Transcript of Currents 089: Erik Torenberg on Status Games

The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Erik Torenberg. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.

Jim: Today’s guest is Erik Torenberg. Erik’s an interesting guy. He does all kinds of things. He’s the founder of a company called On Deck, which helps entrepreneurs start up companies. Chatting in the pre-show, we kind of came up with a little tag line. “It’s the pre-Y Combinator,” right?

Erik: Yes.

Jim: It helps you learn how to be an entrepreneur. He’s got a venture capital, early-stage venture capital operation called Village Global, and he’s becoming a podcast mogul, particularly with his podcast Moment of Zen. So welcome, Erik.

Erik: Thanks, Jim. Appreciating being on the show. Long time listener, first time caller.

Jim: Yeah, thanks. You know, I was on your podcast way back yonder.

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: Was that called Moment of Zen? I don’t even remember.

Erik: No, it was called Village Global Venture Stories, and I highly recommend listening to that. Jim was great on it.

Jim: Cool, cool. So anyway, I reached out to Erik, I don’t know how many months ago it was, but when he published an essay on his Substack. Oh by the way, he has a well-worthwhile Substack. The essay was called Status, Vulnerability, and Status Vulnerability. That really resonated with me, because in the game B world we think about that a lot. We think about the Girardian mimesis of status as being one of the bad attractors in game A, that has us all chasing after shiny objects that provide us no satisfaction, and get us caught on the hedonic treadmill. And so whenever anybody sort of breaks out of the status game and tries to think about it differently, I tend to pay attention. I thought that essay was actually quite good. So why don’t you sort of start us off, and tell us what caused you to think about status at that time, and at least outline your thoughts?

Erik: Sure. So I think about status in a few different ways. It often has kind of a negative connotation, but a more neutral way to look at status is it’s about reputation, and it’s about how we allocate reputation. We need to allocation reputation, because we need to know who to befriend, who to marry, who to trust, who to work for, who to let us govern. I was thinking about status in particular because I was building communities. I was investing in communities and in products, and I wanted to have a better framework for thinking about what communities were desirable, and why were certain people … You mentioned Y Combinator. Y Combinator is a high-status community. What makes Y Combinator a high-status community?

And so as a practitioner and an investor, but also as a thinker, I wanted to have better frameworks for understanding status. So that’s originally why I set out to write that post and kind of a series of posts that follow. One was called Beliefs are Fashions. Another was about how we signal status today. And so what I did in the piece is I talked about … I first started by saying, status has evolved significantly from how we used to think about status, right? Back in the day, you had your family. You had your job. You had your tribe. You had your beliefs. They were all given to you. You didn’t really … There was not status mobility. And so when that was introduced, you could now … Everything was up to you. You had to pick your community, your friends, what you did for work, your beliefs, and as a result, whether you had status was up to you.

And so as a result, status games became really high stakes, because with status mobility became status anxiety, right? Because back in the day, if you didn’t … If you were a lower class, well, that’s not your fault. That’s just what you were born into. But now if you’re not high status, that’s all your fault and all weighing on you, which thus made comparison games much more high stakes.

Jim: Yeah, I was just going to ask. When you say back in the day, right, you think about the history of status and status mobility. It has changed over time. You know, you think about forager times. There was very complicated status games played in forager societies, and one of the things we find interesting about those in our game B analysis is they were high-dimensional, right? There was the person who was great at grubbing tubers up with their toes. There was the kid who was amazing at figuring out how to drive rabbits into a corner and catch them with four or five of his friends. There was the mammoth hunter who had great status. There was the storyteller. There was the shaman that could cook up the magic mushrooms and take you on a cool trip. Every one of those was a different dimension of status.

Then we kind of went through a more static period where as you say, you were born. You were a grubber of barley working under the authority of the landlord in Mesopotamia, and you and your descendants are going to be barley farmers for the next 3,000 years, not a damn thing you could do about it. Then you had something like the Roman Empire, where there was a significant amount of status mobility, or even better the Republic, where you could be born a slave and end up an advisor to the emperor, or even an emperor himself I think happened once or twice, right? And so there was more status mobility, and there was huge status games amongst the elites.

I love reading about the late Roman and early Roman Empire … Late Roman Republic and Empire. Just finished reading a very interesting revisionist political biography of Julius Caesar, for instance. The status competitions amongst the class of people who wanted to have political and social status in Rome was unbelievably intense, probably even more so than our own society. So anyway, that’s a lot of bullshit. But actually the idea is that status mobility and such has changed repeatedly over time and when you were talking about back in the day, how far back in the day were you talking about?

Erik: Yeah, I think that was a great overview to say that there are cycles, and there are moments where there … Or there are times periods where there is more status mobility and where there is less. What I then focus on with the piece is, what do the status games look like today in a world of social media?

Jim: Yeah, that’s a huge change, obviously.

Erik: Yes.

Jim: But you know of course, that’s a sudden jump. It’s a discontinuous jump, in some sense. But the world was opening up to status mobility, let’s say in the United States, more or less continuously. Probably there was a step change after World War II with things like the GI Bill, where suddenly anybody who wanted to who had served in the military, which was most adult men, could choose to make a discontinuous jump in their socioeconomic status, and many, many did. Now interestingly, my parents did not. They were from working-class stock. My mother grew up on a beat-ass tenant farm and left home when she was 14, and my father dropped out of high school after ninth grade and did not go to college, ended up fighting in the war and then becoming a cop.

But they could have, but they chose not to, and they were actually quite happy not to, which was kind of interesting in and of itself. But lots of people made that jump, and then in the ’70s with the big explosion of the size of the university systems, there was another giant opportunity to jump in status. I think those are all real important too, to keep in mind. And then finally, sometime what, around 2007, comes social media as we have come to know it and loathe it.

Erik: Yeah, and we go from playing status games with our local communities, to then playing status games with eight billion people, and the stakes are just too high. It’s almost like Twitter is to status and outrage, what a candy bar is to our craving for sugar, right? Our propensity to chase status has always existing, in the same way our craving for sugar has, but social media has exacerbated our craving to unheard-of levels.

Jim: Yeah, and you particularly hear about this in the … Of course, it’s being played out in all different dimensions for all different reasons. But the one that seems to get a lot of attention currently is the status games played by adolescent girls on Instagram and similar systems, as a particularly intense and pretty much new kind of hyper-reality status game, with these beauty filters and all this kind of crazy horse shit.

