A gift of 5 questions


e13 / podcast & show notes, wherein I wax philosophical on co-creation, status, not-not doing, cultural capital and new narratives.

Illustration by  dangerlam

Illustration by dangerlam


The Crone-of-the-Grove recently asked me a few questions, in response to some casually raised points in my appearance on The Daily Talk Show (see episode 11 of my podcast). I thought it might be apt to share my responses with you here. These questions strike to the heart of that which I am particularly fascinated in right now, and so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to plunge into the barely known, all cavalier-like.

This indulgent epistle shall traverse the following domains:

  • How one might relate to co-creation (and the nebulosity of ‘self’)

  • The plague of busyness (and how to ward yourself against such)

  • Distinctions of thinking and reflection (and the notion of ‘not-not’)

  • The notion of ‘cultural capital’ (and why you might want to accrue it)

  • Our tentative return to Grand Narratives (along with all the caveats)

I shall split Crone-of-the-Grove’s letter into parts, so that I might tackle each question in situ. 

~ After writing this I decided to make a podcast of it, wherein I kinda half-read this post, and half ad-libbed/disagreed with myself/went on many merry tangents. I’m not sure how great an idea is for me to read my own writing aloud, but I think you’ll enjoy the complimentary experience. ~

1. Co-creation and the Dispelling of Ick

Hi Jason. Another great podcast, thank you. I have a few exploratory threads, some small questions and a bigger one... Loved the point about co-creating each other. I often reflect on how others help create the-soup-I-call-me. Not so often the other way around. How do we ponder our impact on others without getting all self-conscious and icky?

Ah, this is a really apt question. It reminds me that the notion of co-creation is something that can be ‘partially-realised’. Let’s see if I can help this become more fully realised (though this in itself can trigger a brief dally into nihilism—a necessary part of the journey, but not a place to dwell in for too long).

So! At a simple level, we can relate to the notion of co-creation along the lines of ‘influence’.* I can influence you, and you can influence me.

* Note: I am not referring to co-creation as a rebrand of collaboration (though I do find it useful to differentiate between contracting, cooperation, collaboration and co-creation). In this instance, I’m coming at the notion of co-creation from more of a more metaphysical/existential/ontological bent.

Popular meme-aphorisms like ‘you cannot not influence’ inform us that influence is more than just the words we say—it’s the way we say them, the language we use, the clothes we wear, our tone of voice, our body language, and how we frame our arguments… along with an infinitude of factors. It all influences how we shape the perspectives of others. Choosing to not choose to consciously influence someone is still a choice—and this too will influence and shape the perspectives of others and their experience of us (even if we don’t will it so).*

* You are not and cannot ever be innocent. We are all complicit. Hanzi writes a fine piece on this.

This is a good basic lesson, as it helps us become more conscious of the ‘affect’ that we create. In my own practice, the awareness that I am ‘always-inevitably-inadvertently-influencing’ can make me more conscious of the internal factors that may shape this affect: my state (am I well rested? am I hydrated? am I hangry?), attire (does this lend authority? approachability? do I feel comfortable?), tone (am I being warm? measured? upbeat? condescending? humble?), language (is this comprehensible? coherent? too complex? too reduced? too flippant? too heavy?), and so on. This awareness can, however, send one into a spiral of ‘perception management’, preening and social grooming—so it’s usually something I keep relatively suspended.

The (less popular) flip-side (equally true) aphorism of all this is thus:

We cannot not be influenced.

The same notion that we are always influencing others effects us equally in reverse. And this is where it gets interesting.

For if we are always influenced by others… who am we? Or rather, to put it as Yuval Harari does: ‘Who Are I?’

Enter the notion of co-creation. 

