This week our guest is author and podcast, Chris Ryan, who is well known for exploring the evolution of human society and behavior through his books, Sex at Dawn and Civilized to Death.
In this episode, we take a candid tour through the many misconceptions and misunderstandings of early hunter-gatherer lifestyles and how an alternative view could benefit us in modernity. This includes topics such as cooperation vs competition, resource control, capitalism, mental health issues, the current ways technologies like energy production and social media alter our lifestyles, and much more.
Learn more about Singularity: su.org
Chris Ryan [00:00:01] A lot of people are are saying, okay, what we've been doing isn't really working all that well. And so let's look at the past. To help us understand our route into the future.
Steven Parton [00:00:32] However one. My name is Steven Parton and you're listening to the feedback loop by Singularity. This week our guest is author and podcaster Chris Ryan, who is well known for exploring the evolution of human society and behavior through his books. Sex at Dawn and Civilized to Death. In this episode, we take a tour through the many misconceptions and misunderstandings of early hunter gatherer lifestyles and how an alternative view could benefit us in modernity. This includes topics such as cooperation versus competition, resource control, capitalism, mental health issues, the current ways technologies like energy production and social media alter our lifestyles and much more. Now, I want to say upfront that this is a very candid conversation, and Chris provides a lot of critiques of technology and its potential for solving our world's problems. So much so that at one point he even apologizes for potentially alienating you, the listener. Assuming that as a listener you might be a techno optimist. But I'd like to use this as an opportunity to point out that techno optimism doesn't mean being blind to technological failings. And I think it's important that if we are to build a better future, that we welcome all perspectives to the conversation. And so with that in mind, everyone, please welcome to the feedback loop. Chris Ryan. So I'm thinking an interesting place to start with. You might be one that just came to mind as I was going through your work and thinking about this conversation, which is a conversation I had with some friends of mine previously where I was once asked, We're all trying to tell a story. What story do you think that you're trying to tell? Even with all the different ways that we do things, whether it's a film, a play, a book, whatever, it's all an attempt to tell a certain story. Do you feel like you have a certain story that you're trying to tell with your work?
Chris Ryan [00:02:34] Yeah, I definitely have a shtick. I, I was playing with chat recently and I, you know, did the thing that everybody does, kind of like Googling yourself for the first time. I wrote, you know, something like Christopher Ryan is an author and podcaster. You know, what are his primary concerns or something like that. And it came back to me and it was like it was embarrassing how accurate It was, so predictable. But yeah, I would say that my the narrative that my work promotes pretty consistently, whether it's my podcast or my books or my writings on Substack is that. Human beings are not separate from biological reality, that we are evolved animals and that we have. Certain needs and expectations based upon our evolution, both biologically and socially. Over millions of years in the biological case and hundreds of thousands of years in the socio cultural context, and that any time those expectations and needs are thwarted, it manifests as some sort of pathology, whether it be physiological cancer or heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity or psychological and emotional, you know, rampant divorce rates, over half of marriages ending in divorce. You know, kids growing up in single parent households, depression, anxiety, suicide, you know. So basically what I'm trying to do with my work is provide a map. That people can use to understand their own experience, their own frustrations, their own dysfunction in a. Much larger context. And my hope is that having this understanding will relieve unnecessary suffering, because I think, you know, most people are taught that if you're not if your marriage isn't everything, that Hollywood movies and, you know, Motown songs told you it would be, then there's something wrong with you. There's something wrong with your partner, wrong with your marriage. You know, that's bullshit. And that's sort of the equivalent of blaming poor people for being poor without looking at the realities of capitalism, which demand that there will always be poor people because otherwise capitalism doesn't function. You don't have a cheap labor pool, you know, you don't have desperate workers that's built into the system. It's not your fault. So I think if you had to take my entire life's work and boil it down to a few words, those words would be, it's not your fault.
Steven Parton [00:05:59] Yeah. Well, on that map that you're creating, what aspects would be labeled here? Be dragons. You know, what are some of the key evolutionary places of mismatch that are maybe the ones that are most concerning to you that, you know, our modern world conflicts with in terms of our evolutionary past?
