The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Max Borders. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Max Borders. He was on the show once before. What was the name of that book we talked about last time?
Max: That would have been the Social Singularity.
Jim: The social singularity, quite interesting episode. Max is back with a new book, After Collapse: The End of America and the Rebirth of Her Ideals. Before we jump into that, let’s talk a little bit about Max. He’s a futurist, a theorist, a published author, and an entrepreneur. He’s the founder and executive director of Social Evolution, a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. He’s also the co-founder of the future frontiers event and just all around interesting guy who I enjoy talking to. It’s great to have you back.
Max: Oh, it’s always my pleasure.
Jim: Max was on EP76 and the title was indeed The Social Singularity. After Collapse: The End of America, so collapse, what are you talking about here?
Max: Well, I’m talking about a lot of things. Collapse is a framing device, but it is also a multi-faceted truth and I spent pretty much the first half of the book showing the ways in which the American experiment is breaking down, but one in particular, and this is what people tend to focus on, it’s the first thing that comes to their minds is some financial collapse. Certainly, this is a part of the thesis, the collapse thesis that is comprises part one, but it’s also that there is more to it than just the financial aspects, or the problem of sovereign debt, the problem of personal debt, that stuff. I do think we’re headed for a financial collapse into the future, if not some Japanese style economic malaise, something more like a soufflé where everything just suddenly goes bam.
Max: I’m not here to say which it’ll be or what it’ll look like, but to be prepared for any eventuality where our quality of life diminishes because of this accelerated debt spending and so on, but collapse is taking on other dimensions too. I spend seven chapters in the first half of the book talking about these different dimensions.
Jim: Yeah. Just to make it clear, you go into some detail on that you are not talking about climate-driven collapse here, or a comet hitting the earth, or anything like that. These are what I call in my taxonomy of collapse scenarios, endogenous collapse scenarios where the system itself starts to decay and collapse in various ways.
Max: Yeah, these are human systems collapse.
Jim: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Basically, the system itself breaks down, not necessarily due to an external shock and just for fun, you talk quite a bit about the debt particularly early in the book. I looked it up on the Debt Clock. I think it’s called something like US Debt Clock. It’s a great website that actually shows the debt clicking up like the speedometer on a car and as of an hour ago, our US debt was $27.9 trillion. We’re talking real money there, and that’s compared to our nominal GDP of 22 trillion. We’re now above the known danger zone of 100% of GDP. Yeah, at least in conventional thinking, that could be dangerous, but as you know I think Max, I’ve always said that debt is less dangerous than it looks because we don’t have to repay it.
Jim: The scenarios you give about us staggering into being burdened by the fact that our interest rates were to go back to even 3%, or say they went back to 5%, which is the traditional fed funding average rate, the interest on the debt alone would be bigger than the total receipts from the income tax, and that would of course be disastrous, but this is the thing I like to remind people, money is not wealth. Money is a signaling system for the coordination of production, distribution, consumption, and investment. We can change our monetary system around at will. Fractional reserve banking of the sort we have managed by central bankers did not come down from Mount Sinai with Moses, right?
Jim: This was something that was a whole series of frozen accidents. I like to point back to the founding of the Bank England in 1694, and then there was various other iterations. There was the founding of the federal reserve right before World War I. It was going off the gold standard in ’71, the whole series of frozen accidents and we can change all that. We can take the debt and just say, “Goodbye, we’re not paying it back,” or if we want to be morally clean about it, we can say, “All right, US dollars, we’re phasing them out, we authorize everybody to issue all the US dollars they want, print them out on your HP printer and just sign them.
Jim: Pay off all your debts with money you generate yourself and oh by the way, we’re going to start a new monetary system and it’s to be called something else and it’ll start on October 1st and off we go.” It sounds crazy, but there’s actually an interesting historic precedent that shows that would work, and that was Austria-Hungary and Germany in the early ’20s. In the aftermath of World War I and a bunch of bad decisions made by the governments, they entered into a amazingly hyper inflationary period where literally, it took a real barrel full of large note currency to buy a single loaf of bread. The whole world was going crazy, and we wiped out all debt basically because in those days, there was no such thing as variable rate debt.
Jim: It was all fixed rates, so it all disappeared. Also, all the banking deposits disappeared for the same reason and yet, when they reissued a new currency completely separate from the old currency and the economy started back up in a week and within a month, it was going great guns. It’s real important when we think about these failure modes to realize that the factories, the farms, the trucks, the cars, our skills, they’re all still there. Our monetary stuff and our financial stuff is only a system for coordinating their activity. It’s not real and we shouldn’t worship it. I think that’s real important when we start talking about these financial collapse scenarios.
Jim: Now of course, it’s going to take somebody with some visionary thinking to be able to make these kinds of rapid moves at the time, and it’s certainly possible that the morons we have in charge won’t do it and we’ll just sink into a Japanese or worse style, but we don’t have to let it. If we get ourselves mentally prepared, we can just ditch all that baggage of the past and restart in a week.
Max: Well, that’s much of what I argue in the second part of the book and what really gets the title After Collapse is what would we do when the human system breaks down? What are the circumstances under which we could realize, or instantiate a new system that is better more anti-fragile? I certainly wouldn’t want to start over with the system similar to what we have now. I think that would be a mistake, and I think someone with a view to a much more anti-fragile set of protocols might be the wizard, or mastermind that you I guess are imagining who would architect this new system, but it could also be an evolved state of affairs. We already have different alternatives to central banking that are starting to emerge in the cryptocurrency space.
Max: I know you’re skeptical of these, but the thing about it is there’s an ecosystem of these emerging and they’re in competition right now. We could very well see that ecosystem develop where different properties compete in real time with different other properties, until we get a more or less equilibrating state that starts to emerge over time. We don’t know of course, but the thing we do want to look out for is repeating the mistakes of the past and of course, it’s really hard to imagine wanting to walk around with wheelbarrows full of cash as they do in Argentina or in ’20s, Germany and Austria. Yes, we want to avoid that me and I don’t know if you would want to call it a great government debt jubilee or what, but if that is the way to minimize collapse, it is certainly worth considering.
Max: The system we have now, I think there is a point of mathematical certainty beyond which is too far to go and that system, whatever it is either needs to be waiting in the wings, or we need to be prepared for evolutionary processes for a bottom-up set of solutions to emerge and take hold.
Jim: Maybe a bit of both, right? We have a interim standby. Now it’s interesting, my views of the cryptocurrency world are changing as some new projects start coming out. Even though I’m still amazed at the price for Bitcoin, I still ain’t buying none, sorry. I do have some investments in some of the other Altcoins that have done quite well, probably time to start taking some profits, but some of the third generation projects like Cardano are actually quite interesting. This one no longer has the ridiculous waste of energy through mining.
