Katherine Dee is a writer, journalist, and internet historian.

Steve and Katherine discuss:

0:00 Introduction
1:15 Katherine’s early life and background
21:52 Mass shootings, Manifestos, Nihilism, and Incels
59:35 Trad values, Sex negativity vs Porn and Fleshlights
1:28:54 Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter
1:33:00 TikTok
1:41:41 Adderall
1:44:07 AI/GPT impact on writers and journos
1:49:30 Gen-X generation gap: are the kids alright?


Katherine’s Substack:

“Mass Shootings and the World Liberalism Made”:

Music used with permission from Blade Runner Blues Livestream improvisation by State Azure.


Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation at MSU and Director of the Institute of Theoretical Science at the University of Oregon. Hsu is a startup founder (, SafeWeb, Genomic Prediction) and advisor to venture capital and other investment firms. He was educated at Caltech and Berkeley, was a Harvard Junior Fellow, and has held faculty positions at Yale, the University of Oregon, and MSU.

Please send any questions or suggestions to or Steve on Twitter @hsu_steve.

Creators & Guests

Stephen Hsu
Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and of Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University.

What is Manifold?

Steve Hsu is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Computational Mathematics, Science, and Engineering at Michigan State University. Join him for wide-ranging conversations with leading writers, scientists, technologists, academics, entrepreneurs, investors, and more.

Steve Hsu: My guest today is Katherine Dee, a writer, journalist, and internet historian. I first came across Katherine on somebody else's podcast, I would tell you which podcast, except that I've now listened to about 10 podcast interviews with her. So I can't now remember which one it was that I listened to first.

But I was very fascinated because it was clear to me she is a serious thinker with a lot of very unique takes. I've now also read chunks of her Substack and even her dating advice. And, I think she's kind of unique. Not too many people become known as internet historians. So she's willing to drill down into some very esoteric corners of the internet and try to understand what's going on in, you know, what really is a million different communities, some of which never come into contact with each other.

So Katherine, welcome to the podcast.

Katherine Dee: Thanks for inviting me. Thanks for that very flattering intro.

Steve Hsu: You're welcome. You're welcome. I'm really looking forward to this conversation. So I always ask my guests about their early life and, you know, maybe you could just tell us a little bit about your childhood, where you went to school, what you wanted to be when you were younger, and where you are now in life.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. so I've always been in front of a computer. I think that's maybe the most unique thing about me. Maybe the only really unique thing about my upbringing, you know, I think there's this misconception that like only Zoomers are digital natives, but I've been, I, I sat in front of a computer at like three, and then I was online by like 1997.

Steve Hsu: So, you know, I've been online for a long time, like before iPad kids, there are kids who were popped in from a desktop computer. And I mean, there's tons of, I mean, you, you probably know this, there's tons of computer games for kids, right? And you think like, oh, like, oh, you just play those in the computer lab at school, or like, for like 40 minutes or whatever. But no, I mean, there's, there's a lot of us who, you know, we're, we're doing it in excess pretty early, even though it was very expensive to get online then. Yeah. It didn't mean that kids weren't, weren't abusing it. Now you're, you're about 30, is that right?

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: And so did you experience the dial up to broadband transition?

Katherine Dee: I did.

Steve Hsu: So, so when you were first plopped down, you maybe the, was the machine connected to the internet or it was more for you to be playing games and stuff like?

Katherine Dee: At first I was playing games and then, I mean, I think my early, I must have been on the internet even before this, but like my first memory of like navigating the internet alone was, like Yahoo games and talking to people, like while playing checkers and, you know, whatever else. And I played dress up games a lot too. Those were really popular. These, these games, these like paper dolls from Japan, had a, had a moment. And yeah, that was some of my earlier internet experience.

But yeah, I remember like my mom would wanna make a phone call and I'd, I'd be on AOL, you know.

Steve Hsu: Now were you, so like for me, I'm much older than you, so for me that I was already an adult when this transition happened, but did you immediately become a kid who kind of preferred to be online to playing with other kids' IRL, or was that something gradually that happened to you?

Katherine Dee: I, I've, I've always been pretty awkward. I mean, I remember thinking, like, having, like when I got a laptop, a laptop in 2004, I think. And I remember thinking like, thank God, like now I could just go to my room and I don't have to interact with other people. Because it was so painful.

It was, I'm, I mean, I'm such an awkward person. For a long time, I couldn't make eye contact with people. I, I definitely can now. But it was just, I am very bad at reading social cues. So, such a welcome reprieve. I just preferred it so much more. And it wasn't that I didn't like to socialize per se. Like I did a lot of text-based roleplaying. I was really into MMOs. You know, I like all, you know, all sorts of chat rooms for sure. And that, to me, was like a much more comfortable way of socializing. You know, I didn't necessarily have a lot of friends at school. but I didn't mean I didn't have friends. I had digital friends.

Steve Hsu: When, when you were at school, was there a particular clique that you identified with?

Katherine Dee: No, I was always kind of a loner. I struggle to fit in with groups I like, I've never understood, you know, sort of the like, and this is actually true of the internet too. Like, I'm just not, like, I don't know how to blend in a group, digitally. I'm sort of digitally, socially awkward too. So I don't know how to get a single membership.

Steve Hsu: Now back then, the term autism was not much used. Like, first of all, do you think you're slightly on the spectrum and when, when did you, if so, when did you start thinking that?

Katherine Dee: So there is a moment in, I mean, so the short answer is I used to, and then I, I figured that, I don't really think that's, that's the case. The, but there was a moment, and I can't remember when, it might have been like around 2007 when autism started to become trendy, right? You, so you had that movie Adam Come out, which was a romcom about an autistic man. Then like a couple years later, the Big Bang Theory came out and it, it, we had sort of this autism moment. And it was interesting because it collided with, you know, the anti-vax movement peaking and all of these mothers saying that vaccines have given their kids autism. But at the same time, it was sort of being like, glorified in the media. So were sociopaths. It was like a very weird, weird moment in entertainment.

And when that happened, I was like, oh, maybe that's me. But, you know, I don't, I don't really think that's, I don't think that's true because I, I've, I've learned to read people. I think what it is, is that I was, I, I didn't socialize enough when I was very young. And I think, I think my, at least one of my parents, I won't say which one is, is on the spectrum. And I, when I was modeling that behavior, I think like, like I think I'm some, I'm, I think I'm a functioning person who was raised by the office and that sort of colored my. That, plus the heavy com, you know, computer use, kind of puts me at a disadvantage.

Steve Hsu: That's super interesting. I mean, among sort of brainy types, like in science there, there are some, I think real autists, but then there are also people who I think are just for some reason started out a little bit socially awkward, and then they, they, because they have these super rational brains, they sort of dissected social customs like in an analytical way and then, and then somehow manage to blend in and it, that sounds a little bit like your story.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. A, a little bit. I mean, I think I, I really do think we underpriced like social awkwardness married with the fact that like a lot of people aren't like born into communities in the same way. Like, you know, I, I didn't have a religious community necessarily, or a cultural community. It was sort of like we would live in these gated communities where we wouldn't, you know, these gay neighborhoods where we wouldn't like to know our neighbors and, you know, my parents weren't super social. So that, I mean, this, if you grow up kind of isolated, it sort of looks like autism, but it's really just like you need to learn some things from other people.

And if there's no other people, then it's, you learn it from entertainment and that's not, that's not very, that's not good.

Steve Hsu: Now, when you were growing up, would you have considered yourself to be a kind of intellectual kid or a gifted kid in terms of how you did in school?

Katherine Dee: No, I was awful in school. I liked English a lot. I mean, I was terrible at math. My mom likes to frame it that I graduated high school early, but, which is kind of true, but I, I mean, I really dropped out. So, and then, and then for, I did go to college, but I went, I got a BFA, which another thing my mom doesn't like is that I say it's basically a vocational school. Like, I didn't take any math or philosophy classes, certainly. I certainly haven't seen the inside of a science classroom since, I don't know, I was like 11. Like it's so, yeah, my grades were, they were abysmal and it was never like a failing student, but I was like very average. yeah.

Steve Hsu: When I, when I listen to you, I mean, I'm someone who knows a lot about psychometrics and measurement of intelligence and stuff like this. It seems clear to me you have a super high verbal IQ. In other words, you're able to make a lot of very clear distinctions between, you know, very fine grain concepts. And so I don't know if you ever tested your verbal ability, but it seems quite high to me.

Katherine Dee: Thanks. Yeah. I mean, I've, I've, I've taken IQ tests before. But yeah, I don't know. I've never, I didn't, I mean, I didn't really like school, which is part of it. I, I, at some point I was, I remember like telling, a school counselor who, who asked why some of my grades were so bad and I was like, oh, I'm playing, like I was playing an MMO all the time. And I, I must have been like the, I must have been the canary in the coal mine because like I bet like three years later he, he saw a lot of that. Must have been like one of the first, first kids to come in with that.

Steve Hsu: By the way, there's a whole category of very smart kids who don't do well in school. I mean, not every kid likes the structured learning environment. You know, they, that's not, it's not because they're not bright, it's just because they don't like it, or they have more interesting things to do outside of class.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, my, my middle sister, was sort of in a similar, but she's very, she's very intelligent, but like, she just, she didn't do well in school until she, she went, she ended up going to like a special, not like special ed, but a school that was sort of structured for kids who didn't learn in a traditional way. And then she really flourished. And I sometimes wonder how my life would've gone differently if I hadn't gone to the schools that I went to.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. You sound like a kid. Like maybe if they had let you go to mon Montessori or something, you would've loved it.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Maybe

Steve Hsu: So in, in another interview, I heard you say you went to NYU and that you studied film. Am I correct?

Katherine Dee: Yeah, that's, yep, that's true.

Steve Hsu: So what, what was that like? So you, by the way, you grew up, where did you grow up in Miami, is that right?

Katherine Dee: in a suburb nearby.

Steve Hsu: Right. And so what was it like, I mean, did you like New York City? Or were you still mostly online while New York City was going on around you?

Katherine Dee: No. I, well I was very online, but I, I, that was the first time I was more integrated in the world. I, you know, I'm thankful for my experience. I don't know if I loved it though. I was sort of, it was a little bit traumatizing because I, so, I grew up, I grew up in a community where it had very strange and specific, like social expectations. Partially because it's very artificial in South Florida is one thing. And then, you know, there's a lot of wealth and that's, that's really a bubble. And so I was excited to leave that bubble. But, like, no, like certain, like, certainly this isn't like that, like the whole world can't be like this. But it's even worse in New York, right? Like, the only worst place I could have gone was Los Angeles.

So it was like everything, everything that I feared about the world was suddenly validated, like tenfold. so it kind of fucked me up for a while. And it took me a long time to realize that like, like, oh, like this, I just went from bubble to bubble and like actually the world really isn't like this.

Steve Hsu: But the aspect of this bubble was materialism or shallowness? What? What was it about?

Katherine Dee: Like I, you know, it's not even the materialism that bothers me. I mean, that I almost seek out at this point. But like, you know, shallowness particularly about women's appearances, it's very unforgiving. It was very unforgiving where I grew up, and it's really unforgiving in certain pockets in New York, especially if you are, you know, you're going to a school that's $53,000 a year, most people are paying out of pocket, right?

NYU's very stingy with scholarships, especially for the art school. So you're around kids who can afford that. And you, the, so the entertainment industry and you're, you're fighting, you're hustling to get into the entertainment industry and you're surrounded by people who wanna be in the fashion industry.

So it's, I mean, there's just, there's no chance, right? Like, it's, it's, it's, again, like I said, the only worst place is LA and I kind of think LA probably is better in some ways. At least they have better weather.

Steve Hsu: I went to college in LA and, but, but I went to a tiny college full of science geeks, so I had a very unusual experience. But, I, I can see why you, you think that you, I think you're thinking of USC or something. USC might be considered the west, west coast version of NYU, actually.

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: So when you, I mean, you know, I would describe you, tell me if this is wrong. I would describe you now as someone who makes their living as a writer. Is that right?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. That's, that's true.

