Old mental models for understanding the world are quickly going out of date. Not only are things changing faster, things are changing faster on new dimensions. New sociopolitical axes are emerging. Seeing the world through old lenses risks being caught blindsided by the political equivalent of a runaway truck. People who thought the financial crisis of 2008 was unthinkable just weren’t looking at the right graphs. Michael Burry was, though.
In the same spirit, what are some new graphs we could look at, new themes for conflict and cooperation, new sociopolitical axes that are underestimated? That’s what this section is about.
I am moderately bullish on India, but extremely bullish on Indians.
Why? Well, first let’s talk about India the country. If you’re in the West, haven’t been paying attention to India, and think it’s still just an uninteresting “Third World country,” you can be forgiven for that. But take a look at the following links to orient:
- Here is a visual comparison of parts of Los Angeles vs India.
- Here’s a graph showing hundreds of millions of Indians getting cheap mobile internet service over the last five few years
- Here’s an amazing economic survey of India showing growth over the last decade
- Here’s a chart showing India is now #3 in tech unicorns after the US and China.
- Here’s a post that discusses the overall picture: The Internet Country
Putting that all together, there are now significant chunks of the “ascending world” which are cleaner and better maintained than the “descending world” environments of Los Angeles and San Francisco. That doesn’t mean the curves are the same — just that they overlap in a way that would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.
Next, let’s talk about the Indian diaspora. There are about five million people of Indian ancestry in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, and a fair bit more if we include the full South Asian diaspora. They have done quite well over the last few decades. While the first generation came over with portable technical skills in medicine and engineering, the second generation within the West speaks English without an accent and with full cultural fluency - resulting in many Indians in law, filmmaking, and media. Some have even ascended to the commanding heights of politics and technology, like Kamala Harris, Sundar Pichai, and Satya Nadella.
That sets up an interesting State-plus-Network dynamic. Using our terminology, the Indian State may take one step back for every two steps forward, even though it’s been moving forward as of late. But the Network of the global Indian diaspora is just on an exponential rise. Indeed, I think the 2020s will be for the Indian Network what the 2010s were for the Chinese State - somewhat ignored at the beginning of the decade, but an important global force by the end of it.
Recall that “China had its first unicorn in 2010, and it took five years for it to get to five unicorns; the year after that, it had twenty. Ecosystems develop very slowly, and then all at once.”
Please don’t think of this as Indian triumphalism at all – I actually find it surprising! It’s just recognition of an unexpected new player entering the arena that many still underappreciate. For further context, you might read A New Idea of India or Our Time Has Come.
An important emerging political axis is transhumanism versus anarcho-primitivism.
Briefly, transhumanists think technology is good, and want to use technology to change humanity in fundamental ways. Conversely, anarcho-primitivists think technology is bad, and want to to return to the wild, de-industrialize, and abandon technology. They think of humans as pollution on this great Earth.
There are right and left varieties of each, though they overlap. Left transhumanists like Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum to some extent give rise to right anarcho-primitivists, and vice versa. Basically, left transhumanists make changes to the human body that rightists find aesthetically unappealing. Conversely, right transhumanists advocate improvements to the human body that left anarcho-primitivists find terrifying.
It works in reverse as well. Some anarcho-primitivists advocate a back-to-the-land kind of traditional masculinity that some transhumanists find constraining. And some anarcho-primitivists want a Unabomber-like end to industrial civilization which would (among other things!) destroy the supply chains needed for the life extension sought by transhumanists.
An issue that confused me for a while is why criticism of San Francisco seemed to anger some people irrationally. Couldn’t they also see that prices and feces were both up and to the right at the same time? Eventually what I realized is that everyone is patriotic about something, and those people were patriotic about their city, while others were patriotic about their countries, companies, or even their cryptocurrencies.
To elaborate on this point, for someone who identifies themselves as a San Franciscan, criticism of the city is taken personally, because that isn’t a swappable piece of their life. Their company? That’s just a job, it’s replaceable, what they really care about is the Golden Gate Bridge, the Presidio, the 49ers - a sort of romantic identification with the city itself, and many of the people that live there.
Others affiliate with their national identity first, above their city identity - they’ll move between military bases at the drop of a hat, which are interchangeable, but they are willing to kill and die for the flag with which they identify. Or they might be “based” out of Seattle for a time, signifying that their location is immaterial, while signaling their deep love for democracy online, an identity that is non-negotiable.
Still others are patriotic about their companies, those things they’ve founded and funded, breathed life into, those entities that took all their capital and intellect to build, which are always far more fragile than they look from the outside, and which some callous outsider could break for likes with a few morale-draining tweets.
And yet others characterize themselves by their cryptocurrencies, thinking of themselves first and foremost as Bitcoiners or Ethereans. These folks are often digital nomads, indifferent as to whether they see the sunset in San Francisco or Singapore, or what crypto exchange lives or dies, so long as they can check in with their community of holders each day.
In each case, there’s typically a large economic, social, or political stake in the thing people are identifying with. The city patriot may be a homeowner or otherwise invested in city governance. The country patriot may have signed a military contract. The company patriot may be a founder or early employee with a significant equity stake. And the cryptocurrency patriot is often a sizeable holder of coins.
Now, not all things are like this; people can be right-handed without identifying themselves as right handers, they can do something without being something. So top-level identity, primary identity - that’s precious, it’s rare, it’s the identity that supersedes all others. People might use seven daily apps but they have even fewer primary identities - usually only one.
Primary identities need not just be about city, country, company, or cryptocurrency. They can be related to religion, ethnicity, or professions like “journalist” and “professor”. There’s a huge up-front sacrifice required to become a tenured professor, or to publicly convert to a new religion, and for this reason such primary identities often make it to the fore of someone’s Twitter bio.
Here’s a concrete example of the identity stack, with three Twitter bios:
Jim: #HereWeGo #SteelerNation 🏈 — All Things PA — Father — Husband — #Christian — #ArmyVet
Billy: Immutable money, infinite frontier, eternal life. #Bitcoin
Bob: Army retired, anti-terrorist assistance program, husband, father, grandfather, Iraq vet, educator, but most importantly an AMERICAN!
Again, everybody is patriotic about something. Jim loves his city; Billy is patriotic about technology and transhumanism; Bob would fight for the American flag.
The collection of all that defines someone, in rank order, is their identity stack. The top of the identity stack is the primary identity: the Pittsburgh Steelers for Jim, Bitcoin for Billy, and America for Bob.
And, as noted, primary identity is precious. It’s the identity that supersedes all others. To build anything great – a company, a currency, a civilization – an affiliation must beat out the rest of the identity stack to become someone’s primary identity. That’s a high bar to meet.