Jun 10, 2021
Nicholas Keirsey, host of the Fully Automated podcast asked me the following questions in advance of our recording a conversation for his show later today.
Lets start with an introduction. Who you are, where you are coming from, and where you feel you may be going to.
This first question is one that I hope to answer as concisely as possible. Why? Because when I get interviewed for other people's shows, it's very easy to get stuck on Amazon.com. I started working there in the fall of 1996. I had a 5 year contract with 20% of my stock options vesting each year. I left just a few weeks after my second 20% vested, so I was there about 25 months. I sold my stock too early and walked away with about $660.000 dollars instead of the several million that would have been mine if I'd just exercised the options and held onto the stock. Still, that much money felt like a lot to me, a guy who had been a broke-ass philosophy grad student just a couple of years before.
I then traveled a lot. fell in love, made a baby, got married, moved to Australia for 6 months, came back to the US and lived in Arkansas and tried to be a farmer, ran out of money and had to find a way to make a living after a long hiatus from straight work, made another baby, got into insurance sales, made a smaller windfall, bought a house I couldn't afford, started a podcast, lost the house in 2007, made bad choices that eventually led to a divorce, lived in a cabin in the woods in Tennessee, moved to NYC, moved to Vermont, kept podcasting the whole time, and now I've been writing and drawing a webcomic for a political organization for the past couple of years.
Like the ZZ Top song says, "I've been up, I've been down. Take my word, I've been 'round. I ain't asking for much."
At this point, I want to get back to traveling, and that requires money. I've got a plan for that, the details of which I'll keep to myself for the time being.
Next, how we met and segue briefly into sci-fi and how you’ve been feeling about the themes coming up from the various Clubhouse chats. You’re a regular voice lately, in the Science fiction and politics clubhouse that we run every Wednesday at lunchtime (that’s 12:30 PM central, for anyone interested. DM me @occupyirtheory on twitter or Instagram, if you need an invite). Tell me a little about the themes/curiosities in that clubhouse that make you keep want to coming back, week after week! [will ask you are more focused question on sci-fi later, so no need here to get too deep into it here]
I'd say it's the quality of the conversation that keeps me coming back as much as it is the themes. I love SciFi/SF and I can't help but think about politics much as I'd like to kick the habit sometimes. Might as well mix them up. I've gotten away from reading print SF in recent years, and there are several contemporary classics that I need to catch up on. For example, I haven't read The Three-Body Problem or any Chinese SF for that matter.
Recently, I was on your show. (https://youtu.be/ZmFMMHcqjOM) We talked about the left and FALC (Fully Automated Luxury Communism). So maybe I can ask now about your own thoughts on what I was saying own your show, about FALC.
Upon re-listening to your responses to my questions about your conception of FALC, I find your conception frustratingly vague. Without AGI (artificial general intelligence), I don't see how it can be fully automated. You invoked Wal*Mart as an example of a very complicated system of production and supply chain management and then suggested that it needn't be labor-intensive. You could just set it up and let it run for long periods and just check in on it from time to time. That's not how Wal*Mart works. Wal*Mart's operations require constant attention and tweaking by an army of highly-specialized, highly-trained and very-highly compensated individuals. They use a lot of what could loosely be described as "artificial intelligence" but it also involves constant human toil.
You were also quite vague on the technical details. You did offer up that you think the knee-jerk leftist rejection of nuclear power is unworkable, and I agree, but at present, the industrial world runs on oil, natural gas, and coal with a smattering of renewable sources thrown in. A lot of agrarian romantics would like to see a dramatic drop in per capita energy usage, which moves us in the exact opposite direction of FALC. Just saying that it is primarily a political project as opposed to an engineering project doesn't make it any more plausible.
Finally, it seems like you're describing garden variety post-scarcity. Where does the Communism element come in? What would prevent the sort of runaway authoritarianism to which Communist regimes seem particularly susceptible? Communist regimes expropriate property and compel involuntary human labor, but the one thing they seem to reliably create is an automated pipeline of mass murder. Why invoke communism when formulating a desire to live free of material hardship?
You’ve said previous you think have had identified as a conservative, or at least used to. I kind of what to ask how you feel about political labels, and where you see today’s and why, along with your sense of where the winds of fortune may be blowing politically, and why.
Robert Anton Wilson wrote, “It only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea.”
In my libertarian youth, the familiar description of American libertarians as socially liberal and fiscally conservative fit me pretty well. I hung out with gay people, black people, artists and druggie weirdos, and I took a dislike to anybody who said anything hostile about any of those groups. Now, without changing fundamentally on any of that, today's Wokesters consider someone like me to be racist, fascist, homophobic, transphobic and a bunch of other labels that I'm too out of touch to even be aware of, thus proving Wilson's point.
Not only are my social attitudes, which used to be considered liberal, now considered to be reactionary or worse, but I'm no longer committed to the "economically conservative" side of American libertarianism. I don't think that taxation is theft, though I am quite annoyed at how much working people have to pay compared to how much the investment class pays on their earnings. I was definitely for the stimulus payments and enhanced unemployment. I'm for single-payer healthcare. I don't think that UBI is a great idea, but Andrew Yang was definitely my guy in the 2020 Democratic Primary contest. I used to be staunchly anti-Imperialist. Now I'm kinda sorry to see Pax Americana winding down. I have no confidence that anything better will take its place. And, as per standard issue libertarian doctrine, I used to be all for open borders. These days, I definitely lean more to the Trumpian nativist side of that argument than I do to the cheap labor oligarchs' point of view.
