Rhys' Newsletter #26

Reader responses and probabilistically prepping for a violent election

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Hi internet / IRL friend,

Lots of reader comments this week. (Thanks y’all!) Let’s dive in.

Last week I shared my review of Joseph Henrich’s new book on WEIRD psychology.

A reader, Lawrence Lundy-Bryan, asked this question:

I don't think I really understood the importance of the patrilineal decent for WEIRD path dependency. It has got me thinking about the implications of a non-WEIRD world in the next 75-100 years with China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and others dominating demographic, economic and cultural growth. What would the implications be for a more collective and less-WEIRD world? I would be interested to read your thoughts on this in the next few issues!

This is a great question from Lawrence. (Remember, the world is adding 3B people by 2100, and almost all of them are in Africa.)

I have two quick thoughts on it:

  1. As the East and Global South adopt non-kin-based voluntary institutions, they will become more WEIRD. Countries on the Inglehart–Welzel cultural map will continue to shift up and to the left. As a leading indicator: China is becoming more individualistic.

  2. The West will become less individualistic and analytic. These kinds of thinking are not a good fit for our networked global world. We will see post-WEIRD psychology become more collectivist and holistic.

  3. There will be a lot of unrest as these two transitions occur: from kin to non-kin in the East/South and from individualistic to collective in the West. e.g. I’d predict Africa and the Middle East to make polyamory illegal by 2100.


1) Two weeks ago, I shared this video on how OnlyFans changed porn. One reader noted:

The OnlyFans Youtube video was super fascinating. The one thing that I didn't hear mentioned about the growth of adult businesses is the mental health and addiction problems that arise in consumers, mostly men. There’s tons of research on how porn is more addictive than most drugs.

At the end of the video, the narrator says: "it’s awesome these performers can make content and get directly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars." Yes! But the question I have is: What is it doing to the users? To me, it's similar to saying: "It’s awesome that heroin dealers can sell drugs and make money." But what are the externalities?

Not saying we should ban porn or get rid of a safer and better value transfer mechanism for these women, but I do wonder if there is some way to curtail the pervasive mental health issues these types of sites perpetuate.

Indeed. The internet provides us with supernormal stimuli that leads to an acceleration of addictiveness. All businesses need to address the impact of their product on users.


2) Two weeks ago, I shared the piece Self-Driving Cars and the Future of Retail, which discussed how GrubHub weakens the power of restaurants. Reader Lauren Sinreich responded:

On the point of squeezing suppliers, I personally choose not to use platforms like GrubHub but not everyone does. Is the only way to mitigate this concentrating and ultimately homogenizing force consumer morals or government intervention? It's so interesting to see trends in a system so focused on competition so frequently driving anti-competitive outcomes.

I love two parts of Lauren’s response. First, asking what can we do to mitigate monopoly platforms—morals or laws. (My answer is that morals live a layer above laws—as a determination of right and wrong. And laws are one way to manifest and incentivize morals, along with the rest of the Pathetic Dot: laws, code, markets, and norms.) Second, Lauren highlights the paradoxical nature of internet competition: that low friction leads to competition initially but big winners laters. This is the Big Winner–Long Tail paradox.


3) One of my favorite pieces of 2020 art is from Columbian Sako-Anko:


It’s similar to this recent reddit piece inspired by the popular game Among Us:

A reminder to ask how people are doing instead of who they are.


4) There’s been a lot of talk recently about a peaceful transition of power in the United States. (Trump may not want to leave. He’s a “winner”.) See The Atlantic’s The Election That Could Break America and FiveThirtyEight’s What if Trump Loses and Refuses to Concede.

Like COVID in February, this is an uncertain situation where the tail risk is extremely bad (civil war/unrest). I don’t want to create unnecessary anxiety in y’all, but I think it’s important to prepare ourselves for a possibly dangerous situation. Here’s roughly how I’m thinking about it:

Probability of Outcomes

I think we most need to be worried about a close race that isn’t called on election night. In this scenario, Trump is ahead on Nov 3 but there are still millions of blue mail-in ballots left to cast.

What’s the chance of this “Drawn Out Close Race” scenario? According to FiveThirtyEight, there’s a 70% chance Biden wins the popular vote by more than 4%, and a 10% chance Trump wins the popular vote outright. Let’s assume that in these scenarios, the election is called on Nov 3 and there’s a peaceful transition of power. But there’s a 20% chance that Biden only wins the popular vote by 0–4%, the electoral college is close, and we need to wait many weeks for mail-in ballots. Let’s say that 50% of these scenarios turn violent in some way—10% of all outcomes.

