Apollo Springs Eternal
The world is febrile, fraught with apprehension. We see far enough to glimpse rising waves, an inflamed skyline, cracks in the clouds. Will we fall from our proud commandeering of Apollo’s chariot; our resplendent excess, brazen immaturity, and galloping horses running to ruin? Or will we use what we have accumulated so far to correct our trajectories of collapse, to phase-shift somewhere decisively different?
Hope springs eternal, as must reason while there are still contexts for minds to exercise it and a horizon to aim towards. On this horizon flickers an Apollonian Sun; there, hovering on silver lines are an ideal lustre of practices, projects, and principles. This set of hypothetical forms, systematically arrayed could deliver us from the corona of apocalyptic collapse. Tapping into this virtual solution space, building reflexively from what already exists of it is the subject of this treatise. The ante rises every day.
This ideal cluster is the Odyssean memeplex, after Murray Gell-Mann’s ideal combination of Apollonian and Dionysian drives in the mind of a polymath. These are the political, societal, cultural, and psychological precursors to awakened agency both individual and collective. This idealised Odyssean agency is a Renaissance mindset conscious of its openness, incompleteness, and existential challenges; one that must execute a number of near-magical moves in the next decades if civilisation isn’t to topple. While the emphasis has often been purely on technological advances, bringing them to bear along with collective intelligence towards gradated societal and emotional wellbeing as civilisational goals are key.
The cluster is non-exhaustive, but its application is intended to be both potentially of comprehensive scope, and a modular set of solutions. Hence it can be broken up due to the differential probabilities of each component’s success. My approach here develops a radical cybernetic model, intervening at meta and object levels, connecting global and local scales of analysis for a novel, future-proofed constitutional project. This builds a systematic stance towards collective mitigation of existential and catastrophic risks, and the proliferation of means to life affirm and consciously evolve as a civilisation. In short, we need radically transparent deliberative democracy, an agenda of catastrophic collapse mitigation enhanced by our immense data-wealth, welfare met with post-growth means, and experimentation with consciousness to accelerate our envisioning of alternatives via profounder culture…
From Dusk towards Dawn
Recalling Spring Break
Midnight: Catastrophic Collapse
An interconnected nightfall of ecological collapse, climate change (especially neglected feedback loops) underscored by unrealistic societal expectations, terror management and reactionary denial. All cascading through a fragile, complex system…
Irrigations: Meta-Level Reforms
Interconnected systemic reforms addressing the above with precursors to maintaining and enhancing agency, facilitating cool heads and creativity at group level, for a constitutional emphasis on the long-run future.
Sowings: Object-Level Policies
Specific reforms that could be adopted under extant systems — consistent with the above meta-level epistemic approach.
Moonshots: Spectacular Transformations
Nonlinear experiments towards technological, creative, post-scarcity civilisational leaps forward.
Noonday: Hyperstitious Odysseanism
An imagined case-study of how these functions could compose a system in the depth of a cataclysmic century. The aforementioned reforms enfolded into a process.
Burning Vigilance & Archery: Odysseans & Others
Contextualising Odyssean subjects and interrelated thought-spaces; where next?
Post-industrial (r)evolutionary potentials
FROM DUSK TOWARDS DAWN
I wrote Spring Break to combine vital Dionysian potentials with Apollonian focus, drawn in the tension of a tragic global context. Now the Apollonian lens is focused on how to channel those affective potentials into grounded realities. While hedonistic self-empowerment can enable enlivened self-reflection in individuals, collectives are a different matter altogether.
Previously, I sketched collectives with their flows reconceptualised: our power, information, and relational positions all interacting in an idealised system self-consciously optimising for life-affirmation. Nietzsche, Habermas, and Rawls all served as exemplars in a harmonic circuit; their political theoretic and psychological insights used to model society as an ecosystem of desiring and empowering relations framed by latent, and positive-sum potentials. These could only be grasped by not neglecting our all too human tragedy as amoral, emotional, and selfish agents, hence the emphasis on the will to power and associated biases as generative fissures. The notion was that better alignment in these complex patterns could be produced, through emerging epistemic potentials and by going both meta and glocal.
Institutions were suggested for facilitating a more harmonious and productive approach towards our multifaceted natures. Such better angels of civilisation were posited as flowing naturally when our modelling, discourse, and externalities were arrayed systematically as an ecological picture of imperfect power-desiring agents, with an egalitarian basis for their contestation and self-betterment. Epistemic democracy, UBI, and cybernetics of the self were all posited as emergent answers to knowledge, material, and ontological securities. An introspective and intersubjective picture of integrated selves cooperating against ecological — objective — collapse was envisaged.
These solutions remain prescient. It has been heartening to see these recommendations for citizen assemblies and basic income grow in strength, particularly with Extinction Rebellion’s third demand this April being such an assembly. The urgency and truthful seriousness of all involved is commendable, and the solution space sketched needs extending. For we are not only overshooting ourselves ecologically, but power has remained stubbornly static, performatively ignorant, and criminally corrupt. Transitioning away from the meatgrinder of extractivism will require uncoupling our welfare from growth (as we cannot realistically uncouple growth from energy consumption or resource degradation). This requires imagining, acting, and constructing something far beyond expectation and even the realms of realism.
However, conditions still worsen, with denial and decrepit stumbling characterising our political responses to a matter of apocalyptic import. Hope is a spring for drawing on our Apollonian resources; our representational, abstracted, rational images and discourses on the world. Here I connect solutions in a space of combined approaches to the depths of impending destruction. These take the form of ‘irrigations’ at the meta-level, systemic interventions, and also more immediate object-level responses: policies designed to feed finer cognitive, imaginative, societal, and structural paths to a radically different world — a world that is arriving whether we like it or not. It is here the Apollonian can be channeled to irrigate future hanging gardens; to build over the desert that is rushing to meet us.
To avoid locking in repeats of former errors or defections from precautionary and principled aspirations, we need finer institutions, more expansive and higher quality information processed more intelligently, with legitimacy and urgency by those directly impacted. From this highly-abstract rolling view, experiments must follow to tinker with solutions beyond the reach of ossified, stagnant governance. Such movements, if unimaginable now, will eventually prove necessary. These take us away from a narrow conception of value, wisely needed not only for our long-run future, but also to sustain our medium-term health, and enjoy the fruits of complex civilisation now. It is across all these time-horizons we must be working, as it is along each scale our deeply complex world operates.
For activists, lobbyists, and citizens, it is essential they know what is possible on these grounds. Moreover, they must know what is necessary and strategically viable. Their position as agents in liberal democracy (and any deliberative systems beyond) will be pivotal to applying pressure from the multiple angles required. First, from the grassroots up with direct action, as with Extinction Rebellion. Second, from lateral lobbying, private organisations, and investment in technologies and practices to mitigate and transition. Third, from the top down as these pressures are translated into necessary state and international action required to constrain collapse. All three will need to pull together to a significant degree to transition not only from climate crisis, but towards compromises to avoid societal atrophying and fragmentation.
Our ontologies are increasingly informational as lived experiences, opportunities, and actions are defined by access to superabundant information. This online rapid-eye subjectivity, of dreams sold and dissolved is a roiling sea to cross. Our condensation of it through analysis and critique of data is often determinant of our success as agents. That society, even often the sharp edges of the intelligence agencies and government, does a woeful job is partly down to organisational form, psychological blind spots, and the sheer complexity of our civilisation. Yet while on the meta-level we recognise and diagnose these failures, they continue to spring from our neglect, allowing our immense knowledge to be wasted or exploited. This works against issues of the greatest salience and scope; global catastrophic and existential risks. Refining and refocusing these latent distributed energies in a systemic way — particularly, with the essential role information plays in potentiating and condensing such energies — is the task for political theory that takes adaptive selection pressures, extensive interconnections, and intractably wicked problems seriously.
The key, then, is fostering loci (cognitive, communal, cultural) at multiple scales to facilitate centres of gravity for high quality deliberation, drawing expansive perspectives on borderless challenges to feed into local concerns; the day-to-day scale being where our natural empathy, eye-to-eye reasoning, and action are ultimately translated. This almost it-from-bit approach to metapolitical reform does not remain at staid computational metaphor, but seeks everywhere to unleash the potentiating force of imagination and collective intelligence towards where they are needed most. From this an emergent network of communal cells can exercise agency, empowered in proportion to their ability to reason epistemically and adapt effectively.
Agency: our ability to make decisions, both reactively and proactively.
Civilisation: the distributed web of culture, economic operations, intellectual resources, and processes of production, enquiry, distribution, etc. that compose a high-level meta-system.
Collapse: a sudden or gradual regression to conditions of lower complexity; a civilisation encountering a crisis or crises it cannot adapt to or absorb.
Memeplex: a group of reinforcing memes, hanging together conceptually as a cluster or complex.
Techne: the arts and science of a craft; a view of governance combining both deductive rigour and inductive experimentation, operative in elegant fashion.
Irrigation: used both in terms of watering civilisation particularly at the level of system objectives and dynamics, to reclaim desert; and cleaning a wound, of which our path dependencies have left us many.
Odyssean: a transdisciplinary, integrative paradigm; a holistic political agenda going meta, local, and global all at once; and its associated precursors in education, politics, economics, etc.
What will persist in the shadow of this eclipse?
The immediate darkening of hope necessitating bold change is climate breakdown. This wicked problem has burned thickest between us and the light. With the October 2018 IPCC report showing severe risk of 2°C overshoot, the resultant multiplying likelihood of cataclysmic warming over 3°C cannot be stressed enough. Feedback loops and their uncertainties are menacing, for we know anything over that temperature makes a Hothouse Earth substantially likelier, as methane N2O release, ocean acidification, and carbon sink collapse all viciously cycle. Student strikes and Extinction Rebellion have forced this up the agenda, as has extreme weather. Since the climate and ecological crisis is intricately connected to every economic ascent and political preference in our interdependent global system, it is a gateway for sobering inspections of many catastrophic risks embedded in modernity itself. CO2 certainly does not exhaust this set of risks, nor will civilisation be preserved this century if it is addressed solely.
