million out of Nigeria, right.
The last surviving home of the Nigerian letter seems to be Facebook message. But anyway, but even you just look at Twitter and it’s like, oh, wait, oh, no, it’s like the antithesis of reading a book. And so I think you’re definitely onto something.
Douglas: But the users, you know, end up acclimating to that. You know, you leave for six months, you come back and you go, oh my God, this is really insane. This is, you know, and you have almost a psychic shield when you go in there to realise, oh, I’m like, I’ve just jumped into the crazy pool, you know, and there’s beach bottles and things flying all around. I’m just like, all right, I’m not going to try to make sense here. I’m just going to like dip in, see some of the crazy and dip out. You know, is there a message?
Do I need anything? Goodbye. You know, it’s like going to the shopping mall with your kid on Black Friday. This is not where I’m going to buy a smart pair of shoes. But it’s not so you can dip in consciously. But if you live in it, I mean, your nervous system matches that staccato.
And then you’re hungry for the dopamine and you don’t even know what oxytocin is, right? You don’t know how to bond with other people. And the funny thing is, I write that piece about leaving X and I get all these emails. Oh, so you’re, you’re, you’re going to leave the internet?
No, there’s still this internet, you know, it’s my TV’s on the internet, my fridge is on the frigging internet, I’m on the internet, there’s no leaving the internet. It’s not that I’m leaving a particular platform. Oh, well, you’re not going to know what’s going on or oh, that’s a sign of white privilege, right? You’re allowed to leave the internet, the Twitter because you’re privileged enough to go. But what about all the people that have to be there? And that’s like a really specious argument of like, oh, you’re privileged enough not to be a heroin addict, right?
What about the people who were underprivileged and had all these problems and ended up heroin addicts? Well, I’m going to be able to help them better in the real world. You know, and the odd thing is you’re not the illusion is that when you leave a platform, you’re somehow turning your back on reality. And it’s like, no, no, no, realities here, realities out here, there’s people, there’s stuff. And at, and at the scale that human beings operate, do you know how much more available I am to help the woman who gets stuck in her vestibule, there’s a woman who gets stuck in her vestibule up near the piece of place here. And I try to go out at lunchtime to be there because she comes out with her dog and her walker and she can’t do the two doors at once.
And it’s like my life privilege to get there, to let her out. That is way more meaningful on every cosmic friggin level than having the best tweet to counteract the bad tweet that will be forgotten in 14 seconds after it’s done.
Jim: Indeed, indeed. It is funny when I go back on people always ask me the first week or so, what’s your take when you come back to it? And I go, same shit, different day, basically.
I’ve missed absolutely nothing is my feeling, right? And that as you say, it just seems like, what the fuck is this? And then after about two weeks, as you say, you get normalized to it, right, which is unfortunate. After two weeks, even Auschwitz feels like home, right? And that’s just the way humans are, right? We get so easily conditioned to whatever our surroundings are, we become adaptive to the signals and hence the need for another game that has different signals, because these signals will never do us any good.
Not when they’re powered by the money on money return. You get into that in your article that that’s where, you know, on MySpace, MySpace was people mostly fucking around, quite a contest of the world’s ugliest MySpace page, but mine was certainly a contender. But I didn’t use it much. But I do understand that the music industry kind of infiltrated it. But otherwise, it was just kind of this weird, rough, hobbyist kind of thing, you know, post about 2011 or 2012 on Facebook, the suits arrived and money on money return became the thing. And after that, one could assume, unless there’s just amazing diligence and good faith, that it’s going to become corrupt. And it did.
Douglas: Right. It’s so disembodied and fractious that it’s led to, I think, both of our fascist and authoritarian extremes. You know, on the one hand, we get, you know, the extreme social justice kind of warrior fractured, you know, where you can’t be gay or straight or bi, you have to be this particular kind of this, it keeps getting broken down more and more and more. And because people are looking for identity for grounding for something real, or on the other side, you get all the MAGA people and getting into blood and soil and that real thing.
I mean, the space does tend not just because of this kind of social dilemma, algorithmic blah, blah, I mean, which yeah, does want to make people more extreme, but it’s also the groundlessness of it. You know, that’s what makes us quest for a nominal identity. And those nominal identities are not real. Race is not none of that stuff is real. Those are names. They’re not even genus or species. I mean, it’s like Audubon at best, you know, trying to figure out what is this thing. I’m going to give it a name. Your real identity is your relationship to the living things, to the ground where you’re walking to the lady in the vestibule or the deer on the hill. That’s who you are is your physical body in neural and biological network with the stuff around it. You don’t get that in these spaces. So you try to substitute with them with words and names and ideologies, and then you over identify with those words and you end up in a war, right?
