Who Am I?
Good question! My name is Robert Wright. Some of you may know me from my books—including Nonzero, The Moral Animal, The Evolution of God, and, most recently, Why Buddhism is True.
You may also know me from my shockingly long history of podcasting. I co-founded Bloggingheads.tv in 2005, and I’ve been at it ever since. My twice-weekly podcast, formerly known as The Wright Show, got a new name last year: Robert Wright’s Nonzero.
When I’m not taping podcast episodes or writing my newsletter, I’m working on my new book—The Radical Power of Cognitive Empathy—about why understanding the perspectives of other people is so valuable and why it can be so hard.
What is the Nonzero Newsletter about?
The Nonzero Newsletter aims to bring insight into politics, psychology, world affairs, technology, and… how to avert the apocalypse. One approach to answering the obvious question—Am I kidding about the ‘apocalypse’ part?—is to first answer a different question:
Why the name Nonzero?
Life is full of non-zero-sum games—situations that can have a win-win outcome or a lose-lose outcome, depending on how people play the game. A lot of those “games” are now being played among the world’s nations. They come in such forms as: climate change and other environmental threats; various potential arms races (bioweapons, space weapons, cyberweapons, even AI and the genetic engineering of superhumans); and lots of global health challenges, certainly including pandemics. My view is that if the nations of the world don’t cooperate to meet these and other challenges—don’t manage to reach win-win outcomes—things could spiral downward fast.
These may sound like policy challenges—and at one level they are. But they’re also challenges of human psychology. The policies we need at the national and international levels won’t materialize if people keep acting like… well, if they keep acting the way people have long acted. You know: the people who brought us World War I and World War II and the Vietnam and Iraq wars? And the people who—on both the red and blue sides of America’s political divide—achieve social media alpha status by caricaturing and denigrating people on the other side, deepening the antagonism between red and blue?
The “psychology of tribalism” is sometimes used to describe one of the big underlying problems here, and that’s a fair term so long as you appreciate how subtly this psychology can operate, and so long as you appreciate that all of us—all of us—sometimes exhibit it.
I could go on. (That’s what I do in the newsletter.) But I hope I’ve gone far enough to explain why this newsletter deals not just with politics and policy but with psychology—with things ranging from cognitive biases (which fuel the psychology of tribalism) to mindfulness meditation (one, though not the only, approach to taming that psychology). And I hope you can see why the newsletter spends some time critiquing things in the mainstream media and social media—the places where cognitive biases consequentially play out, where distorted views of the world “trickle down” from elites to the grassroots, screwing up the world.
What do paid subscribers get?
Paid subscribers—aka, NZN members—enjoy access to a range of exclusive content, including full versions of all my essays and the paywalled portion of The Earthling, the Friday edition of the newsletter.
In addition, NZN members get lots of exclusive audio content, such as the “overtime” segments of podcast episodes, early access to episodes, audio versions of selected essays, and the Parrot Room—the after-hours weekly conversation between me and arch-frenemy Mickey Kaus.
Of course, NZN members also get the satisfaction of knowing they’re helping to keep this whole tribalism-opposing, cognitive-empathy-enhancing, and (we hope) apocalypse-averting project going.
So could we get back to that original apocalypse question?
When I talk about “averting the apocalypse,” yes, I’m kidding—kind of. But I’m kind of not. Because, even though I don’t lie awake worrying about a Book-of-Revelation style apocalypse—complete with four horsemen and the mark of the beast—I do think that true cataclysms, as well as lesser but still worrying calamities, are possible if we don’t play our non-zero-sum games wisely.
This newsletter is about playing them wisely. It’s about all the things that all of us can do to do increase the chances that Planet Earth will survive and flourish and help our species cross the threshold into true global community. It’s also about becoming, in the process, happier, more fulfilled people—people who have reason to take pride in how we’re spending our allotted time on the only planet we have.
How do I contact the NZN team?
You can email NZN at firstname.lastname@example.org.