If this makes sense to you, you may well be working along these lines already – I hope it is encouraging. If it inspires you, then seek out others who feel the same, and rewrite it together. Make it yours. Make it specific. Publish it. Act on it. Forge relations with other groups. Federate and interact across the world.
There is no transcendism, there are no transcenders; this manifesto can only be enacted by groups coming together; designing, seeding and developing networks of transcendent social relations.
We seek not to destroy capitalism, nor to reform it, but to transcend it – to consciously and rapidly evolve past it. We acknowledge its current hegemony, and accept that this arose as a result of its dynamism, adaptability, and ability to offer value to those who built it (while also recognising with horror its inherent violence towards the people and places which it so forcibly transformed). But the law of diminishing returns has set in, and the future negatives now dangerously and imminently outweigh any historic positives.
We will enact and intensify social relations that produce a human culture which supports the abundance of the biosphere, in confidence that this will require human flourishing that transcends what is considered possible under capitalism.
AN EXISTENTIAL REQUIREMENT
Many justifiable and insightful critiques of capitalism have been made, but what drives us now is a single, specific and urgent analysis: that the multiple crises facing humanity – crises which carry high existential risk – cannot be resolved under capitalism, or by any reformation of capitalism. That the social relations which have developed over the past few centuries under capitalism directly produce the civilisation-threatening destruction which humans now inflict upon the carrying capacity of the biosphere.
It is clear, however, that the world-impacting capacity of the interaction of technology at a scale of 7 billion plus humans cannot be adequately mitigated on the basis of any emergency response. The Law of Unintended Consequences is the only certainty of complex systems, and the biosphere of the planet is the most complex system we know of – upon which we depend for our whole existence. The only safe direction of travel is towards our wisest, deepest vision of utopia – even as we acknowledge that no such condition can be attained, and that we will need to keep our vision itself under review as we go.
We choose transcendence rather than revolution or reform for a simple reason – where revolutions are about dislodging the current elite through violence, and reforms are about preserving the existing system through adaptation, transcendence is about system transformation.
Transcendence requires us, simply, to build the best possible future, starting right here, right now. Where it can, it avoids unnecessary conflict, without being naive about the inevitability of resistance. It works with the deep structures of what is in place (in the knowledge that these can only be transformed, through interaction, over time), while engaging to the minimum with superficialities, and actively mitigating its injustices. In this way we waste as little time, space and energy as possible, achieving maximum systemic change impact.
We believe that, for the first time in recorded history, human culture has produced at the least an outline of all the capacities required for us to begin to consciously direct our own cultural evolution for the better. It’s not that any group has a complete collection of this outline – simply that the material exists, and is increasingly discoverable and accessible.
We are under no illusion that changing the world is easy, or that any one group or project can encompass all the answers, but we believe that this undertaking is the best work we can do, whatever circumstances may bring.
Transcendence requires that we begin where we are – here, today – in a culture where persistent aspects of pre-capitalist cultures form a matrix which has been more or less suffused by capitalism. On a planet whose ability to support our civilisation is collapsing in real time as a result of aggregate human activity. This is reality.
Transcendence requires us to accept this reality in its entirety, while at the same time knowing that the basis of our understanding of reality is conditioned by our culture. This dual acceptance opens up the possibility for us to transform reality by transforming our culture.
Our measure of progress is the development of human capacity to undertake this work of transcendence as a conscious endeavour – the degree to which we transcend blind evolution and grow a capacity to evolve our culture purposefully, with increasing wisdom.
Direction of Travel
We are guided always by direction, rather than any specific end point. Our means must be our best ideas for moving ourselves in the direction we choose. We choose and refine our direction by imagining it at its utopian extreme, and asking ourselves if we want to go there. This is a perpetual exercise, always subject to review. We always need a direction, though, so we must always have made a choice.
For now, simply, we choose life, more abundantly.
We understand humans as a particularly intense and dynamic pattern in the biosphere that has transformed this planet over three and a half billion years – always, always tending to expand the zone of life – to increase the density and scope of life-like processes and patterns; from an initial few cubic centimetres to a zone tens of kilometres deep over the whole surface of the planet.
We consider the carrying capacity of the biosphere to be the best deep metric with which to compare and choose between proposals. For now, this seems to work in both the short term – in addressing the crisis of the biosphere, and in the longer term – as it requires a culture of developing care, dignity, justice, self-realisation and sociality which moves beyond narrow humanism.
