Aesthetics Community Finance

Day 863 Abstract The Pain Away

When I was a small child I attended meditation retreats with my parents. Hippies amirite? The particular branch practiced was some variant of Kashmir Shivaism, but I’ve got to imagine it was heavily edited for the consumption of white Boomers.

Who else would take a vacation to sit in silence, chant the Bhagavata Gita at 5am and practice sevā, all while having six year old children? Silicon Valley’s syncretic culture produces some weird hybrids. Seventies counter culture gave us some of the best religious revivals in American history.

If you didn’t catch the word sevā earlier it’s actually going to be the anchor of the post. Sevā as it was explained to me as a child at the ashram is selfless service. It’s work you do without expectation of reward. It is a dedication to others.

Practically it meant that anytime we lived at the ashram everyone contributed some set of work, mostly unskilled labor but not always, in the form of sevā. I did everything from food preparation and dish washing (working a commercial kitchen dishwasher is actually fun) to caring for some donated horses. I had fun summers as a child.

But the point was that everyone participated in some way to the functions of the ashram no matter who you were. And we did have some weird celebrities but that’s not the point. Sevā applied to us all. Though I’m sure glad I never looked too hard at the politics of finances of these ashtrays. Childhood innocence. As a child I just thought it was fun to contribute to the adult world.

But what I remember now is a sense of connection. That no aspect of these retreats was ever abstracted to far from me. The service was meant to bond you to an experience of a world bigger than yourself. And by recognizing that, you’d somehow connect more with others.

I try to remember that now when I am in lonely cities where every aspect of living with others is transaction. A food delivery service whisks you a meal in an hour in a country where you are an outsider without ties, bonds or service beyond the basic civilizational contract of capital markets.

The global cosmopolitan gloss of mobile applications have abstracted service away to the point where we can have an entire day of discourse about a man being sad a house cleaner washed a cast iron skillet but we can’t admit that we all pay for service as it cracks the facade.

We’ve got no sevā because that’s an expectation too great to hear. We can barely manage to pay a fee for service anymore. Imagine if we had to operate without intangibles. We can barely make Uber Eats function with taxes, tips, and services fees. Bless the markets for this freedom and curse it in the same breath.

Fuck the pain away? No, we abstract the pain away. No need to see who contributes anything. You can complain to a faceless chatbot cum customer service artificial intelligence about how some man on a bicycle didn’t deliver your order on time. The service lives below the machine now and has patience for frailty.

And yes I’m writing this because my Korean fried chicken and kimchi order got lost in a side street in Frankfurt for an hour or two.

Don’t worry the corporate entities that intermediated between me, the restaurant and the courier decided in my favor. The customer is always right as long as they have paid the fees to pretend that are lords.

All pain in the above transaction was abstracted away into some governance structure that decided it was worth 25 euro or so. One presumes some public market agreed on the price. I guess I did too. We all did.

Finance Internet Culture Startups

Day 853 and Alignment on Our Consensus

Some narrative wars are being fought right right. Who owns the future and who gets to decide on what something is worth? That question is rippling through AI communities and crypto DAOs. And then the Federal Reserve raised another quarter point and Balaji explained probabilistic thinking and it went over everyone’s heads. And the beat goes on.

We are all looking at the consensus making in the market and applying our separate projections onto the great stage of guessing if you think you know what other people think everyone knows. What is common knowledge. Turns out calculus is useful!

You’d think the value of an honest days work would be common knowledge. But labor costs sure have gone up. Or maybe a gallon of milk. Politicians don’t know. How much do you get for a dollar? I’d like to know if you think it has changed. These are things you can evaluate yourself. You do not need a fancy expert. Though sometimes economists on Twitter will answer your questions.

But are we aligned on the measurements and valuations being used? What do you value vs Janet Yellen. I believe we have a right to ask for the people and technologies that run our lives to be accountable.

