The Four Fields of Development (and why communism killed 100 million people)

Of all the ideas presented in my book The Listening Society, this is the most important one: The average effective value meme of a population is the single most important factor determining whether it is possible for a society to progress to a new stage of development or not. If you don’t get it, then you haven’t understood The Listening Society or its sequel Nordic Ideology.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

If you’ve read The Listening Society, you may recall six such value memes, each of which builds upon the former, being a “later” or even “higher” stage of development:

  • Animistic
  • Faustian
  • Postfaustian (or traditional)
  • Modern
  • Postmodern
  • Metamodern

It is hard to overstate how crucial it is to raise the average effective value meme. The most brilliantly designed constitution and all the best democratic institutions in the world are null and void if the majority of the population subscribe to a Viking warrior ethos; e.g. gravitating tow­ards the faustian value meme. Likewise a listening society cannot fully materialize as long as the vast majority remains firmly imbedded within a modern, rationalistic worldview. It simply isn’t.

Your effective value meme affects whether you, for instance, consider the environmental degradation of the planet a primary concern, or believe foreign religions are the greatest threat to your existence. It affects whe­ther you believe transnational solutions should be imple­mented to add­ress the dire issues of our time, such as migration, global poverty, and finance, or consider increasing the military bu­dgets of your own nation the best way to manage international relations. It affects the extent of your care and consideration towards others; the number of people and other sentient beings you include in your circle of solidarity. While people sub­scribing to higher value memes tend to be more concerned with the well-being of all humans, in all countries, no matter their back­ground, people at lower value memes tend to have a much smaller circle of solidarity, usually those within their own country, often only of a certain kind, and rarely non-human animals unless they’re considered pets. And learning from the communist experiment, solidarity cannot be enforced from the top; it cannot be taught, and you certainly cannot force anyone to be solidaric. True solidarity can only emerge spon­taneously and voluntarily from people’s hearts and minds.

Our values are derived from our level of psychological development and play a critical role in the way societies evolve. It sets the limits for how far society can progress, and it determines how well our societies function at the current technological level.

Please note, however, that the effective value meme is not considered an overall stage of cognition that people are functioning in accordance with. With effective value meme I simply mean the values of a particular stage of societal development, such as modern or postmodern, that a per­son appears to gravitate towards the strongest. This is not estimated by the complexity or depth of a person’s thought, but simply by determining whatever values they express sincere devotion towards.

This means, for example, that if a person considers gender equality, environmen­talism, and animal rights more important than economic growth, freedom of choice, and private property, then they can be said to be gravitating firmly towards the postmodern value meme—disregarding whether they display any noteworthy existential depth beyond the ordi­nary, and disre­garding whether they’re capable of deconstructing texts or conducting discourse analyses competently. This way of determining a person’s value meme is more precise, less arbitrary, and not as open for speculation as other models (for instance Spiral Dynamics). If a person expresses faith in a certain set of values, and if it can be confirmed with minimum doubt that these are truthfully what the person believes in, then those are the values she gravitates towards.

Every society has a kind of demo­graphic where diff­erent percentages of the populations can be said to man­ifest and em­body different “value memes”, each being more or less pro­gressive and corres­ponding to different kinds of economic and societal environments. This changes over time, usually moving towards higher value memes as society gets more complex.

The different value memes can be seen as kinds of political-psych­o­log­ical sta­ges of development. Larger and more complex societies require high­er value memes in the population in order to function and be sust­ain­able. The value memes aren’t really an exact measure of how a person is and how she thinks, but there are certainly clear differences between people of different value memes.

For instance, today’s Swedish population (generally believing in demo­cracy, human rights, secular science, fair debate, gender equality and self-expr­e­ssion) have a “higher” average value meme than today’s Afghani popula­tion (man­­ifesting more tradition­alist values, particularistic religion, purity and sin, and em­pha­sizing sur­vival over self-expression).

When a traditional society modernize and people get wealthier, happier and more educated, the majority of the population will usu­ally advances to higher value memes in a manner of a few gener­ations. So there is a connection between prolonged periods of pol­itical sta­bility and inclu­sive econ­omic growth, and higher average value memes within a pop­ulation.

As I said, higher value memes generally correspond to the functioning and needs of larger and more complex societies. For instance, being a fun­da­mentalist Christian nationalist who thinks a woman’s chastity is more imp­or­tant than her education hardly helps in creating a sustainable order in today’s hypercomplex, interconnected, increasingly post-indus­trial glo­bal soc­iety. The “traditionalist” value meme and its moral intuit­ions are sim­ply not com­patible with the actual systems of today’s emer­ging global society.

The dynamic here is fairly simple and intuitive in a way. If a society is doing well and the games of everyday life become milder, fairer and more forgiving, people have the luxury to think in more universalistic, far-sight­ed, nuanced and complex terms. If people get the opportunity to spend years educating themselves and freely following their interests, they also explore more complex ideas and values. They can “afford” it, so to speak, and this generally spurs psychological and cultural development.

If things go poorly, people tend to retreat to being less trust­ing, men­tally hinging upon simpler and smaller worlds and simpler and smaller circles of solidarity—naturally emphasizing short- or medium-term surv­ival and avoiding personal risks. As we discussed earlier, the development of society always brings with it new challenges and back­lashes, new nasty pro­blems. Hence, the negative sides of societal development towards grea­ter prosper­ity and complexity periodically cause pre­ss­ures that decr­ease the aver­age value meme in a population—as has been apparent with recent pop­ulist, anti-immigration uprisings in the West.

It’s the people with the higher value memes who will tend, on average, to create and sustain institutions and practices that su­pport (make poss­ible, make sus­t­ainable) larger and more complex societies. This doesn’t mean they’re “bett­er people”; just compare the spoiled and narcissistic brats in Swe­den’s sch­ools to the cute and kind, hardworking and grateful pupils of a girl school in rural Sudan. The late-modern Swedish kids are horrible, as any honest teacher in its liberal an unruly school system will readily attest. Can they put down their iPhones already? But still, the Swedish kids certainly do manifest higher average value memes.

The point is that there is a collective difference that has to do with value memes. It might work fine to have no formal laws and to believe in ancestral magic if you’re a tribe of 150 people. Being a global world-syst­em of seven plus billion in rapid econ­omic and technological transition and a host of ecological crises that may hit home in the coming decades and centuries—not so much. Rain dances, invoking spirits and perfor­ming passage rituals will only take us that far.

The Four Fields of Societal Development

If we zoom out a bit, we can see that the average effective value meme in turn is only one out of sev­eral factors that can be used to describe how “developed” a society is.

The effective value meme descr­ibes how a person or a population sees the world and intuits their own place in it, their moral codes, and so forth. This is, you could say, “psych­ological development”. But just as the value memes consist of four aspects, so does the dev­elopment of society itself consist of four different, but intim­ately related, fields of development. The four fields are:

  1. Psychology (including, but not only, value meme)
  2. Behavioral development
  3. The system; systemic development
  4. Culture; cultural development

Hence, the value memes, the political psy­chology of a pop­ul­ation, con­stitute only one out of four fields of develop­ment. So let’s describe and briefly discuss the other three fields.

The sec­ond field of development has to do with people’s actual beha­viors, which have to do at least as much with the situations they are in, the interactions they par­take in, which behav­ioral cues are elicited, what behaviors are rewar­ded, and so forth. The effective value memes of people need to be distinguished from their behav­iors, as human behaviors are always affected by the situations they take part in. These concrete, obser­vable behaviors can also be developed; they can be brou­ght into new and more productive relations that together form more com­plex and res­il­ient patt­erns.

But it doesn’t stop there. These overall patterns of behaviors can in turn be seen as part of a larger societal system: the flows of the market, the tech­nological chains of production and distribution, the bureaucracy, transportations and communications; even the system of governance, edu­cational system, media, judi­cial and healthcare systems—all of which reside within what­ever frames the eco­systems and the biosphere allow. And these systems can in turn be developed: You can go from fossil fuel to renewables, from constitutional monarchy to parliamentary represent­ation, from sub­sistence farming to industrial capitalism, and so forth. So that’s the third field of development.

Depending on how you see it, you can either view the systems as emer­gent patterns in the results in the concrete behaviors of many real, existing peo­ple—or you can see the many actions of individual people as deter­min­ed and guided by the overarching systems, which are larger than the behav­iors of any one person. Yet a cleverer way to view it is that behavior, psy­chology and systems continuously interact, or, more preci­sely, that they co-emerge; that they emerge together and determine one another.

And then there is the fourth field of development: culture. Here you have things such as norms, values, traditions, languages, art, philo­sophies, religious practices, gender roles, habits and customs of every­day life, sha­red imagined worlds, shared ethnic boundaries, cultural refer­ences, taken-for-granted facts, expectations—whole cons­tructed universes of sto­ries about the universe and our place in it.

The development of culture is the dev­el­­opment of our symbolized per­spective on reality.

Consider the differ­ence between contemporary France and its medieval predecessor. Would you say that culture has developed? Do people have more words, more nuanced pers­pectives, more univers­al­istic values? I think we can safely make that case.

I have thus mentioned four fields of development:


Figure: The four fields of development. The top two quadrants describe micro processes, the two lower ones macro processes. The left-hand quadrants describe “inner”, subjective development, the right-hand ones “outer”, objective development.


As you can see, there is one micro-macro axis (in this version it’s up and down, referring to things you study at the level of small, everyday inter­actions and singular people, vs. things you study on a massive scale: struct­ures, statistics, averages, and so forth) and one interior-exterior axis (left-right; referring to things that must be known and inter­preted, or that can be seen and described more “from the outside”). The two micro quad­rants (psychology and behavior) study single people and their every­day inter­actions, the two macro ones (culture and systems) study soc­iety as a whole. The two interior quadrants study that which is felt and exper­ienced (psych­ology and culture), the two exterior ones study “objec­tive” realities (behav­iors and systems).

Please note that this model actually has much more to it—I am merely giving you the very simple version.

You have early premonitions of this model already in the great Ame­rican sociol­ogist Talcott Parsons’ mid-20th century theory about “struc­tural function­alism”, but it was not quite there yet. Since that time, a num­ber of major thinkers have more or less independently come up with the exact model above: Jeffrey Alex­ander’s sociology (one of the top names in Amer­ican sociology, which still insists that macro phen­omena determine micro phenomena more than vice versa), Georg Ritzer’s meta­theory (the num­ber one walking encyclopedia of social science in the world, who thinks all four fields interact on equal grounds), Søren Brier’s cyber­semiotics (Den­mark’s coolest nerd star, who I once crashed a party to get to talk to, who found a more philosophically grounded model, by using an entirely diff­erent method), and Ken Wilber’s four quadrants (which is the one theory that is most clear on both the developmental aspects of all four fields, and their fractal relation­ship to one another). All four thinkers came up with more or less the same theory in­dep­endently of each other within a period of fifteen years following 1980. Wilber’s theory is the youngest, but also by far the most elegant one.

And then there’s a whole host of other, related, theorists who say other, but closely related, things: Jürgen Habermas, the late Roy Bhaskar, Ed­gar Morin, Fritjof Capra, and the Gulbenkian Commission… None of these people present this exact model, but they are all in the same holi­stic ball­park, saying roughly the same thing—and they all emphasize different parts of the story and work with different topics, of course.

And then there is another kind of thinkers who don’t necessarily like to divide things up into four distinct fields (because it can feel a little too mechanical and simplified, too much of Kant or even Descartes linger­ing), but who still say some­thing similar; i.e. that the different kinds of social phenomena emerge together and are entang­led in one another. Here you’ll find people like the physicist-philo­sopher Karen Barad, the poli­tical scientist Alexander Wendt, the political psych­­ologist Shawn Ros­­­­­en­berg, the philosophers Bard and Söderqvist—and many others, depen­ding on how far you are willing to stretch the argument. You can find versions of this model in psychology, psych­iatry, and even med­icine.

Basically I am saying, in some version or another, that this holistic vis­ion of reality and society has taken a strong hold during the last few deca­des—the simp­lified one I presented above is not necessarily the best one; it all depends on what analytical uses you are looking for.

Taking stock of a few general implications of such a model, we can say that:

  1. Both interior, subjective experiences and exterior, material real­ities are honored and seen as parts of reality. So if you ignore one field or try to reduce it to the others, you “flatten” your view of reality. Hence it is a “holistic” view, as opposed to a reductionist view.
  2. Many forms of thinking reduce all of reality to one of these four fields. Marxism and much of the scientism mainstream think that “only” the material realm is really real, spiritual idealism thinks that only psychological (“phenomenological”) reality is real, extreme postmodernism thinks that only culture and discourses are real, and so forth.
  3. The different fields of development are actually interdependent upon one anoth­er.
  4. You can view the different fields either as different aspects of real­ity (diff­erent areas of concern or subjects to study) or as differ­ent injun­ctions into or perspectives upon reality: as the home bases of diff­erent sciences and other forms of inquiry.

But let’s not talk more about theory in general; let’s get on with the point: These four fields of development—psychological, behavioral, sys­t­emic and cultural—interact with one another. Indeed, they define one another—they make each other possible, they set mutual limits, they cause hard crashes and burns in one another. They emerge together: psych­­o­logy, be­hav­ior, culture and system. They are in a perpetual devel­op­men­tal dance. They co-emerge. That’s the point.

By the way, by far the majority of professors in sociology, history, psy­cho­logy, economics, cognitive science, philosophy and the natural scien­ces still do not understand this model. And hence they spend meaningless life­times of work trying to resolve questions that have already been resol­ved. With mechanical, relentless tenacity they systematically keep igno­ring one or more of the four fields of development. They discuss, as if there was some great mystery here. They go on, and on, with long and purportedly intell­ectual discu­ssions. “What could it be? Does culture drive the econ­omy or the other way around?” And so forth. And so on.

At any rate, if you have actually understood this model and you are able to see its implications, you are now—in the department of general under­standing of society and reality—far ahead of most intellectual and scien­tific author­ities. Just like a fourteen years old modern kid is far ahead of the greatest medieval intellectuals, not because she is smarter, but sim­ply bec­ause the medieval intell­ectuals were inves­ted in (what are today) out­dated symbolic code systems, in outdated ideas. Congratulations.

Metamodern philosophy eats modern philosophy alive and spits on its grave, just like modern philosophy did to all earlier worldviews. But that’s not what this book is about, except the appendix. So let’s get on with it.

Marxian Blindness

Okay, so let’s try and see if we can solve the greatest murder mystery of all time: Why did communism kill a hundred million people? What was the murder weapon? It was the developmental imbalances between the four fields of development. Let me explain, dear Watson.

When Marx wrote, already before he became a full-fledged communist (the “Young Marx”), he displayed a number of traits that can safely be classified under what I have called the Postmodern value meme. (Note that I use the term “postmodern” rather differently from main­stream aca­d­e­m­ics—I use it as a developmental stage. Mainstream academia thinks of post­mod­ernism as rather being a strain of thought in the philo­sophy of the 1970s and onwards.) There was something about Marx, his way of thinking, of sensing the world, of grasping society, that might loosely be termed pro­gressive: ex­pressing values that correspond to a later stage of societal devel­opment than the one most prevalent in 19th century Europe.

As I discuss in The 6 Hidden Patterns of History, you can see this either as the culmination of a former kind of thinking (modernism) or an early form of the new kind of thinking (post­modern values). It’s either the pinnacle of modernism or an early form of postmodernism, depending on your perspective.

How is Marx “postmodern” in this sense? Marx’s vision is spiritual in a secular sense (humanity seeking self-att­ai­n­­­ment by knowing herself and becoming a consciously creative agent of the universe); it is egalitarian, dialectical (not one explan­a­tion or path holds the truth and reality isn’t seen as static and defined), relatively feminist (with a little help from his lifelong friend Frie­drich Engels), and its circle of solidarity includes all humans.

With some racist blind spots here and there typical of the period, Marx and Engels at least strived to include all people in an increasingly rational social ord­er—where such irrational things as “fetish­ism” (wanting money for money’s sake, or stuff for stuff’s sake) and “reification” (thinking that there was some­thing inherently real in arbi­t­rary human constructs such as God, money or our current political ideo­logy) would no longer determine our lives and govern our societies.

Most of all, you could say that Marx in some rudimentary sense was “postmodern” because he wanted to create a society that was not pre-modern, but still built upon something else than capitalism, a system in which everyday life and activities revolve about something other than monetary exchanges, where we are not “steered” by money in our organ­ization of, and participation in, everyday life.

And since capitalism and modernity are inherently inter­twined, the striving for a post-capitalist society is inherently post­­modern: it is that which, by definition, comes after modernity.[i]

The “real socialism” that followed during the 20th century was a kind of “state capitalism”, hence never achieving the non-capitalist ideal—in pra­c­tice, everyday life still revolved around money, materialism and consum­ption. But still, Marx’s values rather accurately reflect—or herald—an early form of what I call the Postmodern value meme; this certainly in­clud­es the vis­ion of a society that is free from alienation and excessive ine­quality.

In Marx’s time, there was really no research on developmental psychol­ogy—and certainly nothing that would resemble a four-dimensional poli­tical developmental psychology like the one presented in The Listening Society with the theory of effe­ctive value memes. Sure, you had some early glimmers of such developmental thinking, all crafted by Romantic thinkers: Rouss­eau’s stage theory of children; Schiller, Herder and others played with adult sta­ges of psycho­logical and develop­ment (recycled later, and more fam­ously, by Kierke­gaard).[ii] But none of this amounts to a political-psych­ological research program that can track and describe the overall develop­ment of larger demographics and socie­ties.

Today the situation is very different; we fin­ally have good and ample research to support the idea of people being at different developmental sta­ges—even if the scientific program is still, to our day, rudimentary. But we have something that Marx didn’t: a science of developmental psych­ology. This changes everything.

Let’s bring this puppy home. What am I getting at? Well, look at what Marx wrote about. He wrote about how he thought the economic system develops, and how that in turn affects other parts of society and people’s psyches.[iii] Marx wrote about economic theory, about the economic system above all. He believed that he was working for a society that would come after cap­ital­ism, one that would be non-capitalist: what he termed “com­m­un­ist”. Notwithstand­ing the limitations of his analysis of the econo­mic sys­tem (there were some, even if he correctly predicted a number of devel­op­ments), he failed to understand that a post-capitalist society would req­u­ire a corresponding post-capitalist psychological development of the pop­ulation in order to function, or even to emerge in the first place—as well as a corresponding behavioral and cult­ural develop­ment.

Hence, Marx was blind to three out of four fields of devel­opment. And so was the communist movement that followed. They had their eyes gouged out by materialist reductionism.

That’s the Marxian Blindness. Don’t let it infect you.

The Psychological Prerequisites of Socialism

What, then, would a political psych­ology of a genuinely func­tional “soc­ialist” popul­ation look like? Here’s a rough estimation; they would need to be:

  • extremely egalitarian, unimpressed by wealth and power;
  • extremely peaceful, non-violent; prone to resolve issues by dialogue and com­pro­mises;
  • extremely tolerant of differences and accepting of weaknesses in others;
  • capable of taking in and harboring a multiplicity of perspectives, and viewing the perspectives as enriching one another, being non-judgmen­tal towards others with differing views;
  • capable of autonomous critical thinking that goes beyond following the current norms, being able to recognize and bust autocratic, totalitarian tendencies and see through populist “simple solutions”;
  • prepared to change their own opinions if good arguments are presented;
  • focused on non-material and secular-spiritual issues in life, rather than mater­ial wealth and comfort, working for other rewards than money;
  • prepared to view themselves and their own interests in rela­tion to a larger system, preferably one in which all humans in the world are inclu­ded;
  • skilled at being inclusive in dialogues, with a battery of good techniques for democratically dividing speaking time, listening to one another and generally being sensitive interlocutors;
  • generally emotionally fulfilled and mature, hence difficult to manipulate, seduce, provoke or bribe, and generally less prone to emotional over­reactions;
  • in an emotional position where one is not driven by either economic fears, nor fear of military threats, ideally not even personal/emotional fears;
  • capable of understanding, acknowledging and actively counteracting pri­v­­ileges and stigmas of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disabilities, class back­ground and even personality types.
  • identifying with other things than nationalities, religions, ethnicities and your own status in society;
  • emph­asize long-term stability and ecological sustainability of the society they live in.

So that’s the kind of people who would need to be around for a socialist system to work at all. Lots and lots of them. Depending on other factors, you might need up to half of the adult population to fit this description.

As much as all this sounds like, I am not describing some “super-per­fect impossible goodie-two-shoes”. These people do exist in reasonable num­bers around the world today. You can check off all of the above boxes for a lot of people, without them being impossibly perfect. They are the highly functional, well-to-do, highly educated liberals—at least as these people often turn out after a more self-indulging period in their 20s. In other words: people at the Postmodern value meme.

In the most adv­anced coun­tries in the world today, like the Nordic ones, you have about a quarter of the adult population at this value meme. In a country like the US, the share is lower, unless you zoom in on New York or Calif­o­rnia.

Marx himself was at this Postmodern value meme. Not so strange really: He was privileged, self-made, intelligent, sensitive, successful, a lead­er; his wife a noble, his father-in-law a mentor and supporter, his pro­fessor a world-class philosopher, even by world-historical standards (Hegel), his best friend the son of a factory owner and also at genius level of intellect. Not that Marx lived a very easy life, but his was a privileged life that could spur his personal dev­elop­ment into a higher value meme. He was ahead of his time. How many people like this were around in his days? The percentage is almost zero, even in London, at the heart of the modern world.

If you grow up like Oliver Twist, the Post­modern value meme is just not go­ing to happen. It’s just not. You are going to be angry that they beat you as a kid, concerned with getting food, be easily seduced by promises, care little about foreign cult­ures, have little demo­cratic fiber and skills, be prone to want quick reliefs for your aching body and soul, be very anxious to get much richer by any means possible, not have the opportunity to educate yourself. That’s how I would function under such circumstances, and you probably would too.

So Marx wanted to create socialism in a place and time where there were, frankly speaking, no “soc­ial­ists”. Heck, most socialists aren’t even socialists. Think about it; significant demographics at the Postmodern value meme have only showed up in the most privileged and stable coun­tries, and only after a hundred years or more of capitalist indust­rialism and social reforms. By far the most peo­ple of the 19th and 20th cent­uries were at the Modern or earlier value memes.[iv]

In terms of psychological development, there were almost no true “soci­alists” around. Should it then sur­prise us that all the “real” socialist count­ries that showed up—Russia, China, and so on—in which popula­tions were gene­rally well below the Modern value meme, ended up repro­d­ucing crude and autocratic syst­ems?

And how many people at the Postmodern value meme would it take to run a “socialist” (genuinely postmodern and post-capitalist) society? Even the almost 25% of Sweden is not nearly enough. It’s not just that you need a majority, or at least a strong minority, to get your policies through in a demo­cratic manner (so that you can shape the institutions in a corres­pon­ding manner)—you also need an army of highly functional postmoder­nists to man all the key functions in such a society. You need teach­ers, politicians, community organizers, bosses, judges, police officers, ad­min­istrators who all genuinely embody the Postmodern val­ue meme.

They need to be everywhere: much like people at the Modern value meme are needed to man all the positions in today’s modern societies.

Too Dumb for Complex Societies?

A significant limitation to all this may be, to be fully functional at the Postmodern value meme, that you also need to be a relatively complex think­er—one who uses the postmodern values in an encompassing, nuan­ced, context-sensitive, syst­emic way. And as we discussed in The Listening Society, the cognitive stage of a person’s thinking may have substantial genetic or here­ditary causes (much like IQ, really). Only about 20% of a normal adult pop­ulation seems to develop to a stage of sufficiently complex think­ing, one that truly matches the postmodern ideas (this cognitive stage is called “sta­ge 12 Systematic”, according to The Model of Hierarchical Complexity).

This means that the Post­modern value meme, once it becomes domi­nant in a society’s culture, is often used in “flattened” and simplified ways that can become oppressive, or at least quite annoying, for most people, rather than genuinely inclusive and dem­ocratic.

In the Nordic countries today, you have a lot of people using flattened and simplified versions of the Postmodern values, and the result is often suffocating and alienating to many. For instance, you get excessive “poli­tical corr­ectness” and simplified versions of cultural feminism as people apply simple, linear, “flattened” versions of the pur­por­tedly sen­si­tive and inclusive norms, or when they apply these “sens­itive norms” as ways of pro­mot­ing their own moral worth at the ex­pense of others. This, quite under­stand­ably, leads to resentful populist counter-reactions.

Just to underscore this, let’s take a look at how intelligence (here meas­ured rather crudely as IQ) relates to political ideology and value mem­es. In Book One we talked about “cog­nitive stage” instead of IQ, but this is the best we’ve got research-wise. Apparently, childhood IQ scores predict fut­ure voting behaviors. Here are figures from the United King­dom, about 6000 people, in 2001.[v]


UK Party Voter IQ Average Comment
Green 108.3 Clearly based on postmodern values and environmentalism.
Liberal Democrats 108.2 The social-liberal party, “third player” in UK’s largely bipartisan system.
Conservative 103.7 The large center-right party, mostly modernist values.


103.0 The large center-left party, mostly modernist values.
UK Indep­en­dence (UKIP) 101.1 Eurosceptic, right wing populist, modernist/ traditionalist values.
British National 98.4 Nationalist, postfaustian/traditionalist values with some faustian (fascist, etc.) undercurrents.


If you look at the difference between the leaders of the IQ-league and the ones with lowest IQ, you clearly see that the scores map per­fectly onto the value memes. The parties that embody the later, or “higher”, value mem­­es seem to attract the more cognitively endowed parts of the popul­ation and the lowest value memes the less intellectually gifted. The pro­gressive parties have an IQ score five points above the mainstream, which in turn averages five points above the regressive parties.

Where­as there may be many different mechanisms at play in this strat­ification[vi] process, we can glean the tendency that higher value mem­es re­qu­ire more cognitively advanced people; except that they do not gather around the attractor point of socialism, but around Green Social Liberal­ism, which has turned out to be the real attractor or late modern society—hence the concen­tration of smarts around the Greens and the (social-) liberals.

Obviously, IQ does not in itself “cause” political progressiveness (in which case Hong Kong and Japan would be full of green social liberals, these being higher IQ populations) but it does, without doubt, inter­act with it in some way. The point here is simply to show that more prog­ressive views may have higher cognitive prerequ­is­ites and that a lot of peo­ple fall short on this measure.

In The Listening Society, we saw that over 60% of a normal adult population seems to reach the cognitive stages necessary for successfully under­stand­ing and operating the norms of a “modern” society. When it comes to post­mod­ern society, we are down to about 20%. For metamodern society—which is the main attractor ahead, as we shall see—we’re down to about 2%, at least in purely cognitive terms (how complex your thinking is).

What we’re looking at is a disparaging challenge to our very biology: We are creating a society which we are biologically unequipped to grasp and thrive in. Up until now, people have been smart enough for society. These days we are, as it were, running out of cognitive fuel. We’re not suffi­ciently cognitively complex to productively relate to the society that we our­selves have created—or rather, the society that has emerged, self-organ­ized, as the complex result of our ongoing inter­actions.

Luckily, there is a lot that can be done about this matter. One part of it has to do with “transhumanism” (changing humanity via gen­etics and technology) but that topic falls outside the scope of this book and is dis­cussed at length by authors like Oxford philosopher David Pearce. And of course, transhumanist development comes with considerable risks, which should best be discussed else­where.

Another part, which is more relevant to the metamodern political acti­vist, has to do with creat­ing a society that realistically manages all the diff­erent value memes and people at different levels of complexity and per­sonal develop­ment—as well as working to support the long-term advan­cement into higher value memes.

As you can see, a “socialist” society is completely implausible to crea­te in any genuine or sustainable manner unless you also have perhaps over 40% of the population genuinely at the Postmodern value meme, which may be achievable only if we manage to surmount some developmental lim­it­ations in the population at large.

Murder She Wrote

I’d like to present three more reasons why socialism never worked and no postmodern, or post-capitalistic, society ever materialized.

Reason One: “Pomos” creep others out. People at the Postmodern value meme are likely to alienate, creep out or otherwise pro­voke people of the earlier val­ue memes. Their world, their society and their morality often seem abst­ract, exagg­erated and suffocating to mod­erns and traditio­nalists, just look at how they often rage against “political correctness”, “social justice warriors” and identity politics.

One of the main differences between pomos (postmodernists) and the “memos” (metamod­er­nists) is that the latter include the perspect­ives of the earlier value memes and empathize with them (since the memos have a developmental, hier­arch­ical perspective which the pom­os don’t). The pomos just think there is something wrong with mod­erns and traditiona­lists, and that they need to “open up”, stop being so dogmatic and greedy, or that the spell of “bourgeois ideology” must be broken and so forth.

And indeed, this was what Marx and Engels wrote about when they used terms such as “ideology” and “false consciousness”; workers were not socialists because they were, in effect, brainwashed by their oppressors. Similar schemata show up again and again in post­modern thought: there is a structure or ideology that fools peo­ple into being non-socialists, non-vegans (“carnists”), non-environ­men­talists, non-feminists, mindless con­sumers, and so forth. With Rouss­eau, the pomos all believe some version of the idea that their own way of thinking is default, logical and bene­volent and that other people have been fooled and that something is pre­venting the underlying goodness in them to surface. This idea about de­masking and criticizing ideology is married to an underlying assump­tion of Rousseau’s “noble savage” (that modern hu­mans essentially are corrup­ted by society and deep down actually subscribe to all these nice-guy post­modern values), and it comes in so many forms: critical cultural studies, feminist epistemology, discourse analysis, narrative analysis and so forth.

There may be considerable explanatory value in many of these research fields, but they tend to entirely miss the point about developmental psych­ology. Pomos are unaware of the developmental stages and hence assume that all humans are inherently postmodern unless some external force prevents them from being so, and hence they try to shake people and wake them up: “What’s wrong with you!? Why aren’t you acting in your own obvious interest!?” This, of course, only rarely works, and it antagon­izes and pro­vokes folks who are modern and traditionalist. It puts psycho­logical dem­ands upon people that cannot be met by their factually existing minds.

That’s what metamodernists don’t do. They respect people’s stage of develop­men­t and have solidarity with the natural occurrence of their per­spectives and developmental journeys. This is to become all the more im­portant in the years to come as the pomos are going to make up a growing proportion of the population.

In order for a maj­ority pomo society to be genuine­ly “social­ist” (here just meaning inclusive, fair), and not creep the hell out of over half of the pop­ulation, it would still need to be led by a min­ority of memos who subtly but effectively snatch many of the key posit­ions in society.

For pomo-land to exist and function at all, you need to have a signi­ficant number of memos to man the steering wheels.

None of this was included any­where in Marxist thought or in any of its heirs. Lenin had the notion of an avant-garde, an idea which he had inhe­r­ited from other Rus­sian radi­cals, but he did not describe the developme­ntal psychology of such an elite. And he thought he could simply repro­gram people to be socialists by means of a combination of education, prop­aganda and viol­ence.

Reason Two: Socialist values require postindustrial abundance. But the problems with socialism don’t end there. Where do the pomo popula­tions of the world start showing up in significant numbers? Again, only in highly developed post-industrial countries. As long as life in gen­eral still revolves around indust­rial production, and most people still must endure hours every day in boring factories and partake in other menial, soul-corr­osive work, there’s just no way that people are going to become postmod­ern post-materialists. Why would they? If you get rich, it means you can stop wasting your life doing some­thing extremely boring. So you’ll want to get rich. And if your work is that unrewarding and uncrea­tive, of course you’re going to be in it for the money, to want compensa­tion for your trou­bles. You won’t become post-materialist.

Hence, the precondition for significant parts of the populations to dis­play the necessary psychologies is that you need to have a genuinely post­indu­s­trial society. But—and this is a big but—you also need the syst­em to function on a massive scale, preferably on a global scale. Just some islands of relative progressive values cannot create a truly postmodern society. This is because they still function within a larger modern, industrial cap­italist world­-system, which means that you need to make serious con­cess­ions to that same system.

Looking at some central parts of the current economic world-system, you have post-industrial islands which trade machine-made goods and abst­r­act services to others, but the world-system as a whole is still largely indus­trial. Hence, we can hardly expect the Postmodern value meme to take over on a global scale anytime soon, which would be necessary for any­thing like “social­ism” to function. I’ll get back to this part of the matter in my upcoming book Out­competing Capitalism.

Phew. And we’re still not done.

Reason Three: There simply aren’t enough pomos around to uphold the Postmodern value meme through­out society. For people to func­tion within a post­modern society, you would need to have a culture that cor­responds to this value meme. You also need the “cultural code” of post­modern society. You would need to have what we called “symbol-stage E Post­modern” readily available for people to “down­load” and then use in their everyday lives—i.e. people must gain access to the postmodern ideas and learn how they function early on in life. And this generally requires at least some higher edu­ca­tion within the hum­anities and/or critical social science.

But other than that, you must have an army of artists, writers, poets, come­di­ans, professors and others who recreate and transmit this cultural code—being critical, inclusive, multiperspectival, and all the rest of it—who make these ideas and symbols active and alive within society.

And even if you manage to institute a system of production that is non-capitalist, you must have some clever way of self-organizing people’s eff­orts, time and attention in an efficient manner that works on a trans­nat­ional scale—something other than the capitalist markets. You need a very efficient information processing system to uphold such an eco­n­omy—one that is more receptive to instant feedback processes, than is mod­ern capital­ism, rather than less. How else will you successfully coor­dinate the every­day work and activities of millions and millions of inter­connected people on the world market? This our Marxist friends never offer­ed us.[vii]

Alright. Now, dear Watson, can you see the murder weapon? Imagine you try to create a postmodern economic system, like “socialism”, except:

  • there are almost no genuine socialists (in a political-psychological sense of a corresponding effective value meme),
  • it is not sufficiently economically and technologically developed,
  • people are all stuck in games and incentives for non-socialist mot­ives (making money, gaining power, etc.), and
  • there is no postmodern culture that would support an inclu­sive multi­plicity of per­spectives.

What would happen? The society would simply fail to materialize the way you imagined. You would only be able to create it by force, never by spontaneous self-organization. And once you use force, people resist, and they get opp­ressed or killed. And once you have instituted the system by force, none of it behaves as you would expect, because in its very DNA, it is non-soc­ia­list. Hence, you get shortages, corruption and collapses. And you must respond with a reign of terror just to keep things in place, at least some­what. And lots of peo­ple die.

Mystery solved. Murder she wrote.

A Diagnosis of Our Time

All of this brings us to an understanding of what is fundamentally wrong with the world of today. It’s quite simple really. It’s, again, a developmen­tal im­bal­ance. Can you guess what it is?

It’s the obvious fact that we have an economic and technological world-system that has developed far ahead of the three other fields. We live in an incr­ea­s­ingly global, transnational, digitized, postindustrial world -syst­em, with an increasing number of “disruptive technologies”, i.e. inve­n­tions that redefine people’s lives dramatically. But we lack a correspond­ing glob­al, transnational, digitized, post­industrial system of gov­er­nance. So the system goes haywire and crea­tes large pockets of econ­omic, social and cultural losers around the world: the working and middle lower class­es in affluent societies, the ex­ploited poor in poorly governed and failed states, the animals suffering under industrial farming, the dis­enfranchised urb­an immigrant populations in ghettos and banlieues, clim­ate change refugees and other desperate migrants, the tri­bal and trad­ition­alist religi­ous popul­ations who suffer from confusion and alienation, the fish and other aquatic animals, the biosphere itself.

