Transcript of Currents 092: Peter Wang on The Meaning Crisis and Consequentiality

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

Jim: Today we have a very interesting conversation with Peter Wang. Peter Wang is the CEO of Anaconda, the Python tools and data sciences company, and has become a dear friend of mine over the last few years. We’ve been having regular conversations about all kinds of interesting things. But, guess what? This weekend, my wife and I were driving up from our farm to where our daughter and granddaughter and son-in-law live, and we decided finally to listen to Peter Wang’s interview with Lex Fridman back, I guess, it was in late 2021 as I recall.

Peter: Mm-hmm, December of ’21.

Jim: And so, it was very interesting. Actually a lot of it was riveting. Then suddenly, Peter said something that went ding, and ever since, I can’t get it out of my head. And so, yesterday, Peter and I were chatting, I said, “Hey Peter, let’s do a podcast on this.” And he said, “Let’s do it.” So, here we are. Welcome, Peter.

Peter: Thank you, Jim. Good to be back. I like what you’ve done with this place. It’s been a while since my previous appearance on the podcast, and you’ve had a really fantastic cast of characters come through. So, glad to be here.

Jim: It’s been a lot of fun and it helps make me smarter. As I always say, hang out with people smarter than you are, and at least a little bit of it will rub off.

Peter: Will rub off. That’s right.

Jim: Anyway, today’s topic, many people on our podcast and in the world of people that we know talk about something called the meaning crisis. John Vervaeke has talked about it quite a bit, and he talked about it as the breakdown of the two worlds model, where at least in the West, we tended to believe in heaven and earth, and maybe hell too, some do, some don’t, but two separate magisterium run by different rules. You can’t calculate physics in heaven. Famously, how many angels will dance on the head of a pin, that kind of stuff. And that for at least educated people, many educated people, started to break down after the enlightenment. And the question is, does that leave us at drift in the universe? That’s one hypothesis.

Peter came up with an incredibly interesting, simple, but the more I thought about it, hugely powerful lens with a completely different perspective on the meaning crisis, though I may ask him to see if he can tie it back to Vervaeke’s vision as well. And that is, if I get it right, Peter, feel free to correct me, because we were listening to it while I was driving up the road. It was Peter’s hypothesis that we call the meaning crisis as, first and foremost, a manifestation of the fact that most of our decisions that we make as modern people in advanced economies have very little consequence. Is that it, Peter?

Peter: Yes. I believe my exact quote on the podcast with Lex was to say something like, meaning comes from making consequential choices.

Jim: I think that’s how you did phrase it approximately. And then, I’ve been just thinking about this and thinking about it. It just ramifies every which way. So, why don’t you start off by expounding on what you were trying to communicate with that extraordinarily simple but impactful observation?

Peter: Well, thank you again. I was just riffing with Lex, but it’s something that I’d been coming to. Because, Lex asked questions like, “Oh, what is love?” And things like that. And so, I was riffing with him on this, and where I came from with this I think is… Well, actually there’s a variant of this that I’ll get into, but let’s just look at the phrase itself, meaning comes from making consequential choices. And every part of that really matters.

So, number one, there must be an actual choice for the agent or the individual to make, or as close to it as possible if you believe in the concept of free will and choices and all these things, so we take that as assumptions. Then the idea that an agent believes they have choice and they can make a choice. They have to basically… And a choice is not simply a preference, a choice in this case, quite specifically, something that induces an irreversible change. So, if you can make a choice and then you can control Z and undo it, it’s not really making a choice. A choice is something that creates this irreversible. There’s a fork in the road, and you take the road less traveled by or the road more traveled by. Whichever you do, you take that road and you’re going down that road.

And the other part of it is, the consequential is also important, and it’s important in a counterintuitive way. It’s not just that it has an impact on you, is that you can see the impact it has on you. And this is an important distinction as we get to talking about game A and game B and the meaning crisis in modernity. It’s not merely like, objectively as their consequence. Every little thing we do has a consequence. A butterfly flaps its wings halfway across the world and it changes the weather, things like that. We can intellectually know about emergence and complexity and all these things. But, I think from just the lens of meaning, and meaningful choices and meaningful decisions, the consequence I’m talking about there is something that is perceivable to the decider, to the agent making the choice.

And furthermore, they have to see the causal link. I pull this lever and these things happened, like a Rube Goldberg machine of things happen, and then a boot comes down and kicks me in the head. And so, I’ve made a consequential choice, and whether it felt good or not, it was a meaningful choice. And I think all of this then is really an expansion, again, on this basic concept, which is that when we feel like we are actual live players, to use that term, when we’re live players in the environment, then we’re constantly making meaningful and consequential choices, or sorry, we’re making consequential choices, and that gives us meaning. It means that we are live in this environment.

The opposite of this is a thing that’s been explored quite a bit, like the matrix or other kinds of things, or the many worlds of multi-dimensions, parallel universes. What if none of our decisions make any difference? Because, all decisions are always being made all the time. It creates a certain kind of existential nihilism, because none of it matters. Rick and Morty actually explores this beautifully, because if every single decision you make can be undone or you can always hop away to an alternative universe and leave the consequences of your actions, then you end up living in this nihilistic state and you become a hedonist. You can enjoy the benefits of whatever little thing in the moment, and then you can walk away from any of the downside consequences.

And so, this is something which I think in the zeitgeist is explored quite richly, but maybe not articulated in this kind of a nugget as I said it on Lex. But anyway, and I would say that we can explore this thing, this concept and all this stuff, but there’s actually a piece of that’s missing, which if our dear friend Chandra was here, would maybe add a little bit more reflection. But anyway, I’ll just end there and see where you want to go from there.

Jim: And our subsequent conversation yesterday, you made the important point, which I think you got in passing here, but I think I’d like to pull it out, and that is that this consequence that we’re talking about is not eventual consequence. It’s not like I did the right thing and 20 years from now I’ll be healthier. But, you have to have some consequences in a short time loop. I don’t know what that short time loop is, but you call it the same day maybe, or within a day or two, something like that.

Peter: Well, no, not quite actually. I could see why you got to there from there. And I would actually say this is an important part of this. There is-

Jim: I really want to dig… I figured-

Peter: Yeah, let’s dig into this.

Jim: Let’s dig into this.

Peter: Let’s dig into this. There’s a great far side with this two paramecium, and the one paramecium who’s got the eyelashes and looks like the woman, she’s lecturing the other paramecium sitting in the chair like, stimulus response. Is that all you do? And it’s really funny because in this… And the reason I go to that particular far side is because what you’re articulating is a very, I would say it’s an intuitive place to go to from this. But, the thing is this, the subjective actually holds a very important part in this thing, which is that the more you can actually understand how the world works, the longer temporarily and also the broader geographically the loop of consequence can run.

If you don’t understand how anything works, if you’re just like a baby, the hardware that we got from the Savannah, and you’re just a baby human being, you grew up, no one explained to you how anything works, then all you know is pain and sugar taste sweet, something’s hurt, ouchie. And so, you are still making meaningful decisions, but your loop of causality and therefore your model of consequences and consequentiality is rather limited. But, the more intelligent you become, the more perceptive you become, maybe to a point where you start building trust with other humans and you can actually use other people’s cognition to run your consequence and causality loops, then you can actually build deeper meaning. But, if you are an atomized individual who is only able to live within the zone of your five senses, then yes, your ability to perceive things, your ability to model consequence, and therefore your ability to mine meaning from your daily activity is rather limited. You can only go so deep.

Jim: This is where I started to see this connection between Vervaeke’s two world model and Wangism.

Peter: Now, you gave it a name. Damn it, Jim.