// Btw: I’m not trying to pass any of this off as my own cleverness—this is merely my (proto-)synthesis of wiser minds. It’s incomplete, will probably change, and is no doubt flawed. But still: I find it to a true-useful-fiction to play with. //

The notion ‘co-creation’ is something that appeared on my noöspheric radar in only the last few years (though it is something most of us would ‘intuitively’ understand, I suspect). The philosopher-construct Hanzi Freinacht writes about this in The Listening Society, a book you’ll hear me continue to reference (parrot? ape?°) quite a few times (as it serves as an imperfect but very useful beacon/reference). For a readily accessible-yet-haphazard synthesis, herein lies a metamodern view of the human being.

° No offence to parrots or apes.

This stuff is all inherently linked to adult development—of which there are different schools of thought. For the sake of brevity—wherein I make profane the profound—to understand co-creation we must understand the notion of ‘dividualism’. To quote Hanzi, “We are not atoms, individuals (two versions of the same word, one Greek, the other Latin), but we are—more in line with quantum physics—participatory dividuals. I don’t expect you to leave me be, but to recreate me.”

Increasingly, scientists are realising what some monks seem to have known for a long time—namely, that any notions of ‘identity’ and ‘self’ are actually illusions (merely ideas or objects of awareness). 

Of course, just because it is an illusion doesn’t mean it isn’t real.* Only that we must accept the inherent nebulosity of self, and the notion that our sense of self is ‘intermittently continuous’ at best, and likely a mostly fallacious dynamic and amorphous composite of much that we have experienced and subsumed in this infinite game. 

* There is a ‘there’ there (even if that ‘there’ dissolves under scrutiny).

But we can work with this.

To quote old mate James Carse, “One cannot be human by oneself. There is no selfhood where there is no community. We do not relate to others as the persons we are; we are who we are in relating to others. Simultaneously the others with whom we are in relation are themselves in relation. We cannot relate to anyone who is not also relating to us. Our social existence has, therefore, an inescapably fluid character. This is not to say that we live in a fluid context, but that our lives are themselves fluid.”

This, in turn, brings up the notion of ‘free will’—of which again, science and reason (not to mention: many Eastern philosophies) are showing to be illusionary as well. A useful illusion, to be sure.

It sure is lovely to pretend as though we are in control. I’m glad for it. I want to take responsibility for my actions, and for others to do so too. And yet, the uncomfortable reality seems to be that—while with great ‘self-awareness’ or ‘mindfulness’ we may be able to ‘choose’ (or feel as though we choose) whether or not to act upon our desires—we cannot choose what our desires are in the first place. Where do these desires come from? Well: this is part of the cosmic co-created dance we are participating in. 

Perhaps a somewhat helpful way to see this is that the ‘Big Bang’ (a phenomena that still begets such big questions) isn’t over yet. We are all still a part of this process. It’s all still happening. And as the universe (multiverse) continues to expand into increasing complexity—and as entropy continues to rise—we continue to play out our roles as influenced by all previous interplays.

(Of course, I don’t mean to reduce reality into mechanical determinism—there exists a far vaster, richer and more dynamic interplay of quantum minds, the exquisite mystery of consciousness and so on… and I’m mostly out of my depth here, so take all of this existential verbiage with a pinch of salt).

Suffice to say: there’s a warm ambivalence to our ‘selves’ that can be cultivated from this rather lofty perspective. Instead of getting too wrapped up in self-consciousness we rather contend with a much more ‘transpersonal’ perspective, wherein our concern and care is more abstract and encompassing. One no longer sees people (or one’s ‘self’) as individual persons—for these are but the masks we wear and the roles we play (given our various contexts, and whatever social, cultural, educational, and axiological ‘code’ we had installed and updated through our years). What does this all mean?