Steve Hsu: And was that something you aspired to when you were in college?

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I, I kind of had a feeling I wasn't gonna make it an entertainment for like, a few reasons. One, my writing was a little bit too experimental and I knew I was never gonna be able to like, do sort of like, I was never gonna be able to find like my bread and butter. A lot of the people were successful, coming out of film school. Like, you know, they end up doing TV or like, things that are very formulaic. And I just, that wasn't for me.

And I couldn't really cut it socially either. So I was like, I was like, I have no chance at this. I'm gonna keep doing it cause I love it, but there's, there's just no way. But I, so I, I did all these magazine internships and in my head I was like, I'm gonna graduate and I'm gonna write for Vice or Buzzfeed or, you know, one of these publications and I'm gonna be, I want it to be, this was, this was right at the time when people were like, internet personalities were journalists. Like, that was, it was that sort of like marriage, I was like, I wanna be someone who's like Twitter famous and, you know, ostensibly a journalist. But that didn't, that didn't work out right? Like one, you know, publication started shuttering like, you know, shortly after I graduated there's like no more XO Jane and things started shuffling and then I, I didn't stay in New York either, so I, I just, it just didn't work out.

But yeah, now, now I'm actually doing exactly what I wanted to do.

Steve Hsu: So an, an archetype of what you earlier aspired to be. Would Taylor Lorenz be somebody like that? Or who, who would be an example of somebody who reached that?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. You know, I, I, yeah, she's sort of like that. Like, I'm certainly not like the drug use, but somebody like Kat Marnell, like who's just sort of a personality, right. But who also writes a lot or, you know, is known for the writing or employed for the writing. And there's, I mean, there's dozens of, of, not more than dozens, there's hundreds of people like this. Now, myself included, where it's like, I'm, I'm default friend, but I'm not, but really, like, I make my money as a journalist.

Steve Hsu: Now can I, I, this is a part of the economy that I just don't understand because, okay, so first of all, it's, it's really tough to make money as a writer or a journalist these days, right?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. It's, it's, it's difficult.

Steve Hsu: And I think you said like, like at various times, like, there is a kind of Substack, I don't wanna say grift, there's a Substack hustle or grind that you kind of have to put effort into. Could you describe how that works?

Katherine Dee: I mean, you have to have a cult of personality. You know, there's, there's tons of people who are better writers than I am, who are, you know, who work harder, who are more skilled in, you know, various ways. but I think the one advantage I have over them is that I'm, I have a brand. And I, I don't think that makes, like, that doesn't mean I'm, you know, superior to them anyway, but that's probably why it's easier for me to make money, because there's a perspective and almost like agl, like a parasocial thing or like a glimpse into my life that people are purchasing probably more than the work even.

Right. You know, like if I really, sort of like a transparent example of this is like all of these, right wing political commentators are basically saying variations on the same thing. There are some who are very intelligent and who have, you know, very well studied and have unique perspectives, but for the most part they're regurgitating the same sort of hot topic of the day. And yet some succeed and some don't. And part of that is just some of them are, are branded better, and it makes their, you know, their contribution to the culture war and, you know, their stream and their Substack and their, their Twitter more valuable. And there's a lot of shame around like, being honest about that and also about courting an audience and you're, you're supposed to deny that you, you're doing.

but it's, I mean, it's absolutely, it's absolutely necessary because otherwise nobody's gonna pay attention to you. You, you kind of do have to be like an attention whore a little bit.

Steve Hsu: Now I, I stumbled upon you. I think I'm not necessarily in your target audience, and so I just stumbled upon you because I, I heard you interviewed on someone else's podcast and found you very interesting. How would you describe your brand or public persona?

Katherine Dee: I'm, I'm sort of in a unique situation because I'm, I'm not politicized necessarily. I think I probably skew more right than left, you know. And then more center than right. But, I'm like vaguely in sort of the right wing sphere. So that's, but I'm not really right. You know, my content really isn't right wing. So that's like one differentiator.

I'm like a frank woman. People, people tend to like that. And I think I talk about topics that appeal to young men, but from a female perspective and as though I'm writing to women, right? So those are all things that, I think, sort of, sort of help. And you know, the talking of the, sort of the meta conversation about the internet in the midst of the, the culture war is also very helpful, right? Because like, it allows me to participate in the same conversations everyone else is and what generates clicks. But then I have my own sort of spin on it. So, you know, like one person might always weigh in on the romantic or social elements of something. Another person, maybe their beat is like trans people or, or something. And then for me it's like I could take all of those things and say, okay, but my, the, the thing I'm adding is like, well how does the internet come into this? What's the, how does this have to relate to internet culture?

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I have to say in preparing a list of topics for you, I was a little bit, there were so many things that we could talk about that I was a little bit at a loss to narrow it down. Because you're, you're definitely, you have extremely wide interests.

What, what is the male female ratio of your Substack subscribers?

Katherine Dee: I think it's mostly men. I don't know what the split is. But I, I would say pro it's probably, it's majority male.

Steve Hsu: And can you, can someone make a living like, from Substack subscribers? Like how many people do you think are able to make a living just from their Substack?

Katherine Dee: Probably very few. I would imagine more than you, you think. But, I don't think it's that easy there. I mean, there are sort of like less glamorous ways to do it. There are people who have, like local news or like to focus on topics that you wouldn't, like, necessarily associate with Substack who do well. There's all these niches that I think people like, kind of forget about. But like doing sort of like culture war stuff, I think, you know, probably a few hundred, maybe a thousand.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I know a guy. Do you know a guy called Richard Hanania?

Katherine Dee: Oh yeah. I just, I just met him actually.

Steve Hsu: Oh, in, in, in real life.

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: Oh wow. Okay. So yeah, so I know Richard and I was asking him like, oh, like, and he seems pretty successful. I think a lot of people know who he is now. And, he has a Substack and I was asking him like, so, you know, does that pay the bills?

And he is like, he's, he started laughing and said, no, no, I have to, I have to draw a salary from the, he, he works for a, he created his own not-for-profit, and he draws a salary from that. But, he, I don't think he, at that time, he, I don't think he could make it off Substack.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean he also has a family, right? And he, I think he lives in a sort of expensive area, so may, but you know, like maybe if he was a single man and lived in like Kentucky or something, I, I would, I would imagine that he would make enough.

Steve Hsu: That's true, that's true. I think, well, he lives in Los Angeles, so it's probably not.

Katherine Dee: Right. I, I don't know how much of his, his, I met him at a conference. I don't know much of his life story. I don't even follow him on Twitter actually. We were just both at this conference randomly, and I kind of recognized him from Twitter. I don't, I dunno anything about his content. But yeah, from what he shared at, at this event, I was, you know, there's no, there's like a lot of jobs won't pay the bills there.

Right. Especially with kids.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, it's never been easy to be a cultural commentator or public intellectual, you know, unless you got the job as, you know, New York Times culture commentator or something. You know, wouldn't that be, I, at least historically, be that easy to support yourself?

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: So, well, I'm, I hope I didn't drill too deeply into your personal life, but I, I thought I, I always feel like listeners can get more out of it if they understand the personal a little bit more than I'm interviewing.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. No, it's, it's totally, I'm, I'm an open book.

Steve Hsu: Great. So I wanna turn to one of the subjects that you've gone deeply into, and which I think you wrote a very interesting piece on. The piece you wrote was called Mass Shootings and the World Liberalism Made, the debate over more or less gun control, completely misses the horrifying heart of the matter. The modern world breeds the nihilism behind mass shootings. And so I thought that was quite an interesting take, and I, I just wanted to maybe explore this phenomenon of mass shootings and mass shooters with you a little bit. Maybe, if you don't mind, you could give us a slight explanation of what you said in that article.

Katherine Dee: yeah. So I mean, essentially my argument about mass shooters has been for, for you to be able to kill that many people, you need to be sort of emotionally checked out, in a way that I don't think, like, I don't think people can really conceptualize it. Like, you know, where you have to be to, to, to get to that point.

Like it's, it's almost, you feel so much that you can, you, you're, you're numbed to, to the world. It's like a level of despair that is, you know, absolutely unimaginable. And, you know, I think there's a lot of things about the way we live that contribute to this. I think, you know, a lot of people are at sea.

There's, there's, there's no structure anywhere. and there's no, there's no way to contrive that structure either. People deal with this by filling their time with. You know, bullshit basically, or, you know, izing themselves in other ways. Like, I think in the article, the example I give is like, people who go to like these yuppy exercise classes, where they're just sort of like, you know, the music's really loud and they're, they're exercising to, to, you know, a failure point or drink whole bottles of wine, or they're workaholics.

But I think like what motivates that, right, this sort of emptiness and motivates that is also what motivates, mass shootings. Like all of these, to me, are symptoms of, of despair.

Steve Hsu: So it, it, I, I mean, I think your thesis is that there's something unique about the modern world in, in the destruction of values or, or meaning in life, that that then leads to an increase in, the prevalence of that, the state of mind that would allow someone to become a mass shooter.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I think, perspective I've struggled to articulate is that I think the world's too big for most people. And even though there, you know, there's, there's collateral damage with more structure, but I think the average person benefits from it. You know, like, of course there's always gonna be edge cases. But this, this world is sort of like unlimited, unlimited choices and also on one hand and, and you know, in some ways, but also, like, less opportunity. It, it, I think it sort of frazzles, frazzles people. And then that's to say nothing of sort of like, you know, too big and sort of like a philosophical sense.

Another example I like to give is like, I, I watched over time, like my parents are very interested in sort of like their immediate environment and then get kind of sucked into like the news cycle. I feel like my parents, they're very intelligent people, but they kind of have no business caring about the news, you know?

And like the, you know, 24, 24 7, you know, news cycle and you know, whatever hot topic of the day or like Donald Trump, like they're much, they, they're much more grounded, interesting people when it's like local gossip or like hobbies that kind of like are contained in a certain way.

And it, it, seems like a huge leap, right? Like from getting rid of those kinds of guardrails to like someone going and committing a mass shooting. But I really do think that just the vastness breaks people.

Steve Hsu: So, I mean, one argument you could make is that, okay, maybe on av maybe, maybe there are aspects of organized religion or some kind of more restrictive, social structure that you don't like. But on average, it's actually better for those kinds of average people because the average person is, would otherwise be directionless.

And by having them go to church and receive some kind of ethical instruction or moral instruction and community that, you know, you, you're able to prevent them from going off the rails like these shooters. Is that, I I, is your thesis beyond that? Or, yeah, go ahead.

Katherine Dee: I mean, and it's partially that I think like a lot of it, it's not just just shootings, but I, I think there's like a number of sort of like social ills that can be prevented with, with more, you know, more restrictions.

Steve Hsu: So if you, if you, I, I always think in terms of these, like distributions of people, right? So the shooters are this sort of extreme tail where someone really goes and does something like that. But I think maybe your perspective is that the internet allows you to see a little bit into the minds or the psyches of people who, maybe they're not as disturbed as Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter or, or someone else who would do that. But, clearly there's something wrong. And you know, the fact that you're connected to them by the internet lets you actually see that there are lots of people like this.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. I mean that, that's a huge, that's a huge part of it. and I, I think sort of like this despair as like more of a specter and you're right, like Adam Lanzo would be the far end of the spectrum. But there's other things also that we're not really, like, you don't have to dive deep into like some weird internet subculture.

And, also not everyone who has weird beliefs or is in a weird community is necessarily in this position. But, you know, for the most part, I think there's, there's little cracks everywhere. And that we don't really put it together as part of a bigger problem. It's, I, I think of us all as sort of like, like, you know, I use this metaphor as being lost at sea. I think a lot of people are just kind of like in, you know, in the ocean drowning and there's, there's nowhere to swim to.

Steve Hsu: So let me, let me dispose of a couple of points that people might bring up, which I, I think, are not that central to your thesis. So in the, in the title after the colon, you know, you say the debate over more or less, gun control misses the point. Now I think most reasonable people would say, okay, the fact that you have disturbed people and that's the issue, but the fact that they can easily get guns does probably make it easier for them to become mass shooters.

