Reinvent Everything


Reinvent Everything

In my last essay, I looked at the coming “Great Transition” which, I believe, is the kind of event that happens every 1,000 or 10,000 years. In such a disruption, we must understand that most of our “civilization toolkit” will have to be entirely re-invented. I find that it can often be difficult to process this level of reinvention. Even when we consciously try to hold ourselves to a high standard, our habits of mind inevitably impose themselves on what we envision — and we unconsciously smuggle much of our current world into our imagined future. We look to the future and imagine flying cars.

The approach that I’ve learned to take when tasked with a deeply disruptive imagination is to tear contemporary institutions down to their baseline fundamentals. “Boil off” the medium and mechanism and get to the core social or human-level functions that these institutions are attempting to satisfy. From here, we can dip into our provisional “toolkit from the future” and invent new institutional architectures that satisfy the fundamental needs — but in an entirely rethought fashion.

By example, about seven years ago now, I was invited to contemplate the “future of journalism” by the Knight Foundation. This was an intriguing problem as, having been born just before Watergate, I had never known American Journalism as anything other than the caricature that it was to become.

So, when we look at a function like “journalism” we first must be clear: it has absolutely nothing to do with the medium. Journalism is not a function of journals. Or radio, television, newsapers, blogs, etc. These are all instantiations of the “generator function,” but they aren’t the essence. Nor even are many of the good practices taught at journalism school of the essence.

It is only when we apply enough heat to boil off all of the transients, that we get down to the core: journalism is the function whereby society sources, orients and processes information. It is part of a larger complex that includes science and education. Sourcing information about the world and disseminating it within the social environment to maximize its richness, accuracy and generativity for our “collective intelligence.” Within this larger complex, if we pull at the threads of “journalism” specifically, we might say that it focuses on the “realtime edge” — good journalism makes sure that new information is routed to the right people with fidelity and clarity.

Looked at in this light, we can see how poorly our legacy institutions of journalism satisfy this need.

As we go through the process of reinventing, we are going to consistently come face-to-face with the perhaps unpleasant reality that all of our contemporary institutions are failing at doing what they are supposed to do. Ultimately, this is a good thing. It means that every day it gets both easier and more important that we detach from obsolete institutions and replace them with reinvented ones. In some cases, this will be a relatively easy task. For example, given the contemporary state of our legacy journalism institutions, replacing them with nothing would be a decided improvement.

But, of course, we don’t intend to replace these core functions with nothing. In the second, constructive, move, we take a pass at trying to implement structures that will richly satisfy our needs (e.g., the function of journalism) — using our “toolkit from the future”. In a previous post, I presented a heuristic for what these tools might look like:

- Data aware: in principle all possible transactions are stored and searchable

- Transparent: in principle all transactions can be viewed by all participants

- Distributed: in principle no levels of hierarchy

- Resilient: designed to maximize and benefit from “black swan” events rather than minimize and suffer from them.

- Segmented. intrinsically difficult to capture

- Transient. Beyond the basic resilient holon and stored data, every function or organization is built with the time or conditions that warrant its death built into the design/plan.

We can conjecture, for example, that the journalism of the future will be distributed — with every individual in society playing a continuous role in providing the function. Indeed, given the primary importance and power of True Information to a well functioning Abundance Society, we might well expect that providing honest and thoughtful evaluation of experiences will become one of the principal activities in the future. Perhaps a main portion of the economy of Abundance will involve having experiences, evaluating them and curating them in a collective effort to ensure that every member of society is consistently presented with the best possible set of experiences for them to encounter at every moment.

A conspicuous feature of the journalism of the future will be a deep lack of Authority. There will be no notion of looking for The One Right Answer from an Unimpeachable Authority. Consequently, we might also expect to be spared Authority’s repressive sibling: rendering everything into a porridge of “opinion”.

Rather, a good collective intent would be a refreshing sense of humility. An ethos for the collective journalism of the future: don’t have opinions and don’t expect that you or anyone will ever have the Truth. Instead, speak your personal truth with honesty and integrity — and constantly endeavour to become more capable of discernment and clarity. In a society where this ethos becomes a daily practice of everyone, we can produce a truly awe-inspiring “collective intelligence.”