It means that our co-creation is complex, nebulous and inescapable. How do we ponder our impact on others without getting all self-conscious and icky? We do so by being conscious of the fact that this co-creation (or co-influencing) is going to happen regardless. We realise that life isn’t about us (as individuals*)—rather, it is about us. All of us. We’re all in this together. And so, knowing that we can never really be innocent in this—and that our choice to influence or not is going to influence things in some way, which in turn is going to have complex implications, beyond our ability to reckon with. We shall cause much suffering, either way. The tragic romance of this is that we cannot know the full extent of what and how, and that this shit can get very heavy, very quickly. And so, with some equanimity, humility and grace, we accept that we aren’t necessarily the heroes of our own stories (no one is), and instead strive to walk the way of least unnecessary suffering, so that we may play a more beneficial role in the lives of ‘others’. In pondering this, we listen, and try to assimilate (and have solidarity with) as many perspectives as we can (knowing full well that our own may well be ‘less apt and contextually appropriate’ than others), and then—with reflection and meta-rational sense-making, we review/revise/update our protosynthesis.

* A tenet I regularly violate.

One might call this ontological remodelling, but at this stage I fear I have once again veered away from providing a practical answer. In fact, there’s something a tad not-quite-right in the above. I call bullshit on myself.

Let’s have another crack.

How do we ponder our impact on others without getting all self-conscious and icky? The short answer is: haha, I don’t know! I wish I did.

Even in my above pseudo-valiant attempt to answer this, I became ‘self-conscious’. And this type of thing alway stirs up a kind of hubris-allergy in me. I feel as though there is an intellectual arrogance that blinds me to some ways of seeing things. And so I pretend to not know better, even though I know I don’t know better. Long story even shorter: amidst all of this pondering, considering, self-doubt, reflection, introspection, and so forth… if I feel compelled to put forth any thesis or provocation—to do something that could be seen as creating/expressing/influencing… I try to do so from a considered stance, summoning at least a sense of knowingness of my own naïveté, bias and hubris (and proceeding anyway, for I can’t not*). If this stirs up ickiness and self-consciousness, so be it.° It’s just another opportunity to learn.

* One day I shall do a deep dive on the benefits of procrastination. There’s a noble quality to it that most seem to miss. 
° An example: my deliberate occasional (mis-)use of ‘complex words’, magical realism, whimsy and archaic/antiquated language will no doubt alienate some readers. I’ve had a few people tell me that they feel ‘so dumb’ when they (try to) read my work. It kills me. This is naturally the antithesis of my intent, for I wish folk to feel clever and wise—to be positively enlivened by my occasional linguistic wittitude. I know that some do, and it certainly makes writing these things more enjoyable for me. Thus I continue, knowing that this will cause suffering, will rub some folk the wrong way, and will keep these musings dwelling in a rather esoteric and somewhat inaccessible realm (as distinct from buzzfeed, say). But, hoho: so be it.◊
◊ Another example: in my keynote presentations I often embody a rather jolly, erratic and capricious spirit, wherein the complexity and pace of my message is quite heightened. Dry humour is laced throughout this, which serves as a reward for those keeping pace (and is missed by those struggling to keep up). Of course, I always elucidate my main points very well, but I’ve asked to ‘slow it down’ so that people have time to ‘get the jokes’ as well. But slowing things down moderates the tone: everything becomes more deliberate, and it starts to sound patronising. The dry humour loses its effect, as it is no longer ‘off hand’. I’ve quickly came to realise that there’s a reward in ‘discovering’ the covert (much like the delight in finding a well-hidden easter egg). Ergo: trying to cater for everyone never works (or rather: is a recipe for underwhelming success). And so I persist in my ‘natural’ style, knowing it will inevitably-inadvertently cause mild suffering in some, and a delight for the quick-witted.

Ha! I think I finally arrived at a more ‘honest’ and less obfuscated answer. Whew. Great question. 

2. Busyness, Status and Extinction

Busyness. You mention social media’s impact, and I agree. And I think there’s something much bigger and more insidious going on. I believe we’ve turned busyness into a status symbol. Materialism is out (kinda), busyness is in. This scares the pants off me as I believe busyness impedes deep reflection and connection. I think we're at risk of busying ourselves to extinction. I'm curious how you see and experience this yourself.