So there’s roughly an 80% chance of a “clear winner” peaceful transition, a 10% chance of a “drawn out close race” peaceful transition, and a 10% chance of this close race turning violent. (I’d define peaceful as less than 10 election-related deaths.) Let’s call it 80-10-10.

What should you do?

First, treat it probabilistically! Whether your numbers are 80-10-10 or something different, you should at least be preparing for a world in which there’s a violent transition, even if that is 1%.

Then, prepare for each scenario! See this article from SSC on how we should’ve done this with COVID: A Failure, But Not of Prediction.

As I see it, you can starting preparing for civil unrest with either fight or flight. For the fight response, read up on 10 Things You Can You To Stop a Coup. (Aka be an Activist!) For the flight response, prepare yourself with things like bug-out bags. (Aka be a Prepper!)

And no matter what, again, mentally prepare yourself for the range of outcomes, even if there’s only a small chance a given one occurs!


5) Coinbase decided to disallow political discussion at their workplace to stay focused on their mission and not be distracted by activism. This is a spicy take. Here’s my response, a good analysis from 0x’s Jason Somensatto, and Jennifer Kim on top-down vs. bottom-up decisionmaking.

6) The Onion: California Firefighters Massage 2.5 Million Gallons Of Moisturizer Into Forests To Prevent Dryness.




Two responses from readers on our most recent question: Is there any music that you choose not to play because the artist or content itself is negative?

Reader #1:

My opinion is very 1st Amendment-esque regarding the Nazi song. If your consumption doesn't harm others, and you don't harm others as a result of listening to the song, it's probably ok. But maybe keep your headphones in :)

Agreed, though it can be difficult to determine harm. e.g. If I turn alt-right as a result of listening to Nazi songs (among other internet habits), then hurt someone, is the Nazi song partially to blame?

This is at the heart of the SJA vs. free speech debates. SJA folks will claim that some content has caused them serious harm [“trauma”], while free speech folks will say they’re just words [“snowflakes”].

Reader #2:

The metal band Sabaton takes an apolitical stance writing songs about great acts of martial heroism on all sides of the war.

This includes “negative” songs like Ghost Division about the elite 7th Panzer division led by Rommel.

But also “positive” songs including Inmate 4859. This track describes Witold Pilecki, a Polish intelligence officer and resistance fighter, who intentionally got himself sent to Auschwitz concentration camp to document the atrocities. He escaped and produced the first intelligence product with an inside view of what was happening in the camps.

I would never go to a Sabaton concert because I could not stomach being around people cheering on a military unit that participated in Rommel’s Operation Barbarossa. If it was mere empathy for some conscripts sent to freeze to death on the Eastern front it would be a different story (they even have some songs about empathy such as no bullets fly). But celebrating the successes of an elite German unit that enabled so many atrocities without in any way confronting those atrocities is a bridge too far for me.

They also have a great youtube video series, Sabaton History, where they talk about the history their songs describe. They are one of the few metal bands that reads primary sources in the archives, in some cases primary sources that have not been explored by historians. In once case, they wrote a song based on Flemish primary sources a fan mailed them and which they needed the fan to translate.

I’d never heard of Sabaton, but I find them fascinating. (Thanks, reader!) They’re definitely controversial because they show WWII in all its glory and pain. Here’s an example Youtube comment that I found on one of their videos: Footage like this isn’t Nazi ideology, its history.

I’m wary of Sabaton’s apolitical stance. It’s similar to the permissionlessness of digital platforms. They abdicate responsibility by claiming they’re just “sending bits”.

I also think this highlights the importance of meta reflection and intention. It’s one thing to go to a Sabaton concert and cheer on Rommel. It’s another to have them explain (before the song) about the negatives of facism, WWII, etc. and then to sing the Rommel song.

In any case, like with Cuties, we want to differentiate whether the artist’s intent is appreciation, appropriation, or criticism. And we also want to understand the art’s impact, irrespective of intent. Related: do intentions or impact matter more in censoring work?


Finally, episode #2 of the Lindy Bro Radio Show is here. We bring on our music aficionado friend Ben Klibaner to discuss Toots and the Maytals (RIP), 100 gecs, and PC Music. Spotify playlist here.

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

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