Erik: Yes, so this is really interesting and exposes a few different ideas. One is this idea that beliefs are fashions, and I’ll illustrate that by referencing a Tweet I saw [inaudible 00:08:39] the other day, or quote a Tweet which said, “A decade ago we used to believe in spirituality, but we lost sort of excitement about religion. The same people a decade later are less excited on spirituality and more excited about organized religion.” Similarly, we talked about adolescent girls for a second. A decade ago, therapy used to be stigmatized, and mental health. And now it seems that mental health and therapy are almost high status, so part of it … And you know, you’ve been around a lot longer than I have. You’ve seen sort of beliefs and trends fall into fashion based on what kind of people are adhering to it. Once the uncool people adhere to it, then they seek the alternatives, so some beliefs are truly just fashion and cyclical.

But I think another part of therapy that’s really interesting, and this relates to the vulnerability part, which is there are two kind of status games. One framework for status games is that there’s the importance game and there’s the leveling game. The importance game is how you signal how important you are. Saying something like, “I went to school in Boston” is a way for people who went to Harvard to say that they went to Harvard, without being kind of crass about it. The leveling game is a way for people to show that they struggle, too. It’s a way to relate.

What people do is they combine the importance game and the leveling game. So they’ll say things like, “Oh, I’m just so busy right now because I have so much work.” That shows that … Or, “So much demand, or so many people want to meet with me. I can’t meet with all of them, and I feel bad about it.” That’s a way to signal how important you are, and it’s a way to signal that you struggle too, in a way that isn’t a threat to other people. Because some of our foundational myths are the American dream, i.e. anyone can make it if they work hard enough, and kind of some level of moral equality that people have the ability to rise up. And so what therapy does is it shows the leveling game, “Hey, I struggle, too.” And it also shows that you have enough money to pay attention to therapy, and enough sophistication.

So, why is adolescent girls struggling? Some people will … Jonathan Haidt would probably immediately focus on Instagram, and what that does. But I also think there is just this greater desire for liberals in particular to care more about therapy, more about mental health. I think it’s because they also care more about status and more about seeming like a good person, because they care more about progress, and therapy is a signal. How do you react to that?

Jim: That’s kind of, yeah, interesting and curious, and something I’ve definitely noticed in my working-class hometown to do a little … What did you call it? Leveling. “Doing a little leveling there, boys,” right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: “He may be rich and famous today, but he was a struggling kid back in the day,” right?

Erik: Exactly.

Jim: And as I’ve often joked with people, I never heard of anybody going to therapy except under court order, basically. And with one exception was some woman whose four-year-old kid died tragically in a weird accident, but that was considered perfectly reasonable. But otherwise, “Going to therapy? What kind of a fucking weirdo are you?” And as I mentioned, my dad was a cop and of course every once in a while if you shot somebody, you’d be ordered to go to therapy to do it. But the cops were very, very ironic and humorous about it. They’d say, “Oh yeah, I’ve got to go talk to the wizard.” That’s what they always called him, the wizard, and nobody took it seriously. It was just one of the things you had to do as a cop, if you got into a serious situation.

And so yeah, I do not come from a native culture that thinks of therapy as a thing. And then when I went off to college, I met people from upper middle-class suburbs and a lot of them from the New York metropolitan area, up in Cambridge … But it was the other end of Massachusetts Avenue. I discovered the concept … I suppose I’d also seen it in ’50s and ’60s literary fiction, of what I would call recreational therapy when the Freudian or fraudian, as it might be better called, psychotherapy became a status marker particularly in the New York metropolitan area and I think to some degree in L.A.

And so I saw a bunch of that, both secondhand through literature and firsthand through people from upper middle-class suburbs, and I thought it was kind of screwy, frankly. And now we’ve moved on to … Then there was kind of a period where that stuff fell out of favor, and there was a big emphasis on psychopharmacology for dealing with a lot of this stuff. But now therapy seems to be back, and as you say, sort of a status symbol, almost. “Aren’t I cool?” And I suspect that something similar is going on with all this trans mania, right? That it’s a way to get status, particularly if you happen to be a rich white girl, right? You go, “Oh, I’m a rich white girl whose daddy is a middle-level executive at Blah Blah Corp., but I’m trans, or I’m gender-fluid,” or what the fuck, right?

You look back at the statistics 20 years ago, the incidence of trans was about one in 5,000, right? And it was a serious medical condition, and it was for real, no doubt about it, right? And now in some suburbs, it could be two to 5%. You know, there’s no way that a medical condition is going to go from one in 5,000 to two in 100 in 20 years, so at least … No doubt there was probably more really grounded medical trans than one in 5,000, because there was a fair bit of stigma about it. It’s a good thing that people who really are suffering from body gender dysmorphism or whatever the fuck they call it, can come out and safely be that. But it also seems like, got to be 95, 98, 99% of it is some kind of bizarre status game. What do you think about that?

Erik: There was a … So, I agree with a lot of what you said. There are people who are genuinely struggling with body dysmorphia, and it’s amazing that we’ve destigmatized it and allowed resourced for it. At the same time, it’s funny. There was a Reddit post that illustrated what you’re talking about, which is there was a kid who came out as trans to their dad, and their dad … I don’t know if this is apocryphal or real. But their dad said, “Oh, really? I’m trans, too,” and then went to school dressed as a trans person. And then the kid said, “Please stop. I’m not trans anymore. Just please, for the love of God, stop.” And so I think that’s a funny anecdote. If the kid is still trans after that, well then certainly you’re trans.

And then similarly, I was listening to Theo Von, this comedian, who he was saying how his kid came to him and said, “I’m trans.” Theo said, “I’m not rich enough for you to be trans. I just bought all this clothing, all these boys’ clothes. Give it at least two years before you …” Yeah, I think it is interesting if you scatter plot sort of the socioeconomic background with the trans, how it’s very low in working-class communities for a number of reasons, some of which you’ve mentioned. The stigma I’m sure makes it less common. But I think it’s a mix of things there. I think it’s part of what we’ve been talking about. I think it’s also rebelling against the parents.

I think it’s also celebrated in our culture, and especially if you’re a young white man and people are saying that you’re what’s wrong with the world. Here’s a cooler way to be, and a way that maybe you get celebrated more. That’s in addition to the people that are genuinely struggling. Freddie deBoer has this post called The Gentrification of Mental Illness, and I think a lot of things have been gentrified, as in people who are not actually struggling the same way are joining those communities for the sort of elevation of care and attention, and even cool and hipness that they get. I think trans is no exception.

Jim: Yeah, I think another thing like this I bitch about all the time on Twitter, makes people think I’m a rigid old fart, is I also say, “What the fuck is all this stuff about trauma?” Again, back in the day a trauma meant a visit to the emergency room if you were lucky, right? It didn’t mean you broke up with your girlfriend, or you botched the Eggs Benedict at a brunch, right? I’ve heard both of those things described as causing trauma. My reaction is, “Oh, the poor little snowflake.” I think that fits in nicely with this pattern of kind of mental issues as a bizarre kind of status symbol.