And I think you're not taking a position really on gun control itself. You're just saying that the real issue is the number of disturbed people around.

Katherine Dee: Right. I, you know, and I, I don't feel qualified to comment on that, you know, necessarily. But it's, it, it, people would find other outlets. Yes. It would, you know, maybe it would be less destructive. I don't, you know, I don't know. Right. but it, it's not gonna, it's not gonna fix the underlying issue.

And I, to me it's, that's sort of the more important, the more important thing. Like why are we such a, you know, depressed nation?

Steve Hsu: Right. And the other thing I wanna dispose of is just to take a, an example close to home for me at, at my university Michigan State, we had a mass shooting recently, which was, you know, really horrifying. But the person who committed that was clearly schizophrenic, I think, I mean the, the things he had written and the way he was behaving, I think it was a classic case of like, you know, some, some kind of, what's the right way to say it? Like, not just like, depression or, you know, extremist thinking, but just the, just more kind of classic mental illness. And, and I think that's maybe not so much what you're focused on. Right? Because the thing that surprised me about your coverage of Lanza was I didn't know that much about him, but I think you or someone else had uncovered some YouTube videos he had made while he was still in high school and the guy sounds, you know, he's obviously depressed or there's something wrong with him, but clearly he's quite cogent. He's not, he's not a schizophrenic as far as I can tell.

Katherine Dee: Right. And you know what was weird is like, he, he's esoteric, but he, it's not word salad. And I, I found it upsetting that some people would be like, oh, this is clearly schizophrenic, rambling. Well, no, I mean, not at all. He's just strange. You know, it's, it's, it's a very different thing.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, that was the distinction I was trying to make. Cause I think, and I could be wrong cause I, I don't know that much about the guy who did it at Michigan State, but I think he was more word salad schizophrenic. And whereas, you know, you can read like thousands of words by the unibomber, who after all was a world class mathematician at one time, and the stuff hangs together. It's actually eminently logical. And the Adam Lanza stuff that I listened to, he's actually quite cogent too. Like, you might disagree with every, you know, many of the things he says, but he, he's actually cogent.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I, you know what, what I, it's sort of maybe like, I might regret saying this, but like, I don't think he's evil either. Like, I think like we, there's this just like a real impulse to sort of label things. You, I don't end like abs, you know, I certainly don't endorse, and I absolutely condemn what he did, and I think it's a, you know, one of the greatest tragedies in American history. But he had a, just his worldview wasn't compatible with what most of us accept. I don't, I don't think that's, that's evil. Like, he wasn't coming from a place of malice. He was just, he was coming from this very bizarre place of isolation. And I, I, you know, we have no way of knowing, but I think maybe he thought he was, you know, a martyr or was doing something good.

Steve Hsu: So let's, let's break this down a little bit because I think most listeners maybe are not that familiar with exactly what happened at Sandy Hook. So correct me if I'm wrong. So Sandy Hook was a milestone because it was maybe the first time that someone actually shot a bunch of small kids, right? Was that unique at that moment in time, or am I wrong about that?

Katherine Dee: No, I think, I think you're right. And it was like the highest death toll too.

Steve Hsu: Right. And so this guy shot his mother, who with whom he lived, I think, and he was roughly like high school age right? Or a little bit older?

Katherine Dee: He was 21, I think.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. So he was a young man. He shot his mother and then he went to an elementary school and shot a bunch of teachers and children.

And I, you know, I just knew about this superficially by just watching the news or reading, you know, maybe one article about it in the New York Times.

And when I heard you talking about it, I was amazed that there's a much more complicated backstory behind this guy. So maybe you can just tell us a little bit about Adam Lanza.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. so he was incredibly isolated. He would go weeks without interacting with anyone, in person. He'd spend a lot of time in the dark online. His only exercise was playing dance, dance revolution. And that, you know, that was, I, I think that was the only time he really left his house.

He was anorexic. He was, he wasn't, you know, he obviously wasn't completely mentally sound because he had like, you know, serious is like sensory issues. Like certain clothes and certain foods were like very definitely sounds. He had, what is it called, like misophonia, I think it's called, like when you're very sensi. That's actually something I've struggled with and I've found that like at court, like being more anxious. My sounds really unsettled me. So I wonder if it was also an anxiety thing for him.

And he had this very detached, worldview. He, he basically, like, he started off thinking like that he started off as like an anco primi.

Like he went from like libertarian to anco, primitivism, sort of trying to like uncover this feral self, where like, you know, maybe if we, you know, get rid of the shackles of, of society and civilization, we'll find our true selves and we'll be liberated. It's like a very common sort of, you know, sort of thing for kids that age to adult men, to, you know, to believe, it's sort of a, sort of a subculture. You know, anyone who's gone through an anarchist phase has probably thought something similar.

But then he started thinking like, you know, it's, it's more like he went from. To think like, okay, so it's not, it's not just civilizations, it's even deeper than that. Like all values are, are what's oppressive. And eventually it's this place where he is like, well, you know, what are some of the main vectors of values, you know, traditional family structures as one, cultural products or another. He's against all these things, but school. Like school is where he really had the real bone to pick. School is where kids are indoctrinated.

He had this heartbreaking monologue almost where he starts it off, saying things like, he hasn't been hugged in years, and hasn't experienced human touch in years. And he sort of ends this monologue with how awful school was to him. And he rationalizes by saying this because he's, you know, his personhood was taken away.

He also dabbled in this school of thought called efilism, which is life backwards. It's sort of an offshoot of antinatalism. And I, I think I've misrepresented them a little bit and I, you know, I don't wanna pass judgment on this, this community at all. But if I'm understanding them correctly, I think they think that sentience is oppressive.

Like no one, no one consents to be born. And so life in itself is sort of an imposition. They're not necessarily advocating for people to kill others or kill themselves. Like they definitely aren't advocating for people to kill others. They also aren't advocating for people to kill themselves, though I've seen a lot of people who subscribe to this school of thought say they empathize with people who might choose to. So, you know, not that it was recently explained to me, it's, it's not that life is suffering, but that existence is always worse than non-existence.

So these are kind of all the things that are influencing him, right? I mean, he was already in this very dark place. And when, you know, before he commits the atrocity at, at Sandy Hook, you know, he's, he got into this terrible, online fight with someone who had been harassing him under his YouTube videos.

And I think one of the last things he posted was, you know, the culturalists have won. And he did, he did this all under the name Cultural Philistine, very anti-culture. I don't know if I rambled that explanation, but.

Steve Hsu: No, that was, that was good. But what, what are the culturalists? Who are the culturalists?

Katherine Dee: The culturalists for him would be like anyone who was like pro, you know, not just pro civilization, but just sort of like pro life as we know it.

Steve Hsu: I see. You know, I, I saw online someone asked you whether you had seen the first season of the TV show True Detective and I,

Katherine Dee: That question all the time.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. You know why? Because it, first of all, it's one of the many people who think it's some of the best television ever made. One of the characters and the main character is played by Matthew McConaughey, who's a detective with a very dark kind of view of human nature and life. And, the philosophical name for this philosophy is called pessimism.

And the idea that man is himself, is a kind of abomination. That in the natural world, the animals, you know, they're more or less happy. But because we've achieved sentience, we're kind of like a monstrosity, and it's actually, life is actually all suffering. And the rational thing to do would just be to end your life.

I'm not doing a good job of explaining it, but it's very similar to the way you described Lanza's perspective and the character, played by McConaughey, la you know, he, he, this is his philosophy. It's very powerfully done in, in, in the show. In fact, if you go on YouTube and you just type in True Detective McConaughey, you'll, you'll hear some amazing monologues by him, you know, in character, like in riding in the squad, riding in the Dete car with his partner. Or, you know, when he is talking to some other detectives, he's just elaborating on the worldview that you just described.

Katherine Dee: Maybe I should watch it. Well, you, you are the only person I think who successfully is getting me to watch this show.

Steve Hsu: Well, you don't have to watch a show, but you know, if you just go on YouTube, you can watch five or 10 minutes of the best of McConaughey's character where he's elaborating on the philo, the what's called pessimism in, in philosophy, which is, is not a crazy thing. And the idea is just like, yeah, all the other brains on the planet are not really self-aware sentient beings.

We are. And because of it, we suffer enormously. We know from early in childhood that we're gonna die and that our brains are separate from nature because we're aware of ourselves and we're clearly separate from the rest of the natural world. And so some philosophers feel like, wow, this is what a mantra, what a terrible fate to be forced to live that existence.

And someone like Lanza might have really felt that acutely.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Ab, I mean, absolutely.

Steve Hsu: So did Lanza write a manifesto or is it his YouTube recordings that people are piecing together his worldview from?

He, so he wrote a lot. He posted prolifically on different forums, particularly one that was like a Columbine role playing game. Wow. A role playing game,

Katherine Dee: yeah.

Steve Hsu: Like, try to maximize your kill count or something? Or?

Katherine Dee: I maybe, the forum is no longer in existence. But a lot of the posts people pull from, or like, like on the off topic section, there's like AIM transcripts. He wrote very strange essays. There's like a college essay he wrote, defending or maybe not defending, but like rationalizing pedophilia. I mean, there's just, there's, there's a lot of stuff out there.

Steve Hsu: I see, I think, I think I found the YouTube videos through you, though I think either you or some interview I had done. So I started listening to them and it was, yeah, it's very spooky stuff.

Katherine Dee: It's really, I mean, he, the, I, I think that the spookiest part about, it's like he really doesn't sound that different than any other kind of depressed, young man. Right? Like, I, like I, for me, the, like, the scariest part is like, I know this guy, like I've met this guy, you know, dozens of times. I went to high school with guys like this.

And you see them, they're a dime a dozen. Like that's sort of the scary part.

Steve Hsu: Yeah In a way, the Columbine guys were just kind of, you know, weirdos that were picked on by the jocks who, you know, sort of

Katherine Dee: No, they were the bullies.

Steve Hsu: Oh, they were the, yeah. See, this is the part that I guess maybe, the, the earlier description of, of what they were like was wrong, and it turns out they were actually bullies, not bullied.

Is that right?

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, like, you know, Eric Harris was a psychopath and Dylan Klebold was sort of like his, his patsy, right? Maybe not a psychopath, but also like disturbed and I mean, obviously right. Disturbed in his own way. I mean, I think you probably know this, but strong personalities like psychopaths and narcissists tend to attract borderline, or otherwise, codependent personality types.

So, and they, they meet, I mean, that's a huge, that's a, that's a Tinder box.

Steve Hsu: I see. But I think, I think the point you wanna make is that there are a lot of people who, at least in what they express, or in their psychological state, they may be not that different from Lanzo or the Columbine guys. It's just that they don't go on a killing spree.

Katherine Dee: Right. Yeah, I mean, absolutely. There's, there's a lot of people who, who think these, these whole subcultures sort of built around these ideas. But they don't, they don't end in violence.

I mean, again, I really don't think people appreciate what it takes. Like even if you are using a gun to fire it at other people, you need to be very brave. Right. You know, or, and again, like not brave in sort of like a, a, a good way. Right. But like, you know, very evil I guess. Or, you have to be really, really numb. You have to feel absolutely nothing.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I, I guess so. I mean, I, I mean having, I grew up in the midwest and so I, I, I've been a hunt, I've hunted with guns since I was a kid. And, being a guy and, you know, all guys are, they grow up playing soldiers and watching war movies and stuff like that. It's like, I don't know, in a way, like we're conditioned by the idea that, oh, if necessary I could point my gun at another person and, and, you know, take his head off.

Sure. But like, think of how much trauma, like, so like soldiers who've been in combat have, right? Like it does, you know, it, it's, it's hard for them. It's not you, you know what I mean? And it's, it's one thing to be like shooting deer or goose or, or whatever, right? It's another-- or even like a dog. But it's another, it's another entirely to like, to shoot children or your peers.

Katherine Dee: it, I mean, yeah, it.