Chris Ryan [00:06:20] Well, I've published two books. The first book, Sex and Dawn, is focused primarily on sexuality and, you know, romantic relationships between men and women for the most part. But it doesn't really matter what gender or sex people align with. So that's definitely a primary side of of dragons. I think that our expectations of our own bodies, our own appetites, our own psyches are totally out of alignment with the reality of of what kind of species we are and always have been. But judging by our proximity to chimpanzees and bonobos and our physiology, our genital reproductive anatomy, like all these things point in the same direction, which is to a species. That has long ago co-opted sexuality from being something primarily concerned with reproduction to something that is primarily functions as a social. Lubricant, allowing people to develop intimacy and trust between within a network. And that that is central to our success as a species. Our ability to work together, take care of each other, mitigate risk by sort of dispersing risk among the group. And in fact, hunter gatherers are. Considered to be fiercely egalitarian, not hierarchical, top down. You know, kingdoms. So I think there's a fundamental failure of imagination. When most of us think about our ancestors, we don't understand. And I'm not I'm not criticizing anyone. I, I didn't understand until I did the research that anatomically modern humans have existed for 2 to 300000 years. That's a long time. And we've only been living in villages with all the. The sort of, you know, the suite of or the set of of issues, problems that come with that for, you know, 10,000 years at the most. So you're looking at a tiny, tiny fraction of our existence as as a walking, talking species, the people who look like us. I'm not talking about, you know, intermediary humanoid forms. I'm talking about people. And so I think it's really important that we understand how hunter gatherers lived and and understand that there's a universality to the way hunter gatherers live, whatever part of the world they were in that comes out of the practicalities of a hunter gatherer life. And when we start to see that, then we see ourselves differently. We we can judge our failings with more compassion and understanding. If we have a clearer sense of what we are as animals.
Steven Parton [00:09:55] What is one of the things you talk about a lot that I really love, especially in civilized to death, is that movement to what I think you would call the the zoo of our own design, the beginning of an evolutionary maladaptive environment. Where do you kind of draw the line, I guess, on when that zoo became particularly problematic? Right, Because we had fire, we could call that a tool of technology, flaked tools, bows and arrows and pottery. Obviously there was a trajectory here, but and I think everyone, you know, typically points to the agricultural revolution in a lot of ways, But was there a point where it became like really pernicious for you when you saw things moved to a place technologically where it starts to go into the realm of, Oh, holy shit, we're going down a really bad path really quickly.
Chris Ryan [00:10:49] Yeah, I. I think, you know, pointing to the agricultural revolution is is pretty good in a in a macro sense. But for people who are more interested in the details, I think it's really about resource accumulation, which does go hand in hand with agriculture, but it also happens in other situations. For example, the the Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest, where you are, Portland, Seattle, you know, Vancouver, the Canadian coast, they figured out how to smoke and preserve salmon. And so there are these massive salmon runs and they would organize and net as much salmon as possible. And they they had these, you know, smoking racks and they would smoke all the salmon and then they could save it through the winter. And so that introduces even though it's not agriculture, it introduces the same social and behavioral patterns as agriculture. Right? Because now you can have settled villages. You're not moving with the animals and the seasons. You can just stay where you are. You've got accumulated resources. So you need to have some sort of a political hierarchy. Who organizes, who's going to be netting, who's going to be driving, who's going to be bringing the wood to to gather the wood, to do the drying? And then who gets the food? How do we distribute the food? Someone needs to be in charge of that. Who's going to protect the food? Right. It's stored in a in a longhouse or a hut somewhere. Who's going to make sure Nobody, no bears get in there? No thieves get in there. All right, then you have. Oh, the salmon didn't come this year. We're all starving, but we know it came up the coast, so now we're going to go raid them to get their food. So now you have organized warfare. So it doesn't need to be agriculture per say, to trigger this sort of cascade of. Political and behavioral and cultural innovations which begin the slide into the mess we're in now. It just needs to be the accumulation of resources. And so all the evidence shows that quality of life for the vast majority of people plummets very quickly with the transition from hunter gatherer to agricultural life and and the odds of dying by violence increase dramatically as well. Despair. Steven Pinker would tell you.
Steven Parton [00:13:35] What, you just nailed my next thought because I was thinking Steven Pinker is the kind of champion of modern optimism in the fact that basically everything has been going better since that transition. How do you reconcile that mountain of data that he brings to the table in terms of the benefits of progress with what you see as some of the fallacies, lies or downfalls of progress?
