3-Body Problem: Social Darwinism, Technology Blockades & Community Over Individuals by Liu Cixin - E418

· Podcast Episodes English,VC and Angels,China,an


“This dark theme of Social Darwinism has both fans and haters. For fans, this book is quite popular amongst the nationalists or the right side of the political spectrum because a lot of people are very much focused on saying that this is the human society and we have to take care of ourselves, our families, and our communities, and we shouldn't care about progressive liberal ideals of universal humanity that doesn't exist. On the other side, the criticism is that these scenarios are way too zero-sum. We are not down to the last three humans on Earth where one has to eat the other to survive and perpetuate humans as a species. We are in a large global community that has rules, orders, and shared ethos that allows us to cooperate and move past zero-sum games to win games that help us get richer, be safer, and have a better future as a human civilization.” - Jeremy Au

“In contrast to Game of Thrones, where individuals are making morally gray decisions to gain power or to survive as a house, here, it’s about the desire for individuals or groups of communities to survive as an entity to the next generation. So in many of the crises, it's about people making a decision and trading off between their ideals and their moral idealism versus the greater good, with the greater good being survival. This core instinct lays the framework for much of the game theory that underpins the later book. Machiavelli is correct, might makes right and the good is surviving. In these dark times, being kind to anybody is a massive privilege and a luxury. Idealism is fatal. As a result, when people don't play the rules of real politics, that's when the most lives are lost.” - Jeremy Au

“This is science fiction. This is not meant to be a point of view on human society. Maybe you believe that Social Darwinism is not a thing, or you don't believe that technology is a true level of competition. Maybe you believe that the individual is more important than the community. Any of these things could be a different assumption on your part, and as a result, the story will go very differently, but it's interesting that it's able to stitch these three things into a coherent plot line where the logic of the real politic between societies, communities, and individuals is translated organically, and naturally plot events that make sense within the logic of this universe.” - Jeremy Au

Jeremy Au as a science-fiction and history nerd reviewed the 3 complex themes of Liu Cixin's "Three-Body Problem" series. Spoilers ahead:

1. Social Darwinism: "Dog eat dog" foundational psychological core of human society due to the survival instincts of individual humans, in stark contrast to Western fiction like social utopian “Star Wars,” moral clarity of "Star Trek," inspirational "Lord of the Rings," and political sacrifices of "Game of Thrones". In a dark real-life parallel, the show's TV producer and billionaire Lin Qi was poisoned to death by his business partner due to jealousy and anger.

2. Technology Competition & Blockades: The best way for societies to compete is through technology advancement, e.g. Guns over swords, nuclear missiles over artillery bombs. The Qing dynasty’s (1644-1912) self-imposed isolation and technology stagnation led to the "Century of Humiliation" where China repeatedly lost to more advanced foreign powers like the United Kingdom with the Opium Wars, France, Russia, Germany and Japan. China readers currently perceive a similar dynamic in the "USA-China chip war" due to US government bans on advanced semiconductors, tech export controls and competitive R&D industrial policy.

3. Community Over Individual: Collective survival strategies are driven by individual desires to survive, but superior to individualistic decision-making. The series portrays societal responses to external threats and internal divisions, drawing on China's history of mass movements and dynasty vs. warlord eras. This leads to classic human morality being outcompeted by the realpolitik game theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), preemptive strike incentives, and "Dark Forest" as a solution to the Fermi Paradox.

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(01:54) Jeremy Au:

Hello, I'm Jeremy, and I have a problem. I'm a science fiction nerd. I've always been, and The Three-Body Problem is one of my favorite books. Today, I want to talk about the history of the book, especially in terms of the themes and why it is such a reflective mirror of society today and the macro situation that we are all faced with and why, as a result, has become popular in mass media. A lot of people have compared this to Game of Thrones, or Star Trek, or Star Wars. What's interesting is that this is the first Chinese author that has become popular globally in science fiction. That's interesting because it reflects both the author's perspectives on the anxieties that Chinese society faces as he grew up in, as well as the macro point of view in terms of his thesis and philosophies that reflect, of course, some of our known current political frameworks, but also his own perspective of what Chinese society has had to go through.

