The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Lene Rachel Andersen. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Lene Rachel Andersen, an independent futurist, author, philosopher, and publisher. She’s a member of the Club of Rome, she’s appeared twice previously in EP89 on metamodernity, and in Currents 043, where we talked about the Global Bildung Festival. Welcome back!
Lene: Thank you.
Jim: Yeah. I look forward to having a really interesting conversation today. Today we’re going to talk about her new book, Libertism, if that’s how you pronounce it, Grasping the 21st Century. Let’s start with the word, libertism. A word that’s been around for a while, but very rarely use today. You consciously decided to reclaim it, tell us about that a little bit. And what are you pointing at with this word?
Lene: The idea was to write a book about freedom. We really risk most of our freedoms with the technological development right now. I guess we’ll get into the details about that. So, I was looking for a title for a book about freedom, but I didn’t just want to call it freedom because there’s so many books with that title. It would just drown out there. And I thought, “Liberty, me. Can I come up with a word?” And then I came up with a word libertism because it would be like an ism of freedom.
Then, I was thinking, “Maybe if I Google it, and see if somebody is already using it.” And it turned out that nobody did. The only thing that I found online was a reference to a dictionary from the 17th century, I think. And it turns out that libertism was used as a word when the civil liberties, and liberty, and freedom politics, the revolutions, all that stuff from the 16th and 17th centuries, 18th century, were the new things. So people were struggling with finding new words for this new political movement, and libertism seems to have been a word. And then, I guess, liberalism was the one that took over, and then it was out there and nobody had used it for a couple of hundred years. And then I thought, “Well, now it’s mine.”
Jim: I did find a couple of references in the 19th century that apparently was synonyms for libertinism, i.e., sexual indulgence, which I thought was funny.
Lene: Yeah, but it’s not libertinism, it’s libertism. I don’t know if people were just spelling one of the other wrong or whatever, but I really have not come across anybody using the word libertism. And nobody has called me, or written me, and said that I was-
Jim: Yeah, it seems nobody in the 20th century has. So you’re in good ground to reclaim it, put your fence around it and off you go. We’re going to get into a lot of detail, this book got a lot of detail in it. In our pre-show conversation, we decided that we’re not going to try to cover it all in one episode, so we’re going to do two episodes. But before we get into the many details, let’s start a couple of really high level points that might help people put the details into context. I would say, from my reading of the book, and I did read it very carefully, that essentially the big question raised by the book is for the future path of humanity to go in our next step, into either hypermodernity or metamodernity. Could you give folks the high level view of those two concepts? We’re going to get into lots of details. So, you don’t have to go into a lot of detail.
Lene: So hypermodernity would be where technology becomes the deciding factor, and raw power just rules. And where the market, the technological development overrule human ethics, moral values, culture, meaning making everything. And where whoever has the smartest algorithm, and the most power, get to decide what happens. Where whoever owns the land, the algorithms, the computers, the robots, the market, use violence to decide who gets to speak, and enjoy certain freedoms. And with the current technological development towards AI, towards robotization, towards surveillance, towards bringing all this data together, towards having chips in our brains, and integrating human bodies with technology, the internet of bodies, and the internet of things. There’s a huge risk that the liberties and the freedoms that we’re used to in the West are just going to be a bygone era. So, that’s the hyper-modernity, and I do not want that.
The world, as we know it, the postmodern world, is not ready to govern and continue society the way that we know it with these technologies. Because the technologies are definitely going to create havoc and cause disruptions of all kinds. Unless, we decide what to do, and so that is what I’m suggesting, that we need to decide what kind of future we want. My idea, that I offer to the world, is metamodernity, which is something that we can create in the aftermath of the postmodern. And the very short version of metamodernity, the way that I write about it. It’s that we have existed as a species for 300,000 years, with the brains, and the psychological, and emotional setup that we have, with the capabilities that we have. I don’t know, 300,000 years, 290,000 years, who counts?
We lived in the Stone Age, and we were hunter-gatherers for most of the time, then, some became settled, agricultural or horticultural farmers, and then, there was pastoral nomads. In that culture, people lived in very small groups in rather intimate groups, so to speak. Then there was an epoch of the pre-modern or traditional, that’s where we have the Bronze age and the Iron age. So to make it very simplistic, the polytheism and the monotheism, the big religions that we know today, and societies of between, I don’t know, 5,000 and maybe a million people. And then in the modern world and the aftermath of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press with movable type. And with the steam engine and modern science, we get in Europe 500 years or 200 years. If we just go from the enlightenment, 300 years, a world where… I mean, there’s colonialism and the rest of the world is suffering from that. But we create a different kind of institutions, a different kind of legislation, a different concept of individual freedom, and what society is about. We get equal rights, and we get modern science. That’s modernity.
And for the past 30 or 50 years, depending on where you want to draw the line, we have the postmodern world where we’ve deconstructed everything. All these four cultural codes, the prehistoric indigenous Stone Age, the pre-modern traditional Bronze Age and Iron Age, the modern and the post-modern. All have human experiences, and ways of being human, struggles with what it means to be human, that we need to bring with us into the future, if the future’s going to be meaningful. We need to combine this human experience from these different epochs, and ways of being human in a fruitful way. That allows us to keep our freedoms, take responsibility, lead meaningful lives, and live in a sustainable balance with nature, and the planet that we have.
There is only that one planet. And whoever wants to go to Mars in order to colonize it, and build something else, it’s just going to go… first of all, I think they’re going to go to another planet, and list that up too. But how much effort would have to go into that? You have to create a biosphere, and all kinds of environment that is actually suitable for humans. Why not just preserve the one that we have, and take care of it? It’s already there. And it has a richness, and complexity, and beauty that you can’t even recreate it.
Then you would have to go to Mars, and sit in Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse for the rest of your life. And how much fun would that be? There are probably some who might think that is better than what we have, but they could as well go into that metaverse here on earth, and let the rest of us enjoy nature. So the hypermodernity would be the technology, and market, and brutal force take over, and control all of us, except maybe 1 or 2%. And the metamodernity is where everybody has access to nature in a meaningful life based on the human experience through history.
Jim: Great. Also, before we jump in, this will be our last meta-comment. Many of our listeners are familiar with metamodernism, particularly of the Hanzi Freinacht variety. We’ve had Daniel Gortz on the show, I think, three times, and we’ve covered both of his books and talked more in general. Maybe very briefly, if you could distinguish between your form, and people that work with use form of metamodernity from, particularly, the Hanzi Freinacht version of metamodernism? With very similar names, and they’re fairly similar in some ways, but different in others.
Lene: So we both got the word metamodernism from the same source, which were these two Dutch cultural theorists, Robin van den Akker, and Timotheus Vermeulen. And they wrote Metamodernist Manifesto back in 2010, where they were dealing with the sort of double sentiment of the modern and the postmodern, the sincerity and the irony, the science and the deconstruction, knowing that things are in a certain way, and knowing that they are all just a social construct. And I guess many of us live with that double sentiment because we are in the West, in a post-modern chapter of the modern world. We have the modern society, modern institutions, but we all watch the Tarantino movies, and learn to shrug our shoulders with an ironic laugh at the worst disasters. Vermeulen and Van den Akker wrote this in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008.
And I guess in the current situation with the war in Ukraine, and the disasters that we’re seeing in our own Western cultural zone civilization, the ironical shrinking of the shoulders at the disaster is just not an option anymore. So we need something more than the irony. Hanzi, Daniel Gortz and Emil Friis, I think, is his name. They took this idea of the modern and the postmodern, and turned it into some sort of political ideology that is including and very much building on… I think, in Wilber’s Integral Theory and Ego Development Philosophy, and imagine a future where we have this modern, postmodern combined with personal development, ego development.
