The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Jordan Hall. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is my good friend and longtime collaborator, Jordan Hall. Jordan is a successful tech entrepreneur and is well-known for his insights into the ongoing global transition marked by swift technological progress and the potential for major societal shifts. Jordan was part of the original Game BOGs back in 2013, and he was the very first person, I was there, I’ll swear it’s true, to use the terms Game A and Game B in that Game B kind of sense. Welcome, Jordan.
Jordan: Thanks, Jim.
Jim: It’s great to have you back. You’ve been on the show a few times in the past. We actually booked this episode way back in October when I reached out to Jordan, suggested it’d be great to talk to him about his new medium essay titled From City to Civium. He was a little reluctant, so I hounded him a bit until he reluctantly agreed, and we stuck it out in February. What the fuck? Either one of us will die by then and he wouldn’t have to do it, whatever. But here we are and I haven’t died, nor has he.
Well, as it turned out, this time turned out to be interesting for another reason, as well, which is that Jordan has relatively recently come out as a committed and baptized Christian, so this episode is going to actually be two parts, but with a nice bridge that connects the two. First part, we’re going to talk about Jordan’s thinking about from City to Civium, and then we’re going to talk about similar experiences I’ve had; and then we’re going to bridge from that to how those things in part informed Jordan’s big life change to become a committed Christian, and then we’re going to talk about that.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. So let’s start with civium. In the paper from City to Civium, the first part of the analysis is pretty strongly grounded on the work of Jeffrey West, Luis Bettencourt and some others on scaling laws. Why don’t you give us a quick refresher on both biological scaling laws and on what Jeff West and friends have found about city type scaling laws?
Jordan: Yeah, all right. The basic insight is that they were looking at different relationships associated with scale. For example, if you take the mass of an animal and you double it, what happens to the metabolic rate of that animal? And what they discovered was that as they went across a very large number of biological systems, different species, but even, for example, looking at trees and animals or forests and trees, that they kept finding a sublinear scaling factor.
What that means is, if I take a mouse, for example, and I take a look at its mass to metabolic ratio, and then I double its mass, so now it’s like a really big mouse, and then I double it again, so now I’ve got a rat and I double it again, and I’ve got a Guinea pig and I keep going up until I have an elephant, every time I double the mass, I don’t double the metabolic rate. In fact, I increased the metabolic rate by 85%.
Jim: Actually, it’s 75% on the biological scaling law. It’s a three-fourths law.
Jordan: What you end up getting is an asymptote, which in principle would be that you get up to very, very large animals like a blue whale, or if you had a theoretically zero gravity animal that was 100 times more massive than blue whale, the metabolic rate becomes relatively small in relationship to what it would be if it was on a linear scale. And there’s a lot of implications of this. The consequences of that are significant. In fact, in some sense, the consequences of that are how biology works in the world.
Jim: Yeah, it’s actually a fundamental rule of why animals are the size they are and the speed they are, and it shapes the food chain, all kinds of stuff. I actually did some of the math. Just as an example, compare a mouse and an elephant. Elephants about 20 times less energetic per pound of meat than is a mouse, for instance. 20 times is a lot. I go, “Damn, that’s kind of interesting and curious.” And as you said, this is a ubiquitous law across all known biology. Very interesting, hugely powerful.
And I will say Jeffrey and his crew, Jim Brown, et cetera, they did not actually discover this empirical law, but they found the theoretical reasons why it’s the case. Just to be clear, they get credit for it. I don’t know why he didn’t get a Nobel Prize, but I think he’s just not known in the biomedical field. They should have gotten one for this, but they didn’t. But it’s that level of work.
So animals scaling sublinearly: the bigger they get, the less intense per pound of meat, essentially. A law. You cannot violate this law, it turns out. Well, with cities, they found something very different out.
Jordan: Let’s put corporations in between, because they’re human systems, and they discovered that, for example, corporations and cities had some of the same scaling laws. So some aspects of human systems, I don’t mean human bodies, but human systems, also have a sublinear scaling. For example, as you add an additional piece of meat, an additional human, to a large organization, the income or the revenue does not increase linearly, there’s an asymptote there, which anybody who’s been in a large company knows that feeling.
But then, as you point out, they discovered in the context of cities a very, very different curve, and in fact, precisely the opposite. Instead of sublinear scaling, they discovered superlinear scaling, which is to say that as you double the population of the city, you increase the GDP or the income per capita and other things like innovation, and we’ll talk about some other ones as well, but I don’t want to spoiler alert, just yet, Jim, by 1.15.
So as you double the number of people in a city, let’s say you go to a city from a city of one million to a city of two million, the GDP per capita increases, which means, of course, the gross GDP increases quite substantially.
Jim: Yeah. We’ll talk about some of the other things, both positive and negative things, that are scaled at the 115% superlinear scaling. And this makes a huge difference. Those of you who are math inclined, as Jordan said, if you have sublinear scaling, it bends, the curve slows down, stops rising as fast. If you have superlinear scaling, the curve gets steeper and steeper and steeper until it’s going almost straight up, and those are qualitatively different regimes. So the regime of cities in particular and biology are diametrically at opposite ends of the mathematically driven force fields which govern their trajectories over time, which is very, very interesting.
Now, you mentioned in the paper, and this is something I know that Jeffrey and Luis, et cetera, are very interested in, they have not yet quite proven, though they have strong reason to believe it’s true, that a fair bit of this has things to do with increasing the amount of connectivity in ways that are analogous to Metcalfe’s law.
Jordan: Right. So just to kind of solidify, in just the same way that the sublinear scaling is very, very central to the nature of biology, it drives a huge number of the aspects of how biological evolution shows up across in the world, the hypothesis, in some sense just a straightforward conjecture that I couldn’t help but have when I saw this first presented a long time ago, it was literally my first visit to SFI, by the way, that was the first visit was when he was showing that, was that the superlinear scaling must have an equivalent level of import, but in the context of this new regime. And by the way, what is this new regime? What are we actually looking at?
I went ahead and just took the hypothesis that what we’re really looking at here is the same thing as what we see in Metcalfe’s law. That’s a conjecture. I can’t prove it. I’m not the rigorous scientist. Other rigorous scientists are going to have to pick it up. But if you take that as the hypothesis, that a whole bunch of other things follow, so the argument that I make in that civium paper is that what we’re seeing in the superlinear scaling in cities is the same thing we’re seeing in superlinear scaling according to Metcalfe’s law, that it has to do with the fact that information transfer, or more specifically, the information is a different aspect of reality than energy, and that there’s something about the ephemeralization of pattern transmission formation and copying that is not the same thing as the energy.
To kind of shift into the world that you and I spent time in, two examples. One is it takes a certain amount of effort and energy and work to invent calculus, and it takes a whole lot less to transmit that pattern. So once the pattern has been discovered, the copying of the pattern, the transmission of the pattern, is a lot less expensive. There’s a relationship between energy and information that is woven into reality, and there’s dynamics of information, which by the way is the anti-rivalist regime, which we may or may not get into, that is what shows up as this exponential, as we’re talking about how do you build communications networks within the regime of information?
And the hypothesis that I came to was that, “Oh, wow, that’s the actual dominant force that’s pulling all these things through.” But because up until very recently almost all mind to mind contact has had to have been done effectively in person, even when the internet kicked off, the quality of virtual communication was still so much lower than the quality of in-person communication that, for example, all companies required all of their employees to be together in offices, which meant more or less in the same town.
And so the argument is that this is actually the central driver of this thing that I’ve been calling “cosmopolitan urbanism,: which also, by the way, becomes imperialism-like, and that’s part of the paper, as well, which is a very simple problem: if it is the case that doubling population has this incredibly powerful effect of superlinearly increasing wealth per capita and innovation per capita, then this is a very attractive thing, that it is, in effect, an at attractor, and that as humans over time began to, let’s say, discover that, I wouldn’t say that there’s a conscious discovery, but began to notice the consequences in some fashion, they began to congregate and benefit from this part of reality, this superlinear scaling.
And then they began to run into trouble and to start getting these problems you have to solve because you’ve got more human bodies in one place than your processes, your institutions, are capable of dealing with. You’ve got to feed them, you’ve got to water them, you got to get rid of waste, you got to house them, et cetera, et cetera. And so there’s a one arc of the building out of this category. Civilization is the progressive solution, the discovery of different solutions, different institutions, which include technologies and processes and training for solving these various problems, which then leads to an increasing capacity to put more human bodies in communication, which then builds out more wealth and innovation.
Jim: Just to be really clear here, the metric crudely, it’s obviously qualitative metrics, as well, but the implication of superlinear scaling is, very naively, you want your biggest city to be as big as possible.
Jim: But these things that you discuss are constraints on that.
Jim: Can’t feed them, can’t get rid of the shit, it can’t get any bigger than X, right?
Jordan: Yeah. And so if you take a look at that, use that as the basic frame of looking at it, I spent time thinking about it in the context of ancient Rome and then the context of late 19th century United States, you start seeing that the whole field of Rome, literally all roads do actually lead to Rome, that the entire empire is the extended body of the city of Rome, and that’s the mechanism by which they could actually maximize the number of bodies in Rome. For example, Egypt was a source of food to put bodies in Rome, and the division of labor of that area was around that sort of thing, not that dissimilar state from Chicago in its relationship to New York City and 19th century America.
So now you’ve got three basic solutions to the problem. One is density. How do we get more and more people in the same basic space? Different problems that emerge as density gets higher, like waste and housing, et cetera. The second is transportation, which is to say, a virtualization of space. So what does it mean to be in the same place? Well, obviously if you have trains, the notion of being next to each other is very different than if only all you can do is walk or ride horses, so if you think of it as velocity, by the way, there’s a whole thing that Doyne did on how technology manifests, transportation also shows up in a very interesting fashion.
But if I can bend space by virtue of increasing the velocity that people can operate in the same amount of time, effectively, I’m folding the shape of the urban environment that I’m in. I’m expanding the amount of virtual density that I can produce without having to solve the problem of actually squeezing more bodies into the same unitive space.
Jim: Well, yeah. And also you do have some things about bodies and units, like for instance, things that happened right around the beginning of the 20th century, the elevator. Instead of stacking them four stories tall, you can go maybe 15 stories tall by 1910. We still needed steel frame construction to go higher, but you could get masonry up 15 stories. And then things like the streetcar: the cities got much bigger once the streetcar became a thing around 1900, 1910, as well.
Jordan: Exactly. So the first regime is technologies of density, and the second regime is technologies that virtualize space, IE transportation. Then the third regime is the one that ephemeralizes bodies or ephemeralizes communication. So the earliest big example, the easiest example, is the messenger. I don’t talk to Jim. I tell some guy to go talk to Jim, and that has some reduction. I don’t have to be in the same space as Jim. But obviously, the big level up was writing.
With writing, some portion of our mind is able to be in collaboration, even though our bodies are not. And of course, this is both spatial and temporal now. I can be in some level of communication with Aristotle by means of reading his writing, whether I happen to be at the same time as him but in a faraway city, or I happen to be literally standing in the same spot he’s standing in, but 2000 years later. Those are the three vectors or the three kind of regimes of how you solve this problem.
So the conjecture is that the ephemeralization of communication or the ephemeralization of bodies has been a major theme, has had significant impacts on what humans can do and how we do civilization over time. Writing was a big one, obviously printing press, the telegram, the telephone, the television; but in each case, there’s a basic pivot point where the quality of communication and collaboration is happening in the in-person encounter, is still so much larger than the quality of what can happen through one of these media forms that the dominant center is still embodied collaboration, so it’s the driver of civilization, the driver of the city, embodied collaboration, has continued to be sitting in the center, in the throne, as it were.
But as we move into the realm of the purely digital, we notice a few things. The one is that the digital as a category is not the same as all of these previous forms of mediation, because the previous forms of mediation, the analog in general, is tied to its particular form. Writing is writing. You can’t use writing to do video. You can’t use writing to do audio. Writing can do a very particular kind of thing. But the digital can produce all forms of media. The digital is a substrate that’s actually one level lower than the media. Right now, we’re using digital to do video; we are also using digital to do audio; and in principle, we are actually using digital to do text, as well, but not that much. We can’t do olfactory just yet, but the point is, in digital, in principle, we could. There’s nothing about digital that makes any form of mediation unavailable.