You end up in the Twitter war. The thing that actually made me think about all this was I was talking with my daughter, she’s at college now and she’s in a Chaucer course of all things and she read this Chaucer poem. It was called The Parliament of Fowls and it’s this guy reading Cicero and he’s reading Cicero and Cicero had this idea called the common profit and it was way back when, you know, 1200s and whatever. And Cicero is saying that it’s kind of like Hayekian economics that if people each argue the thing that they believe and the thing that they need, we will get to the common good, the common profit.
Like the market of ideas will eventually yield the best solution for the thing. And so the guy’s reading that in this poem and then he falls asleep and he wakes up in this giant parliament of fouls. It’s like a Congress of Birds and they’re all chattering each one. So there’s a little girl bird that wants to pick which eagle she’s going to marry and everybody has their opinion on which one she should marry and why. And he slowly reveals each one is arguing their own self-interest, has nothing to do with her. They’re each arguing their own thing and I’m thinking oh my god this is Twitter. It’s just blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
No one cares about her, no one cares and she finally, which is what I love and it’s part of why I wanted to leave, she finally goes look I’m not listening to any of y’all I’m going to come back next year and decide. And it’s a beautiful idea because for Chaucer that’s fertility, right? The return. You come back the next year and that’s the sort of the beautiful continuity is not making the choice. And I just love it because on Twitter it’s like pick a side, make a choice, make your tweet, here’s this one, here’s that one, here’s this one, there’s no way to resolve that and Twitter is so desperate just like so much on the internet. It’s so desperate to resolve to the one or the zero to the yes or the no to the Palestinian or the Israeli.
There’s nobody on Twitter is talking about standing together which is like the one group in the Middle East that I really support, which is like bottom up people from Palestine, people from Israel are bonding together, forging solidarity and want to change from the bottom up, very game B and get rid of their corrupt leaders on both sides and create a society that works for the actual people. You can’t do that on Twitter. Twitter’s the one side or the other. Twitter is the parliament of fowls. That was sort of like, oh my god, I really, if Chaucer could see it, I should be able to see that Twitter does not work.
Jim: Yeah, I’m going to push back a little bit here, which is that you can make Twitter work to a degree, but it requires quite careful curation. For instance, in my own Twitter-verse, it’s mostly, there’s a fair bit of science people. I think I follow about a thousand people. The ones I follow, which is sort of then the core of what I experience is science folks, liminal web people, sort of game B in the adjacencies, right? And I recommend people are interested in the adjacencies. Check out the essay, The Liminal Web by Joe Lightfoot, which he has updated recently to sort of update his vision of the constellation of several dozen radical social change people.
So we have a lot of those. We have a few crypto people that I happen to follow. This is my own curated list, but the result is very interesting in that there’s almost zero team red versus team blue politics because nobody’s particularly interested in it. People argue it’s most likely to be about crypto, pro and con, which there are, which there are good arguments pro and con, though there are zealots on both sides of it. And I suspect, again, I haven’t looked since October 7th, I expect there probably isn’t even too much, you know, hot argumentation about Palestine and Israel, because that’s not what this particular community of people’s interested in. And so it is possible, but it’s hard work.
Douglas: It is, you’ve created a boundary condition around it. So you’re not using Twitter, the way many people do, as a kind of a mainstream media thing, you’re using it as a bounded social network through careful curation and filtration, right?
Jim: It has no membrane. So it doesn’t work as well as it could. But for instance, if I had that AI agent I was talking about earlier, I could define these things in a parametric way, let the software do it for me, it would be better. That is the nice thing about Twitter is that it is the most self organising of all the systems, no boundaries. And it’s very, very different. The other extreme is Reddit, right? I still use Reddit and Reddit can be very, very valuable, but there is no Reddit. All there are is the subreddits that you’re interested in.
There are some wonderful subreddits about what’s going on with machine learning and large language models, some of them the best places to get information, some software development tools, I still write software from time to time. There’s a subreddit on Flutter, for instance. Flutter is this cross-platform tool that lets you build phone apps and web apps and PC apps all with the same code base. And I would say the best place to get information about Flutter these days is on the subreddit.
But it’s very structured and very easy. You just go to the Reddits that you want to go to and you don’t see anything else. It’s very much like the well, but only instead of there being 200 conferences there’s 2 million subreddits or something.
Douglas: And I could see doing that and you’re using it not to argue and promote your ideas far and wide, but to engage with people in conversation.
Jim: About specific topics.
Douglas: Yeah. And my orientation to social media, I guess because I’m principally a writer and journalist, was anything I do, anything I write feels like I’m publishing. So I’m wary to use public platforms to publish my words, even a sentence where if I’m in a discord or on the well, I feel much more protected by that membrane. Do you know what I mean?
Jim: Sometimes it’s a false sense of security. Right
Douglas: Yes, absolutely. But at least I can be mad that the person, oh, you took what I said on the well and you wrote about it in an article. That’s your bad.