I then, based on Van den Akker and Vermeulen, and some other people writing about this, realized that before the modern world, there was all this human existence that we need to include as well. So I went further back in history. I went to the really deep roots of our existence as a species, and brought all four cultural codes together. I want to bring them together into this metamodernity in the future. And I also want it to be more of a pedagogical educational cultural project than actually looking at what goes on in the mind of the individual. Because psychology can make the analysis of what humans are, but it cannot deliver what pedagogy, and teaching, and education, and cultural, heritage and being involved with other people can.
Jim: Very good. I think that would be a helpful distinction for folks. Now, let’s jump into the book. I’m going to start with a quote. “We live in a world of systems and of systems within systems. Some of these systems we design, but the fundamental systems are self-organizing.” Another theme that I extracted from the book, and I wish I had highlighted it in a different color, so I could pull all the references out. It’s that quite often you make the point, and this is a point that I also make a lot, is that the cultural stuff in particular, we built, we own, and we can change. And I sometimes describe that as the gateway drug to game B, and to the game B adjacent, liminal web ways of thinking. I sort of came to it from my interest I developed in money, and monetary theory, and the mid double odds.
Like most people, I accepted sort of money as just part of the, “Yeah, it probably came down with Moses from Mount Sinai.” Wrong, of course. Now that I know the history of money, I realize it’s a whole bunch of frozen accidents, essentially. And yet, it has a huge impact in the way our system works, a bit of a monetary crank, and I believe it has more influence than we think. But you make that point again and again and again, that this stuff is ours, and we can own it.
Lene: Yeah. I’m building this on a model by Gregg Henriques, who talks about these four joint points in history. The first one is, I guess, the Big Bang. I think somebody is revising that theory as well, but let’s just talk about the Big Bang-
Jim: Let’s hold off, and you talk to a little later, if you don’t mind.
Lene: Yeah. But it’s just… because that is what we cannot do anything about. That’s matter in physics, and then comes out of that DNA and biology. And biology, we can kill it, and we can mess it up, and there are complex systems that have evolved over… what is it? Three and a half billion years, that’s the age of the earth. So we can destroy these, we can mess them up, but we can’t redesign, or probably not create anything better. And then there’s the mind, and we are born with that, and we can manipulate that with culture, we can manipulate it with education coercion, and all kinds of things, psycho pharmaceuticals, hormones for that matter. But there are a lot of animals that have a mind, so when that enters the evolution, something new happens on earth.
And then we have culture, which Henriques defines as propositional language. I don’t know if I take that as the beginning point of that, but each of these four forms of existence in the known universe are what we are part of, and we’ve produced by it, we are it. If we go far enough down into the individual parts of our body, we’re matter, we’re atoms, and at some point it becomes cells, and that’s life. And we do have a mind, and we got that from the evolution. And then there’s culture, which a lot of it we inherited, and it is going to be incredibly hard to change it. But it’s ours to do with whatever we want, contrary to physical matter and biology, and to some extent, the mind, which it’s more malleable than the other parts before it.
And where we are right now, is that the boundary of what our culture can carry with everything that we have invented so far. So we are, one way or the other, going to create a future that is as radically different from what we know today, as culture, as culture was from mind without culture or biology without mind, or matter without biology. So, that is what I take from Gregg Henriques. And then I run with it, and put ourselves into those systems and say, “So, what do we have to live with? What can we manipulate? And what can we actually do something about? And what are the choices that we have?” And we need to make some of those choices because otherwise we’re just going to mess extinction of species, kill the foundation for our own life, and mess up the life for ourselves.
Jim: Yeah. Very good. This could be my first little pushback. As people listen, though, I always do push back a little bit, I would say we help clarify. You say some of these systems we design. I would say that we actually don’t design very many of these cultural systems, but rather, they’re gardened, they’re evolved, and they’re nudged. You can think about modern finance. It wasn’t designed, really, nor were our road systems, or our electric grids, they evolved incrementally. And most importantly, they evolved in a co-evolutionary context, everything else that was going on. And so in our world, my world, of game B people, we try to avoid the word design, even though that’s sort of what we’re doing. But we’re figuring, “How do we garden for the proper emergences?” And it’s a subtle distinction, but I think, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that distinction.
Lene: I totally agree. And in either, the Buildung book that I wrote, or Metamodernity say the same thing about, we need to look at this as a garden, also culture. But we do design the individual parts, we did not design the life that we are, we did not design our minds. We can make a decision about, what kind of economy do we want. And whenever somebody creates legislation, it is design of part of society, and maybe we don’t design the entire system, but we design the parts, and then of course the interaction between them in co-evolution. Of course, then creates results that nobody had the wisdom to foresee, so we end up with these, “Oops! Was that the result of that? Maybe we should make a different decision.” And then we redesign.
And where we are right now is that the political systems that we have grew from, emerged from, were designed within the world of the printing press, and the steam engine, and the radio, and the sovereign nation state. We have institutions in legislation for that, and within that, at least, some of the countries in the world provide rule of law and democracy for their citizens. We are at the edge of what that system can contain, not at least because the sovereign nation states, they’re having the sovereignty undermined by the tech giants, and by the cryptocurrencies, and the digital economy. So we need to rethink what it means to be a country, what it means to be a citizen, what it means to have rule of law, what it means to be a company, what it means to own algorithms, and a lot of stuff. And when we listen to the political debate, or fight, or whatever you want to call it-
Jim: Shit show, I believe, is the term of art.
Lene: That is the technical term. Okay. So whenever we hear that, it sounds as if we’re still in, I don’t know, 1986 or something. I mean, we’re top tuned for the 1980s, and we’re in the 2020s.
Jim: And the music sucks so bad in the ’80s, I’d hate to have to go back there.
Lene: There was Disco music and Abba, what are you talking about?
Jim: As I was saying…
All right. As I mentioned, this book has got a tremendous amount of detail, and really represents, I don’t know, 30 years of thinking. Now we’re going to start to dive in a little bit into some of the detail. We’re going to go into systems and patterns. And in the book, Lene defines 18 systems, and patterns, and groups them into four categories. And as she mentioned, she uses Gregg Henriques unified tree of knowledge, taxonomy, which he calls UTOK, U-T-O-K. If you want to learn more about UTOK, maybe more you ever want to know about UTOK, I do a full episode, episode 59, EP59, where Gregg and I dive deep into UTOK. Just an interestingly odd design, turns out Greg lives 10 minutes away from me, a 10 minute, 15-minute drive. And we only discovered that fairly recently, and we’ve been starting to have lunch every few months. And in fact, we’re having lunch next week. So isn’t that interesting?
Lene: That was wonderful. I’m on the other side of the Atlantic, by the way. So no lunch there, but maybe someday.
Jim: Yeah. Again, you already got it earlier, but I’m just going to recap a little bit about the first four stages that Gregg proposes for the UTOK. And since we’re directly out of the book, the Big Bang, the emergence of life, life emergence to mind. I do argue with Gregg a little bit about that, that I think actual mind didn’t occur till later, maybe 200 million years ago, but what’s 300 million years between friends? It doesn’t really matter. It was a long time ago, it was older than anything in my clothes closet.
Lene: And it’s not like it happened in a split second, it is a process that looks like a single point.
Jim: There was no bright line. There’s never any bright line in any of this stuff. With the exception, probably, of the invention of language.
