Eclectic Spacewalk #7 - Terrestrial Politics

A theoretical approach to the political reorganization of each & every Terrestrial being’s dwelling place

Read previous post #6 - Anomie (25 minutes)

Listen to “Conversations” podcasts

Table of Contents:

Terrestrial Politics—

  • “Homo Economicus”

  • Neo-liberalism

  • This time is different

  • Getting back Down to Earth

    • De-familiarizing like a Martian

    • Out of this World

    • Attractor 3 & The Terrestrial 

  • Out of the Wreckage

    • Belonging

    • Community

    • Subsidiarity

  • Audio (1 audio-book, 2 podcasts)

  • Video (8 videos)

  • What’s Next?


Reading Time: 20 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.)

Terrestrial Politics—

Abstract: “A theoretical approach to the political reorganization of each and every Terrestrial being’s dwelling place (within Earth’s “Critical Zone”); which includes its own way of identifying what is local, what is global, and of defining its entanglements with other beings.”

Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,

Currently, the globe is experiencing an “Out of this World” mind contagion in it’s political spheres. After Trump was elected, one could argue fairly easily that we are now in an era where politics oriented towards any identifiable goal has come to an end. French philosopher, Bruno Latour, claims this lost viewpoint is on purpose, “As Trumpian politics is not “post truth,” it is post politics - that is literally, a politics with no object, since it rejects the world that it claims to inhabit.” 

In his book Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Regime, Latour doesn’t mince words with what the leading phenomenon is in our current state of world affairs which began long before got Trump elected, “a systematic effort to deny the existence of climate change - “climate” in the broad sense of the relations between human beings and the material conditions of their lives.” (Take note of how he defines “climate” in what a human deals with in terms of their environment, also known as Earth’s critical zone.) Increased inequality and global deregulation being the other two phenomena that Latour points to. The subsequent rise of populism, and the honest realization that governments are not immune to the effects of what Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, calls The Fourth Industrial Revolution. These deeply affecting trends are also considered in our equation. 

Some history is needed to understand just how far off the path we truly are. Do you remember Thomas Hobbes? Does Leviathan ring a bell? In his most famous text, Hobbes asserted that Life’s position in the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Basically that Life’s, not just humans, base operating system is a war of everyone against everyone else. But this statement was made in 1651, and needs to be taken with a truckload full of salt with its basis in religion & original sin.

Remember J.S. Mill? No? Well in the 19th century, the British philosopher proposed that we humans have surpassed our genetic predisposition of “Homo Sapiens,” and faux-upgraded to be “Homo-Economicus” “or "economic man." This says, each human is a rational person who pursues wealth for their own self-interest. First it was a thought experiment, then it was used as a modeling tool to strive towards an ideal, and lastly it changed our perceptions of ourselves. The way we behave is in turn due to our perceptions. The story of our self-maximizing and competitive nature was told so often, usually with little critique, that we have accepted it as an account of who we really are.

“Homo Economicus” is a reasonable description of chimpanzees, but hardly for humans. In their illuminating psychology journal paper, the authors remind us, “The fact that humans cooperate with non-kin is something we take for granted, but this is an anomaly in the animal kingdom. Our species’ ability to behave prosocially may be based on human-unique psychological mechanisms.” 

They argue that, “these mechanisms include the ability to care about the welfare of others (other-regarding concerns), to “feel into” others (empathy), and to understand, adhere to, and enforce social norms (normativity). We consider how these motivational, emotional, and normative substrates of prosociality develop in childhood and emerged in our evolutionary history. Moreover, we suggest that these three mechanisms all serve the critical function of aligning individuals with others: Empathy and other-regarding concerns align individuals with one another, and norms align individuals with their group.”

The kind of large-scale cooperation seen uniquely in humans is mainly due to this alignment. Our “spectacularly unusual when compared to other animals” nature says that we also cannot cope alone. Humans need connection & togetherness, just as much as we need food & shelter. I assume this is latent knowledge for most people, but the market(s), politics, and the sense of possibility evaporating in front of our eyes make a compelling case for not needing the former, usually at the expense of the latter. The result of this belief being taken as canon is the loss of a common purpose. A lack of common purpose is a leading reason why Anomie is abound more than ever.

It is exacerbated by “Shifting Baseline Syndrome,” a term describing ecosystems in biology. It can be used to understand how people respond to political change over the years of being beat of the head with hedonic propaganda, “By this means, over the generations, we adjust to almost any degree of deprivation or oppression, imagining it to be natural and immutable.”

Neoliberalism

Neoliberalism, like any political narrative, has to account for who we are & why. It’s ‘a priori’ information is that we are “homo economicus,” and we are competitors doing all that we can to get ahead of our fellows. As I have just shown, this is not necessarily the case, but we need to dig deeper to unfurl its deep and pernicious roots before we offer up an alternative.

In his book Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, George Monbiot says that Neoliberalism's central claim is for society to make maximizing profits humanity’s aim & purpose. “Defined by the market, defined as a market, human society should be run in every aspect as if it were a business, its social relations reimagined as commercial transactions; people redesigned as human capital,” goes Neoliberalism's claims.

Monbiot says our dominant political narrative has become so pervasive that we hardly question it’s reach - effectively hiding it. The ability to see it as a power relations based ideology has become literally blasphemous.

He goes on, “Efforts to create a more equal society are both counter productive and morally corrosive...Attempts to limit competition are treated as hostile to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimized; public services should be privatized or reconstructed in the image of the market. The organization of labor and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that prevent the real winners and losers from being discovered. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for usefulness and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone.”

Losers are defined, and self defined, in a competitive world as those that fall behind because people can ALWAYS change their situation by exercising choice through spending says Neoliberal theory. 

Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem,” says philosopher Byung-Chul Han.

Until we name and describe a narrative, then we cannot contest it. Neoliberalism has stuck around for much longer than needed, due to its anonymity and the absence of countervailing stories. I hope the previous paragraphs help the reader understand the former, while the next paragraphs will help counter Neoliberalism's stature with a new story. “To change the world, you must tell a story: a story of hope and transformation that tells us who we are,” says Monbiot.

Why is this time different?

Before we tell a different story for our future, we have to consider the present. Currently, micro actors have equaled the playing field of disproportionate reach that macro state actors had a monopoly on for, well, forever. As Moises Naim puts it, “in the 21st century, power is easier to get, harder to user, and easier to lose.”

Our current situation is unprecedented says Latour, “No human society, however wise, subtle, prudent, and cautious you may think it to be, has had to grapple with the reactions of the earth system to the actions of eight or nine billion humans. All the wisdom accumulated over ten thousand years, even if we were to succeed in rediscovering it, has never served more than a few hundred, a few thousand, a few million human beings on a relatively stable stage.”

Most Americans would say that Democracy will fix all of our ails, but two social science professors in their book, Democracy for Realists, argue that our images of the political spheres are at most not true, and at worst not possible. “The Folk Theory of Democracy - the idea that citizens make coherent and intelligible policy decisions, on which governments then act - bears no relationship to how democracy really works, or could ever work,” says Chirostopher Achen and Larry Bartels.

This ‘folk theory of democracy’ sets it’s foundation on the notion of rational choice. Basically we seek out information, weigh the pros/cons, and then elect a government that reflect those policies. But, in actuality it is much, much more complicated in today’s age.

