"Not long ago kids would argue over which console was better now teenagers whisper cuckold and Nazi like it's considered good manners. We are in the midst of a profound rearrangement of what traits are to be incentivized and rewarded, driven by some 7 billion people each acting with what they believe to be the best of intentions, but who can foresee with what success and with what result."
In this episode of Made You Think, Neil and Nat discuss The Tower
. In this article we learn about ideas as memes that spread virally and art as a means of being understood. "The Judeo-Christian capital G—o—d, robed, bearded, opinionated, deadlifts, thematically male, is the avatar of civilization, just check the year. Even so, His omnipotence is not uncontested. He knows this. You should see what He did to the guys with the golden calf. God said, “Let there will be light,” and there was light. But just as Nyx preceded Zeus, that means the darkness was already there. And the house always wins at the second law of thermodynamics."
We cover a wide range of topics, including:
- Diversity, privilege, racism & cultural stereotypes
- The importance belonging and the power of action
- Memes, memories, outrage and descent into chaos
- Art, Happiness and Tangents on Tacos & Texas
And much more. Please enjoy, and be sure to check out the article The Tower on the Hotel Concierge blog
You can also listen on Google Play Music, SoundCloud
, or in any other podcasting app by searching “Made You Think.”
If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to check out our episode on I am a Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadter
for more on self-image and self-invention or our episode on The Riddle of the Gun by Sam Harris
for another fascinating article on extreme views.
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Links from the Episode
Mentioned in the show
00:27 – This is one of our occasional article episodes where we have found an article so interesting and profound that it warrants an episode. This article is bordering on us on a short book. Very fun to read. The article is The Tower from a blog called Hotel Concierge. We don't know who this writer is but he/she/they are amazing.
03:59 – The Tower is based on the Tower of Babel which is built to be closer to God and to unite humanity in one place, under one language. This is destroyed by God and humanity is spread across the world. The analogy is that that with modern communication, being able to talk instantly with everyone it is creating this Tower of Babel like effect, leading to outrage culture.
05:48 – Our need to be understood and to feel in control is fuelling that outrage and rebellion. Previously unprivileged groups are now succeeding in the dominance hierarchy. We all need a set of beliefs and having any beliefs are better than none. If you have no beliefs, then you just sort of become a vessel for other people’s ideas.
07:44 – There is always a tendency towards more chaos. Art in all forms is an attempt to be understood. Privilege as how easily your art and memes can be understood. Multiculturalism and diversity go counter towards the goal of assimilation. A lot of white liberals who were fighting for diversity don't actually want diversity. They don't want different cultures. They want the same culture in different colors.
10:21 – This is a well-written persuasive article. “The Judeo-Christian capital G—o—d, robed, bearded, opinionated, deadlifts, thematically male, is the avatar of civilization, just check the year. Even so, His omnipotence is not uncontested. He knows this. You should see what He did to the guys with the golden calf. God said, “Let there will be light,” and there was light. But just as Nyx preceded Zeus, that means the darkness was already there. And the house always wins at the second law of thermodynamics.”
The writing style comes off as masculine. Even before God created light, there was still was darkness. Tendency back to the chaos of darkness. You have to deliberately fight against chaos. Human desires for acceptance and control.
14:40 – Acceptance and Control. “Only when we see ourselves reflected by the universe can we believe that it is part of us.”
Our tendency towards chaos causes us to feel unhappy and unfulfilled “Ananke hates nothing but entropy. Ananke rewards us for turning atoms into tools and tools into appendages, so much the better if those atoms comprise other humans, viz. the high of domination” “Ananke compels us to learn, to make the universe predictable, to gain control over time, what next happens, and space, what happens next.”
A feeling of control is important for us to be able to have any life satisfaction. “Minimum wage jobs are worse because of their pointlessness more than because of their indignity, work harder/better/faster/stronger and no one cares, screw up and you’re replaced without a missed beat.”
No control over work and no sense of belonging. Working just like a cog in a machine.
17:35 – “No direction, no story; the days blur together until arthritis leaves you crippled. Stoned summers don’t get you off the hook, duration neglect compresses both good and bad sensations. No matter how pleasant, when nothing is happening, the superego starves. There’s a reason couples fight on vacation.
Not only do we need control and reflection but we need a narrative that has a story to it. Happiness comes from working towards a goal.
18:13 – “Being a dilettante is too easy, flatlines don't form memories.”
You need an arc to your story a narrative. “Reinventing yourself between brunches feels good.”
18:52 – It does seem possible to achieve multiple things in your life with focus which is different to bouncing around to new ideas “the illusion of control—until you’ve dreamt the same dreams too many times and they no longer get you high.”
Getting excited over a vision is not making progress. If you don’t pick something you will be running around aimlessly.
21:25 – The reason God destroyed the Tower of Babel was he wanted to punish this consolidation under one belief system, one language. Ideas as memes. If something isn't carefully designed then it can spread fairly naturally. Ideas are going to naturally evolve and spread and so religions get weaker over time. It is easier to wholly conform to a religion than to partially conform and have to make those decisions. Kosher vs non-Kosher.