Chris Ryan [00:14:05] Well, I know Steven Pinker has a habit of presenting data in a very peculiar manner, which I have called out publicly several times, and he's never responded to me directly, but I've noticed how he tweaks things in his work, you know, to circumvent the critiques I've made. I think in Sex at Dawn, there's a section, just a few pages called Professor Pinker read in Tooth and Claw. I think where I really look at some of the things that he's doing. So one thing that he he did in his in one of his TED talks and in. The blank slate. I think it was it was an earlier book. He. He. And then he continued this in his later book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, where he really gets into this argument about the prevalence of violence. So he took ten what he called ten hunter gatherer groups, and he looked at data on violent death within those groups. And then he used that to say, okay, these are ten typical hunter gatherer societies and this is the rate of violence within those societies. So we can extrapolate and say that was the rate of violence in pre-history, you know, 20, 30, 40,000 years ago. So there are several problems with what he did, first of all. I think if I remember correctly, eight of those ten groups are not hunter gatherers. Like one of them. I remember I had like, powerboats, like aluminum powerboats that they were tooling around on in Australia. And, you know, so I went back and looked at each of these groups and even the anthropologist whose work Pinker was using said, these are not hunter gatherers, they have gardens, they have pigs, they have, you know, tribal organizations, they have organized warfare with other groups because they have accumulated resources, right? They have these gardens and villages and huts and all that stuff. Immediate return Hunter gatherers, by definition, don't have accumulated resources. So there's really nothing to fight over. Right. What are you going to fight about? Like there's nothing to steal. We don't have anything like, Oh, you want to come and risk your life to push us away from here? Okay, we'll go over there. You know, I mean, that's always an option. So again, I think the problem with a lot a lot of the mainstream thinking is, as I said earlier, a failure of imagination. Because what they do is, is they look at life, the way we live it, and they extrapolate from that into a hunter gatherer context and sex it down. We call this which I coauthored with my wife, Cécile Digitas. So when I say we, I'm talking about her. We called this Flintstone ization, right? This idea of like what life was just like now, except, you know, they push their cars with their feet, you know, and, you know, they pulled the bird for the doorbell or whatever. And so, okay, in the case of Pinker, so eight of the ten groups he talked about, they they're not even hunter gatherers. So totally irrelevant. And then he did things like crazy things like one of the groups was in the Amazon and he said, okay, you know, 20 men died by violence in this year and therefore, you know, judging by the total population, blah, blah, blah, okay, those men were all killed by gold miners and loggers, right? They were all killed by, you know, so-called civilized society expanding into their tribal, you know, ancestral lands. And they were murdered by us. And yet you turned around and say, See how violent they are? Like they died because we killed them and you're calling them violent. It's insane. Anyway, so in that section in Sex at Dawn, we wrote this thing and, you know, critiquing him. And so then in his next book, he used the same data. He didn't change his data. He didn't acknowledge like, oh my God, these people were murdered by Westerners. That shouldn't count as violence in there. But what he did was he called them pre-state societies, so he no longer called them hunter gatherers. They're now pre state societies. Well, dude, you know, a 17 year old and a two month old are both pre adult. Right. Right. It's just so sloppy and so obviously pushing an agenda that he's not, in my opinion, open to really looking at the data. Another thing he does is he says like for example, among the kung saan people of Botswana, the Kalahari Desert, he talks about how violent they are because he looks at, you know, there is, you know, one murder per how many hundred thousand people per year or whatever it is, not just per 200,000 people. And he says, well, that's like Baltimore. Okay. But then if you look at the population of the kung saan people. Statistically, it sounds violent, but what it means is that there was one guy who killed another guy. Five generations ago. And so statistically, the murder rate is pretty high because there are only 400 people. Right. Yeah. But that means in your life, in your father's life, In your grandfather's life. Nobody ever killed anyone in your society. And yet we're supposed to believe that that's the same level of violence as Baltimore. It doesn't make sense. Right? It's one of these things as a thought experiment or, you know, mathematically, it seems to make sense, but. You know, it's like I live I think I use this illustration in civilized to death. It's like when I'm trying to explain how these things can be framed in ways that are very misleading. You know, it's like, if I live in this this I live in a little house, you know, humble little house with a one car garage and whatever. But it's in the same town as Bill Gates has his compound. Well, the average income in that town is hundreds of millions of dollars. Right. But I don't have any of it. But you could say, well, oh, you live in a town with an average income of $400 million. Lucky you. Well, no, it's it has nothing to do with me. It doesn't affect me at all. So anyway, he does a lot of that stuff. And, you know, maybe from his perspective, I do that stuff. You know, we all sort of frame things to fit the narrative that we have in mind. You know that. The thing that I mean, lots of things comfort me in thinking like I. My argument actually is more in alignment with the data. But one thing that comforts me when I'm thinking about this confirmation bias is that I started out arguing the opposite of where I ended up. So, you know, when I started doing the research, I thought. That I was. I mean, I was convinced that this sort of mainstream narrative made perfect sense. And, you know, I wanted to understand that better. And then when I started digging into the data bit by bit, I was like coming to the conclusion like, I was pulling a thread on a tapestry and the whole thing was falling apart. And I was like, What the hell is this? I thought I was going to do my dissertation about how much sense this makes, and instead I'm finding it doesn't actually make sense. And it seems more like a political agenda than a scientific argument. Oh, what the hell? And you know, and it took me a while before I thought, well, oh, actually, this is great. This you know, this gives me an opportunity to argue something totally new. And luckily, I was in a graduate school where I was allowed to do that. Whereas if I had been at Harvard or an MIT or, you know, someplace where powerful people in the anthropology department would have shut me down, I wouldn't have been able to do it.