“In reality, the research they use suggest, most people possess almost no useful information about policies and their implications, have little desire to improve their state of knowledge, and have a deep aversion to political disagreement,” echoes Monbiot.

This has become even more of an issue with the rise of technology in almost everything we do. Schwab says “With growing citizen empowerment and greater fragmentation and polarization of populations, this could result in political systems that make government more difficult and governments less effective. This is particularly important as it occurs at a time when governments should be essential partners in shaping the transition to new scientific, technological, economic, and societal frameworks.”

The climate emergency, the pervasiveness of artificial intelligence, and the rise of genetic engineering are all issues that nation states are not capable of dealing with alone. The challenge for governments during this unique time is the necessity to let innovation flourish, while minimizing risk.

“Two conceptual approaches exist. In the first, everything that is not explicitly forbidden is allowed. In the second, everything that is not explicitly allowed is forbidden. Governments must blend these approaches. They have to learn to collaborate and adapt, while ensuring that the human being remains at the center of all decisions,” says Schwab.”

Rather than what we think, we base our political decisions on who we are. Politics is an expression of social identity, so we cannot change politics without changing social identities.

We are in need of a complete rearrangement of how citizens and government think and act towards each other, “To achieve this, governments will need to engage citizens more effectively and conduct policy experiments that allow for learning and adaptation. Both of these tasks mean that governments and citizens alike must rethink their respective roles and how they interact with one another, simultaneously raising expectations which explicitly acknowledging the need to incorporate multiple perspectives and allow for failure and missteps along the way.” 

Getting back Down to Earth

Bruno Latour’s book Down to Earth is the single best political theory book I have read that deals with Humans living in the Anthropocene. We are in a time of deep political division, but are in desperate need of political guidance. We need to look in a different a priori direction. One that takes the climate “situation” seriously, and thus rearranges our outlook and subsequent policies.

Who would be in charge or who would have the ultimate authority in this new politics? That is always the first question. It is a valid question, but I am not here to answer it. I will offer up a thought experiment on what type of system would make up the foundation of what/who gives our supposed “authority” that level of gravitas. See if you can spot the difference below, and think about the possible radical implications of changing.

There are two types of systems that could be deployed, a system of production - freedom principle, humanity centered role, mechanism type of movement; or a system of engendering - dependency principle, humanity’s role distributed, genesis type of movement.

A system of production: “based on a certain conception of nature, materialism, and the role of the sciences; it assigned a different function to politics and was rooted in a division between human actors and their resources. At bottom, there was the idea that human freedom would be deployed in a natural setting where it would be possible to indicate the precise limits of each property.”

OR

A system of engendering: “brings into confrontation agents, actors, animate beings that all have distinct capacities for reacting. It does not proceed from the same conception of materiality as the system of production, it does not have the same epistemology, and it does not lead to the same form of politics. It is not interested in producing goods, for humans, on the basis of resources, but in engendering terrestrials - not just humans, but all terrestrials. It is based on the idea of cultivating attachments, operations that are all the more difficult because animate beings are not limited by frontiers and are constantly overlapping, embedding themselves within one another.

We already know the failings that a system of production would garner, but what kind of politics would a system of engendering look like?

If you were to try to explain our political systems to a Martian, who had the knowledge of “the overview effect” or of seeing the Earth from Space, and their subsequent falls from grace while dictating a new way forward for the entire planet - would you be able to?!

I would use my lifeline, and call Bruno Latour.

De-familiarizing like a Martian

If you want to study humanity as a whole, famous linguist Noam Chomsky posed the thought experiment about trying to explain our world to a “Martian visiting Earth.” (Richard Feynam also talked about the importance of seeing the world anew, or like a Martian.)

“The Martian might notice things about us that we do not notice about ourselves, like seeing a unified human language structure rather than a set of many different languages. The Martian might be puzzled when you tried to explain what a nation-state was and why it mattered, or why we use chromosomal sex as an important category for classifying human beings, or why we have cars. This kind of “de-familiarization”—trying to see things we take for granted as if you are seeing them for the first time—is very powerful at generating creative insights,” says Current Affairs Founder & Editor in Chief Nathan Robinson.

He also says that seeing our present reality through the lens of deep time (Thinking in the Long Now) will most likely reevaluate your priorities, “My friend Albert Kim says he has a much better understanding of politics whenever he tries to imagine our own society as if he is a teenager reading about it in a history book, 2000 years in the future. How does, for example, the greater attention paid to Trump and Ukraine over climate change look to students two millennia from now?”

We talked about Neoliberalism's rise and subsequent success as a silent but ever present ideology. Latour says this has made us completely confused as to what is important, “We must face up to what is literally a problem of dimension, scale, and lodging: the planet is much too narrow and limited for the globe of globalization; at the same time, it is too big, infinitely too large, too active, too complex, to remain within the narrow and limited borders of any locality whatsoever. We are all overwhelmed twice over: by what is too big, and by what is too small.

George Scialabba, in his book The Modern Predicament - Essays and Review, praises Morris Berman for illuminating our drives for making decisions; “The relentless American habit of choosing the individual solution over the collective one,” Berman writes, underlies “the design of our cities, including the rise of car culture, the growth of suburbs, and the nature of our architecture, [which] has had an overwhelming impact on the life of the nation as a whole, reflecting back on all the issues discussed here: work, children, media, community, economy, technology, globalization, and, especially, US Foreign Policy. The physical arrangements of our lives mirror the spiritual ones.”

Out of this World

Throughout history, the local was ever moving toward the global on a modernization front. People were torn between two contradictory statements: to move forward toward the ideal of progress (Global), or backward towards the old certainties (Local). A third option (Attractor 3) was skipped over as not possible, not efficient, or profitable, so a fourth attractor became the frontrunner and championed by people at the top of decision making who basically have given up in sharing the world with everyone else.

“These people - whom we can call the obscurantist elites from now on - understood that, if they wanted to survive in comfort, they had to stop pretending, even in their dreams, to share the Earth with the rest of the world,” says Latour. 

This decision to orient towards “Out of This World” policies has had far reaching effects on our global society, as elites started doing the simple calculation of how much, and for how long they would have resources for them to selfishly gobble up. When that calculation equated many more Earths than we have, they went full scorched earth for everyone except themselves. This is basically the plot of Elysium by the way, so our present reality is stranger than fiction...

“If the hypothesis is correct, all this is part of a single phenomenon: the elites have been so thoroughly convinced that there would be no future life for everyone that they have decided to get rid of all the burdens of solidarity as fast as possible - hence deregulation; they have decided that a sort of gilded fortress would have to be build for those (a small percentage) who would be able to make it through; and they have decided that to conceal the crassselfisness of such a flight out of the shared world, they would have to reject absolutely the threat at the origin of this headlong flight - hence the denial of climate change,” says Latour.

As Julius Krein writes in American Affairs, what is surprising about today’s oligarchy is its pettiness and purposelessness, not its ruthlessness. “An all-consuming megalomania might at least produce some great art as a side-effect. But this collec­tion of mediocrities cannot even do that. Their political activities—whether pushing for a slightly lower tax rate or throwing money at a self-serving brand of faux progressivism—are too small-minded to be anything other than embarrassing. This class has no idea what to do with its wealth, much less the power that results from it. It can only withdraw and extract, socially and economically, while the political justifications for its existence melt away,” says Krein. 

In Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, Andrew Sayer says that our idiot, yet powerful, elites confuse wealth extraction with wealth creation. Ok, well he actually said it nicer, “investment means two quite different things. One is the funding of productive and socially useful activities, the other is the purchase of existing assets to milk them for rent, interest, dividends and capital gains.”

Which one have you met more of lately? I for one have seen a whole heap of a lot of the second, and slim pickings of the first. But the ultimate question being: will this continue?

Krein says if it does it will be deeply paradoxical to historians, “Ultimately, the question that will determine the future of American politics is whether the rest of the elite will consent to their contin­ued proletarianization only to further enrich this pathetic oli­garchy. If they do, future historians of American collapse will find something truly exceptional: capitalism without competence and feu­dalism with­out nobility.”

Attractor 3 or “The Terrestrial”

Latour gives us a current viewpoint of where Humanity is in the Anthropocene, “And it is at this point in history, at this juncture, that we find ourselves today. Too disoriented to array the positions along the axis that went from the old to the new, from the Local to the Global, but still incapable of naming this third attractor, fixing its position, or even simply describing it. And yet, the entire political orientation depends on this step to the side: we shall really have to decide who is helping us and who is betraying us, who is our friend and who is our enemy, with whom we should make alliances and with whom we should fight - but while taking a direction that is no longer mapped out.

We have seen that through our collective modernization push from the Local to the Global, society only had two choices - to continue to progress, or to fall back on the ancient ways. Obscurantist elites and the political powers at be decided there was another option (Attractor 4), one which mixed elements of what their parties had once believed and what their opponents believed. This “Out of this World” policy structure was not dealing in the reality of humanity living through the Anthropocene - only having one Earth for everyone’s production & consumption metrics. Yet, if we were to tally up how many Earths we would need for everyone to live like elites it would be greater than one, which is a bit of a problem...

So what would the opposite of “Out of this World” look like? Bruno Latour’s central claim in Down to Earth is that it is not only possible for us to reorient our entire global political structure, but that it quite literally may be the only way we get to a society resembling the values we espouse to have and want to have going into 2020 & beyond.  

Re-assessing the “Terrestrial” as the main political actor of our time would have immediate trickle down effects everywhere on Earth. The question is whether the emergence and description of the Terrestrial attractor can give meaning and direction to political action. It does this in a very unique way by stating, “Existing as a people and being able to describe one’s dwelling place is one and the same thing.”

This configuration will traverse all scales of space and time, as being able to accurately define a terrestrial dwelling place will be step one in our process of making it our third attractor. Latour goes on, “To define a dwelling place, for a terrestrial, it to list what it needs for its subsistence, and, consequently, what it is ready to defend, with its own life if need be. This holds as true for a wolf as for a bacterium, for a business enterprise as for a forest, for a divinity as for a family…The challenge obviously lies in drawing up such a list…In a system of production, the list is easy to make: it consists of humans and resources. In a system of engendering, the task is much more difficult, because the animate beings, the actors that compose it all have their own trajectories and interests.”

Critics will say such a re-description of all terrestrial dwelling places is impossible, its meaningless, and it's never been done. Well, they are wrong on all three accounts - nothing is impossible or meaningless, and Latour gives an example of how it was done before in France, albeit a while ago and in a small subset. This is no reason to stop, or to throw our hands up and accept the “Out of this World” status quo we currently are experiencing. Plus, we have technology that could be used in conjunction with our new & different philosophical basis.

Latour says when we ask this type of question about terrestrial dwelling places we notice our own ignorance, “Every time one begins such an investigation, one is surprised by the abstract nature of the responses. And yet questions about engendering turn up everywhere, along with those of gender, race, education, food, jobs, technological innovations, religion, or leisure. But here is the problem: globalization-mius has made us lose sight, in the literal sense, of the cause of effects of our subjections. Hence the temptation to complain in general, and the impression of no longer having any leverage that could enable us to modify the situation.” 

Out of the wreckage by telling a different story

To create the leverage that could enable us to modify the situation, we need to rethink our: “why.” If our current political theories only promote alienation in the end, then we need it’s antithesis. And, if alienation is the point where all our current crises merge together, belonging is the means by which we can address them. Yes - BELONGING.

There are three forms of belonging says philosopher Kimberley Brownlee: belonging with, belonging to, and belonging in. The first deals with symmetry & reciprocity like “we go together, love & marriage, horse & carriage.” The second deals with exercising power or ownership over, but could also describe a child. The last deals with how at peace we feel in a social setting or surroundings. 

Monbiot says the way out of the wreckage is through thick networks of engaged citizens, “the most plausible candidate is local community, formed around participatory culture, building outwards to revive national and global politics.”

Community

Instead of making the workplace the primary focus of our political lives we make it about community! “The problem with using work as a reference point for identity is that desireable identities become exclusive and hard to obtain. No such problem surrounds a sense of identity and validity arising from active citizenship. Anyone can join; anyone can make a contribution. Anyone can come to see themselves as a person who builds community, upon whom other rely for their well being. There are no losers anymore,” says Monbiot.

This approach has four virtues:

  1. “No part of the process is wasted. “We didn’t take power” isn't a death knell to progress.

  2. Most steps toward change are pleasant, not dependent on political meetings

  3. Process of change is open to everyone, not just those employed in particular industries.

  4. You do not need to wait for anyone else’s permission to begin.”

Monbiot warns that this is NOT a political panacea, “It does not cure the explorations of the workplace or the attempts by some people to grab political power by undemocratic means, or assets such as physical space and public budgets from being captured for the exclusive use of the few.”

Subsidiarity

Economics is a key feature to Terrestrial politics, but we will wait until our next essay to dive into that as a future way out of Four Economic Futures. Monbiot champions Doughnut Economics, participatory budgeting, and increasing each citizen’s feeling of owning the system. But the most important feature Monbiot says of a politics of belonging and community should be “powers & responsibility are handed to the smallest political unit that can be reasonably discharge them. This principle, known as subsidiarity, is widely accepted in theory, but seldom deployed in practice.

The hardest questions of our times are too important to be left to economists alone, but the answers should belong to each and every Terrestrial. “Democratic power should be grounded in actual choice and consent, rather than in the imagined permission that political systems presumptuously grant themselves,” says Monbiot.

Constitutional conventions, sortition - or choosing most delegates by lot, and proportional representation all make cameos in how we could achieve real democratic power. Monbiot proposes a “directly elected world parliament” that would oversee all institutions and hold them to account because “global bodies have no more right than any other to operate without explicit public consent.” There are two possible responses to the power shift at the global level; to seek to repatriate it, or to seek to democratize it. Global governance is NOT the same as global government.

Klaus, Latour, Mobiot, and Scialabba seem to be doing the most they can to further the latter. Maybe not specifically “global democracy” - whatever that might be - but they for sure are trying to democratize the power that each individual being or Terrestrial has for itself.

In closing, Scialabba echoes Barbara Ehrenreich in how solidarity is of the greatest importance for all Terrestrials moving into the future,

“Nothing in history or human nature guarantees that we will avoid social stasis, environmental collapse, or nuclear catastrophe. Our danger is not positive error so much as sheer unreflectiveness; not active malevolence so much as paralyzing insecurity. Habits of the Heart is a slight enough blow against modern anomie, as is Fear of Falling against class divisions. But their convergence, however partial and implicit, is encouraging. Because probably, if there is to be any ground for hope, the first requirement is the solidarity of the hopeful: communitarian and individualist, republican and socialist, religious and secular.”