One interesting and sad fact is that there was a billionaire who basically helped bring these rights for the English language and successfully bought those rights in order to adapt it into the Netflix adaptation that it is today because he's a huge science fiction fan. Unfortunately, his business partner who had successfully negotiated that buy over the rights was eventually sidelined over time and he felt small, angry, frustrated, and so he eventually murdered a billionaire using poison. As a result, there's a bit of a dark parallel between the darkness of human nature that exists within the plot of the story is reflected by the darkness and duality of people who want to do good versus people who are willing to be evil in the eventual production of the Netflix adaptation of The Three Body Problem.

On that note, I do want to share that there's a spoiler alert. We will be discussing some of the themes and characters from the book series. And perhaps watch that first on TV and then come back to that in that case.

(03:40) Jeremy Au:

So here are the three major themes that I want to talk about. The first is really about Social Darwinism. Now, Social Darwinism is a big word. What that means is that there is a certain perspective of dog eat dog, the law of the jungle, and survival of the fittest. Liu Cixin is really focused on the human desire to survive at any cost especially in zero-sum games or in times of crisis. This is actually quite different from Star Wars, obviously, where it's a classic good versus evil, rebel versus large authoritarian government. It's also different from Star Trek. Star Trek is about social utopianism. So in the story, the Federation, which is an alliance between humans and aliens, everybody lives without the need for money. It's post-scarcity, and it's about bringing peace and civilization to more social and star systems. Lord of the Rings is obviously very clear. It's not this good versus evil, but it's almost got a human and elf versus orc. And it was very clear what the story is. Many people compare Three-Body Problem to Game of Thrones, as well as The Expanse. Game of Thrones is very much more about political realism, so it's about the fact that, hey, back in English society, political clans and alliances can be made or broken. So murder and all of the nasty things that happen are a function of political allegiances and trade-offs. The Expanse also has some similarities to that where there's a mixture of human individuals, but primarily societies which are almost clan-like, are making decisions about their survival. What's different is that The Three Body Problem is very focused on mass movements and human society in terms of what they do in moments of crisis and how individuals and groups try to survive.

The opening scene of the Netflix show, the English Adaptation, as well as the original Chinese language written work was about a Chinese cultural revolution. This was a time period of huge cultural turmoil as well as self-criticism. And the protagonist, to some extent, Ye Wenjie, is so turned off by the entire movement and the death of her father as a result of this movement, that she eventually turns away from the human race and betrays the human race in favor of the aliens. The key context is that she's a survivor. She has survived the cultural revolution. She has suppressed herself and she rebels by having that deep sense of alienation and disassociation with her fellow humanity and society and species in order to survive. And eventually, when the opportunity emerges to take revenge, she takes it. As a result, The Three Body Problem is not really a story about good versus evil, humans good, aliens bad. It's not about humans uniting to fight aliens like we see in The Tomorrow War, where Chris Pratt unites to fight against aliens that are just killing humans as part of their natural biological imperative. The book is therefore showing the internal divisiveness traits and human society, in the context of the cultural revolution with mob justice alienates the human individual, and the human individual, in the quest to survive, pushes back.

As a result, the survival instinct is present at different levels, at whatever is the lowest, smaller, atomic level that is relevant to the situation. So when an individual is fighting against a mass movement, it's the individual that has a survivalist instinct. When it is a group or community trying to figure out themselves out is the group that's trying to survive. When it is at an organizational level, they are trying to survive. And when it is at a human civilizational level it is a human sort of trying to survive as a species. But really, it's the theme of survival that comes out. And this survival instinct is what drives a lot of the game theory that emerges later in the book.

So what's interesting is that a book actually has a pretty positive view of individual vices. And what I mean by that is that if you're a drinker or gambler, the book is kind of like, yeah, that's a pretty normal behavior. In a lot of classic Western morality tales for example, like Harry Potter or all these other things, they're flawed characters and so forth, but in general, if you have a personal individual flaw, that character is actually correlated with a larger flaw in your morality. So somebody who smokes and drinks and gambles, of course, is the archetype of the smuggler or the rebel who kind of pushes back, and so you could be a hero like Han Solo. But other devices like anger and cruelty, for example, will very much be considered correlated to being evil, for example, The Lord of the Rings.

