Daniel Schmachtenberger shares what he sees about a lot of things.
“…words like Capitalism and science and technology and Democracy, are like Our favorite words, because they gave Us a lot of rad shit, they did. They also created a heap of problems and problems are now catastrophic in scale, where the solutions need to be new stuff. Now People freak out, because if you say something other than Capitalism they think you mean Communism and you want to take their stuff…
Euvie: In one of our previous episodes with you we spoke about how to assess and prevent existential risks. We got a lot of positive feedback on that episode, people really loved it. I know you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the subject since then and you’ve refined your position. I wanted to ask you, what is your current thinking on existential risks and how to deal with them?
Daniel: Alright, great. Very happy to be back with both of you. It’s valuable for us to go up a level when we’re thinking [00:02:30] about risks, existential or just any kind of catastrophic risk. It’s not just a weird fetish topic and it’s not just purely, “There is some risk and we want to survive.” The deeper topic – Future Thinkers, you guys are looking here at the future of economy, the future of sense making, the future of technology, the future of healthcare, the future of ethics, the future of lots of things. In the presence of exponential technology that makes possible changing things that were never possible [00:03:00] to change before, what is the guiding basis for how we utilize that technological power well and make good choices in the presence of that?
We’ve always had a sense that human nature is a certain thing, fixed genetically at whatever level it’s fixed. Then we’re looking at good behaviour within that framework. As soon as we’re at the level of genetic engineering humans as real, at least, thought experiment could be a real possible technology, we could work to genetically engineer all people to be sociopathic hyper [00:03:30] computers who didn’t feel badly about winning at win lose games at all and were optimized for it. We could work to trick our brains into AIs that could take us even further in that direction of being able to win lose games. We could engineer aggression out of ourselves completely.
Then we start to say, “Wow, those are really different realities. What do we want?” Well, we want to win the game. Why do we want to win? There’s an assumed [00:04:00] game that we’re playing against whomever, right, that some ingroup is playing against some outgroup and whether it’s US versus Russia versus China or it’s whatever ingroup outgroup dynamic, we say, “What happens when you keep playing that ingroup outgroup game forever?” Those games have always caused harm. They have a narrow set of metrics that define a win and everything outside of those metrics is externality.
When we’re playing a win lose game, whether it’s person on person or team on team, or whether the team is a tribe or a country [00:04:30] or a company or a race or a whatever it is, right. The ingroup competing against an outgroup for some definition of a win, we’re directly seeking to harm each other, to cause the lose to each other and we’re also indirectly causing harm to the commons, which is we’re competing for the extraction of scarce resource, we are externalizing cost, pollution, whatever it is to the commons. If we’re competing militarily, there’s harm that comes from warfare. We’re polluting the information ecology through disinformation to be able [00:05:00] to maintain the strategic competitive advantage of some information we have.
All of the above is unacceptable to my Ideas about “Direct Democracy”
Level risk games necessarily cause harm. I do not want to cause harm. If you keep increasing your harm causing capacity with technology – and technology that makes better technology that makes better technology, exponentially – exponential harm causing eventually taps out. Eventually, it exceeds the capacity of the playing field to handle and the level of harm is no longer [00:05:30] viable. It’s an important thing to think about that when we think about the risks of weaponized drones or [inaudible [0:05:37] biowarfare or any of the really dreadful things that are very new technologies that we could never do before. They’re not really different in fundamental type than the things that have always sucked.
When we first came out with catapults versus not having those, or canons or whatever it is. They’re just a lot more powerful of the things that have always sucked. It’s important to get that [00:06:00] we have been murdering other people in mass in this thing called war is a reasonable way to deal with the different or to get ahead for a long time, for the whole history of the thing we call civilization. We invent unrenewably plants out of the ground in terms of agriculture, in terms of cutting trees or whatever in ways that lead to desertification for thousands of years.
All the early civilizations that don’t exist anymore don’t exist anymore because they actually led to their own self-termination in really critical ways. It’s not like war and environmental destruction etcetera [00:06:30] is a new topic. If the Mayans fell or the Byzantine or the Mesopotamian or the Roman, even the Roman Empire fell. It wasn’t everything. It was a lot but it wasn’t everything. When you have the ingroup outgroup dynamics keep getting larger – tribe to groups of tribes to villages, [inaudible [0:06:50], kingdom, nation state, global economic trading block – so as to be able to compete with a larger team that keeps having the incentives to do those with [00:07:00] larger weaponry extraction tech, externalization tech, narrative tech, information and disinformation tech, you get to a point where you have – like we have today – a completely globally interconnected supply chain and globally interconnected civilization dynamics because of scale, where the collapse ends up being really a collapse of everything.
The level of warfare possible can actually make an inhabitable biosphere, can actually not just be catastrophic for a local people – which previous wars always war – but catastrophic for people. [00:07:30] Get that rivalrous games have always caused the behaviours of humans that have sucked but exponential suck is existential – that’s an important way of thinking of it. That means that we have to be different than we have ever been in the history of the thing we call civilization to simply not extinct ourselves. The way we have always been has been a smaller scale of the same thing that at this scale is now extinctionary. That’s a big deal because it means that the solutions we’re looking for [00:08:00] do not look like previous best practices, because those were practices at how to win at win lose games where winning at win lose games is now the omni lose lose generator.
It is now the thing that we can’t keep doing. We don’t like to think this deeply about things, we like to take whatever things have been, like the good best practices, and figure out how to iterate a tiny bit and run with those things. Except, the entire toolset of best practices we have are actually why we’re at the brink of a gazillion different ex risks scenarios that are a result of using [00:08:30] those toolsets. Words like capitalism and science and technology and democracy are our favourite words because they give us a lot of rad shit, they did. They also created a heap of problems and problems are now catastrophic in scale, where the solutions need to be new stuff. People freak out because if you say something other than capitalism, they think that you mean communism and you want to take their stuff and have the state force everyone to do shitty jobs.