For it is not simply a matter of CO2 but of the deep degradation of ecologies we are indirectly dependent on. With 96% of animal mass now either human or domesticated, we reduce not only genetic and morphological diversity, but rapidly deplete the soil quality of the agricultural land we have already over farmed. We sow millions of extinctions, masses of land turned into monocultures, with intricate co-dependency disrupted. Most disgraceful is the rate at which the Brazilian government moves to slash and burn the Amazon, an ecosystem so immense and a carbon sink so substantive it is known as the lungs of the world. Corporate greed and lethal venality have never been so globally cancerous.
We truly make a desert and call it peace.
Even if a full-blown Hothouse Earth is still considered unlikely, the magnitude of anything properly approaching it should validate a far more serious reckoning. For only a small chance of existential risk, whether extinction or the permanent handicapping of our species’ potential deserves a constitutively mature response. Instead, we prevaricate and pollute further. The apocalyptic tail-end of prediction sees a Hothouse Earth flipping to Venus like temperatures, extinguishing all life. We don’t need to come close to this for the collapse of civilisation and enormous loss of life. Indeed, extensive sobering analysis shows we are beyond mere probabilities and have likely crossed certain irreversible thresholds. These range from prediction of near term collapse with Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation, through to the underlying trendlines of the IPCC — a highly conservative body, which was skewed considerably by political considerations to undermine the scientific consensus, that nonetheless indicated a 5c increase in Arctic temperature by 2100 is currently likely.
Business as usual definitively cannot continue. Although geoengineering can deliver us from the worst of warming, it remains a calamitously risky choice as it could permanently damage our already precarious climate system. Governance is necessarily complex with a unilateralist dilemma hanging over the question, necessitating levels of multinational cooperation as of yet unseen since the Montreal Protocol (ozone being a far simpler issue to handle). Moreover, this won’t abate our overconsumption of finite resources, habitat destruction, and other degradations replete with blowbacks. Enormous plastic eddies and toxic vortices mire our wake, tailwinds of our skeletal kingdom. Tediously, the news cycle rolls around superficialities, flawed talking points, and narcissistic trances as the leaders it preserves only make gestures.
To correct our path, we must change so much, yet it maddeningly scarcely registers in political discourse. The reliance by the IPCC on unscaled technologies, euphemisms around radical economic change, and emphasis on biofuels that themselves would use too much land to balance against ecological damage illustrates even mainstream experts cannot face up to the true scale of emergency. Their role as docile advisory can only carry truth so far. With already locked in trends and positive feedbacks, we find ourselves in dark waters rapidly moving from choppy to stormy — complete rescue may be impossible. It is not all or nothing, though crossing the tipping points threatens losing so much. The mitigation, restoration, and revival of what remains must be affirmed with energy, to maximise its chances and deliverances. Most of all, there are a plethora of solutions before us. This essay will array them to catalyse their odds.
DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL
Once you see such a horizon, can you really return to the campfire?
There lies a deeper realisation at play, that of the tragic nature of our recursivity. The by-products and accumulated externalities that shadow our vaunted prosperity are immense; that we could outsource, ignore, or simply misunderstand so many of them is a function of our unbridled complexity. That concerted action is so hard is another by-product of our inescapable interdependencies (sell hard truths in an audience democracy and they’ll vote for the next blockbuster lie) and our specialisation fragmenting our ability to grapple with the macro-scale. The blowback is not just our civilisational fragility, but the whiplash that comes with recognising how thoroughly these externalities penetrate our pursuit of essential needs and enthralling consumption; how they sully the telos we implicitly accepted, of a business ontology most readers will recognise as their wellspring.
One can just about imagine private sufficiency and monumental public luxury to supplant this treadmill with a different vista. This could even be consistent with degrowth, one of the more radical, stringent, and pressing approaches to halt impending immense damage rather than mildly slow it. Yet degrowth is liable to be such a visceral disappointment to the vast majority now, it is exceedingly hard to see how any democratic system could arrive at it except by conditions of intense crisis, after we have overshot hope. The Limits to Growth’s accuracy in predicting our trends of resource use suggest we are already deep in such a crisis. Whether we face resource wars, refugee culling, or a Climate Leviathan, the depth such shocks would rend to the self-image and political economy of a cossetted global commercium is immense. Stepping off this particular gilded treadmill is injurious to generational expectations rooted in the modern past, and sacred in the present. It will be profoundly profane to ontological as well as physical and food security to collide with our shadows. To pre-empt them requires a war-footing, built on imagination and guile.
We have discovered how reordering social expectations toward redistribution takes horrendous crisis to catalyse. Moreover, equilibria in nature and society prove exceedingly rare; cycles are far more common. On this virtual field doing the right thing appears the game theoretically impossible path. How can anyone sustain a steady-state when others defect, plotting cancerous growth? Awkwardly, even theories that profane our socio-economic miracles, through expanded horizons of empathetic concern and ‘rigorous’ paths to justice fall foul of unbounded materialist expansion and optimistic consumptive agendas. One might ask what use is planning for sustainability when our sliver of virtues to clutch joyful sufficiency and postmaterialist fulfilment is handcuffed to a leaky radiator? In short, if all other incentives remain fixated on the short-term, what can all the best intentions and cutting edges do if they cannot compete with the rushing mirage before us? Our drives and desires remain fractious bedfellows to our long-sighted goals.
When crisis comes — rippling across fragile socio-political topologies, overstretched — what will wait in the wings? The 2020s will see tense escalations as these trendlines gnaw. The Odyssean memeplex, operating at multiple scales, must face this with catalytic measures in the short-term that simultaneously seed larger scale envisioning and institutional foundations.
PERIPETY: LAYING WELLSPRINGS
In the face of this bloodstained eclipse, we must affirm. Our time may be short, but our probability of overcoming only increases with confidence and even a tincture of invoked divine madness. Concerted action makes life bearable in the here and now. Political theory that is unspurred by this crisis is marginal; theory that continues to shore up the narcissism of small differences, rather than working back from present and future necessities is trivial. Theory bounded excessively by path dependency and fear will never see opportunity in this danger. Theory puffed up by idealism or complacent with conservatism will be a lame duck. Politics must pay attention to future-proofing, account both for systems and the subjects who see clearly, even if crudely, the whole that requires folding properly into each part. Consequently, eutopia can begin to be constructed; reverse engineered from promising paths already lit rather than invoked dangerously from a utopia never yet glimpsed.
I am struck by the importance of treating wicked, often intensely technical problems that cause socio-political problems as engineering challenges and not team sports. In shifting into a self-authoring future-focused society, a technocratic scaffolding will be needed to ensure longer-term metrics are tracked, values sustained, and adaptive redirections raised not as allergic ideological attacks — as so often the case with team-sports style partisanship, but options in an intersubjective process. This must be done without reneging on, but actually enhancing our current democratic norms via deliberative democracy, reforms for the workplace, and other such isomorphic enhancements of our educated, data-rich agency and epistemic opportunities. I posit facilitation of higher complexity discourse assisted by the Delphi method, a system for aggregating expert predictions across an anonymous panel, and iterating their views after rounds of feedback. It deftly avoids egoistic defences of stances, minimising instrumental rationality and enhancing the epistemic.
A comparable data-driven approach was integral to my team’s proposal to the Global Challenges Prize. Our project, ComplexCity (which reached the last 40 of 2700 proposals as a semi-finalist) sought to create conditions for social scientific experimentation by citizens. In our initial concept drafting, Spring Break and the principles therein played a salient role. Our platform was to help curate and facilitate the testing of proposals by citizens, for citizens, produced through iterative interactions refining inclusive answers to glocally framed objectives (global catastrophic risk + local autonomy, reduced through scientific and collaborative deliberation). Citizens could then attract support from funders and institutions, for example for wind powered lighting over a new bridge project. I originally wanted to push this even further; not only a platform of epistemic quality designed to tease out the tacit knowledge of citizens, but the above framework expanded holistically via in-person institutions. This project is in large part the summation of that impulse.
It is unhelpful to subsume this integrative framework to a single tradition, nonetheless reference to decisive influences is instructive: deliberative and epistemic democracy (spearheaded in the work of David Estlund, James Fishkin, and Graham Smith) are of great import, for their legitimacy and predictive power. Particularly stress-tested democratic forms adjacent to it, drawn from the more radical ecological anarchism of Murray Bookchin have underpinned Rojava’s spirited struggle in Syria for ecological and feminist principles through direct democratic minipublics. From Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s recent multiscale localism another overlapping perspective arises, with precautionary and subsidiarity principles inbuilt in his fractal model. There is an affinity to these three foundations; shared theoretical and empirical efficacies that extend our vaunted liberal democratic tradition further in terms of communal autonomy and individual engagement, without the naivety of zones far from conflict or contrarian testing, respectively. I am looking to connect these to existential and catastrophic risks, through cutting edge epistemic, pragmatic, and theoretical capacities to produce a novel synthesis.
In short, the Odyssean system is comprised of large-scale citizen assemblies or juries convened on the climate crisis, but tested in other policy areas too. Results thus far show great promise wherever autonomy, liberty, and epistemic rigour are combined in this fashion. Here I refine their focus on the longer-run future via the Delphi method, big data analysis, and novel cybernetic optimisations and stimulation. Procedurally, trained mediators (perhaps drawn from the many underutilised PhDs) ensure clear rules for discussion are laid out, keeping discourse constructive and balanced between global systemic risks and local priorities, helping clarify as if in a court room for policy. A burning public gaze meets the means to turn itself inward, generating real power in proportion to outward evidence and existential priority.
This is all with an eye both to avoiding collapse and rebuilding should we be unable to. The extensive reforms suggested here therefore safeguard and stimulate the health of the systems in question, preserving and testing our highest ideals and most effective abilities. It should be relevant wherever local and national communities want to seriously address these clustered, accelerating crises.
Principles: Precautionary, proportionality, subsidiarity, life affirmation, ecology, robustness/antifragility, long-run future.
Paradigms: systems theory, information theory, historical analysis, cliodynamics, cognitive psychology, consequentialism, metamodernity.
Structural: mini-publics, sortition, epistemic emphasis, robust network dynamics, societal health.
Procedural: epistemic deliberation, metrical caution, developmental and cognitive-affective objectives, reflexive complexity analysis, accelerated envisioning.
Taken in combination these amount to an Odyssean democracy with associated meta-level and object-level reforms below.
IRRIGATIONS: META-LEVEL REFORMS TO SYSTEMS
First, a range of changes that irrigate causal changes in key sectors of civilisation: these include education and our cognitive capacities, political systems and decision-making, economic robustness and living standards, multistate psychological creativity, and nonlinear experiments in social phase-transitions.
What would it mean to take divergent thinking, stoke societal self-belief, and reconstitute affirmative and creative subjectivities? Work with sensuous phenomenology, so that the comfort economies that increasingly possess us are focused into more specific, less strained zones of consumption — a ludic future, and lucidity of desire? How can we take a divergent route away from maximal expansion and extraction, toward optimal welfare through augmented means? To do so systematically, so as to address crises comprehensively, but also lay foundations for the continuation of what we value so deeply, the conditions for our freedoms, development, and interaction?
The correct answers to these questions, even with their ranges of uncertainty would constitute an invigorating life-affirming memeplex; a cluster of ideas whose executed processes would enrich the health of our complex systems. Something comprehensive, less-error prone, liable to meet the needs of large-scale change and also questions of fitness, justice, and technology (of increasing import on the former).
What tools and principles are already in play for these ends? How might they compound into a workable and comprehensive system? In our complex, distributed, and high-tech societies, the flows of vast information resources that are aggregated exhibit increasing salience to all areas. How and where such resources are focused, to empower whom is a pivotal systemic question. It is frequently elided or barely conceptualised in politics at all (although reports of this calibre by UCL’s Constitution Unit are exactly the direction needed) despite enveloping both political-economy, aesthetics, and weighing heavily on psychology.
To definitively profess certainty would be audacious beyond credibility. Instead I suggest ‘irrigations’ — life-affirming avenues that feed more constructive approaches to these questions, with some answers extant, others emerging. These irrigations increase the probability of the virtuous cycles we need; they are generative uses of power, devolving it or evolving its application for societal robustness, working with central insights to renew these capacities across diverse nodes. This is to develop autonomous localism, independent thought, and transdisciplinary envelopments of our knowledge inheritance, alongside reappraisals of our prosperity to pivot toward exorbitant sufficiency rather than extortionate growthism.
THE ODYSSEAN MEMEPLEX: CIVILISATION IN AN AGE OF TRAGEDY
Consider the sweep of human knowledge, how visible and concentrated it can be at one’s fingertips today. The compounding benefits of auto-catalysing it as expansively as possible, processing it diagonally across disciplines towards practical measures is how we can frame actualising its latent salience into an epistemic politics. For if access and quantity of knowledge have exponentially increased, even if not all knowledge is viable to these concerns, there is nonetheless a higher probability that solutions linger among that set.
This potential energy of latent ideas and their envisioning is immense; solving most information problems is an improbable task, but correcting for asymmetries in the cartels of publishing houses, disciplinary policing, and other barriers to entry for citizens is not. These should be overturned for a Neo-Renaissance, a concerted effort to map, visualise, and disperse vital data as widely as possible. This would be the intellectual irrigation of a culture commensurate with our moment.
Feedforward actively applied to society; loops of recursive self-improvement inculcated.
Meta-analyses can provide a wellspring of undetected patterns; if used carefully they can elucidate truth, but moreover if used expansively serve as idea generators. This is the promise of machine learning’s essentially statistical power (when it is not being wheeled out as a flashy gimmick to inflate VCs bottom lines). The procedures of collegial science are fundamentally crucial here; observe how the draft proposal for the Green New Deal included expert-led ambition. This does not defer decision so much as draw the shortest possible route to the highest quality understanding; democracy properly utilising the most decisive evidence. With the Internet, copious pdfs, video and audio data for varied learning styles, and competent and driven professionals who can help bring this alive, we can draw immediately on extant expertise. Thereafter, collegial expert deliberation can clarify and deliver pragmatic options for citizen deliberation. Nothing but the closest approaches to truth will allow us to evade every corner of this labyrinth, or at least meet its corners with resilience and grace.
Next, these means, mechanisms, and epistemic emphases are delivered to popular control. It is long overdue that we build on the classic truth — those least willing to wield power are most qualified, far more than the sharp elbowed who thirst for it. Sortition and time-limited assemblies can ensure these wicked problems are addressed in clearest light without corruption from camouflaged wings, without capture from the odious. The legitimacy of jury-style peer review, scientific epistemic rigour, and an expansive wealth of data are channeled to produce an organisational framework of greater precision and seriousness, commensurate with our challenges, to supplant elite complacency. Denial, an all too human response to immense menace, should be addressed with vivid visualisations of data awakening us to opportunities rather than soothing by distraction — Complexity Labs provide an excellent standard for this. These should then suggest actionable paths, teasing both low-hanging fruit and resolutely tough choices out of the miasma.
Overcoming fallacies of sequential thinking, of overly reductive approaches and singular timelines is key. We cannot act as if there will be a binary outcome, deliverance or destruction. Although this tension motivates constructing what we are badly behind on, we must understand every increment at scale helps. Defeats in Manichaean struggles undermine strategy as they drain lucidity and amplify the symbolic weight of setbacks. We cannot see our preferred stance in solution-space as exhausting potential and necessity. Treating alternate strategies as zero-sum competitors rather than positive-sum learning curves for combinatorial manipulation will be a crucial failure to avoid in our transition towards a scientifically literate, empathetic deliberative system. We should therefore statistically explore an ensemble, in agent-based simulations and as simultaneous components of a holistic experimental transition. With multiple moving targets to reach, and a plethora of options and nested structures to reform or replace, partial success in some and failure in others does not amount to strategic defeat.
Political Irrigations: Odyssean Democracy
Much of what liberal democracy has produced we will want to retain and double-down on, as all manner of degradations are risked with artificial flattening of complexity, in terms of freedom to think, do, and interact — to life-affirm — as well as energetic and epistemic weakening as a result of popular and intellectual inputs choked off by reaction. Graham Smith outlines the democratic goods we value as inclusiveness, popular control, considered judgement, transparency, efficiency, and transferability. These all find higher expression in deliberative systems when trialed, with an Odyssean system enhancing considered judgement, efficiency, and transparency with novel predictive capacities and technical augmentations. These, via the Delphi method ensure leading knowledge can produce iterated predictions that citizens can test and inspect openly. By openness and connection to ethical and ecological needs, a distributed robustness can be irrigated accordingly.
In contrast to other solutions (like prediction markets, or deliberative democracy alone), an Odyssean democracy incorporates the state of the art from multiple non-political fields. It exists as a bricolage, a fractal instantiation of civilisational, not purely specialised political, capacity. Integrating diverse citizens is a central aspect of how it does this. Yet this does not exhaust the framework. This Odyssean democracy does not presume a clever fix of catallactic popular predictive ability is enough (as it wouldn’t be if concerted action corrupted prediction markets) nor does it assume democracy is the only effective framework. Unlike neoreaction this doesn’t presuppose corporate organisation is the pinnacle of human organisational, tactical, or strategic abilities — whose performance is astonishing within a specific and well-policed subset of civilisation, the market. Odysseanism is constituted to avoid the corrosive slide into oligarchy the alternatives would (and increasingly do) facilitate.
From a constitutional attention to the whole, global, national, and local interconnections can for the first time be readily and efficiently mapped, visualised, and accessed by all. Since we cannot afford to neglect our interconnections as their cascading effects increase, this look at the whole necessitates dealing with the most dangerous and avoidable features of our activities. The techne appropriate to such a task entails enfolding cutting edge technology, statistical and theoretical methods to process copious extant data, and transparent coordination and communication in an open-ended iterative process. This must be with an eye to meet human needs and transspecies sustainability; to engineer civilisational harmonics. It also seeks to incorporate explicit acknowledgement of epistemic humility, humbling political arrogance through explicit attention to uncertainty, unknowable horizons, and what we can do to mitigate them now. This, rather than the perverse performative confidence that frequently belies policy making by elected officials with aberrant incentives.
What constitutes this techne then? Network analysis, complexity science, supply-line mapping, logistical data, resource stock tracking, geospatial data and planetary boundaries, developed into reports correlating and connecting peripheries and cores. The meta-intelligence to choose between affective, cognitive, cultural or scientific tools for self-administering must also be made explicit. We know not only so much of the external world, but steadily more of the internal. The crux of Spring Break was that the alignment of Dionysian and Apollonian, as elusive as it may be, is the empowered and valent cognition needed to address our situation. Here a deliberative system that remains open to the arts, sciences, will reach the myriad cognitive styles of the wise crowd, and find their synthesis mediated most effectively by working alongside what we know of human psychology. For our cognitive, psychoanalytical, social and intellectual understanding is increasingly available for tracking, logging, and utilisation in organisational form.
As Cambridge Analytica demonstrated, this knowledge is exploitable but its impact can be mitigated against. We must establish autonomous ways of dealing with our position as nodes in an overexposed cybernetic mesh. If psychometric qualities quantified with the Big 5 or HEXACO can be operationalised by oligarchs, foreign enemies, and terrorists, then constructive uses of this knowledge on differentiations across minds should be made a political priority. By explicating it in an arena of mini-publics, an open-minded, non-exploitative use should be central to an Odyssean empowerment of citizens-as-thinkers and effective agents. If any such data is aggregated (trends at this time suggest it will be) then this should be kept as coarse grained as possible, with an eye to facilitating intra- and inter-group deliberation only. For example, psychometrics should be used only to prepare groups for recurrent fissures between, say, the highly agreeable and the highly conscientious. What must be guarded against vehemently, both through technological means, legal protections, and the rotational nature of citizen assemblies and advisory experts, is any bunching of this data over the longer term — whether for sale, surveillance, or inadvertent vulnerability to hacking. This cannot be stressed enough; greedy and controlling temptations abound for such power, so distributed, delimited, and time-limited structures must be designed to avoid hubristic exploitation of such information. Advances such as GDPR are only part of such a safeguarding; further legislative and hard-coded limits to use must also be ensured.
