Interview: Ran Prieur
Ran Prieur is a philosopher, writer, blogger, and is well known for writing on collapse, society, psychology, freedom, drugs and consciousness. We spoke about these topics and more.
Leafbox: Ran, thanks so much for taking some time. I've been a reader of your essays for many, many years... I've watched some of your documentaries, but I think I get a sense of who you are, but if you were to introduce yourself to someone new who's never read one of your works, what's your first kind of statement, usually, on who you are, what you're into.
Ran:Oh, I don't know. I've been doing a blog for about 20 years. I used to write about ... I guess I'd say I used to write about critique of civilization... Now I'm writing more about psychology and metaphysics and less about politics and society, but I'm still kind of interested in that stuff. I'm writing a novel. It's going very slowly. I just like to think about things and write about things.
Leafbox:So maybe we can start there since you're in Seattle and you're more interested in the psychology. I was watching the short documentary about you, and I think a lot of ... I wouldn't call you a ... I guess not a prepper, but a doomer, but there's kind of a sense of a meaning of crisis in the West. And I'm curious where you think that comes from?Ran:The sense ... where does the sense of crisis come from?
Leafbox:Yeah. The meaning of crisis in the West, possibly.
Ran:The meaning of crisis, like what meaning do people get out of thinking there's a crisis? Or ... I mean, I can talk a little bit about why people might ... what sense of meaning people might get out of ... I mean, I think there is a crisis and I think there's a lot of things that are going on right now that can't keep going the way they're going. And I used to more of a doomer. I still think that there's going to be a lot of big changes. I think we're in the middle right now. We're in the middle of a slow collapse and people get a sense of meaning about ... well, I think that's part of the reason that we're in a slow collapse, is people want to be part of something.
People want to feel like they're participating in something that they feel good about. And society is not doing a very good job of giving that feeling to people.
So they get into other things and other movements, some of which might destabilize the system that we've got. People might ... I mean, it's fun to imagine that everything is going to collapse and that I have these special skills other people don't have that let me do better other people. And a lot of people think that way, I might say the intersection of meaning and collapse.
Leafbox:And where do you think ... why do you think society's failing to give meaning to Western, kind of modern people?
Ran:Why do I think it's failing? Well, you can see this and a lot of things where something starts out ... when something starts out, people are excited about it and then it just builds up all kinds of cruff, it builds up lots of stuff that's just added on and it's easy to add stuff and hard to take stuff away. There's an important book that I haven't read, but everybody talks about it, The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter, and he just talks about how complexity ... societies keep adding complexity, incrementally. It's easy to add complexity incrementally and hard to remove it incrementally.
So they just tend to build up more and more complexity and then lose a bunch of complexity all of a sudden.
So, you know, you could look at how much more expensive it is now to build things than it used to be. If you want to build a tunnel or a new subway, even accounting for inflation, it's way more expensive, and nobody is sure exactly why that is, but I think it's just that society gets more complex and the more complex it gets, the more clunky it gets.
And part of that is the ability to provide meaning. I think ... I can go on a bit of a tangent. I'm optimistic about the unconditional basic income. If we get something like that, then ... what people want is they want to do things. The goal for society should be a society that builds itself upward from what people enjoy doing. And ... it's hard to do that. And a society might originally build itself upward for what people enjoy doing. And then people are just doing it to go through the motions and not really enjoying it, like in ancient Egypt, the first great pyramid was better than the second. The second was better than the third. I think it's because for the first great pyramid, people were excited about like, Oh, that's cool. We're going to build a pyramid. And then they built it, and they're like, Oh man, another pyramid. But that was all they knew how to do.
So I'm just trying to triangulate this whole idea of why society starts to feel less meaningful as it goes on longer.
Leafbox:Do you think other civilizations have the same decadence of collapse, like Asian or Russian or Middle Eastern or developing?
Ran:Yeah. I think the same dynamic happens all over the world. I don't think this is uniquely a Western problem. It is a modern problem and there's never been so much complexity as there is right now. And just so much ... so many things we have to keep track of, and not all that stuff is going to be fun. And so it's going to be tedious, but I don't think this is uniquely Western at all. I think it's just modern. It has to do with the ... humans are always going to try, humans have been trying a lot of things that we've never tried before and we tend to mess it up and try, do it the wrong way a bunch of times until we get it right. That's happening right now all over the world with the internet and social media and lots of technologies that we haven't worked out how to work them well yet we're working them in a way that's not satisfying.
Leafbox:So do you know who Balaji is? He's that South Indian American kind of venture capitalist, philosopher, writer, Bitcoin guy. And he's modeled the future based on what he considers three contemporary forces, that being what he calls the CCP model, which is the Chinese kind of authoritarian state versus what he calls the NYT model, New York times, future model, where it's kind of a progressive eco kind of authoritative state, versus the BTC model, which is the Bitcoin kind of decentralized, utopian, anarchistic model. Peter Thiel also has a similar model, but he calls it sharia law versus the CCP model, versus eco hyper kind of ... progressivism, like European, or ...
I'm curious if you're in Seattle and Washington, and you're kind of worried about collapse, what's your future image of what is going to collapse and what's the future? Is it a Mad Max image? Is it a CCP kind of China image? Sharia law image? I'm just curious what you think. Use the term "long emergency," kind of the long slow collapse, but I'm curious what you see the future as.
Ran:Well, I have to break it down into different things. I don't ... and one of those things is technology, and another one of those things is the economy. And if I could just start with those, I think economic collapse is inevitable and there's going to be ... the economy we've got is based on perpetual growth, exponential growth, and there's no way we can keep having exponential growth. I think we're probably actually already done with the age of exponential growth and they're just kind of counting things that they shouldn't count to try to argue that ... economists are trying to create the illusion that we still have exponential growth and we don't. But we're going to have to figure out a way to live without that. So there's going to be all kinds of economic troubles.
And technology, my latest thinking on that is it's not going to be monolithic or global. It's going to be different everywhere. There's going to be really advanced ... I mean, technological innovations and ventures are going to continue. There's going to be lots of cool stuff and materials, and lots of questionable stuff, and AI, I mean, it's exciting stuff, but dangerous stuff. There's going to be lots of cool technological stuff and dangerous technological stuff continue to happen all through this. But in other places it's going to totally go to hell. There might be some neighborhoods that are Mad Max-like, but it's not going to be on a global scale.
Yeah, that's all I can think of right now. I mean, I don't really know much about China at all. It's such a big subject that I haven't really looked into it, but they're going to be in trouble because their system is also based on perpetual growth, and Americans continue to buy more things than the Chinese are making and they have their own troubles with the limits o