The Long Game 54: Workouts & Social Class, Countdown, Playing Your Own Game, Non-Values

🔫 Autonomous Weapons, Hyperloop, Work-Life Blend, Failure, Wanting, Disadvantages, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Countdown

  • What your workout says about your social class

  • Playing your own game

  • Non-values

  • Autonomous weapons and the future of warfare

  • The Hyperloop

Let’s dive in!

🥑 Health

📉 Countdown — A Review

I already mentioned Countdown: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by Shanna H. Swan, and now it’s time to share some important information from the book.

It starts with a few figures explaining the gravity of the problem:

From 1973 to 2011, the total sperm count of men in Western countries dropped by 59 percent. The quality also decreased, with more odd-shaped sperm and fewer strong swimmers capable of fertilizing an egg. Perhaps most important, the DNA they carried was also more damaged.

The reason, Swan explains, may be growing exposure to “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” that are found in everything from plastics, electronics, food packaging, and pesticides to personal care products and cosmetics.

These substances interfere with our normal hormonal function, including testosterone and endocrine.

Even in small doses, they pose particular danger to unborn babies and young children whose bodies are growing rapidly. These hormone-warping chemicals, which can enter even the placenta, have the ability to alter the anatomical development of girls and boys, change brain function and impair the immune system.

What I found shocking is that if these trends continue, in vitro fertilization and other artificial reproductive technologies may become a widely needed tool for conceiving children.

Another interesting point is that, historically, the burden of infertility was always placed on the woman. However, this couldn’t be further from the biological reality. Men are as concerned as women. Culturally, it’s still not accepted as it’s a blow on men’s perception of masculinity, but the science is clear: dropping sperm counts makes men less fertile.

Still on the cultural side of things, women are increasingly delaying giving birth now. The problem is that mother nature hasn’t kept up with women shifting desire in the baby-making department and extended women’s reproductive lifespans accordingly.

The author explains the impact of commonly-found chemicals:

For men, phthalates, found in many products, from plastics to shampoos, are the worst offenders, tanking testosterone levels and sperm counts — and causing sperm to basically commit suicide. In women, these chemicals may cause early menopause or cysts in the ovaries, or they may disrupt monthly cycles.

Bisphenol A, a ubiquitous chemical used in hard plastics, electronics and millions of other items, affects both sexes but is particularly concerning for women. It interferes with conception and causes miscarriages early in pregnancy.

There is a clear need to regulate these chemicals, but in the meantime, here’s what you can do:

Purging harmful chemicals from our homes by reading the ingredients on bathroom and kitchen cleaners. Choosing personal care products that are phthalate-free and paraben-free. Ditching air freshener and scented products. Not microwaving food in plastic, making sure to filter drinking water and toss out plastic food storage containers and nonstick cookware. The suggestions go on.

One prediction I make for 2030:

Bottom line: the problem is concerning and urgent, there are things you can do on a personal level, but it will also require adequate regulation of harmful chemicals.

Concerned by this, I’m launching a small experiment for men who want to optimize their testosterone levels. I’m still gathering people interested. Fill in this form if you want to participate.

🌱 Wellness

🏋️‍♀️ What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

My friend Erik noticed a funny trend recently:

This is definitely something I’ve also noticed. Endurance sports are blue, and strength is red. Why is that?

This article looks into it:

Friends came for dinner. A public-interest lawyer, noticing I was bigger, asked what I’d been up to.

“I'm really into lifting weights right now,” I said. “Trying to get strong.”

The lawyer’s wife, a marathoner and family therapist, appeared startled, as if concerned about my emotional state. She looked me in the eye and said, “Why?”

It’s quite crazy to imagine that some people look down on muscles. It’s a question of social class, as it’s very often the case.

Sociologists, it turns out, have studied these covert athletic biases. Carl Stempel, for example, writing in the International Review for the Sociology of Sport, argues that upper middle class Americans avoid “excessive displays of strength,” viewing the bodybuilder look as vulgar overcompensation for wounded manhood. The so-called dominant classes, Stempel writes—especially those like my friends and myself, richer in fancy degrees than in actual dollars—tend to express dominance through strenuous aerobic sports that display moral character, self-control, and self-development, rather than physical dominance. By chasing pure strength, in other words, packing on all that muscle, I had violated the unspoken prejudices—and dearly held self-definitions—of my social group.