Jim: That actually happened to me famously when I got named CEO of Network Solutions and was involved in some serious political infighting. A Washington Post journalist who was a member of the well wrote a story about some of the bad things I’d said about Bill Clinton on the well, which were plentiful, right? That he was a sociopath. Oh, he did vote for him in 92, no, not 96. I said a lot of nasty stuff about Bill Clinton and he paraphrased it. So he did not violate yo-yo and but he wrote a long front page article in the Washington Post about Jim Rutt on the well and all the terrible things he said about Bill Clinton.
And it ended up not hurting me in the slightest because it turned out at that point in time, the strategy I had was what I called the Dr. Strange love strategy, which is this fucker might blow up the world. So you better not push him too far. So it actually ended up helping me oddly enough. But I don’t think that was the intent, right? That story is actually quoted in some books about the history of the Internet about, you know, yo-yo and how yo-yo was violated on the Washington Post, but not really.
Douglas: I know there are these great stories. There’s like, you know, the rape and cyberspace one. There’s the when they invaded the funeral and World of Warcraft. There’s your story. I mean, there’s we have like 10 or 20 of these Internet stories that feel like they encapsulate one or the other feature of how we were wrestling with how do we maintain a sense of order and safety in these spaces while keeping them open and free.
I mean, it’s interesting to see them. I mean, what I was going to kind of ask you about was in reference to my Twitter piece and my feelings about digital is you’ve had Nora Bateson on who’s talked about warm data and the all the in between. And my feeling is that when I am having like a mushroom experience or a sexual experience or a deeply social experience or just sitting in the same room with someone like Nora Bateson, all the in between matters so much more than any word I say than any discrete idea that stuff is there. When I’m in a digital space, I feel like it’s so hard to access that organic in between this that other thing. And I’m wondering does systems theory as you understand does systems incorporate both somehow is there.
Jim: Very much so yeah in my own work. This is a key part of my own work for designing organisations, which is I make a distinction. I started on this road in the 90s. So the original distinction gets a little bit blurred in the current world. But I made the distinction between strong links and weak links, right? The links we have with people on Twitter and Facebook are weak links, right? They’re very thin, very low bandwidth, they’re not embodied, right? We are embodied creatures, you know, we are sexual creatures, just ask Dr. Freud, right?
We are aggressive creatures, we are loving creatures, we are all kinds of things rather than a string of digital things emanating from us. And it’s very difficult, but not quite impossible to develop strong links on a purely textual and image based medium. And let’s say it is possible, like for instance, I do have some strong links with a few people on the well that are as strong as they are with my next door neighbour, right?
But it’s rare and it’s taken 34 years. On the other hand, almost any kind of significant and intense in person experience has a high probability of building strong links, right? And one of my examples of that was when the game beat thing happened over a period of about a year, the five face to face meetings, first 11 people, then 20, then 30, then 35, 40, 45, whatever it was. And everybody that was part of that still has a very strong relationship with each other, at least, at least it could be revived easily.
We had some, you know, crazed drunken dinners, we had some conversations, we had some presentations that were like memorable in a very vivid way in a way that, you know, some PowerPoint that you looked at in your email just does not have. And so I have for many years been arguing that if you’re trying to build social change organisations or any kind of organisation includes virtual companies now as well, because as you know, many startups now are virtual with people all over the country, all over the world. I suggest that it’s well worthwhile investing in face to face on a regular basis, because the combination of strong links and weak links is better than either by itself.
Because strong links are what their name says they are strong, you can rely upon them, there’s lots of nuance, there’s lots of bandwidth, but they’re expensive, you know, hauling people across country to get together costs us about 25 grand for each one of the game B events. And on the other hand, to have a online community where people could interact rapidly and in real time, which we also had, we had a a base camp community with like 100 people on it. And so we would blow the chatter away like a parliament of fouls online. But then we know that we’re going to get together.
So it had a different valence, right? And we knew who these people really were. And my network theory around this is strong links and weak links are different things. And that powerful networks are built with both. And that is very tempting these days to de-emphasise the strong links. And that’s a mistake.
Nora would 100% agree. I’ll give you another thinker that if you’re interested in this, who’s worth following is Dave Snowden. He has built a quite interesting platform called Sense Maker that is used for getting ground level stories captured by people about what’s really going on like in Mexico or Guatemala or Columbia, where you can get hundreds of people, often women, who are engaged in doing the real work of holding their society together and know what the real problems are. And he has a very nifty structured way of capturing their stories as narrative. And while there is some quantitative data, he’s very careful not to reify the stories.
