The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Douglas Rushkoff. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Douglas Rushkoff. Douglas is a professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at Queens University, city of New York University. He is the host of the Team Human’s Podcast. He’s author of the book Team Human as well as more than a dozen other bestselling books on media, technology and culture, including one of my real favorites titled Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. My wife and I were both reading it while we were spending a month in San Francisco. I think this was probably 20… When did it get published? 16, I think it was 2017. We were seeing these unlabeled white buses sneak around that we eventually figured out, “Ah, those were the Google buses.”
People have been throwing rocks at them, and now they were incognito, but that was definitely a yikes experience. His most recent book is Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires. I just kindled it about a week ago, and perhaps Douglas and I will be back another time to talk about it. But today, we’re going to focus on two of his recent essays on Medium. They’re titled, What’s a Meta, M-E-T-A, For part one and part two on Medium. As always, links to these will be on our episode page at jimruttshow.com. Welcome, Douglas.
Douglas: Well, thanks for having me. It’s good to see you.
Jim: This is great. I think this is your third appearance on the podcast. You were one of my very first, which I really appreciate.
Douglas: I know, and you seem cheerier. You seem to be a happier man now than when you started this podcast.
Jim: Probably that first one, I was not knowing if I knew what the hell I was doing.
Douglas: You didn’t.
Jim: Of course, the answer was I wasn’t. I just making it up, but now, I’ve been doing it 260 episodes amazingly enough-
Douglas: Oh my god.
Jim: … and doing pretty well on the listenership and all that kind of stuff, so now it’s fun. Goodness. Well, before we jump in, first, I want to say us farmers have a different answer to what’s a meta for, and that is it’s for grazing cattle. What do you think, city boy?
Douglas: I like that one. It was right. The Paradigms could still get you a phone call in New York.
Jim: Well, I think it was… In the early ’90s though, the word Paradigm just got out of control in business. I was working for a large multinational publishing company at the time, and I used to carry two dimes in my pocket. So every time anybody used that word inappropriately, which was at least 98% of the time, I doubt any of them had read Kuhn’s book on scientific revolutions. I pull the two dimes out, and slap them on the table, “There’s your Paradigms, motherfucker.” Oh dear.
Anyway, let’s get back to our topic. In part one of your essay, you start out with talking about Zuck and his notorious renaming and maybe if he’s successful repositioning of Facebook as Meta. Why don’t you roll from there a little bit?
Douglas: Well, I guess what I’ve been looking at is it’s a perfect case study in the abuse of Meta, much like the abuse of Paradigm. Meta, as most of us know, means going one level above, one level out. Most of us knew that Facebook was reaching the end of its life as we know it. Its subscriber rate had peaked, and it was no longer cool. They were answering all these questions. Sheryl Sandberg jumped ship. This poor guy was alone in front of Congress defending this platform that people didn’t even want to play with anymore.
His solution in one sense was to go meta in the same way that when the dotcom boom, and bust was happening, and all these websites were competing against each other. Remember, Tim O’Reilly came out with Web 2.0. You don’t want to be a website. You want to be the website that aggregates all those other websites. Go meta on business, become the aggregator, and you could be one level above, one level beyond everybody else. It looked to me blatantly like, “Oh, so now that Web 2 has run its course, what does Zuckerberg do?”
I’m going to do Web 3, so we’re good. Web 3, we’ll go meta on Web 2, and aggregate all these other things in a new blockchain, virtual reality, every buzzword that we can come up with basket of next generation tech that we will own. Just so make it clear that no one can go meta on me after that, my name is just going to be Meta, so we’re just Meta. We’ll keep going Meta as long as we need to.
Jim: Of course, he was also going Meta, I suppose you could think, in the media sense, right? If you think of Web 1 back when you and I got involved, it was all text in the occasional image, right?
Jim: Web two-ish, lots of images, and then lots of video. Then Web three, well, the Web three, weird term. I mean, some people use it to mean blockchain bullshit, which we’ll talk about a little bit later, but another way to think about it could be legitimately the idea of immersive telepresence, what people call virtual reality or augmented reality. I suspect he does mean to capture some of that too, not just to be the king of all things.
Douglas: Oh yeah. No, right. He means it as VR, which is interesting because when I first heard Web three, it was meant to refer to the semantic web. Remember that?
Jim: Absolutely. I went down that rat hole quite a long ways. Learned how to write, what was it, RDF statements, and played with some of the simple tools for navigating them, whatever. That’s something I wake up at 3:00 in the morning about once a year, and say, “Whatever happened to the Semantic Web?”
Douglas: I know. In some ways, I think it became AI and GPT chat is in some ways. Once I can have… It’ll be funny. Once I can have my GPT chat answering my email, and other people are using theirs to answer theirs, then I guess we just leave, and let our-
Jim: Speaking of which, ChatGPT is quite amazing. I mean, I played with these generator tools since they’ve been coming out all the way back to GPT-2, I guess, and the art ones and all that, but ChatGPT does go over some line where it’s like… I couldn’t find the obvious walls within two hours. I can show you where a few the walls are now, but the walls are way out. This thing is actually good for a lot of stuff. You’ll love this. I’ve done lots of things like, “Now, describe Hegel’s concept of the absolute.” It does a pretty good job on something like that, oddly enough.
One of the first things I did is compare and contrast Conrad’s Lord Jim and Melville’s Moby-Dick, classic 12th grade English essay. Not bad, but it was just fun fooling around. I actually used it for something useful this week. I had it write me a resignation letter from some boredom on and-
Douglas: Oh my God.
Jim: That’s the kind of thing that you struggle of, because you want to get it just right. You don’t want to insult people, et cetera. I said, “Write me a resignation letter from X. Say that I’ve got new responsibilities. I’m too busy, blah, blah, blah. Make it very pleasant, upbeat, and yada, yada.” It basically took me 10 seconds to type that in, and it wrote a perfect letter better than I would’ve ever written myself.
Douglas: That’s interesting. I know. Well, I got students doing that now, which is really interesting. I mean, two of the pieces written, the final project essays in my propaganda class, were clearly AI written. I mean, I knew it for two reasons. One because I’d seen these students’ writing the rest of the semester, and two, the way… It’s interesting though. The AIs have a certain flatness about the way they express themselves. They stay at one level of depth, where usually when you’re interacting with a person or reading a person, they go deeper in and then come back out. The AI seems a bit flat. It’s not that it’s not deep, but it’s at a very standard level of depth.
Jim: That’s today. As my good friend Peter Wang likes to say, let’s consider ChatGPT to be December 1903. What’s the significance of that? It’s when the Wright brothers got their first plane, more or less, a large kite with an engine on it off the ground. These things will improve very rapidly. In fact, I was playing the other day with another one of these tools called Character.AI, where their little shtick is that they have built a front end and a backend that allows them to take a model like GPT-3. It may be GPT-3, though, I don’t think so, and give it personality.
I’ve had conversations with Aristotle, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the most recent one I had was with… What’s his name? Soprano, the guy from the TV show.
Douglas: Tony Soprano. That’s great.
Jim: Tony. It was actually pretty cool. It was like… I have to say, these things didn’t have that flatness, didn’t have that political correctness.
Douglas: Well, not yet, but the interesting thing is… I mean, I keep thinking back to the moment that Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator came out. I remember all the kids were making Rave flyers for things with these new technologies. There was a moment of a few months where we thought, “Oh my gosh, anybody with these tools is now a designer.” Everything looked professional until we started to really become able to perceive, “Oh, this is just some kid being led by his tools versus a real designer using the tools.”
So, there was a recalibration period, but now, any of us can see the difference between a designer using one of these things, and just some jerk using a template, not a jerk, but an amateur using a template. I feel like the same thing will happen with AI, that we’ll get to that place where we’re able to perceive, “Oh, this is an AI talking to me.” Even if right now it looks like, “Oh my gosh, this is…” In other words, our ability to push through a touring test will get better and better over time.
Jim: Well, that’s interesting, because I remember the first time I had that experience was… Remember PageMaker way back in the dawn of technology?
Douglas: Oh yeah.
Jim: That was the first thing that made it pretty easy to use fonts, and create brochures. There was quickly a whole bunch of butt-ugly brochures on the street, right? As you say, the tools were powerful, but the skills were not.
