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: Today’s guest is Hanzi Freinacht, a political philosopher, historian and sociologist. He’s the author of The Listening Society and Nordic Ideology. He spends much of his time alone in the Swiss Alps. He operates the very interesting website, MetaModerna, and as usual, we’ll have pointers to the website and the books on our episode page at jimruttshow.com.
Jim: Hanzi was on the show in January where we discussed his book, The Listening Society. Today we’re going to mostly focus on his second book, Nordic Ideology. I actually started reading Nordic Ideology first and I figured, “Hey, I’m a reasonably smart fellow. I can interpolate from context what I need from the first book, The Listening Society,” well, it turned out I was wrong. By the time I got to about the 45% mark according to my Kindle in Nordic, I realized I really need to go back and read The Listening, so I did. So that’s what I’d suggest.
Jim: If you find this book really interesting, I suggest make the effort and read Listening Society first, then Nordic Ideolology. Nonetheless, in the spirit of getting listeners up to speed, I’m going to ask Hanzi to go into a couple of the key concepts from the first book, The Listening Society, before we jump in to Nordic Ideology. And the core of the first book is an idea that Hanzi calls ‘the effective value meme’. It’s essentially a four dimensional space of thinking about human adult development. So Hanzi, why don’t you tell the audience about the effective value meme in some double of detail. Take a few minutes.
Hanzi: Well, thank you first for welcoming me back to the show. I’d like to say then about effective value meme that a lot of people are familiar with something quite similar, namely value memes from the spiral dynamics thinking. And it’s not just in the spiral dynamics framework, it’s all over adult development psychology really, that people have noticed, and it’s not just actually in adult development psychology, it’s also in anthropology. Those anthropologists that still or again start believing in the stage development and the evolution of stages of societies. They notice that there is a pattern here. They notice that people in smaller societies and farther back in history tend to believe more in magic and rituals and rights, for instance, in spirits, and things go on from there to larger and larger core principles or universal stories or narratives and perhaps the gods, or perhaps one God over all gods, which unify many people, many perspectives, and so on, and find one higher truth, the truth higher than any person.
Hanzi: And then people go on from there noticing that, “Hey, there are many visions of this one God, there are many visions of objective reality. And then in modern society, even that objective reality seems to break down under the weight of so many perspectives. Some people start to wondering into what’s called post-modern perspectives and ideas. So these things align anthropology, history, psychology and personality. They align around some kind of stages which are recognizable. And even in any society, people aren’t just of one stage that correspond to that kind of society. Rather, you can see on the one hand, that people have learned a certain code or demeanor or worldview from the society that we’ve been brought up in. But at the same time, we also develop differently as human beings, as persons. Some people never really grasp the society and the narratives we’re in and go back to ways of grasping the world which would have resonated more with earlier societies.
Hanzi: Others go on and pick up more conventional views and some even start to experiment with post-conventional views, which may intuit, perhaps, societies of the future or future forms of human life and life philosophies. So an example would be that in late medieval times, there were some intuitions of the renaissance and modernity. For instance, Roger Bacon, this monk was before his time in, I believe, may have been the late 13th century. And he intuited that we will study nature and there will be wagons that roll without horses. And there will be machines flying in the air and boats made of metal traversing the sea with no sails, and so on. He didn’t really know about any of the technology or couldn’t guess on it, but he was before his time. He was thinking already according to, well, according to what, and there it is, a value meme which corresponded to a society after his own. He was before his time in that developmental sense.
Hanzi: So in any population, let’s say you’re in Switzerland, you’re going to have some kind of a normal distribution that’s not exactly a normal distribution, but something along those lines with some people having simpler worldviews and effective value memes that come before, that would have resonated with earlier societies. A large bulk of people who resonate with what’s conventionally Swiss in the 2020s, for instance, and then a minority of people who already are hooked on to some kind of cultural resonance which perhaps is more of what is going to emerge or emerging already. And I call these then, effective value meme because the theory here I’m commenting upon is called spiral dynamics and it has these color codes for these different value memes.
Hanzi: So you can have traditional values, you can have modern values, you can have postmodern values. Traditional values would be more authoritarian and you believe in maybe one God, one truth, one religion. Modern values would be perhaps more achiever-oriented and have to do with business and democracy and, well, a materialist reductionist world view for instance. And postmodern values would be seeing the world more relationally and having more egalitarian views and wanting to soften the hard and harsh sides and destructive sides of modern life and society. So the problem I noticed with this developmental view was that people seem to fit in some ways within these categories and in others, they didn’t. So some people were complex thinkers, but maybe spiritually relatively flat. Some people have profound emotional and spiritual depths, but they’re not necessarily super smart. Some people are very learned in terms of all the progressive ideas out there, but understand them in flattened ways so they’re reduced to cliches, and so on.
Hanzi: There appear to be at least four dimensions then, that put together is not necessarily a value meme that is recognizable as such, but if you put them together there is still a pattern that is vaguely recognizable, and that’s why I call them effective value meme. In effect, this person will reproduce the values of modern society. Why? Well, because they are at a certain, you mentioned four dimensions. They are at a certain level of complexity in terms of their thinking. They have a certain worldview which they have imbued from our surroundings. They have a certain level of introspective individuation or divination as a human being, knowing their own emotions, and so on, and defining their own self and their own life philosophy. And they may have a certain level of subjective states or happiness which facilitate this kind of life and participation in these kinds of values.
Hanzi: I mean, if you feel really bad about yourself all the time, it’s just difficult to be a good achiever democrat, for instance, or have the patience to believe in a scientific worldview. If things get too rocky, maybe a magical worldview with quick fixes will be more tempting, for instance. So these put together, I’m saying that, yes, spiral dynamics and, yes, developmental psychologists and anthropologists, you are onto something. We should just pick these dimensions apart and put them back together. And this has certain, I mean, it makes a few things a lot easier than like the conventional spiral dynamics or developmental psychologists which look at this one dimensionally. They run into problems whenever they compare people from two different societies.
Hanzi: So let’s say, you have a medieval genius and you have a contemporary 14 year old from, I don’t know, Mexico or whatever, average country of the world today. And the medieval genius, let’s say it’s Thomas of Aquinas in his adult life. So if you compare the 14 year old Mexican of today, well, they were taught physics in school so they have a more advanced worldview and they understand the nature of reality better than the most complex mind of a generation of a whole continent, which, I mean, somehow we know this doesn’t make sense. So we will just say that the kid has acquired a more advanced code because they were brought up in a larger society with a more complex code. But Thomas of Aquinas is more capable of making an independent thought pattern or idea, and he will bring more emotional depth to his search for the truth. So in the end, maybe you can say that Thomas of Aquinas has higher effective value meme than the 14 year old.