We have to agree on some collective civilization level norm on what we value and what the boundaries are on what things are worth and how we protect those valuable things.

It’s my personal opinion that we are all performing a bit of chaos magic as we ask that we align on a future that can collectively together build the most aligned consensus of agreement. Maybe it happens at the neighborhood level or maybe it’s a whole state. But we need to agree to some terms.

How gets to do that and how do we enable them? Maybe it’s humans. Maybe it’s humans guiding machines to make us more powerful. I myself believe that machines will need a valuation mechanism to sort priorities on our behalf.

People ask if I’m on team AI or team crypto. AI needs crypto to bridge the many different value sets and marketplaces together. Some of these types of value marketplaces may even be cultural values. That’s the goal of the network state. Align with the state that empowers your values. But then these states will also need to coordinate in various states of mistrust, distrust or if we dare trustlessness.

But aligning on how we govern and what rules we must abide by is a hard problem. We’ve relied on national liberty in America for a good while and it has produced many failures along the way.

But occasionally the utopians win a few rounds. Freedom does indeed reign it just takes a lot of fight. But we work to align as many of us as possible toward a consensus. Nobody said civilization was easy to maintain.

Finance Startups

Day 852 and Give A Damn

For long involved reasons, I am an Arlo Guthrie fan. The involved reasons are my parents are hippies and my godfather had the good fortune and bad sense to be his touring agent. So I was lucky to see Arlo perform Alice’s Restaurant in my own hometown of Boulder Colorado.

If you’ve not heard of it well it’s the missing 17 minutes in the Watergate tapes. If you don’t know what that is you probably don’t have Boomer parents.

Anyways, I’m not sure if my favorite line was from Arlo’s anniversary show or if it was part of a rendition of Alice’s Restaurant. It’s stuck with me my entire life and I’ll paraphrase it here.

There are two kinds of people in this world. People that give a damn and people that don’t. And sometimes you find you’ve got a lot in common with people you thought you would hate.

Maybe Arlo Guthrie as recalled by young teenage Julie Fredrickson

I’ve had the good fortune to meet a lot of people that give a damn over my life. And as the quotation suggests, occasionally I was quite sure I’d hate them.

I know commies and fascists, and so long as they aren’t absolute fucking morons enthralled by ideology (rare admittedly), I can probably find a common ground. Politics doesn’t have to be existential if you can be a human and empathize. We only find our boundaries by collectively working together to find cultural consensus.

Lots of folks love various coercive ideologies and will give all kinds of rationale for why their side is good. But in reality the only good side is actually giving a damn about the problems in front of you that you are solving with other people. The rest is details.

If you believe yourself to be a person who gives a damn and wants to work on investing your resources into weirdos who give a damn I’d love to have you as a limited partner in my pre-seed venture fund. Click here to learn more. We mostly have high net worth individuals that have earned their money starting, running and investing in startups. And we mostly fund weirdos taking really early stage high risk high reward bets.

If you want to build a better future find the people that give a damn and enable them by letting market forces work. Markets are muses for people that give a damn. They will hack and build and change things to better fit what they believe should exist. And there is no better time to find those long haul builders than when everyone else is freaking out. So yeah if you are a qualified investor I think you should come do it with me.

Emotional Work Finance

Day 824 and Ego Loss Aversion

One of my favorite cognitive biases is loss aversion.

The pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. The loss felt from money, or any other valuable object, can feel worse than gaining that same thing.

The Decision Lab

Isn’t it wild how much we hate loss? The pain of losing $100 is worse than the joy of finding $100. In behavioral economics “loss aversion refers to a phenomenon where a real or potential loss is perceived by individuals as psychologically or emotionally more severe than an equivalent gain.” I guess we don’t like to win as much as we hate to lose.

But we have to train ourselves to tolerate losses. Otherwise you’d never play a sport of any kind. And you’d be an absolutely terrible investor of money. So it’s clearly possible for some of us in some situations to get over loss aversion as we have professional athletes and money making fund managers.