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Audio—


Video Playlist—

1) Actor-Network Theory: Primer

2) Neoliberalism is dead: we need a new political story - George Monbiot

3) Society – Technology – People: Interview with Prof. Bruno Latour

4) Bruno Latour: Why Gaia is not the Globe

5) Bruno Latour | On Not Joining the Dots || Radcliffe Institute

6) Senior Loeb Scholar Lecture: Bruno Latour, “A Tale of Seven Planets – An Exercise in Gaiapolitics”

7) George Monbiot - Out of the Wreckage - A New Politics for an Age of Crisis - The Gaia Foundation

8) George Monbiot: Out of the Wreckage - The Majority Report w/Sam Seder Live - 9/13/17

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Thank You for your time. Until the next post, Ad Astra!

Eclectic Spacewalk #6 - Anomie

Acts of self destruction by individuals & society are partly caused by the disintegration of social bonds

Read previous post #5 - Skin in the Game (15 minutes)

Listen to “Conversations” podcasts


Table of Contents:

Anomie— 

  • Emile Durkheim’s On Suicide

  • The American dream is now a nightmare

  • Deadly Consequences

    • Opioid Use has skyrocketed

    • Suicide rates are through the roof, especially for military members

    • Our climate emergency will only exacerbate Anomie

  • Four Horsemen of the Financial Misuse Apocalypse

    • Drastic Increases in Wealth Inequality

    • “War on Terror”

    • Failed war on drugs and the erosion of personal sovereignty

    • 2008 Financial Crisis

  • The Way Forward

    • Limits of Wealth

    • Team Human

    • The Long Now

  • Audio (2 podcasts)

  • Video (2 talks)

  • What’s Next?

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Reading Time: 30 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.)

Anomie—

Abstract: “A state of hopeless and despair due to the disintegration of social bonds that drive individuals and societies to personal and collective acts of self destruction.”

Hello Eclectic Spacewalkers,

Forewarning: This doozy of a post may get depressing with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, but it is ALWAYS better to shine “light” on these issues rather than just moving on with life or sticking your head in the sand hoping things will change. To understand the importance of facing these issues head on, listen to my podcast on the philosophy of suicide & grief with Cal Poly Pomona philosophy professor Michael Cholbi on Substack or Anchor.

If my first five posts on heuristics were possible solutions on how to help make the world a better, ethical, and truthful world, then this post focuses on an amalgamation of problems. This meta-problem is not solely American or Western in scope, but currently where it is acutely apparent. (It is increasingly becoming an international issue.) I promise three possible helpful solutions to the reader by the end.

So, what does the opioid crisis have to do with plagues of suicide?

Or the emboldening of violence & hate with the increase in gambling?

Does climate change have anything to do with humanity’s pornification of culture?

How does one understand the rise of magical thinking in the masses along with the successful corporate coup d'état of government?

One of the smoking guns, if any, is a word coined by the french sociologist Emile Durkheim in the late 19th century. That all encompassing word is: Anomie.

Made famous in Durkheim’s book On Suicide, Anomie, is when society lacks the regulatory constraints necessary to control the behavior of its members. This usually comes after rapid, unpredictable, and uncontrollable change. There is a breakdown of normative structure, and where once rules & norms were strong - over time they have weakened. Without norms, limits, or boundaries an individual’s life becomes meaningless and behavior becomes uncontrollable. You can see the progression quite clearly below. (We are either in the third or fourth stage depending on your level of cynicism, but one cannot deny that we are past the second stage.)

A shorter definition of Anomie being: “a state of hopeless and despair due to the disintegration of social bonds that drive individuals and societies to personal and collective acts of self destruction.”

Sociology professor Chad Gesser says, “Sociologists see society as an organism, much the way the human body is an organism. Society, just like the human body, is a sum of its parts.” A fancier way to put it is organic specialization. Two handy graphics below help to visualize.

“Staying with the human anatomy and physiology theme, I like to think of the above image as the “skeleton” of society.  Below you’ll find the makeup of the “central nervous system”. These are the fundamental elements of culture,” says Gresser.

“Keep in mind that norms are the guidelines and expectations in society.  They are not right or wrong, but we as members of society determine at any given moment in time or history the makeup of norms... Norms, just like culture, change. The “skeleton” of society, and the “central nervous system”, remain the same.

The American Dream is now a nightmare

The average American is worse off today then they were just a generation ago. Millennials, my age cohort, are poorer than previous generations, and actively losing ground in every major statistical measurement. US life expectancy is DECLINING for fuck’s sake! How that is possible in 2019?! (One could easily argue that America has always been a nightmare for African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Women, and anyone that isn’t a white male, and they wouldn’t be wrong.)

Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist and NYT best selling author, recognized our culture’s widespread malaise as Anomie, and recently re-popularized the term, including writing a book called America, The Farewell Tour. He wrote in a summary post for TruthDig.com that our traditional social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective, and, more importantly, engaging in a project larger than the self are in fact - in disarray.

“This collective expresses itself through rituals, such as elections and democratic participation or an appeal to patriotism, and shared national beliefs. The bonds provide meaning, a sense of purpose, status and dignity. They offer psychological protection from impending mortality and the meaninglessness that comes with being isolated and alone. The shattering of these bonds plunges individuals into deep psychological distress that leads ultimately to acts of self-annihilation,” says Hedges mirroring Durkheim.

The American Dream - the belief that if you, or anyone, work hard, obey the law, and get a good education can achieve social status mobility - is a lie. The great comedian George Carlin was prophetic about the subject with the final line in one of his most infamous standup sets, “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”

Mark Manson wrote in the Observer that the continued belief in something that isn’t true in reality (The American Dream) is in fact killing us, “The sad truth is that fewer people today are getting ahead than before. And they’re getting ahead not due to their hard work or their education as much as their connections, their family’s socioeconomic status, and of course, just the plain luck of not getting horribly sick or getting into a serious accident.

This is not to say the elite are the only ones to blame. Brookings scholar Richard V. Reeves, says in his book Dream Hoarders that the middle class has enriched itself and harmed economic mobility: “Various forms of “opportunity hoarding” among the upper middle class make it harder for others to rise up to the top rung. Examples include zoning laws and schooling, occupational licensing, college application procedures, and the allocation of internships. Upper middle class opportunity hoarding, Reeves argues, results in a less competitive economy as well as a less open society.”

Manson continues that the truth is we are back to where we started before the late 18th century revolution and standing up to monarchical powers, “Not only is this not the American Dream, it’s the antithesis of the American Dream. It’s the old feudal order where you’re born into your privilege (or lack thereof) and forced to just hope things don’t get any worse.”

This sad truth is further ingrained in our collective psyche when voting effectively no longer advances the interests of the average citizen. Professors Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page note in their research that the political process is not as democratic as one might think, “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Hedges comes back into the fray while also bringing down the truth hammer with what this really means to the veneer of democracy when social bonds are not just broke - but blown up, “This facade of democratic process eviscerates one of the primary social bonds in a democratic state and abolishes the vital shared belief that citizens have the power to govern themselves, that government exists to promote and protect their rights and interests.”

