The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Hanzi Freinacht. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Howdy. This is Jim Rutt and this is The Jim Rutt Show. Listeners have asked us to provide pointers to some of the resources we talk about on the show. We now have links to books and articles referenced in recent podcasts that are available on our website. We also offer full transcripts. Go to jimruttshow.com. That’s jimruttshow.com. Today’s guest is author and thinker Hanzi Freinacht.
Hanzi: It’s a pleasure to meet you, Jim.
Jim: It’s a pleasure to meet you too. I’ve had so much fun reading your books. They were really good. Hanzi’s a political philosopher, historian, sociologist, author of the books, The Listening Society and the Nordic Ideology. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. I got connected to Hanzi by starting to read his books, at least the first one, Nordic Ideology. Then I went on to read The Listening Society. I really was taken with them, and I’ve been communicating with some of my friends about this. One friend, a very smart person asked me what did I really think. I told him about these books that, this might be the best stuff I’ve ever read on social change, or it also might be a handbook for 1984 plus, plus. I haven’t decided yet. As we’ll see as we dig into this, the answer might just be both. Here we go. My first question for you is metamodernism, which is your philosophical base for both these books, as the next step but including postmodernism. I got to tell you, personally, I found postmodernism and postmodernists to be essentially crazy shit.
Jim: My view is, the person that actually took it seriously wouldn’t even be able to actually exist in the world or do anything productive. Of the thousand people I know well enough to make a guess about it, I’d say maybe three are actually postmodernists. That actually believe it, that actually try to live it. Many others, especially in academia, are what I’ve come to call as-if pomos. They utter the words, they make the sounds, they may have some superficial behaviors, but I don’t believe they actually believe it. My first question for you is, do you think postmodernism is really a widespread thing in this world?
Hanzi: I do. I think it’s very widespread. It depends of course, on what we mean with postmodernism. We can describe it as a kind of sensibility pertaining to the times after the 1968 revolution, let’s say. Particularly breaking through in academia in the ’70s and ’80s and in popular culture in the ’90s and the 2000s. However, the way I mostly use it and the way I think it’s most meaningful to use it is as a developmental stage. It’s a developmental stage, either of a person and his or her ideas and sensibilities about the world, or of a certain society. And a certain morality, and a certain form of reasoning, a certain means and values. Means being like genes in organisms in biology, but in cultures instead. So different forms, or ideas or patterns that reproduce themselves. When a society has been modern for a long enough time and it hasn’t crashed under its own weight, then, unmistakably, there will be a subelement of postmodern values. Starting with modernity early on, there was a protest against the callous, cold, empirical hand of the enlightenment and the striving towards universality.
Hanzi: There was also a kind of dream of something particular, a world that can be different. Given that we have all of these modern possibilities, given that we have applied science, couldn’t the world be fairer? Couldn’t it be sustainable? Couldn’t it be less alienating? In different ways and forms, postmodern ideas and values then have followed modern society around for 200 years. They have grown from a trickle to serious attempts to redefine modernity, and for instance through socialist revolutions. And recreate society and create it at a new and higher stage. Today, as I would argue, or there are good reasons to believe that about 20 to 25% out of the adult population in rich countries or Western countries are postmodernist, and experience the world through a postmodern lens. That they express in their lives and works and relationships postmodern values.
Hanzi: The postmodern values then, they try to create something better than the mainstream capitalist society. They believe that modernity and this story of progress isn’t necessarily true, and that you can critique it by shifting perspectives. By including the excluded voices, and so on, or playing with new perspectives in the arts or whatever. That there is some kind of emancipation or liberation or a redefinition of everyday life that is possible. It’s a kind of religion, the religion of critique or the religion of criticism that has grown through intellectual practice of modern society. In a way, it’s like the priesthood of traditional society. In that sense, I believe it is very real. I just don’t think it has the answers for the next stage of society. Which is why it perpetually puts us in cul de sacs and in dead ends. This produces reactionary neoreactions that we are today seeing on a wide massive scale, taking over pretty much all of the major governments in the world.
Jim: That’s interesting. Obviously the 200 year part’s interesting. Because what I would describe, what you were talking about is not necessarily postmodernism, but one of the branches of modernism. I call it the Rousseau branch. When I look back at the enlightenment, I basically divide the world into the Voltaire branch and the Rousseau branch. The Rousseau branch then led to romanticism, which then led to totalitarianism, which then led to postmodernism. They’re essentially part … Postmodernism, I would describe as a heresy of modernism in the same way that communism is a heresy of modernism. I think it’s a strange and weird dead end and particularly in its academic status. Where essentially rejects science as a different kind of value than all the kinds of values that came before, et cetera. I’m one of them people who put a big bad flag on postmodernism. It’s interesting, as I read your book, I didn’t smell postmodernism. Quite the opposite.
Jim: For instance, in Nordic Ideology, you talked about an empirical politics. Simply policies, regulations, or practices that can and should be based upon the best available information and empirically tested knowledge. I think that would cause most postmodernists I know to have a heart attack. Then later in the book you talked about something that’s very near and dear to my heart, which is a reformed enlightenment, enlightenment 2.0. Again, the pomos I know if you said you wanted to create enlightenment 2.0, they’d want to put you in pomo prison. Or maybe it’s the fact that you have transcended postmodernism in a major way. But I didn’t get a sense at all that where you were coming from was postmodernist.
Hanzi: Yeah. If you look around with everyday people, most are going to be more modern minded. Most people don’t have humanities degrees from one of the college campuses and they didn’t spend five years in a English literature department and so on. Seeing in media and in academia that these strands are however quite dominant. It’s 20% of the population or 25% of the adult population, but not just any 25%. Postmodern ideas are generally a little bit more difficult to download. They take a little more time and so on to learn and to apply. They have a lot of influence in our society. For this reason, a lot of people … I sense that in you as well, and I certainly sense that in my own life including losing jobs for this, et cetera. Is that if you go against the postmodern sensibilities, which are deeply egalitarian, multiperspectival in a sense relativist … Not necessarily being in the most stupid caricature sense of relativism that all things are equal. But there is a relativist underlying sensibility that is tied to this egalitarianism.
Hanzi: That postmodern people will feel deeply insulted if you, for instance, talk about growth hierarchies. Which are nevertheless empirically observable and logically definable. If you look at the influence of these postmodern values, they are huge. There’s a great wall or a kind of gravity of these postmodern ideas and values that will prevent people from trying to go beyond them. From the postmodern mindset, it appears as though a lot like to what I call the Faustian and the post-Faustian, the modernity and post-modernity isn’t the first iteration of this dynamic. In earlier times we’ve had Faustian religions such as … Well, I don’t know. The viking religions or the Babylonia religions or the old Greek gods or whatever. Which are a lot about power gods, a lot about a multiplicity of gods. It’s, I suppose, the basic ideas that form in agricultural societies. Within these societies, starting 2,500 years ago with the axial age, you had a critique, a moral critique of the power relations within the agricultural societies.
Hanzi: They said, “Well, wait a minute. The power of the king shouldn’t be arbitrary, it has to be universally verifiable. There has to be a higher truth, a God beyond old gods. So there’s the Brahman or there is the Buddha nature or there is, well the God of Abraham or [inaudible 00:11:03] who initially was the war God. Then after a while [inaudible 00:11:08] actually killed off all the other gods or his disciples did. It ended up as a monotheistic religion with one highest principle. People said, “Okay, this one highest principle has to be moral and not based on power. It has to be universally true.” For instance, then slavery was not permitted in post-Faustian religion. But in practice, slavery persisted throughout the period up until modernity. There was always a priesthood, a minority, who looked at other people as heathens that could be enlightened by this religion, by this moral purity, by this refinement. This is the point I want to make, today we don’t have the priesthood anymore. I mean we have them, they’re just not very relevant in the lives of very many modern people.