It’s important, of course, not to get Utopian. Error, capriciousness, lassitude, and self-righteousness are, and will continue to be, all-too-human. Yet, for all of their flaws, contemporary architectures like Reddit, Yelp and to a lesser extent Wikipedia are embryonic forms of what our future “attention management” architectures will look like. The buzzing confusion of social media demonstrates that our ancient communal instincts for sharing and social signaling are as robust as ever. The challenge lies not in human nature, but in how we architect our environment to express the aspects of human nature that are most collaborative and generative.

It is certainly not a trivial task to architect “attention economies” that reward honesty and integrity while downregulating “defection” behaviour. But from what we know in cognitive-neuroscience and behavioural economics, it is well within the realm of the possible. And we don’t have to be close to perfect to be vastly better than anything we’ve seen before.

Obviously, this is not an effort to fully or even partially detail out the richness of an attention management solution adequate to replace our current journalism functions. The intent right now is only to use journalism as an example of how, at a high level, we can go about the general process of “reinvention”.

This process of reducing a core social function to its baseline, ruthlessly carving away the artifacts of how we have satisfied it in the past, and then recreating it using “tools from the future” is generalizable. Over the next few months, we will apply it to many of the functions that are necessary to present enough of the Society of Abundance that more and more people can begin to emigrate to those far shores.

We should always be mindful, of course, that little of what we conjecture, architect and design will survive first contact with reality. We should be certain that the pioneers of Abundance will discover, create and construct in ways that we can only vaguely sense. Nonetheless, if you want to get to the New World, you must first build some boats.

Vladimir Kush

So where should we focus our energy? What are the core social functions that need to be reinvented? And what is the minimal viable architecture that pushes us past the tipping point?

Provisionally, I will offer Max Neef’s work on human needs as a resource. The Chilean economist has done much of the necessary work articulating “fundamental human needs” at a level that is both deeper than and abstracted from the institutional structures that societies use to satisfy those needs. Though we likely need not articulate a social architecture that satisfies all of these needs before we are at a tipping point, we can be sure that all of these needs will ultimately need to be satisfied — and satisfied well — by the Abundance Society.

As I contemplate this list, two things occur to me. The first is how poorly our current institutions satisfy our real human needs. It’s not their fault, of course, they were invented a long time ago and have had a pretty darn good run. But over the decades they’ve suffered from what Joseph Tainter calls “decreasing returns to complexity”. Which is to say that their only response to any new challenge is “more of the same.” And “the same” isn’t working any more. What’s happening now is that rather than providing healthy, effective “satisfiers”, what our current model tends to provide is “pseudo-satisfiers” like social media that present themselves as satisfying needs, when they really don’t. Or, worse, “violators” like fast food that present themselves as satisfying needs when they really make things worse. It really is the toolkit itself that needs replacing.

The second thing that occurs to me is how simple it really can be. Imagine two coffee shops. The first is Starbucks, the second is a thriving local shop. The first kind of solves a human need — you can get your coffee. Relatively quickly. Cheaply enough that you feel fine about the transaction. But then consider the second shop. There you can also get your coffee. It might be a little more expensive, it might be a little higher quality. But the big difference is in the sense of community. The second place is alive. You see friends greeting each-other. You feel conversation and conviviality. The barista knows your name and the way you like your latte.

There are four or five different human needs being satisfied all at once in a place like this. This is called a “synergistic satisfier”. It seems clear that the Abundance Society will be constructed largely from synergistic satisfiers. We can already see that happening — its a big piece of “social capital” and why services like AirBnB are so explosive. Because it turns out that a little human-ness goes a long way.

The other piece of our task will be to imagine our migration strategy. Human beings and our social institutions are naturally conservative. For good reason — in general, change is dangerous. And for those who have power in the legacy architecture, change can be perceived as a threat. Consequently, we can be sure that the movement from the Society of Scarcity to the Society of Abundance will not be seamless. Forces of control — both from within and from without — will react with fear and all the behaviours that come from fear. It will take some care to construct a new social architecture that can detach from the old without devolving into darkness.

Again, we don’t know the precise path, but we can venture some hypotheses:

The new system must run concurrently with the old in order to avoid inducing general collapse. To achieve this end:

1) It displaces due to choice and not force. Bit by bit and not all at once.

2) It can leverage mature services of the old system to gain capabilities rapidly and supplement deficits.

3) It must be able to defend itself against predation by the old system.

4) It replaces old system functions when able.

5) Connection to the new system is a function of desire/membership and a willingness to live by a set of rules, both at the individual level and at the level of the resilient community. Membership is not based on geography or accident of birth, it is earned through behavior.