Steve Hsu: I agree with, I agree with you, but you know, when most guys are watching Band of Brothers or, Saving Private Ryan or playing, you know, what first person shooter game, they are imagining themselves as the guy shooting another person. So, in a way it's, it's actually quite familiar to them, even though yes, obviously there's some huge activation barrier.

Katherine Dee: It's, it's simulated. I mean, like, here's a sort of morbid counter example. Like I could, you know, I think a lot of people could like imagine themselves committing suicide, right? I don't know. Like I, I mean, I'm not depressed, but like, I certainly don't think I would like, even if I was, I think I would not be able to jump off a building even if I thought it was my only option.

Like, that is a whole other level. Like, I could watch a movie where someone else does it. I could probably watch footage of someone doing it for real. I could picture it in my mind, but I can't do it because that's so much, like, that's so much different. And I, but I think that's true of, of killing others too.

I mean, people, people chicken out, right? And there's, there's more, but not, I should have used like sex or something as an example that's less crazy. But, I mean, that might be a pretty good one.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. Well, in any case, I agree with you that there's something very unusual about these people that they decide to actually kill another person. And, you know, kill many people.

I wanted to mention Elliot Rogers, who was a student, I think at UC Santa Barbara, and went on a killing spree. I think he was, I think he only killed, well, maybe he killed his roommates. And then, but then after that, he was mainly killing women, co-eds. And this guy's manifestos become, you know, very, very famous in certain, I don't know, maybe the right term is incel circles or, or, or like disgruntled men circles because he clearly was mad because he couldn't, basically couldn't have a girlfriend.

And then that caused him to go on the killing spree. Are you familiar with Elliot Rogers?

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I am. I remember when it happened too. I was like, back when, like Reddit was still kind of edgy.

Yeah. What I love about you is you have this very, very nuanced chronology of what was, what was in, and what was out, what was up, and what was down at a, on a very nuanced, like, you know, on a one year window and the history of the internet, which to me, I, I didn't, I don't have any recollection of exactly what Reddit was like in 2013 or something like that.

Well, I mean, for me, I say, you know, this is like a part of me, my lore. I met my first husband on Reddit, so it was also like, I, you know, I was, I was hanging out there.

Steve Hsu: Wow. You met your husband on Reddit. We should have gone over that in your, in your IRL, the IRL part of the interview. Let me, let me come back to that in a second. The, the part about Elliot Rogers I found kind of amazing is that, yeah, I mean, I, I read about it on the news and then like immediately you could just with one or two clicks and a search, you could find the guy's manifesto, I think right away, like basically when the killings happened. And if you read, for me, when, when I read through his manifesto, I thought, this really reminds me of American Psycho.

Do you know the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, American Psycho or maybe the movie?

Yeah. because Because this guy not only was talking about his anger at women or this or that and his anger at his own social situation, but then he was also commenting on like, you know, luxury brands and all kinds of, you know, it really, it really reminded me of American Psycho.

But I think he's become like a key figure in this worldview where, okay, women have all the options. If you're not a top 10% guy, you can't find a girl on the dating apps and the top guys are sleeping with lots and lots of women. You know, heterogamy. And there's a, and, and maybe this is actually a true description of what dating is like for young people now. I don't know because I'm too old. But in any case, many people imagine that that's the reality and Elliot Rogers was so mad about it that he went out and killed a bunch of people. Is

Katherine Dee: I think, I mean, it sort of, I mean, I, I think he, there's other things sort of afoot with him. I mean, because he was, I, I think he had a persecution complex of some kind. But I think that if we accept him at his word, that's an accurate description.

Steve Hsu: I see. I mean, at least that's what I, I haven't looked at his manifesto since, you know, whenever, whenever it happened, like 2013 or 2014. But that's my recollection. And then now online, I, I, I, you know, not consistently, but I think I often see people referring to Elliot Rogers and, and somehow is like the, the incel who grabbed a gun and tried to get even. Is that fair?

Yeah, I mean that's definitely, like he, he gets called Saint Elliot sort of in this irreverent way, you know, in certain like male dominated spaces. But just, just unpack that. So Saint Elliot, because he's a revered figure, because he fought back against this terribly, the system that's terribly unfair to average men, is that, is that what Saint Elliot means?

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean I think it's for, for most people who say something like that, it's sort of irreverent and, you know, like ironic. But I, I think there, there is a minority of like black pilled incels, so like very cynical incels who think that, you know, there's, there's no hope. It, you know, it never began that all they should do is lay down and rot, who do say that sincerely? Like I've, I've, I've met at least one who really believes that. But I think most people who are using that kind of language, they might believe the worldview and the theory, but they don't, they don't actually like deify Elliot Roger in any way.

Steve Hsu: Right. You, you could be sort of somewhat black pilled about the dating situation for average men in the world of dating apps. Right. And you know, obviously you don't, doesn't make you an Elliot Rogers, but at least you, you sort of understand where he's coming from.

Katherine Dee: Right.

Steve Hsu: And I mean from a woman's perspective, like do you think that that sort of black male, black pilled perspective on dating, is it accurate at all?

You know, I don't know. I, my, i, I oscillate. Sometimes I feel like it's a buyer's market. Um,Wait, who's the buyer? The two women are the buyers.

Katherine Dee: The, the, the men, right? Like sometimes I think it's, you know, a men's market. I, I think it's, well one, I think it's geographic. I think it has a lot to do with your age class. It is like a big part of it. I think class is really huge, like very wealthy men don't have the same experience as working class or middle class men. I think there's if I don't, I don't think it, there's one story here. I think there's like multiple realities that kind of bump up against each other. I, you know, there's, there's certainly like women who have no options. There, there's all, I think there, there's all sorts of stuff going on, and it can be really hard to make sense of, because everyone, everyone's cynicism is, is right, I think. And, but they're all, you know, they're all cynical for different reasons.

Steve Hsu: I, I definitely agree with you that there are, there are many different stories. Like, you know, the story of a 30 something career woman who's trying to, you know, settle down with a high quality guy. I mean, that might be extremely hard for them. I think the incel males are bitter because if you were just the average guy in 1970, you would kind of organically pair up with an average girl. But then once I invent all this technology that lets the average girl, you know, at least once, you know, maybe once every two weeks, hook up with a really hot guy and then she does, isn't necessarily gonna then be happy pairing off with the average guy. The average guys really do lose out. But I'm not even sure that's fair.

Like, is that even true? Like that that's a

Katherine Dee: I think it's, it, it's sometimes it, it's confusing to me because, like, on the one hand, I mean, I've even experienced this myself, where like I've preferred men who like, like are in some ways like, you know, quote unquote, like worse than other options I have. Like, you know, and like preferring the man who's like maybe like a little bit less attractive physically, but there's something, there's like a je ne sais quoi there that like I, you know, I, I don't, I don't even know how to describe, I just like that guy better, right?

And like my other option maybe is like, you know, a tall guy with a nice job, but there's just something emotional or, or like sexual even that like, isn't there? But you know, on the, and then I've also, you know, I've also seen, like, I have friends who are like perfectly fine, who have never, who are, you know, in, into their thirties are virgins.

And it's not that, not for lack of trying.

Steve Hsu: These are, these are men you're talking about though?

Katherine Dee: Men, I, I had a couple of women friends in that, friends in that situation. I have male friends who I think are kind of despicable in a lot of ways who like to slay girls. I like, I, I can't make sense of it cause I've seen like every sort of version of this story play out. I've seen the, I've seen the Chad who is going through 'em in like socks I've seen, I've also seen like a five foot six, you know, startup founder like startup and scare quotes who's, who's sleeping with models all the time. And it's just like, you don't have any money. You know, you're not liquid, you, you're weirdo like, you live in San Francisco. Like, what the hell's going on? So it's, I've seen like every version, so I don't, I don't, I don't wanna invalidate anyone's experience, but also like, I don't. I don't think there's a universal, I think there's so many different factors. I think there could be like three different worlds in one city even.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I think you're right that all of these examples you gave are for real. Like there are guys who may be just at first glance or superficial inspection on a dating app would not be high value in the marketplace, but somehow there's something about them that lets them still be successful.

But on average, like the average guy who doesn't, isn't evaluated very highly, you know, on a dating app. Like most of those guys are not, you know, as successful as they like to be.

Katherine Dee: Right? I mean, like, I think statistically this bears out, right? Like the, you know, we're in a sex recession and it's driven by young men. So I mean, like that it has it has, that has to be like, mostly true. But I've seen so many deviations. Like I, I wish there, I wish when those statistics get talked about, that they're like, you know, like, where do these guys live? What kind of jobs do they have? Like who, you know, who's filling out these surveys? I, there's, there's so many components of it because I've been so, I.

I asked, I asked my partner, like recently, I was about like, you know, we, like I said, like we have friends who are like, these, like perfectly nice guys find jobs. They, you know, they're not, they're not broke or anything. They're respectful. They're okay looking. Good looking in some cases. No, like, just cannot get a girlfriend. Can't make it past the, you know, a second date. Can't get a first date. But then it's like, we also know like, you know, complete just degenerates like sleep on a mattress and of like homeless people even who like, just are breaking hearts. And we like, I'm like, what, what drives this? Is, you know, the, it, the answer came down to like charm. Like some people are charming.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, no doubt about it. I, I interviewed, do you know a guy called Jeffrey Miller?

Katherine Dee: Yes, I do.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, he's an Evo psych professor. And yeah, I mean, some guys, it may not be that they're physically attractive, but they, they just have the right personality or the, the

Katherine Dee: I mean, think it this way, like Yudkowsky seems to be doing fine with the ladies that, I mean, like you would like, like ordinarily you would've, like, if, if the, if once insults are, are right about like, sort of universally correct, like, you know, be real, like no offense to

him, but.

Steve Hsu: You know, Yudkowsky A is very intelligent, and B, like I, you know, apologies to Eliezer, but really his superpower is being the founder of a cult. And so I'm not surprised he does well with the ladies, especially in the cult. But if you took a guy who looked like Eliezer, turned down his IQ from 160 to 100, and therefore he wasn't able to be a cult leader, I think that guy probably wouldn't do so well with the ladies.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, I, that's why I think there's like so many, well, first of all, I don't think it's IQs one. I, I don't act, I don't wanna be.

Steve Hsu: Well, I, I'm, I've given the benefit of the doubt, but he, he's, he is, he is a highly intelligent guy.

Katherine Dee: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I say, but that's why I think like, all of these nuances are so important. Like, cause if you asked an incel, right, like they would like someone who subscribes to, to that like, you know, I guess like philosophy, they'd say, well, like, looks are the most important vector, except like, and with the exceptions being like, you're super, super rich or like, you know, you are a famous actor or something.

But I don't know if they would, if they would, you know, would count, count Yudkowsky as someone who is like off the hook necessarily. I think they, I think if you really confronted them, like, what about this guy? They'd start making excuses like, oh, women aren't really into him. They're using him. Seriously.

Steve Hsu: I think being a, being kind of a data geek myself, I think most of the incels, at least the ones who are a little more on the nerdy side, they would say, I'm always speaking statistically. So there could be some dude like Yudkowsky who has some special charisma that's not, you know, wouldn't be apparent to you if you were just swiping past him on the app.

And you know, stuff like being tall, being conventionally good looking or athletic and making a lot of money, those are all positives. And then, these things have been like, I dunno if you remember the OkCupid guys, they were actually Harvard math majors, the founders of OkCupid. And for a while they were actually doing really heavy data analysis based on the data, on their site before they got acquired by, you know, the Match Group.

But they published lots and lots of stuff about like, okay, how much, how much better off are you if I make you a couple, if I make you one inch taller, how much better off are you? If I give you 10 K more a year of income? How much better off are you if you know you're white instead of Asian or so something. They quantified all these things in really horrifying ways from using actual data on ok OkCupid.

So I, I think, I think the incels, the, the learned incels would probably like actually cite pretty strong social science data to support their case.

