The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Brent Cooper. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Brent Cooper. Brent describes himself as a political sociologist by training, mystic by nature, rebel by choice, and executive director of the Abstract Organization. Today’s a somewhat unusual episode. Brent and I have tangled online numerous times. And he’s denounced both me and Game B, what I consider intemperate, and ill-informed ways. I’m sure he’d disagree. And we’re not going to talk about those things today, at least not much. But I’d welcome you to go check them out in his medium feed. Agree or disagree, he does a pretty good job of writing. It’s at least clear, which is a good thing.
Jim: I should also acknowledge that as usual, as our regular listeners know, I did my 10 hours of research on Brent, read a bunch of his essays. Branched from there to read some of the references in his essays. And I will say, again, agree or disagree with him, he is a first-class researcher, and a good writer. So, I wanted to put that on the record before we got started. Oh, and I should also say, to be fair, in our tangles in the past, it hasn’t all been him. I certainly fired back at him. I’m sure I’ve started some shit too.
Jim: So, with all that acknowledged, today, rather than fight some more, which I believe wouldn’t be very illuminating. I mean, we all see shit shows on the internet [inaudible 00:01:18]. We’re going to do something different. We’re going to focus on things that we at least loosely agree upon, while we’ll no doubt surface some details, and approaches that aren’t entirely congruent. And listeners know that I seldom agree in toto with my guests. And I’m sure we’ll have some border skirmishes today, but the focus will be on exploring things together with a positive valence.
Jim: Before we dive into our topics, first, something that you reference in a lot of your essays is that you come from a sociological perspective. And I took a sophomore level intro to sociology quartz almost half a century ago. Oh my God. And it was, essentially, a historical survey of Weber, Weber, whatever the fuck his name is. Durkheim, some of the others. Some of the empirical sociologists, the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. Then the last third of the course was on survey research methods. And we did a little survey. We did some SPSS. The disco analysis, et cetera. But I suspect that your methods are rather different than those. Maybe if you could tell our audience what a sociological perspective is. And specifically, what is your sociological perspective?
Brent: Yeah, sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me, first of all. And I’ll just note quickly, I mean, I don’t denounce Game B completely. I try to acknowledge its merits in the opening of the essay. And also, do the same thing when I critique the intellectual dark web, which is a very adjacent context to the Game B thing. But yeah, I’m happy to not talk about that today. Although, I think it would also make for a very interesting conversation. As for sociological methodology, my undergrad is in international relations, which is very interdisciplinary. And it’s in many ways rooted in sociology in the contemporary sense.
Brent: But curiously, it’s not a huge required component of the degree. So, in my undergrad, I only took an intro to sociology class as well. And the core of the IR program is like political science, economics, languages are thrown in there, bit of philosophy, bit of classical studies. And sociology is a part, but it wasn’t a huge requirement. It’s more history, political science, economics, global perspective, and whatnot. But my master’s degree was in political sociology. So, I specialized in that particular subfield. And that focuses on the boundaries between politics and society, basically, how those two overlap, and mesh, and conflict.
Brent: And interestingly, in my degree, I took a research methods class at the London School of Economics, and I found it to be very dated, and flawed. The teacher was very old-fashioned. And it included things like telephone surveys. And given that we’re in the internet age, there’s many different methods for collecting information. And in fact, I think surveys are quite a limited form, even though in the early days, that’s what they depended on. So, my methods, obviously, try to use that research if it’s available, but I’m not going to go out and do telephone surveys myself.
Brent: It’s very laborious. I do a lot of metatheory. I try to use whatever theories that I employ to really address the metacrisis, the root cause of a lot of the unfolding of these social conflicts, and birth pangs of a global civilization. So, maybe that’s all I’ll say about that. We can go deeper if you have a follow-up question, but sociological method is a very big topic. And I guess, in short, I’m still humbled before it, because it’s such a broad field. And one of my big takeaways that I often lament to people is that the public consciousness has much more literacy, and appreciation for psychology. The 20th century is characterized by a lot of methodological individualism in the social sciences.
Brent: And that paradigm has somewhat been overturned. And so, we have a more relational approach. But in public discourse, sociology is still pretty marginalized, and underfunded. So, I like to give that context to demonstrate that I think things are shifting. They should shift. And the 21st century has to develop a broad appreciation for this field. And so, I try to advocate for it publicly as well.
Jim: It’s interesting. Now, that I think about it. I also do some work that one could, I suppose, say is at the edge of sociology. After this episode is recorded, but before it comes out, there’ll be an episode I do with Josh Epstein, who’s one of the founders of agent-based modeling. And in fact, the last scientific meeting I participated in, myself in-person, was in January of this year on what’s so-called inverse generative social science. The idea being using data, and AI to establish automatically software to run agents, and agent-based simulations to explore the possibilities of an emergent phenomena in alternative social formulations. Probably a very different methodology than the kind you use. I’ve been an agent-based modeler for 20 years. But now that I think about it, it at least touches on the field of emerging aggregate behavior of agents that are at least roughly psychological.
Brent: Yeah. Sounds good.
Jim: That’s a great literature. Listen to the Josh Epstein episode. I think you’ll find it interesting.
Brent: Okay. I’ll check it out.
Jim: Anyway. One of the things I think we do agree on and find very, very important and interesting is the fact that we appear to be in a metacrisis that literally threatens the life of advanced civilization. Well, I can take some of Steven Pinker’s point data and say, “Yeah, that’s true.” People like him, who seem to be a little on the Pollyannish side for my taste. If you step back a little bit, and look at the fact that we live in a civilization, which I, and the Game B folks call Game A with roots that go back at least 10,000 years, to what Daniel Quinn calls the invention of totalitarian agriculture, and its will to convert the world totally to human use. And then, eventually, driven by game theoretical imperatives.
Jim: And when I say game theoretical imperative, let me give you an example. Classic example, actually, World War II. If we, the US don’t get it first, i.e. the nuclear weapons, the Germans could, and we’re fucked. So, therefore, what we already do is spend a vast sum of money, an amazingly large sum of money to bring into creation a technology that has the capability of destroying humanity. It turned out the Germans weren’t actually working on it, but we were caught in a classic game theoretical trap.
Jim: So, here we are 10,000 years at the invention of agriculture becoming evermore competitive, evermore driven by game theoretical imperatives that’ll point that we’re fucked. The Game B perspective basically says that we are on the verge of advanced civilizational collapse from at least four tendencies. One, our greed, weapons, and thirst for power have made us capable of destroying ourselves by force and intent. Second, we’re developing technologies that are so powerful. Think of things like CRISPR, other kinds of genetic engineering, advanced artificial intelligence that could end up destroying our civilization by accident.
Jim: And of course, this is the one that a lot of people are aware of, but maybe not in its totality, is that our pollutants, and disregard for the fragility and the limits of nature have made us capable of destroying the environment which supports life itself. As regular listeners to the show know, I’ve had a number of guests on from the regenerative ecology community. And again, between this recording and when it comes out, a new episode from Joe Brewer is going to come out. And while I’m not quite as pessimistic as Joe, he, and Christian Wall, and some others we’ve had on the show, Joe Youdelman, amongst others make the case pretty convincingly that we’ve probably already overrun the longterm sustainable capability of the earth.
Jim: And we are blundering into areas of possibly truly destructive, positive feedback loops that could destroy advanced civilization. Then perhaps the newest one, or at least the newest one that we’ve become cognizant of is that irresponsible, and unthoughtful use of our new communications technologies have made us capable of destroying our ability to understand, to make sense of the world, to deal with these other high powered risks. It’s really quite a problem we’ve gotten ourself into.
Brent: Yeah. And I guess, the operative word there is metacrisis. And that’s a common attractor for us. We’re all deeply concerned about that. And also, destroying our understanding, like it is an epistemological problem. And this is actually part of my critique of Game B, and the intellectual dark web, because in some sense, they’re on the cutting edge they presuppose to be. But they’re not immune from spreading various bits of misinformation as well. And they’re also very resistant to critique.
Jim: We’re not going to go down this road, Brent. Remember we’re not going to be [crosstalk 00:10:39]-
Brent: No, but you brought it up. You mentioned Game B or metaphors. So, I’m trying to skirt around it. There’s things tangentially worth mentioning. So, that’s why we’re talking to try to unpack these things a little bit, and to work together. You mentioned your audience is largely scientific American. In my metaconvergence article, I reference a scientific American article that describes four converging crises, the pandemic, the US political crisis, climate change, and economic depression. And there’s a sense in which all of these things are baked in because of an unfolding metacrisis, which actually lots of people have had awareness about going back many decades.
Brent: But in our public discourse, especially, in this past five years, it has continued to run away from us. The people who are extensively aware of this stuff, and have leadership positions have continued to play into getting theory traps, such that Hillary Clinton pursues a pied piper strategy to have Trump run, and then he ends up beating her. And I feel the sociological perspective through all that was and is maligned. So, we need to do a little bit better, and lean into the fact that we have these epistemic conflicts.
Brent: It actually makes us polarize something that you and your guests talk about, but there’s still aspects within these communities that feed into the polarization. And for me, a case in point is one of your recent guests, James Lindsay. I think without going too deep into that, there’s many people who have effectively critiqued him. And my point with this is that there’s a lot of distance between these different circles. So, if I list off some of the people I follow on Twitter who critique, and debunk, and try to engage James Lindsay, like Chris Kavanagh. He’s doing a podcast called Decoding the Gurus.
Brent: There’s not enough overlap between these spaces. Ted McCormack, a podcast called Embrace the Void. A guy named Sam Hoadley-Brill. These are very intelligent people. And because we miss those critiques, we end up platform people like James Lindsay, and he has a polarizing message. I think he overcorrects with his critique. And so, I’m trying to pinpoint how in our communities, in our discourses, there’s many factors, which reproduce the metacrisis. And I’ll use a phrase that you used on a recent podcast I was listening to, which is kick the can down the road. So, I think we converge on that point. It’s a bad idea to kick the can down the road. We actually want to anticipate, and solve problems as they emerge.
Jim: Yep. Interesting. Is a good transition because I wondered what was the root of why you, and I, and people around me are often sideways. And when I read a bunch of your essays, and thought about them some, and what they meant as a pattern, and then also just the list of four items that you gave as at least the sign of the current metacrisis close in, the pandemic in US, political crisis, a light came on for me, which is that we are looking at different timescales, and at different sizes of a search space. I would say myself, and the rest of the Game B community are looking at a very large, potential design space for what comes next.
Jim: And we don’t believe that we have the answers yet, and that we’re still searching. We’ve identified some of the problems. And I think the root one is how do we continue to cooperate at scale, and with power, and yet avoid game theoretical traps? It’s a really hard problem. And how do we do it in everything from science, to production, to distribution, to education? But we don’t yet have answers that we’re solid about. And we think that the search for these answers is going to take some time, and a whole bunch of experimentation.
Jim: And that the time for convergence is not yet there. You write quite a lot about convergence, and a lot of it, quite good. In fact, you have an essay called Convergence for Consensus Building. A lot of detail on a proposed process for convergence that may have some merits, certainly, worth a try. But my perspective is that at least at the scales that you talk about, and are thinking about, the time for convergence is not yet come. We need to be exploratory. In my home academic field of evolutionary computation, we have the two terms, exploration and exploitation. Try to get the marks in loading of exploitation away. When you hear those two terms, it has nothing to do with that.
Jim: The idea is that in a fitness landscape that’s complicated and maybe changing, there are two ways to proceed. One is called exploitation, which is essentially hill climbing. Make small changes that move you up the hill. Exploration is when you look for other hills that may not even be connected by ridges. That may be quite far away, conceptually. And require multiple changes simultaneously in a high dimensional phase space to reach. And my view, and view of many of the people in the Game B community is that we are sufficiently fucked.
Jim: And we are on a sufficiently close to the top of a hill, that it’s time for looking far a field in multiple dimension, simultaneously, to try to figure out what comes next, rather than looking at local small tweaks. For instance, the pandemic. To my mind, on the scale of things, it’s a relatively small issue. Trump, the shit show, a bit bigger of an issue, but again, nothing on the scale of how do you figure out economics without game theoretical races to the bottom, which is a vastly much more difficult and longer-term issue? Interestingly, at least my sense is that some of the times we get sideways is that we’re not clearly delineating the timescales that we’re talking about.
Jim: I suspect we probably agree with each other on the short timescale things, and maybe a little bit lesser degree on the longer timescale things. But the Game B community is focused on the longer timescale things. Well, my sense is that you are principally focused on closure in, smaller steps, and believe that we know enough to move towards convergence rather than keeping the liminal space open while we explore for quite a while longer.
Brent: That’s very interesting because I think it’s actually the inverse where I’m more inclined to agree with you and converge on the long-term. And we have disagreements about the short-term. I do do a bit of work on the long-term, and of course, I follow things like the Long Now Foundation for many years. And it’s very important, how we get there is critical. And just a thing that came up, you mentioned the pandemic, again. And in your 10 reforms, you advocate for universal healthcare too. So, that’s a policy point we converge on. And in terms of timescales, that’s something I say that should already exist. It should already have done-
Jim: Absolutely. It’s ridiculous.
Brent: Yeah. The reason it’s not done, there’s many reasons, but let’s just say it’s politicized.
Jim: Well, it’s a capture of politics by money. That’s the fucking problem, right?
Brent: Yeah. The fact that it’s not done yet actually creates way more work, and log jams in the systems when a thing like a pandemic happens. So, we have no political mechanisms in the moment to make that happen when it should have already existed. And ending the drug war as well. And instituting some UBI. We really converge on these policies. And when it comes to the short-term, I think where we disagree is I’m more actively trying to advocate for these things through the political sphere. And we have slightly different applied political views. But many people in these mutual, old spaces we inhabit they either/or don’t want to debate politics, or they issue politics altogether. And think that it’s not a lever of change.
Brent: And it’s one of the many leavers of change. And the election is a couple of weeks away. So, we’re really approaching this event horizon, where it’s very pivotal, even though, Joe Biden is a suboptimal outcome. What that represents is, substantially, an improvement from the politics that Trump represents. So, the sooner the better with these kinds of things. I get that there’s a hesitance for radical change. And you think my convergence is a bit premature. And it’s worth exploring that together and hashing out because I think this decade, in particular … Now, we’re into the first year of this decade.
Brent: I think this decade is the fundamental pivot, and turning point, and paradigm shift. And so, we have a role to understand it, to facilitate it, and to do harm reduction, and minimize the catastrophe. Because it may very well be too late for some aspects of climate change. But regardless of anthropogenic climate change, the planet can do its own thing, and kick us off of it. You know? So, bottom line of that whole narration is we need to look at the long-term, and the short-term together. And so, I try to vacillate and oscillate between them, and look at both. And one is humbled and has to embrace the reality checks.
Brent: For example, when Bernie was out of the primary, both elections in a row, you have to swallow that loss, and regroup, and reapply the same energy in policy values to change in the system. Because we’re effectively running out of time. So, I think the more we converge in the short-term, the better.
Jim: Yeah, it’s interesting. Obviously, us Game B folks, as individuals, many of us, including myself, are quite straightforward about what our short-term political agenda is. I think Trump’s a piece of shit. Let’s say so right here. And everybody’s listening to this, don’t vote for that motherfucker. He’s the worst imaginable … He’s not quite the worst imaginable president, but he’s the worst president that we’ve ever had by far. And I sure as shit hope we never have one as bad again. And Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, any of the Democrats would have been vastly, vastly better than Trump.
Jim: And let’s hope we get that shit show ended, and onto what comes next. And the difference between Bernie and Biden is way smaller than either of them and Trump, in terms of the importance of starting to work on climate change, starting to work seriously about economic equality, starting to work seriously about what do we do about our communications ecosystems? Et cetera. A light came on for me, I should have seen it earlier, but that first debate of Trump and Biden, it just screamed at me that Trump is a pre-modern person.
Jim: He’s a classic, the big man in the early days where we’re going from our forger histories up to the bigger tribal days. Just the kind of thuggish individual that would’ve elbowed his way to power. He is not an enlightenment person. He doesn’t even understand the enlightenment. He doesn’t understand the logic. He doesn’t even understand what a lie is. He’s a very weird character. And he’s really fundamentally pre-modern. And the idea that we would have thrown up a pre-modern person as president of the United States in 2016 is just appalling at every level.
Jim: So, as an individual, I 100% agree with you, but as a movement, the Game B movement has for now … And as you know, I put you on the research mission of reading about our old emancipation party. We actually started out as a political movement. And we concluded that the time was not right, that any of the moves available within political space were not big enough. And so, we decided to fall back for a period of time to explore the design space at much higher distance, at much higher dimensionality. And also, to do experiments. This is critical to find out what does work to solve some of these problems.
Jim: And only then turn back as an organization towards a political. So, at some point, obviously, you have to turn to the political because the institutions do matter. But it’s the choice we’ve made that for now Game B as a movement, not to speak for the individuals, most of them have political perspectives is why we don’t take sides in the political fights as a movement.
Brent: Yeah. There is this relationship between abstract theory, and concrete reality. And we have to go back and forth. And I think both of us are drawn towards the high theory for better or worse. But I think it’s precisely because of my sociological background. And just, in general, I think a lot of us share a left background. There are some common threads there. But I saw a social movement emerging, which warranted real attention, and engagement, right? It was a very historic, and novel thing for Bernie Sanders to not only run for president, but to do as well as he did in both elections.
Brent: And what we saw is something, again, you guys talk about a lot. The media ecology being so poisoned and compromised. What it comes down to is a lot of the healthy discourse that was happening through that movement was neglected, or pushed aside, or suppressed. And so, there’s a deep irony there, and missing that opportunity. And just very quickly, James Lindsay, who you had on the podcast, he’s bragging about voting for Trump on Twitter. And Helen Pluckrose who’s his writing partner is saying that she doesn’t agree with that, but she’s not going to criticize him either.
Brent: It’s this double move where she doesn’t want to critique her friend, but she’s saying that people actually should vote for Biden. So, culturally, because of the anti post-modern trend, which we both know a lot about from different perspectives, it’s created this cultural confusion, political confusion, despite the fact that it’s trying to clarify some other areas. So, pray to God, figuratively speaking, that Biden gets in, and there’s a saving democracy aesthetic there that it’s achieved just by getting Biden.
Brent: But then that’s when the real work begins because we are really running out of time. Regardless of who’s in power, politics has become very dysfunctional because of money in politics. Another point we agree with. And so, this is a fundamental disagreement I have with Game B, and integral people, rather than bootstrap the individual, and try to workshop, and proliferate these sense-making strategies … That’s part of it, but we really need to advocate for the systemic level change that invests in the public sector, invests in education, and expands access to those things.
Jim: It may not be that the public sector is currently envisioned is actually the right way. And again, this is part of this bigger exploration that Game B is attempting. If we go to, essentially, the principles of Game B, and we have more in the way of principles than we have with hard answers. So, the four fundamentals are that we’re looking for a future that’s self-organizational, network-oriented, decentralized, and metastable for an extended period of time, meaning centuries. And focusing heavily on the nation state, and the public sector, and 18th century representative democracy, et cetera, as what comes next strikes us as probably not right.
Jim: And that’s why we do advocate for experimentation at smaller scales. In fact, the thing that’s most pressurized now in the Game B space is the coming soon launch of multiple [Protobees 00:27:37]. Protobees, you could think of as various operating systems that will actually be put in operation on the ground for initially small communities, but designed in such a way that if they’re successful, they’ll spread relatively rapidly by duplication, and sometimes with mutation, so that we will soon have hundreds, and then thousands of communities of people living via variations on the theme of a Game B operating system until we discover sums that actually work.
Jim: And of course, that will also include fractal organizations at higher and higher levels amongst these so-called Protobees, which could vary in size from 25 people to 25,000 people. And the reason we’re doing this is that we believe that while we have some insights in how to solve the problems we talked about above, we, by no means, have evidence that our ideas are sound. I proposed an idea called dividend money, for instance, which is a very different monetary system than the one we have today.
Jim: On theoretical grounds, I believe it’s sound. However, one of the things I learned from my last 20 year or so journey into complexity science is the ability to predict what will happen when you make a significant change in a complex system is relatively small. And so, again, I think a very important Game B perspective is what we call epistemic modesty, that when we make a change, it’s very difficult to predict for sure what it will do. You replace fractional reserve, Central Bank, or managed money with a much more egalitarian, a much fairer early, so, I would argue, dividend money system, probably will be good.
Jim: But there may be some emergent complications that we can’t foresee. So, we better try at a smaller scale before we try it on a larger. Same’s true with another one of my pet hobby, horses, liquid democracy, which I’ve written on a lot. Probably written on that more than any other topic. Basically, liquid democracy for those who don’t know about it is a delegative democracy. It’s a hybrid between direct democracy, and representative democracy. If you want to, you can vote on every single issue that comes up for a vote, but that’s not really practical for most people. They have neither the time or the expertise.
Jim: And so, you can delegate your vote to somebody who you respect as knowing more than you do. So, go up the knowledge gradient. And you have values congruence with them. For instance, you might proxy your defense vote to your uncle who’s a retired Air Force Colonel. Your environmental vote to the Sierra Club. And your gun rights vote to the NRA. And you can then produce patterns of representation, which were impossible to get in today’s duopoly political system where you’re forced to sign on for a bucket of beliefs that you almost certainly don’t agree with in toto.
Jim: But anyway, liquid democracy, which I’ve written about a bunch, and particularly, the essay Introduction to Liquid Democracy on Medium has gotten a lot of attention. Probably a good idea, but again, we need to test it at this Protobee scale. And then, if it works multiple Protobees will try it. And if it works at the level of a few hundred thousand people, maybe it’s time to try it at the US state level, five, 10 million people. If it works there, then try it at the nation state level. So, I think that is a fundamental difference in our perspective, which is, again, it’s experimental, empirical. Let’s take our theories and try them at smaller scales, and build up from the bottom rather than say, “Hey, we have all the answers here. Let’s seize power, and drive it down from the top.”
Brent: Yeah. And I’ll partly agree, and partly disagree. I’m trying to conduct my own experiments too whether that’s in the way I live, and generate my own value, or the way I do research, and engage with people. So, we’re conducting an experiment right here right now. And the idea of consensus-building, which we touched on, but which is a much more complex process to unpack. I’d love to do that in a group setting. And it requires a lot of support. But my point with that is that’s an experiment that’s not actually being tried. And so, there’s lots of things that aren’t being tried. And there’s lots of things that are being tried that have been done in the past. And so, sometimes it’s redundant.
Brent: And so, we need to be even more reflexive, and open to critique, so, we’re not experimenting too much. But I wanted to touch on, you mentioned dividend money. And I watched that video, actually finished it this morning. And I’ve been researching something called modern monetary theory for some time. And there was lots in your talk that seemed to appeal to me. And some of the economics is over my head, so I have to acknowledge my limits there. But I also do this dynamic subordination idea, and defer to the MMT experts.