Constructing this system will be no mean feat. At the same time, we should be reminded of the fact that our existing institutions are failing. In a very important sense, those ships have sailed. The crisis is upon us. Waiting and hoping that “things will work out” will be to no avail. Our construction of a New Society is as much a consequence of necessity as opportunity. The longer we wait the more the balance will move from opportunity to necessity.

Right now most of the world still lives in relative comfort. The longer we delay our courage, the more intense our situation. Of course, at the same time, the future is constantly becoming present — and every day, each of our various tools from the future become more mature. So perhaps our mantra:slow is smooth; smooth is fast. Deliberate. Thoughtful. Smooth.

In this context, my next essay will examine the strategic situation — the lay of the land and how poised the current system is for transformation. At least from a few aspects that I think are important. After that, we can take a deep dive into a few aspects that are clearly in need of reinventing.

The Coming Great Transition


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Friend and co-conspirator Jordan Greenhall has just begun releasing a series of essays to his Medium blog, unfolding a perspective on the great transition we’re facing as a global civilization, and how we might get through it gracefully. I’ve invited him to cross-post them here to kick off a broader conversation around these topics, which many people have been thinking about and working on for a long time. The hope is that together we can articulate a new cultural narrative, and launch ourselves into practical action to make our visions a reality. Below is the first installment. Please share your view!


Our global civilization is currently undergoing a tremendous set of transitions that will ultimately result in the dismantling of much of the way that we currently live and the construction of a new “civilization model”. Over the next several months, I will be laying out many of the major challenges that we will face during this transition and propose solutions. I will then outline a practical plan that could enable us to actively make that transition in an elegant bottoms-up fashion (i.e. without requiring any willing participation from existing social and political institutions).

A very good way of framing the transition is a movement from a social system that is fundamentally organized around solving the problems of “scarcity” to a social system that is fundamentally organized around solving the problems of “abundance”. In this essay, I will discuss that transition and introduce some of the more important aspects of scarcity and abundance.

In many ways, our various political and economic systems over the millennia have been a response to the problem of allocating scarce resources — determining who is affluent and who is impoverished. For the long history of our current system — really up until the middle of the 19th Century, the idea that some would have and some would not was largely uncontroversial. It was a law of nature that someone was going to go hungry. The only question was who. The simple fact was that we didn’t consistently have enough (food, houses, cars, etc.) to go around. As a consequence, the only meaningful question was how we decided who got and who went without.

We’ve wandered through many different ways of making this decision over the centuries, and our current global neo-liberal capitalist system can be thought of as the “peak predator” of the scarcity jungle. Thus far, it has proven to be the most effective system of allocating scarce resources using a very simple logic: those who are most capable of producing scarce resources should be those who are rewarded with the largest share; and those who produce the least should be those who do without.

At its best, this is a ruthlessly efficient motivational scheme. Work hard, produce well and be rewarded with riches. Fail to contribute to the common wealth and be reduced to starvation and impoverishment. The genius of this approach is that it motivates productivity at the individual level. Each individual is empowered (and forced) to use their best efforts to produce the most wealth — for themselves and, as a consequence, for society. The system has, of course, been hacked, manipulated and abused over the years, but nonetheless this approach has been a core driver of the almost implausible wealth creation over the past three centuries.

But by the turn of the 20th Century in the Western world and the middle of the 20th Century in the world at large, important things started to shift. Many scarce resources began to become less scarce. By the early part of the 1900’s, the United States produced more than enough food for every American to have enough to eat. By the late 1960’s, the world produced enough food for everyone on the world to have enough to eat. Hunger was no longer a simple function of lack — it had become a function of our system. It had become a consequence of human choice rather than natural law.

This deep change in the state of affairs gave rise to one of the dominant political divides of the past 200 years. One side saw deep unfairness in a system that left some hungry when we had more than enough to feed them. This side argued for reform of the system to remove that injustice.

The other side argued that removing the very motivational architecture that had produced our vast wealth would fatally undermine the very system that gave it to us — leading to deprivation for everyone. If you can live well without working hard, why would anyone work hard?