Jim: They have finally figured out how to actually be cryptographically secure with proof of stake, rather than proof of work which gets rid of my biggest objection to Bitcoin, and Cardano also gets around the ridiculous bottleneck in Ethereum, where essentially all the smart contracts in the world are running through the equivalent one commodore 64, and much, much, much more throughput still not quite optimal, but a lot better. I would look at Cardano as one project as a potential basis for an evolutionary bootstrap recovery. Holochain, that’s some really good ideas there, they’re not as far along and actually getting the work done.
Max: Yeah, I love the team. I know you’ve had art on your show. The Holochain primary developer of that system, he has a fantastic mind. I think some of the stirrings I’ve heard is that it’s just that their team is reconstituting itself and once that happens, if you’re looking for a long play of interesting technology, Holochain is one of them.
Jim: Yep. There’s a lot worth keeping an eye on out in that part of the world as a way to enable one form of recovery or another from the traps that we get into, but as you point out, you don’t just talk about financial collapse, you also talk about other whole series of other collapses. You mentioned our friend, at least my friend, I don’t know if you know him, Eric Weinstein and what he calls the suppression system of the distributed information suppression complex, or DISC, right? He also talk about the blue church and how our collective sense making is starting to break down, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later. He also mentioned a little bit about game A versus game B. Why don’t you talk a little bit about your take on that?
Max: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because what I’ve always found, and I realize by the way, I am speaking to one of the godfathers of the game A, game B trope metaphor, whatever you want to call it. I want to stand humbly before you Jim Rutt in saying that it’s because of you and Bret Weinstein that I’m standing here today having this conversation and have it in the book. You guys are a big influence on me. One of the things I’ve found in thinking about games A and B as a way of thinking in the abstract about social arrangements is the manner in which we get there, which you’ve done a great job of pointing out and probably in some of your episodes, but certainly in your writings, but also what does it mean to be game A?
Max: What constitutes a game A system? What constitutes a game B system? It’s on this point that I find that many in the community, some of whom I agree with, some of whom I do not have maybe some disagreement. I find it sometimes to be a little bit of an ideological Rorschach, instead of just a way of describing the systems in systems terms. Let me give you a little bit of example. You get sometimes people talking about game A in terms of being a system of profit and loss, and that that’s somehow something that you would want to get away from, or that game B is always going to be about putting everything into the commons, where the commons is commonly controlled property, for example, land or whatever you like.
Max: It could be digital commons, and I think these two things are different and deserve to be treated differently conceptually. In any case, the game A and game B trope I think is useful to a point, but I wanted to in the book really describe what I think is at least as a sketch is a useful way of looking at games A and B and their transition. Mine might be a little bit different from other people’s. For example, I wouldn’t completely do away with private property as an institution as some would, and I’m perfectly comfortable with the idea of a commons and the management of the commons in an Elinor Ostrom kind of sense, but I wouldn’t want to completely do away with private property.
Max: It’s really about in my view allowing institutions to emerge that mitigate externalities and mitigate what folks like Daniel Schmachtenberger call advantage taking. That I think is where I align with the rest of the group, and I want to look more closely at advantage taking as a mechanism for transition. That’s a loosey-goosey way of my describing it here, but I encourage folks to take a deeper look at my way of setting it out in the book.
Jim: Yeah, indeed and it’s interesting, game B is a big tent. There is no doctrine of game B. It’s way of approaching things, and I’m with you actually in some of these things. People say there should be no private property. Nah, I don’t think and then there are certainly people who think that we must oppose competition at all times, right? I say that’s not very realistic. I mean heck, even putting this podcast out, I’m competing for people’s ears, right? How one could have a world without competition just doesn’t make any sense to me. I find much more interesting the distinction originally made by Jordan Hall, at least within the game B context of thinking about the rivalrous and the non-rivalrous somewhat differently.
Jim: A rivalrous good is something like a ham sandwich, either you eat it or I eat it, right? There’s by nature competition. Who gets the ham sandwich, right? On the other hand, there are goods like my podcast, or like a piece of music which are inherently non-rivalrous. The cost to reproduce each unit is extremely small and without artificial bottlenecks around intellectual property and the corporate ownership and such, humanities net welfare could easily be improved by letting anyone who wants a non-rivalrous good to have a copy of it. Now there’s a problem with how you fund that, and we’ve got some ideas on anti-rivalrous innovator funds which essentially fund non-rivalrous creation based on a formula, et cetera.
Jim: I think the simplistic game B that you were putting up as a straw man to distinguish yourself from is one I would distinguish myself from too that we have to be realistic about reality, and it’s not going to be as pristine as some people might like to think.
Max: Yeah, and I will say to that point, it’s really difficult to steal man game A and game B, and the only way to do that I think is to put forward your best estimate of what games A and B look like, and that I tried to do. I don’t want to be unfair to the group in general, but only to individuals who have tried to make it look more like their ideological Rorschach than someone else’s. Then that I think goes too far. One of the early problems I found was this equivocation on the word rivalry where you had in one sense, one person using the concept of rivalry as competition and saying it’s an unalloyed bad. Then in another context, they were using rivalry to talk about economic goods as being non-rivalrous, non-excludable, rivalrous excludable and so on.
Max: You’re absolutely right there, and we develop institutions hopefully in the Eleanor Ostrom sense that will allow us to mitigate advantage taking, or the meditations on Malik problem that was set out by Scott Alexander, which I think is also somewhat problematic, but we can talk about that in a little while. All told, I love the game A, game B idea and what I hope my contribution to it is that and this maybe people are going to throw tomatoes at me because this is where my old libertarianism comes out a little bit, but we begin to try to look at institutions that rely too heavily on institutionalized violence versus institutions that rely on good incentives as two mechanisms for transition from game A to game B which is slowly, but surely getting to less advantage taking through violence.
Max: Now those aren’t the only way mechanisms for the game A to game B transition, but it’s certainly a place that we need to look harder at I think.
Jim: Yeah, and I think it’s a nice contribution and people in the game B space, I’d recommend you take a look, see what Max has to say. Moving on a little bit, one of your next ideas and I think this is an interesting and important one is that you say that society is not a machine, and that you think a biological metaphor is better. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about that.
Max: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because just the other day, I saw this Eric Beinhocker article where he referenced the idea from David Sloan Wilson I think, where they say that society should look more like a garden and I was horrified by that as well, but let me just take the contrast that you’re mentioning now, which is the contrast between the machine metaphor for society and a biological metaphor. When we think about a machine, let’s take the difference between a 747 which is complicated, okay, and I’m doing some defining of my terms here just to make this pretty clear. A 747 is a complicated instrument, but the cause and effect relationships in that instrument, or that in the device are knowable at least in principle to anyone.