Steven Parton [00:23:11] How does all that knowledge that you've accumulated through that research and, you know, kind of picking apart arguments like the ones that Pinker has made culminate in your current perspective on the world when you when you look around. You know, it's one thing to compare pristine people to foragers. It's another thing to compare them to somebody in the 21st century who grew up with an iPad and who sees, you know, Twitter and smart phones and, you know, satellite dishes, sending information to your hand at all times. That's that's a whole nother level of incongruity that is almost hard to even imagine. Taking your lens on the world that you've, you know, polished. How do you view this modern paradigm that we find ourselves in?
Chris Ryan [00:24:04] Yeah. It's interesting because. It's very bifurcated. You know, in terms of my own perspective on the world, I feel both. Like overwhelming sadness and despair at the trajectory of. Western civilization like I think a lot of us do these days. And yet, on the other hand, I. I feel. A sense of hope and faith in the things that don't change. Mhm. Right. Because essentially my argument you know, could be you know, dismissed as Rousseau and romanticism, utopianism, whatever and it is often. But it aligns with the data and, and the despair comes from the fact that how. Ineffective. Data is in the face of a cultural narrative because they tell people what they want to hear. They give people this comforting story that things are better now than they've ever been. You know, which is like the guy who thinks he's flying while he's falling. Like, that's a great narrative until you hit the pavement, you know? And I'm out here saying, No, actually, we're falling. Hello? We're falling. Can you not see the windows going by? Do you not, like see the trees getting bigger? Like that's an indication that we're falling. And everyone's like, No, no, we're flying. It's great. I love it. So, you know, that's that's kind of a bummer. But, you know, but on the other hand, I don't really know that there's much we could do about it anyway. Like, if everyone was like, Yeah, you're right, we're falling now. What do we do? I have no, I don't know. I have no parachute. So maybe they're better off thinking they're flying. I don't know.
Steven Parton [00:26:14] I mean, do you think we can change the cultural narrative? Do you think there's something we can do to kind of steer the human condition? You know, are you kind of of the Hobbesian or Rousseau ian idea that we have a basic human nature that is being thwarted by, you know, modernization? And if we were able to change those narratives, maybe we could bring it back in alignment?