Jim: Or maybe just different in the four dimensional space? To put your labels on it, first dimension you called hierarchical complexity and you had 15 levels which seemed reasonable enough going all the way back to the simplest organism. I think level one would have been a bacteria approximately. And then your second which you called code, which is essentially culture that was downloaded to you. I love the example that, “Hey, the 14 year old kid in Mexico City knows quite a bit more about physics than Thomas Aquinas did, but on average, Thomas Aquinas is going to have a much higher hierarchical complexity in his thinking.” State being the emotional set point that you’re normally at is dimension three, again, as I understood it. And then the fourth, which was to me a little less clear, you call depth, I believe. And depth, I took to mean the range of states one had had during one’s life approximately. Is that a reasonable way to describe the four dimension?
Hanzi: It is. I mean qualifying the fourth one, depth, than the range of … well, so first of all, states aren’t necessarily reducible to emotions. Emotions tend to have a directionality and they tend to have a target thing and they tend to be an impetus, or drive, or action or agency. They’re, in a way, the subjective side of the fuel of motivation or agency like you. You get angry and then your body prepares to move something out of your way, violently if you have to, for instance. And if you can’t do that, then you feel really sad about that, and then your body wants to protect itself for instance. But states are just the sense of being alive, of just existing. We’ve all noticed, hopefully by now, that just being alive feels differently from time to time. And sometimes feeling alive has this profound sense of directness and openness and crispness to it.
Hanzi: And those are high states when we’re in heaven in some sense, which is not the same as just being happy. We can even be sad in heaven if our heart opens up and flows and it’s like river, and everyone is forgiven and things are brought back into harmony through this deep sorrow, for instance. That would be a highest state without sad emotion. But on the other hand, on the other side of the states, they are, like if you get stuck, I don’t know, in a bad dream or you wake up at night and things just don’t make sense and reality doesn’t seem to fit together and there is a profound terror or darkness. Or on a bad psychedelic trip, for instance, a lot of people these days have these experiences and they can feel stuck in an eternal loop. So it’s worse than death because you fall out into a space of nothingness, which is just pure terror for instance. Those are really low states.
Hanzi: Then going from the states to the depth, when you encounter spiritual practitioners, well, you can notice things about them. When they say stuff about their purpose in life, it’ll be something more universal than spiritual and something more embodied than felt. And when you look them in the eyes, it’ll be like they have these deeper tunnels, their eyes inside them. And if you look at their movements, they tend to be a little bit softer, at least when they approach certain states that have to do with their depth. And this comes from hard contemplative work, which generally speaking means integrating those states. So those states can put your whole system or nervous system in a certain state, yes. But to go from there to remember that state, to make it a part of who you are as a person, to make them into a trait, that’s the depth part. You remember that, “Oh, life really is a kind of potential heaven. Life really is a potential hell.”
Hanzi: And if you sense those things on a very real and visceral level and you remember them and those are recurring drives in your life, then you take life both much more seriously on the dark side and you take live much more as a cosmic joke on the light side. And that’s kind of depth. It’s, well, it’s a half a theory, I’ll admit it, but there’s something there. And what I find is that these deep people and they align spontaneously with the progressive ideas, ideas about complexity, ideas about nonjudgmental hierarchical development, ideas about crossing different paradigms and multicultural perspectives from civilizations, ideas of creating a more profound existential piece at the heart of what it means to be human in our society, and so on.
Hanzi: All of these ideas, which I feel pertain to the later stages, the kind of civilization that is only being born now, they seem to correlate with people having high depth. Now the problem is, as we discussed last time, the high depth people, if they’re not also complex thinkers and have good code, they tend to fall into magical thinking, and that’s another story. So all of these developmental qualities, they come with risks and they come with downsides. So if you’re a really, really complex thinker, but you’re not very deep, you tend to be crude or reductionist. But if you’re really, really deep, but you’re not so complex, you fall into, I don’t know, [inaudible 00:17:44] stuff. And [inaudible 00:17:46] is, he has high states. He has great depth, but if you open his books and read these theories about humanity and reality or listen to his commentary on what’s going on in the world, it’s gobbledygook.
Jim: Yep. We see that a lot, unfortunately. Thank you for that good review, and particularly for elucidating depth well, help me understand it a little bit better. I must say since I read the book and also particularly since we had our conversation, I have actually been using this four dimensional model in trying to think about the world and sharing some of the ideas with some of my friends, particularly in the Game B space. And actually in Game B land, people are now using this language to a greater or lesser degree. And while, as you say, is it actually a solid theory yet? No, but is it a useful rule of thumb or heuristic? I’d say, “Yes.” And I have a [inaudible 00:18:38] too. I like to run back by you and see what you think. In the thinking and conversations I’ve had, one of the thoughts is that state is relatively easy to modify.
Jim: Give someone some LSD and you will change their state. But the effect may not be very clear about what that change is and may not last long. A lot of the research done on psychedelics is that the biggest effect is about six months. On the other hand, for some people, the trip is sufficiently strong, it also impacts their depth, and then they will say that they’d had a lifetime’s worth of experience. But it’s a random weapon in some sense, hard to say what the effect will be and how long it’ll last. Hierarchical complexity is probably the most powerful single dimension of your model, but two things. One, it has, I think all the evidence shows so far, significant innate component. Mental horsepower is somewhere between 50 and 80% heritable or at least the capability to develop that, which is very important to realize that the achieved cognitive complexity is a mixture of both innate and environment.
Jim: If you have gene set X, but you’re raised in a cave by a wolf, you’re not going to develop a high level of hierarchical complexity. And then here’s the other one, in terms of the levers on society, really it takes a lifetime of effort to move it up and it’s a slow hard process. So that had brought me to think, this is what I’d love to get your reaction to, that code is probably the most salient lever point, because code affects the others. If you have the right code, you have a culture that engenders hierarchical complexity to the level people have the capability. If you have the right code, that means institutions, ways of treating each other that lead to greater state, greater state in some cases will lead to greater depth. So I’m thinking that for those of us who are interested in what comes next in building a better world, putting a lot of our effort in code, is useful.
Jim: In fact, in our Game B world, some of our foundational documents were written by a guy named Jordan Hall, collaborator of mine, and he has put them in a collection called Deep Code that you can find on medium, just type in ‘Jordan Hall deep code’ and you’ll get there. I guess one final thought before I get your reaction, when I tried to really think abstractly about what the Nordic Ideology book is, one could say it’s a code book essentially, but a code book that provides routines in the code to affect the other three states. So with that, I’ll let you react.
Hanzi: Well, so first of all, bingo. I very much agree. I mean, there are a bunch of things to say about this, but yes, that’s why I’m a writer. I mean, when I was younger I was very interested in meditation, still am. But I think, well, whatever I can do or achieve as a singular human being in that regard is just not scalable and transferable to the same degree. I mean, for this reason, I didn’t pursue a life of more pure spirituality. You can practice complex thought and it can be leveraged. So when you look at MHC, people keep coming back to me about this, and I appreciate that you bring the realist perspective here which is my perspective also. People are tenacious about this, that they really, really want MHC to be movable and learnable, cognitive complexity, last stage of cognitive complexity of a person and they want to shake up their friends or we ourselves climb in cognitive complexity.
