The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Jamie Wheal. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Jamie Wheal. Jamie’s the co author of the global best-selling book, Stealing Fire: How Silicon valley, Navy SEALs and Maverick Scientists are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work. Jamie was our guest on EP 29 on The Jim Rutt Show, where we talked about Stealing Fire in some considerable depth. So if you miss that one, check it out.
Jim: Welcome back, Jamie.
Jamie: Well, thanks for having me, Jim.
Jim: Yeah, we’ve had some good conversations, both here and elsewhere. And so I’m looking forward to this one too.
Jamie: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think there’s an awful lot of overlap between what we’re trying to do, which is effectively, what are kind of open source toolkits for seeding new culture? So I’m psyched to swap notes.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. Jamie, in addition to writing cool books, which are well worth reading, he’s the founder of the Flow Genome Project, an international organization dedicated to the research and training of ultimate human performance. Since founding the organization in 2011, has gone on to become a leading voice of evidence-based, and that’s important, evidence-based peak performance counting award-winning academics, professional athletes, special ops commanders, ie. bad dudes, and Fortune 500 business leaders among the hundreds of thousands of people in its global community. Pretty outrageous stuff.
Jamie: Well, I mean, basically, this is just the sum total of all the most fun things I’ve ever experienced in my life, and how to bundle them together into an organization that gets to do more of it. So getting to take people out of boardrooms and put them into wilderness environments, ski mountaineering, canyoneering, neuroscience, kind of all the things chunked together and let’s just see what we can come up with. So that’s kind of the adventure we’re on.
Jim: Yeah. Very cool. So today we’re going to talk about his brand new book, hot off the presses, and its title is Recapture the Rapture: Rethinking God, Sex, and Death in a World That’s Lost its Mind. I love that title. So let’s start off with, so what do you mean when you say the world has lost its mind? That’s a pretty bold statement.
Jamie: Well, that was provisional two and a half years ago when I wrote the book proposal, and then it just appeared to be prophetic and actually happened. So the sense was, is that basically, we are in the midst of a meaning crisis and that the two pillars that we have leaned on for making sense of the world, specifically, kind of organized religion, which you could call sort of the oldest and longest standing one. So we can kind of name that meaning 1.0, and modern liberalism, basically everything from the sort of French Enlightenment through civil society, democracy, civil rights, open markets being meaning 2.0. We’re sort of experiencing them both collapsing and almost simultaneously.
Jamie: And so the Pew foundation has been documenting this transition out of organized religion, and now people who don’t affiliate with any organized tradition… It used to be even in, I think year 2000, it was something like 70% affiliated. Even if they were just sort of Easter and Sunday kind of Christians or whatever it was, there was still 70% of people who still had a label that they assigned themselves to and their families. And now it’s under 50%. And so the rise of the nones, I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious or I’m an atheist or I’m an agnostic, that’s now the largest and fastest growing sort of denomination in North America. So we really have kind of decoupled ourselves from sources of organized religious authority.
Jamie: And then at the same time, the late stage capitalism, globalism, the notion of international treaties, trade alliances, international NGOs, all of these things are also kind of wobbling, if not on their last legs. And so a lot of our, both divine authority, whether that’s Popes and priests or ancient texts, have really come under a lot of pressure and scrutiny. And that’s everything from the Catholic sexual abuse scandals to just the decoupling of people’s affiliation with those organizations.
Jamie: But at the same time, benign authority has as well. And whether that’s the end of the Walter Cronkites and the BBC radio announcers of the world to the fact that no one even believes Snopes and other fact checking sites to the fact that the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the sort of former journals of record have become quite politicized in both their editorial policies, the letters to the editor. No one really believes anything outside their tribes or factions. You then look to the Ivy Leagues and academia. You’ve got the replication crisis, you’ve got college admissions scandals. You look to medicine, and we start seeing everything from CDC and WHO at the highest level, all the way down to our friendly family physician, who was actually getting my family hooked on Oxycontin, or my kids strung out on Ritalin, or me juice to the gills on Prozac and Ambien or benzos. There’s that sense of like, wait, is anybody trustworthy?
Jamie: And we see Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, that used to be the sort of gold standard of every high achieving kid, trying to get an internship or a place there. And they’ve been implicated in the 2008 financial crisis, where Goldman was back dealing in short selling their own clients. In the credit default crisis, we’ve got McKinsey both being implicated in aiding and abetting, the Gupta brothers and their state captured South African finance, all the way to the hatching plans with Purdue Pharma to sell more Oxycontin, even after its connection to the opioid crisis was well-established. At some point you’re like, “Man, is anybody a good faith broker of truth or perspective?”
Jamie: And Silicon Valley as well, which used to be, everybody’s trying to make the world a better place. And now we realize you guys just broke democracy-
Jim: Or something.
Jamie: Yeah. And like one-click shipping and you’re like, “Great. We’ve just hollowed out urban core’s, tax bases, mom and pops, all of these things.” And so, basically, the world has always been complicated, and we’re tribal primates, and we tend to use shortcuts and short hands or heuristics. And one of the main heuristics for what should I think is, what do other smarter, better, more established, more trustworthy, higher or credibility or authority people think? And then I’ll probably look to see what they’re doing and I’ll think something similar. And so, as we’ve seen this collapse of both meaning 1.0, the traditional religion, and meaning 2.0, just our faith and belief in democracy, civil society and markets, we’re seeing this, in that vacuum, sort of nature, abhors a vacuum, but it’s looking more and more like culture does too.
Jamie: And so as we’ve experienced this collapse in consensus reality and shared meaning, we’re people getting sucked to the extremes of fundamentalism, on one hand, and nihilism, there is no truth, there is no certainty, there’s no point, and diseases of despair and all the things that come with that, on the other. So I would say, that’s the situation in which we find ourselves and it’s likely to only get more intense as we go forward.
Jim: Yeah, indeed. Though, I will push back a little bit, in which oddly enough, modernism, which I think is really what you’re talking about. We can say it started around 1700. I can say it started in 1694 with the invention of the Bank of England. But anyway, it’s around that time.
Jamie: There you go.
Jim: And the Royal Society and the Glorious Revolution, those three things were all very close together in the late 17th century. And then they reached, I would argue, the fully integrated view with the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century. And modernism or what we call game A in our little tribe, has done amazing things for the world. I mean, it’s hard for us to look back, but in 1700, most people lived in houses with dirt floors, horrible, smoky, open front fireplaces or really leaky wood stoves, and this is in the west. It was worse than that elsewhere. This combination of getting rid of superstition, which had been riding humanity as far as back as we can go. And the development of ways to actually perfect real knowledge, which was science on one side and an empirical approach to technology on the other. And then the interaction between the two, a little later, has basically utterly changed everything about being a human.
Jim: And we now live so much better, so much fuller that we have time to worry about these things you talked about. And so I worry a little bit about people that say that we should reject modernism or that modernism is fundamentally broken. My take is that because game A started at a time when we were so tiny, in terms of the world’s population, there was like a billion people. And our ability to do harm to the planet was relatively small. Keep in mind the first fossil fuel was not produced in America till 1804, how about that for an interesting number?
Jamie: Are you referring to like coal extraction?
Jim: Yeah. Coal. The first coal mine, 1804, US. Britain, it was earlier, but the US didn’t even bother with coal for a while, we had so much wood. Renewable resource as it turns out. So it strikes me that the crisis of modernism is that it was born without a sense of limits, and for good reason, because we were so tiny, so small, and so poor that moving forward was much more important. And the limits were so far away that even really smart people like Voltaire or Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin could just maybe, occasionally, see a little glimpse of them. But for no good reason, should they actually be worrying about something happening 200 years in the future. When you’re living in a world without high intensity energy, does really makes a lot of sense to worry about it.
Jim: But now we have used the tools of modernism to build a very high intensity life for everybody on the planet. The collapse of global deep poverty in the last 30 years, perhaps one of the most amazing things that’s happened in the last 300. Steven Pinker, people like to make fun of him, but he’s captured some really good data about the good that has come from modernism and continues to come from modernism.
Jim: But back to the theme, what strikes me is that we have to now realize that there were no breaks built into game A, and particularly, the inner loop of finance. This money on money return machine that drives these behaviors that you’re talking about. Why does McKinsey help Purdue hook people on opioids? Because it makes money, that’s why, and Purdue can afford to pay McKinsey their ridiculous fees to advise them on how to be better predators. And this lack of breaks in our system, lack of restraint in every dimension is what’s fundamentally broken with meaning 2.0 or modernism.
Jim: So I continue to think that we need to be very careful not to throw out meaning 2.0 while we’re building what comes next. And whether we call it meaning 3.0 or whether we call it installing control systems and awareness of limits and working around some of the problems that we have such as, for instance, our world is now more complex than any one person can get their head around. Maybe a better way of thinking about it than something completely discontinuing.
Jamie: I mean, a 100%. And for a long time, I kind of wrestled with Pinker’s thesis. And that’s true with Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist, Hans Rosling, his famous Ted talk, talking about all the wonderful and positive things happening. And I was kind of noticing the tragedy of the commons, the erosion of carrying capacity and what you pointed out, like the sort of the dysfunctions of unchecked market capitalism and specifically, late stage crony capitalism. I wouldn’t say we have a, especially, free market. The discussions are sort of often about this idealized, libertarian, frictionless, hyperefficient, entrepreneur friendly market. And I’d be like, “I think that’s a brilliant idea. I think we should actually free the market that we’ve got, so that it can get closer back to those ideals.”
Jamie: But then, lately, I’ve really come back around to deeply appreciating the deeper thesis that Pinker is advocating, which is just, it’s pretty much everything you’ve just said, like, “Hey, that enlightenment experiment was rare, fragile, delicate, never really been attempted before, and has brought all sorts of profound things.” We typically discuss it as all good or all bad, it’s one or the other. But I think that there is the notion of within that enlightenment experiment were the seeds of the infinite game. Were The seeds of saying, “Hey…
Jamie: In particularly, if we take the American experiment as kind of exhibit A right, those founding fathers, those rebels, those treasonous traitors that were British subjects said, “Okay, were the merchants, were the bankers, were the planters. So we have regional power against this global power, and we’re going to hatch a plan to win the last hand of this finite game. We are going to secede. We’re going to defeat them in military conflict.” But then rather than just rebooting and saying, “Okay, we won the last hand, we’re calling the new game and we’re going to run the table. And aces are wild, and I’ve got all the jokers up my sleeve.” They said, “Hey, can we do this differently? We’re not going to depose one king to crown another.” And of course, for sure, the founding fathers are getting a ton of flack these days for not subscribing or complying with 21st century morals, ethics, et cetera.
Jim: I mean, What the fuck? Why would you expect them to, unless they had a time machine? What the hell is wrong with people? One of the most amazing artifacts of our time is the ahistoricism of so much of academia today, to hold someone like George Washington to the standards of 2021 Amherst English department. I mean, what the fuck, right? That’s insane.
