Category Archives: Politics

Not A Meritocracy

Social Justice

So, I’m done with the social justice world.

I always had more time for the really complex and nuanced arguments of the heavyweight writers anyway and I had the privilege of working with smart and level-headed activists when it came to actions.

But, in the last few years I lost my certainty about every cause I was involved with and now I feel much more interested in studying all sides, watching how things play out and to a certain extent having a go at predicting outcomes, without feeling particular alleigence to any “side” in a debate because almost everything has merit and almost no-one is interested in measuring actual outcomes. When outcomes are played out, things are normally good for some people and bad for others, appropriate in some circumstances and irrelevant in others.

Im interested in that fact, but openly sympathising with the problems faced by men’s rights activists gets you pushed out of the feminist activist club fairly quickly, and rightly so, because passionate outrage is the fuel needed to act there.

Anyway, excellent activism is more drowned out these days by tribe-signalling meme warfare and I generally ignore it.

But I still have thoughts and critiques when particular examples float my way and here is one of them.


A friend invited me to a talk by a woman of color about the difficulties she has experienced in the media industry. It set me to thinking about the media industry and how this is a known industry for being extremely difficult to get into. It also strikes me that the media industry is one of those industries that is most obviously based on nepotism (powerful people promoting their friends) than based on merit (fair interview processes for all job openings).

In this talk I wonder if the person will be calling for less racism in a meritocratic sense or in a personal relations sense.

Systematic lies

I certainly used to be a highly systematic and individual person who believed in rules and fairness. My understanding of feminism moved through the following cycle:

Believing that the world was fair to the genders -> angrily realising it was not -> advocating for more fairness ->seriously thinking about how to educate others to be fair -> realising you partly have to tell the next generation to behave better than you do ->telling kids that the world already allows boys in pink skirts ->those kids believe the world is fair ->angry realisation that it’s not…. etc.

In this way we are iterating over the generations since the 60s telling little lies that everything is fair.


I recently spent some time working on my skills when it comes to relationships, being dissolved in a web of humans, forgetting the rules and so on.

A pertinent example of this is moving to London. I had always been too scared to move to London since the barriers to entry are so formidable. When I decided to make the move, I had no money, no previous address and no (current) skills. I knew that the “correct” way to move to London, use an agency to rent a property at market rates, would be impossible for me. I knew it was impossible for others too, and yet people managed to get there. It seemed obvious that it was important to meet some people who had found some sweet deal, some cheaper niche of their own, by luck and rule-bending and circumstance. It was important to personally meet these people because any spare rooms would be a closely guarded secret that would never leak out onto “official” channels, reserved only for friends by word of mouth. This strategy would take time and luck, but was my only way in.

It worked, and that is exactly how I moved to London.

This is nepotism, the epitome of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. The catch-22 of “networking” is that human networks is one of the only ways things get done but articifially trying to build those networks at networking sessions is exactly the wrong way to forge those connections. It must be done in a way that feels natural and inspires trust.

More Lies

Back to lies we tell our kids. Adults claim that their institutions are based on a meritocracy, which is not really the truth. There is a sliding scale of truth to that claim, with most universities and boring companies on the meritocratic end and Oxbridge, government and the arts industries on the nepotism end.

When I was a feminist activist, I took fair, meritocratic systems as a given and was trying to eliminate unfair practices between genders in what I perceived should be a fair system.

I wonder if this woman of color is making the same assumption: that unfair racist practices are occuring in what should be a fair, meritocratic system. If so, I don’t think she will get very far. Not because of the resistence to equal treatment of race and gender (though that is likely present), but because protecting the facade of merit over the reality of nepotism is something people will fiercely defend and lie about (and do it well, this is the media we are talking about).

My advice to this woman would be to use race and gender as a tool in this nepotistic setup. Go find the people of color who are already there and if they won’t help you (likely) they might indicate who in power likes having black friends. Gender is an even more unpalatable option, since other women may not help (they might, find that one feminist who works in TV), so one might have to resort to feminine attractiveness or, more likely if its TV and theatre, one could do well by butching up for all the gay guys that find women a bit scary.

This all sounds like a social justice nightmare, but if you’re not willing to be realistic about these strategies a career in the media may not be for you. It also does not preclude activism. Someone’s personal climb through the nepotisitc ranks may lead those friends on the way up to regard a person of a colour as a good bet in the relations stakes, whereas before they were prejudiced/ blind to it. I genuinely believe that that outcome would be a big win that does a lot of good.


I won’t be going to the talk. I’m bored with all that. My advice above would not be taken well, and I can see why. But my friend is definitely showing signs that she takes my lack of support for her talks as a rejection of her friendship. Is it possible to show support for someone in this part of their life without resorting to totally faking it?

Britain’s unequal cities and the magnetic force of London’s social norms

EDIT: Please note that the philosophy portions of my blog can now be found at

City Size and Stability

An acquaintance once told me that Germany experiences political stability in part due to the fact that all of its cities are roughly of equal size. I have no way to validate this claim, but Germany’s cities do seem to be noticeably uniform in their population and population density after the top 4. Among the top 4, the largest city, the capital, is double the size of the next largest, while 2,3 and 4 are similar in size to each other.

At some point I became aware of Britain’s “top ten” city sizes and this is the kind of information that my brain likes to keep around. I lived in rank number 8 at the time: Bristol, and now I live in number 1: London.