Katherine Dee: And yeah, I guess, you know, you're probably right. But yeah, I guess my only argument is I feel like there's, there's, there's more to it. And dating apps like, like flatten it right? And sort of make things, make things worse. That's probably where we agree the most.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, no, that's what I'm saying is like in 1970, you know, or whatever, even when I was dating in the eighties and nineties, when there were no dating apps, it was all, you had to go to the bar and or the party and you know, meet the lady face-to-face. And it was just a totally different situation. Actually. It doesn't. You didn't get flattened. I mean, you had other issues, like you had to schlep all around town just to, you know, just to, just to get into the game. But, it, you weren't flattened into a two-dimensional rep representation on somebody's phone.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, it, you know, people, and that's probably why like, you know, people at certain colleges are probably still high schoolers, are a little bit better off, I would imagine.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I hope so. I mean, I hope kids who are in high school and college are still doing plenty of organic, you know, meeting people of the, I was about to say opposite sex, but I shouldn't say that. People of the what, whatever gender they wanna hook up with.

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: So maybe we can move to something else you've written about. So I think you've predicted that. To some extent, traditional values with respect to dating and mating and marriage are going to start to come back, or maybe they've already started to come back among Zoomers. Maybe you could just summarize what you think about that.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, no, I think, I mean, I think that we're already seeing it. And we're seeing it across a political spectrum. I, when I first predicted that really what I was talking about was like media products and the way people talk about these things online and, you know, like in the New York Times, sort of like, so my predictions were about sort of the broader conversations.

But when I talk to young people and sort and, you know, this, this may actually still be concentrated just to like, like what media circulates. But you see it, you, you obviously see it on the right. You know, people are attracted to Catholicism, and religion in general. And, you know, like it's, I, this is definitely sort of happening outside of the kind of trendy down, like downtown New York iteration, which is mostly, I think, kind of a provocation.

But like when I talk to young men on the right, you know, kids who are maybe still in college or like 23, 24, they're attracted to these, these figures who promote religion. I was talking to a kid on the hard right the other day, and he was telling me, he was like, you know, white nationalism doesn't appeal to me as much as, as just, you know, a real faith in Christianity.

And it seems like he has a lot of friends who feel this way too. And just sort of bracket that with, I talked to a lot of these people, just started to make sure I have like a holistic view of, of the scene. Right. That's speaking to them isn't necessarily like an endorsement of them. I mean, it's definitely not an endorsement of their views.

But I also see similar stuff sort of creeping in like the center and and left. Like a lot of people who either identify as leftists or as like, or are like left coded, they're starting to question things that would have been like right wing hot topics like even two years ago. So for example, you know, there, there have been like trending articles in, unquote woke publications about how Tinder has destroyed romance and people have dating up burnout, increased skepticism of, birth control, not just because of the health impacts, but like, you know, the, how, how has it impacted our relationships, and the, you know, and the, our commitment, and increased interest in settling down and having a family. And I guess the last thing I'll, I'll, I'll say is like people talking about these things, this doesn't mean that the behaviors are changing. I have no idea. Things could be getting worse, you know, for all I know. Maybe, you know, maybe they're getting better, but. All, when I make these kinds of predictions, it's about, you know, what people purport to believe, what they're writing about, what is going viral, what is being said on social media, and, you know, what is being talked about.

I don't, I have no idea how to evaluate people's behaviors.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I'm glad you clarified that. So, I, I didn't, I think I misrepresented you. So I think what you said is that the new hot take will be more about trad and sex negativity and anti porn, but you weren't necessarily predicting that was actually gonna be realized in society, like in among the, the bulk of the population is, is

Katherine Dee: Right. Yeah. And I mean, I think like, you know, the behaviors will be represented within like, sort of an influencer, like, like even upper class, right? But as for what, you know, a lot of the choices that average people are making are, like it depends on where they live, how much money they have. There's all sorts of concerns that trends can't shift on the ground as quickly as a conversation can.

Steve Hsu: Let me, let me on this, on this topic. Let me, let me run something by you, which, you know, to, you will seem like ancient history, but you just remember I'm an old guy. So in the eighties and nineties, among people who at the time were called feminists. Okay. And, and I should point out, my wife is actually, she did a PhD in comparative literature at Berkeley. So she was in the, the absolute center of the, the hurricane for, you know, like, post-modernism, feminism, all these, all these, you know, leftist movements that were in the academy at the time.

But even then, you know, if you, if you ask like, how long has this sex positivity movement been going on, it's really been going on since, you know, roughly the sixties, right? So we started having free love in the sixties. It didn't really reach the bulk of the American population maybe until the seventies, and it was just sort of slowly gaining momentum over time, you know, until we, you know, we reached today.

But already, like at that time when I was in grad school, there were feminists who would say things like, and, and I, I guess you could get canceled for saying this today, but this is what, you know, very avant garde feminists of that time were saying. They were saying things like, well, you know, men and women are a little bit different and maybe women just aren't built to take 20, 30, 40 partners in their life.

Whereas men are built to take it, they like it. And this whole free love thing is a big psy op on women by men because men just want more sex and they're trying to get more sex outta women. And this, you know, we're all for equal rights and equal career opportunities for women. But this free love thing is actually a psy op on the female gender.

And this was actually very widely discussed in the eighties and nineties among people who were actually, you know, the intellectual leaders of feminism. But now you couldn't say that because you can't say that men and women could be built differently in some way. Is that.

Katherine Dee: Oh yeah. No, I mean, I think that's, that's totally true. I think, I think where the difference is is like, you also have to think like, well, what did the average person think? You know, like, and you know, what is being displayed in the media? A lot of these conversations, like the turnover in more intellectual circles, is much different. It's like the idea of having like double digit partners, like that sort of being normalized and destigmatized, again, it's not necessarily that people are literally doing this, but just in terms of like how people talk about it and how it's presented in the zeitgeist, that only gets normalized really in the 2010, 2010s.

All media, if you look at movies, if you look at like New York Times op-eds, if you look at what books are written, the sort of like, like ethical non monogamy and things like this are kind of fringe and it kind of, it creeps in through media and then it accelerates. And, do like dominates in, in the 2010s and we become oversaturated and sort of bored of it.

But like, you know, in the nineties, I feel like there's sort of a mixed bag, right? Like on the one hand you had all these displays of like, people in their thirties, like in media, of people in their thirties dating in excess, a lot of casual sex. But there were also a lot of messages like messaging that was sort of moralizing. It was, it was kind of both. And it was, it was still sort of like, there was still this idea of being a slut in like the 2000s. By the 2010s you have like a slut walk and like they, like we, the sex positivity starts becoming more mainstream. But this whole time, right, like, you know, in sitcoms where you see someone go through partners like socks again, like that's not sex positive. That's just sort of like, you know, those New Yorkers or something.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, no, you're, I, I agree with what you're saying. Just to clarify what I was saying, this kind of battle between, within feminism, between the quote, sex positive feminists, And the other feminists who maybe were quite a, either, either still kind of too trad or they were just more realistic about the differences between men and women. You know, you could take it either way. That was an elite battle, that was a battle that was happening in the academy between elite subgroups within feminism. And then I, I'm not, I, I agree with your description of what was in the media at the time and that, you know, slut shaming and slut walks and normalization of super sex positive behavior by women, I think probably didn't become normalized until when you said like, definitely in the 21st century.

That whole part of it, how, how that, you know, how it shifted maybe from academia into the general population. I, I'm a little unclear on. I, I think you probably have more articulated views about how it happened. But I, what I was talking about in, in, in, in my own experience was like within the elite, this debate happened like in the nineties and one group of those feminists today would be completely canceled for saying what they were saying in the nineties.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of Gen X feminists. I mean, it's, it's interesting, like even in the circles, I run it and like I'm, you know, I'm in these like fixed person big group chats, right? And they're all like, sort of labeled like, you know, like trad feminists or something. You know, you just get added to these things randomly if you're publishing enough.

And like a lot of people in these trades are like Gen X women with very sort of like, like normative views that like, they're like not controversial at all. They certainly aren't like trad. Right? Or do you know free listeners who may not know what that means, like traditional or. Like retro in any way.

It's just that, the discourse market is so, has like, you know, accelerated to a point where it's like, if you're someone who thinks like, eh, like maybe you should have like three to five partners and then get married and you'd probably be happier. And you have a very, like, non-committal, kind of like what your mom would've told you in 1995 kind of view. Like you're suddenly like a reactionary.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, that's exactly how I perceive it. And being older and having lived through all that, it's just kind of amazing how far things have shifted. I think you've written a lot about, or spoken a lot about how, you know, a lot of this was mediated through Tumblr and through some channels that really, I personally have no awareness of.

So to me it was always like, okay, these things originated in, you know, high academia somehow was transmitted to the students who took courses from these academics at the universities and then somehow got into the broader culture in Hollywood and all this stuff. But I think you have a slightly different take on this, which maybe you could discuss.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. So my, my view is that, a lot of these topics get discussed on like blogs, and, you know, including Tumblr, which, you know, is still, still around, but was very popular in the early 2010s. And also a little bit on Reddit. And, you know, the, the, the short version is that one, you know, people's first exposure to a lot of these ideas is through the internet. And that, you know, that's like, you know, I don't think that's bad on its own because like kids, kids get their hands on all sorts of weird ideas, right? But what ends up sort of normalizing and spreading these ideas is at the same time that you have more people getting online and coming into contact with things that would've been relegated to like a grad school classroom. Digital media is changing rapidly, and the model is basically like, you know, if you wanted to be a writer, you'd, you'd probably be freelance. You get 50 bucks a pop, you might get more money if you generate more clicks. so you have this incentive to create click bait, and there's no budget for people to do real reporting. And the volume of writing you have to put out, especially if you're doing this as your, I mean, profession is like, it's insane, like you're a human content mill.

In the same respect, a lot of journalists get story ideas today from. People were scraping platforms like Tumblr, Reddit, sometimes 4Chan for story ideas. And so things would get misrepresented.

So an example of this might be, like cultural appropriation outrage, right? And so like, as it gets broadcasted by the media, like, like maybe Buzzfeed writes about it and then, you know, CNN picks it up and then suddenly everyone's talking about it. It creates these like shadow events, right? So like, maybe it was, maybe it did happen for real one time once, and that's what gets written about, right?

And like the real event was through the lens of someone writing about it on Tumblr. But as more people become exposed to it, they'll become inspired and they're like, oh, actually this thing everyone's complaining about or celebrating seems really bad or really good. And so and so they start copying it. So it creates like a feedback loop and all of these things that would've stayed niche or weren't really that important or really weren't that widespread when they were originally written about catch on.

And you see that happen all the time today. Like there's a lot of like cultural memes that are completely like, you know, digitally if not specifically Twitter native. And because journalists sort of live on Twitter and a lot of journalists don't have the resources to do more robust reporting, you have weird things that just get plopped into the mainstream conversation that would've lived and died in like, you know, a Twitter community of 700 people. And that that was happening.

I think that's what accelerated the great awakening. I think what gets misrepresented and sort of misunderstood about my theory is that like, people think, I think that Tumblr invented Fuco or something. Like, I mean, o like, obviously that's not true. But let's be real. Like, I mean, you know this, like if you're, if you're a 19 year old kid, you probably aren't real. Like, you know, unless you're majoring in philosophy or something, you probably won't encounter a lot of this literature in a classroom. But you, and even if you did, like how it is getting into, like how it is spreading so quickly, right? Like, what is this epidemic of like, of, of people learning all these concepts. Comes through social media because it's like bastardized and then, then there, then there needs some other way for it to get amplified. And I think that's, and institutions, people downplay. I think even today, like all of these publications, legacy publications are very important in shaping the zeitgeist.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. So this is something I wanted to drill down more on because I, I feel like I didn't, I've never really understood how wokeism, you know, came to be so predominant in the country. And, you know, I recognize it from my days in the academy, in graduate school, hanging around with, you know, very far leftist people who were at that time very far, leftist, radical feminists, people like that.

And I recognize those ideas now as being very strongly represented in the woke ideas of young people today. But I don't really understand the transmission mechanism. My model was. I think this is a model, a model that a lot of people have. Is it just, it just went from academia, to the students who went through academia, and then into the general population.

