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Bagholding Our Way to the Stars

"Bag holder" is one of the most vicious insults among people who trade stocks or cryptocurrency these days. It's short for "guy who was left holding the bag after a pump and dump", and implies the bagholder was a dupe, a sucker, and somehow kept believing in the promise of future returns even after the value was extracted by other people trading against him. The line between a bagholder and a stubborn long-term value investor like Warren Buffet is that a value investor has some concrete evidence that the value of his investment will go up in the future, rather than blind faith or rumors. For example, Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX made Tom Brady into a huge bagholder by collapsing the value of the FTT token and thus the FTX exchange while funneling over $100 million to the Democratic party during the 2022 midterm election cycle. This made New York sports writers and other species of toe fungus very happy.

A common trope in ancient mythologies and modern fantasy settings is that the past contains achievements we can never hope to match, that the world is "fallen" or "corrupted" or "degenerated" since some pristine prior state. It's seen everywhere from the Fall of Eden to the Greek tales of a Golden Age to Mayan/Aztec tales of prior "world cycles," to the Muslim insistence that Muhammad's generation of inbred goat rapers was the greatest to ever exist. This is even what underlies the environmentalist movement, although most environmentalists haven't yet admitted that exterminating the Third World would fix all the problems they care about.

The discovery of civilizations during the past Ice Age who performed architectural feats beyond the powers of historical Egypt, Greece, and Rome means that the trope of a degraded world was true for about 11,000 years. This period of decline or stagnation stretched all the way from the loss of these ancient civilizations during the Younger Dryas comet impact / flooding event in 9600 BCE (the exact date the Egyptians gave Solon for the fall of Atlantis) up to the dawn of modern science and calculus in the 1600s. Egypt's mysteries surpassed the Greeks, and the Greeks were the intellectual wellspring of Rome. Rome in turn was superior to medieval civilization by most standards. The Western tradition of stories of ancient ruins of lost civilizations containing powerful artifacts is the memory of medieval Europeans finding what the Romans left behind. Therefore, all reason and experience told humans everywhere for over 99% of known history that the world only ever got worse in the long term. "There is no new thing under the sun" is the classic phrasing, or the Buddhist wheel of Samsara, where the world continues to suffer forever and the enlightened depart for Nirvana. To reiterate, for eleven thousand years, the only reason anyone would believe things could naturally improve over time in the material universe was stubborn faith

The Renaissance in Europe was enabled by people stubbornly believing otherwise, keeping the flame of optimism alive throughout centuries of feudal and religious wars wracking all of Europe. The Renaissance was important for more than the mere recovery of ancient texts via back-translation from Arabic. It proved to the modern West that we could, in fact already had, surpassed the ancient Greeks and Romans in some areas, and thus for the first time since the Pleistocene Epoch showed an upward arc in the trajectory of mankind. That attitude led to the Enlightenment, which in part led to the American Revolution, and to the technological optimism of the Victorian Age. After a brief sense of stagnation when classical physics was "all nailed down" at the close of the 19th century, relativity, quantum mechanics, internal combustion engines, and solid state transistors propelled us to a standard of living completely unimaginable to our ancestors. People ask why we don't build cathedrals anymore, but an average smartphone SoC has more transistors than a Gothic cathedral has bricks, and we as a species have been living and working in the heavens above the blue sky since the 1960s. Yes, there are political reasons why this bounty is suboptimally distributed,

And now again we come to a moment where stubborn hope is the only reason to keep trying. The (((popular culture))) has been trying to convince us since the end of the Cold War that it's over for the West, and we should lie down to die as the east Asians supplant us as leaders of mankind. If you've read Zeihan you'll know we're already most of the way past that bad end, and we just need to keep up hope and keep reproducing to ensure we don't follow their path 30 years from now. The despondent do not breed.

Once we get past this moment of dislocation, mass produced fully reusable heavy lift orbital launch vehicles will enable us to finally make more than ruinously expensive, tentative steps past the Karman Line, to secure the bounty of the Solar System for ourselves and our posterity. Politicians are already framing future Great Power competition among these terms, which is the surest sign the genie isn't going back into the bottle. "For science" or "because it's fucking awesome" motivates the nerds, but "to beat the other guy" is what cracks open national checkbooks.

We are all going to make it.