In my last musing shared my thoughts on ‘personal branding’ with you—so that I could promote the wisdom of ‘character development’ as a better alternative.*
* Of course, this was also a thinly-veiled attempt to promote my very unique upcoming ‘Character Building Masterclass’. Tickets have sold out now.
In this museletter, I’d like for you to ponder the following question:
What are you subsuming?
It’s… a really important question. Particularly for those of us who are at least curious about how we might (intentionally) (co-)develop as persons and leaders.*
* * And collectively: as cultures and societies. And beyond.
I choose the word ‘subsume’ intentionally.
You’re probably familiar with the notions of ‘an information feed’ and ‘content consumption’. The former refers to the streams of input you partially-intentionally establish to keep you ‘informed’. This includes the news you watch/read/listen to, the sites you routinely visit, and the folks you connect with on social media (along with the biases built into such). James Clear puts it rather succinctly—
“Your actions are a consequence of your thoughts. Your thoughts are a consequence of what you consume. And in the modern age, what you consume is largely a consequence of how you select and refine your social media feed. Choose better inputs. Get better outputs.”
—though perhaps not as astutely as a wizard-philosopher like thyself might.*
* I also have several other quibbles with the tweet—the misuse of ‘modern age’; the lack of hermetic sensibility; and so on—but I shall put these aside for I concur with the main thrust.
To consume something implies its destruction: once something is consumed, it is no longer exists as a seperate entity.
But ideas (notions, ideologies, meanings) however, aren’t ever truly ‘destroyed’*—they remain within our greater noösphere. Or rather: they grow—like a virus; a meme—the more that we are exposed to them. In this way, it is more accurate to say that we subsume information.
* * Though it may be fair to say that ideas can disappear or transmute; and that they are subject to ‘memetic drift’.
Thus: the information/ideas/notions we subsume literally informs who we are. Or, in other words: ‘who’ we are is very much shaped by what we have subsumed into our character.
Why am I bringing this to your attention?
Because The Industrial Age is dead,* and our Information Age° is at dusk. Now, as we stand alone-together in the growing dark, a new Age emerges.
How we navigate the coming darkness depends very much on the illumination we cultivate. We can no longer afford to play naïve.
* Though industrial thinking (seeing the world as complicated and linear as distinct from complex and non-linear) still dominates much of leadership folklore today.
° And I never fully liked the term ‘information’, anyway. The Apollonian element I understand—but it has otherwise become so cold and clinical. ‘Information is the resolution of uncertainty’—bah. Perhaps this is why Dionysian dispositions seem to be making a Return into our collective realities? Information is always open to interpretation—it’s the fodder for our meaning-making. But now, the very foundations of shared knowledge (scientific research) are being seemingly eroded away. (Some) people are losing faith in science—but not in the form of meta-analysis or post-rational sensibilities, but rather in the form of regression into memetic tribalism..
I write this at a time in which I find myself allured by the pull of social media once again. The sirens call to me.
I’ve been lurking on Twitter, again
Not really contributing much—other than a few retweets. But I have been subsuming information and various flavours of ‘meaningness’. It’s a riot—a torrent of (mis)information. I love it for the very many perspectives it exposes me to (so many open tabs). I loathe it for the way it so effectively snags and magnetises my attention,* and how it attempts to fan the flames of outrage within me.
* Even though I am conceptually aware of the many dark patterns at play.
Outrage is, of course, one of the cheapest and easiest ways to cultivate continued engagement on the platform. We become invested in such—unless we can somehow maintain a sardonic distance. Or to just not use the cursed things at all. And yet: what does that leave us with?
It leaves us with books, long-form, slow media and real-life learning experiences.
These are like organic whole-foods for the mind. The nourishing, slow cooked meals—where only the highest quality ingredients are used. And, oh: the care that goes into the making. No artificial colours or flavours here. No sugar-high rushes to have you come crashing down and addicted. Just the alchemy of quality, time and care—with an attention to detail and nuance.
A total mismatch for today’s hyperconnected adherents to the cult of productivity; but something worth rekindling nonetheless.
The question is: how do we find such worthy meals amidst the junk food of our information feed?
Because social media—as a concept—isn’t bad. It’s just that their current forms (and the form of the internet at large) isn’t in the best shape right now. Jaron Lanier—author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now—likens it to lead-based paint. We didn’t stop making or using paint—we just found ways of making and using paint that was less harmful.
