The Wealth of People

Exploring Implications for Work and Identity in the Digital Environment.

Friday Thinking

Foraging for Curiosities in the Digital Environment of-for-by The Curious.


Creative Play with ideas and languaging.

Future Afford-Dancing

A future tab - hovering in the field of adjacent possibles.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Eulogy to Truth – Long Live Honesty


A Eulogy to Truth – Long Live Honesty 


The truth is dead - long live honesty
Entailing honest accounts and holding accounts honest

Science teaches us skepticism - 
Entailing multiple lines of evidence
For reliable knowledge

Complexity teaches us relative perspectives - 
Entailing multiple ways of reasoning
For relevant wisdom

Collective wisdom emerges in our institutions of conversation
Entailing good faith speaker-hearers - 
with honest accounting - 
Entangling complex reasonings - 
For adaptive evolving 
We know what we know – but we don’t even know what we don’t know


20st Century – Post-Modern  Disolves Keystones of Certainty

Future Shock is alive and well - in fact it is safe to say that we are all refugees from our own childhood.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.

H.P. Lovecraft

John Higgs’s “Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century” offer a brief and special history of the 20th Century. Higgs presents a deeper, more mythic anticipation of the future. It is accessible and perhaps even a profound analysis of the 20th Century.

To help us visualize the impact of the 20th Century on human culture Higgs uses a key, the concept of Omphalos. “An omphalos is the centre of the world or, more accurately, what was culturally thought to be the centre of the world.” (p.15) Another way to think about the Omphalos is as the ‘axis mundi’ - the world pillar that was the link between heaven and earth. With this concept Higgs is able to provide us with a rich account of how the 20th Century has radically ‘uncentered’ domain after domain of human thought and experience.

Much of the discussion about the future focuses on technology with some consideration of ethical and social implications. There are some attempts to explore the transformation of culture, psycho-socio experience and the concepts of identity - but most often the visions of future technology are simply overlaid on current - cultural constructs - with the exception of privacy.

In 1950 there were about 2.5 billion humans alive - that this means is there is hardly anyone alive today whose legacy of experiences refers to the world before the 20th Century’s marvel of techno-social change. The implementation of technologies such as universal electrification, households filled with appliances, ubiquitous tele-communication, refrigeration, plumbing, healthcare, the automobile and more - these we have taken in our stride. And in this way, it becomes clear why Alan Kay’s definition of technology as ‘everything that is invented after we are born’ is so salient.

More fundamentally, Higgs’ approach maps out the deeper layers - the more mythic cultural frames that have been displaced. Humans are biologically identical to those of the 19th Century - but a vast transformation of the psychological-cultural space in which we live has transpired over the several generations that have lived through the 20th Century.

A typical person alive in 1899 and transported to 2016 would not just suffer a shock from the technologies we take for granted - but would suffer a deeper sort of psychological vertigo from the loss of the ‘centers’ of the world that had held up both the pre-modern ‘God-given’ world and the modern ‘Clockwork universe’ (the simple transmutation of ‘God’ into machine-like natural laws). The shock of traveling on the first trains at 20 mph incited a claim that this experience would literally drive people ‘crazy’ - and I’m sure if the concept of PTSD were alive then there would have been many cases of such speed induced PTSD.

Higgs argues that the ‘ground’ of the Victorian world’s, ‘natural order’ was held by the ‘figure’ of the four solid axis mundi of Monarchy, Church, Empire and Newton. The certainty of this world was echoed by Lord Kelvin in 1900 “there is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.’

A journey through the 20th Century can seem like an epic quest. The gallant adventurers who embark on the quest, first wrestle with three giants, known by single names of Einstein, Freud, and Joyce. They must pass through the forest of quantum indeterminacy and the castle of conceptual art. The avoid the gorgons of Jean-Paul Sartre and Ayn Rand whose glance can turn them to stone, emotionally if not physically, and they must solve the riddles of the Sphinxes of Carl Jung and Timothy Leary. Then things get difficult. The final challenge is to somehow make it through the swamp of postmodernism. It is not, if we are honest, an appealing journey. p.6

The territory of the 20th Century includes the dark patches of thick, deep woods. The established paths tend to skirt around these areas, visiting briefly but quickly scurrying on as if fearful of becoming entangled. These are area such as relativity, cubism, the Somme, quantum mechanics, the id, existentialism, Stalin, psychedelics, chaos mathematics and climate change. p.9

Higgs adds an exclamation point by quoting Sir Arthur Eddington - ‘the universe would prove to be not just stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine.’ This is a fundamental realization - one that bloomed throughout the 20th Century and is at the heart of the 21st Century.