So the first part is, now that we’ve entered the realm of the digital, we have the capacity to explore all possible forms of mediation, and in fact, we probably simply will at a finite time, and therefore there’s a point at which the ephemeralization of communication reaches a tipping point where the quality of collaboration between minds mediated by the digital is good enough that the center of collaboration moves from the embodied to these new possibilities that happen in the purely virtual or in the digital realm.
I don’t think that happened in 2010. I don’t think the quality of relationality was high enough. It might’ve happened in 2020, the forcing function of moving people into learning how to build capacity and infrastructure, et cetera. And if it hasn’t happened yet, the whole point is it will be happening relatively soon. We’re not far away from the tipping point.
Jim: Yeah. Let’s talk briefly about the 2020 phenomenon. I did several podcasts on what was going to change and what was not going to change due to the shock of the COVID experience. I talked about the difference between homeostasis and hysteresis, and I did predict that there would be a hysteresis effect with respect to video conferencing replacing some portion of travel; and the technical capacity had probably been there around 2015, but cultural inertia had kept it from actually happening, so there was a surge, but we have found that it isn’t yet a replacement for all kinds of collaboration, but there’ll be more and more steps, and a big one may have occurred in the last couple of days, which is the release of the Apple Vision. Have you gotten yours yet?
Jordan: I haven’t, no. I may not even get one, which will be the first technical innovation that I haven’t gotten. But we’ll see. We’ll see.
Jim: All right. But anyway, continue your tale.
Jordan: Very much to the point, that is a huge step function in the ability to virtualize relationality, and the big point is at some point we’re going to cross over. By the way, we should also think about this demographically. Gen Z has a very different relationship to the virtual than boomers, for example, so it may just be that as boomers begin to slip off their moral coil, we’ll notice the centerpiece will be moving into the virtual because it already has for Gen Z, just by hypothesis.
But for my argument, it’s just a matter that we’re not too far away from that center point shifting, and if and when that center point shifts, holy smokes, that’ll be as big a shift as has happened when we move from the indigenous mode to civilization, and that’s very large. It’s a very significant effect. And ways I’ve talked about it is it’s a little bit like unplugging a light bulb. When you unplug a light bulb, there’s a little while where you can still see the light. There’s a long while where you still feel the heat from the electricity, but it’s unplugged. The trajectory is over. It’s a done deal.
The famous saying about when Buddha died, they still showed his shadow in the cave for 100 years, there’s things where inertia continues, and there’s obviously a lot of inertia in terms of psychological habits, processes and infrastructure. There’s just a lot of stuff going on, so it will take some time, but the hypothesis is that the center has shifted and the same level of potency that drove human beings to go through this long arc of figuring out how to solve all these problems associated with civilization is now shifting into a new kind of fundamental problem, which I just called civium.
Okay, so now let’s go back to the bad superlinear scaling, because that’s important to build in, and then we’ll pop forward to what this looks like on the other side of the looking glass and civium. When the guys were looking at superlinear scaling, they did notice that a number of good things scaled superlinearly, like wealth and innovation.
Jim: Patents, musical creations, all kinds of things.
Jordan: But some bad things scaled superlinearly, as well, not sublinearly, and I want to bring three: one is madness and corruption; another is crime; and a third is sickness.
Jim: Yeah, that’s a huge one. Now, this is an important point that most people do not know: for most of human history, with the exception of the late Republic early Empire of Rome, cities were net killers of people until 1890, and that’s in the west, because they are amazingly unhealthy places, and one of the reasons hinterlands had to exist was to repopulate cities every generation.
Jordan: That’s true. They are a little appendices. The appendix actually has a hinterland for your gut biome. So what this means is what happens is that as cities double in size, they get the benefit of the good superlinear scaling. They have to deal with the problematic of the, frankly, often sublinear scaling problems that also come along with increasing population. But then they have to deal with this very special problem of the bad superlinear scaling, and what that invariably shows up as is a radical shift in institutional structure. They have to make a big upgrade in institutional capacity to deal with this whole problem of these bad superlinears.
Great example is the one that you actually pointed to, which was the Victorian transition, and two distinct major institutional upgrades that happened during that timeframe, and there’s a good history, like really great history, because we have lots of narrative discussions around crime and political corruption and around disease.
We had a series of major problems of disease happening in the City of London from the latter part of the 18th century all the way up to the 19th century, even the middle of the 18th century; and there was a notable problem around crime, but the technique of policing that was grounded in the medieval county sheriff, which is still the state of the art as you entered into the 1700s, wasn’t keeping up with the increase in urban crime that you’re beginning to see as populations moving past certain thresholds. And this was creating a tremendous problem. More and more conversations, more and more attention was pointing to it. As you point out by the way, there was also corollary corruption going on in the political and governance system that was also being talked about.
What they ended up doing is they had to retrench and invent an entirely new institutional form that we would know as urban policing, the idea of a tax that was associated with hiring and training professionals who had played the role of policing in a fashion that we’re all very familiar with. It was completely novel in the transition from the 17- to the 1800s. And in exactly that same timeframe, we also had the development of urban sewers, waste management, which was a real major piece of the disease vectors at that point in time.
In fact, London is still largely sitting on top of that basic infrastructure, and I did the math at one point, I did the research, we’re talking about a $50 billion of modern dollar capital investment over a period of 50 years to build out this sewage infrastructure, completely changing the shape of how London dealt with waste, so massive infrastructure upgrades. And by the way, when I say infrastructure, I mean technology, processes, training, cultural artifacts, ways of behaving, just a whole institutional shift.
Which means of course, that it has a big step function consequence. It’s hard and risky and largely resisted to make those kinds of shifts, and so the tension of the superlinear bad has to be quite high. And then they have to make the risk, the valley crossing risk of going into a new institutional form to make it across the valley. And if they do, you enter into a new moment, so the arc of civilization, I would say, is sort of a series of relatively meaningful step functions as innovation and wealth deal with the sublinear scaling problems of population doubling, and then epochs associated with resolving the superlinear problems, and each epoch has a reset and gives us the ability to go a lot bigger.
Now, the reason why I want to bring that into the foreground is that, if you haven’t noticed, we’re kind of running into that same set of problems, things like crime and corruption. And corruption, by the way, means the degradation of the functionality of social institutions for a variety of different reasons. [inaudible 00:23:51] in 2020, had a big problem with disease. This thing that has happened in the tail end of the 20th century and the first quarter-century of the 21st, where we’re getting old, brother, is reaching the limits of the institutional forms that got us out of the 20th century, where those super linear scaling factors are pushing the boundaries, which means that we’re facing something like a necessity for a major regime change, some new significant institutional form.
Now, this is interesting, because it’s coming up at exactly the moment when the center of gravity is beginning to move us into the virtual. Huh, maybe what that tells us is that the virtual is actually going to be the solution to a lot of those problems and that this is going to be extra fuel for the transition to the civium construct.
All right, so now, let’s move into the civium. There’s three basic problems. The idea of the civium is that with the center of gravity or the center of this new attractor being at the level of the virtual, we have a massive decoupling of the body and the mind: that the value of collaboration, now being mediated by the virtual, can be increasingly, in fact, will be increasingly driven by the fact that you can get more minds in collaboration in the virtual than you can in any city. Even the biggest cities are nothing compared to what’s going on in the internet.
And so more and more and more of our collaborative capacity will migrate, let’s say opt into this virtual field, which will, by the way, suck that collaborative capacity out of the cosmopolitan urban environments, which will have a reciprocal closure. They’ll actually become superlinearly less attractive because they’ll still have the bad stuff from population, but they’ll have less and less of the good stuff from population; and here’s the big piece: and it will unlock a new capacity to reestablish the humane elements that we’ve been giving up for the entire arc of civilization that you pointed to.
The cities are very unhealthy, very unhealthy at the level of minds, increasing insanity, depression, et cetera, and at the level of bodies, and by the way, even at the level of culture, because our cultural artifacts to make civilization work require us to cobble together things that subordinate the needs of humans to the needs of scaling, at the end of the day.
Jim: Yeah, just think about oppressive policing as an example. I live in a county of 2200 people. We know the sheriff. The sheriff knows us. He knows who’s a shit bird and who’s not, so the hand of the law, while very vigorous when it needs to be, is not at all oppressive. Unlike, you go to New York City, or even worse, London, where the two million CCTV cameras are watching you all the time, you are in a panopticon, and it’s horrible. No wonder people are insane that live in those places. And yet, even with all that, they still have a crime rate 10 times higher than we have.
Jordan: That’s right. That’s right. And as we’re seeing right now, we may be seeing it go through an unsustainable crisis point. Okay. So as I started going down this path and started traveling around looking at different possibilities of what the smaller scale might look like and investigating indigenous communities and whatnot, one of the things that I noticed was how much we’ve actually given up in the cultivation of civilization, and this how much shows up in quality. It shows up in meaningfulness. So our friend John Vervaeke phrased “the meaning crisis,” but I suspect that we modern, civilized, urbanized people don’t even really have an inkling of how much we’ve actually given up in terms of the area under the curve of meaningfulness that could be available as a homo sapiens, but that we don’t have access to.
So we can notice that the quality of life in a beautiful, natural environment with a community of people who all care for each other and have long-term relationships, strong bonds, those kinds of things, is obviously a noticeably more meaningful and more vital than the fast-paced, nobody knows anybody, and kind of is vaguely at everybody else’s throat, and the environment is toxic in multiple different ways; and the point I’m making is, and even the best that we can do is maybe two or three orders of magnitude off from what can actually be achieved by healthy humans and healthy communities and healthy environments.
Jim: Yeah. Let me insert here a little bit. I’ve been talking about this for several years, is one of the big turns that happened later than we tend to think, actually, the big majority humans, 70% in the United States, still lived at the mesoscale as late as 1870. By a mesoscale, I mean that you were living in a community of between 50 and 500 people that you knew well within the mental ability to balance the books around ethics and virtue, et cetera. If you were starving, somebody would take you in. If you went insane, somebody put you in their attic. You were part of an intact community.
And it was just qualitatively different than the transition that subsequently occurred, where we essentially made the change from relying on our face-to-face community for physical, social, spiritual, and physical sustenance, which were all very organic and high dimensional, and we traded those in for two sets of relationships: one with the market and the other with the government, both of which are anonymous and sterile and don’t give two fucks about you, basically.
Jordan: Yeah, absolutely.
Jim: And so I would say that civium, and Proto B and other ideas are in part, the local part of it, is the return to the mesoscale.
Jordan: And the hypothesis is there’s actually a tremendous amount of demand for that that’s been into this other attractor, and therefore we’ll begin to be liberated into exploring how to do that. We’re going to have to build new capacity, both with the level of infrastructure institutions and at the level of just basic humanness, because we’ve lost a lot of those capabilities and skills and relationships; and the further hypothesis is that there’s a lot, it’s actually even more than the late 1800s, it’s a lot more than we have the ability to really tap into. So one way of looking at the shift from…
Jordan: … really tap into. So one way of looking at the shift from civilization to civium maps quite nicely to the shift from quantity to quality, or as [inaudible 00:30:11] put it, from scaling heaps to growing living things. Scaling, I have a kilogram of wheat and I pile 1,000 kilograms of wheat on top of it, that’s scaling a heap. When I grow, is I grow a family, and notice as I grow, there’s a qualitative distinction between each of the different elements, while maintaining community connection.
And so quantity to quality is a major piece of this shift. And by the way, when you move it to the virtual, the same thing happens there. What happens at the level of Metcalfe’s law, and this is actually I think quite profound, and I haven’t explored the full details of it, Metcalfe’s law measures the potential value of a network. The potential value of a network increases, let’s say exponentially, not quite, but exponentially as the number of nodes of the network increases. But the actual value of the network is determined entirely upon the actual point-to-point connection between the people on the network.