If you say something other than democracy, again, it’s assumed that it’s going to be like some kind of fascist terrible thing and [00:09:00] something other than science means a regressive religion. No. I want to be very clear that I’m not proposing systems that sucked worse than the current systems we have. I’m proposing deeper level of insights and deeper level of what we would actually call innovation and novelty than have been on the table so far. For instance, democracy. When Churchill said, “Democracy is the single worst form of governance ever created, save for all the other forms,” he was saying something very, very deep, which is democracy’s the best form [00:09:30] of government we’ve ever created and it’s fucking terrible, but all the other ones are even worst, because the idea of government or governance is this really tricky thing where we’re trying to get lots of different humans to cooperate or agree or make choices together and we just suck at that.
He was admitting something very important and true. Jefferson said similar things, which is we were able to get a lot of people to care about each other, to see through each other’s perspective, to make agreements if it’s a [00:10:00] tiny number of people. This was tribes, the history of tribes. That’s why they capped out a very small size was above the size at which you could care about everybody, know about what was going on for everybody, factor their insight, share the same base reality, where if you hurt anyone you were directly hurting someone that you lived with and loved and cared about… As soon as you start getting to a size where you can hurt people without knowing it anonymously, through some supply chain action or voting on something or whatever, it starts to become a totally different reality.
Anonymous people. We’re willing to give up some freedoms for [00:10:30] people we also depend on and care about and have this close bonding with. As soon as we get to larger than tribe dynamics, we have had a real hard time doing that in any way that doesn’t disenfranchise lots of people. We have democracy, it says, “Okay, there’s no way everybody’s going to agree on anything but we still have to be able to move forward and decide if we make a road or not, or go to war or not, or whatever it is. Let’s come up with a proposition of something to do and let’s at least see that more people like it than don’t like it. At least it seems to represent the majority [00:11:00] of thinking. That seems like a reasonable idea.”
Whether we have a representative or not, or it’s 67 percent majority or 51 percent or a voting currency, they’re all different versions but basically of the same idea. Let me explain something about how bad the idea actually is, the catastrophic problems that it creates so democracy will stop being this really wonderful word. It doesn’t mean we don’t give it its due for the beautiful place that it served in history. It’s just it is a place that is in the rear-view mirror in terms of if it continues in the forefront we [00:11:30] actually can’t navigate, it’s not an adequate tool for the types of issues we need to navigate. Again, remember I’m not going to propose any other system ever proposed – propose things that don’t even sound like governance but that sound like a different method of individual and collective sense making and choice making.
Democracy’s a process where somebody or somebodies make a proposition of something, “We’re going to build the bridge this way or go to war,” whatever it is. They make a proposition to benefit something that they’re aware of that they care about. But they’re not aware of everything and they don’t care [00:12:00] about everything that’s connected equally, so other people realize, “Hey, the thing that you want to do is going to fuck stuff up that I care about. That bridge that you want to build so that you can get across the river without driving all the way around is going to kill all the owls in this area and mess up some fisheries. I care about that, the owls and the fisheries.” The other people are like, “Fuck you and the environmental owl, fishery stuff. We need to get to work.”
Can’t We build that bridge without disturbing the Owls? Or, at least, disturb the Owls only a little?
What you have now is a basis where, if the proposition goes through, it will benefit some things and harm other things. [00:12:30] If it doesn’t go through, the thing that would have been benefited now isn’t benefitted but the thing that would have been harmed now isn’t harmed. You will get an ingroup of people that care about the one set more who then band against the outgroup of the people who care about the other thing more. This will always drive polarization. Eventually, the polarization becomes radicalization.
We didn’t even try, in the process, to figure out what a good proposition that might do a better job of meeting [00:13:00] everybody’s needs was. We didn’t even try and do a context map of what are all the interconnected issues here, what would a good design that everybody might like look like, can we even try to find a synergistic satisfier.
With the above observation, Daniel Schmachtenberger has opened up a whole new phase of a Good Direct Democracy. We should try to do the things that he suggests above.
That’s not even part of the conversation. Maybe, rather than make the bridge there, we could make the bridge at just a slightly different area and there’s no owls there. Maybe we can move the owls. Maybe we can use pontoon boats. Maybe we don’t even need to make a bridge because all the transportation back and forth is for one company and we can just move the company’s headquarters. Maybe…
The sense making [00:13:30] to inform the choice making is not a part of the governance process.
Not enough anyway.
It should be part of the governance process. I will try to build this in to Direct Democracy. Maybe as one of the Standards I have written about some.
We really need to apply these sense making Ideas to Direct Democracy Standards.
If I’m making choices blind or mostly blind based on a tiny part of the optics, then other people who have other optics are like, “Wait, that’s not a good choice,” and right now we both know that if one eye shows something but my other eye shows something else, I want to pay attention to both eyes. I don’t want them in a game theoretic relationship with each other, they do parallax and give me depth perception.
Is Daniel talking about Compromise here?
My eyes and my ears don’t want to make each other the same. They actually really want to do different [00:14:00] functions but they also want to pay attention to each other. If I hear something and I think that it was over there and I’m going to go away from it but my eyes tell me it’s actually somewhere else, I want to pay attention to all of my sense making. My brain is doing this really interesting process of taking all of this different sensory information, putting it together, and trying to pay attention to all of it to make a choice that’s informed by all that sense making.
We have never been able to think about governance processes like this, where we start with, “How would a group of people that are inter-effecting each other, that are inter-effecting [00:14:30] within a particular context as sense making nodes be able to share their sense making in a way that could create parallax? It could actually synthesize into a picture that could create design criteria of what is actually meaningful, good, desired etcetera by everybody that could work towards progressively better synergistic satisfiers that are based less on theory of trade-offs, that will always create some benefit at some harm which will lead to some ingroups fighting some outgroups that will lead to increased seeking [00:15:00] of power on both sides that will eventually turn into a catastrophic self-terminating scenario.
When we look at it, we see that this type of scenario has always led to left right polarization that eventually becomes radicalization that ends in war to stabilize.
Surely, it should be a goal of Direct Democracy to avoid “radicalization” and “war”. Surely “Stabilization” can be achieved without these negatives?
