It is late 2003. Four seemingly innocuous letters began propagating around the world, which temporarily caused those listening to pause and reconsider their immediate future. At thirteen, and having had already lived through the age where the most devastating news required to be transmitted across the airwaves in order to induce a near full-body paralysis was, Arsenal 1 – Manchester United 2; or that Jonny Wilkinson had been side-lined for another six months, one had gradually come more psychologically attuned to how the organs of the media worked in stirring up the next best cause of mass panic. But as the letters H5N1 began to gather mass in the global consciousness, my current response trajectory was altered.
Fast forward to 2020, and we are just about emerging from an extended winter. Even if the current light is merely a faint glow emanating from a source unseen, or simply a train stationary in the distance, this pandemic has done to global society almost everything that was feared could happen seventeen years ago, bar perhaps the exceptionally devastating mortality rate. The difference between the envisioned reality a thirteen year old boy had at that time, and the conditions under which we have just been living, with its inevitable impact, is that the latter has been the result of a reactionary global response to something that seems likely to have an infection fatality rate of less than 0.5%, and possibly closer to half of that. The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, on the other hand, was coming in at around 60% in the limited cases of human transmission that were reported. Many birds sacrificed their necks. This fact clearly does not hold any utility to dismiss the genuine and understandable concern for the uncertainty surrounding a potentially deadly novel virus. Nor does it exist to criticise the necessity of some, but not all, of the measures that were implemented to buy some time for the medical services, and thereby preventing avoidable deaths. What I believe it does do, however, is highlight the degree to which the supposedly developed and resilient civilisation that millions have become accustomed to, has been resting on far more, and increasingly, fragile ground than the illusion of its security liked to portray.
Twenties, over and out. It’s an epiphany most probably have at some point between the ages of 25 and 29. The antidotal ‘age is just a number’ self-reassurance policy sustains you until the stark realisation of what should have been, or hopefully has been, a decade of deep self-discovery, is drawing to a close – a numerical close, if nothing else. The usual pleasurable rituals of pass the parcel, musical chairs and pin the tail on the Remainer (given the probability that around 48% of those reading this will now not show up to my party, I can assure you that this was a cheeky joke and that your rear end is totally safe from any sharp objects), only go so far to mark an occasion, and so I wanted to stamp it with something tangible; something useful and meaningful, that holds some relevance for today and some longevity for tomorrow. Relevant not only to myself, through the inner clarification that its formulation has provided, but to whoever may also be interested in exploring some abstract concepts, together with my honest, and somewhat humble, interpretation of how they can help to navigate life during and in between the peaks and troughs of the most joyous and toughest of times.
State of Play
If the aftermath of this pandemic has highlighted or exposed anything beyond the virtual absence of an adequately coordinated global response, an unforgivable shortage of PPE supplies available to the front lines, disinformation from those whose duty it is to try to only ever veer towards the truth, a grotesque over-dependence on China, and the willingness of many to sacrifice their own health in the effort of preserving others’, it is that the direction we were heading in as an apparently advanced and prosperous society, was turned right side down remarkably quickly. The virus aside, much has been written and spoken on why this should not be altogether so surprising. Over recent years, our world and way of life have changed at such an exponential rate that it doesn’t require too great an imagination to see how this cannot possibly be sustainable for any species, let alone one as prone to malfunction as ours. Fragility has become more widespread, and existential meaning a major crisis for many – a problem which is envisaged to only be exacerbated with the ubiquity of artificial intelligence. Media and other institutions which we have relied upon for the foundation of our sense-making apparatus, and thus the functionality on which we build our societies and lives, have become increasingly unreliable, ideologically compromised and prone to error. This has contributed to the opening up of a major chasm in our connection to truth, or at least to the pursuit of it, and therefore it should be of no great surprise that a new system of collective sense making mechanisms has gradually surfaced.
It became evident to me that I needed to write this essay within this context, and so I will discuss some concepts which give a deep contextual understanding of our times. It must be noted that my relatively brief attempts at depicting these complex frames, are just brief attempts, and so I have added links below for reference to the relevant sources. But it is within this context, that I firmly believe independent thought and the ability to discern signals from noise, may become our most precious assets, and therefore it would be wise, if not essential, to invest in their value.