So for example, if you and I right now could be having a conversation with anybody who happens to have access to the internet and Zoom, but we’re actually having this conversation. So the potential to actual is also a quantitative/qualitative shift. The mechanism whereby we’re able to orient our inescapably finite attention to the highest quality relationships within this vast possibility that lives on the network becomes the new frontier.
Jim: Yeah, in fact, instead of having this incredibly interesting conversation, we could both be spending two hours on TikTok.
Jordan: Yes, exactly. And so it’s the same two hours. We have a finite amount of tension and a finite amount of time on this Earth, and we have now a very large menu of possible things we could attend to. The question is what is the highest thing that we could attend to? And this comes to a very sharp relief in the category of the algorithm.
So think, say Twitter. To the degree to which the algorithm is dominated by the logic of endeavoring to maximize the revenue that Twitter makes from our attention, it will produce a certain attention allocation function, and a very suboptimal attention allocation function from the point of view of our quality, but a different driver that is endeavoring to consistently make the highest quality use of our attention, completely separate from any notion of Twitter or revenue generation, assuming it could be sustainable, which it trivially could be, could begin to grow in a tremendous unlock. So if you look at the differential between the amount of actual quality that’s being produced by Twitter and the amount of potential quality that could be produced if we did a better job of actualizing that potential, again, orders of magnitude.
Jim: Let me draw a great B line under this. Let’s use Facebook, because that’s, I believe way more advanced in its strip mining of our attention than Twitter. Twitter’s sort of incompetent at it. It’s not as bad as Facebook, Facebook’s clearly worse. And the other damn thing, which is called Instagram, which I do not do. “Homey don’t do no Instagram.” Of course, they have an algorithm, and these guys are really smart guys, but what is the algorithm optimizing for? It’s optimizing for money-on-money return, fucking period. If it turned us all into social deviants, cutting off our genitals and going insane, as long as it was profitable and as profitable as possible, that side effect would be totally acceptable.
Jordan: By the way, as profitable as possible for just the next quarter.
Jim: Yeah, yeah, and for, at most, three years out. The money-on-money machine is optimized for, at most, three years out. And so that’s the driver. And imagine what a world would look like if the curation of how we expend our attention was instead optimized for human well-being within planetary limits. What a different world that would be.
Jordan: Well, that’s the world that we’re talking about. That’s exactly the kind of world that I suspect we begin to move towards as we shift from civilization to civium.
Jim: So let’s do a quick summary now of what civium looks like on the other side, at least the early stages of it, and then we’ll switch to the difficulty of getting there.
Jordan: Topologically, it’s actually very simple. You have the downward direction, which is humans beginning to increasingly migrate into human-scale, humane, embodied congregations, where you have probably Dunbar level, almost certainly that’s the right number, different levels of Dunbar. And almost certainly also long-term embodiment in particular locations, so that you actually have a sense of care for the place you’re in and a sense of adaptation, by the way, to the place that you’re in. This is not trivial.
Your gut biome cares where you are and if you’ve been there a long time, you adapt to that environment in a way that is very difficult to do if you’re constantly moving about, right? So you have the humane direction, that’s the physical level at the embodied level. And that will involve a traverse as we get there, a recovery of migration, people moving out of cities, and into these environments, and then trying to figure out how to do it, and building new infrastructure, building new cultural artifacts, relearning how to be humans together, all that, that’s the traverse.
But landing in a place where you have human beings who are vastly more capable of humaning than we are, they are much less emotionally volatile, much more capable of engaging in dialog and conversation, they have a deeper sense of embodied wisdom because they actually are practicing that as a value. These are things that will show up.
Okay, then on the other side, let’s go vertical, in the top, we now have real attention being pointed towards the qualification, the quality dimension of the virtual. Finally, at long last, really beginning to say, “Okay,” as you said, “Facebook, how do we pivot from the cultural logic that’s driving how we’re designing these social media systems being governed by the logic of civilization to being governed by the logic of civium? And how do we actually change the algorithm so it’s orienting towards the highest-quality relationality between among all the individuals who could come into communication?”
How do we deal with high-quality dialogue? You were talking about another podcast you’re going to launch that’s focused on the notion of how do we use all this vast number of people who can communicate and information we can access, to get something like the truth out of these conversations, and not just nonsense, noise, or propaganda? And of course, that’s a matter, in some sense, of design, and in some sense of the human component. If you have good people, people who understand virtue and embody virtue, they actually are virtuous people, not shit birds. And, we talked about that. I thought we should bracket for a moment and spend a little bit of time on this thing that you pointed out, the game A has a vector towards minimum viable morality or maximum sustainable immorality. It just degrades human virtue to the point that, until either it collapses or there’s some bottom level, the bottom of the barrel that can still work.
But imagine if you have virtuous people as the inputs to the network, and the design constraints of the network are looking to find ways to make sure that they’re interacting with people in a fashion that is actually healthy for their well-being, and for the relationship, and is good at surfacing things like truth, and generative dialogue, and insight ,and things like that. And this is not vaguely Pollyanna-ish. The point is that as you move across the line from civilization to civium, what you begin to see is the amount of possibility and the amount of actuality that opens up, and you begin to reorient your design constraints. We’re talking about as much value, and here the word “value” is no longer [inaudible 00:37:26] the index by dollars, but as much value production in this new regime as the sum total of all value productions happened in the last 50,000 years of the development of civilization. It’s a lot. There’s a lot of stuff we’re leaving.
Jim: And I’m going to draw a line under this so that people understand the significance of it. We’re actually winning in two different dimensions simultaneously, which you seldom see. You know, we’re winning on the ground in our embodied life. You’re not living in a New York City high-rise, where you don’t know your neighbor who you’ve been living next to for 20 years. It’s noisy all the time. It smells like piss. You’re eating manufactured food of God knows what providence, you’re dealing with crazy people, literally, all day long.
Instead, you’re living in an intact, beautiful physical community. You’re healthier, your relationships with people are normal, love, family. Your kids are not being propagandized with shit that destroys your values, etc., etc. And at the same fucking time, and Ron Popeil and his peelers, right, “And it also doesn’t just feel, it also scratches your back,” but we also have the new network with attentional curation that allows us to have the correct conversations, and interchanges, and problem-solving with somebody, wherever they may be on Earth. And you multiply two good things together and I suspect the two up-regulate each other. So it’s something close to multiplicative. The upside here is tremendous.
Jordan: Yes, we actually have a lot of good, solid research on things like how to produce creative groups, and individuals who are healthy and stable, and have a high-quality feeling of trust with each other, collaborate a lot better than groups that are made up of people who are neurotic and worn out, squeezed, and don’t trust each other. It’s intuitively obvious, but the point is the research is actually quite substantial. So there is a positive feedback loop, and it gets bigger, and bigger, and bigger as you get more and more possibility. That’s the topology. And I should mention, by the way, you’ve got this, you’ve got the down, you’ve got the up, and as you mentioned, you’ve got the relationship between the two. That’s important.
And there’s a lot of stuff, like technology hygiene needs to be taken extremely seriously. This stuff’s not trivial. The fact that I could put on the Apple Vision and be a mother raising my child, my baby, but I’m wearing my Apple Vision goggles, and I’m putting virtual overlays on top of my child, I would just put forth that’s an abomination, it’s a terrible idea. Please never, never, ever do that.
But building the hygiene that puts the cultural construct in place, that we are able to know how to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing is part of that middle layer, the intermediary layer, between humans and the virtual is this relational dynamic between the two. And if we do it right, they are highly compatible, mutually reinforcing, and produce a reciprocal opening that, as far as we know, has no obvious limit. And the opposite, this thing that we’re hitting right now is if we don’t move into a place where they’re interfacing quite nicely, technology and the domination of the digital and the virtual begins to consume the seed corn of humanity, and we cross thresholds that we really don’t want to cross,
Jim: That certainly feels to me like that’s there and accelerating, and has been for the last 15 years probably, right?
Jordan: Yeah. I mean, you see things like SSRI prescriptions, which is a good proxy for at least self-reported and doctor diagnosed depression declining or, in fact, collapsing fertility rates. Suicide rates, which are now beginning to show, even given psychological interventions, you’re seeing a very large number of vectors that were hitting low points, maybe non-recoverable thresholds in human wellbeing, which are necessary for people to continue moving forward at all.
And I would propose, I don’t think I’ve got the ability to metricize this effectively, but I would propose that we’re also hitting… Oh, actually, we mentioned in the preamble, levels of institutional corruption that are now beginning to be salient and surprising. As you mentioned, like an institution that had been functioning at 98%, one key person retires and it drops down to like 2% or whatever, 10, 15, 20%. Noticeable and surprising. And by the way, that then produces a systemic cascade, because all the negative consequences of that capacity now push effects outside.
Jim: All right, I think we both agree on this, that this is what the future looks like, which what we’ve been trying to do for the last 10 or 12 years, but it’s fucking hard, right? And in particular, the one strong finding I believe that came out of the original Game B 1.0, 2013 mission, essentially was that we all concluded after the fact, when we looked back at the train wrecks, that to make the transition, we have to do two hard things simultaneously, which is people have to change and the institutional structures have to change. And do you still buy that as a core, hard part of the problem? Because I have a very good analogy why this is the case.
So let’s take the example about technical hygiene, which is something we both strongly agree on. The idea that an eight-year-old or a nine-year-old should have a smartphone with them at all times, to my mind is an abomination, probably qualitatively worse than teaching them to smoke cigarettes, right? It’s an abomination. However, you are the parent of an eight- or nine-year-old, which you will soon be again, and I’ll be the grandfather of one at about the same time. And if all of her friends start having smartphones and their social life is mediated via smartphones, it’s going to be an extraordinarily harsh decision to make. Do you cut your daughter off from her friend network or do you let her smoke cigarettes when she’s nine years old? And to my mind, having the personal change to realize technological hygiene is hugely important and a top of the food chain value, unless you can also influence the institutions, particularly the ones in your local social network, it’s only the most hard-bitten person can stick with their new values without the support of the institutions around them.
So for instance, we lived in Jordanville, where one of the covenants, the “concords”, as Megan likes to call it, is that children under the age of 16 shall not have smartphones. And everybody that lives in this community absolutely agrees on that. And oh, by the way, it’s an expulsion offense if you intentionally violate that concord, suddenly it’s real easy. None of your eight-year-old or nine-year-old daughter’s friends have smartphones, so the technical hygiene becomes trivial. So there’s a case of we got the insight and the personal change, but if we don’t have the institutional structure around it, it’s almost impossible to maintain. But once you have the institutional structure around it, the correct culture and the correct norms, values, and virtues, it becomes easy, and somehow threading the needle, doing the two at the same time is what’s turned out to be the hard part of this mission.
Jordan: Agreed, agreed. And we went on a long journey of trying to figure that out, and so we’re now moving into the next topic, I think.
Jim: So let’s briefly talk about the fact that you and I both, in our own ways, tried to build early-stage civium-type things, in my case like we called them Protobees, in your case, you call them civiums. Very, very similar conceptually. And by the way, if you want to read my write-up on Protobees, and it’s old, it’s not in my current thinking, but a journey to game B on Medium, link will be on the site as usual, but we both found it a harder lift, I thin, than we thought, and for different reasons have kind of backed away from that as our mainstream approach. Very briefly, in three or four minutes, your experience on at least a couple of these civiums and why they didn’t work.
Jordan: I’ll work backwards a little bit, because as I discovered, for example, one of the reasons why you and I got… We had some wrong inferences was that you and I are actually unusually good at identifying a value, deciding that that’s our value, and then living that way. So I remember when I was 20, I said, “Hmm, my current value is telling me that I’m going to be a vegetarian,” and the next day I was a vegetarian for 20 years. That’s that.
Turns out that is not actually common currency. If you don’t have an existing, let’s say, the word is actually religion, but for the moment, community infrastructure and institutional structures, like you said, that kind of make it easy, embedded, built-in, swimming downstream very much, almost nobody will actually maintain a diet, for example, even as simple as just choosing to not eat sugar, choosing not to have donuts when they’re walking by the bakery. By the way, that’s one you and I both have trouble with, so we’re not… No “holier than thou”.