Hanzi: And sure enough, these things do happen. I mean, there are 15 stages, but depending on how you count, you can count up to 17 stages even. And everybody passes through these stages and everybody passes at least to stage, I mean, a normal adult will pass to stage 9, 10, 11 or 12, I mean, that’s plenty. So this happened 12 times already in somebody’s life since you were a fetus, which is quite interesting. In one way, it’s apparently the most movable one, but once you have an adult human being here and now and you sit down with them, what are you going to do to change the complexity of somebody’s thinking? This is how radical it is. I mean, the demand would be you’d have to get them to start inventing patterns of thoughts according to more complex patterns, which their brain has thus far never formed in their life. I mean, you don’t just do that over the dinner table. You can affect perhaps their whole environment over a long time with exposure and with practice and with scaffolding, meaning help from other people, and repetition. Then perhaps-
Hanzi: …help from other people and repetition, then perhaps these things can be shifted. And these things align with stuff they find in the brain. If you study the abstract algebra of people’s patterns in their brains, you can see that thoughts go up to 11 dimensions. This may actually mirror a lot of what it means to have patterns of different stages of complexity, that more parts of your brain work together. And then you see something more abstract than you can name, and our language often stops working after a while. But all the sciences do point in the direction of higher complexity, so you can climb this but it’s hard. It’s really, really hard to do something with an actual person.
Hanzi: What is very actionable like you said, again, I can’t say it better myself, is the code system. Meaning that given that there is a large subpopulation of high complexity, relatively high state and a higher depth than usual, than the norm, then these people can be armed with or equipped, or cultivate a higher stage of complexity in terms of their code. Meaning that the base suppositions about reality, about society, about where we’re going, about our own place in it, about how we define ourselves, about how we define relationships. All of these things can change relatively easily. All you need to do is to get and grok some new ideas and then you can start using them.
Hanzi: That being said, those ideas are only really usable to that sub-portion of the population which have the corresponding complexity. So we’re left with a challenge to develop all of these dimensions because just ideas, just code with no brains to run them, and no hearts to feel it, and so on is of course, meaningless. So that’s one reaction. The other reaction that I have is the metamodernist wars, culture wars, or the metamodernist version of culture wars which we have. And people will have noticed one of these four dimensions as fundamental to life.
Hanzi: So some people will have noticed state. They’ll say, “Whoa.” If people could only understand the power of Zen, Vipassana, some other profound practice, or a psychedelic perhaps experience and so on. And maybe a training program and some health stuff, things that help your sleep. And then they notice how awake you feel, how alive you feel. And they say, “Okay, here’s the answer. All of the rest is bullshit.” Other people will go to all of these group dynamic workshops and then they’ll work on their traumas, and masculinities, and they’ll get in touch with their deepest emotions. And they’ll be brave and cry about childhood stuff that happened to them, and get their insecurities out in the open, and own that stuff. And then they’ll feel stronger, more integrated, and they will see that, whoa, this is the shit. You can pour how many words or intellectual ideas, but this is how you really change a person. They’re also right.
Hanzi: And some people will notice, hey, people are looking at the world flat and I see spheres and they’re seeing circles, and we should get people to be more complex. We should get people to think in more multidimensional ways. And we should get people to grok more abstract rallies so that people can together resonate on more wicked and abstract topics. Which require us to grasp topologies and fractals and all the rest of it, which our brains are actually capable of, and those will emphasize growth in cognitive complexity.
Hanzi: And then there’s the code people who will have one or two or three or five favorite ideas and philosophies. Maybe they will be in love with process philosophy. Maybe they will be in love with complexity theory, or something else, and they say if people only understood this. So what we have here is, I believe we should see this multidimensionality and we should see that code is in fact the greatest leverage point. But of course, in the long run, all four are equal. People should stop fighting about this stuff and see that we got different parts of the elephant.
Jim: Think about code as a way to help upregulate the other three, and of course vice versa. All right, let’s move on a little bit. Let’s get into the book itself a little bit. One of the things I 100% agree with, and this is a battle I’ve been fighting since I was 20, since I was 11 actually, and had a epiphany about reality. You say it is what we haven’t woken up to, however, is the fact that we can change the societal barriers and social psychological landscapes of everyday life. I pound the table all the time since all this stuff that we don’t like, we can change it.
Jim: It turns out one of the areas I’ve done a lot of work on is monetary theory and alternative monetary systems. It drives me crazy that people have reified the concept of money, and they confuse money with wealth, for instance. They think that fractional reserve banking mediated by central bankers was somehow brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses. And yet the reality is it’s a series of frozen accidents and conscious design decisions that have given us a specific set of social institutions, norms, and beliefs. But all those things can be changed. I took that as the deepest theme of your book, actually.
Hanzi: The particular section which you name, it has to do with this shift from seeing that we can change the natural world to seeing that we can change the social world. In a way, it sounds obvious but it really isn’t. That before the natural sciences made this great entrance into reality, into our shared view of reality. We had no idea. I mentioned Roger Bacon earlier that some few people could see, okay. If you really understand the nature of reality, the physical nature of things, you can make things do stuff that you couldn’t imagine. You can make carts run without horses and so on. Today then, we run into these barriers of the natural world, the environmental barriers, and then the climate change and all the rest of it. And then we’re together waking up to, okay, we have environmental systemic barriers that are going to stop us from thriving and continuing.
Hanzi: At the same time, there’s no reason to believe those barriers are only environmental. They are just as much cognitive, mental. Well, they have to do with the deep code of society and the culture we live in. So the shift then, if modern society was the society which could see nature and then according to its cultural code change nature, until poof. This happens, and here I am in a house where everything is produced from places around the world, and it’s plastic and it’s concrete and it’s wood, and Silicon for that matter. All of these things put together according to some principle that run our societies. Well, the next step would be to see those principles of our societies and make them visible and start taking them as an object of change, as an object of awareness.
Hanzi: That would be a core definition of a metamodern society. A society that goes beyond and looks through modern society and in which, if modern society before used to be a box taken for granted. Now we can look inside the box and we can see all of its constituent elements, we can see how its norms are formed, how people’s sense of self develop, how psychology is developed. How interactions are shaped through everything from architecture to interior design, to institutions to language, and so on. And we start reworking nature, so this becomes like one of those strange loop things.
Jim: We’re changing the code that modifies ourself, which we use to modify our code.
Hanzi: And it’s high time we do it. Douglas Hofstadter wrote this, I Am a Strange Loop. And society in this sense, must become a strange loop that we have to be able to see the code that we ourselves are going to run on. So yes, I am a robot. No, I have no free will, or maybe I do in some philosophical deep last instance. But I am going to follow the structures of language and grammar handed to me by all the rest of y’all. I’m just going to do so. And if I try to do something else, even then I will be structured by my environment. Let’s grasp that deep environment and restructure it, and that’s a humongous task. It’s tremendous in its immensity. How do we even start doing so?