Jim: Gave it a name, Wangism. And that is that, let’s say for instance, as I like to do as an obnoxious atheist, I like to hold… How does an atheist light a cigarette? I’ll hold my hand up and say, God sucks, and I can do that.

Peter: Hey, one in a million times it works.

Jim: But anyway, so point is that, if I were embedded, let’s say in 11th century Medieval Europe where everything was totally enveloped in Catholicism and everyone was a true believer in literal hell and all that, if I even started to do that, all my neighbors would start beating on me, pulling my hand down saying, Jim is drunk again. And if he does that, he’s going to go to hell. He’s such a nice guy. We want to-

Peter: If you’re a woman, you get dunked as a witch maybe. So, here’s the thing, there’s a few points then we can elucidate on this, which is, let’s take the social aspect of it out, so that it’s not about what the other humans around you might do to you on the basis of your things. Let’s just look at the model that you’re running in your head as an 11th century agrarian peasant, steeped in Catholicism in the West. So, what ends up happening there is, your model of causality, that’s your model. That’s the software running in your head. You can generate meaning from as if consequence. It’s not just physical consequence, it’s as if consequence.

Jim: Unpack that a little bit for us.

Peter: What I mean as if consequence, so if you really believe that, it’s really unfortunate, everything we see has to come through this lens of perceptions, basic stuff. So, you may observe some phenomenology. A Buddhist from that time may observe the same phenomena. You may observe some phenomena, and you’re going to interpret it through a particular lens. If you’re truly steeped in the religion of the time, you’re going to see everything through that lens, just as a Hindu would, just as a Buddhist would. And so, when you look through that lens, you will see God’s action in everything, and you will… So, your model, again, this is why I’m talking about the model of causality, that model of causality is intellectual, is subjective. It’s not objective, because causality is predicated on time, which is, we can get in the metaphysics of this but you probably going to shoot me.

Jim: There’s a very deep rabbit hole [inaudible 00:13:03]

Peter: There’s a deep rabbit hole there about just the nature of how we put all that together. But, the point is that causality itself embeds an element of the subjective. And so, the narrative you run about what actually happened out there is, it will include, you’ll drag along your religious perspective into that. And then, the consequence that comes from that is, it builds on top of that. So, if you literally believed that lightning struck over there because Zeus was angry, then when you do something, this is where superstition comes from. You do something and lightning strikes and you’re like, oh, fuck, I really angered Zeus.

But, that can still generate meaning for you. This is why people build temples. This is why people do all these things. Despite a lack of objective consequence and objective causality, the subjective causality is enough. And in fact, when you then bring in the fact that multiple people can communicate and you can create intersubjective frames, now you bring in a whole additional set of things. And this is then what takes us into the game A and into the idea that in the modern day we’ve credited modernity where people are making lots of little choices, but they’re as if choices, they’re preferences, but they don’t really change or swing consequences in a way that hits deeply, in a way that hits the integral self. It’s going to change which beer you got in your fridge, the color of your car. But, a lot of these things, you get BS medals, and roles, and titles and all these other kinds of things. You get bank accounts credited and debited.

But, a lot of times, a lot of things that people get from their decisions and their choices in the day-to-day life, they’re really just playing this game, this inner subjective game that’s emerged. So, the thing that we came up with yesterday, or that we talked about yesterday in our conversation was the concept of, was the fact that people could build cathedrals. And people would build, they would spend their entire lives, stone masons, and carpenters, and peasants, and architects, they would spend their lives laying down stones for a cathedral, which their children wouldn’t live to see. That is really something else. But, it was meaningful for them as they were toiling and doing this.

And so, to some extent, you could almost see that the belief systems, the inner subjective things that could survive, they were the ones that could organize people and route meaning back to them through their decisions. But, as every single day you think you’re like a peasant, in the whatever, 1300s, you’ve barely got enough to eat, there’s famine, there’s all these kinds of things going on, plagues. And you wake up every day to chisel some stone to build this shell of a cathedral, which one day might be great, but you’ve got meaning. You got meaning in doing that, even though you’re suffering, and you’re making those decisions every day you’re going to go do that. So, I think that’s, anyway, we can stop there, and then, where do you want to go from there?

Jim: Let’s do one fork first and then a second. One that I often use in talking about [inaudible 00:16:17] game A is the phenomena of going to Walgreens, the drugstore chain, and looking at 200 varieties of shampoo. And personally, I’ve used the same shampoo for the last 50 years, basically. My wife moves around a little bit, so sometimes I’ll use hers. I can’t tell the fucking difference, to tell you the truth. If there’s any difference, it’s below my level of perception. It’s like the difference between the top 100 violinists in the world. I used to be a violinist, and so I can tell a terrible violinist from a good one.

Peter: I didn’t know that. You used to play violin?

Jim: Yeah, hell yes.

Peter: I play violin. We should fiddle together someday. That’d be great.

Jim: That would be fun. But, the top 100 violinists, I couldn’t tell them apart, really. And all of the shampoos at Walgreens are satisfactory for cleaning your hair, and yet there’s this whole industry of the chemists designing and marketers marketing and factories manufacturing, all so that we can go into Walgreens and have 200 varieties of shampoo. And there for sure is a choice with very minimal objective consequences. I suppose there must be some subjective consequences. I buy brand X and I feel good about myself, because I’m parsimonious. I know plenty of parsimonious people who say, if X is as good as Y and it’s 30% less, then only an idiot would buy Y. And on the flip side, there are people who would buy Y because, oh, this is the prestige brand of shampoo, and I am pampering myself, what they call it now self-care, because I have chosen brand Y at 30% more for the same chemicals, basic. So, how does that get into this?

Peter: So, a lot of this stuff all melds together. And so, there’s a lot of folks now are coming out of the woodwork to identify as Girardians, talking about mimetic desire. But, if you use less fancy terms and you look at some of the OG work on some of this from Thorstein Veblen and conspicuous consumption-

Jim: Conspicuous consumption.

Peter: … and the Theory of the Leisure Class. And when you look at all this stuff, this gets to the thing I was just talking about earlier, which is the intersubjective, which is that when your choices have consequence in the inner subjective realm, that’s an interesting loop to run. But, that loop only runs, it’s only important if your underlying, if the lower tier of the Maslow hierarchy is taken care of. If you were not middle class, I’ll just put it this way, I think it’s a consequence of actually middle class and industrial era manufacturing, creating a boom in what we can call consumer culture. And what is consumer culture at the end of the day? There’s a few underlying components of consumer culture. One of them is that it’s an aspect of alienation. So, you’re alienated from the means of production, you’re alienated from a lot of connection to the makers of things. And you yourself maybe don’t make many things, you consume. And consumption has meaning.

Jim: You have no idea where they come from or how they’re made.

Peter: And there’s an interesting video, I think it’s, who is it? Oh, what’s his name? Milton Friedman. And he’s going on about this pencil, no one knows how to, all the little pieces of the pencil come from different places. The beauty of capitalism organizes these things and all this stuff, and it’s like a hilariously interesting little thing, pre-COVID supply chain crisis. But, when you look at this, this alienation was seen as a good thing to some extent, because you could separate the manufacturer from the consumption, and you could scale things and you have consumer choice as a terminal value, which it turns out it’s not really. And so, anyway, the point here is that, I think this is distinctly a middle-class phenomenon, because you’re running your identity. Your identity comes from, ultimately your theory of self is that you are a live agent. No one wants to think they’re an NPC or a simulation. Everyone wants to think they’re a live player.

Jim: An NPC, by the way, for people is a non-player character. In computer games, there’s characters running around who aren’t actual real people, even in multi-player games, and those are called NPCs. And this has become-

Peter: They’re just little computer, little zombie things moving around for you to interact with in the environment.

