The Human Operating Manual

Global Level

**Working Intro**


The big kahuna. We don’t need a utopia, but we should be looking for a better way. A way to have check and balances so that wealth disparity is not an inevitability. A system where we can learn from our mistakes rather than operating out of fear and denial. 

Conflict Mediation (JR, TH, DS pod):

  • Establish shared knowledge
  • Identify the disagreements between parties
  • Find the basis for disagreement
  • What do we need to do to find truth?
  • Is truth the agreed upon goal here or is this about emotional damage control?


  • By the people for the people
  • Regulated
  • Anti-corruption measures
  • Mental health and wellbeing support (look for examples of the dark triad personality traits)
  • Rotated and limited to prevent adaptation to power
  • Governance and city order:


  • Some form of regulation to prevent:
    • The data collection race
    • AGI dangers
    • Gene editing to further diverge classes
    • Social media and alternative realities causing further distortion from reality 

(21 Lessons Notes)

Biotechnology, AI, and Blockchain are led by engineers and scientists. People that don’t represent the public at all. This means that politicians are completely unaware of the potential of this technology and therefore cannot prepare for the disruption it poses. The internet has completely changed the way the world is run and the standard liberal way of life has been turned on its head. Because of this, the politicians still harp on about policies that are irrelevant to the younger generations and must target the fear response in the older generations. This leaves the younger generation feeling disenfranchised since they are not being represented. In saying that, even if the politicians were taking advancing tech into account the response would have to be constantly changing to keep up. Change within a democratic system takes far too long. Voters would get the impression that their politicians are flippant and can’t make up their minds, shaking the faith in their leadership. Long term planning is required to enable a functional society but parties are always changing and undoing everything the previous one did, making improvements even slower.

With the public observation of emerging tech, the masses now feel irrelevant (working class jobs are being replaced by AI) and are frantically using their political power while they still can – making strange choices with their voting power. There was a time when the average person was seen as a working-class hero. Now technology dominates our future and that “hero” no longer has a place.

Liberty was not always seen as the champion of the working class. These values were obtained from communism. It originally only catered for the elite European males until protests for independence destabilized their systems and led to wars. It became obvious that extending the illusion of liberty to the working class was essential in order for it to survive. This bred social welfare, education, and healthcare systems.  

By manufacturing a never-ending stream of crises, to distract from important issues like pollution and healthcare, an oligarchy can maintain control of a civilization. However, even the leaders of oligarchies understand that this is not ideal so they disguise their decisions with alternative philosophies to appease the public and themselves (religions and false democracy).



(21 Lessons Notes)

There is no such thing as intuition. It is pattern recognition, which AI is getting better at outdoing humans in. Our heuristics are created for the African savannah not the urban jungle. Humans operate on an individual basis and when two people miscommunicate it can cause an error. Machines can be integrated into the same network so it is less likely for them to miscommunicate.

When AI takes over driving, medicine, building, etc. the whole world will have access to the best technology and care. People will lose jobs but then again, the mortality rates of people will go down. No more human errors, cheaper care, and tech can update constantly.  

Human jobs will be those heavily creative focused and involving care for others (such as nursing). Anything that involves “error” (creativity) and human connection. That is until machines can understand human emotion and create art that displays that in an abstract manner. Machines may be able to analyze your biometric data and adapt your exposure to music/art to either reflect your emotions or change them. AI may even be able to create original music tailored to your mood.

The biggest issue with changing jobs with advances in tech is that it is too dangerous to screw up now. If people disagree with the status of the world there will be revolutions that may result in nuclear war and the destruction of the biosphere.

In Scandinavia there is the motto “Protect workers, not jobs”, where they support somebody while retraining them.

Universal Basic Services (rather than income) would aim to provide free services, such as education and healthcare, by taxing the rich. This would deal with working class people having no value in the ever-changing work sector and prevent hording of resources at the top.

AI may take away jobs from developing countries as they are currently doing all the horrible outsource work, we don’t want to do and building tech that can do it onsite will render them useless. That is unless the developing countries can build their own tech, by training their own engineers, and provide themselves with a local economy.

Sapiens are not built for satisfaction. Human happiness is dependent on expectation. Expectation which adapts with environmental conditions and other people (Objective satisfaction vs subjective).