Lene: Well, people were using Onomatopoeia, and they were like whistling, and then they were click downs, and hand gestures. That probably had a starting intro phase of a couple of a million years when you look at it.
Jim: Yeah. Probably two million years, some form of things. And then of course the emergence of culture. I said, there’s 18 of these patterns, and they’re all interesting. I would do recommend people read this book, I started this book, as I often do, three or four weeks before my podcast. And it was just so interesting, I got sucked into reading it in about four days. There’s just a lot of cool stuff in here. So don’t use this podcast as an excuse not to read the book, God damn it! But anyway, I’m going to pick and choose some of the patterns that I just thought were interesting, because we don’t have time to go through 18 up, even though we’re going to take two podcasts. So, I’m going to ignore the physics. Physics is interesting and important, but to your point, can’t do much about it. But let’s start with pattern number five, life randomness, normal distributions and bell curves.
Lene: So whenever there is a population, and things happen randomly like the merger of the egg and the sperm, we’ll have populations that have a certain variation. And there’s a mean of an average, that is the typical part and the normal thing. If you have a stable biotope, the variations towards the end, it can be in speed, some are really slow, some are very fast. But there’s a pace of running, or flying, or whatever, that secures survival, and doesn’t take up too much energy. That can be metabolism here, all behind all kinds of stuff. There’s the average that works really well in that biotope. Then if the biotope runs into a major shift, and it can be a meteorite, it can be climate change, it can be anything that changes the biotope. If the majority is killed, there will be some outliers that fit in under the new circumstances.
One of the things that we’ve been really poor at, is to cater to the outliers. And given that we are in a situation where things are going to change radically, we have to figure out as a species, what are the rare talents? What are the things that the general population, the people who fit into the existing system. What is it that they don’t see that certain minorities, or people with special skills, or maybe autism, which is usually categorized as some sort of handicap. That they can see that we can all benefit from? And how can we harvest, or grow, or garden all these different insights, so that we can move on safely? Are there geniuses who can come up with the new technologies, and ways of living that will actually promote our survival on the planet? Are there ways of creating communities, new societies that are robust in a different way than we are used to?
There are all different ways of living life, and approaching life, that we need to be able to recognize. It doesn’t mean that all of them are wonderful, it doesn’t mean that all of them should necessarily have it their way. We also have to be able to have a conversation about that, but we need to understand the variety of possibilities that come from having these outliers in various ways. And we can also look at different cultures around the globe. There are some cultures that have survived incredibly well in the aftermath of the steam engine, and the printing press, and capitalism. But there are other cultures, tribes, civilizations that have not survived so well in that economy, but which may hold a lot of useful answers in how to live in harmony with nature, and sustainable long term. That we have not really been very good at learning from these people. So we need to be much more aware of the outliers of various kinds, and not just go with the mean, the normal, the average in the middle.
Jim: I make this point fairly often about internet censorship, where my little side things, as I tend to fight for, reasoned free speech on the internet, more free speech than many are willing to give, but with some limits. But one of the points I make is just that one, that we don’t know what the green sprouts are, out at the edge. And most of them aren’t going to be very good. And somebody I was talking to, I think it was actually on a podcast. He was the host and I was the guest. He made the analogy that, “Yeah. It’s like garage bands, most garage bands suck. But if it wasn’t for garage bands, rock and roll would have never progressed, because you have to have that fringe.” And frankly, probably most people think people like you and me are cranks. And that’s okay.
Lene: We know we’re not.
Jim: We know we’re right, it just takes people 50 years to realize it. Anyway, it is one of the nice things about our current world, that there is room for all these green sprouts. And while people are pessimistic about the internet, and I’m one of them, in some ways. I’ve been working on the internet or with the precursors since 1980, and didn’t turn out well the way we expected. To your point about, “Yeah, we created this shit.” Yet, I still remember in 1981, ’82, working at The Source, the first consumer on-line service. We’re absolutely convinced that this has been the best thing for civic education, and rational politics, ever.
Lene: And it could have been.
Jim: It still can be.
Lene: It still can be. And the way to get it there, is that we become aware of this, and that we step up morally, and ethically and say, “You know what? We have this amazing technology, but we have to use it in a different way.” And instead of censoring the unpleasant misogynist, antisemitic racist expressions on the internet… I’m not promoting or want to support misogyny, or racism, or antisemitism, or any of these horrible things.
But we could probably develop an AI that would eradicate them from the feet, and find the words, and make it impossible to say certain things. But some of this, we need to regulate with moral values. And then we’ll have to accept that once in a while, there are, pardon my French, assholes, who say things that we do not want to hear. And of course, if that turns into an entire movement that turns into violence, and turns into a political takeover of an oppressive system, chauvinism of sorts, that is not where we should go. It’s not where we want to go. But we need to have the right to say wrong things. There needs to be an open channel also for those outliers, and that can be hard to accept.
Jim: Seems it’s gotten a lot worse in the last few years. People’s tribal residences have gotten really strong again. And it used to be, we’d say, “You are wrong.” But now we say, “You’re wrong, and you’re evil, and you should not be allowed to exist.” That’s to my mind, wrong. Even people we really think are wrong, I’ll say a misogynist Nazi, not high on my list of people I think are likely to be right. I go further than many, and say, “They should have the right to speak.”
On the other hand, I should have the right to tune them out easily. And if we had better tools, to your point, that we could groom our mean Plex space to easily filter out what we don’t want to hear. And perhaps actually use collective curation, that I don’t know, Joe Blow is a misogynist, Nazi, but you’ve dealt with him, and you say he is a misogynist, Nazi. You and I have a link that says that I will accept your filtering of people, because I respect your curation skills. So just as an example of how we could have tools that would allow the misogynist, Nazi, to say is misogynist, Nazi-ism. But would quickly allow us mostly to down regulate him. So he’s just a fringe character out there with some stupid views, because there may be some other crank that, many people think have stupid views, turns out to actually be onto something.
Lene: Right. But what I see that we’re missing in our worlds of the postmodernism into the picture again, is that in the modern world, somebody would stand up and say, “This is morally wrong. You cannot talk that way about women. You cannot talk that way about ethnic minorities, Jews, whatever. We don’t want to hear this. It’s morally wrong. Don’t go there. Shut up.” Then maybe they wouldn’t shut up. But at least somebody who had a high standing in the general society had spoken out against it. And we lack that moral voice in our society. So, with the new technologies, with the reach that you can have with millions, if not billions of people, on Twitter, or any of the social medium with your cell phone. The chauvinistic viewpoints can reach a million audience that it could not reach before. So in that situation, the people who do have a big reach also have a moral obligation to speak up against the things that go against our ethical values, and our moral values.
And we have not seen that for a long time because postmodernism has deconstructed all these values, and who are you to tell me what is the right thing to say? So that’s another reason why we need this, in my opinion, why we need the metamodernity, because then you can stand up, and say, “Yes. You may disagree with me, but this is my moral standpoint. And I think it’s morally wrong to have these chauvinistic viewpoints. They may be outliers. They may be fringes. I still think they’re wrong.” And if somebody who has a lot of followers, people who respect their viewpoints, hear one of these voices speak up on behalf of our ethical values, and the moral values that are behind our society. Then you don’t have to technically shut people up, you can actually have a moral voice that is just stronger because more people support it. So we need to be able to reintroduce the concept of moral values, and ethical thinking in our society.
Jim: I hundred percent agree, by the way. And we’ll get to that later. As regular listeners know, I’m actually a bit of a scoffer at the idea that postmodernism is actually where we’re at. I don’t know anybody who raises their children to be postmodernists. I don’t know any farmers who believe that their belief about planting seeds at the right time, and having enough water, are actually just opinions. So I think the caricature form of postmodernism, may be less real, we think, but unfortunately, amongst the chattering classes, amongst intellectuals, there’s a fair infection of it. And we’ll get to that later when we get to the stages of history.