Higgs begins by discussing the first ‘center-axis of the world’ that is dissolved as a consequence of Einstein and relativity and firmly establishing that there can be no ‘objective frame of reference’ for either perceiving the world or understanding it. Einstein’s framework produced the first fundamental crack in belief that certainty was achievable. This was the first blow against the God-Given world and its proxy of the clockwork world. We must remember that there was no fundamental conflict between early science and religion. The conflict was between the scholastic approach that relied on scriptures for truth of the world - versus learning God’s truth from his original book of nature. 

Although a century has passed since Einstein destroyed the ‘objective frame of reference’ and proposed that space and time were really a unity of space-time, socio-cultural frameworks still haven’t come close to integrating that realization within daily life. It is curiously hard to grasp how many of the pillars supporting our world have been dissolved in the 20th century. For example, some basic science breakthroughs that disintegrate the concept of a clockwork universe include:

  • Einstein - that there is no objective frame of reference,
  • Godel - the fundamental incompleteness of systems of formal logic,
  • Quantum Mechanics’ - uncertainty principle and entanglement,
  • Turing's stopping problem,
  • Chaos - the fundamental unpredictability of deterministic systems due to sensitivity to initial conditions,
  • Freud, Jung and many others revealing the unconscious determinants of behavior – more recent cognitive & social science such as George Lakoff, Kahneman and Tversky and many others, displacing the notion of the ‘rational actor’ with the 'rationalizing reasoner'.
  • The displacement of a ‘physics worldview’ by a biology-complexity science framework including the unpredictability of emergent properties.

Higgs’ book gives us a look at just how deeply, our cultural assumptions of certainty, as a foundation of TRUTH, have been rocked.

The cunning of uncertainty excels in uncovering the unintended consequences of human purposeful action. It helps to tease out what one is unable to see otherwise when fixing one’s gaze on specific goals, even when acting with the best intentions. ... It excels in luring us to make promises and to believe in promises made by others.

Helga Nowotny - The Cunning of Uncertainty

What Higgs lays out, is a vitally important perspective providing an initial ground for understanding the rise of a widespread sense of nostalgia (homesickness). A homesickness for a past that never truly was, despite the fact that the accelerating pace of change transforms our sense of home before our very eyes.

Nostalgia is a term coined in the 17th century to describe physical symptoms experienced by Swiss mercenaries fighting in foreign lands. The physical symptoms were described as a result of a form of ‘melancholy’. For the Swiss mercenaries the symptoms included fainting, fever, indigestion, intestinal pain and death. Given what we now know about the importance of our microbial profile - these symptoms could have arisen as a result of new food and environments. 

Nostalgia can easily infuse our attempts to shape guiding principles. In essence, humans have developed systems of ethics – in a context of general certainty, where we feel that we can name the ‘good’. Unfortunately, a naming of ‘the good’ is a far distance from knowing that decisions and actions taken in the name of the good – will actually enable the named ‘good’ to be done (either in the short-term or long-term).

An action believed ‘good’ today has no predictive insurance that the results from decision-actions will be consistent with the aim. Moral frameworks (moral accounting) aim to keep group chemistry coherent to the memetic framework (the doings as we do – rather than the saying of what we should do). Thus, moral accounting is the means of honest accountability and is also always relative to a social evolution.

At best – ethics serves to name shaping aspirations – while at best - moral accounting aims to enable viably honest social chemistry.

One more key aspect of the context is the human capacity – for pattern making. It is at once our greatest strength and most vulnerable flaw – apophenia. As Wikipedia notes:


the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things. The term (German: Apophänie) was coined by psychiatrist Klaus Conrad in his 1958 publication on the beginning stages of schizophrenia. He defined it as "unmotivated seeing of connections [accompanied by] a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness". He described the early stages of delusional thought as self-referential, over-interpretations of actual sensory perceptions, as opposed to hallucinations.

Beliefs are often conflated with THE TRUTH - but beliefs can be consistent with a sharing of honest accounts of facts and experiences. A belief of itself, can by definition, seem to want to proclaim itself as a TRUTH above accountability. But even the most rigorous founding of a true belief through the application of scrupulus logic - is still conditional to the axiomatic assumptions inherent to any system of logic. This sort of TRUTH is only  certain, within the logics of the system. Uncertainty lurks beyond the boundaries. 

But an honest ‘belief’ is like stating an coherent best guess, kept accountable by continued engagement with well reasoned challenges. 

As the context outlined above illuminates - uncertainty is the zeitgeist of the 21st century. 

In such conditions - how we language about the world can make it easier or harder for us to listen – and eventually hear other ‘good faith’ perspectives. The eulogy is intended as a proposal for approaching our conversations in ways that enable good conditions for establishing respect and good faith engagment. 

If we can let go of the concept of THE TRUTH – It may be easier to create an conditions that can develop a richer picture and understanding of the complexity of our world and experience. 