Trade (Economy)


Digital Economy

  • Decentralized currency



  • Addiction and trauma support from communities
    • Support and less access to hyper-stimuli coping strategies to facilitate recovery smoother
    • Using addiction levels as a greater metric for the status/health of a country (JR, TR, DS)
  • Weight loss assistance
  • Autoimmunity help
  • Stress, anxiety, depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Learning deficits
  • Complete autonomy and freedom of bodily expression
    • For in order to turn the individual into a function of the state, his dependence on anything beside the state must be taken from him – Carl Jung 
    • We can only trust society when we are not wholly dependent on it. We can only do this by being as natural beings who understand their responsibilities to themselves, nature, and their fellow man. Act with the understanding that there is no you without other. We are nature and nature are everything.   



  • Glyphosate?
  • Sustainable
  • Community focused
  • Soil health managed
  • Wild plants (non-GMO)
  • Seasonal crop rotation
  • Foraging
  • No phthalates used for packaging 


  • Soil
  • Water quality
  • Air quality
  • Electric pollution
  • Land freedom (eliminate privatization)

Society structure

  • Make civilization about mutual aid, social co-operation, civic activism, hospitality, and caring for others (The Dawn of Everything).
  • Events based around food, music, celebration, exercise/movement/dance
  • Collaborative programs
  • Communal gardening
  • Public involvement into scientific investigation (citizen science)
  • Philosophy encouraged
  • Education a greater part of entire life and not judged
  • Sensemaking a priority 
  • Autonomy a priority
  • Discourage private pursuit of happiness while still allowing freedom of expression
  • Inclusion
  • Safety


Globalization and Immigration

Global Brain


Nate Hagens – The great simplification


(21 Lessons Notes)

Without an alternative political ideology to turn to, the people may disrupt the current system out of frustration but then return to liberalism again.

Globalization was the brainchild of Western imperialism and invaded countries were shaken up and forced to change. However, these Western countries have enough trouble with their own policies, so by asking the world to follow suit they are just amplifying their own problems with people who haven’t had time to adapt. This destabilizes a country by taking away their culture and isolating its people (mental health issues rise, health declines, poverty increases, oligarchy begins). Perhaps the best way forward is to lead by example and fix our own system before forcing it on other people. Ditch the plans of ruling the world but leave global trade open. If we retreat into our tribes/religions/races we’ll inspire the them vs us attitude again and differences will lead to wars. Liberty and democracy are the best ideologys we’ve had, when it comes to safety and prosperity for all but we need to advance with technological disruption.  

Remove panic mindset and change to bewilderment. This means we stop thinking the world will end and instead we realize we don’t know what’s going on but we are calm enough to pivot instead of destroy.

Typically, immigration comes with these 3 terms:

  1. The host country allows the immigrants in
  2. In return, the immigrants must embrace at least the core norms and values of the host country, even if that means giving up some of their traditional norms and values
  3. If the immigrants assimilate to a sufficient degree, over time they become equal and full members of the host country. “They become us”

One question is are the host countries morally obligated to let immigrants through or can they pick and choose who they want? Also, can they use force to keep people out (defending against invasion)? The host may be able to screen for ethnicity, religion, talents/skills, criminal records and money to determine whether they will be a contribution or hinderance to their already established country. Some countries turn a blind eye to illegal immigrants so that they can benefit from cheap and unregulated labor but then refuse to legalize them claiming they don’t want immigrants, exploiting powerless foreigners.

Another question is how much must the immigrants assimilate to be included? It tends to depend on how diverse the country already is. A tolerant society can handle a certain amount of diversity until too many extremists tip the balance and change the overall culture. The European moral code is apparently focused on tolerance so the inclusion of any intolerant people will change that.

The third question is how much time must pass before the immigrant can be accepted as a member of society? Some people believe if the third generation is not accepted, the host country is demonstrating bigotry. Whereas others believe that if your grandpa arrived here forty years ago and you are rioting for equal rights you have failed the test. However, on a personal scale, if you were born somewhere, you can’t just go back to where you came from as you are a part of the society you were born in, not your parent’s home. There will always be the problem of defining who needs to budge to accommodate. Is the host being too tough/racist? Or is the immigrant not assimilating enough and harboring intolerant views in a seemingly tolerant society?