Douglas: Right, or the skills rise. I mean, so using a real author, using an AI writing tool in theory will produce something more interesting than a complete amateur just typing in a question, but we’ll see. That gets to the heart of what we were talking about though with this going meta thing. You could say and many technologists I’ve talked to are specifically afraid of AI, because they think AI will go meta on them. I remember I was at one of O’Reilly’s things, actually. Do you know those food camps that he does?
Douglas: I was at one of those, and a guy who was responsible for one of the main teenager using social media platforms or apps, he was concerned. He said, “Doug, I’m concerned for you. You’ve been writing some really negative things about AI lately. Aren’t you scared that when the AIs are in charge, they’re going to look at what you wrote, and use that against you?” I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “Well, I don’t write anything at all. I don’t tweet. I say nothing. I selectively delete anything that’s about AI from anything social.”
I said, “Well, if these AIs are going to be so smart, aren’t they going to be able to see that you intentionally left out anything about AI? Aren’t they going to be able to easily infer how you feel about AI based on that?” He looks at me like, “Oh shit, you’re right.” That’s the comeuppance for trying to go meta on everybody is you think that something like AI or what they used to call it, the internet of things, you could’ve realized that you are the thing on the internet of things. You’re the thing being operated.
Jim: There’s the general version of that thing that your friend or the kid was concerned about. It’s called Roko’s basilisk, which is the theory that the great AI in the future will come back and torture everybody who tried to obstruct it in any way.
Douglas: Good luck with that. We’ll program in for them not to do that today, but the meta thing that Zuckerberg was doing, and in some ways that that person who was afraid of AI was doing is these wholesale leaps from one thing to another as if that’s the desirable evolutionary path. When Peter Thiel, his business book is called From Zero to One, as if what you have to do to run a successful business is be one order of magnitude. That’s what he says. Literally, you have to be 10X what the competition is.
Everybody else is competing, and you can rise above that competition, or even when Stewart Brand says, “We are as gods, and may as well get good at it.” This idea that we are once removed, that we can somehow rise above, like Kurzweil, rise above the chrysalis of matter as pure consciousness, and go meta on this mere mortal Terran existence is when it’s like, “Oh, wait a minute. I get it. You want to be… I understand you want to be self sovereign,” but even that construction, I look at it, what does that mean, self sovereign?
You’re king of you. You not only objectify everyone and everything else. Now, you objectify yourself, and become both… You’re both monarch and subject in the same reality.
Jim: That is an unfortunate direction. In fact, in the second part of our discussion, we talk about your part two. We’ll compare and contrast that, which I would call late stage financialized Game A with Game B. We’ll have some difference of opinion about that, but certainly, that is not anything that the Game B movement identifies as good, as ultra individualistic, “Me. Me. Me.” But let’s go on, and talk about part one here a little bit. Very apropos, I think you wrote it before the shit show was in full force, but you do mention effective altruism, William MacAskill and Elon Musk.
Those three things have certainly been in the news a whole bunch with the meltdown of the crypto exchange and all the various things Elon’s been doing on Twitter. How do you think those two things fit into your theory of the Meta?
Douglas: Well, and somehow, I mean, effective altruism is the easy one, especially their or many of their idea that the eight billion people alive today are just the larva, the larval stage of humanity. What we should care about are the ones who grow into real flies, and get off the planet so that if there’s eight billion people suffering today, that doesn’t really matter in comparison with the trillions of people who will have spawned the universe thousands of years from now. If you’re a pure utilitarian in some kind of a digital Jeremy Bentham on steroids way, you would think, “Well, the happiness of the trillions matters more than the happiness of the few billion, so let’s optimize for them.”
So even if we have to do stuff that’s very painful for people today in terms of whatever carbon and damage and economic inequality, it’s worth it for this future, which is as different from our reality as going meta. It’s no longer some linear progression in human development. It’s the meta progression to the next stage. I felt like most of these folks, even… I know I started to talk about crypto in that sense, this idea certainly of early crypto, something like Bitcoin not. I’m really interested in blockchain used for good things, don’t get me wrong.
Blockchain to orchestrate the power grid is a really promising way of understanding these technologies, but Bitcoin was, for me, a funeral pie. We’re just going to convert atoms into bits, so it’s the conversion of the real world into the meta world, the physical world into this cryptographic symbol system. Once you believe more in the symbol system than you do in reality, I mean, that’s pure idolatry. That’s the biggest danger we can face.
Jim: Interesting. I have my own objection to Bitcoin. I still have it, which not that one. I do. That’s an interesting one. I’m going to have to meditate on that a little bit. That is that, frankly, all Bitcoin is a digital form of gold, which has replaced the cost and energy of taking the ship around the horn, and the hike up the mountains to the Yukon gold rush for burning a bunch of electricity, and accelerating the heat death of the universe, but that doesn’t really add anything new. If anything, it’s a step backwards because of its deflationary design. I’m amazed that so many people have fallen for Bitcoin, I must say.
Now, of course, I made the trading mistake of believing I was right, which I think I’m right, but I made the trading mistake of not realizing how many people would take the other side of the proposition, and so bitcoin’s up a factor of, I think, about 200 even now from the time I denounced it. Oh well, if you’re a smart rut, why aren’t you rich, right?
Douglas: Well, you’re right. It’s just the timing that’s a little off. It’s off.
Jim: Exactly. In the same contemporary basket of things under change in going meta, Elon Musk, you’ve written subsequently about him a little bit. What do you think about Elon and Twitter?
Douglas: I mean, I don’t even know where to start. I mean, I think what Elon Musk and Twitter… What Elon Musk is doing successfully is revealing how ludicrous it would be to use a techno monarch as ruler of the country, as a proof of concept for Peter Thiel’s techno monarchic designs. It’s saving us all from that, because it looks like, “Oh, this is what it looks like to have an impetuous imperious person making one decision one day, another decision another day, saying what he’s going to do, then changing his mind, and then going back on this promise or that.” It’s bizarre.
The scariest moment, it feels to me like what Elon is doing is Trump 2.0, that Trump was the troll in chief for the years that he was on that platform. I mean, there’s no question. Musk really has gone and bought the platform, and tried to use the same sorts of, I don’t even know what you call it, the same sorts of blackmail that Trump would use on the platform, but where it worked politically, which just shows how bad politics is, it doesn’t really work in a free market. So, what Musk did to try to be a bit like Trump was said that, “Anyone who pulls their advertising from this platform, because of how I’m acting, we are going to unleash thermonuclear war against you. I’m going to get all of my Twitter trolls to go against your company, and do this.”
It was frightening to people, but that’s a really bad way to attract advertisers to your platform. Could you imagine voluntarily going and advertising on a platform where you understood that if you decided to leave the platform for any reason, like the mob, they’re going to come after you? By that, I mean the original mob, not the mobsters, but in some ways, it’s like the mobsters too. They’re going to turn the trolls on you. Oh my God, stay away. Stay away from that. But it was interesting to see it because it was… I feel like in some ways, the first person who had this identity on Twitter was Charlie Sheen.
Remember back when Charlie Sheen had his public nervous breakdown on Twitter?
Jim: I was not on Twitter in those days. I didn’t actually start doing… I had an account since the week it went up, but I didn’t really follow it until after I started my podcast. Us podcasters have to become media horrors to some degree to promote ourselves.
Douglas: We do. We got to at least get those links out.
Douglas: Oh my God. Quoting a link, quoting a link, that’s my entire Twitter persona at this point is just links to other things. I can’t… When I go on Twitter, I feel so awful afterwards. It’s just such an aggravating experience to see what people are believing, and the kinds of things they’re arguing that I’ve just opted out for now. I can’t really watch it. Charlie Sheen was the first person to have this manic, manic nervous breakdown on Twitter. Then I felt like Donald Trump did the same thing. It’s not that they’re leading something, but they jump into this standing wave of culture, that Trump did, and then embodied it and rode along with it.
Now, I feel like Musk is trying to surf that same thing. He can’t really influence it. All he can do is try to ride it. Every time he tries to impact it or intervene somehow, it backfires on him. I think he’s finally coming to grips with, “Oh, this is a bigger and more difficult challenge than I first imagined, and that my middle school level understanding of freedom of speech is not up to the challenge of negotiating this community.”