Hanzi: Instead, we have the intellectuals. We have academia, we have the guilty conscience of let’s say the intellectual left of the critique of society. Which has real methods and real methodologies. Which are internally consistent and produce very real results, which cannot be produced by any other mode of thought than the postmodern thought. For instance, discourse analysis, for instance, ripping apart power structures. Showing us how carnally material they are and how much they affect our lives, and how injustices harm human beings. By structures that are so far beyond them and so difficult to grasp in our everyday lives. All of these things come with the postmodern frame or mindset. What we have today is a kind of priesthood which views modernity as the heathens. All the normal modern people, they still have to learn, they still have to study. They still have to read their Foucault or understand the gender gaps and so on. But when they do encounter people like us or people like myself at least … I don’t know if you would identify as metamodernist. When they come across somebody who speaks their language …
Hanzi: I have a PhD in sociology, I can quote Foucault all day long if you want. I intuitively understand what Derrida was talking about, and I understand Chomsky’s critique of US hegemony and so on. I know these methods as a craft, I know the postmodern methods as a craft. I know the postmodern irony and I know the culture and I understand the arts and the aesthetics. I’m a hipster, I suppose you could say. I still talk about hierarchies. I don’t appear as a heathen, no. I appear as a heretic. And then-
Jim: I like that.
Hanzi: It says in the beginning of Listening Society, academic heresy. Yes, this is what it is. Because if we try to play by their rules, we will be stuck for years and years and we’ll never get to the actual change that needs to take place. That change is built upon the idea of growth hierarchies. For us to have any idea about where the world is going or should be going, we have to logically see what would make sense for it to go. To do that we have to see the world more hierarchically, and that is forbidden within the postmodern sensibility. For this reason, we have to revolt against modernity, yes. Because modern life isn’t good enough as the postmoderns perpetually point out and it’s not sustainable either way. But we also have to revolt against the revolt. We have to revolt against post-modernity. This creates a horrible, horrible lapse in I mean the jump to metamodernist. If you don’t make the whole analytical jump to metamodernist, you can land into a neoreactionary conclusion. Meaning you read up on Julius Evola, and you put your hopes to Steven Bannon.
Hanzi: You will start conspiring against the modern world because you want the world basically to become some version of a Nazi horror show. That’s not a good solution.
Jim: Indeed. Good stuff. I’m going to push back a little bit on your 25% number, at least in the United States. I’ve been to Sweden, I’ve been to Denmark. I like both, but don’t have deep knowledge of what they’re like. But in the US, about 30% of people are college graduates. No more than 10% of them could be said to have graduated from an elite university. Which it would give us 3%. Of those, no more than 30% these days are humanities majors. That gives us a ceiling of 0.9%, so about 1%. I’m going to argue that at most in the United States, the number of postmodernists is 1%. I suspect that it’s considerably lower than that. Because I happen to know a lot of people on Wall Street that have elite college humanities backgrounds. They’re like [inaudible 00:16:10], they’re sure as shit not postmodernist. I suspect that you are biased by the people you hang out with. That in the reality, those who are actually postmodernists are a fraction of 1%. But anyway, let’s move on here. We could spend our whole 90 minutes on this.
Hanzi: It depends, Jim. Just to retort very quickly. That it depends if you mean by the book postmodernists, as in people who can quote their Foucault. Yes, of course, then you’re down to less than 1%. If you look at the general sensibilities, and these are deeply seated values. All the hipsters, all of them are postmodernists. Almost all of them. All of the hippies, except the ones who are regressive enough to believe in magic, are postmodernists. Because they will have relativist, egalitarian, deeply expressive values and so on. They will be critics of modernity. They will believe that there is a moral purity that needs to wash over the world and that needs to critique the world and change it. Rather than as the metamodernist stances are harsher and more direct logic or dynamic or … What’s the word I’m looking for? A kind of a mechanism or sequence that, through crude logic, lead us through this developmental phase until we have a new equilibrium state of the world. Of politics, of the economy and of our personalities and ways of viewing the world.
Jim: This is why I like it. It’s what attracted me to metamodernism. I continued reading, I don’t know, 1,000 pages or whatever it is. Because to your point, the postmodernists at least I don’t see them with anything constructive. It’s essentially wishful thinking. As my first and best business mentor always told me, you can wish in one hand and you could shit in the other. I’ll bet you which one will fill up first. Anyway, let’s get into the substance of your work. Let’s start with The Listening Society. A foundational building block in your writing is the idea of the effective value meme. Could you tell us about that?
Hanzi: Yeah. This actually goes back to exactly what we have been speaking about. Let’s say we have a time machine and we can go anywhere in the world with it. We go to … I don’t know. We go to Rome in the 200s after Christ. We talk to people in the street. We ask them questions about slavery, we ask them questions about death penalty. We ask them questions about men and women and the relationship between them. We ask them about proper punishment of prisoners. We would find a lot of their ideas and ideals shocking. We’d find, okay, this is very crude. It’s very grim. These wouldn’t be bad people though. We could sit down with them and we could laugh and talk and they would be friendly. Perhaps we could fall in love with them and they with us. But they would have values that are very alien to us and that we would find horribly crude and that just seem cruel and unjust. If we take one of them and place them in, let’s say, a small town in Sweden.
Hanzi: People here are polite and so on and relatively highly educated in the modern world and all of that. This person tries to understand their stances on slavery, on punishment, on gender equality and human rights. Even on animals or the biosphere. They would find all of these things meaningless, abstract, wishy-washy, being too complicated. That they’re suffocatingly politically correct and so on. There’s a fundamental difference then that, there is some kind of shift there between this Roman citizen and this contemporary Swedish citizen for instance. What is that difference? Or, okay, they have different norms I guess you could say. Or I mean, you could say that they have different … That their personalities were shaped differently by different societies and life conditions. The question then is, are these norms or personalities and perspectives that people hold, are they arbitrarily ordered or is there a logic to them? The idea of value memes is that, there are overarching deeper structures in how values are generated by societies or through the development of societies.
Hanzi: Which will generate values that are similar to one another or correspond to one another. For this reason there is a huge difference between any agricultural society and any industrial modern society. There will be huge differences in how these people think and act, over time at least. Likewise, you can go to tribal societies and there will be other sets of values. Individually, these people perhaps will be nicer and more direct and so on than let’s say your average in New Yorker or in many tribes. It various from tribe to tribe of course. But in many tribal settings, you will have maybe kinder people or people who have better lives in many ways or are more competent. But their values will correspond to the size of that society, and so will their world views. And indeed their personalities and their ways of thinking. That’s the idea then that values can evolve with societies, and they can … As different kinds of systemic challenges … I mean different kinds of things that happen around us in our dynamics as we interact in society. Will put different demands on us as human beings in terms of values.
Hanzi: The metamodern values that I think are necessary today, they haven’t yet developed. We grow up in societies which have for 200 years or so developed to modern and postmodern values. But we are facing what can only be termed as yet more complex challenges. Climate change and global governance and the global migration flows and so on. I mean existential risks stemming from technology, all sorts of crazy, crazy stuff. I mean, consciousness altering substances, psychiatry, the control of every citizen through the public system. There are so many aspects here that are incredibly complex and threatening of life itself. We have populations who have values that are adapted to the modern age, meaning to expanding and industrial welfare state. That’s it. That’s what our values are set out to do. That’s what they evolve to do. A minority then who have values that critique that same thing, meaning the postmodern values. You can work at a university and write a doctoral dissertation on injustices between different minority groups and so on.
Hanzi: But these values are insufficient then for our populations to self-organize around these bigger and deeper and more complex and more universal issues. This is why we need a deliberate institutional change that would work as a conveyor belt, much as education has done in modern society, to get everybody up to the modern value meme. Or most people up to the modern value meme. We have to get people up to the postmodern value meme, a lot more. We have to get people up to the metamodern value meme. Today, none of our societal systems or institutions are built to do that. They’re not constructed to do that. We have a battle between these value memes. This is a cosmic battle for the human soul, for the world’s soul. It’s also a battle for survival. If the more complex values win, humanity wins and the biosphere wins. If the less complex values win and they rule us in an increasingly complex surrounding and society, we all lose and we all die.
