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Excerpts From My Interview For Infovores
Being on the receiving side of an interview for the first time was fun, but it also makes me appreciate giving them
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I found my particular niche on Substack after giving my first interview with Founders Fund Vice President Mike Solana, and I’ve been able to interview some outstanding people since then.
My interviews are almost always conducted via email which presents some serious difficulties, like the sheer length of time written interviews take from start to finish, but there are also some net benefits that I recognized immediately.
There’s a high level of clarity achieved through written interviews that just isn’t possible with interviews conducted either in person or over zoom. Most people who are worth interviewing aren’t public speakers, they don’t have all their ideas immediately at hand, and so the quality of their ideas often suffers when they have to be expressed verbally.
The written word on the other hand is like the human equivalent of a spider’s web. The web hunts for the spider, it lies in wait without rest, always attentive and ready to seize opportunity, and it snares its victims and exerts all its strength to not let them go—it performs a huge share of the labor of predation to help the spider along. The spiderweb is an exterior brain onto which cognitive demands are outsourced.
The written word works in a similar way, allowing us to outsource our own cognitive demands to help us along, mostly the demands of memory. We write and fill our notebooks with our ideas and have a point of reference much more amenable to added complexity than the bare minds we wake up with in the morning. The written word allows us to build palaces of abstraction, pen and paper are a second brain, and it’s beautiful honestly. Our ideas sit and wait on the pages where they’ve been written, freeing us to develop new insights when we’d normally just forget everything and move along with our day.
Written interviews are a huge advantage.
I appreciate written interviews more now than ever before after having recently been on the receiving end of one. The author of the Infovores Substack reached out not too long ago for an interview, and of course I happily agreed. The questions were excellent, and I’ll paraphrase them along with my answers in a few excerpts below:
Infovores asked for my thoughts on both the fact that the internet shifts attention away from the people in our lives, and also creates attention-inequalities, with some internet users having a seemingly small share of the pie of popularity:
I saw a young woman tell a story recently where she was taking her usual walk around her city when an older woman approached her, asked for her name, and followed with a battery of personal questions. The girl was weirded out by the exchange but, since the woman seemed harmless, she had no real issue playing along, not knowing exactly where this was going, but again feeling some level of unease all the while.
They started walking together and talking a bit more, and the girl began to share some of her interests with the older woman, which centered mostly around non-traditional paths toward health and her skepticism of modern medicine. The girl believed that we should do everything in our power to improve our heath on our own before seeking recourse in drugs, and the older lady soundly agreed. The girl recommended that the lady look more into the topic online but, to the girl’s shock and amusement, the old lady said she didn’t have a smartphone or a computer.
The girl said to herself, “This is the reason why this encounter happened to begin with.” She thought about how almost no smartphone user would ever interpolate themselves into her day the way the old woman did, it broke the fundamentals of phone-culture etiquette, and she had never experienced anything like it. I assume that 90% of her interactions with friends and family happen online and all the courtship she’s experienced outside of high school has been online. She was shocked that an interaction started without mediation by the internet. If you want to talk to anyone you follow them and send a dm, these are the new rules of propriety which the old woman knew nothing about, and the girl found it deeply refreshing.
The old woman in the girl’s story reminded me of how I felt up till I turned around 24 years old, three years ago. I used to want to never use a phone ever again around that time and I thought the need was extremely embarrassing; having to talk to someone through a keyboard instead of in person felt shameful and inhuman. There was some soul missing, both my own and the soul of whomever I tried to talk to, and I think a fair share felt that way too around then. I remember there was this blonde girl I met on Twitter, model girl. I plotted to charm her and steal her heart right out of her hands, and it worked. But she was perfectly fine texting all day and I just wanted to see her. I didn’t understand this weird behavior I thought she exhibited, it seemed like her mind was misshapen.
It was like she had no energy to see anyone in person, and even keeping interactions going over text was too much, but even so that was all she could bear. Maybe it was anxiety, I thought. And I would ask about it, but it didn’t seem she really understood the problem herself. She knew there was something wrong, she knew that she should want to spend more time in person. There was still some residual feeling of the world before phones, I represented that world and wanted to draw her into it. But she couldn’t really manage it.
And as of lately, I’ve been feeling warped in the way that she was, in the way we all are now. It took several times longer for the same to happen to me, but it did happen. Now I feel that I have no energy for people in real life, and even texting is too much to bear, but it’s the only thing that will do. I hate being this way, especially since I remember now what a Luddite I was, and I’m craving escape from this cyber trap again.
My phone is not more entertaining than anyone on earth, but the pleasure is so much easier to seize. I’ve curated a private world to satisfy every single one of my interests, it’s nearly perfect and completely immediate. And not only that, all of my business is online. There’s never any reason to look up from my phone. But I hate that. When you look at yourself in third person, sitting in one place, staring silently at your phone, you don’t see an inspiring figure or person you can respect, that’s not someone with a grand destiny. It’s a cliche to say but you’re plugged into a cordless matrix. I want more, I want my obsession to be other people again. I’m starting to hate the internet.