Hanzi: Just to say something about how important it is that we start evolving in that direction now, and this speaks to another contemporary author, Max Tegmark, this futurist and physicist. He writes in Life 3.0 that now we’re reaching the point where we’re actually going to design intelligent computers as one part AI. You’re into that a lot, but also we can redesign biological life. So these things taken together, right now we are going to remake biology itself according to our cultural code so that the potential for creating suffering is immense. Unless the cultural code itself becomes self aware and starts operating upon itself in a feedback cycle, improving upon itself, not least to get more complex ethics. To update the code it runs on, to have greater depth in its compassion, to operate from higher states of playfulness, and so on.
Hanzi: Then we can create suffering as it has never been seen before. So these are very, very, very serious matters at this particular historical, or I suppose you could even say trans-historical time. Because we’re jumping off one axis of historical development and going in completely the other direction. We’re entering some kind of post human history, which isn’t necessarily continuous with the history of humanity as we have conventionally thought about it.
Jim: I would add another endorsement for Life 3.0, a truly mind expanding book by Max Tegmark, well worth reading. Let me propose the classic argument against this idea that we have to intelligently develop our social operating system. The classic kickback, and I hear it all the time when I talk about these things and when we talk about GameB is, isn’t that social engineering? What kind of hubris is that to think that we should consciously engineer our society? I should also add, those people who I disagree with, I’m not endorsing this view, but I hear it all the time. And didn’t social engineering, the idea that we can do better, lead us to nightmares like Nazi-ism and Marxist-Leninism?
Hanzi: First of all, it’s correct. Social engineering is dangerous, but that something is dangerous just means that it’s powerful and then you have to do it right. So if social engineering brought us Marxism and Leninism, it also brought us the U.S. Constitution and the basis of democracy, and the tripartite division of powers. People came up with this stuff. Montesquieu came up with it, quite specifically. And some people work then, to institute these things as technologies, as engineered devices. So there is always and has always been an interplay between chance and what we cannot control, and the stuff we can control and can and should try to. The right balance is difficult to know but you have to then explore what the right balance is. The new liberal idea would be that the markets spontaneously organize, and then the state is basically a control freak mechanism by which human beings steer and control and suffocate human creativity, and so on.
Hanzi: But it doesn’t actually make sense. Why would agency, when controlled through the state, be inherently oppressive? And why would markets and all the human agency that happens through them be inherently self organizational? Obviously, both things can be both oppressive and self organizational and no states exist without corresponding markets, and no markets actually exist without corresponding states. The same goes for the third dimension, a simple society such as you and me having this discussion without it actually being either a market or a state defined relationship in any way.
Hanzi: These three things develop together and there is no really clear distinction between what is engineering and what is just participation and having an opinion, and wanting to do something. The reductio ad absurdum, if you take it to its extreme, the position I am against social engineering, it also means you can’t clean your kitchen. Because hey, who are you to say that the dust bin should be underneath the sink? And if you try to control it, then bad things are going to come out of it. Well, obviously then if you’re never going to control anything, you literally can’t get out of bed. It’s not bad to have a natural want for power in the sense power as creativity, as participation, as freedom.
Hanzi: My freedom doesn’t really stop at my outer border and begin at your outer border. It’s actually I become more free if you scaffold me by playing interesting things back to me, or by resonating with me, and so on. It’s actually a zero, it’s not a real question, the thing about social engineering or not. It’s a real concern. And the concern would be, if we can specify what I think people really mean. Do you think that you as an elite should force your opinion on others if you know it better through the monopoly of violence of the state, for instance? And then the answer is going to be no most of the time, and sometimes yes. In extreme cases, for instance, on let’s say criminality, it makes sense for us to have monopolies of violence, but in most cases we should go as liberal and lenient as possible.
Hanzi: Yes, it makes sense to put Breivik the terrorist who shot up a hundred people in jail against his will. It makes sense that we should do it by police force. And then if we want to really, really kill the anti-social engineering argument, the last and final one is, well, okay. We currently have schooling, and schooling includes basically brainwashing people into a certain language and worldview for 12 years. If you are against any discussion about that in the name of being against engineering, then you’re actually closing down one of the most important democratic discussions that we could possibly have. So you’re closing down freedom, you’re not opening up for it. Rather by saying that, oh, we are being brainwashed by this society that we are in. Either way, why don’t we make that into democratically owned self-organizing process, which is made as conscious as possible and not steered by unconscious processes and manipulations, and power relations. That’s the answer, really.
Jim: I would agree and I would add one caveat. Which is, I think it’s really important for those of us who are engaging in something like social engineering, to understand the epistemological limits of complex systems. The whole idea of emergence, which I think you and I would both agree, in fact, you use the term in your book. We are looking to cultivate better emergences in complex system called society. One of the things paradoxically, we know about emergencies is they’re essentially impossible to predict from previous state, though that might be a little overstated. I’d suggest that one should think about the warning about social engineering to mean, thinking that you can predict more than you really can about the unfolding of a complex system. And be sure that you’re always thinking about interventions to steer the system towards what we think to be a better place as a series of probes and tests that have to be empirically verified and with an experimental mindset.
Jim: And then the other one, which I’m trying to introduce into GameB, for whatever reason some people don’t like the term. Is rather than to compel people to move to a new system, we should seduce them to move to a new system. The idea struck me when I was thinking about the collapse of Marxist-Leninism in Eastern Europe. The reason they all wanted to get the hell out, say the East Germans and the Poles and the Hungarians, was they were seduced by the fact that they were receiving TV and radio broadcasts from the West. And they saw, gosh, our country is gray and grim and full of spies, and very few fun and interesting things, and these other people seem like they’re having a whole lot more fun. So literally the Germans and the Poles and the Hungarians were seduced to adopt the liberal democratic market driven state, away from Marxist-Leninism. And if we have the epistemological modesty of complex systems and the idea that people should be seduced rather than compelled, we can avoid some of the dangers of social engineering.
Hanzi: Yes, agreed. And whenever compelling by force is necessary, then we can be pretty sure we’re working against the attractor points.
Hanzi: A good example would be the kulaks and the Soviet Union. So they thought, aha, the future of society is probably big collective farms, which are then owned by, I don’t know, an abstract level by the state and so on. And then why do these middle class farmers don’t want this? We have to force them, and then they end up killing a lot of kulaks and sending them to Gulag and so on. And of course, if you have to do that, then probably the behavioral forces are not working in your directions and you should try to work with the behavioral forces. Whereas, if you look at some kind of future post capitalist system would have to outcompete capitalism on its own terms.
Jim: I love that fact from your book, and again, it’s very much GameB that if we’re really doing this right, we should be able to outcompete and then seduce people away from the status quo. That’s what we want to do. Another major theme, at least what I took to be a major theme, maybe the second biggest major theme of your book. This is a quote from the book, “The emotional wellbeing of people is just as important as their economic welfare. This would be a society where depression, stress, and alienation have become political issues in the same vein as security, jobs, and housing are today.”