Max: We call that complicated in contrast with something that is complex. A complex system, we don’t always and are not always able and as you well know Jim because of your experience with Santa Fe Institute, we’re not always able to see or limb or understand otherwise the complex set of relationships among dynamic agents in a complex system. The Great Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest is a different animal than a 747. The problem with so much of economics and expertise these days at least for the macro economy and society is to think of and treat the economy as if it were a 747, as if they really and truly understand the nature of the causal relationships in it as you would be able to say the fuselage and how it connects up with the whatever part in the engine, but that’s not at all how it goes.
Max: In fact, we need to start to think of the economy and the socio-economy as being more like the Amazon rainforest or the Great Barrier Reef. I truly believe that people who operate with this metaphor as a lens will have a lot more humility when trying to think about how to intercede in the economy during times of emergency or whatever. That’s the opening idea, and I think it paves the way to other ideas.
Jim: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense people listen to podcasts know that I often warn that one of my biggest takeaways from studying complexity is epistemic humility or modesty that when you think that you can understand a high order complex system enough to predict with a high level of surety, what will happen if you do some major tweak to it. I suspect you’re going to find yourself very wrong.
Jim: Another related idea that you bring forth early in the book is high minds and high modernism. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you were getting at there?
Max: Well, really I think this connects very well to the idea of the machine metaphor. The high mind is one who fancies him or herself as capable of the administrative ordering of society or the economy without too many or even any negative or perverse effects. In other words, the unintended consequences of being a high mind which is too fancy that you can administratively order society is to create an invisible graveyard of things that never get created in the process of trying to do too much planning, or to do too much to organize society along some dimension. Also in order to take effect and I really appeal to the work of James C. Scott, the Yale political scientist in this regard who coined the term high modernism in his book, Seeing like a Stat, and I just run with that.
Max: The high mind is someone who employs high modernism, this administrative ordering of society and fails to see the perverse unintended consequences of this kind of policy, one of which requires this immense and enormous use of the violent apparatus of the state to carry it out. It’s not just that there are all these unintended consequences, but in order to order society in such a way, you have to really be able to engage in a certain degree of suppression and that can manifest itself in certain degrees of autocracy that we would find uncomfortable after a certain point as good liberals.
Max: Now I don’t want to assume that all your listeners are good liberals, but I’m assuming at some big tent level Jim that you and I are, and that is the space for conversation is a broad liberalism that I think we’re losing in this country. That’s really another way that I think we’re breaking down, and we can talk about that in just a little bit.
Jim: Yeah, I got a section later on about liberalism and the enlightenment and goddammit, what are we doing, right? Because I’m with you, I consider myself an old-school liberal universalist essentially and resist the attacks from both left and right on liberal universalism.
Max: Amen, and you and I on this, we agree, we don’t agree about a lot of things, but this is one where I think the big tent, the liberal cosmopolitan sensibility is one we share and one we have to fight tooth and nail for. Because right now, we’re sitting in between two camps, two extremist camps, one with Molotov cocktails, the other with tiki torches. Our liberalism and our liberal order is a dried out detritus that is going to go up in flames if we’re not careful. We’ve got to be good liberals again, and we got to be proud about it.
Jim: You have some interesting ideas about that we’ll get to soon. Now another idea that we’re setting the stage here is you talk about the distinction between scientism and science. Why don’t you lay that one on us?
Max: Yeah, this one is really quite rich and deep, but I can give you a couple of examples to help make it more concrete. Science really is a method of understanding the world and really being open to the idea that in some sense, you could be wrong and looking for evidence that disqualifies your truth claim. I like to appeal to the old Popparian model of falsification. It doesn’t always work, but in general, I think this is more or less the way the republic of science proceeds, but it does proceed with some toe hold in the conception of truth, okay. Scientism really is about imagining that you can use scientific tropes, or thinking and somehow through a methodology that is reserved for the sciences and apply it to some domain that is probably best left to the philosophers.
Max: For example, trying to develop a moral order through the apparatus of state violence is really it sounds libertarian again, but it is really a methodology that depends on scientism, this dream that you can use science to create society as you would create say the 747. It’s in scientism that we get so many of these terrible articles these days that is an affront to real collective intelligence, stuff like science says, studies show. This scientism as a mind virus to think that you’re on the side of science when you might not be, and that you’re employing the scientific method in other areas that of socioeconomic self-organization that this is can be a dangerous mix.
Max: This goes back to the work of F.A. Hayek who won the Nobel Prize in 1971 for this kind of thinking, and it’s pretty much boils down to, this knowledge is distributed among millions of billions of people around the globe. When we start to think of knowledge as being centralized, we have to abstract and click out orders of magnitude that we miss resolution, we miss complexity, and we miss granularity. We can’t possibly have enough knowledge to administratively order society from this godlike vantage point, but scientism says you can as long as you use science to do so. What that amounts to more often than not is social sciences that are completely bankrupt, or at least too far away from the action.
Max: It treats people as if they were plot points. It lobotomizes agents in the system. It treats the dynamic as if it were static and in all of these circumstances, you lose the benefits of emergent complexity.
Jim: Yeah, I like that way better. Now back to our previous topic, one of the reasons my knee jerked a little bit when I started reading this in the book is I also often hear these charges of scientism from postmodernists, who essentially deny the validity of science as a differentiated way of knowing as compared to say which doctors or shit people just make up. I’m very anti that as well.
Jim: On the other hand, here’s what the framing I like on this is to my mind, what you’re really talking about is that for science to be truly useful, particularly the social sciences where we’re dealing with inherently complex adaptive systems is that your science has got to include complexity thinking to try to think reductively very far about the social sciences is a dead end, or to try to project from as you say single small number of data points to how are a billion people going to operate in the aggregate is a fool’s errand. Amending social science in particular to have a mandatory complexity science appendix to it goes to my mind a long way to avoiding the bad attractor of thinking you know more than you actually do.
Max: Indeed, indeed, and this humility with respect to what we know and can know, I’ve learned a lot from people like… we talked about in the last episode both Robin Hanson and Philip Tetlock, both of whom have been on your show as I understand it, right?
Jim: Tetlock, goddammit never returned my emails. If you’re out there, return my emails. I’ve invited you to be on the show.
Max: Tetlock, this is a great show. You need to get on here and talk about super forecasting and humility with respect to what we can predict and know. You’d be great on this show, so come on. Yeah, I’ve learned a lot from these guys and their epistemic humility makes them really great at prediction and forecast and yet, they also know when to shut the hell up when they don’t know something. That I admire and certainly benefit from and yet, I’m here without any kind of economics degree, depending on the knowledge and information inputs from other people with the hopes of persuading the readers that a collapse is imminent. I am guilty in some sense of being a hedgehog, but I do caution the reader to admire the fox if that makes sense.