So, let’s go on to pattern number seven, and this is getting to something that I’m really interested in, which is life complexity and evolutionary stable strategies, ESSs. Take it away.
Lene: Yeah. Whenever there’s a new situation, it can be more water, it can be more sunlight, it can be more money, it can be a ship that went to the Americas, and came home with a lot of silver and gold. Whenever there’s a new situation, the existing balance is put out of balance. And it could be the meteorite that hit the earth and the dinosaurs died, and they actually died out over, I think, 11 million years, so it wasn’t in an afternoon. There was new species evolving while they were dying out. But if you have a system that used to be in a balance, and something creates an imbalance, there are new opportunities for the organisms in it. And the organism can be cells, It can be animals, or plants, or it can be in an economy, a kind of businesses.
And while the system is in balance the evolutionary stable strategy, means that if somebody deviates from the mean, and the way that the species has looked until now. There’s no advantage in being one of the outliers or doing things differently. But if a new situation arises, some of the outliers may run with it, and take over the biotope, or take over the economy, or go into a new exponential expansion of number within the biotope, and thereby changing the balance completely. So in a situation where we risk creating Haavara, already have done it with climate change, and mass extinction of species. We will see certain species die out, leave an open gap in the ecosystem, and something else will come in, and take over, flourish, or eat everything that was there before, because the natural enemy was the one that died.
Until that change happens, there’s usually that evolutionary stable strategy for each of the species in there, which means that they just fluctuate around an equilibrium in there. It can be body size, it can be color, it can be how fast they can fly, or run, or whatever, how much water they need in order to survive. But then the circumstances change, and then one or two of the species go into a new exponential growth of presence, numbers, and then they take over, and there’s a new balance that can be created. Then you have, at some point, a new evolutionary, stable strategy, among the species in it. And we can see it in the economy as well. When the steam engine was invented, that created havoc in the economy, and there were all these crafts that had been balanced through the guilds, and through the craftsmanship, and society. And suddenly there was one machinery that just changed everything for everybody, and suddenly we didn’t have craftsmanship production of all kinds of things.
We had the employee who was hired by a company, and thereby we also changed the tax system, by the way. Because in the feudal society before the steam engine, land was taxed, and wealth was taxed, but work salaries were not taxed. That was the result of the steam engine, and the modern employment. That also brings us to the future where, if we let robots, and drones, and AI produce everything… drones are not going to produce anything, but they can deliver stuff. What are we going to tax? Because much of the salary work is going to disappear, so we need to rethink, where is taxation going to be? And so, within the current system, there’s an evolutionary stable structure around the welfare state, and taxation of income.
So that’s a memetic, that’s a cultural system that is in a certain balance. It has proven itself extremely successful, and it’s served everybody in the West extremely well for the past a hundred years. I know the welfare state, and particularly in the U.S., it’s not the same as in the Nordic countries or Europe, but we do fundamentally have the same societal model. And it’s proven extremely successful. People from the rest of the world are trying to get here, in order to enjoy it. And it’s been incredibly robust. But it’s also getting to the point where this strategy for all the political parties, industrialized production, taxation, all of these different evolutionary stable strategies, culturally, are not going to be able to deliver what they used to deliver. They’re going to be able to deliver something, but not what they used to deliver. And therefore the system is not going to hold.
Jim: Interesting. And the example of species is an interesting one, and I believe it also holds for cultures. The idea of ESS, evolutionary stable strategies, as you point out, does apply at the individual species level, and between species. But particularly within the species, there’s actually a mathematical concept called the species exclusion principle. You can actually see it in evolutionary simulations, that when things aren’t changing, to your point, there’s a force statistical force, that rules out too far out outliers from a species. But when things change, those outliers are important, and they’re the ones that take over the space, or spot a new species. And one of the things we have to be careful above, in our globalization, and network world actually put this at risk, is maintaining enough pluralism in our cultures. It used to be, a person living in Southern India was very different than a person living in Denmark, say had 15 under, they didn’t even know each other existed, quite literally. Had very different ways of life.
And we have homogenized down all of that. We still have numerous non-single species, examples in the United States. We have the Amish, and the Mennonites, and the ultra Orthodox Jews, and we have hippies, and such, and I’m sure other countries have their own. But there’s really strong forces to homogenization, and that’s dangerous. Because then you’re putting all your buckets out of a single evolutionary stable strategy, and that may or may not have enough diversity. Because historically species come and go, and cultures come and go, and civilizations come and go.
So I’ve long thought that an important design, even though design is a bad word. But say, a gardening axiom for social operating systems, is to do some things that essentially favor coherent pluralism that have some shared values. But there can be quite small, smaller than most of us to be comfortable with, and be able to allow multiple alternative ways of organizing human wellbeing in human work. I think that’s really important.
Okay, let’s go on to the next. And again, this is things that I’m very interested in. Pattern number eight, life, chaos, theory, and loops within loops, within loops, within loops. I added the extra two. They weren’t in the book, but as we know, the loops they don’t go quite all the way go down, but they go down a long ways.
Lene: Where you go down to the cell, which has a metabolism of taking in water, and nutrients, and expelling nutrients, and there’s oxygen. So we have these cycles in our cells, we have cycles in our body, we have a day rhythm, we have probably a rhythm of the week that may not be biological, but then it becomes cultural. Then this week as part of a year, the year has its own cycles, within that year, is not only our bodily cycles, and our human cycles, there’s the cycles of the economy, and there’s cycles of production. And there’s all kinds of loops within loops, cycles within cycles. I just like the word loop more than cycle, but you could use the word cycle. And if we look at the world in that way, and we look at complex systems as these cycles of relatively sort of repetitive. So each cycle is a repetition of a way of doing whatever it is the cycle is doing.
A complex system can have a number of cycles that are suddenly changing, or dying, or being replaced by something else. But the rest of the system is still running the same cycles as it always did. Or something slows down because there is not enough energy for some of the cycles, but the rest is still running, and doing what it’s supposed to do. And then the cycles that did not get enough energy, it can be sunlight, it can be oil, it can be whatever. Once they get the energy that they need, they go up to the same speed that they used to do their cycles before, and they keep their part of the system going. And complex systems that have all these cycles, or are made up of all these cycles within cycles, can have local shutdowns, complete changes of cycles, new things taking over without the rest of the system necessarily noticing at all.
But you can have so many small changes to cycles across the whole system, that suddenly the whole system collapses, or goes into a completely different mode of organization, or structure and new cycles. And something that used to be a cycle within something else, can now be more of a dominating cycle that is seen as the main item with more cycles inside it. If we look at systems in that way, I think that we can approach many of the economic changes that we need to make, and our relationship to nature, in a much healthier way. Because we can look at what are the cycles that are about to collapse, what are the cycles that look healthy. And where we can, with the reasonable certainty, say that this is not one of the cycles that is threatened right now. If we could break down many of these systems that are threatened by climate change, or by globalization, by new technologies and so forth. And figure out what are the cycles that we need to repair, where are people in our society dropping out of the economic cycles? For instance
Could we bring them into some other cycle than the one they fell out of? Could we create new cycles that they can actually, with a little bit of help, start running? And then take them over and keep running them, rather than having a program that needs to run forever in order for people to have an income? If we looked at society, and human life, and the planet as cycles within cycles, I think that we could. And there, here comes the gardening, instead of designing a new system, we could be better at seeing, what are the cycles that are collapsing, and how can we replace them, or make them run again. Or if we look at energy, for instance, what are the cycles that are depending on fossil fuels, and what are the cycles that we can easily give sustainable energy instead?
