Colombus, Not John Henry

I enjoyed Alf’s post on Passiveness courtesy of TWiR.

I agree with him that “activity” is not the answer.  Or at least not the whole answer.

A lot of things fall under the label of “activity” — some of which are good and useful, others traps.

Here’s the deal:  the Chinese curse—“May you live in interesting times”  — has come true for all of us.  We might already have CRISPR-edited babies in China if the rumors are true.  Twitter is currently valued at $24B and has yet to make any money.  Brazil has elected a strongman even though Francis Fukuyama was kind of right.

Computers and energy leverage mean that if you’re doing actual work, as in a repetitive task, you’re pretty much a sucker.  That stuff’s for bots and third-world virtual assistants.  I hear rumors that the US has had a bit of a manufacturing resurgence, but it’s a blip overall.

Don’t think knowledge work is immune either.  Some parts of it are, but much of it can be:

– automated

– packaged into a bootcamp

– supported by software such that the required human input is minimal

– disseminated by Youtube/Ted Talk/blog post/Wikipedia

– outsourced

Things are less predictable these days, because if it’s predictable, well, it can probably be sped up the insane levels of scale modern society can bring to it, in the form of capital, computational, or human resources.

Boxer from Animal Farm always stuck with me.  Representing the blindered proletariat in Orwell’s socialist fable, Boxer is the main, err, workhorse of the farm.  His answer to every problem is “I will work harder!”  Eventually Boxer gets his reward of being sold to the glue factory.

Modernity must be thought of as a maze, or an uncharted wilderness, rather than a simple mountain to be climbed.  Simply forging ahead will quickly exhaust you.  This was Moldbug’s greatest gift to conservatives: “If what you’re doing is not working…you should probably not do that thing.”

But the alternative is not passiveness, either.  It is exploration.

Exploration is not conquest, although it is necessary (or at least extremely helpful) for conquest.  It demands much less.  It has different patterns of movement, different payoff points, different values.

How does one “explore”?  What does it mean to be “good at exploring?”

What we can’t say is that the best explorers always find something great like El Dorado.  Exploring means uncovering the unknown.  If they could hit the mark every time, was it really unknown?  And if it wasn’t unknown, was it really exploring?

What you can be really good at in an exploration context is not dying.  The thing to manage is not the result (you can’t control that directly), but the risk/information bargain.  How do you get information about the area most efficiently, at a certain risk/reward ratio?


I’m talking about a few different things here:

– on career:  exploration is a better metaphor than mining for a lot of modern work.  The new work is finding places to mine

– on the direction of Reaction: Some have criticized NRX as being passive and intellectually wanking.  Well, hey, we didn’t embarrass ourselves at Charlottesville, so who’s the idiot now?  But we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for too long, because “not dying” is only half the answer.  The other half remains to be found.

As John Connor says: if you’re reading this, you are the Reaction.