The Pragmatist Foundation's Mission in a Nutshell
We believe in absolute transparency. Putting all one's cards on the table allows both sides in a negotiation to find creative, often more optimal solutions that would otherwise be overlooked. To that end, we want to make the long-term goals of The Pragmatist's Institute as clear as possible.
The Pragmatist Foundation seeks to interrupt society's worrying trajectory toward the withering of sentience as we understand it. Our goals may seem unreasonably lofty, but we only have one life to spend; we may as well try.
Our Ideological Motivation
The following excerpt from one of The Pragmatist Foundation's books does a good job of describing the logic behind our larger ideological motivation:
"Humans evolved to be able to communicate ideas with other humans, test them, and move forward with the best ideas, be they philosophical, scientific, religious, or about relationships. This ability lies at the very core of sentience. It is why our consciousness exists at all. Dogs feel sadness, joy, and love, but only humans can test one idea received from another individual against those they already hold and independently and internally decide which is best.
Though humans evolved this brilliant sentience, they have yet to evolve the necessary mental capacity to prevent simple thought viruses from quickly spreading throughout populations. These viruses have existed since the first cities were founded, but now, with our increased interconnection as a species, they have reached such virulence and volume they have the potential to choke away a person's very ability to consider a competing thought leaving the individual nothing but a husk stumbling through life on autopilot.
The miasma of idealism and tribalism spreading through our species’ collective consciousness is suffocating sentience—smothering people's ability to consider new ideas. The effects of this pall upon the human condition are evident to anyone who is willing to take an honest look at the world. We are not the only ones who can see this creeping fog snuffing out sentience; we just seem to be the only ones who see it and do not presume the solution to this threat involves their own team’s memetic set, an idea that only exacerbates the problem.
The cure for bigotry is political correctness. The cure for liberalism is conservatism. The cure for religious extremism is rationalism. The cure for feminism is the Red Pill. We have become a society that attempts to immunize itself against memetic viruses with even more virulent strains of other viruses. Like ants infected with the mind-controlling fungus ophiocordyceps unilateralis, a fungus that eats their brain while leading them to climb to a high leaf to spread the deadly spores as far as possible, once a human has lost the capacity for free thought—the capacity to entertain new ideas that conflict with what they already believe—the virus that has erased their sentience compels them to broadcast itself in any way possible, whether it be via YouTube, reddit, or in a university lecture hall.
When challenged, these viruses drive their hosts, chittering husks of human potential, to mindlessly attack you like a shrieking zombie, and the internet gives these attacks the ability to sting. Whether you say something that challenges feminism, social justice, white nationalism, transhumanism, environmentalism, effective altruism, or any of these mental zombie hordes, you will find yourself experiencing one of those classic cinematic scenes in which one zombie spots you in a dead city and starts squealing and chasing you, alerting all the others nearby who create a deadly mob that is entirely focused on you.
While there is no personal benefit to be gained from fighting back against the tide, there are vast fortunes to be won by giving in and allowing your free will to be swept up in exchange for the validation of a powerful tribe. If you think there is some intelligent cabal of global elite that lives free of this infection, you are dead wrong. From Stanford's Graduate School of Business to the University of Cambridge’s historic halls, invite-only venture capital events in Silicon Valley, secret societies made famous by conspiracy theorists (that we contractually can’t mention by name), secret political fundraising parties, and almost every bastion of elite culture—liberal or conservative—we have seen nobody more constrained in their thought than those who have risen highest, because they are the biggest targets and have the greatest pressures to conform. There is no backup plan that elites have planned for the world. There is no association of wealthy billionaires with machinations in place to set things right. Without concerted intervention from normal people, sentience will be snuffed from existence by a tribal platitude."
The Pragmatist Foundation's Initial Initiative
Our first plan to inoculate society against mental degradation involved developing and promoting an underlying firmware update (in other words, a series of mental heuristics) that could prevent the spread outlined above—a simple process people could use when thinking through things. To that end, we created our first book, The Pragmatist's Guide to Life, which was a bestseller for most of its first year of release (on Amazon and Kindle) and an associated social group to help people think in a more structured unbiased environment. The framework we present in The Pragmatist's Guide to Life is simple
- Choose what you think has value and why
- Create a hypothesis as to how you can achieve said thing
- Test and iterate on said hypotheses
The reaction to The Pragmatist's Guide to Life horrified us. While the book was popular, the most common request we receive from readers is: "So, what's the correct path to take?" Sadly, many readers of this book, which was meant to encourage independent thought through challenging social conventions, wanted us to simply tell them what has value and what they should pursue in life. Many readers understood they did not know why they did what they did and wanted an answer, but lacked the mental systems necessary to develop answers for themselves.