Chris Ryan [00:26:36] Yeah, I partially I guess I align with the Rousseau ian vision that human nature is innately. Skewed toward cooperation over conflict toward. Helping strangers rather than exploiting them. And I present a lot of evidence for this in my books. But, you know, the narrative is, you know, one of the most widely read books in the Western world is Lord of the Flies. Right. Like, all the kids have to read that in school from, you know, my parents generation, I think right through now it's a lie. That's a total lie. I mean, obviously it's fictional, but the the narrative of human nature that it presents, which is, you know, the Hobbesian worldview, is that. Without the intervention of the state. You know, powerful institutional controls on human behavior. We're just wild, crazy killers, and we'll just tear each other apart and exploit one another. So thank God for the state. Right. And so that's essentially the zookeeper saying, you know, hey, you, you caged monkeys, you better be grateful because we're here protecting you, because without us. Oh, my God, you know, you'd be consumed by monsters and by each other. But there's actually a case of kids who got shipwrecked and lived on an island for weeks before they were discovered and saved. And what did they do? They cooperated. They formed groups so that somebody was always awake to watch the shoreline. They took care of each other. One of the most hopeful things I've ever read is a book called Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit, which I quoted from quite extensively and Civilized to Death. And it's it's a book she wrote about disaster, sociology and the people who have spent their lives studying human behavior in disaster. What you know, which is the perfect test case when the the state is gone. Right. There is no state. There's no there are no police there. There's no power. There's no nothing. So what do people do? Do they rape and pillage? No. What they do is they help each other. That's our that's our innate predisposition to take care of each other because it's in our interest to take care of each other. And this is something all our ancestors understood very deeply, going back hundreds of thousands of years. What we do best as a species is take care of one another. That's how we survive it. As a species. We cooperate. We can hunt larger animals if we cooperate and share the meat. Right. Nobody's going to cooperate on a mammoth hunt if we're not sharing the meat afterwards. That. Why would I do that? That makes no sense. You know, we're much better at protective defense. If they're five guys with spears. The Tigers are not going to attack. Right. If there's one guy with a spear. That guy's probably tiger lunch. You know, there's a great expression that. My Casilla told me she grew up in Africa and we were working on the book and she said, Yeah, and when I was a kid, I remember my mother saying the best place to store extra fruit, extra food is in your friend's stomach. I thought, you know, that is one of the deepest human expressions ever. It goes way, way back. And again, it's not. See, where I differ from Rousseau is I'm not saying that we are. You know, so never used the term noble savages. But you know, it's been attributed to him. But I'm not saying that. That humans are these angelic creatures that only do bad things because culture forces us to and distorts us. But I am saying that it has been in our best interest. To behave in certain ways, which we consider to be, you know, pro-social cooperation, restraint, respect. You know, these things are built into us. Yeah. Over hundreds of thousands of years. And we live in a time in which there's a conflict because, you know, we still teach kids this. You know, if you go, you know, you go to a kindergarten class. If you didn't bring enough for everyone, then you shouldn't have brought it, right. Don't bring candy for yourself, Don't hoard food, don't create resentments and all that. We still teach that to kids. Share. Be nice to one another. All that. Oh, she's crying. Go and give her a hug, you know. But then you get to, you know, business school and suddenly you're not being taught that anymore. And now you're being taught. No, no. Exploit them. Get the most. You can sell them a lie. It doesn't matter if you can, you know, get their attention. Get it. Attention. Economy. Exploitation is the goal. So there's a weird. Disconnect between the values. Sort of eternal values of our species and the values of contemporary society. And I think a lot of people are suffering from this, not only the exploited but the exploiters.
Steven Parton [00:32:44] I yeah, definitely. This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, and it's actually been one of the places that I think I find myself being most concerned. And that's and this idea that the dark triad types, the Machiavellian narcissistic psychopath types tend to dominate in a landscape where there aren't those evolutionary social checks and balances that we evolved with. And it feels like because of the scale of our society, because we're now past Dunbar's number of 150 people in a group where we can track relationships, this social media landscape that has anonymous behaviors and people able to accumulate massive amounts of wealth where they can do harm to somebody and not have those social checks and balances come back on them feels like it opens up this landscape for a lot of bad actors. And I wonder, do you are you concerned about kind of these social checks and balances and in the technological modern world and how they feel?