Jim: Typically, they’re done as finite state machines. I imagine today they’re probably throwing stronger AIs at them. But anyway, it’s a term of quasi abuse in the worlds Peter and I hang out on that-

Peter: It’s not a compliment.

Jim: It’s not a compliment. You’re running around and you’re basically a program. You’re not making-

Peter: And an accessible, another version of this is, for those who watch the show Westworld, is that you’re one of essentially the robots in the simulation, and you have your program and you’re running on your loops. And so, the point is that, people don’t like to see themselves that way. They want to think they’re real, they want to think they’re live players. And part of that is making consequential decisions, making choices, I have freedom, and so I’m making these choices because I’m free, and no one’s constraining me, I’m free. And so, the issue here is that, if your identity comes from making these choices and you mostly are making choices in this inner subjective realm or in different consumer options and preferences, within a certain zone, that’s fine. But, if you are anywhere near the liminal, and that is the underclasses as well as the upper classes, both interface with real consequential life and death decisions.

So, like if you’re very rich, you might say, well, if you’re really rich, you’re insulated from all sorts of stuff. You can cover all your medical expenses, you can fly around on private jets, what’s the issue? The issue is, if you’re really rich, all sorts of people are coming after your money. If you’re really rich, it’s probably because you have businesses, you have property, you got all sorts of stuff, and people are coming after those things. People are scamming you. People are angling to take over your businesses or to destroy your companies or whatever. Rich people have rich people problems. They can’t afford to live in a world where they feel safe and all these things. They might live a very bougie or beyond bougie, I guess, they live a luxurious life. But, they know that there are people that might kidnap their children for ransom. There’s people that are going to scam them. They just like, taking their phone and plopping their passcode and then stealing their Apple iCloud account or something.

Jim: Hey, I don’t know if you’re watching-

Peter: If you’re poor-

Jim: I was going to say, the fucked up problems of the rich. We’re watching Succession at the moment.

Peter: So good. And so, but if you’re poor, you also can’t afford to bullshit yourself. Every single turn of a card could be life or death for you and your children as well, the way they walk to school in the mornings.

Jim: At least put you out on the street-

Peter: Exactly.

Jim: … if you don’t, if you make, if you pissed your boss off, get fired from your… You’ve now worked yourself up to assistant manager at Wendy’s, get fired from that, and your ass is on the street in two weeks, right?

Peter: Right. And so, it’s extremely, in those cases, you know that your decisions matter. It causes you stress. Just to be clear, meaning doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. In this case, meaning simply means that you lived a meaningful life. Let’s take Succession then, when Logan Roy talks about when he… Well, this is not a spoiler, I think, but he admonishes his children in a recent episode and he says, “You’re not serious people.”

Jim: That line, Celia and I-

Peter: That line.

Jim: … we repeat that line back and forth so often. That’s the best line in the whole series.

Peter: It’s so amazing. And let’s look at Logan. He tries to do all these things to seem like he’s as tough as his dad. And it’s like, you didn’t come up scrappy the way his dad came up scrappy. And you see this in immigrants. You see this in first-generation wealthy, the people who had to basically fight tooth and nail, claw their way up through some horrid set of circumstances usually, and hustle and fight to build the fortune. Their children oftentimes are just not as hard as they are. And then, in the case of the Roy children in particular, and Shiv, the actress who plays Shiv, she’s so excellent at manifesting this, where she clearly wants to see herself as an impactful, serious person. And every single turn, it’s like, you’re such a rich little narcissist. You’re like, every single thing that happens. It’s so amazing. She does a great job playing that character. But, that character is exactly this manifestation. She wants too many consequential choices.

But, in the very beginning, not the very beginning, but one of the, I think, season one episodes, when the contract or the negotiations come through like, oh, they’re taking away the PJs. It’s like, consequential decisions for you is that you have to sign on a deal or you lose your private jets maybe. And that’s not really that consequential ultimately. So, I think the interesting thing is that, coming back to the origin point of this conversation, meaning doesn’t necessarily mean you’re all fulfilled. You can go to Burning Man and tell everyone how meaningful your life is. Meaning, simply, it just means meaning. It’s like, you can look back and say, I did things. I chose to do things. And as a consequence of these choices, I ended up here. And for me, in my personal journey as an entrepreneur, it has been, it’s really, I feel very blessed that I can look back and say, there were specific moments in time when I came to a fork in the road, and as the joke goes, I took it.

I decided that I would actually not sleepwalk my way through a decision point. And this is something maybe a lot of people, again, in the middle class don’t understand is that, inaction is a choice. It is an intentional choice. Every single day you could wake up in the morning and decide, you know what? I’m done. I hate my job. I hate my boss. This place sucks. I’m away from my kids and I’m away from my wife and whatever, and why am I doing this? I’m done. You could just decide that. Every day.

Jim: And people do that occasionally. They’ll buy a plant-

Peter: They do it occasionally. But, that’s because they got pushed to a brink. But, most people wake up in the morning sleepwalking their way through a routine, and this is the game A move. At the end of the day, if you come back to this, what game A is really good at doing is giving people as if choices, tiny little, stringing people along with a series of small as if choices, that ultimately reduce their optionality and their option space in the future, but they feel like a real choice.

So like, oh, do you want to increase your credit line a little bit? Oh, we should move into a bigger house, or you should do this, you should do that, these little things. And ultimately there’s a meta choice being made which is, you should not radically change your state of mind. You should not radically adjust your perspective on the world, because it’s fine. Again, every single day we wake up and we continue mostly as a small epsilon from the day before, but that’s a choice. We could choose to have a dramatic delta from yesterday, but we don’t like those days.

Jim: I got one for you. Let’s go back to the ’60s.What was, Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Dass’ mantra, which was, turn on, tune in, and drop out. And hundreds of thousands, at least, and probably millions of people, did just that. They took LSD, they had a powerful experience which does pull the shades away from the window and you actually can see reality in a starkly unprogrammed way for a couple of hours. And then, some percentage of those people said, this is ludicrous horseshit. This is just utterly ludicrous. So, I drop out of college, this is very common in my day, in the early ’70s. And three carloads of us will do this. And this is actually a personally meaningful story. Three carloads of 12 kids at college after doing heavy drugs, decide that this is all total bullshit. They open a map, have one of them closed their eye, put their finger down on it, and they all get in their car and drive there and buy a farm and start a hippie commune.

Peter: And this was covered in another excellent show, Mad Men, where you could see the end of the ’50s and the beginning of the ’60s, and the Don Drapers of the world just figured it out that, oh, these kids have basically disconnected from the previous institutions, which number one, we’re trying to send them to the jungles of Vietnam to get slaughtered. Number two, we’re completely missing that you could actually manufacture desire, and that’s a hell of a drug if you could make desire.

Jim: And that’s, of course, what these micro choices are, right?

Peter: That’s right.

Jim: Should I have the McDonald’s double cheeseburger or the Quarter Pounder? Talk about a micro choice that’s been studied by armies of psychologists to have you at the point of indecision just long enough that it feels like a real choice.

Peter: Well, and the thing I always like to do is encourage people, if you want to have a study in just how the world currently works, is if you go back and look at ads from magazines and newspapers in the ’50s, it’s amazing. Car ads in particular are hilarious, because they have a lot of text, there’s narration. There’s all the stuff about what a Cadillac would do for you, what Oldsmobile is, but it’s really about the substance. And the ’60s were really when the ability to make aesthetics, and vend aesthetics, and to manufacture desire at scale, all of that emerged. Which is one of the reasons Mad Men is one of my favorite shows, is because it talks to the psychology of this. It’s a period piece, a lovely period piece. The writing is excellent, and the actors and actresses are absolutely excellent. But, in that, it’s a period piece focusing on really interesting time, which is when people move from substance to aesthetics. And so, you’re now consuming and you’re vending the aesthetics of a thing. You’re selling the appeal of a thing.