So the stories are allowed to speak for themselves. And I think he is on to something very important. And actually, Dave Snowden and Nora have collaborated on some things. So that’s a very interesting little note that’s happening. Now, as I said, things are getting blurred a little bit. The growth of online chat like we’re doing right now, in the late 90s, has now added an intermediate kind of link that’s neither a strong link nor a weak link. And I will confess to having adopted it pretty heavily starting around 2017, maybe 2018. And I do at the peak, I was probably doing 25 or 30 zooms a week. That was too much. But I’ve cut back some.
But I now do podcasts, do lots of that. And I will say that they have some aspects of both. They’re not nearly as strong as the strong links, but they’re stronger than the average weak link, particularly people that I have regular seriously. There’s a couple of people, one guy I do a weekly zoom with and we have a great relationship. We’ve met face to face a couple times. But, you know, we’ve really developed a deep true friendship from this weekly one hour conversation.
And there are other people I talk to once a month or once every three months. And I have various levels of strength, they’re stronger than you’d get from an equivalent amount of time, even on the well. But so anyway, when you’re thinking about a network for collective sense making, correctly blending, let’s call it three types, of course, they all blend into each other. But weak links being, you know, a discourse or the well or a private group on Facebook or something is weak. Face to face is strong and virtual with a number no great or then and no greater than four or five is somewhere in between, you know, lectures on zoom are just something else entirely.
And getting that mix right for any given particular use case is a skill that almost nobody has. I’ve been asking people in business about this, right, because they’ve gone through COVID and where they were forced at gunpoint to go virtual without any doctrine or any theory. And the people just give you the most unstructured confused answers.
When I asked them, what did you do and how did it go? Right. And they just were just in reactive mode. And in general, it didn’t go so well, but it got better over time, etc. Everybody agrees that you still need to have at least periodic face to face. Did they do it enough? The answer is always no, right, those kinds of things. But yeah, so I would say for building these live networks in the world, you got to think about these different kinds of links as different kinds of things that serve different purposes in a holistic vision of a network.
Douglas: Right. And that’s because the, the strong links in a network can hold these ineffable sorts of connections between people. I mean, I’ve had in live in person, I’ve had experiences of where I’m metabolising their anxiety or their stress or their pain. As a nervous system, I can feel myself helping metabolise, bearing witness. Like when you sit with somebody, you probably have. Have you sat with someone when they’ve died?
Jim: My father.
Douglas: Yeah. And it’s painful, but it’s also, in some ways the most…
Jim: Real thing you’ll ever see.
Douglas: Yes. And you’re there bearing witness and honouring it. In some ways, it’s a mitzvah to be there, to be them when they’re letting go and, you know, they can’t talk anymore. But I got the sense that they could feel that I’m there, that their nervous system is using mine. And that’s something. It feels like all those kinds of connections that are in a strong bond are missing from way too much of our interaction. And it’s so undervalued that I’ve gotten to this place. And partly I’m a recovering Twitter person, I guess, and a recovering activist and doer and problem solver, that I’m realising that my efforts to actually do things and solve problems have been less efficacious than when I’ve simply beared witness to something, simply been present.
The best things in my life have happened in spite of my efforts to prevent them. And it’s an interesting place to get in my old age. And not to say I don’t want to do things or make change or help, but I’m feeling like I’m helping way more by being present, by being present and compassionate and forging those deep and strong bonds and connections with people than sitting and typing an answer on Facebook to somebody’s question about a war.
Jim: Yeah, exactly. In my own sense, I’m still engaged in trying to fix the world, too. It’s probably a lost cause, but one must be an optimist, right? There’s no real alternative. But by far the most valuable quantum’s of my time is we’ve been very fortunate that we’re able to spend a week, a month with our granddaughter, who’s three years old, and talk about the power of just being there. It’s just been amazing for her and certainly been amazing for us to be able to do that.
And that’s just been a total highlight of our lives for my wife and I here the last three years, and we continue to look forward to doing it for. Well, by the time she gets off to school and has her friends and her activities and all those annoying old people fuck. But at least for now, she loves it when Dato and CeCe come up and we just hang out for a week.
Douglas: I know, and it’s the most delightful. And then you just realise, oh, life is good. Not to get all the way into the Auschwitz example, but life is good when there’s people you love. The other thing I want to go back to I love was your trillion dollar idea and the idea of how people are stacking up chips that they don’t need. When I wrote throwing rocks to Google Bus because it had so many business applications I was talking about, it was really the first book to get into, like circular economics and alternatives and post growth. And what could you do after all that, looking at the way growth had become the enemy of genuine distributed prosperity.
I would start this talk when I would go into a business school saying, is there anybody in this room who is willing to set their target as low as $50 million? Is there anybody here? And no one would raise their hand. And I would spend the whole talk trying to convince people that not only is earning $50 million enough, but that they would have a better business, they’d have a higher probability of success, that they wouldn’t have to sell their business. They could stay doing the thing they love rather than moving up. And by the end, maybe I would convince two or three out of 100 people to raise their hands and go, okay, I’m willing to compromise and only earn $50 million. And I realised that that’s such a sickness, right? This need for the home run.