Jim: Yup. That’s the dream at least. Let’s drill into that a little bit. Probably the most interesting part for me in The Listening Society was you then decompose the effective value meme into four parts. A model of hierarchical complexity, code or symbol stage, emotional state, and emotional depth. Let’s particularly drill into the first two of those and they’re related in my mind at least. Which is model of hierarchical complexity and your stages or code concept. Could you jump into those?
Hanzi: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The model of hierarchical complexity is basically a mathematization of … Which means just clearly formulated the key elements of the different stages of cognitive complexity. We all know that children think less complex thoughts than adults. They can still think interesting thoughts or intelligent thoughts. But it just never happened ever in the history of the world that a four year old came up with a new theory of physics. There’s a reason for that. The brain of the four year old does not perform thoughts of the corresponding level of complexity. It’s not that you can’t teach a four year old physics, you can. It’s just it’s going to have to be simple physics. This goes back to Piaget who was a Swiss classic theorist on this and researcher. And it goes back to Kohlberg. My own mentor then Michael Commons was a student of Kohlberg. Kohlberg created adult stages of development above a normal adulthood with his moral reasoning tests. Michael, he studied algebra for a while and he realized that he could use this or apply this to developmental theory.
Hanzi: Using abstract algebra he could then see that there’s a mathematical pattern to it here. You can actually formulate what all of the stages are. This goes even down to amoeba level and all the way up to Einstein level. Then there are 17 such stages of adult development that have been discovered. You could argue that there are higher stages, but the arguments growth in there. You can argue that there are lower stages, but the model starts to break down there. It’s kind of like, even within physics, of course theories have a certain reach. Different scales within physics use different models and they actually aren’t compatible. This developmental psychology is like that as well. You have a strict behavioral empirical science of studying the complexity of behaviors. It just so happens different adult human beings are going to have or display behaviors and thought patterns of different stages of complexity. We are not all of us at the same stage of complexity in terms of our thought processes.
Jim: Could you bring that down a little bit? Let’s get down more tangible and talk about what some of these stages actually are of hierarchical complexity.
Hanzi: Okay. They’re not the easiest in the world to understand. But the four ones that I bring up in the book cover most adult human beings. The first one would be abstract. Abstract is when you can formulate an abstract variable. You can understand that even though I can’t see it, even though it’s not here, there can be more or less of this. Then you can see, they can start reasoning about things that aren’t there. Almost all adult human beings reach this stage. Most people reach it in about junior high. But there is a stage above that one, which more than half of the adult human beings reach, but not all of us. It’s called formal operations. That’s when you can take several abstract variables and you can formulate in your head a linear or even non-linear relationship between them. You can see, it appears as though if this happened, then that happens. You can test such formal relationships in your head. That kind of corresponds to a lot of the work we do in modern society.
Hanzi: A lot of it is, maximize the profit of this company, for instance. Or minimize this input and maximize this output, for instance. A lot of this is formal operations. It’s usually sufficient to function well within a modern labor economy. Or division of labor to function at this stage and to think along these processes. But above that, you can create whole systems of formal relations. The simplest ones we learn in school by heart, the simple equation systems. Where you have to use the information from one equation to gauge information about another equation. Then you have to see the system where you can see different feedback loops or whatever. Only about 20% of an adult population reaches systematic reasoning. Which means that most academics will tend to be systematic stage thinkers. But above that stage, at only about 1.8% of the population, you have metasystematic reasoning. Metasystematic reasoning corresponds more to, in mathematics, topology, for instance. That you can see that there are patterns within these systems.
Hanzi: There are properties of these systems themselves. You can compare these different properties and you can switch between different systems. You can understand that the different systems have different logics. So you tend to be less reductive in your thinking. People who are at metasystematic tend to get less well along with people who are, let’s say, at abstract. Because the people who are at abstract will think that the people are metasystematic just talk a lot and that they aren’t very concrete about what they do, et cetera. People who are at metasystematic will think people at abstract are bit shallow. That they never really give them any aha’s when they speak to them and so on. But this is just one out of four fundamental ways of growing as a human being that-
Jim: Yeah. Let’s talk about code next. I think that was a good introduction to your levels of hierarchal complexity. But the other one that I found very interesting, it caused me to think a lot about both myself and sort of the nature of social construction, is your symbol stages or your code.
Hanzi: If you look at the previous theories on psychological development, they kind of mix all things up. They say, “Okay, so there are these people who are more modern and then there are postmodern people.” Or there’re color codes for these things. One theory which is popular is called spiral dynamics. Or you call modern people, orange people, and then postmodern people you call them green. But the problem is, well what if you actually tried to compare this with history? Going back to medieval times and looking at the genius of medieval times, they wouldn’t understand Newton’s physics or indeed even a simple coordination of two variables on a grid. This was invented by Descartes in the 1600s. Even the smartest person in the world, let’s say Thomas of Aquinas of the late medieval times, wouldn’t know things and understand things and grasp things that are apparent even to a contemporary 12 year old. Apparently, society itself or culture itself seems to have embedded within it certain symbols or ideas that are of different stages of complexity. Because they are of different stages of complexity, they are non arbitrarily ordered.
Hanzi: Meaning that there’s a difference between people who live in, let’s say, an agricultural society like medieval times and people who live in pre-agricultural tribal societies. And people who live in industrial societies or postindustrial societies like ours. There appears to be a logic to how culture itself evolves. Not meaning that it always evolves in the same way, but there is a deep pattern or structure to it. That the different modern societies of today are more comparable to one another than they are to even themselves looking 500 years back. This catches another dimension of development, one that isn’t so much personal but is more sociological. Nevertheless, the culture itself must be downloaded into every single human being for him or her to use it. People who are more complex thinkers will more likely to find the code available in that society that resonates with their stage of mental complexity. I mean, vice versa, of course if you come across a lot of the more complex code, that it can also spur more complex thoughts in your mind. Eventually may cause you to think more complex thoughts yourself and have more complex perspectives.
Jim: That’s interesting. But I’m going to use myself as an example here. When I went through your books, I had to give myself an honest analysis. Where do I stand on these various dimensions? I looked carefully and I concluded that I was a solid stage 14 paradigmatic on the hierarchical complexity scale.
Hanzi: Just for the listeners, paradigmatic being the one after metasystematic.
Jim: Yeah. I was definitely not a stage 15. So I said, “Yeah, solid middle stage 14.” But in terms of my code, proudly modernist. In fact, you mention spiral dynamics. Something I’ve been known to say and post on the internet is, when I think of spiral dynamics, I think of it as an arch, not a spiral. At the top is orange, to the left blue and red is increasing ignorance. To the right, green and turquoise, all that is increasing goofiness. I don’t see this as a progression. I see it as gone off the wrong track, God damn it. In fact, I guess I would call myself modern plus because I think that there’s other ways that modernism can branch but not through postmodernism. What is your thoughts about a person who was stage 14 in hierarchical complexity but kind of rejected the other postmodern and … Metamodern, I got an open mind on. Metamodern is interesting but I definitely reject the postmodern code kit as actually useful. Also, before we get your answer to that, I’m also going to mention something I’ve been involved with for a number of years is something called Game B.
Jim: Which is a radical social change theory and philosophy and now a more evermore so practical group. Which can be found on Facebook at the Game B, G-A-M-E-B group. The equivalent I would say of your stages or code is what we call deep code. Most of it was developed by a guy named Jordan Hall, formerly known as Jordan Greenhall. I would say, at least in my mind, that it is a fork for modernity to something at least at the level of metamodernism and yet actively eschews postmodernism.
Hanzi: All right. This is a very interesting question. Roughly speaking, the only answer is that, this kind of development once you understand it has four dimensions … We didn’t even get into the second two which are more subjective dimensions. Then we see that it’s much more nonlinear than we think, and it tends to have a lot of unexpected dynamics to it. Let’s see, modernist paradigmatic. All right. First of all, we might of course always be wrong when we self-evaluate. But given your background and so on, it would make sense that you would be at paradigmatic. I also talked to you before the show started and that would make sense, yes. That being said, the reason that we may reject postmodernism, there may be any number of reasons. That have to do with the angle through which this is presented to us. It may have to do with the other two dimensions, which are depth and state. Things that play on subtleties that we may not be in tune with.