Chris Ryan [00:33:45] Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, it's. And it's not only bad actors. I think that. These sort of technological innovations that come along with this sort of massive scale of human social interaction where, as you say, we're interacting with people will never meet. We never even see their faces or know their names, right. Either on Twitter or X or whatever they're calling you now or you know, or even in real life, you know, in Los Angeles, I can, you know. Cut a guy off in traffic and give him the finger and I'll never see him again. No. Yeah, there's no repercussions. It doesn't matter. This not only sort of liberates. Psychopaths who tend to thrive in certain very visible professions, but it also. But it also increases the visibility and the influence of people who are deeply unhealthy and unhappy, which is a very strange way for a society to evolve. It's a very pathogenic route that we're taking. Right. So, for example, if you look at. Entertainment like I was I was talking with. You know, I was I was actually I was watching Comedians in Cars getting Coffee. Jerry Seinfeld. And I think he was he was with Neil Brennan, who's co-creator of the Chappelle's Show standup comic. You know, great. He did a thing called Three Mikes on Netflix. Highly recommend. Beautiful. Very. I think he's a very thoughtful comic. I've had him on my podcast. Anyway, I think it was Neil who was saying, you know, because they talking about like the community of comedians and all that. And Neil said, you know, I love comedians. That's my world. Those are my people. But when you think about it, it is kind of pathetic because we're so needy. Like, all we're doing is we get up there and we're saying, please love me, please love me, please love me for, you know, a 20 minute set or a one hour Netflix special. That's what it is, basically. Right. And he said, I don't really know anyone who's happy. I don't know anyone whose parents love them. You know, if if your parents loved you and you're balanced, you're not going to be a standup comedian. You're not going to put up with all this shit. You're not going to, you know, bomb 20 times before you get a laugh. You're not going to subject yourself to this level of humiliation because you just don't need the approval that much. And you can extrapolate that into everything. You know, watch the the the Netflix special about Michael Jordan. That is one of the most miserable, unhappy people you will ever meet. Never satisfied, never enough, never. No win ever scratches the itch of resentment and need that that guy had. And yet we say he's the greatest, right? He's the greatest. Well, the only reason he was the greatest is that he's the most miserable. Right. And and and look at music. Michael Jackson. He's the king. Michael Jackson. Sad, distorted, fucked up kid. Really bad from a really young age. Elvis totally fucked up. Like, it's really hard to find examples of people who. Attain these heights of success, whether it's fame, power, money, whatever. Who aren't a mess? Because if you're not a mess. I heard a guy told me a story recently. He was at a dinner at a billionaire's house and at the table was. I think it was the guy who wrote Catch 22. I forget his name, the author. He's a great author. And Catch 22 is an amazing book. But anyway, this guy was at dinner and at some point the phone rang and the billionaire had to go and deal with some business call in the next room. So the rest of them are sitting there and someone says to this author. Have you ever thought about the fact that this guy makes more money in a day than you've probably made from all the books you've ever sold? And he's like, Yeah, you're probably right about that. But, you know, it doesn't bother me at all because I have something he'll never have. And so what's that. He said enough. Mhm.
Steven Parton [00:38:53] Yeah.
Chris Ryan [00:38:55] What's that feel like To have a nephew.
Steven Parton [00:38:57] Like that is a big part of what's going on right now. Like with we have so many unmet needs because we are in such a maladaptive relationship with our world that we end up doing things like thinking the attention economy and fame and money and whatnot on social media is our path to success that we need to get more because we just don't feel like we're being met where we need it. Exactly.
Chris Ryan [00:39:23] Exactly. And that's the disjuncture that that I talk about. You know, I always come back to in my work is like, okay. The voice of culture, our culture, which in my estimation is sick, is telling you you need X, Y, and Z to be happy. Fame, fortune, big breasts, calf implants, you know, jawline, hair, hair plugs, whatever it is. You need that when you get that, you'll be happy. Now, of course, to get that, you need to work. Well, where do you work? You work in some miserable job that bores the fuck out of you that drains your life essence. But, you know, you got to do it to get the money to pay for the thing that's going to make you happy. It's. You're on the wheel. You're the rat on the wheels, spinning the wheel. Right? The Matrix. I mean, that's what the Matrix was about. That's what all these, you know, this narrative, it's it's one of the deepest narratives in the world that you go out in search of this thing. You know, it goes back to the Odyssey, for chrissakes, right? You go out in search of this thing, whether it's material, you know, your soul mate, your, you know, the elixir of eternal life, whatever it is, you go out looking for it and you have experiences. And then if you're lucky and you don't die out there, you go on the journey. Eventually you mature to a point where you realize like, Oh, this is all a fool's errand. This thing doesn't exist. Or to the extent that it does exist, it exists within me. And so you end up returning back to where you began. I quote T.S. Eliot from the Four Quartets who put it beautifully. He said, We shall not stop our exploration, but the end of all our explorations will be to return to where we began and know the place for the first time. Right. I think that's the life cycle