Nov 3, 2022 • 46M

Scruples for sale

A short meandering muse on glammourie and at least two kinds of kitsune.

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What-ho, what-ho! Join me, the foxwizard (Dr Jason Fox, bestselling author and rogue philosopher) as I attempt to unravel a semblance of ‘sense’ amidst the perplexities that pertain to living and leading amidst this fraught epoch. Together we shall foray heartily through complexity, ambiguity, paradox and doubt—so as to obtain the freshest, darkest and most dubious fruits of ‘wisdom’ for our combined edification and delight.✦
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gm what-ho and hello,

So my last museletter on web3 and regenerative finance didn’t result in the backlash I had feared it might. Quite the opposite, really. And at our recent Rekindling event I also shared my enthusiasm for nature-based carbon sequestration (alongside decarbonisation)—and how this is enhanced by decentralised, permissionless, uncensorable, open source, transparent and immutable public ledgers (aka blockchains). That went very well, too.

Side note: this is the museletter of dr fox. If a friend forwarded this to you, you can join over 11k readers who subscribe.

Also; a couple of days ago PK had the dangerlam and I over for a bbq with some friends, including Dr Tyson Yunkaporta (author of Sand Talk, the chap whom I have been fawning about for the past few years). Tyson has tentatively agreed—with enthusiasm!—to come hang with us at the final gathering of The Rekindling this year. So: if you’re in Melbourne on Thursday 24th of November, come join us for an evening of fireside provocations and casual intellectual speakeasy salon vibes. Tickets are now available. This is swiftly becoming a haven for folks with an acuity for complexity; bright minds, warm hearts, good folk all. We’d love to see you.

Now, where was I? Oh yes. I’ve come to reflect that it’s only been a small handful of folk close to me who seemed to have vehemence for the experimentations happening in web3. And that I had probably been using this museletter and its associated podcast as a means of self-therapy in public, which is always awkward, hoho. My proclivity for deleting past episodes is beginning to surface again—there’s still something not-quite-right about how The Internet enshrines any thinking in draft. And all thinking is in draft. The mercurial fox in me does not like to be pinned so. Yet the satyr ‘fūck it’ energy—which may well be the closest thing to a Word I have this year—stays my hand. I don’t know quite what I will do just yet.

Oh by the way, there’s no point to this museletter or its associated podcast. Other than to subtly remind you that I exist, and that we have a warm event happening soon, and that—whilst I am now effectively booked up for the rest of the year—I am getting booked up for new year leadership and strategy kick-off events in early 2023. Get in touch if you’d like me to work with you in the new year.

One day I’ll come up with some sort of compelling package for the things I do. The Game Changer still remains a more popular book than How to Lead a Quest—possibly because it is a bit basic by contrast and thus: more accessible. You’d think I might take this onboard and tailor myself to this audience—because, indeed, the total addressable market of mid-curve thinkers is many orders of magnitude greater than the nascent metamodern slash post-civ metarational complexity practitioners and philosopher-poets I seem to be writing for (whom I’d probably not accept payment from anyway)—but, no. That way leads to denigration, and the perils of audience capture.

Instead, I think I shall flex even more into esoteric obscurity. As is my want.

Except still: there is a very real tension that exists in me—a tension that I am frequently told I ‘overthink’ (usually by those who haven’t given it any thought).

That tension is: the need to be relatively accessible coupled with the need to be intellectually honest. Social media is not an effective playground for the intellectually honest. Nowadays it isn’t even about honesty; it’s about the illusion, the narrative, the façade, the glimmer, the glammour°. The optics matter more than the substance itself.

° “Glammourie is a type of Faen magic that is the the art of making something seem. This is distinct from Grammarie which is the craft of making things be. The Faen don't think of glammourie or grammarie as magic, rather they think of them as arts or crafts, or of seeming or shaping.” <— I pulled this from the kingkiller chronicle wiki; it’s mostly true.

This is front of mind for me as I will be revamping Dr Fox’s various propaganda pieces over the end-of-year solace, including (which was last properly updated early into the pandemic, back when I was ‘peak jaded’).