It may take some time for less harmful forms of social media to emerge (though there are glimmers of hope, as you’ll see below). In the meantime, it requires that we become more savvy navigators of the internet. For reasons of brevity and amusement, I present the following thoughts to you as a ‘list of three tips’.
How to Navigate The Internet like a Wizard
I share this with you in the hopes that the leaders of tomorrow might be more curious, empathetic, worldly, considered and kind—virtues that do not come from the blind subsumption of content.
1. See yourself as a Scout
Whilst all your colleagues subsume information via ad-sponsored mainstream media (what with all its turbidity and faecal contamination)—you are smart enough to look for the sources of insight. The wellsprings of fresher and less contaminated thought.
But to find such means you need to enter the Big Wide World—away from the safety of your Dark Forest.
And so thus: you must tread quietly. You must resist the temptations to get drawn into argument, to add fuel to the many raging fires; to get swept in.*
* For you know: this is not the time or place. You are an unarmed and unarmoured scout.
Lightly, deftly—you lurk.
And sometimes: you find and discover new treasure troves of knowledge. Serendipitous reads that exist from outside your immediate filter bubble (thanks to your cultivation of connections beyond your immediate tribe). These you pocket, for you know that the more disparate and diverse your sources of insight—the more perspectives you are able to assimilate and subsume*—the wiser you grow, and the better equipped you are to navigate these turbulent times.
* Try to integrate a spectrum of perspectives. Ask yourself: are you drawing insight from minds who embody different genders, orientations, races, cultures and world views to you?
Return to base. Receive +2 curiosity and +1 empathy.
2. Treat The Internet as The Warp
In the canon and lore of the various science fiction multiverses (and heck: perhaps our own), ‘hyperspace’ exists to explain “that unimagineable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighbouring instants of time” (to quote Isaac Asimov). One particular flavour of hyperspace takes the form of The Immaterium, or: The Warp.
Without getting too embroiled in established fictions, I suggest it is useful to think of the internet as The Warp. A means of accessing a dark world of truth and lies. Access to a kind of ‘magic’ that brings its own dangers and distortions. Knowledge is power, of course. But daemons dwell in this domain.
Thus you need to keep your wits about you,* and ensure you have your wards in place.° The ideas you encounter here haven’t necessarily been cleansed and sanctified via peer review. They’re rough, raw and riddled with bias.
* In this instance, ‘wit’ refers to associative knowledge—the more disparate and diverse, the better. In this way, we keep in mind that there are always multiple points of truth—so that we don’t become ensnared in any singular point of truth (no matter how emotionally compelling it may seem).
° Think of wards as pentagram chalk circles made to trap and hold daemons in place, only in this sense it might mean using a browser like Brave and a search engine like Duck Duck Go (I highly recommend both, btw) to keep the daemons at bay.
Luckily, as a Wizard I have had a good deal of training, and can detect and evade the dark patterns and fallacies of The Warp better than most. A doctorate of philosophy helps one learn how to critically assess information and knowledge—to free oneself from the shackles of certainty and conviction, to embrace a kind of epistemological humility. Though of course—it may be that a daemon has ensnared me via this very hubris. Who knows?
In any event: don’t lose yourself in The Warp. Set a timer, and avoid scroll-holes (and other traps). Practice Digital Minimalism. Tread lightly (as a scout), pocket the treasures you find—and then read them at depth, offline. Invest more time in Reality; connect and converse with real people, from all walks of life. Treat all of the gifts from The Warp as suspect—literally warped distortions of partial-truths. (And beware its intrusion into all facets of your life, too. The daemons want your data. The Trust Manifesto—a new book I just picked up—might offer some insight as to how to better protect yourself from such).
3. Seek Beacons to Light Your Way
I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Fall; Or Dodge In Hell (wherein the internet is referred to as The Miasma). Hefty, but good. In this near-future world, those with means hire personal ‘editors’ whose sole job is to filter incoming and outgoing information. The inputs that shape who you are (and how you think—what you subsume) and the outputs (what data you leak, and thus: how others might perceive you). Those who can’t afford the privilege are thus more likely to have unfiltered exposure to “flumes… of porn, propaganda and death threats, 99.9 percent of which were algorithmically generated.”