Thankfully, we can already deliberate without gathering such fine-grained individual data; effective training in mediation has ensured successful deliberation in tests cases that vindicate deliberative democracy, as broad as Mongolia, Ireland, Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, constitutional reform in British Columbia, and participatory budgeting in Brazil. These demonstrate that lower tech, less cognitively reflexive group deliberations produce excellent results. To ensure buy-in, or reach a consensual plateau for these proposals, incorporation of existing political leadership into the process has helped smooth adoption. Developments in psychometrically optimised deliberations are noted with caution, so that they may be applied optimally for autonomous and principled virtuous cycle irrigation. It is crucial to bring the light of day to a system that precludes manipulation in that way.
Delphic methods and technocratic nous
The Delphi method as advisory expertise should not overawe citizens. This is not the Cognitariat internally deliberating as an elite. Instead, weighted epistemic credence should be built into any training of citizens, to ensure this does not degenerate into top-down nudging. All parties should remain privy and explicit about the uncertainties that abound. Nor should any panel simply aggregate experts of the same type, which would increase the risks of groupthink. Delineating the exact method for this will require testing different models, but taking a quorum of academic and non-academic thinkers and doers in whichever field is being deliberated can already be done — the difficulties arise in maintaining its independence, rigour, and efficacy in the face of unforeseen consequences and corrupting influences.
Finally, in taking constitutionally seriously a commitment to looking at the whole, the far future suggests itself saliently. Our preference — as embodied, finite, often selfishly emotional agents — for the present and near-future is likely to remain. But our ability to counteract this cleverly, and structurally, will be needed as we traverse riskier and more technologically empowered centuries of progress. Departments for the future with representatives constitutionally obliged to consider future generations or wider ecological objectives could advocate for safeguards often lost in the vagueness of prediction, concretising it with agency in the form of delegates. In accordance with the precautionary principle and attending to the proportionality of future generations potentially hugely outnumbering us, these representations are in dire need.
We face extensive value divergences, often fundamentally contradictory drives and ideological path dependencies. Truly aligning these in the areas of greatest mutual import — the avoidance of extinction and maintenance of accrued advancements — will be incredibly difficult. However, all things being equal, a system with politicians as overpowered middlemen between proper planning, ideas, and objectives, and citizens as underinformed democratically sovereign foundation will be improved upon by this democratic and technocratic synthesis. By connecting agents to information, sclerotic institutions and impotent perspectives can be transduced into lucid action on urgent matters, with longer lasting deliberation for contentious issues bracketed. In regards to unfolding crises, if you know where, when, and how (including with how much in time, resources, and opportunity costs you will be risking) a particular action can be deployed, you can move more promptly. With the novel combination of technocratic/epistocratic planning and systems management, and deliberative democratic legitimacy the relative strengths of each paradigm balance their relative weaknesses. Over time, their gains should enhance the fundamental political culture also. With sufficient checks and balances ensuring sustained and principled operation, what more might they achieve?
Social Irrigations: Constituency self-authoring
They would achieve the means to construct themselves, and raise standards rather than rest sovereignty on vague historical notions or elite conveniences. Agential networks, rather than citizen-consumers, won’t start and end in formal arenas of deliberation. To truly irrigate their presence and epistemic purpose, the means for networked activity and resilience will have to be facilitated beyond the formal-political.
We should not lose sight of how agency itself is experienced. It is indelibly linked with mental health, a growing concern and profound symptom of our systems’ failures despite their material prosperity. Studies on nurses’ shifts have demonstrated that feelings of control or lack thereof were more predictive of exhaustion than number of hours worked, difficulty of tasks, etc. This correlates with a wider observation from Acemoglu & Robinson in Why Nations Fail; that inclusive institutions incorporating more members of society lead to greater buy-in by a larger set, increasing the amount of talent and energy that polity can draw on at any one time. Creativity itself flourishes from more relaxed mental states, balanced by Apollonian logic and conscience. Society’s reserves of both will be needed, both for lives worth living and legacies worth leaving behind.
Beyond the formal political irrigations above, the use of distributed platforms such as Holochain provide technical means for decentralisation that could assist in community formation and retention of robustness in the face of globalising dynamics. Even more traditional forms of community organising can show lasting success, especially if connected to resilient institutions — arcological experiments should be seeded, as the New Alchemists once pioneered. To further facilitate balance between decentralisation and central epistocratic emphasis, the above procedures of best practice deliberation, geospatial tools drawing on extensive data on local terrain, disaster risks, food stocks, etc. could be utilised both in precautionary and also in forward-thinking measures by civil society as well as their formal congregations in the epistemic democracy. For example, Redlist Revival in the UK uses such data to highlight extinction risk species and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals at a local level. Larger still is the UN’s project MapX which could facilitate nimble responses to shifting climate strains.
These agents would then have the virtual, asynchronous platform to keep the wider community informed — in real-time as well as transparently checked later. They would also have global objectives and information flows from cutting-edge research fed into deliberations, to enhance their local knowledge and put into practice — or reject — whatever was being globally utilised. There would be a reflexive equilibrium coaxed out between such immense and future-focused goals, and the quotidian policies of local government. All of this with a constitutive recognition that extensive interconnections necessitate action on existential and catastrophic risks — made locally relevant by this framework, therefore drawing on local knowledge and emergent opportunities for development, rather than imposing distant technocratic policing.
Rather than incessantly constructing a public, provide the means for the public to construct themselves.
Cognitive Irrigations: Odyssean Education
The promise of an Odyssean education was in large part a catalyst for this project. Addressing the same problematique of existential and catastrophic risk, Dominic Cummings’ tract was in response to Murray Gell-Mann’s call for an education that serves those with both intuitive Dionysian and analytical Apollonian abilities. An Odyssean education was supposed to incorporate the elite capabilities of Soviet mathematical colleges, with contemporary advances in complexity science, formal modelling, statistical methods, understanding of probability etc. Cummings’ desire for Britain to leverage a world-leading position as educator is both rational and potentially strategically incisive. Identifying these as essential precursors for leadership in an unstable century is inspired, but by stopping at the primarily analytical, predictive, Apollonian disciplines and objectives, he neglected the ethical, artistic, and social tutoring required. The well-off Chinese often send their children West for education; it isn’t rote learning but our creative and critical nous that stands out in employ worldwide, vestiges of a once proudly humanistic education now under threat from linear-reductive and economised myopia.
Thus, such a hypercharged predictive plethora of formalised tools, that did not turn educative tools reflexively inward would miss many of the social fissures that underscore and exacerbate catastrophic risks. It would do so in bad faith if not naivety, and thus do a fundamental disservice to the whole it tries to serve. Rather than delimiting an Odyssean education’s role to an elite class of synthesisers as his tract did, I generalise its potential into an idealised meta-intellect in Spring Break, and hereafter as an agenda and platform for metapolitical reform. In so doing, the technocratic nous arrayed for educating an elitist class or cabal can be partly extended into decisive pressure points due to the minimal costs of informational dispersal. Instead of educating a gifted few (which in any case, will also occur as there will be strata to cognitive capacity) we make a concerted effort to visualise, translate, and train the populace involved in the above deliberative democracy. The outcome is a distributed, societally empowering institutional framework emerging as a co-optation of an already powerful educative memeplex, repurposed decisively from that framed myopically by the power hungry without the balance to see its greater systemic potential.
The Apollonian methods cohered above for predicting and regulating complex systems are both sobering and heady in their intoxicating empowerment; such assurance is framed hubristically by the von Neumann quote Cummings opens with: ‘All stable processes we shall predict. All unstable processes we shall control’ suggesting unbounded Promethean control. This mix of powerful, fundamental mathematical tools for policymaking and priority-setting on global risk is incisive. This cannot be left in the shadowy hands of inherited elites however; if it is to be educative, and avoid risks of regulatory capture by unreflexively facilitating government as it exists now, it must be taken further. If certain elite schools lend themselves to launching these curricula, strong scholarship and bursary provision should be legislated to ensure no ladders are kicked from beneath them. If shady doings in the name of security co-opting leading edges and potentiating the risk of reactionary authoritarian application, these potentials open under the light of day.
Nicholas Maxwell’s work on a role for inculcating wisdom through education, rather than knowledge for knowledge’s sake is instructive here. The life affirming stance of Spring Break communicated exactly this emphasis. It helps colour in the blindspots of the commodification of education, as pipeline for productive drones. In Cummings’ limited fashion he also focused on wider goals for quality education, namely the need to address such existential risks albeit tacitly deeming this a topic only for the privileged few.(Incidentally his writing on infrastructural planning and systems management is enlightening and advisory on improving efficiencies, without addressing an alternative to the policy paths already multiplying our catastrophic risks — paths his allies in the Conservative Party frequently walk). Attempting any such anti-democratic policy on education is not only methodologically unsound, but clearly inconsistent with our principles and an approach open to virtue from all strata of society. For these reasons I’d suggest a widening of the prescient initial moves sketched in the document. These would take an education commensurate with a fuller look at the whole, and extend it to aforementioned experimental and decentralised apparatuses of Odyssean governance.
Principles: transdisciplinarity, knowledge-production as causal, wisdom, virtuous cycle engineering, integrative thinking, catastrophic risk mitigation
Structural: open source (Google-scale data access, SciHub / LibGen academic access), post-normal science, machine learning meta-analyses, Open Science, technical scholia
Procedural: life-long learning, neuro-atypical methodologies, multimedia presentation, automated aggregation, extended apprenticeships
Odyssean ‘synthesisers’ are indeed vital; however, a larger number can already be found among the population than posited by elitist proponents of such an education. Hence, decision-making itself can be enhanced more legitimately than in a Singaporean style technocracy, brought together around an Odyssean synthesis of crucial considerations across distributed, catalytic institutions with clear sight on the ethical, existential, and ecological challenges we face — not just our inductive limitations. Turning education into an open-ended process that is tapped into for deliberation, even built around as a lodestone for a future of post-work, is an opportunity to grasp when we recognise our psychological needs for obstacles, development, and meaning without reducing these to an economic function. We may as well make freedoms from work edifying and educative.
