Let’s Play a Game: Designing a New Civilisation
The real-world game with real-world outcomes
If you’re concerned, confused, consumed or conflicted about what’s happening in the world, buckle up, we’re going places.
Just over a year ago, the following essay was published:
It’s up to us — not the UN — to decisively solve Global Risks & Sustainable Development Goals before 2030, using open…medium.com
The essay was seen by over 10,000 people, was shared thousands of times and has generated hundreds of conversations with new friends from around the world.
The outcome of these conversations? A rock-solid conviction that decisively transcending capitalism and neoliberalism as organising systems is absolutely doable — just as feudalism and slavery were transcended — despite how daunting it may at first appear. In this essay I’ll explain why it’s doable, and more importantly, what has happened since publishing the 1-year old article about Project 2030.
First, a quick summary of the major lessons learned in the past 12 months.
Lesson 1: Humanity’s Maturity
If we are to consider starting an entirely new civilisation, it might be useful to view humanity as a single species with a common home, rather than individual races, countries, religions or political parties. It may also be useful to compare the various phase shifts our species has undergone to the phase shifts a human body goes through as it matures. So, the Agricultural Revolution signified a shift from baby to toddler; the Industrial Revolution was humanity reaching school-going age; the Scientific Revolution could be compared to teenage years.
In this analogy, our current species is about to step into adulthood — a traumatic and emotional time, as any parent of a teenager will know.
For a deeper dive into humanity’s maturity, see:
Part 1 of a simple framework to explain emerging technology in the context of humanity’s evolutionmedium.com
Lesson 2: Coordination and Organising Systems
As our species started growing up, we invented systems to coordinate at scale. The first (Western) system to appear was capitalism, which appeared in various forms in the late 1500’s and has continued morphing and maturing to this day. In this organising system, Adam Smith—attributed for evolving the idea of wealth creation from labour — conceived the idea of “the invisible hand of the market,” which became the organising system that encouraged and incentivised humans to do stuff.
In the late 1800's, a group started challenging the capitalist organising system and communist philosophy began to develop in Russia. In 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power through the October Revolution. This was the first time any group managed to challenge the dominant organising system. In this organising system, the state became the “incentive” which encouraged humans to do stuff. Ever since then, there has been a contest between capitalism and communism to prove which is the more effective organising system. Sadly, the unintended victim in this contest has been the planet, as both systems rely heavily on extractive behaviour.
Side Note: If the daily news feels overwhelming, it may be useful to view the current shenanigans between the US, North Korea and Russia as the troubled teenage years of these two competing systems, instead of being caught up in the bombastic displays of fragile individual egos. North Korea is firmly rooted in communism, whereas Russia is a little more complex. While the communist Soviet Union officially ended on December 26, 1991, communist ideologies have not totally come to an end in the new, capitalist Russia. Putin has been in power longer than most Soviet premiers and enjoys similar levels of power to past dictators. While the trappings of communism no longer remain, the effects of the ideology and the nature of power politics in Russia have a strong line of continuity with its past.
Here’s a deeper look at the four organising systems throughout humanity’s history: Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks.
Part 2 of a simple framework to explain blockchain, crypto, deep data, AI, ML and IoT in the context of humanity’s…medium.com
Lesson 3: Celebrating Crisis
According to Elisabet Sahtouris, the natural evolutionary process of any living organism or species goes through seven stages, varying between competition and cooperation. Species which are unable to move past the competition stage eventually run out of resources and become extinct.
There have been a total of 5 prior mass extinctions. While scientists don’t always know what caused these extinctions, it’s unlikely that the species themselves caused the circumstances for their extinction. It was more than likely as a result of external events rapidly changing their world (severe ice age, drop in oxygen levels, asteroid impact, etc.) Biologists suspect we’re currently living through the sixth major mass extinction. The difference is that this time a single species is responsible, because of the way we have treated our planet.
Despite the bleak outlook, there is reason for celebration because we have before us an opportunity to design a more mature organising system, one which results in a giant leap of evolution.
For a detailed discussion of Celebrating Crisis, see:
Explaining the necessary crisis to birth Society 4.0 — an evolutionary perspectivemedium.com
Lesson 4: Sense-making
This may be a tough lesson to fully embrace, but it’s by now undeniable that the sense-making apparatus by which we try to understand what is happening in the world — the network of media communications portals composed of both traditional corporate and alternative outlets — has failed to help us understand the reason for the tension between the two competing organising systems and the natural evolutionary process unfolding. New tools for sense-making are going to become critically important if this task is going to be remotely achievable. Two really interesting developments I stumbled across during the course of the year are:
- Sean Gourley’s Primer, an AI platform that can read and write, automating the analysis of very large datasets;
- Andrew and Kate Markell’s Forge, a connection engine that brings together people, ideas, resources and more.
[Edit: As Andrew Ng points out in a comment below, while technology can help us sift through increasingly large datasets, what is really required is an entirely different way of thinking. The required shift is away from areas of specialty towards complexity and inter-connectedness. Sadly our education systems haven’t taught us how to do this kind of thinking, and so rethinking education from the ground up is a critical requirement.]
Lesson 5: Nature as Guide
The only thing all cultures, all civilisations, all organising systems have in common is our mutual home: planet Earth, all of Nature. Most human cultures have recognized Earth/Nature as a great Mother, and our deepest scientific inquiries are consistent with this view, revealing Nature as an endless source of knowledge and inspiration to guide our lives toward living in greater harmony with her and with each other.
While the task of designing an organising system that decisively results in a giant leap of evolution may appear challenging, it becomes far more achievable if we acknowledge Nature as our guide. We can learn from ant colonies, bee hives and murmurating starlings. Biomimicry — copying Nature’s solutions to make superior, non-toxic and recyclable products — has proven incredibly successful. Why not turn to Nature for guidance in reorganising our social/political/economic systems to create peaceful abundance? The clues appear to all be there in the evolutionary process, but I’ve missed them all along, either by failure to notice, or they’ve been intentionally hidden and it took some prodding and prompting through newly-formed friendships.
What has become clear to me is that cooperation in Nature, including in human life, is far more prevalent than competition, despite what mass media tells us. Four valuable books in this process have been:
- Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet by Tamsin Woolley-Barker
- Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams: Explorations in Massively Parallel Microworlds (Complex Adaptive Systems) by Mitchel Resnick
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (because none of the current organising systems have been designed by anyone with skin in the game — the 2008 bailout of big banks during the financial crisis being a perfect example).
- The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits by Bernard Mandeville (“What was seen in the old view as the source of self-centredness, private interest, and corruption is now the driving force of a free and equal society.”)
Lesson 6: Transcending Incentives
Any form of incentive results in competitive behaviour, which doesn’t happen in Nature.
This has, admittedly, been the most difficult lesson for me to embrace over the past 12 months. Much of my writing in the past has been about moving from perverse incentives to positive incentives and I’ve tried to describe mechanisms of rewarding people who engage in world-positive activities. What I failed to understand is that any form of extrinsic rewards strategy ends up co-opting others’ choice-making and imposing someone else’s belief system of what is positive and what is perverse. The kind of civilisation we are talking about can only start taking form if we have totally expunged power and coercion from the way we coordinate and collaborate in the society — a seemingly impossible ask.
What I didn’t know is that the human body offers a perfect example of a fully functioning living system, without any form of incentive.
“Some 50 to 100 trillion cells, each as complex as a large human city, cooperate willingly, without any form of reward. All are agreed to send aid to any ailing part of the body immediately. No organ dominates — not even the brain — or expects other organs to adopt their ideology or worldview. No single organ or cell operates with any intention of hoarding or profit. Further, the ATP (adenosine triphosphate) ‘currency’ in our cells is given out freely by the mitochondria, not as we do with money in an incentive model, but abundantly to meet every need, while carefully regulated to prevent both too much and too little.” — Elisabet Sahtouris
What I believe the body teaches us is that healthy systemic flow is more important than individual reward.
In one of the many rich conversations I had this year, I was reminded that the requirement for incentives is inversely proportional to level of maturity. As an example, my parents had to reward me with pocket money to get me to help with the most basic of household chores; my employers had to bribe me with ridiculously high salaries and business class international travel before I would contribute to their bottom line; as startup founders we turned to investors to stump up a reward before we commenced any work. Now, however, the work I’m currently doing is motivated solely by a desire to give the best possible gift I can to my daughter on her 21st birthday in 2035: an entirely new operating system for humanity. This form of incentive is intrinsic rather than extrinsic, and it is far more motivating than any previous incentive I’ve been offered. Maybe I am finally growing up and maturing (mum are you listening)?
There is still much to learn in this space, but these new insights have been tremendously helpful in thinking about designing a new civilisation. See Elisabet’s article, from which the quote about ‘currency’ in our cells was taken:
The most exciting and beneficial things I believe happened to humanity in the past century were physicists' recognition…www.kosmosjournal.org
The past year has been a richly rewarding journey of understanding the problem more fully. The six lessons described above represent a cornucopia of requisite mind-shifts before tackling humanity’s biggest challenge: an operating system upgrade.
Why Designing a New Civilisation is Entirely Doable
A valuable lesson I learned during my corporate career is that any complex challenge or project really only has 4 basic steps:
- Understand the problem — check;
- Define the solution design criteria — up next;
- Prototype a solution — coming soon;
- Build the solution, while striving for a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself (an autopoietic system). Another way of thinking about autopoiesis is scalability or adoption. In other words, does the system naturally gain traction, without a requirement to convince or coerce others to adopt the system?
What Has Happened Thus Far and What Happens Next?
Over the past few months I’ve enjoyed stimulating, mind-bending, challenging late night conversations about how a new civilisation could be birthed — not your average discussion topic. These conversations have brought in other points of view, and the mutual learning for all of those involved has been extraordinary. What we have learned is that mutual learning must be designed into the DNA of any new civilisation. Since new ways of coming together only happen every few hundred years, no one alive today knows how to design a new civilisation, so there are no experts we can turn to. Instead, we will design for a world in the becoming — things will unfold as we learn more. The civilisation we are transcending teaches us what we don’t want and what is no longer useful. There is not much from the old that we wish to keep for the new paradigm unfolding.
Other living systems don’t turn to experts and gurus and specialists and authorities. Instead there are endless feedback loops where the complex adaptive system responds to consequences of action, rather than consequences of stepping out of line from arbitrarily imposed rules.
Another key learning has been that a new civilisation is not only possible, if we turn to evolution, it is inevitable. More importantly, this civilisation will be the result of “we the people,” as we can no longer afford or expect systems and institutions as we know them to come to our rescue. The biggest institutions on the planet — trans-national corporations, government and intra-government agencies — simply cannot and will not see a way out of the mess we’ve created. This is a task for all of us working together — there simply is no other way.
Thus far, an initial group of three have committed to bringing together 100 unique individuals for an event designed to ignite “group genius.” The group of 100 will represent a rich mix of known and unknown individuals from many nations, ages, beliefs and ways of finding right livelihood, taking inputs from many different cultures, some who have followed the same traditions for far longer than capitalism has been around. It is the richness of resulting conversations between these individuals and subsequent design work that will enable emergence to breakthrough from many different vantage points. Rather than any one existing solution being adopted, we will constantly refer to and seek out group genius.
Group genius is something which cannot adequately be defined in scientific terms, but it emerges at that magical moment in time during a semi-structured group activity when all participants experience simultaneous synapse transmissions and realise the same thing at the same time. That moment opens new possibilities and births different ways of seeing things, and there’s no going back. The process has been tried and tested over many years and is licensed and practiced in more than 45 countries by a network of consultants and knowledge workers. Sessions have been conducted with multi-national organisations, government and military agencies, NASA and the World Economic Forum. The methodology has been described in a 1997 book called Leaping the Abyss: Putting Group Genius to Work by Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson.
The 100 individuals will be specialists in the fields of alternative:
- Economics (or more specifically how do we eliminate the concept of a job in favour of coordinating activities at scale, without the direct influence of either the market or the state);
- Governance (or how do humans engage with each other in ways that better reflect how other species engage with each other);
- Law & Jurisprudence (or how do we engage with ‘bad actors’ in a more positive manner);
- Education (or how do we drop imposed curricula in favour of life-long, self-directed learning, possibly enhanced with technology in the form of Artificial Intelligence);
- Health (or how do we design a way of living that incorporates regenerative individual and systemic health as part of its design criteria);
- Philosophy of Being (or how do we birth new origin stories that provide better reasons for why we do what we do);
- Infrastructure (or what supporting technologies are required that rely on less extractive ways to generate the energy required to get stuff done);
- Technology Development Processes (how do we design and/or engage with future technology in a manner that doesn’t repeat the inherent biases of the operating systems we’ve become accustomed to);
- Culture (how do we weave together 30+ civilisations and touch one another sufficiently gently to preserve each civilisation’s roots while sprouting new, emergent cultural forms which enhance the diversity of ways we can be human);
- Biosphere (how do we reverse the effects of an origin story that gave the human species dominance over all other living organisms and how do all species, all living systems become active considerations in our civilisation);
- Game Design (how can Bucky’s ideas of a World Game be incorporated into the design of a new civilisation);
- And probably many more.
As complex as each individual field is, the more complex consideration is the meta-contextuality and inter-weavings of how all these aspects work together as one living system. Our existing paradigm and mental framework has attempted to solve problems in each discipline, often to the isolation of others. A life worth celebrating consists of relationships within context and to create a new civilisation, the interplay of each discipline must be at the core of the design.
Since designing a new civilisation from scratch can be a daunting undertaking, the objective of the group of 100 is to create a global game which anyone can participate in — a real-life game involving real people going about their daily life, while informing the global participants of new ways of doing things. This is the only way we can avoid biases from a dominant culture creeping in. The game itself will result in a solution prototype: a workable example of an entirely new operating system for humanity.
The process, therefore, is:
Early discussions → group genius → game design → play the game → build the prototype → birth the civilisation.
The Design Criteria
- Informed and inspired by Nature’s operating system;
- Complex but not complicated;
- Capable of reproducing and maintaining itself.
Some of the features might include:
- a demurrage-based value exchange mechanism as proposed by Bernard Lietaer,
- self-sovereign identities and agent-based governance and issue-based voting systems built on emerging technology,
- mechanisms that free up people to focus on creative and regenerative work rather than on mere survival,
- methods of defending against bad actors and subjective opportunists, with the only form of punishment being extradition from benefits,
- coordination tools that enable humanity to be as productive as an ant colony, a swarm of bees or slime mould, all without having to rely on leaders, and
- sense-making tools based on the interpretation of large volumes of data as well as making sense of the human condition.
In short, our new civilisation will leapfrog all existing forms of human coordination and organisation by taking advantage of the latest philosophical, ecological and technical breakthroughs our species has created to date. The design of our next civilisation is a necessary stepping stone on the journey of evolving to a higher level of complexity.
While it’s still very early days, the ball has been set in motion and nothing can stop us. We will start a new civilisation. The question is, to what extent will you participate? As a spectator, as an involved participant or as an informed advisor? Either way, our planet needs you!
How Can You Prepare for a New Civilisation?
“We first wake up. We wake up to the reality of what is happening in the world. We then wake up to our own complicity in that reality and truly face up to the intricate acts of self-deception we routinely undertake to conceal ourselves from this complicity.” — Nafeez Ahmed, founding editor of INSURGE intelligence.
Some of these routine acts of complicity include filling up at the gas station, sending our kids to school, taking prescription medication, voting, submitting tax returns, debating current realities and many others). It’s no longer sufficient to simply point fingers at what’s wrong. In fact, doing so just keeps us trapped in the current civilisation. All of the powerful energy we might put into resisting the current system drains us of our ability to build alternative viable systems — a new civilisation.
If you’re serious about this, read the following essay to learn about the 3 laws of the effective strategy we will need to adopt:
- Understand the mind of your opponent with absolute clarity;
- Understand your own mind with absolute clarity;
- Never engage your opponent on the battlefield.
The sensible are never free — N. Mailermedium.com
The second step we can take after we’ve woken up to our own complicity in the current system, according to Ahmed, is to
“…look to mobilise ourselves anew to undo these threads of complicity where feasible, and to create new patterns of work and play that connect us back with the Earth and the Cosmos. And we work to connect our own re-patterning with the re-patterning work of others, with a view to plant the seed-networks of the next system — a system which is not so much ‘next’, but here and now, emergent in the fresh choices we make everyday.”
That’s what our task is right now. Not to protest, not to demand justice, not to resist. All we must do is re-pattern our daily lives by making new choices in how we lead our lives. It’s not difficult, it just requires a decision and a commitment.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
We are the power!
My Pledge to Humanity
In 2017, I pledged to absolutely, positively, decisively and consciously commit to working with the brightest and most caring, holistic minds on the planet to define and birth a transcendent civilisation, supported by emerging technology, that benefits the 6.5 billion currently disenfranchised humans, as well as all animals and plants on this earth. The vision is crystal-clear and entirely doable, with the right team.
This year, I’m reaffirming that commitment. It’s been a thrilling, scary, challenging and emergent journey thus far. I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the next 12 months.
Cape Town, South Africa
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Many, many people have been a valuable part of this year-long journey, but a particularly grateful and humble hat tip to Gail Taylor (who introduced me to group genius), Elisabet Sahtouris (who taught me about the evolution of living systems), Arthur Brock (who showed me that flow is more important than money— current-sees vs currencies), Daniel Schmachtenberger (who whacked me on the side of the head about incentives), Jordan Greenhall (who made the connection between blockchain and collective intelligence) and Jane McGonigal (whose super-clear writing convinced me that games are definitely not the waste of time I thought they were).
¹ This essay was updated on August 13th to credit Dr. Nafeez Ahmed for wording that was not previously credited to him.