In the Three Body Problem, the characters who are most in tune with the desire to survive and get into tune with why they want to survive, in spite of their personal vices or flaws end up becoming the most realistic about why the law of the jungle applies. And so they're able to make much more politically and morally gray decisions in order to help perpetuate themselves. And as a result, sets up much of the conflict in the book series.

(08:03) Jeremy Au:

So what's interesting is that in contrast to Game of Thrones, where individuals are making morally gray decisions in order to gain power, to survive as a house, here is really about again, the desire for individuals or groups of communities to survive as an entity to the next generation. So in many of the crisis moments, it's about people who are making a decision and trading off between their ideals and their moral idealism versus the greater good. And the greater good being survival. With this core instinct, this actually lays the framework for much of the game theory that underpins the later book. Machiavelli is correct, might makes right and the good is surviving. In these dark times, being kind to anybody is a massive privilege and frankly, a luxury. Idealism is fatal. As a result, when people don't play the rules of real politic, that's when the most lives are lost.

One example a character who has been given a tremendous amount of resources in order to defend the world, unfortunately, he doesn't have that survival instinct because he wants to live a life of hedonism and luxury and he doesn't want a job at all because he didn't desire a job in the first place. And much of the book is actually focused on him rediscovering his survival instinct. It's about him figuring out that he does want to have a family that he is in love with. And what's interesting is that his family basically chooses to be frozen and it's only when he realizes that if he doesn't solve the problem that his family, who is now stored in cryogenic suspension, will be lost to him forever. Only then does he sit down and start thinking through what he needs to get things done.

The second example is actually quite funny in a very dark way, which is that the author, Liu Cixin basically had an interview with two other people, a man and a woman, and he basically put together this challenge to the interviewers. He put together a thought experiment and said, Hey, if these three people were the last humans on earth, what should they do? And more importantly, he asked the interviewer if they would eat one of the three in order to survive so that the remaining two people could survive, in order to keep humanity going. The interviewer said that he would not eat another human being, even if they were the last three people on earth. Liu Cixin said that that is truly irresponsible. Only if you choose inhumanity now, then humanity will have a chance to be reborn in the future. He's saying that having this belief of not eating another human being is all good and well in times of peace, but in terms of the worst-case scenario, then you should set aside those ideals in order to help yourself survive and also help humanity survive as a result.

(10:27) Jeremy Au:

That means this dark theme of Social Darwinism, as a result, has both its fans as well as its haters. I think for fans, this book is actually quite popular amongst the nationalists or the right side of the political spectrum for the Chinese people because a lot of people in the netizens or redditors equivalent are very much focused on saying, "Hey, this is actual human society and we have to take care of ourselves, our families, our communities and we shouldn't really care about progressive liberal ideals of a universal humanity that doesn't exist." As you imagine, on the other side, the criticism of this is that these scenarios are way too zero-sum. We are not down to the last three humans on earth, where one has to eat the other to survive and perpetuate humans as a species. We are in a large global community that has rules and orders and our shared ethos allows us to cooperate and move past zero-sum games to win games that help us get richer, be safer, and have a better future altogether as a human civilization.

Personally, I think this social Darwinism, Lord of the Flies dynamic is what actually makes the book so compelling because readers have this huge distaste and aversion when reading this book, but also keeps the page-turning. I have a close friend and she read it and she was so depressed because it felt so brutal, but it wasn't a fantasy. It was brutal because he felt like people would actually make that Social choice over fancy ideals, quote unquote. This dark Machiavellian theme about the actual human reality on an individual basis and the view of human individualism at some level is what underpins our fascination with darker, harder sci-fi, like Game of Thrones and The Expanse, which kind of shows these darker points of views.

