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.
Or you may 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 is called The Wright Show.
What is the Nonzero Newsletter about?
The Nonzero Newsletter aims to bring insight into politics, psychology, world affairs, 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 or 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—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, today, achieve political power by appealing to fear and xenophobia? 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 get full immersion in the Apocalypse Aversion Project. That’s the name for the newsletter’s endeavor to figure out an actual plan for heading off various kinds of planetary calamities. The Apocalypse Aversion Project is also the title of a book I’m working on in full view of paid subscribers: I show them drafts of little chunks of the book, or in other ways trot out possible elements of the book, or seek their feedback about challenges I’m having in writing the book.
There are other AAP-related things that paid subscribers get access to, notably The Week in Blob. That’s our every-Friday roundup of news from around the world, with special attention to the often unfortunate doings of “the Blob”—or, as it’s called by people who have higher regard for it than I have, America’s foreign policy establishment. Reforming America’s foreign policy is, IMHO, one of the things that has to happen if two or three decades from now Americans and other Earthlings are to be sighing with relief, breaking out the champagne, and saying, “OK, apocalypse averted!”
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.