Economic Irrigations: Capabilities and Cooperatives
Cooperative models, retaining local expenditure and developing economic functions according to subsidiarity and facilitating more proportional profit-sharing and remuneration are other reforms that not only address economic malaise, but by closing the loops between production, consumption, and their co-constitution at a lower scale, potentiate more robust network dynamics. All of the proceeding should be understood as within a subtle mission-oriented economics, transdisciplinary in its wider connection to the other irrigations, and subsequently the moonshots below.
For instance, in Preston drastic underfunding due to austerity led to local levying being more adequately spent on communal business areas by a tenacious local council. In the face of fiscal adversity results have been produced that belied the sluggish underperformance of central government, as well as ineffectual tightfistedness in Britain. Cooperatives in Emilia Romagna and Catalonia, the Indian state government of Kerala, as well as larger national companies such as Mondragon and John Lewis, provide models that are consistent with reducing fatalism, disempowerment, and cultivating the benefits of a more deliberative democracy across the economy too. The isomorphisms between workplace democracy and a truly deliberative system are crucial, particularly as they bed in such norms more robustly over generations of normalising.
Irrigations that encourage local production, funding, and recycling can be justified beyond the intrinsic, rose-tinted view of decentralisation as panacea. Rather the intention is to begin building resilience now into infrastructure, avoiding the networked risk of overly centralised, fragile nodes cascading collapse e.g. a globalised economy that produces dependence on global flows, hollowing out robustness. Here policies consistent with notions of proportionality (to alleviate corrosive inequality) while also in keeping with subsidiarity (work-place democracy, cooperatives) and precautionary principles (self-sufficiency over dependence on multinational trade) are vital. Accordingly, when the next financial crisis likely hits in 2020 or so, we must bail out individuals and use helicopter money, rather than repeating QE and asset bubbles; banks must be returned to selection pressures, and their logics of gambling checked properly.
In addition to irrigating economic security and autonomy via subsidiarity, I posit Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach as an appropriate abstraction for supplanting current extractivist proxies for welfare, such as GDP measures. It brings a greater emphasis on personal and collective development via non-materialist means, emphasising what we are capable of doing rather than what we own. Transitioning towards planetary boundaries in experiments by mini-publics facing strain or larger-scale collapse around them would require reckoning with fuller conceptions of welfare under conditions of more limited resources. The capabilities approach helps decentre the rank materialism of GDP metrics to create space for qualitative impacts on wellbeing, flourishing, and personal development. For example, economics has produced facile and often deceptively conservative estimations of the climate crisis. Often denuded by a staid orthodoxy, biophysical, ecological, and complexity economists have to create space to correct for the discipline’s hubristic, hermetically sealed abstractions.
I perhaps ruthlessly, though by no means inaccurately use William Nordhaus as synecdoche of hubris here. A discipline that has vaunted him, comfortable with his irresponsible discounting rates seeing 3°C temperature rises as ‘optimal’ shows how dangerous domain specificity can be, and the risks of seeing any singular disciplinary outlook as authoritative (as policymakers have with economics). By ignoring the fundamental issues of energy production, material resource use, and ecological system inputs, economics has continued the cult of growthism and given it rigor mortis past its expiry date. Moreover, working less as our capacities increase and our ecological barriers are overshot can be met joyously with apt planning; rather than dropping painfully from titanic ambition, instead reframe change with new holidays, a four day working week, and less neurosis besides.
Principles: capabilities approach, ecological precaution, biophysical and complexity economics
Structural: cooperatives, planetary boundaries, financial sector reform
Procedural: basic services or income, helicopter money, circular economy, Green New Deal
I cannot call myself an expert here, but the recognition that we face diminishing returns to economic orthodoxy around growth, and ecological collapse have been demonstrated so clearly we must think ambitiously about how to avoid their worst externalities. We must experiment and scale alternatives to this impending hyperbolic burnout.
Psychoactive Irrigations: Cognitive Combinators and Ideational Incubators
We vividly need more than just technological fixes, even with finer institutions. We need an enlivened envisioning to facilitate this, to enhance Overton window cleaning. Our imaginaries will require substantive augmentation to develop systems that do not collapse over the long-run future. In particular, to experiment with immersive entertainment, ludic means of withdrawing from an overdependence on plundering our material stocks, and even as means of sustaining meaning after AI. As we cannot expect to solve our problems with the same thinking that created them, it is of crucial importance we increase our capacity and propensity for integrative capabilities through nonlinear methods.
I suggest cognitive combinators and ideational incubators. These organisations would go beyond our ossified, atrophied academe, breaking the siloed strictures of current practice and looking to incorporate leaner, diagonal syntheses of hyperspecialised foundations into theoretical systems appropriate to our crises. Cognitive combinators can be developed with the soberest of minds — indeed, transdisciplinary bodies like the Sante Fe Institute and its roster of experts in respective fields collaborating on complexity science is an example. This should be supported more robustly, their model replicated and facilitated as a civilisational irrigation. The use of multipath integrative forecasting, agent-based modelling, and data analytical methods should all be connected for new frontiers of predictive capacity and idea genesis. This is more than consistent with the wider cybernetic principles of an Odyssean democracy; to expand, improve, sharpen, and enliven the informational inputs of a civilisation. By setting an anti-apocalyptic prognostic eutopia as the moving horizon, the framework outlined herein can be rallied around to test life-affirming processes for institutional and transdisciplinary foundation to the wider irrigations above; the leading edges of thought aligned to sharpen our imaginaries.
To provocatively go further still, psychedelic incubation could be utilised in rarer, highly experimental cognitive combinators; think tanks or conferences with an openness to multistate psychological incubation. Rather than hidden mystery schools, we replicate the cognitive-affective strategic role Eleusis played into vital new thinking to stimulate a replacement paradigm. Such transdisciplinary and ambitious synthesising requires a dash of chaos, expansive fields, ideas, ideologies, and cognitive-affective wirings all in higher-dimensional exploration. We have a plethora of tools that are only now nearing reacceptance after Draconian prohibition. Not only are psychedelics and dissociatives demonstrating radical therapeutic abilities, particularly if well integrated post-session, they are also potent ‘ideagens’. Just as these drugs can enhance empathy and a sense of the ‘divine’, so they can accelerate, deepen, and rotate the phase-shifting of ideas and ideological frameworks. If handled with care, they can amplify the resonances and highlight the dissonances within mental states causal to our problematique.
This is achieved by stoking meta-intelligence — the selection between different conscious states much as Odyssean consciousness draws from Dionysian and Apollonian. Notable examples include Francis Crick’s use of LSD to intuit the double helix, August Kekulé dreaming of the Benzene ring in the symbolic form of the ouroboros, and a 1966 pilot study that saw 27 professionals in small groups given psychedelics and allowed to interact and then withdraw to work on indissoluble problems they had been stuck on. They all made substantive progress on problems ranging from the mathematical, scientific, engineering, and business related. They achieved this with enhanced capacities to concentrate, to structure problems in larger contexts, to do so with visual imagery, and with a high fluency and flexibility in ideation. They also noted greater access to unconscious resources; as I posited in Spring Break, as exemplary pivotal Dionysian precursors to conscious delineation afterwards.
Hence, I would recommend collections of experts, philosophers, scientists, meeting as they did then to abstract more expansively and creatively under the rubric of existential and catastrophic risk mitigation. This is clearly an audacious move after the War on Drugs used state power to react against proselytising moves in the 60s. Nonetheless, our moment sees both a burning need for new thought about high complexity and on vanishing time scales, and less prophetic and more patient evidence now abundant of the positive health and psychological gains of well integrated usage. An ambitious qualitative phase shift in meeting needs, facilitating wants, and societal fulfillment could then find an accelerated testbed. Such operations would accelerate the production, breadth, and profundity of envisaged solutions for wicked problems. Through group testing, iterated improvements and compassionately grounded integrations, these journeys could aim towards a rigourised Gnosis (see ‘Moonshots’ below for more here). Their inputs, field of options, and their valences for civilisation could all enhance our arguably most neglected hidden variables — imagination and postmaterialist satisfaction. With this wider panoply of cognitive capacity catalysed, it can be iterated in the cold light of thorough and cautious democratised inspection.
These organisations would stimulate, facilitate, and extend the insights of high-level scientific, academic, literary, or business thinkers and tinkerers (if the Chinese aren’t already doing this, I’d be surprised and disappointed in their technocracy). What if we had our equivalent to the Macy Conferences, or the Mont Pellerin Society, commensurate with our challenges and psychoactively enhanced to dissolve them into wider, distributed, networked solutions — to diagonalise solutions out of the mire?
The closest to a human intelligence explosion could be the greatest minds, hypercharged in creative combinations, then soberly iterating to punctuated equilibria.
Multistate psychology is therefore carefully transformed into meta-intelligent state-selection, perhaps in intensive monastic style collectives with open sourced findings, to allow communal irrigation rather than imposition from the top-down, or irresponsibly unleashed from the bottom-up alone.
Principles: meta-intelligence, multistate psychology, moderate extropian or transhuman ambition, vanguardism, experimentation, active bisociation
Structural: transdisciplinary research centres, metamodern monasteries, deep web
Procedural: meditation, flow-states, dreaming, ecstatic states: an alchemical layering of these.