Jamie: Well, yeah, to your point, I mean, it’s ahistorical and it’s arguably, hopelessly, naive. I mean, the question that I always kind of wonder is sort of like, well, nobody promised us a rose garden, have you studied history? I mean, I think that’s part of people’s fascination with Game of Thrones, was just how utterly bare knuckles brutal it is.
Jim: And that was very much beautified. The reality was way worse than that.
Jamie: Way worse. Everybody was toothless and just getting killed at all times. It was gnarly.
Jim: Yeah. They didn’t have the shampoo and hair conditioner that those actors clearly had access to.
Jamie: Yeah. All those things. And so, yeah, I mean, my sense is, is that those seeds of the infinite game life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness for everyone, regardless of race, color, or creed, is we take it for granted. We’re all raised in gray school, and our history books just take that as table stakes. But all of prior human history, had never done that. It was nothing but finite games, just tribal win, lose.
Jim: Yep. And feudalism and various forms of groups of bandits. I mean, who was William the Conqueror, but the head bandit of group of bandits. And he came over and over through the Anglo-Saxons, who had been another group of bandits that came over about 600 years before, they established a new banditry. The American Revolution was quite an astounding break from the tradition of one group of feudal bandits overthrowing the incumbents and establishing themselves as the new feudal overlords.
Jamie: Yeah, absolutely. And what is it? Eight percent of Asians hold Genghis Kahn’s DNA.
Jim: I think it’s 30% in central Asia.
Jamie: Yeah. And you’re just like, holy moly, that’s an entire continent. That is just the genetic legacy of rape and conquest. So you’re like, whoa, this is how we have always done this thing, nasty, brutish, and short and red in tooth and claw. And so this evolution of the infinite game is something beautiful. Now, it got wrapped in or bundled with or it co-arose with some form of representative democracy and some form of open market capitalism. And of course, a fledgling nascent thing, a very unstable element, the concept of the infinite game got co-opted as soon as it was uttered. So we had rent-seeking, we had game theory, we had all the things, we had lots of finite players looking to control and run the table.
Jamie: And so that’s led to all sorts of perpetual frustration and disappointment with, what Abe Lincoln said at the Gettysburg address, “The better angels of our nature,” against the sort of basar demons of our instincts and impulses. But there had been, for a long time, within the American experiment, there was this pretty rich tradition of, at times of crisis, and the battlefield of Gettysburg was one of them, where it was like, okay, this is a wake up call. There’s enough pain in our system now to just pause and reflect. And can we go back and can we dust off that battered and bruised experiment? And can we double down, can we recommit to it? And can we continue to try and expand the number of players and continue the game?
Jamie: And so you see that with Martin Luther King’s, I have a Dream. He doesn’t get to DC, and say, “Hey, all you racist crackers down here, stop lynching my people. We’re going to burn it all down.” He says, “I refuse to believe that the Negro has been given a check to be cashed at the bank of justice, marked insufficient funds. I’m going to remind us of our better angels.” And that happens with Bush after 9/11, he says, “This is not who we are.” He’s got the specter of Japanese internment camps and it could have been very easy to corral all Muslim residents, green card or citizens, and say, “You’re now a threat.” And he didn’t, he said, “This is not who we are. Our Muslim fellow brothers and sisters are our citizens.” That was a potent move.
Jamie: Obama does it after the Charlottesville church shootings. And then somewhere lately. And I think Jonathan Haidt, and I don’t know why he pegs it at 2014, but he does. He pegged it at somewhere around there, we went from a shared commitment, even if it’s idealized and even if it’s constantly contradicted in partial, a shared commitment to that infinite game to smash and grab factionalism and tribalism on both the alt-right and the far left of just saying, “We no longer subscribe to the same vision and we’re looking to break this thing and get what’s ours.”
Jim: Yep. That’s unfortunately about right. And it may not be a coincidence that 2014 or thereabouts was just about the time that things like Facebook had recently passed mainstream acceptance. Don’t know, it might be, don’t want to overdetermine history by frozen accidents. And one of the interesting things you can always keep in mind, when you use an evolutionary lens to look at, say, the unfolding of modernisms in 1700, is there were a lot of accidents. World war II didn’t need to happen, it could easily have not happened, if a couple of stupid decisions weren’t made by the Kaiser and the Russian emperor. The establishment of the federal reserve in 1913 could have gone quite differently. Nuclear weapons probably would never have been invented, if World War II hadn’t happened.
Jim: And so all these frozen accidents lead us up to where we are today, and is Facebook the proximate cause of the transition to rapture ideologies? I’m not sure. So that’s our next step is talk about your idea right out of the book of rapture your ideologies, what are they? And why are they such a bad idea?
Jamie: Well, I think, I mean, when most of us think of something like that, like a rapture ideology, we would think of people wearing, clapboards, ringing a bell saying, “The end is nigh,” or wired up to suicide vests. We would typically think of fundamentalist, religious sort of apocalyptic belief systems. And there is truth to that, and they’re certainly ubiquitous. And we’ve even seen, I think, a pretty unnerving merging of national geopolitics with old school rapture ideologies. I mean, just a few years ago, when the US moved their embassy to Jerusalem, the featured speaker was Robert Jeffress, who’s an evangelical minister from Dallas, who has gone head to head… he’s basically gone head to head with Mitt Romney. He has gone head to head with Muslims, with Jews. He’s basically said “Anybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior is going to burn for eternity in the pit of hell.” So fairly pronounced, unapologetic.
Jamie: And he’s entirely entitled to those beliefs, those spiritual beliefs, but then he’s showing up in a diplomatic capacity and he is celebrating the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, because it complies and begins to fulfill end times prophecies for Christian Zionist. And his grandfather, I mean the church that he’s a part of in Dallas, I mean, those guys were Klansmen two generations ago. So everybody thinks of the Klan as, obviously, highly racist and against African Americans and freedman and sharecroppers, but they were no fans of Catholics or Jews either. So you’re like, “Well, wait? What’s going on with him being the one giving the keynote at the embassy?” And it was because it was a fulfillment of Christian Zionist prophecy, that first Israel has to be an undivided state. Then we’re going to arm them to the teeth.
Jamie: And so if anybody’s wondering, what is this slightly odd, very cozy relationship. Because if somebody thinks about like Jewish American, you might think, oh, that’s the limousine liberals, that’s Hollywood, that’s all the kind of places where there have been well understood bases of Jewish American political and economic power. No, you’ve got right-wing evangelical Christians, who again, have a long standing history anti-Semitism still willing to arm Israel to the teeth. And it’s not for Israel’s benefit, it’s because it’s going to accelerate the final battle of Armageddon at the end of days. And oh, by the way, all the Jews convert to Christianity at the last minute anyway.
Jamie: And you’re like, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. This is now shaping billions of dollars. This is changing the geopolitical stability of the middle east. And most of us are asleep at the wheel.” So like that is an existing rapture ideology that’s super problematic, that we are actually trying to get closer to a conflagration in the Middle East, that takes the whole thing down, because we believe our Messiah will come sooner to make
Jim: To make it even more bizarre, the person who invited him was that great Christian, Donald Trump, who essentially, did it for pure cynicism reasons, I presume. That this would be a bone to throw to part of his wolf pack. I sort of doubt that he is a Armageddon Christian, but he doesn’t give a shit. He’s a nihilist.
Jamie: Well, and opportunistically, you also get the Kushner/Netanyahu axis. So you certainly have a bunch of real politic players, all making use of these drivers and dynamics. And then, yeah, and ISIS has exactly the inverse story, which is they’re going to get whittled down to next to nothing, less than 5,000 warriors. Their 12th caliph will come, that’s also going to happen in Jerusalem. And then wouldn’t you believe it, jumping Jesus comes in their story, and puts a spear through the antichrist, breaks his cross and says, ” Ha-ha Christians, you guys misjudged the allegory. You’ve had it wrong all along,” and then all of the Christians convert to Islam. So you’re like, holy smokes. So you’ve got 1000 year old or several thousand year old apocalyptic theologies now directly governing contemporary strategy and diplomacy, so super problematic.
Jamie: But then we also have rapture ideologies that you wouldn’t first recognize as such. And those can be like techno-utopian. And that can be anything from Ray Kurzweil, and we’re going to upload our consciousness to computers. Effectively, nevermind unplugging ourselves from the matrix, we’re actually going to be the ones climbing into those vats of goo and jacking ourselves in. And then, boom, we’ll bypass and we’ll become silicon chip consciousness. Or Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk saying, “Hey, humanity has got less than a century on this planet. We have to come up with a plan B. So we need to build space colonies, in order to ensure survival of the species.” And so you’re like, oh, so basically they all share a four-stage framework, which is this world is unsavable, there’s an inflection point coming soon. On the other side of the inflection point, my tribe, my people, we come up roses, we’re actually better off on the other side of this thing. And then number four, and this is the pathology of them all, which is, let’s get there as fast as possible and nevermind the collateral damage.
Jamie: And the challenge there is that none of these rapture ideologies or more to the point, all of these rapture ideologies are one percenter solutions. They all slice and dice at who’s their one percent differently. Some of it’s the moral, the saved, the righteous. Others, it’s the meritocratic, the smartest, the best, the brightest. Otherwise, it’s just the richest and the wealthiest who can afford to. But they’re all one percenter solutions, which leaves 99% of us absolutely hosed in a handful of decades. And that was one of the main inspirations or motivations for taking a crack at writing this thing.
Jim: Interesting, because that last point corresponds exactly to a group of shared principles I helped co-write with some folks recently, for something we call the Big Change Coalition. Which is the game B movement, and a bunch of its adjacencies are going to come together and launch a alignment beyond agreement movement of fellow aligned movements. And one of those six points of agreement is that it is our commitment to bring everybody across, all eight billion. And that if you don’t have that as your design center, you’re a fucking sociopath in my opinion.
Jamie: Yeah. And am I hearing it right when you say alignment beyond agreement, meaning we do not actually have to be in consensus on point by point-
Jim: At all.
Jamie: Yeah, exactly. Right.
Jim: There are six principles we agree to, but how we think best tactically and even strategically to get there is up to each group and it should indeed explore independently, but it should cooperate horizontally where that makes sense. And that’s the purpose of building this Big Change Coalition, which you will be hearing a whole lot more about relatively soon. We’re having the convening event or the Big Change Coalition next week.
Jamie: Oh, fantastic. So yeah, I mean, I absolutely agree with that. And one of the challenges, and why we, in general, I think are broadly more than ever susceptible to these rapture ideologies, is that the more complex this Gordian knot of how do we try and figure out this metasystemic crisis we’re experiencing, where it’s not just one thing. It’s not just climate. It’s not just politics. It’s not just economics. It’s all of them all at once. And they’re slamming and crashing into each other and amplifying and canceling each other out. If we can’t figure that out, then the lure-
Jamie: If we can’t figure that out, then the lore of a demagogue, right, a guru, a pundit, whatever, saying, “Hey, I know what’s going on, and here’s the solution and it’s an easy out,” becomes increasingly entrancing. I’ve even seen this in otherwise intensely humanistic, pro-social, kind of personal growth and kind of “consciousness” space and even around COVID and things like that. You would think that people who end up with what you described, psychopathic or sociopathic conclusions, are generally mustache-twizzling villains, right? What’s really spooking me these days is how people who would nominally espouse that they are liberal, progressive humanists are actually going a little cross-eyed and fuzzy.
Jamie: Especially around even COVID and this and that, they’re like, “Well, maybe … We keep our vibes high. I have green juices every day. I do my yoga and my mindfulness, and I’ve got my supplement stack. I’m pretty confident that my immunity is going to carry me through. Now, those carbohydrate, refined sugar, obese folks, the sheeple, they’re not doing so well, but,” and this is where it gets super creepy, “perhaps that’s necessary, and perhaps that’s a part of basically the culling. Perhaps only the humans” … We start getting this bifurcation of humanity, right? “Perhaps we’re the ones who are supposed to be carrying forward the next” … This is the sort of evolutionary spirituality shit, and you’re like, “Oh, and we’re going to be the ones who get to the promised land. We’re going to be the ones that make it through the keyhole event.”
Jamie: The moment you’ve done that and you’ve just created even the tiniest, thinnest end of the wedge of, “I get to bifurcate my sphere of concern, and I get to dehumanize large swaths of humanity. I get to focus exclusively on me and mine,” in whatever self-aggrandizing, ego-stroking way we spin that. You’ve now created a schism where all sorts of horrors are then validated or justified as we look away from our collective responsibility.
Jim: And, in fact, become inevitable. I would argue. What’s so weird about our current time that you alluded to is that the far … Actually, not even that far anymore left and the alt-right are both guilty of this, right? They’re both amazingly dehumanizing of the others. I’ve heard right out of the mouths of wokies that, “Oh, yeah. They need to send all the Trump voters to reeducation camps,” right? Then you have your alt-right assholes who say, “Oh, they’re trying to replace us. We need to throw them all out of the country and all have nine babies and keep our women barefoot and pregnant,” right? So in my mind, it’s the same goddamn thing. This major polarization into violently unaccepting tribes … One of my favorite statistics from polling is that currently in the United States, the number of people who would oppose their children marrying a person of another political party is now higher than marrying a person of another race or another religion.
Jamie: Yeah, there you go. There was a study. I think it came out about six months ago on exactly this, on polarization of political ideologies. It was out of … I think it was the University of North Queensland, but it was definitely an Australian institution. They basically studied alt-right identitarians, so kind of like Aryan Brotherhood, white national identity folks, and then far-left social justice advocates and then kind of centrist progressives. They scored them. I think it was [inaudible 00:31:48] sample size. N was like 500. It was a good chunk of people, and it was Americans. They basically assessed them against dark triad personalities, so that’s narcissism, Machiavellianism, and sociopathy, so generally not very nice, plus authoritarianism.
Jamie: What they found was that the progressives, the idea of like, “I have my beliefs. I believe them fervently, but I also hold the belief that everyone else should have the right to their own beliefs,” they whiffed on all four of those. But both the far left and the far right were off the charts for dark triad and authoritarian, psychological tendencies. That, kind of you’re like, “Whoa,” and that kind of brings you back to that Yeats poem, The Second Coming, right? Where he says the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity. You look around for historical example, and you’re like, “Oh, shit.”
Jamie: So that’s probably exactly what happened in the French Revolution. You had Danton, and you had some of those other early kind of progressive humanists, liberty, equality, fraternity, let’s do this thing, and then you have Robespierre sneak in and say, “Off with their heads, and you’ve got to break a few eggs to make make an omelet,” and Reign of Terror. The same with Stalinism, the same with Maoism. What we see is that basically kick-ass ideals, really inspiring, pro-human values are not enough to inoculate against dark triad bad actors coming in and hijacking otherwise well-intentioned movements.
Jim: Yeah. I love that research that you quoted in the book, and you go into it in some detail. I was not aware of that, but I’ll put it this way. There was no surprise at all when I read it.
Jamie: Exactly. You’re like, “Oh, yeah. That explains a whole bunch.” Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. I just said, “Okay, I’m glad somebody was able to prove it,” because it certainly resonated very strongly with my own sense that the deep failing of both the far right and the far left are surprisingly similar. Then you quote my good friend Bret Weinstein that the default state of humanity is tribalism and that accomplishing collaboration and cooperation across boundaries is one of the great superpowers of the modern world, but it’s also historically very rare. What both the right and the left are doing is retreating into tribalism.
Jamie: Yes. For the folks on the left, I would just caution really pay attention. I would say this in both directions, because there are certain people in the center to center right that are obsessing on kind of “wokism” right now. Then on the other hand, there’s also people on the left that are sort of saying, “Bring it. Let’s have the fight. Let’s have the conflict.” I would just sort of caution, as a student and scholar of history, I’m always like, “Look, the banks and the tanks, man. Who controls finance and military are generally going to win the day.”
Jamie: You look at [inaudible 00:34:49] coming out of Yugoslavia and the fracturing of Eastern Europe. Banks and tanks, man. Watch who’s got control of those ,and until or unless that shifts, I think it’s fair to actually say you need to be more concerned about the folks who are running those two things. This idea of if we’re talking about … because, I mean, fundamentally, right, that dark triad test kind of proved something. It said, “Wow, not only are these people psychographically similar, even though they would be sworn enemies and on opposite ends of the values spectrum, they are actually paradoxically on the same team.” That team is in a fight that’s not in the news. It’s the infinite game, right? Versus the finite game.
Jim: I love that.
Jamie: Right? Can we expand the sphere of this? To your point, right, alignment without agreement, I think that’s a critical piece of maturity. Jonathan Gray, who’s a historian of European philosophy at the London School of Economics, has written a-
Jim: Great writer, by the way.
Jamie: Yeah, he’s contrarian. He’s taking pot shots at Sam Harris and a bunch of other folks and this kind of thing. But I appreciate his stand, where he’s just like, “Look, the notion of even us all coming to a kumbaya consensus within liberal democracy, even that is probably a pipe dream. In fact, Alison Gopnik at UC Berkeley has echoed something the same. She said after the 20th century’s failed utopian experiments, socialism, fascism, communism, all the isms, everybody’s understandably gun-shy about monolithic, one size must fit all solutions. Gray introduces this idea of agonistic liberalism, the sense that, right, we’re not trying to frog march everybody into forced consensus, but the infinite game is actually can we agree to and commit to butting heads and constantly opposing each other and constantly jockeying for position and constantly revising past consensus?
Jamie: That notion of sort of like MAD, like mutually assured destruction, was the kind of name of the game in the Cold War, right? You knew [inaudible 00:36:59] were both screwed, but you could almost say a new MAD is mutually assured dissatisfaction. Can we actually commit to playing agonistic liberalism? Not some happily ever after, but the idea we’re always going to be at this and we’re never going to truly figure this out. Just to be humble, Richard Powers wrote a book that won the Pulitzer last year called Overstory.
Jim: I’ve read every book Richard Powers has written. He is my literary hero, and that’s a great book.
Jamie: Oh, nice. I mean, it is slow in the middle, but it is lyrical throughout, right?
Jim: It’s tricky. You don’t know what the hell he’s up to for the first third, right?
Jamie: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He has that page that just blew me away where he’s just describing all of life on this earth compressed into a 24-hour period. He basically says anatomically modern man shows up at four seconds before midnight. Cave painting show up at one second before midnight. Everything we know as the human experience in certainly the modern and postmodern ages is in the last fraction of a second. So I think that there’s some curiosity and wonder and humility and forgiveness and benefit of the doubt to what the fuck we’re doing, the idea of supply side or demand side economics, carrots or sticks, federal or state, childcare or prisons. We don’t know. We’re just conducting a bunch of messy experiments in chaotic, contaminated conditions and changing our proverbial engine in mid-flight constantly.
Jamie: So to your point about game A and game B, I mean, I would just love us if we could all just have a timeout, if we could just spend a year and just … I mean, we’ve kind of had a year, but it was a wonky one, but just a year to be like, “Okay.” So to your point about dirt floor huts and smoky fireplaces and all of those things, can we just say, “Look, we are just trying to figure out what it means to be human, individually and collectively, and we’re also coming into awareness”? No sooner are we figuring out profound questions, like what is the origins of the universe and what is the beginnings of life on earth, and what’s the progression of the fossil record and evolution and what does it mean to be us and that choice, then at the same time, we’re sort of simultaneously realizing, “Whoops. We might’ve overcooked this fucking thing.”
Jamie: So there’s this sort of existential existentialism, where we are both suddenly almost gifted and burdened with the knowledge of the gods. We actually grok the alpha and omega. At the same time, we’re looking around and going, “Oh, shit.” The very tools, techniques, capacities, and resources that have allowed us to conduct that scientific, philosophical revolution, we might have over clocked our processor. This thing might almost be done. I mean, I just got back from Colorado, and it was “unseasonably warm.” All the snow was melting. We’re heading up into the mountains to go skiing, and we hop on these electric mechanical ski lifts to whiz us up the side of a mountain to go ski. I’m like, “Oh my God. How random is this?” Right?
Jamie: People sliding down mountains on high-tech P-techs and carbon fiber, this is so new. This came out of World War II, the 10th Mountain Division to go fight the Nazis in the Alps. They came back. They started Aspen and Vail. This has been 50 years, right, of optional high-tech recreation, and the very same civilization that was capable of constructing this as just a thing to do on a sunny day is also responsible for setting on fire a bunch of dinosaurs and creating a climactic shift that’s melting all this snow. So we innovated joy and delight of sliding down mountains just in time to eradicate it. That kind of juxtaposition, I think, is an understandable mindfuck for most of us.
Jim: That’s the transition we have to make. My wife and I will regularly look at something like that and say, “Hmm, what would cavemen have made of that?” Right? People who are struggling to not starve to death in three days, someone flies in on their private jet from Fort Worth into Vail and then does exactly what you’re saying. What the fuck, right? From the perspective of the long arc of history, this is just very, very much weird, fluffy stuff, which we can easily get rid of. We don’t need this shit, right? The whole idea of defining our status in terms of shiny little objects that we have or our shiny little BMW or our Tesla or whatever the fuck, I mean, this is late-stage weird shit that hopefully we can deprogram ourselves from.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean, again, I mean, I self-selected to study history and anthropology through grad school. So, I mean, I think I was already probably fairly prone to that sort of stranger in a strange land, outsider looking in perspective. But, I mean, yeah, the number of times we were like, “Okay, the difference between a Mercedes and a Toyota to an anthropologist from space is zilch.” This is sort of like Dr. Seuss and the yellow-bellied sneetches. They’re stars upon darts. All we care about is to be distinctive and different, and we’re playing all sorts of shell games to do it. But strip down our base reality of we’re monkeys with clothes on a terra form planet, and it’s a fundamentally different set of questions.