But I think you have a more nuanced description of what happened.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, I, you know, and I also interviewed like a lot, like hundreds of people, and I asked him, I was like, like for something with like, like, you know, I hate to call it this, but it's sort of, that's, that's sort of what it's called, like gender ideology. Like where did you first encounter it? and like almost nobody said in a classroom. Everyone, you know, not everyone, not literally everyone said Tumblr, most people did. But most people like to learn about what it means to be transgender on Tumblr.

And you know, there's also like a subset of this population where it's like, they're on it so much and this actually, this is certain this is my story too. I was so exposed to like, woke language, I started internalizing it, even if it's not what I believed. And I started like self-censoring, but so did a lot of other people, and I've talked to so many people about their experience with that, where it's like you, you're scrolling so much and it's just, it's mimetic online and it, you kind of absorb it by osmosis.

Steve Hsu: So just so I understand, so Tumblr is an example of the transmission mechanism and maybe the dominant one, but it would also include Reddit and any other online forums, you know, where people discuss such things that, that, that was the mechanism of the spread of the ideas.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I think for like Reddit and 4Chan, it's more like right wing memes. Reddit used to be sort of, and, and YouTube too, right? Like that's sort of where a lot of, like right wing ideas were, you know, that's that Petri dish. And then, left, you know, left wing or left coded Facebook, certainly Tumblr was a big one. And also like the media. It likes mass, you know, mass media and that, you know, through the mechanisms. I, I described.

And you know, part, and part of that is overlap of like, some of the people writing these stories were probably like on Tumblr or they were college kids, or they had just graduated college. And it, you know, this is, it's like shit, I need 700 words. I have four hours to do it. I saw some weird things on Tumblr, so let me write about it.

Steve Hsu: And the age group that absorbed, you know, all this information or these memes from, say, Tumblr. What, what age group are we actually talking about here today? How old are they?

Katherine Dee: I'd say anywhere between like 24 and late thirties.

Steve Hsu: I see. And so if you're like, if you're like 16 now and you're looking at these people who are 24 to late thirties and you're thinking maybe they're not cool or my generation's gonna be different than them, what, what are those Zoomers thinking?

Katherine Dee: I, I think there's, there's definitely a lot of zoom and I, you know, I don't have statistics on this or anything, but just from my observation, there's a lot of Zoomers that still sort of have this millennial mindset. But also like just as many who are sort of like more moderate and like critiquing, like the excesses. And by moderate, I don't mean like, politically moderate it. This has been hard for me to describe, but like, they might be leftists, but they, they don't, you know, they're not, their disposition isn't the millennial disposition. I think there's also a lot of, there's a lot of Zoomers who are kind of, contrarian, you know, just sort of contrarian for the sake of being contrarian as, you know, so many consumers or, or, or want to, young people rather want to be.

You know, they, I, another subset I'd say are sort of accelerationist, like, they kind of don't really believe anything. They're just sort of like, they're probably more in that contrarian group, kinda like provocative for the sake of it.

And then there's the actual like right winners. So there's a, there's a range of beliefs, but I don't think any of it is, I don't think very much of it is gonna look very similar to millennials, just because young people never wanna be like the older people.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, but you know, you, you could have a model that the pendulum swings to a certain point and then it starts to swing back. Or it could be, you know, if things have shifted in a particular direction, the younger group is gonna shift even further. And I, I'm not, I'm too clueless to know which of those two applies here, but maybe you have an opinion.

Katherine Dee: I, you know what, I, I don't, I don't think that it's, I mean, I think we've hit a wall. I, you know, and people like, like one thing that really bother, and I don't know if I'm taking this too far afield here, but like, like one thing that really bothers me is like when people say like, oh, well, like if we've reached peak transgender, you know, well, like, the next thing's gonna be like trans racialism.

Well, that to me, like, that's like the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Like that's not, that's just not gonna happen. Because we, like, if anything, we've been trans racialists, you know, for the whole entirety of our, our country, you know, our country's history. Like, we have this huge tradition of people pretending to be Native American or pretending to be Italian or pretending to be Irish.

But like, I mean, there's just like trans racialism. I feel like it has totally different antecedents and that's like, that's not the next logical step, right? Like the next logical step is, you know, a lot of people when, you know, had irreversible body modifications and now they're realizing, oh shit, it was irreversible.

And I think the Overton window has shifted in such a way where it's always gonna be so okay and permissible and acceptable to be transgender, but we're going to be more prudent about medical transition. And I think that's sort of like where the, like, it's not gonna be like, oh great, well it's not cool to, to get sexual reassignment surgery anymore, so people are just gonna be Korean.

You know what I mean? It's ridiculous to me.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I don't, I don't, I don't have any good feel, but I, I agree with you that, transracial doesn't seem like the

Katherine Dee: But, you know, people, and people are like serious about this, right? Like they're, they, you know, they, they, they really, they they mean it. They're like, well that's, or like, people are gonna like, identify as animals very seriously. Like, it's just like, like what the hell are you talking about? You know what I mean?

Like, it's absurd.

Steve Hsu: Wow. Yeah, I can't, I can't, I mean, it'll make me sound bad, but I, I can't even think of what the net, you know, that if, if it continues rather than the, the pendulum swinging back the other way. If it continues, to get, from my perspective, more and more in extreme. I, I don't even, I can't even imagine what the next thing will be like, you know, if a, a young child can tell you they're, they're actually different gender, and then you surgically modify them and that becomes normative. I, I don't know what the next thing is beyond that, you know, just, I can't imagine it. I guess it's, it's, it's a lack of imagination on my own.

Katherine Dee: I mean, I, you know, it's, it's interesting, which I, I don't think like we, we've seen a lot of different body mod trends. In our, both of us, in our, in our lifetime, and they always get sort of reversed, right? Like people, and you know, people dissolve their filler, they get their breast implants removed. Remember like for like a moment there, like everyone had tattoos or like were gauges and their ears or like weird piercings. A lot of that, like a lot of people are getting those things reversed to, you know, whatever extent possible. What I think would be next is like, instead of thinking like, well, what body mods come, come next?

I think it'd be more along the lines of like, people just sort of becoming totally sedate and living completely online. Not necessarily in like, you know, Mark Zuckerberg's metaverse, but you know, the like the, the like the lions share of their interaction with other people just being completely virtual.

Like that, that has accelerated.

Steve Hsu: I agree with that. Take I, coming back to incels, I remember when Joe Rogan was not so big, you know, when he was just kind of starting out. He used to do ads for a company called Fleshlight. Do you know what? A

Katherine Dee: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. And it's unbelievable because, you know, Joe Rogan is a very talented guy.

So like the, the, the endorsements he did for the Fleshlight were unbelievable because he, he's, you know, he said he had used it and, you know, I forgot what he would say, would say things like it, it'll ring out the last bit of stuff from your me, you know, how good it is. And, you know, of course I've never tried a fleshlight, but I believe that thing could actually work. And so therefore, like you hook that up to a porn VR rig and you know, or maybe a sex robot or something. And yeah, I can imagine the incels really, you know, never leaving their room after that.

Katherine Dee: It's, it's so interesting because like people have been imagining that forever, right? And there's some people who, who've even, like, I don't, I don't remember if it was, Ray Kak, I don't, I'm pronouncing his name correctly, or Mackenzie work who was like, sex would be better if, like, we just disposed of our bodies completely and like did it virtually.

But I think a lot of incels are kind of offended by that. There's definitely a population of them who believe it's kind of beautiful actually. Like in sort of this idea of like, you know, the, like the anime yfu, like this transcendent beauty, like no human woman will ever be that good.

And so they sort of dedicate themselves to like, you know, this idealized woman who's 2d, but I, but I do think a lot of them are offended by, like, robot sex or, like when sex workers say, well, like, oh, why do incels exist? You could just pay a sex worker. Like that is, I've seen a lot of backlash to that.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I, I think, my comment about the fleshlight and, you know, virtual sex machine, I mean sex machines, you know, being the next extension of porn, it's not really based on the thinking of like highly conceptual or intellectual kind of incel type of people. It's more just like literally the male sex drive.

Like if you, if you could find a way to alleviate your desire, like, you know, when you're 18, an 18 year old guy, like I, I can't even believe I was able to graduate from college because, You know, like most every three seconds or something, when you're that age, if you're a high testosterone guy, you're just thinking about sex, right?

So just being able to alleviate that through some kind of machine, you know, with, with like porn, like streaming, 3D porn, streaming over your VR rig and then some fleshlight thing working. I can't believe it, I think it's mostly just like, normative shame that, you know, you're just embarrassed to admit that you would do something like that or buy something like that.

But once the dam breaks, I just think, you know, men being such animals, like, there's no stopping that technology from becoming widespread.

Katherine Dee: I mean, you know, you have these like tango eggs, which are like disposable flashlights. You have flashlights. It's, I mean, why aren't, the dam is sort of broken already. Like guys will look at porn, but I, I, there's, there has to be some sort of like, mental leap with these, with like sex toys that I think like men must not, I mean, I don't know.

I don't actually know any statistics about this, nor have I discussed it with anyone. I don't know where this is coming from, but

Steve Hsu: Well, just to clarify, just to clarify my point, I'm not saying that men would prefer that kind of machinery.

Katherine Dee: Even like prefer, but like, like there, like there isn't sort of, I mean, I guess there's this epidemic of people watching a lot of porn, so maybe you do have a point.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, what do you think they're doing while they're watching that for,

Katherine Dee: Well, of course, right.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, it's, it's just a technology question of whether like the, the basic equipment, like the basic old-fashioned way of doing it is better than. What technology can provide, right? Is the, is the, is the mini minimum vi to use some Silicon Valley speak for you.

The MVP, the minimum viable product, is it out there yet? And has the customer overcome the social convention against buying the MVP? I mean, I think that's kinda where we are.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. I mean, why, why do you, what do you think is stopping, I, I mean, I, I think vibrators for women are probably much more widespread than fleshlights,

Steve Hsu: Yeah,

Katherine Dee: But what, what, what do you think causes it? Like, why don't more men have like, sex dolls or artificial vaginas or whatever?

Steve Hsu: So I think the vibrator question is a good example of sex positivity taking over, because I'm old enough to remember that a woman would be mortified if you knew that she had a vibrator.

Katherine Dee: I mean, so am I that that's like, it's, it's very, it's very recent. Like I, in my adulthood that was still the case.

Steve Hsu: Right. But now, well, yeah, maybe still it's not even cool, cool to have one. But, at least a lot of, the

Katherine Dee: Right? Like it's, it's totally like, it's, it's, it's de-stigmatized for sure. Like, I think it's less embarrassing.

Steve Hsu: Right now for men, like why isn't it more like high-tech gear, selling, you know, for, for men. I mean, maybe it's just the basic equipment of just having on demand crazy porn at all times coming off your phone or laptop. And, you know, just using your basic equipment to do it is good enough. And, you know, how much better is it, you know, to use the fleshlight despite what Joe Rogan said in his at, in his endorsements.

I think maybe that's it. Now, having an actual robot that looks like a woman that, that's, that's uncanny valley type stuff. because imagine your friends come over and there's this woman's this, you know, rubber woman sitting on your bed. Like, I think that would just, you know, the, the, the, the, it's so far against the social convention and the, the

Katherine Dee: And, well, even more than that, like more than social convention. It's like that's its own sort of orientation at a certain point.

Steve Hsu: Say, say, I didn't quite understand that. Say that again.

Katherine Dee: It's, it's like a, it's, it's like you have to have like sustained attraction to like a woman shaped silicone. Like, you know, like the thing with a fleshlight is like, you could, you know, you close your eyes and imagine, or like watch porn, but like, you're not, like, you have to be focused on the doll.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. No, that's right. Yeah. And I mean, the, I think the, the ideal thing for men would be like, you, you put on your VR goggles and then you know, you have some device which is stimulating your sex organ, you know, basically, so that the robot is not, I think, really necessarily the best thing. It also takes up too much space in your tiny apartment.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. And you know, you have to clean it.