Nowadays racism doesn’t exist in the same way in mainstream culture as biology is no longer the issue. The real problem is culturism. Discrimination is due to the culture somebody is raised in or assumes to be a part of based on their appearance. Everybody knows that your actual race and DNA has no bearing on how intelligent you are. It is all down to expectations/prejudice about the perceived attitudes/behavior of the collective. That’s not to say that culturism isn’t bad. Using racism is just wrongly defined but it is used to harness the full impact that the word carries.

Fitting into a culture is easier said than done. An immigrant could be earnestly trying to fit into the country’s ways but still be blocked from participating due to institutional discrimination, only to be accused later of not trying to blend in.

Defining intolerance is also a challenge as social interaction changes with cultures. When you merge two cultures their standard way of interacting may be different leading to an opinion of superiority in one or more camp. The person of origin will usually claim to believe that their way is better as they are operating within their environment.  Tolerance is also measured by their environment and subjective. Humans use predictions for safety. So, prejudice is human nature that we dislike using on each other but celebrate when somebody can predict future events outside of human activity.


(21 Lessons Notes)

There is a theory that the Syrian war, Brexit, and other major current political issues are caused by the Western and Middle Eastern clash. Neither will budge to suit the other. This fight between homogeneity seems pointless unless we all decide to abandon technology, build walls to avoid each other, or kill each other. Humans are constantly changing their culture to suit their time so the idea that a culture clash is the cause of all the major problems is not necessarily founded. Whether we are determining our identity with nationality, religion, sexuality, or even hobbies we will always adapt to our surroundings. Religion and other ideas are always interpreted differently anyway. The Christian of today is different from the Christian yesterday, let alone the 1800s. People tend to believe that their religious stories are precious because the only ones who could dispute this (their messiahs or prophets) are dead. There is no fixed DNA for these stories. They are what is made from it. Super orthodox Jews and Islamists may claim to be following tradition but a lot of the time they are picking and choosing beliefs that don’t even hold true (like not including women or children in pictures when evidence has been uncovered of their ancestors having no sign of this censorship).

Countries are an agreement within and outside themselves to designate a proposed area that the whole community represents. Until recently, countries were completely changing through invasion and political uprisings. Now there are very few issues, other than Taiwan and Palestine.

Another uniting factor is economics. If an invading country were intending on destroying all remnants of its inhabitants, it still wouldn’t destroy their money because it is recognized by the federal reserve and destruction of this would give up power willingly. Business and science are also consistent. Medicine has changed all over the world to advance their countries equally. The pharmaceutical companies, sugar peddlers, and other big businesses don’t care where their money comes from either.

Identity is subjective. You decide what group you want to be a part of or who you identify with. This doesn’t change biology but it does mean that your chosen “groups” are flexible. Some people just take this to the extreme and decide to “be” something outside their biology when in reality their group becomes the people who identify as something rather than the thing itself. 


“The Threefold Social Order” – Rudolf Steiner

Our Purpose

Building parallel structures with different morals

The Equality Complex

Welcome to Integral Life

Recapture the rapture:

  1. Open Source: Rather than a one-fits-all approach, it should respect the vast diversity of values and beliefs across cultures and communities and be adaptable to regional conditions. It should be content neutral, i.e., nondogmatic and nondoctrinal – so everyone can fill the blanks themselves. Modifiable by anyone who has a specific problem they would like to solve. Can add layers of functionality. The overall code grows from grassroots efforts, not top-down release schedules.
  2. Scalability: Needs to be cheap or free, as low-tech as possible and user friendly.
  3. Anti-fragility: Gets better as things get worse. We need cultural solutions that are robust enough to cope and accepts challenges as a form of growth. A cultural hormesis.
  4. We also need to be antifragile enough to deal with the predicament of getting squashed by those wanting to maintain the status quo. They won’t want a cultural uprising that disturbs their current way of life relying on game theory. To address this, we can share human design toolkits that enhanced individual and communal sovereignty, using ingredients that are easily accessible. Also distribute it far and wide so it can’t be censored or suppressed (open source and scalable). Seed a revolution, don’t lead it. Share the cheat codes to the Infinite Game.
  5. We also need ingredients from religion. These are Beyond, Becoming, and Belonging. Inspiration, healing, and connection. The Greeks called it ecstasis, catharsis, and communitas. How we wake up, grow up, and show up.
  1. Inspiration serves as a counterweight to the crushing monotony of existence. A moment where it all makes sense, a chance to lay our burdens down and stand tall. A reason for being. Experiences of awe can alleviate stress, improve life satisfaction, decrease physical pain, and alleviate depression. Insight, pattern recognition, and lateral connections all spike when the neurophysiology of these experiences comes on line. Our inner critic goes quiet; norepinephrine, dopamine, and endocannabinoids sharpen our focus and help us draw conclusions we might not have seen before. Brain waves shift from agitated beta frequency to slower, more reflective alpha, theta, and delta states and bypass the normal gatekeepers of our mind. We find ourselves less distracted, more attentive, and more inventive in these states. Peak experiences and flow to cut through the noise and distraction.
  2. Healing. Ernest Becker said, “Man is literally split in two. He has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” Nearly 1/10 of us will be diagnosed with PTSD. The rest suffer micro-PTSD all the time. When we are in a highjacked state we are less perceptive, resilient, and resourceful. Hurt people hurt people. Religion provides ways of mending and atoning. Without that we suffer.
  3. Connection to community. Social ties, camaraderie, and support are tied to wellbeing and longevity. We live a paradox being hyperconnected superficially while still isolated. From our families of origin, neighbors, and ourselves. Despite our progress with mental health, we are still ashamed to feel lonely. Isolation is a root cause to alcohol and drug addiction, to violence, to depression, and anxiety. We need communal bonding, where individual decision-making merges with a collective intelligence. 3 times more rewarding than a peak experience.