The struggle over the shape and scope of the “Welfare State” has waggled back and forth over the two centuries. Social justice and equality or a rising tide lifting all boats? The answer is, of course, that both sides are correct. Our current system does result in substantial inequity. At the same time, removing the profit signal and carrot/stick motivation will break the machine that has enabled (and supported) the rise of the human population from 1 to 7 billion in 200 years. We’ve lurched through various efforts to get the best of both — but the deep contradiction has been unresolved.

We are now on the cusp of an actual resolution. We are currently undergoing a major transition from a world dominated by the forces of scarcity to a world dominated by the forces of abundance. This is a 1000-year level (or larger) transition and must be understood in that context.

Abundance is not the same as “having a lot of stuff”. It stems from a different foundation entirely. Scarce resources are those things sometimes called “rivalrous” by economists. Rivalrous, as in, we can rival each-other for their possession. If I have it, you can’t and if I consume it, it is gone forever. Food, water, energy. This is an important category of existence, to be sure, and will continue to be so for as long as we don this mortal coil. But it is not the only category of existence — and in the late 20th Century it lost its billion year position as the most important.

Abundance is founded on something that might be called “anti-rivalrous.” If I have it, you can also have it without my losing it; and the more people who have it the more powerful and valuable it becomes. Language, math, music, ideas. Information. Abundance is not some sort of “bulked-up” scarcity, it is of a different order altogether and its logic requires a political and economic system that is altogether different from our current one.

The consequences of abundance are deep and broad. For this particular essay, I’ll raise a few and take a look at a very important model: when these challenges are looked at through the lens of scarcity, they are frightening. Our scarcity models can’t handle them and result in bad solutions (to put it mildly). But when we look at them through the lens of abundance, we can begin to craft very elegant solutions that radically simplify life and orient us to more and more abundance. Consider this as you contemplate the future: which side of the looking glass are you on?

Challenge 1: We are all going to be unemployed

The “automation of everything” has been discussed since the heyday of 50’s science fiction. Self-driving cars, fully automated factories, AI expert systems — the list of labor removing innovations that will be coming down the lane the next few decades is long and distinguished. The simple rule of our future: anything that could be done by a computer (or robot) will be done by a computer. And that means almost everything that currently employs human beings.

Recently, the idea has leapt from the pages of Azimov into conventional awareness. Somewhat astoundingly, the absurdly mainstream international real estate consulting firm CBRE partnered with the China-based property developer Genesis to repeat the theme in their report Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace. They conclude:

50% of occupations in corporations today will no longer exist by 2025

Let that sink in. In a decade, 50% of occupations in corporations today will no longer exist. Yes, new jobs will be created to replace some of those lost. But 50% in ten years? No matter how you slice it, historically unprecedented unemployment is going to be a major part of our future.

From the point of view of scarcity, this is a bad thing. After all, it is the mandate of many of our social institutions to maximize employment — not the other way around! Unemployment in our current system is incredibly corrosive. At the individual level, fear, shame, disconnection and, ultimately, destitution. At the social level the economy chokes on plunging demand and slides into a downward spiral.

At the peak of the 2008 financial crisis, unemployment in the US reached upwards of 10% (higher depending on your preferred analysis). In crisis ravaged Greece, it peaked near 27% (with a youth unemployment rate exceeding 60%). It has required extraordinary measures on a global scale to barely keep our collective head above the water. No force currently known to the scarcity model is capable of dealing with a structural unemployment rate vaguely approaching what automation portends. Something novel will have to be done.

Fear is the center of the scarcity mentality — and the freedom from fear is the great catalyst of the abundance mentality. When looked at from the point of view of abundance, automation represents the liberation of human activity from work. In a well structured abundance model, huge chunks of the population move from suffering from unemployment to enduring it to, ultimately, thriving in it. We can even adopt that as a design requirement of an abundance model: it must endeavour over time to reach full unemployment while continually increasing wealth. How? Lets continue walking down the path of challenges.

Challenge 2: We don’t need everyone anymore

This sounds cruel, and within the scarcity mentality it is, but it is also true. It is the flipside of increasing unemployment. The simple fact is that as machines replace human functions, we don’t need people to do those sorts of things any more. Simply put, in the not so distant future, we will be able to provide for our material needs with very little to no human labor. So, if we are measuring human value by their contribution to our common necessities, then we simply don’t need most of the people on the planet.