Oh yes, I agree with you. Busyness is the co-created intersubjective value-meme plague of our times. 

Let’s unravel further.

Yes, “materialism is out (kinda)”—but only in the more progressive post-industrial and post-modern cultures.* It’s still rampant in many countries (including much of our own).° I type to you comfily in my visibly-mended artisan attire, sipping direct-trade single estate 3rd wave coffee whilst waxing theoretical to you ’pon my Apple laptop, awash in deeply sincere yet hypocritical irony. Meanwhile, a few suburbs over, people are sitting in their idling cars in the parking lot of a shopping mall, sipping diet coke from a can whilst listening to commercial radio stations, impatiently awaiting their chance to re-immerse themselves in senseless consumerism, so as to buy new crap they don’t really need to fill a void that isn’t really there. But yes! Materialism is out (kinda),◊ and it ought continue to be out (kinda), given how ecologically unsustainable our consumption is.

* Hence your apt use of ‘kinda’.
° To understand this, we must look at values—and their lumpy distribution. Again, Hanzi provides a useful overview (this time, in a very accessible manner).
◊ Kim, the dangerlam, in editing this made a good point to me: busyness and materialism relate. Busyness is a symptomatic, reactive strategy that allows for materialism to continue.

What’s interesting, as you’ve noted, is the shift from materialism to ‘busyness’ as a status signifier. Busyness is, I suspect, treated as a badge of honour in part because materialism is increasingly recognised as an incompatible value in our global society—overt material displays of wealth are (slowly, subtly but) increasingly being perceived as garish and obscene. 

And yet—even as we must continue to eradicate non-consensual dominance hierarchies amongst all sentient beings—there will always be non-dominance (sometimes unhelpfully referred to as ‘natural’) hierarchies amongst humans—hence why ‘status’ is a thing.* Many people are better at many more things than I am. I am better at a few things when compared to some people. Sometimes.

* If, like me, you have an allergy to the word ‘hierarchy’, you might benefit from this excerpt. One of my biases that I am distinctly aware of (and mildly embarrassed by), though, is that my reference pool is rather small and rather male. I’m working on this. In this particular instance, the primer on hierarchies amongst humans is too important to not mention.

Or am I? For how would folks know? And if folks don’t know, then how am I perceived and valued by society? What is my role? What is my ‘self-worth’ so to speak? I need to ‘prove’ it somehow, yes? Or at least signal it. Don’t I?

The thing is, in many ways, we (sadly) interact with each other and the world mostly via the Internet these days. The boundaries of ‘work’ are more nebulous than ever. Many of us no longer go to work to work—work happens anywhere (and at any time).* The boundaries of ‘self’ and ‘work’ are now likewise heavily intwined. Many of us identify with our work.° Add the odd notion of ‘self-worth’ into the mix, and you can see we have a potent formula for ‘busyness’. 

* And often not at work.
° See: You Are Not Your Work.

Then consider the context: we live and work in a society where ‘meritocracy’ is considered noble and just. Or at least: that’s the narrative. Not enough have thought this through, though.

Meritocracy is the popular social ideal that the ‘rewards’ of life—power, promotions, employment, etc—should be distributed according to skill and effort. Thus, in order to build and reinforce my status in an organisation and wider society, I must demonstrate said skill and effort. What I lack for in skill, though, I can make up for in effort. Hence why, in part, ‘busyness’ becomes the status signifier. For what else do I have to show for my worth?* 

* (I’m playing a role here, btw—this is not what I believe, but it’s something I can empathise with).

Couple this with the various psychological biases that see our motivation/focus/attention/behaviour naturally gravitate to the things that provide the richest sense of progress,* it is no wonder people equate progress with effort. It’s hard to see progress on the important stuff (climate change, inter- and intra-personal development, etc). But it’s easy to point to the efforts one is generally investing into things. 