Jim: It’s been interesting to watch him flail about, but I still am reserving reservation on whether it’ll be a disaster or not. I think there’s three possibilities. One, he actually does see something, and he is steering towards it as rapidly as he can. It was funny. I was giving a little talk out at the Santa Fe Institute three or four weeks ago, and one of the things I was musing about at the time was, “Well, maybe some of the things Musk is doing is sensible, but firing all those people that quickly, I don’t know about that.”
Well, I was there. I talked to two people from Silicon Valley, both of them very sensible, mature thinkers, one a VC, the other senior executive at a large company. They said, “Jim, actually, he’s probably right. You won’t believe how overstaffed those high-flying San Francisco tech companies are. He could probably fire 75% of his people, and it’d be a net gain.” I go, “Maybe.” I will say that his changes in free speech are certainly a change. I actually wrote an essay called Musk in Moderation when he first announced… It’s on Quillette, when he first announced his takeover.
I specifically warned against his claim standard that if it’s legal, it should be okay on the platform. You and I, we’ve talked about this last time. We’ve both been in the online world since at least 1980 in my case, I think 1990 in your case. We know that if you make what is legal the standard, it’s going to turn into a dumpster fire every time. It’s legal to use the N word to someone’s face as a personal insult in the United States. It’s legal to say, “I hope your house burns down, and your children die.”
You can’t build a community based on behavior like that, so you have to have decorum. It’s probably wise to rule out truly unsafe things like how to commit suicide, or how to commit bulimia or whatever. On the other hand, where I am with Musk, and this is where I’m hopeful for Musk, I do think that in a healthy public square, any ideas should be allowed so long as they’re presented decorously. You don’t engage in personal attacks. You don’t dox people, et cetera.
People want to advocate for Marxists Leninism. Have at it, even though it killed 100 million people in the 20th century. Somebody wants to advocate for Nazism. Have at it, people, even though it killed 60 million people in the 20th century. QAnon, I think they’re total nut cases. Make your case. Catholicism, which I was raised in, I think it’s completely batshit nuts, but if people want to advocate for Catholicism, have at it. That part of the Muskian vision, he may actually be headed in the right place, but it’s not clear whether he’s learning fast enough to avoid the inevitable dumpster fires.
Douglas: I mean, I wrote a piece, almost a joke piece, What I would do if I were CEO of Twitter. I mean, the first thing I would do there is get rid of the algorithm. I just never saw why… How does that help anything? If Twitter worked the way it did back when it had its IPO, Twitter would be making… It was making $2 billion a year, which seems to me pretty good off 140 character messaging app, and then stop. The problem is you’re not allowed to stop. In the economy, the way it works, your company has to keep growing so that you get the next level of investors can get 10X or 50X or 100X or whatever. But if you were able to say, “Look, Twitter with 140 characters or go up to 280, $2 billion is pretty good revenue.”
Now, what do we want to do? Do we want to do algorithms, and video, and this, and that, and go nuts, or is Twitter fine?” If they were not boosting certain posts, then they wouldn’t have to see themselves as a publication. They wouldn’t have to then take a call from the government about retuning the algorithm to suppress this, and increase that. Just let people subscribe to them. Well, you remember… Well, in the early days of Twitter, it was really a way for people to do cross-carrier messaging. So if in the old days there were times if you had AT&T, and someone else had Verizon, and someone else had T-Mobile, you couldn’t text each other.
It was like you’d have to get an intermediate, so Twitter served two functions. It allowed people with different kinds of phones to text each other, and allowed you to create subscriptions around your text messages. So, 100 people could subscribe to my text messages when I sent them to the Twitter server. It was great. Then you’re just seeing people you subscribe to. Subscribe to any. You want to subscribe to a Nazi. You subscribe to a Nazi, and read their stuff. That’s fine. But if I don’t subscribe to the Nazi, I don’t want to see that Nazi stuff in my inbox.
I don’t want some algorithm to put it there trying to trick me into being upset, and then retweeting it to my 30 friends for them to be upset and so on and so on. Then it’s trending, and then it’s this. That whole thing is just isn’t needed. If you’re going to do that, then it’s a newspaper. Then you’re making selections, and you’re making editorial selections, and I don’t think you know 230, whatever it is, section 230. It doesn’t work anymore. It just seemed to me pretty easy to do it that way. Then if that’s not making enough money, what about slowly turning it over to some DAO, some kind of…
You create an editorial community that’s curating Twitter or people who are actually working there. Let them be worker owners. Let users be user owners. It’s like… This is what all this tech was for, what all the DAOs and blockchains. We finally had something, “Oh, let’s do that.” So, if I was a billionaire like Musk, and didn’t need to make money on Twitter, I would look at its, what do we used to call it, return to community. How do you return this app to the people who use it?
Jim: Of course, Jack Dorsey always claimed that his biggest mistake was turning Twitter into a business when it really should have been a protocol that was open sourced.
Jim: We are now seeing… Of course, I’ve been around since 2016. We are now seeing the Fediverse, Mastodon, and other things that use the same protocol trying to build out. Though I have to admit I just spent a couple weeks part-time over on Mastodon, very boring. It’s like hanging out at the lunchroom of the New York Times or Columbia University. It’s the conventional wisdom recited again and again and again. The thing I do like about Twitter, and why I don’t have most of the negative valences about Twitter, a lot of people do, I only follow who I want to follow. I mostly follow people in what’s called the heterodox space or the Liminal Web, what you call the sense makers.
We’ll get to that in a minute. I think I follow 700 people, and they never talk about team red, team blue politics. They never talk about celebrities. They never talk about the annoying crap that apparently circulates widely on the rest of Twitter, but that is the neat thing about Twitter is that you can find your people, and build yourselves very dynamic networks of these people. I wrote in another essay just published a couple of days ago on Quillette called… What the hell is it called? Saving Twitter-A Roundtable, and with two other authors.
Unfortunately, mine’s the second buried in the middle essay. I basically suggest that Musk actually live up to his vision of helping humanity, and noodge Twitter to being the collective intelligence platform for humanity. Allow us to find those communities that we want to work together with. To your point, don’t stuff Nazis down our throat, or don’t stuff Marxists, Leninists, or QAnons, or Catholics down our throat either.
Douglas: Right, but the problem is Musk personally clearly has such a deep-seated need for a certain kind of attention to be seen as the bad boy, good boy, radical this, that, that as much as he can, he’s made Twitter about himself, and Twitter about itself, and there’s this moment… I remember when I was first called in by one of the major American Jewish. I don’t even know what you call it, the more solipsistic Jewish organization worried about Judaism. I remember telling them, “Look, the minute that kids sniff that Judaism is more concerned about Judaism than it is about them, they’re going to go running.”
There’s a moment in every institution’s life where it becomes more about preserving the institution than doing whatever the institution was there for. So if you go on Twitter, and the main conversation is about Twitter, who cares? Then it’s like, “This one’s going down.”
Jim: That is true, that since Musk took over, get back to the M word, Meta Twitter is probably 20% even of my feed. I curate my feed pretty rigorously to keep it focused on these new interesting heterodox ideas that are cooking out there. You are right. Eventually, people say, “If it’s meta Twitter all the time, and Elon…” This is my third possibility for Elon and Twitter that he’s in a Trumpian narcissistic doom spiral. I think that’s possible, but I hope at least that he’s not as utterly toxic a personality as Trump.
I mean, Trump is just nothing but a narcissistic shit show as far as I can tell from top to bottom, and that he will at some point realize that there are other interesting things he could do with Twitter, and just beating his chest, “Me. Me. Me.” Hey, you’re already the richest dude in the world, or second richest. You got nine kids, half a mil illegitimate. I mean, you’re the man. You’re the man. Let’s move on, right?
Douglas: Right, but the beauty of the downward spiral of the solipsistic tech bro shit show that you’re referring to is if he does it, it’s self scapegoating. But if he does it, then it exposes the whole toxic tech bro shit show. We can go, “Oh, that’s not the direction.” So, Mark Zuckerberg wanting to be Augustus Caesar, which we should be thankful it’s not Caligula. I got that. It’s better. It’s still a Roman dictator. It’s like, “No, that’s not the direction to go, my friends.” Elon Musk wanting to become some version of Jeffrey Epstein with just spreading his seed, what do they call it in Simini?
They’re spermicidal. They have a name for what they are. They’re sperm people. To spread, it’s part of their-
Jim: Oh, Jesus.
Douglas: Their branch of effective altruism is once you realize that your genes are better than everybody else’s, spread them as far and wide. Find as many teenage girls to impregnate as possible. Build dormitories for them, and spread that these tech bro fantasies are exposed through Musk. They’re exposed. Meta, what… Meta’s stock price has gone down 70%. Facebook’s like the next Friendster or something. Sam Bankman-Fried has not blown up all of crypto hopefully, or all of blockchain, but he’s blown up a certain bizarre, distorted tech bro dream of what that could be.
All I’m hoping is that these guys crash and burn, not necessarily personally, but they destroy the illusion. This emperor with no clothes thing is revealed. Then we get to still save the net. We get to save the blockchain. We get to save these technologies for what they’re actually good for, which is the stuff that you and I have been doing with them since the ’80s.
Jim: Absolutely. That’s actually good. It’s a good positive way to look at. Even if it is number three, if it’s the Trumpy and doom loop, it’ll basically poison that whole model sufficiently. I love the fact you mentioned Augustus Caesar. I didn’t know about Zuck’s obsession with Caesar, Augustus, until I read Steve Levy’s book on Facebook. Actually, I had Steve on the podcast. We talked about it, and he goes into the considerable detail that Zuck is utterly obsessed with Augustus Caesar. Even his wife bitched about, “Hey, we went to hit Italy on our honeymoon.”
Instead of going to seeing the art, and going to have fine food, all he wanted to do is go to the various scenes of the Battle of Augustus Caesar, and he got… Oh dear.
Douglas: He even got the haircut.
Jim: He even got the haircut.
Douglas: He’s got the-
Jim: It’s like, “Ooh, dear me, oh dear me.” Well, let’s move on now to essay number two where you basically have turned the corner, and say, “Tech bro’s silly, et cetera,” but then you come after the SenseMakers, right? I will confess, I’m considered part of that SenseMaker world of folks who were looking for an alternative, the ones I referred to earlier as the heterodox folks. Some people call it the liminal web. If you want to look a little map of the liminal web, a guy named Joe Lightfoot put a very interesting paper back out in November 2021 called The Liminal Web.
So, just search the liminal web, Joe Lightfoot, and it’ll come up. There’s a number of people, now tens of thousands of people who are looking for an alternative to techno utopianism, but also an alternative to team red, team blue politics, also an alternative to 18th, 19th, and 20th century-isms, et cetera. I think we’re doing good stuff. You’re less sure. Let’s hop into that.
Douglas: Well, there’s a lot of podcasts, and they’re podcasts done by smart, intellectual, psychedelic, thoughtful white men. We know who they are. We can say their names. I mean, they’re not evil people, Jordan Peterson, and Daniel Schmachtenberger, and Jordan Hall, and Jamie Wheal, and David Fuller, and Alex Biener. They’re all on podcasts like Rebel Wisdom and Consilience and this and that. They have a conversation that is very much like conversations that I have. Usually, I have them tripping or high or after reading a rear. I’ve just read Julian Jaynes, and now I’m thinking of the nature of mine.
I just read de Chardin, and I’m wondering, “Are we moving toward the Omega point? When will humanity find itself and get into this thing?” They’re pitched as sense making, yet they’re actually, for most people, quite destabilizing conversations. They’re not like… If you’re confused and wondering what the heck’s going on, and you go through one of these conversations where they’re just piling on metaphors about Star Trek Jedi is in battle with a Wu Li master, but is it fractal, or is it post fractal? Well, it’s actually… It’s like, “What the fuck is people… What is being said here?”
Oh, just like, “Well, don’t worry, if you didn’t understand that, you could take these neurotropic pills, and enhance your brain power, or you could take my sense-making course so that then you can understand it, and it’s all going to be okay. Just trust us.” I go like, “Oh, wait a minute. There’s a cognitive risk of listening to this stuff.” It felt to me… Then I reached the peak of it when I listened to this one conversation between… I guess it was on Rebel Wisdom between Schmachtenberger, Jordan, Jordan, and Jamie, where they were just piling on metaphors on metaphors, and talking a lot about Game B.
In it, they were pretty much arguing that Game B cannot be understood even what it is with our Game A minds. Any attempt to describe it or give words to it will only infect it and inject it with Game A logic, and not let it happen. That, to me, is not, really, that it could only be understood through metaphor. Once we are there, we will know what it is. They were talking about de Chardin’s Omega point, this point of total unification of the humanity that we get to as this real thing that we aspire to, this thing with this eyes on the prize, ends justifies the means determination to get there.
I was like, “Oh, there, that’s another version of meta.” That seemed to me what they were trying to do with all of their sense making is point towards this abstracted Omega point of collective consciousness that we get to in some kind of a leap, and you don’t really understand it, but we hold hands and close our eyes, and get there. I was like, “That, to me, dovetails just a little bit too easily with hand wavy emergence theory, with zero to one going meta on things.” It didn’t seem to be really instrumental in helping people get incrementally, and safely, and in a way that protects the most vulnerable towards the kinds of outcomes that you and I are both sharing.
I mean, I’ve called it Anarcho-syndicalism. You call it Game B, but I love… It’s like a world of lots of little kibbutzes network together, and making stuff with our hands, and playing. It’s just like, “Man.” It’s almost like the Seasteading dream, except we don’t have to go on the ocean. We can just do it right here right now in little communities. I could share a drill with my neighbor instead of them having to go to Home Depot, and buy a minimum viable product one, and chucking it two days later, and throwing the rare earth metals in the ground.
I mean, obviously, Game B as you described, the end state, allows for that. We don’t have to serve the market. We get to… You know what I mean? When I tell people in a talk, I say, “Instead of going and buying a drill, borrow one from your neighbor.” Someone gets up and says, “Well yeah, but what about the person who’s working at the drill company? What about them?”
Jim: Oh dear. Oh dear. There are so many of those. Like, “Do we all really need 2.5 cars in our garage?” No. Probably 0.5 cars per family would be fine, and even better if there’s a community pool of cars. There’s a pickup truck when you need that. There’s a little electric vehicle for when you need to go here and there. There’s an electric bike, so many optimizations around it. But back to your sense of the sense makers making no sense sometimes, let me confess, sometimes the boys go too far and go out there into yackety-yak land, or I have no fucking idea what they’re talking about either, even though I’ve been working with them for the last 10 years.
But, let me give this big but. I believe that these kinds of talk is been indispensable into drilling deep enough, into understanding Game A, because if you don’t understand the binding energies in Game A, what holds Game A together, how Game A keeps replicating itself, despite the fact most of us hate it, right? This has required 10 years of serious study by very smart people. Whatever else you might say about these SenseMaker guys and women, there are a few, about 25-
Douglas: A few, but that’s another thing to look at, and is part of the replication of it because it’s all of these white male dudes? Nothing to be so woke even about, just that it’s a particular culture of western thinking, Western psychedelic thinking that yields itself again and again.
Jim: I do agree with that, by the way. It’s very interesting. Since Game B started in 2013, it’s been amazingly consistent 75% male, 25% female. One of the things I am going to propose here is we pivot to Game B 3.0 soon is a rigorous gender balance that men and women have. Now, this is… Wokes want to hang me. Of course, they want to hang me for all kinds of shit. I don’t care. Fuck you, wokes, but men and women have different roles in our biological lives, and probably some significant psychological differences. Again, these are on average people.
There are some women who absolutely should and would like to be Marine Corps infantry officers, and they should have every right to do that. There are some men that really love being preschool teachers, but I’m willing to bet serious bucks that in the perfectly gender egalitarian world, there’s going to be a lot more men Marine Corps infantry officers, and a whole lot more women as preschool teachers. Anyways, there are differences, and so that a real Game B has got to be equal in the inputs of males and females.