Jim: That’s insane. I stopped stacking up the stacks, chips in that range more or less, right, and had opportunities to go ten X that easily right after I had done the rather spectacular thing at the end of my business career. But I just had enough. And there are other people that do that, but it is relatively rare, and I don’t really understand it. Part of it is, I think people just haven’t cultivated other aspects of themselves. It’s the only thing that they’re good at, frankly. It’s kind of like the guy who’s working at the hardware store all of his life, retires at 65, comes home and dies two months later because he doesn’t have any other interests. And I think that’s part of it.
Guy I worked with, business partner, actually was pathological at making money to the end of his days, and for no good reason. He was actually relatively modest in his tastes. And he wasn’t even philanthropic, so he wasn’t going to give it away. And he realised money had ruined his kids, right? But he still couldn’t help himself. It was like he had no other interests. He was very good at making money and he kept doing it.
Douglas: And the interesting thing is the Internet has made it way easier to spawn billionaires. That’s what Peter Turchin’s book End Times is about, this wealth pump. So guys like Musk and Gates are really no richer than Rockefeller and JP Morgan were in their day. And on an inflation basis, they’re actually poorer than their Gilded Age counterparts. But there’s so many more billionaires, right? That’s where the division of wealth is. There’s this glut of billionaires because so many people can. You can scale so quickly with a decent hedge fund or an algorithm, you can scale up to a billion or $2 billion.
And there’s a zillion of them. A zillion billionaires. Not enough to make the world a better place, but certainly enough to extract wealth from all the people in places that need it. It’s this tiny, tiny class of billionaires that is really doing all the plane travel. I don’t want to tell people not to be ecological and not to stack their plastic or do whatever it is that we’re supposed to do, but really, the 99% of us are not the problem here. It’s like…
Jim: WEll, in America, probably about 30% of us are living beyond sustainable planetary levels.
Douglas: Oh, really?
Jim: Yeah. But you’re absolutely right. The 10% are the big problem. People who fly to Bali to go on vacation, that kind of stuff, live in 5000 square foot houses, et cetera. And then the top 1% are three or four X that, and then the top ten to 1% are three or four X that. Somebody recently sent me a curve. I’ll see if I can dig it up and send it to you. But it’s quite interesting. Yes, it’s heavily skewed, but most of the listeners here are probably on the wrong side of the curve with respect to if everybody on Earth lived at that level of intensity, could 8 billion people live that way? And the answer is probably not. It’s going to be harder than we think, but it’s doable. The number I’ve come up with, with some of my collaborators is a 4000 watt society is our goal. Give you a sense of what we’re at. We’re at about 11,500 kilowatt society, which means the equivalent if you had 110 100 watt bulbs running 24 hours a day.
That’s what your lifestyle is consuming as an average American, as a median American, it’s less than that because of the skew. Right?Bus, around 8000, perhaps. On the other hand, and looking at some reasonable extrapolations of how much carbon neutral energy we could realistically produce without magic, like without fusion, let’s say by 2070 or thereabouts, which is when shit’s really going to get ugly, the answer seems to come out to be around 4000 kilowatt, around a third of the current American consumption. But what does a 4000 kilowatt society look like? Well, it turns out Portugal is a 4000 kilowatt society, and Portugal is a pretty comfortable place. Right?
Douglas: They’re having a nice time. They’re drinking port wine and cheese and sardines. It looks pretty good to me.
Jim: Yeah. And so in some sense, the game B trade that we’re now articulating is one third of the inputs, but three times the human well being. Right. And the problem with Davos man and why Davos man leads to right, is that Davos man is just sayiNg, less, less. But we’re going to still have the grinding insecurity and horribleness and decadence and everything else of our current society. So you’re asking me to substantially cut my inputs, but you’re giving me nothing in return.
The game B, trade is, yes, we’re all going to have to cut our inputs very substantially in the advanced world. Oh, by the way, outside the advanced world, you’re going to come up by a lot. In Subsaharan Africa, the average power wattage of our society is 500 watts. Those people have eight X. They could raise eight X, and I call it now the Great levelling that over 50, 60 years. I would really like to see all societies move to 4000 watts for everybody. We’ll all live like Portuguese. That would be great. And we could do it safely within planetary limits, probably.
Douglas: But it does involve the dirty word of a form of de-growth. We shouldn’t use the word, I guess, because it upsets people. But you’re going to be doing less industrial style big agriculture in America, you’re going to do less energy extraction. Big oil businesses are going to have to kind of scale down as we replace things with renewables and other forms of energy.
