Richard Bartlett


Linked References

Why Shit Is Fucked Up And What We Might Do About It


This essay primarily covers abstract, high level ways of approaching our meta-crisis. I don’t present a concrete path forward (although I do have a decently sized list of solutions that people are working on). Rather, I lay out the framing within which I think the analysis of problems and implementation of solutions should continually and explicitly relate to.

There are two main points:

  1. The broader problems of e.g capitalism, nationalism, climate change etc are patterns that are generated from the interplay between more fundamental ‘perennial problems’ and ‘root drivers’. We can’t ‘solve’ e.g climate change if we don’t look at all of these root drivers.
  2. Related to the above, all problems are tightly interwoven with all other problems, across multiple domains. For example, to approach resolving capitalism as only an economic problem is too narrow of a model. I think isolated solutions may not only be not effective enough, but might even be actively harmful.

Here’s the skeleton of the essay:

  • iceberg (what shit is fucked up)
    • meta-crisis list
  • engine (why they’re fucked up)
    • root drivers — an analysis of a few root drivers for our crises: why I think they’re important, some interesting ways to think about them, and a short bit on where they appear ‘in the wild’.
    • ways of thinking about, thinking about root causes
    • developmental theory — the developmental theory of the nordic metamodernism, integral, Kegan kind, and seeing how they might relate to root drivers.
    • some friction points that stall change
  • wheel (what we might do about it)
    • meta-frameworks — grounding frameworks to think about the problems and generate solutions from
      • thinking more complexly
      • steal/ seduce the culture
    • things to work on
      • my theory of change
      • possible directions and projects — a collection of things to explore and projects to check out
  • crucial questions that I have no answers for yet
  • extra bits — rough notes on complicated vs complex, innovation, control and influence, hierarchies, and our notion of wanting to be ‘rich and famous’

If you’re short on time, skim through everything apart from these sections:

  • ways of thinking about thinking about root causes
  • developmental theory
  • meta-frames
  • crucial questions that I have no answers for yet


For the first time in history, humanity faces a real possibility of permanently fucking it all up. For the first time in history, humanity has the capacity to steer the Titanic off its course.

I'm going to sketch out what I think the threats are, what drives such threats, and what I think we might be able to do about I want to make it clear that I'm not trying to morally shame you, the reader, into 'joining the fight' of solving our current crisis. Rather, I want to present ideas that are (hopefully) interesting and useful enough to entice you into poking at these issues too.

Epistemic status: I’m about 80% confident that my model of why things have gone wrong and how to think about the problems are broadly useful and applicable, and about 55-60% confident in the details. For my meta-frameworks, I’m about 85% confident that they’re important to hold and that they’re in the general right direction. I’m much, much less certain about any specific and concrete implementations.

Near the end of this document, I have a growing list of critical questions that I have no answers for yet. I suspect that some of these answers can (and should) be found only through doing — perpetual theorizing isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Nevertheless, I believe the broader ideas I discuss form a crucial foundation that grounds all solutions. What I mean by ‘grounding’ is that any specific solution must consider how it relates to the broader factors described in the foundational base.

This essay has been heavily inspired by many other sources/ communities/ thinkers etc, which I'll do my best to For those who've been in these circles before, here are some of my primary influences in no particular order: Metamodernism (of the Nordic flavour — i.e Hanzi Freinacht and Tomas Björkman, as well as others from the broader community such as at Emerge), Daniel Schmachtenberger, Tyson Yunkaporta, Game B community, Richard Bartlett, Joe Edelman, Bonnitta Roy, Nora Bateson, Zak Stein, Miki Kasthan, Dave Snowden, the community at the Stoa, Nick Cammarata, Visakan Veerasamy and John Vervaeke

The Iceberg

James Hamilton, Arctic scene, after Dr. EK Kane, an ice floe in the Polar Sea, 19th Century, British Museum.

We are currently in a meta-crisis.

  • social crisis
    • belonging — communal, familial networks
      • leading to nationalism
    • polarisation
  • cultural crisis
    • See Tomas Björkman's The World We Create
    • social justice issues
    • legitimization Zak Stein's 'meta-crisis' is made up of the meaning, the sensemaking, the legitmization and capability crises. His meta-crisis refers more to the crisis of understanding the concept of crisis, rather than the crisis of crises. See him talk about it in this conversation with John Vervaeke, and in this conversation with Daniel Thorson.
      • who gets to wield authority and why? We are rapidly losing faith in the authorities of our It's a perception of the continued incompetence of those in power to fulfill the needs of the populous — needs that have been around forever, but also perhaps to adapt to relatively novel situations like global warming, alienation, the internet and so on. not just of individuals but also of governing structures like 'democracy'.
  • educational See Zak Stein's Education in a Time Between Worlds
  • economic crisis
    • There's much more nuance to be had than 'capitalism bad', but that's for another essay. — primarily it's honing in on money as the only important value, resulting in a bunch of externalities
    • income inequality, ‘the 1%’
    • poverty
    • job disruption from machines
  • infrastructural crisis
    • our governance is falling apart — as nations, we are unable to make sense of the world well, decide on actions and implement effectively
    • supply chain fragility
  • environmental crisis
    • global warming
    • pollution
    • biodiversity loss
    • over-fishing, over-farming
    • microplastics
  • psychological crisis
    • anxiety, depression
    • trauma
    • loneliness
    • feeling of loss of control
    • skyrocketing suicide rates
  • capability People can't do the work that needs to be done. This could be because it's logistically too complex — there's so many forces and things to do that we don't know how to deal with. Another reason might be because of the meanign crisis, which results in people never giving a shit about the crisis to begin with, and so they never learn the necessary skills.
  • sense-making See Daniel Schmachtenberger's The War on Sensemaking series for why this is a serious issue.
    • we’re having more and more trouble making sense of what’s going on in the world. This isn’t only in the sense of fake news and ‘post truth’, but also in the sense of the growing complexity of the issues — of them being hyperobjects.
  • spiritual crisis
    • meaning See John Vervaeke's tremendous Awakening From the Meaning Crisis series. Hear a synopsis of his work here.
    • alienation
    • world is no longer ‘coherent’, but chaotic and absurd

The meta-crisis points to many, many things simultaneously not working well anymore such that they are actively This is in contrast to the problem being an inconvience. An anology might be we're not trying to improve water fetching from wells to taps, but that the water source itself is poisoned. In my eyes, the most important consequence of this right now is that we have a real Toby Ord in his book The Precipice estimates a 1/6 chance of an existential catastrophe in this century of the collapse of humans as a species. This makes working on the meta-crisis an urgent matter.

Developing a more complex and nuanced way of thinking and analysing is, I think, one of the most important part of solving our meta-crisis. All of these factors (these crises) are tightly intertwined and interaffecting — to tunnel vision on one can be actively harmful to the greater whole and to the original crisis too. I speak more to this in my ‘Meta-Frameworks’ section.

The Engine

Unknown author, Popular Science, Dec 1918

Root Drivers

This section tries to point at how there are fundamental problems that go deeper than any individual crisis. These have to be addressed if we are to adequately solve the After conceptualising out the core concepts, I listened to Bonnitta Roy on the Emerge podcast. She was talking at power, and she had converged on the same sense that I had (though much more thoroughly thought through and elegantly expressed) that something like climate change or the patriarchy are expressions and patterns that result from the 'source protocol(s)' (or in Schmachtenberger's language (whom I take heavy inspiration from), the 'generator functions'). Looking at root drivers is my attempt to uncover some of these protocols.

In trying to think through what the root drivers of our meta-crisis are, I think that there aren’t any new fundamental drivers. Sure, we have new problems at scales that haven't been possible before (existential risks, widespread fake news, continuous limbic Limbic hijacking is optimised by outrage news and social media because it's the best way to increase time on site/ repeat viewers. Like many of these problems (another example being addiction to fast food), as we're primarily incentivised by money, money which exists within our particular kind of market system, this results in competitive dynamics and misaligned incentives where deliberately screwing over the consumers (editing together and reporting the most provocative video clip and story, engineering the most addictive burger) is actually a good thing. etc), but what drove us to these problems and what makes these problems, problems, are caused by the same things that has driven us for thousands of years, if not longer. Thinking about root drivers as perennial Problems that we've had to deal with throughout human history. then, might give us some insight.

Listed below are a small few that I've My formulation ended up mapping somewhat to Griffn and Tyrrell's 'Human Givens' and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but hopefully extends beyond them as I'm talking about an overlapping but distinct concept. Another thing to note is that many of the root drivers are 'one step up' from something like 'to survive' and 'to reproduce'. I elaborate on this in my 'How To Think About Thinking About Root Drivers' section. For each, I'll look at:

  1. Defining and thinking through why are these perennial problems. This will get at why they are root drivers.
  2. What are some (to me) interesting ways to think about them? This will (hopefully) help us generate better solutions.
  3. In what ways do they manifest?

All drivers overlap and interlink with I've oversimplified and am probably off on many of these, but I think it's useful enough as a starting point. Please let me know if you have expansions or can think of others! There are three immediate ones that I've missed. One: the resilience of the system, relating to complicated vs complex systems and building antifragility; two: love (in all senses, not just romantic); and three: learning/ curiosity/ solving problems/ innovation. I've put some notes on complicated/ complex and on innovation in the 'Extra Bits' section.