What is interesting about the U.K.’s city sizes is that the capital, London, is four times larger than the next contender: 8.3 million vs. 2.3 million in Birmingham. After that the city sizes decrease sharply among the top ten. Manchester is 1.7 million, Liverpool 0.8 and so on. My home city of Bristol in rank 8 is only 0.4 and these numbers include a “greater urban area” so they are on the generous side.

This interesting table also lists the “Large Urban Zone” EU rank of these areas. London is number 1, while the next largest area, Birmingham, is rank 21.

On hearing my friend’s anecdote about political stability in Germany, I started to wonder if regions with unequal size cities have more social/political upheaval or strife.

It is sort of common knowledge in the U.K. that London dominates the political and financial landscape of the country, meaning that politicians are unduly influenced by the needs of London and are liable to ignore the needs of the rest of the population. But aside from politicians wearing London-tinted glasses, are there other mechanisms also in play?

Advertising as Signalling

This interesting article about advertising proposes a mechanism for how advertising works. Its thesis is that adverts probably do not overtly or covertly make a consumer have emotions related to a product (“emotional inception”), rather they create a shared social environment where the product is associated with a sign or signal of certain social messages. I recommend reading the article for specific examples, such as Corona being associated with being chill on the beach, so that’s the beer you’ll bring to the barbeque to signal “we are all chill here”.

The article stresses the fact that advertising has to create a potent and enduring social milieu within which to present a consistent social message. This milieu only works if everyone has seen the message, and everyone knows that everyone else has seen the message. Thus, signalling by means of products can begin.

London’s Impact on Advertising

London’s supermassive size has the effect of pulling everything into its orbit. If a company would like to use some kind of creative agency to make an advert, the people they call will be in London.

Now that I’ve lived in London for a while, I noticed that much of UK-produced media is made by people who live in London, using London locations. I recently watched an advert that showed a variety of people in a variety of settings. The urban scenes were in different parts of London with different types of background architecture, but the “rural” or “park” scenes were also in London – the hexagonal black bins and other street furniture were instantly recognisable.

Clearly some London agency had taken the client’s money and shot a “diverse” advert with diverse locations without going any further than Hampstead Heath.

London’s Social Norms

Crucially, I recently noticed that London people also project London social values in their output. The advert mentioned above was quite diverse in terms of the people in the advert: a white same sex couple, an older sikh gentleman jogging, a black family. The ad was trying so hard it was almost painful.

However, for a Londoner, a same sex couple in Trafalgar square, a black family on an urban road and an older sikh man jogging in Hampstead Heath is just normal life. The hammy diversity is only hammy for a Londoner because of trying to jam in different examples of normal people into a short time frame.

The advert lacked poor people, because no-one is very poor in London. London takes racial diversity for granted, as well as sexuality. Engagement in a capitalist economy is also taken for granted in London, because everyone is there to make money, and everyone is succeeding in that. Making money is not inherently bad, since it supports taxes which in turn support infrastructure which supports making more money.

London is ethnically very diverse. London is 49% white British, 58% white (all groups). 37% of London residents were born outside of the UK. This compares to 95% white in the rest of the UK population.

Being a diverse mega-city, politeness in London is an interesting game. There is no way to know which custom should take precedent among diverse people. For example, getting on the bus politely. Whom should you defer to when entering the vehicle? Older people? Women? Men? Children? It amuses me to think that even in say, patriarchal cultures there is no consistency. One culture might deem that women should go first, while another says that women should be at the back of the queue. Most people will defer to elders, but tellingly, only if they have their shit together to board. This shows London’s default social norm: efficiency and speed (which = money).

The only way to keep this city going is with speed and efficiency. If an older person is faffing, it is culturally polite in London to get on before that person, because in the time we’ve wasted deferring to our elders, ten people could have boarded the bus and we’d be underway.

The older person is never left behind, because Londoners are also culturally aware that each person adds more wealth to the whole. This wealth is both cultural and fiscal at the same time. London is so big that it has (paid) roles and niches for absolutely everyone. London understands that diversity is good, not through strength, but through money.

Social Pressure

And these are the values that are translated into advertising. These values make sense in London, but for the rest of the population, which is 95% white, with no financial incentives, they may be having a very negative effect.

If advertising creates a social signalling environment, then a person in a small town or village is being forced to feel that they should welcome and tolerate people who, for them, display disruptive, frightening and dangerous characteristics.

When someone from another culture shows up in a small(ish) community, it is probably better for everyone involved if that person is integrated into community life, ie they are asked to change their behaviours to match their new surroundings (and a link to this idea now eludes me).

However, the opposite message is being broadcast by London-based advertising producers. Cultures should apparently be tolerated and celebrated, not integrated and if a local person thinks that the new person should be restricted or compelled to integrate, they are made to feel racist.

If advertising sets the tone of social interaction, a large part of the UK population is being made to feel social shame. Shame often leads to anger and defiance. Perhaps it has led to backlash voting.

I’m not sure if unequal city sizes generally contributes to social tension rather than harmony, but the mechanism described above could be one more explanation for London’s black hole effect on the rest of the U.K.

End Of Nations: Stage 5 Geography?

EDIT: Please note that the philosophy portions of my blog can now be found at

The State Of Nations


This post will be engaging with an article in New Scientist called End Of Nations by Debora MacKenzie. The featured image is also copyright New Scientist. The article suggests that nation states are currently ubiquitous, they also seem timeless and inevitable. However nation states are neither natural, nor inevitable. Instead, they  arise from the demand for increasingly complex social behaviours/increasingly complex activities.