Brent: So, you should have somebody like my friend Andress Brunel, who’s an expert on these topics. And his takeaway to some of the assumptions built into your talk, like about how fractional reserve banking works is that it was actually wrong. And so, I would defer to him, but this is somewhere where you might have the right idea in your talk there. And you’ve done lots of research, but because of the nature of free market think tanks, and different conspiracy narratives, that the way those things infiltrate our discourse. And it happens to me too. I think we make some mistakes in our premises about how money and politics actually work.
Brent: And so, one of the chief proponents of modern monetary theory, Stephanie Kelton, was an advisor to Bernie Sanders. And I think, in terms of campaigning, they didn’t do enough maybe to foreground this in the discourse, and help change the media narrative around these things. And so, it could have became something that you would advocate for through that narrative instead of what you call dividend money. So, in this sense, I think it’s healthy to problematize these things, and branch out. And again, that’s what we’re doing. So, I hope that there’s a faster convergence to these ideas.
Jim: Yeah. And then, it is frustrating that unfortunately things like monetary systems are invisible to people. And it’s apparently been common throughout history that people take our monetary system as if it was brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses or something. When in reality, it’s a series of frozen accidents. The critical one being the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694, when the king of England was short of money. And he, basically, sold the right to generate fractional reserve banking money to a group of investors. And that frozen accident ended up being successful, and propagating, and essentially, is the root cause of why our system, at least a significant part of why our system is today. And there is plenty of room to explore it. I don’t claim by any means that my dividend money is the end of the discussion. It’s merely a stake in the ground for people to think about.
Jim: And I am interested in modern monetary theory. And I read a fair amount about it, read a few books on the topic. By the way, I doubt there’s anything too deeply wrong about my description of fractional reserve banking. I’ve read at least 50 books on the topic, and a couple hundred scientific papers on it. So, I’d love to talk to anybody about it, but I’m pretty confident that I have my shit together on the mechanisms for how fractional reserve banking actually works. But anyway, exploring the space of how money … Actually, and to step back up, money is only a means, is a social signaling modality.
Jim: What we’re really talking about is the coordination of production, and distribution. And so, we should start with that. And then, monetary systems are essentially a signaling mechanism to facilitate human collaboration for production and distribution. And there’s been all kinds of odd and interesting experiments. So, we talked earlier in a pre-show conversation a couple of days ago about what are the good things that Nazis did? One of them was Schacht, who was the minister of finance, he eventually quit the Nazis in 1938, or ’39 when he saw where they were actually headed.
Jim: And even before their rearmament started, the Germans immediately got out of the depression via a technique that looks a lot like MMT. And as far as I know, still unique experiment in monetary theory where they essentially issued two separate monies in addition to the German mark, the most significant one was called Mefo bill. It’s difficult to explain, but Google Mefo bills Wikipedia, and it’ll talk to you about how the Schacht and early Nazi finance used a very expansionary form of additional money in parallel to the German mark. And it’s plausible to argue that is how they were able to leap out of the great depression in one year when the rest of the world languished there for many years.
Jim: And the takeaway there is that, yes, we do need to explore these alternatives, but we also need to have epistemic modesty. I would say that modern monetary theory is not yet proven by any means. I could give you a long list of issues that it may have. And it would be interesting to try it at a small scale, and see what happened. But I would not say that it would make sense for the US to go to MMT right now without a trial at a smaller scale. And I think that’s the biggest takeaway from all these things, is there are many experiments which need to be run, but we must have epistemic modesty about how little we know about what emergences will occur should we make these kinds of changes.
Brent: Yeah. And we should add a layer of metaperspective if we can, to make sure that bad ideas don’t slip in through that epistemic modesty, because that is a problem I see happening. And so, I think we reached a good point with the MMT thing. I mean, there’s only so far I can go with it as well, but I wanted to quickly touch on this idea, Nazis did some good things, which in whatever examples you give, fun. Another example I could give would be Heidegger is still widely popular, and praised in various literatures. And he himself was a Nazi. And that is addressed in some places in very interesting ways.
Brent: And I prefer to take that approach. But in some places, this is just not addressed. It’s not problematized. But the point I want to make is that by making such statements, it often can open the door to these neo-fascist or neo-Nazi type people. I mean, the Neo-Nazi term implies a much harsher visual aesthetic, and stuff. There’s much less of those people out there with swastikas on their forehead than people who hide these kinds of values and biases. So, my concern is where the bad ideas get smuggled in. And a lot of us do it innocently. And so, I guess, I’m proposing a metaepistemic modesty just to avoid those even greater ills that sneak in our biases.
Jim: Yeah. Well, just to be clear, let me put it very clear. I’m in favor of killing fucking Nazis. The fact that we bombed the shit out of them, flattened them, hung a whole bunch of them afterwards was a good fucking thing. And if neo-Nazis were to ever become anything other than a minor nuisance, which is about what they are today, I’d be in favor of killing them here too. God damn it. So, don’t take the fact that I am willing to go and look at, say, what the Nazis did, and find some things that might be useful, don’t in any way think that I have any sympathy whatsoever for those cock-sucking motherfuckers. I don’t think I can say it more clearly than that.
Brent: It’s perfect. But let me see if I can add to that, and pivot even further to say that instead of saying the Nazis did good things, I’ll say the Germans found a way to summon a lot of economic power to build a military, and so, did the US. So, did the American empire. And so, that potential for massive spending is there in both cases. And today, we have to invert the military industrial complex, and build a peace industrial complex. And this is a major thesis for me. I’ve also gathered a lot of research on this topic. There’s just so much potential for that if we could just have that discussion more formally, and more publicly.
Brent: And this is a major inflection point for the paradigm shift too. Again, the point is that countries, if they make the right moves, can summon economic power seemingly from nowhere. And then, it’s a question of what you do with it in the case of war, whether World War I, or II, or the Cold War, and all the proxy wars. I’ve always found it very ironic that effectively what they’re doing is putting the value that’s taken from nature, and converted into capital, and then they’re putting it into objects like tanks, and jets, and bombs, and then blowing it up.
Brent: It’s just like burning money, but they’re doing it to achieve some political ends. And Steven Pinker, I agree with you, he’s Pollyannish. But this general trend that society is getting better, meanwhile, existential risks are increasing. We need to leverage the fact that society is getting better because people universally agree underneath there are differences, that war is bad. And so, we need to really lean into that, and invest in that.
Jim: Yeah, war is the worst thing humans ever invented. And it was a very substantial negative up until 1910. And then, our capacity reached the point where it became fucking disastrous. And our capacity has continued to increase to the point that if we were to have an all out war again, it’s the end of advanced civilization. The podcast that we recently published, I have referred people to called The Button, where we had former secretary of defense, William Perry on, and his co-author. And we talked about the fact that the nuclear sword of Damocles is still above our heads, and that Trump can launch a nuclear attack with nobody’s say so.
Jim: And they give a number of interesting reforms to reduce that danger. Very good analysis from a game theoretical perspective of what’s wrong with the US current nuclear stance, and the Russians as well. But yeah, I think that one of the hopeful trends is that maybe, finally, at least the advanced part of the world has realized that war is nothing but a fucking disaster, which we have to learn how to avoid. And that the energy that has been used in wars in the past could be re-channelized, for instance, to rebuild a carbon-free economy.
Jim: I’ve done some rough calculations. And we could basically get to carbon neutral, and actually carbon negative for considerably less at most. And this is with very conservative assumptions about the equivalent of two years of what the world’s GDP percentage was allocated in World War II. So, let’s call it one third of a World War II, we could get to carbon neutrality. And that would be spread over about 60 years. So, the level of intensity would be nothing at all like World War II. So, we could be running at a 30th the burn rate of World War II, and get the carbon neutrality by 2080, which would be in time. And that’s just a very hopeful thing for me if we can find the path to get there through our institutional structure.
Brent: Yeah. And well, what comes to mind is the Green New Deal. If you want to talk about that briefly, because you opposed it for your reasons. And I advocate it from the point of view of it’s a minimum, viable radicalism, if you will, to borrow your phrase. Regardless of what we call it, we agree that that’s the direction we should go. And that includes a job’s guarantee, and just a massive shift essentially in policy, in public consciousness. So, how can we get there if you don’t like the Green New Deal? I guess, that’s my question.
Jim: Yeah. Let me give you a point. I mean, again, this is interesting. As you know, I actually worked for the Bernie campaign in 2016. I was the co-leader of our county, which we delivered in the face of a otherwise statewide landslide by Hillary. I was able to sell. We were able to sell. We had 250 volunteers. We were able to sell working class, white people on Bernie. Virginia, it’s a radically open primary state. We don’t even have party registration here. And you can vote either primary. So, we had a lot of people come into our Bernie shop, or people we met at shopping centers, et cetera, who said the only two people they’re going to consider were Trump and Bernie.
Jim: And I believe we did get a fair number of them to vote for Bernie instead. But also be willing to say most of those ended up voting for Trump in the general, because they’d be sure to shit we’re going to vote for Hillary. I will say I held my nose, and voted for Hillary. I would say an awful lot of the people that Bernie resonated with in 2016 weren’t going to vote for Hillary. Unfortunately, for me, the Bernie of 2020 was not the Bernie of 2016. In fact, I actually signed up as a Bernie volunteer.
Jim: Fortunately, somebody else stepped up to run the county operation. And I showed up to the first Bernie organizational meeting, and was at least intended to support Bernie, but he did two things, which really turned me off. First, he gave that speech where he labeled himself a socialist. I immediately knew he was toast. There’s no way he’s going to win a general election with the S word hung around his neck. And truthfully, that’s not my issue. I mean, his form of democratic socialism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Jim: But the inability to explain that to American working class voters was just a complete tactical showstopper. But perhaps more important than on the substance, and on the Green New Deal, the reason I mobilized for Bernie in 2016 was he was the only candidate that showed sufficient seriousness about climate change. Climate change is the one that is probably the most serious, as you point out. My, nature can fuck us in lots of ways. For instance, if we look at the history of what has brought civilizations down, volcanoes are a big one.
Jim: We haven’t had a big volcano anywhere in the world since 1815, since Tambora. And there are a lot bigger volcanic eruptions in the historical record than Tambora. And something like that could fuck us too, but not much we can do about that, frankly. But climate change is something we can do about. And I take it very seriously. And any politician who does foolish things around climate change does not deserve my support. And as you heard me quote before on Facebook, I looked carefully and read Bernie’s climate plan.
Jim: And I just looked this morning, it’s still there. I printed it out just to … Actually, I printed it to a PDF. And here are some of the ridiculous things that he had in his Green New Deal. This is the one that caused me to say, “Fuck Bernie, sorry, no way. The guy’s either delusional or way worse.” This is word for word, a quote. You can look it up at berniesanders.org. He proposes reaching 100% renewable energy for electricity, and transportation no later than 2030. Fucking impossible. I know a lot about alternative energy.
Jim: I’ve had many alternative energy technologists and climate scientists on my show. I talk to them. I’ve talked to other ones all the time. They all agree that’s an absurd and utterly impossible goal. In fact, I asked one of them, in particular, the most knowledgeable about the base technologies. I said, “Could that be him signaling he wants to be a Stalinist? Could a Stalinist regime make that happen?” And the guy said, “Nope, even Stalin with all his power couldn’t have done it. The only political leader that he can think of that could have achieved 100% renewable energy for electricity and transportation by 2030 was Pol Pot.”
Jim: If you kill off 20% of the population, and reduce the size of the economy by 70%, yeah, maybe you could do it. But why the hell would somebody say something like that? Secondly, and again, another one of my objections is that Bernie was advocating government ownership of all renewable energy. He was proposing what he called federal power marketing administrations. And essentially, he was saying that all of the renewable energy to be generated under the Green New Deal would be owned by the federal government, which would then have control over it, and would have unbelievable ability to abuse people.
Jim: I’m a Madisonian, I believe that power corrupts, and that blending business and politics is a dangerous aggregation of power. And to have the federal government, state socialism, own all the energy sector strikes me as a radically bad idea. And then, just a sub-point, and this, again, shows the naivete of whoever put this plan together. Direct quote, “Electricity will be sold at current rates to keep the cost of electricity stable during the transition.” That may or may not be the right thing to do.
Jim: In fact, I would argue it is not, instead, we should have a gradually rising cost of electricity to send a signal throughout the system for people to figure out how to use electricity less. So, again, naive thinking, a absolutely impossible claim, and a bad idea, which is state socialism for the energy sector, made me say, “Who the fuck is advising Bernie? These are bad ideas.”
Brent: Yeah. We can’t go too deep into the details without a fact checker. But my argument to you is that he wasn’t actually advocating full on state socialism. And I have a political article open here that says, “Sanders wants federally-owned utilities to build massive amounts of wind and solar to compete with private generators.” So, there’s counterpoints. And my point to you back in like February was that we did need mediation. And we needed to actually discuss these things to build understanding, not to have a debate, and say, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” But to actually figure out if there’s a epistemic conflict that doesn’t need to be here. And I would agree … I’ll rephrase what you said that it’s impossible at all to say it’s very ambitious.
Jim: Impossible. I mean, think about it this way, he says by 2030. He gets elected. He takes office. January, 2021, takes at least a year to get the legislation through. We’re now talking January 2022. We’re talking eight years. It’s nuts. There’s no fucking way. That someone was delusional, and stuff’s still on his website.
Brent: So, let’s assume that you’re right for these purposes. But what comes to mind for me is the UN climate report that said, basically, we need to have a collective plan in effect by 2030. So, I think that type of ambitious plans that get presented, and with the potential to fund them through things like MMT, I think, it’s not going to happen without really bold leadership, and consensus-building. It might be possible in some way, if one of us is misreading it. And that the Green New Deal also comes from the UN, 10 years prior in 2009, to the AOC and Ed Markey’s Introduction of the Green New Deal.
Brent: So, there’s been a need, and an awareness for that need for a global Green New Deal since then. And just, regardless of the flaws within the actual plan, the broad meaning of it of course, is to combine the social welfare investment of the new deal with a green plan. And I think both of us would agree, we don’t want to greenwash. We don’t want this to be a corporate controlled thing where they’re just green-washing, and pink-washing, and black-washing to improve their brand image, but rather it’s an authentic thing that only makes sense in a paradigm shift. So, we have this cart or horse first problem. But, again, my premise is that this decade one way or another has to be indicative of building this system’s transition, and leased into these discourses of Game Being metamodernism, which are about a paradigm shift.
Jim: Yup, indeed. And 2030 is exactly when we have to have the play fully called. We have to have done a lot of work, and made a lot of investment between then, but we have to be realistic. And all you’re going to do is … You remember these idiots whip inflation now, or back in the ’70s, Gerald Ford, before your time. These presidents would make these ridiculous statements, which were impossible. And then, when it didn’t happen, everyone got disillusioned. They just ignored what they had to say. A couple other point critiques, nowhere in the new green deal is there a carbon tax.
Jim: And yet everyone who’s looked at this carefully knows that the most powerful way to mobilize the creative energies of the human race is to announce a 50-year program of start out pretty high, moderately high, and then have a 20-year proposal to get carbon taxes up to a pretty high level on the order of $200 per ton of carbon. And then, there’s a formula which says these things only get cut once we get to carbon neutrality, and only very slowly thereafter, and only to the degree we actually have negative carbon capabilities.