Steve Hsu: Yes, exactly. Okay, so we're about 90 minutes in, so I don't wanna take up too much of your time. I just, let me, let me run through a few things quickly and just get your thoughts on them and then, then we can, bring it to a close.

Now you, you know, you're on Twitter a fair amount, and y I think you already remarked that journalists kind of live on Twitter. Maybe journalists are addicted to Twitter. I think Elon has some plans for, and then this was just in the news recently, like maybe making Twitter the primary source of news, like replacing old media. What, what do you think about that?

Katherine Dee: I mean, I think you, I think it kind of already was that it was like an aggregator for a lot of people. And then like, you know, at, at a minimum like journalists were sort of curating stories and to, to some extent, like readers were curating stories through making things go viral and having them escape to different platforms or cable news.

Like for example, like I would've never been on Tucker Carlson without Twitter, right? Like if my, if, if what I, if my writing on mass shootings didn't go viral on Twitter, like I would've never escaped the internet ghetto, right?

Steve Hsu: I mean, Twitter cuts across everything, right? I mean, you could DM

Katherine Dee: I, I think Elon, I mean, I don't think Elon knows what he's doing with Twitter.

It's, it's kind of like it, this, here's how, how broadly how I think of Elon Musk on Twitter. Like, you go to someone's house, they make tre leche or like some other dessert. That seems very simple, but like, actually you need to have a recipe and like to do it correctly to make it well, and you say to yourself, I could do that. And then you go home and then you just completely fuck it up.

I mean, that's like he's, I think he's killing Twitter and there's just, there's just no, he just doesn't understand how the site works. I don't know what will replace it or if we'll get a replacement asap. I don't, I have no faith in any of these, you know, proposed replacements.

Steve Hsu: What specifically is he doing wrong that's killing Twitter?

Katherine Dee: I mean, I, first of all, it's just like broken, like, just on a, just very basic level. Like, features are broken. And it, the site does not, the site never was perfect, but it, it, it's, it's worse now. So, two like

Steve Hsu: of his downsizing.

Katherine Dee: Right, like too throttling Substack. Huge mistake. Because people make their livelihoods on that and they will. If you have people who are really paying their bills off of Substack, they will go to the ends of the earth to make that work. They'll, they'll become Twitch streamers. They'll go on TikTok, they will have Blue sky and to mean popular. I mean, you know.

The blue check thing I actually think is very significant. As much as people complained about it, that hierarchy gave structure to the site. And I mean, like socially, I think it was weirdly very healthy to have the us versus them. Um,because it, it helps, it helps create these little com, you know, communities, communities of blue checks, communities of people who aren't blue checks.

And, you know, there's, there's just a laundry list of things he's been doing wrong. And I, you know, I also think he's, he's been very petty, right? There's, he's, it, it's just, it's just a recipe for disaster. And it's already been disastrous, I think. Yeah, I think if journalists, you know, leave Twitter, that's, that's also. Here's another thing, like the anti journalist sentiment. That's great. Krab, I also don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly, but Kfa, but,

Steve Hsu: I, I love it that, you know what, CAFA is

Katherine Dee: you, like,

Steve Hsu: not being a pro wrestling fan. I bet.

Katherine Dee: not at all. But like, it's, journalists have always kept social platforms alive, right? Unlike, with the exception of like, there's real niche communities. Like, unless there's like, Really like a lot of fandoms or something there. That's not like, it's just, there's so many things.

Like, I mean, again, at the risk of rambling and just going off, I mean, there's just so, it's so much.

Steve Hsu: Okay, let, let's leave Twitter and go to TikTok now. I have a couple questions. One, I don't really get TikTok as I'm too old, although the algorithm is amazing. Like, it, it, it is learning very fast what I wanna see. And so that's the brilliance of it. How are people? How are 150 million Americans gonna react if the Biden government cuts them off from TikTok because of some crazy theory about national security in China?

Katherine Dee: I have no idea. It's gonna be bad though. I mean, it's just, maybe people will just like to move to Instagram reels, but like, it's, I mean, I, myself and I, you know, I, I should be ashamed of this. I spend like six hours a day on TikTok, right? Like, I, and that number would be higher if I wasn't an adult with responsibilities.

And it, I mean also like, I, you know, do, am I on TikTok that often cause I write about it? Or like, am I trying to like, monetize the way I sedate myself? You, you know what I mean? Like, there's, I, my story's not unique. You know, a lot of people, like, I have no idea what I even personally would do.

Steve Hsu: But you're, you're consuming TikTok. You're not a pre, you don't have a big TikTok presence, do you?

Katherine Dee: No, I, I don't. But I think, Yeah. People who are making money off of TikTok, I think will be very upset and that'll be a problem. But I think also people who are consuming, it's like, what would, what would we do if like, you know, at the height of like, we got rid of Netflix, or we are at the height of television, we're just like cable's done.

You know, like,

Steve Hsu: exactly. But I gotta ask you that because I'm so clueless about TikTok. Like, when, when I'm on it, most of the stuff it's given me is very short. Each video, like when you're on for six hours, is it like in like ten second segments or is there more long form content that you're consuming?

Katherine Dee: There's, it goes up to three minutes. But yeah, I mean, a lot of it's like the hours and hours of, you know, one, you know, 15 second to one minute videos.

Steve Hsu: Okay, that's awesome. Well, I gotta tell you those, you know, it's so funny because, you know, I'm Asian American, so I'm, I'm super sensitive to all the racism against Asians and stuff, and it's like, there's so much stuff about Asians can't invent stuff. Chinese people are not creative. And I'm like, my God, this, this fucking TikTok thing, like is like enslaving, you know, like 150 million minds with its AI algorithms, right?

Like, well who invented that?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. And I mean like the whole, the whole way. There's a great book. I'm framing the journalist thing because he's a, the, the guy who wrote it is just fantastic and I'm, I'm sad, I've forgotten his name, but called the TikTok boom. And like TikTok is, like a bunch of other apps that got acquired and turned into like a monster app. I mean, it was just like genius. Any way you slice it.

Steve Hsu: Well, yeah, the parent company ByteDance is very experienced and yada. I could go on, but as someone who knows a little bit about ML and AI can see what they're doing. Like they're basically, it is sensing what, like, it's kind of more complicated than AB testing, but it's like, do you like the girls with the big boobs or do you like this or that?

And it's figuring that out very fast from you. It's

Katherine Dee: I mean, I do, I totally buy though that there's a lot of surveillance going on. Like, like he, like here's a, here's a great example. I went through a phase where I was just like, really? I went on a trip to the Middle East. I came back, I did, I, I got a phone specifically for this trip, right?

So there was no sort of contamination. This is like the interesting part. But I came back really kind of interested in Islamic art. I bought a copy of the Quran, right? I talked about it a lot. I don't, I didn't necessarily like Google it though, right? when my TikTok is still stuck in the Islamic world on a new phone that wasn't with me.

Steve Hsu: Interesting. But same account, right? Same TikTok.

Katherine Dee: No, I made a new account on a different, yeah, on a different phone. Like it, I like, I'm still like, so curious how it, like, you know, knew. Another interesting thing is like these tarot card readings that are very popular. Anything I, like any social problems I talk about in my text messages, get reflected in like the psychic readings that come up on my for you page. Like, they've gotta be auditing all sorts of stuff.

Steve Hsu: You know, like I, I, even if you don't create content, you might have accepted that you have access to your microphone and so it might, it might learn a few things about what you discussed with your husband.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. yeah. No, I mean, it's, it's definitely, I don't know if it's, if it could, if there's like a key logger, you can see what I'm type, like, I, I don't know what it can see, but I actually don't mind it because like, I, great, now I'm learning more.

Steve Hsu: Well, it, it's, it's aggressive, but, you know, all I think internet platforms are aggressive about these things. And you know, the main question, the main question getting into more geopolitical stuff is like, oh, is that data leaking to the Chinese Communist Party? And are they gonna suddenly take over American youth using this app? No, not, probably not. But you know, of course the company's trying to just monetize itself as best it can.

Katherine Dee: Right. Like how much, how much money could people make? Like forget, you know, geopolitical concerns. Like what about corporations who have something to sell?

Steve Hsu: Well, yeah, but that's, that's the internet, right? That, that's, that's what it's evolved into.

By the way, I I I, this is a whole different theme that is in your writing and discussions that I guess we don't have time to fully go into, but you know, I think you have a sense of the damage that technology and maybe specifically the internet is doing to people.

And I think on, I heard you discussing with someone else, like, oh, could it have evolved differently? Like, or is it just this technology is so powerful and it, it's bound to like, bring us to these social ills. But you know, the thing is, in China, they don't let the kids use TikTok. The government is actually controlling for the good of the people, like the amount of porn that people can watch and the amount of time you can spend video gaming and stuff.

So, that's another model where, you know, whether you like it or not, it is definitely a different model and the government is willing to take positions to limit the harm that new technologies can do to its people.

Katherine Dee: I, I wish we, I wish we did that.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, exactly. It's usually portrayed in the West as like, oh, Chinese people have no freedom. It's a totalitarian government, et cetera. But a lot of the decisions are not, have nothing to do with politics. They have to do things like, hey, it's damaging for people too, for young kids to be playing video games six hours a day, we're just not gonna allow it to happen. And it has nothing to do with political issues.

Katherine Dee: Right. I mean, we have a real allergy to boundaries. I think. You know, like I, I, I'm considered to be a reactionary because I like. I mean, this was the thing, I kicked it off in a blog post. I mean like real like slip shot blog post. It wasn't even, it wasn't like a studied piece or it wasn't reported or anything. It was just like a couple of opinions on a page. It's like maybe it's bad if, you know, like, or maybe for some people it's bad for them to sleep with, you know, double digit number of partners, right? Like very, just very kind. And that that was, that was the exact opinion. People were, people were like very quick to call me a reactionary and now I sort of have this thing that follows me, that I have like these reactionary opinions.

But it's because it's like any boundary is just so threatening, especially now.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, well that, that harkens back to this debate that I lived through in graduate school where, you know, there were some feminists who were not as quote sex positive because they just felt like, probably because they themselves felt that their own, you know, psyche wasn't strong enough to sleep with 30 guys.

Katherine Dee: Right.

Steve Hsu: You know, and they just felt like, well for me that wouldn't be good. So there must be other women like me for whom that's not so good. And even though I'm actually one of the intellectual leaders of feminism, I will argue against it because this is actually my opinion. But today you're not allowed to state that opinion.

Katherine Dee: You're, yeah, you're, I mean, I think it, I think it's changing, but like two, three years ago, I mean, absolutely. Yeah. I think that's, I think a lot of people are saying it now and a lot of people, you know, in all different, from all different political perspectives.

Steve Hsu: I mean you don't even have to say like, oh, you know, like the, the percentage of women who would be damaged by having 50 partners is higher than the percentage of men who had 50 partners. You don't have to say that there's a gender difference. You can just say for some people it just doesn't work. It's not good for them to have so many partners.

Right. And it's not even, it's a gender neutral statement, but I think you're not allowed to say that because it's not sex positive these days.

Katherine Dee: Yeah, I mean, I think only, well, my only amendment to that is you very recently could start saying it.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, that's part of your prediction, right? That it's gonna be, yeah.

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: All right. Next topic because I don't wanna keep you too long. Adderall, I was amazed by this because Adderall is basically just speed, right? And our speed mixed with other stuff. And like, I think you said like all journalists or all professional class people of a certain age, or not all but many are like taking Adderall all the time.

Katherine Dee: A lot of people are. Yeah.

Steve Hsu: That's amazing to me.

Katherine Dee: There was like, the, the increase in like Adderall prescriptions among, like yuppy women was like, I, I don't remember the exact, I mean, it's, it's over like a hundred percent.

Steve Hsu: Now when they go to the doc, when do they go to the doc? Are they saying, hey doc, I have ADHD. Give me an Adderall prescription. Or what do they say?

Katherine Dee: No, they, they go to pill mills and, I mean, it was just so easy with telemedicine, but now, I mean, now there's a shortage. So if you better like Ritalin, you know what I mean?