We’re already reaching out to other cultures, though we do have to fix Western culture first. It’s the one that’s doing the most damage to the world. So, starting there I don’t think is a mistake, but getting inputs from indigenous cultures around the world who have tens of thousands of years of living in balance with nature, which is the first thing we have to figure out, it’s really important. Let me make the case for why these intellectual excursions have turned out to have been useful, because you will now see in the next year or so Game B pivot from being the thing that can’t be named, and don’t ever, all that sort of stuff-
Douglas: Which is the part that scares me the most, because especially as a Jew who has family that lived through one Holocaust, and the Cossacks on the other, it’s like unless we define terms early, I don’t know if I want to be on the ship.
Jim: That’s understandable, right? I’m a pretty tangible down to earth guy. I don’t tend to-
Douglas: I’m not afraid of you. I’ll let you be my president in a second. I’m fine with that.
Jim: If I ever get elected president, I’m going to appoint Douglas as my Supreme Court justice. That’s just what you want, a smart guy with a big heart as the head of the court system. Then we can actually have justice. What do you think, R and R?
Douglas: Come on. I got to get a law degree, but then I’m in.
Jim: Actually, you don’t. It turns out there have been Supreme Court justices who were not lawyers. It’s legal.
Douglas: Oh my gosh. Perfect.
Jim: How about that? Anyway, so I’m a tangible guy. I build shit. I build companies. I build software. I build technologies. I’ve got a farm. As I posted on Twitter the other day, you can’t be a post-modernist farmer. There is no such thing. Either you do things the right way, and your crops prosper or they don’t. But anyway, this 10 years of thought, what Joe Lightfoot calls the liminal web, liminal means on the edge, trying to… Not knowing quite what that is, and we did not know what this was 10 years ago, but we felt it. We could feel that Game A was just wrong. This was not what humans were meant to be.
Since then, many of us have read anthropology. I love Chris Boehm’s book, A Hierarchy in the Forest, which should have really been called Anti-Hierarchy in the Forest, how our forage or ancestors had an operating system that ran for 180,000, 90,000 years that pulled down the big men. It was usually men when they tried to assert their authority over other people. Graeber and Wengrow’s recent book, the Dawn of Everything, excellent book. They actually engaged Boehm, and I would say extend him in a reasonable way. As you pound on us a little bit for, we’ve gone pretty far the complexity science and systems theory.
This is where, I think, really important insights have come about. This is where I would argue that doing it the good old fashioned way ain’t going to cut it, because the isms, capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, et cetera are all simplistic, right? They’re very simplistic, and they don’t really understand what binds the systems together, and replicates them. We look at things we call generator functions as one class of things. These are deep either Game theoretic concepts, nature of how humans actually are, human nature, and then some things that have been invented that hold Game A together.
These include the multipolar trap. Daniel Schmachtenberger talks about this. Again, here’s a very idiot example of a multipolar trap. Let’s imagine five soft drink companies in 1972, sugar in their soft drinks. Archer-Daniels-Midland develops this new technique for making high fructose corn syrup in 1974. One of the five companies says, “Huh, I’m going to replace my sugar with high fructose corn syrup. Cut the price by 50%, tastes the same. Damn, many health consequences. They are metabolized somewhat differently.”
It’s not 100% clear they’re worse, but let’s assume for this purpose, they are worse. Guess what? The other four are forced to respond. Either lose market share, or they also have to switch from sugar to high fructose corn syrup. Guess what? They all did? There’s numerous, numerous of those traps. The military arms race is also a multi-polar trap. Nobody wants to waste money on tanks and bombs other than arms merchants. It’s a flat deadweight loss for humanity, but we’re stuck in a multipolar trap.
Another one, you referenced Gerard, I think, in the first essay. He actually does say something that, to my mind, I think that are other people in Game B call out one of the generator functions of Game A, which is mimetic desire, the fact that we want what other people want. If you can combine that with the other things of Game A, it’s a ratchet for more and more and more, and the hedonistic treadmill. We’re never happy. Unless we think deeply about how to immunize ourself against mimetic desire, we’re trapped.
Another one we talk about is the status symbol. The status in our society is very unidimensional, mostly money, maybe money and personal beauty when you’re young and good looking, right? While in forger worlds, there was the great hunter of big animals. There was the hunter of little animals. There was the tuber finder. There was the fruit finder. There was the Wayfinder. There was the fire starter. There was the stone napper. There was the tent builder. All people all had status, multi dimensions. A big part of what causes that in our society is that we have a single signaling modality for organizing our cooperation.
You and I see the same thing, kibbutzes or Proto-Bs that are networked together and trade with each other, and all this stuff, but we need a higher dimensionality of signaling than just money. My co-author and I, we’re actually working on a book on Game B right now. We were joking. What about the idea of a codfish coin, right? Every codfish… The biologist each year says, “How many codfish could be sustainably taken from the Atlantic Ocean?” Let’s say it generates 10 million pounds of codfish, and so everybody gets a tiny little fraction of a codfish coin. People who like codfish will trade and get codfish coins for other things, maybe oak coins, because they want stuff made out of oak, and we know what the sustainable harvest of oak is.
So, having multiple signaling modalities for cooperation allow us to create a much, much richer world than having everything collapse to money, and having everything collapse to the status of how much money you got. There are some other ones. There’s three or four more of these generator functions. Then these give rise to a second-level of analysis, which we’re looking for a name. You’re a good name, man, so maybe you can come up with it. We currently call it collective illusions. That’s things that we believe to be true as a society, but ain’t, for instance, that money is wealth.
Money is not wealth. Money’s a signaling modality, or that security is individual. I don’t care how rich you are. You’re utterly dependent on a network of other human beings for everything.
Douglas: That’s just so much of what this new book I did is about. I mean, you talk to any real prepper. The first thing a real prepper does is teach everyone on their block how to be a prepper, because they know that the biggest problem they’re going to have is everybody else knocking on their door for their stuff.
Douglas: You want a community of people to depend on easily.
Jim: Exactly. Exactly. The other one, healthcare is health. Look at how much money we spend on healthcare in America as opposed to health. Again, a long list. I’ve got 12 of them on my list. This work has been going on for 10 years. Some of it’s been driven by these highfalutin conversations, and so I am at least somewhat confident that these SenseMaker, liminal web, Game B people have taken a while to think this through, but we now know enough to gradually start nudging the system forward in ways towards our mutually shared vision.
I don’t see Game B at all as being this quantum leap all of a sudden. It has to be a little bit at a time built in place as I call seducing the people over from Game A to Game B a bit at a time. My own timelines says 50 to 80 years.
Douglas: No, and I would love for cultural and societal and economic transformation to happen in that incremental way. It’s not that… Because we know if we talked to Nate Higgins or somebody, if you said all of England is going to be using EVs instead of gas cars over the next five years, that transition alone would use up all rare earth metals, and destroy the planet with a manufacturing blitz. But I guess the issue as it relates to my concern is when I hear Musk or Bannon or even on the left, like a Zizek, I hear the same thing from three different perspectives, which is tear it down.
The system that we have doesn’t work. They lied about the vaccines. They did hurt us. They do [inaudible 00:52:15]. The [inaudible 00:52:14] was bad. Biden is corrupt, neoliberalism. They’re these three different efforts to tear it down. One is the Musk one, which feels like the closest in some ways to Game B, but it’s not. Musk is like, “Everything sucks. We’ve got to replace it with either Musk or Thiel and some kind of technocratic thing,” or you’ve got Bannon, who’s like, “Oh, we got to just tear this down, and replace it with whatever blood and soil.”
You’ve got Zizek from the far left. The Marxist accelerationist can be just as bad if not worse. I mean, they’ve been more violent or certainly as violent as anyone in fascism or anything else, or neoliberalism to tear it down. This drive to tear it down to get to the next thing is what I want to slow down, and have people look at. That’s why when I do hear the sense makers talk about over there, and where we’re going, and this next place, it’s like for me, the theory of change is the change.
How we get there is almost more important than wherever you want to get. Because as you’re trying to get there, you’ll realize, “Oh, this doesn’t work,” and then you change where that goal is when you are doing, and as you would describe, an iterative process, “Let’s try a little of this. Where is this taking us? Are people more happy or less, more fed or less? What are the…” Well, you know better than me, secondary effects and tertiary effects, “Oh my God, we didn’t see that one coming.”