You can’t keep having war with exponential tech where nonstate actors have existential level tech. You just can’t keep doing that. The thing that we’ve always done we can’t ever do anymore. That’s a big deal. We also are able to think about how do brains put the information from [00:15:30] eyes and ears together. How do a bunch of neurons coming together in neural networks to make sense in a way that none of them individually do? How do 50 trillion cells as autonomous entities operate in your body in a way that is both good for them as individuals and good for the whole simultaneously, where they are neither operating at their own benefit of the expense of the ones that they depend on nor are they damaging themselves for the other.
Whew! Good question! But I Think this is , to some degree, more achievable if We just try to better understand this powerful mystery. But I Think probably We will end up partially satisfying Our needs AND the needs of Others and finding it within Ourselves to be satisfied with this. “All or Nothing at All”, has to come to an end.
They are really in an optimized symbiosis because the system depends on them and they depend on the system. [00:16:00]
Ahhhh! An important conceptual hint for Us here. Something that We need to seriously consider and Make Sense of!
That means that they depend on each other and the system etcetera. Can we start to study these things in a different way that gives us novel insights into how to be able to have higher level organization, collective intelligence, collective adaptive capacity, collective sense making, actuation capacity? The answer is yes, we can and we can see that that’s not the thing that we’ve called democracy.
YES! WE CAN! And I agree with Daniel that this is NOT what We call Democracy. But, We might be able to call it “Direct Democracy”…an Evolution from “Democracy”.
The thing that we’ve called democracy is some process of a proposition based on some very limited sense making with some majority that is always going to [00:16:30] lead to polarization, that’s going to lead to the group that doesn’t get it feeling disenfranchised and then having them typically against a group as a whole and then the warfare that occurs between them of whatever kind, whether info warfare or actual warfare.
Yes. This may not be avoided completely, but We can surely do Better at avoiding “polarization”, than We have so far. I’ll settle for what I can get about this.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because democracy was great compared to just a terrible fascist dictator. It definitely is not adequate to the complexity of the problems we have to solve, nor can we continue to handle the kinds of polarization [00:17:00] and problematic dynamics that it inexorably creates. The same is true with capitalism, the same is true with the thing that we call science and tech, which is probably the hardest one, I’ll get to that one last. The thing that we call capitalism, we all know the positive story there that it incents people being self-responsible and being industrious and seeking to bring better products and services to the market at a better value, and those who do will get ahead and they should get ahead because they’re going to be good stewards of resource because they got the resource by bringing [00:17:30] products and services at a value that people cared about etcetera.
We know that story. There is some truth to it like there was some truth to the democracy story and it served evolutionary relevance and it most certainly can’t take us to the next set of steps.
I’ll stop responding here. The following Truths will be addressed eventually.
For instance, the thing that we call money and ownership, you can actually think of it related to governance as a type of choice making process. You don’t think about deeply enough the nature of what these types of structures are. If I have a bunch [00:18:00] of money it means I have concentrated choice making capacity, because I now want to make a choice that I can extend through a bunch of employees. I can have a bunch of them working aligned with my sense making on my behalf to increase my actuator capacity, or I can get physical resources to be able to build something that extends my actuator capacity.
We recognize a system that ends up determining who has resource and then the resource ends up being a way that some people are actually directing [00:18:30] the choice making of other people as a choice making system. We say, “Well, it’s actually a shitty choice making system, because the idea that those who have the money are better choice makers for the whole is just silly. It’s just really silly. Even if someone did bring good products or services to market effectively, that doesn’t mean there are kids who inherit it that do and it doesn’t mean that I can’t make money by extraction rather than production that is not debasing the environment and it doesn’t mean that I didn’t externalize.
I figured out how to externalize more harm than cost to the commons [00:19:00] than somebody else did, which drove my margins up so I got more of it. And it didn’t mean that I didn’t do war profiteering, right? We start to realize, okay, that’s just actually a shitty choice making system. We stop even thinking about what is the future of economics and the future of governance, because the words are so loaded that we just can’t help ourselves but boot bad concepts when we think of those words. We start thinking about us humans are making choices, individually and in groups, based on information that we have [00:19:30] towards some things that we value and hope to have happened. How do we get better on value frameworks, what we really seek to benefit, how do we get better on our sense making processes and how do we get better on our choice making processes?
What is the future of individual and collective value frameworks, sense making, choice making processes. That ends up being what obsoletes the things we call economics and governance now. We come back to capitalism for a minute. Okay, not only is it just not a great choice [00:20:00] making system and not only does it end up actually being a pretty pathological choice making system because it’s easier to extract than it is to actually produce and it’s easier to rip off what someone else worked really hard on than it is to work really hard on making the thing and it’s easier to externalize cost to the commons than not etcetera. We say, “Okay, it’s not just that, it’s that we’ve got 70 trillion dollars worth of economic activity, give or take, trade hands,” depending on what you consider a dollar, “where pretty much all of that externalizes [00:20:30] harm at some point along the supply chain.”
Meaning, the physical goods economy required mining and turns it into trash on the other side. The linear materials economy is destructive to the environment, causes pollution along the whole thing etcetera. Causes marketing to be able to drive it that is polluting people’s minds with a bunch of manufactured discontent etcetera. Drives disinformation of some companies trying to disinform other ones to maintain strategic advantage is [00:21:00] running on dollars that are supported by militaries. You just think about the whole thing, you’re like, “Wow, okay, even the things that I think are good like just the movement of what those dollars are is externalizing harm in an exponential way that is moving towards catastrophic tipping points.”
Alright, that can’t work. Then even worse, you say, alright, let’s take a look at Facebook for a minute because Facebook, since the last time we talked, between Russia and Cambridge Analytica and Tristan etcetera, there’s a lot more [00:21:30] understanding of the problem of platforms that have a lot of personal data but also have their own agency with respect to you. We say, okay, Facebook wants to maximize time on site because they make money by selling marketing. The more users are on site more often, the more they can charge for the marketing so they figure out, they use very complex AI, analytics, split testing etcetera, to see exactly what will make online stickiest for you possible. [00:22:00] You happen to feel really left out when you see pictures of your friends doing whit without you and that makes you click and look and it makes you feel really bad, but they optimize the shit out of that in your feed because it’s what you actually stay on.