We consider developing our individual and collective heuristic capacities to judge ‘life-like’ characteristics to be the most fundamental educational endeavour.
Transcendence works through the process of building new social relationship networks which take us, through direct experience, into the future we wish to see. We cannot proceed without enacting these; we cannot proceed appropriately without thoughtful design, and we cannot proceed effectively alone.
We Develop Capacity
The culture around us and within us resists the work of transcendence. To be effective, we must develop sufficient capacity.
- Look for others to collaborate with.
- Develop the social relations of our group as a transcender culture in action.
- Assess and seek to develop our group capacities: people, wisdom, will, skills, resources and tools.
- Document and share our development and capacities as we can.
Transcending a global culture of deep complexity and diversity is not a singular project, but can only be the outcome of an enormous multitude of projects, each individual, specific, appropriate to time, place and desire, at all scales. Diversity and multiplicity of approach are not failings but necessities.
- Identify places and spaces where human desires and characteristics are ignored or suppressed. These are not hard to find: Dignity, Love and Care, Autonomy-in-community, Place, Mutuality, Respect for ecosystems, Learning for life – fully satisfying any of these entails working against the grain of our culture. People will welcome and seek out modes of living that embody these more – on one proviso – that participation does not come at too high a cost: bringing one’s children up in security will always trump less immediate needs, and the current model will always seem the most obvious in times of stress.
- Assess the practical scope for action; domain, lifespan, depth, intensity – on the basis of our capacities.
- Find ways to make the provision and satisfaction of these needs have an economic value. Do not misunderstand the meaning of this. Economy is NOT money. Economy is the civil organisation of capacity in the service of life. Civilisations exist through economic relations as communities exist through social relations. Transcendent relations (including money systems) are designed to make care, trust, dignity, and respect for life provide more well-being – on a full-spectrum that explicitly includes what we would now describe as economic security.
- Understand that value comes from flow, from movement, from exchange. Design for these, understanding different timescales.
- Plan for human scale: transcendent social relations cannot ‘scale’ in the way that we have become used to considering a fundamental requirement for ‘success’. Anything that scales the way capitalism does will not move in the desired direction. Life always has appropriate scale.
- Plan for interoperation without subordination: transcendent culture will be both local and at the same time support and build the complex communication chains that make civilisation viable.
- Embed wise, person-centred, equitable governance.
- Communicate the base intent of our design in simple, deep story. Evaluate choices by how they elaborate and strengthen the story.
- Design for simplicity and interoperability: life works by knitting together networks of relatively simple interactions to suit particular niches. We avoid over-elaboration and over-complication.
- Respect and do not underestimate the adaptive capacity of capitalist culture, and its hunger for new energy. Design always for inherent structural resistance to absorption. Resist only to the degree that attacks can be absorbed. Dissolve and regroup rather than fight to the death. Transcender culture depends more upon people with their wisdom, will and skills than it does on resources.
- Plan for maximum interaction that is mutually reinforcing. Network effects build culture. This applies equally to interactions with capitalist culture. Transcender culture cannot and should not think it can replace the existing culture – only suffuse it more and more thoroughly. Interactions that offer value to capitalist culture while simultaneously transforming it are especially to be valued – although design around these must be especially careful.
- Build on the experience and systems developed by other groups.
Transcender Groups build networks of social relations designed to produce new social value that lives outside capitalism. As such networks multiply, spawn, grow and interact, the space of a new culture expands and becomes increasingly self-reinforcing.
These networks will take on every form, scale, quality, mode, and character imaginable – all of global culture requires renovation. But in the early stages, it will be vital to develop networks which address the fundamental stories of capitalist culture, to transcend these with new stories which open up further possibilities.
- Enact the social relationship networks we are designing, understanding that we need to transcend our own cultural inheritance through lived experience, and that personal experience of these relations will be the primary source of design feedback that will feed our evolution.
- Understand our networks as eco-systems. That their carrying capacity consists in the flow of energy through their structures – which energy comes from the people and sub-networks that engage with them. That all participants are contributing, all are valuable. That we can develop wisdom in nurturing them, intensifying them, understanding how they become healthier, how they sicken.
- Structure and document our design, our learning, our experience, our operations – preferably using transcender culture tools – so that other groups can adopt, adapt and develop compatible networks.
- Seek to grow through federation and interaction with other compatible networks. Support the spawning of such networks.
- Refine our operations continually in the direction of life-like character – the strongest cultural realities are embedded in the most everyday exchanges. We seek to become the everyday.
