Mind Matters

A Philosophy of Networked Post-Capitalism

Hello, fellow humans -


“In order to truly deal with the challenges of our age, we will need to learn how to think, act, experiment, learn, value, and perhaps even dream networkedly. We need a new worldview: a philosophy of networks for our hyperconnected age.” (Vitale)


I’m experiencing one of those parallax, copernican shifts in worldview while reading Christopher Vitale’s book on the philosophy of networks.

A ‘networkological’ metaphysics - seeing the world as fundamentally composed of networks, all embedded and interwoven in varying degrees of complexity - is opening up my world.

It’s providing new pathways of thought, new ways of looking at some stubborn questions. Networkology offers a sharp critique of capitalist modernity, and suggests what values might help transition us from where we are now, to where we might be able to go. Call it post-capitalist, or repurposed capitalism, or just a more sane, sustainable, vibrant mode of relating to the universe and our cultural moment.

Vitale’s philosophy of networks is a new way of looking at the question I’ve been asking myself lately:

What can I do, and what might we do, right now to align the constellation of ideas and practices that constitute my - and our - life with something other than an antiquated, though nevertheless prevailing system rooted in scarcity and 20th century logic?

Let’s dig in.

Networks, Philosophy, and Post-Capitalism

I. What Are Networks, and What Do They Want?

I’m referring to networks as a metaphysics, because they provide a myth, a story we can tell ourselves that takes the largest possible view on what’s going on in the universe. So what is the story networks provide?

A traditionally religious metaphysics might suggest that the fundamental aspect of the Universe is God’s will. God’s will is like the inmost incentive structure underlying the cosmic system, and the lives we derive from that story follow from that incentive structure, serving or manifesting God’s will.

In a worldview where networks are seen as the fundamental aspect of the universe, our lives accordingly derive from their incentive structure. And what do networks want?

According to Vitale, networks want: robustness, or the sustainable emergence of complexity.

We all have an intuitive sense of what networks are. But working out a more formal definition is tricky. Vitale writes:

“Hypervisible and so obvious as to be often taken for granted, networks have become such a part of the fabric of daily life that they are like the air our techno-bodies breathe, even as it is often unclear precisely what they are, or could be. Trying to pin down the essence of networking can be an experience of vertigo, of an oddly centerless centricity, as if the sense of networking is continually dematerializing and recrystallizing in ever shifting prisms of color which give us back reworked versions of where we used to be. Perhaps the trick then is to learn to ride the waves of networking first, and from there figure out what there is to be seen.”

But, trying to pin networks down a bit, he goes on to write that a network is:

“…any whole, composed of parts, distinguished from a background, and composed of other parts and wholes, layered into each other at multiple levels of scale.”

We can think of networks as complex systems of nodes and links.

Rhizome 2.jpg

II. Networks & Post-Capitalism

Here’s where things start getting wild.

A networkological worldview suggests that the universe is composed of networks, and everywhere, the incentive of networks - the sustainable emergence of complexity - is at work. This recasts, or rather subsumes the familiar story of survival as the incentive of evolution into a larger story.

The evolution of life has indeed appeared to be about survival, but only - according to networkology - because survival is a most salient obstacle to the sustained emergence of complexity. This casts survival not as the fundamental incentive of life, but just as a developmental stage along the larger project of robustness.

Let’s pair this up with John Maynard Keynes, who predicted that by 2030, humankind might solve the ‘economic problem’ - the sustainable access to material provisions required for survival and basic participation in society:

“I draw the conclusion that, assuming no important wars and no important increase in population, the economic problem may be solved, or be at least within sight of solution, within a hundred years. This means that the economic problem is not - if we look into the future - the permanent problem of the human race.”

But this prospect troubled Keynes, for as organisms we’ve directly evolved in orientation to the survival imperative. To (relatively) solve the economic/survival problem is to deprive us of our traditional purpose.

But from a networkological point of view, rather than casting us out into a spiritual vacuum, moving beyond the survival problem might liberate us to explore higher possibilities of sustainably emergent complexity.

I’m not talking about immortality or uploading ourselves into the cloud, here. Solving the economic problem is more about designing a society where assured access to everything that is needed to survive and participate in society is woven into the cultural fabric. Where the amount of time we need to spend throughout our lives laboring in a utilitarian fashion to secure the means of survival & societal participation shrinks to a negligible fraction, and we’re left to consider what else to do with our lives than cyclical assure their continuation.

This re-orientation to an incentive structure that goes beyond the economic problem requires nothing less than a new human being. Keynes worries:

“Thus we have been expressly evolved by nature-with all our impulses and deepest instincts-for the purpose of solving the economic problem. If the economic problem is solved, mankind will be deprived of its traditional purpose.

Will this be a benefit? If one believes at all in the real values of life, the prospect at least opens up the possibility of benefit. Yet I think with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man, bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades.”

Conveniently, we exist at just such a juncture where networks are cracking the old cultural factories that shaped us as human beings, and are re-opening the inquiry into what humans beings are, and can become.

