So I thought I’d kinda-sorta got my direction set for a few year – steady, reasonable job doing a variety of things in a think-tank setting. Irreconcilable differences over IP caused a parting of the ways, and I’m back on my own account again.
That’s all gone now. And I’m glad; every time something burns down I think really hard before rebuilding. Sometimes people accuse me of spending more time thinking about what to do than doing it; yes, I could be a lot more productive, but not necessarily make more progress. Measure twice, cut with a single blow.
So here’s what I want. I want a space, a big space for people to live and work together, and it has to be in London. The space is on the same general template as Hub Westminster or Limewharf. I’ve worked with both of these spaces in their inceptions, producing TRUTHANDBEAUTY and Big Picture Days respectively. These events were explicitly meant to form strong intellectual communities around the new space, but neither one was able to properly embed: the somewhat abstract and analytical nature of the networks I was building were perhaps a poor fit for a straight social enterprise or art, science and social innovation framing. We did great talks and workshops, created insights of real value, but could not fit those perspectives and those networks into these ongoing projects.
I want to fix that: I want to build an Embassy for the Future in London, not as futurism, not as a predictive model, but as a real ongoing effort to produce transformative cultural innovation. I want to build the future.
But you know that. What’s the exact mechanism? What is “Insight Culture.”
Insight Culture is an attempt to directly address the gap between the facts we have and how we communicate to each other and act. A sample fact: “methane is starting to be released into the atmosphere, triggering potentially catastrophic global warming.” Now the gap: we’re doing very little about climate. The day to day state of consciousness we cultivate and the social discourse which supports it takes these vital facts and makes them socially difficult or impossible to act on. We pretend nothing is wrong to each-other, particularly with people we do not know very well, and this basically fools our monkey minds into thinking nothing is wrong. The inertial of society prevents us from panicking when it is appropriate, as in this instance.
Insight culture is not about fear. Insight culture is about emotional realism. It is about taking the facts we have in front of us, fact about how the world works, and what science tells us about the cosmos, and making them real in our narratives to each-other and in the lives we lead. It is about squaring what we know with what we do. Insight culture is about building social integrity as a path to personal integration. To live in a way which is congruent with all our knowledge about the world and about ourselves, starting with getting the stories we tell each-other to be fully congruent with the facts. There’s a lot of stuff that I know that I can’t really act on because I’m part of a society which minimizes those truths: we can change that, together.
Why does Insight Culture need its own space? It needs a “temple”, it needs a place in which the social rules alter as soon as you walk in the door, and change back when you walk out. Without that container, the effort will simply dissipate: there’s no social context like this that can operate without its own grounds. In this sense, insight culture is very much an embassy – an altered jurisdiction, a place where the rules are not the same.
So how might all this work? Here’s what I imagine happening: somebody wants to run a workshop on a fact they know that they are having problems socially integrating into their lives. They get together some people to participate, with the group’s goal being to square the facts and their own actions, to find an integrated position relative to the non-socially-integrated truths.
Let’s take something simple: “smoking kills far more people than heroin, but the government isn’t really helping people stop smoking.” That fact hits hard: every time I see a talented young friend with a cigarette, I want to scream. I suspect some people feel the same way when they see me with a hamburger: that’s life. Nobody is perfect. So we do a workshop: people who are into smoking, who know prevention, speak. They explain the facts, so we are fully informed. And then we talk, and think, and talk, and think. We whiteboard, and we express, and we write down. Map the hypocrisies, in our societies and in our lives, deal with the emotions, tell our stories, change the narratives, and integrate a new social reality within the room, within the group that we are in: “we understand smoking and smoking prevention in a new way, and we really feel it.” Inside of the room, inside of the workshop, the narratives shift and people’s emotions shift into a natural integrated congruence with the facts on hand. New stories emerge about smoking and our relationship to it, and some of those stories might reach far outside of that workshop and into the wider world.
Change the world through changing yourself.
This kind of thing has been tried a couple of times before. Less Wrong is perhaps a less group process and integrative psychology based, but it’s got the same impulse: squaring our actions with what we know from science. Shintaido performed a similar process for the martial arts in 1965 – a multi-year retreat called Rakutenkai in which they broke down the martial arts and built them back up again for a new age. You could call these things Temples of Truth, Embassies of Free Inquiry. They’re places and spaces where people strive to tell the truth to themselves and each-other, as a way to change what is happening.
I want one like this in London, and I want it to work in a new way.
This is a big ask. It’s a proper Crazy Idea. It’s financially unrealistic, indirect, and generally completely off the map of the possible. So let me address some of those objections.
- The money: some of the bills can get paid by renting a really large space, and using a substantial chunk of it for living space. I am not suggesting a commune or a cult, but a pragmatic arrangement: rent a big place, and it cuts the bills for everybody. The workspace for Insight Culture is only busy part of the time. Rent it out the rest of the time. Furthermore, I’m considering doing a dotcom largely to finance Insight Culture – a cold hard cash investment in what I believe in. We’ll see whether I have enough time and energy to do both, if I follow this path, or if Insight Culture stalls behind the simple process of making a living. There is no other way to finance this: grant funding will trap us inside of the existing paradigms of the funders and turn us into another activist charity. If we try and make the thing “financially sustainable” we’ll simply wind up avoiding all the hotbutton issues to not offend funders. There’s a reason this thing does not exist already.
- The people: does anybody really want to do this? Big event a month, several smaller efforts a week, production of videos, books, pamphlets taking what we have learned, the new narratives and cultural products from the process, and exporting them into the world? Does anybody care enough about changing the world’s stories enough to work together in a coherent way to do it? I think so: I’ve met enough people to believe that a large mixed-use space with Insight Culture as an “anchor tenant” taking up perhaps 50% of the space could work for enough people to be viable in London.
- Dreams and realism: a lot of my stuff is not working. The hexayurt ticks along, but largely due to that planetary wonder, Burning Man. No Burning Man, no Hexayurt Project – it would simply be dead in the water, a little footnote on the likewise-stalled work of Buckminster Fuller. If we ever get to the refugee camps, it will be through Burning Man, and no other route. Every burner in a hexayurt lays another brick in the path forwards. The events I’ve run in London are pretty decent, good progress, strong pushes forwards on some very particular angles. But nothing’s gone bang. No instant success, no direct world-changing transformation. I’m going to keep trying, but the odds are that this won’t work either – we’ll get some amazing insights, a few things will scale, and mostly it won’t matter.
But we have to try. I have to try, at least.
I have no idea how to make this thing real. A prototype of this vision was floated for this building in Woolwich but we couldn’t get the team together and there were shadows over the residential angle. Fundamentally, we didn’t have enough money to do this.
Option one: I make the cash by doing straight commercial stuff, and hope it works well enough to leave enough of a resource base to underwrite this.
Option two: somebody has a bead on financing this that comes from a politically aligned and ideologically motivated source, not a funder that will constrain us to working on polite problems and thereby getting nothing at all done.
Basically I want to scale the process that results in phrases like “collapse means living in the same conditions as the people who grow your coffee“.
I think I know how, and I think it’s worth doing. But today, all I can do is tell you what I want, and what I think is important.