A very interesting point the article makes: strength and endurance don’t cohabitate well, just like liberal and conservatives:

Jogging up our block, however, for that first run, I discovered that heavy weightlifting makes endurance workouts deeply unpleasant. My legs felt like dead tree trunks. The next day, when I tried to do squats, I learned that running undermines strength gains. It turns out that these two physical adaptations—like liberal and conservative political leanings, or elitist and working class cultural affinities—do not easily cohabit inside one human being (despite the excellent exception embodied by my kickboxing, bodybuilding, tech-lawyering gay friend)

Honestly, I find this class warfare hilarious. There is no doubt that the optimal physique requires both strength and endurance, but it’s funny to me how identity always ends up taking the lead in people’s lives and activities.


🧠 Better Thinking

🎮 Play Your Own Game

There is so much conflicting advice, conflicting investment strategies, conflicting life philosophies out there, and so on. A lot of it can be explained by people playing different games.

The analogy with sports make it easier to understand:

Michael Jordan said he had to reconstruct his body when he went from basketball to baseball back to basketball. Baseball favored strong arms and chest; basketball required a leaner figure with a stronger core and legs. Part of the reason Jordan’s basketball return was rusty was because he was still lugging around his baseball arms. “Looking back, I didn’t have enough time to get back to a basketball body,” he said.

Which makes sense. Different sports have different objectives requiring different skills. No one criticizes marathon runners for doing things completely differently from powerlifters, despite both being athletes. ESPN covers sports, yet no anchor pretends golf and mixed martial arts are remotely similar.

A beneficial thing to do is to figure out what game you are playing, then play it, and only it.

So few investors do this. Maybe they have a vague idea of their game, but they haven’t clearly defined it. And when they don’t know what game they’re playing, they’re at risk of taking their cues and advice from people playing different games, which can lead to risks they didn’t intend and outcomes they didn’t imagine.

If you play the long game, don’t take advice from people engaged in short-term thinking!

⚡️ Startup Stuff

❌ Non Values

Gonz, head of growth at On Deck, recently sent me this resource where On Deck explains its non-values. I found the concept very compelling:

If you were to join On Deck, we’d want you to really love it. We also know that it can be hard to tell from the outside looking in whether that would be the case for you. So, we challenged ourselves to come up with an honest set of reasons someone wouldn’t want to join our company. We hope it helps you make an informed decision about whether On Deck is a place you’d love to work.

It can be very hard to find the right people to join your company, and I think everyone would benefit from being aligned on what it will be like to work in a specific company.

Here are On Deck’s non-values:

  1. Another company’s mission would get you way more fired up

  2. You want a 9-5 job

  3. You do your best work in highly-structured, steady-paced, meticulously-planned environments

  4. You like finding and poking holes more than you like filling them

  5. You see differences as divisions

  6. You believe that something has to be exclusive for it to be cool

I think these non-values are great. They will heavily inspire our non-values at Vital. One non-value I think it’s important to clarify is around the 9-5. Early-stage startups are not the place for a 9-5 job.

We work entrepreneur-style at On Deck. We don’t mean sleeping under your desk or not being able to make it to the dinner table for time with loved ones, but you should expect to work more than the standard 40 hrs/week at some odd times. We think about hours, schedules, and commitments in terms of work/life blend more than work/life balance. Depending on your role, you might be supporting a community or collaborating with team members that span multiple time zones. Something urgent and important may come up that causes some last-minute calendar Tetris. Many members of the OD team find the flexibility an advantage of working at On Deck, because it means they can manage their work schedule to the ebbs and flows of their energy and personal life. Need time away from Slack? Set your status and shut it down. Need to pick your kid up from school? Go for it. Want a work block for focus time but there’s that one 15 min catchup smack in the middle of your 3-hour opening? Ask your colleague to move it; they won’t mind. We don’t evaluate performance based on facetime or hours worked; just that the work gets done and done well.

On the work-life balance, I already shared this article from Waze founder Noam Bardin on why he left Google, but it’s worth sharing again:

Work life balance. When I was growing up in Tech in the ‘90’s - there was no such thing as work life balance. We loved what we did and wanted to succeed so we worked like crazy to achieve great things. As I had kids, I learned the importance of being at home for them and that's how I understood Work Life balance - its a balance, sometimes you need to work weekends and nights, sometimes you can head out early or work from home - we balance the needs of the employee and the company. Today, in Silicon Valley, work life balance has become sacrificing Work for Life - not a balance. Young people want it all - they want to get promoted quickly, achieve economic independence, feel fulfilled at Work, be home early, not miss the Yoga class at 11:00am etc. Having trouble scheduling meetings because “it's the new Yoga instructor lesson I cannot miss” or “I’m taking a personal day” drove me crazy. The worst thing is that this was inline with the policies and norms - I was the weirdo who wanted to push things fast and expected that some level of personal sacrifice when needed. I don't believe long hours are a badge of honor but I also believe that we have to do whatever it takes to win, even if its on a weekend.

