Daniel, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us. So, we’re going to have a lot of things to talk about today, but why don’t we start by talking about an optimistic future of humanity, and what we need to do to transition into that future. There are a lot of visions and theories out there about the ultimate, macro-system that we need to adopt, not only to survive this century, but to thrive. What is your vision of that?
First, I wouldn’t talk in terms of an ultimate system. I would talk in terms of ongoing evolution. So, rather than a kind of utopian as one has previously thought of a perfected system, we’re going to think of a protopian process. A process of emergence into more elegantly ordered complexity that has more and more emergent properties, and more of the things we’re interested in and gets over some of the underlying causes of things we want to get past. I would say that rather than just iterative evolution, we are on the brink of a phase shift. A phase shift defined by core axioms, and core foundations of most of our macro-global systems, from our worldview, to our economics, to our governance, to our infrastructure going through foundational shifts. So, this looks like a step function in evolution, where we’ve had capitalism, that’s gone through iterative developmental processes, and we’ve had represented democracy that’s gone through iterative developmental processes, scientific methodology, and worldview, etc… Now we are on the brink of something that requires larger, more fundamental, axiomatic, and structural shift. So we can talk about what the criteria for the other side of that have to look like for it to be a non self-terminating system, and for it to be an antifragile system. And those are two of the important criteria of any kind of world that is interesting for anyone. It is definitely not self-terminating, and then not antifragile. There’s more things we’ll talk about on top of that.
So, do you want to talk about what those criteria must be?
Well, sure, but first let’s define the problem. So, what’s wrong with our current system, and why do we need to transition out of it?
So when we say “our current system”, we are sweeping a lot of things together, and it’s worth pulling those apart a bit. We might be talking about macroeconomics, which obviously the macroeconomics of China, and the macroeconomics of Russia, the macroeconomics of the United States, of Nato, are different systems. But there are, beyond national, global, economic systems, that we can look at. We can look at governance systems. Again national, and then transnational governance, and then beyond anything that’s codified, how human decision making works. We can think of governance in the highest sense of how do we do collective decision making at various scales, from a business, to a family, to a nation, to groups of nations, to a species as a whole, navigating things that face the whole species.
Economics, we can think about how do we do resource allocation? And how do we do human incentive systems? With infrastructure, we can talk about how do we meet our physical needs and relationship to the physical planet, such as education and medicines. We have a lot of different systems that co-evolved, and they are interconnected and inter-influencing, and then you can think of an evolving paradigm that involves all of those things. But we’re going to need to talk about at least the core ones in distinction to each other.
So, what is the problem we’re trying to fix? Well, one thing is, those current systems, the interface of those current systems with each other, and the net effects, are unsustainable, and unsustainable means self-terminating. It means these systems run to their own end, and then fall off some kind of cliff. So, when we look at growth curves of different kinds of organisms, any time we see a growth curve that has an exponential up, that is not forever. And, sometimes the exponential up goes logistic, and that’s very nice. Sometimes it drops off pretty hard before it logistics. Sometimes it goes through a lot of instability. Sometimes it just exponentials up and then drops off a cliff.
We were under half a billion population for all of human history as far as we know, 200+ thousand years, until the industrial revolution. And then, in just over 200 years, we went up to over seven billion people and growing. That is a profound exponential population curve. We went through this profound exponential population curve in relationship to our ability to extract resources from the planet that are not replenishing themselves, (which is what the industrial revolution was, mining, farming fishing, logging, etc…) the ability to take some kind of resource reserves that took hundreds of millions or billions of years to develop, and to be able to extract them at a radically fast pace. And, obviously much faster than they can renew, and then the populations growing on that savings account, until you hit the end of the savings account, and then they’re real problems.
Not only have we been growing in population, but we’ve been growing in resource consumption per capita. So, this is a multiplicative issue that we are getting near the end of the viability of that particular part of. When we think about running an economy, it requires year over year growth. It requires it. You’re fractionalizing the monetary supply. Even deeper than that, just interest, where the monetary supply has to fundamentally expand. Then, to not debase the currency, you have to increase the total amount of goods and services. Services sit on top of product economies, which relate to a linear, product, materials economy. The linear, product, materials economy means extracting resources from the planet. Un-renewably. Which means devastation of ecosystems, and things like that, and then turning them into trash in ways that usually consume a good bit of energy from dirty sources, which create a lot of pollution and externalize harm to people and environments along the way, and then end with waste.
That kind of exponential growth economy, and attach to a linear materials economy, just doesn’t work ongoingly on a finite planet. It would only work ongoingly on an infinite playing field, which we’re not on. That is a fundamentally self-terminating system.
It makes plenty of sense that when there was just so much low-hanging fruit, in terms of coal, and oil, and fish, and trees, and etc… that we would do this exponential boom kind of thing. It’s just that’s not viable anymore. It also happens to be that the technologies that would allow us to really be viable in a post-growth economic system, that’s not about net more consumption, but about using the same things in a closed loop materials economy, and ever more interesting ways, (a materials economy that is closed-loop, post-growth, and upcycling, continuously up-cycling), the technology to do that is technology we’re just now getting. It happens to be that’s at the same time that we’re just getting to the point of self-termination of the old system. So we both have to shift, and can at the same time.