But what if we have to address loss aversion in our own ego? How much do we hate to lose a part of ourselves? What if we stand to gain something significant by letting go a part of ourselves. I don’t think we can always predict where in our own sense of identity our ego will fight against loss.

They say the therapeutic process is just mirrors. You have no real sense of what anyone sees except as a reflection. Everything else is just our faulty sensory equipment. And imagine what a colossal fuck up you could make by ignoring what the mirror says and only relying on the faulty sensory data from your ego.

Stew on that a little bit and decide how much you really want to win and get back to me. Could be you need to see how much you hate to lose before you can see what you stand to gain.

Finance Startups

Day 820 and Ripped Off

I like doing favors because I don’t care for being overly transactional. I’d rather cultivate something over time to build trust than put a firm price and set of boundaries on what I’ll deliver up front.

And I’d prefer a similar stance from you. Intangibles are hard to price and I’d usually prefer a little time before I settle on them. It’s a trust thing. Everyone gets a fairer deal that way and I only do business if I think it’s win-win.

But once I trust you I generally assume that you won’t fuck me over because I’ve shown that I won’t fuck you over. I’ll value your resources as my own. And I expect you to value my resources similarly.

It sounds a bit old school but I believe we should respect people’s unique styles and contributions. Doing so requires trust and delicacy. We must believe others use us well and we shall use them well.

I find this trust necessary because if I do business with you I’ll use my social capital. Because spending social capital is what gets things done. You make think it’s money, but I can assure you fiat is just a convenience.

Capitalism’s wheels are greased by social capital. If there is too much tension in the system you will never achieve the necessary momentum with only one type of capital. The money is just a stand in for trust. It’s one reason some parties yearn for trustless systems. Because everyone is setting different prices for different currencies and no one likes getting scalped on a forex favor trade. It’s a dick move to undercut social capital.

I’ve found crypto people are some of the worst at understanding this basic social rule as they are the ones most desperate to make all markets legible. The indignation you see across much of technical cultures in general is dismissal of forms of capital that are harder to make legible.

I recently felt ripped off by a transaction I thought I’d priced appropriately to an incentive alignment. It turned out the other side of the deal didn’t have the same understanding of the intangibles. It made me feel like they don’t value my time and work. They’d asked for something, I trusted someone, and then another actor they had vetted spent it in such a careless way I was briefly incensed.

Now you can argue it’s my problem. I priced it wrong. And I had pricing signals coming in negatively from everywhere. I told my counter part this and they took it in stride. And then they went and demonstrated to me exactly why I was getting negative signaling. So I know it’s a risky use of social capital.

Now I’m not sure if it’s a bad trade yet. Maybe I have the tolerance for the volatility. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t look at what the numbers were telling me. Someone ripped me off. Reality says it’s probably just as much me as it was them. Which is, I believe, what you call a lose lose. And that means I’ve got to change the odds if I want to run the trade. But it’s hard to justify it to yourself after you feel like you got ripped off.

Finance Internet Culture Preparedness

Day 807 and Hyperinflation

Everyone calm the fuck down and stop panicking while we consider the most dreaded phrase in Silicon Valley: “Balaji was right”.

Sometimes people use a method of persuading you from the extremes. Remember “he means it seriously but not literally?” It works, it nudges the new position into your frame of reference and anything else feels moderate by comparison. But you get to choose what you adopt. You can be optimistic, you can chose new ways of being, you control yourself. But warning: it takes so much energy and effort, which I know because I did a lot of work to adjust my life to tail risks while still believing that you have to live your life.

Also, I’m not going to censor anything, so if you’ve got an inclination to cuss me out for not being on your “side”, I’d ask you to remind you that I’m human and winging it just as much as you are. Let’s all remember our humanity.

So are we going into hyperinflation in the next 90 days with Bitcoin going to $1,000,000?