Erik: Yeah, I think there’s a few things going on there. So one is, as a society we know how to handle people who are being too aggressive. We don’t know how to handle people who are kind of weaponizing their victimhood, because we don’t feel comfortable saying, “That’s not real,” or, “That’s fake victimhood,” because there are genuine victims who are really struggling and we want to honor them. And so some people will weaponize that as a way to gain attention or status or resources, and so that’s one thing that’s happening. Another thing that’s happening is truly just this therapeutic way of looking at the world, which is everyone has trauma. They just need to work through their trauma, and then they will be happy or free or something. So it’s kind of like its own metaphysics that has an ideology to it, where therapy and trauma is absolutely core. It’s like praying, or it’s doing the work, right? It has a religious component to it, so they genuinely believe it’s the way to happiness and to being a better citizen, almost.

Jim: Yeah, that’s what they tell me, but I don’t see them having their shit together nearly as much as, I would say the exemplar for me was my parents’ generation, the G.I. Joe generation. Born in the ’20s, lived through the Depression, had their lives turned upside-down in some cases by the Depression, then off to World War II. Come home into the Cold War with the bomb hanging over your head your whole life, right? Now there’s some trauma, motherfuckers, and those people were competent, mostly. The level of social disintegration was a lot less, much more cheerful. They loved to joke. They were really good folks, right? I must say, I look back at my parents’ [inaudible 00:18:54]. I mean, of course there was plenty of exceptions. There were people who had issues. Certainly, some of them tended to drink too much, for sure.

But I would say if I wanted to organize a rumble, I would much prefer a group of G.I. Joes over a bunch of millennials. They have their shit together a hell of a lot more, or let’s say a battle … Not a battle. Let’s not be violent, but two post-apocalyptic villages. Who’s going to end up with both villages, right? I’m going to tell you, it’s going to be the G.I. Joes, not the millennials.

Erik: Yeah. Well, when you have real external threats you have to be ready for them. When you don’t, you kind of invent your own, invent our own struggles. Most of our struggles are internal or in our minds because we haven’t had a hot war in a while, at least one as close to us as some of the ones in the 20th century were. But this also relates to another idea, which is Rob Henderson’s idea of luxury beliefs. This is another indication of how status signaling has changed, right? Before, it used to be about luxury goods where you owned a special jewelry or whatever it is, and that was a signal that you were rich, that you were high status, because you could afford to spend lots of money on something that was kind of extraneous, that was kind of for show. It was a subtle way of showing you were high status.

And what happened is, manufacturing got better. Goods got cheaper, and everyone could start having these goods. And so then the … Because beliefs are fashions, and fashion need to be signals of high status, if everyone has the luxury good it’s no longer a reliable signal of high status. So we then moved from luxury goods to more cultural capital, things that you couldn’t just buy, or you couldn’t buy right away. Things that you had to go to college for, things that were harder to obtain that showed that hey, you were part of the elite. So we went from conspicuous consumption to inconspicuous consumption, so like certain beliefs or certain ways of speaking. Saying the words heteronormativity, or problematic, or engaging in therapy, these are things that non … You have to go to college to really have a sense about. You have to sort of ingrain a whole literature or a whole way of being that’s almost like a finishing school, and it separates you from the rubes.

I think what people are really trying to do is avoid being classified as a rube. They’re trying to show that they are part of the elite, but they’re trying to do it in a subtle way that doesn’t make them look as though they’re trying to show. And they’re so subtle that they actually convince themselves, right? The best way to deceive others is to deceive yourself in the game of constant status signaling. So quickly, a luxury belief is one that, like a luxury good, it shows how high status you are by doing something extraneous or saying … So example, something like polyamory. Polyamory doesn’t tend to be good for you. It doesn’t tend to lead to sustainable outcomes. I don’t mean to judge polyamory. I’m just saying compared to monogamous societies, and that’s one example.

But if you’re polyamorous and you’re high status, you can get away with it. You can just find someone to marry, like you’ll be totally fine. Whereas if you’re lower status, if you don’t have wealth, if you polyamory you might have a kid out of wedlock. You can’t handle it, et cetera, so it afflicts some cost. Another example is … A last example is, abolish the police. The people who are saying abolish the police were white wealthy people, mostly. That’s the people who suffer the least, who have the least to lose from a lack of police, because they have gated communities, or they have low crime. And so abolish the police is a way for them to signal that they care about other people while suffering no cost from it. It’s also kind of a ridiculous idea, and so it separates them from the rubes who would be like, “Of course I want police.”

It’s kind of like the Midwit meme where the elites are trying to not be on the bottom. They’re trying to differentiate from whatever the rubes say, and that’s why of course whenever Trump said anything … I mean, Trump was the ultimate rube, the ultimate commoner … College-educated people would instinctively think the opposite. Of course, he’s wrong a lot of the time as well, but there was just kind of this instinctive desire to disassociate from the rube.

Jim: Yeah, and this gets us on to the next point you made in your essay, which is the frame of status is not really worldwide, but it’s sort of the worldwide members of your tribe, right? So this description of finishing school for upper middle-class kids, this phenomena of the top five or 10% of society, it’s certainly not ubiquitous. But within that tribe, the status signaling is extremely intense.

Erik: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it is interesting we have this. The biggest differentiator in what people believe and how people act is whether you went to college or whether you didn’t, right? That’s where the biggest polarization in views are. Because we externally or superficially say that we have a classless society because we have social mobility … We have this myth of social mobility, right? Well, it’s actual too, but it’s also a myth in that … And implicit in that idea is a ridding of classes, because anyone can be in any class. And so people can’t just come out and say they’re high class. That would be elitist. But people need to signal to other potential mates, to other potential friends, to other potential coworkers, that they’re high status, that they have cultural capital, that they are someone that they should associate with.

And so when you see … When you say something like, “I went to school in Boston,” you are signaling to someone in the know that you went to Harvard but you are not sort of … If you just say Harvard, someone else who’s not in the elite would say, “Oh, that’s a fancy school, you fancy, fancy person. You think you’re an elite,” et cetera. And so this is a way to signal high status, but avoid triggering people who would call them an elitist, because it’s a big crime to think that you are better than someone else. We don’t like hierarchy in a world with sort of infinite status mobility.

Jim: Yep, that’s certainly pretty funny, but that’s definitely part of the game. And then to the global side of this, we often hear the comment that the elites in New York, Berlin and Lagos may have more in common than the elites in New York have with somebody in Salina, Kansas, for instance.

Erik: Yeah, that’s well put. It’s really fascinating. A safe prediction to make, for example, would be that what happens in elite universities in America is also going to happen globally at an increased rate. So if you see an increase in let’s say people interested in mental health and trauma, you can already sense that in elite universities around the world, they’re going to copy that. Because in every society, there are high-class people and low-class people and a lot of people … In some societies they make it explicit, right? Like I’m not a scholar of India, but my understanding is that they make it pretty explicit, but we don’t do that here.