Hedges states, as plainly as can be, how this happened right in front of all of us, “But the capture of political and economic power by the corporate elites, along with the redirecting of all institutions toward the further consolidation of their power and wealth, has broken the social bonds that held the American society together.”

Deadly Consequences

The American Dream was brutally assassinated right out in the open. If we treat the US as a crime scene, we can look around at the current situation and deduce previous causes. But, what is the current situation exactly? Well I only need to tell you about two factors to illuminate how ghastly our present reality is: Opioids & Suicide.

Opioid use has skyrocketed like no other time in history. The CDC says, “In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl) was 6 times higher than in 1999.” More than 700,000 people died from a drug overdose between 1999 to 2017, pressuring the Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency in 2017.

Why the drastic increase? Well access, misinformation, and, once again, greed were the biggest contributing factors. HHS points out that pharmaceutical companies in the late 1990s promised the medical community that these substances were NOT addictive, so healthcare providers took that hook, line, and sinker. They began prescribing them at higher rates and higher doses which caused widespread misuse. Now it is abundantly clear that these substances could be incredibly addictive.

Suicide rates are through the roof in the US, including more military members committing suicide than dying in combat. Yes, you read that correctly, so I’ll say it again for people in the back: More military members are taking their lives than dying in the “fight against terror.

To put that into perspective the NYT writes, “More than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides each year than the total American military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Ok, but those are people in high stress environments with bullets, explosions, and death all around. Surely that isn’t happening to regular people right?,” questions the reader.

Actually, suicide is climbing the ranks of causes of death to Americans, especially young people, with a 31% increase in overall suicide deaths from 2000-2016. The American Psychological Association says, “suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States in 2016. It was the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the fourth-leading cause among people ages 35 to 54.

The distribution is NOT equal, and you cannot chalk these deaths up to - well they just had something wrong in the head. “More than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition,” says the CDC. There was a 51% increase in suicides among girls and women between 2000 and 2016. The graph below shows that suicide rates increased in almost every state!

This trend seems like it is only going to continue with the reality of the climate emergency humanity faces in the coming decades. With sea levels rising faster and higher than previously thought, including a number of major cities being partly underwater by 2050, and along with the promise of tens of millions of people becoming climate refugees - the future looks quite grim without a complete overhaul of society’s priorities. Stanford researchers found that,as global temperatures rise, climate change’s impacts on mental health are becoming increasingly evident. Recent research has linked elevated temperatures to an increase in violence, stress and decreased cognitive function leading to impacts such as reduced test scores, lowered worker productivity and impaired decision-making.

Four Horsemen of the Financial Misuse Apocalypse

As with any complex problem it is not one simple reason of how we got to this point, but I believe Dr. Martin Luther King summed it up in one pithy statement: The problem is that we all to often have socialism for the rich and rugged free enterprise capitalism for the poor. That’s the problem. 

The “essence” of the individual being unleashed through greed and a passion for unlimited growth is but another reason. Our dominant economic system of corrupt & crony capitalism also has a giant hand to play in the molding of the Anomie starter pack.

“But, but, but...” mumbles the reader, “It’s not that bad...right?”

If a person looks around and knows they are not valued as our American Dream fallacy states above, and all the while the government that is supposed to help them is spending *almost all* of it’s money (effectively YOUR money as a taxpayer) into budgetary black holes that could be used for their overall betterment and a more fruitful existence, then you would rationally conclude that this game we call life is a farce, or at the very least not up to par with modern expectations.

The next time someone gasps aloud at the prospect of universal healthcare, free education, easy access to capital, and any basic human right services for all with the question, “But how are we going to pay for it?”

Simply ask the following, “How are we paying for the current system, and it’s inefficiency, misuse, and downright criminal enterprises?”

Then show them this post, including the below Four Horsemen of the Financial Misuse Apocalypse.

Let’s go through just a few startling facts that are true during the 31 years of my existence, and see if they change your outlook. But first, the reader needs to *try* (it might be impossible to really do so with our monkey brains) to wrap their heads around how much a TRILLION, yes with a T, dollars is

Drastic Increases in Wealth Inequality

Matt Brueing, of the People’s Policy Project, explains the increase in wealth inequality quite simply with the following, “Here's a statistic to get your class rage going: since 1989, the top 1 percent's net worth has skyrocketed by $21 trillion. And the bottom 50 percent's? It's plummeted by $900 billion.

Vox.com goes further with a cartoon on how this all came to be. “You can see lots of discussion and debate and political fighting over who has wealth in America, and whether that should change. Or, you can look at the cartoon below to understand how the distribution of wealth has changed in America, and why.”

You can look through the entire thread as it talks about tax rates, minimum wage not keeping up with inflation, and labor unions decreasing. The most damning being the following, showing how the 1% have gotten away with not just highway robbery, but the entire monetary system in the US.

War on “Terror”

The US’s war on “terror,” whatever the fuck that means, has cost taxpayers $6 TRILLION. And we are still in the middle east, stirring up shit, so this number is only going to increase. Not to mention the countless lives lost that are incalculable in value lost. A helpful timeline of costs puts the facts in perspective, along with the below data visualization that included deaths since the 9/11 attacks.

Was the tragic loss of ~3,000 lives on that horrible day reasoning for the below? Any rational human can’t square that circle...

Trump has effectively destroyed the veneer of continuing to be in the Middle East region for reasons of “spreading democracy,” or saving the citizens of this or that country that Bush & Obama floated as acceptable says independent journalist, Caitlin Johnston. These are all bullshit of course. We are there for the oil, and it’s strategic military positioning half a world away from the US border.

“We’ve kept the oil,” Trump said. “We’ve stayed back and kept the oil. Other people can patrol the border of Syria, frankly, and Turkey, let them — they’ve been fighting for a thousand years, let them do the border, we don’t want to do that. We want to bring our soldiers home. But we did leave soldiers because we’re keeping the oil. I like oil. We’re keeping the oil.”

“Failed” war on drugs and the erosion of personal sovereignty

Growing up in the southern United States I, like most, was subjected to the idiotic & unscientific “Just Say No” propaganda along with mandatory D.A.R.E. classes. If you are not familiar, it is basically a state sponsored fear mongering tactic about all the bad things that could possibly happen while taking drugs. One would think that the powers at be would've learned from the failures of prohibition of alcohol, and, even more parallel with young people, the monumental failure of unethical & unscientific “abstinence only” sex education. Yet, here we are…

This has cost, you, me, and every tax payer a pretty penny - like a really, really big penny. How big a penny exactly? As NBC news states, “After 40 years, the United States' war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.” There is another TRILLION dollars down the drain, and it made the problem WORSE!

Since just 2008, drug control spending has topped $200 billion, and as the chart below shows has doubled since then. What the hell are we doing? Especially with research of other approaches having better results...

2008 Financial Crisis

Remember back in 2008 when the banks bet big on the subprime mortgage market, then it collapsed because all the bonds were in reality not valuable in the least but were given triple A ratings? No? Watch the documentary Inside Job & the acclaimed feature film The Big Short to get caught up on how this all happened. Also, here is a handy timeline of how things went down.

HuffPost reported on the Government Accountability Office fact finding initiative of how much all this cost us, “The 2008 financial crisis cost the U.S. economy more than $22 trillion.”