Other people it’s the hyper normal stimuli of the girls that are all airbrushed and photoshopped that makes them stay on, or whatever it is. It’ll always be a hyper normal stimuli. If you think about the way that McDonalds wanted to make the most addictive shit or Coca Cola or Philips Morris, if I am on the supply side of [00:22:30] supply and demand, I want to manufacture artificial demand because I want to maximize lifetime value of a customer, lifetime revenue. If I can make you addicted to my stuff, that’s the most profitable thing. When you look around at a society that has ubiquitous rampant addiction of almost all kinds everywhere, you realize that’s just good for business, that’s good for JDP.
We see that Facebook is just by its own nature doing what it’s supposed to be doing – public company, fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders, maximize profit blah, blah, blah – is they’re going to maximize your time on site and [00:23:00] maximizing your time on site is going to work better by hyper normal stimuli that make you addicted than by things that make you sovereign more because you actually realize that your life is better when you get the fuck off Facebook and go hang out with real people. It has to drive addiction and discontent and whatever else. It’s really good at a bunch of crafty tricks for how to do that.
We see then that corresponding with that is the rise of bulimia and anorexia and all kinds of body dysmorphia. We see that corresponding with it is depression and probability for suicide rates. [00:23:30] We see that the hyper normal stimuli of polarizing news grabs people more than non-polarizing news because fights in an evolutionary environment are really important things to pay attention to, they’re a kind of hyper normal stimuli. The most polarizing names are going to show up on YouTube videos and get the most traction. You notice whenever there’s a debate and it’s supposed to be a friendly debate, you look at the name of the YouTube video that gets the most shares and it’s, “So and so eviscerates so and so.”
Mike: Yeah, “Destroys this person.”
Daniel: [00:24:00] Yeah. That hyper normal stimuli grabs us in the [inaudible [0:24:03] in the worst way possible, makes the worst versions of us but it fucking maximizes time on site. Now, you look at it and you say, okay, the net result of Facebook is increased radicalization in all directions, increased broken sense making, decreased sense making, increased echo chamber and antipathy at a level that will increase both the probability of civil wars and world wars and everything else, [00:24:30] increased teen depression and suicide rates and shopping addictions. You’re like, “Wow, this is fucking evil. This is a really terrible thing.” Does Facebook want to do that? We could almost make up a conspiracy theory that Facebook has optimized how to make the world worst as fast as possible.
No, Facebook doesn’t want to do that. Facebook is just trying to make a dollar and justify to itself that it should continue to exist. It just happens to be that how it makes a dollar has the externality of all that stuff in the same way that when Exon was making a dollar or when the military industrial complex [00:25:00] or a sick care industry that makes money when people are sick and not when they’re healthy. Fuck, okay, look at that whole thing. Capitalism is inexorably bound to perverse incentive everywhere. At an even deeper structural level, if we tried to fix that, we’d say, okay, we’re competing to own stuff and the moment you own something I no longer have access to it, even if you’re not using it, even if you hardly [00:25:30] ever use that whatever it is, drill that you don’t even remember where you put it.
I don’t have access to it. As a result, there’s a scarce amount of this stuff. The stuff that is more scarce, we make more valuable. Then you own it, I don’t have access to it but because you want to be able to provide for your future or whatever and there’s uncertainty, you want to own all the shit that you can and pull it out of circulation, put it in safes and security boxes. That takes a lot of resource from the earth where everything you own is just bothering [00:26:00] me, because it’s being removed from my possible access. We are in a rivalrous relationship with each other because the nature of the good itself is rivalrous because of the ownership dynamic, right, and the valuation on scarce things in particular. Everybody can say, “It makes sense why we value scarce things,” because if there’s enough for everybody it doesn’t have the same type of advantages if there’s not enough for everyone to make sense, except the problem, of course, is if we make decisions based on an economic calculus, [00:26:30] which we do the CFO looks at the numbers and says, “No, this quarter we have to do this,” and they’re only paying attention to the numbers they’re paying attention to.
If air isn’t worth anything, because there’s enough of it for everybody, and I can’t increase my strategic competitive advantage over you by hoarding more air, then air is worth nothing. Even though we all die without it, literally it is valueless to us and our economic calculus. We will pollute the shit out of it and burn the shit out of it, fill it full of CO2, pull the O2 out of it in the oxidizing [00:27:00] of hydrocarbons, because we don’t factor it because it’s not scarce and doesn’t provide competitive advantage, whereas the gold on the other hand, the gold we will fight wars over, we’ll destroy environments and cut down trees to mine it out that were actually putting the oxygen in the air that we don’t give a shit about so that we can put the gold in a safety deposit box that we don’t ever look at and doesn’t get to do anything other than be noted on my balance sheet as some increased competitive advantage that I have over you.[00:27:30] Because if there’s not enough for everybody to have it, then I get some competitive advantage by having it and you don’t. The value is proportional to that, not the real physical asset of what that metal could do, which is why the metal is not actually being used in electronics, it’s being in gold bars and [inaudible [0:27:42] and wherever else. This is all insane and, of course, we see that the moment that we make abundant things worthless – even if they’re the foundation of life – and we make scarce things worth a lot – even if they’re meaningless – then it creates a basis to [00:28:00] artificially manufacture scarcity and avoid abundance everywhere. If I have something I supply and I make it abundant, then all of a sudden it’s worth nothing, which is why if I make some software that I could give to the whole world for free once I’ve made it – I just have to make enough money to have made it – no, no, no. I’m going to patent protect and come sue you if you figure out how to pirate it so that I can keep charging you, even though I have no unit cost.
I’ve actually solved the scarcity problem and I’m going to artificially manufacture [00:28:30] scarcity to keep driving my balance sheet equation. The Kimberly diamond mines burn and crush their diamonds because we thought diamonds were scarce, we made the price high, then we realized they weren’t scarce and the people who had the price high didn’t want that to be known etcetera, etcetera. If we want a world of abundance for everybody, we can actually technologically engineer the scarcity out, create abundance everywhere is a feasible thing to do and we can talk more about that later. You can’t have an incentive on scarcity and engineer it out at the same time. Now, there’s scarce stuff, we’re competing for it.