The technologies it takes to build this kind of sustainable, regenerative, thriving, new set of world systems, is technology that we developed via capitalism, and linear materials economy, and the military-industrial complex, and all those things. So, they served an evolutionary relevance in terms of where we’re going. And they have just completed a particular evolutionary relevant lifecycle.
Now we’re going through a discrete phase shift into a new lifecycle. Very much like a fetal time period. An embryonic time period is unsustainable. A caterpillar can’t just keep devastating its ecosystem without pollinating forever. But, that’s not how it works. And a baby couldn’t stay in the belly after 40 weeks and act parasitically, but that’s not how it works. It is going through a period where it’s system is fundamentally not capable of the kinds of autonomy that it will later be capable of, so it’s a finite evolutionary period of unsustainable development, to then go through a discrete phase shift, to then be in a fundamentally new period. And so, I think it’s a very fair analogy to look at humanity as having been in a kind of embryonic period. Bucky Fuller used to like to speak to it like that. Like, a chicken embryo, having finished eating the egg white, nonrenewable resources, emerge from a world it didn’t know it was in. Emerge from a shell to a world where it now has a beak that it didn’t have before when it was in the egg whites, come from plants that it’s poop fertilizes, and it’s part of this larger, regenerative process that evolved.
So, when we talk about what the problem is, our materials economy is unsustainable. Our macroeconomic structures themselves, our ideas of ownership, and valuation, and etc… are all fundamentally unsustainable. They’re coming up on the cliffs of unsustainability. Our exponentially increasing tech curves are creating more and more existential threats. So, this is all what we would call self-terminating. And even before we get into existential and catastrophic risks, it’s also already already causing suffering at such massive scales. Whether we’re talking about war and drone strikes on civilians, or whether we’re talking about factory farms, that are just these rolling apocalypses, or where we’re fishing the oceans down to almost nothing… we can forecast future catastrophic scenarios, but we’re in them. We’re in these rolling catastrophes moving towards complete unviability. And so, the future systems we’re interested in have to prevent total existential risk, and total catastrophic risk. They have to solve the foundational causes of the current unnecessary human-induced suffering. And then, create world systems that makes possible, and probable, and induce higher quality of life across all the very meaningful quality of life metrics for all life. And optimize the evolutionary rate.
It seems like most people are saying capitalism is what’s gotten us here. And you’re just taking a couple of extra steps to see where it results. A + B = C. Or, when we proposed basic income in the past, that’s usually their answer. Well, capitalism has got us this far, why couldn’t it take us further?
You know, you think about that embryo, that baby growing in the mother’s belly, and, if you didn’t know that it was a baby that was going to birth at a certain point, it would be easy to mistake it as a very serious parasite.
Because, it is taking a lot of nutritional load from her body, right? It is modifying her physiology profoundly. And if you imagine the mom in the 8th or 9th month, if you didn’t know there was a discrete phase shift about to happen, you’d be pretty sure she was very near dying in a pretty terrible way.
The difference between a parasite and a baby, is that the baby goes through that for a finite period, and then phase shifts into a different phase. Interestingly, when we look at parasitology, virology, vectorology… there are many parasites that when they initially start feeding on an animal, human, whatever, and they haven’t before, they kill them fairly quickly. The ones that were aggressive enough to kill the hosts quickly don’t propagate. Right? Because they killed their host, they don’t live very long, they don’t get to travel onto many other hosts. The milder versions that don’t actually kill their hosts get to both live longer and propagate more, and so they’re a number of pathogens that get less toxic over an evolutionary timeframe, because they have to be. We don’t get the chance of killing lots of planets to figure out, you know, we could do it that way, and only the planets where the people were less problematic in this way, and that made it through, but we want to do a more conscious version than that. And so rather than the slow evolution of a parasite to be less pathological, we need to do the going through birth to a new phase model. And we can.
What’s so fascinating is that if we define a civilization where we have a sustainable population that does not require imposition from the outside, (some kind of eugenics program, or Chinese birth limiting program, or whatever), it is an emergent, self-organizing phenomena, (and we’ve already seen plenty of places in the world where when education gets high enough, economics and female empowerment, etc…) that the population stabilizes. It can even decrease to find the right levels of where it’s at. We’ve seen that in Japan, we’ve seen that in some of the Scandinavian countries. And so, to have a steady state population that is within the sustainable carrying capacity of the planet, connected to a post-growth materials economy. The materials that we’re using are being designed in a cradle to cradle way, where they’re recyclability after this particular use is built right in. There’s no such thing as waste, there’s just moving the old stuff back into new stuff, the new stuff is being made from old stuff, so it doesn’t require virgin resource acquisition. The only new thing coming into this system, (and it doesn’t mean we won’t ever take a new thing into this system as far as atoms go; we find an asteroid with some interesting platinum, we could do that) but we have a system that doesn’t require trash or extraction. That’s what post-growth means, it’s post-necessity for growth. So it can actually be sustainable, viable… and then we just keep increasing the efficiency of how we utilize those resources, and attenuating the forms that they’re in.