A Eulogy to Truth

The rise of honesty and good faith conversation

Science - Logic

The truth is dead - long live honesty
Entailing honest accounts and holding accounts honest

Science teaches us skepticism - 
Entailing multiple lines of evidence
For reliable knowledge

Gregory Bateson in his wonderful book “Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity” has an initial chapter called ‘What Every Schoolboy Knows’ where he makes the point that – science doesn’t Prove – anything. For example, the classic point that we can never prove that all swans are white – simply because we can’t know all the swans that have existed or will exist to be able to prove out point. The cheat around this, is a tautology claiming that if a swan is not white then if must not be a swan.

What science does do – is assemble, create, develop honest evidence to support an honest theory. Actors in the ‘science game’ are kept honest – are stewarded to good faith  by our institutions of conversation – one of which science calls ‘peer-review’. In fact, science knowledge by definition has to be ‘contestable’. All knowledge is partial.

Science can never provide a knowledge-based claim of the ‘why’ of things – what science does provide, is reliable knowledge that enables us to do things. Science gives us ‘Know How’ rather than ‘Know Why’. The more sources of evidence that can be shown to be consistent with a proposition the more reliable our knowledge can be.

Many people confuse the mathematical-logical concepts of ‘Proof’ – that enables a logical proposition to be ‘proved’ to be consistent with the founding axioms, principles of any system of logic. But the map is not the territory. 

Noise - Signal - Fact - Pattern 

These four concepts - help describe what we understand as separate components. However - their separate meaning co-emerge in relation to what they describe. 

In this figure we are presented with - One Data Base and Two Perceivable Patterns.

What makes a signal in a sea of noise? What makes a Chin vs Nose – an Ear vs Eye – a Mouth vs Necklace – Which is THE TRUTH?

Signals as Facts – only emerge with a perception of ‘pattern’ – of differences that make a difference. Facts are innumerable. Choosing those facts that matter is more difficult than we often assume.

Observations are contested – and/or have conflicting interpretations. Ocam’s Razor is a heuristic choice – but ultimately can’t determine the truth of a fact without the truth its corresponding context-pattern. It is turtle-patterns all the way down.

But – sharing honest accounts of experience – enables both to be seen.

All Knowledge is always partial Knowledge

Wisdom - Paradox
Complexity teaches us relative perspectives - 
Entailing multiple ways of reasoning
For relevant wisdom

The work of many feminist and other scholars, of cognitive scientist like Lakoff, Kahneman and many others shown us that there is no ‘objective’ way to reason. Rather that reason depends on entailing structures of logic arising with the metaphor, frames, and narratives we use to describe phenomena. Lakoff and Nunez (among others) in their book ‘Where Mathematics Come From: How The Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics Into Being’ have elaborated that even mathematics is dependent on metaphor. For example, in number theory people visualized numbers as ‘points in a line’ – until paradoxes arose when we considered how close two points have to be until they become one point? They the metaphors of set theory were used to define numbers – for example the number two is the set of all things two (almost a tautology). The paradox that Bertrand Russel pointed out is that can a set be a member of itself?

The challenge that then arise with the inevitable partial knowledge of any domain or structure of reasoning applied to the world is similar to requiring multiple sources of evidence. To create richer picture – more comprehensive understandings of what we would know – now requires we become aware of how metaphors, frames and narrative can structure how we reason. Thus, the need to engage with multiple ways of reasoning.

An example from recent research in the biology of the immune system question the frame of our immune system as a ‘wall of defense’ between self and other. However, the immune system actually needs to be infected in order to manage continued health – thus researchers found a frame that the immune systems is actually an ‘intelligence system’ (as in military or competitive intelligence) that enables self to understand other. The implications of such a change in how we reason about our immune system for understanding, for further research and even for medical treatments can be profound. How we reason shapes the creation of facts that are considered evidence rather than noise.

It has been said that a measure of intelligence is the capacity to hold two opposing views in one’s mind concurrently. I believe that wisdom arises when one can reason about evidence in multiple ways providing us with relevant knowledge for our choices. For example – reasoning about the local and simultaneously reasoning about the global – enables a more comprehensive richer and more complex understanding of possible consequences of action and non-action.

Complexity – and associated sciences have shown us that we can’t know all variables of account in any long term unfolding of events. For example, sensitivity to initial conditions. Also, in living systems the emergences of multiple ways to fulfill a purpose makes it impossible to know what some molecule, system, condition can enable a new use, function or purpose to be enacted. 

Consider the following.

Like the previous ambiguous data base – this poses multiple patterns for creating facts. But it also offers more insights. While we are presented with three figures that are the ‘truth’ each figure is also a metaphor with potential entailing logics for elaborating a ‘truth-based reality’. Does the two-dimensional square ‘prime’ our capacity to reason in a way that is different than the two-dimensional circle? Does the three-dimensional column present a different entailing logic that is different than either or both the square or the circle?

But now consider the next image. 