Jim: I love that, that quote, actually, of yours, because it’s advice I give to young business people regularly, a 24-year-old person that’s going to business meetings that are a complete waste of time and make no sense, and say, “Jim, what was that about?” I’d say, “When you’re in a business meeting and you don’t know what’s going on or what the fuck the point is, just imagine apes in clothes, and it’ll all become clear.”
Jamie: Yeah. Actually, I just started watching it. There’s a show. It’s a European show. It’s definitely Scandinavian, and it’s on HBO now called the Beforeigners. It’s actually people get punted out of time and show up in Oslo. There’s Stone Age folks, there’s Vikings, and there’s Victorians. It’s the same way like the recent Battlestar Galactica kind of became an allegory for the Iraq war and terrorists versus imperialists. Beforeigners is this really interesting kind of take on that where, like, “Wait, these are humans, and they have completely different value sets. They have completely different ways of living.” But in the kind of inclusive Nordics, governmentally, they’re obliged to kind of accommodate and make use of. Then it’s just these clash of worldviews.
Jim: I love this. What’s the name of this thing?
Jim: I’ve got to check that out. I read an essay, I wish I could remember who, many years ago comparing and contrasting a leading Roman citizen of the Late Republic with a professor of English at Harvard and what their attitudes about the world were. It was like, “Oh, yeah, the Romans absolutely believed in killing people and gladiatorial sports and the pater familias having the right of life or death over everybody in his household. Military valor was the only real value,” and then compare and contrast that with the professor of English at Harvard. It was like, “What? We’re all humans,” right? In fact, in both of those, you could say we’re pretty close to the pinnacle of their times. So humans, they be pretty flexible.
Jamie: For sure. I mean, Noam Chomsky is kind of the standard bearer of reminding Americans of sort of false equivalency and actually what we actually do. But it’s very easy to say, “Oh, Roman Empires, and there were public executions in the 18th century. How barbaric.” We absolutely still do those things, that they’re often for-profit prisons or we’re exporting our imperialism around the world. We didn’t get the Vietnam draft for a 20-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan in large part because private companies contracted the entire war effort, and the ratio of private contractors to enlisted military was like four to one. So basically, we just bled the Treasury with all these beltway bandits who were … Basically, we’ll say, “You go to the military. We’ll have Uncle Sam train you. You get out in two years. We’ll pay you triple, and we’ll bill them six. What do you say?” Right?
Jim: They cost a million dollars to have a contractor on the ground, a year to have a contractor. As you said, used to be an EA, right? Or a captain or something instead of having one of our own. Yeah, yeah. Again, it’s late-stage hypercapitalism taken to its extreme. We’re having a great conversation. I want to move on and cover some of the more interesting parts of your book. One of the things that really popped for me was a graphic that you called Planning Our Days. It had two curves, staying alive and coming alive. This was actually pretty fucking brilliant. Tell us about that.
Jamie: Well, it literally actually just happened to me. I just found myself on several nights lying in bed, kind of dreaming and just sort of contemplating the future. Obviously, this might’ve even been pre-COVID, but I think COVID just clearly tightened the screws on it, which was I found myself kind of in an almost schizophrenic fibrillation, where I’m like I don’t know what. I was thinking of Jack Nicholson. Is it Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown? “She’s my mother. She’s my sister.” You’re like, “Which is it?” That sense of on the one hand, I would find myself reflecting on infinite possibilities, like, “What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? How are we going to travel? What entrepreneurial ideas? What new, cool, better, best possible things might we get to do next?” and being excited about some options.
Jamie: Then no sooner than I’d be halfway into that daydream, then it would be like, “You don’t get to,” like, “Hey, global meta systemic crisis. Hey, global shutdown. Hey, military conflict, populism, riots in the streets. Whoa, do we get to do all of those things on that coming alive arc?” That’s when I realized it was just kind of like, “Oh, the coming alive arc is sort of” … It starts low, near the grid, and it’s a happy hockey stick up and to the right. That’s all the promises of modernism. It’s personal fulfillment. It’s indefinite societal advancement and prosperity. It’s all the good things, and it’s basically-
Jim: Dignity for everybody, right?
Jamie: Exactly. Well, especially these days, it’s quite narcissistic and consumerized, which is also, “What’s my #bestlife? I fucking deserve that.” So there’s a fair degree of just we know in some respects, we’re just lazy and entitled about the presumptive stability of that coming alive arc. This has been true for humans always in the sense of life has been super precarious, and everybody’s just kind of happy to squeak by for as long as they can. But the staying alive starts high and plummets as it goes across the graph. That’s is very time-bound, not timeless at all, and it’s highly pessimistic, rather than being optimistic. Because we’re at the intersection of those, it’s very tricky to know, “Should I sell my house and buy some land in northern Idaho and start bulk-buying canned goods, or am I seeding my new humanitarian NGO or beautiful startup entrepreneurial idea or writing the great American novel?” I can’t tell. Depending on which news channel I’m on or who I talk to next, my assessment of which of those should be weighted is profoundly different.
Jim: It was a very interesting thought experiment. I’m still not sure what the implications of it are, and I keep revisiting it. It’s one of the things in the book that I found most interesting and [inaudible 00:49:17] information. It was unexpected and probably important. So I encourage people to do that. Now, it’s interesting about sorting things out. One of the problems you address multiple times and certainly people in the game A, game B space talk about quite a bit are the issues around sense-making in the current world. Specifically in the book, you talk about the free speech approach of the Silicon Valley guys. They seem to abandon it. Now, did they abandon it too late, too early? What have they replaced it with? If these platforms are where we do our sense-making today, which may itself be a bad idea, what do we think about this new dispensation that’s basically put the control of discourse for the public square in the hands of four peculiar billionaires?
Jamie: Well, I mean, I think we’re swimming in it, right? I think we talk about kind of history. My sense is that there are four families alive today that have done more to break Western civilization than probably any conqueror in history, which is the Murdochs, the Kochs, the Trumps, and the Kardashians and across that spread, right? So the Murdochs were the Fox News media empire. There’s been some rigorous studies, A, showing that viewers of their channels are the least factually informed of any other citizens in their countries and that each time they’ve opened up a new media outlet across the UK, Australia, and the US that the electorate has skewed up to 17 points rightward. So you’re like, “Okay, that’s a political propaganda machine.”
Jamie: The Koch brothers have been dismantling civil society via 30-plus years of sustained Astroturf pseudo-democratic movements, which culminated in the Tea Party. Then six months ago, I think, or maybe it was right around the Capitol riots, Charles Koch, the surviving brother, actually came out and said, “Hey, whoops, we’ve gone too far. Didn’t mean to build the Frankenstein monster now that he’s turning on us,” right? Then you’ve got the Trumps and the post-truth era of … I don’t even know what you would call it, sort of mafia politics.
Jamie: But then also the Kardashians, right? The idea a decade ago that Paris Hilton, an heiress to the most famous hotel fortune in the world, was actually ridiculed for being famous for being famous, meaning she hadn’t done anything to deserve all this. It was weird. It was this bizarre anomaly, right? Then her assistant, Kim Kardashian, has a sex tape, pedals that into a TV show, and now you’ve got two generations and all of American girls and boys absorbing the idea that self as selfie digital narcissism, that I can be a brand, I can be an influencer. It’s likes. It’s follows. It’s all these things, and it’s pure material consumption and artifice of representation that that’s now normed and that I think 35% of kids in high school surveyed this year have identified being a YouTube star as highest and best. It’s single digits for lawyer and doctor.
Jim: That is weird. I just read a very weird book that I strongly recommend, if I can pull up the name. It’s called Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen with an S-E-N.
Jamie: I think I read an interview with her on that book. Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. I’ve reached out to her to see if I can get her on the podcast. But she’s an older Millennial herself, but she goes into great depth and scared the fuck out of me about how so many Millennials … She’s saying, “This is just the way it is,” and she thinks it’s bad, but it is the way it is, have so much invested in themself as performance on Instagram in particular is what she used as the example. She quoted people who said, “Why would I go on that trip? There’s no Instagram pictures to be had,” right? The anxiety and burnout that comes from presenting this false self on social media and thinking about this all fucking day long, I mean, what the hell, right? This is not healthy at all. This is like kind of your Kardashian or Internet influencer thing. I mean, it’s bad enough that there are exemplars of that running around, but if this now becomes the lived model of 35% of teenagers, this is not good.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean, and I make that point later in the book, but there’s a couple of reasons why we’re experiencing such excessive pathologies. This also goes to the Jonathan Haidt query, which is that Millennials are rising to power and influence right now. They are the children of the Boomers. This is the point of Ann’s book, right? That all of the whacked outedness, excuse me, on faulty assumptions of the Boomer generation became the water in which Millennials grew up. So they’re simultaneously steeped in these things, but then also have the natural developmental trait of dismissing any scrutiny or learning of what their parents’ generation did, because it couldn’t possibly be relevant or hip, and everything they’re doing is brand new.
Jamie: I first noticed this in basically multicultural studies, right? I went to grad school in the mid-nineties. I was studying with a Native American lawyer, Vine Deloria. You probably remember his book, Custer Died for Your Sins, right? Way back in the day, he was the leader of the American Indian movement and community, as well as a MacArthur genius who wrote about women’s history, who wrote about … The Legacy of Conquest was a breakout book in the history profession. It was genocide and slavery, and what’s the intersection of races and cultures and gender and all the things? So very much that emergent movement of post-modern critical race and gender study.
Jamie: One of the first things that hit me like a ton of bricks going into grad school and being inculcated in that new discipline was don’t fucking victimize anybody. The whole ethos was, “We’re going to study opium-addicted prostitutes, Chinese rail laborers, Native Americans displaced to reservations, African slaves, Creoles, Mestizos, you name it.” The central value was always presume, explore, and explain their agency in a complex, contradictory, chaotic world, right? It’s fascinating, because the moment you do that, you’re like, “Oh, wait, the Iroquois, they won’t just run out of town. They actually fucking wanted those rifles, and their women wanted those copper bottom pots, because have you ever tried boiling”-
Jamie: And their women wanted those copper-bottom pots, because have you ever tried boiling stew in an animal skin with hot rocks? It’s a ball lake, and we want those bright and shiny things, and by the way, we’re going to take those guns, we’re going to kick the living shit out of the Hurons, our historic neighbors, and we’re going to shwhack every fucking beaver we can find to get more of them. That was agency. Those were choices, right? Now, the millennials, I think there’s been amnesia and voltage drop, right? Because the boomers, to articulate postmodern, critical race, and gender theory, as they did, they waded through Fuko and Derrida. They read Franz Fanon. It was real work.