But this issue would be self-regulating if the populations, economic agents and leaders of the world were up to pace with the recent develop­ments. The issue is that we are not. That’s the issue. That’s what’s wrong with the world.

We lack a cultural sphere and understanding of our time, an over­arch­ing narrative that matches this new economic and technological order of the world. We, as a global humanity, lack the corresponding value meme. And we display behaviors that are unsustainable and downright destruc­tive, given the current systemic circumstances. In other words, we have fallen behind in cultural, psychological and behavioral develop­ment. As noted in Book One, we live in a “retarded world”; we have developed to slowly—mentally, culturally and emotionally.

Immense quantities of human and animal suffering are at stake here; if we fail to actively and deliberately generate the conditions that foster pers­onal growth, new behaviors and new cultural understandings, we cannot expect the coming age to be a fruitful transition to a postmodern or meta­modern soc­iety. We can expect confused and limited overreactions that worsen the maladies of people and animals around the world.

Today, the world-system, for all its wonder and power, is not functi­oning in a socially, economically or ecologically sustainable manner. We, the global community, have in some sense become as the Soviet Union—a global bronze colossus on feet of clay.

Thus, we must orchestrate an extensive moral, emotional and cultural devel­opment. I am not saying, as some idealistic observers think, that we should “follow our hearts” and “return to our moral intuitions and shared values”. The point is that our moral intuitions and shared values betray us; they can and must evolve.

To master this situation, to navigate the ongoing global “multi-dimen­sional crisis-revol­ution”, we must look to the subtlest and most intimate details of what it means to be a developing human being in an evolving soc­iety.

It is an ironic twist of fate that, in order to solve the hard and large pro­blems of the world-system, we must learn to look in­w­ards—into our emo­tional lives and into the nature of our intimate relation­ships with our­selves, one another and our place in the universe.

And we must do so, not as an individual matter of personal seeking, but as an inherently pol­itical issue that involves all members of society.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Of course, there were postmodern ideas and values that had yet to emer­ge in Marx’s days. For instance, Marx was ostensibly anthro­po­cen­tric, which means he did not sufficiently include animals or the biosphere in the cir­cle of solid­arity. The “young Marx” touched upon an environ­mentalist understanding, in his discussion about “metabolic rift”, but this was not central to his ensuing works. And he didn’t really venture into animal rights, as discussed in Gary Francione’s 2000 book Intro­duction to Animal Rights. For the appropriate passage in Marx, where he tries to defend human supremacy, you may consult The Philosophic and Economic Manu­scripts of 1844; in Robert Tucker’s Marx-Engel Reader, you can find it on page 75.

Marx’s (admittedly anthropocentric) environment­alism in the 2000 book by John Bellamy Foster, titled Marx’s Ecology. This book challenges the popular read­ing of Marx as being tied to an industrial-materialist thinking, as in Jean Baud­rillard’s 1973 book The Mirror of Production.

[ii]. Andersen, L. R. & Björkman, T., 2017. The Nordic Secret. A European Story of Beauty and Freedom. Falun, Sweden: Fri Tanke Förlag.

[iii]. To be sure, Marx allowed for some back-and-forth interactions bet­ween these diff­­erent fields, but he did not explicitly formulate the four fields of develop­ment, nor did he lucidly develop upon their interactions. Rather, we were left with many vague loose threads.

You probably know how the story goes from there; Stalinist “diamat” (dialectical materialism) insi­sted that you primarily need to change the economic system, and all else will follow; the Italian radical Antonio Gramsci felt that culture and cultural “hegemony” (the dominant, taken-for-granted culture) explain why peo­ple don’t become socialists; “human­ist Marxists” focused on peo­ple’s psychologies and per­sonalities (Erich Fromm) or on social-psycho­log­ical aspects like alienation (Joach­im Israel) or blamed the TV (Theodor Ador­no) or even the book clubs (Jürgen Haber­mas—even if he, of course, later updated the view of society to something much resembling the four fields I present here); and a few crazy people like Jean-Paul Sartre focused on agency, upon revolutionary action itself. And then you had some few geniuses, like the early Soviet thinker like Alexander Bogdanov (1873-1927), who, in his foreseeing attempt at a “syst­ems science”, intuited a shift of perspective towards a more holistic one that includes all four fields.

None of these thinkers quite did it. None of them hit a homerun. The worst of all these was of course the Stalinist diamat. Here you have the idea that the material conditions (the means of production and who owns them, and by what structure they are governed) in the last instance determine all that “softish woo-woo”, like culture, behavior and psychology (even if Stalin, like Marx conceded that ideas and theories also affect society). In this view, it is hardly surprising that these people believed—including Leon Tro­tsky—that if you can change these “hard” or “mat­erial” condi­tions, all else can and will follow. You will have a fair, free and non-exploit­ative soc­iety, if you only make everything publicly owned: at any price! So that’s why these people are prepared to purge and kill others and dis­respect any trad­itions and cultures and social structures. They believe that all of these “super­struct­ures” are made of clay, whereas economic con­ditions, the “base struct­ures”, are made of steel.

But the exclusive emphasis on concrete behavior might be even more murdero­us. Sartre’s ideas, reworked into an anti-col­on­ialist theory by the angry young Haitian Frantz Fanon—and with clear parallels in Mao Tse-Tung—held that stru­gg­­le, the concrete action of stru­ggle itself, is most real, and that a just society flows from it. This led to some of the most mindless “revolutionary” activities and mass killings, not­a­bly in China’s Cultural Revolution and Cam­bodia in the late 1970s.

Cambodia, under the Khmer Rouges, was arguably the most brutal site of the 20th century, looking at per capita kills: some 20% of the population dead in four years (contested figure, though). Pol Pot, the nick­named Cambodian dictator, spent his student years in Paris forming a separate Cambodian com­munist party there. He wasn’t very smart, but he read, I believe, Mao, Sartre, Fanon, Stalin and Marx. May­be—as some historians have argued—the US carpet bomb­ings in Cam­bodia (which took part during the Viet­nam War) played a part in the rise of this brutal power, the Khmer Rouges. But so did, in­disputably, poor Marxist and pseudo-Marxist theories about society.

What unites the spectacular failures of these theories? It is the fact that they don’t see that society consists of (at least) these four different fields of develop­ment—psychology, behavior, culture and system—and that you cannot spur development in the three other fields by forcibly driving the dev­elopment in only one field, but not the others.

[iv]. Friedrich Engels sought to describe the workers in the urban factories as pot­ential socialists—he noted, in his ethnographic work, that they see­med to abandon their religious beliefs once they had moved away from their villages. There were also some significant workers’ movements and short per­iods of impressive solidarity and self-organization. But was he descri­bing people at the Post­modern value meme? No. The impressive displays of solidarity and self-organization only show up when there is a clear common enemy (such as during a period of major strikes). The only time self-organizing syndicalist (anarchist) socialism has functioned on a somewhat larger scale was during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, where there was a very clear common enemy: the grim rise of the fascists.

See: Engels, F. 1845/1969. Condition of the Working Class in England. Moscow: Institute of Marxism-Leninism.

[v]. Dearya, I. J, Battya, G. D., Galec, C. R. 2008. Childhood intelligence predicts voter turnout, voting preferences, and political involvement in adulthood: The 1970 Brit­ish Cohort Study. Intelligence. Vol 36, Issue 6.

[vi]. “Stratification” means that society is divided into strata, such as classes or other grouping.

[vii]. It’s true; there have been some attempts made. One Scottish computer scientist, Paul Cockshott, has teamed up with an eco­nomist, Allin Cottrell, and tried to work out what a com­puter-driven communist system might look like for the European Union. Computer algorithms would coordinate the economy. But this is not a very convin­cing move unless they can show us the institutional analysis of how we get from here to there (i.e. unless they show us the societal attractors and how they work). And it’s highly quest­ionable if these two writers got the algorithms right; indeed, if it is possible to do so. That’s a lot of trust to put in faulty single human minds.

The Painful Dance between (In)dividuation and Differentiation

In larger and more com­plex societies, people seem to develop more individualized per­son­alities, values and world­views, not less. Or to be more specific and analytically correct, we could say that peo­ple in more complex societies develop more dividualized selves (borro­wing the term “dividual” from Gilles Deleuze, which replaces the “individual”). An important aspect of this is that people develop into higher value memes and, despite their apparent individualism, also seem to develop more universalistic, inclusive and non-sectarian values. The people of welfare-jacked Sweden display much higher average value memes than their Afghani fellow world citizens. You will, for instance, find more environmentalists and animal rights activists in Sweden than in Afghanistan. This is due to the dynamic, dialectical and painful dance between two poles: (in)div­id­uation and integration, an idea that has been pro­posed—albeit in simpler forms—by many theorists.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“It is often our highest hopes and dreams, the parts of ourselves that are most uni­ver­sal and most intim­ately held and cherished, that are not seen, heard, given recognition and successfully integrated into society.”

The classical sociol­ogist Émile Durkheim fam­ou­s­ly observed that modern society pro­gresses by increa­sing the different­iation of the division of labor, which in turn makes each person work with more and more individualized tasks, hence developing more unique skills and experiences. These unique contributi­ons are then integrated with each other in a more refined eco­nomy. Acc­ordingly, this was an analysis of what Durkheim called “diff­er­­­entiation” and inte­gra­tion.

Erich Fromm, the 20th century social psych­ologist, argued that the dev­elopment of human personalities evolve as each person finds an individu­al path and relationship to life, which in turn always reasserts more uni­versalistic values and strivings. Fromm used the word “individuati­on”—but since I believe in the “divi­dual” rather than the “individual” I’ll stick with “divi­duation”.

You can find a corres­ponding idea in classical Amer­ican theor­ists of social psych­ology and education, such as George Herbert Mead and John Dewey. And, of course, you find similar theories in contemporary social philosophers like Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth. And all over phi­lo­sophy, really. And there are even versions of it in complexity and sys­tems’ science.

I would like to offer a similar but distinct bid for this theory, one that relates more closely to the pre­sent theory of the increasing intimacy of control and history’s developmental direction—a theory of “dividuation” and integration.

The idea here is, again, that richer, larger and more complex societies offer much greater opportunities for people to develop unique exper­ien­ces, skills, ideas, relationships and perspectives. Societies that integrate larger quantities of human activities, natural resources and flows of infor­mation create fertile soil for the growth of a myriad of human perspectives and exp­er­iences. Greater economic and social integration spur higher dividua­tion: People are find­ing and re­casting their “selves” and their rela­tion to life on new, higher and more subtle levels.

The tragedy of the matter is that this increasing dividuation also en­tails a corresponding difficulty for each of these unique souls to find ways to really match their inner drives, hopes, motives, ethics, skills and distin­ctive gifts with the world around them. If you identify as a farmer, a family mem­ber and a good Christian, these identities are relati­vely simple to act upon and it is rather easy to have them accommo­dated by your social surr­oun­dings. If you instead become a vegan whose greatest talent is to write poetry and criticize soc­iety, your family members and collea­gues are less likely to be as accomm­odating.

It is often our highest hopes and dreams, the parts of ourselves that are most uni­ver­sal and most intim­ately held and cherished, that are not seen, heard, given recognition and successfully integrated into society. Hence, more and more people simply feel alienated. It is not really that the world has become a colder, lonelier place. It’s just that the integration of these many unique souls is a more complicated and difficult matter. Be­cause people have come farther in their dividuation, more people also feel estra­nged, lonely and subtly dissatisfied.

As alienated and highly dividuated people we naturally struggle to find new social settings and environments in which we can truly “be our­selves”—hence the obsession with this imperative in today’s culture. Sometimes we are at least partly successful in these strivings and feel we have “finally found a home”: in a particular social network of like­minded activists, in the expressions of certain forms of music, anti-establishment sub-cultures, more personally sensitive forms of business management and so on. We find ways to re­int­e­g­r­a­te our new selves into corresponding­ly new social settings. But by doing so, we have again increased the inte­gration of society. We end up creating new and even subtler forms of opp­ression. From there on, we can d­iv­id­uate even further, starting the painful cycle again: Our new homes help us grow, but even­tually we may outgrow them and end up demanding even more delicate forms of integration.

Modern society, for all its mechanisms of intimate control, has produ­ced more highly dividuated people than any former society. And, as a re­sult, you have a whole army of sensitive souls who feel unseen and mis­under­stood. Society as a whole becomes increasingly emotionally sensitive and in great­er need of more subtle, profound and complex forms of social inte­gration. When such integration fails, life feels empty and meaningless. The road to greater freedom and higher development of the self is a beau­tiful—but also tragic and ultimately very lonely—journey.

As such, modern society suffers from a chronic lack of deeper and more com­­­plex forms of integration. Societal development spurs the growth into high­er stages of personal development, but higher stages of develop­ment create an increasing pressure upon society to break the prevailing alien­ation.

But—and this is a big but—every attempt to create more intimate in­te­gration risks becoming a new source of oppression. Whenever peo­ple try to relate to one another at a deeper and more intimate level, inclu­ding larger parts of our authentic emotions and inner selves, to some it may become suffocating and pressuring.

New oppression—albeit on a higher, subtler level. When we, for instan­ce, create new playful ways of org­anizing our corp­orations, in which every­one is invited to par­take more authentically, we also share larger parts of our inner selves and are expected to show up more “fully” and to be more emotion­ally invol­ved. But some are bound to not quite “feel it” and will necessarily feel pressured and subtly mani­pul­ated. When we create greater social eng­ag­e­ment and caring, those who are unable to ex­perience the same emo­tions feel suffocated and that unrealistic expect­ations are being shoved down their throats.

New oppression. When we democratize governance and more people get involved in decision-making, many of us feel stuck in endless discuss­ions. When we introduce mind­fulness and yoga at work, some will feel they are exp­ected to waste their precious time with mean­ingless woo-woo. When we make our organizations more pers­onal, some of us feel stuck in more personal issues and conflicts in which our vulnerabi­lities become all too apparent. When we create grea­ter tran­spar­ency, some feel more sur­veilled.

New oppression. When we use “nud­ging” to promote sustainable and prosocial behavior, some will feel that others are pulling their strings. When soc­iety bec­omes more tolerant and multi­cultural, some of us feel con­fusion and estrangement as we are ex­pected to succ­essfully interact with people from more varying cultural backgrounds—and may be sha­med as racist if we fail to comply. When social move­ments adopt more profound comm­unication techn­i­ques (such as Art of Host­ing and Theory U), people can easily feel drawn in farther than they had ex­pected or wan­t­ed. When spiritual and “self-development” comm­unities create more in­ti­mate ways for people to share their inner lives, some feel pressured to over­share and end up having their intimate secrets used against them.

When we feel alienated, we seek reintegration. Metamodern politics, and the listening society, must empower people to reintegrate the parts of life that have been spli­ced into shards: the personal, the civic and the profess­ional. We must be allowed to live as whole human beings. We need to live fuller lives. We need to be able to show up as a vulnerable, real per­son at work, and do work that is meaningful to us in terms of our values and views of society.

But the dark side of deeper reintegration of the spheres of life—the per­sonal, the civic and the profess­ional—is the emergence of new and more subtle forms of oppre­ssion. Integration is necessary for more com­plex soc­i­eties to function, but it can always, sooner or later, become contro­lling or even icky and creepy.

This is the tragedy at hand: a painful wheel turning from integration, to oppression, to resistance and eman­cipation, to greater dividuation and alienation, back to new integration.[i]

The different political strands of mainstream Western politics relate to different parts of this wheel of dividuation and integration. None of them have successfully identified the whole process.

Socialism is largely an integrative movement, seeking to create greater integration by means of democratically governed bureaucratic measures, working against alienation—beginning already with the pre-Marxist soci­a­lists. Libertarianism and neoliberalism defend the rights of the individu­al against oppression, but they largely lack an understanding to balan­ce out the alienating eff­ects of mod­ern society and its way of turning every­thing into a matter of money, material gain and calculated exchange.

Fascism and populist nation­alism can be viewed as integrative over-reactions to the alienation of modern society, seeking to revive obsolete forms of community and belonging (corresponding to earlier value mem­es). And ecologism is larg­ely an inte­grative movement, seeking to re­inte­grate human life into the biosphere and often into local comm­uni­tarian initiatives.

The metamodern view is to support the necessary reintegration of high­ly dividuated modern people into deeper community—or Gemein­schaft—but to do so with great sensitivity towards the inescap­able risks of new, subtler forms of oppression.

Hence, the task is to balance out and support the forces of inte­gra­tion and dividuation. This is what the listening society must be able to do.[ii] Nobody said it was going to be easy. But there it is: The increasing intimacy of control is linked to higher personal freedom, though in a diffi­cult and pain­ful manner that easily spirals off into oppression. We must relate prod­uctively to this dynamic.

See the model below for a graphic summary:


If things go well, the turning of this wheel—for all the pain and com­plication it involves—leads to higher freedom, to a profound kind of soc­ietal pro­gress. We dividuate as people and integrate in more complex ways, and this changes the nature of society, which in turn affects who we are as human beings. If it goes poorly, it leads to oppression and/or alien­ation—and sometimes fierce overreactions against these.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. All of this is interspersed, of cour­se, with periods of disintegration and conform­ism, when things fall apart and people revert to earlier stages of development for a period of time—and by renewed resistance and struggle. Far from all emancipation and integration projects are successful and sust­ain­able.

[ii]. To make matters more complicated some authors, like Daniel Siegel, use the word “integration” to mean both differentiation and linkage. In this vocabulary, then, integration is the overall process whereas its two components are differentiation of different elements and their interlinking. The way I use the term, it is juxtaposed with differentiation.