Now the initial metaphors increase with the possibility of 3 two-dimensional ‘logics’ to structure how we reason about the ‘figure’ with remains revealed as a three-dimensional visual metaphor. In addition, we have the illusion of an ‘objective’ frame that sees the three images in the first data base and also now sees the four images of the second data base become more conditional. In a ‘turtles all the way down’ sort of way. 

The result is a sort of four-dimensional perspective emerging from a simultaneous holding of all perspectives – the two-dimensional plus the three-dimensional, plus the subjectification of objectification.

Institutions of Conversation

Conditions of engagement in honest accounts of honest perspectives require Institutions of Conversations.

 Institutions of Conversations enable ‘honest accounts’ of-with structures of reasoning, evidence and experience. An ecology of institutions of conversation enable multiple forms of holistic inclusion of emotions, intuitions and sensibilities.

Conversation is another way to frame what Foucault defined as ‘Veridiction -production and circulation of [accepted conventions] that are established, rather than foundational - but importantly govern.’

Bruno Latour’s excellent “An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns”, explores many forms of institutions of conversation. I do injustice to his exploration in paraphrasing a few examples of institutions of conversation that are premised on languaging with honest accounts held to be accountable as honest.

Science doesn’t ever ‘prove’ anything. It provides an honest account of evidence to support an honest theory - pragmatically useful – for reliable knowledge.

A lawyer is not concerned with TRUTH of justice but with an honest account of the legal means to pursue or support a legal purpose.

Religious speaker concerned with an honest languaging – seeks to enable an experience of faith – rather than indoctrination into dogma and dogmatic belief.

A politician’s work is not about the TRUTH of a moment - but endeavors an honest languaging that enables people to align their honest valuing of values with an honest implementation of purpose.

Civilizing people to build & protect civilizations requires institutions of conversation. Conversations enable & teach people how to value values and find values worth valuing. If the most honest Good – is happy life of meaning full engagement – then meaning arises with honest languaging that enables a good faith flourishing of honest conversations – that in turn enable response-able, evolving institutions.

Paradoxes of value exist in a superposition of possibilities. Choices collapse paradoxes into an actual perspective revealing and creating social/moral chemistry. A chemistry of choices enacted though paradigms of reasoning entangled in tensions and integrity. A chemistry that develops, sustains and evolves through institutions of conversation. The key is institutions that ensure ‘good-enough’ ‘good-faith actors’ engaging in honest conversations.

Phase Transition of Consciousness

Collective wisdom emerges in our institutions of conversation

Entailing good faith speaker-hearers - 
with honest accounting - 
Entangling complex reasonings - 
For adaptive evolving 

The Holocene is the human condition – our inheritance, our crises, our bequeathment to possible futures. The crisis of climate change is a key complex problems that demands a ‘leveling-up’ of the human species – a crisis of consciousness where humans have to grasp we are one species living on one world. That human local action create global consequences for all other life forms.

By understanding that the TRUTH is dead – that all we have is partial knowledge and innumerable ways of reasoning – can enable us to move forward with strengthening our institutions of conversation. Not just peer review of the sciences and technology – but many other similar institutions, such as our ways of deliberating justice (conversations recorded in case law, of trial by jury, etc.).

If we can ‘let go’ of the need for a certainty of having ‘The TRUH’ – and if we can recognize ‘good faith’ accounts of other people’s experiences and evidence – then maybe we can be in a better position to listen, hear an honest account and in turn offer our own honest account. Together richer understanding emerges.

It's been said - that one sign of intelligence is the capacity to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously.

I've thought that wisdom could be the capacity to engage in multiple ways of reasoning. 

This means more than listening to multiple voices - but the capacity to HEAR many different honest accounts of experience. 

I think the best way to achieve such an aspiration – of wise hearing – is to ensure we communicate genuine consideration and respectful speech to signal good faith participation.

Achieving the wisdom to flourish and evolve requires accountable methods to ensure good-faith participants – using honest experience-evidence, to present and hear all evidence that is held to be accountable and honest. But more – we need to also accept the inevitable uncertainty that is deeply entangled in all life and evolution. 

There is no such thing as conservation of shadows. When light destroys shadows, darkness does not gain in density elsewhere. When shadows steal over earth and across the sky, darkness is not diluted.

Yoon Ha Lee -Conservation of Shadows

Sunday, May 24, 2020

What happens when we experience the ‘Ground’ as the ‘Figure’?

“to be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing”

A warning – there will be some sentences and paragraphs that may sound like word salad. I do like to play, not with my food – but with how I make my food. I also like to play with words as I make them into thoughts – and they make thoughts in-into me. 

Letting yourself play with the alchemy of language for the creation of insight. This emulates how we co-create with nature transforming matter into sustenance – the metabolism of life.