* See: The 5 Pernicious Patterns Most Leaders Cannot See

This isn’t helped at all by the fact that the conventional business narrative of our times calls to ‘move faster’—to hustle and to always be in action. And we’re optimised for it now, too. There are systems and apps that make us seemingly more efficient, allowing us to squeeze productivity and efficiency in every aspect of our lives.* We’re in a race to the bottom here. And for what?

* See: We’re Optimising Ourselves to Death

Meritocracy might seem a noble ideal, but it’s dangerous to think that we are anywhere near achieving it yet.* And, in the meantime, it fuels a false veneration of busyness, which ironically distracts and detracts from meaningful progress. And it robs us of curiosity, empathy, wisdom and kindness.°

* See: A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you
° These things no doubt seem like ‘cute luxuries’ to some. Who has time for this? Not many, it seems. And it’s understandable too. Many of us are in rather precarious employment situations. Millennials, in particular, are quite fucked. Thus: because there is very little to ‘show’ for curiosity/empathy/wisdom/kindness (beyond virtue-signalling on social media), it’s no wonder we are pulled back into the realms of ‘busyness’. As the market becomes ever more volatile and uncertain, and as formal structures continue to erode (and become supplanted by the deeply supportive and sometimes parasitic 3rd part platforms), the freelancer/gig economy (of which I am a part of) will continue to rise. Thus, you must think of the nebulous and fluid networks you is a part of (breadth), the relationships one fosters (depth), and who knows you for what you know.

Of course, this is all systemic. And yet… there are ways to start untangling ourselves from this mess. I’ll list a few thoughts here briefly, and will perhaps expand upon these in a podcast one day.

» How to not busy ourselves to extinction—11 small ideas

i. Reduce living expenses. Beyond being a child-free vegan who doesn’t fly, one of the quietly noble things any of us can do is work to reduce our living expenses.* For this, I recommend the quirky book The Art of Frugal Hedonism (wherein you can discover how to gain more time by being less materialistic). Opting out of the relentless drive for ‘more’ is hard to do. But there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the pressures capitalism places on us—many of which go hand in hand with a more stoic and antifragile approach to life (not to mention: enhancing our enjoyment of life itself).

* I should add that this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘going cheap’. It’s actually a deeper call to re-evaluate what you really value. Ergo: I’m not advocating fast food or fast fashion. Quite the opposite.

ii. Reduce social media. It fuels comparison, outrage and lack. Though... I’m still mostly confused as to what to do here: social media is toxic—but so is anything, in high enough doses. It may be possible to navigate this life with richness and depth, without having to be ‘anti-social media’. Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism offers a neat alternative: be pro-conversation. If social media helps you organise the logistics that serve as a precursor for connection and depth: great. Just be careful not to descend into comments and likes on these platforms (as the Algorithms tend to only favour obsessive engagement).

iii. Cultivate personal principles/tenets. Things like ‘no work from dinner onwards’, ‘no internet before noon’ (or: whatever works for you).* I’m currently in the process of re-considering the ‘tenets’ by which I work. Being my own boss is great, but the shadow side is that I can find myself constantly ‘bargaining’ with myself. For example: I might be lax during my ‘deep work’ during the week. ‘That’s okay, I’ll catch up on the weekend’ I say. But then we do brunch with friends. Guilt creeps in, corrupting the moment. The result is: consecutive days of unnecessary misery, and weeks and weeks where I constantly feel behind in things. And so—as counterintuitive and as antithetical as it seems to be for one who preaches fluidity in all things—it is sometimes necessary to create temporal boundaries for ourselves and our work (and to protect our ‘head space’ outside of these).

