Venkatesh Rao Profile picture
15 Sep, 22 tweets, 4 min read
This isn’t exactly a rare sentiment these days, but it’s interesting coming from Nicolas since he’s one of the most aggressively pro-US Europeans I’ve met (particularly the SV vision of the US). Extra rare because he’s not just European but French.…
Says something about the depth of positive potential in this country that despite 4 years of Trump and the prospect of 4 more, I don’t share this sentiment. The US is falling shockingly fast, but from a startlingly high position.
Despite the current anti-immigrant mood, it’s still actually the place I feel most welcome. The ethnonationalist turn of the US feels extra shocking because “native” is still an extremely unnatural construct here. Everywhere else, nativism is a deeper and more unwelcoming idea.
In absolute terms life here sucks right now. I detest the government, this state is burning, culture war is taking over everything, tech is stagnating... but when I ask, where else *could* I go with better overall prospects, there’s basically no other country on the list.
A ton of places have fewer negatives, but basically no place has significant positives that are available to me. Many places would be much nicer if I were much richer and the barriers to getting in were much lower.
Perhaps the view looks different if you already have a legal+linguistic foothold in a rich European or Asian country.
There’s still enough of value in this country that it’s a no-brainer that it’s worth saving from Trumpies. If he gets 4 more years, and/or Congress remains deadlocked, I don’t know if that will still be true in 2024. His damage capacity will 3x if he stays.
What’s valuable about the US?

The story of how the hacker revolution grew out of the railroad modeling club at MIT gets at it. There were 2 groups there in the 1960s. One focused on aesthetics, accurate train models, landscapes, etc. Other was into railroads as “systems”.
The hacker revolution grew out of the second group, who jumped on the early computers.

Seems like an allegory about America to me. The aesthetics modelers were like Trumpies. Invested in appearances and symbols/signifiers. The systems people were invested in how it all worked.
What makes America great is that there’s a continuous history of people constantly a) probing how the country works and b) taking it apart and rebuilding it in new ways, without being caught up in past.

That’s why it’s been able to constantly reinvent itself over 500 years.
Such a group exists in all countries, but the difference is, they actually used to run the show in the US. In most countries, the analytical hackers are a tiny minority and have zero power.

What’s depressing about Trumpies is that they make this country exactly like all others.
Ironic but not. The slogan “Make America Great Again” gives it away. America never does the same kind of greatness twice in a row. It’s always a self-disruption. That’s the actual exceptionalism of the US, but it’s the most terrifying exceptionalism for nativists to embrace.
I do believe some Trumpies believe the slogan sincerely. I just don’t think they get how this country works. They’re like the aesthetics-modelers of railroads in the MIT hacker culture story. They couldn’t see the soul of a computer revolution within the railroad revolution.
Foreigners often take note of how young this nation is, in post-Colombian accounting. But it’s not really. 528 years is a LONG time. The actual genius of this nat is staying young in spirit despite age. It’s always Day 1. It’s a 528 year old that acts like a 50-year-old.
Thought: The US is perhaps the only country where I feel both comfortable and justified in challenging native-borns’ right to judge who’s a “real” American. Even when their judgment is flattering as in, “you’ve become really American, not like some of those other immigrants”
I don’t feel that because I’ve now spent ~23 years here and seen/learned more about this country than many born here. I felt that way even 2-3 years in, when talking to say 50-year old native-borns.

I don’t think I’d be this way after say 23 years in Japan or France.
This may seem hypocritical, but even being an expat for that long, I probably wouldn’t reciprocally recognize Indianness of immigrants who’ve spent longer than me there.

It’s the uniqueness of the idea of the US. There’s no naturally privileged definition of “American.”
The correct American response to remarks like “you’ve become really American, not like some of those other immigrants” is “wtf makes you the judge of that?”