Human experience emerges through its entanglements with environment. Entanglements become evident in their own mutual-enactments. To exist is to simultaneously act – in-act/enact. To act is to make a change. A Change is a difference-that-makes-a-difference – which is simultaneously ‘taking a measure’ of a (or the) situation. Taking a measure of the situation – simultaneously enacts accounting -taking account-of the situation.

The question is which differences are ones that make a difference – because to make a difference-that-makes-a-difference – is an accounting of something of ‘value’ – of something worthy of ‘standing out’ – a way of valuing values.

Values enact themselves in entangled ecologies (each simultaneously co-enacting/creating - acting-and-resisting-in-resonance) as complex adaptive mutualisms/condensates/manifolds. Relationing flows as differences-that-make-a-difference in part-whole-whole-part perspectives of change.

I take these paragraphs as initial axiom(s) – and apply them as abstraction to understand the current situation of the emerging digital environment.

The developing mycelium of technology (including the technologies of culture and language) creates/cre-acts – enacts re-acts the emergence -the phase-transition, - of a change in complexities of our societies. 

Accelerating changes in technology and increasing population size, density, connectedness and (information) flow are increasing the complexity of our lives in our societies. We are all refugees from our own childhood homes.

This is so widely accepted that saying so, is - like ‘mom and apple pie’ is an insight on our values.

McLuhan noted that language doesn’t live in us – rather we live in language as an environment – like a warm bath we soak in (paraphrasing). Thus, culture and language are the first technologies that we shaped that shaped us. Like ground shapes figure and figure shapes ground. Context rules – and rules shape the game.

The ground enacts boundary conditions of the attractor-figure figuring-attraction.
Why does change seem so hard? Why are we so captured in the habits and narratives of the continuity of our-self?

The boundary conditions that we’ve internalized/integrated as our homeostasis of viability - serve to con-serve - constraints-that-enable-work - existence-survival.

Our complex society has become the ground of our sense of identity, agency, and freedom. We can order anything from anywhere and through a global infrastructure of communication, coordination, logistic and transportation we get it. We are entangled in this technological mycelium in a way that is as taken for granted as ….. well ‘mom and apple pie’. 

This hidden ground allows us the experience a pervasive sense of independence of will – ‘You can do anything if you really want it!!!’. Competition has been the narrative framing our independence.

Covid-19 has sparked a sort of reversal of this ground – with the universal call for physical distancing we’ve had to become aware of our ground as a new figure. The invisible people that serve us are now ‘essential heroes’ displacing, re-placing, reframing them as sacrifice workers – no longer menial labor but citizens on the front lines of national security and our happy lives.

What does it mean when the invisible ground of entanglement with others, ecology, culture, technology that enables a FIGURE of the atomistic, isolated, individual – self-created person is reversed.

Now the FIGURE of our entanglement is our interdependence with each other, our environment, our culture, our digital and other technologies, our social civility (accepting the rules and conditions physical distancing) – The Ground is now a type of uncertainty – a  questioning or challenging of autonomy, independence, self-created agency  & the revelation of a necessity of true social justice of care & compassion.  

Covid-19 has revealed what every fan of zombie movies has learned. That when one person is infected – we are all at risk. That not only is survival a group effort – but the reason we want to survive is for social existence.

All this is fine – but there is question – one that is nurtured by a long past, and most especially the pseudo-science of neo-liberal economics with its ‘math-magical equations’ that challenges every initiative of evolving and improving our social supports – our social safety net of our interdependence – that question is – How are we going to pay for it???

That question distracts us from the underlying moral framework – the framework of how we value our values that has become the ground of this neo-liberal economic reasoning.

For too long the hangover of ‘the gold standard’ has shaped our reasoning about the question of where does money come from – it has to come from somewhere?

For over 50 years – the only ground of our currency has been only well understood by the high priests of the economic paradigm of finance. But even Milton Friedman – said in public to Paul Rian – the government can never run out of money – Why because the government can issue currency into the economy by going to the right computer and keying in the requisite amount of numbers into the desired account.

That’s it. There is no pot-of-gold that government must hoard for a rainy day.

Anyone interested in an accurate description of where money/currency comes from – please Google Modern Monetary Theory.

It’s not magical thinking – it doesn’t solve all our problems – it still requires rigor in accounting for what we value, and how we value our values.

By understanding where money comes from – we reveal the false ground of a narrative that a government’s taxes are the source of its capacity to spend and invest. But taxes are not ‘how we pay for ‘that’. Taxes serve other policy purposes – primarily to create a ‘good enough’ level playing field – to distribute power and opportunity.  Just as a feudal hierarchy (still alive in most work contexts) is incompatible with a society seeking to embody democracy – so monopolies, platforms and levels of toxic inequality and injustice are incompatible with market economies.

Capitalism is NOT the market system that Adam Smith articulated in the wealth of nations.