Hanzi: Might, let’s say go over our heads and we might not see them. For this reason people may be saying things that mean in terms of subtlety and their spiritual dimensions, things that aren’t available to us. Looking at these effective value memes, they are emergent patterns within all of these four dimensions. They’re a kind of sum, but is … Sum is the wrong word. They’re kind of a dance between these four developmental dimensions. So our subjective state in every moment, the existential depth that we have developed in our relationship to existence, and the complexity of our thought processes and behaviors, and whatever symbols we have available. You come across a bunch of symbols and you don’t like them. There can be any number of reasons for why these symbols, perhaps didn’t represent, let’s say the real postmodernism.
Hanzi: On the other hand, you come across metamodern ideas, which superficially to people who are actually modernists. To an actual, let’s say orange modernist, there wouldn’t appear to be a difference between my writing and all the Foucault stuff out there.
Jim: I see it radically different. But anyway, continue.
Hanzi: But if you look at for instance reactions on the web, people who are modernist, they don’t see any difference between postmodernism and metamodernism. To them, well this is also somebody talking about structures, they’re also about social justice. They’re also about critiquing modern society. They’re also about touchy-feely stuff about inner things. They’re revolting against everyday life’s stuff and being normal and investing your life and getting a villa and a job and all of that stuff. On a superficial level, if you were actually at the modern value meme, then you wouldn’t resonate with what I write. You would find it indistinguishable from postmodernism. So most likely you simply had like an allergic reaction and then you couldn’t see any other alternatives around. You just saw, “Okay, I’ll just hang out here for a while because I still believe in science. Who doesn’t? I can see these people are getting into culture wars and identity politics and I don’t like that.
Hanzi: I feel I don’t get a sense of truth and direction when I see their critiques of science and so on.” Probably you also got not very fair representation of real postmodern ideas, which actually do hold up against the modern ones. If you go to the core of them, postmodern ideas per definition, are the ones the modern worldview will lead you towards. Which is the argument that I make in The Listening Society that the symbol stages, modern, postmodern, metamodern, are not arbitrarily ordered. That all of the modern ideas, if you take them to their utmost conclusion, they will collapse under their own weight and they will lead you to postmodern conclusions. But the postmodern ideas, when you take those to their ultimate point, they collapse under their weight and they lead you to metamodern conclusions. Which seemed counter-intuitive and even heretical to the postmodern mind. If you already were a complex thinker and you only had the modern ideas and postmodern ideas in terms of complexity and so on, these ideas tend to resonate with metamodernism. But if you only had these to choose from and you could see that the postmodern ideas …
Hanzi: Often they’re in misused forms. That they were distasteful to you. Then you simply rejected them and then you were frustrated with them. I’m very happy you are here talking to me instead of taking the route that so many of our good friends have done these days. It’s to say, “I hate postmodernism, I hate postmodernism, I hate postmodernism.” Then they wake up the next morning and they say I hate postmodernism three times again. It just goes on for years. After a while they say, “I hate it so much, I don’t even care about all of those ideas and ideals and social justice things they’re bringing up. Actually I do want to kill the immigrants and actually I do want men to rule women. Actually I don’t like democracy and actually some smart person should create some order in this world. Actually, the military isn’t so bad. Actually, we have to stand up for ourselves against the nation. Actually, history is not a progress thing, it’s cyclical and periodical. We’re in a downfall and somebody has to rise up and save this thing.” What have you become? You have become a Nazi.
Hanzi: A lot of the high stage people today are becoming Nazis. A lot of those who are high stage because of their depth and state, but are low on complexity, are becoming hippies who believe in magic. This is very counter-intuitive. Highly developed people are more likely to believe crazy things than average developed people. You have among the highly developed people, highly, highly dangerous groups of new Nazis coming up or fascist of different brands. You have magic beliefs because people have such strong spiritual and psychedelic experiences they can’t incorporate intellectually, and you have beliefs in aliens. I mean, these things are growing. If you challenge the people on their ideas about aliens and the UFOs, they will answer, “Please take a DMT trip and then you will know.”
Jim: I’ve heard them say it and I go, “I have taken a DMT trip God damn it. And I had all kinds of weird thoughts. But I can explain them easily as brain rhythms plus the confabulator, right?
Jim: Interesting. Yeah. Interesting. I guess I’ll continue to push back a little bit and say that it’s not obvious to me yet. Maybe if I think about it and read more, that one must go through postmodernism to get to a higher level. Let’s call it Game B, deep code. Which I would say is surprisingly similar to metamodernism, but explicitly rejected postmodernism. Let me get back to why I rejected postmodernism. I probably didn’t get the best exposures to it but though I did read most of the writers and commentaries on them, et cetera. What I came out with, and again, as I told you before the call, I’m actually a pretty simple guy. I’m not a natural philosopher. When I hear the word metaphysics, I reach for my pistol, et cetera. But my real rejection against postmodernism was not it’s excessive intricacy, but that it did not appear useful. People who listen to the show and know me in real life know that my catechism, my shining star of making decisions about systems, about ideologies … Which I hate in general. Philosophies and theories is, is it useful?
Jim: I never found anything in postmodernism that would actually let us build a better world reasonably expeditiously. It just seemed to be a swamp in which there was no getting out. Well, metamodernism does not have that smell and nor does Game B deep code. I guess I would say, at least it seems to be possible that one can get to how to build a much better world. That got much more justice, operates and avoids the self terminating loop that our current Game A is caught in, et cetera, without having to go through postmodernism. I suspect we’ll just have to agree to disagree about that one.
Hanzi: I suppose. I mean, just saying a few things that are useful about postmodernism. If you worked at a sociology department like I did, you see the research. For instance, the UN today has all of these development programs and they are all based on analysis of structural injustice of different kinds. Which is the essence of postmodern thinking. If you take the modern person and his or her sensibilities, he or she does not in their core believe that everyday life is fucked up. He or she does not in their core feel that life is not sustainable, it is alienating and harmful to the human soul everyday life. That people are being, let’s say, mutilated on a subtle level. They do not believe that society is fundamentally unjust. That impetus and the methods for working with that impetus and doing so intelligently and in a structured manner, is the essence of postmodernism. If the modern mind says, is it useful? The postmodern mind will reply, useful according to what axioms? Useful according to whom? You will see that within the question what is useful, is hidden some kind of interest.
Hanzi: The postmodern mind will deconstruct that interest or it will expose it. It will be able then to compare it to other forms of interest. Then it will show you that what you thought was useful was perhaps not as useful as you thought. Or it was perhaps useful to some but not to others. But the postmodern mind then forbids you to actually rank these different forms of usefulness and then choose one and then synthesize all of them.
Hanzi: That’s the shift between postmodern and metamodern.
Jim: Okay, that’s good. But that’s exactly my critique, that it’s not useful. It leads you into a swamp of idiocy. I had a discussion recently with some people I would say are probably postmodernists on how to address climate change. I know how to address climate change. It’s pretty goddamn straight forward. It’s big, it’s the equivalent of fighting a couple of World War II’s, but it’s definitely doable. But then they got into all this postmodernist horseshit and they got to the point where as you said, they had all these possible ways of looking at it and no principal way to pick one. If you can’t pick one, you can’t do anything. The first element of management of anything is the ability to make decisions. If postmodernism does not lead to the ability to make decisions and proceed, it’s by definition, not useful.
Hanzi: The most emblematic postmodern thinker Foucault he was asked supposedly, “Well, what are you for? You’re just picking apart everything.” He said, “You know what, there are so many economists and engineers and lawyers in this world and they’re all busy building stuff. I don’t want to, I’ll let them do it. I’ll just pick it apart.” That’s actually the essence of postmodernism. That it always ends in the critique, that the critique is the result. To the postmodern mind who has that kind of sensibility, being the smart person who said the question that others couldn’t answer, that in itself is the end point is the result. Actually a lot like Christianity, like post-Faustianism, as I call it. The stage that criticized the agricultural Faustian society. It always just ends in a critique and not a to-do list. That’s where it’s different. If you look at these different value memes, every second one is a critique or is a more passive one which picks the early ones apart and creates a new morality.