Hanzi: That’s an important theme that, it’s not that we can just make one topic in politics and we would cover all of those issues. Because the more complex and the more intimate issues we grapple with, and I guess we’ll get there later in the interview when we talk about the six dimensions of politics I suggest. The reason we don’t already have these as political topics, is that they are inherently difficult. They’re inherently difficult. They’re inherently multidimensional, inherently relational, contextual. Hard to see, hard to grasp even for the individual. Sometimes you find yourself in life and you ask yourself, am I happy? Is this working out? And during the same day, you can have wildly different interpretations. Well, there’s that nagging doubt and actually I’ve always known that. And then you can see a bit later, no, actually these things work out in this way, and it’s all been part of a bigger narrative where I’m going in this direction, and I’m learning and I’m growing and I’m happy.
Hanzi: The more subtle stuff we pick up on, the more difficult it is to make a shared commitment to describing it, to do something about it. But it’s still the most, that subtle stuff that goes on, on the inside of each of us, is still what makes life worth living and still what life is ultimately about. It’s not about a dollar baseline or an unemployment rate, or something else. It’s about what it is to be alive and what it feels like and where we find meaning. If we have love, if we’re happy, if we sleep well, if there is beauty in our lives, all of that stuff. How can we somehow reign those things in to a collective consciousness and then make sure that, I mean we can’t control them. Hey, life happens like you said, and you can order somebody to be happy or give them a friend by means of the welfare state or whatever. But you can create generative conditions. You can create good soil and bad soil. You can sow good seeds and bad seeds. There are likelihoods here which are empirically knowable, and the likelihoods might be complex, so you do-
Hanzi: I mean, the likelihoods might be complex. So let’s say we do intervention A, and it creates these 20 great consequences, only they are just visible after 10 years, plus they create three really bad consequences, which are visible already after three years, for instance.
Hanzi: I mean, there are many such difficult things to measure or see, but the fact that they’re difficult to measure or see, that they’re more, in a sense, qualitative … I’m doing quotation marks here on qualitative. That they’re more qualitative doesn’t make them any less real or any less important. Rather, of course, and everybody knows this, I suppose, those subtle things are the most important things, and somehow, then, we are basing our whole economic and political systems on things that are, I mean, quite obviously, not the most important things in life. So it doesn’t make sense.
Jim: Very good extension. You and I have talked about the fact that I’m a pretty hardcore scientific realist, but I’ve also studied enough cognitive science and cognitive neuroscience to know the subjective is not only real, but it’s more real than anything else to us, ourself, right? So it is odd that we have somehow, in at least modern society, drawn a band around the subjective state and said it’s not the government’s business, basically, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon sphere. I mean, again, when I talk about these ideas to working class, rural Americans, they say, “What kind of commie shit is that?” Right?
Jim: But, in reality, it’s the most real thing to us. Are we happy in and of ourself? Are we suffering? Do we feel rich in our relationships, et cetera? I agree with you that it seems a natural next step for what a social operating system is.
Jim: Getting a little short on time here. Let’s move along a little bit to sort of how we do this and some of the important ideas. One of the important ideas, which I resonated with strongly, is your concept of attractor points and that winning the game is getting the attractor points right. Could you talk about that a little?
Hanzi: So the attractor points, well, it’s from complex systems, right? If you study the many different states a system can enter into, and you know this better than I, there tend to be certain very likely outcomes that, after you’ve done it in many enough durations, then it tends to stabilize around a certain point. That certain point tends to be describable and have certain space or certain properties than the larger system.
Hanzi: So an example would be, for societal systems, there appear to be such things as chiefdoms. This is described very well in Robert Wright’s writing or in Francis Fukuyama’s writings or Elman Service, the anthropologist. They describe that once societies have a certain level of abundance, it doesn’t necessarily have to have agriculture and be horticultural, and just a rich hunter-gatherer society, such as the Northwest of pre-Colombian America. They tend to stabilize around something called chiefdoms, namely, that many villages will have one and the same chief. That chief will be very, very adored, and they will also exploit people. They will be very looked up to. Some kind of authoritarian relationship shows up.
Hanzi: You can see this around the globe then. You can see it in Latin America. You can see it in Papua New Guinea. You can see it across the Pacific Ocean and Polynesia. You can see it in the Germanic tribes encountered by Julius Caesar when he went there. You can see it in the Middle East. You can see it in archeological evidence from China before its kingdoms and so on.
Hanzi: So if this same structure or a corresponding structure shows up in so many places in so many different times, but under corresponding circumstances, yes, this is an attractor point. In that sense, that doesn’t say that, teleologically, reality or God wants us to evolve in this direction or something like that. It just says that, “Hey, given these settings and given enough time and given this dynamic’s ongoing, this is highly likely to occur, but it might also not occur. Something else can happen. You can get hit by a comet or whatever, and then it doesn’t happen.”
Hanzi: I hold them that attractor points are real also in our time and in our society. Another simple example, somebody invented electricity and light bulbs a while ago, and, today, the whole world, or the whole human world, with some few small exceptions, is electrified. It has electric light, and why is that? Well, because it was an attractor point that, once this existed, it wouldn’t roll back. It wouldn’t cease to exist or appear.
Hanzi: Likewise, the Internet is a strong attractor point and the proliferation and importance of the Internet. Today, the average person spends a good, I don’t know, seven hours in online interactions of different kinds. That’s an incredibly strong attractor point.
Hanzi: So knowing such points and directionalities, well, that doesn’t let us predict the future. I mean, it doesn’t make us into mediums, but it helps. It helps to see, to at least rule out some ways of thinking and acting in the world, and it makes us more open to other ways of thinking and acting in the world.
Hanzi: So my suggestion is that people should try to train our ability of basic futurism or basic futurology and try to see highly likely attractor points and not wishful thinking or utopias or scenarios that we wish for or dystopian scenarios, but just things that are likely to happen. If you see those attractor points relatively well and you see how they are qualitatively different from the society of today, then, when you maneuver through life, through business, through the arts, through academia and research, through administration organization, and politics, of course, then, on average and over time, you will end up in a better place in the labyrinth, because you’ll have hints of where to go, take a left or right, take a left or a right, go straight forward.
Hanzi: If you have those hints, those North Stars, then more people, on average, will walk in unison or in parallel or in alignment towards some kind of shared common goal. That shared common goal, in my mind, would be what I call a more meta-modern society even.
Jim: Yeah. Could you get explicit about maybe what some of these attractor points might be or what a system of attractor points, what comes next? In our GameB world, we often talk about basins of attraction, which are multiple dimensions of attractors operating to produce a coherent container, which is a dynamic social operating system. Maybe some ideas you have about what meta-modernism and its attractor points look like.
Hanzi: For me, this is somewhat of a prequel to the main argument, so I’m not really a futurologist myself. Just naming a few that I do feel are relevant, they have to do a lot with technology, with the environment, and with political and social structures and cultural expressions, one being, as we have mentioned, proliferation of intelligent machines and designed biology, because the drives to achieve these things and the rewards are so vast, even if our more utopian friends or the techno-optimists or even according to the more pessimistic and realistic forecasts, somehow this is going to absolutely change the labor market, all of our relationships, the nature of work, the nature of what it means to be human, the redistribution systems, the distribution of goods and services, the skills needed, the scaffolding for each person. All of these things are going to change according to some kind of matrix of automation. So that’s one attractor point.