So, a viable candidate for Meaning 3.0 will need to fulfill the prosocial functions of traditional 1.0 Faith – Inspiration, Healing, and Connection. And to stand a chance of helping the world, it needs to fulfill the inclusive promise of 2.0 Modernism, and be Open Source, Scalable, and Antifragile.

The next part is dealing with our four most potent and accessible physical drivers to shape consciousness and culture and to help build Meaning 3.0 are:

  1. Respiration. We are hard-coded to ensure our oxygen supply remains constant, so modulating breathing is one of the surest-fire ways to shift physical and psychological states.
  2. Embodiment. The core regulators of our parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system play an enormous role in our health, wellbeing, and stress resilience. They are the metronome of our physiology that sets the rhythm of our lived experiences.
  3. Sexuality. If we do not procreate, we die. So, there are tons of neurochemical drivers baked into our systems to ensure we do. Understanding them allows a powerful reorientation to this central life-giving activity.
  4. Substances. We shift our states as part of learning, growing, and mending. A “fourth drive” – a desire to feel different, to achieve a rapid change in one’s state.
  5. We can also add Music. It shapes our physiology, sense of connectivity, and capacity for awe.

Religions worth their weight in salt would restrict and channel these drivers to make sure the people were focused and got shit done. The response to restriction elicits one of three responses:

  1. The Hedonist, when confronted with the chance to optimize ecstatic experience, is generally all in. “Unearned wisdom.” Their challenge isn’t in trying new things, it’s getting them to stop. “If it feels good, do it.” Values the fullest experience.
  2. The Purist, when presented with novel techniques of ecstasy, often shut down. They prefer “earned wisdom” through meditation, yoga, or prayer to being reckless. They tend to view volatile approaches with suspicion, considering them cheating or a shortcut. Values the sanctity of mind and body.
  3. The Conformist, tend to defer to established authority – medical, legal, religious – to tell them what is within and beyond the pale. They would probably be taking prescription drugs but balk at weed or psychedelics. Values expert advice and evidence.

Hunter Gatherer Notes

Our outsized brains are prone to confusion and miswiring. Our children are born helpless, and they remain dependent on us for an uncommonly long time. Our great linguistic diversity severely limits to whom we can talk. Even our bipedal gait, so important in allowing us to move and carry things on the ground, comes with risk to mother and baby in childbirth, and reliably causes back pain. We’re gossipy, sentimental, and superstitious. We build extravagant monuments to fictional gods. We are arrogant and confused, often mistaking the unlikely for the inevitable, even as we downplay massive and obvious hazards. In everything, trade-offs.

“Times of plenty” is economic growth. When the usual order is restored as births and deaths are once again balanced, we hit equilibrium, and life becomes harder again. Growth feels good, and it is not surprising that we are obsessed with it. It was adaptive to be obsessed with it. 

