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My Thoughts on Eric Weinstein's Thoughts on Pia Kalani's Thoughts

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Context for two sentances #

It’s August 8, 2020.

The news is full of coronavirus, schools, employment, police brutality, a vaccine, elections, so much politics, China, Tik-Tok, the Twitter-dm-hack-bitcoin-scam-or-was-it-dm-content hack happened.

Tiger King, Cheer, Filthy Rich are some of the most-watched shows in America, run on Netflix. Hamilton came out on Disney+ six weeks ago, and I’ve not heard about civil unrest, protests, riots or anything in a week or so.

My wife and I are trying to buy a house in Denver. We just looked at a small property that was adorable for many reasons, closely related to the themes expounded upon in Strong Towns, Granola Shotgun, and Order Without Design: How Markets Shape Cities.

The property will likely sell to someone for $500,000, but we feel strongly that it does not justify this price, and we will therefore not purchase it.

This quote I want you to read comes from a podcast episode recorded April 21. I listened to the podcast episode a few days ago.

I’ve never really listened to any Eric Weinstein before, but the guest was an author I find interesting. I’ve read two of the author’s books twice, and I rarely re-read books.

Here’s the whole episode: The Portal ep 31: Ryan Holliday

Before the episode starts, though, Eric Weinstein shares a thought he had. I found it striking, and wanted to see if others might find it striking as well.

Here’s what he said:

It occurred to me […] that the two older generations of Americans who are to duke it out in the race for the Presidency share a single purpose:

Their common goal [is]: stop the future from arriving at essentially any cost to future generations

The purpose for this goal is: that they could live out their remaining days in as close to the style to which they’d become as accustomed to [in the 50’s through 70s] as is actually possible.

This quote maybe wouldn’t have stuck out to me in isolation, but I’d heard it after some context building he did.

So, I’ll share that context with you, so you can consider the above quote in context.

I tried to find a transcrip of this episode, and found this machine-generated transcript. It was a giant blob of text, no line breaks, no formatting, so I’ve edited that version here.

As I edited it, I’ve made a few modifications for clarity and I inject my own thoughts. I mark my own thoughts clearly, but it seems the easiest way to share the context.

3 minutes from the opening of The Portal, Episode 31 #

Josh: I’m quoting Eric from the podcast episode now. These are all his words, or his recounting of his conversation with his wife/others:

Eric (00:02:27) For the last month I’ve spent nearly all of my time at home with my family and many of the better thoughts I’ve been exploring during this time are due to my collaborator and wife, Pia Malaney.

Pia is the economist who currently runs CIGS, the Center for Innovation, Growth and Society, which she co-founded with INET, the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Very early on, I was fumbling to try to understand the most likely effects of the virus and she said something clarifying which I wish I had repeated to you all when it was fresh, she said:

I think in a way the virus can be thought of as representing the future.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m dense, but I didn’t catch it the first time so I asked her to clarify. She was surprised that this wasn’t obvious to me so she spelled her position out:

Think about it this way, take all of the seemingly varied issues we discussed constantly over the dinner table and at conferences.

“All of them?” I replied with the slightly teasing voices. I assumed she was speaking with hyperbole.

Without an ounce of self doubt in a voice that I have learned to fear over many years of collaboration, she said brightly:

Why yes, pretty much all of them.

She continued:

Let’s start with

  • surveillance
  • monopolies
  • automation,
  • telecommuting
  • next generation warfare
  • UBI
  • future of work
  • the retail apocalypse
  • online dating
  • antivaxxers
  • the student debt crisis
  • supply chain vulnerability
  • green tech and climate change
  • urban homelessness
  • college equivalency certificates
  • biohacking,
  • the retreat from globalization,
  • collapse of mainstream journalism
  • Chinese ascendance
  • social engineering
  • Saudi modernization and the move away from fossil fuels in the Kingdom
  • inclusive stakeholding
  • political realignment and the problem of gerontocracy and the end of naive capitalism underpinned by U. Chicago-style economics

in fact, pretty much all the things we’ve used [the Center for Innovation, Growth, and Society] to explore.

“Okay”, I said nervously

“Well”, she continued,

you know that tired tech expression the future is already here it just isn’t evenly distributed?

Across the board, this virus is accelerating that unifying future that was already headed our way.

And recapitulating that moment, where agent Kujan drops the Kobayashi coffee mug in The Usual Suspects, a forest spontaneously emerged for me, from the confusion of the trees I had seen previously.

Josh: I didn’t know this reference, as I was editing this transcript, I looked it up. I’ve not seen the movie, so looked up the scene.