Hanzi: Another attractive point is there is going to be more and more data gathered about each of us and our consumer behavior and all other forms of behavior, and there will be stronger and stronger predictive algorithms, which there will be power struggles to control. Another one is the environment will go more and more to bits and cause us more and more trouble.
Hanzi: Another one is, in developed democracies, after [inaudible 00:57:48] with populist uprisings and reactions, people will want to co-developmental politics, meaning politics of a deeper democracy, because the fundamental party political system and the representative democracy system was based on the classes, representation of the class interests of industrial society. Those classes do no longer exist in that same form or sense, and, for this reason, people are going to create different political IDs and ideals and collaborations.
Hanzi: Another one is, as globalization occurs, even with a considerable dent due to the corona crisis, due to the trade wars and Donald Trump and all the rest of it, as globalization nevertheless does occur, then the pyramids of wealth distribution of societies around the world will break down, and they will form one big pyramid. Sometimes the Left and the Right talk past each other here, that the Right say, “Well, we live in a fairer and a freer world, right?”, the Libertarian Right. The Left, they say, “No, inequality has been growing in the USA and even in Sweden,” and so on.
Hanzi: Of course, what’s happening is that what used to be relatively equal, small pyramids, but were placed high up in the global ranking, once you put everyone in the same economic system with no sealed containers, then everybody forms one big pyramid instead, or one big Christmas tree, to be exact.
Jim: That’s a good way to think about it. I’d like to make one other point about attractors, which is, in complex systems, we talk about bifurcation points in a complex system space, where there may be multiple attractors that one could fall into, but you don’t necessarily fall into them all. I think one of the biggest things about those of us thinking about steering the world towards a better form of what comes next is there are also some bad attractor points out there.
Jim: If we look at history, feudalism, which I am now calling neo-feudalism, as the extreme form of libertarianism, is certainly an attractor, a neo-Dark Ages, where religious fundamentalists somehow defeat us all and we fall back into 1000 years worth of superstition. Perhaps the most dangerous is neo-fascism and the Chinese model, kind of nationalism plus militarism plus high-tech dictatorship. I could see the world falling into that.
Jim: So when we think about attractor points, and we can think about these good attractors or the attractors that we think lead to a more beneficial what comes next, I think it’s real important to realize that we’re essentially fighting a strategic battle against the marble falling into one of these bad basins of attraction.
Hanzi: Yes. I mean, I couldn’t agree more, Jim. You mentioned, actually, my favorite bad attractor. I mean, of course, I suppose there’s one good attractor point, and there are two bad attractor points, if you look at these collective basins. So one really bad attractor point or attractor basin would be some kind of fragmentation of the world system. Basically, it falls apart, we fail to uphold the flows of good services and energy and information, and then we start dying and we start killing each other would be really bad. I suppose that’s the most sinister one, but almost as sinister, in some ways more nightmarish is global dictatorship attractor point, which this is an argument made by Yuval Harari, very, very well made, that capitalism could out-compete communism, because it had decentralized decision-making.
Hanzi: Inadvertently, it also meant that democracy, in the sense that we know it today, the conventional liberal democracy, it could out-compete authoritarianism in that same age, because it just decentralized all of those decisions and all the economic organization into all of those different businesses, which then competed. Then each of them had the incentives to make the best decisions, as if their businesses depended on it, as if their lives depended on it. Then, in the end, they processed more information more sensitively and more productively. They evolved better so that the whole system, as a whole, was much more resilient and much more open to change and much more highly developmental and so on, so people coordinated their agency better.
Hanzi: What Harari mentioned is that, well, what if we’re reaching the point today where you can actually gather enough data about people to control their agency and have enough algorithms that are advanced enough that you can actually do that better from a centralized position, thinking more in the direction of China, but also some of the stuff that’s been going on in Israel about surveillance and so on? We may very well be entering an informational environment or technological stage in which autocracy, an advanced form of digital autocracy, is actually more powerful, not necessarily at creating happy, dignified human lives, but just at coordinating human agency and controlling human beings than is a decentralized system. Incidentally, that would knock out any democratic, any free, liberal order.
Hanzi: China, I concur that’s the main threat to the world liberal order. Not saying anything bad about the Chinese culture or talking down to the great achievements of China’s economy and civilization over the last decades, but as a political order, at this point, we’re at a point in history where they are more and more challenging the world system of liberal information flows, meaning they have started to bully countries and buy off governments and the UN, for instance, and capture journalists, even outside of their own borders, if they are criticized, which is unique in our time that this happens.
Jim: Yep. We have to fight this one. There’s no doubt about it.
Hanzi: Yeah, yeah. So the third good basin would be, well, taking the good from both of these bad examples so that we have fragmentation, but the good thing about fragmentation is at least you’re free. You’re free to be miserable, but at least you’re free. The bad basin, the authoritarian one, is that you’re not free and you’re miserable, but at least you’re ordered when you’re in that ordered and safe setting. You can imagine, then, that the meta-modern world order would be one of deeper democracy, which still manages to coordinate us on a global level. So it would be ordered and free, I suppose.
Jim: That’s a good way to think about it. Let’s talk briefly about another, I thought, very important concept, which, again, I’ve started to use and encourage other people to use, which is, as we think about tactics, how we actually go from where we are to where we want to be, you talk about the ideas of game acceptance, game denial, and game change. A little bit of detail on each of those would be great.
Hanzi: Yes, sure. So, roughly speaking, most people are stuck in either game denial or game acceptance. Game denial is all the idealistic people. It’s most of all the sin of the Left, I suppose. Game denial is basically that you want to somehow … There’s a utopian impulse that you want to remove unfairness in reality, and then you’re trying to move towards a place where competition would be abolished, where people would just be kind. Actually, I see some of this even in GameB formulations. I get a bit of game denial vibes when they say, “We want to move into a non-rivalrous game or a noncompetitive GameB” and that we’re currently in a rivalrous game or rivalrous civilization.
Hanzi: That includes a number of logical impossibilities. I mean, things can’t be several things at once. Maybe at a quantum level, but for instance, any time there is a relationship, there is also a power relationship. A power relationship is always dependent on some kind of properties or strings of the involved, even down to parent-child stuff or lovers or partners or certainly humans and animals. It just goes through all of it.
Hanzi: So it’s difficult to reach that point, that ultimate point of no competition. For this reason, that’s not necessarily the best goal. What happens is, in great … This has very practical implications. If you look at the Left parties around Europe, you don’t have these in the US, but you have, I don’t know, campus radicalism and Left idealism of different kinds. If you look at these policies that they, in all seriousness, suggest and that they would implement if they were given the reigns of power of government in European countries, they would open the borders, they would lower order and crime, delinquency, justice system stuff, and they would raise the subsidies to normal people. They would secure your jobs more and make it harder to kick people from their work or to sack people, and they would increase the environmental regulations and other regulations of companies.