By keeping these very strict rules it made these religious concepts spread virally. Criticism to Humanism because it doesn't really give any prescriptions. Ideas need to take a concrete stand otherwise they are a weak belief system. Your religion becomes a decision making framework but if you are just open to everything then you have no answers.
26:40 – Reasoning through everything is exhausting. Trying to place blame on bad actions on someone's upbringing or genetics means nothing is every anyone’s fault and no-one can be held accountable. “When someone slaps your hypothetical girlfriend's ass in the proverbial club, what does humanism say you should do? At least toxic masculinity has an answer.”
27:45 – If you don't have a code of conduct one will be provided for you. We have a suppressed memetic immune system. It’s statistically inevitable that every meme will attain its most infectious form. A meme is a term introduced by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene to reference an idea that spreads through a culture, like a gene spreads through the animal world. Political correctness is a meme and democracy is meme.
29:42 – Just like evolution happens faster in animals that breed more often, the more iterations memes go through the more viral they become. We are now in an era where free flow of information is causing us to consume all of these viral memes. Do the ideas control you or do you control the ideas? One can actually control their sources of inputs. Then one becomes a vessel for the ideas that take control of her.
31:54 – “A pathogen that is too restrained will lose out in competition to a more aggressive strain that diverts more host resources to its own reproduction.”
Replication is the key to success. High switching cost, once one have publicly committed to these ideas. It’s difficult to move out of a religion due to surroundings and strong deterrents. Parents pass their religion on to their children and with few leaving a religion this just creates more people passing on these beliefs. “But as long as transmission continues despite the virulence, virulent pathogens will have the advantage.”
35:31 – Some religions have weakened over time, you can say you're Christian and you don't actually have to do anything. Alcohol consumption in UAE. Compliance due to deterrents. Trying too hard to not have any memes means you become susceptible to becoming a vessel and getting sucked into the ideas that are around you. All art is memes and all memes want to do is spread. Human desire to share information.
38:51 – “Art is compressed communication. The better the compression, with regards to both perceived fidelity and amount of information contained, the more artful the art”.
Both writing and art are ways to purify your mind from chaos. Any form of media is art, this podcast is too.
39:15 – “I think “ease of having one’s art understood” is a defensible conception of “privilege”.
Being understood is a huge part of life satisfaction. Diversity in Hollywood, it makes sense that it doesn’t get any more diverse as they are making films for their target culture. “Gwern seems to think that if we banned Guardians of the Galaxy the relevant audience would switch to Douglas Hofstadter. The assumption here is that nonfiction exists, distinct from and more truthful than fiction. I don’t buy it.”
44:15 – Pre-Renaissance – The popular memes of the time of religion was the art and message that lasted. Your religion is another form of privilege. “So who has more privilege, a cis-white-hetero billionaire with full-checklist depression or an unemployed transgender black woman who, despite this, is basically content? Either the billionaire has less privilege, in which case “privilege” is a Harrison Bergeron happiness tax, or the suicidal person has more privilege, in which case, how much does “privilege” matter, really.” “I’ve met Upper East Side kids less fulfilled by their iPads than Sub-Saharan kids without running water were with “catch the rock.”
Happiness and privilege are not the same. You can be happy without privilege and depressed with wealth. Statistics on suicide being mostly wealthy younger people or those at the end of their life. Suicide and depression rates go down during war time. Being well off is not the solution for happiness, doesn't automatically make you happy.
“Saved wealth buffers against tragedy but suffering finds a way.”
47:36 – “Like a forgotten drive to work, we are amnestic to routine, and memories of “eat, menial labor, sleep” blur together in the rearview mirror. The important-yet-oft-forgotten obverse is that, independent of happiness, wealth buys freedom from routine.” “A night at the opera is no more fun than pizza and brewskis, but the former is novel, for a time, and the latter soon fades from memory.”
The importance of memory on happiness. Novelty of an experience puts a little placeholder in our memory, a hedonistic measurement. Most of traveling isn’t actually that fun but there are moments that do stick with you. Enjoyment tracking of extreme sports vs video games. We remember the peaks more than the consistent or length of enjoyment. You don’t remember the world like a spreadsheet.
Entrepreneurial businesses vs standard job. Earnings might be the same but there are more more memories and signposts throughout the entrepreneurial journey that make it worth it . You only get the peaks from climbing your own mountain.
52:27 – Experiencing self vs Remembering self. You need those indicators in your memories for happiness, to reflect back to you who you are. Ed Cook plans parties with several different thematic parts so that it feels like a multitude of new experiences and memories all within one three hour party. Mark Manson recommends going to multiple bars on dates so it feels like you have a lot to remember and look back on. Same how large or distinct life experiences feel lengthy even if they were just for one day.
57:10 – “Contrary to the pop-ethical consensus, discrimination is not caused by having too many stereotypes but too few. If you wake to find a lithe man dressed in all black standing over your bed and holding a katana, it may be quite reasonable to infer that he is a hired ninja and that you are in grave danger. If, however, you assume this about every East Asian man that you encounter, you lack nuance of stereotypes.”
