I am mulling the idea of having a weekly discussion seminar on the topic of Modern Problems. The seminar would be limited to myself and six attendees. It would run for 8 weeks. The purposes that the seminar would serve for me:
satisfy the desire of some of my subscribers to interact with me and with one another
allow me to try out ideas for a possible book on the topic of modern problems
The modern problems that will be our focus of concern will be illiberalism and institutional decline. Why are these problems emerging at this time in the forms that they are?
My thinking is that computer technology has changed the social and economic landscape. There has been a big wealth transfer from the owners of tangible capital to the owners of intangible assets (this is particularly true if you think of urban land as having value derived from intangible assets like regulations and network effects). The availability of information has increased. The capacity for surveillance has increased. Communication patterns have changed.
Individuals have to deal with more tools that they do not understand and more bureaucrats—in government, health insurance, education, and elsewhere. It seems that more aspects of life are challenging to govern: social media; surveillance technology; artificial intelligence; big data.
We have seen the emergence of significant class distinctions, primarily along educational lines. The gulf between Americans with college degrees and those with no college education is wide.
In a liberal society, leading institutions derive their power from prestige. But the prestige of academics, journalists, and government officials has plummeted. Rather than inspiring respect and emulation, they are asserting claims that their credentials alone entitle them to power and to deference from ordinary civilians.
The seminar will meet weekly for eight weeks. I might lead two sections of six participants each. At least one of the sections will meet from 8 to 9 PM New York time on Monday or Wednesday. The other section might meet in the evening, also, but if participants are amenable to it the seminar could meet on a weekday from noon to 1 PM New York time.
Readings for the seminar will consist primarily of essays that I have already published. Most of these are book reviews, and participants are encouraged to go back to the original sources. Some examples of my essays:
Other books that are likely to come up during discussion include:
Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge
Julia Galef, The Scout Mindset
Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century
Peter Turchin, Ages of Discord
Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success
There will be no grades issued for the seminar. I will encourage each participant to volunteer to contribute one short paper that we could discuss during the seminar. The paper would be on a topic agreed to between the participant and me. It might be a review of a relevant book or a comment on one of my essays.
My idea would be to set up a paid subscription model on substack to manage participation. A question I have is what price to charge to yield a list of participants that is not too many (I do not want more than two sections of six each) or too few (I want at least 4 participants).
Leave a comment with what you think the price ought to be.