In my time working on Wall Street as a financial manager for high net worth families, I noticed that these people, who were some of the richest in the world, would also become intensely emotional at the loss of any funds - even when they were but a fraction of their net worth. This was strange to me at the time, but I would later recognize it as the cognitive bias Loss Aversion. In this Frankly, I wanted to reflect on the roots of Loss Aversion and the ways it may manifest during the coming economic (and environmental?) declines during The Great Simplification. Why do losses feel so much stronger to us than gains - even when we have an overabundance of wealth? Can being aware of this evolved psychological trait diffuse its intensity? How does this affect our ability to perceive and plan for the reality of less available energy and resources in the future?
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Hello Nate -
I realise this doesn’t really belong as a comment on this particular video, and I feel a bit sheepish about writing in any case, as I don't have any particular expertise and I know you have a lot of demands on your time, and probably have better things to do than answer random messages. I only became aware of your work quite recently, and have watched a good many of your podcasts, and have thought at times of commenting but didn't feel that I had anything particularly useful to say. Briefly I would like to thank you for your effort and devotion. It must at times be dispiriting to work towards a goal (some sort of humane and genuinely sustainable planetary future) when things are so stacked against us, especially in an environment where attention spans have dwindled to evanescence, where we are sinking under stupendous information overloads and where “truth” has been relativised to death. I am impressed by how you engage with the variety of guests you manage to – ranging from the fairly hard-nosed technicians and economists to the more holistically minded eco-spiritualists, and how you manage to find common ground between not obviously compatible viewpoints. Maintaining some degree of equilibrium, avoiding the common temptation to disappear down one virtual rabbit hole or another, is no minor feat.
As for myself, I guess I've been mulling over some of these matters for a while. I remember my mother discussing Silent Spring when it first came out, the polluted expanses of the Hackensack Meadowlands seen from the Greyhound bus on the New Jersey Turnpike, the TV images of the extensive US defoliation of Vietnam. I suppose I'm rather more pessimistic than you are: or maybe not so much pessimistic as fatalistic, taking an essentially tragic view of our situation. One side of my family were utopian socialists/anarchists – I spent part of my childhood in the suburbanised remains of the one of their “colonies” in New York State. They and their erstwhile comrades naturally had a rather rosy view of human nature which they struggled to maintain through the various horrors of the 20th century and despite all evidence at a more local level.
I was always rather skeptical about human benevolence or foresight, but I did at one time think that an essentially technical course towards a sustainable civilisation might be navigated if both population and unnecessary consumption could be controlled. While aware of the constraints imposed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, I imagined that human (or even post-human) ingenuity could circumvent it. Of course, as you rightly point out, our civilisation's apparent increase in complexity (in spite of the 2nd law) has been at the expense of using/squandering our most concentrated sources of low entropy carbon/hydrocarbon – and that the current climate concerns are only addressing a symptom (albeit an important and potentially quite lethal symptom) of the underlying problem.
Among the various insights from your podcasts, the megatons of fossil fuel = micrograms of dopamine was perhaps the most striking. I feel that this does go to the heart of the problem: ie the relationship between the material world, consciousness and suffering. I might have a bit more to say on this point, but I don't wish to impose on your time and good nature.