Why Communism Failed

What went wrong with the Soviet Union and the com­munist revolution can hardly be said to hinge upon the wrongdoings or moral flaws of any single person like Joseph Stalin. Or Vladimir Lenin, for that matter. It’s true that Lenin was a kind of authoritarian dev­iation from mainstream Marxist socialism, but it is also a fact that the only kind of socialist system (in name if nothing else) that has ever existed on any larger scale has been of the authoritarian bent. If you list all of the libertarian socialists, anarchists and left-wing Marxists, these are all theorists and philosophers. If you list the leading authoritarian soc­ialists, these are all real leaders with real power. Coincidence?

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“Trotsky wouldn’t have saved the communist experiment. Nor would Lenin had his health been better.”

It’s not a coincidence. Some people like to say that “real socialism has never been tried”. But as you’ll see, it has never been tried because it has never been possible in the first place. And this impossibility is exactly what has derailed all real attempts.

Let’s go on with the story. Lenin’s doctrine which guided the 1917 rev­olution (or coup) was an authoritarian dev­iation of the ideals of sociali­sm, effectively banning worker control of factories and other socialist elem­ents, and the other Bolshevik leader, Leon Trotsky, soon followed this elitist top-down per­spective.

Lenin died in 1924, Stalin took over and from there on it was mounting tot­alitarianism and violent oppression, culminating in the 1937-38 Great Purge. If Stalin hadn’t won the power stru­ggle, other and similar problems had still been likely to occur. Stalin’s con­test­ant Trotsky was even crazier. He was more optimi­stic about a communist revolution in Ger­many (and less opti­mistic about Stalin’s “soc­ial­ism in one country”) and would thus have been likely to have ado­pted a blatantly aggressive foreign policy—more wars, more peo­ple killed. Trotsky also had a more radical vision of the malleability of the human mind; that everyone could become Aristotle—an exceedingly dan­gerous and cult-like idea. Quoting Trotsky himself:

“It is difficult to predict the extent of self-government which the man of the future may reach or the heights to which he may carry his technique. Social construction and psycho-physical self-education will become two aspects of one and the same process. All the arts—literature, drama, painting, music and architecture will lend this process beautiful form. More correctly, the shell in which the cultural construction and self-education of Communist man will be enclosed, will develop all the vital elements of contemporary art to the highest point. Man will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhyth­mic, his voice more musical. The forms of life will become dyna­mically dramatic. The average human type will rise to the heights of an Ari­stotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”[i]

There’s an interesting tension here: On the one hand, Trotsky appr­oa­ches some of the metamodern developmental perspectives, seeing the hum­an being as a project of playful self-recreation; on the other hand, he falls into the traps of utopianism (the non-relative kind) and idealizing his own image of what a good human being would be like. He didn’t realize that the only credible form of utopia is relative, and he never referred to any sound theories of psycho­logical devel­opment. He simply believed that once a socialist society had been achieved, then a new and better human­ity would emerge and a just social order would come into being once and for all. Consequently, everything became a means to this impossible end; after all, the zealous revolutionary would think, what’s a few millions deaths if that’s the price of achieving an absolute utopian ideal. This, of course, puts one on a path to totalitarian­ism. We must thus stay clear of the mistakes rep­re­sented by Trotsky and others like him. These are dan­gerous intellectual waters we are cross­ing.

Present-day Marxists often say that critics of Marx have failed to grasp the depth and entirety of Marx’s writings, in particular the three volumes of his magnum opus, Capital. But if you read the writings of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, there can be little doubt that they knew their Marx very well. And if you read e.g. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s bio­graph­ies, it is apparent that even Stalin was very intellectually gifted: rea­ding Dar­win at thirteen in one sitting, becoming an acclaimed poet at 16, master­­minding an impressive bank robbery at 29, and managing an in­credibly large and diverse workload as military leader and head of state—all while producing writings that were not necessarily innovative, but cer­tainly well written and incisive. For instance, you have Dialectical and Historical Materi­alism, in which he relates to not only Marxist doctrine but also a wider philosophical canon including Hegel, Kant, Feuerbach and others. As such, I seriously doubt that a better and more detailed reading of Marx is the solution to the problems of Marxism, communism and soc­ialism.

As you may know, Trotsky was eventually murdered on Stalin’s orders by a Soviet agent with an icepick to the head in Mexico City. But com­munism was doomed to fail long before this. Trotsky wouldn’t have saved the communist experiment. Nor would Lenin had his health been better.

Let’s find out what really went wrong.

“…an appeal to ‘human nature’ and her inn­ate individuality is of course a rom­antic reciting of beliefs rather than a behavioral-scientific explanation.”

The Mainstream/Libertarian Account

What then can account for the structural failure of the communist pro­ject, as viewed altogether? Well, in all places where you see communism (or “socia­list” states claiming to attempt to achieve full communism, which is when the state itself has been made obsolete), there are one-party syst­ems, human rights abuses, limits to civil liberties and severe problems with the eco­n­omy—as recent relapses in Venezuela re­mind us. These socie­ties sim­ply don’t last; their social sustainability is quite limited.

I suppose you’ve heard the common wisdom response? “Communism was not just a nice idea that turned out to be terrible in prac­tice—it was a terrible idea that was consequently (and predictably) terrible in practice!” All mainstream critiques of communism argue along these lines, more or less. This holds true from more sophisticated versions, like in the Polish philo­sopher Leszek Kołakowski’s meticulous studies[ii] of the inherent flaws of Marxism, over Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Ene­mies, to Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s massive, intense literary mas­ter­piece The Gulag Archi­pelago, which derives the horrors of comm­unist forced labor camps directly from Marxist-Leninist doctrines.

This line of argument (often put forth by libertarians and conserva­tives, but increasingly by everyone) holds—more or less explicitly—that comm­unism was a mistake be­cause it failed, morally and intel­lect­ually, to under­stand human nature it­self. This is the case even in Solzhenitsyn’s exist­en­tialist account.

According to the libertarian mainstream account, humans are not coll­ectivist beings who value equal­ity over all—so the argu­ment goes—they are freedom-loving individuals, who need to find their own paths in life in order to find meaning and dignity. As such they must be allowed to com­pete on free markets, serving them­selves first—in fair exchanges with one another, where goods and respect are earned by hard work and good char­acter. They must reap the rewards of ind­ividual action, of innovation, of reason­able and free competition. In this view, the closer you come to a libertarian capitalist standpoint, the farther away you are from Gulag and the secret police knocking on your door.

But concealed beneath the nice-sound­ing libertarian creeds of a “free­dom-loving indiv­idual”, is also a somewhat darker assu­m­ption: that peo­ple are most often rather selfish, and, the reasoning goes, if you try to cre­ate a society in which this truth is not honored, it will backfire seri­ously—be­cause it can ultimately only be built on self-deceit. Instead, the argu­ment goes on, we should build a soc­iety in which people can work for their en­lightened self-interest, which will generally produce more sustain­able rela­tions, more productive behaviors, and a greater abun­dance of goods and ser­vices on the markets (both quality and quan­tity).

As in Adam Smi­th’s classical 1776 notion of “the invi­sible hand”, this arg­­u­ment marries a belief in freedom to a meas­ure of con­servatism; a sober and real­istic look at peo­ple’s moral qualities and real behaviors. It’s true that Smith warned about the corrosive effects of repetitive factory work, but his analysis stopped there. If we let people work self­ishly under controlled cir­cum­stances (policing, rule of law, private property, consu­mer rights, etc.), then they will, on average and over time, do some­thing that is coll­ect­ively good.

Hmm, okay boomer. There may be some truth to these received wisdoms of our day and age. But upon closer inspection, such an appeal to “human nature” and her inn­ate individuality is of course a rom­antic reciting of beliefs rather than a behavioral-scientific explanation. They just make vague assum­p­tions about “human nature” and engineer morally weighted conclusions from there. This mainstream account of why communism failed has pretty weak explanatory power.

But aren’t there yet more general and structural causes for the spect­a­cular failures of communism? I’m glad you asked, because indeed there are.

“The non-moralistic point is important here […] sustainable, fair and dynamic societies are not created by the purity of your soul and its habits of self-flattery.”

A Jammed Information Feedback System

If we’d like to take it one step farther towards a more solid critique, we can look at the issue from the perspective of society’s information pro­cessing.

From this perspective, we can see that economic central planning is often a bad idea. The demand for goods and services is extremely difficult to predict on a large scale, so it is more intelligent to let many different agents make all the small decis­ions, “as if their busin­esses depended upon it”, rather than letting the gov­ernment make a five-year plan and be done with it. Simply because these many agents, working with varying time­frames and perspectives, can pro­cess much more infor­mation, they can make more calibrated, sustain­able and inno­­vative decisions.

Once you have committed to a five-year plan, there is bound to be any number of errors: shortages and unwanted surpluses. People will have enor­mous incen­tives to trade with one another, to remedy the short­ages and do away with the surpluses—hence de facto reopening a free market, a rather innocent version of the “black market”. But for the socialist plan­ning to work, large parts of such free trade need to be illegal.

If there are such strong incentives for doing something that is illegal, the legal system must be stretched out to deal with a lot of people and sit­uations. And for a legal system to realistically do that, it has to perform a lot of quick trials (or go after the “kulak” farmers who insist on producing their own goods). Hence the quality of the rule of law decreases, hence people stop respecting the system altogether, hence corruption becomes ramp­ant—in exactly the kind of system that depends upon the goodwill, mutual trust and soli­darity among citizens.

I am simplifying to a semi-violent extent, but please bear with me; we are looking at some of the basic principles.

And from there on, the legal system spirals out of control and begins punishing people very severely and rather arbit­rarily, and from there on the incentives for everyone are to be very careful and suspicious and to collect as much political power as possible. And the way to do that is by spying on others, and informing, so that you have more information, more juicy thr­eats to make, and more favors to call. All of these things become more impor­tant for your survival (and prosperity) than being an efficient office clerk or entre­preneur. Gain power, don’t rock the boat.

And from there on, the incentive of the political leadership becomes to hide some of the bad stuff that’s going on, because you need the legiti­macy of the system in order to legitimize your power, your power being the only protection from being swallowed as the revolution begins to eat its own children in a spying-reporting slugfest. So you need to control the press and other media, which means people get even less reliable inform­ation to make decisions and regulate their behaviors correctly—which messes up decision making even more, across the board. And people thus fail to coordinate their actions at a large scale and over longer stretches of time, which means more shortages and errors; which means more incen­tives for corrup­tion.

And in order to defend the false positive image conjured up by the con­trolled media that people no longer trust, you have to make parades and celebrations and fake display villages—lots of them—so that people will bel­ieve that things are alright and keep up the enthusiasm. And peo­ple will need to show up and be enthused at such occasions in order not to seem suspect, which in turn makes them start to genuinely insist they live in a fantastic society since the least convinced ones will be view­ed as most suspect. It is a kind of Stockholm syndrome, by which hostages begin to love and admire their captors.

This is classical cognitive dissonance: People will genuinely believe things are awesome because it’s too dangerous not to. And this again mess­es up any hope of self-corrective feedback cycles. As the hist­orian Anne Apple­baum and many other for­eign travelers in the Soviet Union noted, Sov­iet citizens would often—ami­dst obvious drud­ge­ries—empha­tically insist that theirs was a superb soc­iety. Gulag survivor Solzhenitsyn descr­ibed in his books how people would come to the labor camps and insist upon keeping their beliefs in the benevolence of the Soviet Union, even as they were being beaten, starved and degraded.

The social dyn­amics of religious cults come to mind here. It is as though the comm­unist pro­ject, by its inherent dynamics, drew people into a nation­wide cult: a dyn­amic followed even down to gory details like “cult of per­sonality” and the cult-like, or at least extremely sectarian, organi­zation of Trot­skyist org­anizations arou­nd the world.

And indeed, what would a society run by, let’s say, the Scientologists look like? We may have an example in present-day North Korea; a surviv­ing spawn of the Soviet Union. The similarities between Scientology and North Korea are strik­ing, even down to the level of com­portments and de­mean­ors displayed by those who harass deviants from the dogma.

However, once the spell is broken and society collapses, traumas surface and abound. Today’s happ­iness research lays its verdict: Post-communist soc­ieties are the least hap­py (relative to their levels of econo­mic pros­perity), and the longer a coun­try stayed under communist rule, the less happy the pop­ula­tion.

Other measures also suffer a special “communist penalty”: lower inter­personal trust, loneliness, cor­r­­uption and poor public health lingering on for dec­ades. In terms of cultural and political prog­ressivity, these soc­ieties also relapse dra­m­at­ically: Poland turns to tradition and Catholicism, East Ger­many gene­rates more than its fair share of neo-nazis, Russia becomes chauv­inist (and born-again Orthodox) and forgets its former communist cosmo­politanism and dreamy gaze at space colonization, China’s new open­ness is only skin deep, still being pro­foundly author­itarian and nation­alist—and North Korea becomes a down­right patriarch­al, racist caste syst­em on sur­veill­ance steroids, literally worse than any­thing George Or­well could have dreamt up.

Phew. Where were we? So communism is bad, which has to do with a vicious spiral that grows from an inefficient way of organizing the mar­ket, a case of jammed real-time information processing—rather than any rom­antic notion of a violated “human freedom” or vague general spe­c­ul­ations about the nature of humanity. The violations of human rights flow from this jamming of the information system, from a chronic failure to successfully coor­dinate human behavior in the millions.

The non-moralistic point is important here—and obvious, in a way. We all have a tendency of casting our beliefs about humanity and society in moral terms. And we tend to flatter ourselves: If only people “realize” that our own beliefs are the correct ones, if they could only bring them­selves to see the true beauty of what we see, then life would be so much better. But sustainable, fair and dynamic societies are not created by the purity of your soul and its habits of self-flattery. Good societies are created by a) corr­ect analysis, b) smooth inform­ation pro­cessing for the coordina­tion of human agency, c) the dynamic bal­an­­cing of differ­ent powers—and d) the dialectical conflict and mutual interdepen­dence bet­ween diff­erent political interests and ideas.

These features of a good society can be brought about more or less deli­berately; they emer­­­ge either as the result of planned act­ions, or throu­gh blind processes that occur beyond our understandings (but for which we often like to snatch the credit)—and most often as a strange dance be­tween these two: the deliberate and the stumbled-upon.

There was really nothing morally “lower” about the communist experi­ment, compared to the ideas of the American Revolution, (or the French Revolution for that matter). If you look at the “foun­ding fathers”, Thomas Jefferson kept slaves, even got one of them pre­g­nant, and Benjamin Frank­lin fabricated juicy lies about British atro­ci­ties—writing in the pa­pers under several false names and claiming to have witnessed colorful barb­aric acts committed by Indians, pur­portedly orchestrated by the British, in effect relying on racism. Most of the Declar­ation of Indep­endence is not about human rights and equality, but is raging against the cri­mes of the British “tyrant”. After all, this was the writing of fiery revo­lu­tionaries, not human rights activists.

These guys weren’t necess­arily any “nicer” than Lenin and Trotsky; and certainly not nicer than people like Emma Gold­man or Rosa Luxemburg. They just happened to be on the beat with some ideas and societal devel­op­ments that turned out to be highly competitive, hence leading to relati­vely sus­tainable societal structures. The American ideas of 1776 were sim­ply better aligned with the long-term attractors than the Russian ones in 1917.

“the meta-ideology of modernity turned out to be not communism […] not fas­cism, not the night watchman liber­tarian mini­malist state, not anar­chist communes, not even social demo­cracy (nice try, thou­gh)—but Green Social Liberalism.

Marx Had the Wrong Meta-Ideology

Both vers­ions of modern­ity, capitalism and communism, brought great good and great evil. Communism enriches and modernizes society, and it kills lots of people. So does capitalism. But one version still turned out to be preferable to the other and thus won out: capitalism allied with a multi-party system.

A lot of the weaknesses of the purportedly Marxian societies can be ex­plained by the fact that there weren’t several parties (with minor excep­tions, such as the con­tem­porary Chinese tolerance of small oppos­ition parties). This is a major diff­er­ence to liberal democracy. Even in dis­orderly and corrupt Italy, one gov­ernment can always be exchanged for another. This guarantees rudimentary acc­ount­ability.

So why were the comm­unist societies one-party systems? Bec­ause the Marxists believed only they embodied the meta-ideology; that they embod­ied the actual, deep structures of how societies evolve and operate. As such you can legitimize the self-organization of society as a whole: The meta-ideo­logy is not any one position within soc­iety, but it con­stitutes over­arching ideas about the fabric of society itself. So Marxism does not compete with liberalism, but with liberal parliamentary demo­cracy itself. It is not just an ideology, but an attempt at a meta-ideology—like liberal democracy. If communism reaches a certain level of influence, it thus wipes out all competing parties.

If Marxism is a meta-ideology, it makes sense to organize society as a whole within the frame­work of what is anal­ytically true either way to the comm­unist mind. As such, communism was prone to be built on top of formerly autocratic, pre-democratic societies, where it could simply super­sede the earlier form of governance, inheriting the strong state institutions that were not balanced by a strong parliament and division of powers.

But this is not unique to communism. When the Am­er­ican Revol­ution took hold, the elites of the early days also worked to keep a one-party syst­em. This however broke down during the early 19th cen­tury when the vote was extended to non-elite groups and there was a rise of populist politics under President Andrew Jackson, with an electoral base in the southern states. All meta-ideologies set the frame­work for soc­iety as a whole, for its very definition of what society is.

Stop for a second to consider the words “holistic” and “totalita­rian”. They are, in effect, the same word. When you have a theory about the whole of soc­iety, it makes sense to relate to it in a way that tries to grasp, and change, the whole of it. To relate to the “whole”, we must relate to the “totality”, even try to steer and navigate it. A challenge presents itself: How can we be hol­istic without falling into the traps of 20th century totali­tarianism?