You own it, [00:29:00] which means you possess it and you remove my capacity for access. I want to own it faster than you own it. Now, we get into a tragedy of the commons and a multi-polar trap thing. Say I go cut down a tree in the forest. I don’t need that many trees right now but you’re in this other tribe and you’re going to go cut down some of the trees. I would like there to be a forest rather than a total clear-cut environment, because forests are beautiful and I grew up with the forests and I like the animals that are there. I know that if I don’t [00:29:30] cut down the trees and I leave the trees, there still won’t be a forest because you’re going to cut down the trees. Since you’re going to cut down for the trees and the other tribe knows that, they know that I’m going to. We say, “Fuck it, I got to cut down all the trees as fast as I can because, if there’s going to be no trees anyways, I might as well get them rather than them get it because if they have increased economic power over me they’re going to use those pieces of wood against me in war or in an economic competition.
Now, we all increase the rate of the destruction of the forest as fast as we fucking can, even though we’d all like a forest, because we’re caught in a multi-polar prisoner’s dilemma [00:30:00] with no good way out. The tragedy of the commons is a multi-polar trap. The arms race where we say, “You know what, we should just not make weaponized AI, we should just not do that.” Everyone in the world thinks the idea of facial recognition weaponized AI drones is a world that would be better not to live in. Nobody wants to live in that world. It doesn’t matter how rich or powerful you are, you’re not fucking safe to a bunch of bad scenarios in that world. [00:30:30] But we’re all making them, everybody’s advancing the fucking tech. Why are we doing that?
Why don’t we just make a treaty not to do it? Because if we make a treaty, we secretly know that the other guy’s going to defect on it secretly. If he gets the tech first, it’s a world war and he’ll beat us. He knows that we’re going to defect on it. Either we make the treaty and we all defect on it secretly while agreeing to it publicly while trying to spy on the other guys, while trying to disinform their spies about what we’re actually doing. Or, we just don’t [00:31:00] even fucking agree to it. We move forward towards a world that increases the probability of extincting all of every day, in this scenario, these multi-polar traps. We’ll come back to this, I was on capitalism but I’m going to come back to this multi-polar trap so please remind to do it.
One of the things we have to solve at a generator function level is multi-polar traps as a category, meaning all instances of them [00:31:30] categorically. Because a multi-polar trap basically means where the local optimum for an individual agent, if they pursue it, leads to the global minimum for the whole. If I don’t make the nukes or the AI or take the tree down, I’ll get fucked right now. If I do it, I don’t get fucked right now, as we all do it, we all get worse fucked later. You made a scenario where the [00:32:00] incentive of the agent short-term locally is directly against the long-term global wellbeing. That is the world at large right now and capitalism is inexorably connected to that, because it drives these rivalrous dynamics and rivalrous dynamics are the basis of multi-polar traps.
I could just sound depressing, except there are actually solutions to all of these things. There is a basis for how we deal with physical stuff that is not you owning some scarce thing [00:32:30] and removing my access. We all know examples of it, we know that when you go to the grocery store and you use a shopping cart, you don’t bring your own shopping cart that you own which would be a major pain in the ass and I don’t do that. You have access to a cart where there’s enough carts that during peak hours, the busiest hours, there’s enough carts for everybody and enough leftover for repairs. Your access to the cart does not decrease my access to carts. I’m not upset that you got a cart. We’re not in any competition over carts. Because I only need enough [00:33:00] for there to be enough during peak time – which is maybe 200 people – I only need 200 carts, 220 carts, even though that store might service 10,000 people a month.
Think about 200 carts versus 10,000 carts, how much less resource it is from the environment, how much more efficient it is. You start saying, “Alright, let’s look at other places where this thing could happen.” We say, “Well, we’ve owned cars as a good and when you own a car I no longer have access to it.” Then you’re mostly [00:33:30] just going to leave it sitting and hardly ever use it. You’ll use it now and again, but it’s going to spend 95 percent of its life just sitting places. As a result of that, there’s a lot of fucking cars to not provide that much transportation. That’s a lot of metals taken out of the earth and a lot of plastics and a lot of actual environmental costs to be able to make those, to have most of them never in use.
You start to say, “Okay, we look at car sharing like Uber and Lift and whatever and we start moving there from a possession of a good [00:34:00] to an access of a service.” That’s pretty cool. We still got to pay for it, it’s still kind of shitty because there’s not enough of it to give me access to go everywhere but it’s pretty easy to imagine that that thing takes over. Then you use something like blockchain to disintermediate the central company that’s pulling the profits out of it. Now, it’s cheaper access for everybody and puts more resource back into the quality of transportation and then it becomes self-driving cars, so it doesn’t actually even have that cost it’s just a self-maintaining dynamic. You say, “[00:34:30] Okay, now it takes a tiny fraction of the metals coming out of the earth to provide higher quality transportation units for everyone, where you having access to transportation as a commonwealth service does not decrease my access to transportation as a commonwealth service.
But when you use transportation to go to school and learn stuff, or go to a makers studio and make stuff, or go to a music studio and make stuff, you’re going to make stuff that also becomes part of a commonwealth, enriches the commons that I have access to. We move from a rivalrous [00:35:00] ownership of scarce goods to an anti-rivalrous access to shared commonwealth resources. We went from rivalrous, not just to non-rivalrous meaning uncoupled – and in rivalrous we’re anti coupled, your wellbeing is directly against mine – but now to anti-rivalrous, which is a coupled good where, as you have access to more resources that make you more generative, what you generate enriches the commons that I have access to, so I am engendered, I am incented [00:35:30] to want to give you the maximum to support you having the maximum access to generative resources.