Hanzi: Then next one is a more agency oriented one. But metamodernism doesn’t really add new morality to the postmodern one. I mean, sure we can rewrite as some ethical theories and so on. But our morality is actually the same one. Stop climate change, make sure the world isn’t crazily unequal in terms of resource distribution. Make sure it’s sustainable, make sure people have meaning in their lives. Make sure people are seen and heard on the inside more, and that the things are a lot more authentic. That they can bloom or that we can bloom. Stop torturing the animals. I mean, all of these things are already there at the postmodern value meme. The difference is, we can do it. Much like modernity, modern society … In the 1800s the British empire stopped slavery. From there on was just a waterfall and slavery ceased around the world within 100 years. Christianity had been against slavery for 2000 years for crying out loud. Within the British empire it wasn’t the modernist, it wasn’t all the scientists or the businessmen who ended slavery. It was the Christians.
Jim: Yeah, it was Wilberforce. He was definitely a Christian public intellectual.
Hanzi: Yes. Which is interesting. The same rule is there for the postmodernist today. We will use the postmodernist populations for a kind of moral mobilization, but it is only possible within the institutions and economies created by metamodernism.
Jim: I like that. Actually, I like that. Because then you get away from this swamp of inability to make any decisions.
Hanzi: Yeah. I mean to the Christians just had you pray again and again and again and nothing happened. Or go to another convent or whatever. The postmodernist just have you go to the university and writing the critique of the critique of the critique, and that’s it.
Jim: Exactly. If we think about it that way, because in general, I am and I would say the Game B deep code is strongly in favor of egalitarianism, the elimination of bigotry, and prejudice, equal opportunity, et cetera, et cetera. I think at the values level, fairly similar, but the methodology just seems so fucking goofy. I have no interest in going down there. But I like you’re presenting it. Let them say that they’ve developed a useful set of morals, but let’s ignore their methods. Let them play with their methods and let them write their morals, and then we’ll take the morals and we’ll go put them to work, God damn it.
Hanzi: I wouldn’t go as far as ignore. I would say use them and put them in their proper place and don’t let them stop you from doing your stuff.
Jim: Okay, that’s good. I actually learned something there. Good. That actually improved my mental working kit a little bit. I still don’t like postmodernism, but I’m going to think about it a little bit differently now. Let’s get back to a couple of other more detailed points. One of which I think is very important, here’s a direct quote from Listening. The same goes for metamodern code, which only less than 2% have the cognitive hardware … That’s your word. To operate successfully. This might be an insurmountable problem to metamodernism. If hardware less than 2% can run metamodern code, how can you ever get it to work?
Hanzi: Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, just to get back on what I’m saying there in the book, that … I mean the reason a lot of people hate postmodernism so much is that, it’s relatively sophisticated. Is not about yelling at men for them making a little bit more money, or shaming somebody for writing hi girls instead of high vagina bearers or so on. It’s actually about structural critiques which requires systematic stage thinking to be done properly. You have to actually see systems, you have to see cultures as objects, and you have to look at them dispassionate and so on. Which is difficult to do and not a lot of adult people can do it. Well, a lot of people can do it, but just about 20% of the population. Then following the research by Commons, if you look at how many people that reason at the metasystematic stage, it’s about 1.8%. Then if you go down to paradigmatic, we don’t know.
Hanzi: But if it follows the same normal distribution, it’s going to be one in a thousand or thereabout, or a couple in a thousand. If you then look at this, metamodernism, what are we doing here? We’re looking at inner development and the different subsystems of inner development, and then we’re putting together different subsystems of inner development. Some of them are sociologically built or constructed. Meaning that the inner development depends on outer development. Then we have to create institutions for that. Then we have to coordinate that with the people who create those institutions and so on. We’re in the space of metasystematic thought processes. We’re in complex thought processes. If you try to use a kind of code, you try to run a complex code in a simpler form … This has happened many, many, many times in history. From religion to political ideologies to scientific theories and so on. They get simplified when they’re popularized. What happens if you run a metamodern code on a lower stage of cognitive complexity?
Hanzi: Well, what happens is, you get flattened versions of it. You get versions are going to look at surface level, a lot like metamodern politics, or have the same goals or ideals or norms. But they’re not actually going to work. They’re going to produce lots of pathologies. For instance, people will say, “Okay, The Listening Society. So it’s good to take in the perspectives of others.” Then they’ll spend a lifetime just taking in the perspectives of crazy people and not being able to coordinate them, for instance. Or they will think, “There are growth hierarchies between human beings and I’m of course of the higher stage.” So those of us who are at higher stages have moral privileges and we can decide for the others because we’re better than them. You can think of any number of perversions of this code. Or you could say, “Wait a minute, so this is a holistic vision of society in which things are brought together to resonate as one whole and small groups of people have to get together and conspire against society to do this.”
Hanzi: These small groups of people have to do a military coup, for instance. And boom, you have fascism. Then they’re going to start killing people who are deemed to be lower stage. I mean, hey, you can go a long way with this into crazy land and into frankly war crime land. Towards the end of the second book I write, these are dangerous [inaudible 00:56:56].
Jim: Yup. I respected you for that. You were totally honest. As I said coming in to this interview, I said once, I’d gotten to about the 40th percentile point on the second book, I said, “This might be the best stuff I’ve ever read on social change. But it also might be a handbook for 1984 plus, plus.” The answer is, it’s both.
Hanzi: Yeah. I mean, unfortunately I believe the existential predicament here. I mean, I wish I could say, “Okay, I called God and I full proofed my theory and I made sure that it’s going to be read in the right way. I made sure I didn’t make any mistakes, and I made sure that my subconscious didn’t have any evil drives I wasn’t aware of that subtly steered my hand in typing.” But I can’t do that.
Jim: Yeah, absolutely. It is what it is.
Hanzi: Yeah. I mean, so it is what it is. But on the other hand, what else to do? I mean, should we stop thinking about theories about where we want to go as a society or what the state should look like, or what the markets should look like and the welfare systems and so on? I mean, because it’s too dangerous and only megalomaniacs would do that. So then nobody’s allowed to ever have an opinion on it. That’s crazy. But nevertheless, that’s what the liberal mainstream will tell us. They’ll say, “No, we don’t want your theory because it’s totalitarian and you’re a megalomaniac for even daring to take it upon yourself to answer such questions.” So your plan is nobody answers the questions and we all die?
Jim: Yup, [inaudible 00:58:25]. It’s identical to our Game B issue. It’s amazing how similar that is. Because we basically say that we are on a self terminating curve, period, if we don’t change our ways. Yet when we propose these radical techniques, the people will say, “You’re nuts. This is communism or this is fascism or it’s both communism plus fascism.” It sounds like we all have the same interesting problem which neither of us have solved. I will absolutely say, Game B has not solved this. Which is how do we create what you called the flattened version that actually resonates with people. When you were saying that an image came to my mind. Which is, my grandmother, long since deceased, was Irish and a fervent Catholic. And went to mass every day. Celebrated the Saint days every day of the year. Very Catholic. But her Catholicism was very shallow. Nothing like Thomas Aquinas’s. But somehow it satisfied her as an ape with clothes. As a resonating human living in her body and her mind, she loved her Catholicism more than she loved her own kids, truthfully.
Jim: There was an example of a very successful flattening from, let’s say, Aquinas or the 19th century version of Aquinas to my mother’s Catholicism. I guess I would throw that out to you and your collaborators as something you need to figure out. Is a flattening of metamodernism that’s as attractive to people today as a flattened version of Catholicism was to my grandmother in 1930.
Hanzi: I wouldn’t over emphasize the need for popularization. Most of all, we need to find the right people and we need to affect the knowledge generation trajectories of let’s say actually just a few hundred people around the world at this point. Meaning that for us to make serious change happen, we need people who seriously work over the long time and commit their lives to some kind of metamodern/call it whatever, game change. And seriously will consider plans and take risks with their own lives to play parts in these plans. Who are prepared to learn a million new things while doing this and to do it in a coordinated manner with other people. Because without these core groups … I mean, we can have all the popular demands for a listening society we want, new forms of politics or whatever. The things suggested in my books. But without some people who are actually doing the hard work and carrying the brunt of it and coordinating and resonating with one another, it’s just not going to happen. That’s number one part.