The Next 90 Days

I mean, an apocalyptic scenario is pretty hard to do in ninety days no matter what is happening. Because life finds a way and as my husband Alex likes to say, people revert to the mean. So while I don’t fucking know and neither do you, I don’t think on balance the physics of hyperinflation in 90 days works from where we are now, when talking about the US in particular.

I’m not doing elaborate math though I’ve read the materials. I can make some good guesses based on logical observations of my available data and on human nature. And I think a shock of that magnitude is basically the end of the world. And as much as I think we’ve got to end denialism about how bad shit is for a lot of people, I’m also not sure it’s going to go sideways that fast. Maybe I’m over indexing on having read Gibbon’s “Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire”.

And to the idea that “it’s ok, we’ll all just move to a Bitcoin economy: we’ve got a so much work ahead of us to make crypto and in particular Bitcoin work as a viable alternative for a practical economy it’s not even funny. I think I’m reasonably active in crypto (though probably not as much as you think on a day to day basis). I participate in some DAOs, I have bags with Bitcoin. I believe we can build a better future. But we are small and the problem is big and we need more of you to come in and build it with us if you want an alternative economy that’s actually usable by everyone.

I think this is a good thing because I have had some good experiences with how American capitalism works but I think we can do better. I have some money but I’m not .01%. I like capitalism but I’ve experienced the deep lows of navigating a chronic illness in America before everyone became obsessed with fragility. I’m not saying the systems works.

So while I think a change is ultimately coming (and I’ve made plenty of bets to that effect), I’m not so sure I want the apocalypse to come just to further that end.

After all we can’t build software if it’s the end of the world. Which isn’t a huge leap to make if the dollar hegemony collapses before August. Literally nobody wants that. But a lot of people want more options and it’s our jobs to convince them we can provide it.

So we can use Bitcoin but again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Changing Systems

But I want to be transparent about what I am weighing. I believe we have some negative trends that haven’t been addressed in fractional reserve banking. I believe our world has strained trust about state run capital and currency feels inherently political.

We aren’t that far off the church and state separation, historically speaking. And it took a long time for the separation to hold. But even if time moves faster now, I’d be surprised (though not shocked) if we took down money and state in a quarter. Maybe I’m underestimating dramatically on the exponential. I clearly don’t think it’s impossible because I live in Montana and my revealed preferences tell you something. But I also live near a yuppie city and I make investments in a market economy. I’m torn.

So do I think it takes more time to unwind an empire? Yeah I do.

Do the network affects at play impact monetary policy? You tell me.

We poured a lot of cash into a lot of hands and we have the option of gossiping at scale in public. It feels like no one learned anything from GameStop but I can assure you I did. We don’t totally understand emergent behaviors. Egregores are real and we can summon demons, though we probably shouldn’t and I think it’s a little weird to do so because I’m not confident it won’t kill me.

And there’s a lot of new ground to cover. More deeply tied financial systems, and networks magnified 1000x. Last time around we barely had a functional Twitter and now we have, well ok it’s barely functional now (jk but not).

So we shouldn’t in fact continue to do that by building credibility through showing our work and support and investing in that future?I think so. It’s astonishing it’s as cheap as it is now given how much opportunity it provides. But again we have to keep building it out.

Opening the Window

Finally, one tactical issue I want to address is that Balaji may simply be trying to expand our minds on the possible in front of us and how fast we can do it. I believe the most pejorative way of describing it is manifesting but you can in fact apply energy to making a system move in your favor.

One way you do that is by opening the Overton Window on what is possible and seeing if people step up to the plate to build norms and tools that further your cultural view of the world.

So if you really believe that a change is coming and that people need to prepare for it, yes you push even farther than you might think is actually going to happen. That way, even if someone only comes halfway there, they’ve landed right where you think they need to be.

All this to say: chill out everyone – we’re living in the fastest, craziest times there have ever been and it’s damn easy to get sucked into the vortex. So take a step back, breathe, and make your decisions from a place of calm, not panic.