Take Paul Mason, who’s writing looks to emergent networks as the catalyst for post-capitalism:

“we…cannot imagine the kind of human beings society will produce once economics is no longer central to life. But we can see their prefigurative forms in the lives of young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self…

Capitalism … will be abolished by creating something more dynamic, that exists at first unseen within the old system, but which breaks through, reshaping the economy around new values, behaviors, and norms. As with feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s demise will be accelerated by external shocks, and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being, and it has started.”

In these interstitial cracks between the old vanguards of capitalist life, the traditional schools, careers, and well-worn life paths, something is emerging. New modes of education are springing up, and Zak Stein believes these new educational platforms - networked, of course - will assist in the project of bringing forth new kinds of human beings:

“Groups can change society by establishing alternate modes of education; new modes of education shape the future of all political and economic life because they involve the creation of a new kind of human.”

Vitale writes that adopting networkology as a guiding ethic for this new phase of the emergence of life rests upon a few basic principles:

  1. “diversity and differing to the maximum degree possible without destroying ourselves”

    Why? Because, as Vitale writes: “In physical or living systems, each mutation or modification is an attempt to pose a new answer to the question of how to survive, thrive, or continue and grow in the world…” The larger this pool of diverse & differing mutations - ways of living - the more we learn about how to navigate the world in ways that bring about higher degrees of sustainably emerging complexity.

  2. “and meta-stable conditions which keep us on our toes yet with a safety-net to make risk taking by all creative rather than threatening.”

Here, I can’t help but think of a fully realized democratic socialism, where a broad-spectrum application of taxes that draw from wealthy entities and high-return-low-social-value activities (like financial speculation, capital gains, etc.), coupled with consumption and VAT taxes, provide this basic safety net. Maybe comprised of healthcare, income, access to shelter, food and water, all serving to create these ‘meta-stable’ conditions that incentivize risk taking and creativity.

Put another way, the question is what optimal degree of top-down safety net affordances enable the most autonomous, bottom-up self organizing? Vitale writes that self-organization is promoted by a certain set of conditions, similar to the networkological guiding ethics:

  1. diverse components

  2. distributed organization

  3. meta-stability

  4. feedback between aspects and environment

I do not think the universe requires a proliferation of humans who can reliably pay their mortgages. Risk-averse monotony is not a path towards the sustainable emergence of complexity, nor autonomous self-organization. Existential creativity is electric, vitalizing, and more valuable to the robustness of the network that is this universe.

One of the reasons risk averse work consumes so many lives, my own included, is because of how deeply we crave the assurance of these basic things, how hardwired we are to crave survival security. How scary it is to not know how I might pay rent 5 years from now if I quit my job at the restaurant and just follow my own weird, creating a networked media environment from which I can’t imagine how I’d make enough to assure my continued survival outside of something like Patreon, which has slim odds, and muddies how other people perceive my intentions.

But this is precisely what Vitale argues. That we need to have the courage to create our own networks that will re-network and re-create existing networks. Build networks around our own unique brands of weird, and connect them to the world. Since networks increase in value with abundance, while we’re conditioned to think of value in scarcity terms, it’s difficult to imagine how this might generate the value we need to support ourselves. But in this time between worlds, we might have to be willing to just try it out and see what happens.

“We know the world can and should be different. The potential for growth, development, and freedom, it is all right here and now, we do not need to look to some impossible elsewhere, it is all in how things network with others.”

Again, the parallel with Zak Stein is groovy, who writes:

“I seek to disclose the reality of universal human emancipation that is always already immanent as a possibility latent in human social structures. The pulse of freedom, as it were, is irrepressible, ubiquitous, and indefatigable.”

Anyway, back to Vitale:

“This requires, however, that we begin to see the more subtle ways in which conservative and cancerous modalities often structure aspects of the world which we have come to see as the foundations of our own freedoms, such as atomistic notions of individuality or the ‘freedom’ of the market…We need to opt out, stop consuming, start producing new networks for new ways of living, outside and around the systems that continually attempt to addict us for their own ends.”

Reminiscent of Timothy Leary’s canonical call:

Turn on, tune in, drop out.

Vitale’s networkological echo is: Opt out, stop consuming, start producing new networks


Pure Play

In process of thinking about what values and grand-narratives might displace neoliberalism’s hollow offering of freedom, I’m thinking a lot about lifelong education, and play.

We know play is crucial in the creative development of children, but what does play look like in adults? When I imagine the opposite of utilitarian modes of being, play seems like one response. That an ideal life is one where things are done for their own sake, or where one engages in play.

This Instagram video struck me as so wholesome, as such a depiction of play. Imagine you’re in the park, walking with your girlfriend and talking about work. Suddenly, a stranger runs up to you, tosses a water gun at your feet, and stands at the ready. His knees are bent, his super soaker is loaded, and his eyes are locked on you.

There’s something about the mental agility in breaking out of every narrative you’re in, abandoning the world for a moment and realizing what this guy is offering, picking up the gun, and running around like mad hosing a stranger. This, to me, looks like play. Fluidly moving through imaginal worlds.

