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.

Share


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.

Twitter: @ESpacewalk

Medium: @EclecticSpacewalk

Minds: @EclecticSpacewalk

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

Give a gift subscription


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

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

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Eclectic Spacewalk #4 - Non-Zero Sum

An essay on the importance of non-zero sum thinking during chaotic times

Read previous post #3 - Object-Oriented Ontology (25-30 minutes)

Listen to “Conversations” podcasts #1 & #2

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Table of Contents:

Non-Zero Sum—

  • Zero-Sum Thinking

  • Non-Zero Sum Thinking

  • Real Life Games

  1. Aliens have arrived!

  2. Prisoner’s Dilemma

  3. Economics & Goods/Services

  4. Don’t compete, but create!

  • Similarities far outweigh the differences

  • “The Non-Zero Sum Character” by Steven Pressfield

  • Text (3 books)

  • Audio (4 pieces of content)

  • Video (5 pieces of content)

What’s Next?


Reading Time: 25-30 minutes (Read sections you find intriguing, bookmark the media/links, and come back to anytime.)

Non-Zero Sum—

Abstract: In game theory, a Zero-Sum game is one where correlations are always inverse. So there is always a binary winner and loser. In a Non-Zero Sum game the correlations are joined. There can either be a Win/Win, or Lose/Lose. The outcomes are linked!

  • (Via: https://www.edufe.org/education-a-non-zero-sum-game/)


Zero-Sum Thinking

Launching a moral & values revolution is not easy, but it must be done. We are in the grips of the leviathan that is modernity. A web of connections intersect at the crossroads of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering, global warming, media’s acquiescence to playing fast and loose with the truth, your attention/data being sold to the highest bidder, and capitalism’s un-quenching thirst for infinite growth on a finite planet All while under the fallacy that everything is not heavily influenced by inequality between nation states & global citizens. 

As you may have seen, many countries in the world are going through tectonic cultural shifts of all types. Be it in the US of A where a literal clown reality star president takes our definition of a buffoon to new heights with trade war ping pong, decimation of any resemblance of climate or environmental agencies, tweeting a classified photo from a presidential briefing, replying to questions of rape with a denial of: “she’s not my type,” and many others that would fill this entire essay - so I will digress. Hong Kong is currently going through protests against the behemoth that is the Chinese state. India is doing shit in Kashmir again. Don’t get me started about the Russians messing around above the Arctic Circle. In Brazil, the Amazon is on fire with pro-big biz president Jai Bolsonaro making sure it continues, and Venezuelans continue to be in turmoil.

Why do I tell you all this?

Zero Sum Thinking

We as a global community of homo sapiens continue to wrestle with what author Robert Wright says is: “a growing lethality of hatred & a death spiral of negativity” and has led to a plague of zero-sum thinking. Wikipedia has so graciously let us in on some examples of zero-sum thinking below (pay close attention to number 3 when thinking about immigration, number 6 around thoughts about digital sharing, and number 7 on your personal ideological group biases.):

  1. When students in a classroom think they are being graded on a curve when in fact they are being graded based on predetermined standards.[1]

  2. In a negotiation when one negotiator thinks that they can only gain at the expense of the other party (i.e., that mutual gain is not possible).[5]

  3. In the context of social group competition, the belief that more resources for one group (e.g., immigrants) means less for others (e.g., non-immigrants).[6]

  4. In the context of romantic relationships, the idea that loving more than one person at a time means loving each one less.[7]

  5. Jack of all trades, master of none: the idea that having more skills means having less aptitude (also known as compensatory reasoning).[8]

  6. In the copyright infringement debate, the idea that every unauthorized duplication is a lost sale.[9][10][11]

  7. Group membership is sometimes treated as zero-sum, such that stronger membership in one group is seen as weaker membership in another.[12]

Non-Zero Sum Thinking

Robert Wright’s 2006 TED talk & book Non-Zero (links are below) dissect the above trends as growing significantly around the world - even back in 06’- and the need to recognize the important heuristic of “zon-zero summness.

