Thoughtcrime With Mike Solana

A Quest for Original Thought

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I took a break from podcasting for 3 months to travel! But now I’m back.

You can listen to my conversation with Mike Solana + listen to 38 past episodes of The Jason Levin Show on any major platform.

I’ll be releasing new podcasts every Saturday and featuring some of them as interviews here on my blog.

Ok onto the essay + interview!

As a teenager, I broke a lot of laws.

I was a kleptomaniac in middle school, sold weed in college, and did LSD somewhere between 4-7 times. The list goes on.

Teenage rebellion hit me hard. As I grew up and began to value my life and freedom more, I quit breaking legal rules. But I haven’t quit breaking rules altogether. Now I just break fake societal rules.

I cold DM my way into jobs instead of applying. I dropped out when I started making more than my professors. I leave my car in New York when I travel because it’s cheaper to get parking tickets than pay for airport parking. And I don’t wear socks because it just feels so much better.

Ok maybe the NYC parking authority might eventually get me, but we’ll see. Anyways, I say all of this to preface my belief that it takes a rulebreaker to know a fellow rulebreaker. Mike Solana is just that.

After majoring in English at Boston University, he went on to work as an editor at Penguin Random House. Within a couple years, he left the boring haughty walls of traditional publishing to lead media at venture firm Founders Fund and start a newsletter called Pirate Wires. During his time at Founders Fund, he hosted a conference dedicated to thoughtcrime called Hereticon and has been working directly with the Al Capone of thoughtcrime Peter Thiel for 10+ years.

Thiel is the founder of PayPal and is infamous for his investment in Facebook that netted him $5 billion in tax-free gains thanks to a legal loophole. Whether it’s his investments in life-extension research or seasteading (building cities in the middle of the ocean), Thiel is known in Silicon Valley for being a contrarian — willing to say and act on what’s against commonly accepted thought.

I had never talked with anyone who worked with Thiel so I jumped on the opportunity to ask Mike what he’s learned while working together.

“I'm lucky enough at this point in my career, I've met a lot of really successful people — people who are known and who have done things and built companies, and they're way richer than I am. And they're smart, dynamic people.

And what happens with a lot of these successful people, almost all of them, is they start holding court. They stop interacting with you as a person and getting to know new people so much as like they're surrounded by their people. They'll be at a dinner table and they'll just be monologuing to you about how the world works.

And they're definitely like in charge of the table. But Peter is not like that at all. Peter, who is the smartest person I've ever known, smarter than all of those people, like by far — he sits down and the first thing he does when there's new people at the table, he wants to understand what they see that he doesn't see.

And he starts asking them all sorts of questions that he doesn't know the answer to. And he genuinely wants to know. He wants to know. He's like, what are you seeing out there? What do you think about this? What do you think about that?

And I've been at some of these tables, and I'm not as curious. He's way more curious than me. So he'll be asking some new person and I’m like ‘I'm bored right now’. I don't care about like, whatever — construction in Miami literally was a conversation not too long ago. I'm like, I do not care about this at all. But he does, he cares about everything and I think that that is one of the things he's always looking for — original thought.”

Quest for Original Thought

The day I recorded my podcast with Solana, I went to a party and met a guy who invested in a soccer team and a girl whose family runs a tequila business. I hate soccer and I don’t drink.

But I tried to embrace my inner Peter Thiel and care about the topics. So I asked more and more questions. And even though I don’t like soccer or tequila, I found myself becoming interested in the business sides of both.

We could all be a bit more like Peter Thiel: to be insatiably curious. Thiel is a first principles thinker, he understands topics at their fundamental nature.

In today’s age of copy-and-paste thinkers, being an original first principles thinker is akin to being a heretic. I implore you to be a heretic — to be a thoughtcriminal. This conversation about thoughtcrime made me think about this quote from Y Combinator founder Paul Graham.

“The most important thing is to be able to think what you want, not to say what you want. And if you feel you have to say everything you think, it may inhibit you from thinking improper thoughts.”

Paul Graham, Hackers and Painters

When I read the quote to Solana, he brought up the fact that it was written in the early 2000s and we’re living in a different time now.

“You should always be allowed to ask questions. And when you're not allowed to question something, that is a pretty good indication that something is wrong, I would say. Because if you were allowed to, if it wasn't wrong, if it was working and everybody sort of knew it was working, there'd be no reason to question it […]

The freedom or the idea of someone speaking their mind didn't really matter so much in the early 2000s because you could do it. By 2017 or so — earlier, probably 2015 — it's like you really couldn't do it anymore on a whole range of topics. And then suddenly it was like, well, wait a minute. What have we lost here?”

You should always be able to question things. Questioning things shouldn’t make you a thoughtcriminal, but in today’s world of censorship, it often does. Sure it’s not Soviet Russia, but speaking your mind or even just a misstep of words can get you attacked all the same.

So it’s crucial to surround yourself with other thoughtcriminals. In the words of Graham, “the people you can say heretical things to without getting jumped on are also the most interesting to know.” My thoughtcriminal friends are my best friends, the most fun, the ones I feel most comfortable with.

Even more important than thoughtcriminal friends is to let yourself think free thoughts. There are no Thought Police coming to get you.

“Inside your head, anything is allowed. Within my head I make a point of encouraging the most outrageous thoughts I can imagine. But, as in a secret society, nothing that happens within the building should be told to outsiders. The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club.”

Paul Graham, Hackers and Painters

Everyone knows the first rule of Fight Club. But how does this relate to rules around content and careers?

Dream bigger than 99% of people will say is realistic. Give yourself permission to think thoughts other people are afraid to. There’s no rule against you getting to 1 million followers or making $10M/year. There’s only a lot of voices in your head saying it’s hard or unlikely. But there’s no rule.

The only real rules in life are the laws of physics. The rest are just social constructs. Follow the rules of physics so you don’t get hurt and the rules of law so you don’t go to jail, but as for the rest, decide which are worth following.

I’ll leave you with one question. What dumb fake rules are you currently following that you probably shouldn’t be?


9 fake rules I’m not following anymore + Mike Solana’s thoughts on AI

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