of each of us if we live a meaningful life and. Where I feel hope is in the idea that maybe that's also the narrative of our society, that maybe. The last, you know, the age of industrialization, the agricultural age, and now the information age and whatever is coming next. Maybe this has been sort of the outward journey. And I feel that maybe we're at a place now and really just in the last couple of decades where. It feels to me like that point where the outward journey is ending and the return journey is beginning. Yeah, because, you know, if you look around and you look at medicine, you look at diet, you look at exercise. Certainly sexuality, in my case, relationships. A lot of people are saying, okay. What we've been doing isn't really working all that well. And so let's look at the past to help us understand our route into the future. Right. So you've got Paleo nutrition people. 30 years ago, nobody was saying, well, what was the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors and what can we learn from that about how to live now? Now you've got, you know, Mark Sisson selling the Primal Kitchen. It's in fucking, you know, Walmart, his primal avocado, oil based mayonnaise. You know, it's like there are major changes happening in the zeitgeist in terms of a respect for the distant past that 30, 40 years ago, you know, what are you going to learn from caveman? Like, you know, it's ridiculous. They were they were idiots who just clubbed women over the head and dragged them. Like the sort of cartoonish vision of prehistory of 50 years ago is largely supplanted now, at least among, you know, intelligent people, by something much more respectful and curious. And so it does feel like, you know, and I know your podcast is largely about technology and and, you know, sort of cutting edge innovations in that world. And where my thinking overlaps with that is in the idea that maybe we've come to a point where we have figured out the technological stuff enough that we can take that back home, right? That we can take passive energy generation, for example, geothermal, solar or whatever. I think one of the most important technological innovations is birth control. Yeah, right. Like, we can intentionally talk about what would be the ideal population range globally and how do we get there? Not by coercion, not by, you know, eliminating, you know, the gypsies or something, but by just saying, how do we incentivize people to have fewer kids? How how do we make having fewer kids result in a better quality of life for people? And it's not that complicated, right? Because most people around the world have kids as a way to assure some sort of stability and security in their own old age. Well, if we could provide that through some kind of global, universal basic income, for example, that was incentivized, where if you have fewer kids, you actually get more money. I think a lot of people would choose to have fewer kids right within a generation or two when they see, yeah, this actually works. They actually, you know, pay this off. I don't need to have nine kids, four of which survive to take care of me when I'm old, like, you know. And so you see that happening in lots of societies, like Scandinavian societies or wherever, where people are like, Yeah, I don't need kids to take care of me. So maybe one or two, but you know, that's it. Yeah. So I, I, I mean, if I were betting, I would not bet that that's what's going to happen. I would bet that we will destroy ourselves and the planet.
Steven Parton [00:46:22] Yeah.
Chris Ryan [00:46:23] That seems like a safer bet in a weird way. But.
Steven Parton [00:46:27] But. But you do hold the door open for maybe that inverted you, right? Like, I've been thinking about this myself. The idea that in the Industrial Revolution, things like this, we had these massive factories, massive silos, just billowing poison into the air. We had, you know, technology, communication mediums, mediums, you know, basically being like the people like Bernays and the kind of, you know, screwed up marketers of the past telling people what to think. But now we're moving towards technology where we have much smaller forms of energy. We have communication platforms that are distributed and allow people to kind of touch back with nature and with each other as peers rather than higher in a hierarchy. And I would do wonder if there is some optimism and maybe you can speak to this to be had. Do you think that maybe we are kind of maturing a little bit in a way that might take us back toward some of our evolutionary roots? You seem to think so a little bit, but I mean, do you see some hope there in technology doing more than just bringing more problems, even though it is progress?
Chris Ryan [00:47:37] No, I'm definitely not a technological optimist.
Steven Parton [00:47:42] Pure Luddite, huh?
Chris Ryan [00:47:44] Well, not even that. No, I mean. I used I used computers and microphones and, you know, like, I live on technology. Like most people. All people pretty much. But no, I, you know. I look at your examples and see, well, okay. The factory's spewing poison into the atmosphere, happening more than ever now. You know, you might not see it. It's not happening in your neighborhood or mine, but it's happening. More than ever. Deforestation, faster than ever. You know, climate change is off the charts. You know, we are not a species that is very good at anticipating a problem and dealing with it in advance. We tend to wait until the ship has hit the fan, and then we try to deal with the shitty fan. We don't, you know, see it coming. And so, you know, we're pretty good at that adjustment after the shit has hit the fan, but we're not good at voiding it in my estimation. So I mean, I probably alienating your audience. I'm sorry, but you're fired.
Steven Parton [00:49:06] I speak candidly.