There’s one of the episodes where they have the famous Volkswagen Beetle, the lemon ad. Remember that ad? The beetle, it’s like lemon. And they throw down like, the fuck is this thing? It’s like, it completely blew their minds, so that you could advertise in this countercultural way. Because, in a way, and this gets to a couple of different pieces that we have now forked in the conversation, children are always looking to do something different than the parents. People are always looking to rebel a little bit. But, there’s this thing about like, if you get too good at sealing off and creating a domesticated environment culture, everyone gets their white picket fence in the suburbs.

People don’t actually want to be the same as everyone else when you get to a certain point, and so, you could vend to the counterculture. But, it turns out not everyone wants to be the same exact counterculture as well. So, you have to then create bullshit differences that are cheap. It’s an arbitrage. Can I create aesthetic differences that actually are the same substance? And you see this with shampoos, you see this with luxury handbags. The actual Louis Vuitton or whatever, Chanel handbag, comes from the exact same factory as the knockoffs, but then they put a little bit of something different on it, some QR codes and some little bit styling differences. And now one costs literally thousands of dollars, and the other costs 50 bucks. And so, we’ve gotten really-

Jim: I got one for my daughter, $20 on the streets of New York one time.

Peter: Oh, look, don’t brag about a $20 Chanel bag, Jim. Don’t do it publicly, all right? That’s not how this works.

Jim: Hey-

Peter: You’re supposed to tell me you paid thousands for it.

Jim: No, my value is parsimony, so I am flashing my parsimony flag.

Peter: Well, yeah, but I think this is the whole point of this is that, we as an entire infrastructure, game A is there to manufacture bullshit differences and differences without distinction.

Jim: So, here’s one of my favorites-

Peter: And then… Uh-huh.

Jim: Here’s one of my favorites. Think about the game played between Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. They’re all nice cars. They’re fun to drive. And if you look at the models, they’re remarkably close in price for the same size cars, et cetera. And yet they each have, in people’s minds, some distinction. I’m a BMW person, I’d never drive a Mercedes, or I’m a Mercedes person, I’d never drive an Audi. And those things are very subtly and carefully crafted so that there’s a narrative wrapped around what are essentially indistinguishable vehicles.

Peter: I feel like there is a… Number one, they are distinguishable, having driven all three different kinds of vehicles at a particular price point. So, there are some actual differences, but for the most part, I take what you’re saying, which is that in general, and actually here’s a concept for you. Industrial capitalism ultimately is a driver of commoditization. And whenever something is reduced to a commodity, or cartel forms to stabilize the bottom end of the price. This is true for aluminum, this is true for oil, literally OPEC.

Jim: It’s a cartel, right?

Peter: Cartel, right. But, here’s the thing, because we’re able to manufacture desire at scale, because we’re able to actually manufacture, well, condition a tremendous amount of the middle class to accept consumption of slightly different preferences to be meaningful and to engage in that loop, what we’ve actually done is we’ve commoditized desire itself. And so, cartel forms around different price points to essentially offer the same product, but with slightly different color options. And so, the commoditization of desire is, that’s a hell of a thing. Because, ultimately if you’re a human being, if you actually manifest your innate libido in life, in the young sense, not in the sexual sense, but if you have this energy, this life energy and creativity, every person is a wildflower, but we grow them in these greenhouses and we condition them and shape them.

And so, at any point you could take them out of the greenhouse, take that potted plant out, plant it in the forest, and it could be blossomed to something much greater. But, you have to outrun the forces of industrialization that build ever bigger and bigger greenhouses. So, I think this is the thing that, you talk about the counterculture in the ’60s and everyone dropping out. And then, immediately those kids, once they got through with their bad acid trips, a bunch of them turned into P. J. O’Rourke, right? Where they got, where it’s Asian Guile beat a bad haircut or something, and he goes to become with this shill for the Cato Institute, like libertarian shill for the remainder of his years. And so, you have to actually not just drop out, not just defect, you actually have to tap into a system, an alternative system of meaning making that’s durable. And that is not something you can do as an atomized individual. That’s not something you can do [inaudible 00:36:14] mode.

Jim: This is a very important turn. And it’s why, when I see so much of the personal change literature, I go, oh yeah, the person will go through their process and they’ll maybe make a few improvements, but unless they find a way to embed themself into a culture that resonates with this new personal change, they’re going to get sucked back into the Borg. It happens again and again and again.

Peter: Or they die lonely hermits. It’s also very sad. Plato ultimately was not incorrect in this idea that humans are social creatures. And so, I think in this case, a lot of the Western personal change stuff, and there’s a, actually Jayman [inaudible 00:37:00] just wrote a hilarious little essay about a thing that happened this weekend.

Jim: Oh, I read the first [inaudible 00:37:08]

Peter: About his wife wife’s experience with these sisters and all of the stuff. It’s like the, but anyway, it’s a hilarious thing, because in the Western mode, and this is going to, and now we’re going to draw on some stuff from a friend Chandra, the Western mode is still very individualistic, and it’s very goal oriented. It’s very doing and action oriented. And it’s what are you doing? How are you doing? What are you, you, you? Which then conditions us to think about me, me, me, and it’s not we. So, when you talk about these transformational retreats that people go on and they do these kinds of things, it’s an individual journey. It’s the self and improving the self and all these things. And ultimately you can only do so much perfecting of the self. At some point you get good enough and you really need to go into group improvement, and find your tribe and find your community, and go through the transformation as a group, as friends, as a family, as a kin group or whatever, and there’s hard work to be done there too.

And there’s ways that groups can exist in integrity with each other. There’s groups where it’s actually a lot of transactional bullshit. And I think in the Silicon Valley right now, there’s a lot of younger people who are trying to do these kinds of things, but they have incredibly nasty, narcissistic little molecules that have very exploitative people, and abusers, and all this darkness in it, because they’re still rooted in the, there’s this fundamental, original sin of Westernism and Cartesianism, which is the isolation of the self from others. And I think a way to rectify some of this is incorporating the Chandra’s perspective on doing this versus being this. And so, even in my articulation going very back to the beginning of this conversation, the idea that meaning comes from making consequential choices, well, that is a decision, that’s a doing, it’s an action. It’s a way of generating meaning from acting.

But, there are other ways to generate meaning from mere being. And this is something that people in the east I think are very, there’s a tradition of that in the east, and there’s not so much of that in the West, although there is a little bit. So, I think this is where and were Chandra likes to, the thing he likes to make fun of is, when in the West we take things that should be being this, and we turn them into competitive doing this. We take serotonin things and turn them into adrenaline things or dopamine things. So, yoga becomes competitive hothouse yoga as opposed to a being trying to meditate or whatever.

And so, I think in this case, when I talk about meaning coming from making those consequential choices, that’s still just one part of it. There’s other ways to meaning too. It’s not the only part of it, but it’s the one that I think helps frame out some of the degeneration of the West, because we are filled with as if choices. But, there’s a whole nother dimension of it, which is the beingness, and generating meaning from being and being present. And I think this gets to, this touches maybe a little bit on the Vervaeke stuff, but I don’t know if you want to go there just yet.