Jim: Flying will get way more expensive on a relative basis. Right. Driving around in two tons of steel belching gasoline fumes is a fucking nuts thing to do.
Douglas: And it doesn’t even make money. I’ve been told by reliable sources that all the airlines lose money, that they only are there because they get subsidised.
Jim: Yeah. Famously, for like 30 years between 1975 and 2005, the airline industry consumed, I believe it was $150,000,000,000 of capital. It just made it go away. It lost $150,000,000,000 worth of capital. And as you say, the only reason it exists is through a whole bunch of subsidies and financial prestigation and financial gim crackery around leasing and all these sorts of things.
Douglas: Right, and at the same time, we can’t afford to make a friggin bullet train, which would actually be a nice way to travel. Bullet train with some WiFi. I mean, come on.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s where it’s going to be. It’s going to be electric trains and then lightweight vehicles that weigh five to 800 pounds that are autonomous for local travel, say, within 20 miles of the train node, especially if you’re out in the country, something like that. You can actually pencil this out today. It is doable. The question is, can we get there from here? And we have to find a way de-growth or at least de-greed.Or it’s not really greed, because I don’t like the word greed. It’s a little too pejorative.
Douglas: No, it’s the rentier. It’s the idea of making your money by being part of the rentier class just financialisation.
Jim: Actually, even more insidious than that. I would call it Gerardian memetic’s, where we derive our status from having the same things that other people have. Is there actually any reason to spend $150,000 on a fancy Mercedes? Fuck no. Right? That’s absolutely no better than a Chevy Malibu, I guarantee you. Right. Or a Toyota Camry. But because somebody in your neighborhood’s got that $150,000 Mercedes, you’re feeling like a failure till you have one. This is classically Gerard’s memetic’s.
Douglas: Yeah. And on the other hand of the Gerard, though, on the other side of it, reinforcing it, is our fear of our neighbours. I mean, I was just starting on the idea for a book proposal called Borrow a Drill. Right? And the idea is I had to put up a picture of my daughter when she graduated high school. I got the nice picture in the frame, and I realised I got to put it on the wall. I don’t have a drill to put an anchor in. I don’t have a drill. So what, am going to go to Home Depot, buy a minimum viable product, drill for whatever, 79, 95, use it once, stick it in the garage, try to take it out again in a year or two? Plug it in. It’s not going to recharge.
I’m going to throw it out, right? So I sent a kid into a mine to get the rare earth metals in the Congo. I spent all the carbon to make the thing. I used it once and I’m throwing it on a toxic waste dump in Brazil where some other kid’s going to pick at it to get out the cobalt to sell to Apple for some kind of iPhone or piece of crap, when I could have walked down the street to Bob’s house, had the courage to knock on his door and say, this is the hard part for most Americans. Bob, can I borrow your drill? Right? That’s like fighting words.
But why? Because if I knock on Bob’s door, Bob’s going to say, not only can you borrow my drill, but I’m going to come over and drill the hole for you because you don’t know where a stud is. You’re going to make. It’s going to fall down. I’m going to go and he’s going to bring a metal drill that plugs into the wall the way God intended and drill me a hole and get the thing up. But then the next weekend, right, I’m going to have my barbecue and I got my brother coming over, and now Bob’s going to smell my barbecue and think, wait a minute. I drilled a hole for Doug. Why isn’t he? He should invite me to his barbecue.
All right, so I invite Bob to the barbecue, and Bob brings his wife, and then the wife says, oh, isn’t it nice that Bob drilled that hole? Can you maybe tutor our daughter in algebra because she’s got this big test these. And then the other neighbours smell the barbecue and they see that Bob’s over. So now they want to come over. And before long, we got a block party with the whole block having a barbecue and us all doing favours for each other. And I didn’t have to buy a drill. And it’s a nightmare, right? Because now we have all these social obligations and relationships and I can’t throw a barbecue without inviting my. That’s called fun.
Jim: That’s called real life. That’s the real life.
Douglas: That’s the joy, that’s the happy. That’s the closer thing to Utopia than owning a drill that you don’t use and poisoning the planet and people to have it, right? And that’s the sort of thing. But I told that story at a business conference and a guy got up and he said, yeah, but everybody’s borrowing their drills. What happens to the guy who works at the drill company, what happens to the shareholders of the Home Depot?
Jim: What about the guy at The Zyclon B plant? Right?
Douglas: Yeah I know! And it’s like, so, yes, it’s possible that we will have to work less, right? Because we won’t have to make as many drills.
Jim: And I often say that, you know, you’re hearing from a clueless politician when they say, jobs, jobs, jobs, right? We don’t want jobs.
Douglas: I know, of course not.
Jim: We don’t really want jobs. Jobs are a necessity. We really would prefer to have no jobs.