We should have predicted this reaction. Of course these kinds of mental systems would be atrophied among a large swath of the population. Most contemporary education systems not only discourage critical investigation of individuals' core motivations (instead, we are more or less told what should and should not be valued), but also discourage any questioning of societal norms in "normal social interaction" (i.e. They impose classic rule: Don't talk about religion, politics, or sex in polite settings). Even when people do engage with these concepts, they do so in environments in which those discussing the issue share, for the most part, the same worldview and agree on everything but some very specific principles.
Given the poor exposure most people have to genuine critical thought about, and discussion of, core values and societal norms, it makes perfect sense that the systems meant to genuinely question and debate such matters would have withered in most adults. We have come to accept that our goals will never be realized within the current adult population.
The Pragmatist Foundation's Plan of Action
Our new plan is two fold. Part one is to continue publishing books that investigate questions germane to daily life using the above framework, giving us an excuse to promote these discussions through podcasts, conferences, and classes, and enabling us to continue building a network of like-minded individuals. Part two involves recreating the education system in a way that keeps individuals engaged with the question of "why," to strengthen the mental systems required to independently and critically process and debate fundamental questions about values and society. We aim to create an educational system that inoculates people against simple quickly-spreading mental schema that remove the need to ask "but, why?".
Most of the Pragmatist Institute's current goals are focused on the second task. If we are going to recreate the education system, we need a hook that spreads this new system. The most optimal hook would be an education system that (1) genuinely outperforms predominant education systems and (2) is profitable and self-sustaining, as things that support themselves sustain themselves but things that make money grow.
Why Focus on Academia to Entrepreneurship?
We focus on programs enabling academics to transition to entrepreneurship for three reasons:
- Our mission benefits profoundly when people from various backgrounds live and work together, engaging with the Pragmatist Foundation's goals and utilizing their knowledge, experience, and perspectives to test and execute on initiatives designed to achieve those goals.
- Bringing academics into the business world presents a genuine arbitrage opportunity we can use to advance the Pragmatist Foundation's agenda. A single bad academic advisor can destroy an otherwise promising career and leave an individual with few job prospects. There are only so many jobs within academia to begin with, certainly far fewer than the number of people training for them, meaning there will always be a surplus of talent that started down the academic path, only to ultimately hit a dead end. Society undervalues such individuals as a resource. This incorrect undervaluation yields an opportunity for our foundation to benefit from funding these talented individuals in their own endeavors for a share of equity while filling the gaps in their knowledge needed to create cash positive companies.
- A core feature of an improved education system is the alteration of the success metrics around which the system is designed. The success metrics of most predominant education systems today revolve around preparing students for a career and getting students into a good college. These signs of success are becoming increasingly unhelpful as the classic concept of a "career" is being automated away and colleges present a far less reliable value proposition due to their increasing cost. Given the direction in which society is moving, we see more optimal success metrics as revolving around an ability to develop cash positive businesses and publish a peer-reviewed paper under one's own name. While we think it is fairly straightforward to give a student the skills necessary to publish a peer-reviewed article, it is less clear whether one can easily train people at scale to create cash-positive, self-sustaining businesses. Our grant program is, to a great extent, a testing ground enabling us to refine and perfect this curriculum.
Are Divergent Goals Welcomed Among Program Participants?
We do not ask that participants in our program buy into our long-term goals. We only require that participants' goals align with the purpose of the program for which they apply, such as starting a cash-positive company, improving the education system, or writing another Pragmatist's Guide to X.
Should participants have entirely different goals that are well-served by our program, and should they demonstrate the skills and initiative required to excel in one of our programs, we will make for great partners.
Whether you find our mission compelling or simply see our programs to be instrumentally useful in your own unique schemes, we welcome your engagement and participation. Moreover, we appreciate your exploration of our available opportunities.