(2023-03-03) Rutt Transcript Of Currents080 Joe Edelman And Ellie Hain On Rebuilding Meaning
Jim Rutt: Transcript of Currents 080: Joe Edelman and Ellie Hain on Rebuilding Meaning. Today’s guests are Ellie Hain and Joe Edelman, who just launched Rebuilding Meaning, a new organization focused on radical social change. (cf Rebuilding Society On Meaning)
probably best known as the originator of the concept of time well spent as a metric for online services
I’ve known Ellie for a couple of years virtually, and she describes herself as an artist, researcher, and cultural strategist working on new imaginaries and ideologies for the post-industrial age. I was particularly taken by a line from her Twitter profile where she said, describing herself, “if Ayn Rand and Ram Dass had a daughter.”
imagine in society wanting to move forward, and not just a vision, but also a plan, a concrete and actionable plan on how to get there, that’s what Joe’s talk is about, of essentially how to align tech, organizations, products and markets with meaning.
But it means changing the structure of markets, tech, organizations and more. Over eight years, we developed the necessary tools, now it’s time to build.
it’s hard. Game B movement’s been at it for 10 years, most of it thinking. And we’ve got an amazingly broad and deep body of thought, but we’re now pulling it together into how do you actually execute
I constantly ask people, “What the hell do you mean by meaning?” Right? John Vervaeke, who’s been on the show several times, makes a distinction between meaning in life and meaning of life, and I find that to be a very useful distinction
let’s jump into Ellie’s video, which is titled How to Exit the Void.
most movements today are what I call death cults.
what we’ve labeled the litany of shit.
I already bought the domain name, litanyofshit.com, and I’m going to hire a small team of Game B folks to create the litany of shit so that we can all just point to it without having to recite it because this recital itself moves people to a bad place, as you quite brilliantly pointed out in your video
called the meta crisis. And is this sort of object that is multidimensional? At the beginning, it can seem very dark, and that’s what people call the meta. But then I kind of twist sit around. I think there’s doctrine in Buddhism also talks about it in this way, that the void is not empty or dark, but actually it’s a plan.
what I do in my talk is take people through this journey of behind these darkness, there is actually something like that we’ve been disconnected from.
And this something is what we call meaning, which in my understanding, meaning is the closest proxy that we can get to us as what’s good. (Transcendentals)
You start off with a nice little exercise where you ask people to think about the three most meaningful experiences, first in their life, next in the last year, and then third in the last week
One of the things I hate about classic 18th, 19th, and 20th century utopians is they all think people are the same.
I call coherent pluralism, that there ought to be a small number of things that we can agree upon. But outside those small number of things, let diversity reign
Another nice distinction you made, which I think is very useful, is between containers and meaning.
the reason why we feel drawn to containers is because we always have this deeply relevant experience of what I call the sacred, but at experience of meaning. (cargo cult)
we can’t just purely live in the realm of feeling, either in the realm of the sacred. We have to interact with realities for containers, but it’s important to maintain this distinction of what is the thing that draws us, the containers, in the first place, to not be lost in the containers, to not be completely identified with them?
essentially become gestures that people go through
democracy, and that’s one of the containers. And also, it’s just a very shallow, low resolution container of the meaning behind democracy.
I show three different types of values in democracy that are connected to writings from relevant thinkers
One of them is about trusting that democratic deliberation will end up surfacing information, surfacing policy proposals, things like that the the elites, the educated rulers or whatever wouldn’t be able to come up with if they were in a room without this kind of deliberation
another one is the sense that you can be a leader or run for local office or whatever from wherever you are in society,
which is the importance of aesthetics.
in terms of movement building, or in terms of just anything really in life, what we find beautiful is not just because it’s aesthetically pleasing, but it is actually kind of a right signal for what our moral intuitions are.
suggestion that you made, which was to use AI to help align society to meaning. And you explicitly propose creating a meaning, finding large language model and using that to help people develop their own meaning profiles.
If I asked you for one of these stories and you told me at length what you found meaningful, then what we’re talking about is a kind of transformation on the input text. What we’re looking for is an abstraction of your story, right? We’re looking for the adjectives, adverbs that you use in your story
the LLMs tend to be pretty good at that kind of transformation. We have a working version of this, and it’s quite surprisingly good. It’s not quite ready for production yet.
We have a fine-tuned version. If you email me your stories, I’ll run it through our fine tune version. We have a prompt engineered fine-tuned version
you want to capture what’s meaningful to a particular person by collecting stories
And then I’m also interested in figuring out which of those sources of meaning are undersupplied
Maybe you only really creatively jam with certain kinds of people. And maybe we need to know, oh, are those people that are far away? Maybe you don’t know somebody like that anymore, you used to. So, we need some information about your environment or the environments you could have.
In my corner of the Game B world lately, we’ve been talking about a triplet of virtues, values and norms, and we think they are three different things, and that they are, all three, important
let’s go into Joe’s video, which is titled How to Align Social Systems
I’d say personally, I sobered up around 2002 when Google had proved that you can build a ad-based business model (advertising). And I immediately said, this is going to be the great suck from this point forward. And then I think the underlying italics, bold, underline was the book Free by Chris Anderson in 2009, where he basically said, anything that can be free, i.e. ad supported will be free. And I go, all right, Chris, thanks for shitting in the well.
newsfeed and recommended were both optimizing for one signal, maximize engagement, and it was working
Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying have a great book, A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life, something like that, and they bring forth an idea called hyper novelty, that our systems today are really good at creating a hundred varieties of barbecue sauce and 300 varieties of shampoo and all this, but not so good at other things.