The only resource that we keep bringing into this system continuously is energy. Because that’s what we keep having ongoing access to. So, we have new photons coming in all the time. We don’t have new atoms coming in all the time. These new photons coming in all the time allows us to keep recycling the atoms where we’re upcycling them rather than down-cycling them, because this is not a closed system. Right? We get to externalize entropy out of the system, bring enough energy to keep driving more syntropy in the system.
So, when we ask what are the necessary and sufficient criteria of a sustainable, non self-terminating, thriving, antifragile world, that does obsolete the catastrophic and existential risks that currently cause suffering, create higher qualities of life, we could actually do this construction in detail sometime, but I’ll just kind of state the things. As far as infrastructure goes, our physical relationship with the physical world, it does require these three criteria: closed loop, post-growth, and upcycling. Negative entropy. But, it’s not actually negative entropy from a thermodynamic sense, because we’re bringing energy into the system.
As far as social systems go, economics, governance, law, language, the social agreement fields by which we navigate collective agreement, collective decision making, collective resource allocation, all the things beyond individual action… we can think of governance as how we make decisions that involve co-decision making. Collaborative decision making. Most all the decisions we’re going to make are going to involve allocating resources of some kind, some way. So, we think of economics as how we allocate resources. And the other major thing that economics has done is human incentive. So, when there’s a bunch of shitty jobs that nobody, if they didn’t have to, would want to spend all of their life doing, (maybe I’ll pave a road a little bit now and again, but I don’t want to spend 40 hours a week, my entire life until retirement doing that), as long as we have shitty jobs, especially in the labor economy, that this society needs done for the quality of life that is related to infrastructure, then we need to get the people to do the jobs. Adam Smith talked about this, Mark Stead, everybody did. This is the core of economic theory. So, if you do some kind of communism, where everyone’s needs are met by the system, then how do you get the people to do the shitty jobs? Well then, the state has to force them and we call that imperialism. It’s why we don’t like communism. Right? Or, everyone has to do an equal amount, that’s still… who’s going to enforce this? The state has to enforce this. So, capitalism says, no, we’ll let the free market enforce them. Right? So if they don’t do the shitty jobs they just go homeless. That’s really not freedom, still. It just moved the forcing function from the state to market. Well, as we’re moving into technological automation, this foundational axiom of all economic theories, which is, how do we deal with the labor economy, (this is an axiomatic topic) is being obsoleted. We’re obsoleting that all of the conversations that Marx and Smith and friends had. That both solves problems and it brings new ones.
So, when we have technological automation that is capable of automating the shitty jobs, and it’s important to get when I say that, it doesn’t mean that the machines are going to take your jobs and you can’t garden if you want to. Of course you can garden if you want to, or wash your toilet if you want to. You just don’t have to wash your toilet all the time because we can make bathrooms that clean themselves better. And then if you just want to do that, you’re welcome to. Human freedom can absolutely do that. If you want to garden, you’re welcome to do that. But can we create vertical agriculture systems that automate many aspects of that, while providing high-quality nutritious food with lower impact on the environment? Yes, we can. And that opens up more human freedom, not the other.
So, as long as we have a situation where the jobs need the people, then we have to make it where the people also need the jobs, i.e. capitalism. Which is why that system has succeeded in a darwinian sense in the way that it has. It’s important to get that Darwinian selection does not select for the true, the good, and the beautiful. It selects for what is adaptive, which means what is dominant, within scarcity dynamics. Now, even that’s going extinct in the very near future because it’s not adequately forecasting.
As soon as you can make it to where the jobs don’t need the people, via automation, you can also make it where the people don’t need the jobs. Which is what the commonwealth economics is moving towards, and a first step in the direction is the basic income. Basic income is not enough, but it is a step. And, the key for it not to be a welfare system, when we think about the problems of the welfare system, and how you have people who don’t have the darwinian motive to create that capitalism gave them, so they just sit on the couch and smoke crack all day, those are people that have already been broken. This is a very important point. When you look at little children, they’re asking questions all day long. Why is fire hot? Why is the sky blue? Where do we go after we die? They’re fascinated, asking deep philosophical and physics, and etc… questions, and they want to help do stuff, and they want to build stuff, and then we don’t answer those questions, because, why the fuck is fire hot? That’s actually a very deep physics questions. And then it’s moving from physics to consciousness studies at the mind-brain interface of subjective experience of hotness of photons on the skin, and nerve pathways. So we say, “I don’t know, spell cat”. And we don’t facilitate their interests while forcing them to be interested in completely uninteresting shit, and thereby breaking their interest in life. So then, they just want to veg the fuck out.
So, now we’ve broken humans where if they can just veg out they will. But this is not human nature. This is broken humans in a system that systematically breaks humans. So, it’s very important to get that in this kind of economic system that we’re proposing, there is a fundamentally different education system that’s possible. Because we don’t have to prepare kids for the workforce. And since we don’t have to prepare them for the workforce, the whole goal of education becomes identifying the unique aptitude, and interest, and fascination, and inclination of each child, and facilitating the shit out it. And realizing that they don’t have to actually be able to do everything, because we’ve automated a lot of things, and then we’ve shared a lot of things. Right?
But what they can uniquely do, and what they can light up the most in uniquely doing, and have the benefit of that be fully available to everyone, in a commonwealth economics that makes radically more abundance possible, for everyone, than is actually possible for anyone in this system, and I’ll come back to explaining how that’s possible, then that’s the goal of education. Right? Facilitating the emergence of radical uniqueness.
When I think about what is required in this post-birth, sort of society, I’m going to call it, I think people are optimizers. So, it’s more like picking the root or direction that they want to go to and then make that part of the system more efficient over time. Like, I myself do that with every aspect of our lives. With our website, with, you know, I’m like an efficiency optimizer. No doubt, people when they find what their calling is, what they want to be doing is, they’re going to be spending a lot of time doing exactly that, in the grander scale. The way you say the incentives are all out of whack, yeah it demotivates them to learn. Which, in turn, demotivates them to optimize anything, which is exactly what this new system needs.
And since you identify as an optimizer, then you think of it through the lense of all the optimizing. It’s a good lense. Someone else would say that they will all be creating.
Yeah, that’s me.
While they map to each other, they’re both different experiences, phenomenologically, and they actually are different parts of the creative life cycle, and etc… right? Different modes. You also have some people who identify things that they’re particularly passionate about, where all of the topics they’re passionate about kind of braid together into a very clear through line. And there will be other people for whom that’s much less clear. That are more focused on interpersonal connection, and depth of subjective experience, and the creative process itself, independent of any particular result that’s being produced. And, one of the beautiful things is, that’s not possible in any macroeconomic system where you say how do you turn that into the dollars you need to live? In a macroeconomic system where that’s not the question, there’s an important difference between appreciable wealth and exchangeable wealth. When we think about a rainbow, it’s not extractable and exchangeable wealth for anyone, seeing a rainbow. When you think about hearing a song, when you think about somebody complimenting you, seeing a smile, like, none of these things you can put on the balance sheet in any metricable way. But when you think about what makes life most rich it’s largely these things, that fit into appreciable, but not quantifiable wealth.
One of the beautiful things that happens when the primary balance sheet that we’re paying attention to is the balance sheet of the commons, the natural world commons and the built world commons that everyone has access to without possessing, is that we have a system that gets to start optimizing for appreciable wealth generation, because we’re not only focused on exchangeable wealth accounting systems.
I think we’re already seeing that a little bit with the internet where people are producing music, they’re making memes, they’re writing blogs, but most of the time they’re not expecting to make money from it. They’re just doing it because it’s exciting for them, or they get some sort of satisfaction of just producing it and putting it out there. And it’s accessible to the world of the internet.
Now, while those people still have to work their day job to support themselves, and then they’re going to come to their music, and their day job and might happen to be something that they experience is relatively soul crushing, in terms of possibilities they know how to access, then they come to that little bit of music… you think about well, what would happen if we just supported them to be in the position to do music as deeply as they could, and wanted to? Right? And what if they didn’t have to try and gear it towards what was sellable, so that they could then switch from the soul crushing to the money making music, but what was really authentically what they felt was their greatest offering? Their most unique offering. It would be a very different kind of creativity happening.
One of the issues right now we see in this kind of post-fact world where, what is fake news, and what is not fake news, and what one of the issues of the inability to make sense of almost anything that we’re facing is how much of any news that you find, or any idea, has some financial interest associated with it? How much education is an advertorial in some way? How much of science itself is actually just the R&D arm of capitalism funded by something that has a vested interest attached? And so, this is a very tricky process. What we can actually believe in? And then how much of music is geared towards what is going to have the right kinds of frames for meme-ability, so that it can get poppy enough to sell Pepsi or whatever, rather than what is actually what someone most authentically wants to create. The thing that other people most authentically want to experience.
You think about what it means to create systems that remove all of those other agendas, so that there are no other vested interest agendas, so now, you know, we talked about the criteria for infrastructure, and what that had to be. Here’s the criteria for social systems. We said governance is decision making, economics is decision making incentive, but we just started to kind of hint that the incentive moves from primarily extrinsic incentive to intrinsic incentive. And you have a system that’s all about facilitating intrinsic, generative incentive. Which de-necessitates most of extrinsic incentive, which becomes key. Then, economics is largely about resource allocation systems. Optimization of resource allocation towards all the various goals that matter. So, most decision making, you know, governance, is around resource decisions, law is how do we make sure that those decisions actually get followed through. So we can actually think of economics as the heart of social systems. Right?
So, the key criteria for the future of macroeconomics is that all the externalities get internalized. Meaning, everything that we affect by a decision is factored in the decision making process. And the process by which resources get conferred to things. So, another way to say this is that the agency, the incentive of every agent, whether it’s a person, or a group of people called a company, or a country, even though I believe those of those two things will become obsolete, just think any person or group of people, any agent, the incentive of that agent has to be perfectly aligned with the well-being of every other agent and of the commons as a whole. To the degree to which individual agents are incentivised to do something that is externalizing harm to other agents of the commons, is the degree to which those problematic externalities will continue to have an ubiquitously, in a decentralized fashion at scale because they are incentivised in the centralized fashion and scale.