Hanzi: What would happen, in reality, is not that Left utopia would emerge. Rather, the countries would be swamped with immigration, and immigrants would be paid a lot of subsidy money. At the same time, this would cause a great cost to the tax system and businesses, and businesses would dwindle. They would be out-competed by foreign capital, and people would actually be stuck in their jobs and not be sacked so that the low movement of the labor would mean that you had a very high unemployment, at the very same time, so that the whole system would collapse in a matter of ten years. That’s what would actually happen if you did all of these idealist things, and that’s game denial. You’re denying that there are games, that there are choices that have to be made, preferences, and so on, that there are priorities that have to be made.
Hanzi: Moving from there to game acceptance, that’s just the opposite. So a fascist or a conservative, they will tend to think, “Well, life is tough. If it wasn’t fair to you, tough shit. Your problem. You work it out, and then, in the long run, it’s going to be fair either way if everybody just plays the game. Some people are going to be rich. Others are going to be poor.” What they end up doing is, conversely, defending all sorts of injustices that actually are quite malleable and quite changeable and didn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Hanzi: You can go back through history. So conservatives were against universal suffrage. They were against the abolition of slavery. They were against pretty much anything reasonable and good that you can think of that was brought on by radical politics. In all of these steps, they would always argue that it wouldn’t be possible. It doesn’t have to change. It’s actually fair. They were arguing according to game acceptance, and that’s what you have today as well.
Hanzi: So game change, again, is the bastard child of these two things, kind of like a meta-modern good basin would be the bastard child of fragmentation and authoritarianism or digital authoritarianism. You take the positive sides of both those things, and you get where you want to go. So the positive side of game denial is that you refuse to accept injustices that are arbitrary and that can be changed. You say that, “Okay, the game that exists today is not good enough. It’s not treating people well. It’s not treating animals well. It’s not justifiable.” If you look at the game acceptance part, you say, “But the game is there. There is a game. There always has been. There always will be.”
Hanzi: So what’s the conclusion? You work to learn the game, play it lovingly, understand its rules, and work to change it. You can change the rules of the game, and this has happened throughout history. So it can happen again. The lives that we live in modern, let’s say, Sweden and the US is considerably different from, I don’t know, what it might have been in Mamluk Egypt in the 12th century. It would have been quite different. The games of life, the stakes we played for, if we insulted the king back then or the sultan, we would literally be tortured and killed. So we played on a different game board.
Hanzi: So we played on a different game board, and society was ruled by a slave army, so you could actually only advance by being kidnapped as a young kid, and then advance by battling, whereas we can advance by, I don’t know, inventing something nice and starting an IT business, for instance. So the games are quite different, but they are still games, and there are still winners and losers, and there always will be.
Jim: That’s a wonderful, I found that an extraordinarily useful perspective and I would encourage other people, when they read the book to get their head around those three things, and try to keep your head in the game change space, and not to fall into either of those other two basins.
Jim: Now, we’re going to turn to the heart of the matter, at least in my mind, the heart of the matter with respect to how do we actually do this stuff. And that is what you called your master pattern, six parts of different kinds of politics that inter-operate together that you argue can, if executed well, move us towards a relative utopia. So I’d like you to start first, briefly, defining what you meant by relative utopia, and then, take us through the six parts and, to the degree we have time, how they inter-operate to move us towards a relative utopia.
Hanzi: Right. Thank you for asking. I just recently came across this other term, protopia. Somebody also suggested that the word Eutopia with a EU, the good place rather than utopias as in the nowhere place. But of course, it’s a play on words. Back in Thomas More’s, initial formulation in the 16th century, he wrote about utopia, which was a play on words with Bob. It’s the place that doesn’t exist and the good place.
Hanzi: Protopia then is another term, it’s not then a utopian static vision about what society can and should be like, and then everybody will be happy. Rather, it’s a relative place, which is obviously preferable for most people than the current state of affairs. So protopia is just somewhere you want to move, which is still qualitatively different from where we’re at today. And that’s also what I mean with the relative utopia vision.
Hanzi: There are a bunch of different authors today who have brought up visions of relative utopia. There’s this Dutch historian who wrote … It’s cold brew Utopia For Realists, right? His book. And it’s about basic income and open borders. I don’t believe actually his program or the argument made in his book, but he’s playing around with the very fact that from the perspective of 200 years ago, what we’re experiencing today is a utopia in many ways. Of course, not everybody’s happy and there are all sorts of horrible things, but just if you take the the average experience of everyday life of a middle class person today versus a farmer in the early 1800s, then the difference is just unimaginable.
Hanzi: And if we describe what we had for dinner and which parts of the world we’ve been to, and what kind of privileges we have and so on, it would sound utopian. And in that sense, we’re in a relative utopia. A utopia that would seem utopian to the farmer of 200 years ago.
Hanzi: Now, if that has happened again and again throughout history, that we have created relative utopias, and particularly now with the advent of modernity, would it be so strange if in 200 years, society will look like a relative utopia to us, and that it would be qualitatively different in ways that we almost can’t imagine. That’s the argument, if that is what has consistently happened many times through history already, wouldn’t we be fooling ourselves saying, “Okay, we’re not going to talk about utopian visions because they only lead us to gulag when we know that is what has happened, relative utopia at least.”
Jim: So how do we do it? Let’s talk about the master pattern and the six kinds of politics that we need to master.
Hanzi: Oh yeah. So that’s the biggest part of the book. And then the biggest part of the argument, I suppose. The first part is to see that politics and what we mean by the word politics changes over time. So all of the basics were there already in the Sumerian civilization for instance, that well, you would have a Minister of War, you would have a Minister of Taxes, you would have a Minister of Education, and then of course somebody would be something like a Prime Minister. And then of course in the Sumerian society, you had a king or a god king, something like that.
Hanzi: Throughout the development of more and more complex societies, more roles have been taken out by society. So I mean in Babylon, you had the organization of municipal brothels for instance. Whereas in Rome, well you had all of the building of aqueducts and all sorts of public things that had to do with the coliseums and the amphitheaters and many different things that evolve over time, which the public realm take up something and begin to develop techniques and experiences, shared experiences, for dealing with something that formally wasn’t viewed as part of politics.
Hanzi: And this is difficult and it’s controversial, because I mean how far should politics expand? And how far can it realistically expand? What we see though is that there is a direction, a developmental direction here, and it’s not necessarily in the direction of more control of each and every individual, but it is in the direction of somehow organizing and coordinating on more and more domains of life.
Hanzi: The last large example of such a major shift is probably environmental politics. So back in the 1800s, the US government created something like a Ministry of Forestry and it wasn’t called the Environmental Ministry at that point, but 100 years after that, almost all countries had some kind of Environmental Ministry or Department dealing with environmental issues.
Hanzi: Now what we have seen a tendency towards, and it’s very tentative and it just flickers past here and there, there is a Ministery of Loneliness in the UK. There was a Ministery of the Future in Sweden. There was a Ministery of Happiness in some country, I keep forgetting which one.
Hanzi: Well, perhaps in Bhutan, I’m not sure. So in Bhutan of course there is the GDP, there’s the gross national happiness thing and all of that stuff. Maybe there’s also Ministry of Happiness there. But a Minister of Yoga in current India, perhaps not the most progressive in the world.