I’m not explaining all of what the future of the economic system looks like right now, but to just start giving a sense. When we think about the problems of capitalism, there have been problems associated with it forever but the scale of the problems is just more catastrophic now. I’m also sharing examples of ways that we can start shifting some of the things that we couldn’t shift previously, some of the things that neither Marx nor Smith [00:36:00] had available to them. This is very interesting. We have to shift off these systems and we can at the same time. This is, to me, a very interesting development insight when I look at biology in particular, is that if we look at the 40 weeks of a baby in utero – we’ve talked about this before but I’ll bring it up in this context – it couldn’t be born much earlier. It would be premi and without an ICU or whatever it would die.
It also couldn’t stay much longer, it would get too big and never be able to be born, kill the mum and kill itself. It comes out in a pretty [00:36:30] narrow window, where it both for the first time can – it actually now has the capacities – and has to, it can’t stay any longer. It’s interesting, it’s got 40 weeks on one growth path. It’s growing the whole time, there’s a growth curve. It’s not going to stay on that growth curve forever. If we tried to forecast its future and just continue the progression of 40 weeks, around 50 weeks it kills itself and the mum. That’s not the thing, it goes through this discreet non-linear phase that if I had never seen it before I’d have no idea how to predict. [00:37:00] Out of the birth canal, umbilical cord cut, respiration to the lungs, stuff coming in through the mouth rather than the belly button. Everything’s different and it does it in a way that’s unprecedented the whole 40 weeks that it’s existed previously.
If I tried to plot the curve of what has been, it is not that. It does it both when it has to and can. If we look at any type of development phase – chicken developing inside of an egg, if it tried to come out earlier it’s still goo, if it tried to stay in later it’ starves. If we look at a caterpillar to [00:37:30] butterfly through chrysalis, same thing. If it tried to just keep eating it would eat itself to extinction, if it tried to go into the chrysalis earlier it doesn’t have enough resources to make a butterfly, it would die and the chrysalis is partial goo. This is really interesting that when we look at discreet non-linear phase shifts, where there’s one phase – the caterpillar’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger, eating everything in its environment and if I just forecast it keeps being that, I forecast it eats all the environment and then dies, except that’s not what happens.
It does this really different thing that is not [00:38:00] an extension of the previous curve. When we try to take our capitalism curve, our nationalism curve, our science and tech curve and keep extending them, it’s just fucking silly and it’s why we come up with silly stuff like it [inaudible [0:38:11] into infinity with the singularity. On one side, if we take all the things that seem like they’re good then we [inaudible [0:38:17] into a singular. If we take the things that look bad, then it just goes into self-extinction. It’s neither of those curves, because shit is getting exponentially more powerful, which means better and worse at the same time. That means it’s neither of those curves, that means [00:38:30] that this phase is just coming to an end, it’s destabilizing.
The things that are getting exponentially worse will end the phase before the things that are getting exponentially better will change the nature of those things. That means that we’re actually going to get something altogether, if it is other than extinction. It’s very interesting that we’re at the place where these types of dynamics both have to change right now, because we have catastrophic level tech that we never had to have the same things that always sucked be [00:39:00] unsurvivable, and can change because we actually have the level of insights that make possible things that are different at a deep enough axiomatic level. It’s like when you’ve got a bunch of cells competing against each other and then there’s this metamorphosis where now they’re inside of a slime mould and they’re part of a multi-site organism where they’re participating together as part of a shared identity.
That’s a really deep level of reorganization. People going from that shift as separate, rivalrous, competitive agents [00:39:30] modelling themselves as apex predators trying to compete with each other to be the most apex predator and predate the environment. We modelled ourselves as apex predators, right, that was an easy thing to do. We look around at nature and we’re more like lions than gazelles. We look a lot like chimpanzees, they’re kind of badass hunter apex predator, they coordinate etcetera. We’re like, “That’s cool, we’ll do the apex predator thing.” We both want to see where we can get in the dominance hierarchies, we get to add the prestige hierarchy but how we do [00:40:00] within our tribe than our tribe as a whole, our species as a whole relative to the other species is in this apex position.
There’s a reason why we cannot think that way anymore. Again, we thought this way forever and we cannot think this way anymore. When I say we thought this way forever, I don’t mean every indigenous tribe thought this way, because they didn’t. They had a web of life and were merely a strand in types of thoughts. The ones that thought this way became more apex predators and killed those other people. It was effective to try and do this apex predator thing up until now. Now, it also destroys everything. [00:40:30] Again, the thing that has been adaptive is now anti-adaptive, which is why the thoughts that have made us win are the thoughts that make us extinct now. If I take an apex predator, how its ability to be a predator, its ability to kill other things and compete with the other predators for who’s most badass is pretty fixed and it’s pretty symmetrically bound with its environment.
Lions can’t get better at killing faster than gazelles get better at running. [00:41:00] They coevolve where the lions slowly get a little bit better at some things and the gazelles also get better at other things. If the lions just rapidly got way better, they’d kill all the gazelles and then debase their own capacity to keep living and then they’d be extinct. If great whites could make mile long drift nets and just take all the fucking fish out of the ocean and reproduce at an exponential rate, they would have already self-induced their extinction but they can’t. All the years, the great whites never got a drift net but we have drift nets and we have nuclear weapons and we have D9s and we have [00:41:30] the ability to technologically extend our predatory capacity and to do so in a way that is exponential and that makes us completely asymmetric with the environment that we depend on.
Again, I come back to the lion and I say, alright, the most badass lion, the most badass gorilla is not like 10x more badass than the next most badass gorilla. It’s like, marginally better. Marginally can win at a fight and only for a pretty short [00:42:00] period of time before the next guy takes him. Then you look at a Putin or a Trump and you say, “How much military capacity does that one person have to bare if they wanted to, or economic capacity compared to, say, a homeless guy?” You look at the spread and you’re like, “Oh, this is a very different distribution of power than any other species has.” Other species did not have a million x power dynamics within the same species or billion x. Freakin’ tremendous. Or that much more power [00:42:30] relative to their environment.