That’s the key of the future of macroeconomics. The alignment of agency and wellbeing from individuals and commons. And that correlates with closing the loop. We talked about a linear materials economy moving to a closed loop one. In the same way here we’re closing the loop between agency of individuals, while being above others, right, all the externalities being internalized is moving from an open-loop system, where I could affect things but not internalize those effects in the cost equation, to now, all internalized in the cost equation. And then that corresponds to a worldview where my sense of self, and my sense of the rest of universe, are not fundamentally separate concepts. That I wouldn’t exist without oxygen at all. I wouldn’t exist without the plants that make the oxygen. I wouldn’t exist without the bugs and fungus that makes the plants work to make the oxygen. I am not an individual. I do happen to have a self-organizing membrane that has some individuality to it, but I am an emergent property of everything else. So, when you close the loop between sense of self and sense of other, than what’s in my best interest, what’s in the best interest of others, also, there’s a loop closure between advantage self at the expense of others, or sacrifice self for the wellbeing of others, both of which are nonsense in our radically interconnected system.
So, what we’re looking at is how we close all the causal loops, so that everything that influences decision making is being informed by everything being influenced.
That sounds like quite a spiritual proposition also. It relates to some of the ideas that I’ve heard, for example, Ken Wilber I’ve heard talking about.
Where this kind of evolution of the system and evolution of the self converge.
I believe I actually have the quadrants on the whiteboard behind me from a conversation earlier. Ultimately, so if we’ll just use the quadrants from Integral Philosophy for a moment, when we were talking about the evolution of infrastructure, we’re talking about the lower right-hand quadrant. Right? The plural, not just single, the external. So, all the physical infrastructure is the physicality of the collective. When we’re talking about social structures we’re talking about the lower-left, which is the interior, the agreement fields that we agree to, use this word, this symbolize this experience, or this meaning, we agree to denote this value to these things, we agree to make decisions in this way, is lower left. The upper-left is our individual value system. Our worldview, our internal, singular process. Which is affected by education, and culture, and media, etc… The upper-right would be human physiology. And we usually think of physiology as nature, and the other three collectively as nurture. The other three can change and collectively make up culture, which is nurture, which is then conditioning the expression of genetic predisposition. Because we are, of course, changing radically one generation to the next memetically, much faster than we’re changing genetically. But that’s not an adequate way to think of it, because physiology can actually affect human experience and human predisposition radically, independent of just genome chains through natural selection. Everyone who’s had their hormones off knows that you can be incapable of accessing certain emotions, or incapable of being out of other emotions. Right? Everyone has had their neurochemistry deeply off, or just been very sick or tired has known certain cognitive abilities can shut down, or other ones be over predisposed. So then you realize that empathy runs on certain neural networks, and that can be downregulated or upregulated. Complex thinking runs in certain kinds of neural processes, and if those are damaged or not developed it can lead to fundamentalism, and only being able to see something one way from a hardware point of view, not just a memetic point of view. And you can also upregulate the kind of connectomic complexity that leads to more net information processing and perspective taking.
So we can think about the upper quadrants as being about the individual. The upper-right is kind of the hardware of the individual. The upper-left is the software of the individual. So you can think about human physiology, and then human memetics, worldview, values, definition of success, psyche, as the software. But of course it’s a place where the software and the hardware are not as distinct as they are as computer systems. Every software change is actually plastically changing the hardware, and vice-versa. The hardware is predisposing software, so that you can see the analogy but also it’s limit.
Then you can think of the lower quadrants, where the lower-right is actually the hardware of the collective. Infrastructure is the hardware of the collective, and the social systems are the software of the collective. Those four, the hardware and software of the individual and the collective, is one taxonomy that is necessary and sufficient for understanding human experience and human behavior.
So, there are things that condition human behavior in the upper-right physiological predispositions for human behavior. Predispositions for feeling more depressed, feeling happier, having more empathy, etc.. There are memetic predispositions for behavior: religions, value systems, trauma, etc… There are economic and cultural predispositions for behavior: as long as that old growth redwood tree is wroth $100,000 cut down as timber, but it’s worth nothing alive on my balance sheet, then that economic, that extractionary, non-appreciable recognizing economic system, is going to lead to cutting all the damned trees down, which we’ve seen. In the same with the whale being worth a million dollars on a fishing boat but worth nothing alive in the ocean. The economics conditions human behavior. And infrastructure actually conditions human behavior, which is an interesting but important point. It ends up being not net neutral memetically.
If you have an infrastructure where the only way to get electricity is from coal, which we know is causing inexorable harm to other life, mountaintop removal, mining in the ocean, whatever, but we need electricity to live, you cannot have full empathy in that infrastructural system. You actually have to downregulate your empathy to justify getting along, and even though you’ll want to not look at certain pictures and videos when they come across, because you know you’re contributing the things you can’t actually handle, contributing to, you’ll turn down your awareness, you’ll change your behavior, you’ll turn down empathy, because infrastructure is actually predisposing patterns of memetics and behavior.
So, all four of those quadrants are irreducible to each other, but inter-affecting. So, if we have solutions that are in any quadrant only they will be inadequate. And what you try and do in any quadrant will necessarily affect and be affected by the other ones. So, if we want to think about civilization, it’s not civilization design, because we’re not talking about top-down architecture, it’s the design of processes that lead to emergence. Right? If we want to think about civilization birth midwifing, supporting the emergence of a viable self-organizing, healthy, resilient civilization, we think about the foundational shifts that have to happen in each of those quadrants, and we mentioned most of them involve closing open loops, so that our decision making is omni-considerate. Our decision making ends up being in the highest good of all that is being affected by the decision.