Steve Hsu: They're not able to get enough of it from China or something. okay. But you call the pill and you're like, eh, I don't feel very good. I need an, I need an

Katherine Dee: They, they, they, they know it. They know it's up and like, they go through like a checklist of symptoms and you just gotta, you have to say the magic number of yeses.

Steve Hsu: Okay. And so, like, if I'm, like, if some New York Times journalist is interviewing me like tomorrow, there's a good shot that that lady is on Adderall while she's talking to me?

Katherine Dee: Not, well, not anymore. It's very hard to get. But

Steve Hsu: not,

Katherine Dee: six months ago.

Steve Hsu: It's hard to get the pill.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. So like a year ago. Yeah. I mean, a lot, you know, definitely not all, but a lot.

Steve Hsu: Wow. Incredible. And, and like, do you get addicted?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Steve Hsu: Wow.

Katherine Dee: I mean, it's, it's speed.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, you know, like, like when I was growing up, this stuff was like a big no-no. Like, you know, you, you know, only like serious drug people would be taking this kind of stuff like speed, but then like you learn like in, oh, in World War II they were like giving this out like candy to the soldiers right before I went to battle and stuff like that.

So, we have a long history with these drugs. But, but I, I just happened to be in a generation where there wasn't that, as far as I know, there wasn't that much speed use.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Yeah, I think it, it, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes we're in a downer period. Sometimes we're in an upper period.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, it's kind of weird that there's an actual shortage of the actual chemical. I mean, chemicals, I mean, you'd think they could, they could fix that supply chain pro, but, okay.

Next topic. AI, GPT. What is the average person who makes a living writing, you know, a journalist, Substack person? Like, do you see this as a threat to your way of life or wellbeing? I mean, what, what, what do you think?

Katherine Dee: No. Because I'm me and a lot of, you know, a lot of other people, like, I, like I said in the beginning, we're selling ourselves. Like, we are the product. Our, our writing is like, that's the, that's the charade, you know.

Steve Hsu: right, I, I, yeah. I think, based on what you explained about, you know, how you become big on Substack and stuff like that, I understand that now. But, how about just more generally, like the idea that, like if you were one of these, I, I realize this era may be over, but if you were one of these 50 bucks an article clickbait, people. Would you be saying like, oh shit, an AI can now do that job better than me?

Katherine Dee: You'd still need to find the stories. I don't think we're there yet. I mean, we'll, we'll get there soon, but we're not there. We're not there yet. I don't even really think that like, for advertising. I mean, do you know, you know, who really is out of, out of luck? I like anything that's very formulaic. And, the community managers, like, there's a, there's a, a job where you basically just respond to people on social with like, copy and pasted, stuff. And that was very difficult because people, you know, people ask questions in weird ways and it's hard to know the exact way to tweak it. That's something like GPT-4 could, you know, we don't need to pay, like 23 year olds, $30,000 a year to, to tweet for us anymore.

Steve Hsu: By the way, you, earlier you, did say during that era when people were writing $50 pop clickbait pieces, that to make a living, people had to be like a human writing mill. And I think just to assist them once they picked out the topic in generating the text,you know, GPT would probably, you know, be extremely useful.

Katherine Dee: For some of, for like listicles and stuff. Yeah. I mean, that's probably right as, or like fashion articles. But for these sort of hot topic current events, one, it might be a little bit more difficult. Because the, you know, the other thing is like someone has to sort of start, like pick the next current thing, right?

That's, that's part, that's part of it.

Steve Hsu: So among, among the people, your colleagues or peers that are writers, how many of them do you think are regularly using GPT on a day to day-to-day basis?

Katherine Dee: I think some of them who do like more, formulaic types of writing. I don't think many of them who do, like hot takes or definitely not like confessional writing, use it. I mean, the other thing you have to consider is like, how many people are reading these articles? A lot of people are just sort of, you know, let a lot, a lot of it's word vomit.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, to me, I, I don't know if I should blame this on the human writers or bots, but the, the news feed that I get, if I'm not careful and I click on something and I start reading, eventually I'll realize like, either this was written by a bad robot or a human that's just really terrible at writing.

Like, I, I can't believe this stuff is like, published. Like, it's like they're not even co you know, there's some actual news there and they're trying to summarize it, but they're not even really summarizing it in a coherent way. And there are lots of mistakes. Like even like, like paragraph breaks are in the wrong play.

Or maybe not that bad. But anyway, I'm like, I'm like, geez, this, this text feed is just really bad right now. I don't, I dunno if you've noticed anything like that.

Katherine Dee: It's, oh, it's awful. It's, it's, it's the worst.

Steve Hsu: Is that because the people writing these things suck? Or is it that they're using bad robots to write this stuff? I can't quite figure that out.

Katherine Dee: It depends, it depends on what it is, but a lot of, I mean, a lot of people's writing in English, like, doesn't get edited. There are very few publications where I feel supported as a writer. and, you know, I won't, I won't say which ones. So, you know, nobody can figure it out. It's not them by.

Steve Hsu: Got it.

I got it. Although I think GPT could probably edit these things pretty well. Like, they could definitely improve. If, if I just fed that as a prompt and said, improve this, they would get something better. So


Katherine Dee: I don't know. I actually, I, I, you know, it's so funny you should mention this because I used it today for the first time for a piece I wrote, supposed to file a 1300 word article. It ended up being 4,000 words and I was like, I paid for Chat GPT Plus, and I was like, you know, make, and then I was like, make this shorter.

And I didn't like what I, what I got at. I tried a couple of different times, a couple different prompts and it just didn't, I didn't love it, but I don't know. It might be a problem with my writing.

Steve Hsu: Interesting. Yeah. It's gonna improve. There's still a way to go to make everybody happy. But the latest startup that I just founded is working with large language models and believe me, there, there is magic coming. It's gonna touch almost every person, like even a few years in a, within the next couple years.

So like your customer service and your

Katherine Dee: cus Okay, that's another one. Like customers I like, I can imagine a potential universe where the customer and the customer service agent are both AI.

Steve Hsu: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. You're gonna, you're gonna have to tell your bot to go, like, sort this out. Like, I got overcharged, go get my $20 back, and then it'll be bot versus bot. Definitely. That day is coming.

Okay. Last question. And I really thank you for your time and it's been phenomenal talking to you.

Um,What is stuff a Gen X guy just cannot get about younger people like millennials and Zoomers today? Like when you, when you look at me, when you look, when you look at me, you're like, hey, I'm gonna talk to this old Gen X guy. Like, I'm pretty damn sure these are the things he's just not gonna completely grok. Like, what, what are those things?

Katherine Dee: I don't, I don't know. Because that's an interesting thing about the internet is that there are people in your age group who are like, also, you know, very, like they, maybe they're not digital natives, but they're very digitally savvy. And they are very online. So it's like, I think it's sort of a mistake to assume that you might not understand something because of your age.

Steve Hsu: That's a good answer. That's a good answer because I, I would say I, yeah, I am pretty online and most of the terminology used. I understand, I guess the, maybe the right way to say it is that it's, it's, it's quite likely that my sensibilities are different though having grown up in a different era. So, maybe that I wouldn't be able to

Katherine Dee: That's true. But think, think, think about it. Like a lot of the big, like bloggers and content creators are in your age bracket.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I mean, the guys, I, I don't know if you, yeah, I guess they're maybe big for people in your age group too, but Yeah, I mean, like the Tyler Collins and the, I don't know. I don't know who I should mention, but, but yeah, I mean, they are, they, a lot of them are older, for sure.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. and across, you know, across the, the, the, the board, Nina Power, Mary Harrington, those are two, you know, writers who I really admire and who a lot of other women admire. I mean, you know, they're not super mainstream, but they're in their forties and, yeah, I think Curtis Jarvin is the elephant in the room.

He's also in his late forties. I mean, so yeah. I think that your generation is a kind of the architect in a lot of ways people say, you know, poor forgotten Gen X, but you guys have a lot of big contributions.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I I, it's interesting that you say that. I mean, yeah, I mean, I, I wasn't singling out Gen X, it's just that I am Gen X, so that's, that's why

I was mentioning it.But yeah, I mean, I think I have high school aged kids and I remember when I was in high school, I was like, hey man, I'm, I'm pretty cool. I understand stuff. I understand what it's like to be 17. There's never gonna be a generation gap between me and my kid. But now that I'm older, I realize, yeah, there's some, seems to be some generation gap. Because my, my, you know, there definitely seem to be things that, like my kids consider, like the natural law of life that are incomprehensible to me.

So, somehow it happened. Somehow it happens in every generation.

Katherine Dee: What are some things that you're, that like your kids bring to you that you just totally are, it's like, you're like, what, what are they talking about?

Steve Hsu: The thing I don't get, well, I kind of get it so at the risk of like revealing too much about my kids, but like, one thing, okay, obviously their lives are very online, so like a lot of times I'll be asking like, hey, do you want to go out? You, you want to go out and party or invite some friends over to sleep over whatever you want to do. Like, I'm cool with it, you know, I'm that kind of dad, right? And they're like, no, I'm gonna sit in my room and we're just gonna talk to each other over my laptop. And I'm like, really? You're satisfied with that? because you could go and hang out. Like, I would even, like, if you wanna have a beer, it's fine with me, you know, whatever.

What? But they're happy, just like, interacting online. And that seems just really weird to me. But that's maybe their world now. Does that seem normal to you?

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Well, only because a lot of the people I wanna talk to are online only. I don't, I don't know them in real life.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, but in this case, like, they go to a normal high school, they're on sports teams, you know, they have a lot of friends. And

Katherine Dee: I, you know, I, I guess, I guess I kind of get it because sometimes you just don't feel like going out. yeah. I mean, it depends on your disposition.

Steve Hsu: My kids would just tell me like, oh dad, you know, these days all your friendships, you know, you, you are mainly interacting online. That's the way you want to do it.

Katherine Dee: To never wanna do it in person, though. I mean, COVID must have impacted them a lot.

Steve Hsu: They were pretty lucky because it wasn't that bad. But they were home from school for a big chunk. They were online only for a chunk of time, but it wasn't that bad. They were lucky. They both had their swim seasons during COVID. They didn't cancel them, they just shortened them. They didn't fully cancel the sports season. But it's just so different. Probably it was this way for you, but when I was in high school growing up in the middle of Iowa, we were just raging on weekends. Like us, we would go out if anybody's parents were away for sure, there was some monster party happening at their house and like kegs of beer and just people like doing crazy stuff.

It was literally like an eighties high school movie. I dunno if you've ever watched any of those, but, you know, that was, that was my teen life and my kids don't seem to have experienced any of that.

Katherine Dee: That's really interesting. I mean, yeah, I didn't necessarily experience that, but that was sort of like, you know, that was sort of like the goal.

Steve Hsu: Yeah. I mean, we lived in a, I grew up in a college town and you know, it was very safe and there was one high school, so all the kids knew each other and it was just, it was just crazy. And there was tons of drinking and, and driving and racing cars and just fights. There were fights all the time. My kids tell me, they've only seen, like, I was questioning 'em about this and my, my kids told me they'd only seen in their entire lives, they'd seen one fight at the bus stop.

And other than that, they've never seen any fights at school. Whereas I think there was like a fight every week in my high school. Not that it was a bad high school, it was like a normal, pretty much all white high school in the middle of Iowa. But there were fights because you know, kids are kids.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. I, I never saw fights either growing, well, I might have been, I went to a private school. I mean, there were a lot of different components to that, but I, yeah, I remember thinking like fights were just something that happened in movies.

But also, you know, you don't, you don't have to worry about school shootings, which I'm sure your kids have had drills. I mean, I was, I, I did drills growing up.

Steve Hsu: We, yeah, we had an actual hoax called in, which scared the heck out of everybody a few months ago. But yeah, to me it would've been totally out of the question to think that somebody would come into my high school and shoot it up. So, totally different.

Katherine Dee: Yeah.

Steve Hsu: Well, Katherine, it's been great. I appreciate your time. I would love to have you back on the podcast some other time.

Katherine Dee: Yeah. Thanks for inviting me.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, I wish you all the best.