Of course there are some benefits though, like being on the positive end of internet attention inequality, to get to your question. And I think this is the least unequal form of inequality I’ve seen in my lifetime, and perhaps the least unequal form that’s existed in history. Fame is no longer reserved for those in the 90th percentile of intelligence or ability, fame is now the domain of the middling and above. Even those on the lower bounds of cognitive ability and talent can get ahead if they’re simply diligent. If you post consistently, you can gain a following. I’ve never seen anything like this. Every young person I see online sort of has an air of someone who thinks they can be famous, despite not having any interests in anything or any special talents. And they’re right, they can be.
Not everyone will be famous of course, but the internet has dramatically increased the proportion of the undeservedly popular and wealthy. There are more people than ever before who boggle our minds because of the trivial real world value of their work and their obscene concomitant status and prosperity. The YouTuber, the TikTok dancer, the instagram model, the Twitter personality. We can hate it, but it’s still pretty cool.
Infovores then asked which issues I feel align with this quote by Thomas Sowell: “Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.”:
Defunding the police and prison abolition.
These ideas sound great, and it would be very nice to have a world where we didn’t need state agents with license to kill, or cages to throw men in. But violence is a human universal, the indelible story of our past and our future. Taking away the state’s monopoly on violence would just leave a vacuum that wouldn’t have the legal directives, financial incentives, and oversight that turn such violence into an underrated social good. That doesn’t mean police can’t mess up. It just means police follies are an easy tradeoff relative to the alternative.
And of course it sounds great to not lock people away in filthy cages, depriving them of their rights and dignity. But then you see that half of all state inmates are in for violent offenses like murder, and prisons start to seem self-explanatory. And then you see reports from the United States Sentencing Commission showing, in a sample of 10,000 violent federal offenders, that nearly 64% recidivated at a median of about 18 months after release. There are people that can’t participate in civil society, and it would be a great injustice to allow them to. You, your family, your neighbors, all the children in your neighborhood, all the children in the nation, they all deserve to never face threats of violence in their lives. I would want much worse than just prison for anyone who threatens the innocent. Prison abolition is a weird idea.
Next would be traditional gender roles.
It sounds like a great idea to simply dispense with them, since everything is just socially constructed right? Well no. This is where the egalitarian paradox shows what a disservice the concerted effort to minimize differences between men and women has been.
An egalitarian society is one where much time and effort has gone into ensuring all opportunities are open to everyone, regardless of sex or any other characteristic. But the most egalitarian societies see the largest sex differences in personality and the most significant self-segregation of the sexes in life outcomes, with most women selecting into traditionally feminine college and career paths, and with most men choosing traditionally masculine paths in college and in their careers. I recently saw an article from the New York Times I believe that claimed that the “maternal instinct,” the motherly, warm, compassionate, sensitive streak in women, is a social construct, a recent male invention. Data published by the Department of Education on bachelor degrees earned by women by field shows that around 50% of the degrees women obtained 2018-19 were in domains of “caring,” with some examples being health (which was the most popular field overall by far), psychology, education, and social services. When women have free choice, they behave suspiciously in line with traditional ideas about gender. Attempts to persuade men and women that there’s no sexual dimorphism in behavior is just an attempt to discourage what people naturally tend to like. It’s not very nice.
Lastly would be the colorblind orientation to race.
When I grew up I thought the coolest thing in the world was that I would be judged by my merit and not by how I look, it seemed like the best practice for a multicultural civilization. But now that’s been thrown out the window, with the reason being that, since certain groups have suffered past harm, mostly from whites, that it’s justified to employ positive discrimination, to judge on the basis of skin color in order to benefit some people. And this sounds great to some folks, mostly in the upper crusts of academia. But it doesn’t sound good to me for reasons which I think are obvious. Selecting anyone on the basis of anything besides merit is a great way to create institutions that fail quickly. We all want institutions that work, the only way to have working institutions is to find and promote the best people. A society that promotes people on the basis of race is not one that will last very long.
And at the very end, Info asks me for some tips about how to write more, and this is what I had to say:
Sotonye: The only tip I have for writing more is to write when you feel bad. I think a lot of us don’t feel great a lot of the time, whether because of some physical issue or just a sheer lack of motivation, and I think it’s important to understand that 1) there’s a huge opportunity cost to waiting until things are perfect, the biggest one might be the loss of the only form of immortality available to us besides having children: our productivity. When we die only our kids and our work will remain. If we’re idle we lose the chance to maybe have both, so we have to work hard despite everything we feel. 2) It’s important to understand that no one can tell the difference in your work between days where you feel great and days where you feel awful. I’ve written this entire interview feeling completely awful because of lack of sleep, but I don’t think anyone would have been able to tell!
My only other tip would be to find some way to put yourself in a bad situation. A situation wherein, if you don’t write prolifically, you’ll be in serious trouble or face deep embarrassment. My brother always tells me that one of the hardest things in life is having to be your own boss, and he’s right. Being self motivated is a universal problem, no one can figure it out. But the secret is I think just forcing yourself into obligations that will force you to work. The reason I’ve been writing so much recently is because I promised someone I would, the reason why I finished this interview in a day is because I told you I would. Start making promises.
Infovores asked great questions and I really enjoyed this interview. if you’ve made it this far I highly recommend checking it out here: