Social Optimization

Just as the production–possibility frontier curve describes how to optimize the production of goods, ‘social optimization’ describes how to minimize disagreement and maximize one’s appeal and popularity among a targeted/desired audience. Opinions/views that are too obvious are undesired even though many people may agree with them (such as the banal observation that ‘war is bad’), but also statements that are to divisive or controversial are also undesirable (‘Hitler was a good person’). The optimal position is one that is not too obvious, but at the same time will not offend too many people or turn too many people away.

The post-2016 success and surge of popularity of Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson, as part of the broader IDW, are examples of such optimization. Being sorta a moderate/centrist who eschews politics, Mr. Rogan tends to not hold strong opinions about anything political, but he is very strongly opposed to trans women competing against cis women in sports. Even though the number of incidents of trans women being allowed compete against cis women is very small relative to the number of competitors for sports such as MMA or track, Joe devotes considerable time in many of his podcast episodes discussing and debating the issue with his guests, or by going off on monologues about it. Being opposed to trans women competing against cis women (which I agree with Joe on), is a popular position to take, yet at the same time not banal or boring, uniting conservatives, centrists, classical liberals, libertarians, and the alt-right against a small pro-trans-in-sports minority.

The same is also true in regard to Dr. Jordan Peterson , who rose to fame and grew an enormous following online by opposing non-binary/neutral pronoun usage. Similar to trans women competing against cis women in MMA, which generates considerable debate and media coverage despite being very uncommon, at the time (in early 2017, when Dr. Peterson exploded in popularity) the number of individuals actually requesting or using preferred/non-binary pronouns was tiny, yet opposing such usage united a large majority that spans the far-right all the way to classically-liberal-left, against this tiny pro-preferred-pronouns minority.

Another example is the use of shared narratives, which are statements, opinions, or observations that are not too obvious, yet many people, especially those of high intelligence, can relate, and require little to no justification, but rather are held as self-evident. Upon listening to Rogan’s podcast, especially when he is conversing with a guest who is markedly smarter then him such as Eric Weinstein or Nick Bostrom, it becomes apparent that Mr. Rogan’s repertoire of knowledge , outside of his specialties which include MMA and comedy, is quite limited, so Joe often employs such narratives, as they are popular with listeners, help move the show along when things get ‘stuck’ or at an impasse, and do not require any additional clarification on Joe’s part.

Joe is a smart guy rhetorically, but his knowledge of history, philosophy, civics, science, etc. is lacking, to put it mildly, in spite of interviewing so many people for so many years. Joe is specialist rather than a generalist, so his domain of knowledge is rather limited, compared to a generalist and omni-genius such as Eric Weinstein , who is a theoretical physicist and mathematician by trade yet whose knowledgebase encompasses almost everything else too. Because Eric is so knowledgeable, he can take the discussion anywhere he or the guest pleases, and acts as the interlocutor. By contrast, Joe mostly assumes the role of the listener, even when it’s his own podcast, only interjecting to ask questions seeking clarification, or if the discussion crosses one of his domains of knowledge (such as MMA or the ‘trans debate’), or when deploying a shared narrative (such as observations about how social media is making people angry or how politics have become so divided in America). Being limited in knowledge has not hurt Joe’s success, in part because he has these tools at disposal.

This does not make Eric’s podcast better, as it really depends on one’s preferences, and both styles have their uses. Complicated concepts need clarification, and getting his guests to clarify and break-down something that is hard to understand into something that can be understood, is what Joe does best.