We’re already addressing many of these issues, but we’re not looking at it as cycles that need to be running. And we’re not looking at, what are the cycles that they are running? And what are the systems that they’re constituting with their little cycles? What are the big cycles that they’re producing? And maybe it’s the big cycle that is about to collapse. But many of the small cycles will just keep running, and not miss the big system. If our civilization collapsed, the seasons would still be there. The earth would still spin, and there would be day and night, and winter and summer.
Jim: The birds would still migrate.
Lene: Yeah, they would. And these loops would still be running, but we would be missing coffee, and shelter, and safety, and all kinds of stuff.
Jim: And at least 95% of our population.
Lene: Yeah. Except for the 5% who’ve made all these safe rooms, and whatever it is.
Jim: They’ll die too. The ones that will survive will be primitive, indigenous peoples of the world and such. The guys in the bunker, what’s his name? Cory Doctorow, has written a great novella about the bunker rights. And I think rightly predicts, they all die of cholera, fairly horribly.
Lene: There’s a new book out by Douglas Rushkoff, about the rich people who are trying to protect themselves from the rest of us when everything collapses, instead of preventing the collapse. So there are actually people who are preparing for the collapse, and for their own survival but not for the rest of us, instead of fixing the loops that aren’t sustainable. And that’s the other thing, what are the loops that are not sustainable? And what are the loops that are sustainable?
Jim: And what loops that need to be sustainable, but aren’t, that we can help become sustainable again? One of my personal passions is regenerative agriculture. We have frankly overdone it with agriculture. We have abused our mother earth, probably since about 1950. And we actually have a debt, in my mind, to restore the natural system, particularly the soil. The real basis of our civilization is our soil, it’s not money, or the stock market, it’s soil.
Lene: And there’s three or four inches.
Jim: We’ve lost a bunch of our soil, and we’ve damaged a bunch of our soil with industrialized agriculture, heavy use of fertilizer and pesticides, and stuff.
Lene: That soil has so many loops in it, because that’s the organic part of the soil. It’s life. So there are all these bacteria cells of all kinds that make up the soil.
Jim: A teaspoon of soil is as complex as human culture, probably.
Lene: Probably. And then we added non-loop fertilizers to it, which were dead chemicals, and we changed those loops. So I think if we looked at soil as loops within loops, I think we would have a much better understanding of, how can we regenerate the foundation of feeding eight billion people.
Jim: Indeed, indeed. Another interesting part of chaos theory, and complexity theory, particularly chaos theory. It’s that you can get bifurcations, which are dangerous, which means big changes could occur from little changes. We’ve all heard about the butterfly effect. “A butterfly in Brazil causes a tornado in Texas.” Well, probably not, at least exceedingly uncommon.
Lene: I would like to see that butterfly, actually.
Jim: But what hell of a butterfly, but actually in one level it’s very dangerous. It means that unanticipated small things could bring the whole house of cards down. But it also means for us people interested in radical social change, that we don’t have to defeat game A, head to head. We just have to figure out how to trigger an inflection point in the complex system. We actually have more power than we think we do, but we better use it wisely, or we might have a very unanticipated result. That’s actually one of the things that motivated people I know to get into systems change. It’s that if we can see these inflection points, or at least have some reasonable hunches about them, and can do things to capture the other side of the inflection points, shall we say.
Lene: When people talk about climate change, and 1.5 degrees Celsius heating of the planet… and I don’t know. But, I think, that a lot of people think of it as the heater in your room where you can turn the heat up and down. And so, 1.5 degrees doesn’t really sound like very much, because it’s like, “Oh, it’s just going to be 1.5 degrees warmer. And that’s actually going to be nice.” What people don’t understand is that this is a chaotic system, and you cannot turn it down again. Even if we started pulling CO2 out of the air, too late. We can start now, and then we may have a chance, but if we started doing it too late, when it’s already 1.5 degrees, it’s not going to go back to what we knew. And in the meantime, it may have become colder in some places, and five to 10 degrees warmer in other places. And you will have a much bigger bifurcation of temperatures between summer and winter, for instance.
Jim: And between day and night, oddly enough.
Lene: Day and night, yeah.
Jim: It’d have more impact on night temperatures than day temperatures, we think, curiously.
Lene: Cool. And also rain and dry, we had this massive heat wave in Europe this summer, and then suddenly there’s massive rain in some places. So the extremes are going to be bigger, but the average raise in temperature may just be 1.5 degrees. So that understanding of chaotic complex systems, and that you can’t just gradually turn up the heat, gradually turn down the heat, that’s not the way it works.
Jim: Yeah, that’s very important. I talk about climate, and I’ve been making this point for at least 15 years now. It’s that the mean, the average, will go up much slower than the variance, because we’re adding energy into the system. The variance is going to increase, is it a cold winter, “Oh, what do you mean global warming? What? Bullshit. We just had two feet of snow ago.” Wrong. What’s happened is we’ve increased the variance. And it’s also worth knowing, from a physical chemistry perspective, that the energy in a system is the fourth power of the temperature. So even relatively small changes in temperature, put a lot of energy into a system. By the way, by my back of the envelope calculations, it ain’t going to be 1.5, it’s going to be 2.25. I don’t see any way that… barring a techno miracle, or a nice epidemic that kills off 80% of the population-
Lene: Or a volcanic eruption.
Jim: That’ll make it worse, actually. It can’t make it better.
Lene: Well, what about the dust in the atmosphere?
Jim: That’s true. You’ll get some cooling. Yeah, I take that back. You’re right. Yeah, if it’s a sulfurous volcanic eruption, and of course we can do geoengineering, and accomplish the same thing.
Lene: And what could possibly go wrong? Politically, what if the Chinese change the weather? And so what if the U.S. does it afterwards? That’s just going to be so peaceful once we start doing that.
Jim: Yeah. And the cause of scary thing about, particularly sulfur dioxide intervention in the weather, that even North Korea could do it. It’s not a very big task. A few billion dollars a year, and you can modify the weather. And we may have to do that, but I hope we don’t. But I think people should be ready for 2.25, not 1.5. I don’t see the political will for 1.5. It’s too hard. We’re still too stupid to understand where we’re at, and our political institutions aren’t functioning to deal with this. But anyway, it’s just an aside. So very interesting. Let’s go on to the next, otherwise we’ll be here all day. Pattern number nine, sex. We’re going to skip it. Oh, damn!
Lene: It’s there, by the book, it’s there.
Jim: By the book, the sex is in there. So let’s go on to number 10. Mind, meaning seeking, intelligence and community. This is obviously a huge one and meaning in particular, something that people in our world talk a lot about. I sometimes make fun of the conversation a little bit by saying, “Oh, people say there’s a meaning in crisis.” And I say, “No, there isn’t. At least in one sense, for instance, when it’s light in the East, it means the sun’s going to come up in 90 minutes. That meaning is not gone. If I put my hand on a hot stove, it’ll get burned.” At the level at which most animals and most humans, by the way, live, most of the time, basically means the discovery of regularities. But humans have also developed this big M, meaning thing, meaning of life, and other such things. I think a lot of that’s garbage, but that’s the way we roll.
But most humans are still looking for those big M meanings. And particularly if we reject God, and theology, there does seem to be some hole there. Particularly in human culture, with respect to the search for big M meaning and/or the discussion on big M meaning, what does that even mean? So anyway, off to you. Mind, meaning seeking, intelligence, and community.
