10,385 DSB

Inspired by Vinay Gupta’s “fireside chat” with Collin Morris, I’m toying with the idea of thinking on a planetary scale.

During the chat, Gupta mentions how he spent some time war-gaming responses to civilisation-level catastrophes–e.g. an event that shuts down food supply chains worldwide or a pandemic that obliterates a third of the human population.

Gupta explained that, from his perspective and experience, he’s a good fit for such emotionally devastating work. Most would be hamstrung by contemplating mass death and suffering; Gupta was (is) able to keep such sentiments at bay for prolonged periods.

Phrased another way: he is able to bring his best self to the contemplation of the worst case scenario. A rare ability, indeed. Visualised, Gupta occupies the bottom-right quadrant:

Which brings us nicely to my speculation: how does an individual stay in the right-hand quadrants and avoid slipping left? Answering that requires me to dial in what “self” and “case” actually refer to.

For “self”, I’m tempted to lean towards utility: your “best self” is the one that takes the action that 1) does the least harm and maximises options for good. Conversely, your “worst self” is the one that takes the action that 1) does maximum harm and 2) minimises options for good.

What “case” refers to is harder. I’m gonna dodge the question by claiming it’s an amalgamation of physical, mental, spiritual and social health and communal and societal wealth. I’m also going to limit “case” to possible realities–no fluffy utopias or bizarre, speculative dystopias allowed. “Best case” is probably comfortable existence in a western liberal democracy. “Worst case” is pretty bad–a community confined to local means of subsistence due to a breakdown in the global ecosystem.

So, back to the question: how does a person stay right and avoid slipping left? On an individual level, I think the answer is education and relationships. Though I confess I don’t know why I think that. Actually, after further thought, I think I’d strike education altogether.

Relationships provide a grounding in basic humanity. It doesn’t matter how smart a person is, how talented they are, how much of x, y or z they display or possess, relationships with other humans skew them towards the right (though there are outliers). Relationships put your skin in everyone else’s game.

Next question: how does humanity at scale stay right and avoid slipping left. Again, I suspect the answer is relationships (aka culture?).

I’m currently reading The End of History and the Last Man, and Fukuyama distinguishes between peoples and states. The distinction: a state is an abstract community, a people is a concrete community. For humanity to stay right and be its best self, something like localism seems like the best bet.

Final question–this one has a historical tint. If every person, from the start of human history to contemporary times, was a point on the 2×2, what kind of distribution would there be?

I’d like to think that there would be a swing up and right over time, but really I suspect the distribution is quite stable. Best case or worst case, in antiquity or modernity, I reckon humanity is mostly harmless.