If you read your ancient history, you will know that the time scale of our species evolution as hunter gatherers in small, close knit bands is extensively longer than “civilizations” (in any formal sense) have been around. Think of the enormous scale difference of hundreds of thousands of years (or millions if you want to consider “hominids” like Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, etc) to the couple of thousand years since the earliest cities. With cities, came the “new” view and improved moral stance of:

“All people everywhere are human beings and deserve to be treated like humans.”

Trade, commerce, the silk road, history, yada yada yada. There has always been some aspect of competition & cooperation trading places as which is more influential to each system. But overall, one could argue on the whole that our history is non-zero sum in terms of progress.

Less hatred and less bigotry are needed. Ultimately this need is grounded in cynicism of other people not doing what is best for the collective and solely for the individual. The problem or saving grace is you can never take the collective out of the individual, or the individual out of the collective. They are forever linked in their correlations.

This takes us back to zero-sum and non-zero sum with their connected correlations within game theory possibilities.

Two easy examples deal with pies and tennis. Say your mom (shout out to Rita), bakes a pie and only half of it is left. Your siblings, or friends, or whoever is over AND yourself want to eat a remaining portion of the pie. You are in a zero-sum game with that other person. The correlations are always inversed! If you have a piece, then the other person loses out on that matching specific amount of pie deliciousness. The same goes for you with their piece. There is a winner and a loser. There is only so much pie to go around!

Now to make this a non-zero sum game, mama Rita just needs to bake another pie! Then you & your guest can gorge on as much as you want. (The logic being that everyone eventually will throw in the towel after a certain amount of pie has been scoffed down. A limit if you will.) But remember it becomes a zero-sum game when you take the first piece out of the second pie. You will never look at sharable dessert the same ever again.

Another easy example of both a zero-sum and non-zero sum game is tennis. You and your opponent are in a zero-sum game. Someone will win, and someone will lose. But if you play doubles, then you and your partner are playing a non-zero sum game. Your correlations are joined! They are in the same boat as you (either for better or worse).

Other examples of non-zero-sum things: arms control negotiations, trading gossip, the relationship among genes on a genome, and such transactions as buying a car, and buying a book. I think you now should get the overall picture, but to recap:

Zero Sum Games - Correlations are always inverse. So always a winner and loser. 

Non-Zero Sum - Correlations are joined. Win/Win, or Lose/Lose.

Real Life Games

ALIENS HAVE ARRIVED! -

One of the most used and cliche tropes in science fiction and popular culture is to create an imaginary boogeyman that will destroy us all if we don’t work together. Be it an asteroid, aliens, or of course - aliens. Us humans are portrayed to rise to the challenge and change! Yay! But would that really happen?? Because REAL boogeymen are actually upon us RIGHT NOW like global warming, the refugee crisis, and all the stories I began this essay with. Sadly, we are hardly doing ANYTHING collectively about them.

My favorite science fiction film of late - Arrival - tries to answer by it’s conclusion the same overall question of: Could humanity finally work together in a more collective and fair to all way? It has become one of my favorites due to it’s way of telling an old story a novel way. At the climax of the movie, the audience sees that the characters are mostly dealing with miscommunications of meaning, the incredible web of language, and the need of a common “truth” that transcends time, culture, or indeed - language!

Caroline McEvoy explains how Arrival rejects hostility thinking (taken from Alexander Wendt’s essay “Anarchy is what States make it”) and how it is the choices we make that create international order. It is NOT an inevitable consequence! One might sometime by justified, but catastrophic consequences are just as easy to happen.

“At one point, Louise translates the aliens words as saying ‘offer weapon’. This drives several state leaders into a panic and they start preparing for war of the worlds. However, Louise and Ian point out that ‘weapon’ could mean ‘tool’. The aliens might be offering some sort of military assistance or even be asking for our help. Without further information, ‘weapon’ is threatening only if we interpret it as such and act on the assumption that they are hostile. Unfortunately, the outside world seems to do exactly this.”

We could learn from the film through a political lens due to there being reachable Win/Win scenarios, but currently it looks more Lose/Lose.