What about the state of online culture today? Thomas Frank has argued recently that the mainstreaming of wuhan lab leak theory, on top of its already damaged credibility from Russian hacking hysteria, will have major repercussions for the legitimacy of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, we are even seeing mainstream discussion of UFOs and such. Conversely, even just two years ago, liberals seemed confident that we were living in a post-truth moment. But they never acknowledged their own role in that. Now, these two forces are kind of aligning in a perfect storm, and the very foundations of expert media authority are crumbling faster than we can grasp. Any thoughts on this?
- [RANDOM FOOTNOTE: It is happening fast! Perhaps its one of those moments where, as Lenin put it, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” Or as Ben Burgis likes to phrase it, there are decades when you fuck around, and weeks where you find out]
All I can say to that is, "Burn, Baby! Burn!"
I love that the podcast version of Krystal and Saagar's new show, Breaking Points, which is about a week and a half old, has eclipsed both Pod Save America (gag) AND The New York Times as the number one political podcast. The likes of CNN and the NYT may have access to the halls of power and they still may be treated as respectable and legitimate in a way that Joe Rogan is not, but they certainly can't claim that their legitimacy comes from the size of their audience or from their journalistic integrity. The fact that they serve as the mouthpiece of the oligarchy is increasingly obvious to a growing number of people. From my perspective, this is an encouraging development, and it is proceeding at the desired pace.
Perhaps staying with that theme. Some are talking about a realignment of the left and right. I am myself quite dubious about some of these claims. Nevertheless, there does clearly seem to be a break emerging within the left, between what might be considered a more libertarian, identity-based left, and a more materially oriented Marxist left. Firstly, let me ask you what do you think is driving this, and secondly how do you think this is seen from the right? (It seems to me talking to conservative friends lately that when they say “the left”, they are almost always talking about the identitarian left).
- (FOOTNOTE: I think here we could talk about PMCs, elite overproduction, or anything you care to discuss).
I think Theodore Kaczynski had it right when he warned people who would engage in an anti-technology revolution not to ally with what he called, "leftists as a psychological type." That phrase is a mouthful, and Kaczynski repeatedly admits in his manifesto that his categories here are inadequate and imprecise and would require a lot of unwieldy qualifications. But when he describes "leftists" as harboring overwhelming feelings of inferiority and being over-socialized, and when he describes leftists as hating strength and self-determination and harboring an agenda of invading all private spaces and enforcing ideological conformity, I think we can see plenty of examples of the kind of people he's warning his would-be anti-tech revolutionaries to avoid.
You write that the left is splintering into the identitarians and the Marxists. I think that leaves out the vast majority of people who are pro-labor but not willing to side with the Republicans. Most working people have no interest in Marxism and will not publicly affiliate with it. I don't know their relative sizes, but I think both of the identitarian "leftists" that Kaczynski described and Marxists are wildly over-represented in the larger population of people who object to how powerful elites are screwing over the rest of us. It would be incredibly self-defeating to insist that if you remove the Woke scolds from the left that what would be left are the Marxists. When the vast majority of working people recognize that they have been infiltrated and manipulated by identitarians who have no concern for their material interests, what you'll have left is a vast assembly of what Andrew Yang calls "normal people" and a few Marxists citing books that normal people have not and will never read.
So, we both like to talk sci-fi. How is science fiction political for you, and how has it shaped your own politics? How should it shape our politics?
There's a strong libertarian undercurrent in the American SF of the 60's - 80s. But there's also a psychedelic element at work there which mixes in seemingly incompatible elements in a very fluid way. I think the best example of this is the later fiction of Robert A. Heinlein. Heinlein was a military veteran and he maintained a very military bearing throughout his life. He was fastidiously organized, and while it seems like he must have some experience with psychedelics, he was the exact opposite of Philip K. Dick, who was a drug-addled fuck-up who couldn't manage his family life or financial life. Heinlein repeatedly "loaned" PKD money so that he could keep the lights on. But look at Stranger in a Strange Land. That book is the very embodiment of Hippy free love. It's so hard to imagine that it came from the same author as Starship Troopers. The movie version of Starship Troopers was a campy parody, but Heinlein was serious. He really believed, at least for a time, that combat veterans were better people than the rest of the human herd and that a well-armed society was a polite society.
Science fiction is also the home of a lot of transcendence fantasies. My goto example for this kind of thing is Greg Bears 1983 (I think it was) novel Blood Music. In it, a bioengineer creates individual cells that are each as smart as a human being. He gets fired for his reckless behavior, and so he injects these cells into his own body in order to sneak them out of the lab. He planned is to recover them later and use them for personal financial gain, but the cells start replicating inside his body and soon, his body had been transformed into a vast society composed of billions of minds, each one equivalent to a human mind. The transformation of his body metastasizes out to become the physical and psychic transformation of the North American continent.
That sort of personal and societal transformation as a result of biotechnology has been in my head since early high school, even though I never encountered the phrase "technological singularity" until the late 90s. I recognize the religious elements of the Singularitarian fantasy, but that's not reason enough for me to reject it. It is attractive to me, and I can well imagine that it comes from reading Blood Music and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also ends with the rapid transmutation and evolution of a human character. I also read Childhood's End in high school, and here's yet another story of rapid human evolution that transforms society and the human experience in a short time.
How should it shape our politics? I'm not sure that it should. I think the sort of transformational fantasy that is liberating in science fiction could prove very dangerous when applied to politics.
Finally, you’ve been a podcaster for quite a long time now. I also wouldn’t mind just discussing “the craft” of podcasting. Any key tips?
I've been podcasting for 15 years, and I have fewer listeners in year 15 than I had in year 2. Unless you're a sucker for lost causes, I would not recommend that you pattern your podcasting career after mine.