(12:07) Jeremy Au:

The second theme is really about technology blockades and strategic competition. My friends who have watched the Netflix English adaptation share that they are struck by the concept of slowing down your competitor's technology progression. The aliens' strategy is that it will take them several hundred years to reach humans. And that if humans were allowed to continue progressing at their normal rate, by the time they arrive at the human solar system, the humans would have technology that surpasses the aliens because the humans' natural ability as a civilization to gain and accelerate scientific knowledge, and as a result, outcompete aliens is very scary to the aliens. As a result, the alien strategy at every point, it's to use strategies and tools to stop science from progressing, whether it's by disrupting particle accelerators on the world or killing scientists or seeding political intrigue in order to prevent humanity from really going down the most interesting scientific R&D leadership paths. It's what they do in order to eventually successfully slow down humanity's scientific knowledge. And as a result, the ability to truly compete with alien races racing to Earth, to colonize Earth for themselves and remove the humans.

This is striking because in most science fiction, obviously, there's always some level of asymmetry in technology, but the concept of pushing back somebody's science as a way to actively accelerate that gap is quite an interesting intergenerational or time series way to think about a conflict because you're not fighting now, you're trying to fight over the course of 50, 100, 200 years. In other words, if you are roughly comparable competitors today, but if I'm able to slow down your rate of technology advancement by 50%, then time becomes my friend and your enemy because if I'm able to push the conflict to a hundred years out or 200 years out, then my technology is far superior to yours. And therefore I will be able to outcompete you and fight you and win the war.

When I was reading this, it definitely struck and reminded me of the historical parallel between 18th and 19th-century China versus the Western powers that carved up China into various spheres and areas of control. The 19th-century Qing dynasty was very focused on control, especially in its later emperors. The reason why they were doing so was that they wanted to maintain political control and they didn't want the disruption of new technologies, and new trading partners in order to rock society. As a result, the Qing dynasty closed off many ports. They closed off the population in terms of education. There was a strong ossification of the cultural society so that science wasn't the number one opportunity or way to demonstrate. As a result, they were very under-equipped technologically to fight against the advanced militaries of the colonial powers of the time, which were the British, the Americans, and the various spheres of control that they generated because they're looking to either get more access to trade or to trade opium, or just to get more land and resources and people because at that time the mercantilist or policy was that you needed to control a large hinterland wherever they were and set up colonies wherever in the world you are, whether it was India or Singapore or China or Hong Kong because those were the ability for you to create a trading empire of your own and more economic power, so and so forth, will allow you to have more military power. The crux of it, of course, was that the Qing dynasty just didn't have the technology, didn't have the guns, didn't have the military, didn't have the ships, to be able to compete. So even though there's an amount of mass, more humans, more people fighting on shorter supply lines, the technology was at an order of magnitude away. And the Western powers that were able to carve up China in the 19th century felt like magic, or I guess in this scenario, it felt like alien science fiction.

As a result, the Chinese saw what they call the beginning of the century of humiliation, which began at one end with the British victory to legalize the opium trade despite and against the wishes of the Chinese government at the time, all the way till the end of the Japanese occupation in the 1940s and 50s.

The second example is actually not that far away in terms of history. Many Chinese readers today really see this book as a template for the current US and China technology rivalry. They look at the US bans on technology, for example, on the latest advanced semiconductor chip designs as a version of this strategic competition and the blockade of technology progress. As a result, there's a very strong pushback by allegory for how the Americans are preventing China from accessing the latest semiconductor technology, and all the various, machines and production. And they see, therefore, that there is an element of technology repression and handicapping. As a result, pushback by really advancing technology is one of the ways to truly compete. In other words, it's not just economic competition, it's not military competition, but it's really fundamentally technological innovation that drives the medium to long-term capability for societal competition and competition of one another.

For other readers, this struggle reminds them of Thucydides's Trap, which is the Greek story about a rising power versus a large incumbent power that will often come to military conflict because the larger power doesn't want a young, upcoming partner and competitor to win and become the new number one and the number two doesn't want to stop becoming number one eventually. And so this mirrors the US and China dynamic where the US, which is number one globally in terms of GDP, will eventually be in a situation where they are forced to decide about what they want to do with the Chinese more strategically, and what the Chinese are willing to do in order to compete for America. This concept, of course, is, again, quite dark because it implies that, inevitably, there will be military conflict, but, it's to be seen whether that will be true.