* I usually cultivate these in conjunction with my Word for each year (see episode 7 of my podcast).

iv. Journal and/or meditate. Busyness is often a narrative pattern that dissolves under scrutiny. The School of Life offers an excellent video and article on ‘Philosophical Meditation’. This has been something I’ve been attempting to practice for some time (my practice was also partially inspired by Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way). I used to do this with a paper journal (which is very romantic), but nowadays I use the Day One journalling app. The charm of this app is that—after using it for a year—it’ll start to remind you what you wrote ‘on this day’ one year ago. I usually view this after I’ve written out my introspections, and it is uncanny how often I am repeating the same damn narrative. As in: I’d be whinging about pretty much the exact same kinda thing as I was in the last few years. Most of the narratives we live in—the stories we tell ourselves—are fallacious traps. This practice grants the insight to pick the locks to your own cage, so that you may cast a better narrative.*

* That is: a better cage.

v. Exercise. Bah. We all know this. That feeling of achievement. The ability to access the temporary infusion of ‘a realisation that everything is already-always okay’. It’s magic. Our thoughts and emotions (heck: our experience of reality) is heavily influenced by our physiological state. Want to feel less busy? Exercise, and enjoy the glorious endorphin ride.

vi. Socialise. Yah, even us introverts need to get out and get some perspective. I seem to have a good thing going on at the moment with some mates—a game of squash, followed by a few beers on a Friday night (to which our partners sometimes join—’tis not an exclusively male thing). It used to be that I’d end the week awash with disappointment for everything I hadn’t achieved, wallowing in all the promises I’d broken, and lamenting my lack of integrity. But hoho—now I just wash that away with beer! Chortle: not really. The beer is merely a memetic device—the conversation—the ‘talking shit’ with emotionally intelligent friends, whom all have each others back, who know when to listen and when to make jest—that’s the wondrous alchemy, and the balm against senseless, relentless busyness.

vii. Sleep. It’s more important than we think, and it is perhaps the last bastion of defence against The Avatar of Busyness, who parades as some sort of Pernicious Paladin of Productivity.* Work can wait. Sleep works to restore perspective.

* See this fine article on Microsoft’s war on sleep.

viii. Read fiction. Another boon for perspective, and a bridge to better sleep. Read fiction before bed, and imbibe your mind with new wonders.

ix. Squander time. I’m not good at this one yet, but books like In Praise of Idleness, On Doing Nothing and the soon-to-be-released How to Do Nothing are beginning to make me believe that it is a special talent. Naturally, it’s all about inversions and contrast, but if (like me) you find yourself perpetually in a state where ‘busyness’ may seem to be your reality: try squandering time. My friend Mark gifted me with this frame, and notes that it’s not merely about ‘wasting’ time on unimportant tasks. No, no. It’s about positively squandering time (you need to say it with the italics, the emphasis). I’m beginning to suspect that this—more so than materialism—will become the status signal in a world full of burnout. And good on it.

x. Cook like you care. We live in a world where its much easier to watch good cooking on Netflix, then it is to actually do it. And so I say: go to the market, smell the wares, weigh the vegetables in your hand, and generally pretend to know what you’re doing. Put on some music, open a bottle of something nice, and cook something complex. There’s something mythical and timeless about this experience—savour it. Lean against the grain of convenience, and do things by hand. Mid-way through, spontaneously invite some friends over (don’t do it beforehand: this way you can be chill and not overthink it). Light a candle, put on a record. Make light art of the gathering.

xi. Be in ‘nature’. Hrmm. This is an odd one, as ‘nature’ is an unhelpful and artificial construct that emphasises a false dichotomy. But you know what I mean. Get outdoors—so much of our lives exists in screen-bound contexts, with artificial lighting in climate controlled rooms. Get out there and smell the loaminess of the soil after it rains. Sit in the park and watch the dogs play. Find a windy place to sit and watch the sky. Escape light pollution and look up/down upon the stars. And so on.

(It’s quite noticeable, the effect that a good hike can have on one’s perception of ‘busyness’—it’s mostly uncomfortable at first, but then the discomfort dissolves into a pleasantly numb monotony, and then after a while the mind—starved of its usual distractions and stories—begins to open up and discover new things. Hedonistic adaptation kicks in favourably: a flat rock becomes the source of immense comfort. A muesli bar becomes rich with flavour and nuance. And so on.)

