Mind Matters

Networked Post-Capitalism, Annie Dillard, & Social Dividends

Hello there -

At this very moment, while you’re reading these words, there’s an atemporal link between a past version of me, sitting at a computer writing this, and present you. At any moment, you’re interacting with stuff that past versions of people created. Each encounter links you with that past person in some strange way, so that we’re always embedded in strange temporal interlocks of people from the past and ourselves in the present.

Anyway. I’ll attach an update on the podcast progress at the newsletter’s end. Let’s dig in:


New Essay: A Post-Capitalist Philosophy of Networks

I’m submerged in reading about post-capitalism and networks. This essay is like a raft I had to build to make some sense of where I’m at, and it’s a fun place.

I use Christopher Vitale’s philosophy of networks as a roadmap to chart a potential transition from present-day capitalism to post-capitalism. Specifically, Vitale’s Networkology answers some questions not only for imagining what post-capitalism might look like, but what the spiritual landscape beyond post-modernism might look like. Values found in networks like meta-stability, diversity and differing, and the sustained emergence of complexity become new narratives to guide us out of the post-modern rubble.

“It’s possible to give a very deep, thorough, and complex explanation of what networks are, their governing logic, and their dynamics. But I’m less interested in doing so than taking Vitale’s work - where he does precisely this - as a preface to my own interest: how a philosophy of networks opens up avenues beyond the existential vacuity of postmodern capitalism, offering a set of stories and values that might help reconstitute our ways of living in the 21st century such that we pivot from extractive, zombified livelihoods to regenerative, vitalized, creative, diversified, and richer ways of relating to our ecosystem, and ultimately being in the world.” (from the essay).

If we view the universe in networked terms, we can ask: what do networks want?

Networks want robustness, which is the sustainable emergence of complexity. This recasts the universe as one big network that isn’t concerned with survival per se, but with continuing to emerge new forms of complexity. Survival seems like the most salient challenge to this emergence over the past few million years, which might explain why we’ve been so wrapped up in survival dynamics.

But if John Maynard Keynes was right that by 2030, we might be able to ‘solve’ the economic problem, that’s a pretty big development in the story. What new forms of complexity might we cook up if released from spending so much time securing our continued survival?

Vitale’s work suggests that a post-capitalist culture (one that no longer centers around capital, because survival isn’t such a pressing insecurity anymore) might do well to support the conditions of meta-stability (maybe something like a fully realized democratic socialism, or strong safety nets that ensure no one will face survival insecurity), and diversity and differing (a move away from the culture industry and homogenization, towards supporting individuals in creative play), as these are the best conditions to let robust networks emerge.

Full Essay Here


Christopher Vitale Going Off

Also, this, from Vitale’s Networkologies. Didn’t work it into the spiel above because I’d get too sidetracked, but holy hell:

What if the entire mentality of scarcity that gives rise to rivalrous dynamics, zero-sum games, and undue paranoia & hostility is an artifact of the primitive brain?

If scarcity - and perhaps even the fetish for private property - is based in the amygdala-ic, cortico-adrenal systems where fight or flight, fear, and survival-driven responses arise, then moving beyond scarcity could mean using a host of psycho-technologies to down-regulate the amygdala and related systems, and up-regulate the pre-frontal cortex where higher order, more complex thinking happens.

Also, to design cultural systems that down-regulate survival insecurities, that make us feel stable enough in our continued survival that we don’t provoke those more primitive, fear-based mentalities.


92% of All the World’s Money is Virtual

From an infographic that breaks down all the world’s money & markets, I learned that ONLY 8% OF THE WORLD’S EXISTING MONEY IS PHYSICAL. This means the rest of the money, the other 92%, exists just as numbers on a flickering screen.

So most of our checking account balances, our outstanding debt tallies, refer to nothing at all. If the numbers on the screen change, they change, with no necessary corresponding change in the physical world.

92% of the world’s money is virtual.

This drives home how right David Graeber is when he says this whole system is just one big collective social agreement. The system is not held together by anything that would survive our simply deciding to do things differently.

“Every morning we wake up and re-create capitalism. If one morning we woke up and all decided to create something else, then there wouldn’t be capitalism anymore. There would be something else…Together we create the world we inhabit. Yet if any one of us tried to imagine a world we’d like to live in, who would come up with one exactly like the one that currently exists?” (From his book, Bullshit Jobs)

So in a sense, our collective reality is literally a computer simulation. The information stored in computers, and tracked digitally, governs the structure of our lives. Debt, earnings, interest rates, capital gains, are all built upon binary 1’s and 0’s in computerized relation with one another.