Douglas: I was on CNN doing Jake Tapper about AI, and I’m just like, you’re not really that worried about AI. Doesn’t really work. Whatever. Don’t worry about, know, move on. I’ll be more scared of Sam Altman than I am of any AI that he’s making. And they say, oh, but what about the unemployment problem? And I said, well, what about the unemployment solution? They got so upset. They’re like, what are you talking about? And I said, just that. I said, who wants a job? Said, I want money. I want food, I want stuff. I want meaningful work. But a job that’s a 13th century invention. After when they put the clock on the tower and we started working for wages by the hour instead of creating things and trading them, I got no use for a job. They have not invited me back since because I challenged the underlying assumption.
Jim: Yeah, they don’t get it. Great thinkers. John Maynard Keynes famously predicted, I think it was in 1934, that by the year 2000, we’d be working 15 hours a week, right? And he had all kinds of calculations to support that. And guess what? If we hadn’t been manufacturing demand and addicting people to hyper novelty, he would have been right.
Douglas: And for many people, I would argue they are at work 40 hours a week, but they’re spending 25 hours on eBay and Amazon and social media and 15 hours actually doing the job, but not in an Amazon warehouse. You’re working those 40 or 50 hours for sure.
Jim: One last thing before we run off here, something you touched on in passing, which is both in your article and you touched on it in passing. In our conversation, you talked about kind of the craziness of the social justice warrior types on one side and the Magaites on the other. And this is something I personally take a lot of interest and concern about. And I think it’s so important that we recapture an alternative to both. And I’ve been working on an invited article for a magazine for months, and some way late on it. But it seems to me that the intersectional bingo where oh, I have to figure out a way to score intersexual bingo.
I may be a rich, upper middle class, white, young, good looking female, but I’m trans, right? So I get to score ten points of intersectional bingo. It’s just like crazy. And the other side, the blood and soil Magaites, one would have hoped we’d left all that behind. And we have these two horrible models out there, when there’s such an obvious model that we’ve had since 1775, which is liberal universal humanism. At the end of the day, we’re all people, as you say. These categories are just artificial, and they may give you a little information, but they don’t give you a lot.
I know assholes that are white. I know assholes that are black. I know good people that are white. I know good people that are black. I know productive people. I know non productive people of every sort. And those are way more important criterion. Know what’s the shape of your nose or the style of your. You know. While, yes, there was a lot of hypocrisy around liberal universal humanism, Thomas Jefferson wrote those words, all men are created equal while owning 200 of them.
But hypocrisy is the price that evil pays to virtue, right? The fact that it is hypocritic is at least a pressure towards the good. The Martin Luther King history bends towards justice if you have good values. It just seems to me that we all do owe a duty to each other to avoid the attractors of woke’ism on one side and maga’ism on the other, and stay true to liberal universal humanism. And I will say in my own Twitter, I might have 10% Magaites and 10% Wokies, but I bing both of those off my list if they can become very active in their discipline.And I would suggest that is a very important curation tool for those people who are going to stay on social media. Bing the magaites and bing the SJWs, and your online world will be much better, particularly in the current world.
Douglas: Yeah, it’s interesting, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about that. This is a sort of an unformed thought that I’ve been having, largely as a Jewish American man. And I’m aware of the way that the abstract monotheism of Judaism, the idea of writing down a bunch of laws, because we’re going to be on the road, we’re going to be exiled from Israel, we’re going to have to take this thing on the road. And because we had to take it on the road, we made it an abstract universal system. And the idea was slightly self preservational, was if we can promote liberal, universal humanistic values wherever we go, then they’re not going to kick us out, right? Because we’re not of them. They’ll include everyone universally.
And it was a great idea, and it was great in the era of television, if we want to get kind of McLuhan esqu about it in a global world that Judaism, it did lead to Martin Luther King. Everyone is included. It doesn’t matter your, you know, even back when Judaism happened, St. Paul came around and he said, yeah, but this stuff is really abstract for people. There’s nothing for them to hang on to. You’re going to need some kind of blood rights. You need something.
At least Jesus puts a face on this. You got a person. Instead of just going to temple and reading all these texts and having all these ideas, take a cracker, take somebody, take some blood, have something real. It goes back to Gerard, right? You need your scapegoat, your sacrifice, your thing. So what I’ve been looking at now is we’ve been living. We won, essentially, at least, by the liberal universal humanism won in America. When Martin Luther King was around, we all agreed, universal suffrage, universal justice, universal. But it somehow denied people something else they wanted, which was some sense of indigeneity, some sense of local parochial. I belong. So on the one hand, you get people trying to use intersection as a substitute for indigeneity because they all feel, oh, look at those great Indigenous people.