Politically, Arrival drives home the point that if we act like the world is a zero-sum game then that is all we will ever get to play because we aren’t open to the possibility that the actions of others could have positive intent. Sometimes the alien will be Predator and sometimes they will be Superman but we do ourselves a disservice if we assume they are either before learning to hear what they are actually saying. More often than not, we can reach a win-win and maybe gain a time-bending language as part of the bargain.” - Caroline McEvoy

Prison’s Dilemma -

You and a criminal accomplice are captured by the police. You both are now suspects in a murder, but the police do not have enough evidence to prove it in court. You and your partner are put in separate cells with no way to talk, so you can't collude or cooperate on an answer beforehand. Then both of you are offered to confess or remain silent to the crime.

Because each of you has two possible options, and thus strategies, there are four possible outcomes to the game via ThoughtCo.:

  1. “If both players confess, they each get sent to jail, but for fewer years than if one of the players got ratted out by the other. (Say 5 years.)

  2. If one player confesses and the other remains silent, the silent player gets punished severely (Say 10 years) while the player who confessed gets to go free.

  3. If both players remain silent, they each get a punishment that is less severe than if they both confess. (Say 1 year)

Is it better to cooperate or compete?

Ok dear reader, now exchange your criminal accomplice with someone you will never see ever again. Does that lower or raise your chances to compete/cooperate? How about if this is your cousin? How about your twin?

Does this influence who you compete with, and who you cooperate with?

Why??

The “Prisoners’ Dilemma” scenario is highly applicable to a number of fields including business, economics, and politics. LearningTheory.com illustrates the complex trade off between decisions beautifully:

“The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a reminder that cooperation is not always best.[ii]  Immediately cooperating can lead to consequences if the other party is only thinking about personal self-interest. For example, when it comes to salary negotiations, it is not always in a person’s best interest to take the first salary offered. Sometimes it is better to push for a higher salary, even though this might not work out. Another example would be pricing a product. Often it is better for businesses to compete with one another by lowering prices. Lowering prices can lead to higher profit margins than if a business cooperated and priced similarly to other businesses in the area.

On the other hand, The Prisoner’s Dilemma also illustrates that it isn’t always best to look out for one’s self-interest only. When businesses show mutual cooperation, it can lead to increased profit for both of them. Businesses sometimes form mutually beneficial strategic partnerships, such as when Starbucks coffee is sold in Barnes and Noble bookstores. Mutual cooperation is also an important strategy in politics. For example, mutual cooperation between countries may be risky and require compromise; however, it can also be a means of keeping peace and enhancing trade.[iii]”

Economics & Goods/Services -

Some like to call non-zero sum the end all be all due to it’s Win/Win possibility, but I stop short. Non-zero sum does NOT always mean win/win, and it is not intrinsically mean that “good” will prevail. This does not deny inequality, exploitation, or war in any way shape or form.

Let’s say you added up all the people, companies, and products that went into making your complex people moving machine (vehicle). It would be a net positive for all involved because of the added welfare not just in terms of money but in having a job, putting food on the table, creating meaning, etc.. Sure there may be some winner/losers in specific areas, but overall it is a non-zero sum game between you and all the people all over world who made your vehicle.

Manuel Ayau, in the below monograph, provides what might be “the most precise and compelling idea in the history of economic writing.” His main thesis being that trade and cooperation become mutually beneficial to all parties despite differences among them in terms of capacity and talent. Ayau details how the market economy leads to everyone becoming wealthier through cooperation. Comparative advantage is namely is the usual suspect.

Now there are plenty of fair criticisms & critiques of comparative advantage, but one cannot argue how that idea was the basis of international trade after World War I.

In a non-zero sum way, Ayau’s conclusion solidifies the idea of what one should consider when thinking about economics and exchange of goods and services.

“Free trade means the ability of producers to exchange their wares with anyone on the globe for other goods without some government standing in the way of some of those exchanges due to the country of origin of the goods involved. It requires no more laws or institutions than are necessary to provide standard protection of the property rights of all involved in the exchange. It is the application of laissez faire across international borders: nothing more, nothing less.”

If you look around, we clearly are not in the promise land of free trade, but at the very least the idea continues to win in the battles of BIG ideas."

“Multivolume documents paying lip service to free trade but forbidding transactions by parties whose competitive advantages are considered by some to be unfair are the antithesis of free trade no matter how many times the words free trade appear in their pages. That managed trade proponents hide the nature of their policy preferences under the cloak of free trade reveals their utter shamelessness. It also suggests that the free trade side is winning the battle of ideas.”

DON’T compete, but create!