But that’s the near future! Still (a few) years away. In the meantime, the savvy amongst us (myself included) invest in Editors, too. These take the form of Beacons amidst the dark.
Our sources of illumination—our beacons—are folks who synthesise and make meaning from the otherwise overwhelming complexity of our times. It used to be non-commercial news outlets that we’d trust to do this—now, we turn to a range of individual journalists, writers and thinkers, so that we might subsume what they create/curate/aggregate/propagate/translate for us.
I have many such beacons I turn to*—and I may serve as a beacon to others, as we stumble our way through the dark. It is impossible to be across everything, and thus we need to rely on folk to synthesise on our behalf—to place our tentative-partial-trust in them, so that we may synthesise on behalf of others.
* Though some have revealed themselves to be Will-o’-the-wisps. ‘Tis no matter though, for we cultivate a constellation of perspectives to guide our way (rather than rely upon a single star)..
Paid or donator-supported media is another source. It’s content you support the creation of (rather than advertisers). The contract is clear: you invest in quality content, the same way you might invest in a good book or a quality meal.
Our world has become so flooded with meaning that it is increasingly difficult to make sense of things. We thus seek quieter haven and refuge—away from the distortions and noise.
And… that’s just the beginnings of a guide to Navigating the Internet like a Wizard.
There’s more savviness required of us, of course. Especially for those of us who seek to ‘lead’ within this entangled mess.
I wanted to talk of ontological rejection—the means in which we dismiss that which does not fit within our world view. But that’s a hefty topic—read meaningness instead.
I also wanted to talk of the virtues of subsuming more [science-] fiction [books] into your character, too. I suspect this to be the most important genre. But hey: any work of fiction allows us to subsume a good simulacrum of perspective. To gain a proxy for insight into the inner worlds of others. Whilst you’re at it—broaden your subsumption to include works of art, poetry, literature and fiction. Get yourself deeply lost in a good book or three—then find yourself again; a slightly newer person. And then go get lost in the wilderness (somewhat safely). Have somatic experiences. Play music; subsume it. Live, laugh, love, haha no I’m joking. (Or am I?) (I’m not).
We are what we subsume; and what we subsume shapes what we presume.
Worthy Reads from The Interwebs
And now, dear fellow traveller—some worthy reads I have pocketed and subsumed.
Note: to say I have subsumed these does not necessarily mean that I agree wholeheartedly with them, or that I somehow am them. Nor is it to say that I even fully grasp them, yet.
But—from what I’ve read and sifted through these past two weeks—I think you, too, might benefit from the following…
A recycled note from a previous musing, in which I highlight an excerpt from Fall; Or Dodge In Hell.
I thought it might be apt to share it again here. This is a complex book that flirts with many near-future themes, including the internet becoming so flooded with fake news, fake people, predatory trolls, demagogues and hyper-tailored content (99% of which is algorithmically generated—it may be senseless but it’ll make sense to you) that trust in shared knowledge and common sanity has all but eroded. There’s one scene where several characters are within what seems to be a camp of neo-religious zealots. One of the characters is about to be drawn into an argument with the camp leader, but their friend reminds them of ‘the Red Card’.
It was a reference to one of their teachers at Princeton who had gone so far as to print up a wallet card for people to keep in front of them during conversations like this one. One side of the card was solid red, with no words or images, and was meant to be displayed outward as a non-verbal sign that you disagreed and that you weren’t going to be drawn into a fake argument. The other side, facing the user, was a list of little reminders as to what was really going on:
1. Speech is aggression
2. Every utterance has a winner and a loser
3. Curiosity is feigned
4. Lying is performative
5. Stupidity is power.
This is a dark glimpse of what the internet might become. Is becoming.
But, thankfully, there are some glimmers of hope…
On The Meaning Crisis & The Joker
Two of my own beacons—a scholar and a monk—share a conversation via letters. Here’s a snippet in relation to The Joker (a movie I have not seen).
“…Has the vacancy of the zombie been replaced by the violent absurdity of The Joker because of the recent malevolent political appropriation of absurdism in the service of narcissism? Narcissism is the last ditch defence of decadent narrative ontology. It is the idolatry of narrative trying absurdly to become self-causing and self-sufficient because it anxiously knows it has no cosmic warrant. It welcomes an absurd world that makes and normalizes its fundamental absurdity with the violent destruction of intelligibility as long as it remains at the centre. All that remains of meaning cultivation is the addictive and narrowing centring of attention; all that remains of relevance is the primordial relevance to the self without that ever affording any connection to self, to others or to the world. The only agency that remains is the undermining of any claims to agency.”