They pulled up to random people and challenged them to water gun fights. 😳🤣🙌 (via @_jroth, @swagtaneous, @lifes_interpretation, @thepreppyeric, @chante_ic3)
August 3, 2019

That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

The Era of Networks, Leverage Points, & Healthy Doses of Weird

Hello, fellow humans -

A few quick updates:

The Era of Networks

Back in 1997, Kevin Kelly made an outrageously perceptive insight. He wrote that the era of computers is finished - that in 1997, computers themselves wouldn’t change our lives much. Rather, all major changes to come would be located in the networks they afford, rather than the devices themselves.

“The grand irony of our times is that the era of computers is over. All the major consequences of stand-alone computers have already taken place. Computers have speeded up our lives a bit, and that’s it. In contrast, all the most promising technologies making their debut now are chiefly due to communication between computers that is, to connections rather than to computations.”

Today, Paul Mason writes in PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future, “we understand implicitly that the network is the machine.

The network is the machine.

The network, rather than the computer, is the paradigm-shifting advent we’re living through. Networks are the fulcrum upon which culture will pivot from what it was to what it will become.

Mason continues:

“In 1997, Kelly proclaimed the existence of an emerging new economic order with three main characteristics: ‘It is global. It favors intangible things – ideas, information, and relationships. And it is intensely interlinked. These three attributes produce a new type of marketplace and society.’”

I’m taking this to heart. I’m exploring what it means to intertwine my life with the new affordances of a networked society. It’s why I’m starting a podcast, why I use Twitter, why I’m always wondering how to refract more of myself through my website. It’s why I’m pushing through the vague apprehension that publishing writing online is somehow sacrilegious to writing as a form of art, or dilutes one’s motives.

Networks flip the traditional logic of value on its head. Where value used to stem from private entities selfishly hoarding slivers of competitive advantage, in a networked economy, value increases in tandem with abundance. Value and abundance form a positive feedback loop.

Here’s Kevin Kelly again:

Zak Stein’s term, A Time Between Worlds, is a marvelous fit for this cultural moment. The world where value derives from scarcity is ending; the world where value might hitch a ride with abundance is forming.

So when Stein writes:

“I seek to disclose the reality of universal human emancipation that is always already immanent as a possibility latent in human social structures. The pulse of freedom, as it were, is irrepressible, ubiquitous, and indefatigable.”

I think the skeleton & nervous system of the network society are already here, latent beneath the last remnants of the 20th century cultural logic. The conduit between value and abundance is already operational, and early-adopters are flocking like pilgrims to new, fertile land.

This frozen moment between worlds is an opportunity to play, explore, and participate in the emergence of a new cultural context (if you’re not familiar with Daniel Thorson, check out his conversation with Vince Horn of the Buddhist Geeks podcast. Daniel is one of the most cogent, humble, and robust players in the space of what’s emerging). With a renewed, positive-sum relationship between value and abundance, the old project of democracy finds new life. Walt Whitman’s democracy, the perennial project of democratizing abundance, richer modes of being, that latent pulse of freedom, is revitalized in an era where value and abundance move in the same direction.

If human beings are products of their cultural ethos, I cannot imagine what sorts of human beings the networked society might bring forth. It certainly seems industrial society produced industrialized humans, or maybe that’s just the Marxist in me. But, contrary to prevailing dystopian tendencies, I feel fortunate to be alive during a moment in history where I might bear witness to what might be nothing less than the creation and proliferation of a new variety of human. Again, from Stein:

“Groups can change society by establishing alternate modes of education; new modes of education shape the future of all political and economic life because they involve the creation of a new kind of human.” 

ANYWAY.

The new cultural logic of networks is fascinating, and I’m looking for reading. I’ve ordered Christopher Vitale’s Networkologies. Any further suggestions, please send them on over!

I also highly recommend Kevin Kelly’s full essay on The Network Economy.


Malice in Wonderland

I’m slightly worried that by sharing this video, I’m unconsciously participating in some covert brainwashing operation, but probably not.

This video is weird. The kind of weird that, if you resist your initial aversion to it, might help stretch the waking mind and keep it limber. It’s the sort of departure from normalcy that unhinges expectations, and leaves you confused, in the way that seeing a horse wearing a Tuxedo and reading Tolstoy on the New York City subway might.

I think doses of this sort of utter psychedelic nonsense is healthy - like a vitamin guarding against what Erik Hoel calls overfitting - when the brain comes to believe too strongly in the sense it’s already made of the world, and becomes overfit to the experiential data it uses to model reality. It loses the ability to stretch and perceive in unconventional ways. To apprehend novelty:

Anyway, here’s the video. I hope I’m not perpetuating some weird brainwashing plot.


Leverage Points in a System

Brilliant essay. Leaves me excited to be a living, conscious being in the world. Somehow moves from the systems analysis/complexity science world into this excerpt, which is the kind of so-far-from-the-starting-point conclusion that great essays manage to make possible:

“There is yet one leverage point that is even higher than changing a paradigm. That is to keep oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that NO paradigm is “true,” that every one, including the one that sweetly shapes your own worldview, is a tremendously limited understanding of an immense and amazing universe that is far beyond human comprehension. It is to “get” at a gut level the paradigm that there are paradigms, and to see that that itself is a paradigm, and to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny. It is to let go into Not Knowing, into what the Buddhists call enlightenment.

People who cling to paradigms (which means just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything they think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction. Surely there is no power, no control, no understanding, not even a reason for being, much less acting, in the notion or experience that there is no certainty in any worldview. But, in fact, everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it to be the basis for radical empowerment. If no paradigm is right, you can choose whatever one will help to achieve your purpose. If you have no idea where to get a purpose, you can listen to the universe (or put in the name of your favorite deity here) and do his, her, its will, which is probably a lot better informed than your will.

It is in this space of mastery over paradigms that people throw off addictions, live in constant joy, bring down empires, get locked up or burned at the stake or crucified or shot, and have impacts that last for millennia.”

One moment that stood out. She’s describing leverage points in systems. The points where small changes can spark big changes in that system. She writes that we’re pretty good at finding these leverage points, but that we tend to read them entirely backwards. Leverage points are counterintuitive, so when we discover them, we tend to push in the wrong direction, and catalyze exactly the opposite of the change we’re hoping for.

To illustrate this, she uses the example of economic growth. Some world leaders identified economic growth as the leverage point to solve major global problems like poverty, hunger, ecological desecration, and so on. But, too often, we’re pushing on that leverage point in the wrong direction. Growth might be the correct leverage point, but rather than pushed forwards into more growth, the counterintuitive, but required direction is less.

Read Full Essay


Dispatch from Infinite Jest

~300 pages in, the dense chestnut that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is finally beginning to crack open. He writes, describing the dawning era of infinite entertainment through the vantage point of a weird guy who sits cross legged in the boys locker room and imparts wisdom to anyone that lets him lick the sweat off their streaking bodies:

"This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose - this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites...The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists..."

The choice for death of the head by pleasure now exists. The question is, what other choices are there, and how can we overcome our instinctual lurches toward choices that lead to ‘death of the head’?

"How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child's greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?"

This is what I consider the meta-modern pickle. How might we learn how to choose? What rubrics will establish good choices from bad ones? Freedom is only as valuable as our ability to navigate through it skillfully. Freedom devoid of skillful choice is a dangerous space.


That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

Beyond Neoliberal Meditation & Post-Capitalism

Hello out there -

I wrote a new essay: What’s After Neoliberal Meditation?

It’s a response to Ron Purser’s new book, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality. In my essay, I explore a few fun things:

  1. The impasse between neoliberalism’s ethos of radical individuality and meditation’s ethos of radical interdependence.

    This led me to ask what really *is* neoliberal capitalism, and how does it operate upon the consciousness of citizens?

  2. What moves might a culture make that wants to move beyond this standoff?

    I looked into 3 ‘moves’:

    2.1 Stretching Subjectivity - like we might atrophied limbs. A sort of culturally sanctioned gymnastics for consciousness - I drew from Thomas Metzinger here.

    2.2 Three Phase Shifts - Daniel Schmachtenberger outlined 3 shifts - at the levels of social systems, infrastructure, and ideology - we can make to move towards a more sane & sustainable society.

    2.3 Integral Education - This draws largely from Zak Stein’s recent book, Education in a Time Between Worlds. Education is ultimately concerned with the creation of a new kind of human, and this is precisely what we need for a new world - new humans. Lifelong learners coming out of schooling networks that amplify our curiosities, rather than straitjacket us into mass-produced, docile workers.

Read My Full Essay Here


Do We Really Want Post-Capitalism?

A line from Purser’s book got me wondering:

“Revolutionary mindfulness neither fetishizes the present moment nor dispenses with judgment. Rather, it embraces the past and the future in conscious pursuit of social change. This communal approach is unapologetically anticapitalist, building on critique to envision the emergence of a new commons.”

As part of the crowd who loves critiquing capitalism, I only see two paths beyond it, and only one of them is actually visible to me.

  1. The Scandinavian Model

    This move is based on Scandinavian countries, but is also, essentially, the platform of what’s being called democratic socialism.

    Impose high taxes that primarily hit wealthy entities and use that increased public revenue to fund broad social programs like universal healthcare, parental leave, maybe Basic Income, etc.

    Basically, use taxes on hyper-wealthy areas of society to provide the general public with stuff they’re already working for, so they don’t need to work as much to secure those things, and can instead devote more of their lives to things other than repetitive and meaningless labor. I dig this, because it loosens the stranglehold financial capital has on the working class, freeing people’s time up to pursue other forms of capital.

    Comparing tax models between the US and other highly modern countries is interesting. Check out this chart from Henrik Jacobsen Kleven’s 2014 paper:

    While the US does have very comparatively low top income bracket tax rates, we also have significantly lower consumption tax rates than most other comparable countries.

    But, here’s the thing. This isn’t “post-capitalist”. It still abides by capitalism’s basic tenets: private property rights, means of production operated for-profit, and markets as primary pricing mechanisms.

    So does anybody really want post-capitalism, or do post-capitalists really just want higher taxes to fund broader social programs?

  2. ‘Post-Capitalism’

    I don’t know, but to find out, it requires asking what post-capitalism is, what it really looks like. This sounds fun, so I’m on it. I started a Twitter thread where I’ll gather notes on what post-capitalism really means, and what alternative we have to the Scandinavian Model.

At present, it seems to me that Scandinavian model is the short-term solution, which might help lead into more radical and creative ‘beyond-capitalism’ visions, should that turn out to be a direction worth exploring.

Any ideas or reading suggests, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Podcast Progress

The first episode of my still nameless podcast is recorded! Had a great conversation with Ron Purser, author of book previously mentioned. We spoke about neoliberal subjectivity, meditation, and the nature of time.

Also, I was nervous, and have a lot to learn. Whole new degree of respect for podcast hosts who seem to effortlessly remain present & engaged during a conversation, while always being prepared with a new question should the dialogue deflate.

I’m really looking forward to my next conversation with Erik Hoel, who is both a writer and scientist studying consciousness in the Tufts University lab. He’s also the author of one of my favorite essays.


Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and the “Wrong Chord”

In this video (set to begin at 3:03 mark), Herbie Hancock recounts a time when he played a bad chord on stage during a Miles Davis solo. Aside from being a great story, how Hancock made sense of the situation is itself a life philosophy, a skillful way to engage with the unfolding of events that constitutes life.

Things are events, that’s all they are. We can judge them and lament them, or we can just respond skillfully, appropriately, as best we can.

It also reminds me of David Foster Wallace, who wrote:

“Nothing from nature is good or bad. Natural things just are; the only good and bad things are people’s various choices in the face of what is.”


Reading from the Inter-verse

The Age of Interruption | Michael Ventura

This essay was the first time I’d heard of Michael Ventura, and holy smokes. It’s about time, and how we live in relation to it. It’s also about the pervasiveness of measurement as it creeps into our ineffable interiors, pushing is to quantify things we don’t, and maybe cannot, understand about ourselves.

“This practice is so integral to our society that we take for granted how deeply this measurement reaches into us, and that what is really being measured is what other eras have called “the soul,” an individual’s intrinsic sense of self. We also tend to take for granted the sense of violation engendered by this measurement and the anger that results…”

He writes that in response to our timed society, our timed and measured interiors, we project the state of our sub/un-conscious onto the built-world around us. We’re walking about in one big dream:

“What distinguishes the 20th Century is that each individual life is a daily progression through a concrete but fluctuating landscape of the psyche’s projections. Technology projects the subconscious into countless things, and thus technology duplicates the processes of the subconscious’s greatest artifact, the dream. The surreality, simultaneity, sexuality and instantaneous change that once occurred only in our dreams now also occur all around us. So the condition of our subconscious is now also the condition of this physical environment we’ve built for ourselves. Now, we reel between dream and dream, between the dreams of our sleep that speak to us alone, and the dreamscape of the waking world in which we make our way through millions of dream pieces colliding around us in a collective slam-dance.”

And so on. A really good read.

Read Full Essay Here


Brief Book Review

Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is fun, phenomenal, and smart.

Capitalist Realism is:

“…the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.”

He writes that capitalism saps all belief, even our capacity to imagine alternatives. We wind up in this kind of gelatinous voyeurism, because we’d rather distract ourselves from the impossibility of change than question that impossibility.

Price thinks capitalism essentially a hungry blob, progressively internalizing everything external to it - especially threats:

“This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

Price is a blast to read because he doesn’t hold back:

“Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie-maker; but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.”

He refers to capitalist realism as a kind of imaginal constraint, an atmosphere that bogs down the culturally creative imagination:

"Capitalist realism...is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action."

I have a thread where I’m gathering more notes & quotes from the book:

Find the Book on Amazon


That’s all.

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

Mind Matters

Some news, an Essay, & Meta-Modernism

Hello fellow humans -

  • I have some exciting (and nerve-racking) news. I’m starting a podcast. More on that below.

  • I wrote a new essay - Cultural Critique as Self-Inquiry - exploring how what we usually consider ‘objective’ often has roots in subjective experience, and how building cultural systems - like economics, or tech - with the fetishization of the objective winds up impoverishing our subjectivity, or what it feels like to exist. It also has my best stick-figure drawing to date.

  • I found a video of Daniel Schmactenberger giving a 20-min talk that blew me out of my fucking skin (I’m still wandering the routines of my life as some kind of dazed & de-skinned mutant).

  • Zak Stein offering a definition for meta-modernism.

Let’s dig in.


New Essay - Cultural Critique as Self-Inquiry

This one turned into kind of a doozy, but it’s all one big unpacking of my stick figure drawing:

I think we’ve been operating on this model of cultural discourse, where we amputate subjective experience from ‘objective’ opinions.

The problem is that I don’t think this is possible. I’m not sure any cultural critique, any discourse about the economy or technology, doesn’t have roots extending into the formative personal experience of that individual.

So all we’re really doing is repressing subjective experience and cherry-picking information from the eyeballs outward, ignoring the interior stuff.

Which is why we find ourselves in a cultural environment that not only neglects, but deteriorates the very interior experience of human beings within it.

In a section on technology, I wrote:

“The late 20th century emergence of “Human-Centered Design” (HCD) in the technological sphere indicates a similar disregard of subjectivity from technological discourse.

The most startling aspect of HCD is its implication that we’d previously forgotten the human altogether.

Wikipedia writes of HCD: “Human-centered design is a design and management framework that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process.” Prior to HCD, what perspective were we involving if not the human? After an explosion of technology design evaluated solely in its objective dimensions, we’re finding that we don’t like the variety of humans it’s turning us into.”

“Involving the human perspective” (though I’d like to extend this to all sentient perspectives) is a nice way to think about cultural change for the 21st century at large. Reimagining cultural institutions and our built environment to nourish how they interface with consciousness, with the interior experience of being alive.

Ursula K. Le Guin calls this “subjectifying the universe”:

“I guess I’m trying to subjectify the universe, because look where objectifying it has gotten us. To subjectify is not necessarily to co-opt, colonize, exploit. Rather it may involve a great reach outward of the mind and imagination.”

Anyway, check out the full essay here:

Read Full Essay


Some Exciting/Nerve-Racking News

Well, it looks like I’m joining the rest of our entire fucking generation in starting a podcast. I’m doing so for a few reasons.

  1. I want to make conversation a more central part of my thinking life. Conversation is itself a creative, introspective practice that I don’t get enough of.

    I do a lot of solitary thinking & dancing with ideas, but being on the spot, in a spontaneous and unscripted dialogue has a way of leading you to say things you couldn’t have planned. And things are more fun with other people.

  2. I’m still having trouble finding the conversations I want to hear. I’m not interested in consciousness & culture as separate inquiries, but as aspects of the same dialogue. I’m also not interested in just asking one question and letting the guest speak uninterruptedly for an hour. I want real, back-and-forth conversations. To challenge people to go beyond what they’ve prepared to say, and enter that space of unknowing where conversations grow rich and surprising.

I’m still in the planning stage, but I’m stuck on the name. Thought I’d reach out to you all, as folks somewhat familiar with what I’m doing here, and with marketing and personal experience beyond what I have. There are 3 options for the podcast name (so far):

  1. The Prudence Project (Conversations about consciousness & culture)

  2. Mind Matters Podcast (Conversations about consciousness & culture)

  3. Musing Mind Podcast (Conversations about consciousness & culture)

The Prudence Project
I always figured this would be the name, but then realized things are getting complicated. I have my website, musingmind.org, the newsletter, Mind Matters Newsletter, and then a podcast, with a totally different name, The Prudence Project?

I’m worried that having 3 separate entities, all unrecognizable from each other as far as the names go, is a bad move. The question is, how bad? Alternatively, maybe it’s good…?

Mind Matters Podcast
This would just house the podcast and newsletter under the same name, which is probably good in terms of increasing visibility and familiarity with people across the internet. But they are separate projects, so..

Musing Mind Podcast
Same as above, housing the podcast under the website name. I don’t like “Musing Mind”, I’ve always thought it a bit weird but am too deep in to change it, so I don’t love the idea of doubling down on that.

If you have any relevant experience, or just a strong personal feeling/reaction, please reply or reach out here and let me know, I would appreciate any/all feedback.

(Crazy how little is needed for a podcast - that’s all my equipment, minus software.)


Daniel Schmachtenberger’s Dharma Talk

I’m new to Schmachtenberger’s work (his podcast series with Future Thinkers is really, absurdly fascinating), and found this talk moving in its vibe and thrilling in its scope & synthesis:

Towards the end, he describes “3 phase shifts” - at the levels of social systems, infrastructure, and memetic or superstructure - that we’re now sitting upon the brink of.

The Social System Phase Shift

“At the level of social systems, primarily economics, the key shift…is a moving from a differential advantage economy, defined by private ownership, valuation based in scarcity, and differential advantage, to an economic system that is defined by making sure that the incentive of every agent and the wellbeing of every other agent in the commons is perfectly aligned with no externality. Meaning that we actually understand it’s an interconnected system, we identify all the externalities and internalize them, so the system’s actually defined by systemic advantage for the whole. This is not communism, or socialism, or capitalism, it’s something that was not possible before…but it is how your body works. Where none of the cells are advantaging themselves at the expense of the other. They’re doing what’s best for them, what’s best for the whole symbiotically at the same time.”

The Infrastructure/Built-World Shift

“…At the level of infrastructure and the built world, we’re moving from a linear materials economy, where we extract from the earth at ever-growing rates unsustainably from finite resources and turn them into trash, to a closed-loop materials economy where the trash is the new stuff, we stop extracting from the earth, stop producing waste, and we actually have a post-growth, negative entropy, closed-loop materials economy, where we can live ongoingly at progressively higher and higher quality of life sustainably with the biosphere…”

The Memetic or Superstructure shift

“The superstructure, the memetic shift, is this awareness of all of us as facets of one integrated self-evolving reality, where the wellbeing of everyone, the wellbeing of the commons, are not meaningfully calculable separate from each other.” 

Little bit more elaboration on the Tweeter:


Zak Stein on Metamodernism

Zak Stein seems to be in the same camp as Schmachtenberger. Integral thinkers who seem to be familiar with almost every domain of human knowledge, and are articulating their own creative syntheses of that broad insight.

Feels like they’re on the front edge of cultural inquiry.

Metamodernism

This word is being thrown around a lot lately, and as I’ve unfortunately begun using it, I think a little primer on what it means, or at least what I mean by it, might be helpful.

Metamodernism is the third in a line of three distinct ways of thinking about the human situation:

Modernism (19th-20th cenutry) -> Post-Modernism (late 20th century) -> Meta-Modernism (now)

Modernism: new and pretty radical forms of self-expression (James Joyce’s stream of consciousness writing, or T.S. Eliot poetry), an optimistic belief in progress and grand narratives.

Post-Modernism: Nah, everything is relative, progress doesn’t exist beyond arbitrary context, there is no truth. An ironic skepticism towards any grand narrative.

Meta-Modernism: ?? This is where Zak Stein offered the most coherent definition I’ve encountered. Describing a meta-modern perspective, he says on a podcast:

“We can make judicious decisions about which views are most reasonable, and eventually get a kind of catalogue of the viability of different views. And so one of the things that characterizes the move beyond Post Modernism is a reemergence of hierarchy, and evaluative distinction, and the reemergence of objectivity. But not the simplistic, modern objectivity. An objectivity that has to do with the refraction of different perspectives.”

Meta-modernism accepts the postmodern deconstruction of any single narrative that claims absolute truth, but it also suggests we don’t have to remain in the everything-is-relative-nothing-actually-matters puddle that creates. It suggests the “reemergence of hierarchy”, and establishing that hierarchy occurs by fluidity across as many different perspectives as possible.

This rung a bell - taking Zak’s definition in conjunction with Erik Hoel’s recent essay on the Supersensorium - which I wrote about in a previous newsletter - creates an interesting resonance.

The basic idea across both nuggets is that it’s important for us to figure out a way to judge certain things as being ‘better’ than other things. Without this evaluative distinction, what Hoel calls “a belief in an aesthetic spectrum”, we will, as Hoel cautions, disappear up our own brainstem. That is, be consumed by the impoverished hedonism that thrives in an everything-is-relative vacuum.


That’s it!

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full (redesigned!) website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing the newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends (or strangers on the internet ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

Onwards,
Oshan

Mind Matters

The Mindfulness Conspiracy, New MusingMind Website, & 13 Social Miracles

Hey folks,

  1. The new MusingMind website is live! Still a few major projects in the website pipeline, but the basics are up, & I’m excited about this next iteration of my digitized existence. Any feedback/suggestions much appreciated.

    Visit Website

  2. Ron Purser sent me an advance copy of his forthcoming book, McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, and I’m really, really digging it. He places the dharma and neoliberal capitalism in direct opposition, challenging meditation practitioners to confront the sociocultural structures that perpetuate unnecessary suffering.

    This brings to the fore ideas that’ve been simmering in my mind for months (years?). Any serious interest taken into the spaces, structures, and potentialities of conscious experience must consider the economic, social, technological, and political scaffoldings that contextualize consciousness. Because as folks like Marshall McLuhan & Felix Guattari write, cultural environments have psychic consequences (more on that below).

    I’ll be writing up a book review soon.

    A nugget of his critique:

"A kind of bury-your-head in the sand mindfulness which acts as a sanitized palliative for neoliberal subjects who have lost hope for alternatives to capitalism."


Vending Machines of Desire

I wrote an essay about the vending machine in my apartment building’s lobby. But as these things go, it’s about more than that:

  • *taps mic*
    The financial incentives to induce a sociopolitical stupor, an inertia in our becoming as human beings by feeding us junk, showing us standardized movies, busying us with soul-dampening labor, and shackling us with debt so we cannot realistically entertain any other way to live.

  • The urgency of *feeling*, rather than just knowing things.

    “Practices of feeling the transiency of sugary delights, feeling the plight of whales stuffed with plastic as they wash upon the beach to die, or feeling the loss of biodiversity as the loss of our own limbs.”

  • & the wonderful Mary Oliver.

Read Full Essay


The Faux Revolution of Mindfulness

Ron Purser just published a long teaser essay for his book in The Guardian, & the Buddhist community is reacting.

Thomas Metzinger, an elder of the meditation, philosophy, and neuroscience communities all melded into one, Tweeted:

Vince Horn of the Pragmatic Dharma approach & the Buddhist Geeks podcast:

Vince’s thread accepts the critique, but laments that it stops at critique. Purser seeks to deconstruct the neoliberalization of mindfulness without offering a vision of reconstruction from its ruins.

Point well received, and I dislike the platitude of ‘raising awareness is a virtue in itself!’, but this critique actualized me in a way I wasn’t before. It got gears of thought moving that’d been stuck. I think this critique needed a mainstream articulation, and I think this is it.

