Five Days with the Devil

Joe Edelman
The School for Social Design
5 min readFeb 9, 2017

Inside: a thought experiment; how human values get lost; and a new perspective on recent political upheaval (Trump, Brexit, terrorism, etc).

Art by Jessica Monster


On Monday the devil offers you productivity. He has a magical to-do list for you. Things appear on the to-do list as soon as you desire them, if they are possible at all. And as soon as they appear, BAM! They will have already happened. You can still enjoy the feelings of accomplishment, and the fruits of success, but you’ll have nothing of the process. So: as soon as you desire to write a book, it will have been written. As soon as you desire a fancy dinner, you will have just eaten it. As soon as you desire to spend a day relaxing with someone you love, that day will have just happened. It will be over.

Is this a heaven or hell? Are there any desires for which it’d be helpful? If it seems like a bad offer, does that mean something about what you aim to accomplish in life? About the drive to be productive or efficient?


On Tuesday the devil’s got a way to improve your relationships and collaborations. He is going to solve — forever — the problem of determining which trades and contractual arrangements will work in your personal and work life. You’ll immediately know who could hire you, how much they would pay, and what’s expected. Same with your personal life: you will immediately know where there’s mutual desire — for kissing, for sleeping together, for going out to dinner, or for conversing about literature. The devil will remove all the pain and confusion of negotiating, of searching, of flirting, etc. But he asks one thing: your relationships with these people will be limited to the contract as specified. There can be no open-ended discovering together, only a series of known-in-advance trades. You may still spend ongoing time with a person, but only as a sequence of these known-in-advance trades.

How long would such a life be enjoyable? How would it be to live on Earth if everyone accepted the devil’s deal? Do you have friends who’d accept this trade, and friends who wouldn’t? What’s the difference?


On Wednesday, the devil offers to improve your powers of perception and recognition. Like Sherlock Holmes, you’ll be better…

Joe Edelman
The School for Social Design

Building economies of meaning, and leading the School for Social Design