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Transcript for Meta Politics 020 - Anarchy, Liberty, Tyranny and the Incentive Games Between Them
Authoritarian regimes tend to be the breeding ground for those who understand the value of liberty. Those core values can only hold if their protectors understand the incentive games at play.
Looking at history as a set of statistics, it's easy to see a cycle quickly arise. Civilizations tend to go through three phases in a cycle. First comes anarchy: the chaos and extreme danger to the individual created by a lack of law and a lack of order. Then comes tyranny, which brings that order brings that security, but lacks many of the basic freedoms to pursue happiness.
And when that tyranny is ultimately overturned, from it sprouts the seeds of Liberty, which either fall back into decay, return to tyranny or prosper for a short, precious while. But in order to understand why Liberty is so fragile and what is understood during tyranny, that allows it to rise, we have to look at the incentive game.
Hi. Hi, welcome. Welcome. This is Metapol with me, Cactus, demystifying politics, culture and media for all who seek a rational way out. As always I'd love it if you were to share the podcast with a friend, family member, anyone who's interested in the subject matter. It can be useful to them and it can help change the media dynamics that we talk about.
So frequently, the incentive game is something that occurs when power is accumulated and distributed in various political ways. It's not exclusive to lowercase L liberal societies with individual freedoms, but it's required in order to understand how those societies can ultimately fall to various political forces in an individual, a sick society power is more or less distributed according to the individual.
That's true almost by definition. However certain individuals often have outsized influence on institutions while navigating up the procedural chain. In order to influence those institutions from within or from a formal procedure is incredibly difficult. You can often use a shortcut of going through targeting the individual.
This can mean anything from offering bribes and campaign donations to going after them personally, with waves of online harassment and attacks on their reputation, it can go as far as crime and physical attacks and in ungoverned societies, this is often the norm. However, there are societal standards and morals that prevent this in many situations, even if it's not explicitly prohibited by the law, but when polarization occurs.
When politics becomes more important than your fellow man, and you don't see the long-term consequences of your actions, this can quickly erode away. The narrative that allows us to manifest right now is one of rebelling against quote unquote the system. Even if every action taken is actually on the individual level.
Various moral codes, place a high emphasis on the personal damage that can be caused. It's easy to empathize with someone who's losing their career. Who's even possibly harassed or even killed these high personal consequences and stakes create an enormous moral pressure on one's decision-making as it rightly should.
However, in a useful media magic trick, this can be swapped out for an attack on quote unquote, the system, which is much lower on conscience after all. You don't necessarily have any regrets after creating an attack on a quote unquote abstract idea, especially if it's one that you see as morally reprehensible in a vacuum, it's actually fairly understandable to have these standards.
Institutions, what you might call systems in a more practical sense. Often have a higher resistance to change, require more effort and are not going to be damaged in the long-term by your efforts. With the shortcut that I talked about before, especially with lax, if any prevention, legally of that happening this magic trick easily turns a wide movement building slogan into a disdainful series of tactics that goes after individuals in a desperate power grab.
However, in order for the series of tactics to be successful, it has to rely on its participants being cruel enough, not to notice their own tactics or to be so committed by some type of ideology that they fail to see its significance. As we talked about before ideologies balance, contradicting factions, they balance various groups that hold political power.
And so they can't be 100% consistent. When it comes to individual incentive games, what you're seeing though is not only a necessary evil in terms of inconsistency, but actually having it being used as a weapon, particularly in many media contexts, think of the classic line of Biden saying he will repeal the Trump tax cuts while also claiming he won't raise taxes on those making under $400,000.
Of course, there are multiple ways to interpret this series of statements. These two statements are inherently in coherent repealing. The Trump tax cuts would necessarily mean raising taxes. And because of this inconsistency, there are multiple ways to interpret this. You can interpret it as Biden repealing the Trump tax cuts and then lowering back the taxes for those under 400,000, which is the most charitable interpretation, or you can interpret it as a sneaky tactic of Biden, not actually changing the overall long-term tax rate while repealing a short term tax cut, which would be a way to raise taxes while claiming he isn't doing it.
As of the time of recording Biden has not actually passed a tax change. So it's still impossible to know which one of these interpretations he really did mean. However, the reaction to this being called out by the Trump campaign of various media citing one half of these claims while not completing the full inconsistency is the name of the game.
In this manner of you choosing the best possible interpretation of two contradictory statements, it can be easy with sufficient media control to “fact check” Trump's attacks on Biden by not providing the full set of inconsistent statements. After all, if Biden explicitly claimed that he was not going to raise taxes, why would we search further into his policies to see if there's something explicitly contradicting that.