Jim: Yeah, indeed, indeed. One of the examples you give are some scientism-ist looking at things are the Neo-Malthusians. Now, it’s interesting the very first thing I ever wrote for publication was a refutation of the club of Rome report back in like 1974 or something like that, where the club of Rome as you recall were saying that people will be starving by the hundreds of millions by 1985 and the world will end by 2000 and all this. Basically, my analysis which was actually published in a libertarian little student rag newspaper, I pointed out essentially the three things you did, institutions, innovation, and incentives that hey, you’re making some linear assumptions here about a world that’s inherently non-linear, and we have a trans-finite space to evolve into of learning how to do things better.
Jim: As it turned out, I was right and they were wrong. Here, I was a college junior versus the army of the big brains, and they basically just took linear extrapolations and didn’t realize that complex adaptive systems will adapt.
Max: That’s right, and good for you. I don’t know if this predates Julian Simon, but he’s the one who was the foremost exponent in unpacking the idea that Neo‐Malthusians are probably wrong and will probably continue to be wrong given the right institutional substrate, and that’s an important point. Malthus is correct when you have bad institutions. For example, if you have no institution of property or no institutions of locally managed Ostrom commons, you are going to get a depletion or over consumption, but there is a panic out there right now about resources.
Max: The most recent in my mind I think was in the peak oil conversation around 2006, 2007, that of course never materialized and you get this over and over again, this idea that resources are going to run out and we’re going to be these roving zombies fighting over the last scraps of something. Of course, in Scott Alexander’s meditations on Malik, he points to this with his lake example. Thankfully Elinor Ostrom comes along and says, “Hey, if you can develop locally managed commons, where as long as it’s local enough and people know each other, they have an incentive to develop institutions to manage commons long term,” and they will.
Max: She gives plenty of examples as a world anthropologist of this, but then of course, there’s private property rights and people sometimes in the game B community think that private property rights are an unalloyed bad. One of the benefits of it is if you have property, you have a greater incentive to be a good steward of it. Not in every case, but certainly better than bureaucratically managed commons as we saw in the eastern bloc countries in the ’80s and ’90s that were woeful in this regard, but also in just, we can take a look at all the resources around the world that have more or less good institutional substrate, where prices, property, and there’s another P that helps govern this will result in the self-equilibration process called substitution. Okay.
Max: Let me give you an example. In the ’80s and ’90s, there was a copper shortage because people wanted to run electricity and other and energy through copper lines. That was one big problem, and there are other uses for copper and there’s competition for the use of copper, so the price of copper went up, but when a price of copper goes up to a certain point, the entrepreneur in a good set of institutions knows to look for alternative uses, knows not only to figure out ways to eliminate waste, but to look for substitutes and to innovate. One of the innovations we saw of course was the fiber optic line. Now of course, we have Elon Musk launching satellites into orbit.
Max: Even if there were shortages of glass because the fiber optic lines use silicone, then we would continue to migrate to other communication mechanisms even if we never used copper again in our communication devices. This process, we have to have some measure of faith, generalized faith in what Julian Simon called the ultimate resource which is the human mind, but that human mind can only do well in an institutional matrix that rewards stewardship and rewards innovation.
Jim: Yeah. On the other hand and this is where I probably push back a little bit, I think we both agree that subsidiarity is an important concept. I like the quote subsidiarity as that we push decision making to the level at which it can deal with the actual problem. If it’s trash on the street, there’s no reason that the federal government should be involved with trash on the street in Stanton, Virginia, but some of the issues that we confront and particularly climate change, global warming does seem to require serious social coordination and some institutions and incentives at a level that we’ve never had before. There’s a challenge there that are reflexive, do it all locally, while good for a lot of things may not be good for solving coordination problems and defending a true global commons.
Max: Yeah. The reason that you want to have a local commons management simply is because that large-scale management of the commons almost always fails, and I hate this fact. It would be wonderful if we could have a more robust commons management system at the level of the globe, and we had armies of angels staffing the UN that would be able to get everybody in line and mitigate the problem. That’s just not the case, and the reason I want to be realistic about that is just assuming that global warming is going to be a serious problem in the future as it is now, then we need to think about some mechanisms for dealing with the problem that don’t depend on a universalist management of the commons thinking of the climate as a commons.
Max: For example, I’m not completely hostile to the idea of a carbon tax. A carbon tax, as long as it can be enforced to some appreciable degree and not games, and I think that is the least gameable system. Cap and trade is probably second place, but a carbon tax would be a way to internalize the externalities at the most local feasible level without telling you how and what. It’s the same as I think that one of the biggest mistakes for the environment was the Nixon passed the legislation in 1971, Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
Max: These were terrible in the sense that they tried to prescribe what you had to do to limit emissions, and we have 1970s and 80s technology still going today because what is what complies with the law and of course, you get special interests forming around these structures when they’re frozen in amber, but at least the carbon tax wouldn’t do that. If you’re going to mitigate climate change and it’s relatively simple to enforce a carbon tax, then maybe a revenue neutral carbon tax is the way to go to mitigate climate change. There are problems with carbon taxes obviously, but I think this is probably your best bet and perhaps investment in a more diverse energy portfolio that includes something like nuclear and that’s high impact, and maybe capital intensive for the near future.
Max: I’m not going to be doctrinaire about those things, but merely to point out to say what are the systems that allow people to adjust locally and at the periphery rather than ones that try to exert command and control structures? Those are going to fail.
Jim: Yeah, or at least they’re going to be way sub-optimal. It’s going to cost vastly more than it should. I mean for instance, I’m very skeptical of the so-called green new deal, which is very prescriptive and how it wants to do a thing in fact the Bernie Sanders version actually calls for government socialism, for government to own the solar fields. As we all know, human innovation, it may turn out that solar is not the answer in 20 years. Maybe something else is and to lock in now, we’re going to build this and the government’s going to own it. Oops, it’s going to have sunk costs here that it’s then going to need to defend against other innovation is a horribly bad idea.
Jim: I’ve been saying for years now that the 100% refundable carbon tax is as close to the silver bullet as we’re going to find. By that, I say 100% refundable, I mean that all the taxes that are collected are refunded per capita minus whatever small administrative fee. Five percent it might cause and people say, “Well, wait a minute, that won’t change any behavior.” I go, “Yes, it will because at the point of actually making a decision to spend $3 on a gallon of gas or $3 on a six pack of beer, the implicit tax in the gasoline from the carbon tax will push you towards the beer. Even though if you’re an average consumer at the end of the month, you’ll get your check back and all will be well at the macro level.
