After last week’s novella, I received the wise counsel to make these half as long & send them twice as frequently, so here we are.
In today’s capsule of things to consider in relation to our unruly and brief existence:
What is ‘ecosophy’? Or: how to live differently.
Alan Watts’ vision for Universal Basic Income
Bofællesskab: Dutch cohousing
Brief Book Review: Maria Popova’s Figuring
An essay from the archives about my post-college existential turbulence
Unwind, & enjoy!
What is ‘Ecosophy’? Or: How to Live Differently
In an essay titled “Remaking Social Practices”, philosopher Felix Guattari asks:
“By what means, in the current climate of passivity, could we unleash a mass awakening, a new renaissance?”
Penned shortly before his death in 1992, Guattari was concerned, like so many today, with the decline of culture. He saw mass-media as a ‘deterritorialized factory’ that mass-produces subjectivity - our sense of who & what we are, the consciousness through which we live & act, the medium of imagination through which we endeavor towards better lives & societies.
Guattari views subjectivity as a kind of motor that drives what he calls ‘existential mutations’, what a normal person might call cultural evolution. This is why mass-producing a nation, a globe of homogenous subjectivities poses such an existential threat. Our diversity of being, our collective imagination atrophies.
Natural selection functions by producing a wide, diverse array of mutations to afford a plurality of options for potentially useful adaptations. If all mutations are similar, if diversity is scrubbed from the buffet of mutations, it becomes far more difficult to survive, or in the case of cultural evolution, to thrive.
A ‘mass awakening’, for Guattari, can only begin in the subjectivity, or mentality of individuals. But, this is where he diverges from the new age platitude of meditation as panacea to everything: he also writes that no changes in mentality can take place without changing the physical and social environments that sculpt individual mentalities:
“…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.”
Ecosophy is an approach to living better, to cultivating our subjectivities by recognizing them as interdependently embedded within social and material ecologies. My subjectivity is a product, or an expression of the webbed sociopolitical, economic, domestic, and technological environments I exist within.
This recalls a fun little graphic I made for the ‘Ecology of Attention’ newsletter, where I explored the same kind of cyclical relationship between attention and sociomaterial structures:
In this framework, to modify our subjectivity requires modifying the broader contexts of our being - our economic, social, political, technological, and mental ecologies.
Ecosophy, then, is a practice of suspending, reviewing, and enriching the relational environments from which our sense of being is woven. It is an activism for consciousness, for individuals to regain autonomy over their subjectivity.
I’m working on an essay digging specifically into each of these ecologies, how they shape subjectivity and how we might modify them. For now, check out Guattari’s essay if intrigued.
Alan Watts’ vision for Universal Basic Income +
“If, if we get our heads straight about money, I predict that by AD 2000, or sooner, no one will pay taxes, no one will carry cash, utilities will be free, and everyone will carry a general credit card. This card will be valid up to each individual’s share in a guaranteed basic income or national dividend, issued free, beyond which he [or she] may still earn anything more that he desires by an art of craft, profession or trade that has not been displaced by automation.”
Bofællesskab | Dutch Cohousing Communities
We create our living spaces, then our living spaces create us.
Inspired by this little Twitter exchange imagining healthier iterations of society, I got back into thinking about Bofællesskab:
Bofællesskab is the Dutch word for cohousing communities. These are groups of private residences clustered around communal spaces (kitchens, parks, etc). The workload of everything from cooking, childcare, to grounds maintenance are distributed equally among residents, and social ties strengthened in the process.
Residents have daily access to cheap, communal meals, and are only required to help cook once every six months or so, depending on size of the community. Children have immensely larger & richer social circles, guardians, etc. Community gardens and maintaining animals become way easier, and so on. Aldous Huxley imagined communities like these in his utopian novel, Island.
A UK advocate described them as:
"self-managing communities, independently governed by the people who live there.”
Like little anarchist/utopian factions of thoughtful humans, with enough gusto to rethink and create better living arrangements.
Picked this up from Meik Wiking’s book, The Little Book Of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People. He’s CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, and a good advocate for various Dutch triumphs. Summary article here.
Book Notes: Maria Popova’s Figuring
Popova’s years-in-the-making book asks a singular question:
“How, in this blink of existence bookended by nothingness, do we attain completeness of being?”
Her answer, true to form, is a cartographic, sprawling study of the lives of others, glued together (like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, sealing together broken pottery with a graceful gold) by her own scant but stunning voice:
“Lives interweave with other lives, and out of the tapestry arise hints at answers to questions that raze to the bone of life: What are the building blocks of character, of contentment, of lasting achievement? How does a person come into self-possession and sovereignty of mind against the tide of convention and unreasoning collectivism? Does genius suffice for happiness, does distinction, does love?”
She brings undersung historical figures to the fore, like sculptor Harriet Hosmer, or astronomer Maria Mitchell. She praises Margaret Fuller as the only transcendentalist to truly mix her mind with the world as it was, pushing towards what she thought it might become:
“Of the Transcendentalists, Fuller was the only one who left the sanctuary of nature and tested her ideas against the real world, using her pen to bring life as it was being lived a little closer to life as she believed it ought to be lived in a just society.”
The read is immersive, enriching, and as her essays always have, leaves me wanting to hear more of her voice. I scan the pages for where she surfaces from her submersion in the lives of others to deliver her own findings.
But I think this deep submersion is part of what makes her insights so sharp, so sturdy. They are not self-indulgent, they arise from a rich tapestry of being no individual alone can weave.
Essay from the Archives
I wrote this essay shortly after graduating college, about the existential turbulence graduating with no job in sight launched. I also wrote it after reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up, which I still believe is among the best essays ever written. It’s also about an existential crisis, so I stitched the two together.
It’s one of the first time I stretched my own narrative legs, writing from experience rather than reporting on something I read, so it has a special, albeit self-conscious place in my memory.