What are some of the more pressing loops that need closing right now in your option? Especially moving into 2017, what’s happening in the world right now, what’s happening in the states?
With the US elections, 2017, one of the things that we see is a system, a political system, that has been breaking, and really broken for some time, having more complete and obvious breakage. And so we see a democratic party that has all of the vested interests that it’s co-evolved with, and damaged structures that it has, having supported one of the least well-liked candidates in recent history, and anti-supported one of the most well liked candidates in recent history, resulting in its failure. The republican party failed to have any really adequate candidates come forward, and so a candidate that represented change by being outside of the system won, even though in so many ways represented regressive change. And so the two party system as a whole broke, each of the major platforms broke, and where a very relatively small percentage of people in the United States used to know that there was real corruption involved in the political process, a much higher percentage of people know that now, and have less faith that just going to the polls and voting is an adequate solution to the revolution that they might hope happens. So, what that portends for future election cycles and also how people start to have civic engagement independent of elections is all interesting.
Trump is a very interesting person in this position with the cabinet that’s coming, because there’s plenty of really concerning things. There’s plenty of really concerning things in terms of the emboldening of bigotry that has already been here so deeply. But in being brought to the light and the surface and emboldened in that way is both more concerning, more problematic, but also more capable of being healed because it’s more obvious. [He] represents an existentially catastrophic view on the climate and energy, but is also starting to be surrounded by some people that have meaningfully better perspectives, like Elon Musk and others, so hopefully there is influence potential there.
But we also see things like really seeking to remove people from office who have had cronie capitalist ties for such a long time, and proposing things like auditing the fed, that are actually revolutionary. Revolutionary in a good way. And so, it’s very interesting to see what could happen over the next time period here.
But what we’re seeing is, let’s look at it from a larger sense, because some of the things that are happening in other places of the world. Not just in politics, but in the failure of several developed countries, economic systems, and etc… If you think about it in terms of systems theory, and complex adaptive systems, there’s a kind of foundational principle that says: complexity will evolve within any organizational system inexorably. Just because there’s movement and with movement there are self-interacting dynamics, and that’s going to lead to increased complexity. And so, complexity is going to evolve within any organizational system until it actually exceeds that organizational system’s capacity to manage. And when it exceeds it, you’re going to start getting increased chaos, and then increased entropy, and then the dissolution of that organizational system. And then, you’re either going to get the entropic step down to the previous level of organization, or, out of the chaos, you get the emergence of a higher level of organization, that isn’t a retrofit of the previous system, but a fundamentally new kind of system. That’s the place to globally, I would say, we’re at.
We have representative democracy that is just fundamentally not capable of handling the kinds of collaborative decision making we need to make right now. When you think about the founding of the United States, and the time when people would get together in a town hall, without representative decision making, they get together and all vote on something, and then someone would have to be picked to represent the whole group, who’s going to ride a horse to where all the other town halls met to decide what the state did, it made sense to have representatives for very real technological limits. And there were other reasons that were argued, but that was a part of the ideology of the whole thing. And then you couldn’t have a town hall big enough for the whole population. So, we have an internet, town hall, big enough for the whole population. Nobody has to ride a horse. We don’t need the representatives in the same way. We have people that actually have real topic matter expertise, that can be groups of decentralized peer-to-peer mavens that can actually make relevant decisions based on real knowledge of how those kinds of systems work, connected with the data and the facts necessary. And we’ve already seen these kinds of P2P systems do better decision making at the scale of complexity that they’re operating than a representative democratic system would. So, you know, that system served evolutionary relevance, but it is obsolete. And if you think about it, could you have representative democracy, where you have people in positions of legislative power, where those people are still agents within capitalism, who need to advantage themselves within capitalism as individuals, and members of families, could you have representative democracy and capitalism together and not have it become cronie capitalism? Well, we have never seen it happen. And, it’s just a structural thing. It’s not just particular bad people. It’s just structural. You have a system where you incentivise people to acquire stuff, and then you put people in a position to legislate in the interest of things that they’re more interested in, and that’s going to happen.
So, capitalism as an economic system that externalizes as much harm to the commons as possible, and where your profit margin is actually proportional to how much harm you can externalize, that pits all different kinds of people against each other in ways that keep enmity unavoidable, a linear materials economy that is devastating the biosphere that we live on across the entire thing, that whole system wasn’t self-terminating when the complexity was low enough that we had a billion people and we cut trees down with axes. But with the kinds of industrial fishing boats that can just troll the entire ocean, with slash and burn, with ICBM[s], and 7 billion of us, that same kind of mindset we had becomes very quickly extinctionary. And so, the scope of our power, the complexity of our problems, the number of us, are making those systems fail.
Now, we can think of this as the baby at the end, the complexity of it’s being kept growing, which meant more and more cells, which meant a bigger baby, until it was at the end of how big it could fit in there and never get out of the birth canal, which triggers the contractions for it to come out. Now, sometimes the mom and baby die in the birth process. That can happen. But if it’s supported properly, then rather than die in the birth process, you get discrete phase shift into the next phase of evolution. And that’s exactly where I see us at over the next, from an evolutionary time period, very small period of time. Which is the ability to have the evolution and emergence of systems that support a globally interconnected human civilization that is actually on the assets side of nature’s balance sheet rather than on the liability side.