Jim: The other conversation we subsequently had on this, I tossed out a experience I had late last week, and this is when decisions have consequences in a very physical, grounded way. And I described, my wife and I were patrolling our farm, part of it’s wooded, some of it’s fairly steep, and trees from time to time fall down across the Jeep trails. And so, we always carry a chainsaw with us. And well, sure enough, there was a medium size log down across a steep trail, which was no way around. It was a steep bank on one side, and a steep fall away on the other side. I had to get out, undo the chainsaw, go up and inspect the tree. All right, can I deal with this, or is this a job I have to go back and get the tractor for? And I look at it and go, yes, I can.

How am I going to do it? What order? Because, keep in mind now, if I’m not successful, we’ll have to terminate our mission, so that has consequences. Second, if your chainsaw’s not working properly, you can get it stuck, or you can have the chain break and come back and whack it. You can have the log roll on you, break your leg or worse, there’s a whole bunch of medium to high consequence results of every decision you make. And so, you get up there, you size the thing up, yes, I can do it. How do I do it? Do I start in the middle? Do I start at this end or do that? When this falls, is it going to bind on the blade? Do I need to cut from below or cut from above? Do I cut a notch? Do I not cut a notch?

And every single one of those decisions is embedded in a kind of, not a high dimensional, but a middle and dimensional space of alternatives and risks and quotient for success. And I compare and contrast that with a day at the work as a middle manager, where I went to a meeting and we talked about when we’re going to schedule the next meeting, and we talked about God knows what, and what the fuck was all that about? And I used to tell people when I come back to the office from a weekend at the farm, you go at the farm, I can fix most things with a sludge hammer. And I’m really tempted to use that policy around here.

And the other analogy I had when we were thinking about this from this other lens, this lens of the actual consequence, short term physical, is whitewater canoeing, which my wife and I used to do fair bit. And there, do I go to the left of the rock or through the right of the rock? You get that wrong, and you may go over, and we used to do it in the spring when the water was high, and you really don’t want to get dumped into a mountain river in March, let me tell you, having done it once.

And these are very consequential. Your brain it’s super focused. What’s the nature of that ripple? Is there a rock in that run through or not? If there is a rock, is it to the left or to the right under the water? And so, you’re making these realtime decisions, and all those things have consequences. And perhaps that’s why they are so attractive to us, because we are able to use our decision making for things of consequence.

Peter: There’s different, so I hear you on all that, but let me just stand on that a little bit. We are not merely physical creatures. And this is actually something I would encourage people to check out my videos. I usually don’t show my stuff, but I’ll say, I did a really fun four episode series with The Stoa, where I talk about some of my mental models. And one of the first ones I introduced is riffing off of Robert Pirsig’s metaphysics, and modeling the world at different levels of patterns. So, there is a physical level, there’s a biological level for humans, there’s a social level of some animals, social level, and then, for humans, there’s an intellectual level. And this is crude and it’s not perfect, but the point is that, it’s a reasonable enough frame to look at a number of other things. So, as humans, we cannot consider just the impacts to us physically.

We also have to look at the impacts to us at a biological level, at a social level, and at a intellectual level. And so, the reason I bring this up is because, when you talk about physical consequence, that’s the ground plane. You cannot avoid if a rock is going to hit you, or if a tree’s going to fall on you, or you’re about to fall off a cliff, or you’re going to drown on a river. Most people have a pretty intuitive feeling of, gut level feel for the importance of that. But, if you talk to anyone who’s starved, anyone who’s nearly died of thirst, if you talked about anyone who has been stung by an incredibly painful like jellyfish or something, there’s biological things too that we feel that are very impactful, and there’s biological consequences we can see. And then, above that, there’s social consequences.

Those are real too. The reason people physically get ill when they’re about to go into a very difficult social situation is because they understand the consequences, that there are actual consequences, and intellectually too. And some people, only a small percentage of people play at a level where there are intellectual consequences. But, for those who do play at that level, it’s extremely tense. It is actually extremely consequential there too. So, it’s possible to have consequential decisions and choices at each of these levels. But, what I would say is that, I think it’s important for people to get all of them as integral selves, as integral people. It’s important to have all of those different layers and to understand that we are an integrated human being that has these different things, which is why there’s a fetish thing, again, in the Bay Area where people are trying to hunt their own food.

I think at some point, Mark Zuckerberg was shot a bow with a bow and arrow or something, and it’s like, and he cooked it and there’s all this stuff, and it’s a little bit hilarious, of course, thinking about that particular thing. But, it’s not necessarily a bad concept for people to connect to their food and to grow it and to actually see these kinds of things and be connected from the biological level up. But then, it’s also important for people to go all the way to the intellectual level too. I think if you want to exist in this modern world that is so intellectually driven by ideas, if you don’t understand where your ideas came from, and if you don’t understand where the ideas might be going, then you’re also at the mercy of a lot of other forces and dynamics.

So, the point is that, there is an integral stack here, and the whitewater rafting is one thing, but I think about a lot of younger people now who are social media influencers, and when you listen to the interviews with them and you listen to, especially the ones who have, the ones who’ve knocked out of it, who’re big influencers and then was simply too stressful for them, and they decide to exit that and just go back to normal life. And there’s a few articles that have come around now in the last year about profiling some of these younger people, about millions of followers on Instagram, a hundred thousand dollar brand deals and all these things, and they knocked out of it. But, when you read those articles about those people and you look at their lives, literally every single moment of their waking life is obsessed with how they would project it, virtualize it, pull it into the simulacrum. And it’s incredibly, those are consequential decisions that’s meaningful.

Jim: That’s your life-

Peter: It’s not pleasant.

Jim: It’s your livelihood.

Peter: It’s your livelihood. But, it’s an incredibly interesting profile. So, I wouldn’t say that they’re exposed to any less risk or danger than you in a canoe whitewater rafting down some river. But, the lack of, the feeling that something is missing there is because they’re existing purely in this one realm of the inner subjective, in that social strata. And worse, it’s a virtualized one. And so, this is the, what is it? The dystopia that we have now with smartphones and with the simulacrum, the pervasiveness of virtuality everywhere is that people are more and more sucked into modes of being that take them away from actually making consequential and integral decisions.

Jim: So, let’s, we making a distinction here. I think this is good. So, let’s say you’re a influencer or let’s also imagine you’re a middle manager politician at work who is mostly spending their time stabbing people on the back and promoting themselves, et cetera. Those have consequences, right?

Peter: Yep.

Jim: But, they somehow don’t seem to be full stack, or they’re not integrated into a person. So, [inaudible 00:49:06]

Peter: Well, you believe they have have consequences. And sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. And that’s actually a big distinction. I’ve referenced this a lot in our conversations, but maybe never on a podcast. But, Venkatesh Rao has this amazingly brilliant body of work called the Gervais Theory of management and kind of corporate politics. It’s beautiful and brilliant. I would recommend everyone read it. It’s wonderful. And in the Gervais Theory, the idea is that, there are people, middle managers in the middle who are in large organizations, they think they’re making consequential decisions, they think they’re climbing up the ladder, actually, it’s all bullshit. None of it really matters. The people at the very top, it matters. Because, they’re studying strategy, they’re actually directing budget and all these things, and the people at the bottom, it matters because they’re the actual grunts doing the work, but in the middle, and he calls it the clueless.

There’s a middle clueless tier of people who actually believe they’re making consequential decisions. They’re climbing up the corporate ladder, and it’s like, yeah, you’ll never get there. You just keep climbing that ladder. Keep going for it. And so, one thing I’ll put here into the, bring into the aperture of the conversation. The other thing is the trope that we see all the time where some successful investment banker on Wall Street wins the game, has the big million dollar, or actually more like $10 million condo in Manhattan, and they’re staring out the window, and they realize that it’s all bullshit. They won the game, but none of it means anything for them. And they’re like both those things are tied into the same thing. And the one case, the guy who wins at game A literally has won. They’ve made consequential decisions, they’ve fought and won the rat race, and it still doesn’t feel meaningful.

