Skepticism, optimism, truth and an updated writing review

Skepticism, optimism, truth and an updated writing review

I last did a review of my writing in June and since then, I’ve published two dozen new “Securities” newsletters and podcast episodes. Here’s a recap.

One blockbuster piece that drove a lot of email was on a theme I dubbed “Vaporware Skepticism,” partially inspired by a line from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (“And that’s how they know what’s going on inside a person’s head — by condensing fact from the vapor of nuance”). The piece explored the well-financed hopes of new technologies including decentralized finance, nuclear fusion, and lab-grown meats, arguing that VCs flush with undisciplined capital are investing earlier than the science in these fields allows. We all want progress of course, but there is a pace to these innovations that capital often can't accelerate.

The year of 2022 has been a tough one for optimism — a deep economic recession in tech, Russia’s war on Ukraine, China’s unending Covid-19 lockdowns, de minimis progress on climate disruption — but that doesn’t mean there were no developments showcasing the enlightenment of humanity. In Scientific Sublime, I explored the James Webb Space Telescope and the broader impact of new scientific instruments on optimism. Progress certainly feels like it has been halted, but wondrous sci-fi moments remain possible when the best of global humanity comes together to push the frontiers of knowledge forward.

This has been a year of falls downward and somehow upward for a variety of notorious founders, politicians and bureaucrats. Reputations are rebuilt as past failures subside from minds. So where does reputation end and truth begin? In “Truth and Reputations,” I briefly surveyed the landscape of our fallen "heroes" to explore what really lies below the sheen of some of the most spotlighted people in our society.

One of the bywords of 2022 has been the rise of the “polycrisis,” which has been popularized (invented?) by Adam Tooze to describe the multiple disasters buffeting our society today. Yet, within the realm of explanatory writing, there is a growing penchant for comprehensive and contemporaneous observation that offers readers a superficial handle on the complexity of the world at large. In “Omnivorous Explanations”, I deride this growing need to simplistically explain the entire world, arguing instead that what we really need is agility to simply adapt to the many random and human-made challenges that confront us. We are never going to understand everything that is happening to us right now, and in fact, simplistic explanations may end up doing more harm than good.

Those are some of the highlights from the “Securities” newsletter. Meanwhile, over on the podcast front, I hosted a number of great episodes (if I don’t say so myself) alongside my ever excellent producer Chris Gates.

When it comes to the future of crypto, there are few people as thoughtful as Christian Catalini, the head of MIT’s Cryptoeconomics Lab. We discussed incentive design and the future of crypto in a podcast episode back in August. Chris Mahoney and Soren Schroder, two former CEOs of the world’s largest agricultural trading houses, joined me to discuss the geopolitics and digital future of agricultural commodities. Former head of naval acquisitions Hondo Geurts discussed how to recapitalize America’s bloated defense industrial base while Fletcher School professor Chris Miller narrated his new book Chip Wars, arguing that there’s always been a global race to develop chip technology.

The “Securities” tagline of “science, technology, finance and the human condition” remains as relevant as ever. More to come in the weeks and months ahead, and as always, reach out with ideas or observations.

Image Credit: Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash