The Two Arms of Transformation

FEBRUARY 10, 2017

This is excerpted from a recent email I sent a long-time collaborator describing some of my current thinking

Having purpose and direction. I shared the two arms of transformation: of the material economy (of production through openness etc) and the “being” economy (through wisdom and true open-mindedness).

Transformation of Production / Material Economy

On the right-hand side is all our work on open knowledge. I won’t say much more because that is familiar to us both. This is the area that my upcoming book on making an open information age is about! I’ve attached a draft (you can just read the intro to get a sense!)

Transformation of Being / Spiritual Economy

The left-hand side is the most important in my opinion - and the part we have tended to neglect as a society.

It is the impetus behind my new initiative Art / Earth / Tech - There, I am just starting a project looking specifically at wise societies. What are wise societies? What is wisdom vs growth or sustainability? Wouldn’t it be even better to be training young people to make wise societies?

4 types of problem

It also fits with the 4 type taxonomy of problems I set out at the very end:

  1. Science/tech problems: knowing what the answer is (how does Global Warming happen, how do we prevent it)
  2. Preference problems: knowing what we really want – do I want to watch this boxset or do my meditation, do I really want to eat this donut or do I really want this salad?
  3. Will problems: we know what we want, but we struggle to act on it (I want to go on a diet but I don’t)
  4. Collective action problems: we need to act together to get it (I want to stop global warming by reducing carbon emissions but on my own I will have no impact – I need millions of others to act with me …)

Our current societies are suffering from a fetish of “techno-solutionism” focused on the first item.

This is because it is relatively easy: we can do science, build apps, etc. Solutions to the last 3 all involve deep questions of the human spirit and social organization. “Innovation” here is very slow – for example, democracy (a solution on the 4th item) is basically unchanged since ancient Athens.

I would argue that progress on the last 3 really comes from the “transformation of being” and that we do have answers here, they just aren’t easy to follow. They are based on the ontology and practices found in traditions like Buddhism (which are rapidly spreading atm in the form of mindfulness). And they require will and are not simply replicable (just because I get enlightened does not mean you do, but if I invent a better way to grow corn you can copy it easily). Unfortunately for us, science / tech solutions seem to help little with the other 3 items1 and as we get richer the value of science / tech solutions are less and less important …

  1. This is why I am so sceptical about all the tech work around transparency and governance … ↩︎