Jim: Green new people have ignored the large amount of research that shows that the carbon tax is the most practical, and most powerful way to attack it. I also think it’s, by the way, a mistake to blend getting to carbon neutrality with social welfare spending. Those are two very different things. And talk about capture. You end up getting a social welfare scheme captured, and the money goes to that rather than being invested efficiently by the human race to achieve this necessary goal of getting to carbon neutrality by 2060 or thereabouts.
Jim: Now, of course, there will be a tremendous economic stimulus, which will be the equivalent of a social welfare program, but to make that the lead of the program is, to my mind, a huge mistake. The other mistake that the Dems make across the board, not just Bernie is with one exception, I believe was Buttigieg, they have all ruled out nuclear power as part of the program. Now, I’m with them, that the current generation of hot water nuclear plants are not cost-effective, they’re too dangerous, questions about waste disposal have not been sufficiently answered, but there’s a tremendous amount of extraordinarily interesting and positive work in so-called fourth gen nukes that would be much smaller, modular.
Jim: They would just be buried in … As a unit, they wouldn’t have to have the fuel rods taken out, et cetera. Much less dangerous from a proliferation perspective, et cetera. And it’s not clear, it’s not proven that we’ll get there with them, but it’s looking very, very promising. And that just to say no nukes as part of your energy policy, it strikes me as, again, bending the need to some ideologues rather than thinking, logically, about how do we get to carbon neutrality by 2060?
Brent: Yeah, no disagreement there. I’m for the next generation of nuclear power because it’s subverts those assumptions that nuclear power is dangerous, or too expensive upfront. So, I agree. It should be part of a progressive platform.
Jim: But it’s not. The Green New Deal it’s just not a good platform. And I would be happy to participate with, if you could find a group of people, because I know a lot about this stuff. And I have access to some of the tops world’s experts on both the technology, and the science of climate change. I’d love to craft a realistic plan for the human race to get there by 2060. And I would encourage you to see if you have some people who are willing to think, and not just emote on the topic.
Brent: These topics are nested in very complex discourses that are in flux, and they’re competing. And there’s many steps backwards, occasionally. But another thing we agree on, like talking about Trump, it’s also just the Republican Party is pretty corrupt, and backwards in terms of policy.
Jim: No doubt about that. And that’s why nobody should vote for any Republicans. Republicans are pre-modern idiots. I mean, anyone who could claim that anthropomorphic climate change is not happening, and has potentially dangerous consequences should not be given any power over anything.
Brent: Yeah. I think my point there is that there’s a gravitational pull of the political spectrum to the right, and to the center. And so, even though a lot of people acknowledge what you just said, there’s a lot of compromising in the center. And that’s why the democratic Party, with all the power that it still has, it’s shooting itself in the foot by making these compromises. So, the Green New Deal in the way that Ed Markey and AOC proposed it, was actually not finalized. Now, you’re pointing to Bernie’s platform, which is more concrete. But I think my point is that politically that’s the direction we should have headed in, even though, your critiques are granted that they’re valid. That we could have converged under that direction rather than under Biden. But we’ll see what happens. We have a lot of work to do still.
Jim: Yeah. I think Biden’s a pragmatist. And if he surrounds himself with good people, they may be able to find their way to something that’s much more realistic than the Green New Deal, and not pre-modern, and atavistic like a lot of the Republican ideas about climate. And let’s see, where should we go to next? That was a fun discussion. I think it’s just the kind that I was hoping we’d have. We talked about exploration versus expectation. Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about metamodernism. I read a fair amount of your stuff on metamodernism.
Jim: I thought it was interesting. But I’m not entirely sure how relevant I would say that as we talk about pre-game, that you’re a very good and careful scholar. You track references, and references behind references. And you’ve teased apart various tendencies. However, I’m not 100% sure what the relevance to them is to thinking about metamodernism. Maybe you can put a little light on that. In fact, you have an essay called Mapping metaModernism for Collective Intelligence, where you reference, and I’m quoting here, “Cause modernism, alter modernism, re-modernism, digital modernism, performativeism, hypermodernism, auto-modernism, renewalism, neo-modernism, super modernism, and trans modernism.” And then, you also say that, “metamodernism is an irreducible complex term emerging from them.” Sounds like a bunch of intellectual point handed shit to me.
Jim: Again. Well, at some level I’m attracted to theory. I’m frankly a pragmatist, an engineer, and a doer, more than I am a theorist. I can do light theory. I can understand theory. I can read all the theory you want, but I’m glad you did the work because probably something interesting in all that stuff. So, tell me a little bit about, to your mind, where does metamodernism come from, and what is it? And I’ll give my perspective on it.
Brent: Yeah, that’s a great setup. So, in that essay, I know all those other terms, which they have value, but there’s also some interim what you’re saying about it just being the proliferation of different signifiers, it doesn’t help us. But one of the sections, I also say that postmodernism is irreducibly complex, and that it’s still important, and that we can’t really understand metamodernism without understanding postmodernism. And also, it’s a simplistic heuristic to say modernism plus or times postmodernism equals metamodernism, or having arrows connecting them.
Brent: There’s something useful in that stage theory, but also, that down samples the complexity. And we lose some of the truth in it. So, in terms of postmodernism, I’ll just refer to a book that I sent you, which is called The Postmodern Turn in the Social Sciences. It’s over 500 words. It’s encyclopedic. It’s got endorsements from a slew of scholars. And it’s just an excellent reference. I go back to it often. But what’s curious about it too, is it doesn’t mention any of those other terms that I mentioned. And so, I wanted to foreground that, and then to introduce metamodernism. It was popularized around 2010 by Romulan and Van Den Akker, Dutch scholars working in London.
Brent: And I think they did something very novel, but it was also criticized at the time. And they formalized it in an edited volume in 2017. And that’s the same year Hanzi’s first book came out. And there’s a lot in there. But what I discovered later, over the years, also trying to just gather implicit sources about metatheory, metaanalysis, and try to develop an original metamodernism, I found that some sources were missed, and buried.
Brent: So, then I could look at their approach and Hans’ approach, and then do a historical retcon, and develop a more synthetic approach that includes all of these things, and comments on the fact that the 1990s missed a lot of this discourse. And it was also characterized by the waning of postmodernism at the same time. And so, one of the operative words for me here is redundancy. We create an enormous amount of redundancy in pursuing all this research, independently, when in fact much of it dovetails, and is convergent if we could just understand that.
Brent: And so, there’s the concrete ideas that like Hanzi tries to formalize. I think it’s incredibly valuable. And it’s been quite a journey for me to be a part of his community, and circle of friends for four years. But I also always try to bring it back to a disambiguated sense. In the essay I call it the generativity of generic metamodernism. And that comes from just diving into the literature, and understanding the historical moment we’re in, also not simplifying it to this umbrella of metamodernism.
Brent: Case in point, I recently pushed out my article on hypermodernism. And that’s a counterpoint to metamodernism that a lot of the discourse has missed. So, my hope is to … And this isn’t something I can do on my own, but I try to foreground the complexity, the 30-year narrative of these things, and how they emerged at the end of the Cold War, and how they re-converge on our presence moment. And I mean, I’ve said all that without even touching on some of the specific points of these philosophies, because as I say, they’re irreducibly complex.
Brent: So, if one goes into the citations of my article as you have done, you see that you just keep going down these rabbit holes, potentially. And there’s lots to get lost in. So, long story short, it’s the emergence of metaculture into the mainstream, and the salience of metapolitics to imagine a prefigurative politics that we can advocate for in the moment. And I try to tie it with a new metaphysics, if you will, or the abolition of metaphysics, which is more aligned with MMT. Because one thing we agree on is that we’ve passed the postmodern age.
Brent: And there’s the proliferation of these alternative terms, which are only useful and so far as we actually understand them, and instantiate the work. So, as I said to you, before we recorded, I loved your conversations with Hanzi. And I think we’re just at the beginning of navigating the intersection of these discourses, like Game B, and metamodernism, for example, because there’s a lot out there. But effectively what we’re trying to do through better abstraction, which my project is named after, is distill information and wisdom, if you will, and reduce the redundancy, and the conflicts in our different processes.