This is particularly the mindset of an individual voter who doesn't have the same amount of time to comb through various policies as journalists or the opposing side. Does this isn't to say that this is a democratic exclusive tactic. Trump has applied this policy, not just with two ideas, but with constant contradictions and quite frankly, impossible to interpret garbage, being a hallmark of many of his campaign tactics.
The reason why this is so important, and this is increasingly becoming polarized, is that it thrives on a partisan media system. As long as Trump allies control Fox news and are able to interpret and frame these inconsistencies in the best possible way, there is no possible way for Biden to argue past them. Similarly, in the slew of left dominated outlets, there's not going to be a way to get past the set of contradictions. Explicitly calling them out is an excellent way to start. However, especially if one is unprepared or especially if one is not a politician themselves or has significant media presence, this can be impossible to do as well.
This is another manifestation of what I've previously called the arbitrary principle, where arbitrary factors are used as a hiding place for corruption, in this case, media corruption. The arbitrary idea is not just something that doesn't matter at all, but is instead something that is completely contradictory, something that on its face sounds like nonsense.
But when applied to a political context can be an incredibly powerful tool. This compounds with journalistic self-selection. As I've talked about in a previous episode on Rush Limbaugh, the conservative strategy tends to be to group together with other conservatives and start other competing outlets. At least it is in the United States. On the other hand, the left-wing strategy tends to be to ascend through the quote unquote pipeline into various pre-existing structures, and then apply various means of corruption on that end. This is documented everywhere from Noam Chomsky's. Manufacturing consent to Ben Shapiro's work as well.
So it's a phenomenon that's well aware of on both the left and the right. However, innovation that seems to be taking place is what I call error-correcting-correcting codes. That is, an error-correcting code is one where you can have significant noise or significant distortion applied to some sort of order, and that you'll still be able to restore the original order through some sort of check. However, an error-correcting-correcting code would be one that actually removes those checks from taking place. In other words, those who wish to corrupt media institutions are able to remove those who are most willing to call out.
Corruption is able to remove those who are most willing to think independently and not give into a larger political orientation. You can see this manifest in the “substack flight”. In which many of the more independent writers in various well-known institutions are moving over to writing on substack.
While enforcing orthodoxy has been something that's been with us since time immemorial, there's been a relatively new development with the aid of better media manipulation and the strange circumstances that we find ourselves in. And we've talked already about inconsistency being used as a tool. This has been also covered in the past most notably by Orwell, in which a system of “double think” in which citizens are forced by an authoritarian government to hold contradictory ideas, decays the ability to put two and two together.
However, something that has occurred with the increasing ability for media manipulation, particularly emotive media manipulation on things like social media is that information itself is split up into two components. The logical and the emotional and the emotional component is hyped up to be hyper anger, inducing, hyper fear, inducing, et cetera, while the logical component becomes increasingly diluted. This has been documented by the center for humane technology and has applied to many episodes in the past, including the previous episode where we talked about the developmental impact of these changing analogy sets and of those who grow up exclusively on the internet, where this media manipulation is the status quo.
In it, we talked about how virtue signaling the act of doing something not because it would actually benefit anyone, but instead as a symbolic gesture would rapidly become the default. Unfortunately, this also has a compounding effect where those that consume the most media, particularly on Twitter are also those who happen to be journalists who will reflect those same tendencies in what they write and create a broader shift in the general population. This can possibly be one explanation for the decay and mental health, particularly among the two most recent generations. It can also be seen as one cause of increasing polarization. Although for both of these factors, I'm sure there are more things involved.
However, what this allows for is the organic spread of quote unquote double thing. Of these inconsistent ideas because when the emotional component is hyperactive, it is able to affect many people's irrational sides of decision-making and caused them to spread reshare or otherwise transmit those same ideas completely willingly without the top down authoritarian government in Orwell's 1984, then this system of self-contradictory ideas can easily spread from person to person while these tactics may be effective on the local scale. Surely there must be a way to establish institutions that are much more resistant to them. In fact, this has historically been the role of journalism. So why has media now completely reversed sides? Becoming the propagators of greatest volume of this form of disinformation, instead of becoming those who separate the wheat from the chaff.
Well to circle everything back, it comes down to the incentive game, both the economic incentives of a media institution, overall, “if it bleeds, it leads”, putting the most dramatic sensationalist content in a race to the bottom for a dwindling number of clicks, or as we've talked about earlier, it's the incentive game of the individual, because like other institutions like governments, Media is run by individuals who can be easily corrupted can be incentivized with “access journalism”, and can be personally threatened by an orthodoxy, particularly by an orthodoxy that has a particularly rabid movement behind it.
Those of you on the right, probably see this manifest in a very threatening way in the PC culture. Those of you on the left probably see this as the epitome of the Trump White House. And in fact, both of those things are true. One of the greatest things I've concerned myself about is that once the current specific phenomena on one side or the other is vanquished, that people will forget about the incentives at play.
Forget about the thing that generated those types of nonsense, either on the left and the right. They may not just ignore it on their own side, but assume it can never happen again, which is of course, incredibly silly. As long as these dynamics remain, as long as we don't develop the wisdom and social technology to overcome it, then these types of incoherent, highly contagious and incredibly destructive ideologies will continue to be generated on one side or the other.
So where are the solutions? The things that I typically like to wrap my episodes with solutions are plenty. And I've talked about them frequently in the past. You can listen to those episodes for more details. However, when looking at the broad scale construction of many of these phenomena, I think what is more important than solutions are principles, because it's often difficult to unite different factions who are interested in different outcomes along a common goal, even if it would ultimately be beneficial to all of them.
There are two ways to do this. One is to create inconsistency and we already know the path that this leads us down. The other is to create simplicity, to look at the common values shared and not concern ourselves over the differences.
The strongest thing to do that is a set of core principles and I've drafted three one for each problem for the problem of clickbait journalism. The answer is follow the attention, look at where people's eyes are being diverted and see if this is for a given political interest or not. Of course, this is a broad generalization, but the road it will lead people down may be this podcast, may be others and may be to do their own research and may be to participate in politics themselves. And it covers a wide umbrella of things that would incrementally make a difference. And when combined across various populations and network effects can be one that overturns the existing problem for the issue of the individual incentive game balance, the scales.
This is something that's intuitive to all of us. That's easy when we're in a given situation or not to look at everything that's at play. Look at what's considered unfair and try to even things out by fighting on the side of the disadvantaged. This is an impulse in almost everyone. And when outside of emotionally manipulated context can be an incredibly powerful impulse.
I guess there is one additional component to this, which is that you have to make sure that you're actually fighting for the underdog. This means collecting statistics. It means doing proper methodical evaluation of the situation at hand. It might mean using some of the tools that I presented in previous episodes, or it might mean doing it independently.
Of course, these principles can be misused. Some of them have been, we do have to talk a bit about the ethics of this counterbalancing. If there are online harassment campaigns, if there's bribery involved, do you do the exact same tactics? Well, it depends on what is at play. First of all, the leverage of power here is the institutions and quite frankly, creating a better institution out of what exists should always be on the table. This doesn't mean that the same thing should be applied to individuals. Let's not make the exact same mistake that we are actually critiquing. However, particularly in the case of the media, there's a difference between a journalist and a private citizen. That is the journalist has a subset of their opinions.
Whatever is actually published that fundamentally matters to their job. There's a difference between costing someone's career over arbitrary things that they said that have no correlation to their ability to, for example, be a janitor compared to attacking someone for printing false information in what is supposed to be journalism. It is literally part of their job to provide accurate information. And when they're not doing that, then quite frankly, their job should be on the table. Of course, you essentially never pulled the trigger unless someone is already pointing their gun at you or attacking you in a given way. And if such an attack is underway, then it is perfectly justified, in my opinion, to approach with some of the same tactics, as long as they are legal, that means if someone wants to target once employment, then they should be prepared to be targeted themselves.
Finally, the last principle on the table, Is that media is power at this point in a state of extreme media polarization and corruption. The narratives that win out are highly dependent on who has financial and audience control. Unfortunately, in the status quo, this means that our various networks that are highly affiliated with the left or the right. However that can change. As we've talked about in our previous episodes, such as the one on exponentials, this can easily be overturned through a mass movement, leveraging network effects.
That means that you can share, you can scale and you can produce your own ideas. Hopefully others will do the same and help you along that path as well. This also means though that the default assumption for how to gain political power is to gain an audience, whether you're an aspiring politician and aspiring political commentator or someone else who wants to work in that field, organizing anywhere from the most bare bones local level to creating a mass online movement is the way forward when it comes to influencing public opinion.
Instead of focusing on a specific race and adapting to the narratives and media at hand. Starting your own media company, starting your own podcast newsletter or anything else should be considered the default way to change the political tide because it scales linearly, because for one it scales much more effectively.
If you lose a race, then you get essentially nothing. And it's something that also holds over across time, much more effectively. That I think is certainly the battlefield as we move forward. Of course it rings true particularly well in this episode that you should share the episode, give a link to it, to a friend, family member or someone else who you think wants to understand many of these ideas who wants to understand what is at play politically and who quite frankly could use the information in their everyday lives.
That doesn't mean only those involved with politics. Almost anyone who's doing a job who's communicating with others can use many of the ideas in the podcast. I'm just going to shorten my list of asks because quite frankly, if you do one thing, I'm already incredibly glad that you did so with that in mind.
Thank you. And until next time.