Jim: I’m a famous fat man, by the way, so I’m a really bad offender on that one.
Jordan: Here’s the second, is this notion of hierarchy of values. It turns out that’s a key, key, key element. Jonathan Pageau put it very nicely, he had a great keynote, very well worth watching, I think at the ARC Forum maybe in the last six months. And the point he made was that, first, you’re going to be worshiping something, which is just to say that you’re going to have a hierarchy of values. There’ll be some things you value more than other things, and the things that are at the top of that value hierarchy are going to be the things that will be orienting your choices and selecting between what are the sorts of things you will and won’t be trading. And if things are more valuable than another, that’s the thing you’re going to do. So that’s what you’re worshiping. The word “worship” just means the thing that you’re orienting more, and more, and more as the highest values in your life.
And as it turns out, cosmopolitan urbanism does a very, very poor job of creating aligned hierarchies and values. And so, what that means is that groups of people in cosmopolitan urbanism end up doing something like the lowest common denominator. And we see this out the wazoo out in California. So you get nice, it’s nice, people can be very nice and pleasant, and you can get together at nice cafés that everybody can agree have good design, and they have neat, new food, and everybody looks good. They’re all sort of healthy and have good dress, which is a thin, not at all deep, you can’t build anything important on it, sort of minimum viable communion upon which you can maintain the necessary components to be functional elements of the market and the state, as you mentioned earlier. The market and the state are like, “Look, people have to be ready, willing, and able to go to work on a relatively recurring basis and not get into too many fights.”
And so that’s sort of the level of the value structure that the market and the state project as the hierarchy of values, and that’s the least common denominator. Now, individuals and groups can, and will ,and must sort different things. But now, because you don’t have a recurring group of strong bonds, everybody’s ultimately selecting from what’s ultimately a relatively flat and relatively tepid hierarchy of values. And this shows up as things like people being, ultimately, at the end of the day, unwilling to do real stuff when shit hits the fan. A civium or any real community, if you died, who supports your wife and your kids? As you mentioned in old-fashioned communities, in real communities, if your cousin is nuts, somebody has an attic to put him in, make sure he’s safe, make sure, and relatively adequately groomed, right? That’s happening at the level of the humans, not at the level of the state institution.
It’s at the level of the humans, the level of the relationality. That has to do with the hierarchy of values and with the proper community. We don’t have that. These days, as long as everything’s relatively nice, everybody can kind of get along and have nice smoothies and good hairdos. But if anything, it’s ever so slightly out of that, hmm, you drop off the radar pretty badly. And this is, by the way, less true the lower on the socioeconomic strata you get, until you hit a threshold and that it’s very true. You drop through the bottom, it’s catastrophe. If you’re kind of working lower class, they actually still have to have community, and do, to a meaningful extent, particularly in rural environments. And as you kind of go up the urban elites, there’s nothing going on there in terms of communion. In fact, it’s all status. If you look at who’s at a funeral, it’s who needs to be seen to be there. Very little, if anything, to do with real human relationship.
Jim: Yeah, I would say that’s definitely not the case here in the country. We go to funerals, and they’re real things, right? Very real things.
Jordan: That was one chunk. So the chunk is this notion of hierarchy of values and the strength of relationship that is based on real communion, and the difficulty of fabricating that out of the material of people who have been brought up and are currently living in cosmopolitan urbanism. The second piece is the very, very large amount of difficulty and complexity in fabricating a whole or wholesome social environment. This is not the kind of thing that we’re going to be building from scratch. This is the intentional community, the hippie commune, those kinds of ideas that break meaningfully, not just with space but with cultures. There’s a difference, for example, between the Greek colony or even the various kinds of townships that came out of the American diaspora, and a new intentional community, because the new intentional communities are [inaudible 00:50:18] to innovate at the level of culture, not just move a whole bunch of people 100 miles to the west.
And when Puritan communities migrated and built a new town, they copied the entire cultural architecture, all the way down to the tools that the blacksmith used, all of that which they had figured out how to survive and almost didn’t make it. They were able, over about six generations, they built a functional toolkit, a cultural toolkit that was wholesome enough to survive in their environment, and they just copy, right? Each colony is literally a colony in the sense of a sport. Well, we’re not going to be doing that. We don’t have six generations, and unfortunately, our cultural toolkits at the far end of civilization are very, very dysfunctional, in a wide variety of different ways, the result of all these toxins. So that then leads to, “Oh, wait a minute, how do we plug back into functional wholesomeness that’s already there that we can actually revivify?”
This is not a new thing. This is a pouring water on plants. The plant is wilted, but it’s not dead. If we pour water, it will grow back and now it can begin to cultivate and actually allow it to grow. So it’s not creating a new seed all the way down to the level of DNA, which was kind of the idea for a little while with the civium journey, but rather pouring water on plants that are already well-suited in niches that make sense. For me, that was the journey, and the journey was very personal. We actually moved, my wife, and daughter, and I physically put our bodies into different contexts and lived with groups of people with intent and desire, sometimes as anthropologists watching, sometimes as actually committing to what’s going on. And these lessons came very hard-earned. So obviously one’s wisdom is limited. I can’t say categorically that what I’m saying is true, but I can say I would definitely urge it as being deeply considered as the right answer.
Jim: Okay, so now we’re going to transition to part two of this discussion, where we talk about how your journey of thinking about civium had led you to become a committed Christian. I’m going to say something here before we start, which is I’m going to try very hard to be charitable and open in this conversation, even though a pretty well-known atheistically inclined, agnostic on things metaphysical. In fact, I often say, “When I hear the word ‘metaphysics’, I reach for my pistol.” And so I’m going to try to avoid sounding sarcastic and scoffing. And if I do, mark it down as a personal failure, because it’s not my intent in this discussion. So I wanted to start with that.
Jordan: Thank you. We actually have to take it back about two years.
Jordan: We talked about this category of institutional structures that make it easy, let’s say viable or plausible for people to do stuff like not have their 12-year-old get a smartphone. And as it turns out, that category is called religion. And John and I were looking, John Verbeke, and I were looking at this, “Okay, how do we look top down and say, ‘What’s in that category?’ and how do we identify or distinguish the parts that are good and necessary, the religion, and separate out the parts that are bad and maybe have historically been the corrupting elements?”
So that’s not a religion, so it’s sort of a capital or lowercase R, or however you’d like to do it. But the point is that’s the idea. We know that the category for how human beings go about cultivating communities that have strong bonds, community, and have a shared orientation towards a hierarchy of values in a lived fashion, and that is durable across different kinds of permutations. That’s the category known as religion. And the challenge is to say that historically, we’ve noticed that religions tend to go awry for a variety of reasons. Okay, can we do a job? Can we do a better job of distinguishing between the parts that are good and necessary and the parts that are bad or corrupting and do something-
Jim: Yeah, let me draw another line on that. I’ve had several conversations with John Verbeke, including five long podcasts. And one thing, just to make sure we all have this as a ground spot, at least with respect to John, he is an absolute naturalist. He believes in no supernatural stuff. Would you say you were also on that same page with John at the time?
Jordan: Yes, at the time, less so. And I think part of the reason why “less so” is because he’s a professional scientist, which means that he has professional credentials and even status that necessitates such an ideology, whereas I’m not. So I can believe what I want. I may lose friends or I may lose sort of face, but that goes down to a personality issue, more than anything else. So in fact, we can take a step back a little bit. So the step has to do with exactly this issue of something like the Overton window for certain ideas, concepts, and aspects of culture. So words and concepts, like, say, “spirituality”, and “religion”, and “faith”, and even “hope”, like the supernatural, and I’d say there’s two discoveries that I made.
One is universally in this category are the contemporary, I say the secular or the blue church, elite, urban, cosmopolitan understanding of these terms is impoverished, and sometimes to the point of the fact being upside-down, absolutely the opposite of what they actually mean. But this can be undone, to some extent. And then the second part is that they are, or some of them, are necessary. It’s actually crucial, when we hit a certain threshold, we go, “Oh, wow, we actually have to do something like spirituality. What does that mean? Let’s dive into it and engage in the rectification of names on that, and then work from there.”
Same thing with religion. I was agnostic, and I think I was agnostic as just far back as I can recall. I think I remember using the word in a group setting, like, when I was 10. I never drank of the atheistic water, because I recognized that was incoherent as a way of thinking, even when I was 10, but leaning in that direction, certainly naturalistic. Manuel DeLanda required me to have a concept around what he called the virtual, which is to open the ontological scope. You can have things that are real but nonphysical, which of course is not radically controversial. But this notion of the supernatural is sort of fun to play with in movies and role-playing games, but shouldn’t be given any real consideration in terms of agency in the world.
So then, a process of being dragged, kicking and screaming, through doorways of these ideas. Spirituality being maybe not the first, but this is the first [inaudible 00:56:38], and exploring that. So what is this thing? What are we talking about? How’s it work? And spirituality, by the way, we can’t spend too much time on it, but has to do with the deep self, with psychology being kind of like the weak version of that, in relationship with life. How do you become a wholly integrated self? How do you come all into relationship with all the aspects of yourself? And how do you move through life in such a fashion that our friend, Zach Stein, uses a great term, “insolent” in such a fashion that your experiences carve out a deeper and deeper self, like your soul, your capacity to be in relationship with the meaningfulness of life, gets deeper and richer as you experience life itself.
So oftentimes, your experience with life might be more than you can handle. Let’s say you have something like a traumatic experience, and so your soul has a certain tightness or scar tissue on it, and you become a relatively narrow person. You become a person who’s avoiding that scar tissue or those sore areas, and spirituality is the practice whereby you heal those traumas and the practice whereby you deepen or maximally take advantage of the healthy pain, like the “no pain, no gain” process, to become more and more deeply insolent, right? And so that’s, okay, great, that’s not that rough. The next one, by the way, was egregores, remember that, those days?
Jim: Absolutely, did a podcast with BJ Campbell and our friend Pat Ryan on egregores not long ago. That was fun.
Jordan: Yep, and so this notion opens up the question of agency, agent, identity being at different levels of scale and trans-mediated, meaning, “Okay, we have some degree of hypothesis, unless you’re Sapolsky, that human beings are persons, and agents, and have something like identity, and have choices, and navigate the world. We can identify that other kinds of primates or even dogs, and as you know quite well deer have something in that continuum, but not at the same level.” But the question of egregores is, “Okay, can we think about this at a level of this mechanism independent? Is there something going on with, say, with money or with Moloch, famously, that we can use some of these notions of agency, for example, to think more effectively about structures that are going on that are not strictly human beings specifically?” And the answer, by the way, is yes.
Jim: Well, sort of. I remember we went down this road in the early game B days with Brett’s Goliath, which is kind of like Moloch. And we all concluded eventually that it is adaptive and it is complex, but it is not agentic. And I thought that was a pretty sound insight at the time. And that’s essentially where I remain with most forms of egregores. And further, some of them, let’s say concepts, [inaudible 00:59:29] wrote a little piece on the idea of Yahweh. I pointed out that every person who thinks they have an idea of Yahweh, I.e. the Abrahamic God, has a different one. And so while there is a memeplex, which is the sum of everybody’s views, of the idea of Yahweh, and that idea’s tractions in the world, which are quite real, that is qualitatively different than a individual who’s bound by second-to-minute scale, homeostasis around gases, nutrients, and toxins. They’re qualitatively different kinds of-
Jim: … around gases, nutrients, and toxins. They’re qualitatively different kinds of beasts.
Jordan: Yeah. It’s just the long and the short of it is that I would take the concept of agency, and [inaudible 01:00:11] the concept of person, which is even more fundamental, and say that I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a higher order way of thinking about that that of which our particular version is a subset. And that while, let’s just go with [inaudible 01:00:25], it ain’t the same kind of thing. A proper understanding of person and agency would say that [inaudible 01:00:30] is agentic, but that’s going to be a lot of work to unravel that. But the point is thinking about these things in this way and then also facing the real difficulty of, okay, we’re going to need something like a religion. All right. Let’s take a look at what are the design space of religion? What does it look like to construct cultures that have appropriate practices that build, and by the way, put a lot of work into this, both in terms of comparative anthropology, history, looking at lots of different kinds of cultures, talking with indigenous groups, looking at can we build a map? What do ritual structures look like?