Hanzi: From there on, the popularization is a secondary concern. Because first of all we need to actually start to affect institutions and political games and markets out there and knowledge creation processes.
Jim: I don’t know, I think if we got a flattened version that was truly attractive, it would actually aid in that tremendously. Imagine if there were a flattened version of metamodernism that was attractive to 20% of the population as my grandmother’s Catholicism was to her. That your ability to move politics and markets would go up exponentially, like double exponentially.
Hanzi: Perhaps true as things look today. I mean, think about it though. You asked me before, 2% of the population roughly have metasystematic reasoning and this appears to be at least partly genetically determined. Probably you can increase these percentages but we don’t really know. When I see and hear people reasoning about these things without complex minds, I see them drawing not so good conclusions. I actually prefer and I feel reassured when people are a little bit more conservative and don’t try on all of these crazy ideas and just stay with more common sense stuff. Because things get really crazy really fast. Even in highly intelligent people. You also need to have all your tools in the shack, so to speak. I mean, there are also all of the emotional and psychological pathologies that you can have. Today we’re seeing the emergence of early metamodernists and a lot of us are relatively crazy, unfortunately. Are highly dysfunctional people and have a lot of diagnoses and so on and then take a lot of medications. Because it’s unusual people and sensitive people.
Hanzi: I mean, what I see today is that I’m not overly optimistic about reaching a lot of people with a lot of these ideas because they will be misunderstood. When they are flattened, almost per definition when they are used politically, that’s not good. The metamodern perspective of an important part is to respect developmental stages. For your grandmother, for instance, a post-Faustian or a traditionalist religion … Catholicism in this case. Was a sound foundation for her life and for her life narrative and meaning making structure, and I suppose a source of stability and so on. That’s the metamodern perspective then that not everybody can be a metamodernist all the time. Rather, it doesn’t matter if people buy the idea of metamodernism or something like that. It just matters that their agency aligned with ours in a complex weave of relations which lead to a shared common goal. Which an important part of this is changing then the informational architecture of internet society.
Hanzi: Today, the informational architecture does not do its work to coordinate human agency and perspective in this larger weave. Another part of it is, on a political level, we have no real coordinating principles beyond the nation state. We are not in a world that has anything to do with the limits of the nation states. That’s the important thing. Not that everybody becomes a metamodernist. It doesn’t matter really. Or everybody believes in one particular idea or dogma. It is rather that these things are graded. Much like you worked in creating the internet. You didn’t care about talking people into believing in the internet. You just knew, “Hey, this shit’s going to work. This is where the future trackers are pointing.” If you are early on the solutions you’re going to win, and people are going to play along.
Jim: Yeah, that’s an interesting approach. That’s sort of a, “I will be the Wizard of Oz behind the scenes manipulating things so that a metamodern perspective occurs in our society, even if metamodernism isn’t out front.” Which may actually be a better idea than what postmodernism has done. I mean, we think about the wokes. I’m with you, I am terrified of the growth of Neo-Nazism everywhere, even in Sweden. Frankly, I know some Swedes and I know some working class Swedes. A surprising number of them, even though they would probably never say it in public, have some extraordinarily backward views all of a sudden just in the last few years. I suspect a lot of this is reaction to the elitism of the postmodernists. People say, “Fuck those people.” I will tell you my working class roots, on occasion would say to me, “Fuck those postmodernists. I’m going to vote for Trump just to be an asshole.” I would never actually do that because I also am capable of simulating the unfolding of our society.
Jim: The last thing I want is for us to go in that direction. But I feel the emotional tug of rejecting elitism. Pompous self-congratulatory elitism of the woke sort. Perhaps maybe you’re on to something here that maybe this has to be done in a Wizard of Oz fashion where the world doesn’t even know that it’s being done. But anyway, that’s a interesting topic [crosstalk 01:06:47]-
Hanzi: The thing is-
Jim: … we could talk for two hours on it. But-
Hanzi: I know. The thing is, Jim, Wizard of Oz is a very good analogy. When the wizard is confronted by Dorothy, she says, “You’re a bad man.” He said, “I’m just a bad man, I’m just a wizard.” It’s kind of like that. We don’t actually need a conspiracy. Or yes, we do need a conspiracy, we just need it to be boring enough for people not to care and then basically they can’t stop us. It’s an open conspiracy. Because we’re not doing anything unethical and we’re not working to harm anybody and we’re actually working to include people’s perspectives and to align their goals with the goals of others. We’re looking to deepen democracy and so on. We’re not looking to tear down the world order and create a new master race or anything crazy. We’re just looking to actually deepen the structures of modern society. So that they can fulfill the promise that they set out to fulfill during the enlightenment, which they never fully have. We’re looking to fulfill the longings and critiques and address the critiques of the postmodern sensibilities. So we can answer for ourselves, we have nothing to hide.
Hanzi: We can conspire against the modern world, but we don’t have to do it in secret. Because if anybody asks what I’m doing, I’ll be happy to tell you.
Jim: Yeah. That’s also our Game B philosophy. Absolute legality and total radical transparency, right?
Jim: That’s a very interesting strategy. It seems like we converge on some interesting tactics. This is very enlightening, interesting part of the discussion. Let’s move on to the next piece. In The Listening Society, the word spiritual or spirituality occurred 176 times. As people who listen to the show know, I hate the word spiritual and spirituality. In fact, I usually call it the S word. I want to know what is spirituality to you and why is it relevant?
Hanzi: It’s refreshing to get this question, Jim. Because when I speak to integralists, they always ask me why I’m so secular and I was critical of spirituality. You hit me from the opposite direction, you say, “Well, why do you include it so much? Why are you obsessing about it?” Basically spirituality is important because in some sense the religions were right. When modern society happened, we of course divorced a bunch of beliefs that had to do with Jesus walking on water or whatever. But we also in the same move because there were so many, so strong and so powerful things happening around this dynamic new development that was going on with industry and science and capitalism and everything. We forgot about some things that the religions actually got right. That, if you look deep enough inside there will be very, very, very, very strong experiences of some kind of wholeness or love or connection. These experiences are very, very, very, very important for the rest of your life once you’ve had them. And you can’t unsee them. I mean you can, but usually it’s a developmental thing.
Hanzi: Once you’ve developed that depth, that then it’s there and you can remember it. You can know about it. In that sense you become a believer if you have strong spiritual experiences. That’s in the sense, I use the word spiritual. It’s anything that has anything to do with the higher subjective states. The higher subjective states when we look within and we notice there’s nobody there and things kind of open up and things are crystal clear. Like there’s a pristine clarity, a kind of super presence that’s just there. Then there are no words to grasp it or describe it. We just get a sense of beauty and meaning and everything is going to be all right. In the history of philosophy then, in mainstream history writing about philosophy or mainstream textbooks, this impetus of philosophy isn’t present. I mean, they never take this seriously enough and discuss it. But philosophy is driven by high complexity people but also by people experiencing high subjective states.
Hanzi: By people being in modes of the mind or of experience itself which bring them to completely new conclusions about existence and reality. I mean, this is described in Descartes sits by the fire and he has his great insight. This is a spiritual experience that he describes in his biography here. It just goes back all the way. It goes back to Plato, and it goes back actually a bit less in science then. Science seems to be little bit less driven by the spiritual impetus. But philosophy and definitely all of the religions which have these compelling images and stories that people have built their meaning making structures around, all come from these exceptionally high states. Which also connect us often some notion of terror or hell or the seriousness of the matter of existence. That suffering is real and very, very, very, very profound and very, very, very grim suffering is possible. Suffering beyond our imagination. Then we have to take the spiritual struggle to get out of that suffering very, very, very seriously.