“The key factor driving this ideological process, [of creating nations] was an underlying structural one: the development of far-reaching bureaucracies needed to run complex industrialised societies.”

This tallies well with the pages in Meaningness relating to Modernity and the rise of the systemic/stage 4 society. David’s pages state (and I agree) that these notions are academic common knowledge. This article by Mackenzie is an excellent read in terms of demonstrating the academic literature in an easy to digest way. So… go read it.

Still here? Well one takeway from the article is that Nations are currently the largest “container” we have for power. This is not useful when trying to solve global problems.

“… there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.”

So, what is the future?

The article discusses the European Union’s strengths and weaknesses.  The integration of European states to benefit from economies of scale is very positive. However Europe has a problem, because it is just another layer of heirarchy on top of heirarchical nations, and heirarchy might be a bad thing. Nations are a new and uncomfortable idea, so they have to preserve themselves with patriotic fanfare, sports teams and the like, but Europe’s heirarchy layer does not use all the patriotic tricks that nations themselves use to promote national identity, which is probably why everyone hates it, even though the principles of the EU are pretty solid.

The article also points out the global meetings of nations exist but have varying degrees of effectiveness – eg NATO, the UN. However,  the more informal, variable and goal-oriented groups such as the G-numbers (G8, G12) might actually be more effective.

The remainder of the article describes a proposed answer: evolving from heirarchies to networks. “Networks of regions, states and even non-governmental organisations”. Proponents call this neo-medievalism (because the medieval model was much more fuzzy around the edges). “Networked problems require a networked solution” says Anne Marie Slaughter. The article also talks about the possiblity of collapse as a crucible for new things.

I’m sure you’re by now with me thinking that this sounds like grasping towards stage 5 fluidity.

The article concludes that everyone agrees we still need nations, as a “container” of power (you can’t just throw out stage 4) but no-one can really imagine how politics would work in a network. Given that the world is changing and we have global problems, “it’s time to start imagining”.

Imagination Fail

I find this sentiment at the end of an article frustrating.

It reminds me of my frustration with AI movies. They often end at the moment the AI steps out into the real world (Ex Machina) or fall back onto unfulfilling, unrealistic emotional crap (Transcendence). Some tech friends claim we are experiencing a “fiction singularity”, a place where we simply cannot imagine our way beyond a certain point with AIs.

It seems we have a similar block here, imagining our way beyond stage 4 politics, capitalism, etc. Postmodernism is the “stage 4 politics singularity”.

Failures of imagination irritate the shit out of me. It seems like a poor excuse for failing to do something, or for believing something is not possible. If you can’t imagine something, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Try harder! Find imaginative people and ask them! Grrrr.


I believe I am no more imaginative than average but we can’t all just throw our hands up in the air and hope someone else is dealing with it. So, here is an attempt at “imagining” how politics would work in a fluid network, rather than a heirarchy of discrete, nation-sized containers.

Imagine There’s No Countries

City Mayors

It seems obvious to me that large cities should work together in a global way. I imagine the mayors of London, New York and Tokyo could have a lot to say to each other. At the moment I think there is probably some borrowing of knowledge from one city to another, but a global network of cities creating shared goals (such as how to integrate travel between them more efficiently) for everyone’s mutual benefit seems like a good way forward. I think creating carbon emissions goals between major cities could also have as a big an impact as nations could. Luckily, mayors also already have some power.

Regional Networks & Tasks

The same idea could be applied to rural areas – in the UK Prince Charles is really into that sort of thing. I am imagining conferences on farming that are wider than just either: corporates or NGOs or charities or Government departments, but rather mix their participants based on topic, not polital unit.

This also implies the strength harnessed by Kickstarter: organise around tasks/goals. This is where the G-numbers have had success. It is important however that participants have the power to make changes. We could confer temporary task-force power on such people.

Some regions might want to hang out around “not feeling like they are part of their surrounding nation” like the Basque area of Spain and Massachusetts. They could chat about how to make free cities actually work.

Fuzzy boundaries

An idea to get our heads around might be that it is ok for some cities/regions to have more fuzzy boundaries. There are huge back and forth debates about country boundaries and visas, which I’ve only vaguely looked into, but I propose that boundaries can be more flexible than that.

They could be fuzzy for certain things or for certain people but solid for others, such as perhaps creating a global accord for academic visas, but still be more strict on tourist/working/immigration visas. Europe’s national boundaries now work in this way, with open borders for EU residents, while political borders remain in tact.

But boundaries could also be fuzzy only for certain times. Burning Man is an example of laws, cities, resources and boundaries that only exist at certain times of the year.

What are your ideas for stage 5 politics?


Money, part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, describing my mission to actively move away from using money. This involved being homeless and discovering the opportunities of life without money.

Going back to money

I always knew I would be reintegrating with the “normal” world eventually. After a whole year of being homeless and surviving without money, I was ready to go back.

In discovering rationalism, I had come across some cool techniques for life. Using probabilities and a cost vs benefit analysis I decided to move to London and become a developer. This was calculated as a low-cost high reward strategy for maximum money in minimum time that had a good chance of success.

The ultimate goal was to make time for more philosophical activity in my life. The no-money route is an option to regain some time, but perhaps not enough. The costs are also high: poor physical health, lack of stability (high anxiety). In short, to reach my goals, I had to use money.

Emotional difficulties

Even though my feminist days gave me this advice: “we all are doing what we can to survive under unfair conditions, so it is wrong to criticise others who are performing along the expected lines of society”, I still suffered feelings of horrible guilt and of being a sell out.

I rationally knew that I had come up with a decent plan that might ultimately help me to do more of what I love, an activity which might help people and even contribute to changing the society I find myself in. However the feelings of being a sell-out, of “getting more right-wing as I got older” were strong. It took some years to be more at peace with my choices and even longer to find a framework that might help to describe them.

I also felt uncomfortable  earning (what felt like) an obscene amount of money in comparison to others. Coming from the local government sector gave me a strong sense that the people who do the hardest jobs get paid the least money. I also felt working class guilt, that I was being a traitor for accepting and using middle class salaries, buying myself middle class privileges.

Of course, it was harder for me to remember that my new salary was still below average, well below median and certainly not “obscene” by any measure.


I had to remind myself that it is ok to have money. Life is indeed much easier with money. I think the study about IQ drop when feeling anxiety over money has failed to replicate, like so many others, however the anxiety levels at the low-end of the money scale seem anecdotally extremely large, and are relieved entirely by a modest income. Having modest amounts of money allows for optimism for the future, enables regular excursions outside of the house, enables much easier social relations, allows freedom of travel and greatly improves physical health.

Another aspect of money relates to sharing your money. I can now be honest about my motivations for generosity, is it signalling, is it genuine concern? I now feel ok about exploring those ethics.

One thing is certain, being without money is an excellent way to understand and use it effectively.

Further Truths

It’s expensive to be poor.

This perverse rule was visible everywhere once I recognised it.

The ATMs in poor neighbourhoods always charge for withdrawals, because poor neighbourhoods don’t attract chain banks or other enterprises that provide free cash machines. It’s not worth it, because everyone there is poor.

The converse is also often true: it’s cheap to be rich. Rich people are often invited to free events in the random hope that someone will spend their money eventually on the host’s business. Art galleries have free private views. Overdrafts on wealthy client’s accounts are free, while poor people are penalised for even a £1 overdraft withdrawal. The richer you are, the more free things get offered to you. Of course, money makes more money if you just leave it alone, so the act of simply having some gives you an income on it as well.

Cheating on benefits is much harder than getting a job

Almost nobody does it, so get over it. Of the ones that do, it is our fault as a society for not providing more useful deception games that their skills could be applied to. Either way it is an acceptable loss.



It doesn’t take very long to earn enough money such that survival is covered and all the questions about the meaning of life, and how to spend one’s time, return. For my freelance friends who really do earn obscene money, the problem of what to do every day becomes a real concern. Material benefits lose their charm alarmingly quickly. Boredom is the ultimate problem.

It leads me to wonder if there are groups of people with rich depression, whom we could leverage to do interesting things. It also makes me a proponent of universal benefit, which might be an interim step that will lead us to the idea that we should spend some time shunting around our shared, limited resources and the rest of the time getting together to do interesting things.

Money doesn’t need to be money

For some people (many?) their salary is much more to do with “numbers going up” – the dopamine reward system that video games harness so well, than it is to do with material goods or comfort. For those who are not too interested in the status that material goods bring, the motivation is more to do with the esteem a society holds them in (itself another kind of status).

This had led me to speculate about the possibility of divorcing “currency” – a phrase for the part of money that is a functional system of exchange rather than drag 2,000 eggs to market to swap for a cow – from the insane, imaginary mathematical games people play in financial markets that none the less cause ordinary people to lose their homes.

I recently spoke to a software developer in the finance industry who openly admitted that he engages in creating software that is deliberately difficult to use, so that financial investors feel as though they are actually doing something during their 90 hour work week, rather than admit that they do no better than random chance. His team actively re-writes old software with more complex navigation menus and deliberately obfuscatory usage procedures to supply the illusion that these people do something Very Hard that only Magic Skilled People can do.

I wonder how hard it would really be to round up the entire top several levels of the world financial system and quietly slide them all into an MMO or virtual world, where we tell them they are trading and have won and lost millions of “dollars” when actually we have disconnected them from the currency we use for basic goods, shelter and transport a long time ago.


I used to think capitalism was evil. Now I think it’s just a system.

I think it’s quite amenable to being hacked and changed, which is good. It might be the least bad system so far. It also doesn’t function in a vacuum. Capitalism so far has always operated with, alongside and within several other systems: nation states, governmental organisation systems, political systems, charity systems and particularly “welfare” systems. The welfare side is where we put lots of our human morals, and I now find it strange when people demand moral behaviour from capitalist systems.

There are some who believe that current systems would be improved if allowed to operate with the same rules as a “market”. I think they are correct in some cases, but it would be disastrous in others.

I do think there are aspects to markets/capitalism that mean it has never been a complete or functioning system. For example, natural resources are exploited at no cost, giving the illusion of eternal resources and thus eternal growth. I will be very interested to see how capitalism changes when this loop is closed, such as when governments give natural resource systems legal rights, or with carbon taxes.

I feel optimistic that since capitalism is subject to theories as engines, not as cameras, it will continuously evolve and will no doubt be a useful system in the system tool box for a long time.

Emotionally Dealing With Cheaters

It’s time for some emotional maturity when it comes to agents engaged in systems.

Hawks and Doves

A few decades ago, a couple of scientists applied game theory to evolutionary development. The result was evolutionary game theory and it gave us some neat new ways to understand evolution.

The most famous example of this work is known as “hawks and doves”. The premise is that given a certain set of circumstances, individuals within the same species competing for finite resources may have more than one strategy for obtaining those resources. Divided simplistically, an individual may behave in a “dove”-like fashion ie standing down from conflict (after an initial bluff of force) and sharing resources with other doves it discovers, both of whom are non-violent or a “hawk”-like fashion ie following through on threats of violence and not sharing resources with others. The dove strategy has low costs but also low rewards while the other has high cost but also higher potential reward.

The theorists produced a graph that showed which strategy might be optimal under which conditions. There is an awful lot more to evolutionary game theory however I mention this as an illustrative example.

Depending on the conditions, you have a certain percentage of hawks and doves. The more hawks you have, the more costly it is to be one as you might starve or be killed. The more doves you have, the higher the reward for being a hawk (violent and not sharing) since almost everyone you meet is a dove and will back down. In the high dove scenario, it makes sense for more individuals to become hawks since the rewards are high and the risks very low. Once you have several hawks though, the chances of meeting another hawk are higher and it once again becomes too costly to be one compared to the expected reward. There is a certain balance that appears between the types of strategy. The exact ratios depend on the situation, but what I want to point out is that you always have some hawks.

Social Strategies/Cheaters

Evolutionary game theory goes on to analyse circumstances where individuals within a species co-operate to a certain extent, rather than compete.

Humans often co-operate, and this behaviour is said to be ‘social’. Humans are one of the most socially sophisticated animals on the planet.

In a highly social society there are systems of rules in place and a few different strategies for success. Social systems are typically based on varying degrees of trust, you need to trust that other people will follow the rules and humans have evolved extremely complex skills and heuristics to assess trustworthiness in others.

One strategy in trust based systems is to fake trustworthiness, not abide by the rules, screw people over and reap the benefits. This strategy risks being caught and completely shunned, which may even lead to death. It is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that is the social equivalent to a hawk.

It seems to be that any social system that has rules based on trust is also open to the possibility of cheating being a viable strategy. In any social game you always have some cheaters.

Stopping Cheaters

Our social evolution has given humans pretty powerful tools to spot a cheater, helping groups to keep cheaters to a minimum. Many of our formal systems also have safeguards to attempt to weed out cheaters.

However, I frequently come across the assumption that it would be ideal to completely eliminate cheaters. This is wrong.

Eliminating cheaters is not possible. All games of any complexity have rules and therefore can be cheated. The more dove-like rule-followers a game has, the greater the rewards are for cheating and so the likelihood of having cheaters in the game increases. I believe that past a certain point you have a power-law situation with cheaters, where the energy expended to detect and remove cheaters grows exponentially the lower the number of cheaters becomes. Eventually, the measures taken to eliminate the cheaters become more injurious for everyone than the harm the cheaters are causing.

A recent example from my life: at a Pride parade of tens of thousands of people a political group of a dozen participants was denied entry, but unofficially they ‘broke in’ at the end of the column and marched anyway. Despite the fact that the organisers had made reasonable efforts to prevent the group from marching that year the outrage was huge, so the following year the organisers implemented a security system requiring all 10,000 people to acquire official wristbands, the parade needed extra staff, security barriers and to change the assembly point and shorten the parade route. The measures far exceeded the harm.

Eliminating cheaters is not necessarily desirable. Cheaters have to develop great skill to cheat, skills that are often prized in general, from thorough attention to detail to ingenuity, innovation and improvisation. In David Chapman’s essay ‘Geeks, Mops and Sociopaths’ the sociopaths – the cheaters – have an important function. They use their skills to market the New Thing made by the Geeks, making money and enriching culture, even if they reap an unfair share of the rewards. Sociopaths in general are quite likely to be cheaters but also quite likely to be very useful, like surgeons.

Emotional maturity

The extreme measures taken to eliminate cheaters seem to be often caused by the emotional pain of being a rule-follower and seeing or knowing that there are cheaters. Cheaters seem to reap great rewards, while the costs of the strategy are less visible. The emotional reaction can blind people to other causes for cheating, such as injustice (which I think may have played a part in the Pride parade example).

This emotional overreaction goes for double when money is involved – the obvious example is rabidity over benefit/welfare cheaters. I think the extra effort expended on trying to prevent cheaters is one of the key reasons that universal benefit works out cheaper.

People also seem to overestimate how many cheaters there are. I would expect any system to be capable of supporting around 10% hawks/cheaters. However from internet reading I’ve done about crimes, false claims about crimes (eg false insurance claims, false rape claims) are around 2%. This seems absurdly low.

The emotional desire to eliminate cheaters is prioritised over the rational knowledge that cheaters are inevitable, exist in low numbers and are even desirable. We need to sort that out because so often the measures to prevent cheaters are worse than the cheaters themselves.



Existing signs of fluidity

Required Reading

Robert Kegan’s personal development framework, summarised here by David Chapman. You might also like to read my earlier thoughts about what Stage 5 or “fluid mode” is, or means, for individuals.

This post will be taking huge liberties with material that is intended to describe personal, cognitive and social development of an individual by applying it to wider societal structures. One of my philosophical itches relates to the fact that scale is important, and different methods are needed at different scales of operation, so I am wary of the pitfalls of taking these liberties.

This, as most of my posts, should be taken as an exercise or thought experiment.

Where we are now

At the moment, society is largely at Stage 4, and has been since the tribal group style typical of Stage 3 began to decline.

Stage 3 society is based on relationships and feelings are paramount. This works well in a tribal group (and still operates in small groups, eg rural villages).