Jim: Most importantly, we can’t see them coming, right? In prin-
Douglas: We can’t, can we? Right.
Jim: In principle, we can’t see [inaudible 00:53:58] effects, and so we have to proceed empirically, experimentally, but this is where I’m going to give the but for Game B in the same way good science goes from theory to practice to theory. The fact that Game B has actually now built some theory allows us to steer more effectively and faster than just flogging around and using our 18th and 19th and 20th century ideologies as our steering wheels.
Douglas: No, which we can’t. Those were developed cynically to support a political nation state bullshit and a corporatocracy and charter monopolies. I mean, that’s my work historically looking at the invention of central currency. I mean, all the isms that you’re talking about, I look at as results of industrialism, which was not even well meaning. It was not even in order to get more goods to more people at less time. It was to get more goods with less labor. The whole thing was a cynical Game from the beginning, but the way we move… That’s really what it is.
The way that a lot of the boys talk about it sounds just like tech bros with TED talk visionary plans. I get it, they’re trying to sell something. Even if they’re trying to sell Game B, they’re trying to sell it in the only way they can with beautiful, flowery of something. I mean, and god, people like Tristan and Daniel are more eloquent than I am for sure. When I hear Tristan, whether or not it’s original, and I always get upset with him because it’s like, “Hey, man, you just… that’s what I just… I wrote a book about that 20 years ago,” but he is saying it better than I could, more convincingly.
He articulates things, and Daniel’s is brilliant the way he shoots up a flare about a concern, and gets people to think these mimetic. I don’t know what they are. They open up in the person’s head afterwards. I mean, he’s a master at these things, which is I guess part of why sometimes I get concerned, because they’re so convincing, and it’s so hypnotic on a certain level, but I don’t know what sort of awareness it engenders in the people that listen to it. Does it… If we’re trying to build people who… If we’re trying to help engender an environment in which people roll up their sleeves, and start engaging in Game B like behaviors, which they could do today.
Jim: They are.
Douglas: I always say just-
Jim: They are. A few are. Not many. A few.
Douglas: Right. What’s the way to do that? Don’t we want to back off from these seemingly elitist, mostly white guy, intellectual, haverford dorm room conversations about the post-fascist, neo, meta, modern future thing? Because when it’s… Some types of people who listen to Game B type rhetoric end up doing projects like NEOM. NEOM, this giant city they want to build in Saudi Arabia, and God bless them. They have a stack for this and a stack for that. We’re water and entertainment and culture and religion and education, but there’s 20,000 bedouins who’ve been living on this land for, how many, 10,000 years.
So, in order to create our ideal sustainable future society, we’ve got to clear away these indigenous people who’ve been actually doing it successfully for 10,000 years in order to build our thing. That’s where I go, “Oh, it’s the theory of change that’s the problem.” You can’t go in Sim City-like, and just clear-cut your way to a Game B. You do it slowly with what is rather than in that imaginary leap.
Jim: I think that’s in general correct, but and certainly no real Game B person would be in favor of the NEOM project I could tell.
Douglas: Oh good. That’s good to know.
Jim: No, definitely not. We would say that’s a horror show. That’s exactly what you should not be doing. That’s classic. I guess it fits closer to what you talked about in part one of your Meta essay, which is the bro billionaire view of what the future might look like. Well, Game B is much more organic, building from small parts that inter cooperate. The last thing we’d want is some big top-down Dick Todd on how to do anything. I think that’s the wrong way to do things, but also that we have also gotten some insights on why things haven’t worked as well as they could have in the past.
One, this is the thing, of all the insights from Game B so far, in fact, it came out of the collapse of the original Game B 1.0. It was a big fight between those who thought social institutions first and those who thought personal change first. We literally fell apart over it, and broke the Game B movement up went, into what called spore mode in 2014, which lasted three years. Then we grew as Game B 2.0, and-
Douglas: This is great because it’s the same argument happened on the left. I remember, I got in an argument with Naomi Klein, where I was talking about, “We should just change our behavior. Just stop going to McDonald’s. Just start doing this, start doing that.” She’s like, “No. No. No. We need institutional change. That’s not going to work. You’re still in the system.” It was an interesting, and the left has never really resolved that tension. I’m interested in this spore mode. How does spore mode work, and how do they find each other again?
Jim: The way it worked was we literally pulled everybody together, and said, “We’re fighting too much. This isn’t productive. Take what you have learned from Game B. Go out into the world, and just do what you do. Perhaps in the future, one or more of the spores will bloom, and it’ll come back, but it might not.”
Jim: It’s over as of today, which was January 30th, 2014. It did go out into spore mode for about three years, and then it re-catalyzed around an essay Jordan Hall wrote actually. I don’t even remember what’s the name, which one it was, but it started pulling people at it. It started growing exponentially. The original Game B team was never bigger than 65 people. We quickly had thousands, and the current world of maybe 30,000 Game B people have grown from that Game B 2.0 thing.
Jim: As I said, there’s many of us who now believe the time is to go to Game B 3.0, which is along the lines of some of your objections, which is we have to actually deliver. Talk is cheap. High tone rhetoric on podcast, we could manu… We’re pretty good at manufacturing that, but let’s build a village where people are actually living better than they would otherwise on 4,000 watts instead of the 11,000 watts the average American lives on.
Douglas: Without $100 million initial investment.
Jim: Making it all pencil out. Let’s actually start building some employee-owned businesses using the new hybrid co-op models, which is a new-
Douglas: Then you’re back, and then you’re beyond the left. Once you’re doing that, then you’re finding Trevor Schultz and the platform cooperative movement, and using open APIs to… Then we’re all on the same page.
Jim: Let’s flip back to this hard question, because you’re right, the left has struggled with this.
Jim: The right has struggled with this. Hitler struggled with this.
Douglas: Ethereum struggled with this.
Jim: Everybody struggles with this. Here’s our insight, which probably comes from the fact that many of us have educated ourselves on complexity theory and evolutionary theory, which is closely related, which is the following. The institutions that you could have are constrained with the capacities that your humans have. We currently have humans who have been living embedded in Game A now for 300 years, and then the younger ones in highly in late stage financialized, I mean, Game A. Fortunately, we’re old enough. We weren’t quite enculturated with it, but now, the shit show’s been fully on least since 1995 and mostly since 1975.
So, these people have certain capacities and certain pre-programming, and you can only build certain institutions with people who have these attributes. Fortunately, people can change, and through personal work with what we call psycho technologies, things like meditation, psychedelic drugs, even traditional religion, dance, martial arts, on and on and on, long list of traditional psychotherapy if that works for people. People can modify themselves to a degree, which then leads us to build new institutions that takes advantage of these people.
Then here’s the key part. This is where Naomi was correct is that if you’re changing yourself, but you’re still embedded in everybody else doing their thing, Girard’s mimetic desire is a constant force pulling you to the bad. Let me give you a very tangible example. I have a daughter who has a two-and-a-half month old, our first grandchild. Our daughter’s very thoughtful. She’s already worried what happens when her daughter’s best friend comes to the house with a smartphone. Shit.
Our daughter is adamantly opposed to the idea of eight-year-olds having smartphones. But if your best friend and all their friends have smartphones, what happens? If you build an institutional structure, a Kibbutz or a Proto-B, where we have all come together, and established our values only for this community, no smartphones to anybody under 18. In fact, frankly, no smartphones for anybody. It’s way easier for people to maintain that change of habit in the context of other people that support their values than it is on their own.
Douglas: I know, but the interesting thing is it’s funny, the Jews do that basically with Judaism. Now, that’s used as an anti-Semitic trope that, “Oh, well, the Jews don’t care about anyone but the Jews.” It’s like, “No. No. No. We were just saying, “Look, if y’all want to eat pork, you can eat pork.” We’re just saying we are just not eating it ourselves.” It’s really tricky. It starts looking exclusive to people.
Jim: Our answer to the… The exclusive thing is it’s a legitimate question mark, because we know before these things that collapse to a single ideology are almost always horrible, right? So, we’ve also added in the concept of coherent pluralism. The pluralism is really important. The coherent part is there’s a certain set of beliefs of anyone who wants to consider themselves Game B, but it’s a quite small list. It may be as small as three items that we will live in balance with nature, and that every organization in Game B will offer voice to all participants, i.e, employee-owned companies as an example of a way you could have voice, and that any Game B entity ought to offer fair terms for exit to avoid them becoming cults.