We don’t do that, and so you need ways to separate. I think what’s interesting is that America sets the tone. You see Black Lives Matter protests, for example, happening or happened in a couple dozen cities around the world, even in cities that had very little Black people or very little racism, and had nothing to do with America. Because, did it signal Black Lives Matter? Maybe, but it also signaled, “I am of the global elite. I care about global problems,” and America sets the tone there.

Jim: Yeah, or at least at the moment it does, but not always. It’ll be interesting to see here, as we get into a multipolar world, whether these meme storms will come from other places, too.

Erik: Well, it’s interesting that there’s potentially a structural reason as to why. So Joseph Henrich’s book Weird, right? He talks about how societies that banned cousin marriage are far more universalizing than cultures that don’t. I believe U.S. has a headstart on kind of the weird philosophy, and there’s just something very universalizing, proselytizing, and in some ways you could describe U.S. foreign policy in the last couple decades as trying to spread this kind of weird American … Like you see in some places rainbow flags before you see an American flag, right? In some ways, that is the American ideology, that they wouldn’t call it American, they would call it just universal, that that’s what being a good person is, right? It’s a sense of morality. And so I don’t see a really competing ideological structure that is proselytizing universal. China certainly has a different way of being, a different morality, a different way of structuring society, but they don’t seem to be as proselytizing about it as the U.S. is.

Jim: Yeah, only so far, though. So I mean now so much of “proselytizing” is essentially bottom-up meme propagation.

Erik: Yes.

Jim: And oh by the way, I did have Joe Henrich on my show to talk about his book back in EP 104. It was a particularly good conversation, so I would recommend people check that out. For instance, there’s a lifestyle in China … I forget the … I don’t know Chinese, Mandarin, so I can’t pronounce it. But the translation is apparently lying flat, and that’s a growing trend among young people to not work, not get married, not have children. I suppose you could call it slacker squared, something like that. I could easily see that spreading to the United States.

Erik: Well, it is interesting how China … My understanding is that their version of TikTok is very different from our version of TikTok. My understanding is that China is taking very strong measures to influence the type of culture that its citizens grow up with. So my understanding was that they were banning kind of feminine men from a lot of TV shows, but they’re trying to show more masculine men, more feminine women. They’re trying to have more traditional values be displayed, and not have some of this more new age American stuff enter, and they’re trying to do it tops-down.

We recently had sort of the protests in Iran over something potentially similar in terms of American ideas, when they enter a population, there’s a certain fitness to them in that a certain under … Culture that is not in power, communities that is not in power, can leverage these tactics or techniques to gain more power. Thus, they are highly disruptive to the existing power structure. So anyways, I mean America both absorbs ideas from all over the world and makes it their own. It’s like this blender. I don’t mean to say it’s only one way, but there is something very fit. It makes sense to me that we would have BLM protests all over the world, but not have Hong Kong protests all over the world in the same way.

Jim: That’s interesting, and interesting you should mention the competition. Actually, one of my favorite little oddities I believe comes out of essentially a Darwinian perspective, and that is why is the U.S. so God damn religious? We’re a huge outlier for economically advanced countries. My hypothesis is that we were the only big one that never had a establish church, and therefore religion had to compete for its adherence, right? And Darwinian evolution has actually produced religions and the practice of religions that’s highly effective in gathering in recruits, or more so than the established religions that we see in most of the rest of the world. That is the reason why the U.S. still has an anomalously high religious population, because we’ve evolved very rapidly.

All kinds of new things, like the prosperity Christianity, which I can imagine poor old Jesus Christ tearing his hair out if he actually were to wander into one of these things. But these are the basis of many of the megachurches, for instances, and the very radical Pentecostals. This is stuff that is a dynamic evolutionary outcome of free competition in religion. So you may be onto something there, that our memes may be more fit because there’s more competition and less top-down constraint on them.

Erik: Yeah, and it’s really interesting. In general, I know that you are not religious at all, or not a fan of religion. It’s interesting to think about why rationalists, like why isn’t the world more rational? Why isn’t the world less religious? And one sort of thing I was writing about was how tribes need … John Haidt has this idea. He says, “Moralities bind and blind.” What people need to do to prove tribal loyalty is defend their beliefs. Someone who’s willing to be persuaded by logic, how loyal is that person to the tribe?

Jim: Yep.

Erik: And so someone who defends an even crazier belief is someone who proves their loyalty to the tribe by burning boats to joining other tribes. And so what you have then on social media is you have all these tribes fighting it out. What people are doing when they’re fighting is they’re proving their tribal loyalty. The crazier their belief that they’re proposing, the more they’re proving their tribal loyalty. And so there’s this kind of purity spiral or arms race for crazy ideas to propagate in ways that seem fit in terms of proving their tribal loyalty. It makes me think, why aren’t there more tribes that are focused on truth? Well, maybe it’s not as fit as tribes that are focused on a mix of truth and whatever is most convenient at the moment to advance their tribe. How do you react to that?

Jim: Yeah, that’s a very interesting idea and I think it does make a lot of sense, and fits into the Haidt-ian analysis and others, and also into the Darwinian … One of the arguments, the Darwinian arguments for the long-term perseverance of religion. Daniel Bennett did a particularly good job of it in his book, is that it probably increases small group coherence, right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: “We all agree these ridiculous things, and we agree with them together. Anyone who doesn’t believe these things is our enemy, and we can kill them and in some cases eat them,” right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: And groups, and perhaps even the genetics that support that kind of group belief, outcompeted in the early days, and then even in the later days groups that didn’t. And so that’s how it got fixed, either genetically or via social evolution, or as is generally the case both, so I think that is very interesting. Though I will say, if you look at the track record of the economically-advanced countries, the number of rationalists does continue to increase. It’s probably a majority in Scandinavia, yay. It’s probably getting close to it in the Netherlands and the U.K., and is certainly gaining ground in the U.S. So I don’t yet quite give up hope for the eventual triumph of the enlightenment. In fact, I put up a Tweet today proposing enlightenment 2.0. I realize it’s going to be a long struggle, because the intentional belief in absurdities for purposes of group cohesion and signaling is very embedded in how we are as a human. But nonetheless, we would be far better off if we did.

Erik: Yeah, and my sympathies lie there but one question I do have is, how far do we take it? And I see, do we favor truth in all ways? I.e., should we be honest about IQ? Should we be honest about, do people … What is status mobility, really? What are the chances really, like what are peoples’ individual chances, really? A lot of the amazing things that society has created has been done by people who were kind of taking long shots. If they truly … You know there’s this quote, “I pursued it not because it was easy, but because I thought it would be easy,” right?

Jim: Exactly. Yeah, if us entrepreneurs had been-

Erik: Exactly.

Jim: Radical, radical rationalists, none of us would have ever started our companies, right?

Erik: Yeah, exactly. Which is-

Jim: The number of times that luck had, you know?

Erik: Perfect, yeah.

Jim: I used to do a PowerPoint for second-year MBA students, and I called it My Famous Career. I pointed out, point after point after point, where pure luck dominated skill or anything else, right?

Erik: Mm-hmm.

Jim: And I’d say, “That’s at least 60% luck, so don’t be so fucking full of yourself, folks,” right?

Erik: [inaudible 00:36:15] When people become super-aware of probabilities, they tend to play it a bit safer. They tend to be more of an index orientation, right? Because the downside … And yet, and that makes sense on an individual level. But on a group level, we need lots of people to take these kind of crazy experiments, or that may seem totally irrational, but from an individual perspective because, “Hey, maybe there’s one in 100, or one in 1,000 or one in a million.” But from a societal perspective, when you have enough people taking those risks, you benefit from it. And so-

Jim: Yeah, fortunately … And this is really important. I think it will be the savior for us in this regard, is that many people that think about social operating systems forget to take into consideration the quite substantial individual difference at the level of personality. The so-called big five model, the OCEAN model, openness, conscientious, what’s it? Extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, there’s 3,000 and some combination of those if you took it at the decile level. And fortunately, those things are relatively statistically static, the percentage of people in each of those boxes. So there’s always a group of people who are open, extroverted and disagreeable, right, and anti-neurotic. And so those people are always going to be there, going to take the chances, I think.

Erik: Yeah, that is true. But if you have a global … Or at least global in our country, a myth of the American dream, it’s going to encourage a lot more risk-taking, probably.

Jim: Yeah, yeah.

Erik: And so whereas the downside is, “Hey, some people may not have a chance at all, and they try and they fail, and maybe their life would have been better if they play it safer.” On a societal perspective, you benefit because you have so much more risk-taking. It’s an empowering, I don’t want to say myth, but simplification. And so I’m someone who appreciates the studying of truth, and I don’t think that … Like I’m a fan of Heterodox Academy, and maybe even going further than what they do. I’m all about, “Hey, knowledge is a good end of itself.” At the same time, sometimes I think there is a tension with some social cohesion, and I appreciate the social value that some myths play, the pro-social behavior or simplifications. Now, a lot of myths are not only bullshit but actually harmful so I also recognize that as well.

Jim: Yeah, I suspect the answer to that is from meta-modernism, which is sincere irony, right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: We can say things, but realize that our tongue is slightly in our cheek with it, and not go all the way to Plato’s noble lie. I think that’s where we go wrong, where people know it’s false, and knowingly spread it to people as if it were true for the purposes of manipulating behavior. So there’s a subtle line somewhere in there, because you’re right. Of course on a day-to-day basis, do you really want to tell your wife that that new dress makes her butt look fat? Probably not a great idea. And on the other … And the idea of the social mobility and, “You can be a winner, too,” as long as you don’t cook it down to a lie and say, “Your chances are X” when actually they’re Y, that’s probably not a good thing to do.

But the general idea is true. There is social mobility in America, more than historically been elsewhere, but unfortunately probably less than there was 50 years ago. And actually I would argue, making those statistics more transparent to people might provide good pressure to modify our socioeconomic operating systems to actually improve social mobility again. I think there’s a lot of things that could be done to do it, particularly getting away from the hyper-credentialism. You know, “Do we really need to send all those people to college?” And back to status, “Why should a barista with a degree from Yale in medieval history have more status than a person who’s a very skilled exotic metals welder,” for instance, right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: What do you think about that?

Erik: I agree, so there’s lots of questions about should. You know, should this person have more status? I’m more interested in questions about like, what is or what could be? And so for whatever reason, college educated have more status than non-college educated and that should change, I agree. And then the question is, “Okay, how?” And I think, well, you could tell people to not go to college, but that is unlikely to work. There’s just 100 years’ momentum on the power of going to college, plus all these infrastructure around loans and universities and employment programs.

I think, so there are a lot of people who have complained that college is basically a kind of indoctrination program for left-wing beliefs. And I don’t think they’re entirely wrong, but I think that the thing that they should do is create better solutions. You see Joe Lonsdale and Bari Weiss trying with UATX Austin. I think, so similarly if a welder … If we want welders to have higher status, I think we need to uplift the opportunities for welders. I have a company, Hadrian, that’s a manufacturing company that is giving people equity who would never get equity in other jobs, kind of more working-class folks. And if that company does really well, well boom, you’ve just now enabled a whole set of kind of wealthy people who can then invest in another set of wealthy people. So, and I think this is a thing with game B in general, of there’s what should happen but then there’s, “Okay, how do we make it?” And game B talks about it, right? They need to beat game A on game A terms.

Jim: Correct.

Erik: And so I agree, there should be a status redistribution, but status things are slow to change and so you need to win on game A’s terms, so to speak. And so that’s money, that’s fame, that’s respect from influential people.

Jim: Yeah, though game B would also say that we want to build membranes within which the status games are different, and that we have some control over these small starting cells. And so within a proto-B village of 150 adults, it might well be that the person who works at the dining hall has the same social status as the person who is our intellectual property lawyer, right? And there is some history to this. I often use the Israeli kibbutz system, especially the early Israeli kibbutzes as an example, where literally someone who could be a lawyer working outside the kibbutz had the same social status, and they were pretty good about this. I mean, it was real … As the person that worked in the laundry or the dining service. They had no fancier accommodations. They wore the same clothes. They used the same kibbutz speak, the same kibbutz accent of Hebrew. They had managed somehow to break many of those status games around occupation, but they did it by having … By living together in a bubble, in a consensual subculture that had these norms.

Erik: Yeah. I think that’s a great example, because I think if you’re trying to invent new status games or change status games you have to … You can’t build them from scratch as much as they should … Some status … Let me start over, sorry. Some of the way that we allocate status is contingent on current cultural sort of norms and how culture has evolved, maybe like getting good grades or something in school. Other forms of status are based on … Or allocations of status are based on things that have always been true; how attractive someone is, how competent someone is at tasks that have lasted a test of time, how strong someone is perhaps, although that certainly has decreased.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re trying to redefine how status games are played, it’s worth choosing a form, a format that has been tried and true over a period of time, even if it may not be as popular as right now. Kibbutz is an interesting example, because those examples are certainly Lindy. That did not just start. People did not just start living that way at the time of the kibbutz, like there’s something highly evolved or highly fit about that idea. I worry that in today’s world, for that idea, it’s like I don’t think that’s going to beat game A on game A’s terms. I don’t think the whole world is going to … Or the U.S. is going to live in kibbutz. But a more closer-to-home example might be like Elon Musk has raised the status of working on atoms companies, or things like cars, things like space. They might have been cool before, but Elon made them a lot cooler.

