Rhys' Newsletter #28

Benjamin Bratton, Nacirema psychology, and cool prizes

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Hey team!

1) First, some reader responses to my question from last week, “What did James Carse mean to you?” From Simon:

For a long while I found my way to similar ideas, but could never really put it into words. James Carse did.

It's been such a valuable framing for me. It's helped me understand why I sometimes struggle against ppl playing mostly finite games.

That being said. I don't think infinite play is the ideal. I've been formulating another 'player'. The meta player, which takes cues from metamodernism. Finite zero-sum modernism vs infinite, deconstructing post-modernism.

Meta players create the biggest game (as synthesis).

I agree with Simon that a synthesized (Coherently Plural) perspective is necessary here—to play both finite and infinite games.

A different reader, Alex, responded specifically to my personal story of ultimate frisbee as an infinite game:

What makes Ultimate special is of course spirit.

The reason it's special is that it solves Goodhart's problem: when a metric (the score) becomes a target (how we define success), it stops being a good metric (maximizing score at the expense of joy is not success).

A solution to Goodhart's problem is pairing a quantitative metric with a quality metric:

Followers + level of discussion
GDP + life satisfaction
Score + spirit

The most respected teams in ultimate score high on wins and on spirit (e.g. Revolver, Fury, GoP 😉). But spirit is not very legible. So mainstream sports don't emphasize it.

As ultimate becomes more like mainstream sports, it risks losing that special sauce. Growth and spirit aren't inherently exclusive, but it takes a special effort to have both.

This makes me think—are there games where spirit/sportsmanship are more legible?

2) New podcast this week: #70 Benjamin Bratton: Social Theories for Planetary-Scale Computation. Ben has a ridiculously interdisciplinary understanding of tech’s impact on society. I especially like how he pushes for a complete reworking of Industrial Age concepts:

Planetary-scale computation disrupts Westphalian geography and creates new geographies in its own image.

Also: Ben is running a 5-month research program, The Terraforming, with 30 researchers. Past crews have been great: Holly Herdon, Kei Kreutler, etc. Apply here by Nov 10.

3) If you’re into the cultural evolution stuff I’ve been writing recently, check out my recent piece on Post-WEIRD Nacirema Psychology. In this article, I write as a future anthropologist looking at Americans (Nacirema backwards) as they’ve transitioned away from individualism.

From 2000-2200, the customs of the Nacirema tribe shifted considerably. At the start of the 21st century, they were leaders of a pan-capitalist ideological superstructure. But as the decades unfurled, their monolithic stature dissipated into the Networked Human Organism.

Their Industrial Age individualism had built a globalized world, which was connected by the internet and fed by fossil fuels. But their self-focus no longer fit modern times. The climate crisis of the 21st century forced them to think more holistically and collectively. In parallel, The Five Pandemics reminded them of their interconnectedness to each other and to the earth.


1) The 2020 Nobel Prizes were announced last week. Interesting to see the World Food Programme get the Nobel Peace Prize (as a organization, which doesn’t happen much—see the IPCC in 2007).


In related news, the 2020 Macarthur Fellows were announced. Here’s a playlist of their 1min intro videos. People are doing cool things! I love Mary Gray’s Ghost Work, which covers the unseen exploitation of platform labor. And of course, N.K. Jemisin’s great sci-fi, The Fifth Season.

For these prizes, I’m especially curious—do you think that individual prizes should exist? Or are they simply remnants from an individualistic age?

2) Long interview with Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify. Here’s his perspective on stakeholder capitalism:

How much does being a Swedish company, having a Stockholm-influenced company culture, influence Spotify?

Oh, a lot. Swedes, in general, are focused on balance. Work is not everything. So you try to find a sustainable path for all stakeholders. The moment that's now happening in American capitalism has already occurred in Sweden.

This is true when you look at how Swedish companies historically thought about their employees and their obligations to society. The laws in Sweden are much stricter about corporate sustainability; they focus on transparency and impact. For example, it’s a requirement that Swedish boards file an annual sustainability report that includes detailed information about not only environmental initiatives and impact, but also diversity. You are also required to present the diversity report publicly.

I would say the Swedish influence brings a focus on stakeholder capitalism and the need to think long-term about your impact on all these stakeholders. The downside is it tends to be a consensus-driven culture where, ideally, everyone should agree about everything. This means it's slow. It's not “bold” enough.

3) From WaitButWhy—people are neither angels nor demons as you get to know them:


4) It’s been cool to see the #ProudBoys hashtag remixed by gay men. All internet hashtags are remixable/weaponizable, e.g. #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. This #ProudBoys remix is of a tried-and-true form: “replace associations/SEO of one image with another”.

5) Last week, Doughnut Economics launched their new community, DEAL. If you liked the book, check it out!

6) The Onion: Mask Accidentally Leaves House Without Face.




The music podcast Song Exploder released a Netflix show (also titled Song Exploder) that interviews musicians about their music creation process. It’s especially cool to see the songs broken up by tracks/stems (voice, bass, drums). There are four episodes, but my favorite by far is with Lin-Manuel Miranda on Hamilton’s Wait For It. Such a jam.

Hope you have a good week! Warmth, Rhys

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