Stage 4 societies use a system to organise and make decisions, with relationships deliberately distanced from decisions, because within this stage, that is more fair. For example, the legal system relies on pre-agreed codes of justice, not the personal relationships of those involved, to make fair decisions.

Systemic organisation has given us almost everything we have in society today, from healthcare to exploring space. But, is there room for more growth?

Many current alternative belief/sanctity doctrines, such as groups with New Age / “hippy” values mourn the loss and call for the return of stage 3-style living. This would be a backward step. The way forward involves synthesising everything learned from stage 3 and stage 4 together.

While wider society does indeed have many successful stage 4 systems that can interact with each other, something more is required to become more like stage 5. Chapman’s description of stage 5 for people is very useful:

You have several such systems, “multiple selves,” none of them entirely coherent, and which have different values—and this is no longer a problem, because you respect all of them.

Society has many systems, but most are still invested in the idea that systems must be entirely coherent and that systems that have different values cannot coexist, be reconciled or demand equal respect at the same time because this would be contradictory. Politics is a great example. All the players must behave as if their chosen team on the political spectrum is inherently, objectively right and the others terribly wrong.

Stage 4 societal systems are interacting with each other in the same way as stage 4 people co-operate: very successfully, coordinating calendars etc, but not yet showing stage 5 fluidity.

This post will submit some ideas for institutions that are exhibiting Stage 5 dynamics.


Kickstarter et al.

Crowd funding seems to have features that are more like stage 5. It involves co-operation from many people who are different from each other, who probably have wildly differing systems of belief and ethics. Differences are no longer very important because the focus is the end goal.

Crowd funding temporarily brings people together around a node point, a common goal, and they will disperse when the goal is achieved. This node point is slicing reality along a different, specific line. The rules for the node are set by the creators and rather than appealing to a broad identity eg “all Democrats” the appeal is much more specific eg “anyone who wants an Alsatian puppy calendar”.

Because the focus is the end goal, the systems that have been leveraged to make it happen are no longer very important, rather they are shown to be tools used to achieve the goal rather than identities for its participants.

Elon Musk

There are some people who appear to be “hacking” systems, in this case capitalism, harvesting rewards and then leveraging the benefits.

It is likely that individuals have done this within companies and governments for centuries but Elon Musk is a visible example with public goals.

He identified that the best way to make money within our current money system – capitalism – is to make money from money (Paypal as a money transfer service).

Once he was one of the top 100 most wealthy people in the world, he turned his attention to other goal-focussed pursuits. The world is probably lucky that he wants to improve the lot of humanity with high-speed travel, space exploration and green energy.

My point with Musk is that, having exploited a stage 4 system he can now work around those systems and above their heads.

Even just a decade ago it was inconceivable that anyone would market an electric car, because the oil industry is too big and powerful. Indeed, a new product must jump through many hoops to come to market, from patents to funding to marketing to market share to fending off legal battles. It was impossible to imagine any company achieving this. What happened instead was a person who sliced reality along different lines.

The gradual rise up a chain of hierarchical systems is not necessary for Musk. Once one has a certain amount of wealth, one can be more or less outside of most of these concerns. His product does not have to get funding or acquire market share any time soon, much less turn a profit. Money can be thrown at lawyers from the oil industry and at marketing. So, Musk managed to just pop out an electric car, seemingly out of nowhere.

By providing a ready-made product, Musk drives change from above back down through some stage 4 systems, like governments, via (for example) demand for new electric infrastructure. In the US, his company has taken over this stage 4 operation.

Further, Musk actively works together with other companies. He is known to sell his electric car components to other car manufacturers relatively cheaply. His company also negotiates long-term investment from them in exchange for these cheap, high quality components or for long term help in their research and development departments. In addition, he allows “good faith” access to patents held by his companies to help other firms advance their technology in his areas of interest.

This to me is stage 5 capitalism. Everyone has their separate companies, their private patents and are technically in competition. But when striving to change the world  (and when money is no longer an issue) the best way to productively move forward is to once again collaborate, share information and support others around specific goals.


Technology developers worldwide (particularly software developers) have for a long time been sharing their work online for free. The work on software does not end at the moment a piece of code is given away, rather many people also actively maintain and debug the software after the fact. This involves a lot of effort and usage of free time.

This seems to have come about due to a combination of good wages in the stage 4 realms that support developers and good will amongst the community. Many developers sympathise with having to write boring code, so libraries have been created such that no-one has to repeat unnecessary labour.

Developers also foster that “for the good of the world” feeling. Open-source software is made available for free to anyone, not just other devs. As software becomes more complex it is increasingly obvious that only collaborative effort will move technology forward. Opensource is an alternative to corporate invention, partly so that life-changing technologies are not owned exclusively by a single company but also partly because such entities are too narrow in their R&D focus.

Summary thoughts

If Chapman is correct about STEM people and stage 4, it is no accident that these three examples are all in STEM fields.

These examples all share something that I feel is very important: goal focus. I believe goal focus flattens out old hierarchies and makes systemic differences less important. These goals also have a certain flavour, to improve the world or to maximise fun. They fill the gaps in capitalism’s goals which are too narrow.

This goal focus is possible because there is another assumption along side it: that we are participating in something that is shared. With Kickstarter it is normally a shared geeky hobby. Elon Musk’s visions assume a shared human race, a shared planet and a shared solar system. Developers exist in a shared community and all hands are needed in software right now so that community also extends to the human race. However this shared environment acknowledges stage 4’s differentiation before building a sense of sharing.