The report continues that, “The 2007-2009 financial crisis, like past financial crises, was associated with not only a steep decline in output, but also the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” the GAO wrote in the report. The agency said the financial crisis toll on economic output may be as much as $13 trillion — an entire year’s gross domestic product. The office said paper wealth lost by U.S. homeowners totaled $9.1 billion. Additionally, the GAO noted, economic losses associated with increased mortgage foreclosures and higher unemployment since 2008 need to be considered as additional costs.”

The Way Forward

I by no means have all the answers, but what I can do is offer up three possible points of view (again, by no means panaceas or “solutions”) of how we could minimize the effects of the above. Even more importantly, I believe these would drastically help the issues discussed not happen in the first place.

These may seem grandiose or even blasphemous to the contemporary discourse, but just hear what other people - who are way smarter than me - have to say. They are as follows: Limits of Wealth, Team Human, and the Long Now.

Limits of Wealth

In his Guardian column, George Monbiot says it is time for a radical plan, one in which we strive for private sufficiency, public luxury. He bases his argument that we cannot afford the rich, due to the global environmental degradation from individual aspirations based on our dominant culture of wealth maximization.

He states, “There’s a name for this approach, coined by the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns: limitarianism. Robeyns argues that there should be an upper limit to the amount of income and wealth a person can amass. Just as we recognize a poverty line, below which no one should fall, we should recognize a riches line, above which no one should rise.”

Monbiot continues that Robeyns’ arguments are sound due to the future of Life on Earth depending on moderation, “Surplus money allows some people to exercise inordinate power over others: in the workplace; in politics; and above all in the capture, use and destruction of the planet’s natural wealth.”

He concluded, "The grim truth is that the rich are able to live as they do only because others are poor: there is neither the physical nor ecological space for everyone to pursue private luxury.”

Team Human

Back in 2017, David Bryne wrote in the Atlantic that we have a new technological norm of eliminating human interaction, “I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug—it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about making books available to us that we couldn’t find locally—and it was, and what a brilliant idea—but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human contact.”

Bryne asserts that this even has a knock down effect on democracy, and quite literally goes against what make us human, “I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation, and we are less complete as people and as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals. We, as individuals, are inhabitants of networks; we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.”

I came across the almost carbon copy argument - the need for more humanistic thinking - recently in a book by Douglass Rushkoff aptly named, Team Human. I devoured his manifesto which consists of 100 aphoristic statements, “exposing how forces for human connection have turned into ones of isolation & repression.”

Rushkoff in a Medium post says that all is not lost and now is the best time to reassert the human agenda, “The first step toward reversing our predicament is to recognize that being human is a team sport. We cannot be fully human alone. Anything that brings us together fosters our humanity. Likewise, anything that separates us makes us less human, and less able to exercise our individual or collective will.”

The Long Now

Given everything we have already discussed in this post it can be quite easily deduced that civilization is moving at break neck speed into the future whether we humans like it or not. In almost every facet of life the speed in which things are happening, and us having to deal with the repercussions are increasing. The Silicon Valley adage “Move Fast & Break Things” pretty much sums up our pathologically short attention span, as well as the “acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, and the distractions of personal multi-tasking.”

This is where The Long Now Foundation comes in. Their mission, “was established in 01996* to develop the Clock and Library projects, as well as to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common. We hope to foster responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.”

Their guidelines for a long-lived, long-valuable institution:

  • Serve the long view

  • Foster responsibility

  • Reward patience

  • Mind mythic depth

  • Ally with competition

  • Take no sides

  • Leverage longevity

Carnegie Mellon University School of Design Instructor, Stuart Candy, Ph.D, actually began teaching a course called: The Long Now: Thinking, Storytelling and Designing with Long Timespans. Check out the Syllabus, course description, and selected bibliography & resources.

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Audio—


Video—

1) Chris Hedges "American Anomie"

2) Existential Psychotherapy: Death, Freedom, Isolation, Meaninglessness


What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on: “Tertiary Politics” made famous by Bruno Latour.

If you enjoyed this post, please share to other potential eclectic spacewalkers, consider subscribing or gift a subscription, or connect with us on social media to continue the conversation! Also, I am an advocate of Bitcoin. My address is on my About.Me page if you are feeling extra curious.

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Website: www.EclecticSpacewalk.com

Thank You for your time. Until the next post, Ad Astra!

Eclectic Spacewalk #5 - Skin In The Game

How Risk Should Be Shared More Symmetrically 

Read previous post #4 - Non-Zero Sum (25-30 minutes)

Listen to “Conversations” podcasts #1, #2, & #3

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Table of Contents:

Skin In The Game—

  • “With it. Or on it.”

  • Antifragile, Black Swans, and The Incerto Series

  • Skin In The Game

  • Four Topics of Consideration

    1) Bullshit Detection

    2) Symmetry in human affairs

    3) Information sharing in transactions

    4) Rationality in complex systems

  • What Lindy Told Us

  • Text (1 book, 1 paper)

  • Audio (5 pieces of content)

  • Video (5 pieces of content)

What’s Next?

Share Eclectic Spacewalk


Reading Time: 15-20 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.)

Skin In The Game—

Abstract: “Skin In The Game” is a multilayered & continuously evolving aphorism about viewing the world through incurred risk to yourself and others. Risk *should* be shared more symmetrically. If we look at history, then systems that evolve, and thus survive, fundamentally have “Skin In The Game” characteristics.

"With it. Or on it." —

The above saying supposedly goes back to ancient Greece, and recently made a cameo in the movie 300. Parting mothers would basically cry “Come back with your shield, or on it” to their sons heading off to war. The premise being - dying in battle was the noblest of deaths. “Mothers whose sons died in battle openly rejoiced, mothers whose sons survived hung their heads in shame…

Asked why it was dishonorable to return without a shield and not without a helmet, the Spartan king, Demaratos (510 - 491) is said to have replied: "Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of all." (Plutarch, Mor.220 & 241)

The now re-popularized phase is a good primer for our current post’s subject matter. A helmet to the ancient Spartan was a necessary protection for the individual, but the shield was a symbol for the “common good.”

So, what is the common good exactly?

Dishonor, especially in battle or in death, was so taboo in Spartan culture that doing the opposite, acting honorably in battle or death, was the only *real* way to live. Anything short of this standard would probably mean death, or possibly exile, but most definitely shame. Still to this day, we remember the Spartans for their ferocious courage at the Battle of Thermopylae, but how do you get ~300 humans to literally die for their beliefs? The ancients knew something intuitively about “Skin In The Game” (SITG), as they applied the principle to war strategy that trickled down into everyday life and culture.

Collective behavior doesn’t flow from individual behavior because of the increasingly interconnected of asymmetries in life.

BUT, when you create a “culture” of symmetry, the sum total of individual behaviors moves towards a better collective behavior. (The initial goal direction of honor in this example that is.) Aka the behavior survives longer.

Antifragile, Black Swans, & The Incerto Series —

SITG is the 5th installment of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto series, “an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand.” That last part, “in a world we don’t understand” being the key to this particular essay. Incerto means “uncertainty” in Latin.

Consider the following questions for yourself, and then for society:

How best should I make decisions? Should those answers differ when dealing with myself compared to others?

Am I ever *only* making decisions for myself or my circle, family, and tribe?…Or am I, and my decisions, *always* effecting others? And vice versus - their decisions having an affect on me?