Jim: It’s an amazingly clean and powerful way to start to mold our behavior and particularly, if we set it and set a schedule for it to rise over 20 years started at a moderate level, maybe the equivalent of $50 a ton of carbon and aim to reach $200, $250 per ton of carbon in 20 years, that provides a remarkable attractor to human innovation and organization to solve the problem, whichever the best way to solve it is. If it’s solar farms, that’s great. If it’s distributed solar, that’s wonderful too. If it’s the new generation four nuclear plants that Bill Gates is investing heavily in, that’s wonderful as well or some combination, depending on where, when, and how.
Max: Yeah. Well and what’s interesting, a lot of people don’t know that the United States, though it is a massive emitter of carbon dioxide and indeed of methane, that the United States has turned the corner pulled back in its emissions growth, and that it is actually getting better and better that the Environmental Kuznets Curve, which is a rendering of how much effluent or pollutant or whatever you like through time is going down. We’ve hit our peak and we’re beginning to go down.
Max: There is a fabulous book out on this… McAfee is the economist name from MIT, who’s showing this on nearly every dimension, we’re being better environmental stewards just due to waste elimination and improved technology that there is a positive arms race for in the economy, because nobody really wants to waste, nobody wants to consume what they don’t have to, nobody wants to waste what they don’t have to, unless they can get away with it. What we’re finding is dramatic even reductions in environmental pollutants and problems already that in my mind are a good sign.
Max: I understand that that goes against the narrative of hysterics and hyperventilation, but it is one piece of a larger puzzle that includes mitigation strategies, science. I’m just not as worried about climate change as a lot of people. I’m worried about the collapse of our human systems, and that really is the punchline of the book in part one.
Jim: Indeed. Let’s talk about another topic you mentioned as a way forward, mycelial networks. You say they’re not centrally planned, they’re nature’s peer-to-peer processors, et cetera. That’s certainly very game B. In fact, the punch line of that paragraph was it’s the network protocols we have to design. This is something that Jordan Hall and I talk about a lot, which is that the best thinking we need to do is on our network protocols, and then let the networks wire themselves up.
Max: Yeah, and this is an extension of the example we were just talking about perhaps with climate change, but it also I think it really does hold across the board. I’ll go to an example again because I think listeners will appreciate coming down from abstraction land a little bit. Americans just absolutely fell in love with the idea of putting a man on the moon, and this is this linear thinking that you could do this. It was so at the time this whiz-bang technology where in the 1960s, we could really beat the Russians and put someone on the moon and we did it. This is really the shining laurels of technocracy is getting a man to the moon, but again, this is the best that the high minds have been able to come up with and it is very simple.
Max: It is a complicated system, but it is not complex. What we have done is taken this kind of thinking, this kind of technocratic thinking that we can do anything with enough largesse and enough planning, we can put a man on the moon. Well, if we can put a man on the moon, we can fix the economy, fix this social problem, fix that social problem through largesse and central planning. My hope is to in some sense disabuse people of this notion we need to come back from that precipice, especially if there is a national emergency, because more of the same will be catastrophic. The rollout of the vaccine for the pandemic has been just one tiny example of something that could have been handled so much more effectively and easily through other means.
Max: What do I mean by these mycelial networks? Well, the mycelium I think is what it’s called is a underground network of plants and fungi that are able to communicate with each other about the circumstances of the environment. They’re able to coordinate in such a way the plants through these signaling mechanisms in a network that allow them to survive and thrive despite changes and circumstances. This is about naturally evolved network protocols that were only beginning to understand in the 21st century, the mycelial network layer of the ecosystem. Its insights are profound. People who are into complexity science already are into it, they already love it. They know about slime molds, they know about self-organizing systems.
Max: This metaphor I contrast with what is called the moonshot mentality and with all apologies to Peter Diamandis and Elon Musk, that shit’s got to go, that message has got to go. This moonshot language I think is destructive to some degree Jim frankly because what Diamandis is saying is that we should all try to be like Elon Musk and have 10X thinking on everything. It’s sexy and it’s fun and we all see Elon launching rockets and developing really cool cars, but what we don’t see is the opportunity cost of this kind of thinking when applied to scale. As you and Jordan Hall point out, as you’ve told me that you’ve pointed out is that the development of network protocols is far more important because it allows the agents within a system to respond locally and in real time to exigent circumstances.
Max: That’s the change we need to get to in terms of game B systems before we start thinking about some entrepreneur, some visionary like Elon Musk, or some president like Kennedy who says we’re going to do this through largess and planning when it’s not going to work. It’s not likely to work, it’s likely to collapse and waste a bunch of money. What we really need to be thinking is how agents in a system respond in pro-social ways to each other and allow that to grow in mycelial fashion. That’s the contrast I’m trying to bring.
Jim: Yeah, and that’s a more evolutionary approach small steps, but I would turn that around and say that probably the right optimal answer is some mix of the two. For instance, one of the giant complicated projects humanity has committed itself to undertake is the development of fusion power. This is a long-term project. It’s going to cost probably hundreds of billions of dollars, and it might fail. Yet if it succeeds, it’ll change everything. It strikes me that a global level society, or our species ought to be thinking in a portfolio theory, where we put some small percentage of our bets on these big complicated projects these moon shots. If enough of them win, the benefits that come from them are astounding.
Jim: We’ve all heard about the number of spin-offs from the Apollo Mission, so you do joke about it. What about the spinoffs from the Russian space program? Probably not as good burst in a tube or something, but I’m not so convinced that some number of moonshots doesn’t belong in our human species portfolio, but on the other side of it, most of our learning is going to be decentralized and evolutionary. You start trying to get a balance between the two is perhaps a better way to think about that.
Max: Well and that may well be true. I am a little more hostile than perhaps you would be to the likes of Mazzucato who is an economist out of the UK. I think she’s actually an Italian-American or a American-Italian or both, but she actually works in the UK and does most of her research there. She is really big on this idea of massive government investment in R and D, and all I would say about this is as follows. Let’s consider the invisible graveyard of projects that don’t ever get tried because you’ve put too many resources into these big buckets. Now there may be an optimum or reasonable sum of these kinds of experiments that we can that… and when I say we, I mean authorities can work on with tax dollars.
Max: As long as we leave most of the capital and most of the resources for smaller experiments that can be taken to scale, and we can have these workshops or these laboratories of experimentation all over the place, even if you are able to scale these through public means, that might work, but we just want not to circumvent or attempt to steamroll over these shoots of experimentation. That’s really the thing I want to bring across in the book. I really think that Elon Musk is wonderful. He’s a genius. The guy is super cool.