One last thing: there is no right or wrong way of doing things. It’s just important to be aligned with the people you’re working with. This article argues for a 9-5 mindset, so you need to find what works for you.

📚 What I Read

🏳 Failure Theory

A great piece from Boz:

It has always struck me that the more edifice you build to prevent minor failures the larger the capacity you create for catastrophic ones, just like climbers roped together on a mountaintop.

🃏 On Wanting

The dangers of the great online game:

The truth is, we’re advocating for a giant scoreboard—something clear and definitive to measure our worth. Who is up? Who is down? We want the score to always tick higher, more, more, more.

🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

Some great episodes this week:

🍭 Brain Food

🔫 Autonomous Weapons & The Future of Warfare

The future of warfare will be very different from now. The rise of autonomous weapons systems is particularly important and needs to be discussed. It raises serious ethical questions. The United Nations collectively decided to ban bio-weapons a few decades ago, and some people believe we should do the same with autonomous weapons, as they would create a world we don’t want to live in.

To go deeper, I read two interesting articles this week. The first one explains the tactical and strategic implications of autonomous weapons systems:

What if an unmanned fighter or advanced drone, operated with various levels of advanced AI-informed algorithms, engaged in fast air-to-air combat maneuvers in a direct dogfight or close-in engagement with a manned enemy fighter?

These questions, which raise substantial tactical, strategic and command and control questions, are fast becoming a near-term reality. 

The second one is a great summary of what’s to come in the military tech space by Noah Pinion. It paints a scary picture of what future wars might look like:

New technologies — networking, Li-ion batteries, A.I., various biotech techniques, and so on — have led to bursts of innovation in a variety of fields. I’m a techno-optimist because I think these bursts will soon lead to accelerating productivity growth. But there’s one area where I’m worried about the impact of all these new toys: War. Military technology is a hugely important area of innovation, and yet it generally results in things getting blown up and society going to hell for a while.

The main points he makes are:

  • Drone dominance (already visible in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War)

  • Eternal cyberwar

    • “But it’s also not clear whether cyberattacks can be deterred. It would be a very bad idea to threaten war as a response to hacking. But it’s also not clear whether tit-for-tat hack attacks could provide a sufficient deterrent to a state like Russia or China.”

  • Info ops

    • “The U.S. and its allies are open societies that allow mostly unfettered private use of Twitter and other social media networks; people can shitpost to their hearts’ content as long as they obey the terms of service. But China and (to some degree) Russia are closed societies that closely regulate what gets said on their social media platforms. That might give autocracies an inherent advantage in info ops warfare.

  • Bio-warfare

    • “New bio techniques make the threat of engineered viruses scarier. CRISPR technology and DNA synthesis, which are increasingly available to the public, might conceivably create a lot of weird bioweapons that act very differently to the viruses we’re used to.

      The question then becomes: How would countries retaliate against a bio-attack by another nation? Nuclear war? Something else?”

Scary perspectives, I agree, but generally speaking, I believe it’s always better to face the challenges ahead of us instead of choosing to ignore them and live in fantasized world that will end up catastrophic because the problems were not faced at the right time (remember COVID in January 2020…)

Interesting “Future of war” thread by Balaji 👇

🎥 What I’m Watching

🚅 The Hyperloop May Disrupt More Than Just Travel

I knew about the Hyperloop, but I didn’t fully understand how transformative this technology will be. It’s so fast that you’ll be able to go from Los Angeles to San Fransico in 35 minutes.

The result of this is that massive countries and continents will become one big agglomeration. In Europe, you’ll go from Paris to Berlin in one hour. Think subway, but the stops will be cities hundreds of kilometers apart.

There are still challenges to the adoption of the technology, but it’s worth learning about it.

🥉 The Advantage of Disadvantages

How good is it to have it all? Paradoxically, not so good…

🔧 The Tool of the Week

🧬 Google Biomed Explorer

Google is introducing Biomed Explorer, a new natural language processing tool that will help people research existing papers. This is really impressive. I played a little bit with the tool, and I can already how useful it will be for anyone interested in medical and scientific papers. An interesting use case will be for biohackers looking to conduct their own research and self-experiments.

🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.

James Carse

👽 You may not rest now, there are monsters nearby 🛸

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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.


Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.

Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

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