How does society move towards a more symmetrical, and thus beneficial, outcome through the sum total of ALL decisions from ALL individuals?

Are there unifying principle(s) or heuristics in dealing with reality to answer these questions?

Taleb’s answer is his Incerto series. My answer is the newsletter you are currently reading. (Check out our other topics including: “The Overview Effect,” “Systems Thinking,” “Object Oriented Ontology,” and “Non-Zero Sum.”)

What is your answer?

Before we go deeper into SITG, it is beneficial to bring up two topics of other Incerto books, AntiFragile & Black Swan (events), that our current topic of investigation builds upon.

The 08’ sub-prime mortgage crisis and the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan (even Chernobyl, and the recent HBO series effectively critiquing what can happen when you don’t heed these principles) are catastrophic events that are unpredictable as specific occurrences but are predictable as rare-but-known phenomena. These events are called “Black Swans.” The only way to avoid Black Swans, is to give structures resilience, or “Antifragility.”

Taleb describes structures with antifragile characteristics as the ability to fail in small doses, and to use that failure to “gain from disorder” over time—counter-intuitively producing a greater order. These principles would in theory, and as we will see soon also in practice, impart resiliency into the structure, so that the system has the ability to transmit lessons from those small failures (by learning, adapting, and evolving) into developing new strengths.

Keeping things “small enough to fail” (as opposed to “too big to fail”) is the cornerstone. The 2008 financial crisis, and its “too big too fail” banks, was a prophetic moment for all of modernity in that it showed precisely what’s going on in too many places today. Bacon’s Rebellion says more about what kind of fragile world this creates when Black Swans happen:

“The result of this dynamic is that there is very little learning within the system, and we go right back to making structures that are more unstable over time. In evolutionary terms, we are not advancing into greater resilience, but lesser resilience.

Thus, instead of creating a world in which the most destructive Black Swans are more survivable, all the emphasis is on preventing such Black Swans, and creating an unsustainable state of normality. The inevitable result is that these Black Swans come anyway—with ever more catastrophic results.”

Skin In The Game —

Taleb, hearkens that today’s society at large is dominated by a specialists culture who are rewarded for excessive intervention, and for predictions that are routinely inaccurate. Bacon’s rebellion picks it back up with how this has devastating consequences:

“The big reward for them is not in creating antifragility or even resilience, but stability—or rather, the temporary appearance of stability. Then, when disaster strikes, these specialists, who have very little “skin in the game,” pay a very small price, if any.

How many systems that you know of are dominated by ideologues and so-called experts with no skin in the game — people who suffer no repercussions from their failed prescriptions, who pass on the cost of their failures to the public, and who are insulated from the evolutionary process that weeds out failures?

We see this “too big to fail” and “too big to learn” phenomenon in system after system. We see it in central bank policies around the world. Central bankers are so terrified by the prospect of a recession that they continually pump more credit into financial systems, guaranteeing a bigger and more catastrophic crash down the road. We see it in California’s fire-fighting policies that suppress small wildfires but build up fuel for catastrophic wild fires. We see it in top-down social engineering policies and in special interest-driven land use policies.”

When you put together structures that are resilient (AntiFragile) and legitimately account for unlikely events (Black Swans) by actually planning for them rather than ignoring them till they become catastrophic, you will inevitably create SITG characteristics within said structures.

It may seem counter intuitive, but the economic theory underlining all of behavioral economics is just plain wrong. Behavioral economics takes into account singular plays (doesn’t consider time), but evolutionary economics (considers time) “takes the passage of previous events and does not take the characteristics of either the objects of choice or of the decision-maker as fixed.”

The former of the two is static, and Taleb says in his own words that incentives are NOT enough!

What is Skin in the Game? The phrase is often mistaken for one-sided incentives: the promise of a bonus will make someone work harder for you. For the central attribute is symmetry: the balancing of incentives and disincentives, people should also penalized if something for which they are responsible goes wrong and hurts others: he or she who wants a share of the benefits needs to also share some of the risks.""

SITG is about suffering (albeit that is a charged word nowadays) & evolution (again, a loaded term in today’s world). We are effectively filtering people out of the system through a “meta-rationality." Filtering is necessary for the function of well - basically everything.

You can see this quite clearly with asking the question, “Why, on high-speed highways there are surprisingly few rogue drivers who could, with a simple maneuver, kill scores of people?” Taleb answers with a pithy response:

“Well, they would also kill themselves and most dangerous drivers are already dead (or with suspended license). Driving is done under the skin in the game constraint, which acts as a filter. It’s a risk management tool by society, ingrained in the ecology of risk sharing in both human and biological systems. The captain who goes down with the ship will no longer have a ship. Bad pilots end up in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; risk-blind traders become taxi drivers or surfing instructors (if they traded their own money)?”

SITG is not simply about decision making. It is really about symmetry. To make it easier to digest for the visual folk, below is a graphic of sorts on who has: “No Skin In The Game,” “Skin In the Game,” AND most importantly “Skin In The Game Of Others, or Soul In The Game.”

How many people, institutions, or governments are on the left side and NOT on the right side?

(Side Note: Hypatia is the left handed holographic bust on the Eclectic Spacewalk logo)

Four Topics of Consideration

Next, we focus on the surprising implications of the hidden asymmetries that do not immediately come to mind as well as the less obvious consequences.

“The same logic mysteriously answers many vital questions, such as 1) the difference between rationality and rationalization, 2) that between virtue and virtue signaling, 3) the nature of honor and sacrifice, 4) Religion and signaling (why the pope is functionally atheist) 5) the justification for economic inequality that doesn’t arise from rent seeking, 6) why to never tell people your forecasts (only discuss publicly what you own in your portfolio) and, 7) even, how and from whom to buy your next car.”

The four topics that cannot be disentangled if one has SITG are as follows:

  • Bullshit Detection - Uncertainty and the reliability of knowledge

    • This is the difference between theory and practice, cosmetic and true expertise, and academia and the real world. We know in the abstract that everything is fundamentally uncertain to an extent dependent on the knowledge and it’s reliability on the subject in question. It just depends on your time horizon.

    • “Anything that smacks of competition destroys knowledge” & “Contemporary peers are valuable collaborators, NOT final judges”

    • Time is the only *real* judge, and we should construct systems that take time into account with uncertainty at it’s core - I mean, we literally live in an uncertain reality... We can only detect bullshit with the help of (usually) better information through the passage of time.

    • Karl Popper’s idea of science is an enterprise that produces claims that can be contradicted by eventual observations, not a series of verifiable ones: science is fundamentally nonconformity, NOT confirmatory.”

  • Symmetry in human affairs - Fairness, Justice, Responsibility, and Reciprocity

    • This is the sharing the responsibilities for events and their consequences.

    • Women’s reproductive rights in 2019 are STILL asymmetrical. Humans who don’t have reproductive organs are making decisions (men) that directly affect humans that do have reproductive organs (women). No wonder the US has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. Are any of the administrators who crafted the policies that led us into this mess going to be held accountable? As of now, that is a big fat NEGATIVE!

    • War hawks in Washington & Brussels (in air conditioned rooms) that make decisions about the lives of thousands to millions in the Middle East, and else wear around the world, are engaging in NON-SITG activities as they have *no real repercussions* for their activities. Everyone else pays the cost, while the neocons aren’t punished for their mistakes. Thus, leading t least somewhat to our current foreign policy conundrums across the globe. Again, are any of the people who led us into the multi decade conflicts in Iraq & Afghanistan ever going to face the music? Not looking too good on that front!