The humanities seem to be straining towards some flatter hierarchies, for example reinventing the system for peer-reviewed papers which would be in line with Foucault’s criticisms of institutional power, however change is still extremely slow.

Can you think of other things that seem to operate on a stage 5 level?


Emotional challenges of Stage 5

Required reading

This post uses a key framework of personal evolution by Robert Kegan.  It is summarised by David Chapman here.

This post is in dialogue with, and an expansion on, Chapman’s recent post about moving through stages 3, 4 and 5 in modern society (and the lack of support for it) here.

This post will not make sense unless you have read the other two posts first. They are somewhat lengthy, but I will be returning to these ideas as a basis for my blog posts for a long time, so it’s worth settling in.

Emotional challenges

Much has been said (some has been said) about the intellectual progression of stage 4 to stage 5. In this post I will outline some emotional challenges I faced (am still facing) to making the transition.

My evolving story

Four years on from university (which I attended a little later than average), at age 27, in the midst of deliberately making myself homeless and abandoning any regard for money, I was challenged to articulate the political position of a person on the opposite side of an argument to that which I held. I found I could indeed do so. It was common for me to hear that it is good to empathise with another person, and since I had been accused of failing in that area before, it was something I had been trying to attend to more closely. I was also aware of having to debate a position one personally does not hold (from Star Trek as well as school). So as an educated person I managed to imagine the position of someone who believed that austerity, small government and benefit cuts was an appropriate response to recession. I myself was about to go on a march against austerity, from the position that it made life worse for minority groups such as the disabled and also overly impacted a majority group: women. During that march I was extemely morose and it took some time to figure out why.

Beyond Empathy

Not only had I managed to do more than superficially imagine some arguments from “their side”, I could also understand why someone would hold that position. I could imagine which principles were important to that side of the political spectrum almost as clearly as I could see the principles that supported my own side. In addition, if supporters of that side believed the underlying assumptions or principles, they would not have to be stupid or amoral to believe the conclusions drawn from those principles.

It became clear that if one side is right, and the other wrong, it would be a matter of whether their principles were right or wrong. However, the more I thought about someone else’s side of the argument, the more their principles seemed at the very least appropriate for what they were trying to do. Their principles seemed logically right, (even if I thought they were morally wrong). And yet on my side of a debate, the principles seemed right too. How could this be?

Examining Assumptions

I began to realise that I had been making the assumption that my side’s founding principles were right and therefore the conclusions were also right and therefore the articulated position was morally right and therefore any different position that contradicted it must be wrong. In fact, dear reader, if you would care to re-read the opening sentence of the preceding paragraph to this one, you will notice the uncritical assumption – “if one side is right and the other wrong…” This very assumption came into view for the first time. The assumption that one position is right and that all other positions are wrong. It suddenly seemed self-evident that this was a silly assumption to make but at the same time I had clearly been operating with it for years.

Foundation Processes

I think I had been approaching these realisations gradually by being more and more open to the arguments from the ‘opposing’ side. I might have originally been motivated by the idea that one must “know thine enemy” – the better to thwart them. I felt meaningful progress could only be made if one engaged properly with another’s arguments and then was so persuasive with one’s own arguments that the other person would change their minds.

In addition, as a result of throwing myself into new situations, I was exposed to a person whom I liked but who used an entirely different framework from me to see the world. They came from a scientific, rational, logical background. They scorned my emotional/social view of the world as biased and refused to engage on the topic in anything other than their own ‘rational’ language. I could see they had some good points but also felt that they were missing something from their worldview. Out of sheer spite I began a long process of learning their technical language, in order to one day criticise them in a language they would understand.

Neither of these processes lead to their stated conclusions but: never underestimate the power of spite as a way to motivate learning.

In addition to the story told above about politics, I had similar conflicting intuitions when it came to money. The begninning of the story is here. I shall endeavour to write up the second half of the story soon. But in short, capitalism seemed to no longer be the spectre of evil I once thought it was.

Leaving the old stage

All of this lead to my eventual move out of stage 4. At the time, it felt like I had been booted out. Indeed in Kegan’s descriptions, a person at first criticises the world for not being what it appeared to be, and moving out of a stage is unpleasant. The current self has no desire to change.

Eventually, the criticism can be directed inward. Feelings of shame can arise when shifting through a stage change and I felt a certain amount of being intellectually ‘caught short’, the feeling of having been walking around with my pants down this entire time and no-one had told me.

Emotional problems shifting through change

And so we finally get to the subject of this post: emotional difficulties when transitioning out of Kegan’s Institutional evolution, stage 4. These descriptions are almost entirely focussed on intellectual growth as they seem easier to articulate. On emotional terms I feel more muddied. Perhaps I will post about that later.

Lack of stage 5 environments

One of the problems of this stage is a lack of cultural, institutional or familial frameworks to move towards when the previous thinking has been left behind. As of the 1980s, only 5% of adults may reach this stage. From Kegan:

“the requirements of the ‘holding environment’ within which to evolve become a taller order with each new evolution.”

There are therefore few, if any supportive voices to contradict the negative thoughts that accompany leaving a stage behind. This problem is discussed at length in Chapman’s post about people becoming lost at stage 4.5.

Loss of self, loss of identity.

Loss of the self is characteristic of all of the evolutionary stages:

“[people] may speak of a ‘loss of identity’ or that they have let themselves down, betrayed themselves, abandoned themselves”.

however this may be felt particularly strongly since:

“this is the first shift in which there is a self-conscious self to be reflected upon”

The instiutional stage 4 is characterised by adopting a system to order one’s life. This can partly mean aligning with a particular system that others also use which becomes an identity. For myself social justice style identity politics was my system. I aligned strongly with the left, with feminism, with minority sexuality and polyamory.