So if you live in a Game B community, and you don’t like it anymore, you can leave and take your capital account with you. That may be is… It may be that small. It probably won’t be that small, but it could be that’s the minimal set that we’ve all identified. But beyond that, pluralism can reign. The example I use, I could imagine a Game B community that is at least nominally like a Victorian suburb sexually with monogamous couples, no divorce, no fooling around, of course, plenty of hypocrisy around the edges, human nature being what it is, but the social norms would be 19th century, middle class English Victorianism, and then another perfectly legitimate community, which is a sex cult.
Everybody’s polyamorous. We have rules about disclosure and honesty, but no expectation at all of monogamy or anything like that. Both those perfectly legit. I could also see radically egalitarian ones. One of the things I’ve studied is the Kibbutz movement in Israel a lot. I spent lots of time studying it. Originally, all the Kibbutz were radically egalitarian. I love this. The very beginning, they even shared their underwear. People rebelled about that. Now, about 20% of the kibbutzes are still radically egalitarian, but they’re out now on a continuum.
There’s a few that you might call Ayn Rand-ian, but most of them are in the Sweden plus, plus category, where there’s a lot of economic leveling and sharing and big investment in the commons, but it’s not totally egalitarian. I say Game B communities, even Game B companies could be operating along those continuums so long as they adhere to the small coherent core.
Douglas: Right, but the question though then becomes why do they have to or want to be part of the official B thing? In other words, there’s so much development that you’re doing. So, Game B things will have this, and will have that. We’ve worked out this, and we worked out that. It’s like, “What did they join?” Do they join an official federation, and they got to follow certain rules, and if they don’t follow the whatever, then they’re kicked out? What is being a member of the thing? Why is that different than just being an independent kibbutz?
Jim: That’s a very good question. Of course, the Israelis have organized the kibbutz as in… Originally, it was three or four federations, and now it’s two because some of them have merged. They do things like do capital investments together. They’ll build factories together. They’ll build businesses, because the kibbutzes produce 50% of Israel’s food with 2% of the population.
Douglas: Still to this day.
Jim: Still to this day.
Jim: 20% of the industrial capacity of Israel, they have at the level of… These higher level organizations have created distribution companies for the kibbutzes, et cetera. I would see the Proto-Bs that are cooperating with each other doing that, but at a fractal scale, because rather than just having two federations for 1,000 Proto-Bs, I imagine multiple different ways that they choose to interact and cooperate with each other on various things from small things to big things. Then with respect to who can join, anyone who honors any protocol, and this is where it gets very interesting, you don’t have to accept all the protocols.
You may just accept the one protocol about X, how we’re going to do business with each other, for instance.
Douglas: Right, so we could be clingons over here having our war-like horrible stuff, but we agreed to a protocol for exchange, and we trade with you Ferengi Game Bs and human Game Bs over there, even though we have a radically different thought systems.
Jim: You could be quite radical, though we may require the three, living in balance with nature, exit and voice, and maybe just those three. If you want to-
Douglas: You may require that of anyone you trade with.
Jim: Yes, we may require that of anybody we trade with. Not a lot. If you want to be pro-abortion or against abortion, each of us has our own personal opinion, but that’s not going to be a condition of trade. Are you a polyamorous sex cult, or are you monogamous, hypocritical, middle class, 19th century rich? You could be either one. We don’t care. We’ll trade with you, so a relatively minimal protocol on some things, higher protocols on others, right?
Douglas: Right, but not the whole world has to be Game B in order to play along with… In other words, the part of Game B that it gets, I think, communicated poorly to some of the wonderful white male intellectuals who are talking about it is they express it as a reboot of civilization. You pull this switch, and then we get there, this moment of transmogrification from Game A, which is all bad, to Game B, which is all good. It’s like, “Ah.” As you know, it doesn’t happen.
Jim: That’s not the way the world works. Those of us who’ve been working at this longer, we talk about gradually parasitizing Game A from the inside gradually, and as I say, to protect 80 years. If it does, great.
Douglas: A lot of the people will never know they’re in Game B is the thing.
Douglas: That’s the thing. It’s got to be beautiful. I remember, I was talking with a Jewish funder once about him wanting to promote Judaism and all. He had these really ridiculous ideas of how to do it. I said to him, “What if everybody in the world did Shabbat, and followed all the Jewish commandments, and lit the candles, and treated each other, and treated their kids and raised their kids with Jewish values, but nobody knew it was called Judaism? Would you be okay with that?” He went, “Absolutely not.”
Jim: Oh dear.
Douglas: I’m like, “Oh well, then we have nothing to discuss here, sir.
Jim: I’m going to take something away from this conversation for Game B 3.0, which is the… Though it sounds a little Marxian, which is we know that Game B will have been successful when nobody even knows what Game B is.
Douglas: It is nice though. You know what I mean? Because then it’s like we didn’t… Because it’s… People talk about, and I hear them on the podcast saying how Buddhist it all is. Once we get there, it’ll be Taoist and Buddhist. It’s like, “No. No. No. If you’re a Buddhist, you don’t get anywhere, right?” There’s no here, then there. It’s the artificial distinction between Game A and Game B like it’s a line that you cross, and it’s not. It’s like you’re saying, the way we move to a more egalitarian, distributive, for me, Anarcho-syndicalist or for someone else, Marxist, or for someone else, just nice.
I just want us to be social again. That’s what I take from Marx is when he looks… His solutions are so wrong. We’re going to have a giant Robinson Crusoe like ledger through which we orchestrate this. No. No. No. No. No. No. That doesn’t work. That was called the [inaudible 01:11:34], wasn’t it? Didn’t they have a name for that? That doesn’t work. But to return to the social reality that I’m going to go hunt for a pig, you’re going to make some burrito shells, and I’ll meet you at 5:00, and we’re going to have burritos together. That’s a social economy, right?
Jim: With conviviality near the core of it.
Jim: Also, and here’s the other key one. This was one of the very original Game B insights. I’ll credit Bret Weinstein with this one, which is another one of these generator functions I didn’t get to on the list, is cultivated insecurity. Game A, often for malicious reasons, has chosen to atomize us, and make us feel insecure even though we’re living in the richest society humanity has ever known.
Douglas: Well, we buy more stuff if we feel insecure, so it serves.
Jim: Exactly. One of the very first things that Anarcho-syndicalist communities and our Game-B communities I would hope would offer is as long as you are a member of this community, you will not starve. No Game B person, no Team Human person will ever be homeless, at least not voluntarily. That would be a gigantic sea change in how we relate to each other, this cultivated, insecure, cultivated, and unnecessary insecurity. There is enough square footage of housing. There’s four times as much food could produce in the United States to feed every American, and yet people go to bed hungry every night. People are sleeping on the streets.
I was in Denver the last month. I haven’t been in Denver in a while, and there’s thousands of people looking pretty damn destitute on the street in Denver. What the hell? I haven’t been to San Francisco in four or five years. They tell me it’s even worse there. Our world’s one of the load stars that both of us are steering towards is and cultivated in unnecessary insecurity, and replace it with everybody having a home, everybody having a community, nobody being lonely with this cult of loneliness.
Douglas: The part that gives me the EBGBs though is wherever it starts to sound sweeping and total, there’s a part of me that goes, “Be careful.” That whenever you say, “Look, Game A is wrong as if…” I mean, that gets to the Muskian, “Let’s just tear it all down,” or the Bannon, “Let’s just rip this thing down as quickly as possible because it’s wrong.” We’re going to get to this sweeping total change, and the way the world will be is like this. The world will be like that that… It’s totalizing in a way that makes me feel like, “Well, it starts to feel like a broad brush.” You know what I mean?
Jim: I think-
Douglas: Scary things happen.
Jim: I think it is fair to say that there’s been sometimes too much of that in the Game B rhetoric. One of the things I’ve been guilty of maybe a few times, probably less than some of the others, is the Collapsetarianism.
Jim: Now, here’s though where I think you have to keep it in attention, which is I have been less collapsetarianism than some of my colleagues, but I’m not zero collapsetarianism. I say that there is a chance, and it’s non-trivial that our complex stack of ways which we make our livings in the west will decomplexify substantially.