Our obsession with growth creates two problems. The first is that we have convinced ourselves that growth is the normal state and that it is reasonable to expect it to go on and on. That patently ridiculous idea— exactly as hopeful and deluded as the search for a perpetual motion machine—causes us to stop searching for other possibilities. While this expectation greatly reduces the chances that we will miss out on growth, it also prevents us from recognizing and pursuing more sustainable options. Second, because we regard growth as normal rather than exceptional, we behave destructively to feed our addiction.

  • Sometimes we violate our stated values by inventing justifications to steal from a population that has resources but not the means to defend them. Other times we degrade the world, and inflict decline—the opposite of growth—on our descendants in order to fuel current expansion. The former scenario accounts for many of the greatest atrocities in history. The latter explains the modern experience of watching the goodness of our planet liquidated before our eyes.

Geographic frontiers are what we tend to think of when frontiers are invoked: the vast unspoiled vistas, the abundant and yet uncounted resources. All of the New World—North and South America, the Caribbean, and every island near the coasts—was a vast geographic frontier for the Beringians.

  • Geographic frontiers represent the discovery of resources heretofore unknown to humans. Geographic frontiers are inherently zero-sum: there is a finite amount of space on this planet of ours, and we will reach the end of it.

Technological frontiers are moments when innovation allows a human population to make more, or do more, or grow more, than they did before the innovation occurred. Every human culture that has terraced hillsides, decreasing runoff and increasing crop production, was confronting technological frontiers.

  • Technological frontiers are the creation of resource through human ingenuity. Technological frontiers are temporarily non-zero-sum—specifically, positive-sum—and this can appear to be a permanent state. But there are physical limits: a single electron is the theoretical minimum needed to flip from one state to another in a transistor, for instance.

Finally, there are transfer of resource frontiers. Unlike geographic and technological frontiers, transfer of resource frontiers is inherently a form of theft.

  • In modern times, transfer of resource frontiers is everywhere: oil drilling, fracking, and logging in ancestral lands; predatory lending, as with subprime mortgages and much student debt; the Holocaust. One symptom of transfer of resource frontiers is tyranny.
  • Like all frontiers, transfer of resource frontiers is ultimately zero-sum. Theft has its limits; even thieves must obey physical laws.

We have run out of geographic frontiers, or nearly so. Technological frontiers come with risks (beware Chesterton’s fence!), and are ultimately constrained by available resources. Transfer of resource frontiers are immoral and destabilizing. What, then, are we to do? Where to turn to find salvation? In simple terms, consciousness. Consciousness can point the way to a fourth frontier.

An artisan who takes pride in the quality and durability of their work is enacting some portion of a fourth frontier mentality, one in which the life span of a product is as important as its function. A table or sideboard made by a local craftsperson is not beloved merely because it is more beautiful than what can be assembled from a box bought at Ikea, but also because the person in possession of a lovely and functional piece has a chance of handing it down to their children, or other kin, or friends. So, too, would we like to be able to deliver unto the next generations a lovely and functional world.

The fourth frontier is the idea that we can engineer an indefinite steady state that will feel to people like they live in a period of perpetual growth, but will abide by the laws of physics and game theory that govern our universe. Think of it like the climate control that allows the inside of your house to hover at a pleasant spring temperature as the world outside moves between unpleasant extremes. Engineering an indefinite steady state for humanity will not be easy, but it is imperative.

Senescence of Civilization

In organisms, we know what causes senescence. It is antagonistic pleiotropy, the propensity of selection to favor heritable traits that provide early life benefits even when they carry inevitable late life costs. This willingness to accept harm in old age occurs because selection sees the early life benefits much more clearly, as individuals will often reproduce and die before the harms have time to fully manifest.

Our economic and political system, in combination with our desire for growth in the moment, inflicts policies and behaviors that don’t seem crazy at first, not at all, and yet they too often turn out to be not only bad for us and the planet, but also irreversible, by the time we realize what we have wrought. We are living the unfortunate reality of the Sucker’s Folly—again, the tendency of concentrated short-term benefit to not only obscure risk and long-term cost, but also to drive acceptance even when the net analysis is negative.

What we “want,” and what the market is glad to hand us, is short-term gratification that rarely accounts for what is best for us long term. A market that is unregulated will tend to embody the naturalistic fallacy—the mistaken idea that “what is” in nature is “what ought” to be. When we let such unregulated markets lead, we are fed directly into the naturalistic fallacy. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.