In truth, of course, the meta-ideology of modernity turned out to be not communism but rather what I have called Green Social Liberalism, the attractor point modern societies gravitate towards. Not comm­un­­ism, not fas­cism, not the night watchman liber­tarian mini­malist state, not anar­chist communes, not even social demo­cracy (nice try, thou­gh)—but Green Social Liberalism.

The more modernized a society becomes, the more clearly it manifests Green Social Liberalism, something the Nordic countries have become prime examples of as I have written about in The Listening Society. In countries like Swe­den, all parties in effect start to become one version or another of “green social-liberals”.

Much can be said in the analytical (and moral) defense of Marx, but after all, he did not claim that a huge middle class would grow up through the dynamic inter­relation between private enterprise and public welfare, or that these populations would increasingly adopt individualism and cos­mo­politanism, identity politics (gender, ethn­icity, sexuality, youth sub­cult­ures) and eco­logical awareness as the ecological limitations of soc­iety’s grow­th be­came apparent. That’s just not what he wrote, I’m sorry.

Marx tried to identify the meta-ideology, to formulate it clearly, so that people could create political movements around it or otherwise navigate the world with its help. He made some important contributions, but he got some of the funda­mental dynamics wrong. Analytical—not moral—mis­takes that nevertheless cost many mill­ions of lives. Oops.

But still, the very fact that communism was an attempt at a meta-ideo­logy, and that Marx got some important dynamics right (that capitalism is crisis-prone, for example), gave the organization of “The Communist Par­ty” some nearly tran­­­scen­dental qualities in the eyes of its followers; attrac­ting large parts of the 20th century intell­ectuals, apparent per­haps in Fran­ce especially. The party was seen not only as “a party” with some “opin­ions”, but, not unlike the American creed, a kind of manifest dest­iny, of history’s dial­ectics made flesh. That’s of course also what made it so danger­ously seductive, so blinding.

What we tend to forget, however, is that our current political status quo was created by a similar kind of meta-ideology; that of liberal democracy and the Enlightenment. Its structures were brought about by abrupt turns, and the carefully engineered ideas of leading thinkers were instituted under political struggles for mono­polies of violence (like Mont­esquieu, but there were of course many others). A jerky ride of revolution, counter-revolution, conservation and reformation produced the current meta-ideology and its supremacy.

Why then am I saying all this? I want to draw your attention to the fact that communism failed to change the games of everyday life, but other meta-ideologies have been successful in doing so, and future meta-ideologies can do the same.

The conclusion, then, is not to avoid all holistic visions of society, to avoid all meta-ideologies, but to make damn certain you get them right from the beginning.

Again, so if Marx ended up non-linearly killing a hundred million—how many did Mont­es­quieu save? How many instances of torture has he pre­vented? It’s a fair question.

“…the relative failure of the communist experi­ments does not per­manently discredit all attempts to change the games of every­day life, to evolve the dynamics by which we live, love, trade, compete and coop­erate. If anything, the victory of liberal demo­cracy, and its grav­itation towards Green Social Liberalism, shows us that such dev­elopments are in­deed poss­ible.”

Communism Is “Game Denial”

The cen­tral issue of communism’s failure was not that of some eternal, God-given “essence of human­ity” be­ing viol­ated, but something far more mundane: that the games of every­­­­­day life were misunderstood and/or denied.

This led to a serious glitch in the self-organization of society, which—over a period of decades—led to a painful form of social disintegration and resulting opp­ression. Amidst all their atrocities, communist societies were rel­ati­vely functional for a while, but their social sustainability was limited—much more so than lib­eral democracy with capitalism and welfare (the sustain­ability of which is, of course, also limited in time, as all things under the sun). And so they lasted for shorter periods of time.

From this viewpoint, two conclusions become appar­ent. The first one is, again, that the relative failure of the communist experi­ments does not per­manently discredit all attempts to change the games of every­day life, to evolve the dynamics by which we live, love, trade, compete and coop­erate. If anything, the victory of liberal demo­cracy, and its grav­itation towards Green Social Liberalism, shows us that such dev­elopments are in­deed poss­ible.

Rather, the failure of communism serves to underscore that you must make correct assessments of people’s behaviors—in these particu­lar times and places in history—in order to create a sustainable social order. If you make un­realistic assessments about how people function, you set in mo­tion vicious cycles that lead to truly terrible results. But on the other hand, if you fail to understand what attractors lie ahead, you stall hist­orical progress, taking the losing side in history, which in the long run causes even more abrupt chan­ges and catastrophic outcomes—for inst­ance, that we might have global ecological catastrophes.

The second conclusion is that “game change” already has occurred throughout history, and that it is a measure of society’s progress: If, and only if, the games of everyday life become fairer and more forgiving, can “progress” be said to have materialized.

So this leaves us with the under­standing that the rules of the game—in markets, in work life, in governance, in family life, in love and sex and friendship—can and will change and develop. The question is only how, when, and under the auspices of which meta-ideol­ogy.

The basic idea is that the meta-ideology of liberal capitalism is becom­ing less viable in the global­izing information age and that we should look for a new one: My sugg­estion for which is political meta­modernism, a.k.a. the Nordic ideology, leading us towards a listening society and a Green Social Liberalism 2.0—through the method of “co-development”.

The Marxist critique and the failure of communism serve as fruitful starting points for seeing how a metamodern society can evolve from the modern one.

But to be very clear: the Nordic ideology and its metamodern politics is not communism. It’s much smarter than that.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.


[i]. Trotsky, L., 1925/2005. Literature and Revolution. Chicago: Haymarket Books. p 207.

[ii]. Kołakowski, L., 1976/2008. Main Currents of Marxism: The Founders—The Gold­en Age—The Breakdown. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Game Change, Yes Please

Neither game denial nor game accep­tance is a consciously held perspective. They are, of course, mis­takes we make because of unconscious biases and emotional invest­ments in ideas and identities (“I am a radical anarchist!” invites game denial, etc.). They constitute subtle forms of self-deceit. The mom­ent game denial and game acceptance are recog­nized for what they are it becomes apparent that they cannot be sustained. Every­one will veh­emently deny their own game den­ial or game acc­ept­ance and claim to be a responsible “game changer” if con­front­ed. What then, is game change? It is the productive synthesis of game denial and game acceptance: you accept that life is a game and you re­solve to work to change it. It’s quite obvious when you think about it. Let’s take a closer look.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

Life is unfair because relations between sentient beings are layered in games for scarce resources. Through resources (of whatever form) we can reach for the sublime and approach our fundamental, unknowable God-nature: Through gain­ing access to food and favorable mates we escape the ever-present clutch­es of death and reach for immort­ality through repro­duction. In human beings socialized within complex tribes or societies, death is defied by the exte­nsion of the idea of ego—my name, my recogni­tion, my ideas, my deeds, my sacrifice, my devotion, my child­ren, my ances­tors, my style, my monument, my love, my passion. These are all, in their own ways, scarce re­sources, that are distributed, accessed and enjo­yed through the playing of games.

The students of the psychology of death—a fascinating and promising field of empirical research that builds upon the heritage of Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death—have produced plenty of exp­er­imental evi­dence to show we become more eager players of games when confronted with our own mortality. Humans have a strong unconscious drive to cheat death. When reminded of death, even in a sub­tle manner, we latch on to our iden­tities, our wealth and our world­views more eagerly—and we judge one another more harshly. True story.[i] The intrinsic and inescapable fear of death distorts our cognition and turns us into game deniers or game accep­ters.

The bad news is that life is unfair. The good news is that life is a game and that its rules can change. These are two sides of the same coin. The question is not “game, or no game”, but the nature of our relationship to the game and the evolution of its rules.

Games produce dynamics of interaction. They give life in samsara a temporal, fleeting mea­ning: maybe we can be winners, or at least avoid being losers, or at least hide we “really are” losers. They give an exper­ience of sub­stance to the funda­mental, pristine, empty meaning­less­ness of phe­no­me­nal real­ity. They produce a story, a drama, where stakes exist, moves are made, vict­ories won, losses cut and bitterly remem­bered. Games pro­duce results. They produce losers and winners. Just like you and me. We all know both sides, in different contexts, to different extents.

The major objective of the metamodern political project is to change the rules of the game. Our simple message is that everyday life as we know it can and must evolve. The game change position holds:

  • Life is a plus-sum game with possible win-wins.
  • Life is also often a zero-sum game with lose-win.
  • Life is sometimes even a tragic dilemma of lose-lose.
  • But the rules of the game can change, evolving into more win-win, less lose-win and less lose-lose.
  • Nobody actually ever “deserves” to lose games and suffer defeat or hum­iliation. Seriously—would you tell a kid that she “deserves” to be crappy at school? To be ugly and lonely or poor? To starve? To have low self-esteem? To have a fragmented, anxious mind? To be part of the losing side of globalization? That baby turkeys in industrial butcheries get what they deser­ve?
  • All injustices in the world are caused by the playing of games.
  • Humans and other beings have no choice but to partake in games.
  • In the last instance, no injustice or suffering is ever excusable or tolerable.
  • It is our ethical imperative, without compromise, to change the rules of the game.
  • Successful changing of the game is that which:
    • produces more winners in life,
    • produces fewer losers,
    • softens the fall of the losers,
    • increases the rewards of the winners, and
    • makes people act kindlier and more fairly while playing the game.

The point is that winning in life is never enough. What if you become that successful? What if you get those hot young men? What if you save that many lives? What if you really save the world from climate crisis?

Then you’ll still have a kid, or somebody else you care about, who is crushed and humiliated by the same game you played and happened to win. The game is still on. Still grinding. For every winner, there is a loser. You were that awesome idealistic writer who pointed out injustice? You were a hero? The very fact of your moral victory means that you just tra­shed, hum­iliated and outcompeted somebody else. That somebody else could have been you. It could have been your own child.

And more fundamentally—it is you. Winning in life is fun. But it’s just not enough. Classical liberalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism, capitalism and fascism are all based upon accepting the game and an attitude of “may the best player win”. They are all defen­ders and upholders of in­justice, cruelty and suffering that just can­not be ethically justified.

So what if I win? In a deeper sense, you have still lost. You must change the games of life. That is the only result that counts. That is the only vic­tory worth keeping, because it includes everybody.

The game of life will still produce losers and winners, but the results will be deter­mined through much less bloodshed and losing will come at a much lower cost. This will be a society in which people get more than one shot at glory.

Don’t hate the player, and don’t hate the game either. We need to love the game, learn to play it—and change it, because we love the play­ers.

Multi-Dimensional Game Change

Game change means to admit the game, even to play it lovingly, but seek­ing to change the way it works. Games have dynamics and these dynamics can work in directions towards grosser or more refined games.

All games have evolved from something else. When modern Western people compete for spouses we usually don’t even reach the point of ver­bal confrontation. Lions fight and kill each other’s cubs.

Our game is more refined, and its rules harder to learn. But obviously, games for sex, identity and partners have evolved. Just a few hundred years ago, intrigue in Europe would habitually involve physical violence and duels to the death. Now­adays it rarely does.

Game change is a develop­mental affair. It has to do with making ad­van­ces into higher stages of societal development.

So, to sum this up, on the next page is a simple model of a holistic game change—presented as five-step process:


Can you see how the inner development of people is inter­linked with the development of society as a whole? That society’s function funda­men­tally relies upon the personal development of its citi­zens?

You can’t just develop society by means of “imposing” a certain politi­cal system or changing people’s values. Game change occurs by means of systemic change, psychological dev­elop­ment of the populations, changes in habits and behaviors, and thr­ough cultural development. These fields—system, psychology, behavior and cul­ture—develop together, as described in Appendix B of Nordic Ideology.

Of course, many other inter­actions than the ones presented in this feedback loop are possible, but it gives us an idea of what it really means for society and humanity to develop.

Don’t you ever dare tell me that dramatic and positive change is not possible. If you can’t change people’s behaviors, you might change some­thing in the systemic incentives. If that isn’t possible, you can always bring up new issues and find ways to change the cultural discourse. If that fails, you can always find a few people and help them develop their values so that they can form a new com­petitive social structure.

There is always a “chink in the armor”. Somewhere there is always at least some leeway in any apparent grid-lock of society, which in turn opens up new possible developments somewhere else. There is always a promise of further develop­ment.

We are looking to create new contexts, new historical situations where what was impossible before now becomes possible. This is, needless to say, a dynamic process in which we need to let the different forms of devel­opment support each other. We’ll squeeze in develop­mental leaps where people didn’t think they were possible—so that we can make possible the transition to a metamodern society; one that is fit for the global, digital age.

For ardent readers: If you want to see how game change relates to some classical political philos­ophers, consult this footnote: [ii].

Many Levers

Thus: Let go of game denial and game acceptance—and go for game chan­ge.

There are different levels of game change, some more fundamental than oth­ers, but all are necessary. There are many different “levers” to pull. Here are some general suggestions to get us started:

  • Studying the rules of the game and teaching them to as many actors as possible (Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Neil Strauss’ The Game). This actually makes the game fairer because it works against game denial and towards a more even distribution of knowing the game. But emphasizing this side alone can land us in the cynicism of game acceptance.
  • Change the game settings by changing the supply of resources. In richer societies where resources are more equally distributed, the games of everyday life are generally less cruel since people have more of what they need and thus feel less tempted to take advantage of others.
  • Change the game framing by changing ethical discourses. What is considered acceptable or not in order to get ahead in the daily games of life can be altered by making new ethical guidelines more prevalent; and if everyone tends to follow the same rules, people will be more inclined towards “playing nice”. Even who is to be considered a “loser” can be changed, for instance by making it ok to be poor or uneducated.
  • Evolve the game by increasing cognitive capacity for social perspective taking (higher cognitive stage and value meme, as described in The Listening Society). This makes the whole game fairer, where people at higher cognitive stages accept John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance” (not knowing who in society you will be). Yet higher levels of complexity breed even more refined games, like accepting sol­idarity with all sentient beings and mak­ing room for different kinds of con­sciousness in the public.
  • Gathering stronger and wider monopolies of violence (states can uphold rule of law, but the lack of global polity or transnational govern­ance sets limits for how far solidarity through rule of law can reach). A big and strong monopoly of violence stuck in a crude game can of course cause a lot of relative suffering (Fascist states caused more suff­er­ing than rep­resentative republican, capitalist, meat-eating soc­ieties, even if they ma­naged to gather considerable monopolies of violence). But a strong state simply makes it more likely that interpersonal mis­deeds are penalized, that people’s lives and property are protected, and hence that losing in the games of everyday life doesn’t entail death or absolute poverty.
  • And last but not least, changing the lived relationship to life and death through increasing contemplative insight, hence changing the needs and wants that the games are played for. This changes what goods are ultimately seen as most real, most substantial. Goods that are deeper, more immaterial, are easier to distribute more fairly (insight and bliss, vs. food and oil, etc.). This affects the economy of roles to be attained for enactment of imagined immortality. In an “eco­nomy of happiness” whe­re power over others is the ultimate fan­tasy, people will have to play for roles like “supervisor” or “great dict­ator” or even “conqueror” and these roles will be the most desired, result­­ing in very dire games where only few can win and only through great cruelty. In a richer “economy of happiness”, people may play for roles such as “the wise person”, “the saint” or “the trustworthy friend”. That will still produce losers and win­ners, but the results will be determined through much less bloodshed and losing will come at much lower costs, with more than one shot at glory.

I urge the reader to look at these suggestions and to compare them with our current political reality—which levers for changing the game are we currently using? Even critical social science seems to take the game too much for granted, seeing too few levers for changing the game.

If we stay on our current track, we will miss valuable opportunities for changing the game, for changing the logics through which our social inter­actions function.

Evolving Markets, Polities and Civil Spheres

A concluding comment. In The Listening Society, I argued that neither the market, nor the state bureaucracy, nor the civil sphere (including our associations, clubs, media and personal rela­tion­ships) can be seen as inherently “ratio­n­al”, “free” or “humane”. Rather, each sphere can be more or less intelli­gent and display varying degrees of coll­e­­c­t­ive intelligence.

They develop togeth­er and depend upon each other for their proper functioning. In this view, it makes less sense to be a class­ical libertarian, socialist, conservative or anarchist be­cause each of these pos­itions is inhe­r­ently biased towards and against mar­ket, state and civil sphere solutions. They each have “pol­itical aller­gies” and infatuations that limit their pers­pective upon all things pol­itical. In this sense, it is nec­essary to go “beyond Left and Right”, letting go of irrational allergies and infa­t­u­a­tions.

There are different analytical “fractal triads” that are be­coming increa­singly intermeshed and re-integrated in the digital, post­industrial eco­n­omy that relies more upon sustainability, creativity and inno­vation.


These fractal triads are:

  1. The systems:
    1. the market,
    2. the state,
    3. the civil sphere.
  2. The spheres of life:
    1. the professional,
    2. the civic (citizen and public engagement),
    3. the personal.
  1. The political base-suppositions:
    1. solidarity,
    2. competition,
    3. trade.
  2. The basic political values:
    1. order,
    2. equality,
    3. freedom.[iii]

Each of these triads develop as triadic fractal systems; their constituent parts develop to­gether or regress together—even if there may be times when one aspect can and should be emphasized over the other two. The triads can be intelligently weaved to­gether, or their parts work against one another and cause mutual harm. And, more fund­amentally, the parts dep­end upon another in their logical structure. Fractals.

The game deniers tend to dislike and deny the aspects of competition and trade that are in fact logically necessary parts of life and society. The game accepters tend to deride and underestimate the very real aspects of solid­arity, moral concern and love, trying to explain these by red­ucing them to the “underlying hard facts” of political real­ism and crude econo­mic inter­ests. They think that competition is the most real.

The game change position avoids such biases against markets, states and the civil sphere, or against solidarity, competition and trade. Rather, the idea is to work for game change across all of these: to see how they interact, how they strengthen and/or impede one another.