Why do ritual structures vary? Why are ritual structures conserved? What kind of role do they play? You know, pretty sizable amount of effort being put into that. And then noticing that without many generations of time, we’re going to have no luck in building anything that’s going to successful in this domain. So the concept of religion, let’s just zip there, this is where there’s a lot of sitting on this. Just to say it again, the concept of religion, broadly speaking, covers the question of a liturgy, which is to say, communion, liturgy or… I sent you a message, you can send a link to it, but I’m not making this up, this is coming from the orthodox use of the term. And it refers to work together. The actual origin, the etymology is work together, people, work that we do together. And it’s cognitive, but it’s also embodied, behavioral, and with both the intent and the result of producing communion, so raveling people together. It’s how we bind each other into groups that have an identity as a group. And of course there’s many, many different liturgical practices.
If you’ve ever been to a concert, you’ve been part of a liturgical practice. If you’ve been to a football game, you’ve been a fan of a football team, you’ve been part of a liturgical practice. These have raveled groups of disparate people together into something that has a shared identity. Okay. But that’s religion. Right? So religion is that piece. It also is two more pieces. The second piece is the hierarchy of values. Or to say, which communion do you want to orient your life energy towards? Being a fan of the Ravens? Or do you want to have your life energy oriented towards, say for example, your family? What’s higher on the stack? Where do you orient your attention? What’s the verticality of it? And then the relationship between that two, which would be something like rituals, which are the things that ease or create structures or infrastructure, scaffolding that makes it easy for people to live according to their values to come into groups, into communions that are driven by those values and are able to respond to the context of reality as reality impinges upon the life that we’re trying to live.
You know, how do we deal with a war? How do we deal with a famine? How do we deal with sickness? How do we deal with people retiring from our business without the entire thing unraveling? And so that’s the category of religion. So again, my journey was one of coming to know what I just said, which was super not on my radar at all three years ago, endeavoring to grasp this thing deeply. But in some sense from a very academic perspective or an intellectual perspective, trying to understand it, maybe from an architect or a designer perspective is maybe even better. How do we design this kind of a thing, top-down? Then endeavoring to embed it or to actually live it, what does it look like to actually do this in real life with real people? And by the way, real embedded people who already have their liturgies, already have their hierarchies and values, already have their rituals, and they have a sort of an entropic characteristic. And by the way, oftentimes already have their spirituality. And the short answer there is, by the way, that’s really, really hard.
How do you get people who have already come with X and may actually have tremendous degrees of difference and distinction and disagreement, lack of harmony, at subtle levels that they aren’t even aware of to come into something like proper communion. Proper, not just like lightly bonded communion in a temporary purposeful container like a football game or Burning Man, but actually a real thing, vertically and horizontally integrated with strength, and the kind of thing that would thrive in the world. Right? So you’ve got three characteristics. And that’s where my ship sort of hit the rocks of, okay, this is not… I can’t do this and I’m not even going to try anymore to do it. I’ve sort of spent all that I’ve got to try to do it. And I don’t think it can be done in the timeframe that we’ve got. Okay. So what’s the next step on that front? And then we say luck would have it, we’ll stay in your frame for the moment.
I ended up being invited by my wife saying, “Hey, let’s make one more, very, very half-hearted run at this. Let’s go visit this town in North Carolina.” I talked about this a little bit with Daniel Thorson on the podcast. But as we were doing the Civium thing, I made this very good analytic criteria of various places that fit within the design space. And this region of western North Carolina was on that list. It was actually like number eight. And we did that RV trip when we went and visited your place and went up to Highland County. And the next stop was supposed to be here in the Asheville region. But because we were all worn out and burnt out and were ready to move on, we skipped it, the only place we skipped on the whole trip. And then we moved from the RV world to the airplane world. We traveled to different countries and islands and whatnot. But it was kind of sitting out there as the one slot on the spreadsheet that did not have a red X next to it.
And so coming out of Ecuador, put a red X next to that, we ended up looking at the spreadsheet and Vanessa said, “Let’s do this then.” And so we did, with very, very little hope, effectively, no hope actually. More of a, “Maybe we can find a place that we can live and it’ll be a nice place. We’ll be able to hang out there and that’ll be good.” But not any real intent or hope that we’d be able to build this Civium thing. In fact, I think I had largely said, that’s done. You know, maybe somebody else can figure it out. And interestingly enough, we actually landed initially in Asheville, but we drove through Black Mountain on the way and we stopped in Black Mountain for reasons that are in some sense, [inaudible 01:05:59] The guy we wanted to meet happened to be nearby. Let’s grab coffee in this town. It’s kind of cute. Got out, walked around, had a very strong sense of now this is actually got, let’s say, good vibes to use current contemporary parlance.
Went to Asheville, Asheville as you mentioned, by the way, you very correctly pointed out, didn’t have as good a vibes, nice place. Some elements are really, really nice. Some elements are not at all nice, but it was, okay, Asheville’s not going to work, but maybe something in this region will work. We went back home, grabbed some more resources, including my mom coming out so she could watch Eloise. And we brought Eloise too, so she could have a voice in this thing. And came out for an extended period of time, tried a place in Ashville, tried another place in Ashville. After about the second week, I had a very strong sense of, this isn’t going to work. Let’s eat all the rest of our Airbnbs in Ashville and let’s try Black Mountain. Let’s give it a real run. It wasn’t even the, we hadn’t chosen to get an Airbnb there on the second trip, but we did. We went out there. We happened to, think about how amazing this is. We landed on a particular day, which is called the Holly Jolly, which is like December 21st or something like that.
It’s kind of a Mayberry, everybody’s out on the streets. All the shops are open, lights are on, like 15 different live music venues, walk in a row. We just happened to land on that day and we happened to have an Airbnb within walking distance. So we walked out was this immediate like, whoa, this is actually still a part of reality? This is a thing that is not made up? It’s a real thing. And then the next day we went up and watched a choir concert at Montreat College, which is a beautiful Presbyterian liberal arts college, which happens, by the way, to have a world-class cybersecurity program. And over a period of about four or five days, there was a very strong sense of, I think this might be the right place. So we made a commitment. We got a long-term Airbnb, well, several months, which I’m currently in right now, by the way, and dropped in with no real idea of where we’re going to live, and by the way, not knowing anybody. And here’s the interesting thing.
All of the lessons that had been learned in the previous journey of Civium, Is started being dotted and Ts started being crossed. Simple stuff sometimes like, oh, I really thrive in this physical context. This works for me, works for my wife too. Unlike, say for example, she does pretty well at the beach. I’m not really a beach guy, weirdly, since I lived in San Diego for so long. This particular kind of mountain, which by the way is super non-trivial, but the hypothesis here is that we’re humans. Right? We’re particular. We’re homo sapiens. We actually have something like a niche that is our proper physical niche that we will thrive in better than any other niche. But simple stuff that, you know, you’ve got more familiarity with because of where you live. But things like people are kind. People are open. The people across the street were sitting on their porch and they started chatting with my daughter and she got to know about their names. And a few days later we got invited to a potluck. And human, like communion is somewhat real here in a very broad sense.
Community is certainly very, very real. So we started getting drawn in. And as part of this being drawn in, there was a sense of, oh shit, pay attention. Maybe there’s something to be learned. Maybe the right way to do this is actually just to pay attention to what was happening and why it’s happening and go very slowly and listen and notice, and maybe there’s a little tiny bit that you can add. And the word I used with my podcast with Dan was humility. Like really let’s do the humility thing. And by the way, that humility was earned so it wasn’t conceptual. It was real and still is real. So after a period of about six weeks, it’s quite clear that this is the place we wanted to live. A degree of wellbeing, wholesomeness, satisfaction, happiness, fulfillment, just going for a walk, interacting with people, the Civium stuff like, oh wow, the theory is true. Living in the right place with the right people is actually radically fulfilling and meaningfulness is actually very easy if you’re in the right context.
And then we went to a birthday party, by the way, not invited by the people whose party it was, and yet that was fine. And two of the people who were there just invited Vanessa to go to their church. And this was sort of the last doorway. Even up to that point, I still had an allergy to church. I had never gone to church before. And an even deeper allergy to Christian Church, I could go and visit a Buddhist monastery, which I’d done several times. I could participate in Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon, no problem. But a Christian Church? No. That ain’t going to work. But at this point, a good stuff is happening here that is vastly beyond we’re not doing anything. We’re just participating. Why not see what’s going on? We’ve been invited. Let’s go. And interestingly enough, as it turns out, that particular Sunday, I was already pre-committed to go with Peter Wang out to San Francisco to hang out with the AI folks. So it was actually a very nice juxtaposition.
Vanessa dropped into a simple country church and I jumped into the antipathies of that, the farthest levels of the cosmopolitan, urban, techno, secular universe. And then we came back and compared notes. And my report was, this is bad and getting worse. And her report was, this is really good. I’d like to go again. Okay. So we invited, by the way, this is so funny, you’ll laugh at this. It’s how naive and not connected to religion that we were. Do you think that maybe the pastor would be willing to come by our house and talk to us? Which of course now we know is obviously that’s kind of his gig.
Jim: We got a live one here. Yeah. They’re definitely going to be hitting that bait.
Jordan: So we invited them to come by. A very generous person. And at this particular church, by the way, is interesting because we have three pastors. One is full-time, two are kind of on their own dime, and probably on the order of five people who rotate through that slot on a rolling basis. And then another 13 or so people who do something in that regime in the environment, because it was a COVID church. It was an amalgam of a variety of different churches that when COVID shut everything down, that everybody had to leave their physical big building, they ended up saying, well, screw that. We’re still going to go to church. So they ended up going to house church, which meant they ended up mixing at houses that happened to be nearby regardless of previous church affiliation or denomination, and found that something very powerful and good happened in that intimacy. So when the possibility came back, one of the groups was gifted a church building, a very modest church building. And so, I don’t know, maybe 30 or 40 people started showing up.
By the time we got there, it had grown to about 120. So I went for the first time and I had three different primary experiences. The first was a profound sense of the aliveness, the vitality, the health, and the wholesomeness of the people, and in particularly young people. You know on my journeys over the past several years one of the things just broken my heart is how ravaged Gen Z has become. They do not look healthy almost anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a beach community in southern California, up in the mountains of Vermont, or in New York City. Our culture has not been good to Gen Z. And it’s obvious like in the physiology, their facial expressions, and of course their clothes and probably their ideas. But these young people looked amazing, literally. They even at the level of just their physicality and they’re with their families.
As I mentioned, in fact, in our email, over a period of a year or so, since we’ve been going, at least six times, I’ve noticed a teenager between the ages of say, 14 and 17, come, often with their friends, maybe come again, maybe come again. But then bring their parents. So not parents dragging their unwilling teenager into church, but teenagers bringing their parents into church because that’s, there’s a vitality. There’s something, a need being met. So that was the first. Healthy multi-generational families, healthy kids, healthy teenagers, and a sense of present joy and vitality, aliveness, and wholesomeness in the space. And by the way, from a purely theoretical perspective, that’s the gold standard. That’s the currency. That’s the thing. Whatever produces that is the thing to be thinking about, to be orienting towards. But that’s the measure. That’s the test for me, like for Civium, as it turns out also for Christians. By their fruits, you shall know them, but I already had a cognitive model that said, work from the embodied, the imminent first and work out to the narrative of the blue structure.
So in the second one is I sat down and actually listened to the sermon. Oh. Sorry. I participated in the singing, as you mentioned. The singing is fantastic, and I’ve continued to participate quite happily. I’ve never been much of a singer or I can’t even remember lyrics, but I’m doing my best. And then sat down and listened to the sermon. And what I found in the sermon that was just quite wonderful was, one, I love the architecture and the technology of the service. This is a problem that us talking heads in the internet have. If we go high level, it ends up being too esoteric, too theoretical. It’s nerdy. It doesn’t connect with most people, or you can go very low level, in which case it oftentimes becomes lowest common denominator, almost marketing. But in the context of a live sermon, the pastor’s capacity to hit profound theological points and then drop down and articulate them in a SEC analogy was beautiful. And I could feel the integrity, meaning the point they made in the SEC analogy was the same point that was being made in terms of theology.