Max: Everybody loves him, I get it, but one thing that I want people to pull back from is the idea that he is an amazing entrepreneur… He is an amazing entrepreneur, but one of the things that is a marker of Elon is that he depends to a very great degree on subsidy, on tax benefits to certain groups. He takes tremendous largesse. He saves NASA money for sure in the things that he does and yet, he still is a big old crony capitalist. The entrepreneurs I would hope that people would admire more than Elon Musk are those who aren’t such big crony capitalists. I still think he’s cool as hell.
Max: I still think he’s doing interesting things, but I do want people to get a little bit of perspective on this and not taking so many subsidies and being the richest guy in the world because there’s this cult around him on the one hand from the standpoint of investors and because on the other side, he’s taking money or arranging regulatory environment to benefit his companies. That’s my take on Elon, not trying to make enemies with your audience however.
Jim: Yeah, but I’ll turn that one around a little bit. As you pointed out earlier, Elon with his internet, was it called Skylink network? We just signed up for it here, hope to get it by the end of the year. We have shitty, shitty internet here deep in the mountains of Virginia and having 100 megabits, holy moly, right? At my farm, we have seven megabits on a good day with the wind, up here in my office 25. In some sense, the tax subsidies, the enticements to build out SpaceX is what led us to the Starlink system. Catalytic money from the government may not be a bad thing.
Jim: I mean again it has to be spent intelligently, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking with people at the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, et cetera on how we can be more intelligent and how we allocate this social capital, but I’m afraid that in a world as big as the one we’re in, we’re going to need some of that society level capital to entice the entrepreneurs to move forward. Elon Musk is a perfect example.
Max: Look, I don’t want to be completely doctrinaire about it, and I’m not in the book. Again, the reminder to people is you don’t know what doesn’t get created with the same dollar. In other words, the invisible graveyard of possibility builds up the more you spend on these projects, and it’s very seldom that we see the failed projects. I see what you mean, but we always have to think about look is as game A as it may sound, we do continue to have to think about opportunity costs. Sometimes opportunity costs are so invisible because they amount to innovations that never get created because resources were diverted somewhere else.
Jim: That’s important to point out. I do think that we, all of us myself included tend to focus on the positive results of social investment and yet, we also know that an awful lot of it’s wasted and it’s important to keep that in mind. Let’s next move on to a double conversation here. You talk a bit about David Sloane Wilson who people in the game B world often point to as an example of good thinking and his [evonomics 00:54:11] idea. You don’t seem to like it too much and then at the same time, you lay out in considerable detail what you take to be a new view, or an updated version of the invisible hand. Maybe if you could compare and contrast David Sloane Wilson and what you think a better invisible hand might look like.
Max: Yeah. I mean I think that my invisible hand looks more or less like the old invisible hand of Adam Smith, but applied to context that we don’t often think of them being applied to such as governance, and I’ll get back to that in a moment, but let me talk about why I don’t really have a lot of… I don’t want to say I have disrespect for evonomics, but I think that a lot of what it sends out is the wrong message. What evonomics does in my view is acknowledges a little bit of the problem, grudgingly acknowledges the problem of the machine metaphor, okay, but it still is a masquerading version of high modernism from my perspective and here’s why.
Max: Do you remember the group the Discovery Institute, and there was some debates back in the early 2000s about orthodox Darwinism versus the Discovery Institute where they want to say, “Yeah, Darwin’s okay, but we think that there’s this prime mover at the beginning that is this intelligent designer.”
Jim: Oh bullshit, my opinion.
Max: Well, I agree and I think that the twin theories of evolution and emergence, for example, that come straight out of Stuart Kaufman who is one of my favorite thinkers is really as close as we’re going to get to describing our socio-economy with respect and comparing it to our living systems on the planet. Evonomics really boils down to is analogous to intelligent design, and I think the idea that you can intercede with an invisible hand into a complex system and make these kinds of pro-social changes is going to reach its limits quickly. One of the things that we all know about complex systems is that small changes to initial conditions result in macro effects that almost always we can’t anticipate.
Max: That if we try to use intelligent design thinking, but balance that against evolutionary thinking, we’re going to be in trouble. This is where I think Wilson and others use the gardening metaphor for society and civilization that it should be tended like a garden, and that there are going to be these high modernist gardeners, these high minds who are going to do it. Well, I’m here to tell you I am an orthodox Darwinist in this regard. The way I see economic systems is look, there’s got to be experimentation within the economy, and we’ve got to have mechanisms for trial and error and failure. The systems of profit and loss, revenue and excessive costs are a good one that have time tested.
Max: I don’t think we want to jet as in that in going to game B. What’s more game B, however, is that we have some federalism, some subsidiarity that allows for more tweaking of economic systems. If you want to try your experiment, have it be far less system-wide and catastrophic, far more localized and if you want to try your whatever the thing du jour, whatever the idea de jour is, whether it’s a universal basic income or a carbon tax or whatever, you start to see what the incentive system produces from that, but the meta system is not a monolith. Failure’s not catastrophic and system wide, failure is localized. I believe we can develop markets in governance, and that requires some subsidiary. You and I can talk more about that if you like.
Jim: We’ll get to that a little bit, but before we close up on David Sloane Wilson, he makes a very important point, which I don’t think you fully give him credit for, which is that let’s take something like the human body, right? The human body consists of trillions of cells, not only of our own cells, but also our microorganisms, but let’s just start with our own cells.
Jim: A long, long, long ago in our evolutionary history, those cells were independent, freestanding organisms and yet they somehow came together to work in a symphony with feedback loops and protocols, and very complicated metabolisms and signaling of all sorts, where they’re able to work somewhat in competition with each other trying to fill space for instance or whatever, but they don’t do so in a destructive fashion and do it in a way that allows this emergent organism ourselves to exist for a long period of time in tolerable equilibrium. One can think about that in complexity terms as downward causality, the existence of the human implies certain things about how the lower level units need to react with each other.
Jim: Then what has evolved over time is more and more efficacious communications protocols and transport protocols to make that happen. In its pure form, that’s a little over visible hand-ish for my taste, but in terms of thinking about the importance of flows and protocols, I think it’s actually very inspirational for the game B work that we’re doing.
Max: I actually agree with you on that, except I would disagree with David Sloane Wilson about the level of description at which that is described, such a phenomenon is described. You and I spoke in your last episode, and I’m happy to bring it up again about the organism, human beings being a organism of as far as we know the highest complexity in the universe that we’re aware of. Now we’re probably being monitored by aliens right now, which is great. I just want to say hi to the aliens out there, please don’t eat me, but if humans are as far as we know the highest level of description, that is at the level of the organism. In my mind, the appropriate metaphor there, the comparative metaphor is the firm.