The idea is not to eradicate competition from life, but to trans­form and refine the nature of competition in all aspects of life: on the labor market, in work culture, in the political deliberations and elections, in the games of love, sex and family, in peer groups and in research and education.

So again—don’t hate the player.

And don’t hate the game, either.

We need to love the game, learn to play it.

And change its rules.

Because we love the players.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., Pyszczynski, T., 2015. The Worm at The Core. On the Role of Death in Life. London: Penguin Press.

[ii]. The 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously assumed that the system is good and the individual is bad—roughly speaking—because he saw the effects of institutional decay during the English Civil War, which broke out in 1642. In 1651 Hobbes published Leviathan, his magnum opus, which became a cornerstone of political conservatism. When Hobbes wrote of the “state of nat­ure” (when there is no sovereign or law, no ruler or polity) and claimed it was a brutish place where the strong exploit the weak and “there can be no industry”, he was in fact over­gene­ralizing a kind of dev­elop­mental imbalance which he had failed to notice. It is true, that if you have ten million people gath­ered, and you then remove the state—carnage will ensue. In other words, if you remove the system that had hitherto made a certain stage of societal dev­elopment possible, you get chaos and conflict. Hobbes was a proto-conserv­ative (writing before “modern” conservatism fully emerged), and he arrived at this pos­ition by failing to see the four fields (Appendix B) and their inter­dependent and dev­elopmental nature. He didn’t see the whole picture: he thought that institutions are good and institutionless people are bad.

When the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke in the early 19th century wrote his critical com­mentary on the French Revolution he was noticing a related but distinct aspect: that you cannot just force a system into being without the corresponding psychology and culture within the population, lest you will experience a huge backlash. But Burke, too, over­generalized. He was noticing another developmental imbalance and took it as uni­ver­­sally applicable. But in reality, dramatic shifts of systems have been made successfully throughout history. It’s just that some are sustain­able because they match the development in the three other fields, while some aren’t. The political systems that aren’t based within all four fields simply lead to severe pathologies: planned economy without a socialist (post­modern) population will lead to breadlines and oppression, an industrialized society with a modern bureaucracy governed by faustian principles of dominance and war will lead to nazism.

And the radical Rousseau mused in the 18th century, that humanity was corrup­ted by the institutions and that a free and fair life was possible (as did the utopian socialists and anarchists that followed him). He, too, got the handle of yet another developmental imbalance: when peo­ple’s psych­ologies develop ahead of the culture and systems in which they live—i.e. when they grasp for greater universality than what is supp­orted or expect­ed by their current society. This is where you find the “righteous rebel”, the post-con­ventional ethics of sensitive citizens, beautiful souls and daring minds who experience severe alienation in the society they are part of: so barbaric, so insensitive. But he too was “true, but partial”. What Rousseau des­cribed was, again, a developmental im­bal­ance. He too over­generalized his own experience: thinking that all people were “by nature” as his own moral-philoso­phical intuition indicated.

This is the source of Rousseau’s ressentiment, the French word for “resentment” as employed in psychology and philosophy. Rousseau and his game denying left-wing descendants are stuck with a bitter non-acceptance of reality, with a perpetual denial. They don’t recognize their critique is only an expression of a develop­mental imbalance. It is a kind of violence against reality itself; but reality always fights back with full force and the denier is always defeated—by logical necessity.

Stop Game Acceptance

Readers of a conservative bent have probably felt a streak of satis­faction reading my former post on game denial, while the radicals and liberals have cringed and condemned me.  So be it. If game denial was the only part of the story, conserva­tives would sim­ply be right. Deep down they’ve always known, or so they think, that drea­my idealism isn’t quite “real”; that all those liberals are, in a sub­tle but pervasive sense, brimming with mendacities, filled with pomp­ous self-deceit. There’s a real world out there, a practical world of real peo­ple, and real limitations.

Ahh. “Like ‘me’, the no-bullshit conservative. The good person is not who­ever can dream up the nicest fantasy and have us drive off a cliff in search of it, but rather those who can look at the real world, be strong eno­ugh to face it—and from there on, try to do what’s best and most real­istic given the circumstances.” The conservative mind seeks a darker, but soberer, point of depar­ture: What to do with violent criminals? How should free-riding, cheating and loafing be discouraged? How do we get people to come out of their com­fort zones and make sincere efforts for the good of themselves and others?

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

So what are the “hard truths” that we must all relate to? Here’s a per­spective from a “pickup artist”, i.e. a man who has be­come a pro­fessional at seducing women:

“There is a pride in being a pickup artist. It is a challenge. I have performer friends who can explode on stage like samurai and kill five hundred people, but they are afraid to approach a girl in a bar. I don’t blame them. Most audiences are horny to be fucked. They want it hard and deep. But the girl sitting on the bar stool is more difficult. She is scarier. She is the five hun­dred pound gorilla in a little black dress. And she can bust you up, if you let her. But she is also horny to be fucked. We are all horny to be fucked.”[i]

“Juggler”, as is the nom de guerre of this fellow, tries to “tell it like it is”. He tries to face up to the inherent challenges of life, ones that cannot be bru­shed aside with idealistic visions and wishful thinking. In short: he acc­epts the game of life (in this case seduction) and tries to take its con­sequen­ces.

But it doesn’t sound very nice, which is probably why Juggler is part of a secret society in the first place, where knowledge about the games of seduction is spread and refined. Speaking one’s perceived hard truths often makes you sound like a douchebag.

This puts the con­ser­vative at a constant rhetorical disadvantage; you gen­erally tend to sound less nice. Which is quite annoying—a tired and irr­itated look on the con­servative’s face unmistakably presents itself when lib­erals and rad­icals go on, performing their moral braggadocio and “vir­tue signaling” in the med­ia or at any given dinner party.

Conservatives generally talk less. They tell themselves they are prac­­tical, down-to-earth, realistic—doers rath­er than talkers. And in more or less refined manners, they resent the game deni­ers, these cheap fakes who take every opportunity to shout out their opinions and to shine their own poli­tically correct medals; liberals who choose moral bombasticity over sober analysis.

This “conserv­ative silence” is suppor­ted by res­ear­ch, which clearly shows that the farther left you are, the more you tend to voice your opin­ions in everyday life. If you’re rooting for the nationalist party, you talk the least about it. One such study was undertaken in Sweden by the poll­ing com­pany Dem­o­­skop: When asking over 4000 people, 56% of self-reported soc­ialists were com­fortable with voicing their opin­ions to stran­gers, while the same figure for nationalists was 27%—the other ideol­o­gies neatly arran­ged in order of left-wingness.[ii] Similar figures have been found in the US, as shown by a recent Cato Institute report.[iii] Ours is a world of lib­eral loud­mouths and tight conservative lips (and quiet support of pop­ulist and con­servative leaders).

And since nationalism and Trumpism are the least kosher and most difficult to publicly def­end, people even hide supporting them when asked in polls (which, by the way, is likely a major reason that polling has begun to be less accurate lately). When they do support the Trumps of the world, they often add in small exc­uses, justifications, hedgings, accounts and dis­claim­ers: “Well, I don’t like Trump, I just thought we should shake things up a bit” and so forth.[iv]

When rhetorical tal­ents who understand the metamodern games of the media landscape—like the young, posh Brit Milo Yiannopoulos and per­haps, to some extent, Donald Trump himself—finally manage to break thr­ough and say the things that conservatives wish they could express, the response is huge. A sigh of relief echoes through many as what might loo­s­ely be termed the “Alt-Right” gains momentum. Even if Yianno­poulos and Trump may embody exagge­rations of conservative sentim­ents, at least they rain some sweet venge­ance upon the often so suffocating polit­ically correct establishment, the smoth­ering welfare state and per­ceived status quo. A mellow sen­se of satis­faction arises in the conservative tummy.

Don’t Hate the Player

But I have argued elsewhere that reality consists of more than “actuality”; that a deeper and fuller reality lies in the realm of what is possible. And the conserv­atives have a strong tendency to­wards accepting the games of life in their current, actual form in a way that disregards the very real pot­en­tials for alternatives and change.

I have said that crimes against reality are crimes against humanity. But crimes against potentiality are also crimes against humanity, and aga­in­st all life on our planet—against all beautiful futures. Game accep­tance also kills. In fact, these killing grounds are far greater and more brutal than the ones of game denial.

Game acceptance means to prostrate before the game and take it as a law of nature in its current form, denying that the game can and must evolve. Or, more often, the game accepter holds that real and substantial changes are only ever poss­ible in a distant and irrelevant future.

This makes us justify illegitimate force and injustice. It makes us think the un­fair sides of the game are somehow indeed fair, because some­one, some­­where “deserved it”. And that injustice is all for the best in the long run because it serves the game. Game accept­ance is the tune of pol­itical real­ism, “political theology” (Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, Vilfredo Par­eto, Niccolò Machiavelli…), neo-liberalism, conservatism. The game acc­epter quietly mumbles:

“It has to be this way! It’s how the world works. We have to let them starve, get screwed over, get stuck and crushed in systems that are not for them. If we only let the system play out and the game be played the way it is, it will turn out for the best for everyone. Besides, I can’t help I won. Don’t hate the player, hate the game!”

But game acceptance really loves the game and hates the player—corr­ection—hates the player who happens to get the short end of the stick.

The billions of enslaved, tortured and murdered animals under global industrial farming find no heroic defenders among the game accepters. The unjust international order which keeps the global South exploited and subjugated is defended under the auspices of “free markets”. The losers of everyday life—the unintelligent, the ugly, the sickly—they all deserve what they get.

The central principle of game acceptance is hence: That which could be is not, and hence it should not be. As David Hume warn­ed us already in the 18th century, this is a fallacy—deriving an “ought” from an “is”. That some­thing is the case doesn’t mean is should be the case.

At its most extreme, game acceptance goes beyond the existing games of life to invent fictitious ones so that we may revel in what “necessary evils” these games demand of us: “Western culture is trying to destroy the Arab world and undermine all of Islam. Ergo we must stop them by ram­ming airplanes into buildings full of innocent folks!”—or “The Jews are plotting to destroy Germany! I don’t like it any more than you, but we must kill them! It’s either them or us. Race against race!”—or “Species against spe­cies! Hum­ans must kill and torture billions of piglets, lest we all starve! It’s the terrible game of life. Alas!”—or “Men must be superior to women and make more money and be more respect­ed in public life, or else—the im­pending collapse of civilization!”—or “We must have a schooling system which more or less systematically perman­ently breaks the souls of the less gifted and less privileged and lets them know their lowly place in society! And we need to beat the kids! I wish it weren’t so.”

But now that it is so, mumbles a voice at the outer fringe of your con­scious mind, you might as well enjoy subjugating the weak and feel exalted with every proof of your own power.

And just as there is an embodied form of game denial, so there is an embodied form of game acceptance. Especially those of us who have had high social status during our upbringing and reflexively assume we can win out in any confrontation that shows up can be tempted to think all such confrontations are necessarily good and just. Losers get what they deserve; that’s not just an idea, but a felt bodily experience that sets our mind up for game acceptance.

Exaggerated forms of game acceptance lead to the most brutal forms of social organization. If you look at Nazi Germany, it killed less people than the communist experiment, numerically speaking. But if you look at the relatively small spread of fascism and its shorter period of existence, you notice the killing rate was much higher and the brutality much more an end in itself. Game acceptance, at its most ext­reme, murders a lot more people than does game denial.

But it doesn’t stop there. The worst crime of game acceptance is that it blocks legitimate, necessary and very possible change. If you look at the thousands of very preventable maladies that have been perpetuated by game accept­ance throughout history, you see a silent, invisible death toll looming larger than any other crime in world history.

Of course we could end slavery. Of course we can end animal slavery. Of course the rich world can and should support sust­ainable global growth with a significant percentage of its GDP. Of course the trade system should be fairer. Of course most wars were avoidable. Of course everyone can have free basic health care. Of course we can live less waste­fully and still be healthier, happier and have mean­ingful lives.

Crimes against potentiality are crimes against humanity.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. From Neil Strauss’ The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, 2005: chapter 2.

By the way—I don’t mean to equate conservatives with pickup artists or vice versa. I am just looking for the general “let’s keep it real” sentiment, which they both share.

[ii]. Santesson, P. “Vem vågar prata?” [“Who dares to speak?”], Demoskop, September 14th 2015.

[iii]. Ekins, E. “The State of Free Speech and Tolerance in America”. Cato Institute Survey Reports, October 31st 2017.

[iv]. These concepts, excuses, justifications, hedgings and accounts are discussed in social-psychological research and the discipline called “eth­no­meth­odology”.

See Scott, M. B., Lyman, S. M., 1968: Accounts. American Sociological Review, Vol. 33, No. 1: 46-62.

See also: Buttny, R., 1993. Social Accountability in Communication. London: Sage.

Stop Game Denial

Life is a game.

Since we inhabit a world of limited resour­ces, our daily lives are full of zero-sum interactions where one party walks away with a prize while ano­ther leaves the table empty-handed; games with winners and losers. If you and I want the same spouse, the game is on. If you and I want the same job, the game is on. If you want to argue against this way of seeing the world, the game is on. There is no denying it, even when you do.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

Yet, many of us frequently fall victim to what I call “game denial”: the inability to perceive, or a negligence of, the logical and behavioral rules that regulate human relations. Game denial is when you ignore or “wish away” certain uncomfortable truths regarding human relations and how reality works. Or simply when you deny the realities of life and forcefully impose your own “ought” upon what “is”.

In a subtle sense, your crime is against truth itself. And when the truth has been sacrificed for a few candy bars worth of emotional reward—people start dying as the consequences of your false assumptions begin to manifest. And from there on you are stuck with defending your lala-land from actu­ality, making things even worse.

Game denial is, to this day, ram­pant. And its victims are not nec­essarily dead; it has victims in all walks of life, all scarred by unsust­ainable and un­realistic social relations, expectations and moralistic impo­sitions of “what ought to be” upon what “actually is”. Crimes agai­nst act­uality are crimes against humanity, against all life on our planet.

Since game denial often “sounds nice”, it may be more convenient to def­end in a pub­lic debate (because you can easily take the moral high gro­und), but in actual reality, in a given con­text, it tends to have negative or other­wise unsust­ainable consequences. You pre­tend that the world works by rules which it does not.

Game denial can show up in so many ways because life is always open to interpretation and reinterpretation. And of course, there is not one “set” game in life in which “God” crowns the winners. But the fact that life has ambiguity is a mixed blessing: It means we can make more fav­orable interpretations and save our positive self-images, but it also mea­ns the leeway to deny obvious competitions and conflicting inter­ests is huge. And because there are such strong psychological forces driving us towards game denial, we all partake in it.[i]

It is difficult to overestimate just how powerful these inner pressures are. For instance, if we all of our life have felt oppressed and hurt in soft and sensitive places by norms that dictate how a “beautiful and feminine” wo­man should be, how compelling and satisfying does it not seem to make up a way to disqualify that game altogether, branding it as false, im­moral and ultimately unreal? If we are bad at sports, how good does it not feel to be rid of all anxieties about our physical inferiority by denying that game?

Game denial means to hate the game and try to eradicate it. It can take the form of liberal political correctness or, in its extreme form, crude comm­un­ism. But the game won’t go away. You can’t eradicate it with a “let’s all be friends”. What about me and that other person who wants the same spouse, but only one can get her by winning her heart? Whether or not we have friendly relations with one another, there is a game with a winner and a loser—this is true even in polyamorous relations. It is bound to happ­en everywhere in samsara (as Eastern traditions have named the worldly realm of suffering), all the time.

Recent research has revealed an evolu­tionary struggle even bet­ween the pregnant mother and her fetus—the growing child’s evolu­tion­ary interests are somewhat different from those of the mother (who may increase the chances of spreading her genes by having more children, and hence not be too drained by this particular fetus). No matter how pro­foundly symbiotic and loving a relationship, there is always an inescapable element of strug­gle. A game.

To try to eradicate the game is only a form of individual or collective repression, and it will always produce pathological results—namely opp­ress­ion. Whatever game you want to repress—like capitalism—this can only be done by activating a grosser level of game—like the game for political totalitarian power. Communist states rep­re­ssed the mechanisms of “games for profit” by playing a much crueler game for pol­itical power.

But oppression is not the worst part of game denial. Oppression can be toppled; evil reigns can end. No, the worst part is that denying the exist­ence of the game means that the game cannot be described, taught and learned. The game is hidden away, made taboo. Hence, game denial is in the service of the privileged elite, making the game less fair by serving those who already know the rules and deceiving those who do not. They’ll never know what hit them.

Let’s take some examples of prevalent game denial. This list may insult a lot of readers and offend moral convictions. Brace yourself.