As a result, this book is actually quite friendly to nerds, especially people who work in the technology industry, because people in the technology industry know that the technology they create, whether there's artificial intelligence or drones or, kind of like supercomputers, these are all things that have created technology to advance from swords and knives to guns, to machine guns, to artillery shells, all the way to, cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles and nuclear weapons and fusion bombs. These are all advances in technology that have translated from commercial usage directly to military application and therefore to political and inter-country struggle.

The core of this strategy as a result is that you should always invest in your own technology capability to advance as much as possible. Two is you should not share that technology with anybody who is a competitor. And you should as a result, slow them down in the race, you keep running faster and faster, and then as the gap between your society and their society grows larger and larger, then that gives you better and better terms to negotiate, or to fight, or do whatever you want. Again, as you can tell, this ties into the Darwinism that we talked about, which is the survival of the fittest, that competition and out competition is the fundamental way to compete with one another, and so it ties back to team one, but again, it's the technology that provides the edge, not economic or about family or ideals or military power.

(18:50) Jeremy Au:

The last theme is really about community over individualism. The book is really focused on the fact that when it is time for existential threats that are facing people, people have to unite in society in order to survive as a group, no matter what their political allegiances or individual concerns are. So Ye Wenjie, whom we talked about earlier, the scientist who betrayed society, was understandably angry and frustrated, but eventually, by the end of the book series, she actually reunites and rejoins the human race and provides one of the core insights in a coded way that allows humanity to survive. Ye Wenjie is basically redeemed and rejoins the community that she truly belongs to, not as an individual who is betraying humanity in order for aliens to make it a better place, but inversely, she's siding with humans and the world of her dead daughter, the world of her daughter's friends, the world of her society. As a result, the book actually shows different eras, and that's how they divide the time periods. By each era, there's basically a time of unity, and then there is a time of dissolution and chaos. The chaos eras are primarily where everybody is individualistic. And then chaos and the united eras, the good eight times are when humanity is united.

Historically, this is a reference to the dynasty versus the wall areas that happened in China. There's a story that says, what is long divided must unite. In other words, when societies are united, there are forces that will try to push and fragment, and eventually, they will dissolve into competing centers. And these competing centers, over time, they must come back together, especially in the context of Chinese history and states. There is a yin and yang between the anarchy of self-interest versus the communitarian group's will to survive as an entity. But wait, Jeremy, didn't you just say the first theme was really about social Darwinism? How does, the law of the jungle create the conditions for people to unite as a community? Again, what's interesting here is that he's basically saying that the best way to survive in a world where there's Social Darwinism in those situations is that you are better off fighting as a team. And that team is at different levels as a family as a community, as a human civilization and race and species. These are all ways where the group is able to outcompete as a whole.

As a result, social Darwinism doesn't push you towards individualism. It pushes you towards authoritarianism and communitarianism where the group is larger and better than the individual. One of the striking metaphors, for example, is that the aliens call humans bugs and basically say that you are bugs, you guys are technologically inferior to us, and we'll destroy you and crush you like the bugs you are. From the author's perspective in the book, he's basically saying that, hey, no matter what humans have done to try to kill all the bugs, it turns out that bugs as a whole really survive as a species, no matter what humans throw at them because even though you can kill off 50% or 60%, the bugs just organize in their own dynamics and they survive, and as long as 5% survive, or 1% survives, then as a result, they're able to rebuild the entire species all over again. Making individual self-interested, real political decisions Not for the individual's perpetuation, but for the species the community or the organization's perpetuation is what allows individuals to truly out-compete because they're part of a self-interested group.