(Also related: The Shift From Zombie to Joker)
On Rationality & Post-Rationality
A rationalist and a post-rationalist share a difficult conversation in good faith. As someone who regularly dines in the post-rationalist camp, I found this particularly insightful. Not just in the content itself, but in the good nature in which it was explored. Thorny thickets and landmines were deftly avoided, here.
“Before I close this letter I will state my current position on post-rationality as clearly as I can: I think that they are intellectual artists whose art may seem masturbatory if you look at it through a strict lens of utility. Like you said, they produce “ideas that are contrarian or neat but don't actually map the world in any useful way.” I invite you to look at them as artists. If you do, I imagine you’ll start seeing their work as an art form you happen not to enjoy at the moment. At my more speculative, and here is where I think my resonances lay, I think the post-rationalist skill-set of generating interestingness for its own sake is a skill-set that can be repurposed towards solving our greatest challenges.”
The Memetic Tribes Of Culture War 2.0
Interestingly, here’s an article as written by the two folk who shared the rationality and post-rationality letters. This article is vital intel for anyone who seeks to navigate the internet without succumbing to ‘outrage porn’ and the nastiness of tribalism.
A new role might be required in the Culture War, that of the Memetic Mediator. This mediator would be a pan-tribalist participant who has the ability to communicate across tribes in a way that seems fair and reasonable to each tribe. They would have the mental agility, empathy, and wisdom needed to shift between a multitude of perspectives.
Memetic mediators could be called in for memetic battles where both participants prefer peace to continued civil decay, but cannot come to an accord without facilitation. These mediators would require a multitude of tools at their disposal. They would need to be fluent in multiple tribal paradigms and give the impression of fairness. And because each tribe has their own method and claims to truth, Memetic Mediators would have to be skilled at finding any common ground and building from it.
As we do not have an existing example to point to, we can only speculate that the role will emerge out of necessity in the coming war. They could even emerge as consultants for social media companies.
Of course, social media platforms currently profit from our culture wars (“…a memetic war to determine what the social facts are at the core of a given society, or alternatively, to determine society’s boundaries of the sacred and the profane. Political arguments have become indistinguishable from moral arguments, and one cannot challenge political positions without implicitly possessing suspect morals.”)
A summary can’t do this one justice. A must-read.
But while we are at it, here’s also A Hippocratic Oath for the Culture War (something I wish upon all leaders and influencers, myself included).
Twitter’s decision to ban political ads is misguided and wrong
While Facebook continues to support blatantly fake news and lies (despite the wishes of many employees), Twitter’s decision to ban political advertising might seem like a breath of fresh air. (Even I was initially by this excited by this, retweeting this impassioned rant of some fellow.) But: it’s likely not that simple, and such a move will likely favour incumbents. “Twitter may have just won a nice battle in the press, and Dorsey is going to get to take a victory lap around Zuckerberg for the first time in years, given that Facebook is worth about 25 times as much as Twitter. But that’s all it appears to be. A cynical attempt to cash in on the pain of a corporate rival. Ignore the hype.”
How Trump Reshaped the Presidency in Over 11,000 Tweets
This one is worth viewing on your desktop, as the information design is pretty ace. No surprises here, necessarily. But good grist nonetheless.
A Flowchart of Philosophical Novels
Not sure what to read next? This flow chart might help.
Astrology in the Age of Uncertainty
The rise of astrology could very much be seen as a symptomatic response to the meaning crisis. It runs the very real risk of encouraging a regression to pre-rational modes of thought, sure. But what an aesthetic. The art it can inspire! The meaning we can make of things. And thus, I appreciate how this article highlights the almost post-rational enchantment an ironic-yet-therapeutic rekindling of astrology might bring. Of course, as with everything: treat it all with a hefty pinch of salt. But—if approached with a wry glint (and sans blind belief)—we might rekindle an amusing form of wonder in this world of ours. Or at least: the aesthetic of such.
I shared this with The Coterie last week but it’s worth sharing again: Living an Examined Life (The Neo-Generalist Way)—a TEDx talk with Kenneth Mikkelsen.
Whew. I swear these museletters are meant to be getting shorter!
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