I want to be one of them, too. They’re like Native Americans and Aborigines, and they are so cool, and they belong somewhere. They’ve got their ground and you’ve got, on the other side, you got the kind of the white supremacist, oh, well, this is the white man’s land, and race matters. So they use race as a substitute for indigeneity. My race is my blood and soil. My race is that I belong here. And of course, intersectionality and race are both fictions. They’re both social constructions. They’ve got nothing to do with it. And that was why I started the Team Human project. As if to say, look, if you’re a human being, you are indigenous to planet Earth. We are Earthlings. We are the life form. The AI’s are not indigenous, right? They’re not indigenous. They’re something else.
Jim: That’s a new game. That’s a new game in town.
Douglas: It is! But we at least, AI should teach us that we’re indigenous. So I’m trying to look at how do we then, and this is, I think, the trick, how do we reunite liberal, universal humanism with the embodied reality of our indigeneity as human beings walking on the planet? And that’s what you have to do only at the scale of your own neighborhood, at the scale of your body, at the scale of your embodied relationships. And then you can mix in those other ones, those more universal and abstract ones. But, boy, that’s where I’m feeling. People are lost. They’ve lost touch of their indigeneity, and they’re substituting for it with either intersectionality or with mythic race constructs. And neither of those are real, indeed.
Jim: Indeed. And of course that’s very much our game B thesis, that we have to rebuild real embodied life at the Dunbar number, and then we build society up from membranes of that size. Somebody, I don’t know if you’ve run across them, is John Vervaeke. He’s a professor at University of Toronto in philosophy and cognitive science. And he has done some amazing work in a series called Awakening from the Meaning Crisis.
50 hours of videos which I watched and cooked down to 10 hours worth of podcasts. So anyone who’s interested can either look at John Vervaeke on YouTube, 50 hours, or listen to me and John Vervaeke in a very intense five episode arc of 10 Hours total, exploring his awakening from the meaning crisis. And his punchline is what he calls the religion that is not a religion. He is a modern person. He understands that there probably isn’t Yahweh sitting up on the cloud with a beard, or nor Zeus with lightning bolts, nor Thor with a hammer, and that these are things us humans gots to figure out.
But there’s a reason that all of our religions have had singing together or dancing together, or beautiful art or great buildings or various things that absolutely push our embodied human buttons. And that if we’re going to rebuild a world that can seduce us away from hyper novelty and Gerardian memetic competition for status, we have to build an intense culture around what he calls religion is not a religion that provides that high bandwidth stuff, the strong sauce, as another good thinker, Jordan Hall calls it, that was so missing in our lives. Our lives are all about weak sauce today, right?
The things you talked about, the community getting together, or indigenous people, their lives are a lot of strong sauce. And so between Vervaeke and the idea of strong sauce, I think we have the beginnings of some ideas of what has to be inside these membranes if they’re going to be powerful enough to rescue people from the siren call of late stage hyper financialized capitalism.
Douglas: Yeah. And it’s tricky. It’s also treacherous. I mean, I don’t know, Vervaeke, I know when you said the name, I know that some people warned me because of all, everyone’s adjacent to everything, and a lot of people’s ideas can be taken in ways that are not constructive. So I don’t know his work specifically. I’ll look at it, though, with fresh eyes and without judgment. And I was even hesitant to talk about indigeneity versus intersectionality because people go, oh, now you’re one of these or one of those. And really what I’m trying to do is to find people healthy, non fascist ways to reconnect to what are to their feet on the ground.
Right. And that’s a dangerous thing, right? To feet on the ground. To some people mean Zionism. To some people it means Palestinianism. To some people it means blood and soil. To some people, it means BLM or something. And it’s like, no, for me, what I’m trying to say really is no, I actually just mean your feet, just your feet on the ground. Just start with that. Wherever you are on the asphalt behind the 711, it’s all good. Wherever you are, you are there. And if people can start with that, they’re much less likely to want to just kill everybody.
Jim: I think you’re absolutely right. Douglas Rushkoff, man, this was a great conversation.
Douglas: It’s great talking to you. I got to come out there and hang out. It’ll be fun.
Jim: You are hereby officially invited. Let me know when you happen to be. We’re about 3 hours southwest of DC. Wait a minute. You’re a New Yorker? Even better. There is a two times a week train that runs from Penn Station right to Stanton, Virginia, which is fairly close to us. It’s slower than shit, takes 8 hours, but it’s kind of a fun little train ride. And you pull into this tiny little train station in this small city of 25,000, which is about an hour’s drive from our farm and happy to come over and pick you up.
Douglas: That’s exactly what I need. That’s better than a horse and carriage, I’ll tell you that much.
Jim: And better than the annoyance of going to the airport, too.
Jim: Anyway, thank you again. This has been great, and look forward to talking to you anytime, any place, about anything.
Douglas: Definitely you too.
Jim: All right.