So what kind of things can we do as a civilization to kind of aid in that midwife reprocess, to allow for this baby to be born?
Any of the places where you can help close major open loops, and then do it in ways that can lead to scalability, are things worth looking at. So, if you think about infrastructure, the ability to change production, and waste management, manufacturing, to a closed-loop process, so you start thinking about, could we have decentralized systems of 3D, 4D printing, with modular upgradability built in, rather than designed in obsolescence and proprietary nonsense built in, and cradle to cradle design built in, and then have them connected to recycling systems that move to lower-entropy and higher-efficiency, moving eventually towards things like atomic sorting, where then the old things get to be brought back to the individual parts to make new things, all run on renewable energy sources, low-toxicity, low-entropy renewable energy sources, on the biologic side of that, the stem-cell meat, the vertical farming, the synthetic biology is part of the, you know, creative materials process, and then the waste management, the organic fractions that involves anaerobic digestion, algae scrubbers, etc… and so there is no waste, so there is no raw materials, there is no sourcing that’s part of that closed loop, building those systems, and not just individual technologies, but those guilds, the ecosystems of those technologies that lead to closed loop sustainability of that system, and then scalability of those systems, that is stuff that is worth building.
So, if you look at building the future of our social systems, and knowing that the goal of our social systems has to be aligning the incentive of agents with the well-being of other agents in the commons, then you start thinking about how to close the incentive/well-being gap, how to close the externality gap, then building ways to measure externalities, and just see them to then be able to quantify them and then internalize them, those are technologies worth building. To be able to build a balance sheet of the commons. The built world commons. The natural world commons. To be able to have datamine sources as well as repurposed IoT sensor systems to have a real-time sensor-driven balance sheet of the commons. So then we can see where the commons are net increasing in their resilience vs. decreasing. And where they’re decreasing, by what actions? What players are involved in that? And how to really quantify that. Those are things that should happen.
Starting to move towards things like robotic automation of the shitty jobs that does allow the ability to have things like a common wealth economics really start to emerge. And then looking at the accounting systems of a commonwealth economics, access-based systems, rather than possession based systems. So when you start to think about people’s access to Uber rather than owning a car, if you had an Uber system where there were enough cars in close proximity for peak time, that’s the total amount of cars that have to be in the system. That’s still something like 1/20th of the amount of cars that are in system and the people drives the cars and that person spends 95% of their time sitting. That’s a lot less resource taken out of the earth for actually more utility, value, safety, etc… and the transportation system, especially as those cars become self driving, and then all, upgradable electrical, then all can have access to the highest transportation possible rather than what you could afford previously, and your access to the resource doesn’t limit my access to the resource, whereas your possession would limit my access. So, in a situation where there’s a finite amount of stuff, and the less of it there is, the more value is added to it, but not real utility value, right? Even though gold has real utility value as a conductor, as a reflector, we don’t use it for it’s utility value. We put it in bars and put it in a safe where nobody really uses it for anything at all, other than representational value, based on its scarcity, but we will damage ecosystems that are actually supporting our atmosphere, and cleaning our water, and making pollinators work, to get to the gold, right? And because there’s enough air that I don’t have any differential value having some of it over someone else, there’s no value, so we just keep ruining the shit out of it. So, how to have a real valuation system that is valuing proportional to real value rather than nonsense value that’s about differential advantage and competitive systems. So, building those valuation systems, those are the kinds of things that need to happen. Building the blockchain kinds of technologies, the post epherium kinds of technologies, that allow non-corruptible contracts, and currency, and meta-currency exchange, and governance. So, in the social systems, these are all things that need to happen to bring future social system and worldview. Building better systems for education that actually help develop children’s innate unique capacities, and their intrinsic incentive to thrive and experience life fully and contribute to life fully, helping to develop and evolve those educations systems, and then helping to also develop media that gets to support with real information. So, the future of sense making systems, the news networks, and educational resources, where information that is trustworthy, and relevant, happens. Peer-to-peer vetting processes, etc… as well as the right kinds of psychotherapeutic processes for reconditioning people who have went through so much trauma and damage, and then being able to be in a position to raise future humans with less damage. Built world technologies that are designed to evolve and support the wellbeing of the humans and the systems, while being sustainable with the planet, rather than being cognizant of only very few metrics they affect. So that means paint that isn’t filled with VoCs that are carcinogens, and neurotoxins, and endocrine disruptors. It means, paying attention to the kind of lighting that’s involved in all the building materials, etc., for not just aesthetics and the utility of keeping rain off, but for recognising that if humans are going to spend 90% of their time in built structures, how do you build those structures in a way that is conditioning optimum human experience and predisposition of the people who are in those. So that kind of intentional architecture, and design process. All of these are the kinds of things that internalize externalities that do more comprehensive design for all that is effected, close the causal loops, and don’t just support something being better within a self-terminating system, but support the infrastructure, the core structures, of new systems emerging.
