De-powering human societies

Replacing monologues and monocultures with dialogues and biodiversity at all levels of scale

  1. Cultural inertia
  2. Attempting to apply the scientific method in complex domains and transdisciplinary contexts
    1. Visualising conceptual causal models as an antidote to sloppy reasoning and invalid statistics
  3. Modularising complex domains
    1. A practical example
    2. The limits of understandability of linear languages
  4. Linear language – the ultimate learning disability
  5. Recovering diversity
    1. Open Space
    2. Multi-solving in Open Space
  6. The tomb stone of powered-up civilisations : Consistently Too Little Too Late
    1. The planetary reboot sequence

10,000 years ago, homo sapiens began farming a grain surplus. This surplus led to the creation of societal and cultural hierarchies which divorced our species from our long relationship with the natural world.

The biggest lie in our culture is the normal language of WEIRD success, finance, legalese, economics and technology.

The current human predicament is a result of the cultural disease of super-human scale powered-up civilisation building endeavours, the origins of which can be traced back to the beginnings of “modern” human history and the social power dynamics resulting from the invention of interest bearing debt around 5,000 years ago.

Maybe now is the time to write a new book: “Debt – The Last 20 Years”. Towards a more honest language to navigate the path ahead:

Cultural inertia

The following presentation to investors contains some interesting numbers, and along the way, it reveals the short-term thinking of those who are caught up in the cult of busyness.

Skagen is a Norwegian investment fund.

On the one hand, for the general public, given growing concerns about the climate and the environment, politicians and clean tech companies enjoy pointing to Norway as green and clean, as a poster child for the energy transition.

On the other hand, for investors, Norwegian fund management companies advertise the bullet proof investment opportunities in the energy sector – across the board, for further oil and gas exploration, and for mining.

I have not independently verified the numbers, but irrespective of the accuracy of the absolute numbers, even if some numbers are off by a factor of two or more, there is one true message:

The so-called energy transition is a feel-good exercise for the general public, and at the same time, it is [marketed as] a rock solid investment opportunity to investors. Norway is one of the biggest oil and gas exporters as well as a poster child for the dream of “clean” energy, propping up the other great investment opportunity, related to mining, globally – and therefore also again for the Norwegian oil and gas that is needed to meet the energy demand resulting from the anticipated extreme increase in mining activities. A win-win-win scenario, with a double win for Norwegian oil and gas.

The presenter correctly points out that mining won’t be able to scale 50-fold and more, to meet the theoretical demand of an “energy transition”, but given the current cultural inertia, this does not diminish the investment opportunities.

The cultural inertia and the optimism of investors is based on the following assumptions, none of which are mentioned anywhere in this presentation:

  1. Societies will continue to rely on GDP as a measure of progress
  2. The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is going to rise indefinitely, because oil and gas will be consumed indefinitely,without any disruption to the growth in GDP (so-called “wealth”)
  3. Industrialised countries (the WEIRD ones and China) will continue to rely heavily on the convenience of fossil energy powered technology hyper busy ways of life (the equivalent of several hundred energy slaves per person)
  4. The state of the biosphere and the planetary ecosystem is an irrelevant externality on the road of GDP growth and technological “progress”

Investors are obviously having a good time traveling on the “pedal to the metal” bus: No matter what lies ahead, capitalism is the best religion that has ever been invented.

You don’t need to be a genius to see that over the next 10 to 20 years at least two of the above assumptions will blow up in our face, and of course also in the face of investors. It does not matter which assumptions blow up first, the downstream effects will be massive, putting an end to energy intensive, i.e. to industrialised ways of life. Globally fungible money issued as interest bearing debt won’t survive.

In fact, the sooner the bizarre techno optimistic assumptions start to blow up, the more of the planetary ecosystem will still be around, to assist humans in the forced transition to [very] low energy ways of life and in rediscovering that we are part of nature.

Attempting to apply the scientific method in complex domains and transdisciplinary contexts

Visualising conceptual causal models as an antidote to sloppy reasoning and invalid statistics

Modularising complex domains

Modularisation of complex domains and creative collaboration across a diversity of domain boundaries maximises collective intelligence at human scale.

A practical example

The limits of understandability of linear languages

Unfortunately, so far most software has been written in linear languages, resulting in systems that are nearly as opaque, incomprehensible, and subject to surprising and unknown modes of failure as are state-of-the-art artificially intelligent systems. Over the last 50 years, in the busyness of frantic attempts to digitise and automate the tools of civilisation, we have un-learned the art of de-powered dialogue and the art of modularisation – the signature traits of the human species.

Ending the curse of software maintenance

Once we rediscover and appreciate the limits of human scale, we are equipped to replace the busyness of muddling with human dialogue and human comprehensible explanatory models.

Agent based semantic modelling and validation via instantiation is an urgently needed form of grassroots theory building and theory integration (knowledge archaeology) beyond academia. Wherever there is deep human domain knowledge, wherever people still trust each other and are not corrupted by social power dynamics, many experiments in the social sciences and in engineering can be improved and sometimes entirely replaced by semantic / causal modelling and instantiation. 

