There have been some competing explanations for the Nord Stream explosions. Seymour Hersh claims the US did it. The New York Times claims it was Pro-Ukrainian forces and a somewhat obscure blogger claims he has evidence that it was the Russians. How is one to decide? And is it even necessary to decide? Is it perhaps more important to have a robust framework for conspiracy theories in general, than to have firm opinions about specific theories? How has the modern world made the whole entreprise more difficult?
In my last newsletter we talked about spiritual health, and a few options for acquiring that health, such as overcoming suffering or, alternatively, gaining material abundance. In this newsletter we’re going to go beyond talking about the merits of different options to discussing the way in which these options have multiplied.
Go back a few centuries, and there was one religion, one staple crop, and one way of doing things. These days, however, we’re spoiled for choices and options for both spiritual and physical health, and beyond that our emotional and mental health as well. We have countless religions to choose from: some secular, some informal. Beyond that there are a bewildering variety of diet and exercise programs, and tens of thousands of self-help books. We are offered a truly insane number of choices, all backed up by a deluge of data drawing sometimes contradictory conclusions. Everybody wants to be happy and live a good life, but which of the thousands of options best accomplishes that?
Transcript along with pictures of all the docs mentioned in the episode: https://wearenotsaved.com/2023/02/25/a-cautionary-tale/
In the interest of not spoiling things you're just going to have to listen...
In general any individual catastrophe is probably overblown. Global warming is not going to cause human extinction. Despite the severity of the war in Ukraine, nukes will probably not be used. Or at least none of these bad things are going to happen all by themselves. The problem is that we face numerous crises and while each individual crisis might be managable on their own, in combination they often feed off each other and create a polycrisis that's far more severe than any of the crises considered in isolation. Bad things are happening everywhere, and all at once...
Modernity has inarguably made dramatic improvements in our material well-being, but what about the non-material? The social, emotional and spiritual? In this episode I tackle that question. And while I think it might be possible that modernity has been neutral on this front, I don't think there's any reason for thinking it's been positive. But some people disagree. Tune into see who's right!
Previous to the invasion of Ukraine, a sense of pessimism seemed to be ubiquitous with respect to Europe. Since the invasion things seem far more optimistic. One might even say that there's a new vitality and unity. Naively one might expect war to do the opposite, but we have a funny way of stepping up to challenges and war is the biggest challenge of all. This unity is not limited to Europe, it's an issue that even Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. The question is, can we get these benefits in the absence of war. If not, are we doomed to descend into an increasingly fractious political environment?
A follow up to my previous episode The Ineffability of Conservatism this episode attempts to approach things without bringing in religion. Though it does circle back there before the end. In particular we discuss three kinds of challenges:
I argue that while we've moved a lot of things out of the first bucket we should be cautious about trying to move everything into bucket three. Challenges make us, and particularly are children resiliant and that's a good thing.
I reflect on my AI prediction from past years in light of the amazing abilities of ChatGPT. I wonder if you're ever going to get brilliant output from a huge corpus of material which strictly on account of it's volume has to be essentially average...
I tell a story I heard of a boy walking out of Church in a direct slap to his father. And wonder why such a thing would have been inconcievable 40 years ago. What changed? As it turns out it's hard to say, and that's a big part of the problem.
After all the hot takes which have been offered in the wake of the FTX collapse, this is the hot take to rule them all. Okay probably not, and at this point it's probably a cold take. But I do think the whole FTX debacle carries some valuable lessons about risk. So that's what you're getting...
This is a review I did for the first issue of American Hombre, a new magazine being published by a friend of mine. I did an excerpt of it back in episode 292, but he’s graciously agreed to let me release it in its entirety. If this makes you interested in the full magazine, the PDF is currently available for free at americanhombre.gumroad.com. But also you should consider subscribing to the print version. This magazine deserves to be held.
You can use the coupon code ‘RW’ to get 10% off a subscription or $1 off the price of the print issue. The next issue is coming out in January and it will include another review by me. (The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter, if you’re curious.)
This review includes some pictures which you can find either in the PDF version of the magazine, or on wearenotsaved.com. But I will attempt to describe them in the course of my reading. They’re mostly pictures from the trip I took to Ireland this summer.
A somewhat discursive episode where I reflect on a book I just read about meritocracy and different answers for the best way to organize society. And how what we thought was the answer—liberal democracy—appears to be fracturing, leaving everyone to fight over what part of it is the most important. What part was truly The Answer.
Link to survey: https://forms.gle/tCxmpwM4RTxPCJKUA
It's time for me to stick my head out and see what people think of me. Yes I'd like you to fill out a survey. Tell me what you think. I mean it. Be brutal!
Recently the US enacted a set of punishing trade restrictions on China with respect to high-end chips. Some have called these restrictions the annihilation of China's semiconductor industry. Maybe so, but China's not going to go down without a fight, and the situation is complicated by numerous factors, including the complications of the technology itself. There's a lot going on and I attempt to cover a large portion of it.
We're a few weeks from the midterms and it seemed like a good time to review the state of things. Though they're changing rapidly. In between composing this episode and recording it people went from expecting the Democrats to keep the Senate expecting them to lose it by a few seats. Beyond the reshuffling the election is exciting (or terrifying, depending on your perspective) for other reasons. We get to see if polls are still horribly broken (probably) and if there's any hope for either party to become more moderate. And of course there's the eternal possiblity that we'll finally get a viable third party (almost certainly not but a man can hope).
Ray Dalio and Peter Zeihan have both written books about the future of America, China, and the world. On some points they agree and on some points they're profound disagreement. I compare and contrast these too books, hoping by doing so to tease out a credible view of the future. It's a view that's pretty pessimistic. But I think once you've looked at both of them, that's what you end up with.
I consider the predictions of three books and how one might approach these predictions when deciding how to prepare for the future.
It seems clear that most people start by trying to determine if a prediction is more likely than not to be accurate, but you should actually do somewhat the opposite, you should consider what the consequences are if the prediction is wrong.
This episode started as a tweet:
Technology bifurcates problems. 99% of problems go away, but the 1% that are left are awful. Case in point customer service: 99% of the time you don't even need customer service from Amazon, etc. but the 1% of the time you do you're suddenly in a story by Kafka.
Which I followed up with:
Additional thoughts/example: Self driving cars. Tech can take care of easiest 99%. Tosses most difficult 1% back to driver. Driver has no context, just suddenly in deep end, therefore much worse at hardest 1% than if they had just dealt with the full 100% from start.
What causes this phenomenon and how worried should we be?
If we imagine that culture has historically taken the form of a bell curve. Does it still do so? Or have we gutted the middle in service of making sure that the tails don't feel neglected? This seems very likely to be the case, and if it is what are the consequences?
An excerpt from a book review I recently did for the new magazine American Hombre (available here: https://americanhombre.gumroad.com/)