Darius Foroux is a master in personal growth, especially with business types, and has some advice for them and for everyone in his post about creating and the Abundance mindset: “If you think that you have to compete for better jobs or more market share, you’re as wrong as I was.”

Competition says that if someone has a job, then that means you can’t have the same job. Same goes for a specific market share because that means you have to compete with other companies to “win” a piece of their share. Darius’s and almost everyone who went to business school’s entire education was based on competing with other businesses. Not to mention almost every business book out there also assumes business is competition.

Competition is like a mind demon that cannot be exorcised unless we radically change our way of thinking about the world. Darius explains how it is limited thinking.

They couldn’t be more wrong. When you assume that you have to compete with other businesses or people for money, jobs or attention, you’re engaged in limited thinking.

Instead, we must adopt an abundance mindset. Wallace D. Wattles, one of the first famed personal development authors, said it best:

“You get rid of the thought of competition. You are to create, not to compete for what is already created. You do not have to take anything away from any one.”

He goes on my saying that fear begets fear, and the need to create, create, create.

The biggest mistake that conventional business thinkers make, is that they believe supply is limited. But that’s not always the case. But even if it was the case, it’s harmful to adopt that mindset.

But that’s exactly the problem. Fear begets fear. When you’re afraid that you won’t be able to grow, what will happen? Exactly, you won’t grow!

There’s enough opportunity for everyone in the world. The problem is that most people don’t use the opportunities.

If you want to have a specific career, go out there and create it. The same is true for your business. And don’t focus on limited resources, naysayers, or any other reason you should not do it.

“Adopt an abundance mindset. Before you know it, you’ll have so much opportunity that you don’t know what to do with it… Create, Create, Create!” - Darius Foroux

Similarities far outweigh the differences.

Take any human on earth, and you have more in common with them than you might think. From your anatomical structure, basic psychology, social groups, and on and on. You may disagree with someone, and even have different lives. However, even the elements you have to deal with are more similar than different. From the seasons turning, to the felling of “butterflies in your stomach” with a significant other, to the feeling of loss. These are what we call universals. 

If you are still having trouble with pushing down your demonization of the other, and need a non-human answer. Then Nicholas Kristof’s example in his book Blueprint is a fantastic one.

Say you have two hills:

  • One is 300ft tall.

  • One is 900ft tall.

“Wow” the reader says, “one hill is 600 ft taller than the other one! Dare I say, the difference is quite large.” 

“Dear reader, You may not say!” I exclaim.

Everything is a matter of perspective!

What the reader did not know was that you were looking at these hills from the perspective of a nearby mountaintop 10,000ft up through some telescopic viewing apparatus. If you take your eye off the binoculars or telescope, then you see that those tiny hills next to each other are indeed very similar. This view transcends the hyper-localised individual & subjective erosion patterns of this hill or that hill, and sees the hills as a slight uniqueness to a much larger interconnected web of geological and planetary system forces. If you went into space and looked down on Earth, you would see that that 10,000ft mountain is again not so different from even Mt. Everest! (You would also experience “The Overview Effect” of course.)

It is counter-intuitive, but we have evolved these big prefrontal cortices to cut through this temporary speed bump in critical thinking. You are INDIVIDUALLY better off WHEN the COLLECTIVE is also doing better. We are already in a non-zero sum game people just dont know it yet. Our correlations are JOINED! We can either decide to actually start planning for a win-win. Or we can continue on our present course of what seems like the impending apocalypse of our time which points more towards a lose-lose nightmarish situation like in George Orwell’s final warning.

Do we want to be a checkpoint in the evolutionary chain of life (we ultimately will no matter what), or can we finally start to use our brains to our potential along with the design and use of ethical technology to help the most vulnerable among us?

The former is fine for the rugged individual and the callous soul of privileged indifference, but the latter is a much awe inspiring story of progress and ultimately better off for each person (even for those selfish rugged individuals).

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

Major moral progress has to happen for Humanity to transcend our recent swing back to zero-sum thinking, and continue the progress of non-zero zum thinking. In Robin Wright’s view that is the only way. I tend to agree that “non-zero sumness” in more areas of life has to be central, along with a massive psychedelic renaissance among other things.