Hanzi: To go to heaven or not to hell or to … Well, so in some general sense, the religions weren’t wrong. That’s a big difference then between the metamodern mind and the modern mind. The metamodern mind says, “Okay, sure, Jesus didn’t walk on water and Moses didn’t actually part the sea. That’s crazy talk of course. Of course, Galileo was right and of course people of the inquisition shouldn’t have gone after him.” But it doesn’t mean that contemplation isn’t a powerful psychospiritual technology. It doesn’t mean that the mainstream ideas that we have about consciousness, et cetera, in a K-12 school, which is basically nothing … They just kind of avoid the question. The underlying assumption is some kind of materialist reductionism. That these things may be wrong and more spiritual views, views that are informed by these higher states and the kinds of reasoning that flow from these higher States, maybe more relevant to describing the nature of reality. Thus, our place in it, and thus how we can and should act within it and relate to it.
Hanzi: And relate to one another and to ourselves and so on. Because these things are real, because they are present, we cannot ignore them. Because metamodernism then is about growth, psychological growth and existential growth and cognitive growth and sociological growth and so on, to the further stretches of human development. It also pushes us into the further stretches of existential development. That pushes us beyond the reaches of everyday life consciousness or states of awareness, into these unusual or altered states of awareness. Did you read this book, it’s by … I know you read a lot on consciousness and I have a favorite, a very recent one by a British journalist. I don’t remember the name of the journalists. He’s in The Guardian. But he wrote a book called Am I Dreaming? It describes all the latest research on these altered states of consciousness. Then he takes an ayahuasca trip and stuff like that.
Hanzi: What he says is that the red thread or I mean, what connects the dots here is that, when we are in the high states of awareness or I mean those blissful open states of the psychedelic states and so on, all the neurons fire. I mean, there’s like connections are made in a much, much wider sense. Then it’s like a reset button for the brain so that the structures can change radically in these moments.
Jim: Let me push back on this a little bit just for our audience. I believe the book is, Am I Dreaming? by James Kingsland. Does that sound right?
Jim: It looks very interesting. I have not read it, but I will. I’ll put forth that, I actually have a significant amount of experience with these higher end altered states. I’ve probably done heavy psychedelics six or seven times, milder psychedelics a hundred times. I’ve done quite a bit of bio neurofeedback oriented excursions. I can easily put myself into a mystical state for five or 10 seconds. It’s kind of fun. I can do it for a longer period of time but it’s a lot more work. I can put anybody into a mystical state, but give me 36 hours. Anyway, I know these things are real and I’ve had these experiences. I’ve even heard the song, which I’ve reached by various of these methods. The song with no words, but it has words. It’s very weird. However, my takeaway when I combine this lifelong set of experiences with knowing a fair amount about cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience is that, these are less than we think they are. They’re enjoyable and they’re useful tools.
Jim: That we should measure them by their efficaciousness for us to live our life, not as if they are some journey to greater truth. What I think they actually are … There’s an amazing book called The Mind is Flat by Nick Chater that came out, I don’t know, about a year ago. He’s a UK linguist actually. His argument, which crystallized this whole view for me, is that the mind is not full of great depths. There’s no depths at all actually. What there are, are networks of the brain and the brain and the body. Then there are rhythms on those networks. Then an atypical state is an unusual network, and/or atypical rhythms. You go, “How can we see specific things or get these particular sets?” That is, that they are those unusual network and rhythms are then processed by the probably only human has this capability which I call the confabulator. It’s the part of our brain that invents narratives to try to provide some sense of cohesion to our brain states. Confabulation is a key finding of an earlier line of research, the Split Brain Experiments of Mike Gazzaniga and others.
Jim: Where you show something to the side of the … Or for people who have their brains split in half due to severe epilepsy, where the big heavy bundles of corpus callosum is severed so that we don’t get the normal left-right hemispheric, high-speed transfers. So things that are seen by the left side of the brain aren’t seen by the right and vice versa. You get these amazing stories where you show something to the left eye, which goes to the right side of the brain. Which is not linguistic. Then you ask some questions that are only tangentially related. Even though the person will say they didn’t see anything, their left side brain will invent some very elaborate, almost insane story. But a story that is nonetheless coherent with respect to the perception that actually occurred. Chater’s view, and I think I’m getting there that is may actually just be true, is that all the things that we experience in these altered states are essentially the confabulator operating on very atypical brain body networks and atypical rhythms. This is not Chater’s words. This is now my words.
Jim: It’s fairly similar to those computer generate a story systems. We’re using a bunch of algorithms that can generate a story that’s sort of okay as a story, but it’s just generated randomly. That may be all this stuff that we’re experiencing as depth is, unusual networks plus the confabulator. That we should enjoy them. I do enjoy them. You mentioned something that I find that’s most useful for me, is to break the circuit. I found that these kinds of experiences about once every six weeks were perfect. It used to be back when I was working real hard. I’d roll myself a lot of joints and smoke as much marijuana as I could tolerate about once every six weeks. It was a really good reset. But on the other hand, I don’t think I ever found the answer to a problem in the result at mental states. I wish people would not get so infatuated with these things and take them for what they’re good for, where they’re useful. But don’t think that they’re actually giving them an insight into fundamental reality itself.
Hanzi: I mean, this is really at the core of a lot of my thinking and what I do. It’s difficult for me to answer briefly, but I’m going to have to try to. Basically, I would say there are two positions which are both sins here. One position is essentialism. It’s the ascribing of depth onto a surface. The fundamental insight of postmodernism, I mean starting with Andy Warhol, but it actually goes through all of the postmodern thinkers is exactly what you’re saying. It is that there is no depth. There is only … Again, this goes back even to the depths of postmodernism or to it’s origins, its roots. Dorothy talks to the Wizard of Oz, actually probed a postmodern piece of literature. She says, “You’re a bad man.” When she discovers he’s not a wizard. He says, “I’m not about man, I’m just a bad wizard.” There is always just a surface. That actually goes for all phenomena. Right now I’m looking at the handle of a door. I mean, in a deeper sense, you can explain away the door knob.
Hanzi: Like, “There is no door knob. It’s just a piece of metal with some plastic on it. You’ve been saying there is door knob here?” Well, it depends on which level of analysis it makes sense. Nevertheless, in my experience, I’m looking at a door knob and there is a door knobness to the door knob. Which is inescapably there, which is the experience itself in phenomenology. This brings us to this other hated word of yours, metaphysics. It lands us in the question of metaphysics. That, is phenomenology reduceable to the objective third person parts that constitute it, its correlates in the objective reality? My answer is a yes and a no, but it’s mostly a no. That there is, just as you can make the sin of essentialism saying, “Oh, I saw angels. So angels are there.” That’s essentialism. Another person sits down and has his or her spiritual experience. Let’s say they’re having sex and something fantastic happens and their whole being opens up and they see the stars. Boom.
Hanzi: Their partner says, “You didn’t see the stars, your neurons fired and then you confabulated the stars.” Well, it doesn’t take anything away from the experience. When I talk about the importance of spirituality, I talk about the importance of that experience. That when we have those experiences, they don’t feel like epiphenomena. In a sense they aren’t any more than everything we experience as epiphenomenon of our experiencing biological brain. We can take them seriously in the sense that we can learn from them and not about metaphysics per se. Like you said, the wordless song, I didn’t hear the wordless song. I would love to do that actually. But if a wordless song still tells you something about, let’s say, the enchantment of existence of being, it doesn’t tell you anything about the composition of atoms or whether or not Miami is in Florida. We cannot conflate it with that sort of knowledge. That’s kind of the point with my four dimensional theory of growth. I specifically go after the gurus.
Hanzi: I say, “Well, here’s Eckhart Tolle and he has high states. He sees the stars and he walks around on clouds a lot of the time and feels very loving.” Should we listen to him? No. Why? Because the guy is stupid. I mean, read his book. It’s stupid stuff. It’s basic and his psychology is bad. His psychiatric advice is harmful. His analysis of society is painfully incorrect. He’s more divorced from science than any cat you would have at home. I mean, it’s just not somebody you should listen to on any other topic than on having a high state. Then of course there is a general insightfulness in his work, and it is unmistakably there. This is what I mean, just because you can find the physiological correlates for something, look in the eyes of one of your psychedelic friends and look in the eyes of one of your Wall Street friends. Assuming they’re not the same. The Wall Street friend, and let’s say the Wall Street friend is a conventional modernist.