One of the real barriers to understanding the power of a government to issue currency is another aspect of the invisible ground of neo-liberal magical thinking. And that is a moral framework – one that George Lakoff among others have well articulated. 

McLuhan might have considered that Covid-19 has acted as an artist by enacting an anti-environment to our previous environment of our sense of self-determination to enable a focus on the figure of the social conditions of our selfhood.

Success in the neo-liberal free market – and strict father patriarchy narrative - is a judgement that success arises because of one’s discipline – one’s success is a measure of one’s self-discipline – lack of success is a sure indication of a lack in the quality of self-discipline. This moral framework entails that helping those who aren’t judged successful by ‘market results’ is actually an immoral act – by preventing the development of necessary self-discipline.

This is the same moral framework that determines that profits are a measure of the value an individual has ‘earned’ by enacting their discipline. In this way Billionaires are rich because their wealth is a measure their discipline and ‘individually’ earned value – The same holds for the compensation packages of cadres of managers, CEOs etc.

But covid-19 reveals the ground of our wealth is actually earned by the value created by our ‘essential heroes’ and the public capacity for building infrastructure and widely shared knowledge.

The moral framework of neo-liberal economics, deems social safety nets as a coddling of the poor that prevents them from developing the necessary individual discipline for market success of the isolated, atomistic, selfish individual.

McLuhan might have considered that Covid-19 has performed as an artist by enacting an anti-environment to the previous ‘ground-environment’ of our sense of individual self-determination.  This new ‘anti-environment’ enables a better focus on the more accurate figure of the social conditions and foundations of any sense of selfhood.

Our entanglement in the emerging digital environment is conditioning us for an unknowable future. How can we breath the awareness necessary to enact this conditioning as a path to flourishing choices of both liberty and care/love for others – in short can we enact a new moral framework of how we value our values – Can we enact with response-ability to create and sustain institutions of full-spectrum justice – social, economic, political and more?

The artist that is covid-19 is challenging us all with the Zen Koan of enacting physical distancing while reframing our social fabric – in a declaration of our interdependence. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

A New narrative for a Flourishing-Creative World and a Generative Future - Part 4 - Metaphors for generative growth

Metaphors for generative growth

There is another condition arising in the 21st Century adding dimensions accelerating the enactment of the digital environment. The emergence of a digital sensorium (constituted by the nervous system of the Internet-as-Platform, Social Media, the Internet-of-Things, ubiquitous sensors, AI and so much more). This retrieves (as McLuhanesque has noted for the electronic age) a sense of village including: the rumor mill and gossip of tribal cultures but on an unprecedented scale. 
Whereas the 20th Century retrieved the glory of centralized Empire monopoly as cultural resonator via the broadcast media of ‘manufactured consent’ - the 21st Century democratized the individual voice. 
While voice is democratizing - some, maybe many, think otherwise. There is lots of evidence that platforms are the new colonizing force of rent-seeking monopoly. This is a paradox - the barriers to entry to communicating have reduced to what Clay Shirky noted for publishing - simply pushing a button, clicking a mouse. But the publishing platforms have become the new East India Tea Company. 

The ease and democratization of publishing mean many more voices are able to join an exponentially expanding wellspring of knowledge and opinion. Many believe that we have lost our capacity for common consensus - as voices are experienced not simply as a cacophony chaos but that we have also entered a ‘post-fact era’. 

David Weinberger has so wonderfully explored the phenomena of the acceleration of knowledge “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room The sense of fragmentation is a natural ‘hangover’ from becoming habituated to authoritative knowledge that broadcast media, hierarchical organizational architectures and the related engendering of dependence on Leadership have architected.

It’s not just the fragmentation, the globalizing digital environment has also produced a sort of disorientation associated with the unprecedented connectivity.  The fear of an increasing ‘responsibility’ presented to enact our freedom, is matched by the corresponding ‘response-ability’ required by accelerating change. This disorientation can leave ‘people yearning for a more secure past - a pervasive nostalgia. ‘The twenty-first century is not characterized by the search for new-ness’ wrote the late Russian-American philologist Svetlana Boym, ‘but by the proliferation of nostalgias . . . nostalgic nationalists and nostalgic cosmopolitans, nostalgic environmentalists and nostalgic metrophiliacs (city lovers) exchange pixel fire in the blogosphere’. 
The consequence is “‘Restorative nostalgia’, which strives to rebuild the lost homeland with ‘paranoiac determination’, thinks of itself as ‘truth and tradition’, obsesses over grand symbols and ‘relinquish[es] critical thinking for emotional bonding . . . In extreme cases it can create a phantom homeland, for the sake of which one is ready to die or kill. Unreflective nostalgia can breed monsters’. 
It is conceivable that the real challenge facing us in the form of Climate Change is not a technological problem, nor a political problem. It is a crisis of consciousness. The challenge of Climate Change is easily grasped as a metaphor of an accelerating tsunami of change. But this change cannot be solved by enacting a ‘restorative nostalgia’ but rather we need to embrace a creatively generative orientation - an attitude to enact a flourishing society in a blooming healthy-vital evolving world. 
We face tectonic shifts in our cultures and our social-economic structures and processes. The digital environment is enacting an equivalent form of Social climate change. A looming transformation of social climate, far more profound that the changes enacted by the industrial society. The evolution of embodied knowledge that is the digital environment is enabling unprecedented information and creative knowledge flow. Part of the crisis arises from what Clay Shirky brilliantly phrased as Institutions and organisation seek to preserve the problem to which they were the solution.
Marshall McLuhan noted that the earth and life on it has become the responsibility of response-ability of the human project - which he considered was now an art project. This also emphasizes an emerging crisis of consciousness where humans must grasp themselves as a single species evolving in a single evolving environment. A huge challenge since both species and climate are ‘hyper objects’ so massive and so distributed that no single individual can grasp them.
This is how McLuhan preciently understood this situation:

For the first time the natural world was completely enclosed in a man-made container. At the moment that the earth went inside this new artifact, Nature ended and Ecology was born. "Ecological" thinking became inevitable as soon as the planet moved up into the status of a work of art.
Marshall McLuhan Unbound, p.4. 2005

McLuhan saw ecologies as a total field of simultaneous processes that included the communication systems enabling awareness of the system itself. In biology this is called homeostasis - the maintaining of viability among innumerable constituents of any living system-environment complex. The implication for concepts of causality is that ‘everything causes everything’.
The simultaneity of co-creating processes can have other implications for understanding the human construct of culture versus nature. All living systems contribute in some way to niche creation, maintenance and building. All living systems are in some way depend on some form of ‘built environment’. 
How we understand our co-creation of our niches (ecologies and environments) can be structured by the metaphors we use
The metaphors we use for the Earth, he proposes, influence the way we frame problems and, therefore, affect our actions. Whether Gaia can regulate itself, Mother Earth will take care of us, or Spaceship Earth needs a mechanic, depends on which metaphor is part of your worldview. Larson’s wish is that metaphors can help us recognize our place within nature and our interconnectedness with other species.

Another example is the complexity involved with the metaphor of continuous growth - often considered a key problematic concept of contemporary economics. Growth is linked to success and lack of growth implies stagnation and the oxymoron of growing smaller suggest a loss. The question of limits to growth can be challenged by asking when can living systems stop growing - if ever? In the case of a finite area then what is the limit to niche density?
There are other examples of how metaphors can combine to create integrated cultural realities. For example, references to ‘Mother Earth’ ‘Mother Nature’ ‘Gaia’ become easily entangled with metaphors of ‘motherland’ ‘fatherland’ and associated with metaphors of the national family. This in turn becomes easily associated with ‘Strict Father’ and leadership hierarchies that aim to shape the governance of nations and organizations. Governance structures become emulations of natural order - parent-child emulates leader-citizen and so on. The evocation of citizen-as-child shapes a more dependent citizen seeking to be protected and saved by parent-leaders. 
Let’s think of the metaphor of generativity. Generativity - is an adult responsibility and response-ability.  The evocation of creativity also brings to mind the capacity for ‘response-ability’. The challenge we face as a global species is one of our transformation from childhood to adult. 
But adulthood also encounters mortality and another dimension of sustainability involves a sort of eternity that denies death in the face of the fear of death.The unwillingness to meet one’s own death - the paradoxical shadow behind both the meme of sustainability and that aspect of the “technological singularity” that yearns to extend life indefinitely - to achieve a sustainable life. As Ray Kurzweil has noted the longer we live the longer we can live. 
The idea of sustainability also promises a sense of certainty in a nostalgic retreat to time as a cycle rather than a forward evolving pattern of change. This nostalgia makes sense has a hangover of the 20th Century. John Higgs has written a fascinating account of the 20th Century in his book “Stranger Than We Can Imagine”. He provides a compelling argument that the developments in science and culture shattered the pillars of many sources of human certainty. 
The de-centering of the traditional paradigms of ‘certainty’ included the possibility of ‘a universal objective frame of reference’ (Einstein's relativity); a unified consciousness (Freud, Jung, et al illumination of the unconscious); the inability to predict even fully deterministic systems (Chaos theory and sensitivity to initial conditions); the unpredictability of complex systems and emergent qualities; the human leap into space; the sexual revolution; all manner of postmodernism and more. Higgs’ account is well worth the read. He sets up our current situation of Global Warming as a crisis of consciousness. 
Edgar Morin was very eloquent in summarizing the cultural and other challenges we faced with the end of the 20th and the approaching new millennium. 
Modernity had been and still remains a civilizational complex animated by an optimistic dynamism. However, the problematization of the triad [science-technology-industry] that animates this dynamism rendered modernity itself problematic. Modernity harbored the ideas of individual emancipation, the generalized secularization of values, and the distinction between the true, the beautiful, and the good.  However, individualism henceforth no longer only meant autonomy and emancipation but also atomization and anonymization. Secularization meant not only liberation from religious dogmas but also loss of foundations, anxiety, doubt, and nostalgia for the great certitudes. The distinctiveness of values led not only to moral autonomy, aesthetic exaltation, and the free search for truth but also to demoralization, frivolous estheticism, and nihilism. 
There has been a general consciousness that we are not in the next to last stage of history,awaiting the day of fulfillment. There has been a general sense that we are not heading toward a radiant, nor even a happy, tomorrows. However, what has been and is still lacking is the consciousness that we are now in the Planetary Iron Age - the prehistory of the human spirit.
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth, p. 58
Morin goes on to note that all evolution requires leaving a past behind, that there can be no creation without simultaneous destruction. 
One must understand that, as everything that lives if bound to die, each culture is worthy of living but must know how to die. We must also maintain the necessity for a planetary culture. It is true that the multiplicity of cultures, with their marvellous adaptation to local conditions and problems, stand as obstacles to the attainment of the planetary culture. Yet can we not extract from each on and generalize the richness of what each has to offer? How then can we integrate the values and treasures of cultures in the process of disintegration? Is it not too late? We therefore have to come to terms with two contradictory injunctions: to save the extraordinary cultural diversity created by the human diaspora and at the same time, to nourish a planetary culture common to us all. 
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth, p. 62
The complexity of co-creating living systems means that there is no single priority - no ‘first problem’ to which all other problems must be subordinated. Rather there are many vital interdependencies, antagonisms, crises, uncontrolled processes, in addition to the general crisis climate change. The future has always been uncertain - but the 21st Century challenges us to face and dispel the illusions of certainty. The positive shadow of uncertainty is the corresponding openness of the future to unknowable possibilities.  
However, to grasp the possibilities of an open future - a creative flourishing generative future we must embrace a paradox: Cultures must be both protected and opened to change. This is ancient wisdom - all culture have encountered others and assimilated new customs, practices, language, knowledge. Any approach to a flourishing future that is not shaped by paradigms of complexity is bound to suffers an inability to be proceed with realism. And ‘real realism’ does not provide us with a security blanket of certainty. This same paradox is applicable to all ecologies and to climate itself. 
What is required for guidance is less related to the precautionary principle but rather what Kevin Kelly called a vigilance principle. Such an approach enables us to enact what Morin calls an ‘ecology of action’. Which means that we must make ‘bets’ aware of risks and with a deep strategy focused on ‘response-ability’ - in order to modify or cancel any action. 
As Aurelio Peccei and Daisaku Ikado have put it: “The reductionist approach, which consists in relying on a single series of factors to regulate the totality of problems associated with the multiform crisis we are currently in the middle of, is less a solution than the problem itself.”
Edgar Morin - Homeland Earth. 1999, 128.
A simple metaphorical question can give us a sense of how to compare the power and promise of framing efforts to create a sustainable future versus a framing our efforts to create a future that is creatively generative? 
Would your spouse be enthralled and enamored if you described your relationship as ‘sustainable’ - ‘We have a sustainable marriage.’ Or would your partner be enamored and inspired with a description of your approach to relating to each other as -  ‘Our relationship is a creative and generative work of art’. 
In a world that continually evolves survival can only be ensured by creative and generative adaptation.
Thus we are faced with profound responsibility to enact our response-ability. We are living through an age of deep transformation and our choices are about how we can move forward. I will finish this last of my four part exploration with a suggestion by David Grinnspoon in his Aeon article - Welcome to Terra Sapiens:
I propose that we call this time we’ve been living through so far, the age during which we’ve been accidentally tinkering with planetary evolution, the ‘proto-Anthropocene’. We can regard this phase as a first step in realising our lasting role on Earth. It might be a necessary prelude to the mature Anthropocene, when we fully incorporate our uniquely human powers of imagination, abstraction and foresight into our role as an integral part of the planetary system. The ‘mature’ part of the name differentiates conscious, purposeful global change from the inadvertent, random changes that have largely brought us to this point.
Viewed this way, the Anthropocene is something to welcome, to strive for.
Even changing global climate and initiating mass extinction is not a human first. Photosynthetic bacteria did that some 2.5 billion years ago.
Until now, the people causing the disturbances had no way of recognising or even conceiving of a global change. Yes, humans have been altering our planet for millennia, but there is something going on now that was not happening when we started doing all that world-changing.
To me, what makes the Anthropocene unprecedented and fully worthy of the name is our growing knowledge of what we are doing to this world. Self-conscious global change is a completely new phenomenon. It puts us humans into a category all our own and is, I believe, the best criterion for the real start of the era.