Compounding the issue of unregulated markets is the reality that humans are perfectly adapted to manipulate one another, and that such adaptations have been moved into the hyper-novel territory of widespread anonymity. Historically, manipulation was kept in check by living in small groups of interdependent people. Shared fate was the rule that kept us in line. Putting one over on a person whose fate is intimately linked to your own is generally a poor idea, and those who do quickly get a reputation for doing so. We no longer live in small, interdependent communities. Many of the most critical systems we rely on are global, and the participants are nearly always anonymous. Malicious market forces are largely an expression of manipulation made possible by such anonymity, and by a lost sense of shared fate.

The key to building a system that is resistant to senescence is to:

  • Not optimize for a single value. Mathematically speaking, if you try to optimize for any single value, no matter how honorable—be it liberty or justice, decreasing homelessness or improving educational opportunities—all other values, every single other parameter, will collapse. Maximize justice, and people will starve. Everyone may starve equally, but that’s small recompense.
  • Create a prototype for your system. After that, continue to build prototypes. Do not imagine that you know from the beginning what the final system will look like.
  • Recognize that the fourth frontier is inherently a steady state, whose characteristics are ours to define. We ought to strive to create a system that:
    • Liberates (that is, that frees people to do rewarding, interesting, awesome stuff),
    • Is antifragile,
    • Is resistant to capture, and
    • Is incapable of evolving into something that betrays its own core values. In the technical language of evolution, we need a system that is an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy, a strategy incapable of invasion by competitors.

The Maya

We are not served by ignoring what we are—brutal apes. We are also not served by pretending that brutal apes are the only thing that we are. We are also generous, cooperative beings full of love. We have arrived in the 21st century with evolutionary baggage, and a fair bit of intellectual confusion. Let us understand the baggage, in order to reduce the confusion, and increase our odds of moving forward with maximal human flourishing.

Like the Maya, we moderns need to find ways to flatten the boom-bust cycle that has plagued all populations across time. They hypothesize that the Maya did this by creating a mechanism for not turning excess resources into more people, or ephemeral things; instead, they invested in giant public works projects. Many of these public works projects are visible today as temples, as pyramids. They grew them like onions, building more layers in times of abundance. In years of plenty, they posit, when excess food could easily have been turned into more people, which would have expanded the population, making hunger and conflict inevitable in lean years, the Maya instead turned the extra food into pyramids, or into bigger pyramids. They created glorious and useful public spaces, enjoyable by all, and when agricultural boom years inevitably ceded to bust years, the temples required no nourishment, and the population could withstand the leaner times.

Western civilization has been dominant for nearly as long as the Maya were. Their culture unraveled, accelerated at the end by a hostile enemy from across an ocean. Our culture is unraveling as well. We need a new steady state, an Evolutionarily Stable Strategy. We need to find the fourth frontier.

Obstacles to the Fourth Frontier


Freedom and justice exist in trade-off relationship with each other. We ought not try to push either of these two sliders all the way to one end. It is of course true that many societies are both less free and less just than they might be. For a majority of situations, we are not yet up against the limit of what is possible (what economists call the efficient frontier), and could potentially increase both freedom and justice until that limit is reached. Coming to grips with the fact that freedom and justice cannot both be maximized is a critical step in the conversation. Imagining a world that is totally free and just is to imagine utopia, a static perfection, a world in which trade-offs have been banished. Utopia is an impossibility, and its persistence as a fantasy is a profound hazard.

In order for us to have a conversation about humanity’s future effectively, people of every political persuasion need to understand diminishing returns, unintended consequences, negative externalities, and the finite nature of resources. Liberals are particularly prone to underestimating diminishing returns and unintended consequences. Conservatives are particularly prone to underestimating negative externalities and the finite nature of resources.

According to the economic law of diminishing returns, as you increase your input to a given variable, while holding everything else constant, the increases in your yield will virtually grind to a halt. Diminishing returns occur in every complex adaptive system. Understanding this encourages us to create nimble, evolving strategies, rather than cumbersome, static ones. A utopian vision, one that seeks to maximize any single parameter, falls prey to diminishing returns. Because we are constantly reaching for a static goal—which requires greater and greater investment to achieve, with ever smaller gains—we greatly limit what else could be accomplished. The opportunity cost of not jumping to the next diminishing returns curve is spectacular.