And as we went through it, my sense of listening was, okay, you’re not saying this the way that I’m familiar with. You’re saying things that I perceive as being very true, and I’m noticing as I’m watching, having the inside of holy cow, obviously liturgy, obviously a ritual whereby a group of people commit to contributing a significant amount of their time and attention to orienting towards the architecture, the hierarchy of values, and understanding how to live in that way and make concerted real commitments to live according to those values and to support each other in doing it. Acknowledging the difficulty of it is at the middle of the bottom of the stack. It’s the actual center of this thing. You can’t do it otherwise.
Jim: Okay. Let’s pause there. This is very important and this is all the stuff that at least some formulations of Civium or [inaudible 01:16:03] are looking to achieve. And so through whatever methods, especially the wholesomeness for children, et cetera, the rich feeling of aliveness and community and mutual care, it’s all that great. However, the church you belong to and we’re baptized is a, shall we say, no weak sauce church or in rut speak very little branch water with the bourbon. You know? This is the real deal.
When I first saw on Twitter Jordan comes out as a Christian, my first thought was egregore Jordan’s going to make an interesting, sophisticated intellectual argument that we can think of, Yahweh, the idea of Yahweh as an egregore, therefore it’s real, therefore I’m a Christian. But then as I dug into this quite a bit further, the commitment you made is very different. I mean, this is the old time religion. I went to the website of your church, which we’re not going to mention, because we want to keep let those people have some privacy. And I read the statement of basic beliefs. Anyone pursuing membership and or baptism must agree with the statement. Here’s one of them. I’m going to read a few of them and I want to get your reaction to each one. There is one and only living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal, I’ll underscore the word personal, being. Do you actually believe that?
Jordan: I do.
Jim: Okay. So personal as in not an egregore, not a loosely coupled memeplex, but there’s some dude with a white beard throwing lightning bolts at you, et cetera.
Jordan: Not Zeus, definitely not Zeus, not Michelangelo’s mistake, but yes, personal.
Jim: Talk to me about how you got there. Right? I mean, like you, I have, since I was 11, been an atheistically inclined agnostic. You know, we both agree that saying you’re an atheist is an idiotic thing to say, since you can’t actually prove anything about metaphysics [inaudible 01:17:53] so I would represent. I can’t even prove the universe didn’t flick into existence two seconds ago with our memories in place and will flick out of existence in two seconds. So to say anything fundamental underlined about metaphysics is just an error. And I was smart enough to realize that at age 11, also. You got there a year before me. So how did you come to believe strong enough to put your personal integrity, which I know to be of the highest order, on the line and say, I’m willing to be baptized ’cause I believe in a personal God.
Jordan: Wow. Yeah. You’re saying it just right. So, yeah, maybe it take me a little bit to lay it out. So the first step was the one that I just mentioned. I walk away from that first day at church and have this, okay, this is what healthy community looks and feels like. There’s something extremely good going on here, and frankly, I want to continue to participate in this. I want to engage in it. I want to go to church again. So I went to church the next Sunday, like, okay, two dots, we’re starting to get a line. There’s something going on here. And by the way, it continued to grow, the number of people coming in. And we started meeting with other people in the church like, wow, there’s just so much depth and reality and people having real hardship and caring for each other. So all this stuff, like checking all the boxes. So then I had a crisis of conscience. Well shoot back to integrity, I can’t participate. I can’t come to this church and participate in what’s happening here.
If I am cynically removing myself from what’s actually things they value deeply, like if their hierarchy of values has certain elements and I’m not participating in that, then that’s just wrong and I shouldn’t do it, deeply, deeply wrong. The egregore thing. I can’t create an intellectual confabulation that would sort of allow me to dodge some of the ideas that they have and still come. That’s just immoral, like evil, I would even say, at a deep level, Luciferian in the contemporary language. So now I’m in trouble. I have to take this seriously. And for the first time in my entire life, I took Christianity seriously and began to engage with it. And I engaged with it tremendously, by the way, interestingly enough, Vanessa too. So we were both troubled and challenged with, okay, what are we going to do? And she has her whole world and background. And so we started grabbing books of theology and doing a process.
I did it from the bottom up reading, beginning to read scripture for the first time, reading the apostolic fathers, the church fathers, from historical perspective up grabbing a whole, just getting recommendations of who are great contemporary theologians and what are they thinking about and talking about reading their stuff down. And I’ve read a lot of this stuff now, like thousands and thousands of pages. And by the way, just consuming a tremendous amount of videos online, which is very helpful. It’s a different modality and noticing that something about the, well, there’s certainly challenges and some significant negatives to the denominational diffusion of Christianity, of Christiandom. The fact that the Orthodox and the Catholics, and then of course the Prot diaspora are different, there’s an advantage, which is that you can orbit around different ideas and get a bunch of different perspectives and takes on them. And sometimes one will have a different insight that will land and get you more deeply understanding what’s actually going on. And I had five major blockers or objections I came across that I was in me going, okay, this doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense. It seems wrong.
All right. Let me begin to chew on it. But that point of humility just keeps coming back. What I noticed is that as I delved deeper and as I paid attention, I noticed that for the most part, I just didn’t understand the question properly. I was dealing with a projection, my own projection, my model of what the question was. That was somewhat defensible in the culture. It wasn’t a result of actually a wise understanding of what was happening in the theology or in the religion. And that, by the way, for thousands of years, very committed people have been working with these problems earnestly and honestly, and in the fashion with the monastic sensibility. Like they made real commitment, much deeper than my commitment. So then I would struggle with it. Okay. Let me take a look at this. How have other people who really care about this looked at? And as it turns out, my thoughts or objections were not novel. It’s not like they hadn’t thought about these things before. That was just smarter than them. And oh, if you only knew what I knew, you wouldn’t have fallen into this pitfall.
But rather that the, in some cases, actual modes of thinking were wrong. I think I may have mentioned, for example, one thing that I really got my teeth in right now is this orthodox sensibility to beauty first. This guy whose book I’m reading, I’ll give you his name for the link, it’s a great book so far. It’s either the Ethics of Beauty or the Beauty of Ethics. And his point is that in the West we have a notion of a truth first sense towards ethics, meaning truth, endeavoring to understand goodness and therefore subjecting goodness to the form or the structure of truth, which maybe not at all ironically, another way of saying that would be the knowledge of good and evil. But the Orthodox come at it from the point of view of beauty first. And he makes a very compelling argument, which I in fact completely agree, that beauty first is the appropriate way and shows how this allows us to have a relationship, by the way, a relationship with goodness as opposed to an idea or an ideology with goodness. All right.
So I went through my objections, each one very intensely over, I don’t know, probably a period of six months talking with different people. Sometimes lives, sometimes reading their books. I got through them all. Each one ultimately got to the point where I realized that I just wasn’t understanding it properly. And as I got to understand it properly, one of two things had happened either, oh, I get that now. I’ll give you an example in a moment. Or, oh, this is actually the kind of thing that’s more in the direction of mystery and it’s not the kind of thing that you’re supposed to understand in this fashion. Rather, it’s a way to live. It’s a way to practice. Okay. Interesting. So for example, the Trinity, the doctrine of the Trinity, the triune God, if you say the word triune God, I could throw a little bit more of an accent on it, right, the triune God, with the little banjo music in the background. That so you said, it’s old timey religion. There’s no kidding around.
Jim: You better [inaudible 01:23:36] a little faster, boy.
Jordan: I sat with the Trinity for quite some time and then it just dropped. It’s like, oh wow, crap. Now I get it. I see it. And now that I see it, can’t unsee it. It is actually above the top of the stack at the level of philosophy. It describes the most compact, necessary, and sufficient components of any possible reality, which ain’t going to have, we ain’t going to close that in the next 30 minutes. But the point is-
Jim: I was going to say when I was 12 years old, I did the work without having read any other person and disprove Anselm’s ontological proof of God. And I later read, of course, that had been refuted even by Thomas Aquinas and some others, but I’ll be a little careful about some of that stuff.
Jordan: Not the mono God, not that one, but the Trinity specifically.
Jim: Specifically the Trinity. I was raised a Catholic and I was actually reasonably devout until I was 9.75 years old and then started being gradually seduced by science and then science fiction. Then in the year between sixth grade and seventh grade, I spent two weeks researching comparative religion and then had an epiphany that, nope, not so probably, and it was invented by men to control other men. Of course, today I would add a little bit more nuance that had evolved as a way for men to control other men as opposed to was created for that purpose. But anyway, I thought about these things a little bit and so continue your story.
Jordan: So the Trinity is an example where as I finally got to the point where I understood it, what I would say, properly, it landed. Now, in my case it landed because I’d spent a lot of time thinking about that kind of problem. I remember Forrest Landry and thinking triadically. It’s almost like a puzzle piece dropping in. Once it dropped in, I was like, whoa, crap. Now I’m in trouble. Because I believe that this is true. If I run the check sum and I keep going back and forth and thinking about it, I no longer have the ability to think about a viable reality where this isn’t actually the generator function of that viable reality. I mean that philosophically as well as theologically. Well, now I have to start taking the rest of it true, seriously, taking it seriously. So now we get to the tough one, like the gristle between the teeth. It’s funny that you hit on it ’cause it is actually the gristle, for Vanessa as me as well, even more so than me, which is this a personal, personal relationship.
And to the western mind, this is particularly galling because we are a truth first civilization. I’m not going to, A, be able to get you there, and I’m also not really going to be able to describe it well, but here’s the point. The notion of person needs to be taken properly. The notion of relationship needs to be taken centrally. This is a key insight. The essence of the triune God is pure relationality, relationality as the ontological primitive out of which other things are produced. And by the way, the phrase relationship is more fundamental than relata is a good one to take a look at. There’s a number of folks are beginning to say that out loud, and that’s gets you pretty close. It gets you pretty close. And by the way, is sort of the cutting edge of thinking clearly about reality. So when you realize that relationship is the primitive, then you have a question of, oh, wait a minute, remember that… Did you see my tweet that the inverse of ideology is relationship?
Jim: Yeah. I think I did. I do recall seeing that. And, yeah, maybe…
Jordan: If we endeavor to approach this through the modality of idea, the faculty of mind that thinks by means of semantics, i.e. ideology, we’re actually in the wrong regime. It has to be through the modality of relationship. It’s just a different qualitative regime. I can give lots of arguments for why that happens to be the case, but you just pause it for the moment that it is the case, and when you begin to proceed in that fashion, you go, well, I have no idea how to do that. That’s a good place to be. It’s kind of like when you acknowledge, like you say, what was the phrase you want to bring into the vernacular? Now’s the time. The hero’s phrase?
Jim: The hero’s answer to difficult questions is, I don’t know.
Jim: When you don’t know the answer, say, I don’t know.
Jordan: So Vanessa goes to me and she goes, how exactly do I have a personal relationship with God? I have a personal relationship with you. My answer was, I don’t know. However, I’m going to assume that that’s the right approach, and now start working on that as a faculty. Like what’s it look like?
Jim: Okay. Okay. So let’s stop there. So you postulated the personal God, but don’t actually have any evidence for it.
Jordan: I have the trinity gets me to the point where, from the degree to which I can think about anything at all, this must be true. Now, given that it must be true from a logical perspective, from the point of view of thinking, how might you come into relationship with it?
Jim: Let’s draw another line here. And this is the distinction I like to make a lot. There’s a lot of things that are logically possible but aren’t actually exigent in our universe. Right?
Jordan: This is logically necessary, not logically possible.
Jim: Okay. Because I say the flying spaghetti monster is actually logically possible, but seems rather unlikely to exist. And I’ve always acknowledged that Yahweh is logically possible, which is why I’m an agnostic, not an atheist, but I just have always said, based on a large constitution and pattern of evidence, it seems highly unlikely.