And then, the other case, the person hasn’t won yet, but they think they’re winning, but actually they’re just running a treadmill. Both cases, we have to ask ourselves maybe through this lens, in what way is bullshit, because in one case, the guy’s getting bullshit meaning, and the other case, the guy won the actual stakes. They have hard product, real estate in the middle of Manhattan, and they got fancy cars, and they got all this stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s like they feel like, what was this all about?

Jim: And so, let’s now go and try to stick this. We’ve talked all around it, but what we haven’t yet tried to corral is why does this relationship of the life that we’re in, at least punitively lead to a sense of meaning crisis? Because, the middle manager thinks his backstabbing has consequences, even if it doesn’t, he thinks it does, and probably sometimes it does. The person that’s choosing the shampoo, if they’re hooked into a intersubjective model that they can brag to their friends that they bought shampoo X rather than Y, either to show off their parsimony or their eliteness, that’s a choice that has some kinds of consequences. Why do we say that the summation of the class of choices that we have end up producing a crisis in meaning?

Peter: Well, I think what ultimately has happened here in the West is a combination of a few things, but just a few things. There’s ultimately, it is an alienation of individual lives from any concept of a transcendent sacred. And so, part of it is secularization. The church offered something in this regard, whether you believe it or not, as an atheist. The point is, it did offer something here in terms of vitamin sacred. In Eastern philosophy, if you look at Confucianism, the sacred thread, it wasn’t so much about religion, but it was actually ancestry. It was the idea that you are just one generation on the tip of a spear, and you connect all of the hundreds of generations before you to all of the infinite generations that will come after you. So, don’t break that chain. Don’t be the asshole that breaks that chain. And so, you’re connected-

Jim: Don’t bring dishonor to the family, right?

Peter: Don’t bring dishonor to the family. And so, in some of these things, there is a connection of self to the transcendent and a sense of sacredness to it. Now, in the West, we have cut this or abrogated this in a variety of ways. We have taken away, again, secularization of the church, right or wrong, good or bad. A lot of things the church has done, organized religion has done is certainly earned itself some of the distrust that it’s now reaping. But, nonetheless, the idea of people, you think about how many identify as being spiritual but not religious, in the West, it’s quite a number of people. And it’s interesting because that means there is this latent desire for a connection to each other, a connection to some cosmic sacred connectivity thing. And I don’t want just over rotate in this and say that it’s all a immortality desire in people.

I think people are okay with returning to the earth, but I think people crave a narrative of transcendence, something that places them not just as a random blip and a mayfly in the pond that disappears when the sun sets. So, that ultimately, that lack of connection to a narrative of sacred and a transcendent narrative beyond the self, that then is reinforced by the fact that we have a consumer society where so much of the desires you feel can, when they show up, they manifest as little concrete desires that could be vended to. And so, you kind of want people in a state of psychic imbalance, again, to quote Mad Men, what is happiness? It’s the moment before you need more happiness. And the West, we actually, this is again calling back to our Chandra, we confuse all the time, the term happiness and satisfaction, all the time.

Happiness is everywhere. What could be better than giving people happiness? Well, it turns out happiness isn’t the thing, and it’s actually satisfaction. It’s actually being grounded with your place in the world and who you are, and being grounded in your place in the transcendent narrative. What was that great Peter, Paul and Mary song, take Your place now on The Great Manadalla, take your place. And I think in the West through, whether it’s through consumer mass consumption, mass manufacturer of desire, secularization, alienation in a geographic sense, alienation from being able to form community groups and actually have communities, our car driven culture, the explosion of suburbs and all these kinds of things, we no longer have common spaces. And the people in the strong towns talk about this all the time.

You don’t have the European plazas and squares. Everyone’s driving around to the parking lot at the box store to go and buy crap that’s made overseas to stuff in your houses, because that’s as if meaning. And so, we are really quite alienated and we don’t have manadalla to take our place on. So, I think that’s really the heart of a lot of the meaning crisis is that, the lack of connection to each other, the lack of connection to our ancestry and to our eventual descendants. All of this were just really the perversion, not perversion, the platonic anti-ideal of truly individualized atomized individuals.

Jim: That’s like the enlightenment. This is pure Vervaeke. The enlightenment cast away this framework of meaning, and we have yet to replace it, at least in a satisfactory fashion with something else.

Peter: And that is the big project. That is the thing we have to do. That is the thing we absolutely have to do.

Jim: And I always, again-

Peter: No, Jim, you cannot plug an LM into everyone’s brain, that’s just not going to be the way to solve this problem.

Jim: Again, I’ll riff Rutt in here a little bit. I’ve never felt like I had a meaning crisis at all, because I do see a meaning as is well known to listeners in the podcast. I’m a total scoffer at Gods, and religion, and all that stuff. And I’ve always, since I was 11, when I had an epiphany, after spending two weeks studying comparative religion, all bullshit made up to control people. I now realize there’s evolutionary dynamics, and how those came to be, and how they produce group cohesion, and they get locked in. So, my 69-year-old self is a little less absolute about it, but my 11-year-old self was, but nonetheless, cast that aside. I have a very simple meaning if you want to call it that, which is that humanity or life on earth may be the only life in the universe, we don’t know.

And the more you study it, the more you realize that it could be the only life on earth, or it could be the only advanced life on earth, or it could be the only generally intelligent life on earth. So, we think about going from bacteria, to prokaryotes, to multi-cellularity, to having brains, to passing, just recently passing the line of general intelligence. And if so, and if we’re alone, that’s a monumental obligation.

We have an opportunity to eventually bring the universe to life. So, that is fork one on our human destiny, is that we need to keep getting stronger, not collapse, and eventually bring life or our digital descendants to the stars. That’s fork one. Fork two, and we’re also not too far away from this fork, is find out if we indeed are alone. And if there is galactic civilization already out there waiting to bring us in or eat us, how do we relate to the other intelligence species in the galaxy? And until we know the answer to the fork, are we alone or are we not? It would seem that precautionary principle should say that we must preserve human life, generally intelligent life at all costs. And to put that at risk as we are doing, strikes me as grossly immoral within my Ruttian view of the purpose that I choose to impose on the existence of human life.

Peter: And that makes total sense to me. Until we know different, we can work under the, it’s not morally or ethically incorrect to proceed under the assumption that we are the only intelligent life, in which case, holy shit, we’d better take good care of it.

Jim: Why is it that not enough meaning?

Peter: Well, that is, but I’ll have a couple of, I’ll build on what you’re saying here. So, number one, yes, we should operate under that principle. It’s a very simple, almost like Pascal’s wager style thing. Where if there is other intelligent life, great, let’s go up and meet it. And if there isn’t, we better proceed like we’re the only ones and really take good care of it, because it’s quite a precious thing. And so, then the other thing related to that is, this is different now as a moral imperative than something simple like the categorical imperative, or it is different from some of the, I think the enlightenment, individualistic thing where man was created, the creator endowed every individual with some sacred right to this and that and the other, meanwhile, please enjoy the screw that my slaves formed. But, I think there’s a difference there in that, that’s a very individualist by assumption kind of argument.