List of Root Drivers:

  • Social Cluster
    • Social Connection
    • Social Coherence
    • Governance
  • Order & Predictability
  • Freedom & Autonomy
  • Scarcity & Competition
  • Meaning

Social Cluster

We are hypersocial creatures. We survived as a species because of our ability to work together as a group.

There are three sections: how do we bind together as individuals (social connection) and as groups (social coherence), and how do we make decisions and act as groups (governance).

Social Connection


This is the realm of ‘intimacy’, of profound person-to-person bonding.

Social connection is important because we heavily rely on it from the literal first moment we’re born. We take a tremendously long time to grow as babies (just compare the year it takes for a baby to walk vs the hour or two it takes for a baby horse), requiring vast amounts of physical and emotional resources.

Social connection is also required for learning. We learn through Which has a neural basis in our mirror neurons. not only of actions, but also supposedly emotions See Lisa Feldman Barrett's How Emotions Are Made.

Some Harvard people found that the most important thing for our happiness are high quality, close See Robert Waldinger's TED talk.


Relationships with non-human agents, broader circles of concern

  • There’s interesting implications of having intimate relationships with non-human agents, for example being able to completely devote oneself to non-human agents and get this ‘need’ fulfilled. I talk about the possibility of resolving the entire cluster of ‘social’ via renunciation type paths in the How To Think About Thinking About Root Drivers section (tl;dr I don’t think it makes sense to do it through this method for now).
  • Also related to social coherence: if we think of what we’re trying to ‘socially connect’ and ‘socially cohere’ with to include non-humans (animals, plants, rocks, places etc), then the animist and Indigenous ways of being make total sense. Rituals might be thought of as a way of communicating and communing with them. We build relationships and maintain Citation needed. This connection feels intuitively true though, drawing from Tyson Yunkaporta's Sand Talk, Hanzi Freinacht's The Listening Society, Tomas Björkman's The World We Create, and some literature on animist belief systems and creation stories and myths, and gift-type relationships with spirits rather than, for example, later tribute and sacrifice type relationships)

Social connection with the self

  • There's also social connection within yourself too, drawing from a multi-agent model of the See this fantastic series from Kaj Sotala. See also the concepts from Internal Family Systems. In this way, we can think of how our ‘parts’ relate to one another and cultivate more intimate relationships within ourselves.


There are tremendous amounts of trauma and unhealthy relational patterns that show up in trying to resolve this driver, whether it be attachment patterns or narcissism or controlling behaviour or a million other things.

Social Coherence


If the group is to survive, the group needs to figure out how to stay as a group.

Morality is a key mechanism. Apart from keeping people aligned through not being assholes to one another, it also deals with the important 'free rider' problem. If the resources are scarce and if people take without giving, the group won't survive harsh conditions. The broader pattern of defection and backstabbing for individual utilitarian purposes is also kept in check through morals like loyalty (which many of us in contemporary, Joe Henrich's Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democractic contexts often forget how hugely important that virtue was/ is).

Social signalling and our desire to be popular (and to be famous) stems in part from wanting to cohere with the group.


Cohering from dominance and submission as well as from the resistance of it

  • Social coherence could come from dominance (hierarchical structures) or from resisting dominance (egalitarian See Christopher Boehm's Hierarchy In the Forest

Different scales require different solutions

  • As we scaled up our Dunbar number tribes, we needed to figure out different methods of social coherence as the prior methods of gossip and knowing everyone personally were no longer adequate or I got this from Björkman's book The World We Create Societal relations and institutions like hierarchies and organised religions emerged in reaction.


We see this in the so-called ‘tribal’ behaviour.

There are also many methods for social coherence, whether it’s through collective dancing or marching, believing in the same religious system (strangers become ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’), clear lines of command, laws (monopolised violence) and so on.



Governance is required to make decisions and act on various matters as a collective. I think the structures and styles of governance organically formed until post-agricultural revolution, where high coordination projects were beginning to be built and the sizes of sedentary dwellings became larger and larger, requiring more explicit methods of organisation in part for logistics and in part because not everyone knows and trusts one Citation needed on governance organically arising vs later being explicitly set.



  • According to my definition of governance, it can operate at multiple levels, from international governance all the way down to individual self-governance. Self-governance is, then, how we make sense of, decide in, and act on the world. This is directly related to Jordan Hall's notion of See his Medium article. — to what extend do we actually govern ourselves? How much are we being pulled along by external forces, only reacting or being overwhelmed rather than being an active force both within and without?


I don't think we have adequate governance from our world leaders right Citation needed. This is just the sense I get. An example might be the issue of global warming, which has been at our feet for a long while. All the reports and conferences and agreements don't seem to be making any effective Citation needed. I do remember repeatedly seeing graphs about this, but I forget from which sources. A large part of the failure of effective action is because of the root driver of competition and the dynamics of multipolar traps.

Order & Predictability


Order and predictability for safety and security of basic needs

  • We have a model of what's going to happen and thus can see where dangerous situations arise (physical safety), where/ how to get food (relates to scarcity driver), how people will react (relates to social connection driver) etc. From this, we could increase our control as we figure out ways to act most This doesn't mean our model or action are the most helpful (an example might be non-secure attachment patterns), but it allows us to have a way of moving through the world that gives consistent results.

Order and predictability for knowing what works to maintain social order/ coherence

  • This is a classical conservatism argument. Life is hard, we don’t know how anything really Our predictions as to what will result from doing certain things are often wildly off and what we think is the case often is not the case. and mistakes are costly. The very fact that these institutions have stood the test of time deserves our respect. They signal that they work through being 'ordered and predictable'. We know that they consistently deliver, and how to work with what they deliver. If we are to try new things, we have to be very, very careful. Social coherence is hard to establish, and even more so to maintain.

Order and predictability for cosmic coherence

  • The world makes sense. This is one dimension of meaning (a root driver). Here, order and predictability can operate at a more abstract level. I expand more on this below.


Order and control — two different properties:

  1. The world being ordered and predictable doesn't automatically give us control over it, e.g being in We know exactly what's going to happen, but our control over our external conditions is severely limited or knowing that our boss gets angry at the smallest things. However, we can build control within The example that comes to mind is internal control of putting space between stimulus and reaction. If we know that we'll get stressed by our boss and we know the predictable actions of the boss that causes the stress, we can begin to develop strategies to work with it.
  2. From the above, we might conclude that building control is what creates order and predictability, and not necessarily the other way around. That is true, but interestingly, increasing control does not necessitate increasing of order and predictability either! In fact, letting go the desire to control external order and predictability can increase control through not being under control by external We can continually gain more and more external control without every feeling like we have internal control and order and predictability. Having internal control can actually lead to being fine with external chaos, which might allow us to act in more impactful ways that, in this roundabout way, allows us to increase external control as well as influence. The Buddhists work with order and control through their practice of realising impermanence, and the Stoics through practices like procherion.

Order and predictability in abstraction

  • We can think of order and predictability in the sense of X will result in Y. Doing X will result in Y, or structure X will always result in Y. At a 'material' Not entirely sure what other phrase to use. this can easily become restrictive and boring as there's no wiggle room for creativity. This is related to the notion of constraints, and order and predictability here acts as a ‘selective constraint’. Bonnitta Roy, in her conversation with Daniel Thorson, she talks about 'trust' and how we often associate 'predictability' with it. If we think more deeply, however, we realise that some of the people we trust the most are those whom we allow to be the most 'unpredictable' — they can do whatever they want, and yet we still trust An example Bonnitta gave is that it's actually the people we trust the least where we want a bunch of contracts to make sure that they're predictable. I think this is because they're 'predictable' on a higher level of something like 'integrity'. When a leader proposes a crazy plan and says 'trust me', the group trusts the leader because the leader 'predictably' always looks out for the group over themselves, is effective at what they do and so on. The formula of X (the leader) resulting in Y (a solution that works out) still holds.


We see this root driver in a lot of the populist movements and in examples like Brexit (take back control!).

We also see this in the fact that people are really resistant to change on various We are creatures of habit after all. for example changing our beliefs or our habits (even if we see it's harmful and we want to change!).

Modernist systems particularly push for order and predictability for the purposes of greater control.

Science wants order and predictability for replicability.

Freedom & Autonomy


One of the neat things about humans is that, despite having a natural propensity towards dominance-and-submission behaviour, we managed to flip this dominance See Christopher Boehm's Hierarchy In the Forest What this means is that rather than one person dominating the rest, the group dominates any potential ‘alphas’. Interestingly, this seems to come not from us liking equality, but rather from us disliking being dominated. In an amazing move of 'we're friends because we all hate the same person', our desire for personal freedom propels us to this Taking from Jonathan Haidt, I think there's an important nuance in separating liberty/ oppression axis from the authority/ subversion axis. Being at the top of the pecking order (authority) doesn't necessarily result in oppression and tyrannical behaviour. In fact, if we look at chimps, they too really hate tyrants and will gang up to beat the hell out of that chimp if they overstep their boundaries. I recommend Haidt's The Righteous Mind for this (and am happy to chat about the criticisms against it).

We don’t like to be dominated because otherwise all the scarce resources will just go to the person/ people at the top.


There's this progression from dependence -> independence -> interdependence that is helpful to think Drawing inspiration from the NVC wiki. To be interdependent feels tightly linked with being in ‘right relationship’ with freedom and autonomy — independence feels too ‘cut off’ from social relations. This means that we take care of our own needs while still acknowledging and allowing our reliance on support from others. Critically, being ‘autonomous’ doesn’t mean our actions don’t have impact on others, and so it’s also to care about the needs of others too.

From Emmi Bevensee’s Widening the Bridges - Beyond Consent and Autonomy:

Autonomy needs freedom, networked empathy, and solidarity or it’s just some pitiful excuse for rebellious egoism.


The entirety of leftist I don't even think this is an exaggeration. This isn't a slight, but rather pointing to how fundamental it is.


There’s seems to be a lot of interesting discussions in medical circles about autonomy and keeping the patients informed and consenting.

Scarcity & Competition


Scarcity refers not only to material scarcity but also relational (social connection), sexual, mental (e.g lack of time) and so on.

I’ve put scarcity and competition together because competition is one of the primary outcomes of scarcity. It could (and does), of course, result in collaboration, but throughout history, competition has being the more powerful ‘solution’ when faced with two or more people/ groups wanting the same, limited thing.

That competition ‘works’ is critical — for many situations, if we were not as brutal as the other tribe, we’ll be outcompeted. This means that we’re forced to play by these rules, leading to game theoretic arms race and tragedy of the commons type patterns and situations. To think that we can magically just ‘not do’ competition is dangerous.

This doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to be permanently competitive, but rather it’s a strategy that, because of perpetual scarcity conditions, have become ingrained as a strong potential within our ‘nature’ (I talk more about this in section 2).

Looking at scarcity itself, the effects of scarcity vs abundance mindset is also of great importance. Scarcity mindset has a bunch of well-documented bad effects, and so we should work at resolving not just Perhaps in part through solutions like UBI. but also psychological For example, many of us have been culturally 'indoctrinated' into this kind of scarcity mindset through narratives like there's not enough to go around and that if we want to succeed, we need outcompete our peers because if we don't, they'll take our spot. too.


There seems to be this two dichotomous narratives of us either being all competitive or all collaborative. I think we have great capacity for both competition and collaboration, and that they also occur at different scales. For example: just because hunter-gatherers were egalitarian within the group doesn’t mean they weren’t continuously violent towards those without the Azar Gat covers this in his book War in Human Civilization. I haven't read it, but I've seen some of his points around hunter-gatherers and violence summarised. See user Atlas's summary in the comments of this post.

If we are to deal with our competitive nature, I believe that we can't just amplify collaboration alone, we must also have mechanisms that continuously work with our competitive Citation needed. This is only my current sense of the problem. That being said, many Indigenous tribes seem to have figured out competition across a couple of scales, not only between individuals but also between families and between Citation needed. I've separately heard this in a couple places, but should find some concrete examples. They seem to capable of perpetually existing in largely non-competitive states. However, I believe that they have continuous, explicit counteracting forces (whether that be rituals, cultural practices etc) to deal with it, and I think we'll need something in that realm too.

Taking after See this fantastic episode he did on Future Thinkers — the discussion on this starts around 36min 15sec. I think that a good culture with well-designed institutions can effectively work with competition (in a humane way such that people would actually want to operate non-competitively). It’s hard though. Very hard. But in the end, it’s a problem that we must resolve because otherwise, it will lead to our inevitable self-termination (see section 3 below).

On another aspect of scarcity, I think that technology has already resolved many of and is rapidly approaching resolving vast majority of the various primary issues to do with material scarcity. I don’t have the capacity to evaluate the accuracy of the work done here, but check out RethinkX’s reports (particularly ’Rethinking Humanity’). If they’re even halfway true, the implications are astounding.


I'll spend this section summarising a small part of Schmachtenberger's work, because his formulation of competition — what he sometimes calls 'rivalrous' or 'win-lose dynamics' — is absolutely brilliant. I'd recommend listening to him talk because he's far more coherent and I like his interviews on Future Thinkers, starting with episode 36. If you want to hear specifically about rivalrous dynamics, listen to episodes 57-59, and if you want to hear about how our rivalrous dynamics play out in how we receive information (fake news, post-truth world etc), listen to his The War on Sensemaking series.

We've always had See my footnote above on Azar Gat's work. Also, sexual competition is a thing, although some groups like the Mo Suo seem to have figured that out. There's no doubt lots on sexual competition elsewhere, particularly in the poly community. In fact, for most of history, if we didn’t compete, we wouldn’t have been able to survive. To take a basic example, think about a limited resource such as wood. If you and I were in competition and we lived next to one another, me having a piece of wood means that you can’t have that same piece, and vice versa. Even if I like the forest and being in it and hearing the birds chirp, if I don’t get the wood, you’ll end up grabbing all of it anyway. This means that even if I don’t need that much wood now, I might as well get as much as I can before you do. This is referred to as the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (or ‘multipolar traps’), which is a generalised, multi-player version of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’.

This might seem silly (why not just communicate?), but if we scale it up to the various arms races we’re having right now, this exact dynamic is still at play. Pretty much everyone thinks that weaponised AI drones with facial recognition would be a terrible thing to have and would make the world a worse place to live in. And yet, that’s exactly what the countries are racing to develop because every country is still in the frame of striving to be at the top, to be the most powerful, to have the most control. Why not just make a treaty? Well, if we make a treaty, we know the other country is going to defect on it secretly because everyone’s still fighting to ‘win’. If they get the tech first, they can easily launch a world war and be victors, and so even if we don’t want to develop it, we’re forced to.

The local optimum for an individual agent leads to a global minimum for the whole. If we don’t participate in the competition, we get screwed over in the short term, but if we do, we all get screwed over in the long term.

Win-lose dynamics result in constant escalation because no-one can ever gain a permanent advantage as we're always in an arms race where every temporary advantage will be reverse-engineered and caught-up-to by the opponents. This will eventually lead to weapons that are so powerful that even releasing one will have catastrophic effects on humanity. This is the exact point we're at with our exponential Some primary concerns are AI, bio-technologies and nukes What made it OK pre-exponential technologies is that the damage was local. Even if it was the collapse of an entire civilisation, people on the other side of the world were not affected. Our capacity to inflict damage on ourselves and the planet has gotten to a point where we're dealing with the collapse of humanity itself.

We might think of ourselves as apex predators, and so of course we’ll be this aggressive. Here’s the thing — apex predators co-evolve with the environment. Lions can’t get better at killing gazelles than they do at running away from lions. If lions suddenly got way faster, they’d kill all the gazelles and destroy their own food source, leading to their own extinction. Great white sharks don’t whip out miles long drift nets and fish up the ocean.

We have the power of gods but not the wisdom of them.

Back to the exponential tech, not only do we have to worry about state actors wielding and developing massively over-powered technology, the fact that our technology is exponential means that it’s not just increasing in power, it’s also increasing in how easily and cheaply we can make it. If we think about nukes, the atomic bomb we dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima was absolutely devastating. A mere 7 years later, we developed a bomb that’s 500 times more powerful — and that was in 1952! As everyone in the world is in rivalrous relationships with everyone else, the problem of non-state actors developing their own nukes, bio-weapons and so forth becomes an increasing problem.

We need to figure out how to resolve rivalrous dynamics as a category. To do that, we have to shift from win-lose, zero-sum dynamics into omni-win win ones where every agent's incentives are aligned with the wellbeing of every other agent and the As Schmachtenberger notes, eventually we want to get rid of structural, external incentives all together rather than shifting from perverse incentives into positive ones, because who gets to say what 'positive' incentives are? Nevertheless, thinking about it in terms of aligning with wellbeing is a necessary place to start and to 'accomplish'.



Whether or not there's 'actually' meaning, it seems fundamental (and uniquely so) to In this section, I draw hugely from John Vervaeke's Awakening From the Meaning Crisis lecture series. If you'd like a 2 hour synopsis, see this.

I like Samantha Heintzelman’s three components that contribute to meaning in life:

  • Coherence
    • Things fit together and make sense.
  • Significance
    • We’re participating in something that’s greater than ourselves.
  • Purpose
    • There’s a clear direction in which we’re striving towards.

Very broadly, we might say that meaning ‘happens’ when we feel a deep sense of connectedness to our 'self', to others, and to the world. These are three layers of relations of the Which relates to the various conceptions of self and identity of intersectionality, but also of the Robert Kegan type. self-other, and self-world.

I like to refer to cosmic coherence (as distinct from ‘order and predictability’, which feels more like ‘material coherence’). The world operates in a way that metaphysically ‘makes sense’ to you.

I also believe that the transcendent is a key part, and I think this relates to Heintzelman’s ‘significance’.

Our narratives serve to tie all three components together, which is why they’re extraordinarily important.


Meaning as meta

  • Meaning is ‘meta’ in the sense that, through its normative ‘oughts’, it is the thing that shapes how we relate to everything else. It gives us the structure that binds everything together.

Layers of connectedness and right relationship

  • The three layers of ‘connectedness’ might point to why western society has great abundance and yet wants more and is never satisfied whereas many, for example, Indigenous societies also has great abundance and yet knows to be in right relationship with nature and to allow things to regenerate and so on.

Deeper levels of knowing

  • Our research on meaning has shown that the propositional way of knowing (e.g trying to logic our way through meaning) operates at a level of knowledge that doesn’t go deep enough for us to feel connected to the world. Rather, we want to cultivate various practices such that we can get to our deeper layers of knowing. See these notes on Vervaeke talking about perennial problems to get a sense of what this involves.

Narratives are crucial

  • Narratives are what determine our values — they’re the things that tell us what we should care about. On the broad scale, we currently no longer have an overarching narrative like before. Previously, we followed truth and valued things in terms of God(s), then it was Science, but after that our conceptual world became so fractured that the only thing that we can all agree on valuing, pretty much by default, is the Market. As I lay out in another essay, this causes a lot of problems.
  • Our narratives about human nature and human potential heavily affects the way we socialise our kids and one another, determining our cultures, institutions, and our visions of what the future can and ought to look E.g if we think the mind is a computer, then we'll do standardised tests and focus on memorizing things and only caring about IQ. If we think about the mind as an ecology, then the previous set of tasks only makes sense in very particular situations. Another example would be happiness — I tenatively have reason to believe that we can permanently raise our base levels of happiness, and that not only will it make us more productive, kinder etc, the ceiling of that potential is far beyond anything we could imagine. Our failure of better narratives and closer looks at the actual capacity of human nature is preventing us from being able to collectively bind together and steer ourselves out of the Mark Fisher's book Capitalist Realism supposedly talks about this exact point where capitalism has restricted what we could imagine for different ways of being in the world. I heard this from Oshan Jarow's conversation with John Vervaeke.
  • For more on the importance of narratives, I recommend Joe Edelman’s Nothing To Be Done (on human nature — it’s really, really good), and Phoebe Tickell’s musings on needing new stories of what it means to be human.


I think the 'transcendent' shows up in places like our attraction to beauty, music, There's something to do with McGilchrist's right hemisphere here of greater 'connectedness' to the world. (awe, wonder) and to collective activities like Drawing from Durkheim. and cheering for sports teams.

How To Think About Thinking About Root Drivers

I approached uncovering the perennial problems by examining the broken institutions and patterns of behaviour that are said to drive various crises through the questions of 'What problem is this trying to solve?' and 'What does this serve?' Nothing is arbitrary, whether its 'purpose' is for resolving the problem of coordination, fulfilling God's plan, or reenacting your original I explicitly leave space for non-utilitarian 'purposes' and 'drives' in an effort to be non-reductionist (i.e so I don't fall into the dismissive 'art is useless' type claims). I'm not saying that 'fulfilling God's plan' is a fundamental driver, but I think it points to something deeply important that's not some basic evolutionary function. I also happen to believe that these supposedly non-functional (or does far more than its perceived utilitarian function) things like beauty, drive towards self-actualistion, or the transcedental are of bedrock importance — they're 'primitives' in the computing sense. This notion is much harder to justify however, and deserves its own essay(s). Another way to think about it might be: "What is it about humans and how we work that allows (for example) capitalism to thrive?".

It's important to note that just because the 'solutions' we ended up with 'works' doesn't mean they're eternally justified. Many, such as how the market is currently set up, has various contingencies that, if the historical contexts were slightly different, would've resulted in something very different. For example, the Nazis had legitimate problems of getting Germany back on their feet, and they 'solved' that through nationalism. As Schmachtenberger often explains, At least of the sort we have now. 'solves' for problems in the short term and gives us the advantage over this generation and perhaps the next, but as time goes on, our increasing destructive power will eventually get us to a point of mutually assured destruction — we can no longer 'win' without everyone destroying everyone else.

To bring it back, an example of the questioning process might be: capitalism serves patriarchy, which serves existing hierarchy, which serves power, which serves desire for One branch might split off towards a 'bedrock' of desire for 'matter-ing' — feeling like what we do 'matters' and has a big impact, which is a facet of meaning. which serves order and predictability, which serves not being in danger or knowing what to do if in To elaborate, a 'root driver' of capitalism might be psychological safety. This means safety not just of physical conditions, but also of social ones too (do people like me). which serves survival — and we hit bedrock. The same line could be traced to something else, such as capitalism serves patriarchy serves hierarchy serves Our particular kinds of big, structural hierarchies have clear historical reasons. serves working together as a group serves our (human's) particular brand of evolved survival strategy.

Capitalism could then be viewed as a pattern that arises from this collection of root drivers which are constitutive parts of, but are themselves independent from capitalism proper.

This is really important for me because it dispels ideas like “If only we overthrew capitalism, everything will be OK” as if capitalism is some Evil Spirit that we have to exorcise.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t work at the level of capitalism as there are many problems specific to that level. Rather, the point is to account for the deeper drivers too.

Another example might be that the root driver of competition doesn’t necessarily result in men over women dynamics. Men over women dynamics is one form of competition, but is not competition itself.

In a related way, competition itself could then be thought of as one instantiation of dealing with the problem of scarcity. Some really interesting things emerge if we follow this way of thinking deep enough. For example, if group coherence comes out of being in a dangerous environment where things are scarce, in an age of danger-free abundance, might we be able to do away with being part of a In the sense of removing our mental and emotional attachments to groups and group dynamics. It is certainly possible, for example: many Buddhist ascetics live by themselves in a cave, only coming to the village out of material necessity. From this, we might reasonably draw the conclusion that being social isn't a root driver since there's a deeper layer of 'scarcity'. However, humans survived because we were hypersocial. Even if the material constraints that prompted that strategy of survival (being hypersocial) no longer applied, we’ve still been hardwired into it over eons of evolution under constant conditions of scarcity. While we’ve got the capacity to not be social, it’s much more natural to be And going off as an acetic requires an awful lot of conditioning and working with the mind. Because of this, I don't think it makes sense to try and disembed us out of the social context, even if we have the capacity to do In fact, here's the Buddha: "Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, and comrades, he can be expected to develop and pursue the noble eightfold path." (from the Upaddha Sutta) Perhaps the same line of thinking can be applied to things like competition. As I talked about in the Scarcity & Competition section, it's an ingrained part of us that we have to explicitly figure out how to work with rather than just trying to get rid of, or believing that resolving material scarcity will automatically resolve competitive I deliberately put the social aspect there because it wouldn't make as much sense to say that removing material scarcity would result in us no longer needing to be social. The response of course is that humans are also demonstrably, 'naturally' collaborative, but I'd argue that this is a degree of intensity and scale rather than one of fundamental difference. While I'm not really firm on this comparison, I think the basic gist still holds.

Developmental Theory

If all problems stem from root drivers, why are there such different solutions to them that are incompatible with one another? And, given that there is often such animosity between those solutions, how might we create a frame of plurality that holds all these different narratives and actively allows for the conflicts between them?

Hanzi Freinacht’s metamodernism (which developed out of Ken Wilber's Integral theory) provides one model that explains the differences in solutions through four dimensions: MHC cognitive complexity, symbolic code, subjective state, and depth. Working together, they form a larger pattern that Freinacht calls the 'effective value meme', which gives an indication as to how one might structure the This isn't just a 'worldview', it's the entire way that we embody the self and move through the world. It's not something that we can merely swap around, it's the base that grounds all beliefs/ from which all beliefs arise from. and thus generate/ apply solutions to the root drivers. It provides a way to understand behaviours and beliefs which are set within these broader systems of thought that have their own coherent logic.

Beyond just gaining another intellectual frame, one of the most impactful part of this model is that it has given me a way to become more empathetic towards perspectives that were previously inaccessible through seeing why they would resonate with people, and understanding broader and deeper perspective that helps me connect with them beneath surface level ideologies.

There’s a lot to developmental theory, and to metamodernism more broadly. Freinacht lays these out beautifully in his book The Listening Society.

Friction Points

We seem to have the capacity, so what's stopping us? Here's a sketch of some of the friction points to I'm hoping to demonstrate just how many different facets there are that operate on multiple different levels and scales, all of which can't be easily reducible up or down to another level.

  • I don’t think there’s a crisis
    • there’s a passive ‘not knowing’
      • simply unaware that there’s any real problems
    • there’s an active ‘don’t think anything’s wrong’
      • “Things have been working well so far and the stats show we’re actually on the up and up.”
      • “Climate change (or ‘structural racism’ or ‘moral fabric of society is falling apart’ or ‘institutions are untrustworthy’) is BS — they’re not real issues.”
  • I’m vaguely aware that there’s crisis, but I’m not pulled to know more or do anything about it
    • I’m working paycheck to paycheck — there’s much more important things to worry. No resources left over.
    • I have mental health problems that makes even getting out of bed difficult
      • could be due to biological factors, could be due to lack of access to resources, could be due to familial upbringing and so on
    • I don’t like uncertainty
    • I don’t like change
    • I like the lives we have now — things are fine, sure there’s some issues but they’ll blow over
    • I prefer to not have to deal with these big issues
    • agency and This is from Sarah Stein Lubrano's piece in the anthology 'Dispatches from a Time Between Worlds'. — if I believe that I have agency, then I'll be forced to take responsibility for what I do, and this is then particularly painful when the things I do that don't work out and/or that I'm unable to enact what I want to.
    • ‘Crisis’ at the scale I have now makes no intuitive sense — too abstract, mentally block it out
  • I think there’s a crisis but I don’t know what to do
    • lack of clear action — many conflicting narratives
      • different factions have different things they value. All of these values are, at the very least, rooted in some legitimate concern (trying to solve some root driver(s)). The problem arises when the factions believe not only that their values are the most important, but that other factions’ values are invalid.
        • What matters stem from our values. If we can’t even agree on what matters, how can we take action on it?
        • More broadly, how can we move society forward if we can’t even agree on what a good society looks like?
      • there are a billion different sources screaming at me. We’re in a sense-making crisis — there’s a bunch of information out there and we can’t tell if any of it is true
  • I think there’s a crisis and I’m trying to do something about it, but it’s not effective
    • Multi-polar traps, coordination problem
      • We (as a civilisation) certainly have the capacity, but there are many economic and political reasons why we don’t
    • effective alturist critiques — NGOs aren’t actually effective
    • more for community and a sense of ‘doing something’ than actually doing something — latching onto coherent narrative, following actions prescribed by our ideological tribe. This might stem in part from social connection needs not being met, as well as the meaning driver.
    • lack of complexity
      • I’m not approaching in a way that considers the full complexity
    • not factoring in emotional/ psychological stuff, which distorts how we understand the world and how we relate to others
    • our culture limits our imagination of what’s important and what’s possible
      • the primary things we value are material wealth and popularity (but primarily wealth). Our metaphysical world is mostly non-existent — only Science holds the Truth and is the only valid measure of things. Our view of human nature is Hobbesian, which heavily influences how we treat others, socialise and educate our kids, and so on.
  • The structural forces are preventing me from doing things
    • far easier to continue a system than to do something different because of structural forces — Miki’s example of electricity
    • powers at be resist change
      • those in power want to maintain power and continue making money. Part of this is to actively deceive by distorting/ muddying the informational ecology
        • money is still primary source of power and ability to make stuff happen and do things
        • money is still primary way of valuing things, externally and internally
    • big machines are hard to turn 180, people resist for reasons other than ‘they’re power hungry and racist etc’ — links back to sensemaking and there’s various solutions that no one knows which ones are actually true and good and right and the ‘best’ solution
      • polarisation — each side thinks they’re most certainly correct
      • moving that quickly makes it very easy to break a lot of things — we can’t randomly swing an entire country without facing inevitable chaos and collapse
  • The world has expontentially increased in complexity
    • One result of this is the prior points on many conflicting narratives
    • More broadly, we’ve just recently entered into a truly interconnected, globalised world. From this arises many new phenomena that we don’t really know how to deal with well
      • Our prior, national only systems have to operate globally — our companies, financial systems, legal systems, and our social, political, technological, ecological impacts all co-influence and co-interfere.
      • the countries that are most well-off are also moving into post-industrial, post-materialist frameworks that focus more on progressing culture than money and material goods. Their populations are also stabalising. This means that we have to revise our notions of infinite malthusian growth, as well as, critically, our conceptions of what happens when humans are relatively happy and materially well-off.

The Wheel

A.J Higgens, Ship Wheel Patent, 1941


Meta-frameworks refer to more abstract, high level ways and processes for thinking, analysing and generating solutions.

Thinking More Complexly

I believe that thinking more complexly is of practical necessity.

The nature of wicked problems is that they’re deeply tangled and multi-layered with unpredictable feedback loops.

Here’s an example: we want to great a better culture. However, we can’t solve cultural issues without figuring out better economic systems because our current culture and what we value is driven by the market, and we need to figure out material scarcity because shaping a culture well is best served by a significant portion of the population having expanded, long-term, abundance based stances that are more open to collaboration, nuance and win-win solutions — these frames are much harder to be at when we’re forced to work three jobs a week just to put food on the table for us and our kids, and we need to (for example) create ecologies of practices to cultivate meaning and wisdom, and aid the mental health crisis, so that we have the drive to make a change and to contribute to the wellbeing of others, and to be able to do it from a place of depth and love, and not from a place of trauma, bitterness and desire for Which are most often completely valid! However, to create and hold a healthy space that consistently fosters love and growth, these factors can (and do) severly limit what is possible. and we need to figure out how to create better governance systems to best actualise our collective intelligence, which is what’s necessary to think at a level of complexity required for problems like shaping a better culture, and so on. As Jonathan Rowson puts it — this is a ‘bio-socio-psycho-spiritual’ collapse!

To work on the issues of our time, we can no longer have simple cause-and-effect models of our problems, their causes, and our solutions. We can, of course, focus on a single domain and issue, but creating solutions without keeping in mind the broader and deeper driving factors might result not only in the solution not working, but actually cause additional harm (see, for example, the Jevon’s paradox and the cobra effect). By removing complexity, we’re stripping context. To see a tree to only be of value if it can be turned into money, reduces the tree to 2x4s, completely ignoring the role it has in producing oxygen, in providing home for birds and animals, in its reciprocal relationships with fungi and so on. This means that even if we were to create a machine that’s far more efficient than the tree in turning CO2 into oxygen, we still aren’t considering all the web of relations and feedback cycles involved. To strip the most important problems down to a single category (if only we got rid of the state/ deport those immigrants/ smash capitalism and so on) is to do the exact same This doesn't mean they're not important problems and/or are pointing to real issues!

This doesn’t mean to never do anything until you’ve figured out all the factors, but it does mean to be more nuanced and act more carefully.

Here are some models I’ve found helpful.


What broader frames might allow us to hold the many conflicting ideas that we run across? To grab my own example from before, what if the human isn’t just competitive or collaborative, but both? One broader frame would be to factor in ‘scale’, which adds more context, nuance and thus complexity.

Another, more provocative example might be: what ‘good/ true/ beautiful’ values do the seemingly (violently) clashing beliefs of (for example) republicans vs social justice activists have in common? (I really encourage you to think through this deeply. If you can’t come up with anything truly positive for the side you oppose, I would suggest that you don’t really understand who/ what you’re opposing).

One lens that I find useful are the root drivers, combined with the fundamental needs of e.g For more on Maslow, I'd highly recommend Scott Barry Kaufman's book 'Transcend'. In there, you'll learn things like how Maslow didn't formulate his needs as a 'hierarchy' — that was created by some management firm. and/ or the Human Givens model. From that, I might see that both are trying to solve issues of e.g social coherence, and how to best relate oneself to others to have a ‘good society’. The republicans might do that through family and local community, which they think of as the basis of that good society. Part of the reason for this is that it promotes a strong ethos of service and responsibility where (especially through becoming a parent and having to manage a household) we have to put others above yourself. The social justice activists believe that including all voices is the basis of a good society. There are many whose needs are greater than ours, and as we are in a position of privilege and power, we ought decenter ourselves in order to give aid, hold space, and be in solidarity with this greater community. Through this angle, both parties believe that it’s important to decenter the self in order to be of service to a larger I'm of course being selective as to which qualities I'm pulling out of from the two situations, and the commonality is still abstract, which is why I can make that comparison relatively cleanly, but hopefully you might see the broader point of building bridges through uncovering the fundamental things that both parties are trying to resolve beneath the higher level patterns.

With the fundamental needs, I think this is what the Dalai Lama was pointing to when he said that "All human beings are the same. We all want happiness and do not want From this Q & A. We could get more fine-grained than that, but I think we can push the commonality between all humans on more concrete beliefs that we individually hold, much more than most of us usually think is possible.

How might we be able to think more in this way so to find different ways of seeing and resolving these needs such that they aren’t opposed, or at least we can see that the various The different 'solutions' to the same needs. are context dependent and that one isn’t permanently and cosmically better than the other?

What I like the most about both-and is that it forces me to consider how both things might be able to co-exist, thus broadening my conception of what’s possible through empathising and ‘being in the shoes of’ both sides. It doesn’t just allow me to ‘keep an open mind’, but it gets me to actively search for alternatives. There’s a qualitative difference between starting from a default belief of there being a possibility for higher order synthesis, and thus keeping a sharp radar out for non-bullshit ways to get there, versus completely blocking out those real options and ideas that we dismiss as impossible.

I generally like to try and apply both-and to every situation I can. Sometimes the ‘both-and’ finds expression in both-and, other times it manifests as neither-nor, and other times yet the ‘both-and’ is recognising that both both-and and either-or comparisons are With the last example, I'm pointing out that sometimes it really is just either-or, and not both-and. That being said, I think we can both-and far more than we commonly do.

Going Above and Beneath

I think there's at least two 'moves' of analyse, both of which feels to me to get at something broader and more fundamental through including more of the I think Bonnitta Roy pointed at these kinds of dynamics by comparing 'going meta' (above) with her source-code analysis (beneath). One is going above, and the other is going beneath.

Going ‘above’ includes more contexts and factors to understand the bigger, more complex picture and see how they’re interconnected. This is what I utilised when pointing out how culture and material condition and individual meaning etc are all tightly interwoven.

Going ‘beneath’ is getting at the base factors to see how they are all expressions of the same factors. This is what I did with the root drivers analysis.

The Three and Four Domains

I’m going to clump a cluster of related lenses here.

A great thing to do with these (like with the both-and) is to plug some problem/ solution into the domains and see if how we think about the problem/ how we’ve modelled your solution addresses all the domains.

The first I'll look at is the 'three worlds model', which came from Habermas, but is a general pattern that can apply to many This content is taken from my notes on Björkman's The World We Create

  • physical
    • Popper’s W1 (world 1)
    • Plato’s true — what’s true is true regardless of personal opinions of cultural conventions
    • Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (how do we create objective truths — this is where the ‘thing-in-itself’ appears)
    • 3rd person. Ontology, reality: theory of reality and what is ‘really real’
    • objective, physical, material domain
    • stars, planets, rocks, liquids, animals, plants
    • motion, light, gravity, magnetic fields, radiation, quantum dynamics
  • mental
    • Popper’s W2
    • Plato’s beautiful — beauty is in the eye of the beholder
    • Kant’s Critique of Judgement (aesthetics and teleology)
    • 1st person. Self, identity: theory of who or what the self is
    • psychological phenomena
    • impulses, emotions, thoughts
    • sensory experiences of vision, sound, touch, taste
    • joy, pain, warm, cold, beauty of poem, feeling of love
    • perception of self
    • we can’t reduce mental to social — we can’t explain love as merely a cultural construction that we are socialised into with the purpose of organising the continued reproduction of society. Love can emerge in spite of what society tells us is correct love.
  • social, intersubjective, cultural
    • Popper’s W3
    • Plato’s good (just) — ethics relates to how people relate to other people
    • Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason (ethics)
    • 2nd person. Ethics, ideology: theory of what’s good and right
    • language, maths and theories
      • the law of gravitation is a social construct, but gravity itself is not
    • laws, religions, communal identities
    • music, poetry, art
    • economic systems

Some food for thought:

  • One very interesting thing that Habermas said is that each domain of reality should have its own criteria of validity, as each cannot be reduced down to the other. W1 (objective) propositional truth claims are subject to empirical evidence. W3 (intersubjective) claims are of normative rightness, and are validated if everyone agrees that it’s right. W2 (subjective) subjective experience claims can only be checked against perceived sincerity of the person making the claim.
  • Weber said that the hallmark of modernity was the differentiation of these three domains. Truth becomes separated from religion (into science); morality separated from science but also from rulers or religious authorities (which would be subjective) and placed into the hands of the public; beauty separated from everything else and into the subjective.
  • Keep an eye out for when these three domains fuse, like the relativisation of truth from science to the subjective realm, and/ or the rejection of scientific ‘truths’ for ideological, collective moral ‘truths’.

The above pattern can be extended by one through Ken Wilber’s four quadrants:

See Wilber himself talk about it here in this 8 minute clip.

Humility and Multiple Parallel Solutions

One of the best things that striving to think more complexly has taught me is that I don’t know jack shit. There are so many factors out there in the world, so many things I know I don’t know, and even more things that I don’t even know that I don’t know!

I think Miki Kasthan put it well when she recommended discerning which is our area to act in, and to act within it without trying to imply that that’s the right thing to do, without the arrogance of believing we know the answer. It is with this disposition that we then work on what we believe will bring about transformation.

This is why frames like metamodernism are so important — they explicitly open up the space for multiple viewpoints that can all work together. How might we harmonise across various experiments such that all solutions help out all other solutions in a virtuous cycle?


If you’d like to learn more about this more nuanced, multi-faceted, complex, both-and way of thinking, here are a few recommendations:

  • Hanzi Freinacht’s book The Listening Society (this is where I first encountered the idea)
  • Joe Edelman’s article Nothing To Be Done (17 min — highly, highly recommend! Looks at our ideas of ‘human nature’ and how that filters our perception about everything.)
  • Daniel Schmachtenberger on Future Thinkers podcast, starting with episode 36
  • Miki Kasthan on Emerge podcast
  • Ryan Nakade’s article Seeing Through Race: Towards Diaphanous Anti-Racism (7 min)
  • Tomas Björkman’s book The World We Create

Steal/ Seduce the Culture

The people we’re opposing won’t magically disappear once we get our ‘revolution’ — how do we deal with them? Will it be in the style of Reign of Terror, or will we figure out something less barbaric?

How do we not lose sight of the humanity of the people we’re opposing?

I argue that the ideas surrounding 'steal/ seduce the From John Vervaeke — see this. ’ is the way to do that. The basic idea is to create something so appealing that those whom we oppose cannot help but support our ideas. A basic idea might be something like rather than only taxing the rich, how do we 'seduce' them into a way of relating to the world (a deeper meaning, connection to something transcendent etc) such that they'll proactively want to help, e.g, combat climate There's of course a lot of barriers to this, and taxing them is a more straightforward change than 20 years of therapy (or maybe just a few sessions of psychedelics and/ or MDMA to get kickstarted — but that's another discussion), but for the drastic, sustainable kind of change that we all hope to see, I think it's unavoidable. A necessary step in this is to be able to pass the 'ideological turing test' — can we intuit, deeply feel-in-our-bones why our ‘opponent’ might believe in what they believe? If not, we’ve got more work to do.

Other terms in this cluster of ideas are to outcompete, to outgrow, to 'include and This is an Integral/ Ken Wilber phrase. to not fight the existing reality but to obsolete Paraphrased from Bucky Fuller and to do the 'nonviolence of love' and not the 'nonviolence of hate'. These ideas are also tightly linked with those who work with 'non-coercion'.

The idea of ‘nonviolence of love’ is from Miki Kasthan, who does a tremendous job of expounding on this line of thought on the Emerge podcast. In it, she also references Erica Chenoweth’s work, who found that looking at the 19th and 20th centuries, nonviolent campaigns were much more successful than violent ones.

If ‘complexity and both-and-ing’ was of ‘practical neccessity’, I think embodying ‘steal/ seduce the culture’ ideas are of ethical necessity.

I say 'neccessity' for dramatic effect. I'm not entirely sure yet if this is the best way to do things, considering the urgency of our crises. It does seem to me, however, that the solutions floating around in popular culture are largely aggressive and harsh, whether it's the more explicit forms from the Right, or the more disguised forms of, for example, the use of moral superiority, shaming and guilting from the Shaming and guilting can be used well, but if and only if they're set within a good, nurturing context (which means it includes deeply emotionally mature people, ecologies of practices and so on), and I think it has to arise from the individual themselves rather than from social pressure. It's just such a potent tool that I think that its current, mainstream usage is causing more harm than good (I've heard some even believe that it's altogether just primarily harmful in our current age). There's much more to say on this topic, but that's for another essay.

If we take a broader scope, one easy way to get a whole culture to buy into committing atrocities is to believe it's righteous — it's to believe that the people whom you're committing against are evil The ideas in this paragraph are from Daniel Schmachtenger on The Stoa — Digital Porch: Session 3. The breaking of empathy contributes to this enormously. When we do something wrong, we feel embarrassed, ashamed, guilty. But that’s only if we know that it’s ‘wrong’. If we didn’t, we acted with certainty about the ‘rightness’ of it.

I certainly appreciate the sentiments behind the 'smash/ dismantle/ destroy/ overthrow/ eat' X thing, but I don't think that this kind of coercive forcefulness will achieve the beautiful goals that they're trying to reach I'm mostly referring to mainstream Leftist ideas here, but we can look at the desire for, e.g, social coherence, order and predictability and resolving material scarcity through something like nationalism in the same lens. It doesn't seem to me that reinforcing the nation state will help with those root drivers in our current era. We are now in the internet age, and my incredibly uninformed opinion is that the nation state is an awkward inbetween that no longer makes sense in its current form. Nor does it make sense to me that expelling all the immigrants will help stabalise the economy and provide more jobs (material security) for the locals. I think they're onto something with 'family' and 'community' — perhaps not in the particular manifestation that they have, but the reason why they're pushing for that is important. For one, as noted before, 'X' thing is often seen as the Evil Spirit that has to be exorcised from society, and if there's one thing you get away from this essay is that these kinds of reductive notions are (I believe) actively harmful. For the other, the way forward is often to subjugate those whom you're squaring off against. This is seen as justified because they're the current oppressors, but I think that's an understandable but ethically untenable position.

Yes, I’m strawmanning a little here, but I don’t think that my characterisation is stretching what I see to be the common conception of what should change and how, by too much.

Richard Bartlett captures the mindset well in this quote from his microsolidarity proposal:

I’m more interested in strategies that can outcompete the “bad” option. I’m a feminist not because it’s the “good” thing to do, but because my quality of life improves as my relationships come out of patriarchal patterns. I absolutely believe we’ll all be better off without patriarchy, it’s not a tradeoff between winners and losers.

And, more lightly, from Visa:

I know firsthand that I have gotten dozens of people to buy and read good books — not by me preaching at them, or guilt-tripping them, or showing off — but by being a sincerely passionate book nerd, in public. Seriously, just talk about what you love!!

How might we radiate with such love and compassion that people can’t help but be inspired by the force of nature that you are?


  • This article: Why “Out-Growing” Capitalism?
  • (again) Miki Kasthan on Emerge podcast.
  • Richard Bartlett’s microsolidarity proposal, which I draw a great deal of inspiration from. I really love his work in general, so please do check out the page I’ve created for him.

Things To Work On

I think the first thing to note is how amazing it is that we can actually make real progress on solving the huge issues that have persisted since I like Max Roser's short tweet on this.

There’s many theories of change floating around, and I have nowhere near the proper capacity to evaluate them. This means that I have no idea which of these projects and solutions are most pertinent to our current situation. The ones I’ve listed all seem to be promising directions, however, and taking on Miki’s advice, my personal orientation is to act towards the ones that resonate most with myself while not believing that it’s the only Right and True Way. I hope they’ll inspire you as they have with me.

My Theory of Change

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

— Margaret Mead

Briefly, I’ll lay out my (very) vague sense of how one way of change might happen. Drawing on Damon Centola’s Change, social change seems not to spread via 'influencers' and 'going viral', but rather, it spreads through the edges. Starting from small groups might be the primary way to have great To reference Chenoweth again, they found that every nonviolent campaign that got at least 3.5% participation from the population succeeded, and many succeded with even less.

Personally, I’m striving to embody an agapic way of being that orientates towards this: how do I best afford the transformation and flourishing of others?

Interpersonally, I’m looking to help support and foster communities that have the same orientation. Visakan Veerasamy has a wonderful model that he calls ‘Friendly Ambitious Nerds’ — see his tweet on this here. I think communities are the perfect ground to prototype and hold space for new ways of being, as well as more practical matters of experimenting with different ways of relating to people, of sharing resources, of practices for personal transformation and so on. Deep growth doesn’t come from demeaning relationships, it comes from trusting, reciprocal ones, and I think communities can help build enticing models for others to try out.

My work on the 'tools for thought' side of I think the best introduction to TfT is Molly Mielke's lovely essay Computers and Creativity. is to see how to shape technology (for me, this is currently in the web/ internet space) such that we can 'bloomscroll to Bloomscrolling is a phrase that I came up with for the opposite of doomscrolling. Awakening is used in the spiritual sense.

Through this bottom-up way, I’m hoping to help contribute in ‘seducing’ individual consciousness and collective culture towards a more nourishing, sane and loving place.

Possible Directions and Projects

I'll use Wilber's four quadrants + a meta-frames section to help organise the possible They are, of course, all interconnected and many can (and probably should!) be worked on simultaneously. They're really messy still, but maybe they might provide some ideas.

  • Subjective

    • I think that taking personal action in a ‘time between worlds’ (in uncertainty, chaos and transition) involves perhaps three parts:

      1. meaning, in order to have motivation
        • inner-work, ecologies of practices to work with our own trauma, blindspots, As they say: "Pain that is not transformed is transmitted". Inner work is important because questions like "Are you pursuing this way of politics from a place of revenge or from a place of love?" From the Boundless Roots Report: "Trauma distorts what we can perceive so until we include it in our maps, what we take to be reality will be affected by it, in ways we cannot see.". See also Rich's tweet, which is a great thread overall. To gain greater happiness, self-awareness and meaning.
          • meditation
          • shadow work
          • non-coercion
          • Alexander Technique
          • intentional movement practices like doing Tai Chi or yoga as a way to feel into the body. We are embedded and embodied creatures, so this is very important.
          • psychedelics (can be extra good when in a therapy context)
            • shrooms/ psilocybin
            • DMT
            • MDMA (for accessing unconditional love)
          • psychotherapy
            • Internal Family System (IFS)
            • Coherence Therapy
            • Focusing (Gendlin)
            • Bio-Emotive framework (Douglas Tataryn)
          • Traumatic Release Exercise
            • working with trauma through body movements
          • “fulfilling your needs” — Maslow points to some of these.
        • greater development of complexity across various levels (Freinchat’s MHC Complexity, Stage, State and Depth)
          • Moving through Kegan stages and doing subject object shifts
      2. sense-making, in order to know what’s ‘true’ and what’s ‘good’ to act upon
        • getting better at discerning our informational warfare
        • phoebe tickell on sensemaking 101
        • more nuanced and complex thinking
        • better ways of conversing and relating to one another (intersubjective realm)
      3. empowerment, in order to expand the action possibility space so that you can do more things that have more impact
        • emotional resources (see meaning), also links in with having a great community of support/ people whom you love, trust, can rely on
        • material resources
    • Wake Up, Clean Up, Grow Up, Show Up

      • See this intro to these ideas by Tasshin.
  • Objective

    • creating better technology
      • overcome various material scarcities/ needs (energy, food, housing, water, transportation, materials, information)
        • cryptopcurrency
          • holochain is a particularly interesting one. They stem from a different foundation than the cryptocurrencies we see now. I recommend this Emerge podcast.
        • (collective decision making)
        • urbit
        • stem-cell meat, vertical farming, waste management
      • better aid subjective realm via things like TMS
      • artificial Intelligence and biotech ethics
    • effective alturism

  • Inter-Subjective
    • creating better meta-narratives
      • creating frames that explicitly hold and even encourage many different, sometimes conflicting approaches, ideas, solutions
        • how to coordinate many different Richard Bartlett has a great tweet on this.
          • both ideologically, but also practically?
      • changing what we believe is possible both in terms of society and also in terms of what we as humans are capable of — rethink what the ‘self’ is and what being a ‘person’ means
      • changing what our ‘truths’ are, how we understand the world and how we understand our role within it on personal, collective and universal levels
      • create different ways of valuing things and cultivating meaning beyond money, and making that very attractive
      • incentivise win-win, collaboration — this is to do with culture shift and believing that such a way of doing things is both possible and effective
      • incentivise sense-making
      • incentivise complex thinking (broader contexts, deeper roots) through better meta-narrative that makes it an important piece
        • develop more complex thinking in part through better mental tools/ ways of thinking/ frameworks
        • shape societal structures in a way that tends towards more complex thinking (this links to social institutions, but also what the culture values)
      • we could do the above through producing alternative narratives and ways of understanding the ourselves and the world:
        • insightful analysis on large societal trends, culture, human nature etc
        • journalism
    • building better communities
      • practices and sources for social connection — intimacy, belonging, psychological development, knowledge cultivation.
        • A nice TED talk on this: “The lies our culture tells us about what matters — and a better way to live.”
      • Richard Bartlett’s work on what it takes for taking action amid collapse — see his microsolidary proposal
        • he believes that the core thing at our meta-crisis is that of relationship — how we relate to different parts of ourselves, to other people, to all other creatures and the planet. His proposal walks through some of the ways that we might build better ‘crews’ (groups of 3-8 people), where 5-8 people are a ‘sweet spot’ for high impact and low coordination cost
        • crews can effectively hold the space for personal development too to work with our traumatised patterns of behaviour
        • crews can be a source of belonging, acceptance, accountability, and meaning
        • walks through different levels of practices to build trust and reciprocity (the two being an absolute key part to relationships), of which co-ownership is the end of a longer process of listening, talking about money, consistently reflecting with one another and resolving conflicts well.
      • Procedures, processes, systems that can consistently align us and tend us towards open hearts and greater nuance etc, so that we don’t fall back into old ways of being
        • circling
          • Aella wrote up a nice article on her experience.
        • dialogos
        • authentic discourse movement
        • warm data (Nora Bateson)
        • collective rituals
          • LARPing
      • different organisational structures
        • decentralised
        • distributed
        • fractal organisations
        • more thoughtful, humane hierarchies
      • figuring out how to work with elites
        • Part of the reason why we’re in bad doo doo is because our most powerful and rich keep on wanting to become more powerful and rich. There’s some psychological state that gets them to operate on the material level only
        • Yet many hold the view that rich people’s mental health is lesser than those who aren’t wealthy… and yet we complain that they’re sociopathic??

  • Inter-Objective
    • creating better governance systems and protocols, ways of organising and structuring groups

      • SIMPOL
        • working on coordination problem (multi-polar traps)
      • Sociocracy
      • Holocracy
      • Loomio
      • DAO
        • what is DAO article
      • reinventing organisations - wiki on an Integral based approach to organisations
      • — this seems to be a great podcast on different ways of doing organisations
      • Hylo, a collaboration platform. Created from a collaboration between Terran Collective and Holochain
    • prototyping new ways of living — a structure to hold all the different facets on a smaller scale + environmentally aligned

      • permaculture

      • intentional community

      • homesteading

      • regen villages

      • charter cities

      • starting a new country

      • this is both on the physical level (how to build physical environments, spaces, buildings etc that are nourishing) as well as mental, spiritual etc.

    • thinking of new ways of doing economics

        • intersection of economics and spirituality
        • I found the conversation with Julie Nelson to be particularly thought provoking.
      • doughnut economics
      • different kinds of currency, different ways of valuing things
        • how to measure externalities, to be able to quantify them? Building various systems of sensors etc?
        • building different ways of access based systems (like shopping carts) rather than possession based systems
      • closed-loop economy
      • co-ops
    • the commons

      • Michel Bauwen’s work
    • education (Zak Stein’s work)

      • Education in a Time Between Worlds
    • environment/ ecology

      • degrowth
      • new ways of valuing things that account of ecological externalities (related in part to intersubjective) (related to currency)
        • Their mission: “Activating the Bay Area bioregion to cooperate in service to regeneration, through technology, collective action, and rebuilding the commons.”
    • working in government and policy

  • Meta-Frameworks
    • metamodernism
    • Game B
    • Indigenous thinking and practices
      • Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk
    • What would a society look like if, with every passing day, we fall more deeply in love with the world?


  • Boundless Roots Report — see their summary here. They argue that there are three leverage points that can really help us create positive change: cultural frames, power, and meaning making. They also talk about polarities, trauma and capacity as ‘forces which impact our individual and collective ability to influence and impact change’.
  • Brent Cooper’s The Rise of Emergentsia series, which looks at leading thinkers on change. The first one is here, the rest can be found here.
  • Don’t Go Back To Normal — I’m not sure why their normal site is down, but linked is an archived version of it. Many links from above are taken from here on alternative technologies for e.g social media, currency, organising etc.
  • RSA’s Spiritualise Report — brilliant report that covers the idea of ‘spirituality’

Crucial Questions That I Have No Answers For Yet

This list isn’t even close to how long it should be. I’ll be adding to it as new things pop up.

I've skipped many things that I don't have a clue on like how we deal with hierarchies or how do we do currencies because I've linked to some possible solutions in the prior section. The questions below are big picture things that I've completely drawn a blank on. There are also huge amounts of practical level implementation details that I have no clue on, like what are all of the actually achievable ways to halt global warming that aren't unrealistic notions of everyone in the global North consuming 5% of what they currently Perhaps that will end up being necessary, but that feels to me like trying to get everyone enlightened as the solution to our problems, which I personally believe to also eventually be an important part of our social fabric, but it's not the lever to try and pull on for this moment.

  • how does exchange, market, money happen between countries? how do global supply chains happen?

  • how does the shitty jobs get handled? not just small scale, but big scale things like recycling en-masse etc

    • who builds the railways? who upkeeps the railways? etc
    • even the ‘good’ jobs — who’s going to become lawyers, who’s going to handle the mass amount of trade and money between ‘nations’ (whatever that means)
  • how does production happen? how are goods produced?

    • extraction? assembly? etc
  • What do we do about the rest of the world, as it is now?

    • drug cartels
    • war zones
    • poverty
  • how does the legal system work?

  • power, incentives, effectiveness of change via totalitarian means,

    • are mass movement styles of change high fidelity enough, or will they always regress?
    • if there are ways to not make them regress into simplicity, how do we do that?
  • what does effective social media advocacy look like?

Extra Bits

These are rough notes for concepts that weren’t relevant enough for the main essay:

  • On Resilience and Complicated vs Complex
  • On Innovation
  • On Control and Influence
  • On Hierarchies
  • On Rich and Famous

On Resilience and Complicated vs Complex

  • we’re currently in a complicated system that’s falling apart. Modernity is an attempt to replace complex systems with controllable, complicated ones. Complexity is now too overwhelming for our complicated systems to effectively deal with them
  • One of the ways forward is to leverage our collective intelligence, which can only be done well through complex configurations
  • complex systems arise through self-organisation. The way to do that seems to be decentralised, distributed, anti-fragile, bottom-up

On Innovation

  • learning, curiosity, solving problems, innovating
    • how is this a perennial problem?
      • Or is this a driver that leads to perennial problems
        • maybe it’s this — I think I was trying to argue for why we kept on expanding after the agricultural revolution — ‘ok’ wasn’t good enough, we always wanted to improve our lives more and more. This isn’t something that necessarily happens as evident by the hunter-gatherer tribes who live very good and happy lives but have been around forever and haven’t really changed much?
      • Or is this something that we really want, and so the perennial problem is trying to faciliate that?
    • why do we continue innovating past scarcity?
      • because there’s some part of us that is always in scarcity
      • because scarcity is manufactured
      • because we don’t have right relationship with stuff, and so we’re stuck with the material realm and the ‘having mode’ rather than the ‘being mode’ — lots of reasons for this (filling up existential hole, no other values, no other ways to cultivate being mode)
      • I think that in Indigenous cultures that have stabilised that they don't really need to 'innovate' in the same way that the big civilisations Citation needed. I'm not too certain about this claim, but they certainly haven't created electricity and investigated atoms. This isn't a slight against them, just that they've set themselves up such that life is good and culture is set up in such a way that they're simply satisifed with what they have because it is enough for their idea of a 'good life').

On Control and Influence

One of the primary reasons we want control is to have ‘influence’ in many forms (bio, mental, social, sexual, spiritual, over self, others and the world).

  • Material Scarcity

    • The greater control you have, the greater influence you have over gaining material/ sexual resources.
  • Autonomy

    • Autonomy is self-control — having the freedom from external influences in order to be able to act in the way we want (we can have greater influence over ourselves). Control expands the possibility space (creating a broader space of possible actions).
  • Freedom

    • Related to autonomy, control and influence over self could very well lead to letting go over desire for control and influence over others and the world.
  • Social Mattering (status importance (admiration, social standing), self worth, self esteem)

    • afraid of being abandoned, forced social connection and intimacy
    • control can be used to put self above others. This is to maintain the status of being the most important/ smart/ powerful It doesn't matter whether or not you're actually that, it's moreso that others perceive you to be so. as these qualities are perceived to be tied with self worth/ esteem
    • when you can control others and the world (i.e you have a lot of ‘influence’ and can ‘move mountains’), you are seen as being powerful and thus important. People listen to you.
  • Cosmic Mattering

    • if you have power, you can impact the world in a way that aligns with what you think is of cosmic importance
    • this is power more in the sense of ‘empowerment’, and it leans more towards autonomy and being able to be free of the control of others and thus have more control over your self.
  • Order & Predictability — safety, security from dangers, fears

    • Control allows us to shape our circumstances the way we want it to be. We can intentionally make it ordered or chaotic, but we’re always in control of the situation, which means there’s that ‘order’ or ‘predictability’ at the higher level in the sense of ‘I do X and I know Y will happen’

I think one of the things that distinguishes different kinds of power and control is how they're used (power-over, power-with etc) — is it a control of your own circumstances and internal This can be harmful too if it's a coercive dictatorship style — I refer more to not being controlled by others, and thus having control over self. or an imposition of control over external world and others?

On Hierarchies

There’s much more to be said about hierarchies than I have here, but some short points that’ll hopefully provoke further thought.

  • biological drivers — boehm — we don’t just ‘go’ for equality — we get to equality from battling against being dominated.

    • coercion, then, is the biggest thing, not hierarchies (see the article I link at the end of this section). I think is plausible to have ‘resistance against coercion’ as a ‘root driver’.
  • historical origins — hierarchies aren’t arbitrary. What root drivers was it trying to solve?

  • hierarchies aren’t inherently ‘evil’ — they certainly tend towards unhealthy patterns, but it’s a tool like anything I think this relates to the gun control argument and it not being neutral (a reasonable argument), but I think it differs in that healthy hierarchies like teacherly authority (a la Zak Stein) is actually really important to have, and not only that, hierarchies naturally arise anyway.

  • hierarchies fall under many buckets:

    • helps with social coherence and so fast action and retaliation — there's a clear person you're supposed to listen to, a clear chain of command. In tense situations or situations that require quick decisions, this quells (to some extent, probably at least less than non-hierarchical Citation needed. I have heard that one of the common pitfalls of flat organisational structures is that nothing ever gets decided. We can also see this by contrasting the democracy of the US against the one party of China. The infrastructure developments of, for example, railways and digital paying methods of Wechat and Alipay aren't even comparable. ) continual social jockeying
    • of course falls under power and control, and trying to gain order, both for the people at the top (controlling subordinates), but also for the subordinates who willingly put themselves under strongman leaders (a sense of predictability, order, power is felt through the representative Glorious Leader)
    • falls under governance — hierarchy as a way of making sense of the world (person at top makes the big decisions rather than everyone together) and executing choices

    • what we’re trying to reject from hierarchy is actually the coercion that tends to happen within them. Knowing this makes it much clearer as to what we’re trying to figure out

On Desire for Rich and Famous

There’s two things we seem to stereotypically want in the modern era: to be rich and to be famous.

The ‘rich’ part links in with control and influence — ‘money talks’, and it’s the most robust ways to gain power. It’s also related to self-worth and self-esteem as the thing we primarily value in our culture right now is money.

To be famous is a want to be popular. I think popularity is to do with social recognition, which is social connection + social coherence. It’s at once wanting to feel part of the ‘tribe’, but is also deeply intertwined with deep, meaningful, intimate relationships because you need to cohere to the group enough for intimate relationships to be possible at all (otherwise they’d just kick you out, and you’d never get a chance to initiate intimate relationships in the first place). Reality isn’t that clean (you’ve got the abrasive loner gurus whom people seek out), but I think we broadly, emotionally believe in this model.