This can lead to some pretty nasty conclusions. Particularly given the winner take all wealth concentrating tendencies of the current model. The result is a form of “neo-feudalism” where there is a small elite of uber-wealthy and a mass of increasingly “irrelevant” humanity. The 1% vs. the 99%. Whether this ends up in a favela/ghetto future like the Hunger Games or Elysium, or the kinder-gentler slow death imagined by Marshall Brain in Manna, the result is the same: an ugly dehumanization of the great mass and potential of people.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, the very notion that it could be is a reminder of the crucial role of mind-set. To the scarcity mentality, it makes sense that other people are disposable. After all, if every other person is a potential threat to my survival, then I need to protect myself. The deep recessess of the mind are far from rational. A fear-motivated scarcity mindset sees threat everywhere. No matter how rich and powerful you are, you are never at peace. It is really only through a psychology driven by this mindset that a future where humanity is freed from the necessity of labor could be dystopian.

The abundance mindset sees things differently. No longer controlled by survival instincts, the abundance mindset fundamentally sees other people as potential opportunties rather than threats. As a consequence, the notion that we don’t “need” other people in order to survive becomes a beautiful relief. It means that the great conservative fear of the 19th and 20th Centuries is no longer relevant. People can become free to pursue their lives the way that we want to and if only a fraction use their time to contribute to the common wealth, everything will be OK. If 85% of the population does nothing, the system doesn’t skip a beat — because the innovative wealth created by the other 15% is more than enough.

The abundance model can be well understood as that model that has moved from focusing on “productivity” to focusing on “innovation”. This is a deep point and will be the topic of an essay of its own, but the basic sense is this:a well designed abundance model will substantially increase our innovative generativity. And this will, in turn, deliver a tremendous increase in real wealth.

Some might worry, of course, that lacking the moral benefit of a carrot and a stick to prod them into productivity, humanity will slide into a sort of degraded insolence. Even if it only takes 15% of the population to provide abundance for everyone, lacking the carrot and the stick, will they create? This leads us to the final challenge of this essay:

Challenge 3: The obsolescence of the carrot and the stick

Some of the more profound and important discoveries of “behavioral economics” have been around the motivation of creativity. Traditionally, we have believed that there is a direct relationship between reward, punishment and productivity. Reward high productivity (the carrot) while punishing low productivity (the stick) and you can consistently expect to motivate high productivity. Indeed, as we’ve discussed, this is a core premise upon which our current system is founded.

For the kind of work that occupied humanity for the vast majority of our history, this works. When what society needs is largely rote labor such as planting and harvesting food, constructing pyramids or putting bottle caps on bottles, the carrot and stick approach is a good choice. But, when it comes to creative work, design and innovation, the results are profoundly different.

Rather than motivating improved creativity, it has been shown that the carrot and the stick actively inhibit creative and innovative work. Instead, optimal innovation occurs under entirely different conditions:

Autonomy: people are at their most creative when they have agency over what they spend their time on, where they do it, and with whom and how they work.

Purposeful and Fulfilling: people are at their most creative when they feel like their efforts are connected to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves.

Masterful: people are at their most creative when they are riding the edge of mastery; challenging themselves in ways that make them grow and become more capable.

The arc in in the technology sector has largely been a slow march in this direction. From GE to IBM to HP to Google what we have seen is a consistent move away from agricultural/industrial models of carrot and stick to the “information economy” model that has more in common with play than with work.

The abundance economy is the fulfillment of this evolution. It recognizes that when people are freed from the fear-based necessity of contributing their time to unfulfilling and increasingly needless tasks, they can focus on doing what interests and has meaning for them. What they love. And when they do this, they are perfectly positioned to be more creative and more innovative. To put it very simply: creative people create. If all we do is make it easy for them and get out of the way, they need no motivation other than their own passion and curiosity.

Moreover, when you get rid of a fear-based mentality and a desire to hoard resources and information, the benefits explode. Information, the anti-rivalrous, has a tremendous feature: you only have to invent something once. Unlike a rivalrous good like food or oil, which has to constantly be replenished in order to satisfy demand, anti-rivalrous goods can be very hard to create (ask Einstein) but once they are created, they can last forever and are relatively easy to share. This is that magic that enables people like Newton and Einstein to see further than others.

There are more than seven billion of us girdling this globe. How much of that total potential is really contributing vitally to the free market of ideas? Take, for example, the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan. Born to modest means in late 19th Century India, Ramnujan was a self-taught mathematical genius of the first order. For much of his youth and adult life, he lived on the edge of poverty, unknown and struggling. It was only by fortune that his efforts to become a state bureaucrat opened a circuitous path that finally led him and his work into the larger mathematical community (and history). How many Ramnujan’s are living in the obscurity of our current model? How many good ideas are living behind paywalls or patent applications? When you come to understand the consequences of structuring a system that fundamentally optimizes for connecting the right people to the right ideas in a space designed for creative collaboration, you are on the other side of the looking-glass and understand how and why the abundance transition is happening.

Our current model does not promote creativity, it inhibits it in dozens of ways. We are now at a point where 8 billion people can costlessly connect and collaborate. If we provide an environment where they can do so safely and without fear, where they can discover and share with each other, where they can freely follow their genius where they find meaning and mastery — we will benefit from a level of creativity and innovation that staggers the imagination. For an excellent illustration, take a look at the second half of Marshall Brain’s excellent Manna.

What I am discussing here is neither wishful thinking nor far future fantasy. We are in the middle of it right now. Those individuals and groups who best understand the abundance mentality and move themselves and their organizations through the looking glass are already out competing their antediluvian rivals. The network-effects of truly enlightened self-interest ensure that this will continue so long as it is allowed to persist.

But change is never easy, and the childbirth of an abundance society will likely be as messy as any other. Many of the right ideas for how we architect around abundance are out there. But a complete system that is adequate to transition us through from an addiction to scarcity is only faintly on the horizon.

Over the next few months, I invite you to join me in exploring many of the interesting challenges we are facing and collaborating on what will hopefully become an increasingly self-aware, empowered and active global community to construct the solutions of an abundant future.

this post originally appeared on Jordan Greenhall’s blog on Medium

Yasuhiko Genku Kimura on the Causes of Mediocrity


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In response to the last post on mediocrity, style, and exquisiteness, philosopher and Zen Buddhist priest Yasuhiko Genku Kimura shared this passage he wrote on the causes of mediocrity, excerpted from his essay Self-Responsibility, Self-Integrity, and Freedom from the Guru.

He proposes the notion that mediocrity is not about being average, but about conforming to the average, and genius is not about living up to an external comparative standard, but about cultivating self-responsibility and self-integrity. This presents an empowering narrative that geniushood is about bestowment rather than endowment, leaving the matter of embodying it a choice solely ours to make. Reprinted with permission.


What are the reasons for this sorry state of affairs? There are several different ways in which to answer this question. First, we will approach this question from the point of view of the conspiracy for mediocrity, as this sorry state of affairs is an exemplary case of the all-pervasive conspiracy for mediocrity existing in the world.

What is mediocrity? Mediocrity is the state of being in which desires, aspirations, and inner strivings for one’s highest value and meaning in life are suppressed or dormant. Mediocrity is not the average but the conformity to the average in the absence of desires, aspirations, and inner strivings for one’s highest value and meaning in life. Since no human being is born with an intrinsic desire to be mediocre, but, on the contrary, with a desire and aspiration for greatness, a mediocre person has either to justify or to ignore his mediocrity in order to be and live with himself. That is, he has to live a life that is untrue to and out of integrity with his own deepest desire and aspiration. Shakespeare’s famous lines in Hamlet (I.iii.17), “… to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man,” remind us that not being true to one’s own self is also being false with other people. Therefore, a mediocre person is untrue to and out of integrity not only with himself but also with other fellow human beings. Here lies the inextricable link between the culture of mediocrity and the culture of inauthenticity.

What is the cause of mediocrity? Statistically in any field of human endeavor there are more people with an average talent than with a higher to exceptional talent. If we equate genius or greatness with what an aptitude or talent avails us, then most of us are doomed to be average with a slight, insignificant give or take. This is the situation in which the great majority of people find themselves in the course of their lives—that is, so long as they define genius or greatness according to external comparative standards—so long as they fail to realize the incomparable singularities of their being, the singular cosmic destinies that they are. The being of an individual is a whole. It is not a quantity but a quality; not quantitatively measurable but qualitatively knowable. Two individuals are different only qualitatively; quantitative differences between them, such as height or IQ, apply only to certain aspects of their being, abstracted from the wholeness that they are, measured by some external comparative standards set by the society to which they belong. Quality belongs to individuality; quantity belongs to commonality. Therefore, the cause of mediocrity is our mistaken identification of our worth and greatness with an externally measurable and comparable commonality, and our failure to recognize our worth and greatness in the light of the cosmic singularity that is our being as its-own-most-unique-ability-to-be.

When Walter Russell states that genius is self-bestowed, he means by the term ‘genius’ the finest quality of individuality that any human being can attain through his own effort in self-development. At the core of individuality, there lies creativity and a creative vision. Therefore, the finest quality of individuality means the finest quality of individual creativity in action for the fulfillment of a creative vision that summons an individual to the untrodden path of his singular cosmic destiny. The ability to respond to this inner summon is what self-responsibility means. The ability to live one’s life in a manner consistent with one’s creative vision is what self-integrity means. Thus, self-responsibility and self-integrity are the hallmark of authentic geniushood.

When Russell states that mediocrity is self-inflicted, he means that if a person fails to cultivate self-responsibility and self-integrity, and thereby fails to awaken and live from his inner genius, he is likely to succumb to the dictates of the external world and its commonality- standards, and thereby to be afflicted with the pervasive conspiracy for mediocrity, which affliction is tantamount to self-inflicting mediocrity. Thus, the difference between self-bestowing genius and self-inflicting mediocrity is that of looking within or looking without, of having an inner standard or having an outer standard.

People are created free and equal but they are not born free and equal. There are significant differences in conditions and talents in and with which people are born, the reason for which is explainable by the law of reincarnation. As we think so we become. Our present conditions, talents, and other external and internal endowments are the results of our individual thoughts that have been thought throughout many lifetimes. The issue of reincarnation is beyond the scope of this article, but there is an important lesson to be learned from it. That is, your spiritual, mental, and physical endowments are the product of your thought that was thought throughout your past lifetimes, and therefore your thought today will inexorably impact your future spiritual, mental, and physical endowments as well as the external conditions of life into which you will be born and in which you will live. Further, even more importantly, regardless of your past, you have within yourself the power which is your thought that can significantly alter you and your life within this lifetime. Reincarnation misunderstood leads to fatalism; reincarnation understood leads to freedom.

Thus, your geniushood, your greatness, does not depend on your endowment; it is not a matter of endowment but of bestowment. For instance, Antonio Salieri was likely to have been less musically talented than Mozart according to accepted standards, but his individual quality was distinct from and incomparable with that of Mozart. Assuming the movie Amadeus was historically accurate (which is doubtful), had Salieri recognized his own genius in the quality of his individual creativity, the finest attainment of which in its own way would have been as splendid as that of Mozart, he would not have succumbed to jealousy and envy as he did; rather, he would have celebrated the incomparable geniuses of himself and Mozart. By outwardly comparing himself with Mozart, one of the most talented composers/musicians of all time, Salieri fell into the trap of the conspiracy for mediocrity, and ended up self-inflicting mediocrity instead of self- bestowing genius. It is well to remember that you can never be the genius that Leonardo da Vinci was nor can Leonardo da Vinci ever be the genius that you are. You, like da Vinci or Mozart, are a singular cosmic destiny, utterly incomparable, uniquely significant, and sui generis.

image found on pinterest

on mediocrity, style, and exquisiteness


Architectural Renderings of Life Drawn with Pencil and Pen by Rafael Araujo

Architectural Renderings of Life Drawn with Pencil and Pen by Rafael Araujo

you might say our society suffers from a conspiracy of mediocrity.

it conditions us for sameness, instead of supporting the blossoming of individuality.

in principle, it celebrates heroism, creativity, and genius – but in practice, it actively discourages these things, either through subtle disincentivization, or downright punishment.

while it claims to offer structured systems designed as tools to serve us, the unspoken tradeoff is that it captures our sense of inner authority, masterfully externalizing it into itself.

society’s eyes watch us, tell us what to want, what to deem meaningful, how we ‘should’ live, and what we need to do in order to achieve a particular state, or become a particular thing.

how little room this leaves for free thinkers, or for the spontaneity of creativity!

society likes mediocrity.

in fact, it thrives on it. to keep itself running, it requires us to propagate the norm, to follow the well-trodden paths.

but maintenance is different than evolution.

and we did not arrive here to live as machines.

we came to express our true nature, to cultivate our style, to be exquisite.

be yourself. the greatest quest. follow your unique rebellious spirit out into the world.

in mediocrity, we fear believing we are capable of being distinct, or the repercussions that might follow as a result. we capitulate, taking all our cues for how to be from outside ourselves.

but there is no need to be victim to this unfortunate circumstance. the gift of style is self-bestowed.