Hanzi: But if you take these different … they point … these different tendencies, they point towards somehow that politics wants to deal with issues of mental health, of personal development, of human relationships, of inner dimensions, which we talked about earlier in this interview. Right? And as we also mentioned, these things are difficult to grasp. These things are difficult to coroner and clearly get our hands on as objects.
Hanzi: And for this reason, we may need several forms of new politics which balance each other out and take different dimensions of what it means to organize as human beings in societies, and what it means to be a human being in the first place. And let these evolve together so that they can triangulate, or with more angles than three really, these more complex and subtle issues of life and somehow make put them at the heart and center of how we organize our societies.
Hanzi: So to mention some of these forms of politics, which I suggest, one would be existential politics, meaning politics of looking into how meaningful people find their lives and how purpose-driven people’s lives are and how free we really feel on the inside, whether or not we have struggled with issues of death and anxiety and so on. And see, well, what can possibly be done here in terms of education, in terms of healthcare, in terms of preventive measures?
Hanzi: It’s an important issue. Like how are people feeling really, feeling deep down? Are we living our lives to the fullest or to to the best possible extent that we can? And somehow that issue never shows up in politics because it’s a thought of as part of the personal realm and the private realm, but quite obviously it depends upon other people and depends upon the social structures that we are part of. So it should be perhaps made into a conscious and explicit form of politics, which would include its own censuses, its own methods of scientific surveying and so on. But that’s just one side of this.
Hanzi: Another side would be the relationships to one another and ethnic relationships, familial relationships, local community relationships, engagement in civic life, identification with different groups, relationships between different religions in society, relationships between the genders. All of these things have to do with humans relating to one another, which in turn have to do with social skills, perspective taking the amount of tolerance and empathy that people feel or have the capacity to feel, what really ticks people off about different things.
Hanzi: And well, these issues can quite obviously also be developed. And today we’re seeing all sorts of fallout of relationships that don’t work throughout society, but we have no real way of attending to those issues. So the second one is what I call gemeinschaft politics. And gemeinschaft is a bit of a tricky word. So I picked a German word because there wasn’t an exact corresponding one in English. Gemeinschaft means something like community or relationship or fellowship in the abstract sentence, together I suppose you could say. And somehow togetherness can have higher or lower quality, and it can be a more pervasive or less pervasive. It can be wroth with issues and conflicts and problems, or it can be more pure and resonate in a more harmonic manner.
Hanzi: So this is a very, very, very important source of happiness and misery in pretty much everybody’s life. And right now we’re more or less leaving it outside of the budgeting of our self-organization as political units. So we’re just leaving it up to chance really, this most important part of what it means to be human.
Hanzi: And again, it’s not about then creating a welfare state where you can go to the welfare office and get a friend. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about generative conditions or whatever can nimbly and intelligently be made in terms of interventions or preventative measures or equipping people with the right skills and the context and so on, to get these things to work as well as possible. And then of course refine what we mean by good relationships throughout society.
Hanzi: So those are two dimensions. We’re not going to go through, I suppose, all six in the same detail. But just to mention then a couple of things about the other ones. The other ones try to balance these out, because both of these things, existence and what if would really feels like to be alive and relationships, they’re very personal matters, right? And the very personal matters here, they need to be balance. When they become political, they need to somehow be balanced out by issues that are … by politics that protect us from more subtle forms of transgression in these areas.
Hanzi: So that’s why we might need something like emancipation politics, like politics, which … a kind of politics with its own ministry and its own department, which pushes, and perhaps its own parties, which pushes against these more antiquated processes, these processes that have to do with, with meddling with people’s lives, with the improving upon relationships, and going deeper into the personal emancipation politics, politics of freedom, politics of protecting, and the individual’s rights, would push against these other two.
Hanzi: From there on, we might imagine a fourth kind of politics, empirical politics, meaning that each of these things need to be formulated in ways that actually make sense and actually have intended effects. So society needs to become a lot more scientific than it currently is. Most of policy decision making today is based quite loosely on science, and science can be expanded and we can have much stronger knowledge about why we’re doing things and how we’re doing things.
Hanzi: So that would be a fourth dimension and empirical dimension, which then is in a way a third-person reality or objective reality, pushing back against these things that come from the subjective realm. So we get to know the inter-subjective realm or the objective realm and try to validate these more subtle forms of politics.
Hanzi: Then this would bring us to a fifth one. All of this requires a deeper legitimacy which requires a deepening of democracy. So the kind of democracy that we have today’s relatively representative and distant and bureaucratic. If we are to enter into these more intimate realms of human development, we must also, in different ways, deepen the legitimacy and participation and humanization of the democratic system. And that is an ongoing process which may require its own political impetus and perhaps its own political proponents and so on.
Hanzi: And that should be an ongoing process. Maybe that society should invest a lot in this issue, improving upon its own modes of governance. Maybe a couple of percent of the GDP would go to perpetually try to improve and challenge how science governs itself making it more transparent, more participatory, more intelligent in its decision-making and making its decisions more legitimate to the citizens, more felt as their own.
Hanzi: Which brings us to the last form of politics, and that’s where we started in this interview I suppose, and a good place to draw towards an end, is that the last form of politics, the sixth form would be a politics of theory, meaning a politics of how we describe reality and how we brainwash ourselves as society. I said early on that a meta-modern society is different from a modern society and that a modern society changes nature according to its cultural code. But a meta-modern society must be able to see its own cultural code and change also what it means to be human and how the interpretations that are in its culture affect our everyday life and agency. And that everyday life itself can be different, including how we view reality and our place in it.
Hanzi: So this in itself should become a political issue, of course balanced by all of the others. You need a strong empirical pushback here. You need democratic participation in these kinds of processes. But the fundamental issue about what stories about reality do people have and how can those be improved upon and bridged in the best possible way is a question that has immense importance even to our very survival as a species in society and so on.
Hanzi: So we can’t really avoid the issue. What reality, what sense of reality do we have? And that should be placed at the very heart of politics. This shouldn’t be the first step in introducing a meta-modern politics, but these six forms of politics together, they form a kind of master pattern that if you try to do one of them, they won’t do the work. If you try to do two of them, they might balance out a little bit. But if you do all six, there is a logic to it that makes them hopefully, or as far as I can see, balance out more. And they should also be viewed as some being more difficult than others. So the politics of theory is in a sense the heaviest one, but also the most difficult one to realize most upon the former ones.
Jim: Well, very good. I should really thank you for a very nice in-depth explication of the ideas in this book. And I’ll tell the listeners we got about half of my topics and questions. Once again, the book Nordic Ideology is incredible in its richness. And those of you out there in listener land who were interested in thinking deeply, seriously, and originally about what comes next, I strongly endorse you read Nordic Ideology.
Jim: So Hanzi, I want to thank you again for coming on the show and I’m going to invite you back for a third time to talk about some of the things we didn’t talk about.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting. Music by Tom Muller modernspacemusic.com.