But then, there’s a very, I think a very practical top-down moral argument, which is that we clearly have intelligent life here. We seem to be the only one so far that we’ve found. Now, we’ve only known about electricity for a 100 years, so we’re pretty early still, but we should take good care of it, because it’s a really precious thing. And so, that’s a really great, not de novo, but from first principal’s argument, for defending life. And you’re absolutely right then, I would say pulling in something else, the moral foundation’s theory from Jonathan Haidt, you said the word obligation. And so, for you, ultimately for the subjective frame of Jim Rutt, doing something you are obligated to do feels right. And that is how you generate meaning there. Now, if you were not wired that way with that particular moral virtue as a foundation, then you wouldn’t, you’d be like, obligations are bullshit.

Who are you to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do? I don’t need to serve the universe. I’m here to make beautiful art. I’m here to enjoy myself. I’m here to blah blah, blah. I’m here to defend my friends. All this, you guys are talking all these words and all this shit. I’m here just to defend my friends and family and keep them safe and strong. There’s all sorts of different moral foundations people can lean on as a way of generating meaning. And so, I just want to name that and call that out, that for you, that obligate service is one of those things. And the other thing I’d call out is that, you haven’t had a problem with this in the sense that you actually came up before a lot of the infrastructure to asphyxiate meaning from the youth, before that dissociation asphyxiation came in.

You came around at a time when there was still a lot of direct interface to the liminal that was available to you in your youth. And then, of course, through your professional career, you’ve been able to make consequentially meaningful choices and build all this stuff. So, no, it’s great that you have that, but not everyone’s had that. And there’s certainly dynamic in the world that is starving and choking people out from having this. I think that’s the thing to call out from this as well, which is, many of the things we put in place to give people as if choices or to give as if choices that have as if consequences are actually bullshit. Which is why it’s so important for us who have this perspective to do more communication, so that people can actually expand their causal loops that expand their ability to measure, is this a consequential thing? And to even just to draw the awareness, that sometimes your ability to perceive consequence requires you to lean on your friends. And so, you better make some friends.

Jim: And here now, I think I can jump all the way back down the stack, we’ll probably wrap it up here, which is, let’s assume Ruttism is the right set of values, that we’re here to protect intelligent life until we can either bring the universal life or take our place in the galactic civilization. But, as you point out, for most people who haven’t, don’t have various foundations of experience, didn’t make the mistake of reading Foundation Trilogy when they were 10, things like that, that might not make so much sense. But, if we had a culture where that was the value, it would support people in making decisions that were congruent with that value.

And hence, what we’re essentially, if we believe in Ruttism and why not, think of the name, there’s no better name, then the only way to actually have people have meaning from pursuing Ruttism, unless they happen to have my own peculiar trajectory in life, which very few will, is to develop a culture in which people are enculturated from a young age in that, this is the reason why we’re here on earth at this time, and then be modest enough to say, and this is again, were Ruttism is different than all these book religion, is that this is a transitory goal.

Either we’ll bring the universe to life, or we’ll find the galactic civilization, or be well on our way, and then we’ll choose some other objective. So, this is not like, it’s not a foundation, it’s we’re thrown into the universe where we are 13.6 billion years from the origin, we have this set of capacities, et cetera. But, to organize folks so that their choices are consequential with respect to Ruttism, there has to be cultural support for those behaviors. It’s just a very simple-

Peter: And it’s actually, so you can call it Ruttism, but I will say, I wrote a blog post about this in 2017. So, there’s a little bit of prior art, which is that in order for us to really advance humanity, and this is my blog post it’s called, it was in Rally Point Journal, so it was Freedom 2.0, towards the new physics of, it was entitled Towards a New Physics of Human Systems. And I said that, look, in our existing concepts in the Western enlightenment Jeffersonian scheme, we think of freedom as freedom from other people. And so, there’s kind of an inherent concept of freedom of like oh, your freedom to throw a punch ends at the tip of my nose or something like, these kinds of things, where we ultimately view classic stuff.

Jim: Negative freedom is a cause.

Peter: Negative freedomsm, where we are really, we take a scarcity mentality towards this of, every single thing you get to do, you’re depriving other people of some ability to do their thing. It’s important to have a framework for this, because this is a lot of what goes on in modern life is, demarcating where one person has rights or privileges to do certain things from other people, so that, it’s a necessary thing.

Jim: And it’s very important to understand that when this emerged right after the era of the absolute king, where everybody in theory was the property of the king, and the king could come and screw your wife on your wedding night, and by law he had that right, right?

Peter: Right. So, we needed a new framework then, because scarcity was all we knew and times are tough. But, now as we move into a world where we can actually make enough stuff for most people, we actually could feed and house everyone on earth if we really chose to. But, our human organizations are not set up this way, because we’re still based on these old medieval, futile ideas of freedom of rights of property, and of these kinds of things. A lot of our economic systems are based in thinking from this, sprinkled down with a little bit of industrial era stuff.

But, the point is that, freedom 2.0 has to go beyond, I don’t want people messing with me. Freedom 2.0 has to be the concept of, and I’m going to build on someone who I have not brought up in this conversation so far, but it’s very important thinker, is Jiddu Krishnamurti. And Krishnamurti has this core principle that freedom is not a reaction, and freedom is not a choice. Freedom lies in choiceless awareness. And I added a thing to say that, it’s the awareness that you’re substrate for empires of ideas. You have to start with that awareness first before you can get to real freedom. And so, the idea of Freedom 2.0, sure.

Jim: Let’s unpack that just a little bit. I tried to read Krishnamurti as basically some dudes standing under a tree giving talks to people and [inaudible 01:08:51]. And I go, what the fuck is all this? But, I do mean to get back at it. So, what does that mean? I’m a substrate for, what’d you say?

Peter: Well, he didn’t say the substrate part, that’s me, that’s my building on it. He has the core. If you go to or something like that, you go to the Krishnamurti website. There’s the core teaching of Krishnamurti is this, almost like the heart sutra of what he taught was that, truth is a pathless land. You cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual or psychological technique or philosophical knowledge. You have to find it through the mirror of relationship, and through understanding the contents of your own mind through observation and not merely through intellectual analysis or introspective by section. And man has built himself images as offensive security, religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols and ideas and beliefs. And the burden of these images dominates our thinking and our relationships and our daily life. And these images are the causes of our problems, because they divide man from man. Our perception of life is shaped by the concepts already established in our minds. This is the malware that Eric Weinstein talks about, right?

Jim: Right.

Peter: So, the content of our consciousness is, all of these bullshit as if things, sorry, doesn’t mean riffing on Krishnamurti, it’s his actual thing. I’m literally reading from the website here. The content of his consciousness is his entire existence. The content is common to all humanity. This content is common to all humanity. And the individuality is the name, the form, and the superficial culture that he acquires from tradition and environment.

So then, he goes to, this is the key line, freedom is not a reaction, freedom is not a choice. It is man’s pretense that because he has choice, he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive. Freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man, but lies in the very first step of his existence. So, anyway, it’s a good thing to meditate on. It’s some deep stuff there, really good stuff. And you can see shades of it in all the things that I’ve said here in this podcast and in other conversations. But then, coming back to my blog post, because you talked about Ruttinsm or Ruttism, and in my blog post I wrote that what’s needed for a phase change in human civilization is a fundamentally new set of narratives about human agency, dignity, and even the meaning of humanity itself, at both individual and collective levels.

And all prior narratives are broken, because they fundamentally rely on forcing this security and freedom trade off that views individuals as being at odds with each other. Again, you see the shades of Krishnamurti in this, right? And economics even is also rooted in this. How do I take my piece of the pie from, and so you don’t get my piece or I get your piece or something like that. And so, if we can actually view humans a more integrative approach in this current era, with modern technology and modern knowledge of what emergence and collective dynamics could result in, a more integrative approach of view humanity and human identity as emergent and the endogenous result of human individuals embedded in societies of shared values instead of being at war with each other and needing freedom from each other. So, that’s the interesting thing. What the internet’s showed us is that, people can find their tribe even though they’re geographically dispersed. I’ve been talking with you for years, you’re a dear friend. We’ve only met each other in person like a couple, three times.