I’m not quite sure how to go about it. There’s definitely a competitive advantage to those who either have no scruples, or decide not to indulge in them. Me? I love my scruples. Can’t get enough of them, it would seem.

The other day I contributed to a conference for senior leaders in the public sector. In the break before my session I was chatting with the emcee Jenny Brockie (the host of Insight on SBS for a couple of decades). Jenny was fact-checking the introductions of the speakers with the event organiser—something I have never seen done before. I exclaimed in delight how refreshing this was°, and she said that as a journalist she wouldn’t feel comfortable reading a statement like “David is an agile leader renowned for his ability to engage stakeholders and employees alike” unless she knew if it were true. Good on her! I wish more of us would question the optics of others, rather than just make petulant longwinded podcasts and newsletter posts behind their backs. Like I’m doing right now.

° I assured her that I am actually a wizard. No need to say ‘self-described’, it’s fine. (Mind you: ‘self-described wizard’ sounds so much better than ‘self-described thought leader’ hohoho HENCE WHY).

Because what happens is sometimes these introductions are recorded, and then they are spliced into the video showreels of speakers where, in effect, they have a reel of authority figures dolling out praise for the speaker—to which the folks watching would most likely not realise that these words were in fact crafted by the speaker themselves. Repeat a story enough times and it becomes something akin to true.

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

I remember reading out a bio of a speaker at an event the dangerlam and I hosted (the very first Future of Leadership event for the charity Hands Across the Water, back an aeon ago). One of the speakers (an actual friend of mine, so this is awkward) had in their introduction that their keynote presentations were ‘scientifically proven to be effective at increasing performance’. Hohohoho oh my gosh the academic in me thought: this must be a jest! What was the sample size? The confidence interval? And in what journal was this evidence published? Has the study been replicated? Surely there is bias at play here? Hoho, it must be an ironic play! Ha, good show, ser!

I should have summoned my trickster energy back then, but I was too nice. I should have also summoned my trickster energy back on my old podcast, too. But again: too nice.

I like being nice. It’s nice to be nice. But I also really admired Jenny’s journalistic integrity. As a public pseudointellectual and a self-proclaimed philsopher-poet, I crave this kind of integrity. I am by no means a fan of brutal honesty (brutality is never needed, ever). But I do like to pierce through the spells of those who have seemingly mastered their own optics—with erudition, humour, wit, warmth and aplomb. Not to make them ‘wrong’ but rather: to get us all back to a place where we can just hang together, without the pretence. Without the unnecessary status illusions and power posturing.

Or if you are going to posture, at least do it with sincere-irony and metamodern savvy. Make it interesting, dammit. I want fanciful theatrics and grand larping—not the mere replications of what an AI bot could do for you on LinkedIn.

Don’t talk of your time as a researcher at Harvard if you only went there for a three day course you bought for yourself (I have colleagues who say this, btw, hoho). I could talk of my time as a lecturer at The University of Notre Dame, giving the impression it was one of the prestigious ones (and not the humble—but still lovely—one in Fremantle, Western Australia). But that just seems deceitful.

Which is odd because the fox in me ought love the deft and canny use of language as a means of weaving the spell of our own mythopoetics. And actually: I do. But it is a magic that is too important, too potent to be trifled with.

My friend Matt Church once gave me an apt reframe to the trite ‘fake it ’till you make it’. Rather, simply ‘tell the truth in advance’. I like this, very much. It seems somehow more honest, even if the approach is much the same.

Note that none of my issues are with the players themselves; it’s the more the game that has emerged in this platform-based attention economy that I take issue with. The serious finite players themselves have forgotten that they are infinite, and thus play within the boundaries of the game, rather than with the boundaries, so as to continue and better the play. {Thank you, once again, ser James Carse of Finite and Infinite Games}

Maybe that’s what I’m getting at. It’s a nuanced, dispositional, relational thing. It’s the spirit in which we weave the narratives that shape and ensnare us. We can do this as yako kitsune 野狐 (literally: wild fox); mischievous and malicious. Or we can do this as zenko kitsune (literally: good fox); benevolent and virtuous (source).