And when I think about this, I think about it as the breakdown of the meso scale… The meso scale I defined as communities of around 150 (Dunbar's number) where mankind has traditionally lived all the way back to forager days. But as late as 1870, the vast preponderance of people were living in these face-to-face communities
I refer to it as the decay of spaces, that there’s a certain kind of entrepreneurial project which makes up that meso scale,
this is kind of a consequence of ideologies that are missing the meso scale.
They all have the same shape, a small central coordinating function and a massive individuals
A big part of the focus of my life over the last seven years has been teaching people to design for this middle layer.
meaning sounds like it’s a very nice to have. It sounds very much like a kind of first world problem
actually, our sources of meaning are what make things like democracy, we were talking about earlier, or science, what make them actually keep functioning
for every other kind of institution.
If you take any of these things and you pull out the meaning, you get some really dark perverted form of it
I actually saw this play out at Khan Academy because several people that worked at Khan Academy took my course. And they wanted to make Khan Academy good, not for the goals of passing tests, which is kind of one of the main drivers of Khan Academy
so long as Khan Academy is optimized for the goal of passing tests, then it’s going to work a certain way. And if Khan Academy was optimized for a source of meaning, like being curious about the world
a little bit of a war between some designers that wanted it to be more about the sources of meaning and some business people that wanted to keep it about the goals, because the goals related to business objectives and scaling objectives-
Jim: Because people think people, that’s what pays the bills, right?
if you’re a kind of an entrepreneur or a designer, what are you going to make? And I think it’s useful to break the things that we make up into these three categories
And so I break them up into funnels, tubes of spaces, where funnels and tubes are goal driven
where the goal is to explore rather than to reach some kind of known goal
So if you’re making anything that’s like that, then I would say that you’re making a space, you’re a spacemaker.
part of the problem is that even the people who want to make spaces are often using the tools of a funnel or tube entrepreneur
an example, for instance, is Instagram. The founders of Instagram, I used to know them, they wanted to make a art exploration kind of space, but they didn’t. They made a kind of a meta funnel
I started worrying about measuring the right things when I worked at Couch Surfing long, long time ago, in 2007. And I built some metrics for Couch Surfing that I’m still very proud of
I’m still mystified. What the hell is it? Which is your meaning cards as a means to help people find what they want to have in the meanings in their activities. Is there a deck of cards called the meaning cards, or is this something custom for each person?
there’s about 4,000 of them in kind of common circulation.
we have this large language model that will talk to you about your meaningful stories and send you back values cards. Now, it’ll use your own words in making a values card for you, so in that way, it’s personalized, but it can also show you other people’s values cards that are the same. (card deck)
I compare it to colors. So in the end there can be only three primary colors, and that’s kind of purpose relationships and transcendence or whatever. But it’s just a matter of how granular you want to get.
Let’s say I’m going to open a decadent nightclub
I would start with either the proprietors sources of meaning and stories of things that have been really meaningful to them. Or if you your audience, then I might interview them
an interview method called vetting values
*Jim: So, I’m the entrepreneur getting ready to design this club. About how many cards would you recommend that someone work with?
Joe: Oh, maybe four or five or something like that.*
There’s some sociologists that would call the same thing I call a space trained a legitimation process. I decided to rename it space train. The idea is that you build a structure of small groups that are interconnected, and interconnected in a certain way where they share values between groups.
So in social media, there’s a problem where there’s kind of like two dominant modes.
One, we have the dark forest mode of discord, telegram, WhatsApp, where there’s a whole bunch of private chats, and the way something moves from private chat
Another dominant mode is like the newsfeed Twitter kind of mode
neither of these are very good for spaces.
there’s some common values across science, some common values across scientific fields, but there’s many different individual groups, so collaborators, university departments and so on.
I’ve just recently moved a chunk of my time allocation to meta science, which is the design of science as an institution
A lot of art, like local art, is space train. For instance, I don’t know, social dance, contact improv, break dancing. There’s local groups, but they share a common ethos with other global groups, even more professional groups
some religions that are space trains. Sports is the same
We’re building these massive audiences for things like The Jim Rutt Show. But what we need is an alternative to… So, there’s a subscribe button, and you can imagine that the subscribe button helps you find a subgroup of people that you could actually vibe with and that somehow is connected by common values to other Jim Rutt Show
Find the others, as we say in the Game B world, right?
But what’s keeping people from doing that now?
One is that we’re in a kind of a local maxima where there’s additional friction in that button that we just described, right?
therefore you will lose in a financial horse race if the payoff is in a transaction.
we are in a kind of a war of the attention economy
they get duped. And they think, oh, I want to connect with others, so I should join this giant audience of people who want to connect with others.
Carl Rogers, who is a famous 20th century psychologist. He had a concept called congruence, and he defined congruence as minimizing the distance between our current selves and our ideal selves. Does that resonate with you guys?
I often find myself on the other side of debates of people that are really into developmental psychology, people that love Keegan, Kholberg, this kind of stuff, spiral dynamics
Because for two reasons. One is because I think things are a lot more granular than that, and the other is that I think things are much more environmental.
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