If the lions could get technologically more advanced than their predation faster than the gazelles could, it would debase the stability of the entire ecosystem. The thing to realize is if a cancer cell starts replicating in a way that’s good for it, it’s actually getting more sugar and replicating faster inside the body, if it keeps doing that it kills its host and kills itself, it is ultimately suicidal. Its own short-term success is suicidal. Viruses that kill people too quickly don’t propagate for very long because they kill their host and they don’t get a chance to propagate. The [00:43:00] viruses that are less lethal end up being the ones that get selected for over a longer period of time, because they get a chance to propagate. If there was a species that was so good at hunting that it killed everything in its environment, then it would go extinct.
It’s not the most competitive advantage that makes it through, it’s self-stabilizing ecosystems that make it through. This is such a way more complete understanding of evolution, which is individuals within a species don’t make it through because they wouldn’t have survived without the whole species. Species don’t even make it through [00:43:30] because they wouldn’t survive without other species. Whole evolutionary self-stabilizing niches make it through. That’s fucking important, right?
Mike: Yeah, this whole idea of survival of the fittest is challenged with this concept because at no point is survival of the fittest taking the whole system into account going forward infinitely. It has to go through that phase shift.
Daniel: Yeah, survival of the fittest was something that had a local truth but was not the [00:44:00] only global phenomena that was operating, because there was also a tremendous amount of cooperation that was happening. Cooperation within members of a species with each other and between species and inter-dependence on each other. Again, the idea of competition is hyper normal stimuli, it was an early hyper normal stimuli hijack like sugar and porn and airbrushed pictures and likes on Facebook. In an evolutionary environment, fights standout even though they’re not mostly what’s happening. Mostly, if I am in a forest [00:44:30] there’s a gazillion interactions happening every second of [inaudible [0:44:32] soil bacteria having a relationship with each other and gas exchange between me and the plants, that’s just boring but it’s almost everything.
Then I see a couple lions fighting and I’m like, “Shit, that’s really interesting, survival of the fittest.” There is this hyper normal stimuli that made us actually miss-emphasize what was happening as a part of the phenomena – it was not all of the phenomena – miss-emphasize it. There’s also this thing that, as we’re moving forward right now, the way [00:45:00] we have been applying that thinking, which is that some individual agent or some ingroups – countries, companies, races, whatever – some ingroups can be more fit to survive than others through better militaries, or better economic extraction tech, or better info and disinfo in narrative tech. That has always been true.
I’m not criticizing that that was always true and even necessary. If one tribe killed another tribe [00:45:30] and their life got better because now the other tribe wasn’t competing for pigs with them and now they got all the kids and the got all the stone tools that their tribe had made and whatever, they’re like, “Shit, I realize that this killing other tribes thing is actually a pretty good evolutionary strategy.” Now, all the other tribes have to build militaries or die by default. The win lose game becomes obligate. One, the win lose game worked, it actually worked if you were good at it. Two, it was obligate, which is if you didn’t do it, you got killed [00:46:00] by Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great or whoever the fuck it was.
When we look at cultures that did not focus on militaries but focused on the arts and humanities and education and healthcare etcetera, they outcompeted the other cultures in terms of quality of life but that wasn’t where the thing actually got decided. They all got murdered. The really effective murdering cultures combined and combined and made it through and that’s us today. Yet, the tools of murdering and the tools of environmental extraction are going up and up until [00:46:30] we’re at a level where the playing field just cannot handle that game anymore. You can’t keep extracting more stuff from the environment when you’ve already got to peak resource, when you’ve got the biodiversity issues and species extinction issues etcetera you can’t keep polluting an environment when you’ve got dead zones in the ocean from nitrogen runoff and CO2 levels in the air etcetera getting to the point of cataclysm.
You can’t keep doing increasing military tech following exponential tech curves, where [00:47:00] then non-state actors can have fully catastrophic level tech and you can’t even monitor it, you just can’t keep playing that game. This is the just is that the thing that has always defined the game is that it’s always been a rivalrous game theoretic environment, and the rivalrous game theoretic environment, if it can, produce tech that keeps increasing will always self-terminate at a point and we just happen to be in the eminence of that point. This is the first generator function of X risk. Now, [00:47:30] we take this all the way back to the beginning of the conversation – I obviously got longwinded.
At the beginning of the conversation we said, “Why are we focusing on risk?” If we’re focused on, “How do we design a civilization that is actually good, that’s beautiful, that’s desirable?” Those are hard terms and we’ll get to that in a minute, that starts to get to some of the inadequacy of the thing we call science right now and its incommensurability with ethics, we’ll get to that. What does a beautiful civilization look like? [00:48:00] The first thing we can say easily is that it doesn’t self-terminate. If it self-terminates, we can mostly all agree that’s actually not a desirable thing. If it is inexorably self-terminating, it is structurally self-terminating – not just one little accident that we can solve but overdetermined through mini-vectors because of underlying generators functions, that’s not a good civilization design.
The first design criteria of an effective civilization is that it’s not self-terminating. Then we say, “[00:48:30] What are the things that cause self-termination?” What we find is that even though there are a gazillion different ways that it can express, ways that it can actually happen, it’s from very deep underlying dynamics that, if we understand those and we solve them at the dynamics level, we fix all of them. The first one is this topic we’ve been talking about and we’ve talked about previously, which is that rivalrous games multiplied by exponential technology self-terminate, because rivalrous games cause [00:49:00] harm with power and more power ends up being more harm until it’s more than is handable at the playing field. We got that. Exponential tech, whether we’re looking at a scenario of everything getting fucked up by AI or by bio warfare or by nanotech stuff or by so many different types of scenarios, those are all the same types of choices humans have been making just with those exponential powers added.
Given that we cannot put those technologies away, [00:49:30] we cannot get the world to stop making them, much as often wish we could. We either figure out how to move from a rivalrous to an anti-rivalrous environment that is developing and deploying those technologies, or we self-terminate. This is the first design criteria is that we have to create rigorously anti-rivalrous environments. It doesn’t end up being all of it. I’ll do two generator functions, that’s one. That is [00:50:00] what we see in terms of all of the either exponential tech risks or war risks or economic collapse leading to failed state scenario risks, they all come from things like that. All of the environmental biosphere collapse stuff is also related to tech getting bigger, we’re fishing out more fish as we’re putting more CO2.