Irrigated meta-level interventions seed more resolute political reasonableness, a fuller conception of human welfare, greater autonomy via robust institutions for adoption post-collapse or inclusion if we avoid it entirely. Negentropic islets of genius could work as humans are most apt to, for the good of the collective as well as their own corner, for advanced means coalesced to lift as many boats as possible. Where a network topology often clusters by power laws around a hub with many spokes, quality information processed should be optimised and oversight sustained with transparent mechanisms ensuring maximal distribution equally. These reforms condense wide-ranging insights, augment civilisational techne, and focus it from informational cruxes (research centres, philosophical frameworks, scientific evidence) into more localised, decentralised hubs of decision making and experimentation…
SOWINGS: OBJECT-LEVEL POLICIES TO ADOPT
Certain object-level policies can and must be sown over the preceding irrigation, or separate to them (if we are doomed for now to anachronistic and sclerotic governments). Their nature lends them to adoption by an epistemic democratic system, as they underpin a renewable transition under any institutional frame for their fundamental biophysical resource focus.
Those enumerated include regulatory and protective objectives which require more assiduous attention and investment. Activists and policymakers, especially with proximity to the technically savvy, should treat this as scoping for areas that straightforwardly need more research and investment in, and scaling tests.
Reliable policies already suggest themselves, although the political business cycle crowds these out as costing too much in the near term. Arraying them can disrupt the hopelessness that accompanies so much of object-level reporting in the media, especially around complex questions of transitions away from self-terminating cycles. Firstly, there are the immediate firefighting policies that should be funded through taxation and borrowing. Philanthropy is also possible here, but often suspect if they have no skin in the game and a PR focus on most of it.
CO2 reduction and biodiversity protection
These principally reduce CO2 or slow its emission. Drawdown extensively enumerates the most effective policies for this. Consistent with proportionality and the contemporary egalitarian plateau, social interventions enhancing women’s education and access to inexpensive contraception provision can decisively slow population growth. On another, pointed regulatory requirements like better handling of refrigeration disposal show that we have low hanging fruit of high payoff.
More decisive and with lower risk of breeding complacency are defensive measures around essential carbon sinks, including preservation of existing swamplands and tropical rainforests, which already sequester vast amounts of CO2. Protecting these require institutional backing and huge sanctions and tariffs to be levied against defectors, with automated drone surveillance on such sensitive areas to ensure round the clock preservation. Moreover, with damage already extensive, restoration will have to become a priority at scale for NGOs, governments, and multilateral action to ramp up these vital habitats and resources.
Some fixes are much easier, and with the right cultivation could be introduced at crucial points in extant systems. The macroalgae Asparagopsis reduces methane from cattle by 58%. Such fixes have the potential to dramatically improve our odds in emissions from cattle farming, although they should not (again, through aforementioned fallacies of reductive thinking) allow us to ignore that we have multiple scales and contributors to address.
Restoration and renewal
Coral restoration has been one of the most hopeful frontiers against one of the sharpest examples of catastrophic habitat loss. Similarly, alkaline oceanic geoengineering shows early promise for halting and reversing acidification in crucial ecosystems and should be tested with the utmost caution at larger scales.
Recent advances in carbon capture, both industrially from the air by firms like Climeworks and at natural gas sites (without allowing their excessive prolongation as baseline energy as a result) should be invested in with expenditure comparable to that for the 2008 financial crisis. Accordingly, it is a travesty to claim trillions spent there would not be the bargain of the millennium if spent safeguarding species’ survival, the robustness of economic development henceforth, and our future potential…
We must emphasise policies that address dwindling ERoEI (Energy Return over Energy Invested). As the era of fossil fuels drags to an ignoble end, replacements that provide such concentrated and abundant energy for little cost in terms of energy to extract and use, are in very short supply.
It is essential our food and energy systems are given greater thought, and made more robust at the shortest notice. Decentralised microgrids already suggest themselves as potentially killer apps; neighbourhood batteries, heat pumps, and solar and wind energy should be rolled out on a mass scale to combine all the gains across these areas from the last decade.
These smart grids, mass-scale electrification, and expansive infrastructure construction are needed for a sustainable future, along with growing numbers of electric and hybrid vehicles with an emphasis on efficiencies around high quality and optimised public transport routes (consistent with monumental public sufficiency; maglev trains and other high-tech mass transit). These allow for a decentralised future as localism can more effectively take the reins institutionally if energetically resilient.
In energy storage and generation advances are needed to cover this gap. Storage itself remains a tough and pivotal crux to crack (more on potential options below). However, new generation thorium reactors promise a large standing rate of energy round the clock, and may be key for longer term staggered transitions away from highly intensive but destructive energy sources like fossil fuels.
Hydroponics and aeroponics could provide enhanced means with limited space for growing food; this could potentially reduce the often-neglected damage in topsoil worldwide through intensive pesticide use and over-farming. However, this will require vertical structures and reliable energy to proceed apace to ensure we aren’t simply displacing our soil-stripping excesses into dirty, industrial agriculture 2.0. Moreover, we cannot pin hopes to feed the levels of consumption we have without also accepting large die-offs — of animal species from habitat loss, but also of our fellow people assuming our purchasing power and location in imperial cores continues to prioritise particularly high consumption.
Agricultural fallow and agroecology, as well as polycultures are essential. Top-down policies to encourage more plant-based diets should align with bottom up drives for smaller scale farming, to optimally balance between centralised specialism and economies of scale, and the resilience of a less energy intensive local approach.
MOONSHOTS: SPECTACULAR TRANSFORMATIONS
By which lunar lights might Apollo illumine the most blazing solutions to darkest of nights?
We should not allow the eye catching to detract from the mountain moving: moonshots should be utilised to tactically build support through cyberpositive leading edges. Essentially, their demonstration of technological potency and human ingenuity, in co-constitution, should be leveraged not as panacea but as propagandistic realities to make vivid the solution space. As we live in a society of spectacles, why not make the panem et circenses ethically and epistemically sound? Save the world, bewilder your competitors, see your ignorant enemies broken and fleeing before you. Are you not entertained?
Such efforts deliberately evoke the high-performance of the 20th Century’s technological miracles; the space race, the Internet, nuclear weaponry. The use of small teams, innovative experimenters, and high-tech platforms in tandem bring discernible leaps forward, delivering outcomes from academic niches into world-historical innovations. Our innate preference to optimise information for the intriguing, novel, and visceral belies our need for shiny things. Such cognitive kleptomania can rally a serious response to the problematique; forward-thinking, fast-moving drives to public-private innovation can best be sold with spectacle and substance interwoven. Hence movement in America with the Green New Deal, where prior modest requests for anti-apocalyptic policies gained no headway. Now telegenic Millennials are spearheading just the kinds of progress on the War on Drugs, healthcare, and climate change America so sorely needs.
Facilitating such an agenda in conditions of multiplicative games, where citizens in deliberation would rightly be suspicious of socialised risk-taking, would be a hard sell. But if we are able to evidence the huge welfare gains from prior investments, and adopt careful strategies of convexity technological determinants might help motivate, in a context of greater and more lucidly presented evidence, the public’s estimation of opportunities in trends. This would run parallel to societal development by reconstituting a sense of historical agency — in strict proportion to evidence and precaution. More deliberatively democratic R&D investment, perhaps with a direct route into high-level understanding via the Delphi method could see publicly conscious DARPA-esque organisations operate as a vanguard for civilisational advancements, but with the emphasis shifted from primarily or singularly defence concerns towards a fuller utilisation of their withheld capacities for a return to ecological and fulfilling life. Hope will truly spring eternal if the possibilities, resources, and will to scale these manifests.
Examples of potentially nonlinear and beneficent advances include: solar fuel that can radically enhance energy storage is a speculative leap forward. In energy storage recent fractal microstructures suggest great promise. Artificial photosynthesis may too potentiate radical advances in reverse engineering our most powerful generator and refiner, nature itself.
Massive investment in scaling alternative battery technology, with perovskites, could provide the drastically needed storage for an electrified grid. Sodium batteries have also shown promise here in supplanting lithium. Ultracapacitors may take up slack in battery capacity, perhaps supplanting them in the future.
Many of the above advances would require radical inputs of energy that prohibit their use as object-level, reliable solutions. However, if the proceeding advances are reached, the electricity, chemical synthesis, even atomic scale engineering required may be needed for larger scaling. Nuclear fusion is the exemplar par excellence of an elusive panacea to energy needs. Recent machine learning advances in predicting highly complex plasma flows have facilitated some progress, but it is still incredibly hard to control the uncertainties in plasma at the temperatures required for fusion to function. Similarly, superconductivity remains a multiplier of immense promise in energy efficiency, processing speeds, and various industrial applications. A pivotal question arises; to remain within World3 limits of industrial expansion, can we reach a plateau such that we are still improving R&D as above, without needing to expand energy usage, resource consumption, and the total economy?
By turning advances further inward, and augmenting ourselves, we may find routes to a more relaxed, compassionate, and voluntarily steady-state civilisational plateau. Cybernetic trends have already situated consciousness as something to be augmented, refined, and hedonically enhanced. The mind-bendingly fascinating project of Qualia Computing could seed a truly post-growth society, and much else besides. By aiming to reach a mathematical formalism around affect, and enhance our lives towards hedonic bliss through the inherent beauties of consciousness, we might inhabit this planet in a far less taxing manner materially, for the sake of other life we share this planet with as well as ourselves. Thus, as part of a systemic beatification we may help deepen a holistically satisfying post-growth paradigm.
The second-order effects and beyond of hedonic augmenting remain to be seen, and concerns around meaning creation, the adaptiveness of negative affect being reduced (and whether negative warnings would remain adaptive if a net positive state lower in strength instead), and exploitation of this persist. The stakes are so high here, and so transformative, rigour and patience are of the essence. As a moonshot, though, it is a noble Empyrean objective. Finally, it is also consonant in more limited form with the ambitions of Spring Break, seeing the Dionysian smelting of the conscious into subconscious enrichment as consistent with neural annealing.
NOON: A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ODYSSEAN DEMOCRACY
Humour me, then, with suspended disbelief. For although the stage is already extant, its restructuring perhaps won’t bait breath like a dystopia that fulfils collective self-loathing…
It’s 16th June 2079.
After prolonged floods and food shortages swept in, Alluvia convenes in tense conditions on elevated ground. Thankfully, they have been kept informed throughout the preceding erosions and have absorbed some neighbouring refugees with noble hospitality. Their infrastructural and data-driven resources may be strained, but they are also operationally prepared.