Unintended consequences are a variant of Chesterton’s fence: messing with an ancient system that you do not fully understand may create problems that you do not foresee. Liberals are prone to making regulations that upset functional systems. For instance, linking education funding to test scores led to the unintended consequence of creating a feedback loop in which poor scores reduce funding, which then further decreases scores. That said, conservatives are prone to easing regulations to facilitate the creation of new products—which themselves may upset functional systems.

  • Deregulating waste management to reduce operating costs has created pollution, which is effectively externalizing the costs of waste management. This has destabilized uncountable natural systems that humans historically depended on: fish and shellfish that are too toxic to eat, rivers that can’t sustain fish populations, air quality that leads to asthma and developmental delays. In short, both liberal solution making and conservative desire for market innovation are the source of unintended consequences.

Negative externalities occur when individuals making decisions—or products—do not have to bear the full cost of those decisions. Allowing the harm from what is created to be disassociated from its value.

  • From the burning of coal for energy, in which the air pollution is shared by all but the profits by few, to the playing of loud music late at night to the enduring irritation of your neighbors, negative externalities are rampant in our world.

The finite nature of resources should be obvious. While there are some resources that are effectively infinite—oxygen and sunlight being at the top of that list—the vast majority of Earth’s resources are finite. From rubber to wood to oil, from copper to lithium to sapphires, all are limited.

The partisan nature of Western democracy can make us feel as though we could never align behind a set of shared values, but realizing that we have a lot in common is the only way to achieve collective consciousness. We have but one planet. And yet we continue to behave as though the world in which we live is a cornucopia of infinite wealth. The Sucker’s Folly blinds us, our nature seeks growth, and our culture, lagging behind the times, is wired for a world in which we no longer live. While the Omega principle reveals that our culture is not arbitrary, it does not guarantee that our culture is up to snuff when it comes to hyper-novelty. This is the domain of consciousness.


The evolutionary creature in all of us needs to feel growth. Growth is what winning feels like, in evolutionary terms. Every single one of us, every lineage that has existed on Earth, has been through an oscillating cycle of growth, of filling up a niche, and of running into the end of the resource—of moving from a non-zero to a zero-sum world. Coming up short against that limit feels terrible, whereas abundance allows humans to flourish.

  • Chasing growth as if it is always there to be caught is a fool’s errand. Sometimes the opportunity exists, and sometimes it doesn’t. The expectation of perpetual growth is in many ways similar to the pursuit of perpetual happiness—it is the route to a host of miseries.

Our obsession with growth and the economic mindset it has created has given rise to a throughput society: one in which civilization’s health is evaluated based on the production of goods and services, where more consumption is presumed to be better. This framework is so deeply embedded in our minds that it seems almost logical, until one considers the implications.

  • If the durability of goods was increased and needed less frequent replacement, we’d face a massive economic contraction. Jobs would be lost, incomes would drop, taxes revenue would decline. In short, it would destroy the ability of our system to function.
  • Similar absurdities emerge anywhere that something positive interrupts demand. Would it be good if people invested more time and effort with their romantic partners instead of paying for porn? Would it be good if people were more satisfied with what they had and less susceptible to sales pitches? Would it be good if people were more easily sated and less prone to overeat? Would it be good if people spent more time producing art, music, and insight and less time coveting, purchasing, and flaunting trendy goods? Of course. All of these things would be major upgrades to our way of life. But our growth-obsessed economic mindset would report exactly the opposite. Our throughput society depends on insecurity, gluttony, and planned obsolescence. It’s how we keep the lights on.

If we are to persist, sustainability must displace growth as the indicator of success.

The “world ending” doesn’t typically mean the destruction of the planet. Rather, it means something like “our world”—in effect, our ability to persist into the future. When it is framed that way, some individuals who have predicted the end of their world will certainly have been right. Many populations have, after all, faced threats to their survival, and many of those failed to rise to the challenge. It is our belief, therefore, that sensitivity to existential threats is a long-standing adaptive trait, and that the size of the present human population, our degree of interconnection, and the technology we now possess all create a threat to our species analogous to threats faced by ancestral populations.


Simple, static laws will either be wrong from the beginning or have a short shelf life. Having a short shelf life is fine, to the extent that the system can upgrade. As Thomas Jefferson observed, even democracies need rebellion with some regularity. To the degree that a system is set in stone, it will be both gameable and gamed.