Jim: Hardly any Boomers read that shit, right? I’m a classic mid-boomer, and I never heard any of that horseshit until the nineties. Long, long, long, long after my schooling was done at a fairly elite university. The professors read it, but normal people didn’t read that horseshit in those days.
Jamie: Yeah, but I mean, it was built from first principles. They had to put some back into it, and it was based on real world conditions. The ’68 revolutions, all the things, right? But millennials simply got the pablum, they got the de-tuned version of everyone can grow… The whole trophy generation and that, blah, blah, blah, and they got it in grade school, middle school, high school. They took it for granted, but they didn’t understand the mechanics. It was like a scientific graphing calculator, but never knowing how to do long division yourself.
Jamie: I think that that’s led to, and somewhere along the lines and I’ll go with Haight on his inflection point a decade ago, which is that turned upside down, and suddenly instead of complexity and agency, as a subject of study and a central truth claim, it became identity intersectionality and victim hood. I found that so baffling, because again, in the mid-nineties, as this first came up, it was all about the opposite. It was about giving voice to the voiceless, not rationalizing or justifying why they’re silent. That’s, to me, I mean, that’s most of the ball game right now, because if we were still on the page of like, “Hey, let’s explore, yes, there is structural racism. Yes, there’s this legacy of conquest. Yes, there’s a failed reconstruction and a partial civil rights movement and all the things,” right? Everywhere, in all directions.
Jamie: Can we inquire into what is structural, but also, what is personal? Also, what is individual? And that’s typically the schism between progressives and conservatives, right? Conservatives tend to value internal, personal, moral character traits, et cetera, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and progressives often examine and prosecute, structural inequity. The question is, of course, it’s both.
Jim: Of course, both of them miss where the rubber really meets the road, which is culture, right? Cultures that work for us. I mean, that’s the Game B theory. We have to build culture locally, small scale to start, that is empowering. Hey I’m more Irish than I am anything else. Got the shit kicked out of us by you goddam Brits for 800 years, but we come to America as barefoot bog trotting papists, and after three or four generations, we finally get our shit halfway together. Now we’re about par in America in terms of education and income, because we are in a different culture, and that’s what both of those two wings miss, that it’s the groomed culture that allows us to be successful pretty much irrespective of what misfortunes happened to our poor-ass fucking ancestors.
Jamie: Yeah. There’s a great book called When the Irish Were Black.
Jim: Yeah, exactly.
Jamie: Right. It actually just models, essentially, all the language, and all the terminology, and all the arguments used to ostracize an other, the various out-groups before it became Indian, or African, or any other. Including Southern Europeans, Greeks, Italians. Right? Again, papers it as being one of the big divider lines, but also, racialization of the other, and of the difference, and of intelligence, and ethics, and morality. At the moment you see that you’re like, “Oh, wow.” Rather than reifying race, like much of identity politics these days is doing, the moment you take a look at it, anthropologically, historically, or even genetically, you’re like, “This is a messy shit show.” Who’s in, who’s out, truth claims based on blood or identity have always been wildly dynamic and in flux.
Jim: And grossly overstated versus any kind of objective biological reality.
Jamie: Oh my God. Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve read David Reich that Harvard geneticists stuff he did. He’s done some of the groundbreaking research in the last decade on particularly Neanderthal and European. I mean, in fact, really global, but they’ve had the central lab for a lot of that analysis. The moment you see that stuff, the Indo-Orion stuff, the passage even of migrations to North America, it is a constant dynamic shit show of conquest, of blending, of ideas, of innovation, of occupation. There is no place to stop it and say that was our idealized steady state, or that’s the way we should get back to. We’ve always been mixing and matching.
Jim: Yeah. When I talk about, hey, my poor Irish ancestors having the shit kicked out of them by the vile Poms, right? Well, guess what the Brits were conquered by the Romans, right? Then the Anglo-Saxons, and then the Normans, and then the vile… I guess the Vikings between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, so the Brits got the kicked out of them four times in a mere two millennia before they went on to being the bad boys. Everybody has their time, both in the barrel and on the top. This attempt to as you… Reify is the perfect word. Reifying identity.
Jim: Well, the identity lens can be useful, right? Particularly looking at culture and how culture keys on identity, but realizing that’s plastic and can be easily, relatively easily changed and does change over time. Instead, retreating into making these identity categories very rigid and core to the definition of who a person is, strikes me as exactly ass fucking backward of what we should be doing to move forward to a society that works for everybody. I mean, it’s very, very, very disturbing actually, this new turn towards wokeism and reified identity, fuck those people. You mentioned they want to fight. I say, “Bring it on motherfucker.” I’m ready to fight those fuckers. I wouldn’t start it, but I fucking sure ass finish it.
Jamie: Well, there you go with your feisty Irishman, and I think it is important to kind of, to absolutely hear the signal in the noise. Right? If the signal in the noise is, hey, we bought into, if we were patiently, if we play by the rules and we waited our turn, that we would get ours eventually. For anybody that has found themselves on a, not an even field and constantly under the thumb of adversarial forces that are not part of the thing we all signed on to, I think there’s a critical need to be like, “You’re right, I get it.” There’s no question. There’s been asymmetrical distribution of resources, and it’s worked for us, right? Better than it’s worked for you, and just whatever that is. Right? An acknowledgement of that.
Jamie: Then, an invitation back to, can we recommit to this infinite game? I understand we’ve just knocked you on your arse. You’ve dealt with a ton of cheap shots and a shady ref. Can we get back on the pitch, and can we commit to the spirit of this game? If we can, then there’s a place for us to go, and if we can’t, we will likely be squabbling as Rome burns and as Pompei erupts.
Jim: Yep. Though, on the flip side, this is where I really have such a strong difference with the wokies, is that yes, there have been groups that have gotten the shit end of the stick. Frankly, every fucking group as it’s come along, and some have adapted culturally in a way that was efficacious and some have not, right? Look, at least 15 different Asian ethnicities have come to the United States over the last 60, 70 years, have done great. Despite the fact they come from non-Christian, mostly, there are some exceptions, and non-Indo-European languages. Nonetheless, because they have cultural capital that’s congruent with success in our society, they have succeeded. While other groups have made cultural turns that are not congruent with success. If doing good in school is acting white. If having 80% of children out of wedlock, that work is something to be barely tolerated, not something to have pride in. If you have cultural norms of that sort, you’re not going to overcome the shit end of the stick and move forward. I think that’s what the wokies forget.
Jamie: Where are you drawing that list of potential cultural characteristics? Was that that Smithsonian poster that got so much…
Jim: Yeah, let’s call it the stereotype of African-American culture in America, which of course is a gross distortion, over simplification, and African-Americans are highly diverse, like every other group, but call it specifically the urban underclass, if you want to call it that. With a culture like that, ain’t going to succeed. Sorry, right? Period. No matter what kind of a completely level playing field, and unfortunately, for reasons of cultural, evolutionary drift, I would argue, parts of some cultures have drifted in non-productive ways. Getting those cultures right, is probably more important than the negative force fields of what’s left of racism, which is definitely there. It’s measurable.
Jim: There’s definitely racism still left in America, but it’s vastly less than it was in 1960. What’s really holding back some groups is endogenous cultural problems, it’s both, but I’d argue that the endogenous cultural problems are probably larger for, particularly for African-Americans than is the residuum of racism. I got attack both, but the wokies won’t, if you start talking about this cultural stuff, these wokies go fucking nuts, right? Because they’re not empiricists, they’re not willing to look at actual data, because they have their theology. If you differ from their theology, you are a heretic, right? Must be burned at the stake.
Jamie: Sure. But I would also go back to banks and tanks, right? It was the all right that stormed the capital with flak vests and guns, and in some respects got a nod and a wink as they did so
Jim: They were ass clowns of the worst sort of stupid fucking idiots.
Jamie: Sure, sure, sure. No, no, no, no. A tactical siege it was not, right? But on the other hand, I mean, if you talk to African-American culture, if you look at the years 1870 to 1890, and you see what happened in reconstruction and the number of… Everything from Tulsa, which many folks are more familiar with these days because of the Tulsa Massacre, but like Freeman communities and running for Houses of Representatives, and activating and creating community support, and absolutely optimizing centuries of pent up desire for choice. Right? From making their own way, and then it brutally getting repressed. At the same time, I think that there is something, and I mean, this is… You know Zach Stein, right?
Jim: Oh, very well. He’s been on the show three or four times.
Jamie: Beautiful. Well, I find him a perpetually inspiring and thoughtful, conversational partner. He hipped me to this model that comes out of Jewish Kabbalah, which is basically the idea that we go through phases of ensoulment, and it’s basically, we go from the pre-tragic to the tragic, to the post-tragic. Right? The pre-tragic is, “Everything’s going to work out, I’m going to grow up to be president or an astronaut. I’m going to find Prince Charming or Sleeping Beauty, it’s going to be fucking aces for me.”
Jim: When we’re 11, we’re all there pretty much. Right?
Jamie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. Then wham, we get hit by life, divorce, disease, bankruptcy, setbacks, ennui, whatever, and we’re like, “Oh, life is tragic. Nothing is going to work out,” and that can break most of us, right? Many of us can end up embittered and shriveled, or dead, in that tragic phase, but a minority of folks make it to the full maturity, to the post-tragic. That’s the belief, not that it’s all going to work out, or everything’s going to work out, or that it’s not ever going to work out. It’s that it ultimately, it’s going to work out. I think you can make a really strong case that especially if we talk about social justice right now, civil rights, the conversations that are abundant, is that the American, the African-American civil rights tradition of the 20th Century in particular, it was profoundly post-tragic, right?
Jamie: That was what Martin Luther King called soul force. It was Gandhi’s truth force, or satyagraha, and it was this impeccable stand for nonviolent testimony, to that it’s ultimately going to work out, and we have been broken, but we have also been to the mountain top and we rise up singing. That sent shockwaves around the world from Gandhi to Mandela, to King. Right? Erica Chenoweth, at Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, has done research that has been adopted ubiquitously these days, but it’s that notion that all it takes to transform a society is three and a half percent of the population engaged in nonviolent satyagraha type process.
Jim: In certain cases. Yeah.
Jamie: Certain cases, right.
Jim: Part of our Game B theory actually. Right?
Jamie: Well, I mean, my sense is, and there are good critiques, which are like, “Wait, that was trying to get a seat on your bus. We have to turn this thing into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang before impact.”
Jim: I think 15% is a definite tipping point, but in the range between 3% and 15%, you are moving into the domain where you can have a surprisingly non-linear impact on society.
Jamie: Yeah, exactly. To me, that was a profound and transformative bit of social technology, right? That post-tragic movement that came out of the Indian Colonial, and the African-American, and the South African apartheid experiences. But what it feels like today, is that somewhere we dropped that plot, we dropped that stitch where we’re not in that lineage anymore. What got rebooted, quite likely in the kind of eighties to nineties to two thousands, was a regression on both sides. On the one hand we’ve got outright, let’s just say, I mean, fundamentally it’s Christian Nationalists, right? In a nut shell, as you want to kind of just label the software they’re running, and they are in a pre-tragic phase of, “I thought this country was biased and for us. I thought we were at the front of the line,” basically uncontested privilege.