I’m sure there are plenty more ways to mitigate the insidious notion of ‘busyness’ (and I worry that only the first seven suggestions above are in service to this). Anyhoo: ace question. I hope my thoughts help in some way.

3. On the benefits of ‘not-not doing’

Thinking vs reflection. You talk about the importance of deep thinking time. Again, I agree. I like to talk about reflection though, as to me "thinking" implies a strongly cognitive process. "Reflection" brings in more intuition to blend with the cognition, which I believe results in much more innovative results. You may mean the same thing when you say "thinking" though. Or not, in which case I'd be curious about your views on intuition and cognition.

Yeah I’m with you. I think I say ‘thinking’ as a proxy for the antonym of ‘doing’. The dominant narrative in much of the business world is ‘taking action’, ‘making shit happen’, ‘failing fast’ and similar such. ‘Thinking’—to many—can seem like a ‘waste of time’. Theory (ways of seeing) is often met with derision under this regime. The world wants to be ‘practical’. They want ‘top tips’ that can be applied immediately at work. All of this is an anathema to my own ethos, and the hallmarks of minds trapped within some sort of dull torpor.

And so I buck against such, trying to champion an alternative to relentless ‘doing’. ‘Thinking’ is the word I tend to use, as the world seems reticent, in my experience, to embrace ‘reflection’ (which is considered placid, wistful and nostalgic). I’d like to say ‘reflection’—it would just depend upon the context, and what ‘meaning-tone’ it might be given.

When I say ‘thinking’ I actually mean: reasoning/reflecting/musing/pondering/sensing/exploring and most of all allowing (or sometimes: coaxing) new perspectives/options/avenues to emerge and take shape.

This ‘thinking’, ironically, is still somewhat of a ‘doing’ thing—though not in the direct, measurable and observable manner favoured by modernity. Perhaps a good way to think of this is is: ‘not not-doing’.* 

* Here’s a quote from Sheila Heti’s wondrously written book, Motherhood. “And I don’t want ‘not a mother’ to be part of who I am—for my identity to be the negative of someone else’s positive identity. Then maybe instead of being ‘not a mother’ I could be not ‘not a mother.’ I could be not not. // If I am not not, then I am what I am. The negative cancels out the negative and I simply am. I am what I positively am, for the not before the not shields me from being simply not a mother. And to those who would say, You’re not a mother, I would reply, ‘In fact, I am not not a mother.’ By which I mean I am not ‘not a mother.’ Yet someone who is called a mother could also say, ‘In fact, I am not not a mother.’ Which means she is a mother, for the not cancels out the not. To be not not is what the mothers can be, and what the women who are not mothers can be. This is the term we can share. In this way, we can be the same.”

And so, in answer to your question, I guess what I’m trying to say is that ‘thinking’ is often the word I use for ‘not not-doing’, but that could easily be ‘reflection’ or similar such, pending the context and the linguistic palette of the audience.

4. Social capital (hope for hipsters?)

I lost your comment about cultural capital in a sea of bagels. Curious to know what point you were going to make there.

I can’t remember the exact point I was attempting to make, but I suspect it was something along the lines of how cultural capital is increasingly important—those with more ‘cultural capital’ will outcompete those with more ‘financial capital’. Our world is largely a media landscape now, in which attention is the precious finite resource. In the competition for our attention, it is those who are more creative and imaginative that get the upper hand (not the richest or most ‘proper’). From The Listening Society “Cultural capital… is a measure of the extent to which people possess a sensitive, intimate understanding of the time they live in.” This, of course, is linked to societal values. In time, those purporting outdated ‘modern’ values will increasingly fail to those with more cultural capital, as these folk will have a greater affinity for the values of our epoch. This is also in part why some of the more traditionally capitalist organisations struggle to recruit top talent, and why talented folks are often quite happy to work for social enterprises at a reduced salary—what they lack for in bonus financial capital they make up for in greater cultural capital, and so on. This is all tied to meta-narratives and is inherently nebulous and fluid—but one can see a pattern at play here.