One example is in the book, where there is the eventual theory of mutually asserted destruction between the humans and the aliens. And so very much the ability for the deterrence that prevents aliens from colonizing is the assurance by the humans that if they really try to make a move on earth, then they're going to destroy both planets. One of the protagonists of the book eventually takes over from the earlier person who, so there's effectively a red button that if pressed would destroy both worlds, and that ability and will to press that button prevents the aliens from truly coming. The fatal flaw of this protagonist in the second book is that she takes over the responsibility of pressing this button if the aliens attack. Turns out that she's very kind-hearted, and she cares for both societies, both herself and the alien society, and as a result, she is actually secretly unable to press the button if the aliens would attack. That being said, the aliens have done their own calculations, and they have realized that if she takes over, she would not press the button if they would attack, therefore they do attack, and they basically call a bluff, and are attacking and successfully invading Earth, because she isn't willing to destroy both planets in order to prove the point.

As a result, her degree of deterrence is only 10% because she doesn't think about herself in the right community. She's too liberal. She's too progressive. She thinks about both races and species. In fact, when she should just be thinking about her own species, the right community that she should belong to as an individual, and as a result of failure to think about her own community, puts her own individual life at risk because of her inability to decide which of the two communities that she truly belonged to.

The New Yorker had an interesting interview with the author and what they shared is that they asked if democracy made sense for today's China. He replied that if China were to transform into a democracy, it would be hell on earth. He said that the truth was that if anybody was to become the president of China tomorrow, you would find that you had no other choice but to do exactly as he had done. In other words, he's saying that China as a country cannot structurally support democracy.

Inside the book, there's an example where a small fleet basically escapes Earth in order to survive. However, the distance is way too far, and the fleet as a whole doesn't have the supplies in order to survive, to reach the other end of where they need to get to, and they need to cannibalize one another until there's only one ship left in order to survive and reach the destination because space is a very big space indeed. As a result, everybody simultaneously comes to that decision and then the ships all attack one another and they all scavenge each other. And then the remaining ship that remains, becomes an authoritarian society. One of the commanders is eventually brought to trial, decades later, and on the court, he basically says, that when humans are lost in space, it takes only five minutes to reach totalitarianism. So basically it's saying that when people are trying to survive, then a community is trying to survive and communities will default to totalitarian rule in order to face external threats.

(24:41) Jeremy Au:

A lot of the more interesting concepts come from the combination of all three beliefs, which is about Social Darwinism. Survival is number one, number two, technology is the best way to advance and win, and thirdly, people have to care about a community in order for the individual to survive, and the core goal of individual survival is to help the community survive. What's interesting as a result is that one of the reasons why they're able, one, therefore, humanity is able to survive, not because they, outcompete technology and so forth, but basically they're able to institute a system of mutually assert destruction because the aliens know that they want to survive, and they want the whole community to survive.

As a result, humanity using mutual destruction, we have the ability to kill us, we have the ability to fully kill you. That is what creates stability rather than diplomacy, or negotiations, or even military competition. As a result, the book is actually quite darkly pessimistic about the ability for military competition because the ways to win, actually, are not through pure military attrition fights where we have a larger mass of fighting vehicles and spaceships than yours. In fact, the generals who focus on that tend to lose, but very much about that dark understanding that these levers allow for diplomacy in his own way to win in his own negotiation, not high-level idealistic negotiations around human rights, and please don't do it to us, and let's all be nice to one another, but very much saying we have the ability to Utterly kill you and you have the ability to utterly kill us. And therefore there is a basis for our partnership and agreement.

Another aspect of the book that chains on for this is something they call "dark forest" theory, which is that he answers the Fermi paradox about why there are so few alien civilizations that are currently visible from a point of view. His theory, which is quite dark, is that the reason why there are so few alien civilizations out there from our perspective, in fact, effectively none as of today, is that alien civilizations kill each other because of the tyranny of the bigness of space and the high ability for miscommunications means that societies feel that they don't have sufficient space. They have to expand. And they're concerned about other societies, other alien species that have a desire to expand. And so it only takes one bad actor. And I wouldn't say bad actor, but one truly rational aggressive, true actor to, in a weird case of interstellar prisoners dilemma, basically make the decision that, Hey, whoever communicates with us will utterly kill them in order to wipe out the future ability to ever advance up the technology chain and eventually outcompete us for the space.

