The Sundial Theory of History
How I Am Thinking About Entrepreneurship
In a realm where the past unwinds,
The sundial's shadow aligned.
For each era's vice,
By the shadow's device,
Is hidden from those of its time.
~ Brian Chau and GPT-4
A Sundial Theory of History
These two questions are deeply connected. Society progresses through a series of technologies, each different from the last. Each of those technologies act equally as tool and filter. They come with their own blind spots.
There is very real material progress. But the moral and social truths available to each civilization cycle through a predictable set of obfuscations. Imagine every major social truth set in a circle. As technology changes, so does the sun above the dial. With each era of technology, the shadow is cast over a particular set of social truths.
Then, we should expect the most delusional beliefs of any age to be those shared by few or no civilizations before it. This is only common sense.
The sundial theory of history has another lesson. With each change in technology, the shadow passes over some new social truths, hiding them from the next generation’s eyes. The older generation will remember these truths. Young men and women should best listen to their elders’ stories of nostalgia.
As the shadow takes, it also returns. Other truths covered by past technologies will be exposed to the light with the shift to a new system. The most successful entrepreneurs understand, explicitly or implicitly, what truths will soon be covered and what truths will soon be exposed.
The Greatest Lie of Our Age
The greatest lie of modernity is that empathy is a feeling act. True empathy, the implicit emotional bond given by stories in the past, is something we now only vaguely approximate as ‘noblesse oblige’. In my personal experience, people going through emotional distress are best taken care of by being controlled, by being put into an order where their emotions are unable to harm themselves. This is counter to the current paradigm of limbic empathy and unconditional affirmation, in which the same person is responded to by affirming their emotional instability and agreeing with their afflicted worldview, leading them to double down on their delusions. The social truth of our age is that empathy can be delivered without assuming control of the situation, with the accountable mission of improving it.
Emotional instability is a cry for help. It is the mind and body’s self recognition that one must be subordinated to a greater order. This is the story of the hero’s journey, in which he is forced by circumstance to train, learn, and grow. This is the story of the Christian second birth, in which forgiveness and redemption follow a total reorientation of one’s values. This is the story of Islamic study, of unwavering awareness of what is sacred. This is the story of liberal capitalist renaissance, or rebirth, of material luxury brought about by industrial precision.
The modern understanding of empathy is an abomination. It is a masturbatory act performable better with a parasocial relationship than a real one. Twitch streamers and NPC tiktoks are emblematic of the present. But this rot has been present since the televisual age, when the sundial cursed us with it. In any society past or future, such displays of limbic empathy would be met with something between rebuke and exorcism.
The Role of Entrepreneurship
The process by which social truths are unobscured is both inevitable and not; it is formed by entrepreneurship. It is inevitable that for each obscured social truth, there are men aware of it, waiting for the right time to capitalize on it. It is not inevitable in that those men must precisely time and execute their arbitrage.
The precursors to this arbitrage already exist. They are the aforementioned twitch streamers and NPC tiktokers. These industries rely on exploiting the arbitrage by maximizing on its fake and parasocial quality. They give the people what they want, good and hard. For sure, there will be ML applications which do the same. I’m optimistic about Replika and the like for that reason (at least their ability to make money).
The wave of technologies I’m excited for are what comes next: the technologies to free ourselves from limbic empathy. I’m conflicted in what to give away here. I guess the compromise is that you give me ten dollars for your next startup idea.
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