So I guess my point is: even though I remain rather sceptical about the future of humanity, I hold optimistically to a naïve yet well-supported belief that cultural capital will come to eclipse financial capital at some stage in the future. And that in achieving this, we will have made significant progress in righting some of the many wrongs of modernity (without triggering civilisational collapse, and whilst holding onto the good). In the meantime, we all just need continue to invest our time/effort/attention to those with greater cultural capital, when and where we can. Easy, right?

(No, of course not. And yet that is what we must do. Or strive to do, most of the time).

5. Is it time for a new human story?

And my big question...I believe we need a new human story which brings humanity together and makes a positive future more likely. I reckon it'd be something around recognising we're all interdependent parts of this infinitely complex system we call the Earth, and hence our shared higher purpose is to nurture it. I'm interested to know whether you think we need a shared human story, if so what it might be, how we might spread it...and how we would need to reshape our paradigms (e.g. of work and money) to support it.

Ah, Crone-of-the-Grove, you feel it too? Wonderful. You are giving voice to that which a small but growing number are sensing. This perilously doomed yet utterly vital quest for a better future. I’m with you. 

I’m not sure there is a singular story we can rally around—but if there was, it might look something like ‘metamodernism’, which is nebulous AF, and of which I find myself quite the advocate. Not sure what this is? The best primer, I contend, is The Listening Society by Hanzi Freinacht.* 

* See? I keep referencing this book. It’s ridiculous.

But while we are here:—

“Metamodernity is the next cultural paradigm: the post-Postmodernity. At its core is the self-reflexive re-emergence of myth, meaning and purpose. In other words: the resurrection of the Holy Spirit and Santa Claus. It is the dream of a common future for all of humanity, characterized by dignity, personal growth, responsibility, and faith in a better tomorrow.

Metamodernity entered the scene once the dominance of Internet and social media met an economy where many of us no longer partake directly in the production and distribution of industrial goods. It is a worldview which combines the modern faith in progress with the postmodern critique. What you get is a view of reality in which people are on an intergenerational developmental journey towards greater complexity and existential depth.

The metamodern philosophy is a whole world of ideas and suppositions that are counter-intuitive to modern and postmodern people alike. But since both the modern and postmodern philosophies are increasingly outdated, these metamodern ideas are set to develop, take hold, and spread. One day, they may become as dominant as modern philosophy is today.”

I copied this from website of The Metamodern Arts Festival (which is happening in Kyiv this September—I’m considering attending). 

How’s this for one of the ‘themes’ of the event (in terms of the uncanny resemblance to elements of your question/proposition)?

The New Myth
“The Enlightenment and its emphasis on reason has brought humanity great progress. Yet, societies that rely on reason alone are cold, nihilistic and ultimately murderous. To re-enchant the world, to find a new faith, one that can give the individual meaning and society stability, is the largely unspoken promise of Metamodernity. But who are its prophets? How do we come together under one vision?”

Anyways! I don’t have a singular answer to your Big Question (and it’s a good one)—but you’ll be heartened to know that I am working at it (like you, and the many few). Or rather: I am attempting to align as much of my work to contribute toward it. Whatever ‘it’ is. That thing we can feel but don’t have quite the language to describe—that.

And there we have it! Whew, these questions were quite revealing. Big thanks to Crone-of-the-Grove for the gift of them. I hope I haven’t set myself a terrible precedent here, for I can’t promise this much depth to all questions that come my way. Indeed, I’m quite behind on questions from my subscribers already—but I’ll get to it.

Meantime: I have a book to write. The clever among you might deduce what some of its themes might be.

Stay tuned!


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