Brent: And so, despite the fact that metamodernism is interesting, and we’ve developed little communities, there’s still so far to go in the responsible deployment of these concepts, and how we educate with them, and how we instrumentalize them ourselves. So, I’ll just end on the point that I think the current culture war really missed the point over the past five years by focusing on postmodernism. And to some extent, I’ll say that the postmodernists that still exist also miss the point. And so, this is what makes it difficult, but also necessary to have the outside perspective to parse those conflicts, and try to foster the reconciliation.
Jim: That’s good. Let me respond to that a little bit. Regular listeners know we’ve had several, three, at least, metamodernist writers on the show. We’ve had Hanzi Freinacht on three times. We’ve had Tomas Björkman on. And most recently we had Lena Anderson on, on her new book Metamodernity. And I’ve had very good conversations with them all. I read all the books carefully, and annotated them. And I guess, I would say that all of them posit that metamodernism is a desirable what comes next? On a path from pre-modernism to modernism, to post-modernism, and metamodernism. And this is where I’ve always pushed back.
Jim: And those who listen to those episodes know, predictably, that I’ll push back on the fact that, to my mind, postmodernism is not of the same ilk of pre-modernism, modernism, and hopefully, metamodernism. It’s something else. In fact, it isn’t one thing. And as I’ve been doing my research on what is postmodernism, I deconstructed it into really five different things, which while in some ways are congruent, in some ways are not congruent. First is it started out as an art movement, an aesthetic movement. In fact, playing back through my memories … I fortunately have an almost photographic memory, which is handy.
Jim: The first time I heard the word postmodernism was in reference to the AT&T building in Manhattan around 1985. And it was a new, ironic style of architecture. Prior to that, most of the New York City skyscrapers were in the so-called international style, plain glass boxes. The AT&T building was significantly a plain glass box, but it had a Chip and Dale top. An ironic joke on ornamentation, or bringing ornamentation back. And it was cool. Architects liked it, et cetera. Then second, there’s what I call the postmodern condition written by first guy named Lyotard.
Jim: I don’t know if that’s how you pronounce it, a French writer. And the guy who I’ve recently gotten into, has become quite a favorite in the Game B world, [Hudriar 01:07:20], and his talk about simulation levels. And this is this idea of people being abstracted away from the realities of life. The simple example I use is, people don’t know how to change the oil on their car, or fix a toilet, or how to butcher their own meat, if they had to, et cetera. People who are living in this series of abstractions within abstractions, within abstractions, and then reacting to the abstractions as if they were real [inaudible 01:07:47] levels of simulation, and some [inaudible 01:07:49].
Jim: I don’t know how you pronounce that. And I would just say that’s a bad thing. I think that part of what comes next, and I do sense that metamodernism’s about this too, is to pull people out of this abstracted way of life, and back towards a more real, more convivial, closer to the earth way of living. Next is Hanzi talks about what he calls postmodern values. And frankly, I disagree with him on this. I mean, essentially, his list of postmodern values is basically equality, liberty, and fraternity. And those are good old-fashioned enlightenment values.
Jim: And to the degree that there are some identifiable postmodern values, the one that strikes me the most is intellectual nihilism. The idea that there is no such thing as knowledge, that all knowledge is equal, that you’re just as good to go to a witch doctor as you already go to Johns Hopkins Hospital, et cetera. I realize that’s a cartoon version of intellectual nihilism. But I have not been able to really extract anything very clear with respect to postmodern values. Next is what I’d call the post-modern stance. And this is one that people like Jim Lindsay are writing about, which is a radical anti-enlightenment perspective.
Jim: These are people who claim to be academics, and yet, they are claiming that anti-realism, anti-science give up on the ability to incrementally approach truth. And heck, I’m a student of the sociology of science. I know science is by no means perfect. And not only does it make mistakes even when it’s properly carrying out the game of science, but also the game of science is corrupted by things like funding, career trajectories, credentialization, biased images on who is a scientist, et cetera. But science is a qualitatively different way of knowing over anything we’ve ever created before in the human race. And is a very important part of our way forward. And this post-modern stance trying to subvert, and demote science to be equal to other methods of knowing it’s, to my mind, insane.
Jim: And then, finally, what I would describe as the postmodern tools, things like deconstruction, skepticism about grand narratives, et cetera, and for fun, I looked into the evolution of critical legal studies, started in the ’40s and continued on into the ’70s, and how it then use some of these tools, but then got captured by the stance, and metastasized into something like critical race theory, which is frankly not a theory at all, but rather an ideology.
Jim: So, I think when you talk about the problems, and opportunities from postmodernism, just to say, postmodernism is to include way too much in the bag when it really is important to decompose postmodernism into these various components. And think about what parts of those, if any, ought to be brought forward into a better modernism? And what parts ought to be thought as evolutionary dead ends? So, that’s my take on postmodernism. And I don’t know, I’m not quite sure why Hanzi, and Björkman, and Anderson are so insistent on saying that we go from modernism, to post-modernism, to metamodernism.
Jim: When it strikes me that it’s much more fruitful to think of postmodernism as a modernist heresy, and one that’s, hopefully, a dead end, but which some insights that are useful come from just as Marxist Leninism is a modernist heresy. And yet, there were some things in Marxist Leninism that are useful, and that we will no doubt repurpose as we go forward, and think of it as a three-part step: pre-modernism, modernism, and metamodernism is, to my mind, a much more useful way to think, and think of postmodernism as a spur, a dead end off of modernism from which there are some useful things to extract.
Brent: Yeah, there’s a fair bit of good stuff there. I think there’s problems with all of these taxonomies. And so, I try to problematize the taxonomy itself that it’s not simplistic. So, I’m pretty forgiving with Hanzi’s stage theory because a lot of it is outside my domain. And so, I’m just careful to warn people not to let that domain colonize everything else because it reproduces the problems of the integral community, where everybody just sees everybody in stages, and colors, and uses it to build hierarchies between them.
Brent: I think the intellectual history of these things is far, far more complex. And I was learning about these things a decade ago before they erupted so prominently into the culture war. And there’s just such a mistranslation of it. And that’s the real tragedy is these things are just more complex. And so, to say it’s a heresy or an aberration is to throw the baby out with the bath water. And I would just say that postmodernism, as we agree, it’s so multifaceted that you can’t really distill it to a few things. And there’s many ways to slice it.
Brent: But as part of the education of intellectual history, we need to work through it, and work through structuralism, and post-structuralism, and all the different authors. And some associate with these terms, some [inaudible 01:13:04] these labels altogether. And what’s interesting, I try to distill about it is the alternative discourses, post postmodernism is another one that emerges in the 2000s. And these things all, as I’m seeing it, they necessarily have to reach a convergence point, or epistemic singularity where at least in social sciences there’s a paradigm shift.
Brent: So, what I’m saying is demonizing postmodernism is not a helpful thing or practice because it really negates a lot of useful stuff. And it’s a anti-intellectual knee-jerk reaction to do so, when in fact these things are more complicated. Modernism itself is very complicated. And at the widest abstraction, we could probably have a fun conversation about evolutionary globalization. And going back to the long-term timescales, like what’s going to happen over the next 100 years? A lot of these things are going to get sorted out, but our job in this present moment, as best we can, is to honor the complexity in these different terms.
Brent: So, when something like Marxism comes up … And this is something again, I thought about for 10 years, because I understood that it’s useful. It’s a cornerstone of sociology in some sense, but it doesn’t make any sense to become a political Marxist, and have that be your whole orienting principle either. It’s rather that all of these things need to fit into a hole, and we need to understand all the toolkits, and how it can help us iterate the cleanest version of a discourse.
