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Liv Boeree: "We Live in a Universe at the Whim of Entropy"
Not many poker players can provide the media with a quote like the one used in the headline above.
Not many poker players are as sharp as Liv Boeree, though.
Not only one of the most talented players the game has produced over the past decade, the Astrophysics grad is also one of the most politically astute and socially aware people in any profession.
She's delivered lectures at Oxford, helped co-found a life-changing charity and captained the London Royals into the first-ever Global Poker League playoffs.
Somehow she still manages to stay abreast of the most pressing global environmental issues and the current - and daunting - political climate at home and abroad.
Who better, then, to ask about the imminent implications of the Brexit vote and the rise to power of Donald Trump? We caught up with her for some thoughts at the ongoing PokerStars Championship Bahamas.
PokerListings: Did you see it coming, Liv?
Liv Boeree: What? The election?
LB: No, I didn’t. It was a big shock - I didn’t expect certain mainstream media and politicians to be as irresponsible as they were by pushing out misinformation for their own agenda.
I see the Brexit vote outcome as a failing from multiple directions - on the UK government for asking the British populace to vote on something that requires a PhD in Economics to fully understand; on the European government for being excessively dismissive to individual governments’ concerns; and on the UK voters for not doing their due diligence.
Scrutinizing the data, calculating the pros and cons, questioning political bias and for not factoring in the experts’ advice, which was overwhelmingly in favor of remaining. After seeing how irrational people could be here I wasn’t even surprised anymore about what happened in the US in November.
PL: The media in continental Europe made it look like Britain was in a state of shock after the poll. What’s the situation really like?
LB: I wasn’t in the UK when it happened so had to do a postal vote. Most of the people I know voted 'remain' anyway, except a few, and they’ve expressed mixed feelings since. A couple of them said they regret it, which is a tough and brave thing to admit.
PL: And what generation are these few?
PL: So is it true that the older generation is “responsible” for Brexit?
LB: Well, the voting demographics seem to suggest that, but as for who is actually responsible I think it ultimately falls to the government who chose to call for such a ridiculous voting topic in the first place.
They should’ve asked the people to vote on a desired outcome, not on an arbitrary method that may or may not achieve a certain outcome.
The main motivation of the Out-voters I know was a feeling of “Europe has too much power over us” and “I don’t recognize the country I grew up in anymore. I need to do something about it."
Regarding the concerns about European power, there may be some truth to that - but that doesn’t mean that a knee-jerk, irreversible decision like the UK leaving the Union is the best way of solving that. And definitely not in the long-term when you factor in the rising and urgent need for global stability.
Regarding the “I don’t recognize my country anymore” - the painful but necessary answer to that is that time inexorably moves on, and no matter how much it worked for you in your teens, the world cannot back to how it was in the 1970s. A country is ultimately only ever an arbitrarily defined line on the soil and a culture defined by the current situation.
We live in a time of exponential technological growth. The challenges we face are on a much more global level than in the past, and that means we need more international cooperation – between cities, between nations, between continents.
We can’t face the future’s very global issues if we separate back into little tribes. National states made sense in previous centuries but we’re in a different situation now.
PL: Apparently people want to be seen as critics, as protesters against their governments.
LB: Sometimes, yes. Being a contrarian just for the sake of it or because it gives you a sense of identity is obviously not a productive way of being. It’s something we can all fall victim to and some people live their lives by this.
That said, governments can often be unethical, self-serving or irrational, and if so you should obviously find the best way to solve the problem. And protesting can be a productive way of doing that.
My issue here is that SO many voters, on all sides of whatever election, simply followed their (very emotional) gut feeling. They didn’t even try to look at evidence to counter their pre-formed opinion.
I was very undecided on Brexit for a while until I had read as much as possible on both sides - and in the end the evidence said remaining was the best option for both the short and the long term.
In the Brexit & Trump cases, many 'yes' voters were people who felt an unidentified sense of dissatisfaction and so decided to shake things up and hope that it’ll turn out fine.
And of course their desire to protest is very reasonable, but understanding WHY you’re protesting and the consequences of making a protest vote are too important to ignore.
Unfortunately we live in a universe at the whim of entropy, and entropy tends to take order back towards chaos, so it’s very unlikely that if you break a (reasonable, but imperfect) system up without a very solid plan for how to re-assemble it, the result will somehow end in a magical utopia.
We have built a civilization and, although it’s far from perfect, it’s still a much better way of life for humans right now that at pretty much any time in the past.
PL: Are you saying that economy and technology have developed so fast that the human spirit can’t keep up?
LB: That’s a reasonable way to put it. Technological development is accelerating every day. It’s hard for adults today to keep up with what the younger generation have available to them and soon even the most up-to-date person will feel left behind at some point.
We’re sitting on this exponential curve and we can’t stop it. It's the most exciting and the most terrifying time to be alive. A friend of mine wrote about this and said if planet Earth was a reality show, we’d be close to the big finale of Season 1.
We’re making so many fundamental breakthroughs in so many different ways in areas like longevity, AI, material science, energy production and weaponry, while at same time we’re battling against our biologically evolving animal nature that simply can’t keep up.
Populism appeals to the tribal spirit we survived by 10,000 years ago but in today's interconnected and otherwise safer world it is largely counterproductive and possibly very dangerous. What’s scary today is that careful reasoning and nuance seem to have been washed away by a wave of just doing something to make us feel relevant.
I don’t want to be too pessimistic about Brexit; there can still be something positive to come out of it. What concerns me more is that other European countries might fall to the same illness of tribalism and irrationality.
Italy is leaning to the right again and Marine le Pen in France is really scary. And then if you look what America have just done by voting in a clearly egotistical, vicious, self-serving, environment-destroying tycoon it’s difficult to stay positive.
I think it’s always better to err on the side of caution and careful consideration when the stakes are so high, but many people in the world don’t seem capable of doing that right now.