Jim: So you’re saying that your view of the tri-, yeah, this is going to be over our pay grade for today to say, why does the Trinity make Yahweh not only logically possible, but logically necessary?
Jordan: Well, not Yahweh, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It actually has to be the whole Trinity.
Jim: Got it. Got it. Okay. Okay. Gotcha. So it has to be the classic, and I did notice that your guys triune God is delineated very carefully in a very Orthodox fashion, as you know, because you’ve read this stuff, and so have I. There are wars to the death fought about the nature of the three persons, homoiousian versus homoousion or the Greek words. Over hundreds of thousands of people killed over one U in the word. And the version that your church has is one of the more orthodox ways of describing the trinity. So it’s one that a Catholic, for instance, would agree with, for instance, but not a Greek Orthodox.
Jordan: Not a Greek Orthodox. And it may be a bone or it may be a bone to pick. We’ll find out. Let me restate it ’cause I said it earlier, but I want to say it again ’cause I want to make sure it lands, is that I proved to myself and I worked, read it several times, that the Trinity is both compact, necessary, and sufficient for any possible-
Jordan: Compact, necessary and sufficient for any possible reality, any possible real universe. And at the very, very, remember, the DeepCode Project, it’s the deepest code. So that’s kind of the easiest way of saying it. And once that hit landed, I was now stuck because now I have to work backwards from that. So now the practice of, okay, what does it mean to try to have a personal relationship?
Jim: Yeah, I can see Jordan and Yahweh, all three of them, the ghost, was it the Spook the, it was a good joke version of it. The four of you hanging out at a bar, shooting the shit about who’s better, the Cowboys or the Ravens.
Jordan: Yes. So that has now been the work of the past, oh, I guess the past six months. The past six months of, okay, how does this work? How do you do this sort of thing? What does it look like? How does it feel? So prayer, for example, like, okay, prayer. How’s prayer work? But you need to build a praying practice. And by the way, you can imagine, when I do something like this, I take it quite seriously. Not maybe as seriously as others, but more serious than many. And so Fridays are my fasting and prayer day. And so, I fast from Thursday to Friday. And Friday is, whenever possible, most of the time, dedicated to also being in prayer and practicing what that’s like and exploring the parameters of it. Often in this case, also being in nature or with my daughter and wife.
And all I can say is there’s a reality to it. I can’t give you, and I don’t want to give you arguments, other than to say that in my experience, as you enter into this as a practice and you begin to live in a particular fashion, it’s like a dimensional opening. It’s a little bit like this. Imagine that you walk into a room and when you first walk into the room, it’s just a cube. But after you spend time in the room, you begin to notice that you can discern something like doors that before you couldn’t even notice. And then, so you open one of the doors, which takes a little while. When you open it, it opens up to three more cubes. And by the way, let’s say an additional dimension. So now you’re in a tesseract, which is very difficult to navigate. You have to actually embody some new capacity to navigate in a tesseract, which is not the kind of thing that a three-dimensional hominid is particularly good at.
But after a while, you begin to be able to navigate tesseract space. You begin to notice that there are now new portals that have appeared in what you thought was a bounded space. And so then you open up those portals and it continues to unfold in this fashion. And so, one of the phrases that I’ve begun to use is to say that this term faith, faith needs to be understood as a faculty in our world, particularly in the secular world, but even largely in the Western tradition, the word faith has become isomorphic with something like degenerate understanding, almost willful self-delusion of an imaginary construct. If you said, “What does the word faith mean?” And you’re try to get it defined properly among most educated secular people, if I were to say, “Willful self-delusion of an imaginary construct.” That’s what faith means.
Jim: Yeah, that would be my answer to that. Right? All right. You’re too lazy to do the work, so I’ll just fucking believe. Right,
Jordan: Exactly. And it ain’t that. Oh yes, belief, degenerate belief. And it ain’t that. In fact, it’s completely not that. It’s no more that than seeing with your eyes is the same thing as a really degenerate version of smelling. It’s a faculty. It’s a faculty for navigating a particular relationship with reality. And it can be cultivated through practice. And as you cultivate it through practice, by definition, you can get slightly better at it. And this gives you an increasing capacity to have a personal relationship with God. So all I can say is my embodied experience is that there’s enough reality there, more than enough reality that three months ago I just had a very strong sense of, as you say, “I need to get baptized.” And as you say, I did not take that trivially.
It’s a real thing. It’s a real thing. I honor these people and their beliefs deeply and the traditions and all the different people who are Christians. So I’m not going to get falsely baptized. And also, once I begin to say out to people, “I got baptized.” I hope that everybody who’s been in relationship with me in some way understands I’m committed to this thing. I believe that it is in fact true and meaningful in the deepest possible way.
Jim: I appreciate that. I absolutely believe that you’re operating in total good faith because I’ve never known you to operate in any other way. Now, you could be delusional, which I suspect is=.
Jordan: Could be wrong.
Jim: Could be wrong, but I absolutely believe it’s in good faith. Let me go down some of the things that your church believes, and these are in the basic beliefs that you have stated you accept. Man is the special creation of God made in his image, as opposed to part of the Darwinian evolutionary stream. Do you believe that?
Jordan: I do. Now, does that mean that I import the creation institute’s interpretation? In that case? No. I don’t import the creation institute’s interpretation of what that means. So that’s going to require some careful discussion about what that means. I would say that I’m somewhere between Jonathan Pageau’s perspective and a more American Protestant perspective on that. And I don’t have a really, really deep unfolding of how to bridge those two pieces together.
Jim: Nuance. That’s good. The Catholics have their own version, which I laugh at and call the God of the gaps, which is they accept that humans were also Darwinian evolution. But God got in there and twiddled a little bit at the margin with the DNA. I mean, yeah, okay, God in the gaps, but this is an interesting one. Okay, next. This is a quite traditional sex/gender role church. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband, even as the church willingly submits to the leadership of Christ. Is Vanessa down with this?
Jordan: Yes. Yes, absolutely. Here’s the thing again, a low fidelity projection of that is going to lead people to have a knee-jerk and low IQ response. The whole sentence, that whole phrase is important. As she has pointed out, my commitment is vastly more significant than her commitment in that paragraph. And if you may recall from a Christian perspective, Christ died for the church and took on the full sin of humanity. So that’s the requirement that I’m picking up.
Jim: So you’re responsible for all of Vanessa’s sins, Jesus Christ boy.
Jordan: My responsibility is to step into those shoes the best that I can, which I’ll do a very poor job of, but with good faith.
Jordan: Her responsibility is to take a different path, but a path that is symmetric, compatible.
Jim: Your church believes abortion is murder, and it says that we will deal with abortionists the same as we do with other sins such as murder.
Jordan: This was actually particularly potent because Vanessa and I in fact have had an abortion and it was a very profoundly powerful and negative spiritual experience. It almost shattered our marriage in spite of the fact that we have a wonderful marriage and I love her more than anything else that I’ve ever known. And so again, that’s a very intense, intense thing to take as a principle. And yet, we do. Now, let me say something important. The notion of sin by itself is hugely challenging and problematic. I think I may have mentioned this to you in a writing, writing back and forth, that was one of my biggest sticking points. The very first ones. The notion for example of I have been bad and therefore I’m like sniveling or disgusting or unworthy, et cetera.
Which language definitely exists, particularly in Southern Protestant. Western Protestant tradition. I think is actually it’s self-sinful. Like it’s off the mark, it misses the mark. The notion is more like an error, like a mistake, sometimes a confusion, sometimes a consequence of bad habits, sometimes a consequence of bad character, always leading you in a direction that’s not going to be the right direction. And of course, all Christians will take a proposition that we humans, we finite humans, hominids, are made in the image, but fall very far short.
Jim: My former Catholics, of course, they’re fine. We all sin, go to confession, go out and sin some more. Right?
Jordan: Well, not so much that, not so much that, but we all sin. We’re not going to be able to get away from that. So it’s not a let’s make a list of sins and you’re the bad guys and we’re the good guys, rather, how do we figure out how to live life well? That’s the real question.
Jim: Yeah, there was actually a medieval Pharisee, the pelagians I think it was, that believed that you could eliminate all sin. And it’s the kind of thing today I would say that so stupid only a professor could believe. But the other church fathers, particularly Augustine, demolished that one in a very good logical fashion. So score one for the Catholics. Right? Yeah, we’re sinners, and the idea of a world without sin is relatively ridiculous.
Jordan: I want to insert right there. So you’re kind of hitting on a point, and I think this is a very good point. So for me, one of the major sticking points was an image of what you might call kind of like the mad and punishing God, which is a very common, particularly in American Protestantism. The notion of we were bad and we were going to be beaten or whipped or punished for it. And then by the way, maybe we lucked out because Jesus came and kind of stepped in. And my church does not have that perspective. This is one of the major works we’re working on. One is what’s called the hermeneutics of presence, which speaks to the notion of relationship is more fundamental than ideology, but the other is in the direction of the kingdom. The idea that what the God, the effort, intent, and hope of God is to convey to us how do we humans navigate life well, how do we actually live joyful, thriving, healthy, happy, creative lives?
And that as we make errors, as we make mistakes, those are going to lead us away. And how do we get back on track? So by the way, this is a very serious group of people. This is very biblical. This is sort of very scriptural and by hypothesis, more scriptural than the alternative. But you can notice the difference. There’s a very different energy. This is the energy of a loving God, a God that truly actually is loving. And the Orthodox say it very nicely. I love this metaphor from their point of view, at least as I understand it, God is light and does not turn away from us. We can turn away from him, but when we turn away, we experience that light as heat, and the more we turn away, the more we experience it as heat. So that’s the transform.
Jim: Interesting. Again, that’s not too crazy. Though, I will in my village atheistically-inclined agnostic phase, I always say, “Well, go read the book of Joshua and see what this Yahweh dude’s all about man. He flogged his chosen people because they weren’t complete enough in their genocide.” For instance. On multiple occasions. He’s not exactly the God of sweetness and light. Let’s get now onto the next one, which I was kind of surprised that you could choke down, but I’m sure you’ll have a good reason, which is this church is a version, not quite a hard version, but a pretty hard version of biblical inerrancy. Let me read the statement. The Holy Bible is written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error, even though it contradicts itself.
Jordan: Well, even though our capacity to understand it is quite limited, that’s the challenge. So again, this is by the way, experiential. And I’ve had a number of really great friends, people who sometimes I’ve known them for decades and didn’t even know they were Christians, but they were. Some of whom I did and they were very, very deeply Christian. People who spent literally decades in this stuff. And so what happened is I would come into a contradiction and say, “Okay, help me figure this out. What’s going on?” So then we’d go through a process and the fact is that the hermeneutics, the concept of hermeneutics in western culture comes from Christianity. How do we understand this fricking thing?
Jim: How many angels will dance on the head of a pin. Right?
Jordan: You can get wrapped around a lot of knots, but the long and the short of it is something like that is an article of faith. And there’s an experience that as you spend enough time on a particular question, by the way, I’ve got a great one for you in a moment, you’ll begin to discover that your understanding reveals that what appeared to be a contradiction is actually a lack of, not even perspective, but almost like consciousness on your part. That you actually have to grow as a person to be able to grasp what’s actually being said or done there. And maybe by the way, you may never grow enough as a person to get there.
This is like the experience that we all have by the way. You read a particular good book, like a really rich, strong, beautiful, timeless story when you’re 14 and some of it you get, some of it you don’t. You read it again when you’re 60, you are like, “Oh my goodness, there’s a whole lot more going on here than I perceived. Because I wasn’t the consciousness, I wasn’t the being. I wasn’t the soul that could receive the whole of it.” Well, the premise is the Bible is that ad infinitum.