Douglas: That’s such a nice way of saying it. In other words, the person doing the mortgage actuarial assessment will be digging holes for alfalfa.
Jim: Exactly, and that a fair number of the people living in jobs they couldn’t describe to their kids will end up being turned into jerky cooked over tire fires, right?
Douglas: Yes. Hopefully not.
Jim: It could come to that. Game B does have in its DNA the fact that we may have to react very, very rapidly if things do come unwound. I call that the short road to Game B. The one that we’ve been talking about mostly is what I call the long road to Game B, where we get there without any discontinuity. That’s what we all hope happens. People like Daniel Schmachtenberger, for instance, are working with people at the level of undersecretaries of defense and stuff to try to help with avoiding catastrophe in the short term so that we have time to evolve to this better world over.
It’s going to be three generations. It will be a very different world on the other side of this, a world of exponential growth in a finite planet transitioning to a world of stable or meta stable growth within the planetary boundaries is a gigantic change on par with the invention of Game A around 1700. So, it will be a big leap.
Douglas: Again though, when I hear though, “Oh, well, the old Daniel Schmachtenberger is working with the head of security of the Swedish Secret Service or something to look at these security risks, or that this member of rebel wisdom is meeting with Klaus whatever on great reset strategies.” I’m thinking, “What the heck is going on? Why are we dealing with the hegemonic world, the world leadership?” I hear, “Oh, look, we’ve got Prince Harry is now on our side.” It’s like, “Wait a minute, what’s going on? Who’s preserving what at this point?”
Jim: I do wonder about that kind of stuff. But on the other hand, we can go back to Christianity. Christianity was famous that Christ and the disciples went out and talked to what were thought to be the worst sinners. They were denounced by they call them the scribes and the Pharisees for talking to the whores and the sinners.
Douglas: Well, it’s one thing to talk to the whores and the sinners. It’s another thing to go talk to Caesar about how to maintain power and the coming transition.
Jim: There’s some truth to that. We certainly wouldn’t want to do that, though at the end of the day, they did flip Caesar also, finally did it.
Douglas: Yes, they did.
Jim: It took 300 years, and so when Zuckerberg becomes emperor, hopefully we’ll have seduced him or at least his offspring to Game B.
Douglas: Game B will be in the metaverse. Good luck with that one.
Jim: No. I will say there’s a lot of us, myself included, who are seriously considering taking the Mennonite route away from the metaverse. It’s not clear to me that anything good happens from making our life even more digital than it is now.
Douglas: I know.
Jim: I haven’t made a firm conclusion on it. I’ve had for a while one of those Quest 2 headsets. I fool around with it. I haven’t seen anything very interesting in it, but part of our Game B diagnosis is that having become so divorced from nature as well as being divorced from our fellow man is another part of what’s driven us crazy here in late stage Game A. That gets sucked into the metaverse. You hear some of these very cynical views from these bro techies that you’re talking about. Mark Andreessen, I think, most famously said, “Oh well, the guy would be happy working as an Uber Eats driver, so long as when he comes home, he has three Lambos and a palace in virtual reality.”
Douglas: Exactly. It’s the ready player one-
Douglas: … view of the world, but the humanity’s not going to be happy stacked up in a little trailer that’s going into the [inaudible 01:18:58].
Jim: No, I hope not. I hope they’ll look for an alternative, but we shall see. I mean, we’re at that point of the exponential tech with things between AGI, biohacking with CRISPR, virtual reality. You can go on and on down the list where things are going to change, and AGI particularly. We have to get in front of it so that change is for the better and not for the worse. I think we’ll both agree on that one.
Douglas: I know. It’s just, again, if we can do it, capitalism hates it, but slow and steady put a pseudo pod in a new direction, and see what’s there. Gentle speculation brings about such better things than sweeping things. It’s like the way Game B looks, even if it’s not what you intend the way it looks is we’re going to have a complete stack ready to go, and then once enough people agree, we can push a button, and deploy Game B, and we’re in the new fractal now. It’s like, that’s not how it goes. It’s not… It’s funny, I was talking to Tyson Yunkaporta about the whole meta thing I was writing.
We were talking about various Game B-ish people, and he goes, “Oh, but Jim Rutt, he’s okay.” He’s like, “Feet on the ground, you know where he stands. He’s real. He’s on…” It’s just it’s there. You know what I mean? You’re grounded in reality, which is so much more comforting than if we’re having one of those conversations about, “Well, if I see it like this, and you see it like that, when we get to the Omega point, do you think the cerebral reincarnation of the vibrissal cortex will manifest dialogically or pedagogically?” It’s like, “What?”
Jim: I will say that that critique is legit, that there has been perhaps more of that kind of talk, but maybe it was necessary to get people to…
Douglas: It may be, but it’s partly because once you talk about a transition from a Game A to a Game B, from this state to a next state, from a now to a meta state, it attracts a certain speculation, I think, of people. I get it. We’re all in pain. We’re all looking to move from this thing, especially a whole bunch of tech bros who know that they’ve done terrible damage to this world, and want to get away from that maybe without paying karmic debt or even paying it, whatever it is. But they realize, “Oh my God, we fucked this up pretty bad.”
In Game B, there’s sometimes the illusion that, “Oh, we can pedal to the metal do more of this, and get out on the other side with Game B.” But the real Game B you’re talking about, “No, sorry, it doesn’t work like that. It actually involves… Slow down.”
Jim: We’re not techno optimists at all. Schmachtenberger is definitely a think-slow guy. I would say he was the one that really brought that. I will say there were some tech optimists in the early Game B, but I think the effect of Schmachtenberger has been very good at making us realize that you can’t live on… You can’t be pursuing exponential processes in a finite world. That’s one if… If that one simple idea, if I could get into people’s heads, we’d start to behave, I think, a lot better.
Well, I think this has been a great conversation, really enjoyed it. We talked about lots of interesting things as always, so it was great to have you on the Jim Rutt Show.
Douglas: It’s great to be here, and it’s so fun to disagree without flaming. You know what I mean? It’s just like, “What the fuck? Wait. No. Yes. No. Yes.” I’m hoping that we’re modeling something that many of our peers don’t, if you know what I mean, which is a brittleness in response to challenge. What’s the point of that, right?
Jim: Exactly. It’s funny, when your essay came out, a few Game B people had their, “Oh my God, what’s Doug Rushkoff saying about us?” I said, “Doug’s a good guy. He’s on our side. Let me book him on a podcast. Let me read his stuff carefully.”
Douglas: I was surprised. I was surprised by how quickly, and I actually told a lot of my friends this. On Twitter, Game B, a couple of people reacted very negatively, and other Game B people were saying, “Well, wait a minute, I’ve read… Rushkoff might have a point here, and even if we don’t mean that, look at how he’s seeing this. What could we do in our communications to make him not think that this is what…” I was like, “Dang, that was…” I was like, “I didn’t expect that. I expected rage.”
Jim: Well, I’m glad you saw that. I’m glad you saw that, because that was what I would’ve hoped, right?
Douglas: It was amazing. I was like, “Oh, well, this community is a whole lot more resilient than I gave them credit for in the way I was thinking about them.”
Jim: It’s also a lot bigger than people think it is, right? You think of these-
Douglas: It’s not seven white guys in a room.
Jim: It’s 30,000 people now. It’s still 75% guys, but it ain’t the 10 guys you’ve heard about all the time. Some of them are doing their own things. One of the things I love, it’s kind of a spud off of Game B called Doomer Optimism. They’re really good at communication. They’re better than the home Game B crowd is. They’re basically focused on small-scale homesteading, and being a little bit more self-sufficient, doing potlucks with your neighbors. It’s real grassroots, but it’s real Game B in its orientation.
I find that to be a really nice, relatively recent phenomena. There’s other ones spouting off here. I can’t go three days without doing a Zoom with somebody who’s working on some Game B thing I never heard of. I think that’s great.
Douglas: That’s really what we want to see. All I want to see is less talk, more let’s just do it. Time’s running out here.
Jim: Indeed it is. Well, again, thanks for a wonderful conversation, and we’ll chat again.
Douglas: Thank you. All right. You take care.