The collapse of global supply lines and early 21st Century overreliance on just-in-time logistics initially led to a very precarious socio-political atmosphere in the mid-century, with general crises spreading over fragile networks. Locally, previously well-managed class and ethnic divisions threatened to explode into fragmentary violence as starvation set in. Cooperation emerged eventually, almost intuitively, but long norms of individual profiteering had hollowed out many of the formal mechanisms to encourage and maintain these sentiments. The risks of famine were particularly pronounced across these stratifications, but rather than banking on an unsustainable, violent, and ultimately barbaric hollowing out of civil society in pursuit of command and control (as some neighbouring mid-sized polities did with superpower logistical support) the citizens were able to draw on Odyssean democratic methods and an adjacent university body versed in its prior experiments.
Their answer, then, was not to lapse into the media circus, ethnic cleansing, or massacres that flashed across the VR immersive news which hovered like vultures over rising chaos in adjacent towns. Rather, as a necessarily pioneering site close to highly disrupted coastlines and depleted farmlands they used the very finest tools at their disposal to go both meta and local in their resolve.
Dr Artemis Meadows, once a tenured researcher working on the sustainable transition, has been pushed by circumstance into chairing the transdisciplinary working group that persists in the shadow of the old academe at Alluvia. In tandem with citizens, they pitch a number of best practice policies that utilise surviving technology to restructure their smart grid and sustain it against terrain shifts and dwindling external technical support. Convening to decide where the town will rest after its territorial integrity has been washed away, the residents begin the Odyssean political process:
1. The field of possibilities is scanned. Academic papers, condensed and hyperlinked, are arrayed so that maximum information is presented in optimally discernible, actionable form. This is communicated in multivocal form through infographics, videos, essays, datasets, all generated manually or through automated algorithms, then aggregated and lucidly distilled.
2. The problem space is defined through reflexive analysis between real-world necessity and these insights, in accordance with the best available options and evidence. Uncertainties are made explicit.
3. A panel of experts (with an emphasis on those with superpredictive records) in proportionate variance — similar to the citizens — are arrayed alongside to iterate through predictions via the Delphi method. Their findings and the information provided then enable a cutting-edge epistemic basis for contemplation of paths forward.
4. Citizens then consider these objectives, the phase space of probable to improbable outcomes, and their extant resources. This time limited deliberation proceeds with an option to extend if burningly necessary.
5. The congregation decides and then updates other members remotely in real time, while allowing for asyncrhonous input to iterate further before it concludes totally. Their findings are similarly condensed and multivocally communicated as with 1.
Through this they take a number of actions that identify strong payoffs in the face of extensive stressors, starting with policies that command strongest consensus and then moving towards fractious matters. First, they move displaced people to spare capacity from businesses and civic centres tracked on distributed networks. The accommodation is poorer, but popup facilities are of a high enough standard that they are liveable and resilient even in the face of extreme weather.
Second, Artemis presents plans for establishing communal ‘six degrees of sequesteriation’ an innovative method of concentrically banded landuse for rewilding and habitat preservation of the peat bogs adjacent, staggered with human use for agroecology. Alluvia agrees, allowing the town to sequester CO2 and safeguard local forests in the face of an initial drive to repurpose higher ground for residence. Access to the Internet, and their local AI Euryptolemus allow them to meta-analyse vital interconnections and recent innovative solutions developed in the distant North, where state capacity has persisted without as much of the Draconian surveillance and authoritarianism of the previously hegemonic West and East. Visualised ecological data colours their contribution to local degradations and global emissions, and their limited computational power still allows them to run agent-based modelling on rationing, particularly needed back in the lean 2050s.
Algorithms trawling satellite Internet are able to reach outside expertise, signalling for sporadic drone drops of Open Source Ecology machinery. This allows them to run generators in the displaced zones, powered by solar charged ultracapacitors. On this day, internal infrastructural deliberation reaches consensus on a roadmap to elevated habitation, before they take a diplomatic mission from nomadic visitors, heading towards the recently warmer Arctic nations that have been developing and subsidising exports of technological solutions at reduced cost, for soft power purposes but also as their own systems of Odyssean democracy have kept them enlivened to the whole and global needs for regeneration.
Agreement is reached on the contentious offer of outside development of sea defences by flocks of drones, once the algorithms are explicated and then translated into simpler form by Euryptolemus and Alluvia’s last drone-logic swarm coder. At a stately age of 91 he has just committed as much detail to symbolic form and an apprentice as he can. For fuller training, his successor will have to head North… The final policy prepped by Artemis’ team uses generative modelling to layer a new building complex with hanging gardens along the ridge; a development simulated and chosen according to its minimal ecological impact, and maximal use of limited drone resources to clear an elevated burrow in the ridge so as to host both rewilded rooftops, and solar panels for hydroponic plant growth to supplement their smaller scale farming and potentially trade some surplus in the neighbouring valley.
In the evening, under a geoengineered deep red sunset, residents gather for ‘envisioning’, different groups evenly apportioning remaining VR uplinks to distant servers and access to empatheogens grown locally. Already, a contemplative and hedonic post-materialism is being experimented with via such simulations and psychoactivities. Groups peel off to their own imagined worlds, grounded in a social nexus that affirms their responsibilities and trains them through these ludic escapes into neuro-feedback assisted interoception. Artemis’ journey through the virtual phase-space of consciousness on one such device is a personal remembrance of her grandparents, refracting her long career of contemplative and cathartic work through their example in the sciences.
Artemis surveys the preceding decades with similar cathartic contemplation; how the world dawdling in the early 21st Century, how the harrowing of the Global South and the collapse of the intricate dependencies the Global North had predated upon came in the 2040s, and how the 2050s and 2060s saw genocide, famine, and technocapital recession after failed retrenchment behind iron walls of swarming drone defences, which exhausted themselves as such circuits have recurrently done when rapaciously pursued. Though it ached to recall, it was pivotal to remember and adapt, to learn so that the rebuilding of the precarious 2070s could continue apace. She finds catharsis in the myth of Cassandra and solace in her predecessors’ example, who predicted so much but were ignored for so long before the waves came. In a secular sacrament, their legacies are recounted in a transcendent form redolent of the old mystery schools, albeit with less mystification and more open-minded gnosis. Artemis commemorates, as she has many times before, their work and her own part of it in this new world.
As Euryptolemus sends flashes of harmonic, synchronous colours across the VR plane to signal the completion of the civic festivities, Artemis and Alluvia bid the nomadic diplomats goodnight before withdrawing. The town’s nocturnal festivities include music and ecstatic dance to close, keeping an integral connection to jouissance even in these shaded renewals. This enmeshing of a spectral, oneiric inheritance atop an Odyssean episteme enabling rugged survival ensures that the town keeps a diagonal future alive; one that was thought totally lost by the 2050s, but which can pick up a path to the sigmoidal plateau again, long after those harrowing generations had threatened endless night…
The notions in play, even in a post-collapse Alluvia, are of clarifying and expanding inputs, refining analysis and mutual reciprocity, and proportionality in weighing capacities, path dependencies, positive-sum potentials. This accelerates robust policy while limiting risk of regulatory capture with sortition and time-limited deliberative bodies, advised by leading experts on a similarly rotational basis.
Citizens grow qualitatively under multiplicative generosity, virtuous circles of steady-state monumentalism, and cognitive-affective enhancement in keeping with an ecological and epistemic foundation. Ludic intensity, oneiric osmosis, and an eternal return yet to come are the devised paths to a reconstitution of meaningful life without current burn out. What then is the sum-total of such an expansive combination of capacities, priorities, and techniques? The Odyssean memeplex seeks to raise the genius of a society — the potential energies, the scenius of its most productive and maverick wings — to a position that appraises and acts commensurately with the magnitude of our overstretch.
Aiming for sigmoidal trajectories in numerous fields (economic growth, habitat destruction, population growth, all levelling out) entails a tapering of our thirsty drives, a revision of economic models, and overturning our politics into something so qualitatively different, in medium and message, that it enters mythic peaks of imagination. Artemis’ generation on a hyperstitious worldline did not fly from reality, but did engage an inner world and an outer systematisation that preserved the highest ideals and rationality of our world. To grow toward this plateau of a mature and resilient stance towards our world, measured in welfare and adaptiveness to environment rather than growth and consumptive prosperity is the master stroke needed to future-proof.
In this shadow a new world emerges from ruins and rancour; born from the reverie of a dancing star.
BURNING VIGILANCE: THE MOTHER OF ALL MOVING TARGETS
I have discussed all manner of irrigations, thus as an analogy the original actual irrigations of the Sumerians are worth reference; a swinging success, they went on to dry up the saline soil underneath the surface and eventually deplete the very nutrient bed that fed their desert crops. The recursivity of our excesses means we may face straining improvements even if the ideal conditions here are reached.
With enhanced productive capacities, intense leaps forward in our efficiency, and new sources of energy we will likely fall prey to Jevon’s Paradox. Continuing to grow industry quantitatively would see us collapse on the World3 model even with slowing population growth, sigmoidal curves arriving at optima, etc. with the above techne only buying time. The extent to which modernity is at fault should be made clear, even if you aren’t a primitivist. It has a self-terminating logic to its largesse. Our business ontology, so insidious to some and so dynamically enthralling to others, has normalised a penetration of throwaway, extractive, ever-growth. Our new idols are the abstracted values that zip over our heads in the financial alchemy driving capital. Iconoclasm rightly sends shivers down the prosaic. Simply unplugging from this Matrix is untenable for most — so we must establish a route out by going through.
These reforms are not just n+1, an increment on a superstructure that is stable. They are designed to carry the best of it forward, while clearing space for it to be replaced consistent with higher principles. The tragic propensity for the best laid plans to eventually consume themselves, for particularly decisive cracks to crumble and self-terminate in ‘completed’ systems can never be forgotten nor permanently transcended. Every policy laid out here, particularly because they are so causal to capacities and priorities, must be fed back into the meta-systematic Odyssean whole in regular reviews with clear standards to judge against.