Jim: Again, my little needlings, I like to quote the thirty-nine death penalty offenses in the old testament, in Matthew 5:17-19, where basically Jesus says, I did not come to change the law, not change the genre, title of it, blah, blah, blah. The idea that he repealed all that stuff, killing anyone who violates the Sabbath. But anyway, so that’s one of my little needles, but I’ll [inaudible 01:43:35]. This is not your basic beliefs, but it is in the statement of theological distinctives, which the subtitle is The Christian and the Social Order. All Christians are obliged to seek to make the will of Christ Supreme in our lives and in human society, and basically talks about that Christians should oppose racism, reform, greed, selfishness, vice, all forms of sexual immorality, blah, blah, blah. We should work to provide for others, blah, blah, should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. It sounds an awful lot like theocracy.
Jordan: Well, in fact, it’s very much not. It’s actually a really good point. Going in the direction of theocracy would be the perfectly satanic version of that. It’s absolutely the opposite, but precisely because it’s so close. One of the things I’ve really been puzzling with is, by the way, as a backside, this question of Satan or Egregore and how that works, obviously I have to be treating that very seriously and now delving into it. So this idea that the fundamental adversary, which we can frame a variety of different ways, will always take the thing that is closest and pervert it just enough, otherwise it wouldn’t actually be effective. So the true kingdom is the exact inverse of theocracy. But when people grasp that through the faculty of let’s just say for the moment, just truth first, they fall into an ideological mapping, which is by the way, idolatrous, an ideological idolization of Christ.
And this produces the worst possible circumstance. You really have to spend time going delving very deeply into these things to avoid the pitfalls. And of course they’re definitely pitfalls. But the point is something like, well, I’ll give you an example. One of the principles that a friend of mine said is that his understanding of Scripture is that one of the fundamental elements of something called soul sovereignty. And this is part of what was governing his relationship with me for decades, which is you Jim, have a soul and you have exclusive sovereignty over that soul. It is utterly inappropriate, immoral, wrong for me to endeavor to bring your soul in any direction other than where you choose to bring it. I can share with you the truth that I have received in my life as best I can. I can share with you my testimony of my life experience as best I can. And I can answer the questions that you asked me with as much understanding and capacity as I can.
But I cannot endeavor to convince and certainly not to propagandize you of literally anything. And it’s actually one of the worst possible sins would be to do that. And not just me, God has granted that sovereignty to you, the keys to your soul are yours and yours alone. Well, if you take that as a core principle at the very bottom, then you begin to see how theocracy is a violation of that in the most egregious fashion imaginable.
Jim: So what do you think your church means by that?
Jordan: What they mean is twofold. One is a real reaction against an error that happened in the American church, particularly the southern church in the mid-century, which was a withdrawal. A withdrawal from the world. A one and done, dot a couple I’s, cross a couple T’s, learn a particular secret password, kind of like you say with the Catholics. Confess on your deathbed and everything else is good to go. Look, the world is utterly, fundamentally corrupt. It ain’t going to get any better. You’ve received Christ’s salvation, hunker down, keep your head down, sin maybe a little bit less than other people, hope for death soon, go to heaven. That actually was a pretty significant piece of the American Protestant universe for way too long. And that is something that our particular church is aware of and is endeavoring to heal and restore. So that’s a big piece. That’s actually much more important than any of the other elements.
The notion of no, we actually have a responsibility. We actually are called to be co-creators or collaborators, to cooperate with God and to support the kingdom of heaven on earth. We’re here for a reason. So our salvation begins something, but the actual sanctification, the process of living in the world, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It’s here. We’re supposed to be doing this in this world now according to the way that when you look at the gospels, Christ talked about the kingdom in heaven, what it looks like and how to live it. He talked very, very, very little about your personal salvation, how you should hunker down and not do anything until heaven comes. And then the other piece is actually in some sense very straightforward. We’ll return back to our notion. If you are actually living in the context of religion, you have a religion in the way we’ve been describing it, and you have a hierarchy of values, you would be engaging in the worst kind of hypocrisy if you did not fully commit to living those values into the world as an individual in the communities that you’re living in.
Jim: Let’s go from there, because this contrasts pretty strongly with late epoch game B, thinking around coherent pluralism. The idea that we’d have membranes of various sorts and they would be enclosed in other membranes, not necessarily in hierarchical fashion, could be in a network fashion, and that each membrane and super set of membranes would develop its own virtues, values and norms. But other than a small coherent core, very small, coherent core, membranes would make their own judgments about what constituted life well lived.
And as I’ve often said in my public talks, I could imagine two membranes, proto Bs, let’s say, civiums, five miles apart, just to be extreme. I have one bans abortion totally. If you have an abortion, you’re out. The other one, abortion is mandatory, no children may be born live to any member of this civium. And I have said publicly that either of those could be a game B membrane, so long as they are part of the coherent core of three or four core values around how we live, which do not get down to that level. What is wrong with that idea and why should essentially there be a universalizing way in which the Christian Church wants to make everybody adhere to their game plan?
Jordan: Well, I would actually say at a slightly higher level. So the hypothesis is that there is something like good. That the arc of history brings us towards the good. And it’s very difficult for us to discern the good. And we make errors constantly and we live in a tissue of our own fabrication, almost always. But it’s there. And let’s just say for the moment, a way of saying it is that God created the good or is the good and the hope, the yearning, the desires that all people ultimately find their way to that because it is in fact actually the good, right? It’s just like with your own child, it’s the best example is like with your own child. You want your child to have two very distinct parts of life.
One is you want them to have freedom, you want them to become their own person and to live the life that is theirs, to live and on their own terms so they can truly, authentically, actually own the life they live. And two, you want them to actually live a good life. You want them to live a life where they are oriented towards the highest possible good. And they are experiencing that as richly and fully as possible. That’s actually another way of saying that exact same phrase.
Jim: I don’t know if you sold my recent tweet, I put out one with a triangle for the personal level, virtue, responsibility, and freedom. And all three constrain each other. I would argue that’s a pretty close snapshot of how we should think about ourselves and our children, and our neighbor. Though, they may choose different trade-offs. My view is that the good is socially constructed and that it can vary. And that cultures that have very different histories may have say very different settings for freedom versus responsibility. You can look at the psychological work done on East Asians versus WEIRD people, white educated. They literally see the world differently at the level with East Asians seeing relationships much more strongly than objects.
The way people speak about scenes when they’re describing a picture, they’re qualitatively different. And so it’d strike me as not at all unreasonable, that someone who family has 2,005,000 years of East Asian culture might come to a different setting between freedom and responsibility than somebody who is post-enlightenment, WEIRD person. And I think that’s, at least my take is that’s okay. And I can see a game B world where there are many settings, I call it coherent pluralism. And the church doesn’t buy that. The church believes that what the Bible says is inherently true and everybody better follow that or they will be in trouble.
Jordan: Well, okay, let’s continue to hit on that. So I do not believe that the good is socially constructed, but I do believe that our understanding of the good by necessity is socially constructed. Our ability to teach each other about it is in relationship between those two. Part of it, of course, is our own experience, which is in relationship with something like reality. And the second is with our projections, our models and our stories and our narratives. And those are going to, by necessity, be different. And that’s true, by the way, for groups as well as individuals. My understanding of the nature of the good is that you can not bring another person into the good by means of tyranny. Maybe I could just end it like that. You cannot bring another person into the good by means of tyranny. If you deeply, deeply love another person’s soul, as I would propose the good tells you you should, then you also know that it is a heartbreaking effort of relationship to endeavor, to create a space that cultivates them towards this thing which you don’t understand and which they don’t understand.
And the journey towards which is going to be fraught with all kinds of error and pain. That’s the right way of looking at it. Right? This is not a simple prospect. It’s the most painful thing that could possibly be imagined because of course it’s the human existence in this world and needs to be held in that way, like in the heart as just tragedy or post-tragedy. This is the key. Tragedy and then hope.
Jim: Where next for the journey of Jordan Hall? You’ve been a person for as long as I’ve known you since 2008, has been a person on a mission to bring something to the world. And you’ve tried things and you still have some vision. You’ve now made a very huge change in your personal metaphysics and your personal community and many, many things. And I take this as absolutely true that you’ve done this in good faith. Where does the journey of Jordan Hall go next after this big change?
Jordan: At the bottom, of course. This is going to be a lifelong exploration for me. So I’m painfully aware of the fact that I’ve got a very late start on this process. Again, I’ve got friends who’ve been working on this for 40 years. I’ve been working on it for a year, more or less. In all likelihood, I’ll pass away well in advance of me reaching anything like a truly mature theology, for example. In any event, that’s going to be a part of it. How do I make a commitment to living as deeply as possible in discipleship? That’s one. Two, being in truly intimate relationship and communion with my church, which by the way involves struggling over certain questions. Like you mentioned this Orthodox perspective on the Trinity, the statement of it, which is a Western articulation, is that actually proper? I don’t know. The eastern Orthodox might have it right.
How do we navigate that? How do we chew that? How do we continue to grow our wisdom as a church? But more fundamentally, by the way, we’re facing a really profound problem. We’re just about tapping out at that Dunbar three threshold. 150 people in the church right now, plus or minus a few. How do we deal with that? How do we grow without scaling? Is there a way to do that? We’ve got something very good going on. There’s no question about that. It’s extremely attractive. Many people come and they stay. Some people have left their existing churches to come there. So there’s something that wants and needs to grow. But if you grow massive, a thousand people, that’ll definitely die. If you fragment, that’s tricky. So that’s actually a big question for us as a church and me personally for lots of reasons. I’m sure you can understand.
We’re actually now at a shockingly a relatively mature proto B, but well ahead of the curve because we got to leapfrog or what do you call it, bootstrap. Third, and this is linear, is okay, how does this work with the larger community? I happen to be in a town of about 8,000, probably 93% go to church in some meaningful sense. It’s a very Christian town, although lots of different denominations, including some Orthodox. But how do I properly participate in the health and the wholesomeness of this place without imposing my own perspectives or limited values too heavily and causing it to break? And by the way, in the context of what I expect will be very choppy waters. I think economically, politically, geopolitically. So for me, those three are significant. And then the fourth is where proper, and where, by the way, invited. I’ll do nothing to present myself out there, but if invited to speak as much wisdom and understanding as I can to the benefit of other people who want to do those first three for themselves in the places that they love and care about.
Jim: So we expect to see, as you know, the area where you live is right in the middle of Billy Graham territory. So do you see yourself as the next Billy Graham?
Jordan: Oh, no, definitely, definitely not. Although it does seem like I have some responsibility for speaking to the sub-tribe that I used to be a significant part of, the artistic technology agnostics. Many of them have reached out to me and I will have a conversation where anybody who’s reaching out to me is in good faith, which so far everyone has. And where I have the energy and resources and feel like I can actually respond to them properly. And if somebody’s in a real crisis, I don’t think I’m the right guy to talk to. If I find myself traveling, evangelizing in a public fashion, I’ve gone awry. This would been my commitment. At that point, execute on that NDA agreement we had way back.
Jim: Okay. And I guess the final, final wrap is you’ve always thought really big picture at civilizational change level, are you going to spend any more cycles on that? Are you going to focus on the three or four Dunbar numbers above your 150?
Jordan: Well, the interesting, the answer to that actually is pretty profound. The answer is actually the question, It’s called vocation, which is say, what’s your proper calling? My responsibility is to actually find and then carry out my vocation. And it may very well be the case that I have some real responsibility for continuing to think and work on this civilization level stuff. And if so, then I will. As I mentioned when I wrote that essay on Medium, I didn’t want to write that essay on Civium. I spent a good solid two and a half years not, but it kept coming up in a way that made it that I felt I had to. And so, if it is my responsibility, if it’s my cross to bear, if it’s mine to do, then I will do it. And we’ll find out. I don’t know.
Jim: I look forward to it. I hope you do. I always learned a shitload talked with you about these things, and I remain on that mission, and I hope we can collaborate in the future.
Jordan: I hope you guys actually make good on your promise to come out to this region. We can collaborate in person.
Jim: And we live close, and we’ll definitely be down there this spring. That’ll be fun. It was a shame we couldn’t make it over the holidays when Covid event canceled our trip, but we’ll get back there. Don’t worry about it. I look forward to sitting down and talk about the stuff in the usual depth, and particularly the extremely strong good faith I think you and I have managed to build over the years where we may disagree, but we never think the other person is trying to bullshit them.