Hanzi: Then the Wall Street friend is going to have less depth in their gaze and it’s noticeable. They’re going to be less subtle in their movements. They’re going to have sex in different ways, less subtly, also often. Notice they’re going to be a little less in tune with reality. If you ask them, what is of ultimate significance, the person with a deep gaze will say something like, “Well, to serve this beauty I sense in reality that I can tune into. I kind of know that there is a fundamental sense of truth and this is produced through how our human relationships. The closer we get to love. That this love has some kind of ultimate principle of blah, blah, blah.” They’ll say something like that. They’ll give you a high depth answer. There’s a researcher, Fowler on the developmental psychology of this. Not very good stuff, but at least people have attempted to do this. I believe it is possible to see an empirical difference then between high depth people and low depth people.
Hanzi: The other person, the Wall Street guy or the conventional guy will say, “Well, just to live life, I guess. To be a good person.” They won’t be able to answer from the same depth of their being, and they won’t be able to relate to you and resonate with you at the same depth of their being. This is what spirituality does. If we ignore this part or say, “Well, so it is reduceable to a neural firework and then confabulations.” Yes, it is. But it doesn’t take away anything from the depth. There’s a yes, and here. I mean, on the one hand, essentialism is always false. Everything is always emergent in through the relationships with other things. For this reason it can always be reduced to those things. But essentialism is the sin of the people who are high on depth and high on state, but low on complexity and code. They will believe in magic in different kinds. But on the other hand, you have reductionism. People who are high on complexity and high on code, higher than their stage of depth and state.
Hanzi: Which means that you can always explain a little bit more than the sparkles of reality. Meaning, that you always feel like reality is a little bit disenchanted. Which means you get a subtle itch to get back at it. That, “Wait a minute, this is just a piece of mechanics. Well, you’re not a wizard, blah, blah, blah, you’re just a man.” And all of that stuff. And the magic goes away and you get a little bit frustrated whenever you hear anybody else going on about the magic. You always want to dispel the magic, and you always want to subtly get back at the world. The right place to be is probably … I mean everything just evolves and these things are going to be different dissonances in different people and that’s part of life. But the optimal part for any particular person is to have their inner depths matched by complexity and the other way around. So that you do feel that this is an enchanted, awesome, super cool world.
Hanzi: That you can take issues of spirituality seriously and live a life of faith. Meaning you believe in something, for instance, a moral project that is beyond and bigger than yourself. You don’t feel you have to pick it apart all the time. You still can be a critical mind and you can still joke about your own gods, and you can still piss on your own holy symbols if you need to. You can still not be a sucker for the manipulation of others or the totalitarianism that magical thinking opens you up to. I mean, it’s a incredibly difficult balance. Even in research, they have shown us that these things aren’t friends. You set somebody up on thinking analytically for a while on a hard problem and, I don’t know, you play Mozart to them or whatever. They will be less inclined to be subtle spiritual for a moment. You set up a group for mindfulness meditators and 20 minutes later it’s easier to … They have higher suggestibility so you can more easily fool them that they have a memory they don’t actually have. You can give them false memories.
Hanzi: They’re more easily manipulable because they went into a more malleable space within. These things pull in different directions and our work is to move back and forth between them. Between crude reductionism, heartless, I mean heartless, Nietzschean, disenchanted, grim, cut to the bone, reductionism, and trembling spirituality. Devotional, unapologetic, being in love with the world. Both of these things must be coordinated with one another, even though they are opposite principles.
Jim: That’s a bold and interesting statement. I would suggest that … I like most of what you said and I could agree with most of it. I suppose the best takeaway is, you can say from the old Moody Blues song A Question of Balance. The balance is going to be dynamic. We’re going to be at different parts of the continuum at different times. On my wedding day, I hope I’m at the most spiritual part. The S word. I said it, Oh my God. On the most spiritual part of the continuum. When I’m day trading stocks I hope I’m not paying any attention to it. In general, I want to be in between. But to throw out … You gave me a good example, a Wall Street guy and hippie. I’m going to throw something in the middle, which is more of a question of balance. Let’s call it the Silicon Valley person. These people tend to practice spiritual practices, et cetera. They use that as fuel to create things in the world, to move the world forward in a real way. I find that that’s the tension I personally am looking for.
Jim: As you’ve probably guessed, by listening to this, I am an outwardly focused person. I know how to go inside. It’s useful, it’s enjoyable. But I’d rather go create something, to tell you the truth. I will only use that interior stuff to the degree that it helps me create exterior things more efficaciously. I think of that as the Silicon Valley balance between the two. And I say for myself, I swing all the way from hippie to Wall Street. But probably spend most of my time in this tuning that I just made up of Silicon Valley. Which is, I liken and find usefully internal states. I don’t actually believe them. But I use them as ways to make me a more efficacious player in the real world.
Hanzi: I mean, in The Listening Society and I mention a few different important groups to metamodernism. The different kind of landscape of class that is showing up in post-industrial digitized internet societies. A core group we mentioned briefly before we also started talking, is the yoga bourgeoisie. You said you’re not yoga bourgeoisie. But the Silicon Valley types I guess are a bit. I suppose the core population of metamodernist these days are from the yoga bourgeoisie. Especially perhaps around Burning Man culture and so on. For the simple reason that, it’s somebody who went through the whole modernist thing for a while and maybe they were successful early on. Then they realized that they were still miserable or that made them miserable even. Then they started meditating and taking psychedelics or whatever, or these things partly overlap. A few years back and forth and some major life crisis and then some therapy. Then usually they land in a position where they value spirituality and they want to use their life for doing something good or greater.
Hanzi: They still have a strong financial capital and so on, and all of this business knowhow. This is an important group in the core cities in Europe also, in London, in Berlin, and in Stockholm and so on and Copenhagen. It’s important to understand that the yoga bourgeoisie it’s not the only part of the metamodern crowd here. Unfortunately, the yoga bourgeoisie generally is a bit too limited in its perspective. What I feel is lacking are two things really. I mean, it’s this more revolutionary faith that would make them more interested in doing things like political metamodernism or your Game B. The other thing is actually the code, the metamodern code. Meaning, they need a more proper map of what they’re doing. They just have an idea that Hey, it feels really cool to be in this high states. You can open your heart, you can not be a dumb capitalist and you can transform business. You can be a conscious capitalism. You can use your business for good. That’s all right, but it won’t take you to the next stage of society. They don’t have a real map to gather around and to be a revolutionary class.
Hanzi: To be a class that turns against modern society and organizes to consciously change its structures. Its informational architecture as we mentioned, their structures of the internet, its political structures and its culture. That’s what needs to be done. I see within the yoga bourgeoisie that you mentioned that yes, they have both of these elements but it’s not successfully coordinated. Rather you have people going too far in one direction and then too far in the other. Or not successfully coordinating these things into shared life projects, which take real risks and real brunts of the problem. They end up always flying around the world and going to Thailand another time, and going for another hundredth workshop and so on. Then everybody wants a platform, everybody else. They all want one to create the next Facebook for all of these other people, or be the meeting place for all of the others. What I feel we need to do is to mobilize this class and to radicalize it. Within that class, there is certainly a lot of knowhow and informational capital and financial capital.
Hanzi: Also, I suppose emotional capital in the sense that there’s a lot of energy. People are energized. But there is not enough cultural capital. They don’t quite see the world. This is actually what they might lack them from the pomos, from the postmodernists. A little bit more critique, a little bit more of seeing the society as society. Of seeing things sociologically might be exactly what this part of the world needs.
Jim: I guess that’s a part of it. But you also hit on the other which is, they need the right code and so far they don’t have it. That’s interesting. We could go on for two more hours. I’m going to ask you if we could schedule another session sometime in the future. This has been, I think, the best single episode I have done yet. But we’re out of time. I think we’re going to wrap it up right there. I think this has been phenomenal. But if we’re going to talk more about it, we got to do it on another day.
Hanzi: This one is for long runners. That go out and you run 15 kilometers or something and you put on this one.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.