Jamie: They’re running into the erosion of extractive economies, the hollowing out of the Rust Belt, the Hillbilly Elegy shit. Right. All of that. They’re like, “Wait,” and a line of increasingly vocal and quote unquote unentitled, others who were potentially even getting ahead of line in them or butting in line from their perspective. So they’re going from a pre tragic, “I thought we were born on third base thinking we hit triples,” to, “Oh shit, this is hard and I’m scared. I am having a loss of self identity and power,” and they’re running into the tragic, but on the other side, and I couldn’t figure this out for a while, but my working hunch is that the social justice movement of let’s just say left identity politics is basically not structurally linked to that post tragic civil rights tradition of King and Howard Thurman, and others, right?
Jamie: In fact, it kind of got a fresh start with sort of Beyoncé, Barack, and bling, right? That notion of, “Oh, we’re entitled to, and have access to, there’s a multicultural society. We actually believe the print,” and there are examples and exemplars of what a life… It shifted from seventies soul and funk, Afrocentric stuff, to bling, to gangsters and consumerism. As well as, and I don’t think you can underestimate the role of Obama to Trump, the kind of… The pillar to post whip sawing of those two and what they meant for wildly different populations.
Jamie: They’re running smack-dab into, “Oh, no, the deck has been stacked, and oh yeah, the ref is in the tank and wait, and we were promised a rose garden.” The rage at canceling Lincoln, or Jefferson, or Dr. Seuss, and things like that, you’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” or claiming that Princeton is a wildly unsafe place to be a person of color.
Jim: Yeah. I love that one. That’s one of my favorites. Right?
Jamie: Yeah, You’re like, try the far west provinces of China and see what that’s like. There’s definitely some shadier places to be the other.
Jim: Like any place on earth, right?
Jamie: My sense is right. We are getting sucked, as a nation, we’re getting sucked into the tragic from too immature pre-tragic modes. Right? What we actually have to do, is we have to refind our voice, our balls, our backbone, and stand up into a post-tragic expression of basically born again patriotism. What does it mean? Not nationalism, not the blood and soil, right? But the ideals, and can we all come together around some sense of, “Yep. We believe there’s a ton of pain and heartache, and there’s a ton of IOUs.”
Jim: I call it Civic Nationalism, right? That it’s a nationalism based on our agreements, rather than on our identities. That we understand that our identities do have valences in the culture and that those need to be addressed honestly, and objectively, and with empirical evidence, and not based on a religious sort of ideology like wokeism is.
Jamie: Well, yeah. I think we were going to need some really strong voices to help lead that way. Right? I mean, because the very nature of the infinite game, the very nature of opting to play something other than evolutionarily encoded tribalism, requires a relatively rare and exceptional person and somebody has to ring that bell. Right? I think that’s actually one of the biggest tricks. I think the right is still hard coded to orient around father figure demagogues. That’s deep in its DNA and encoding.
Jamie: The trick with the left, I think, and you see this with Occupy, you saw this with Black Lives Matter in Portland. You kind of see it in lots of places, which is because of the complexity, and the egalitarianism, and the privileging of consensus, and probably an aversion to great men of history models, right? There’s a flattening tendency, and in that flattening tendency, you get a regression to the mean. Rather than having somebody who can actually articulate it better than everybody else and say, “I think this is the highest and best way forward,” especially with something that is soul force based and committed to nonviolence and committed to an ultimate inclusivity.
Jamie: Somebody’s got to sing that tune for the rest of the band to pick it up, and if you’ve ever seen on the beach, like in California or any place, hippie drum circles, right. They all gather at sunset and they bang on their skins, and sometimes it can get really good and funky, but the only times it gets good and funky is when there’s three bad-ass drummers in the center, right? A cowbell and a shaker, and they’re laying out the core beat, and then a bunch of noodly ass hippies can get in and they can be carried with it.
Jim: I want to add, at it’s very best there’s 10 or so really good drummers, and they pass the baton, right? The Asheville, North Carolina, Friday afternoon drum circle in city parks. Sometimes it’ll be 10 goddam amazing drummers, and they’ll pass essentially the virtual baton from one to the other as then the 100 or 150 hippies are sitting there… But exactly to your point. Yeah, it can scale a bit. There’s still a small group of people who see it and the rest follow the lead.
Jamie: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s one of the next tricks for us to figure out, is what is co-creative collective coherence, and how do you do that without somebody… Because I mean, musicians, there’s a code. We understand the give and take, there’s intense amounts of listening. There’s reciprocity, there’s deference, and there’s generally a commitment to the overall groove. If somebody fucks that up to try and showboat, everyone feels it, so could we do that kind of stuff, socio-politically?
Jim: Yeah. The other key addition to that, which in the Game B world, we call coherent pluralism, which is that beyond alignment, beyond agreement, which is for fellow travelers vaguely heading in the same direction. For those that were in the direction that calls itself Game B, we still believe there should be lots of pluralism, different ways of living. Some people in the Game B world want to live in proto B communities that are sex cults, basically. Others want to live in ones that are like 1955 suburban subdivisions, and a lot of people somewhere in between, and that’s all good. But then there also has to be a coherence, again, a body of strong doctrine that’s no bigger than necessary, that we all agree to agree to.
Jim: That was sort of the American dream. The U.S. Constitution is a short document. Until 1932 federal expenditure of the GDP was 3%, and we believed in a minimalist model of the core operating system, and there was room for lots of pluralism. We had Mormons, we had Amish, we had mountaineers, we had farmers, we had industrialists, et cetera. The good life has got to honor coherent pluralism going forward.
Jamie: Well, for sure. I think the real challenge there is just equitable allocation of resources. How do we do that? And how do we do that across genetic, and cultural and linguistic barriers and boundaries. Because, I mean, look, if I was in a plane crash, the very first thing I’d do is I check to see if I’m okay, am I dead or alive or broken? Then we’re in the ocean. Right? So the next thing I’d look is where’s the exit, and then I go and grab my kids and my wife, and everybody else is fucking meat to me until I get them out the door and onto something that floats. Then, and only then I might choose to turn around and go back in, and I probably would say, I would make sure none of my family came with me, so that if I didn’t come back, they’d still be viable. Right? That’s hard fucking coded and I’m not changing my software no matter how many meditation workshops I go to. Right?
Jamie: We have to kind of get down to that, what are the sort of shared playground rules that we agree to operate by? I say that, because everybody knows when somebody is in line at the grocery store, or a ski lift, or wherever, or in traffic and they cut, they do something out of phase. What do we do with each other? We look at each other, we kind of make a face like we just smelled a fart, or like, “Get a load of this guy.” There’s that shared consensus of someone violated social group norms. Whether that’s put things back where you found them, or women and children first, or the captain goes down with his ship, or right, right, right? Any of those things, they’re deeply encoded.
Jim: Or just drive on the left side of the road or the right side of the road. Some of them are just arbitrary conventions, but they have to be in coherence.
Jamie: Exactly. We can look at those and understand those are basically ways, they’re shorthands for humans to cooperate together. Understanding how we would share resources under scarcity is a legit thing, and then there’s something else which I think we’ve nudged up a couple of times in this conversation, it’s kind of the notion of the commons, and how do we maintain our consumptive versus replenishment rates such that we are not encroaching via basically acts of passive or active aggression on either the commons or other people’s territory and resources.
Jim: Or the outer limits of our planetary ability, called the geo services, and all those things have got to be core to the operating system. At the gross level, at least at our current level of technology, just to make it real simple, it appears that people who live in the rich west need to reduce their consumption of energy and stuff by 80%.
Jamie: That’s an ouch.
Jim: It is and it isn’t. I’m more and more visualizing this as we get into this Game B thing, and getting ready to build our first, actually on the ground, proto B’s, and compared to living in that dirt floored, hundred square foot-
Jamie: You have to call them hives.
Jim: Hives. No, no, wrong signal.
Jamie: You’re B hives. Yeah.
Jim: B hives, well, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought that way, but compared to that, there’s a shitload of room less than the current 2200 square foot American house, and 2.5 cars, and an hour commute each way to work, just thinking smart. I am more and more convinced that we can learn to live within our current techno, geo planetary limits, which by the way, will go up, because we are developing new energy sources, and stabilize our lives, and deprogram ourselves from Game A malware, like he who dies with the most toys wins. My race is better than your race, or some of this horseshit that we’ve inherited from the past. We can build a meta stable society at a level that all 8 billion people on earth can reach, and stay within our limits, and have, frankly, the life be subjectively much better than the current rat race we live in.
Jamie: I mean, yes, wouldn’t that be nice? I mean, Israel, I think has a 1/19th water consumption to LA, so those kind, fully developed world… First of all it’s status and amenities. Scandinavia, I think, is on a third to a quarter of the energy consumption per household, and they’ve got that entire passive solar building, super insulated, airtight building envelopes that can run on solar powered heat pumps, and just do the whole thing. They’re basically living inside a Yeti cooler, there are absolutely ways to combine technology with a lighter footprint.
Jamie: And there is a question, a Malthusian inquiry, right? Which is, are we sure… Again, back to coming alive and staying alive, “Oh, it looks right,” are sure that the pace of efficient green sustainable technology is going to outpace the potentially insurmountable carrying capacity of eight to 10 billion humans on this earth? I mean, the number of people on this planet has doubled in my lifetime, and so it’s not simply nostalgia to look back to our childhood and go, “Man, it sure seems like… There was, far as the eye could see, emptiness, water, lakes, trees, fill in the animals fill in the blank. Now, they pave paradise.” Right?
Jim: I think the world population’s essentially tripled in my lifetime. I’m going to look that number up.
Jamie: Yeah. That’s a thing. That’s a real thing. You talk to Monsanto, and everyone’s like, “Yay, of course it’s possible, and we’re just going to innovate, or cause Whiler Diamandis. Right? But the question is, maybe it’s going to be a nail biter.
Jim: Yeah. Oh, it’s going to be a nail biter, right? Yeah. It looks like world population’s almost exactly tripled since I was born in 1953.
Jamie: That’s utterly batshit. That’s utterly batshit.
Jim: Yeah, yeah. Fortunately the rate has slowed tremendously and it looks like we’ll top off at 10 billion or 11, but back of the envelopes, and actually more than back of the envelopes, probably we can do it, but the question is, can we do the dance without collapsing along the way? That’s going to be tricky. That’s the goal we have to set for ourselves.
Jim: We only got a few more minutes here. This may be the world’s record for the least progress through my notes. In this case, about 15 pages worth of notes, but it’s been a great conversation anyway.
Jamie: Go for the juggler. What’s the juiciest thing we can wrap with?