Jim: Twice, three times.

Peter: Three times.

Jim: Yep. Three times.

Peter: Because, you’re off on the East Coast. I’m here in Texas. And so, the idea that we can, and open source, the open source communities that create the modern software that runs the world and is building AI, they’re geographically dispersed. So, with the internet and with these other things, we’re more than ever we’re able to find our tribes. And so, we can actually create new kinds of identities. Now, what Web 2.0 social media showed us is that there’s bad ways to collectivize individuals and create substrates for identity. And you create [inaudible 01:12:46] and create all these kind of conspiracy theory kind of folks. But, if we do this-

Jim: Or the banality of Facebook or Twitter.

Peter: Or the banality of Facebook and the influencer culture on Instagram with everyone trying to be all glossed up with lenses on Snapchat, yeah, there’s antipatterns and darkness there. But, if we think about existential optimism, what could we do on a positive version of this? We could actually create deeply powerful networked tribes. And this is where you get to [inaudible 01:13:15] network state kind of stuff, right?

Jim: Right.

Peter: Deeply powerful network tribes. And to some extent, actually, I wrote this in here, because you said it’s culture. I wrote this in here. 50 years ago, this simply was not a possibility. But, technology, economic society back then did not provide for this, but now we can. And you might call this new narrative framework a culture and others might call it a religion. And I believe that for it to succeed, it must be a process.

It’s a process that gives rise to new flavors of culture that derive from existing hardwired tribal leanings. And that could be tribal leanings from religious or economic or geographical foundations. But, the primary aim of this process, and I capitalize it, I call it the process, it’s a transformation. This process will facilitate self empowerment, encourage participation in new organizational models. And in most situations, in order for it not to be pigeonholed and burned for being a religious weird cult, it’s got to engage with existing cultures with both confusion and delight. Burning Man does this a little bit. Other kinds of things, pop up things do this. We want to actually engage more and more people living in [inaudible 01:14:24] constructs. We want to engage them in ways that, first, open up their, open them up to the liminal via delightful experiences and embodied present kind of things. And then, open up their eyes to transcendent experiences and new ways of being with each other. That’s got to be the process. And it’s going to be a process to emerge this culture.

Jim: And then, to just land it with your own words, have them be in a position where they can actually make consequential decisions about their own life.

Peter: Yes.

Jim: To actually not spend… Another rabbit hole I’ve gone down recently is, why this anxiety amongst millennials and Zoomers, even though they seem like they’re in the fattest, dumb, and happiest civilization that humanity’s ever created, where you can order up a delivery from Whole Foods in two hours, what our caveman ancestors think. And as I’ve been talking to psychologists about this, they keep coming back to the fact that folks who, as you say, grew up in this network culture, are engaged in so many small little decisions about how to present themselves, about what they should or should not say, so they don’t get burned at the stake, et cetera. And that those of us who did not come up in that culture cannot understand how depleted their decision making is from making gigantic numbers of what to us seem like idiotic decisions, but for them are very consequential. And so, in some sense, [inaudible 01:15:57] from that.

Peter: So, let me throw in a couple of things here at the end around this. So, we have, in the zeitgeist, we already have the templates for some of these things. Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in a cage. We know about the thing of like, I’m just here pushing buns in a Skinner Box. I’m getting my sugar pellet, so I’m getting whatever. And that doesn’t feel good. That doesn’t feel empowering. You’re still a rat deciding to push the lever to get a sugar pallet, but that sucks. And so, one thing about this meaningful meaning coming from making consequential decisions or choices, is that if the loop of consequentiality doesn’t run through the liminal, then you’re not actually picking up vitamin meaning. If it runs through the liminal, then you feel much greater consequence in it. When you go to and you take-

Jim: Define the liminal for our audience.

Peter: Liminal is the unknown unknown. So, in this case, you don’t know what’s going to happen. If you were Iron Man in an Iron Man suit with a chainsaw cutting this tree, you don’t give a rip if it goes the wrong way, because if it falls in your head, you just knock it off, right?

Jim: Right.

Peter: And so, liminal is, you don’t quite know what’s going to happen. When you’re in that canoe, you’re making consequential decisions when you’re going down the rapids near a rock. When you’re just gliding through clear water, still water, it doesn’t feel so consequential. You’re still making little decisions about when to paddle and when not to, but it’s got to be a little bit on the edge of, out of your comfort zone. You don’t quite know what’s going to happen. And the beauty of this, coming back to Chandra again, he talks about Indian music, and always being the element of, you call it [foreign language 01:17:47], or the surprise, you have to take experiments. I was just watching a beautiful little video of a composer or conductor talking about encouraging his cello section to live dangerously.

Don’t play it safe, it’s got to feel like you’re inches from disaster. And then, you make real music. And so, we have this experience of we need to make decisions at the boundary of safety. If we’re always making decisions on this side of safety, you burn out. And this then, pulling in another thing onto the table, Clockwork Orange. We didn’t think that we would get here, but we’ve actually manufactured Clockwork Oranges, not by making better oranges, by digitizing the oranges and then making them clockwork. That’s what we’ve done to an entire generation of people. We’ve made them all into little Clockwork Oranges.

Jim: Oh, [inaudible 01:18:39]. For those of you who know vaguely about Clockwork Orange, read Anthony Burgess’ book, which is actually even better than the-

Peter: It’s better than the movie.

Jim: The movie is good, but the book is better. It’s very short, very accessible. But, I would suggest if you want to really land what Peter just said here. It just gave me a really whoa feeling. I’m going to have to think about that one again. Anyway, Peter, this has been a hell of a good conversation. Any final thought before we cast off back into our decision about what shampoo to buy?

Peter: The final thing I would pull in and the last thought is a term which I was just introduced to a few weeks ago on Twitter, which is the concept, I think the term someone used, I think Carlos Perez called it-

Jim: By the way, he’ll be coming up on The Jim Rutt Show in about a month.

Peter: Oh, yes, good. So, Carlos Perez called it the Hofstadter horror or terror, which is that, if we, and this is after Hofstadter of Godel, Escher, Bach, and Strange Loops and all that. And I was like, what’s that? And he said, he explained it as, the Hofstadter horror or terror is when we actually get to a point of understanding and we actually can understand how the mind works. And we do look inside and we realize we’re just a bag of memories and some loops, some agentic loops. And here’s how consciousness emerges. We’ve solved the binding problem. We actually can see how we are made and how it all works. And we look in the mirror and we say, is that all we are? That’s the horror and the terror. That’s the Hofstadter horror. Now, the interesting thing is, I would pose at this. I would say that, we will one day cross that threshold.

It may not be very soon, it could be very soon, I don’t know. But, I do think that from where I sit, it seems like we are going to be faced with that at some point. And the power, not the power, but the thing to do is to come up with a philosophical framework, with a life framework, with a meaning framework, that lets us lead meaningful lives and continue the great project of Ruttism or whatever it is, taking our place in The Great Manadalla of this universe. It allows us to do that even as we stare that Hofstadter terror square on in the face. And this is Krishnamurti’s point of that choiceless awareness. We are aware, and we still lean into it, and we do do the needful. So, anyway, that’s the last comment.

Jim: I like that a lot. Actually, very good. All right, I think we’ll wrap it up right there. Peter Wang, amazing conversation. And-

Peter: Thanks, Jim.

Jim: … we referenced all kinds of things, and as always, they’ll be on the episode page at All right.