Chris Ryan [00:49:07] You know, you asked me for my perspective, and it's. The innovations are always sold as a cure to the previous problem. But either we cover up and deny or we just don't understand that it's causing another problem. And so we dig ourselves in deeper and deeper and deeper. And now we're so dug in that it's almost unimaginable how we're going to get out. But to respond just briefly, to respond to the rest of your question, I do think, like on a macro level, I think we're totally fucked on a micro level. I think you, me and the people listening to this podcast. Could leverage. Technology carefully, mindfully, to vastly improve our quality of life. And maybe that'll spread out into the world somehow over generations. Maybe. Or maybe it'll just demonstrate another way to live so that when things continue falling apart, people will look and say, Huh, okay, I see what they're doing. That kind of works. You know, something like sustainable agriculture. It's not going to work on a massive scale. But if you're interested in growing your own food or getting together with your friends and buying some land in the countryside somewhere cheaply and building shelters and setting up a garden and having some goats and some chickens. And there are people who are doing that more and more all the time, and they're very happy to show you how it works. And so as long as they're I call I call them lifeboats, right? As long as there are these lifeboats floating around, more and more people, I think, are going to be interested in these alternatives. You know, it happened with Sex at Dawn. I didn't expect sex at dawn to be, you know, in 27 languages or whatever it is. But I think that people were at a point where they were ready to acknowledge that the dominant paradigm really didn't make sense anymore. Everybody knew someone who was divorced. Everyone knew someone who was in a miserable marriage. If it wasn't the person themselves, it was their mother or their sister or whatever. Very. So everyone had immediate experience of the failure of the expectation that monogamous marriage was this easily attained ideal. And any failure was due to your personal, you know, inabilities. So they were open to a different narrative. And I feel like we're at that point on a general level now where people are saying like, yeah, this, you know, working in a cubicle, it's just not doing it for me. And commuting an hour to work each way now is sitting in this car in the traffic. No, there's a lot of things where people are just saying this, this doesn't work. I don't know what will, but this isn't. And that's a great opportunity for us as individuals. If we again, if we band together and take care of one another and cooperate, that's the way to do it. Community.
Steven Parton [00:52:47] Yeah, well, I mean, you may be touching it right there, but as we come to a close in our time here, how do you recommend we the anybody, I guess, really bring that dominant narrative to a close and start that shift to a better narrative? What kind of message would you put forth as the one that you want to promote?
Chris Ryan [00:53:08] Well, I think. You know, I think that the the dominant narrative is. Like a stumbling drunk. At this point, it's just a question of of when he trips over something and face plants, you know, it's failing. I can't think of an institution in American culture that hasn't been exposed as corrupt in the last 20 years, from organized religion to the military that, you know, like, oh, $400 billion is missing. Well, yeah, yeah. Accounting error. We don't know where it went into happened. Yeah. Get over it or move on. Look forward. Don't look behind, you know, to the Supreme Court. You know, I mean, even five years ago, I was under the impression that Supreme Court justices weren't allowed to accept million dollar gifts from wealthy donors who had cases before the Supreme Court. Well, it turns out I was wrong. You know, whatever sports, corruption, you know, I can't find anything that isn't full of shit. And so it's definitely, you know, we're in we're in a late civilizational collapse, period. And so what do we do? Well, don't. The ship is sinking, so forget about clinging to the ship. Right. So what do we do? Lifeboats. Okay. What is a lifeboat? A lifeboat is a way for us to preserve or increase our quality of life by thinking outside the box. And so there are lots of ways to do that. And. And to some extent, the technological innovations of the last couple of decades empower us greatly and empowers us to find one another right to, you know, find your subreddit or find your Facebook group or, you know, however you connect with people. Information availability has never been what it is right now. I mean, I used to go to the library to research things and, you know, microfiche. And now I sit at my desk and data and there it is, whatever I want. You know, I can learn how to do anything with YouTube videos and so. I think we leverage the things that we have, which is information, access and access to one another without forgetting that it's not about. The means, the technological means of doing these things right. It's building a house isn't about your tools. It's about the house, right? It's about building a comfortable place to live. It's not about fetishizing your table saw. And so we need to use the technology that's available to us to build what we need. And what we need is what we've always needed as a species, which is small scale communities of people who love and respect and trust one another so that we can get through this together. That's eternal. And that is where happiness lies, right? We were talking earlier about the voice of the culture telling you you need to do these things to be happy, but it never works, right? Like Jim Carrey. In some interview, he said, I wish everyone could be rich and famous for a day so they could see that it doesn't solve any of your problems. It just brings new ones, right? That's true. So stop chasing the fame. Stop chasing the money. Stop trying to be Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson or, you know, Bill Gates or or Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was miserable. Nobody loved him, right? I mean, he abandoned his daughter. His ex-wife was like he was smart, you know, like, okay, he was smart, but he wasn't happy. So emulate the people that you see who are happy, not the people who are rich and famous and powerful because they're very likely sick and sad. So look around you. Look at your neighbor who's happy and sitting on his porch and whose wife loves him. And he's got a nice dog and he's got a nice house. And, you know, he's sitting out there drinking a beer with a smile on his face. Go talk to him about the secret to success because he knows it. These other people have no idea.