Part One: Sovereignty, Coherence and Sense-making
In January 2017, two months after the US election, Jordan Greenhall, author of Deep Code, Founder & CEO of Neurohacker Collective, and a contemplative futurist, wrote a Deep Code ‘Situational Assessment’ on the state the global socio-political zeitgeist. It went viral, and for good reason. I highly recommend reading the full article, as well as an interview with Jordan, which I have linked below, for anyone curious and who genuinely wants to understand what has been really been taking place on a deep level. In it, Greenhall provides a profound analysis of how the so-called ‘Insurgency’ that led to Trump, was a symptomatic result of a longstanding and increasingly disruptive battle for our collective intelligence. It is a battle that has been taking place between the legacy power structures, traditional media channels (CNN, New York Times, Guardian, BBC, etc.) and large education institutions that have controlled the mechanism for collective sense-making for much of the 20th Century and beyond, a collective he has termed the ‘Blue Church’, and the gradual emergence of a new decentralised collective intelligence; one that is far more technologically optimised for the 21st Century, coined the ‘Red Religion’. This phenomenon has evolved over time and has been able to propagate through the cracks that have increasingly appeared in the traditional structures. Through the utilisation of new technologies, together with its own structure of values, it has become largely immune to the many excesses and pathologies of the increasingly defunct Blue Church. As Greenhall argues, it was on the back of this still fragmented and immature decentralised collective intelligence, that the Trump Insurgency, for example, was able to be so effective.
Greenhall has described this war as being played out on four ‘fronts’, all being unrestricted by geography: Communications Infrastructure, the Deep State, Globalism and the Culture War. On all fronts, the Blue Church has been and is losing, and doing so at an ever-increasing rate. However, it is the fundamental conclusions of his analysis, his concept of pursuing ‘Game B’ in collaboration with Bret Weinstein amongst other extraordinary thinkers, and the ensuing advice he provides in further discussions, which is what resonated so strongly, and is really non-negotiable if we are to avoid the potentially devastating outcomes that could entail, and to advance as a global society, emerging more individually attuned and collectively coherent. In essence, this is to regain sovereignty of our individual sense-making apparatus. It is only by doing this, will the much-needed development and utilisation of far more sophisticated collective sense-making systems be possible. As he concludes, despite the disruption that this battle is causing, the inevitable collapse of the Blue Church, is essential for this to happen:
“Right now, the Church is killing us. While it is holding many important, necessary values, it is also holding a ton of stuff that is deeply dysfunctional. But by monopolizing the instruments of culture and power, it inhibits us like a well-meaning but overbearing parent from being able to form the new innovations in culture, practice and value that are necessary to our age. The collapse of the Blue Church is going to lead to a level of “cultural flux” that will make the 1960’s look like the Eisenhower administration. As the Church falls away, the “children of Blue” will explode out in a Cambrian explosion and reach out to engage in all-out culture war with the still nascent Red Religion.”
In what context does it mean to be ‘Sovereign’?
In a 2018 article highlighting the significance of Jordan Peterson’s remarkable yet necessary rise to prominence, Greenhall goes some way to define what is meant by sovereignty in this context:
“By sovereignty, I do not mean the notion that nation-states have the right to self-determination on the geopolitical stage. I also don’t mean that human individuals are magically able to separate themselves from the rest of the human world and make up their own rules. I mean something very specific, very central to being in the world and, if properly understood, very empowering. It’s the ability to be present to the world and to respond to the world, rather than to be overwhelmed or merely reactive. Sovereignty is to be a conscious agent.”
Sovereignty is a measure of the relationship between one’s operating capacity, to the conditions of the environment being operated in; the degree to which you are able to respond to the circumstances that you find yourself in, in order to further increase your ability to respond to those circumstances. Yet to be a conscious agent requires the ability to go deep. Just how depth is required to learn to swim, it is also essential in order to develop and reinforce the fundamental capacities of learning required to attain such agency. Living in an era of fabricated news, click-bait media, and a general breakdown of our collective sense-making apparatus, building these capacities and regaining sovereignty in the sense-making domain, through the ability to listen, discern and express with clarity, is no small task. Picture a radio antenna attempting to detect the signal amongst the noise when it is just shy of the desired frequency. If given a choice between re-tuning the instrument or straining to hear the signal, it makes little sense continuing to do the latter. This is analogous to the task we individually face in the world today.
Core Capacities: fundamental basis for learning
- Discernment – the ability to subtly sense the direction of that which is more to that which is less, when entering a space where the feeling to achieve the thing you’re trying to accomplish is unknown.
- Attunement – the varying relationship between Discernment and Coherence.