A Great Read on Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard is my favorite writer, and I’m always on the lookout for writing about her. Geoff Dyer’s essay is a favorite, but this great essay by Pamela Smith is new to me, and it’s fantastic.

An excerpt:

“She also exhibits for the ecological thinker that familiar twentieth-century phenomenon: an inability to move from observation to ethic, a sense of personal insignificance and alienation, a tendency to let things alone. There is a God, and he is up to something or other. There is wonder in this world, and that prompts a God-ward "Hooray!" There are gods all over the place, and we honor them with our attentions, appreciations, or fixations. Like God, nature has its darknesses and its lights. It moves us and frightens us away. Or it leaves us dumbfounded, watching, and doing nothing. Humans watch and see and become entangled in mystery. We make things, we ceaselessly eat, and we die. The earth turns, galaxies swirl, and new things ever arise. God may or may not have in mind the way things turn about and will turn out. Such seems to be a summation of Dillard's theology and metaphysic.”

The basic dance of the essay is to ask why, though Dillard so marvelously attended to the natural world, did she never move from observation to ethics. Why did she never draw conclusions about how we should live from her study of the interlocked universe, or speak out against the polluting ways we exist, or against anything at all?

Dillard draws us into the mystery of living, and just leaves us there. We’re accustomed to being led into such murky waters, and then led out with some kind of actionable conclusion. Some modicum of comforting sense made of the wild, chaotic, cruel, and beautiful universe.

Kind of like spelunking. Enthusiasts go explore caves by fastening a rope to a sturdy point outside the cave, then hook themselves to the line and drop into the dark hole in the earth’s surface. The line assures them they can leave at any point. The line will always lead them back out. With Dillard, there is no line. There is no assurance that we might exit the dark mystery of what’s going on here. You have to be willing to dive in with no exit plan, and flail around and see what happens.


Charles Eisenstein on Universal Basic Income

I’ve been exploring the work of Charles Eisenstein. At first, he struck me as a new-agey, mumbo-jumbo guy. Then I started getting a sense for the depth of research and contemplation behind his work. This guy is one of those insane polymaths, who does more work to substantiate his opinions and learn topics for himself than most any other interesting economist I’ve read (has anyone read his book, Sacred Economics? I’m thinking of starting it, would love to hear from folks who’ve read it).

I recommend his podcast conversation with Daniel Schmachtenberger (another one of those incomprehensibly polymath-ic humans.

Eisenstein his a cute little video on UBI (elsewhere, he’s done the full legwork of digging through the actual policy and logistical questions of what that kind of policy might entail), where I found his spiel on recontextualizing UBI as a social dividend really useful.

Thinking of basic income as a social dividend considers the payout as a democratic stake in our cultural inheritance. As a species, we’ve made marvelous inventions, breakthroughs, discoveries. The light bulb, etc. These things make wealth possible, and we ought to all share in the benefit of such discoveries. They shouldn’t be ‘owned’ by anyone other than the entire human race (for the benefit of the entire cosmic ecosystem, mind you).

Here’s a really insightful article that expands on the move from UBI to social dividend in a pragmatic, thoughtful way. It argues that UBI is cool, but alone might fall right back into service of the neoliberal ideology most advocates are seeking to break from.

“…the objective of public policy should be to establish systemic forms of sharing that decentralise and devolve political power and embody the fundamental right of all people to a fair share of the wealth and resources that are created by nature or society as a whole. Thus unless any basic income scheme is implemented as part of a broader policy agenda to address the structural causes of inequality and environmental crises, its longer term benefits would remain questionable.”

I suspect Eisenstein would jive with this essay.


4-Minutes of Alan Watts

And since it’s impossible to have too much Alan Watts in our lives, here’s a nicely illustrated 4-minute talk of his:


Podcast Update

Almost ready to launch! Have the first 3 conversations recorded - Ron Purser, Erik Hoel, and Andrew Taggart - plus a 4 minute ‘Episode 0’ introduction to the podcast. Just finalizing logistics (hosting, editing, etc.).

If you’re interested in listening to the episode 0 introduction & offering feedback, shoot me an email. I’d love feedback to help tweak the introduction, and make sure I don’t sound too weird (while at the same time, sounding just weird enough).


That’s all.

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Cheers,
Oshan