  • Free immigration for all! All immigration is always good for everyone in­volved: the immigrants, the receivers, the left-behind!
    • Game denial: All societies have limits to how much immigration they can manage, and which kinds of immigration; and higher immi­g­ra­tion rates often create fiercer com­petition at the bott­om of soc­iety, hence harming its most pre­cariou­sly situated citi­­zens.
  • A Universal Basic Income that would cover a lower middle-class wage, the sooner the better! It would free all, and a creative explos­ion of solidarity would occur, and we would usher in a golden age of love and inno­vation!
    • Game denial: The labor market is a complex game of power relations and for people to sustainably per­form less-than-rewarding but cru­cial tasks (e.g. cleaning blood off hospital floors), there must be a complex system in place of penalties, hier­archies and rewards. If you wreck this system, wel­come to the Soviet Union. Stal­inism next. Or worse. (Not saying that all such initiatives are game denial, but many are.)
  • The LEFT is good, always and forever! If only the evil powers of greed were stopped, we would have high wages, safe emplo­yments, no unemployment, free immigration, high social bene­­fits!
    • Game denial: Does not compute. If you have high wages, safe employments and high taxes, then bus­iness becomes extremely inefficient, so people can’t really buy anything with their money (hello Sov­iet). If you have free immigration and social ben­efits, the system gets bogged down with costs and fosters resentments in the working loc­als, and you get ethnic violence and the rise of populist anti-immig­ration parties. And if wages are high, the immigrants won’t be able to com­pete to enter the market. The bogged-down economy fosters cli­en­t­elism. Greek eco­nomy next. Or worse.
  • Feminism! If only men were kind and polite and respected wo­men and stopped using “master suppression techni­ques” (as described by the social psychologist Berit Ås) and didn’t greedily enjoy the oppression of women by means of patriarchy, this would make soci­ety fair, women unafraid of sexual assault, work-life satisfying and int­imate relations much more functional.
    • Game denial, again: For this line of reasoning to com­pute, displays of male prestige, status and power must stop being sex­ually and emotionally alluring to women and hen­ce desirable to men. As long as these traits are found desirable (as plenty of experimental research suggests is the case: women genuinely prefer high-status, in some sen­se “dominant”, males), men can only stop usi­ng at least some str­a­t­­e­gies for social self-advan­ce­ment at their own expense. The gam­­es of everyday life are denied.
  • A wave of spirituality and “higher consciousness” will transform the world! In one way, this is very advanced and complex, in another way, very simple: a kind of perennial wisdom, that people wake up to a simple but profound message of love and acceptance!
    • Game denial: This one (or any version of “millenarianism”) is quite com­mon in more spiritually inclined people, but also, by analogy, in soc­ialists and environmentalists. Here and there, many interesting and intense spiritual movements, waves and rebirths have waxed and waned throughout history. Most of them have been fool’s gold, ending up in grievous mistakes and betrayed hopes. Some, such as Christ­ianity and the other world reli­g­­ions, have caught on long-term and led to some lasting moral trans­­forma­tions. But none of them have been unambiguously good, and none have led to any­thing as fantastic as was imagined. This is because the games of life, with winners and losers, are still there to be played, even if people become a little nicer.
  • If people turned away from the materialist competitive worldview of our age, there would be enough for everybody and people would be happy!
    • Game denial.
  • A playful, creative schooling system which emphasizes growth and joy rather than the dull reciting of facts! No discipline needed! Ever!
    • Game denial.
  • If the US just stops being imperialist/interventionist, there will be a peaceful and solidary international order instead!
    • Game denial.
  • Everyone has something unique to contribute in this new economy! There is room for everyone!
    • Game denial.
  • If only people learned about animal suffering, they would support the end of animal slavery!
    • Game denial.
  • Interfaith dialogue will bring an end to religious conflicts!
    • Game denial.
  • No military intervention is ever needed or justified!
    • Game denial.
  • All animals (humans) are created equal!
    • Game denial.
  • The meek shall inherit the earth!
    • If you mean cockroaches, you might be correct. Otherwise, go to “game denial”.

You get the picture. I suppose a lot of this sounds familiar?

It’s not al­ways easy to tell game denial apart from more legitimate forms of ideal­ism. A rule of thumb, however, is that game denial very often arr­ives in the company of her twisted little sister: moralism—being subtly (or not so subtly) jud­g­­m­ental and self-righteous.

The alliance between game denial and moralism works in cunning ways. They help each other staying in the back­gr­ound, so that neither has to come out in the light and get busted in all their obviousness. For inst­ance, in academia and critical social sci­ence, there is a pre­supp­osition of a pro-immigration, leftist econo­mics, rad­ical fem­in­ism, anti-mili­tarism, anti-disciplinary view of educa­tion and a few other taken-for-granted opin­ions.

When you go to the liberal sociological seminars, listening for inst­ance to Judith Butler’s advanced, learn­ed and very initiated talks about femin­ism, all focus is on the spec­ifics of the argument, on the mas­ter­fully craf­ted critical social theory and research. All of this creates a thick smoke­screen concealing any number of game denials. All the left-wing game denial stays in the background and limits the discussion.

There is no focus on, and no leeway to dis­cuss, all this game denial bagg­age (because it would be seen as morally wrong, and who­ever brings it up is seen as impure). The underlying moralism covers up the game den­ial. And the game denial covers up the moralism because the fact that the gam­es of life are hidden away makes the moralism appear as common sense and decency.

I’m not saying that Judith Butler’s feminism will kill a hundred million people. I’m just saying that other kinds of game denial, like communism, did and that game denial is always a harmful or at least dangerous busi­ness.

Not believing in game denial and its ubiquitous presence is in itself a form of game denial. The reason people do all the game denial is often that it is a useful tool for them to win the small struggles in every­day life: for moral worth, for admiration, for power, money, sex and stat­us—or just to avoid shaming and judgment, or to have the solemn pleasure of shaming and judging others.

Iron­ically, it is because people are always in a game that they can win by deny­ing its existence. Of course, there are other reasons, such as lack­ing intelli­gence or relevant perspectives. But the social rewards of game denial are part of it—and they should not be denied. It is as if many of the pro­gressive intellectuals are “bribed” by the social rewards they can attain by taking part in game denial. These are emotional and cognitive bribes that distort thinking processes, discourses and truth seeking.

Real kindness needs to make sense; it needs to compute. If the numbers don’t add up, they simply don’t. Hence, any kindness that does not com­pute is a disguised form of evil.

But it should also be noted that game denial is not only an intellectual form of self-deceit; there is also such a thing as embodied game denial. For those of us who have suffered from low social status during our up­bringing and may be lacking in the psychological trait assertiveness (being able to stand up for oneself, etc.), we may unconsciously be prepar­ing our bodies and minds for the impact of a social defeat. This sets our minds and bodies up for trying to win over reality by being kind or nice, a part deep inside of us keeps folding over and submitting, trying to deny that a competition or confrontation takes place.

The first victim of game denial is the truth. Its next victim is the inno­­cent child who has to suffer the consequences of your lies. Crimes against act­uality are crimes against hum­anity and all life on our planet.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. People sometimes invent little games to get around game den­ial. Why do we love sports? After all, the outcome of a football game hard­ly makes any difference in concrete reality—if a ball was in a goal net or not, how many times, or if a Ethiopian guy ran a sprint in 0.1 seconds less than an American did. The reason we love these arbitrary sets of rules is that, in this particular setting, no game denial is possible. Games are fun because they curb game denial; and that goes from chess to Ping-Pong. We are even prepared to engage in otherwise “meaningless” activities, only to get rid of the ambiguities of life in general, where anything and everything can always be reinterpreted in a million ways. Did I win the debate? Am I a good person? Is she a better person than me? Am I worthy? Did I succ­eed?

Relative Utopia

In a way, we’re living in our ancestors’ utopia. If they could have wit­nessed our lives today, they probably wouldn’t have believed their eyes: all the food you can eat, a minimum of hard manual labor, the expectation to see all your children reach adult age, and no drunken lords to abuse you—truly a paradise compared to what most of them had to put up with.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications.

“there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.”

We have access to a large number of conveniences that in the past would have been the envy of even kings and nobles: modern healthcare, com­fortable and speedy transportation, and safe, fresh food from all aro­und the world, even during winter.

Few of us would want to switch our pleasant modern lifestyle with that of Louis XIV 300 years ago. After all, not even the extravagant Sun King himself ever flew to the Canary Islands during his winter holiday and sat on a beach without catching malaria while enjoying his favorite show on Netflix. And we would presumably soon tire of court jesters and pheasant dinners in leaky castles anyway.

We have become accustomed to a standard of living so high not even Moses parting the Red Sea would impress us. Why wander to the land of milk and honey when we can cross the seas in comfortable jets to places with much more interesting cuisine? Jesus too would probably have need­ed to up his game if he were to make disciples out of us modern people. Turn­ing water into wine hardly competes with the marvel of a good 3D-printer.

Even in the social realm we have opportunities and privileges un­imag­inable in the past. A medieval farmer would not have believed it if he was told that his descendants would have voting rights, freedom of express­ion, property rights, police protection and the freedom to choose their reli­gion. And a 19th century factory worker would have been dumbstruck by the life-conditions of common folks today: considerably shorter work hours, vaca­tions, pensions, unemployment benefits and an abundance of cheap con­sumer goods that used to be considered luxuries. Lenin’s gran­diose pro­mise of peace, bread and land that made a generation of workers start a revol­ution is so modest and unambitious in comparison to all the things we take for granted today.

There are of course still people who struggle to make ends meet: single unemployed parents, paperless immigrants, people with mental illnesses, substance addicts, and so on. But overall, we must admit we have come very far. We may not live in a true utopia, but in comparison to the past, modern society is at least a relative utopia; truly utopian relative to what used to be.

But the word “utopia” actually means “no­where”. It goes back to the proto-modern thinker Thomas More’s book Utopia from 1516. In this mean­ing of the word, we do actually live in yesterday’s Nowhereland, in a fairytale, a tech­no­logical Shan­gri-La that in the past only could have exis­ted as fiction. Yet, as things went on, the fictional became all the more fac­tual.

As such, there is little reason to believe the metamodern society we are headed towards won’t be a relative utopia; that what is currently only con­ceivable as a fictional account one day will materialize and acqu­ire osten­sibly utopian properties—relative to what we’re putting up with today and take for self-evident conditions of life.

“modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition.”

The “Both-And” of Development

Even if the argument can be made that tradit­ional society was “better” than the modern one (as so-called “integral trad­itionalists” like Frithjof Schuon and Réné Guénon have argued: less poll­ution, more spirituality, a more enchanted sense of the world, less dest­ructive weapons, less mind­less con­sumerism and alienation, more in­dep­endence in having the skills to pro­duce what you need, more humility, etc.); this should not blind us to the circumstance that modernity largely solved all of the major prob­lems of pre-modern society. Yup, pretty much all of them.

For most of recorded history, child mortality was high, starvation com­m­on­place, slavery institutionalized, serf­dom ubiquitous, wars fre­qu­ent, violence a part of everyday life, mon­arch­ical oppression unqu­estion­ed, disease rampant, poverty the rule, literacy low, cruel norms limiting indiv­idual freedom prevailing—and so forth.

Yes, all of these miseries exist in the modern world too. In absolute num­bers, some of them are perhaps worse than ever as the world popu­lation is so much larger. On the other hand—and this is the point here—all of these problems have decreased drama­tically in relative terms. In­deed, if you look at the highly modernized, demo­cratic parts of the world, there is an appar­ent decrease in all of these problems at least by a power of ten. Look at Sweden today: How many peo­ple are starving for each one hundred who starved in the 1700s? One? Pro­bably not even that. When people are poor in the US today, they get food stamps and have to stand in line. In pre-modern times, they simply starved to death.

So modernity, with all its technological and social advances, has pract­ically solved all of the problems of all earlier societies: famine, disease, opp­re­ssion, war, poverty, lack of education, slow and dangerous trans­port­ation, superstition. Yes, even war; even if we count the world wars, the risk of being killed by another human being was statistically smaller during the 20th century than at any time before. Steven Pinker wrote an often-cited book about it in 2011, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and then another one in 2018, Enlightenment Now. Since the millenn­ium, the number of people killed globally in violent con­flicts has been extre­mely low compared to any previous per­iod (in per capita terms).

Yet, of course, modern life is no walk in the park; it is still incredibly cruel and full of suff­ering—something that granny’s granny prob­ably would have had a hard time imagining if we went on for hours about all the awesome sauce (I imagine I’d pause for a long time to describe what I get to eat, where I have travelled and so forth).

Hence, it’s a relative utopia: It really is super-duper mega awe­some not to starve, to have modern medicine, to be able to speak and think freely, to have dominant sex with hot young men if you’re an old guy (I suppose granny might have had a problem with that part), to choose how to live your life and what to do for a living, to have internet and all kinds of abun­dance (even when un­employ­ed, you can eat well and have shelter and use many of the tech­no­logies). It really is nice.

At the same time that doesn’t mean life has become “perfect”. So to­day’s developed societies really are utopian, but only in a relative sense. This is the both-and of development. They are utopian as compared to what came before. But that doesn’t mean today’s society has no pro­blems. In fact, it has two very distinct kinds of problems:

  • Residual problems
  • New emergent properties problems

The residual problems are the percentages left here and there of the pre-modern stage of development: not all people are protected from cur­able dis­eases, some live in areas controlled by mobsters and are thereby still opp­­ressed, some slavery still goes on (30 million de facto slaves is a figure peo­ple often bring up), and some people still starve or other­wise suffer from pov­erty.

It’s true that the UN Development Goals were met in advance[i] and abject poverty is withering away as eco­nomic growth and ambi­tious, far-reaching aid programs take effect. But still, there are some resi­duals here and there, and they should cert­ainly be accou­nted for; they still define hundreds of millions of lives. They are, however, not quite the pro­ducts of modern society, as histor­ical develop­ments clear­ly indi­cate: Why else would they all be falling so sharply across the globe as the mo­dern world-system progresses? Nay, amigo, they are resid­uals, leftovers. The most modern countries have the least of these iss­ues.

The other category, which concerns us more in this context, are the pro­blems showing up as a direct result of modern society: the new emer­gent properties problems. At a bare minimum, there are three such prob­lems:

  1. ecological unsus­tainability,
  2. excess ineq­ual­ity, and
  3. alienation and stress.

Notwithstanding that these are, on an individual scale, preferable to the wars, droughts and pestilences of yore, they are still quite serious. Sustain­ability issues like climate ch­ange, ecolo­gical collapse, mass extinction—not to mention the looming threat of nuc­lear holocaust and other increas­ingly tangible doomsday scenarios (haywire AI or nanotech, biological war­fare)—can potentially cause miseries worse and more irreparable than even the black plague.

The inequalities of the world may seem bearable compared to the pov­erty of pre-modern subsistence farming, but nowadays we all live in the proxi­mity of wealth and abundance, know­ing for instance the dis­ea­ses that kill our kids in fact are curable. Such knowledge can make our rela­tive poverty even more bitter and insufferable than the harshness of pre-mod­ern life. Indeed, it is one of the most robust findings of social science that income inequality correlates with violent crime, within coun­tries and even more so between countries.[ii]

And alien­ation—a pervading sense of estrangement and exis­t­ential angst—causes young people to suffer depression and com­mit suicide to an unpre­ce­­dented degree. It causes people to live mean­ingless and empty lives ami­dst what superficially looks like freedom and abundance; lives in which we become increasingly stressed out and often exper­ience burnout.

I rem­em­ber spending seven years fending off suicidal thoughts, as a per­vasive but unspecific anxiety haunted my young adult­hood. This is not un­comm­on in devel­op­ed, modern coun­tries where the trends generally point towards rising mental health pro­blems in adolescents and young adults. These are perhaps not as acute or severe as the chall­enges that people faced before mod­er­nity, but they still remain quite serious issues.

All three of these problems are caused, in one way or another, by the dramatic expansion of our industrial productivity: sustainability because we pro­duce and consume more than our ecosystems can endure, ineq­u­a­l­ity because this wealth is distributed in a series of “scale free net­works”, where the most cen­tral positions gain a larger proportion of the wealth, and alienation becau­se of the abstractness and distance that shows up be­tween our every­day activities and their benefits for ourselves and others: Many of us lose a sense of meaning, purpose and direction. (Of cour­se, there’s a lot more to the story on each one of these, but we’re just sket­ching here to get on to the point).

We have finally created a land that flows with milk and honey; literally, vast amounts of highly nutritional substances flow from the taps of indu­stry—yet it’s making us and the planet sick. The paradise of yesterday is great, but it carries with it a number of unexpected pathologies that need to be dealt with in tomorrow’s relative utopia.

“metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved.”

Beauties Lost and New Heights Reached

Beyond the two categories—residual and new emergent properties pro­blems—we can add two more to the list of troubles of today’s society. The third cate­gory I’ve called “beau­ties lost”. It entails all the good things that were prevalent in pre-modern societies, but for different reasons dimini­shed as societies became modern.

A good example is “community”, or what the classical 19th century soc­iologist Ferd­inand Tönnies called Ge­mein­schaft (modern life, at least in its later urban­ized stages, generally offers little cozy, genuine comm­unity in which you con­tinuously relate to a wider group of family and neighbors).

As an exam­ple of Gemeinschaft lost, compare the expansion of electro­n­ically available music—mill­ions of bands, artists and orchestras avail­able online to be played with marvelous sound systems—to the fact that most of us have stopp­ed singing. In all pre-modern societies, people got togeth­er and sang, pretty often too. The individualism and per­form­ance orien­ted attitu­des of mod­ern life somehow nudge us to shut up, un­less we’re alone in the shower or partake in a formally organized choir. Music gain­ed, but singing lost.

An­other example of a beauty lost is “sim­plicity”; that life had a kind of directness and straightforwardness which all­owed a certain modest satis­fac­tion. Other such beauties lost are the “conn­ection to the soil”, appre­ciation of the small things—perhaps a well-crafted tool—or the via con­templativa of monastic life; the calm, ascetic life in service of spiritual goals. You get the picture.

These “beauties lost” have been brought up by many reactionary move­ments and romantics of all kinds (I mentioned the inte­gral trad­itionalists, for instance). But the romantic and nostalgic longing lends itself to exagg­eration—to overvaluing an imagined past, a yesteryear that never quite happened. What we should do instead is simply to acknow­ledge that all societal progression into later and “more ad­vanced” stages en­tails some beauties lost, and that there may be good reasons to figure out how some of these can be regained and reincorp­or­ated without trying to turn the clock back.[iii]

The fourth category of problems is more important. We can call it “new heights rea­ch­ed”. There are problems that are perhaps not directly cau­sed by modern life, but whose solutions only now come within reach. Only when we acquire greater capabilities can we begin to see them and direct our atten­tion towards them. In the old days, we simply didn’t have the luxury to worry about these problems; now we can. We have reached new heights and hence we can begin to tackle higher issues. The soul always wants more; it is never contented. You never get to the end; there is al­ways a new hor­izon after this one, and another.