It also relates to that but it’s a slightly different thing that we look at here, which is whether we’re talking about CO2 [00:50:30] in the air or mercury in the air or the water, or micro-plastics in the water or a continent of plastic in the ocean, or nitrogen affluent in the river deltas. Those are all toxicity dynamics, those are all basically stuff that has accumulated somewhere that it shouldn’t have, we call that pollution. We don’t need to solve the dead zones issue or the CO2 issue, or that we have to solve all of those categorically, that we’re not creating accumulation dynamics. [00:51:00] On the other side of that same coin, is depletion dynamics, cutting down all the old growth forests, fishing out all of the fish, species extinction, biodiversity loss, peak nitrogen, peak oil etcetera. Those are all where we are using something in a way that depletes it.
Then it gets turned into [inaudible [0:51:21] pollution on the other side where it accumulates somewhere. We can define toxicity formally as depletion or accumulation because of an open loop in a [00:51:30] network diagram. If the loop was closed, the things wouldn’t accumulate, they would go back to the source of where we would get something from so it wouldn’t have to deplete. We notice that when we see any kind of natural system – we’ll go to nuclear system – whether it’s a coral reef or a forest or whatever, when we go to a forest there is not trash. The body of something dies, it’s compost. There’s faeces, it’s compost. Something gets cut and bleeds, it processes. It doesn’t matter what it is. Anything you can think about that is part of that environment [00:52:00] from an evolutionary sense, the environment’s evolved to be able to process.
There’s also no unrenewable use of anything. Anything that is utilized is utilized in a closed loop fashion. One of the things we see in complex systems, in natural systems, is comprehensive loop closure. One of the things we notice about the human design systems is open loops everywhere. The materials economy itself, learning materials economy that takes version stuff and turns it into trash after using it for a very short period of time is a [00:52:30] macro-open loop. There’s micro-open loops everywhere. We have to categorically solve that. We have to basically close all of those loops. Another way of saying what this generator function of issues is is that the stuff that nature makes is what we call complex, it’s self-organizing, self-creating, self-organizing, self-repairing.
The stuff we make, design tools, is complicated. It’s rad, the computer we’re talking on is rad. If [00:53:00] it got broken, it would not self-repair and it didn’t self-organize, it was made, whatever design, from the outside. We can think about complex stuff comes about through evolution, complicated stuff comes about through design. Two different types of creative processes with fundamentally different characteristics. Complex stuff has comprehensive loop closure everywhere, because it couldn’t externalize something and still be selected for adaptivity. The adaptiveness factors everything. Whereas, [00:53:30] if I’m building something I might make it for one reason or two or three reasons, but it actually affects a lot of other stuff but the other stuff wasn’t what I was trying to optimize for, so there ends up being more externalities occur.
Even this computer I’m talking to you on right now was not optimized – it was optimized for a bunch of things, so it’s really cool. The fact that it’s got a backlit screen that is 2D that’s at a fixed focal length from my eyes where I’m getting macular degeneration from spending too many hours on it was one of the things that… My eye health was not one of the things it was built to try and focus [00:54:00] on. Or, the fact that it’s fucking up my posture ergonomically by me looking down at the screen, it wasn’t one of the things it tried to focus on. It was a gazillion other things. What happened to the environment and the supply chain process of getting the metals to make it or the making of this computer affected a gazillion things that were not part of its design criteria, which means them making of it required externalizing a bunch of harm, i.e. a bunch of open loops where it affected stuff that was not internalized to the process.
We can see that if a forest burns, it repairs itself. [00:54:30] If a house burns, it does not repair itself. If my computer gets broken, it doesn’t fix itself but if I cut myself it fixes. There’s this fascinating difference. The reason we’re bringing this up is to say for something to be anti-fragile it has to be complex. Complexity is the defining origin of anti-fragility. Complicated things are all ultimately fragile, more or less fragile. If we have a situation where complicated systems [00:55:00] subsume their complex substrate, then this means continue to grow. Basically, we’re converting the complexity of the natural world into the complicated built world and it’s continuing to grow, it will eventually collapse because the complicated world – and if you notice, it’s just like my computer, the water infrastructure is complicated, not complex.
The pipes don’t self-repair, they can break easily, they’re subject to being broken on purpose or accident. The same is true with everything – [00:55:30] the roads, the energy grid, everything. Now, when I look at globalization, I say, “I’ve got an increasingly interconnected complicated world that is increasingly more complicated where the failures anywhere can trigger failures in more places, because nowhere can actually make its own stuff anymore, because their shit is complicated enough, it has to be made across this whole thing. This computer we’re speaking on took six continents to make. If China did, everywhere is fucked. [00:56:00] If the US died… There are so many places. If mining wasn’t accessible in Africa, everywhere’s fucked.
We see an increasingly interconnectedly complicated, which also means increasingly fragile built world that we’re trying to run exponentially more energy through, in terms of human activity, dollars, etcetera, etcetera. That’s happening while decreasing the complexity of the biosphere far enough that [00:56:30] its own anti-fragility is going away, we’re getting to a place where, rather than climate being self-stabilizing, it can go into auto-destabilizing, positive feedback cycles where the biodiversity is getting low enough that you can get catastrophic shifts in the nature of the [inaudible [0:56:45] that’s made it possible to have a biosphere like the one that we’ve lived in. If you have a world where complicated systems are subsuming their complex substrate and continuing to grow, they will eventually collapse. These are two different generator functions where we can say, “[00:57:00] If I’m trying to solve ocean dead zones, or plastic, or species extinction as one offs, I will certainly fail.”
At most, I move the curve of collapse a year, but there’s so many other scenarios for fail that are overdetermined. If I don’t solve the generator function of all of them, I haven’t actually got it. Having a right relationship between complex and complicated, and having loop closure within the complicated, [00:57:30] and creating anti-rivalrous spaces that is a safe basis for exponential technology is the first level of assessment of necessary design criteria for a viable civilization.