Finance Politics

Day 802 and Vengeance

You can’t stare into the abyss without letting it stare back at you. And I did a little too much abyssal observation over the course of the weekend. I feel overwhelmed with grief. I saw in the abyss a roiling cauldron of rage and hate and fear and despair. And I saw my own grief reflected back. The boiling blood that demands punishment flooded the news.

I feel grief for the inner child who lived through the turmoil of past market dislocations. I feel grief for my father who suffered through the bankruptcy of 2001. I feel grief for my mother whose teacher’s pension was decimated in 2008. I feel all the pain and sadness and anger and unfairness. I feel it all in my own family.

He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

Moby Dick

I see the desire for vengeance. I feel it myself. I never saw any kind of justice for my father or my mother. My inner child will never know that peace. And I will have to be an adult and accept the disappointment of a world where far too many little children suffer for sins of their fathers. Many of us pick them up and carry them on. The churn is largely amoral and uncaring.

I see how satisfying it must be to give in to Ahab’s roiling anger. I saw many hot heart shells bursting on the time line over the weekend. A few were directed at me. I can’t be sure that my own didn’t explode on innocents. We are all culpable in ways big and small.

I am doing what I can to dust myself off and carry on because work must be done. We’ve not yet finished building a better future. We’ve barely even built the outlines for a tolerably decent present. I pray it’s too soon for us to find out how hot our hate burns.

Finance Politics Preparedness

Day 800 and Small Potatoes

It’s nice when a round number crops up in my daily journey of writing every single day. It’s even better when it’s colliding with the wider narratives of humans. If you aren’t paying attention to the news, Silicon Valley bank had a run on Thursday and was taken over by FDIC on Friday. Now the powers that be decide our fates. On day 800 we wait to see if anything has changed about capitalism.

I’m small potatoes so I’m scrambling for survival as much as anyone. But I’ve got a reasonably good head on me and I’ve seen this movie before. Literally. I watched Margin Call a dozen times this year. My family also went bankrupt in the 2001 crash and I was working in startup land during the 2008 crash. So this isn’t exactly my first ride on the roller coaster. I still get sick to my stomach though.

I think we are all about to have a significant conversation in America about trust and who is looking out for whom. I have my theories on how it plays out and over what time horizon. Very few of those scenarios and involves actually letting the american economy implode. But some heads will need to roll it’s just going to depend on the fates.

I really don’t feel like writing through some of this as it’s both personally traumatic because I’m a human being but also because I don’t know where this lands any more than you do. A lot depends on who blinks and who we want to scapegoat and how much we want to tolerate the unpleasant realities of who matters most. Not to be dramatic but every empire rests on a pile of skulls. It’s the degree to which this is literally true that changes over the years.

Finance Startups

Day 687 and Winter

It’s cold out there. And I don’t just mean metaphorically. Winter came early and hard to Montana just as the Farmer’s Almanac predicted it would. Driving back in from town last night after grocery shopping it was -3 degrees on the car’s temperature gauge just after sunset at 6pm.

It’s cold out there in the capital markets too. The federal reserve is raising rates to tamp down on inflation and the cost of capital is hitting the technology industry. Frankly I think we’ve all been waiting for an excuse to cut the fat and now we’ve got it.

But it’s going to have consequences for startups. Founders who have never had to live with the harsh realities of a down market are in for a surprise. Those juicy valuations in the private markets don’t work so well when the public markets can find safer returns in a Treasury finally paying out on a t-bill.

Let me play with a tortured metaphor to help you understand the situation. You think you understand how cold winter will be until you realize you haven’t had to work through a chill for over a decade. Sure maybe in your closet you’ve got a nice coat but when was the last time you wore it? If it was for a ski retreat with one of your venture partners then this metaphor is absolutely about to do double duty.