“American” unlike any other national identity, is almost like PageRank, an identity born of mutuality of recognition.
Other identities are kinda essentialist whether you like it or not. Much as I detest the Hindutva brigade in Modi’s India, it’s harder to challenge their claim to primacy in defining the idea of India and Indianness, because there isn’t a robust non-reactionary alternative basis.
The genius of the US is that if you can grok the way the machine works, hack it for your own idea of your best life (aka “the American dream”), and remake the country itself in a small way in doing so, that *is* how you earn an American identity.
If you make the mistake of thinking it’s about being born here, and about cowboy hats, guns, garage startups, country music, rock, black culture, or any other absolute signifier, there’s a very good chance you’ll end up being more Russian than American.
“American” is a post-national relativist, mutualist identity, and trying to adopt (or grow into) via absolute signifiers is a security hole. An attack surface that makes you pwnable by Putin or Xi. Both of whom will cheerfully manufacture a firehose of cowboy-hat memes to own you

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More from @vgr

15 Sep
Suppose you operate at 100 watts basal metabolism, and 50 watts for comfortable work.

You plan to do two 4-hour things today, task A in the morning and B in the afternoon

A can go right and take 25w for 4 hours, or go wrong and take 30w for 8 hours. 50-50

B takes 25w...
Your best case power output expectation is 25w for 8 hours. Comfy.

Your worst case is 30w for 4 hours, 55w for the next 4 (assuming you continue to do A and B in parallel)

So your stress level will be in response to 5w output beyond “comfortable”
If you apply this reasoning to everything you vaguely think you’re going to do in the short term, your expected uncomfortable power output = distress level in anticipation

It’s not power output level that causes stress but uncertainty in power output level. Here range is 25-55.
Read 24 tweets
14 Sep
I've heard of 3 hypothesized "basic drives" for living things: seek pleasure, avoid pain, minimize energy. I don't know that any of them is based on anything more solid than Freud-level hand-waving, but I think there's a fourth one: regulate uncertainty.
As in, arrange behaviors, intentions, expectations, actions to keep uncertainty in a band around a set-point that's comfortable to you.
I've often thought of myself as being driven primarily by the "minimize energy usage" drive (alternately, "path of least resistance") but I think "regulate uncertainty" is a better description.
Read 31 tweets
13 Sep
Next pandemic live-read. Pale Rider, by Laura Spinney, about the Spanish Flu. I'm relentless.
Okay here we go. This will probably be the last of my pandemic reads. I picked this out of several on the Spanish Flu because it promised a global perspective. Let’s see if it delivers.

Basic facts well known by now: 50-100m dead 1918-20, 2.5-5%. Lost in footnotes of WW1.
WW1: 17m, WW2 60m, Black Death 75-200m (but much bigger in perfect terms, 1/3-1/2).

Bigger than WW1+2 combined, much bigger than COVID at least so far, smaller than Black Death.

Most deaths concentrated in 13 weeks in 1918, “broad in space, shallow in time” WW1 was opposite.
Read 14 tweets
5 Sep
Doubt-impedance matching. To persuade smart people, you have to start from a posture of genuine doubt that matches theirs and work both of you into belief together. Belief is a relationship variable, not an individual one. It is founded on mutual information, not private.
If you don’t level-set on doubt (it looks like “take their temperature and match it”), you’ll either be perceived as delusionally overconfident or even psychotic, or pathologically self-doubting to the point you can’t be trusted in a mutual-belief relationship.
If impedance-mismatched persuasion works, one of you is an idiot. If you’re confident you can tell, it’s you.if you have no idea, it’s still you. Paradoxically the surest sign that you’re probably not the idiot is the sneaking suspicion that you might be.
Read 24 tweets
3 Sep
Lol 118 bannable apps versus Tagore poetry and yoga is... an interesting sort of cultural trade deficit. India basically exports no cultural goods worth canceling to China. The US otoh has Hollywood exports as a pain point.…
China is becoming increasingly vulnerable based on strengths. They import nothing they can’t do without that’s not raw materials, where they’re extra vulnerable. So tit-for-tat trade penalties don’t work.
Post-Covid reconstruction, if there’s a lot of dematerialization and localization of consumption, so world’s export markets mainly consume industrial intermediates over finished goods, China will be significantly weakened.
Read 16 tweets
2 Sep
I hate everything about this and these people are my mortal enemies now

It was fine when it was just the trads and hippies inconsequentially larping this at home on evenings/weekends. But now they’re going after the Dilberts and PHBs. This won’t end well.…
Oddly enough I tweeted this before I read the NYT piece
I blame @literalbanana for this trend
Read 13 tweets

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