Jim: Yeah.

Erik: They have to be truly better. They have to be smarter, more beautiful, more elegant, attract smarter people. And so that’s basically the question, is like if you want something to be high status is like, “How do you get the smart, hip, beautiful, cool people to get involved?” And it’s a bit crude, but that is … It’s not a bad litmus test.

Jim: Yep, absolutely. And of course then the other one that’s very Lindy was the 95% of our human period when we lived as foragers, and where as I mentioned at the beginning, status was highly multidimensional and not … There was no fungible status. Because one of the problems in game A, at least my perspective, is essentially all status really comes down to money and beauty and that’s basically it. Developing let’s say a sensitivity to multidimensional status might actually be part of the game. How we do that, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t operate in those kinds of spaces, but it’s certainly some of the things that some of the game B people are and certainly ought to think more about.

Erik: Yeah, absolutely. I am curious for your sense of in the … Game B has been around for just a few years. I’m curious, what do you think game B’s biggest accomplishment so far has been? Or maybe put differently, is there a technology or a type of company or type of thing that has emerged into the sort of greater ecosystem that is directionally on the path to game B? Do you see some of the crypto stuff as directionally on the path to some of game B? I’m curious, what are things that are game B-like that have emerged?

Jim: Yeah, I will say there have been less than I’d like but a few, typically companies that have been set up with a strong stewardship/ownership model, a couple of game B on-the-ground communities, small, not necessarily flying yet, that have land trust models for their land so that as the community leverages itself up, the community itself gets most of the benefit of the rise and increase of value of land. But those are early. I would say that most of game B’s real progress is still in the theory side, and it’s just now the time to start putting it into practice. It is starting to happen, but nothing gigantic.

I will say in the crypto world, there is I would say some very useful second-order learning about governance going on. I think that’s probably the most valuable thing from cypto. I’d say in general, game B people … Well, there are some crypto-ites in the game B world, but most of us are somewhat skeptical about crypto, at least as it exists today, as being some kind of silver bullet that’s going to change the world. In fact, currently I’m seeing something that looks a lot like mass insanity around Bitcoin. When you talk to the real Bitcoin zealots you go, “Holy shit. These people sound like flat-earthers or QAnuts or something, right?

And I would say that game B is not of that sort, though we do see the benefits of public ledgers. I think that radical transparency about finance could be a gigantic game B tool. You know, it works on so many levels. It’s a gigantic lever against the blight that has been the curse of humanity since we were past the forager stage, which is corruption. Corruption is just always working. It’s the blight that ruins everything, and radical financial transparency, while not quite a silver bullet, it’s at least a good copper bullet against that. And also oddly enough, I suspect that it can work against financial games, right? If people saw how much people were fucking wasting on this horse shit, they would be embarrassed.

I’m on a board … I was. I recently stepped down from a board of an interesting academic organization, where our board members would provide some of our funding, et cetera. There was one case in particular, a very, very successful business dude was rather parsimonious with his giving, shall we say, and yet flew back and forth to board meetings in his private jet. If that were transparent to the world that, “All right, he’s spending six times as much to fly back and forth to the board meetings on the private jet, as he is doing his annual giving to support research,” I think people would go, “What the fuck,” right? You know, “Dude.”

And so I’m a strong believer … And of course this is partially counter the crypto world. One of the reasons why I’m opposed to crypto as we know it is I believe there needs to be radical linkage of names to identities. Wallets should have your name on it. I’ve also proposed, back in the pre-game B days, that financial abstractions should never be more than five layers deep, and that a human should be the fifth layer every time, and the paper trail, all the deal docs going up the stack five layers, should be world-readable by anybody. I think that that kind of radical transparency could use public ledgers as the mechanism to do them, but not in the direction of most of what people are doing in crypto today.

And to be fair, that’s not everybody. There are some projects like Holochain, for instance, which are I think in pretty good alignment with this. They’re relatively neutral on questions of identity, for instance, should identity be hard? And you can have hard identity in Holochain easily, or you can have anonymity or pseudo-anonymity or anything in between. But so those are where I see some of the interesting perspectives between game B and crypto. I would say we’re not crypto-first, at a minimum.

Erik: Right. One way to tie it back to our conversation, which is crypto, there’s a lot of things you could say about it. I think one of the minimum things you could say about it is that it demonstrates how in a free market for communities, most people are going to choose ideologically-motivated, moral communities. And a lot of the different ecosystems, whether it’s the Bitcoin ecosystem or the Ethereum ecosystem, but they have kind of religious tendencies to them. They don’t call themselves religions, right? And it’s just so interesting how 20 years ago when the new atheist movement was really popping off, it enumerated the problems with traditional religions and it certainly delegitimized them to a generation.

And yet, that same generation either came to start or join or follow different kinds of communities that did not call themselves religion, but had some of the same elements that the new atheists were sort of speaking against. And so when you think about enlightenment 2.0, this is kind of the macro version of that which is like freedom of speech, freedom of association, you know, sort of a classical liberalism which I assume that you imply. But I also think that what you mean by it is a certain individual cultivation of critical thinking that seems to be beyond many peoples’ abilities. I don’t mean to speak badly about people, but it just seems that when given the free choice, people join ideologically-motivated moral communities that don’t ascribe to pursuit of truth or reason above all else.

Jim: Yeah, and I do think there’s a movement in and around the game B space that could help to address that, which is the work of John Vervaeke and others in what’s been labeled the religion that’s not a religion, an ecology of practice which hones in on, “Can we develop a number of ways of living in the world which provide for people the bodily perspectival aspects of what religions used to provide, that are literally psychotechnologies?” For instance, there’s a reason people sing hymns in church or have music at the synagogue, right? Because people singing and doing music together produces a resonance in brain waves amongst them that makes them feel more coherent, even if they’re not, so it’s a psychotechnology. And there is a whole branch of game B which is very committed to that. Now, and I agree that that will be good. I’m just personally not all that temperamentally suited for that kind of stuff, right?

Erik: Right.

Jim: But I strongly support it. I think it’s a very good work, and it’s going to be indispensable for making something like game B work for the normal people down the road, that we are still apes with clothes, after all. Some of us tend to forget that sometimes, and I know I’m guilty of that.

Erik: Totally, so it is interesting. One of my takeaways that I took from writing this post and others is that people choose what to believe based on who they choose to believe. Or put differently, to paraphrase, botch the old quote from The Jungle, it’s very hard to get someone to change their mind on something when the approval of their spouse, their friends, their community, depends on them holding that same belief that you’re trying to change. And-

Jim: Yes, and you asked, what was the number one thing from game B so far? I would say it’s that, and the way we would describe it is that the change in personal capacity and the change in institutions have to co-evolve for exactly … For that reason among … One of two reasons. One is that yes, there’s about one or 2% of us who are just disagreeable motherfuckers and are happy to change our views despite what anybody else thinks. But 98% of the people can’t do it, or they can’t do it for long, and they need to be embedded in institutions that support those choices and those values. Hence our emphasis on communal membranes that build within them cultures that support these changes.