Lene: Yeah. If we go back to the first cells in the goo that then eventually fostered life, multiple cell life. There’s a force for survival, otherwise the cells would’ve died, so they want to carry on. And as organisms became more complex, they wanted to carry on as well. At some point, some of these life forms that were not plants, and stuck in the ground, could move according to the sunlight or according to temperature, or something like that. There was pleasure or discomfort. And add, I don’t know, 1.5 billion years, and you have a species that we are embodied. Our sense of self, our mind is embodied in a physical body that wants to survive, and we want love when we’re born, we want to survive, we’re hungry, we feel that. So we go looking for a breast and some food. And we have all these bodily functions, and we try to avoid pain.
Then we try to survive and figure out, where are we. Then we look at the world, and we try to find patterns in it. That is because we want to survive as a body, and then we want love, and care, and warmth from our parents, and particularly mother. And that is a craving that is deep inside us, because if we didn’t have that craving, we wouldn’t survive. As we start moving around, and crawling, and then walking, then we need to understand more of the world in order to not harm ourselves. It’s a deep craving inside us to be able to recognize pattern so that we can predict what to do, and what not to do. Eventually we’ll become kids who try to create friendships. We create our own peer groups from the age of five, and that satisfies an emotional need.
And then at some point we reach puberty, and we want to procreate, and let satisfy a different need. Now we return to sex anyway. Then you want to take care of your children, and that’s a deep need inside of you to protect that little thing that you brought into the world, and you want to see, grow up and thrive. So we have all these needs, and desires that are part of our body, and our sense of survival. If we hadn’t had those needs and emotions, we wouldn’t have been there because somebody would’ve died without taking care of it. So, that’s the physical part of who we are.
And then there is that sort of metaphysical search for meaning, or the cultural search for meaning, or purpose, the moral search for meaning. And where does that come from? I am convinced that whoever went looking for a higher purpose, or answers, and were curious about, looking up at the night sky and thinking, “What is that?” And having that sense of, “Wow!”
And the person who could then get up, and jump and make weird sounds, and keep a rhythm and could get the other apes, monkeys, whatever they were that at that point. To jump with them, and release that sense of either awe, or attention, or anger, or whatever they carried with them created a group feeling. And that group feeling promoted survival, and eventually there’s language, and communication into more detail, and the sense of belonging being part of the world, and the universe, we come with that. So I think that life is inherently meaningful, but as we realize that we are separate from other people, and we use language to tell people what we think, and coordinate our reality. And that’s really one of the things that I’ve not read, anybody’s addressing it, but there may be people who’ve done it. Which is that if you do not have language, so before humans invented language, and we know that other species dream as well, somehow the brain is organizing what happened during the day while you sleep.
And we don’t actually understand what’s going on, but we know that there’s dream sleep in many species. If you do not have language, and you wake up, and you had been flying, I don’t know, above the ground for all night. And you think that felt as real as the reality when I’m awake, if you didn’t do not have any language, you would probably think that you were actually flying. But at some point we have language that is complex enough so that somebody wakes up in the morning, and says, “I was just flying all night. I just landed.” And whoever was sleeping next to them was like, “No, you were just here lying asleep all night. You were not flying anywhere. You’re not a bird.” So there’s this possibility of coordinating what goes on inside my mind, and what is out there that we share. And that is the beginning of the duality between the inner and the outer world.
And then we have the, “But what I experience while I was sleeping or dreaming was just as real, there must be a parallel world. And by the way, I met your dead uncle while I was flying. And there was also our dead mother. So they must be living on in this parallel world that we can travel to while we sleep.” And eventually somebody starts eating mushrooms, or doing something else in order to travel to this world where they can meet their ancestors. And whoever organized that very well, created religion. And our brains evolved in this circumstance of dream, and coordinating inner worlds, and imagining that whatever took place in this inner world was actually a parallel universe that you could go to, or maybe just the shaman, or the medicine man, priest, whatever you want to call it in such a small tribe.
And you could induce it with dancing, and keeping a rhythm, chanting, eating mushrooms, or fruit that had been lying on the ground for a little too long. So we grew with that experience, and became human with that experience, and it’s deeply integral to who we are as human beings to have the inner world and the outer world. And to go explore what we can find in that inner world, or in the dream journey, and the better stories we could create around that, the better we could keep the tribe, or the community together. And then when we get into this Stone Age village life with maybe 2000 people in a horticultural Stone Age village. Whoever can bring that many people together around us, the totem pole, or whatever they have in such a village, they can have a strong society. So there’s been a survival advantage in being able to join these dream journeys, trips, communal gatherings, where you get the stories, and connect deeply with others.
So it’s part of who we are. And then we get into the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and bigger societies, different spiritual life, different religion stories. Then, we get to our own time, and here we are with science, and postmodernism that can deconstruct all of this. I can talk now and just say, “You know what? That’s just a feature of our brain. There is no parallel universe I can deconstruct this. And shamanism is just whatever goes on in the mind of the shaman.” Which is, I guess, deeply offensive to some indigenous peoples, and shamans, but I can do that with modern science. That does not mean it’s meaningful, and it does not mean that I become a happier person by doing so. And it means that there is a human connection that I’ve lost with other people whenever I do it.
There is also the connection to nature that I lost, because the spiritual connection to nature is something that modern science cannot grasp. So I’ve actually created a simpler, less complex, understanding of what my relation to nature is, and my relation to other people, and my relationship to dead ancestors, and to the universe, and all those dots in the night sky. Which I cannot see anymore, by the way, because first of all, we have city lights, and Elon Musk has sent satellites up there. So I don’t know if I’m just looking at Starlink, or I’m actually looking at the stars. So, that is tearing our emotional, spiritual, religious fabric apart, and in that something is missing because our brain grew out of these circumstances. And so there is a meaning crisis, because we are still searching for the meaning that allows us to survive. And we’re searching for a higher purpose because that is what our brains grew out, and our species grew out of this collective search for a higher purpose.
And if we are not provided with us through our culture, through our community, something is missing. And it’s really hard to recreate it from scratch because then you have to come up with a story that is better than the deconstruction, and that is incredibly hard. Which is one of the reasons why I am one of the people who think that we should keep the religions that we already have. Because they do come with aesthetics, and three to four, perhaps even many more, a thousand years of struggle with the same human search for meaning as we are longing for. But of course we have to understand things, and perhaps practice them in different understandings than people did 500 years ago or 3000 years ago, because we know different things that we’ve learned in the meantime. So that is where the search for meaning in the intelligence, the intelligence is grown through the evolution, but also the search for meaning, and the complexity of the meaning that we’re searching for. And we’ve created communities around it, and societies.
Jim: Yeah, it is interesting. It is one of the key questions I think of this moment in human history. Regular listeners know I tend to be a scoffer about religion, and metaphysical speculations in general. I find metaphysical speculation, lots of fun. I could sit there, and talk for hours with a bottle of scotch in front of me, and spin all kinds of interesting metaphysical speculations. But I draw the line, and say, “We don’t got any evidence. That’s why they call it metaphysics.” And it’s great to have the speculations, and maybe some of them are true, and maybe they’re intuition pumps as Daniel Dennett would call them. That help us do the work to get the proof at which case, speculation in that sense is actually very valuable. And I often say, I am staunchly an enlightenment fellow. I believe myself to be a descendant of Voltaire, God damn it! And Diderot, but not Rousseau, that miserable son of a bitch. In some sense, I am disappointed that humans are still stuck with religion.