The semantic approach can be understood as a rapid iterative cycle of theory building and experimentation that surfaces and validates structural and causal mental models. It involves validating a theory, i.e. a formal semantic model, against the collective mental models of all available domain experts, resulting in explicit representations of the domain specific nonlinear multivariate mental models that participants use on a daily basis, usually without even being conscious of it. As an added bonus, instantiation catalyses shared understanding amongst all participants. 

Side note: The Cell Platform is designed to track the number of times categories are instantiated in the context of a particular model artefact, including the reasons for non-instantiation, i.e. unknown information or category is not-applicable in the context at hand. That’s exactly the meta data that turns a semantic model and a corresponding set of instances into a human scale, i.e. an understandable Bayesian model.

A big part of the journey of de-powering human societies involves taking an honest look at the relevance and quality of the digital data that we have been busy collecting – treating it as “the new oil”.

The antidote to misuse of mathematics and junk data

Linear language – the ultimate learning disability

How did we get caught up in a cult of busyness? Humans are curious creatures, we are easily distracted by shiny new toys. At human scale, in a de-powered social environment, our curiosity is a wonderful adaptive trait that generates cultural diversity. Beyond human scale, especially in powered-up environment, our curiosity degenerates into a maladaptive trait with the potential of causing untold harm.

Are you a model builder or a story teller?

Recovering diversity

Designing filtering, collaboration, thinking, and learning tools for the next 200 years

Open Space

Multi-solving in Open Space

Humans acquire knowledge or become aware of new information as individuals, and as part of groups of different sizes: households, teams, organisations, communities, societies, and with the help of ubiquitous global communication tools, even collectively as humanity. Creative collaboration in Open Space can help us break through the barriers of established disciplines and management structures, and power a continuous SECI (socialisation, externalisation, combination, internalisation) knowledge creation spiral at human scale.

Creativity = multisolving + neurodiversity + thinking tools

The tomb stone of powered-up civilisations : Consistently Too Little Too Late

Here is an excellent summary of the human predicament that may come in handy to shorten fruitless conversations with techno optimists and members of other anthropocentric faiths. I only have very few quibbles with the terminology used by Michael Dowd, and I love that he refers to industrialised civilisation as a religious cult, which I fully agree with.

One quibble refers to the use of the word “reality”, as it detracts from the vast diversity of lived human and non-human experiences. Instead I simply refer to the diversity of lived experiences and the commonalities and differences between lived experiences. One of the commonalities of lived experiences amongst sensitive Autistic people is that they tend to reach the doom and post-doom stages of understanding the hubris of anthropocentrism [much] earlier than others, many of whom remain their entire life in a state of cognitive dissonance and denial. Ted Nelson beautifully captured the toxicity of the modern technological human arrow of “progress” back in 1999, which is perhaps my favourite quote from the entire industrial era:

A frying-pan is technology.  All human artifacts are technology.  But beware of anybody who uses this term.  Like “maturity” and “reality” and “progress”, the word “technology” has an agenda for your behavior: usually what is being referred to as “technology” is something that somebody wants you to submit to.  “Technology” often implicitly refers to something you are expected to turn over to “the guys who understand it.”

This is actually almost always a political move.  Somebody wants you to give certain things to them to design and decide.  Perhaps you should, but perhaps not.

This applies especially to “media”.  I have always considered designing the media of tomorrow to be an art form (though an art form especially troubled by the politics of standardization).  Someone like Prof. Negroponte of MIT, with whom I have long had a good-natured feud, wants to position the design of digital media as “technology.  That would make it implicitly beyond the comprehension of citizens or ordinary corporation presidents, therefore to be left to the “technologists”– like you-know-who.

The other quibble I have with the terminology of Michael Dowd is his complete rejection of the word hope, as if the only hope we can have is related to the longevity of industrial civilisation. In the stage that Michael refers to as post-doom, he acknowledges hope for collective action in-the-small in terms of a focus on minimising suffering, being compassionate, de-powering relationships, practicing mutual aid, etc. without using the word hope. He even acknowledges the benefits of gallows humour in terms of catalysing mutual trust and social cohesion, but frames it all under the broad umbrella of “acceptance”, which in my mind only makes sense when qualified to acceptance of civilisational collapse, which is liberating us from a diseased life denying culture.

Without trust in our ability to appreciate local life at [small] human scale and the hope that we can minimise suffering, we fail to be part of life.

The planetary reboot sequence

Mosses seem to be a part of the planetary reboot sequence that gets initiated after evolutionary hiccups like the one triggered by industrial civilisation. The next 200 years will reveal whether humans can be part of the reboot sequence. This documentary contains some superb footage and good commentary – if you ignore the last segment about exporting life to Mars.

The open question is how humans will treat each other and our non-human contemporaries on the journey towards being composted and recycled. Experiences may vary depending on the human scale cultures we co-create on the margins.