So the example I give is, if someone drove up to a proto B in their brand new 911 Turbo S, it would be hoped that everybody would come out, point at them and laugh at them, and make it clear that we thought they were like depraved-ass clowns, right? On the other hand, if you were making $500,000 a year in some fancy suburb and drive up in a Turbo S people are going to go, “Oh, you’re cool, man. You’re going to get laid, bro,” and so we have to have that cultural and institutional change going at the same time. But then the second part of that is you can’t build the new institutions until the people have the new capacities. And so you have this kind of bootstrapping issue, where you have to do both simultaneously until the spiral starts to turn slowly. And then gradually it turns faster and faster as we build institutions, including how you raise your children, which is of course the huge one.

It’s what they did in the kibbutz. It was what the Mennonites and the Amish have done, so that the people have the set of capacities to work with it, improve. But unlike particularly the Amish, it’s our intent we would continue to spiral up into higher and higher ways of being more capable humans, and having more humane institutions that support that improved human capacity. I would say that is the number one insight from game B so far.

Erik: Yeah. No, that’s a good one. And where that might imply as a follow-up for example is if you had the option of adopting game B, every sort of … A class in every kindergarten in a certain state or set of states, or you could have Elon Musk declare that he’s part of the game B tribe. I would probably prefer the Elon Musk path, just because of what that will mean for so … The cascading effect.

Jim: I would take the opposite. You know, I think game B has to not go for the easy, flashy thing. It has to build sound from the bottom up. But there are other people that believe the opposite, and I think both should be tried and let’s see what happens. There’s actually somebody who thinks they can convert Elon to game B, and have actually talked to him about it a little bit so it’s not impossible. I personally believe it would do more harm than good, but I could easily be wrong.

Erik: I want to return to something you said earlier, which is status seems to be allocated by money and beauty. This also connects to the trauma piece. One kind of simplistic reading of the evolution of social media is that Instagram and Facebook became highlight reels, right? Where people showed how great their life was, and that was a way to signal high status and once that … In an effort to countersignal and show that you were above that, people started showing lowlight reels, or kind of playing the leveling game kind of at scale. It’s interesting, like 20 years ago on magazines you had beautiful women, or beautiful men. And now, you have on some of them kind of overweight, more average-looking people in kind of a deliberate way to countersignal. How does one explain that other than, “Hey, this is a countersignal to what used to be,” so it’s cutting? It’s something that wouldn’t make sense to the sort of working class, or the rest of society. It’s also something … Were you going to jump in?

Jim: No, no.

Erik: Oh, so it wouldn’t make sense to the rest of society, but it also has this kind of … Zooming out, we’ve inherited this kind of duty to the downtrodden. You could say it’s from Christianity. You could say it’s from something else, but there’s certainly in our culture a duty to the downtrodden. The more that you show respect for the downtrodden, the more virtuous you are, right? There are two ways to show status in a tribe. You could either be super competent, and thus the tribe needs you, or you can be a kind of virtue enforcer, a moral enforcer, and thus the tribe needs you to keep everyone in place. It’s a lot easier to be a moral enforcer than it is to be super competent. That’s pretty hard.

And so you see a lot of people enforcing norms and as we mentioned earlier, going above and beyond to showcase their loyalty to the norms. And so you see this kind of normalization of the abnormal, and this sort of like extreme care for the fringe, almost purity spiral, as a way to show that you’re a better person. And so I find that is really interesting, like someone like Lizzo is … Let’s just say as an example, she’s not super attractive or conventionally super attractive. She’s happened to be enriched through this, but there’s a whole set of people who have gotten famous and made some money as a result of kind of being super average, but super relatable. I find that really interesting.

Jim: And I think that’s good. That’s I would say another dimension of status, right? Beauty, money, and then let’s call it conviviality or social ability or emotional intelligence or something like that. I think that’s a good trend.

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: On the other hand, your typical dude is still going to try to score the best-looking chick he can get, so you know that’s still there. Let’s go on, do one final topic before we wrap it up here. I’m going to take a quote from your paper, and then I’m going to use it as a pivot. You said, “I heard someone on a podcast say that seeing someone else who holds different political beliefs is neurologically similar to walking through the forest and encountering a bear. This explains why people on Twitter get outraged so easily.” I want to then use that as a pivot to cancel culture.

Erik: Yeah, that’s really good. So we talked about how tribes have beliefs that bind and blind a community together. And so say as an example, the American dream. There are some communities that bind together over that simplification, over that idea that the myth … I say myth in a positive sense. And if you go against that myth, you are sacrificing what’s keeping the tribe together, right? Tribes have foundational beliefs that in order to spread, they become simplifications. And so when you come across … What is politics but a new morality, right? We don’t have religion anymore, at least many elites don’t have religion anymore, or early culture.

And so politics has taken the place of determining what is … How the world should be, how the world is, what is good in the world, and so that’s their core identity. And so when you see someone with a contrasting political belief who says, “Your political belief is wrong,” what they’re saying is, “You’re wrong. Your tribe is wrong,” and people jump up to protect the tribe as an opportunity to gain more status in the tribe, rise up within the tribe and defend the tribe.

And so cancellation is a way for tribes to preserve the sanctity of what keeps them together, if there is kind of internal dissent. That’s why tribes hate apostates more than heretics. A heretic is someone who’s left the tribe. They don’t care about them anymore. An apostate is someone who’s still within the tribe, but is challenging the tribe on some fundamental level. And so cancel culture is a way to kind of regulate and protect the tribe. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else I want to say about it. Is there anything you’d react to what I just said?

Jim: Yeah, and I would say tying it back to what you said earlier, I think one of the key things about cancel culture and why it has been able to spread so rapidly is that being a virtue-signaling enforcer is actually a cheap gesture. It doesn’t take any skill to go after somebody on Twitter for some violation of some idiot rule book. As opposed to, let’s say, being a competent exotic metals welder, or even being a good juggler. You know, it’s easy. Any idiot can be a virtue signaler, and of course in that case you get into an arms race where you’ve got to be a more and more extreme virtuous signaler to get it. And so to those who have been captured by that mind virus, it seems like a race condition is likely to occur where cancel culture gets more and more virulent, more and more fired up on smaller and smaller supposed transgressions, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.

Erik: Yeah, exactly. Balaji Srinivasan has compared cancel culture to a sort of … We were talking about crypto. In crypto, there’s these things called pump-and-dump schemes.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Erik: [inaudible 01:05:47]

Jim: Well, because they were around long before crypto, let me tell you.

Erik: Yeah, exactly.

Jim: Yeah, did you ever know the history of the Vancouver Stock Exchange, right?

Erik: No. No I didn’t, but I can imagine when something … People get excited about something, and then they sell it all off. And Balaji says that sort of cancel culture is a bit of a pump-and-dump scheme but for status. If you look at Google Trends, at certain terms that have been really popular, they actually mimic what a pump-and-dump scheme looks like. They rise up. Everyone gets really animated or excited about some trend as a way to defend the tribe, rise up within the tribe, exclude others from the tribe. And then as time goes on, that term goes down and people don’t care about it as much. That kind of mimics, as you see Marc Andreessen has called this the current thing.

Jim: Yes, yes.

Erik: Where every few months there’s a new cause, a new term, a new phrase that you have to get behind, or else you’re not in good standing within that tribe. And so, and one question people in favor or cancel culture … They’ll call it accountability culture, and there’s some merit to that in certain situations. They’ll say as, “Hey, what’s so bad about cancel culture? Why is it really problematic?” And I think what people sometimes don’t appreciate is kind of our hardwiring is, we were in tribes and if we were excluded from the tribe, we would die. We needed a tribe for food, for shelter, for mates, et cetera, and you couldn’t just switch tribes like in a second like you can today. And so our wiring doesn’t really take that into account, that it’s easier to switch tribes. And so that’s why we fear getting excluded from our tribe pretty significantly.

Jim: And I would say I think that’s very true, but I would say there’s another thing that makes the current manifestation of cancel culture both more consequential and more dangerous. Which is that it used to be you think about … Let’s say the various leftist sects back in the ’60s. They basically had this concept of political correctness, and it was mostly internally focused, and they would fragment and schism. The Mennonites are the same. There’s about 250,000 Mennonites in the United States and 500 sects of Mennonites, because they have a form of discipline called shunning, where they’ll shun somebody for wearing a red shirt instead of a black shirt or something. And then their friends will get all pissed off and then, they’ll quit, right?

And so to the degree that cancel culture was focused internally amongst a subculture for internal purity, I think there would be much less of a problem than that they have launched a universal war against everybody who doesn’t imply. So it’s more like a jihad than it is like the ’60s version of political correctness, where it was an internal discipline within various left or progressive or Marxist, or Marxist/Leninist subcommunities, and so that it naturally produces an outraged counterattack from the other side. The cancel culturists say from 1995 onward could be perceived as jihad, not aimed at internal purity. And hence, it’s perfectly reasonable for the other side to say, “Well, let’s just kill those motherfuckers,” right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: And it may come to that. I keep warning them fuckers, “You guys think you want that, but if it goes kinetic I know who’s going to win. It ain’t going to be them.”

Erik: Yeah, exactly. Well, that’s one risk in people who are too tolerant or too committed to classically liberal ideas, is that if a community fights them with illiberal ideas, they need to be willing to fight fire with fire, or at least stand up for themselves and be willing to be called all sorts of names in the process. What we see in a lot of different communities and situations is people with classically liberal principles losing to people who are weaponizing their limitations that those principles bestow, against them.

Jim: Yep, and that certainly was a huge rising wave. I believe it has peaked and is now going down. I believe the counterwave against cancel culture or wokeness or whatever you want to call it peaked sometime in 2021 and there is very substantial counternarratives building. I would say I’ve been a little part of that. I helped found, with some other people, something called the MIT Free Speech Alliance.

Erik: That’s right.

Jim: Now there’s hundreds of these free speech alliances forming all over the country. MIT’s faculty adopt a free speech statement, which is quite good. We approved of it. The new president there has come out and just this week has said, “This will be part of official policy,” and again not just at MIT, but at lots of places. I think people have finally seen that this cancel culture … Because if it was a race condition where cheap virtual signaling kept getting you more and more status, you eventually run out of ground, right? You eventually get to pure absurdity, and they probably reached that around 2021. And so the vast preponderance of fairly reasonable people have said, “Enough of that shit.”

Unfortunately it’s very entrenched, particularly in the administrative statuses and the HR departments. And so barring a defenestration of the woke, which might not be a bad idea, it will take a while for it to be bubbled out. It might be 10 years to fully bubble it out, but it feels to me like the peak has been reached and we’re now on the other side of that curve.

Erik: I think the big question is, if Trump is back in office or some Republican who’s close to as bad, or close to as big of a threat to the sort of reasonable person, then all bets are off because wokeness thrived under Trump.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Erik: It surged under Trump, and so hopefully we don’t have that … Hae him back.

Jim: Yeah, I absolutely agree. I believe that there was nothing worse for that part of our culture than the election of that fucking idiot Trump, you know? The great Cheeto, right? And so even those of you who … I mean, they might sympathize a little bit with what Trump had to say about political correctness and all that. Yes, but as a person who had been running businesses for a bunch of my life, and recruiting people, I said in public on multiple occasions, the first criteria, is a person temperamentally suited for a job? And if there was anyone in the United States less temperamentally suited to be President of the United States, I’ve never met that person, right? So whatever you think about these issues, don’t vote for that ass clown, right?

Erik: Yeah.

Jim: Let’s just make it clear. Jim Rutt says Trump is a fucking menace. He’s good for the wokes, and it’s just absolutely absurd to vote for him.

Erik: I think that’s the strongest argument against Trump for people who are sympathetic to his policy recommendations, or even what he was advocating for, is he loses on his own terms. You know, he gives power to his enemies and hurts his friends or hurt … You know, yeah.

Jim: Yeah, and in fact he probably enjoys it, right? In my model of Trump is that he is … And I will say this. I’ve famously known … I mean, I’ve known some famous narcissists, huge-ego guys. I’m not going to name any names, but think of some of the tech CEOs who had a reputation for just being the biggest narcissistic assholes imaginable. I’ve met those people. I’ve spent hours with them. They don’t hold a candle to Trump. He is all-galaxy narcissism, and all you have to do is, to interpret what Trump is going to do next, is what would get him the most attention? And not even the most love. I mean, he’s kind of a dark narcissist. He just wants the attention, right?

And if you use that as your rule, you’ll be right far more often than you’re wrong. That’s about the worst possible mindset to be the leader of the so-called free world, so hopefully we won’t make that mistake again. I will say that my hypothesis that we’ve reached peak woke and are on the other side, is dependent on us not making the mistake of electing or even nominating Trump, or a Trump clone, or a worse-than-Trump. I suppose such a thing exists, but none come to mind immediately, et cetera. Anyway, Erik, I really want to thank you for a fun, wide-ranging conversation here.

Erik: Yeah, thanks for having me, Jim. It was a great conversation.

Jim: Yeah, it was really good. You know, look forward to talking to you again.

Erik: Perfect.