These standards will have to arise organically to coax themselves out of culture in order to become paradigmatic. It is here that speculative and creative approaches take rational and technical answers further. When facing potential cataclysm despite our best efforts, the scale of collapse will diverge qualitatively and decisively dependent on how much we achieve conceptually, institutionally, and culturally beforehand. Perhaps collapse is a temporary generational scolding; millions of dead, but scientific and cultural advances not lost and with billions left to rebuild. Or it might be markedly worse, the Basilisk’s tail end of global systems collapses and billions of dead with most of Earth uninhabitable. In these conditions the need for nomadic and apprenticed transmission of knowledge, of a principled Odyssean tradition to pass down as many digital, analogue, oral and other artefacts of our hugely informationally rich world would beckon.
ARCHERY: ODYSSEANS AND OTHERS
It is probable that only the divinely discontented, cognitively endowed, and circumstantially driven will be in the right places at the right time to build into the contours drawn here. Coordination and coalition building between the vanishingly strange and inspired who bother to care about the abstruse but determining forms under conditions of scarce food or shelter will be key. Those transdisciplinary, audacious, and ingenious enough with ecological and civilisational strengthening in mind are the Odyssean subjects who would take up the mantle of regeneration and renewal, as would many others — except the Odyssean expressly searches in an eclectic but coherent fashion, and makes the totality of strategies their own.
Readers may be wondering what is laboured with the notion of an Odyssean subject. What does a contemporary Goethe, Von Neumann, or Gell-Mann do in this schema? They are not heroes, and certainly not saviours. What they provide instead is a focusing vector for the hyperactivity, precision, and strategic framing that civilisation facilitates at its most laser focused. Taking our brains and our networked selves as the most complex, intelligent, and creative systems out there, it is inevitable that highly skilled, underutilised, and cognitively ready agents exist out there with only a lack of coordination standing between them and seismic, positive contributions. The proportion of highly intelligent people around the world is far greater than we have found space to cultivate for flourishing. Perhaps we can never hope to fully deliver latent potential, nor to rely on such islets of negentropic force. But it is apparent that where master synthesisers exist, they present loci of cybernetic dynamism that can be catalysed loosely as vanguard instantiations of the very same Delphic and Odyssean systems laid out prior.
The Odyssean subject is thus a synthesiser ready to surf seismic change and deliver systemic solutions. They must balance effective rationality and meta-rational madness, to sustain the audacity world-saving evolution requires. They operate as fractal instantiations of a world-spanning meta-system awakened to this moment. In so far as we have already built towering, glistening systems of credit and prediction that steal from the future to encrust the present with gaudy jewels, similar chronomancy must be engaged by adepts of the anti-apocalypse. The Odyssean figure must hyperstitionally hypostasise hope.
In irrigating hope with resolve and poise, Odyssean seers must plant a future of hanging gardens, monuments and cultural workings for adepts in anti-apocalyptic transdisciplinarity to wield with precision and compassion. Accordingly, they must sense the futility of thrashing against hard limits, to understand sufficiency and virtue as luxuries rather than clawing up the totem pole of careerist and material accumulation. Critique is cheap, so resistance must also come with an affirmative project such as this; more than simply tracing lines between agents, policies, and positive-sum outcomes, there must come an adept mastery of communication, cultural instantiation, and even a hermetic attitude to preserving the aforementioned artefacts and infrastructural capacities for renewal.
This has been stressed with the emphasis on going meta via the local, robustness and antifragility, and nomadic intellectual ardour. It will have to be taken further beyond other techniques, iterated by step changes of collaborative potential coordinated alongside like-minded, cognitively complex and benevolently driven agents (metamodernists, Effective Altruists, and environmentalists in their respective integral and more specialised niches suggest themselves — as must visionary leaders, whom we badly lack at this time… hence the need for Odysseans to bridge all of these). To proliferate credible alternatives and irrigate incredible results, from an improbably sanguine mentality, is gruelling and may make one a target for forces beyond the scope of prediction. Wit and wiles, and good faith, must come with tactical nous.
This proliferation requires innovation in imagination; our metaphors, strained by computational desiccation find themselves still too mechanistic for us to truly familiarise ourselves with the interwoven mess we face. Hence it is key we reappraise our imagined structures using naturalistic metaphors, since complexity in nature remains closer to the distributed, flocking, non-equilibrium world our diverse systems have absent-mindedly grown into. There is a patent absurdity in positing a reconstituted culture, and then beyond that an imaginary, when so many of the artefacts around us are dystopian. As necessary components for this reappraisal of envisaging, we must more ambitiously foster an experimental culture. Where positivity reigns, it is so often saccharine marketing or PR, propagandistic superficiality — anathema to the profound depths required for pragmatic action in the face of crisis on this scale. Odysseans must take heed of the tendency for capital to repurpose our deep needs into marketable happy endings that ask little of the audience. On a stage with high probability of subsidence, of flooding, and of mass death, profounder cultural forms must be produced.
What has been theoretically arrayed must be culturally conveyed
Nonetheless, these exciting products of a culture and thought rooted in our current superabundance must be built over logistics of sufficiency; all is at risk under our multifaceted crises. Thus, the Odyssean subject must search and find others in strategic positions who can understand the dilemma and contribute to alternatives. The economy’s productive sectors are already so technical they are beyond the remit of many of the well-educated. The computational complexity of our massed systems belies any essential success in perfect prediction as hubristic — beware those who sell the snake oil of total control, pure security, an end to uncertainty. They will likely amass hugely powerful predictive capacities, to overuse them with an essential hubris and fall as so many have before — but not before taking us with them. Therefore, connecting those with influence in the pressure points of these systems with the imagination to recognise this overshoot will be a key determinant in enabling resilient, agile successors. Odysseans, for voraciously scanning the whole and integrating its lines of flight and its cores, should prove indispensable. As should their contribution of preserving the highest ideals of a superabundant era, when the likely return of scarcity or at least chaos puts it all at risk.
A sufficiently well-developed dream, delusion, or memeplex becomes a coiled spiral, a helical informational step change that by enticing fantasy generates critical mass. From this toroidal motion an ideology, mythos, or religion self-sustains reality for agents caught in the perspectival vortex. To enable enlightened agency, one needs certain capacities to resist the pull of such ideals: ever-present openness to experience, attention to epistemic rigour undergirded by a transpersonal subjectivity in an ever-respiring empathetic circle, fluxing in proportion to power with healthy scepticism over faith. These inheritances of irony and truth, of humbleness before the indifferent cosmos must always guard against vectors of worship. But in keeping our broadest and most valent imaginings alive, and guarding against the inverse of cynicism in the face of the maw, our own vortex must be inspiring, enlivening, and imaginative. It pragmatically preserves more than fantasy for future generations. We enable a rallying point, abstract and aesthetic vectors of reasoned imagining — much as Classical culture irrigated the Renaissance on the cusp of modernity’s rapid take-off, so too Odysseanism must foster symphonic realignments of growth into steadier-state ecologies, differentially balanced over time.
What future bliss, he gives not thee to know,
But gives that hope to be thy blessing now.
Greta Thunberg, as our moment’s unenviable prophet pointedly said that she does not want to inspire the adult’s hope, that hope isn’t good enough. She wants panic. Even if panic curtails lucid action more than a tincture of it is needed to dislodge the complacency and denial that characterise this epochal crisis. We need our negative affect as well as positive, just as an Odyssean system needs harsh truths and an affirmative demos, to properly appraise a multigenerational struggle. Hope may spring eternal, but it alone does not shine a path through night. Instead it precedes and catalyses strategies well-executed; a whole series of plans aligned to flexibly walk the precarious path between evolution, atrophy, collapse, or extinction…
Bold alternatives thus virtually sow new structurings of meta-systems and incentives, inputting novel cross-pollinations of ideas and meta-analyses to pattern match towards more abstract but instantiable welfare aims. Ideal antifragile mini-publics can disperse the best social means and analytical methods to all, translating abstruse analysis into the object-level of policies, local interventions, stabilisers and social movements. To then connect these structures to global existential and catastrophic risk mitigation, resources, and collaborative agendas is to empower experimentation around paths to subjective meaning and positive affect. At the limit, this edifying work may one day prioritise flow states, eudemonic activity, and hedonic bliss as qualitative trajectories climbing rewarding gradients without asset-stripping the planet. What we approach is empowerment proportionate to responsibility, democratic legitimacy taken to its logical conclusion, apportioned by existential seriousness introduced into refined circuits. Make no mistake, this will require astronomical challenge after challenge to be consummately addressed, each building on the last. Both object-level crisis mitigation and meta-level restructuring into a fuller if imperfect arrival at objectives of autonomous, enlivened, self-improving consciousness are miles away from our current discourse.
In the face of so much, this can seem like the highest fiction, the farthest faith, therefore the simple spasm of a maturing species facing the hardest limits. Yet in the face of collapse and a bewildering century, the chaos generated by crisis can open improbable paths. Much as when on the 4th August 1789 the revolutionary National Assembly voluntarily and rapidly surrendered the privileges of feudalism, we face the need — and concomitant danger — of addressing illegitimate regimes, out of sync with the needs of our time, with powerfully abrupt change beckoning. The same uncontrollable drives risk being unleashed if irresponsibly chased, or reactively resisted. The cusp of an enthusiastic yes-saying to change that retains and expands what we value must be grasped before our externalities grasp us. We can attain the peripety we need. It may take a shift that echoes the seismic surrender of feudalism on one afternoon in August; today, by vectoring need for change with desire for an optimal process to deliver it democratically.
Hope can often be deceiving, Pandora’s cruel inheritance seemingly dependent on grace. Nonetheless hope underscores and catalyses our higher forms of reasoning, as a crystalline kernel for agency. Call it evolutionary overconfidence, strategic naivety, or eminent pragmatism. Yet as hope springs eternal, it may forever drive erosions of despair, and irrigate paradigmatic changes.
For beyond Hope, Apollo Springs Eternal…
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