    • The Intellectual Yet Idiot (as Taleb describes them) mistakes absences of evidence for evidence of absence. Historically, the IYIs have been wrong on: “Stalinism, Maoism, GMOs, Iraq, Libya, Syria, lobotomies, urban planning, low carbohydrate diets, gym machines, behaviorism, trans-fats, Freudian-ism, portfolio theory, linear regression, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Gaussian-ism, Salafism, dynamic stochastic equilibrium modeling, housing projects, marathon running, selfish genes, election-forecasting models, Bernie Madoff (pre-blowup), and p-values." Yet, the IYI is still convinced that their current position is right.

  • Information sharing in transactions

    • “No person in a transaction should have certainty about the outcome while the other one has uncertainty” & “Compendiaria res improbitas, virtusque tarda - the villainous takes the short road, virtue the longer one. In other words, cutting corners is dishonest.”

    • Used car salespeople have throughout history made a living on hiding risk. The same goes for all the bankers in 08' crisis. They literally know some portion of information that is directly against the dominant narrative they are trying to profit on, so they hide that from the buyer and laugh all the way to the bank.

    • This asymmetry in risk bearing leads to imbalances and, potentially, to systemic ruin. This idea being a central component to systems becoming increasingly fragile, and the accumulation of such leading to Black Swan events — due to that fragility being unbeknownst to the user.

    • Modernity put it in our heads that there are two units: the individual and the universal collective — in that sense, SITG for you would be just for you, as a unit. In reality, my skin lies in a broader set of people, on that includes a family, a community, a tribe, a fraternity. But it cannot be possibly be the universal.” “Win & help win” is an upgrade from “Live & Let Live.”

  • Rationality in Complex Systems

    • This is about survival, evolution, and the deeper and statistical over time.

    • “Do not pay attention to what people say, only what they do, and to how much of their necks they are putting on the line.” That is the only real “rational agent” in a system - survival.

    • Systemic Learning is not from individuals learning, but evolution through selection!

    • “Systems don’t learn because people learn individually –that’s the myth of modernity. Systems learn at the collective level by the mechanism of selection: by eliminating those elements that reduce the fitness of the whole, provided these have skin in the game. Food in New York improves from bankruptcy to bankruptcy, rather than the chefs individual learning curves –compare the food quality in mortal restaurants to that in an immortal governmental cafeteria.”

SITG is NOT just about having a share of the benefits (like in finance), but it is really about symmetry - having a share of the game —and promoting better decision makers rather than giving you better decision making skills.

The below graphic succinctly conveys who the “wrong enemy” is, an abstract and overarching term with no meaning: “The rich,” against who the “right enemy” is by using our SITG rubric as a specific delineation between them: Earners & Predators, Entrepreneurs & Cronies, Protectors & Rent-seekers."

The people, or groups of people, on the right of the graphic are who we should be putting pressure on, as well as creating systems that effectively make it hard, if not impossible, to NOT have Skin In The Game!

What Lindy Told Us—

“The Lindy Effect” is another heuristic popularized by the author, that tells the story of Broadway actors predicting how long a play would last on the most famous theatrical street in the US.

It loosely said that the future life expectancy of the play (in days), or how long it was “On Broadway,” was double the number of days it had already lasted on Broadway. An example being, Book of Mormon has ran for 100 days, so the heuristic would be that Book of Mormon would run for 100 more days. And on, and on…

When something is “Lindy Proof,” “Is Lindy,” or “Lindy compatible” it shows that something seems to belong to the class of things that have proven to have the following property: “That which is “Lindy” is what ages in reverse, i.e. its life expectancy lengthens with time, conditional on survival.”

This has incredibly profound consequences to our modern world view Taleb says, “thanks to Lindy, no expert is the final expert anymore and we don not need meta-experts judging the expertise of experts one rank below them. We solves the “turtles all the way down” problem. Fragility is the expert, hence time and survival.”

Taleb finishes his 5th installment of the Incerto, with the below maxim - via negativa style - to summarize the “Lindy Effect,” “Antifragile,” “Black Swans,“ in culmination with “Skin In The Game.”

“No muscles without strength,

friendship without trust,

opinion without consequence,

change without aesthetics,

age without values,

life without effort,

water without thirst,

food without nourishment,

love without sacrifice,

power without fairness,

facts without rigor,

statistics without logic,

mathematics without proof,

teaching without experience,

politeness without warmth,

values without embodiment,

degrees without erudition,

militarism without fortitude,

progress without civilization,

friendship without investment,

virtue without risk,

probability without ergodicity,

wealth without exposure,

complication without depth,

fluency without content,

decision without symmetry,

science without skepticism,

religion without tolerance,

AND, most of all:

nothing without skin in the game.

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Text:

1) Skin In The Game: Hidden Asymmetries In Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“From the New York Times bestselling author of The Black Swan, a bold new work that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one’s own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights:

For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations.
Ethical rules aren’t universal. You’re part of a group larger than you, but it’s still smaller than humanity in general.
Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities imposing their tastes and ethics on others.
You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. “Educated philistines” have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low-carb diets.
Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines.
True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you’re willing to risk for it.

The phrase “skin in the game” is one we have often heard but rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it’s also an astonishingly rich worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives. As Taleb says, “The symmetry of skin in the game is a simple rule that’s necessary for fairness and justice, and the ultimate BS-buster,” and “Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them.””

2) The Skin In The Game Heuristic for Protection Against Tail Events (Original Paper) by Nassim N. Taleb & Constantine Sandis

“Standard economic theory makes an allowance for the agency problem, but not the compounding of moral hazard in the presence of informational opacity, particularly in what concerns high-impact events in fat tailed domains (under slow convergence for the law of large numbers). Nor did it look at exposure as a filter that removes nefarious risk takers from the system so they stop harming others.(In the language of probability, skin in the game creates an absorbing state for the agent, not just the principal). But the ancients did; so did many aspects of moral philosophy. We propose a global and morally mandatory heuristic that anyone involved in an action which can possibly generate harm for others, even probabilistically, should be required to be exposed to some damage, regardless of context. While perhaps not sufficient,the heuristic is certainly necessary hence mandatory. It is supposed to counter voluntary and involuntary risk hiding−and risk transfer−in the tails. We link the rule to various philosophical approaches to ethics and moral luck.“

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Audio:

  1. EconTalk Podcast with Nassim Taleb

  2. Books of Titans podcast talking about the book “Skin In The Game”

  3. Made You Think podcast talking about the book “Skin In The Game”

  4. Radiolab podcast talking about the idea of “Skin In The Game”

  5. Skin In The Game investment podcast by InvestSMART

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Video:

1) EFN - Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Skin in the Game

2) The Swedish Investor - SKIN IN THE GAME SUMMARY (BY NASSIM TALEB)

3) Talks at Google - Nassim Nicholas Taleb: "Skin in the Game"

4) Ron Paul Liberty Report - 'Skin In The Game' with Special Guest Nassim Nicholas Taleb

5) Ron Paul Liberty Report - “Skin in the Game” Nassim Nicholas Taleb Speech At RPI's Media & War Conference

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What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on: Emile Durkheim’s Theory of Anomie

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