- Coherence – the degree to which one can combine a set of different senses and actions which belong together to achieve clarity in a specific domain.
- Clarity – when the neurological signal from the sense or action is received and the skill is achieved.
- Insight – the recognition of having accomplished the action or skill.
- Embodiment – the process of hard wiring the required senses and actions to reduce the future effort in achieving coherence and clarity.
As Greenhall explains, the importance of attaining sovereignty, especially in the sense-making realm, and the power that discernment and clarity hold, cannot be overstated. It brings a critical inner awareness to one’s emotional response when listening, as well as the ability to discern whether one is either undergoing the experience of simulated thinking, as a consequence of any likely manipulation intended to influence one’s perception of reality, which eventually leads to willful misinterpretation and a moral self-righteousness; for example, think Fox News vs CNN, or the Daily Mail vs the Guardian. Or whether one is engaging in genuine, nuanced critical thought, which breeds curiosity and humility in the pursuit of truth; two traits which have been all but beaten out of us by the increasingly fragmented and polarized Blue Church.
Once one is conscious of having attained a high degree of sovereignty in the realm of sense-making and listening, the same capacities can be built into the mode of expression. With this comes the ability to discern the level of sovereignty that others possess. It is ultimately through this process of true individuation that we become most capable of expressing that which is most meaningful, and which then enables a collaborative environment with a far higher level of consciousness and wisdom than Blue Church institutions are capable of today. The ‘Meta Conversation’ can now take place.
Without venturing too far down the path of discussing the ‘Meta level’ in collective sense-making, other than it being the space where those with high levels of discernment and clarity who are committed to a form of skillfulness in communication can collaborate, and how this ties into ‘Game B’, upgrading our capacities to achieve such a skillfulness, has perhaps never been more essential than it is today. Not least because at no other time in human history have we had the ability to directly and instantaneously engage with individuals from almost any other population and culture, and for almost all of human history our only form of communication has been with those within our immediate vicinity. Therefore, any signal detection mechanism highly tuned to facilitate a mode of communication for a specific setting, is more than likely to be highly ineffective when employed to any other, to varying degrees. If future collaboration is to occur in line with our unprecedented level of global mingling, then to attain such a skillfulness, I would argue, is essential.
Part Two: Opportunities for Enhancing Sovereignty
So what on earth have I learnt in my thirty years. Well, the world could do without Marmite and mosquitoes for a start. Still, the opportunities that life throws our way, when correctly acknowledged or adhered to, contribute to our own process of individuation, adaptability and resilience – of enhancing our own sovereignty. Many of these also happen to be low hanging fruit on the tree of useful wisdom. Having lived with a terminally ill parent for many years whilst growing up, one lacked the internal apparatus to weather the chaotic storm that one felt immersed in. It takes time and effort to construct and reinforce such apparatus, but it was through an overwhelming and inherent call to adventure, to run and try to find that apparatus in situations and circumstances which hadn’t yet failed to provide it, that I learnt it is possible to do so.
Possibly the most important apple of all. It is essential to become aware and to be conscious of any past trauma, and to then do what is required to process it. The consequences of not doing so can be, and often are, devastating. At best, there will be an inevitable accumulation of subconscious defence mechanisms, that have been developed in order to compensate for the invisible shadow. At worst…
Times of traumatic stress often lead to a shortening of one’s time horizon – the perception of a foreshortened future. In the moment, this proves useful to have the capacity to overcome and survive in the traumatic circumstances. Yet in the long term, and especially if the traumatic experience was prolonged, this often wrecks havoc with one’s ability to plan, envision, strive and ultimately, achieve. Incorporating and integrating this factor into trauma processing, would certainly be worthwhile.
It is my view that we all would benefit from psychoanalysis at some stage in our lives, whether through therapy, deep personal reflection, or otherwise, to make sense of trauma. There is not a human alive that doesn’t carry any, to some varying severity. Fortunately, the stigma attached to such work is dissipating. The insights gained provide the ability to notice and then respond to blind spots or situational triggers, together with the knowledge to build practices and techniques enabling a route out of an amygdala hijack, and back into some degree of sovereignty.
It is a strange paradox as to how often common misconceptions are almost complete inversions of reality. Meditation being a case in point. The point of mindfulness is not a case of mindlessly sitting still, trying to stay awake. It is a process of becoming exquisitely conscious of awareness, of learning how to separate thinking and Being, and to gain valuable insights into the nature of consciousness and the mind. It’s quite hard work; a mindfulness meditation retreat would be quite intimidating. Yet, becoming congruent with oneself through meditation and the exploration of the conscious mind, increases the ability to discern how one intrinsically responds to any given environment.