OK, this is interesting. A lot of young people ask us for advice on what they can do to contribute to a more positive and sustainable future. It seems like from your framework, closing loops is the big answer, and they can close loops in any number of industries, but what would you add to that?
The fact of them asking you the question is something I would have them look at. If they are asking you what they can work on to have their life be of greatest value to life, and took great care, and if they understand you as people who have studied things that are relevant to that, getting your input is valuable. To the degree though that they are seeing you as authorities and they’re looking for an external authority of what to do with their life, that thinking itself is one of the things they have to overcome. And, if you think about the way most people have been raised, as children, we very rarely got punished for doing what the authorities wanted us to do. And, most all of the time we got punished were for doing things that we wanted to do, that maybe appealed to our own sensibilities, or desires, intuitions, feelings. And most of the time that we got praised and rewarded was for doing things the authorities either wanted us to do, or where at least were in line with what we figured from previous expressions they’d probably want us to do.
So, this is a very deep conditioning, and we are most susceptible to conditioning to look to others, to look to teachers, and sunday school leaders and parents, and authorities, to tell us how to live our lives. And when we touched our bodies we found that the parts of our bodies that felt best to touch were the parts that we got most in trouble for touching. So, obviously what feels good to us is bad, so we can’t trust our feelings. But the authorities know that it’s bad, so we can apparently trust the authorities but not our feelings. And no one was ever really interested in our thoughts or perspectives. There were predefined right answers to things, and we got praised when we got them, and we got in trouble when we didn’t get them. And people were not generally interested in our aesthetic and design ideas, they were interested in us keeping clean things that were someone else’s design ideas. And so, we got conditioned very deeply in that system. That is part of this system that is self-terminating. Because, most people are working at jobs that are causing more net harm to the world than benefit. That they don’t actually feel good about, but they do not trust their own feeling. Or believe that they can do something else, or know how to actually figure out what to do, or believe in themselves enough to self assess or self initiate. And most people, when they look at various situations in the world, actually feel really not okay with much of the way the world is, in ways that come actually from love in them. That come from beauty in them. Even if expressed as anger, or jadedness, but they don’t believe in their own ability to find solutions, to figure shit out, so they just numb out. They numb out on alcohol, or on TV, or whatever they do.
And so, when you look at the people that have ever meaningfully moved the world forward, where they solved some problems that had not been solved that really needed to be solved, nobody taught them how to do it because no one could, because the problem wasn’t solved yet. Nobody taught Edison how to make a lightbulb. Nobody could have told Ghandi how to get home rule for India. And, one of the fascinating things was that they decided to do it because they knew that it was important before having any idea how to do it. And then they trusted in both the rightness of it enough and their own capability to learn enough to really apply themselves deeply, and to continue through all of the early not-successes until they found stuff.
So, what I would encourage young people to do, is to take profound responsibility for their existence. And to know that there are a lot of people, and a lot of books, and a lot of courses that have valuable shit to teach them. But if an adequate answer to what they should do with their life existed anywhere, that whole thing would be done already. And the fact that the things aren’t done means all the best teachers and thinkers have not got it yet. Right? They have ideas, they have things to learn, you should absolutely learn from them, and you’re going to have something to add, not only in terms of your work, but also in terms of your creativity.
So, I would say look around at the world, and see all of the things that really bother you. And realize that them bothering you is part of your guidance. And see all the things you really love, all the things that are beautiful, and you’ll realize they are connected. Animals are beautiful and then all of the devastation of the animals and their habitat are really bothersome. People are really beautiful, so [homelessness is] bothersome, children are people are beautiful, so bad education systems are bothersome. So, look at what you love, look at how what you love is not well supported in various areas, and realize that it does not have to be that way anymore than the world had to stay dark in the time of Edison, and yet for all of human history before Edison, it did. Right? And taking on something that seemed impossible literally delivered the world from darkness in that way. And then, study the shit out of the topic without thinking that a completely adequate solution is there. So, there’s probably a lot of partially good solutions, maybe a technology that is totally good technology but the market feasibility hasn’t come about yet, or the ways to bring the meme out there, or parts of the ideas are there but they need synthesized, whatever it is, study the problem well, study what an adequate solution would look like, gain a real clear insight of what an adequate solution looks like, in your own area in where you choose to contribute to, and as things emerge that you feel like you can contribute to as you’re learning about it, contribute to them. And, continue to assess on your own, and initiate on your own, with of course good input from all the places of good input.
That’s the key thing, I would say. Take really deep responsibility for the impact you have in your life while you’re here, and then all of the studying, all the training, all the application that you need to empower the kind of impact you want to have, make sure that happens.
That’s great, yeah.
Daniel, thank you for joining us, this has been enlightening.
Yeah, the thought that you’ve done on all of these things is fascinating.
It’s a delight to be here with you. And when I see two, intelligent, creative people who are looking at the world and saying, what is a vision of a beautiful world that is commensurate to our full capability and potential, and that is realistic and grounded in the face of our raw capability and potential, and asking what you can do to help bring about the positive versions of the future, helping to even get positive visions of the future, from people who have thought about it well, and share those with people, is an incredible work. And i’m delighted to see this podcast and what you’re doing and glad to be here with you on it.
Thanks, we’re looking forward to chatting with you again.