How humans hacked evolution and became unfit
Over the last century we have undergone a journey from all-out World Wars, to cold wars, to the war on sensemaking. It has become softer, but the warfare rhetorics still stays. In this article I will elaborate on a problem articulated by left-wing organisations: the patriarchy integrated in our system itself created inequality. Ironically, those who strongly advocate this problem have the most counterproductive response: trying to fight the problem. The article first takes a historical view on how humans hack evolution, to frame the problem rigorously before giving an example on how the patriarchy is even recognized in the most unlikely of places. A mindshift has to occur to resolve the paradox: solve the problem by integrating strong vulnerability into the system. After telling the story on how humans hacked evolution and became unfit, I take a closer look at how to overcome the paradox by social technology.
A quote by Marshall McLuhan, is a useful starting point: First we build the tools, then they build us. It may be a recent statement, nevertheless the effect is as ancient as the stone-age. Humans hacked the game of natural evolution, using stone tools and fire for their own survival. The slow evolution changed our bodies and brains. The hacks kept expanding and humanity began truly transforming the surroundings by domestication, creating households, domesticating plants and animals. This process has not stopped, only refined. Like an onion it is layered. Other types of hacks create new layers and stimulate the development of the previous layers. For example during the middle ages, we learned to domesticate apple trees, rabbits and learned about better crops to feed our cattle. During the industrial revolution the bacteria world was hacked by figures like Louis Pasteur. Today the biohacker community uses CRISPR to change genes.
As humans start domesticating about 10.000 years ago, a cultural evolution starts overruling natural evolution and humans become bound to a social system. Domestication helped us to remain more safe within the natural environment, but it also led us to become less fit for the natural environment. Ie. our bodies didn’t adapt at the same rate as our ability to create. With industrialisation the cultural evolution turned into an innovative evolution and created the ability to animate the world: mechanical systems work for us. It bound humans to mechanical social systems, in particular capitalism. Animation opened up space and time to ourselves, but like domestication, the magic comes with a price. Animating the world would lead to a reduced fitness of mental-agility. With domestication only the body was unfit, but the mind could adapt fast enough, by animation the mind gets more and more in trouble.
Just as cultural evolution refines the next transformation, so will innovative evolution transform. Animating the world starts by steam power and is known as the first Industrial Revolution (1st IR). Little do people know we are already at the 4th IR and each IR has an effect on what gets animated. You can learn more about the different IRs by examining the history of technology. To simplify our story, each IR transforms a century. The 1st IR is the 18th century and animates the world by steamification. The 2nd IR is the 19th century and animates the world by electrification. The 3rd IR is the 20th century and animates the world by electronification. Our current 21st animates the world by internetification.
Each new IR seems to eat up the previous one. The eat-up-process turns a relatively smooth transition into a radical transition. Each time they create a new kind of mobilization, but each time the thing being mobilized becomes more virtual. The steamification created iron tracks for trains all across the country, mobilizing resources. The electrification created wires, mobilizing electricity. The electronification created protocols, mobilizing information. The internetification created apps, mobilizing services. Marc Andreessen expressed it in 2011 as software is eating the world. The real story is of course more complicated, as mobilizing resources already happened over roads and roads will transform too. Same is with information that existed by postal service. Similarly, corporations already provide all kinds of services, they simply get digitized. I focused on the novelty during each transition to make what changed more clear.
Animating the world puts increasing pressure on mental-agility, showing a shift from elderly people being in power based on experience to more agile minds in power based on resilience. During the 20th century the effect became so strong, it amplified the generation gap, eventually resulting in generation types. The increased mobilization also made another critical point emerge, as local effect turned into global effect. This brings me back to the beginning of the article, about all-out World Wars, to cold wars to now the war on sensemaking. The 4th IR is such a big change it should not be expressed as the same evolution. The game of apps mobilizing the world is a game of collective evolution and people becoming bound to the media.
The collective evolution by way of media technology had its origin in Europe in the 19th and 20th century from telegraph over radio to television. Improved mobilization made local conflicts turn into global problems, with the first and second world wars. European culture of individualism is unfit with this new collective evolution. Culturally, collective innovation is more fitting eastern cultures. By the end of the 20th century the effect had clearly turned the tables of power, which started as a process to outsource most of the actual labor. From the perspective of different hacks, domesticating the world was the first layer, animating the world the second layer and now outsourcing became a third layer. Outsource is the new hack, which arose with the electrification (3rd IR) and a new version can be recognized during the internetification (4th IR): now services get outsourced by robot process automation.