Jim: Well, let’s do one small thing before we go for the juggler, which is, you’ve mentioned several times, one of my favorite ideas, which is-
Jim: Which as you’ve mentioned several times, one of my favorite ideas, which is the infinite game, which comes from James [Carse 01:24:07]. I read the book long time ago. While I’m deciding on what’s the best exit question, why don’t you give a pretty good wrap on what is the infinite game and how does it differ from the finite games, which we are so easily wired for in our human nature?
Jamie: Yeah, I think that’s been a theme we’ve been exploring most of the way. Which is just that in Carse’s distinction he’s like, “Finite games are one up, one down, win, lose games that we play,” and we can play them in politics, sex, relationships, profession, money, any of them. Military. Those are finite games.
Jamie: And that there was this possibility. And he said, “There is only one, really, other option. And it’s the infinite game.” And instead of win-lose, it’s win-win. Instead of trying to win or end the game, you try and extend and expand the game.
Jamie: And the way I kind of conceived of it or wrote to it in this book was to fundamentally equate the best ideals. Not the wrapping of the market-based civil society kind of stuff, but the best ideal of the enlightenment experiment in the American experiment. And that taken to its conclusion, it’s an invitation.
Jamie: If Homo sapiens was the originator of the finite game, then Homo ludens, the ape who plays, that’s Johan Huizinga’s term, the Dutch theorist. Homo ludens, can we become the playful ape?And what is it that we play at? We play at the infinite game. Why? Because it’s more fun. It’s more fun. And it’s like that old Robert Frost poem, like two tramps and mud time. Where he says, “Only when love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes, is the deed ever really done for heaven and the future’s sake.”
Jamie: And to me, that seemed like the jam. We’ve got to choose. We’ve got to choose. Are we going to shit the bed, bickering over all of our finite games, clutching our IOUs angrily and banging the table and knocking off the pieces? Or are we going to step up and play the infinite game with as much creativity and courage and conviction as we can muster?
Jim: Very good. And for those who haven’t read the book, go read that book, The Infinite Game, James Carse. Short book, very worth reading. I think what I’m going to do is do just a very quick outline of what else is in the book that we’re not really covering. It’s really essentially three sections. A lot of what we’ve talked about today is the first section kind of, we call it the situational assessment. I think you have a different title for it.
Jim: But then the second section, I think you call the alchemist’s cookbook, which is a very neat examination. I’m looking for my notes, because I have it listed. The core elements of the alchemy cookbook, which was breath, and including a fascinating exploration of one of my favorite topics from my bad old days when I was a bad boy with nitrous oxide. Yeah. And I can tell you there’s something better than nitrous oxide to get that effect, which is ether.
Jamie: There are few things as depraved as a man in the depths of an ether binge.
Jim: Ether binge, yes. When I was in college, there was a group of us. We basically recreated the 19th century ether administration apparatus. And we could hold ourselves in the [hypnagogic 01:27:43] state for fairly extended period of time, 15-20 minutes. And it was like a trip stronger than nitrous, but similar, but three, four, five X more powerful.
Jamie: So what was retention? I get that ideation was off the chart. Could you bring it back home?
Jim: And this is where my takeaway questions will be answered. The answer is of course, no. There aren’t actually any answers here. But there’s entertainment and peak experience. And in fact, back in the day people who talk about synesthesia, where you could see music. The only time in my life I actually saw music was while doing ether while tripping. And just one time, I tripped handful of times, never experience… I mean, I had some very cool experiences, including the 400 microgram ego death acid trip. That was definitely cool.
Jamie: That one’s tattooed on my soul. Yeah.
Jim: Yes, and no. This is the setup for my final exit. It was very profound and very interesting and has had a lifelong effect on me. But did it have any actual answers? I would say no.
Jim: So anyway, breath and respiration, embodiment, movement, et cetera. Music, which is hugely important. And there’s a lot of people now arguing that the history of music may well be longer than the history of language. And that language was at least in part bootstrapped on a scaffold of music. And I think that’s congruent with your ideas.
Jim: Then drugs. What are drugs good for in this space? Quite a lot of talk about one of the few drugs I never used back in the day. I used to say, “God dammit, I used every drug you could use that didn’t require a needle.” But one I did miss it turned out was MDMA. And you go into a quite long discourse on MDMA and it’s very legit therapeutic uses and it’s personal development uses. I thought it was damaging. And it really annoys the piss out of me that I have a medical condition that prevents me from using MDMA, which is well-controlled atrial fibrillation. Very high on the list of things not to do is MDMA.
Jamie: No methamphetamine. I’m just going to keep that one on my to-do later list. Yeah, no, absolutely.
Jim: Yeah. Well of course I did plenty of meth back in the day. I love crystal. I was one of them people that hated cocaine, but love crystal meth.
Jamie: Dude. I wish I could just rewind that, that we could just put you on like a nine second vine. I’d listen to that all day. That was the best thing.
Jim: I think that describes my personality more than anything else is a person who loathes cocaine and loves crystal meth.
Jamie: I’m totally unaware of what the preference would be. I would have thought those would have both been stimulant accelerants. Do they not feel similarly like super up and euphoric?
Jim: Cocaine is very fuzzy, and it’s up. You’re definitely up. And particularly at one point I was the minister of finance for a cocaine ring. And in general didn’t even do it. Even though we had access to a 100% pure, 98% pure stuff. Frankly, I’d rather drink two cups of coffee and three beers. But crystal, on the other hand, crystal meth, oh my God, just a pure up. No fuzz, just like rock and mother fucking roll. Sex and methamphetamine, nothing better. Cocaine. Eh, you’re too full of yourself. As I say about cocaine, the main thing it did is made me talk more, which was the last thing in the fucking world I ever needed, to tell you the truth.
Jim: The effects, it just never did it for me. Crystal, I like me some crystal. On the other hand, fortunately, I had a personality where I can take or leave any of these things. Never had a problem with any of them.
Jim: And then the next one you get to, everyone’s favorite, sex. And this is an interesting one. And in our game B world, there are definitely different opinions. There are definitely some people who think something like, really radically rethinking sexuality is a good and safe idea. And then there’s others of us who say it’s a God damn dangerous jar of nitro-fucking-glycerin. And that one of the main purposes of human culture has been to attempt to control this nitroglycerin. I like to point out the fact that when people look carefully at forager, hunter gatherer societies, best estimate, 10% of all male deaths in hunter gatherer societies are caused by homicide driven by sexual jealousy. So sex is nitroglycerin, but you go into it in considerable detail on the things it can do.
Jamie: it’s why there’s so many taboos around it, is precisely because it’s so volatile. And my sense, there’s kind of a pick three of four. Like you can have any three you want. Pick out of the four. Which is you can have a primary partnership, you can have children, you can have a vocation, like a true calling in the world you are compelled to do no matter what, and/or complex sexual arrangements or relationships, polyamory, swinging, et cetera, et cetera. Pick three of those.
Jamie: Like if you’ve got a partner, children and a calling, you will not have the bandwidth for the other. If you have no kids, then perhaps you can make that work. If you got no partner and you’re just sort of open, just seeking relationship and experience, you could do any of those things. But I think it’s three of the four, at least until we get a beachhead and an established culture and people being raised intergenerationally with accumulated wisdom instead of a bunch of enthusiastic pioneers with a bunch of pricks in their back.
Jim: Yeah. It’s interesting. But one that at least the, again, empirical practical advice looking at what’s happened, my advice to people wanting to launch a [proto B 01:33:25] is avoid the sex cult stuff. But hey, proto B’s are flexible if you want to. Fine, but maybe you take Jamie’s advice in mind, and for instance, maybe say this proto B has no children in it, for example.
Jamie: It’s like trying to run your fuse box in your house with plutonium. I mean, yes, you can get your lights to glow, but it could end badly.
Jim: But anyway, bottom line is this alchemist cookbook is very cool. And then something else, unfortunately, we’re going to skip over, which I really wanted to get into, which is the kitchen sink model of how to use all these things sort of simultaneously and yet sort of empirically, to tune what actually works for you.
Jim: You make the very good point that you can’t do these in rigorous, scientific, one factor at a time experiments and make any progress in a single lifetime. On the other hand, not thinking rationally and analytically about what’s working for you and what’s not is dangerous as well.
Jim: So anyway, we’re skipping over some incredibly good material. I’m sort of having a good time with it, but I would strongly recommend buy the book, read this section. You’ll find it interesting, provocative, entertaining, and possibly annoying. And probably a mix of all the above. I know I certainly did. And then there’s the final section, which is titled, what the hell is it titled? Something about the ethical cult. Building an ethical cult. Something like that.
Jamie: Yeah. The ethical cult toolkit.
Jim: This now gets to our exit question. Throughout the book, but especially here, you walk this very interesting line, which is you’re clearly, deeply fascinated by the phenomena of religion, and you take it pretty seriously. And you quote things like, “Religious people are happier and healthier, et cetera, than non-religious people.” And you craft this non-culty cult-ish handbook idea as, I can’t quite decide, is it actually religion that you’re proposing? Or is it like Jordan’s Hall, or John Vervaeke’s religion that’s not a religion?
Jim: And it’s important, do you know what my lens is? I consider myself a pretty God damn rigorous atheist. Material realist, I don’t believe in anything magical about consciousness. I believe it’s just the thing that this particular bag of meat happens to do for evolutionary good reasons. The consciousness actually provides useful function for animals that. Our consciousness goes back at least to reptiles and possibly amphibians. And it ain’t connected to no God damn cosmic consciousness. So you don’t get more hardcore realist materialist than me. So I tend to recoil at anything that smells even slightly of the supernatural.
Jamie: Well, I pretty much agree with your description. It’s just weird shit keeps happening to me. Right? So my baseline is actually pretty much tracks with yours.
Jim: Yep. And as I said, I’ve done all this shit. I can put myself into a trance right now for between five and 25 seconds where my ego goes away. I do this from time to time just because it’s a fun little exercise. I’ve done acid, I’ve done acid and ether at the same time. I’ve done ether for 20 minutes and seen all kinds of weird shit. But I believe it’s just shit in your head.
Jim: In fact, now that I’ve been studying cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience for the last seven years, my hypothesis is that the brain has brain-wide network states. The two most well-known ones are the default mode network, which is the one when you’re just sort of daydreaming and just we’re musing. And unfortunately, when you’re depressed, you tend to often be in the default mode network and you get involved what’s called morbid rumination, where you just run the same tape over and over again.
Jim: The other one’s the task mode network, where you’re not doing something you know super well, like riding a bicycle, but are rather doing something that you’re just trying to figure out. Like you’re changing a flat tire for the very first time on a new bicycle that has a very different gearing arrangement than any bike you’ve ever seen before. So you’re very carefully thinking through each move and understanding how to back out each step. And you’re just deeply into doing, but without having internalized the process. Because we know a great tennis player is not thinking about playing tennis, or they’re not a great tennis player by definition if they do. So when you’re not in that fully learned mode, but when you’re learning and doing something difficult, you’re in task mode network.