Nuances of stereotypes within race, religion and politics. “Race and gender are social constructs, but the cultural norms that correlate with race and gender—and goth, prep, jock, etc—are real.”
Where there are these intergroup conflicts over trivial differences. To counteract a stereotype you need an alternative worldview that narrows down that stereotype into a more nuanced view. Framing an argument against stereotypes as don't be racist join or die, fails and it's infuriatingly counterproductive because it doesn't create a new stereotype to work with. Stereotypes portfolio.
01:06:00 – “The racist stay racist and now feel that society is out to get them. hashtag MAGA.”
Being told you are racist is really counterproductive. The opposite of feeling you belong. This causes people to accept the label and not change their world view.
01:07:54 – “Once acceptance becomes orthodoxy even private dissent becomes grounds for ostracization. No matter your other convictions you become a stereotype that society will single-issue-vote off the island, just ask Brendan Eich. Of course I support gay marriage; my point is that if one’s views before were “well, it is kind of weird,” then being told “soon there will be enough of us that we won’t have to deal with people like you at all”—that makes homophobia logical. And at least you can change your opinion of gay marriage. It’s much harder to change being white and low-class.”
You can’t talk about the middle ground. It is the two extremes that are virulent. The opinions seem to be all or nothing. False correlation between number of words written about something leading people to think that thing is more prevalent in society, like words in an article relate to more crime. Intermittent fasting and the bubble of understanding within social groups. When we meet someone outside of our own knowledge we realize the bubble that we are in. “No one is born hateful, stranger anxiety doesn’t even start til six months. But culture war is history being written by the winners, first draft. Conservatives are offered the choice of fighting the ever-changing tides of social values or toiling away in obscurity while journalists pretend to like soccer. People want to be understood. And they will rage all sorts of ways against the dying of the light.”
01:14:38 – “The upper-middle class—mostly urban, mostly blue—claims by far the largest share of America’s income, more than the middle class and far more than the 1%. This, despite their protests to the contrary, gives them disproportionate control over the news and entertainment industry, which in cyberpunk America is tantamount to controlling the culture.”
Urban culture controls the media so you’ve got the rural conservative that feels constantly misunderstood that leads to Trump. Global need to be understood, “I’m saying that the specific way the media talks about race and culture, creating an incoherent set of rules regarding “appropriation” and etiquette, proudly crying out that this is the end of those boring, selfish white people, has made the situation much, much worse. If the left wanted to prevent assimilation, there would be no more effective way.”
When there are all these rules, where everything is cultural appropriation then it makes it easier for people to throw their hands up and admit defeat and continue with their world view as they cannot correct it.
01:21:05 – Every culture has a past. Judge people on how they are today. Stop punishing people pay for what their ancestors did. Forced assimilation doesn’t go well – like asking people to have X percent of your meals as Mexican food vs allowing people to naturally adopt a culture and its food – like tacos in Texas.
01:22:48 – Asians in America are succeeding at everything faster that most other groups ever have. These are positive changes to the power structure. Make what you want to see. Jackie Robinson as the first Black baseball player. His coach knew as the first black player he would receive aggression and wanted to make sure that his reaction to this would offer an alternative stereotype than the expected violence. This would pave the way for others after him. “Ergo, you decide to hire some minority writers to write your minority characters. Applications rush in. How are you going to decide who makes the cut? “You know, the usual. Interview. Letters of recommendation. College transcript—” This is how the system protects itself against change. At every step of the social hierarchy, what is required for a person of color or a woman to succeed is determined by the values of the ruling class. I think that’s “white patriarchal supremacy,” but don’t quote me. Of course, the same principle applies to e.g. homosexuals and Jews; thankfully those traits are easier to hide.”
01:29:41 – Extracurricular activities weed out poor people as they are exclusive to those with disposable income. Is it true diversity if just the rich kids from Buenos Aires or Mexico City get into a school but poorer Latino kids in the US don’t stand a chance. Tom Robbins spent 8 years while trying to get his big break in writing. That takes privilege to have that time to create art and not to have student debt. “These “gifted” but “troubled” people will bumble through their whole lives, getting second through tenth chances, mysteriously finding that anything involving an authority figure goes their way, as they ruthlessly condemn capitalist injustice, never realizing that criticizing privilege is…the language of privilege.”
1:37:30 – When you think of how many do not have privilege and are not understood and cannot express themselves. It's easy to imagine all of the outcasts conspiring to destroy that Tower. Nobody wants to feel like their beliefs are not allowed.
01:41:42 – The Prescription. “What’s the solution? There’s only one and it is so radical that I hesitate to even suggest it: stop being a pleb. You. Stop treating words as a substitute for action. Stop paying time and money into institutions that loan a symbol of mastery in lieu of actual depth. Stop looking for such symbols in others. Stop judging policies by the veneer of good intention rather than the details of consequence. Stop looking past people, because this is all the same, isn’t it? Working from a map, a stereotype, a symbol, instead fighting for the complex truth? None of this horror requires malice or even stupidity. All it requires is taking the easy way out.”
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