The negative thoughts which accompanied my new apparent relativism with regard to left and right wing politics, as well as capiltalism, were strong and distressing. I felt I was selling out, had lost my passion, was being weak or without resolve, was a traitor to the cause and I was particularly bothered by the phrase “you get more right wing as you get older”. I was terrified that this applied to me.

I applied these thoughts to myself because I believed my social group would do so if they knew what I was thinking, and I had no alternative viewpoints to challenge this “selling out” as anything other than negative. I could do nothing but accept these negative labels for myself. At this time I stopped any and all activism because I felt like a fraud and was also exhuasted from feeling this way.

Evil relativism

This longer passage from Kegan explains a common fear in 4-5 transition:

“All transitions involve leaving a consolidated self behind before any new self can take its place. At the 4-5 shift this means abandoning – or somehow operating without reliance upon – the form, the group, standard or convention. For some this leads to feelings of being “beyond good and evil”, which […] amounts to looking at the that beyondness from the view of the old self, and thus involves strong feelings of evil. Ethical relativism – the belief that there is no (nonarbitrary) basis for considering one thing more right than another – is, on the one hand, the father of tolerance: it stands against the condemning judgement; but it must also stand against the affirming judgement, and so is vulnerable to cynicism.”

Ethical relativism is a half-way point. One has realised that there probably is no perfect sytem that is “right”, rather all systems have validity given the way systems function (based on rules, assumptions, axioms or reasons, which therefore make them “rational”). However this leads a person to the conclusion that all systems are equal, have equal value, have equal utility, are interchangeable. I believed this for a while and it is quite frightening, leading one to a strong sense of nihilism.

In Kegan’s words:

“In the shift to stage 5 there is often a sense of having left the moral world entirely; there is no way of orienting to right and wrong worthy of my respect. This is the killing off of all standards, the attempt to be not-me (who is his standard) – the cynic, or existentially despairing.”

Short Postmodern digression

This problem is exactly where an unsophisitcated grasp of postmodern thought runs into trouble (Postmodernism can be seen largely as a 4.5 stage of philosphy). Postmodernism is the critique of Modern “systems” of thought, or rather a critique of the idea that the world can be apprehended through systemic thinking. This part was the focus of most Postmodern writing and is the easiest to grasp when discovering the topic.

When one reaches this far with the ideas it is easy to think that when Postmodernism is saying that “all systems of thought that give rise to opinions have arbitrary foundations” it is also saying that “all opinions have equal value”. This is not actually the case but it takes a long time to untangle. It takes a much closer and much longer study of Postmodern ideas to grasp what Postmodernism is moving towards, rather than away from. More on this in a later post.


When this shift out of a strucutual Identity is occuring it is no longer possible to associate with other people who are still firmly embedded in The Identity [whatever it is]. It is key to realise that this process is not voluntary for the person changing, they have no desire to suddenly be alienated from their friends, but at the same time thoughts cannot be unthought and changes are taking place regardless of desire.

I felt a distance from other people of The Identity that I had not felt before. I no longer agreed with them in the way they needed me to. If I voiced my new thoughts they saw me as dissenting for no reason or diluting the cause.

Eventually I no longer felt that my new thoughts were wrong, I felt they represented a new way to see the world, but I also knew that there was no point forcing the ideas onto people who were not ready for them. This made the alienation from certain people, and from certain parts of many people, inevitable.

This can be extremely problematic if one’s social circle is entirely made up of people who share The Identity. If there is no-one who can be part of a non-judgemental “holding environment” during these changes, it could lead to much heartache or even emotional/psychological problems that require professional intervention. (There is of course nothing wrong with seeking professional help, indeed it is absolutely the best thing to do, I am simply saying that it is nice to not have to).

During my initial moments of crisis, I took myself away from my city and all my friends. I think I experienced a lack of an environment for change. I finally found people who were confirming of the change and over some years of stability with new friends I feel I have progressed from the worst of the dissonance.

Now what?

Having dealt for some years with making this change (across some axes of my life at any rate), I feel somewhat more stable in my meta-systemtic state, but the loneliness persists. I feel comfortable again with interacting with others who have a different worldview, in fact I can see the extremely high value of their operations, in thought and in life. But I am always searching for others who may be able to understand some of my new ways of thinking.

Chapman proposes that much of society operates using stage 4 systems that interact with each other and I think that that is correct. (Systems interacting sounds pretty much stage 5 and indeed all society is actually constantly moving. However many societal systems rely heavily on being the “correct” system to function, most notably politics).

So what about stage 5-style operations that are larger than individuals? A stage 5 society?

Kegan notes that even proposing a stage 5 can be problematic:

“Suggesting that there is a qualitative development beyond psychological autonomy and philosophical formalism is itself somewhat controversial, as it flies in the face of cherished notions of maturity in psychological, philosophical, scientific and mathematical realms.”

In later posts I will spend some time imagining what stage 5 is or means for an individual (Kegan is more vague on this stage than the other stages) and what it is or means for a society. What would stage 5 societies look like? What features would it have? Do our societies already have stage 5 organisations in place? If so, what are they? Is there a way for individuals to safely encourage stage 5 institutions?

Also, check out the rest of for more fascinating (and in my view comforting) descriptions of how one might choose to make sense of the world.