Collective innovation and the new hack of outsourcing goes beyond the challenge of mental-agility. Learning from eastern cultures, the new challenge with fitness is recognized as a challenge about the ego. On the one hand the ego gets boosted by the media, but it has this paradoxical effect of losing your identity to the collective. So what has become unnatural is the psyche? The outsourcing adds to a kind of alienation of the self, so it goes beyond the generation types. It’s not just about the individual. The systemic effect is more and more ungrounded dynamics, building up to the economic crises that burst like bubbles. The metaphor of boiling water is useful. Society used to be a turbulent fluid, but now it has become a volatile gas, a nice reference to the internet creates the digital cloud. Still the social structure is not a cloud, but more like a pressure cooker. Patriarchal leadership is the pressure cooker in this metaphor.
The shift from living in a fluid to living in a gas has a huge effect on the psyche. In a fluid the different elements roll over each other, but in a gas they bounce. Let me bring this metaphor back to the original problem of this paper: the patriarchy integrated in our system itself created inequality. So we used to roll with the problem, but now it has become a volatile situation. We need to get free from the confining pressure (i.e. pressure cooker). This requires us to resolve the ego inflation. I began this article with the war on sensemaking, a reference to Daniel Schmachtenberger, who advocates for concepts that can help to artificially remove the pressure: stealmanning.
Steelmanning is the opposite of strawmanning, it was developed by Chana Messinger in 2012. Strawmanning is crushing the opponent’s ego in the war on sensemaking. Steelmanning is the art of addressing the best form of the other person’s argument. More generally it is about leadership by strong vulnerability. Finding the strength in your enemy is one way, finding the weakness in yourself is another. To crush your ego in the sensemaking game I turn to parasocial relationships. Parasocial relationships are the illusion of proximity to distant people because of the media. So what is needed is the opposite of following celebrities. It requires self-discipline not to talk about the people, but about the ideas they advocate.
Leadership has become a liability in collective evolution, as people become the new medium. If the medium is an organisation, you can scale it, but if it’s a person you need social technology. Social technology is a way of using humans to influence social processes i.e. humans became the tool being molded. A classic example is open space technology, the term technology at first is strange because they are simple rules and patterns to organise an event. Solving the problem of patriarchal leadership is known these days as “the new ways of working”, referring to self-organizing teams, using patterns that can delegate responsibility. In fact, this brings me to a healthy relation I’m having with the Sociocracy 3.0 community.
Sociocracy 3.0 (S3) is free social technology for growing agile and resilient organizations. It is maintained by three founders and a larger community that can carry the practice. I wasn’t able to interact with Daniel (i.e. parasocial relationship), while I actually have a lot of interactions with the S3-community. In the past months I’ve had the pleasure to talk to many of the core S3-members all across Europe and some even in other parts of the world. The difference is Daniel mediates using story telling and S3 mediates using patterns. Repeating a story or repeating a pattern is a huge difference. Metaphorically, a story is like a toy made in once piece, while patterns are like Legos, which requires you to build your own toy.
It is wonderful to listen to Daniel’s stories, but in a way it still stimulates the patriarchy even if it’s a benevolent personality. Basically because stories animate you, they don’t activate you. The S3-patterns are less animating but more activating. Patterns like navigating via tension, creating circles of responsibility and so on have the ability to activate. Patterns emerged and by articulate them after the fact, we acknowledge patterns, allow them to intentionally propagate, stimulating the collective evolution. Activating is a way you outsource leadership to the collective and it removes the patriarchy using social technology, like S3.
The community is a movement that mobilizes services, i.e. we are back to the internetificiaton, but now not as the 4th IR (i.e. building apps), but as patterns ARE the social technology (i.e. activating people). The patriarchy integrated in our system turns people into passive consumers being animated and stimulates the volatile situation. In the past society could roll with it: natural competition would lead to one group having better methods and becoming the dominant social structure. The volatile situation now, doesn’t turn into natural competition but becomes a destructive competition. The volatile activity simply doesn’t allow the competitive model to work, now the dynamics destroy the economy, like the many economic crises we experienced the last decades, but now also the health crisis.
Steelmanning replaces the need for competition by cooperation. Social technology replaces the need for patriarchal leaders, creating less inequality by getting serious about distributing power and with it releasing the pressure i.e. become a gas cloud and not be the current gas under pressure, resulting in violent explosions (i.e. economic bubbles). What social technology can do with leaders other technology is doing with the other parts of the mechanical social system. For example the capital system is getting re-defined using cryptocurrency. The idea to shift from competition to coöperation gets more refined with concepts like peer-to-peer and commons. As we consistently hack evolution and so gain autonomy over our own destiny it should be no surprise we got to this point of cultivating the mind, just not in the way we expected.
P.S. I like patterns a lot and try to navigate with my own tension in this world. This has been my third article on this medium and I intend to write one each month. Never fully sure where it’s going, as it is a discovery journey for me too. If you read this far, you may be interested to have a more active interaction. It is not my intention to animate, but to activate. Still, activating is a team effort so if you have the aspiration to co-develop with me, just reach out.