Jim: Yeah. Or … And again, this would be the Jim Rutt more pragmatic engineering perspective is we should think about all these things as a collection of spare parts. While perhaps, intellectually, metamodernism is irreducibly complex … I’m not quite sure what you mean. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to dig into it. Maybe we’ll do that on another show … At another level, metamodernism is a collection, or at least different people’s forms of metamodernism is a collection of ideas, and techniques which can be read, and understand, and potentially, borrowed, and repurposed into what comes next.
Jim: My own view, as I’ve repeated it multiple times on this episode with various emphases, is I very much doubt any of these theories per se, is what comes next, but rather attributes of them, and learnings from them will provide raw material for experiment, and social evolution using components borrowed from various of these tendencies will gradually converge towards a what’s comes next. Which is actually very liberating for mankind, and where we should all be headed. So, I get much less interested in … I’m glad that you’re doing. It’s useful somebody does it.
Jim: But I’m, personally, much less interested in trying to understand the deep nuances of these things as theory. Because I don’t think theory is really what’s going to get us to the next level. Let’s talk a little bit more about Hanzi’s former metaModernism. It’s the one I know the best. I’ve read both of his books, and spent many hours talking to him. I participate on his mailing list, et cetera. I’ve been involved in a couple of events he’s sponsored, et cetera. And I do find it very interesting. I find his model of the effective value meme with a four dimensional space of hierarchical complexity, essentially, something like actual realized IQ plus or minus code, which is a social operating system, a person is running.
Jim: Their state, their subjective state of being, and the depth, which is essentially the range of states that they’ve experienced in some reasonable period of time. And a simple, and I’ll admit, flattened version of Hanzi metamodernism is I take away that his designed parameter is more or less utilitarianism of state. You simplify it down to the point that the means structure presents itself. And he seems to be advocating. And it seems to me not necessarily a bad idea that the state of people, how we subjectively feel about ourselves, is life good for us?
Jim: Are we self-actualizing ourselves, and becoming better humans? Is really what we should be doing. And we should do that through developing hierarchical complexity. Though, I think he and I both agree there’s only a certain amount of that that you can do, but especially, through crafting new code, new institutions, new ways of living to that end.
Brent: Yeah. And there’s something sublime about it, especially, the two books put together. The second one is much more sociologically-oriented came second, almost necessarily to help bridge this transition I speak of from psychology to sociology. And yeah, they distill it down to things like meditation, and having that in schools, in prison, and the abundant empirical evidence that things like that work. But they do so without fetishizing the individual. The individual is a relational dividual in the system. And yeah, it’s a school of thought that we should all subscribe to, but also try to do what I do, and historicize it, and problematize it.
Brent: And I’ve been lightly critical of the fact that both mainstream versions of metamodernism have a little bit of a white Eurocentric, not a bias, necessarily, but an aesthetic. So, there’s blind spots that other scholars have written about this too. It needs to be teased out. And there is actually few sources for black metamodernism. And so, this is something to keep in mind, whether in the background or the foreground of these discourses that there’s other frames to shift in and out of in order to make Hanzi’s theory even stronger.
Jim: Yeah. And again, I’d look at it as interesting as a theory, but also interesting as a series of parts, which can be borrowed. And that’s how I am approaching essentially all these various things. I mean, I have dug fairly deeply into regenerative ecology, for instance. And I don’t buy that hook line and sinker by any means. On the other hand, some very, very important insights on how we live in balance with the earth. I’m exploring other domains as well. And again, looking for them for piece parts to experiment with. And so, I think that’s a different way to … You and I have a different place that we’re coming from.
Jim: You’re a more formal academic researcher, and as I can tell, a pretty good one. I’m a builder, and a doer looking for things I can reuse. One of the most underappreciated books, Brian Arthur’s book on technology, where he makes the point very clearly that most of what we call technology is not really invention. It’s what he calls innovation. Where various already existing technologies are recombined in new, and sometimes unexpected ways to produce new holes from a different configuration of the parts.
Brent: Yeah. I want to push back a little bit just to say that I think part of Hanzi’s performative move is to build a system that is supposed to be holistic. As if to say, “Well, you shouldn’t dismantle my system, and take what you want, and cast aside what you don’t want.” Because there also might be things like you’re critical of critical race theory. And that may very well be because it’s not that useful to you, personally. So, there’s a risk in trying to dismantle somebody else’s system, especially, if they’ve done it in a way that Hanzi does their … Or the way I do it as well is to be a bit self-effacing about it, and to be forthright, what we’re trying to do is build a holistic system. But, obviously, it’s going to be flawed.
Brent: It’s going to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, a bit pataphysical, if you will, playing with identity. And so, in this regard, I would say, don’t cherry pick from Hanzi’s theory and appropriate things because it might actually work against your own values, ultimately. But rather see what we can do to reconstruct out of the bits. And clearly, there’s many sources to gather tools from, many toolkits. And so, yes, there’s something good about drawing all that into a hyperpluralism, and building something, but we just have to be careful.
Jim: It may be that there are an emergence in metamodernism, and where the result is greater than the sum of the parts. And I continue to actively engage metamodernism. And of all the ideas that I see out there, it’s, I believe, furthest along. So, it’s worth attention and thinking. And maybe it can be nudged into a way that it is the basis for what comes next, or it may serve as a set of piece parts. And I think both are reasonable approaches and what you combine with regenerative ecology, and maybe even transhumanism to come up with something different. Again, this is our fundamental viewpoint perspective, which after spending 10 hours reading your things, I concluded that myself and the Game B movement is looking further afield, and is more pragmatically oriented to remix components from various points of view, trying to experiment our way to what comes next rather than trying to perfect one existing theory, and get it right.
Jim: Either of those could work. Time will tell. Unfortunately, we only got through about two thirds of my topic list, which happens when I have interesting speakers on. We’re at about our time mark here. So, I’ll give you a chance to make any final thoughts, and then we’ll wrap it up.
Brent: Yeah. I wanted to thank you again. And like you said, many things didn’t come up. I hope we can keep talking. And I’ll give an endorsement of you in so far as you’re willing to, on one end fight with me, which is acceptable, if we’re going somewhere with it. It doesn’t end in blockages. And on the other end, we can actually get through that, and work through that. And that’s important. I wanted to make you look good here. You wanted to make me look good. I hope it sends a message to my haters and critics. Because I believe there’s a multiplier effect. It’s very fruitful.
Brent: So, there are certain people who just refuse to talk to me. And I’ve talked to some of these meta-right folks. I talked to lots of leftists, of course. And in the metamodern space, I think it’s very important that we keep the doors open to each other. And if we have a problem that we’re very clear about it. We try to articulate it, and we work through it. And you’ve fulfilled those positive hopes and expectations for me. So, let this be a demonstration for all.
Jim: Yeah, I would agree. I’d like to thank you for adhering to the premise that we agreed to when we did this, that we were going to attempt to be constructive, and friendly, even though, we acknowledge differences, and even show some of the differences. I think we did a great job of it. You’d be amazed how many people … And then probably you can guess some of the names of people that, “You got to be fucking nuts having Brent Cooper on your podcast.” And I said, “Well, why wouldn’t I? I think within the right ground rules, at least, we can have a very useful conversation.” And as you pointed out, not only the conversation itself, but the metasignal that two people who are thought to be enemies … Which I never thought we were, by the way … Can nonetheless have a high quality conversation. So, thanks very much. And hey, maybe we will do this again.
Brent: Yeah, thanks. And I’ll say just quickly, speaking is not my strong suit. These are very complex topics. And so, I appreciate the opportunity to unpack things, and for you to point people to my articles, which are a more cogent representation of my work. And if anyone has a problem with it, reach out to me.
Production services and audio editing by Jared Janes Consulting, Music by Tom Muller at modernspacemusic.com.