Do what I do, not what I say!

Updated: Aug 15, 2021


Politics is a game of status. In the book "Envy in Politics" (reading this article will do), we learn that "people will oppose policies that benefit themselves and their community if they think it will lower their within-group status." In other words, even when a policy might make someone better off, they are likely to oppose it if doing so for everyone in their community would harm their relative status position. Other examples that show that politics is a game of status include the intersectionality hierarchy that currently dominates our collective consciousness. Given these examples, it is not hard to conclude that the politics in the United States is quite broken, to say the least. A majority of us believe that this is the case. In 2019, 85% of people thought the political discourse "has become less respectful, fact-based and substantive." In fact, if you are skeptical, look around you. The "political spectrum" does not act like a spectrum at all! On an actual spectrum, there is a range of different variations. Independent of how you feel about these topics, consider how quickly mask-wearing devolved into a left vs. right issue? How about the vaccines? In other words, two poles do not a spectrum make. The current state of politics is dismal and political futures look flat.

Depending on who you ask, politics and political progress has, at the very least, stagnated, or if you have a higher dose of angst, has regressed on a bunch of issues. The way out of this stagnation is hard to plot. However, it is prudent to look at the sectors of our economy that have not stagnated for lessons that we can implement. The most obvious of these is the technology sector (I would include the space race here.) To escape, or at the very least slow down the decline of our current political landscape and make progress, politics should learn from technology. Specifically, politicians and the politically active should learn a few specific things from the technology sector. These lessons are primarily about status and status games. The lessons include:

  1. According status to persons in proportion to the level of rightness

  2. Giving status to those who have tried and failed as opposed to rent-seekers, and finally,

  3. Learning that status is not zero-sum.

The current political structure does not give status according to one's track record of rightness. In fact, in some cases, it demonizes. To take a more recent example, see the recent global pandemic. We had the likes of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose post on Covid before it was even known, called attention to the problem and offered an approach the world should have taken. Or Balaji Srinivasan, who was exceptionally early in calling the gravity of Covid-19. Or Bret Weinstein, who was right about the lab leak hypothesis before the current efforts in that direction. Have you heard any of these names? The fact that those who got the pandemic right, and got it early, are nowhere to be found in navigating the future with it is a travesty! All we have is the establishment. The returns to speculation here are quite low, so I won't indulge. You could. If politics were to improve in the near future, adopting this mentality has to be prioritized for our collective sanities - Give more esteem to those who have been right on issues in the past!

The second lesson politics can and should learn from the technological landscape is prioritizing "doing" over rent-seeking. Perhaps the most significant critique of the government, beyond its bureaucracies, is the presence of rent-seeking and the election of individuals who have done nothing but game the rent-seeking system. This spells doom for a system if the individuals that run it have no relationship with the unforgiving. They have never had to risk their well-being on an idea in which they believe. Do this as a thought experiment. How many prominent politicians (elected or not) have run and built successful businesses? Or served in the military (even though this is more common)? Or even does a martial art, for that matter! Contrast this with the ethos in Silicon Valley, where those who failed while trying things with their financial and reputational well-being on the line have a certain status if their failure is part of a larger portfolio of trials, some successes, and some failures.

On its face, these points seem to be at tension. How can you give status to those that have been right while simultaneously giving status to those that have failed? Well, this leads to perhaps the most critical lesson politics should learn from the technological industry - status is not zero-sum. In other words, your having status does not take away from my having status. We all learned this lesson from the YouTube revolution. How many YouTube stars are there? And in what communities? The adoption of this insight will inevitably lead to better political discourse and solutions.

Certainty Rating: 78%



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