Max: We can have these hybrid systems that mix this network protocols. We can apply systems like holacracy, and those holacracy can be scaled to some degree. We don’t know what that degree is, but we need to exercise humility in talking about scaling system. If we’re thinking about an organism like a human being, I think that is an appropriate metaphor for the firm. I would not say that that is an appropriate metaphor for the wider society. Society is not a body. Society is an ecosystem, and that’s where I would push back against David Slogan Wilson while agreeing with him and where you and I agree is that one of the most important places to start reforming going from game A to game B is the network protocols of organizations.
Max: That’s one of the most important places we can start. If David Sloan Wilson agrees with that then bless him.
Jim: I think he would agree with that, but as you indicate, he would also be more prescriptive in certain ways that probably you and I would both disagree with, but I would say that he has some important insights as well. Actually, let’s jump to that now and talk about the firm. I think one of the things that gives many of us pause about unbridled invisible hand is the result particularly in the modern world with reduced friction and positive network effects. Remember, classic microeconomics actually assumed negative scale effects. Things got more expensive the more you made of them beyond a certain point, and hence supply and demand crossed, and firms were of limited size, but in our modern world, we are in a world of gigantism.
Jim: Why in the world does there need to be one Walmart, and the reason is that they have a series of advantages, most of which are small, but in the aggregate, add up to just enough at the margin to crush everybody else. The one truism of economics is everything happens at the margin. We end up with Walmart that crushes everything in its site, and literally no one can compete with it to maybe Amazon. Is there things that are fundamentally wrong with the invisible hand, particularly in its modern low friction, increasing returns to scale business models that we need to think about? My favorite is a gigantism tax.
Jim: Literally put an explicit tax on the grocery seats of companies based on their size, and maybe it starts at 100 million and by the time someone gets to 20 billion, which is a mighty big company, 20% of their revenue might go to the anti-gigantism tax. I can guarantee that if Walmart were subject to such attacks, it would break up into three or four store clusters really fast. It strikes me, this is one of the unforeseen resultant effects of late stage, hyper financialized capitalism is the tendency to one big winner based on the reduction of friction and increasing returns to scale business models.
Max: Yeah. You and we’ve talked about this before offline, and it’s a really interesting conversation. Let me give you my best for talking about the size of companies. Okay? I don’t see it as an issue of size or gigantism. I do think that if you marry the idea of gigantism with rent seeking, then yes, I agree. All right. I would couple your notion of gigantism with a crony capitalist phenomenon. One of my favorite thinkers is actually not a philosopher or a sociologist or economist at all, but he’s an engineering professor at a Duke named Adrian Bejan, and Adrian Bejan describes a fundamental law which I think he calls the fourth law of thermodynamics which he calls to constructal law.
Max: In the constructal law, he describes in nature, this feature of vascularization and I call it in the book the law of flow. Well, if you have any kind of flow system that is working in vascular fashion, it is going to have a portion that is the raging river portion. If you look anywhere in nature, you’re going to have the Amazon and the Nile, okay, but you’re also going to have tributaries to these. The Amazon and the Nile are gigantic, right? Likewise, for other phenomena. You can talk about big, big websites like Google and Facebook that are traffic hogs because the vascularization of the internet was going to happen. This scaling law effect happens throughout nature, and it tends to have an S-curve fashion in time.
Max: We’re already seeing Facebook stop its growth, it’s slowing its growth, and that’s why it’s starting to get KG, Zuckerberg’s getting KG, but same thing with Amazon, it’s going to have a scaling limit. The question is from the standpoint of aesthetics, whether that scaling limit is if you like the gigantism or not, and I think an aesthetic view of it isn’t the important question. The question for me is, is it creating customer value? Is it creating stakeholder value? Is it creating value for those who’ve invested in the company? Is it creating value in the value ecosystem it occupies?
Max: Just as the mahogany trees in the rain forest soak up all the water and a lot of the carbon dioxide in the forest, we see natural living systems follow this vascular pattern where you have few large and many small down to the tiny. That is a process that living systems have that I would not want to disrupt, except and unless the gigantism is as Daniel Schmachtenberger would describe it advantage taking. If it is somehow found a way to exploit people or planet in a way that is unacceptable and is not paying for its externalities and it is not paying for its displaced costs, then absolutely, then there should be an institutional mechanism for resolving that gigantism, but if it is creating value for stakeholders, I don’t think size is an issue really.
Max: We can then have a debate on whether or not you can tax the personal wealth of someone like Jeff Bezos after taking profits. How many yachts does the guy need, but that is to me a different matter. In fact, I don’t even think you should tax corporations at all. They can grow as long as they want, as long as they’re not displacing costs or somehow being predatory in their orientation. That’s where you and I have a lot of contrast in our views I think.
Jim: Yeah, I think I’m still sticking with the fact that there’s something big lost in the ecosystem when a Walmart utterly dominates a business that’s not inherently a scale-based business. It’s not building 777s, it’s basically running a store, right? Through a series of network effects and at the margins small differences and corruption, they’re here in Stanton. They basically put the three local towns into a competition, who wants the store, right? Who gives us the biggest tax abatement, and our town ended up giving them a 20-year tax abatement, and gigantism will lead to that.
Max: Well, I don’t like that, it’s cronyism. You and I agree on that. Walmart shouldn’t have any special privileges, especially if they’re big.
Jim: Yeah. Anyway, let’s move on. We’re getting short on time here. We’ve got about 10 minutes left unfortunately. I’m only about a quarter of the way through my topic list here. This was an extremely interesting book as I mentioned earlier. Let’s move to one of the things you focus on late in the book. I’m afraid we’re not even going to get to the solutions, which is a shame. Why don’t we do that? Why don’t we get you back for a shorter episode on the solution side, because we’re not going to get to the solutions. The last of the problems we’re going to talk to is this crazy breakdown of our world around wokism, identity politics, post-modernist claptrap, and that kind of stuff.
Max: Absolutely, yes. I’m happy we got to squeeze this in, and I’m even more delighted that you’re going to have me back to talk about solutions at some point, but yes, let’s talk about wokism. You basically talk a bit about it in a late chapter. I think it was called breakdown of discourse and civil order, and this is a radically anti-liberal. In fact, this is a good time to also lay out your idea of liberalism as the right way and the alternative to the ill liberals of the right and the left, but then let’s also talk specifically about the left forms of anti-liberalism, which I don’t think get nearly enough credit for their anti-liberalism.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the things that wokism depends on is the following dynamic. There is no cost in wokism to being wrong, to being inaccurate, or to speaking in equivocation and falsehood. Now you might say, “Well Max, this is post-modernism thoroughly disabuses us of such enlightenment notions as capital T truth and so on,” but we do get inputs from the world. Yes, there is a lot about post-modernism that is a good critique of the enlightenment, and I readily admit that and agree with it, but it goes too far. When that critique turns into a mind virus, where simply political utterances made without any regard to what the world actually looks like, or the dynamics or phenomena in the world are, you get serious problems.