Jim: Anyway, my view is the most likely in parsimonious explanation your Occam’s Razor view is that these weird things inside of our head that we get to via meditation, via ecstatic sex, via ether and acid, whatever the hell they are, they are brain-wide rhythms that are hard to get to, and that most people aren’t normally in. And they have various subjective state associated with them. And that’s all what’s going on, dude.
Jamie: Yes. So it’s an interior, psychological correlates of neurophysiological baselines, is basically what you’re saying, equals all the phenomenological experience. Yep. Yeah, so give me the one-two. What’s going to be your query after that setup?
Jim: Okay. So what do you think? For instance, you quote, here’s a good one. Let’s dig into this one because this is a good, this will tease apart what you actually think. You talk about, which I thought was utterly fascinating, folks that are attempting to map the space of DMT experience.
Jim: I’ve read the guy from New Mexico’s book about his DMT research. One of the things that at least in that small community of folks, the people started reporting very similar things. Little green man, and this alternative reality, yada yada yada.
Jamie: Shit got weird.
Jim: Yeah, talk about strange shit. But I’m saying, hey, probably no different than the UFO contagion, that’d be my argument. That UFO stories are highly correlated with other recent UFO stories. And I suspect little green men in DMT space may well be the same. And I actually do have a very nice experiment that could be done, which would be to go find some just contacted Amazonian Indians and give them DMT before they’ve had any exposure to modern culture at all and see what they say. And I bet a double cheeseburger with bacon that they will not see little green men and this world that’s reported.
Jamie: Yeah. But a follow-up question, though, would be, okay. So now how much of each party’s interior experience is culturally-mediated signs, symbols, language, archetypes versus is there also an independent there there that they are skinning and cloaking in cultural, and psyche, and human nervous system perception? So is there any kind of third party independent agency involved in either or both of those experiences, would be the next layer. I’m with you, man. I think a skeptical, rational mysticism is really the only way forward into rapidly emergent novelty.
Jim: And yet in the world that you and I both travel in, I would say the majority of people believe in cosmic consciousness or the one you talk about. I hadn’t actually heard this analogy before, but I think it’s a good one. Is the idea that human consciousness is a radio that can be tuned to some frequencies that are external to ourselves.
Jim: Personally, my view is highly skeptical. There’s no reason in physics or biology to imagine such a thing happening. But being an empiricist, I’d be happy to see evidence if I’m wrong. Nonetheless, in the world that you and I travel in, I always expect that the majority of people would actually believe that it is true, that there is something called the cosmic consciousness, and that there is something like this radio station analogy where there’s some third component beyond our neural states and our cultural baggage that produces little green men. So what’s your thought? Where are you on that?
Jamie: Well, I think the thing that intrigues me the most was connecting all these dots during the research for this book, which was that in a nutshell, if you look back historically, anthropologically into the kind of religious literature, ubiquitous around the world are death, rebirth, initiatory experiences. And that’s everything from shamanic dismemberment and rebirth, and indigenous traditions, to the Eleusinian Mysteries in ancient Greece that Plato said, “They don’t just teach us how to die. They teach us how to live a better life.” All the way through, obviously the Christian mystic and initiatory and gnostic experiences, all the way to today. And whether it’s ego death, as you described on your 400 mikes of acid, or whether it’s ego death from a [inaudible 01:42:12] retreat and meditation from extended times of intensity, whatever it would be.
Jamie: And now we actually have the literal, neurophysiological protocol, which is you massively increase vagal nerve tone and your endocannabinoid system. So they are thriving and humming, engage in soft tissue movement, fascia, et cetera, et cetera.
Jamie: You breathe hyperventilate and shift your blood chemistry and state of consciousness by hyperventilation and potentially even gas assisted breathing with pure oxygen or heightened oxygen, heightened carbon dioxide, or swapping nitrogen for nitrous or nitric oxide. So you can play with all of those.
Jamie: You can pulse energy in the form of magnetism, direct current, alternating current, sound, touch, vibration, pain, orgasm, like light up your nervous system. So it is as booted as possible and stimulated as possible, creating, and whether or not there’s causative correlation, we’ll see. But basically myelination and neuroplasticity of firing together, wiring together by lighting your whole thing up like a Christmas tree and shifting your neuro electric EEG signature into low delta. So sort of zero Hertz is brain dead. And one to four Hertz is delta. So park yourself there. And researchers from MIT to Stanford to all of the wisdom traditions to that recent MK Ultra publication, where they just found the lost page, which was outside of the Monroe Institute, which I think is in Virginia somewhere.
Jim: Yeah, it’s right, not far from us at all.
Jamie: Yeah. So those crazy fucks. They had done that whole binaural beats entrainment thing. There was-
Jim: I do their stuff, by the way, from time to time. It actually worked for me just fine.
Jamie: Nice. And which particular frequencies is it steering you into?
Jim: I have no idea. I don’t actually monitor, I just listened to their Binaural sound thingies. And they take me off into very deep trips if I happen to be in the right mindset for it.
Jamie: Beautiful. So that protocol, that stack consistently discloses epiphanic insight. Heightened information and information processing. Super motherfucking salient. And for reasons no one’s wrapped their head around, often packing a wicked sense of humor.
Jamie: So now whether that is, I am just more amazing and delightful and super genius than I thought and I’ve just now accessed a part of myself, or I am a receiver and/or a human, like basically an advanced primate nervous system’s super saturated into that specific state does something like what Roger Penrose advanced way back when. This kind of quantum state of computation via microtubules in our neurons. Who the fuck knows? Although he was ridiculed in the ’90s when he first came out with it. And I think more than half of his truth claims back then have now been instrumentally validated. So who knows?
Jim: I will say it’s important to point out that essentially zero actual cognitive neuroscientists buy Penrose’s microtubule quantum theory. There’s a bunch of reasons why it seems exceedingly unlikely. But anyway, let’s continue.
Jamie: Yeah. No, no, no. Max [Tegmark 01:45:17] knocked it down pretty soundly.
Jim: Lots of other people that are actually in the field, too.
Jamie: Yeah. So the point being, I think, is remain agnostic about all that stuff, but let’s just, A, we know that the field of quantum physics is fundamentally mediated by the personalities and the consciousness of the physicist themselves, and there’s enough divergent and irreconcilable interpretations as to render nearly fucking all of the moot. And then we’re like, okay, so now we have these specific physical protocols, paint by numbers, do these things and you will get lobbed into the stratosphere and you’ll have a very rich and interesting experience.
Jamie: So now the question becomes, now we can experimentally and experientially investigate. Is this just hyper-synaptic activity and it was in me all along? Or is this extra corporeal, and it’s involving some other information source? Which was Plato’s realm of the ideal forms, it was the ether, it was the [afield 01:46:09] that Buckminster Fuller’s designed around. All through human history, people have at least described the felt sense that I just got the Motherlode and it wasn’t from inside me.
Jamie: And so we’ve often and repeatedly attempted to explain some other non-local source of information. Is that true? How are we accessing it? Is it epigenetic, accumulated ancestor consciousness, which has been demonstrated to be able to pass down for like half a dozen generations plus? Is it we somehow get to like QR code our own DNA and there’s infinite ancient information in that? Is it that there’s extra- or trans-corporeal information layer out there and we are a receiver of it in certain hyper-attenuated state, typically not correlating with waking state consciousness?
Jamie: I don’t fucking know. But I think now that we can get there reliably, and we’re not relying on the onesie-twosies coming down the mountains and starting fucking religions. So we can be like, all right, now let’s just send thousand of you out there. Let’s send a million and let’s start swapping notes and learning more.
Jim: Yeah. That part I love. Because I like to point out that the tech entrepreneurs of my generation, I happen to know most of them. The Gates’ and the McNealy’s and Ellison. I haven’t met a one yet that didn’t trip. And the fact that several million people did acid in the late ’60s to the late ’70s had all kinds of interesting implications. Some good, lot of good, and then some bad. There’s a lot of people who just were damaged and destroyed and never recovered from that. About 2% of people seem to snap like a pretzel on 400 micrograms of acid.
Jamie: It’s a stiff drink.
Jim: Yeah. It’s a very stiff drink. Of course, 10% of Americans are victims of alcoholism. So we should compare our poisons, right? So yes, I 100% agree. It’s great that we can now. And I love all the things you have packed in your book about how to do this in different ways. Breath, and nitrous oxide, and this and that. The nerve stuff, very clever, very good, very worth reading. And it was very good for people to be able to do this. And then yeah, to the degree that people are interested in this extra-corporeal stuff, great, let’s do the experiment. But what just freaks me out is that there’s this will to believe that, as I said, I will bet 50% of the people that you and I both know or the circles that we travel in believe in the extra-corporeal, despite the fact that it ain’t been proven.
Jamie: Well, I mean, I think we believe in all sorts of things that ain’t been proven yet.
Jim: Yeah. Like your wife is beautiful and your kids are smart. Right? It’s just human nature.
Jamie: Well, the children are above average. Yeah. And there’s absolutely that. But I think it’s critical. Especially, and this goes back to the beginning and the premise of the book, which is what is an open source toolkit? So the open source part means not tops down and tell you what it all means, but here’s the cheat codes. Go see for yourself, collect your own information and start making sense from there.
Jamie: And if we can do that, then you could sort of pour this in as, here’s the source code to how to assemble a vibrant, functional culture, starting with one to two people, to 12, to 12, 12s, and on. And it provides the repeatable practices for healing, which is essential. If were to patch up bones and keep straight, we have to be able to true up our wheels after they get hit with potholes. Inspiration, to reconnect with our highest inspiration purpose, and whether that is sublime or whether that’s purely secular matters not. Go fucking do it.
Jim: If it works. If it works, do it. Right?
Jamie: Yeah. And then connection. What is heightened cooperation, and pro-social neurochemistry, and bonding, and caring, concern. And if we can do all that stuff together and then let the mystery stay the mystery. We don’t need to burn a single God damn calorie trying to boil that ocean. Go have your experiences, get the information, vet and validate. See if it’s efficacious and salient. Go do, stay awake and build shit.
Jim: Yeah. I think we’re on the same page there. Well, I like to thank Jamie Wheal for this journey into a book. Obviously you could tell the fact I got fairly worked up here. This was a book that I really enjoyed reading. I just tore through this son of a bitch. And that was spouting off to my wife all kinds of random things from it. I’m sure she’ll read it now, too. It’s called Recapture the Rapture. And it’s literally out right now. We timed this podcast so that it would be published like three days after the book comes out. Because one of my pet peeves is book reviews that come out before the book does, God dammit. So go buy the book and thank you, Jamie, for being a return guest to the Jim [Rutz 01:50:54] show.
Jamie: Thanks for having me, Jim. It was a blast.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.