- Consciously design and evolve on a continuous basis. Capitalism has proved its capacity to adapt and incorporate new ideas at a rapid pace. We need to move faster – not in terms of growth, but in terms of development. This is hard: capitalist culture has a single, crude metric to optimise. Our metric is life: this is why we understand that developing the capacity to judge ‘life-like’ quality – to trust ourselves on this – is important. We are always asking; ‘Do our networks provide more life-like experience and abundance to participants?’
- Revisit our core story and consider its relevance, and how well our everyday practice enacts it. One day, it will be our network’s time to be superseded – overlaid with something wiser, even more life-like.
THE ORIGIN of this Manifesto was a need to communicate to myself a coherent foundational framing for the deep intent that drives me.
I hope that it chimes with you, and even more that it encourages and affirms your own drive for change. If it makes sense, please do copy, adapt and elaborate this in any way that works for you.
This manifesto is declarative, with little explanation or reasoning. Each paragraph is rather condensed. As I write pieces which expand/justify/explain in more detail what is intended, I’ll link them here.
The Revolution of Everyday Life
8 thoughts on “A Transcender Manifesto – for a world beyond Capitalism. A seed.”
There are many aspects, features, qualities to what you are proposing here that I find encouraging indeed. By recognizing the value of the individual and the need to revisit entrenched assumptions about basic issues that have long been accepted as normal or the default settings by which civilization must operate and then framing this effort as transcending current modes of operation, you are proposing a framework, an orientation around which we all can rally as we seek a more just and responsible and equitable future. Well done!
My question right now is one of definition: capitalism. It could mean very different things and getting clear about this would be helpful. We need a new destination not just a new direction.
As to capitalism – it is a world system with a few centuries of development and many variants – and as such defies short definition. The aspects of it that are systemic and which guarantee its dangerous outcome are (at the least) : a single quantity success metric – profit, which is in turn defined increasingly tightly in terms of an abstract, made-up unit – money, which is framed in terms of scarcity, debt, commodity and monopolistic issue rights. The addition of corporate personhood and limited liability (privatisation of reward for success, socialisation of the cost of failure) compounds these. There exist further layerings and feedback loops which intensify the destructive impact.
As to direction and destination, a strong message here (which may need strengthening!) is that, if our means ARE our ends – that what we do today should be the best instantiation possible of what we intend – then in a strong sense all we have is direction. Destination is an illusion; fixation on destination (= adoption of an ideology) is constraint on imagination, constraint on freedom, constraint on autonomy, constraint on learning, constraint on listening, constraint on collaboration.
Nevertheless, we must always be choosing some direction. The suggestion here is that we do this by imagining/envisioning utopia – writing our best stories of what we could become – and then test them against our measure – ‘does it build the carrying capacity of the biosphere?’. The stories that seem best against that measure will help us choose our direction.
[There’s more detail on this here: https://digital-anthropology.me/2017/12/20/on-vision-path-dependency-agility-and-bears/ ]
Such judgement is not simple – how could we ever be mathematically certain that a particular legal structure will build the carrying capacity of the biosphere? This complexity is important. Simple success metrics are a key aspect of the trouble we are in. Life is, first and foremost, deeply about complexity – about elaboration and manifold interaction of all aspects.
So we have to judge, rather than know, which stories to choose. This is what is meant by ‘heuristic capacities’: these engage the capacities we all have for ‘feeling’ the rightness (or not) of some proposition. We all have this ability – it’s a key character of humans – we are extraordinarily complex, and extraordinarily social: in order to manage this, we have an innate capacity to judge, in an instant, all sorts of things about other humans, despite them being so deeply complex.
This is obviously fraught with danger. People ‘feel’ all sorts of things. Damaged people (and our culture damages all of us) have feelings which curl and knot around their damage. And since all of us are complex, and damaged differently, we will have incompatible feelings.
Further, we cannot ultimately say of any other’s feelings; ‘what you feel is wrong’. We can disagree profoundly, we can feel how we feel about those feelings, but we cannot know for sure that even the most dreadful or ludicrous feeling is absolutely ‘wrong’.
How do we deal with this?
By working at it; by practising and trusting ourselves. By choosing to work with others whom we can also practise with and trust. By developing the capacity to recognise what better choices ‘feel like’, and learning to trust that capacity by doing the thing that feels better and reflecting on the experience.
I find much resonance here, and applaud your evocation of practical small steps for transforming our social and economic relations in ways that transcend (or begin to transcend) the limitations and effects of the capitalist paradigm.
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