Jim: Let me give you an example, and this may get me tomatoes thrown at people’s screens or whatever they’re listening to this on, but let me just give you an example. As someone who leans in an anarchist direction. I am pretty darn hostile, and we’ve talked about this in the last episode too to police violence. I think there is too much police violence in America, and I think it’s an institutional problem. The problem however with the narrative around police violence against innocence or against unarmed people is that it’s racist, and it’s all racist, it’s all racism. Everything is fucking racism.
Jim: If you have a narrative that everything is racism or everything is the oppressor versus the oppressed, and this is just a speech act in which you bring forth a false truth without any reference to statistics, reality, any other approximation of what’s going on in the world, then what happens is that gets propagated and pollutes the information space, or the information ecology as our game B friends like to say. We get this propagated narrative that everything and everyone is racist and racism lies around every corner or sexism or whatever ism you like that plays with this dynamic of oppressor oppressed.
Jim: When there is no cost to being wrong with this and your messages gets propagated, what that does is creates a false reality and an almost cult-like following of people who are being slowly subsumed into a borg of absolute falsehood. I’ll give you a quick example, and then I’ll shut up. This notion for example that police violence affects mostly, or only people of color is simply false. When you consider the numbers on other dimensions such as the crime rate in African-American communities, particularly with violent crime, it completely mitigates the narrative that this is always happening to black people.
Jim: You get what is called an availability cascade, and an availability cascade is a phenomenon outlined by Cass Sunstein who’s a really bright guy, that basically says if something happens and everybody pays attention to it, they tend to extrapolate or infer that this is a massive problem, and that this particular instance was the tip of the iceberg. On top of that availability cascade, you get this master narrative of racism everywhere and suddenly, you’ve got people who are just going, “Oh my God, what? I’m racist? Oh, I need to do the work? I need to read my D’Angelo? Am I?”
Jim: What you get is this deference to this narrative that is causing mass guilt inflaming what should not be problems, and it gets people’s eye off the ball in terms of the real institutional problems of policing and the drug war in America. That is terrible, especially when it becomes a great and unending distraction from the real problems and real pathologies underlying our social problems. If we don’t have any connection to the truth, or at least proxies of truth, we’re dead in the water as a civilization.
Max: Here, here and this woke shit really just got me definitely worked up, like it does you. I’m currently involved in a series of online arguments with a bunch of wokies, and this is a particular pod of smart wokies, but nonetheless, they are incapable of actually even thinking about this issue. Because as you point out, when you look at the per-encounter basis, Fryer, the black economist from Harvard has shown that per encounter actually black suspects are killed less often than white suspects.
Max: The problem is… and that’s in Houston in the aggregate they’re almost exactly what you would predict as no racial bias in the killings. Now there’s other evidence that shows that other forms of police misconduct are skewed by race, but let’s go with the empirical data, but the wokies first, they are suffering from an extreme inability to deal with this. I mean the counter examples they give had nothing to do with the argument even. They’re just like throwing up their hands. Other ones I’ve talked to say, “Well, the data doesn’t even really matter. It’s the lived experience,” and I like to tell them, “Well, for the average human, the lived experience is the earth is flat, right? If you’re not going to appeal to data what, the heck kind of world are you living in?”
Max: This deep postmodernist nonsense is just horrendously dangerous and bad.
Jim: What you get of weird neo-segregationism, which I find appalling and racist in its own right that the idea that white people and it’s the purview of whites to use reason and evidence and seek truth, and that for black people that there’s some separate phenomenological or epistemological matrix that they should and do function in, that the only answer to that… and first of all, that’s completely fucking wrong, but that the answer to that is that you use political speech acts to create new realities. That’s exactly what they’re doing, and it’s working because there’s no specific cost to anyone being wrong.
Jim: This is why I’m struggling in the solutions part of the book to help us improve our collective intelligence, not just with the discernment and patience and wait-and-see attitude that folks like Hall and Schmachtenberger practically beg us to use in these circumstances, but also systems, architecting new systems that somehow, some way will incentivize truth tracking, but I’ll leave it at that.
Max: Yep, and I had a really interesting episode with Jim Lindsay along with his co-author Helen Pluck Rose wrote to my mind the best book on all this called Cynical Theories, where he takes wokism and takes it back to its roots with the Frankfurt school, Herbert Marcuse and those characters and shows how it’s literally a plotted attack on sense-making and on evidence and on empiricism and on the enlightenment. If people don’t waken up, this may be your endogenous collapse scenario where if we become addicted to making decisions irrespective of evidence, we’re going to drive our civilization right off of a cliff.
Max: It’s pretty crazy out there, no doubt about it and these folks are vicious, right? They’ll come right after you, even if you quote them chapter and verse of data, right? It’s racist to quote data.
Jim: It’s racist to do math, it’s racist to have standardized tests, it’s racist this, racist that. Everything is racist. If you can’t do anything without being accused of racism and it’s just getting worse, then there’s nothing you can do. With the digital lynch mobs that we’re all… not all of us, but many of us are appalled at, we’re even losing the people’s… It makes me mad, but people tell me all the time. They’re like, “Look, these social media platforms who censor people, it’s their private property, it’s their business.”
Jim: As a good liberal who believes in private property and being able to run your business as you see fit, I agree with them, but there is also a spirit, an enlightenment spirit of liberal inquiry where you tolerate other people’s speech, and you seek truth through the evidentiary process through the discovery process of scientific inquiry that depends to some degree on at least statistics, evidence, numbers, not just “liberal experience”, or what the poet Audra Lorde says and she was steeped in that critical race theory, which is the tools of the master’s house. Reason, evidence, and logic is the tools of the master’s house?
Max: Yeah. If you want to hear a good refutation from black intellectuals, check out Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, and Glenn Loury who have been subject to all kinds of abuse for standing up for enlightenment values it’s scary out there it really is.
Jim: Even Thomas soul. I would add Thomas soul to that. He might be too right wing for some people, but on this particular issue, his econ brain is fantastic.
Max: Yeah. Well, that’s about all the time we have. Unfortunately, got another call I have to jump on, and we’re already over our 90 minutes by a fair amount. I’d like to wrap it up here, and I’m serious we should have you back soon to do the second part of this thing. We have to get to your solutions because I finished reading the book. We can do it real soon, so let’s do that. Thank you Max borders for an incredibly interesting conversation.
Jim: Jim as always, it’s my pleasure. I so look forward to it every time.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.