I and everyone on Earth need EACH of you readers, to take upon yourself to look at your moral compass, and push towards a win-win non-zero sum game.

The Non-Zero Sum Character

In closing, I would like to quote in full Steven Pressfield’s exquisite post “The Non-Zero-Sum Character.” (Also, if you haven’t read “The War of Art & Turning Pro” you are doing yourself a disservice as a human. Awaken the creative artist within you!)

“Here, in no particular order, is a sampling of real-life non-zero-sum characters.

Jesus of Nazareth

The 300 Spartans at Thermopylae

Joan of Arc

Abraham Lincoln

Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

John F. Kennedy

Malcolm X

Robert Kennedy

John Lennon

Yitzhak Rabin

And a few from fiction and motion pictures:

Odysseus

Beowulf

Atticus Finch

Huckleberry Finn

Celie in The Color Purple

Rick Blaine in Casablanca

Pike, Dutch, and the Gortch Brothers in The Wild Bunch

Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan

Shane

Travis Bickle

Princess Leia

Luke Skywalker

If the Villain believes in a zero-sum world, the Hero believes in its opposite.

If the Villain believes in a universe of scarcity, the Hero believes, if not in a world of abundance, then at least in the possibility of such a world.

If the Villain believes in a reality dominated by fear, the Hero believes in one ruled by love.

The Villain is cynical. He or she believes that mankind is inherently evil. The Villain believes in “reality,” in a Hobbesian world of all-against-all.

The Villain is not necessarily “bad” or even “villainous.” In the villain’s eyes, he is the Good Guy. He is simply acting and making choices within a universe of monsters. He must therefore become, in the name of Good (or at least self-preservation or the preservation of those dear to him) a monster himself.

The zero-sum view of life is that of limited resources. Not enough to go around. If you and I want our share (or even simply enough to survive), we must take it from somebody else. However much of the pie we grab, that’s how much less remains for everyone else.

In the non-zero-sum world, on the other hand, resources are infinite. The love a mother gives to her child (and that the child returns) grows greater, the more each loves. There is and can never be a shortage of love.

Compassion is infinite.

Integrity is infinite.

Faith is infinite.

Zero-sum versus non-zero-sum. Which point of view do you believe?”



Text:

1) Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright

“The title of this book, Nonzero, refers to the concept of the "non-zero-sum," which comes from game theory. Looking at human history--and for that matter the whole history of life on earth--through the lenses of game theory can change your view of life. At least, that is a premise of this book. What exactly is meant by "change your view of life"?”

2) Not a Zero-Sum Game: The Paradox of Exchange by Manuel F. Ayau

“If this idea of what Mises called the Law of Association were better understood, many socialistic misconceptions about the market economy would fall by the wayside. Ayau explains it through simple diagrams and illustrations that will change the way you think. about issues of trade, equality, and social development.”

3) Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility by James P. Carse

“An extraordinary book that will dramatically change the way you experience life.
Finite games are the familiar contests of everyday life, the games we play in business and politics, in the bedroom and on the battlefield -- games with winners and losers, a beginning and an end. Infinite games are more mysterious -- and ultimately more rewarding. They are unscripted and unpredictable; they are the source of true freedom.
In this elegant and compelling work, James Carse explores what these games mean, and what they can mean to you. He offers stunning new insights into the nature of property and power, of culture and community, of sexuality and self-discovery, opening the door to a world of infinite delight and possibility.
"An extraordinary little book . . . a wise and intimate companion, an elegant reminder of the real."-- Brain/Mind Bulletin”


Audio:

  1. Robert Wright - Nonzero Audiobook

  2. a16z Podcast: Beyond Zero Sum, Again

  3. RadioLab - What’s left when you are right?

  4. RadioLab - Tit for Tat


Video:

1) Robert Wright - The Logic of Non-Zero-Sum Progress

2) Kurzgesagt In a Nutshell - Egoistic Altruism

3) Simon Sinek - What Game Theory Teaches Us About War

4) The Prisoner’s Dilemma - This Place

5) Paramount Pictures - Arrival


What’s Next?

The next newsletter will be on: “Skin in the Game” principle championed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

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.

Twitter: @ESpacewalk

Minds: @EclecticSpacewalk

Website: www.EclecticSpacewalk.com

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

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