As the indomitable neuroscientist and philosopher, Sam Harris, stresses in his Waking Up guide to the mind, the experience of consciousness is the only thing in the cosmos that cannot possibly be an illusion. Once one has grasped the concept of how thoughts, emotions and sensations, simply arise on their own accord, he also argues that the common preconception of there being a ‘self’, an author of thoughts, may be the greatest illusion of all. It’s worth considering. Then comes the issue of “Free Will” and how the classic libertarian idea of Free Will is also illusory, and doesn’t take much scrutiny to shatter; or at the very least, almost entirely illusory. I thoroughly recommend listening to Bret Weinstein and Sam Harris discuss this very disruptive and intriguing idea on the podcast referenced below.
Physical Exercise and Diet
Perhaps the lowest hanging fruit of all. One need not be an elite athlete or a dietitian to reap the obvious neurological and psychological benefits of both, and to learn what works on an individual level. I’m a big advocate of a largely, or entirely, dairy-free, plant-based diet, and whilst I have come across the odd person who went back to incorporating dairy and felt better for it, they are vastly outnumbered by those who experienced the reverse to be true.
When considering the concentric circles of development regarding the digital age and its seismic alteration on our default psychological state, a few significant nodes strung together may consist of; the advent of the internet; electronic instant communication; social media; the creation of the ‘Like’ button. It’s one hell of an experiment with our limbic system that the guys in Silicon Valley are playing. As Elon Musk has said, our phones are already an extension of our minds, largely our unconscious mind, and do much of the computing work for us. It conjures up the image of the movie poster for the Dumb and Dumber sequel: “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity; imagine what you could do with 1%”. Well, whatever it is, too many seem to be doing it. It is a reminder that one need not ascribe to malevolence, that which could simply be explained by incompetence. As the mathematician Eric Weinstein put it, for all our technological capabilities, “we are Gods, but for the wisdom.” We must be aware of this if there is any chance of reclaiming our collective sense-making capability.
Onwards and Upwards
In this era of unprecedented uncertainly and change, it is essential to get a deeper grasp of that which does bind. In a post-covid world, we may have little choice. Returning to Jordan Greenhall’s work, he has spoken of how any new civilisation or centralised collective intelligence that results from this battle, is more likely to look more Purple than Red – a combination of those ‘children of Blue’ who are able and willing to adapt and collaborate with the so-called ‘rebels of Red’. But there is hope. The roles of the those constituting the Intellectual Dark Web cannot be overstated, and forms one of the most mature elements of this new mode of information sharing, which is trying to steer the Red ship away from its own pathologies. Jordan Peterson hasn’t spoken live to over 300,000 people globally, and had such a wide-reaching influence just out of happenstance or good fortune.
Greenhall finishes his 2017 article with three pieces of advice as to how to navigate this state of profound transition and cultural flux we are wading through. First, is to free our minds from the confines of the ‘Blue Church’. Many of our “deepest assumptions and unconscious values are going to have to be examined with brutal honesty and courage”. As discussed, we must then find ways to improve our individual sense-maker and to collaborate on collective sense-making systems in order to upgrade our collective intelligence. But for either of these to have any chance of success, we must return to the very essence of what it means to be human. That is, in “building real faithful relationships with the kinds of people who are willing and able to actually care for you – even at risk to themselves. Not because of shared ideology or even a shared mission, but because of the deep stuff of human commitment.” Together with the virtue of gratitude, maybe that is the greatest lesson that any thirteen year old kid worried about what was approaching, would be wise enough to know. Seventeen years later, it does make sense.
Deep Code: Situational Assessment 2017 – https://medium.com/deep-code/situational-assessment-2017-trump-edition-d189d24fc046
Deep Code: On Sovereignty – https://medium.com/deep-code/on-jordan-peterson-and-the-future-51402a370d79
Jordan Greenhall documentary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_j3cCrpXERg
The Paradox of the Times – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SmGMJzWHK4
Genuine Conversation and the Intellectual Dark Web – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQGksc1I7rA
DarkHorse Podcast #8: Free Will with Sam Harris – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=id6AqKIxd94
Joe Rogan with Jordan Peterson – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xc7DN-noAc