As with any piece that penetrates public consciousness, response is mixed. But my faith in public discourse is heartened when folks like the fantastic Oliver Burkeman manage to disagree without demeaning:

Among Purser’s most salient critiques is this: America is neutering, or has already neutered, meditation.

By reducing meditation to mindfulness, and describing mindfulness as a personal practice disconnected from all sociocultural context, we’re reproducing a meager shadow of meditation practice, a sliver of the sheer magnitude of the dharma.

By ‘privatizing’ mindfulness practice, it’s enabled to occur and thrive within a neoliberal socioeconomic framework that Purser views as antithetical to contemplative ethics.

Purser writes that mindfulness pacifies us as neoliberal subjects to the oppressive power relations inherent in the socioeconomic system. This is what’s meant by privatizing stress - it’s not society’s problem that you’re stressed out, it’s your own problem!

Or, put differently. If we are not engaged in an ongoing love affair with existing, if we suffer, who’s to blame?

Is it an individual failure of attention? Is a failure of mindfulness the reason I cannot continually bask in the splendor of the present? Or are larger contextual factors at play, such as the social, economic, political, and technologic systems that undergird our realities, and cause unnecessary suffering?

To my mind, the response to these critiques lies in both, and territory. But Purser’s critique is sensitive to the very sort of ecological, or ecosophical thinking that I’ve been so jazzed up on lately, so I’m devouring the book, and excited to write up a review.

Read The Mindfulness Conspiracy


Shinzen Young: I’d Take Meditative Consciousness Over the Alternative Every Time

Here’s a quick clip from meditation teacher Shinzen Young’s Google talk some years back. The clip should automatically begin at 1:00:21.

He offers a little thought experiment:

“You take anybody that’s meditated for 40 years, the way I have, and ask them:

'do you want to live one day knowing what you know as a meditator, and die, or live the rest of your life, but you’re not allowed to have a meditator’s consciousness.’

No one will hesitate, give me one day with the meditator’s consciousness. That’s incomparably better than a lifetime of ordinary pleasure.”

h/t to Tasshin’s link page for this vid.


Marshall McLuhan Playboy Interview

Rumor has it this is the best interview to encounter Marshall McLuhan’s thought (in this case, rumor is David Perell). Seems like McLuhan prefigures Felix Guattari’s ecosophy, and the whole interconnectedness of consciousness & culture train I’m riding.

From the interview, McLuhan says:

So, yeah, it’s a hell of a read. Link here.


McLuhan = Guattari

Check out the ideological similarities between Felix Guattari & Marshall McLuhan:

Guattari (1992)

“Without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an ‘ecosophy’ that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.”

McLuhan (1968)

“My work is designed for the pragmatic purpose of trying to understand our technological environment and its psychic and social consequences.

This reminds me of a bit from Borges, where he describes certain ideas as living outside of time, just waiting to break in. Individuals are just bridges between the atemporal realms where these ideas reside and the bounded spacetime perceptual realm we operate within.

Individuals as memetic bridges between the ideas of eternity & the lived reality of spacetime. That’s a nice thought.

Borges wrote (& I cannot recommend reading his two page essay enough):

“Perhaps an archetype not yet revealed to [hu]man, an eternal object, is gradually entering the world…”


13 Social Miracles

I’ve been digging into the work of Zak Stein recently, an eclectic guy (of the current generation) whose specialties appear to lie at the intersection of integral theory and education.

He just released a book, Education in a Time Between Worlds: Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology, and Society, which I hope to read soon. He’s been on a few podcasts to discuss things like ‘metamodern education’, and I really appreciate the breadth and depth of his thinking.

In his book, there’s a bit about “The 13 Social Miracles”. These are pragmatic utopian steps he feels we could actually take, and I want to share the table of contents for the 13 miracles -

This is the kind of comprehensive, integral, ecologically informed vision for a sane society, upheld and enriched by its social, economic, and technological scaffolding that gets my blood flowing.

This also fits into Ron Purser’s Mindfulness critique.

Purser points out that Buddha taught the eightfold path, of which ‘right mindfulness’ was only one (of eight) components. To live the dharma is larger than living mindfully, and requires a much broader, integral framework.

Not to compare Stein’s 13 miracles to Buddha’s eightfold path - I haven’t even read Stein’s book yet. But it helps combat the idea that there’s any single solution. Ameliorating the human condition in a complex society cannot come from any single source - this only invites imbalance.

A multidimensional vision respects the complexity of society today.

Peter Limberg recently Tweeted about a school he calls ‘Sensemaking’ for which the crew around Zek Stein are considered chieftans:

If anyone is aware of more people alive now who are calling for integral solutions that respect the complexity of life today, shoot me a message! I’d love to build out my map of folks approaching the interplay between consciousness and culture at this level.


That’s it!

As always, feel free to reach out for any reason, or check out the full website: www.MusingMind.org.

If you find any value here, feel free to support me by sharing website or newsletter link - musingmind.substack.com - with friends. Or hit this button to subscribe:

Cheers,
Oshan

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