The description is: The Ending of Usual Suspects when agent Kujan finds out who Keyser Soze is. One of the best scenes from the previous decade.

back to Eric:

Eric (00:04:20)

All of these seemingly disparate phenomena were suddenly revealed as closely related:

  • Americans were actually calling for their own surveillance only they were calling it “contact tracing”.
  • The retail apocalypse which had been building slowly suddenly became a matter of a government decree creating an ever more imposing monopoly for the world’s now richest human.
  • He in turn, owns and controls the only paper to take down a US president, consolidating control over our sense-making apparatus.
  • Most supposedly “essential” face-to-face office work was revealed to be illusory, as easily monitored-and-recorded telecommuting replaced the high-carbon commute
  • the demand for fossil fuels in turn evaporated pushing oil futures into radical states of contango.
  • Social distancing solved the problem of unwanted #MeTo toxic male touch a sexless Zoom dating put the hurt on “Netflix and chilling”.
  • Indeed, nearly UBI-like payments were going out to newly-unemployed former workers who were expected to sit at home on couches, as universities effectively all-but-confessed that they could deliver the same value through distance learning by not rebaiting extortionary tuition.
  • China, through an emasculated World Health Organization, seemingly began inducing our own US institutions like the CDC and Surgeon General’s office to impart deadly “magical thinking” to Americans about the ineffectiveness of masks for healthy people.

This all came as if some kind of twisted revenge for the Boxer Rebellion where Chinese believe swords and martial arts made them invulnerable to Western high-tech warfare.

Spontaneous protests broke out in cities across the country, as masked protesters fought mysterious rules that communicated that one may not peaceably assemble, in contradition to the First Amendment.

We were also not allowed to contradict public health authorities, who are clearly covering for a level of Baby Boomer and Silent Generation incompetence to keep the manufacturer and storage of essential goods and services within national boundaries and out of the hands of strategic rivals who think nothing of blatantly lying to us in matters of life, death and statistics.

I reasoned, however, that there were clearly too many different things happening in such a situation, for the sudden arrival of the future to lack a single ideology.

Eric (00:6:28)

And so it occurred to me (and to Peter Thiel as well, who I called immediately) that the two older generations of Americans who were to duke it out in the race for the presidency shared a single purpose.

Their common goal was “to stop the future from arriving at essentially any cost to future generations” so that they could live out the remaining days in as close to the style to which they’d become accustomed in childhood and young adulthood as was actually possible.

And what did they use to accomplish this? Well, it was a combination of three ingredients:

  1. political control
  2. a seemingly inexplicably indifference to the world of trouble that they would finally leave to their descendants after their demise.
  3. a reliance on 75 years of astonishingly good luck, which can partially be explained as a rational universal fear of the future after:
    • two world wars
    • totalitarian atrocities
    • the 1918 pandemic
    • the Great Depression

This is related to Francis Fukuyama’s theory of The End of History.

To [Boomers and Silent Generation members who held] this way of thinking what was happening was simple.

The magic trick of holding back nearly all aspects of our true future required all three elements to be in place simultaneously.

And nothing had changed with respect to the first two. In fact, all that it occurred was that their luck had finally run out with the COVID virus.

To my generation, and the ones that followed that past version of the post-war American Dream was like a mesmerizing rumor and tale that the older generations had repeatedly and vividly wielded to cast a spell.

This spell intimidated many of us from demanding answers and a say our own future.

The spell they cast said:

If you can’t get a second home in your 30s from a paper route, a low cost education or a life in public service, then perhaps you should wait your turn and let the elders who made it work lead for a little while longer, until the younger generations can prove that they’re ready to assume adult responsibilities.

This was a magical spell indeed, which blinded those of us who are forced to repeat “Okay Boomer” to explain our seeming relative inability to earn and lead in the presence of elders who could out-earn us in their prime.

And this was even under the weight of multiple divorce settlements, or three-Martini lunches, and without the extensive training and apprenticeships that we seem to require.

Well, that spell is now broken for me, watching our supposed leaders contend with a true pandemic.

The Silent and Boomer generations, lacking any kind of precedent now look like incompetent adults.

I suppose it is theoretically possible that the rest of us former gritty latchkey kids and Digital Natives would not fare better, but we could scarcely do worse.

In fact, our elders are revealed not as go-getters or “can-do” leaders but as creatures of The System, who simply held back confronting the inevitable future for decades because its shape and form are indeed terrifying.

And it wasn’t really the virus that was accelerating the terrifying future across the board.

Any worldwide crisis of sufficient depth would have done it.

The world has always been caught up in escalating plagues, wars, depressions and conflicts. The Coronavirus was ushering in the future simply because it was the first piece of early 20th-century-scale bad luck to fall into our new millennium characterized as it is by fragility.

I’ve got some thoughts that I’ll jot down at some point.

But as I collect my thoughts, how about you? What’s your gut reaction to this?