Mind Matters

Utopian Impulses & Urban Design

Hello fellow humans,

2 new podcast episodes to share:

  1. I spoke with John Vervaeke, professor of cognitive science who’s behind the fantastic Youtube lecture series, Awakening From the Meaning Crisis. We explored ‘The Cognitive Science of Capitalist Realism’:

    Vervaeke Episode Page

  2. Next, I spoke with Alex Williams. Alex is coauthor of the deliciously provocative book, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. We spoke about how power operates in complex economies, the psychology of neoliberalism, and how structural changes like UBI, full automation, and shorter work weeks can change individual consciousness:

    Alex Williams Episode Page

Ok, let’s dig in to some stuff.


Dimensionality

Something peculiar is happening to me. I’ve been so entangled in various projects the past few weeks that I stopped meditating. Soon after, life began feeling different. The only way I can think to describe it is like a balloon that loses all air and becomes flat as paper. It deflates from 3D to 2D.

With that deflation, status anxieties intensified. Am I ‘doing’ enough? I should be reading instead of watching Mr. Robot, etc.

When I started sitting meditation back up again just a few days ago, it’s as if everything began re-inflating. Dimensionality returned. With the return of dimensionality, status anxieties loosened again.

Anybody else ever feel something like this?


UBI & the Utopian Impulse

In preparation for my conversation with Peter Frase, I found this wonderful diagram of UBI discourse on his website:

Mostly, it makes clear that UBI discourse is messy. There aren’t just two camps. Whatever your ideological preferences, there’s an angle for, and an angle against.

Recently, I’ve been applying Fredric Jameson’s writing on the difference between utopian impulses and utopian programs to UBI.

The utopian impulse is that inchoate, inarticulate yearning for a better world. It’s nebulous yet undeniably present. It has no definite form, but it has a definite sensation. It’s when you walk down the street, look around at the people, their faces, the buildings, their character, and feel that it’s undeniably possible to build a better world than the one we’re presently in.

The utopian program is the pragmatic method of implementation. It’s about instantiating the impulse.

In the case of UBI, I think it’s important to first point out that UBI isn’t just UBI. UBI is the spearhead of this resurgent utopian impulse. The impulse is back. This is a big deal, because for a while, we lost it:

Francis Fukuyama in 1989: ‘we’ve arrived at the end of history’

Fredric Jameson in 2003: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”

Mark Fisher in 2009: “…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.”

Nick Srnicek & Alex Williams in 2015: “Where has the future gone? … in this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.”

The blooming interest in UBI is like a bioindicator of the utopian impulse, signaling its rise.

So wherever you fall on UBI, don’t throw out the impulse with the program. Even if you think it’ll break the world, recognize the impulse in those who advocate for it, and maintain that common ground. Our grueling task is to evaluate the most prudent policy frameworks to serve as spearheads for the revival of utopian impulses.


Sante Fe Institute & Cormac McCarthy

The Sante Fe Institute (SFI) - a pioneering academic institution studying complexity, and everything else - reached out to novelist Cormac McCarthy to spice up their mission statement.

This little video where he reads the result is great:

It feels like SFI is stretching the form of what academic institutions can be to its limits. Doesn’t seem like it’ll break the container, but it is fascinating to watch them explore the boundaries.


How Can we Create Thriving Cities?

“There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

- Jane Jacobs

If cities are like central organs of the human system, how do we create thriving cities?

A really interesting proposal just came out of the RadicalxChange space: Cividend: A Democratic Urban Planning Mechanism.

The starting point is to understand cities as complex systems that cannot be optimized from above. You don’t design a city and then let people inhabit it. The inhabiting people have to be the driving force of design itself.

I won’t summarize it all, you can read it if interested. But the author uses Donella Meadow’s idea of leverage points in a system to identify the best ways to design democratic urban processes.

Using her hierarchy of leverage points, the traditional mechanisms of urban design - rent control, zoning, property taxes - are all on the most superficial end of the change spectrum.

The ‘cividend’ attempts to work closer to the core of systemic change:

Though this figure might not make sense without reading the original for context, the basic cividend process looks like this:

If urban design or city planning is your thing, check it out.


Monopolies

I don’t have much to say on this other than it feels really important & worth knowing.

Three asset management companies - Blackrock, Vanguard, and State Street (BVSS) - own 90% of the top 500 companies in the world.

Of the 500 companies that comprise the S&P 500, BVSS are the majority shareholders of 450.

Image from The Conversation.


Rilke’s Faces

In other news, Rilke’s poetry is endlessly, furiously strange:

Consider the burden of having a face. For all that goes on inside, the face is what others see. It’s a single viewpoint, a clouded window into ceaselessly converging and decomposing insides. How could the forest have a face? Too much is going on for a single face to preside over it all.

Picture that: an animal pleadingly approaching, begging you to take off its face. A sad fox, head bowed. The burden is too much. The way faces collapse multitudes into singularities is too corrosive to the multiplicity of processes things otherwise are.

Sometimes, meditation is like briefly removing my face. Multiplicities are no longer filtered through a choke point. That expansion from 2D to 3D.

What would a city look like in which there were no faces? Can faceless entities relate to one another?


That’ll Do.

As always, you can respond directly to this email with thoughts or suggestions. Let’s start a conversation.

The podcast is going to be busy over the next few months. If you’d like to support the project, consider sharing it with a friend, or around the web, or leaving a rating/review on Apple Podcasts.

Until next time,
Oshan