In other words, we have such a huge equivalent to a first-strike capability with our nuclear slash technology weapons. We have the ability to totally crush them. And so we should take the opportunity to crush them now rather than let them have the opportunity to defend against us. So this is the converse or the flip side of mutually assured destruction where in human civilization during the Cold War, the West the Soviet Union, and China all had enough nukes to basically destroy each other utterly, as well as the whole Earth, and as a result, the war became cold and never became hot. There was never a true shooting war directly between these superpowers.

Interestingly, there was a time period when America had the only nuclear arsenal in the world. The Soviet Union and the Chinese had effectively none or very early in the production of these nuclear bombs. And so at that time, there was a very strong push amongst the American military generals to basically say, Hey, we have this first strike ability, and if we use our first strike capability, we'll be able to utterly destroy the Soviet Union or China. We can win the war no matter what. We can destroy the ability to even continue having that nuclear arsenal to catch up with us because of our superior technology in terms of nuclear technology. So not, let's not let them catch up. Therefore, let's first strike them and therefore win the peace and win the war.

(28:11) Jeremy Au:

As a result, I think what it's basically saying is that when one society has a huge advantage over the other, it is inevitable that a civilization will choose to use that advantage. Now, as a result, he's basically explained that even in this dark forest of millions of alien civilizations, as long as there's one or two people who think like this aggressively, then guess what? The other people in that weird prisoner's dilemma as a result have to become aggressive as well and hide. So in other words, they have to hide themselves, not communicate because they don't want to get attacked by these aggressive people, but if they hear somebody who is communicating it out there, then they themselves should also do a first strike themselves. In other words, who's faster on the button to kill each other instantly? And this is what happens to the human race.

And again I think what's interesting about Liu Cixin is his ability to stack multiple theories on one another and then extrapolate in a very dark logic chain what makes sense and what doesn't make sense and what's likely to happen. Again, this is science fiction. This is not meant to be a point of view on human society. As long as you don't believe any one of these three things, maybe you believe that social Darwinism is not a thing, or you don't believe that technology is a true level of competition, or you believe that the individual is more important than community, any of these things could be a different, assumption on your part, and then as a result, the story will go very differently, but I think that it's interesting that it's able to stitch these three things into a coherent plot line where the logic of the real politic between societies and communities and individuals is translated organically and naturally plot events that make sense within the logic of this universe.

One of my favorite quotes is from Wade, who is a Western agent, who basically does everything to do this. He's someone who understands social Darwinism. He is all in protecting and keeping the human race alive. He understands that technology must be invested in order to survive and advance. And he's a big believer in pushing and using the organization to move forward. My favorite quote from him is, "If we lose our human nature, we lose much, but if we lose our bestial nature, we lose everything." So he's saying that if we lose our base instincts of anger and frustration and military, then basically we don't have the ability to survive as a human race anymore because we don't have the desire to compete or win to survive to perpetuate ourselves anymore. Conversely, if we were to lose, the better angels of human nature, our democracy, our ideals, our progressive beliefs, and human rights, society would be worse off for it, but it still survive. For myself, what I took away from the book is that obviously I don't believe in pure Social Darwinism. I think there'll be a very dark way to live and I don't think this is so zero-sum, but of course, science fiction is our ability to understand and see that darker root of nature. So people, I think, read this the same way, you would listen to a true crime podcast and see that, hey, there are murderers and psychopaths out there.

Then you finish listening to the series, and then you go back to your life with your family, and your friends, and you're just relieved that you have a family that loves each other and doesn't try to murder each other for money, for revenge. And yet we like those podcasts and mediums and stories about revenge and anger and frustration and murder cause we know that deep down inside us, we do have that capability to do it to other people. And so we read this in order to have that catharsis, but also our ability to vent and explore what we ourselves would do in those difficult situations.

(31:20) Jeremy Au:

To wrap up, these are the three major themes. Social Darwinism is at the core of everything. Two is that technology is a true level and means to advance. And thirdly, communities are the best way for individuals to continue to survive as an organizing mechanism.