Surviving a bitter cold isn’t just about having a bulky down coat. Think of that as your cash runway. Without adequately rated cold weather gear to keep you alive you may find yourself tapping out. But it’s not just about the coat.

Keeping warm and staying productive requires some technique. Do you understand how to layer correctly? Do you have hats, gloves and scarves? I bet you walk around with ankle socks and Allbirds. That’s not going to go well in a foot of snow. Do you know how to eat for the cold? How about hydration?

Your team will need more than runway. They are going to need motivation to work with less fuel. You have to show them that the climb up the snowy mountain is worth it.

A winter startup team will need the skills and flexibility to work around problems that can’t be solved with money. Shit can and will go wrong on a long cold climb out of an economic winter. Creativity and belief must overlap with intuition if you want to make it.

And it’s important to remember lot of your team won’t have those intuitions. We’ve all been living in Miami and suddenly it’s -3 in Montana. And guess who gets to teach them how to adapt? You. You need to teach your team gently and with empathy what it will take. And they will makeup mistakes. Have you ever watched someone try to lace up boots for the first time? You might need to help them cinch.

I promise it is worth it though. If you are climbing the right mountain, and prepare adequately for your journey, the rarified air of a successful startup is invigorating. And the view from the top isn’t bad. If you need some help thinking all this through as a founder drop me a line Julie (at) chaotic dot capital and I’m happy offer some Sherpa advice. I lived though 2001 and 2007 (I even got laid off during RIP Good Times) so you can rely on me for some elder millennial wisdom. Stay warm!


Day 684 and Newcomb’s Paradox

I like mathematics. I’ve got very little talent for arithmetic but formal proofs were something I could feel my way through. I only learned this by failing regular calculus so badly and getting rescued by my roommate who is the scion of a very important family in algebraic topology. Bet you didn’t know that was a thing did you? He showed me that mathematics isn’t about numbers at all but about the logic of the universe. Also he kept me from flunking out. Thanks Tom!

I know the above sounds silly, but in academic circles math is one of those “purest” of institutions where cognitive processing power matters a lot and absolutely nothing else. They are some of the most deeply impractical and removed from reality types of humans you will ever meet.

I’m autistic enough that I found the company of this type of human deeply comforting as they comforted me though my shame based need desire to be normal. Literally no one will make you feel more normal than someone that works in formal logic and it’s adjacent philosophy of decision theory. I bet a lot lot of pretty girls with daddy issues have found this to be true if the LessWrong community is to be believed.

Because of how close I was to my roommate (and still an even though we don’t see each other enough) I got to spend time with a lot of utterly bizarre math people. And it really runs the gamut from those who are functionally pirates who can barely feed themselves to the founders of Renaissance Capital. They are a good time generally speaking. Extremely chaotic people who drink thousand dollar bottles of champagne from solo cups while discussing science fiction are my definition of a good hang.

But they are not what you’d call standard issue humans. If you’d like to know exactly how, ask them to explain how being three standard deviations from the mean has affected them and don’t interrupt them for thirty minutes. I am an outlier in many ways. But I don’t hold a candle to some of the folks I got to meet.

The reason I titled this post Newcomb’s Paradox is because it is thanks to early exposure to mathematics that I got to explore the complete irrationality of rationalism. Newcomb’s Paradox in its simplest format tells us that in an irrational system it is not rational to behave rationally. It is a paradox because this is both true and not true.

If you have some common sense you are not immediately knocked on your ass by this revelation but it turns out to be so unnerving. Unfortunately for some folks at the edge, which is most folks who are mathematicians, it might also break their brain. Effective altruism is now being blamed for its adjacency to the entire Sam Bankman Fried committed fraud at FTX scandal because they took the paradox entirely too literally and not at all seriously.

And given the dangers that can come from extremes perhaps more of us should be spending time with mathematicians. Math pirates when combined with high finance and potent philosophies might need tempering by those of us only two standard deviations out.