Evolved systems that have persisted over time are generally complex and functional, and we should employ the Precautionary principle when tinkering with them. Removing functional organs because we can’t tell what they’re for is not wise. It’s tempting therefore to laugh at those doctors who once proposed to take out people’s healthy large intestines, but what similar mistakes are we making now? Given the hyper-novelty of our era, it would be the height of arrogance to imagine that we are not currently doing things that will be understood to be laughable, even deranged, in the future.

Society is obsessed with short-term safety because short-term harm is easy to detect and comparatively simple to regulate. Long-term harms are a different story, being more difficult to detect, and even harder to prove. What are the long-term effects of screen time or educational testing, aspartame or neonicotinoid insecticides? We do not know. But because no one wants to live in a world where safety testing keeps every innovation off the market for decades, we have become reckless. We foolishly presume long-term harms are absent until they can no longer be ignored, and are then shocked that our expectations of safety were wrong.

A good regulatory scheme is efficient and light-handed—all but invisible. While inherently constraining, its net effect should be liberating, allowing access to the benefits of innovation without having to obsess about hidden consequences.

Good regulation is a key ingredient in any functional complex system. Our bodies, for instance, are tightly regulated across many domains, including temperature. To keep us within optimal range, myriad systems constantly adjust the balance between heat generated and lost, shunting blood into and away from our extremities and capillary beds. Our temperature is nothing if not well regulated, but these processes are so effective that they are barely detectable to us, freeing us to do anything from swimming in a cool river to playing soccer in the sun, all while rarely giving a thought to the risk of hypothermia or heatstroke.

Large systems outside the scope of possible containment by individuals need to be regulated. We cannot address nuclear safety or oil extraction or habitat loss without large-scale regulation.

Leveling Up

We need as many people as possible to get on board with this discussion, to mature into adults, and to discard their utopianism. We need people to welcome the idea that some set of values has to be broadly embraced and pursued, and to recognize that we’re not going to arrive at a decent future by describing it precisely in advance. We’re going to reach it by agreeing on the characteristics that such a desirable and plausible world must have, and then we must prototype, evaluate the results, and prototype again.

We are in the throes of a sustainability crisis. One thing or another will take us out. It might be climate change, or a Carrington Event, or a nuclear exchange set in motion by wealth inequality, a refugee crisis, or revolution, to name just a few of the awfully real possibilities. We are hurtling toward destruction. We must, therefore, with full consciousness, embark on something dangerous. We must seek the next frontier: the event horizon, beyond which we cannot see, from which we cannot return, but through which may be our salvation.

The Corrective Lens

  • Learn to hack and kludge your own mental architecture for a better life. Keep markets as far from your motivational structure as you can—don’t let someone else’s profit motive determine what you desire or do.
  • Keep commerce away from children, for as long as possible. Children raised to put high value on the transactional nature of being become dedicated consumers. Consumers are less observant, meditative, and deeply thoughtful than people who value creating, discovering, healing, producing, experiencing, communicating.
  • Individuals need to calm down, and level up. Rely less on metrics, more on experience, hypothesis, and deriving truth and meaning from first principles.
  • Rely less on static rules, and seek an understanding of the context in which those rules are appropriate.
  • Dispense with anything predicated on a utopian vision that focuses on a single value.
    • As soon as someone reveals that they are trying to maximize a single value (e.g., freedom or justice), you know they are not an adult.
    • Liberty is emergent—therefore not a single value. It is an emergent consequence of having fixed the other problems (e.g., justice, security, innovation, stability, community/camaraderie).

Society-wide, we should:

  • Like the Maya, invest our surplus in public works, which make us antifragile.
  • Prototype, prototype, prototype.
  • Move to a precautionary mindset, such that we can learn to regulate our industries effectively, minimizing any negative externalities that they create.
  • Consider Chesterton’s fence in all of its guises—from health care to cuisine, from play to religion.

From the moment when our ancestors achieved ecological dominance, competition between populations has been our dominant selective force. Millions of years of evolution have refined our circuitry for such competition, and it has become the default at the human software level. Now, though, three things conspire to make the inclinations that brought us to this moment an existential threat to our future: the scale of the human population; the unprecedented power of tools at our disposal; and the interconnectedness of the systems on which we depend (global economy, ecology, and reach of technology). The importance of understanding human software is urgent. The problem we face is the product of evolutionary dynamics. All plausible solutions involve awareness of those dynamics. The problem is evolutionary. So is the solution.

Rabbit Hole Blogs

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