We probably need a bit of both within us. And I’m sure there’s a third option, too—but speaking of foxes, here’s a chance to gracefully segue to an NFT project that is seemingly dead yet charming nonetheless: Philosophical Foxes.

A philosophical fox, as lazily conjured via Midjourney

Created by Mario Gabriele, the founder of The Generalist, this collection of on-chain art features pixelated foxes with ‘thoughts, philosophies, virtues and emotional baggage’. I was lucky enough to nab a metamodern fox with the virtues of being humble and self-aware with the baggage of being ‘over-caffeinated’. And it’s these ‘flaws’ I find so endearing—because they are so deviously relatable.

Here is a list of just some of the potential flaws any one of the Philosophical Foxes might have one or two of:

- Does that thing on linkedin where each line is a separate paragraph
- Makes the whole party listen to radiohead
- Grew up in the shadow of a golden child
- Talks about stoicism kinda a lot
- Avoids confrontation
- Gave a TED talk
- Mumbler
- Active on 4chan
- Heading for burnout
- Sibling went to Harvard°
- Uses memes as substitute for true vulnerability
- Worried they peaked in high school
- Says "YOLO" a lot
- Chronic interrupter
- Just gets sad sometimes
- Not a reader
- Big Gary Vaynerchuk Guy
- Basic
- Loves puns
- Doesn't share food
- Favourite book is Sapiens
- Judgy-but-not-in-a-fun-way
- Only 1 opinion
- Poor conversationalism
- Prone to Aphorism
- Has a podcast about beer
- Growth hacker

° Probably more than just a few days. Or maybe not!

Hohoho I recognise myself and many others in this sample. Anyways; I ought be talking about how wonderful the on-chain generative art folks are (here’s a nice article), or how nostalgic and fun the forgotten runes wizard cult is, or how delightful the crypto coven witches are, or how wholesome the gmDAO is. Maybe another time.

As mentioned, there’s no real point to this museletter other than to say hello and to share a little about what’s on my mind. I hope these find some resonance with you.

In terms of the work I do, the pattern persists: organisations (after much growth, mergers, turbulence, transitions to hybrid work, and so on) are now finally seeking to coordinate beyond immediate operational matters. They’re gathering together for strategy and leadership offsites (and it makes sense to get away to get ahead), and they’re figuring what meaningful progress looks like, and what beacons for relevance they might align their sextants to. Time will tell who will relapse into the familiar defaults of 2019, and who will integrate the lessons learned for the past few years.

With the exception of a small handful of clients I’ve gone DEEP with, I mostly appear as an external wizard and philosopher-provocateur, doing what I can to curb the excesses of default industrial leadership styles so as to cultivate more complexity-congruent leadership from within.

Co-creating a world more curious and kind, and so on.

Anyhoo, it’s wondrous—and with luck I will have some of my offerings distinctly distilled for you, come the new year. (Long term subscribers tend to appreciate my work, but I also understand how hard it is to translate complexity-congruent mythopoetic questing into a context where your colleagues are approaching burnout and wanting to simply excel within their existing paradigm. I hope to make this easier for you, somehow.°)

° Remember when I used to make Services Guidebooks? I might do so again. Maybe. I stopped after too many of my erstwhile colleagues literally copy-pasted my format and phrasing into their own offerings, which I was too nice about at the time to say ‘Hey, That’s Not Cool, Pal’. Not that I believe ideas or even ‘style’ can be owned—I’d just rather that they’d steal like an artist, rather than a capitalist. Artists and poets and musicians generally do this well. The rest of the world? Not so.

Meanwhile I recently managed find my 2016 Services Guidebook buried amidst the archives of The University of Vienna, of all places. Have a look, if you’re curious about the Dr Fox of half a dozen years ago. »—>

As ever, thank you to those who ‘like’ and even share these musings; it is genuinely encouraging and appreciated. I feel it is helping me process the residual bitterness, which is leading to betterness. Oh! And I feel I have found the Muse once more (after more than a year). Don’t want to jinx it but: there’s a new book in the works. 🤫✨

Thanks also to those who can come along to The Rekindling—somehow this hermit wizard has been coaxed back into the warmth and splendour of The Real once more. It’s good to be back.