Lene: But that’s who we are. We grew out of it, we came from it. It allowed us to have surviving, and thriving societies.
Jim: Indeed, indeed. Let me get to that. And it will show that maybe I’ve learned something, but maybe not. In some sense, I’ve said that the enlightenment was childhoods end, that if you look at every culture prior to the enlightenment with a very few exceptions. There’s this very odd tribe in South America that it never engages in metaphysical speculation, anyone that tries to convince them of anything metaphysical, they just say, “Get the hell out of here.” But most tribes have engaged in metaphysical speculation, and it’s an important part of coherence. And so, hence we get to childhoods end, we get Voltaire leading to Niche, leading to Bertrand Russell. It’s really hard for a person to think hard in modern philosophical ways to accept the metaphysics as true. And yet, to your point, we evolved our cultures at least for the last 40,000 years, since the invention of full recursive language in around these stories.
So, do we actually all become Jim Rutt, and just say, “This is a bunch of bunk,” and move on? Seems we’re rare, unfortunately, I would say. Or do we have to deconstruct, there’s that bad D word, the things that religion actually did that were good, and make sure that we don’t throw those things out? The work that I see that I find promising in that direction is John Vervaeke and Jordan Hall, working on something called the religion that is not a religion. John Vervaeke, in particular, is a deep student of religion, and he’s a professor of cognitive psychology. He’s also a serious practitioner of Eastern practices of various sorts. He takes this very seriously. And I know Jordan really well, but I’m not quite sure where he stands. He does certainly agree with John that something that provides the services of religion seems to be essential to humans at their current level of cultural evolution. And that maybe there is a way to design something that design garden nudge evolve, something that provides the services of religion without the metaphysical baggage. So anyway, I’ll turn that one back to you.
Lene: That is where I bring in metamodernity, because you can keep your scientific, modern worldview, but I would like you to add something which is, you don’t have to practice anything else. But you already brought in the deconstruction, so you can do the postmodern part, you can do the modern part. One of the things that are so great about the prehistoric indigenous animism, and understanding of the world. It’s that people saw themselves as part of nature, and that they participated in the loops of nature. They had a circular understanding of time, and of life. So the concept of the individual means that each person has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and then they disappear forever. And they weren’t there before, they won’t be thereafter. It’s the linear concept of life. You have a circular concept of life. You have generations replacing generations, and the people who leave this life go into another world, but you also have the idea of the spirit in the animals, in nature, in the weather, and the river, and all these things.
So you have a spiritual connection to the environment, and once you have that spiritual connection to the environment, it’s not an intellectual task to not ruin the environment. It is a deeply emotional connection to something that you want to live in harmony with. And it’s something that you want to cherish, it’s something that you want to have in your life because it enriches you just by being there because you interact in these loops with it. So that’s the loops, and nature that you interact with, and that are part of you, and you are part of it, and you belong there, and you can feel it. And once you feel that, and you have a language for it, and you can meet with other people around it, then nature is not cheap stuff that you can turn into marketable goods. It is actually part of who you are, and you don’t want to destroy that.
If we then take the pre-modern tradition, the religion, or what we know as religion today that was developed, and kept Iron Age, pre-modern traditional society together. You have the written sources of generations before us, that have struggled with the same existential emptiness, and power struggles. And if you take the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Quran, all three of them are struggling with interest on loans. And how do you prevent monopoly on wealth, and how do you distribute among people so that everybody can eat, and everybody has a shirt, and everybody has work. They’re actually three documents on economy, but we think that there are documents on the relationship to God. They are that too, but these are intertwined. So here are three other sources of what does it mean to be human, what does it mean to be a society, what does it mean to interact with other people.
When we can go back, and read those texts… because they’re texts, and because we have them, we don’t have the oral narratives of 50,000 years ago, but we do have these texts, and other texts. We can interact with them, we can talk with these texts, we can explore, how do I relate to this? How do we relate to this? And what can we learn from this? So there’s a different loop of learning, and the more we know of this past, and the more we can make it our own, the richer our inner world is going to be. And what we have in all of these, the prehistoric indigenous, the traditional pre-modern, the modern, and to some extent, the postmodern. There is the sacred, and the sacred are different things in those four different epoch or chunks of time, which is the very academic term.
And the sacred is the highest organizing principle. So, what would be the highest organizing principle in the prehistoric indigenous? That would be nature itself, and the spirits in nature, and we cannot afford to lose that. What would be the highest organizing principle in the pre-modern? That is, to some extent, or the major religions have an expression of the divine, that we are one with nature, where one with the universe. And there is that one order that is going to wreak havoc if we don’t play by its rules. Then in the modern world, the highest organizing principle is science and knowledge, and we cannot afford to lose that. There’s an understanding of nature, and of ourselves in that, that we cannot allow ourselves to lose. And what is the highest organizing principle in postmodernism? I guess that is some deconstruction, and the ability to pull yourself out of the system, and look at the context that you’re in from a different angle. And we need all four of them.
We absolutely need the worldview that you have, but it can’t stand alone. And you just talked about regenerative agriculture, that is a recognition that there’s something in the soil, in nature, that we have to repeat those loops or have to rediscover those loops, and relate to that. And I bet that you relate to science because it evokes some pleasant feelings in you. Once the agriculture evokes the same, or similar, positive feelings in you, you care about agriculture. So if you care about nature, because you feel nature, then you can really care about it, and protect it. But until you have that sensibility, until you actually feel it, it’s almost impossible to convince anybody that they should change their ways, and live in a sustainable way. So, we do need to reconnect with nature in if not spiritual way, than emotional way.
And that is deeply meaningful, and part of the meaning crisis is that we lost that connection. If you did not grow up with a religious tradition, or any connection to this animistic, shamanistic tradition. And you just have the modern world, it’s incredibly hard to have a conversation with the past, and to have an interaction with that, which went before us because you don’t know what that was like. But if you do practice it, if you can feel it, then you can ping pong, and then you can have a conversation with it.
Maybe that is metaphysical, maybe it’s speculative, but is meaningful. And as part of being human, and a lot of people miss it without knowing it. And then, about the religion that is not a religion. I don’t know what their plans are, but whenever I hear people coming from the meditative side of things, I have mainly heard people who go for a personal sensation, not people who actually try to build a community. And that is what religion has done, that’s why it survived as a religion, it served soup to the poor, it made sure that the children got a safe upbringing. It may have been patriarchal, and hostile to women, and to all kinds of people, but it did create a social infrastructure that allowed people to live in predictability. And that’s very important.
Jim: And indeed, the religion is not a religion, they are taking that perspective, and I will be having them both on the podcast at some point later this year to talk about it. It does indeed realize all those things. Now, we could talk about this one topic for all afternoon, but we better move on here. I got plenty of other things we need to talk about. Number 11, this was really interesting to me, mind and scale free networks. And actually, you hit on the sub theme of scale free networks multiple times. Obviously, this is a quite important insight that you probably had fairly recently, because the whole idea of scale free networks is not all that old. Interestingly enough, Duncan Watts, and those guys back in the double lots, came up with this.
Lene: I actually wrote about it back in 2005 for the first time. So I used to read a new scientist, at least every other or every third week. I think I started that in 1997, and then I kept on doing it until around 2010, and then I was like, “I need to read other stuff as well.” But scale for networks were in there, and the basic idea is that when you enter a network, who would you like to connect with? The people with the most connections or the people with the least connections? You of course want to connect with the person with the most connections, because then you’re already well-connected in the network. And you have those hubs and spokes structure, and a scale free network. And it was mathematicians who came up with the word scale free. So to those of us who are not mathematicians, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense, not going to get into that on radio only.