Like nature, style is given shape by a wild, organic and unpredictable energy.

what does true style look like?

you, at your most natural, your individual uniqueness shining brightly and freely. no hiding or faking.

it’s the creative process itself, expressing itself through you.

the mind will try to control it, tame it, direct it, label it. it will look for repeatability. it will try to create models to neatly structure and package it. it will try to tell you how to do it, how to be. if you listen, you are lost.

be vigilant!

ruthlessly cut away every creeping trap that wants to trick you into imitation. don’t look anywhere outside yourself. even not (or especially not!) to the comfort of your own mind. if it’s simulation, or even emulation, it’s mediocrity.

stop trying to be something and just be! how frustratingly simple.

tuning to the creative source is not a doing so much as an allowing. a letting go, a surrendering to a process that is beyond the control of your mind, yet is somehow the essence of yourself. more you than the you you typically associate with. more you than the roles and identities and stories and shoulds and expectations.

pure, wild, unadulterated. love this expression you are. how could you not? when it comes out of you, you cannot help but be awed and surprised by yourself. the truth of you is vast.

you are incomparable.

there is nothing you ‘should’ do. there is nothing you ‘should’ be. there is no one outside yourself who holds the answer. don’t be fooled into simulating your life instead of living it.


you are exquisite, and the world needs your light.


meditations on the 8th gene key, by richard rudd

quote on style also by richard rudd.

i was first introduced to the phrase “conspiracy of mediocrity” by Yasuhiko Kimura

first words after a year in transition

it’s exactly a year ago today since i started a new life.

on this morning, i said goodbye to my soon-to-be ex-husband, climbed into my yaris amongst the possessions i considered most cherished, and began my journey across the country to an unknown future in california.

i went mostly silent on social media. it seemed a time to honor reflection and contemplation over broadcast and interaction.

the themes of self-authorship, integrity, and responsibility have been fundamental for the redesign of my life.

as have creativity, playfulness, openness to discovery, and love.

i feel a yearning to re-engage here now, though the content will likely be different, as will the voice.

this note is mostly to give myself permission to celebrate that.

onward and upward.

Ello, Meet Swarm



Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 1.44.11 PM

this post originally appeared on Medium by @jgreenhall –

Indie darling Ello is starting to make splashes in the direction of Facebook. To be sure, the rush of techno-hipsters into the minimal design (and Ad-free) social network is as of yet merely a hint of a gesture. But to my ears, the sound is clear: Facebook is vulnerable. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that Facebook is doomed. Perhaps not from Ello, perhaps not anytime soon. But sooner than most may think.

Zuckerberg and co have already moved profoundly onto the wrong side of the innovation curve with a focus away from what people actually want and need and ruthlessly on how to maximize shareholder value. The momentum of Ello is the result of an itch of many of Facebook’s users: anything else. These things end badly. I’m on the record: Facebook isn’t long for this world. So, what comes next?

Here is a sketch of some ideas that might power a next-generation Facebook killer. Continue reading

Moving to Sandbox House SF




I’m in the process of moving to the left coast from New York, and just wrapping up a whirlwind week of exploring the San Francisco bay area. Thanks to friends willing to host me and schlep me around the city, I’ve gotten tastes of many of the neighborhoods here…. which was great at first, and then quickly left me feeling overwhelmed by the range of choices. Every place has its pros and cons, and I realized I hadn’t gotten clarity for myself of what I want from the environment I live in so I can thrive.

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10 Principles of Evolutionary Culture




This morning I was flipping through the book Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace, and came across this great list of principles for how to transcend ego and bring a group to greatness via collaborative thinking. The following passage is from an excerpt titled Thinking together without ego: Collective intelligence as an evolutionary catalyst, by Craig Hamilton and Claire Zammit.

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An Outsider’s Theory of Everything




reposted with permission via Ronin Institute


[Update (5/29): Eric Weinstein will be giving a follow-up lecture this Friday (5/31) at 2pm at Oxford’s Mathematical Institute in lecture room L2 (which, I believe, is at location 22 on this map).

Physicists and mathematicians in the area! I hope some of you will be able to attend, and will post your thoughts / reactions online. Note: if you are friends with an Oxford Physicist, please invite them to attend this lecture — this is apparently a necessary step. Update update (5/30): see also the update at the end of section 2, below.]

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