So people will have to read the book in order to get the explanation. But the scale free network creates hubs because everybody wants to be well-connected, and connect with the hub. If the hub is overcrowded, you go to the next hub with the second most connections, and that becomes a secondary hub. If you look at the internet, it has a scale free network structure. Everybody wants to connect to Google, everybody wants to connect to Facebook, everybody wants to connect to Amazon, Microsoft products. There are some products, or services apps that you want to connect to because otherwise you don’t get the benefits of the internet. And then there are all the apps and services that are not as popular, they’re not hubs, or they’re sub hubs, and fewer people connect to them. But there’s so many people, that is still interesting.
And likewise in the social world that may be the celebrities, or the presidents that everybody wants to connect to. But if they can’t get to George Clooney or Joe Biden, they may settle for a local Senator or a lesser known actor. Then, they will connect with that, and they’ll still be better connected than if they hadn’t connected to somebody who was a Senator or lesser well known actor, but still a celebrity. In the biological world, there is also often biotopes of a species, a plant, can be a tree, can be bacteria, it can be whatever, can be water. That is the one thing that everybody needs, and if that disappears, the whole system will collapse. Same way with scale free networks among people, if Google disappeared, the internet would be completely different than when it was there.
So I bring this into our meaning making, and claim that we go looking for… I’ll talk about memes, and that’s a whole topic of its own. But let’s say that I’m searching for meaning, I’m searching for something that makes sense to me. I will go looking for information, or I will be more willing to take up, and keep information that connects well with something I already know or feel. And it can be because I love it and like it, or it can be because I hate it, and it really excites me in the wrong way, so I keep promoting it to tell people how awful this is. And it takes up a lot of my emotional energy in my bandwidth, in my brain. So, I suggest that we are meaning making in a scale free structure, and that whenever we have a meaning making structure where… So if I grow up in, let’s say a middle class family, that is Christian and there’s certain moral norms that are considered good behavior, and we have a certain kind of dog, and we are vegetarians. And that is how we’re good people in my family.
Then everything that keeps confirming this lifestyle, creates a really strong hub in my meaning making telling me that the good people are vegetarians who own this kind of dog, and they have this lifestyle. And if somebody then attacks one of these things, it is the hub in my meaning making that is attacked. So if somebody says, “All these dogs must die. This kind of dog cannot exist anymore. Climate change cannot have pets anymore.” I will feel that part of my existence is threatened because part of my identity is to have this kind of dog. And good people have this kind of dog because we were good people in my family, and we had this kind of dog. So that is if it’s all tangled up in my meaning making that these things go together.
But if I could separate them, and make minor hubs out of them, and say, “My vegetarian lifestyle is one part. Having that kind of dog is a different part of my lifestyle. Nation and religion, the Christianity, the middle class, and the political party that my parents voted for in the subculture that we’re in, they are different things. The dog does not have anything to do with my religion. The dog does not have anything to do with my vegetarianism, either.” They can actually attack my dog, without my vegetarianism, or Christianity, or whatever it is under attack as well.
And it doesn’t affect me as much, but if one of our meaning making hubs is deeply threatened, it feels like a threat to my entire personality. Of course, religion is one of these core hubs in our meaning making, so whenever that is attacked, it has a much bigger impact than if, for instance, under normal circumstances, it’s the species of dog or something. So I suggest that we have these hubs in our meaning making that is connected to our moral values, and what it means to be a good person. And if one of these hubs is attacked, we tend to become anxious, angry, aggressive, perhaps even, and it’s really hard for us to handle.
Jim: Frankly, I don’t recall if it was in the section on the 18 patterns, or results, where that our economy also has some aspects of scale free networks that lead to inherent gigantism, actually.
Lene: Right. Take Microsoft, or Amazon, or Google, or Alphabet, Meta and Facebook, they started out as startup companies, and then they became incredibly successful with that one product that was them. And then they made a lot of money in that, and then they started buying up smaller software companies, and they became even more of a hub than they were before. And suddenly you have these private entities, private companies that have bigger, higher, annual revenue than the GDP of successful nation states. There’s a reason why the game Monopoly is called Monopoly, because somebody ends up owning everything, and everybody else in the game… I don’t know if anybody has ever played that game to the end, because everybody, at some point, knows who’s going to win the game. And you’re not going to sit there, and just keep losing your money to your freaking uncle who will send you to jail, and go back to start.
At some point it’s just going to be a really sucking game, and that’s the way it works and the real economy as well. So at some point, three or four companies are going to own everything, they’re going to own all the algorithms, and they’re going to be able to buy up everything. One of the questions that I then raise in the book is, “Can AI and capitalism coexist? Because what if somebody comes up with an AI that is a lot faster than anything else, goes on the stock exchange, and starts buying and selling faster than anybody else can. It owns everything within half an hour, or something like that.” So once you have these hubs, they have an immense power, and they can suck up all the ownership and money from the market. And then the rest of us are just sitting there with debt, and a credit card without anything on it, and try to go on Amazon, and we can’t buy anything.
The local food production has been taken over by Nestle, or one of the other companies, and we haven’t secured our local economic infrastructure because everything worth buying was bought by one of the hubs. So as democracies, we need to figure out how do we regulate these giants, and how do we make sure that it’s still democratic organizations that are in charge. Because one of the things that is a difference between a nation state and a company, is that a company can just earn money, and keep earning money, and they don’t really have any other obligations. A lot of us would like them to, and some of them do take upon themselves other obligations, but in reality, they can just keep making money and that’s fine. The nation states have to protect us, they have military, and school systems, and clean water, and police and all that stuff. And they can’t just expand without going to war.
Whereas the tech giants, the companies, can keep expanding until everybody has internet. And when everybody has internet, one of them, or several of them can make the metaverse, and then we will have to go in there, and start spending money. At some point you will have somebody who owns the metaverse, where everybody is using cryptocurrencies, and the digital economy will dwarf the real economy. And you can perhaps exchange all the money you made on digital products to real world, real economy money, and go out and buy Denmark, or Sweden, or the United States or something like that. Because the digital, the cyberspace, the crypto world can expand indefinitely, and it can even do it exponentially, and the real world can’t. So we are creating two different systems where we are risk creating a digital infrastructure that is just going to ruin everything else. And by the way, use a lot of energy that we could have used on warming, heating our houses, and cooling down our houses, and cooking food and everyday life.
Jim: That’s about our time for today. So we’re going to wrap up part one of the show, and next week or two, depending on when we can find time for it, we’re going to revisit it. And I’m going to have to pick up the pace a little bit in part two, because we got about 40% through my topics list, but we did a good job. You did a great job of explicating your ideas here, has some really interesting conversations. By the way, I’m just going to put this out as a little footnote. We’re recording this on the 15th of September 2022.
With respect to crypto, this may be a very important inflection point in the history of crypto today. The Ethereum blockchain switched from proof of work to proof of stake, which will cut the energy consumption on Ethereum by 99.95%. That will also cut the costs of doing transactions on Ethereum, hopefully as much. It had gotten ridiculous. What we can talk about blockchain in the second part, I have all kinds of mixed feelings about it, but at least the grotesque energy consumption may become a thing of the past.
Lene: But if we’re all going to be on the metaverse in 3D, then we have another-
Jim: That’s a whole another problem, but we’ll save that one for part two. Lene Rachel Anderson, thank you for coming on to the Jim Rutt Show and talking about your new book, Libertism, and we will do part two soon.
Lene: Thank you for inviting me. Looking very much forward to it.