What are these new issues then, these “new heights”? I would like to men­tion four of them.

The first “new-heights issue” is tied to alienation, but still distinct from it: the lack of meaning and fulfillment. What happens in a society where you already have food, shelter and abundance? People begin to worry that they might be squan­dering their lives; that they may not be making the best of it; that some­thing is still lacking; that life has become boring and too pre­dictable.

The second new-heights issue has to do with struggle and heroism; how can we align our own petty lives with the overarching story about hu­m­­anity, the world and even the cosmos? How can we be something else, some­thing more, than just an average Jane or Joe consumer? Now that we have relative safety and autonomy, how can we make it worth­while? Once we have achieved a comfortable villa life, there is still, lin­gering in our hearts, a visceral longing for greatness within us. How can we tran­scend ourselves; how can we serve something greater so that our lives become imbued with crisp, clear moments of intense aliveness?

The third higher issue pertains to gender equality and freedom of iden­tity: Can we be sexually emancipated, not only in the sense that we can be women with equal rights as men, but that we can be truly sexually and emo­tionally fulfilled? Can we experience erotic fulfill­ment and intimacy both at once? Can we be gay, transgender, or otherwise experi­ment with and create our sexual and gender identities? Women’s liber­ation and the other gender/sexuality issues have come within our grasp in mod­ern soci­eties, but they are not conclusively solved by it.

The fourth and last higher issue is animal rights. Of course, a big part of the problem with the abuse of animals has to do with modern phen­omena such as industrial farming. Animal suff­ering is exacerbated by modernity, even with the increased legislations for “ani­mal welfare”. There have been some pre-mod­ern examples of prin­cipled con­cern for animals in the East­ern traditions (Buddhism and Jain­ism), but even these have not quite res­embled the modern-day animal rights move­ment. In Jainism, for inst­ance, concern with animals grew from a general non-violence prin­ciple, which is not quite the same as a modern phil­osophy of “rights”. In mod­ern life, we can now create an abundance of vegan and synthetic solutions that allow us to live without animal slavery and exploi­t­ation. Hence, vega­nism becom­es a new issue within our reach.

So, sorry for tricking you into thinking we had only two categories of pro­blems under modernity. We have four, these being:

  • Residual problems (left-overs from before modernity).
  • New emergent properties problems (caused by modernity).
  • Beauties lost (qualities from earlier societies lost under modernity).
  • New heights reached (problems that simply weren’t viable to try to solve before, but now have come within our reach).

Yep, that’s it. Modern society is truly utopian, truly glorious. Except it has these four categories of problems.[iv]

Now to the point we’ve been working our way towards. We live today in what to most earlier generations could only be described as sheer uto­pia. Yet, we hardly wake up every morning to what we feel is a utopian society. It is a utopia only in a relative sense: The problems of old have all but van­ished, just as new ones have appeared—as dark clouds on the hori­zon, growing cracks in the walls, and new subtle knots within our hearts and minds.

What about metamodern society; is it a utopian project? Yes. It is una­polog­etically utopian. A society can be described as metamodern if, and only if, all of the problems of modernity have been more or less resol­ved, meaning that they have been reduced by at least a power of ten.

In other words, metamodern society is defined as one in which the pro­blems that emerged in modernity—lack of sustainability, excess inequa­lity, alienation and stress—have been resolved. So that’s what we’re going for. Fucking utopia.

Fucking relative utopia, that is.

“We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever.”

New Miseries Worth Fighting For

Metamodern society can and will follow the same pattern of rela­tive uto­pia as modern society has. There will be:

  1. residuals of the mod­ern problems: still some inequality, environmental issues and alienation (whereas the pre-mod­ern residuals are redu­ced by yet another order of magn­itude);
  2. and yes, there will be new, emergent problems caused by metamodern society itself (some of which we will discuss in this book in an attempt to preempt them);
  3. and yes, some beauties of modern life will be lost along the way;
  4. and yes, new dark clouds will form on the horizon, new bold challenges to civilization that come within our grasp.

And yes, in some sense, these new problems will be pre­ferable to what we have today; but strangely, they are likely to somehow be even more ser­ious than the chall­enges of modern society.

So that’s the notion of “relative utopia” for you. We are trying to achi­eve a self-organization of society that is happier, in a profound sense of the word, than anything that has gone before it. But we’re not saying it’s going to be a perfect world. In fact, we’re saying it’s going to be as mess­y and risky as ever. More complex. Why should we expect any­thing else, when hist­ory—cultural, geological and astronomical—has thus far meant explosive increases of com­plex­ity?

It shouldn’t surprise us that future society will manage issues that today may seem insoluble, out of reach, or downright impossible. That’s what modern society did. It let steel float and fly, it saved us from disease, it conquered the moon, it brought peace—and so forth. Is it really wrong to think that future soc­iety, the one that comes after the modern, indus­trial one, could do what seems unimaginable today?

Somehow, modern life—and its relative utopia—was possible. Perhaps metamodern life can be too. A simple reason to assume this is the fact that so many intell­igent people are working so hard, in so many different ways, to solve the problems of modernity: sustainability, inequal­ity, alien­ation. Pretty much every smart and idealistic person is grappling with at least some aspect of one of these issues. It’s all over the sciences, all over policy making, in the arts, even on the market—whoever can solve these prob­lems is most cherished, most appreciated, even well-paid. Are we being pulled in some dir­ection, towards a new great attract­or point, upon which a series of attractors converge?

So I’ll say it again. We go ahead with sincere irony, pragmatic idealism, informed naiv­ety and magical realism—to entertain the potential of a rel­ative utopia.

In the end, we still live in a tragic universe; existence has us “eternally by the balls”. But there are new miseries on the horizon, miseries worth fighting for. And there is fun to be had along the way.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Even if the anthropologist from Swaziland, Jason Hickel, has done a brilliant job revealing some of the mathematical trickery it took to exaggerate the succ­ess. See: Hickel, J. 2016. The true extent of global poverty and hunger: Questioning the good news narrative of the Millennium Development Goals. Third World Quart­erly. Vol. 37: 5, pp. 749-67.

[ii]. Fajnzylber, P., Lederman, D., Loayza, N. 2002. Inequality and Violent Crime. Jour­nal of Law and Economics. vol. 45: 1-40.

[iii]. Note that I discuss this in detail in my other book, The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. A later “metameme” can include earlier ones via either what I call “reenact­ment”, i.e. when you

[iv]. And to be exact, there are two more cat­egories, but they are more com­plicated and need not concern us here. Just to mention them briefly the first one is transition problems from one stage of society to another—like the horrors of early industrialization. For instance, in Liverpool in 1829, at the heart of budding industrial­ization, life expect­ancy at birth was as low as 29 years; the lowest since the days of the black plague. And such painful tran­sitional periods seem to occur to this day in developing countries. Today, in 2018, people in China report considerably less happiness than they did twenty years ago, despite the fact that poverty rates have been slashed from a third to ten percent. The educated, urban population are especially de­pressed—which feeds right back into the idea about modern alienation.

See: Graham, C., Zhou, S., Zhang, J. 2017. Happiness and Health in China: The Paradox of Progress. World Development. Vol. 96, pp. 231-44.

The other such category is “loop­holes”, i.e. when the values of modern society can be set aside and the ethics of earlier stages of society de facto reign. For instance, modern society transposes (and rela­bels) slavery and serf­dom beyond its own shores under colonialism and, in our days, under the com­plex sub-contractor chains of production and distribution of major corporate transnationals. You could say that these categories are special cases of “residual problems” and “new emer­gent properties” pro­blems. I discuss these in another book titled The 6 Hidden Patterns of History.

Attractors: The Guiding Stars of History’s Winners

What is the main difference between the winners and losers of history?

Answer: Getting the attractors right.[i]

Whereas the amateur studies how the present has been shaped by the past to foresee the future, the pro studies how the future is already sha­ping the present. Many of the great change-makers in history, whether we’re talking about political figures such as Mahatma Gandhi or entrepre­neurs like Steve Jobs, seem to have had an intuitive understanding of the way the future exerts a kind of gravitational effect upon the present; that dev­elop­ments in the present in certain ways are pulled towards the unrea­li­zed potentials of the future. What happens in the present is namely just as much a result of what has been as what can become.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. What you will read below is from the opening chapter of the first part of the book; a chapter that introduces the idea of societal attractors and stresses the importance of letting them guide us if we are to change the world.

“With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.”

Gandhi saw the world was headed towards universal principles like democracy, human rights, racial equality and rule of law, which inevi­tably would render colonial rule ethically indefensible, even to the coloni­zers themselves. This enabled him to understand how India could be freed in a peaceful and democratic manner; he knew that history—the long-term att­ractors—was on his side. Similarly, because Jobs saw that digitiza­tion was the future, he realized before most others that everyone would want a personal computer.

To those who couldn’t see these attractors, home computers or the end of colonial rule appeared as distant dreams or science fiction. More­over, blindness to attractors makes it exceedingly difficult to know what exactly to do if you actually do indulge in such dreams. With a well-devel­oped sense of the attractors you get a much clearer picture of what is poss­ible in the near future and what remains a more distant prospect.

If you are able to discern different attractors from one another, under­standing their gravitational pull and intricate dynamics, you will be much more capable of successfully navigating the tides of historical chan­ge. The most astonishing and admirable achievements have rarely been made by those who set about to wrestle history and single­handedly ini­tiate a great change, and more often by those who knew the direction of the winds and adjusted their sails accordingly.

If you still don’t get it: Attractors make you smarter. Gandhi’s under­standing of the attractor of a democratic society and national sovereignty enabled him to “push the right buttons” at the right time so that colonial rule could be ended without firing a shot. He knew he did not have to force change to happen, but that it was more effective to gently steer the forces already in motion in a more preferable direction. By getting the attractor right, Gandhi grasped the golden opportunity that had dawned in his time: that freedom could be obtained, not by threat of physical force, but sim­ply by holding his colonial overlords to the same principles they themselves had sworn allegiance to. Brilliant. One person getting the att­ractor right may just have saved a million lives.

Jobs’ understanding of the attractor of a digitized society enabled him to see the computer as more than just a fast calculator to aid govern­ments and businesses, as most of his contemporaries did, but instead as a univer­sal tool to enable common people be more creative and empowered. He knew he didn’t have to know all the things people would use them for, just that he should make them more user-friendly—and a revolu­tion would follow. Getting it right made him filthy rich and turn­ed him into one of the most beloved public figures of our time.[ii] Quite extra­ordinary really.

“if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history”

The Spirit of the Laws Evolving

A good example of someone who identified an attractor is Montesquieu’s “separation of powers”, presented in his 1748 trea­tise The Spirit of Laws. Of course, earlier versions of this idea can be traced back to Athenian democracy, but Montesquieu gave it a more phil­oso­phically and logically coherent theory: that the legislative, execu­tive and judiciary powers (parliament, government and courts) must be sepa­rated from each other if we are to avoid tyranny and corruption. This tri­partite separation of powers still in­forms all democratic con­sti­tu­tions in the world today. Well done, my good Baron. You hit upon an attra­ctor.

But today we are dealing with a more abstract form of governance that concerns wider as well as more intimate spheres of human life. So the issue natur­ally becomes more complex: Instead of a three-part division of pow­ers, we need six dimensions; each new power being balanced by no less than five others.

Fiction—written words, sheets of paper—was all that Montesquieu’s idea of the separation of powers was to begin with; nothing really “real”. But his words came alive because, in some abstract sense, the Baron was right. His pre­vailing intuition was that power, whenever unchecked and unbalanced by other powers, is detrimental to freedom. He had no studies to show it, no empirical evidence by today’s standards. No “proof” he was correct. And yet many of us now live in societies gover­ned, at least partly, by Montesquieu’s principles. To this day his ideas draw the fine line be­tween democracy and dictator­ship—but we would probably have never known the former if we had demanded proof he was right before making his fiction reality.[iii]

Consequently, if you sense an attractor and seek to act upon it, but people around you demand proof whether it’s going to work, don’t mind these people, carry on; they won’t be the winners of history, whereas you might end up as the new Gandhi or Steve Jobs.

An Attractor Is…

So what is an attractor precisely? And how is it their knowabouts can make you so smart? Let’s get more precise.

Technically speaking,

an “attractor” is a patter­n or equil­ibrium that under certain conditions is very likely to emerge and stab­ilize within a dyna­mical system, such as a society.

We went from hunter-gatherer soci­e­­ties to agriculture—in Eurasia and the pre-Columbian Americas separat­ely—because agriculture was an attractor. We electrified the world, be­cause electricity was an attractor. We all started using interconnected com­puters, be­cause digitization was an attractor. These things did not happen random­ly.

The world is a chaotic place and the future is never predetermined; but on the general level, some things are just more likely to happen than others, and some are very likely to happen. How likely one development or another is to occur is determined by the “gravitational strength” of the att­ractors. Yes, they even talk about “great attractors” also in cosmology, hen­ce the analogy of gravity or pull.[iv]

The advantages of a digitized society, for instance, are simply so great that the gravitational pull of this attractor makes it very, very likely that we would all own a computer one day once it was invented. Today we see that solar and wind power, self-driving electric cars, crypto currencies and nano-technologies act as strong attractors in a similar vein as digit­iza­tion. These are all (potential) attractor points. Getting it right can make you a bitcoin bill­ionaire or turn you into a star entrepreneur like Elon Musk.

It’s hard to reject the idea of how technological attractors play a role in shaping historical developments. Few would claim the personal com­puter was a fluke or that it is just as likely we today would still light candles rather than light bulbs.

However, when it comes to how we think and how we organize society, people tend to be more dismissive of the notion that such delicate matters are under the influence of attract­ors. We like to think it’s all a big coinci­dence that things turned out the way they did, that the future has never been set in stone; that we can decide in which direction history should unfold. “We do have a choice, don’t we?”

Yes we do. But some choices are just much more likely to be made than others. We all make choices, and we take great pains to ensure we make the right ones in order to avoid our actions being completely hap­hazard. As such (given that certain choices have proven so abu­ndantly preferable to others), wouldn’t it be fair to claim that our choices, on a collective level, tend to form certain patterns that are more likely to emerge than others; that we are destined to decide between a limited range of societal models whenever they become poss­ible?

After all, there are a million ways to organize society. Yet human soci­eties tend to be remarkably similar at any stage of historical develop­ment. We could organize society in accordance with the teachings of the Jones­town suicide cult, or Robert Nozick’s minimal state, or set out to make reality of Orwell’s big brother society, or make children the only electable candidates for government, or have all decisions made by rolling dice—the possibilities are endless. But for some reason most of today’s coun­tries have chosen and tried to organize themselves along the lines of a modern state or polity[v] with a tripartite structure of govern­ance.

Even if the courts in some cases aren’t really free and independent from those who govern, and the actions of those who govern aren’t always held acc­ountable by the governed, most such despotic regimes still pretend to abide to the principles of the rule of law and the notion that the “people” is the sovereign. Coincidence? Or just a way to avoid pissing off the demo­cratic West? Probably not. Even the communist regimes of the past claim­ed to uphold the principle of rule of law and to represent the “people”—hence the frequent use of “the people’s republic” in the name of many of the most brutal dictatorships. Even Nazi Germany clai­med the German people to be the highest sovereign. And the brutal dic­tator Gaddafi also put great efforts into explaining how he had made a spe­cial deal with the Libyan people. So even if the de facto circumstances remain a far cry from the modern template of governance, rulers still try to make it appear as though the syst­em works in accordance with demo­cratic ideals.

The fact that Montesquieu’s system, in one form or another, spread to most of the world can hardly be coincidental. And the fact that the evol­u­tion of democracy, at least in terms of its constitutional struct­ure, more or less makes a full stop at this point—can hardly be a coin­ci­dence either. You reach a plat­eau; every­one reaches some version of the same system, and then we all stay there for deca­des, even cent­uries.

Beyond all the thou­sands of unique histo­r­ical events, personalities, ten­fold increa­ses of GDP output, and con­­flicts and cultures and mark­ets and ran­dom plot twists (like tsunamis and whatnot), the same syst­em emerges with a regul­arity reveal­ing itself with crushing clarity.

Coin­cid­­ence? No. The correct answer is: attractor. The modern demo­cratic state is not the only attractor, but it is certainly one of the most compet­itive ones.


So what is the next attractor?

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. The word “attractor” is taken from the mathematical study of dynamical systems where it’s used to designate a set of numerical values towards which a system tends to evolve. We are here avoiding a more cumbersome discussion about what kinds of attractors there are. Since societies are very complex phenomena, we are talking of complex forms of attractors, called “strange attractors”, i.e. attractors that have a fractal structure. This term was coined by Ruelle and Takens. The most famous strange attractor is the Lorenz attractor, described already in 1963 by Edward Lorenz. These early models were made to describe meteorological phenomena.

See: Ruelle, D., Takens, F., 1971. On the nature of turbulence. Communications in Mathematical Physics. 20 (3): 167–192.

[ii]. Yes, we all know there was a dark side to Jobs, too. The point here is simply to point out the power of attractors.

[iii]. The point is not, of course, that our suggested “Montesquieu 2.0” should cancel the democratic principles of Montesquieu’s tripartite division, but to build another layer on top of them. The new insights regulate the old ones, but they don’t cancel them. Montesquieu’s division of powers still holds.

[iv]. “What Is The Great Attractor?” Universe Today. 2014-07-14.

[v]. I sometimes use the word “polity” instead of “state”.

A Neomasculist Defence of Gillette

I write this article with a heavy heart, a subtle sense of dismay. Never in the world did I imagine myself writing in the defense of a shaving brand. Sigh. Yet, here we are: stuck at gender. In the eleventh hour of existential risks and issues of unimaginable scope, we’re at junior high. We suddenly turn away from terrifying depths, wuthering heights and expanding horizons… to consider dicks and pussies and gender identity. And cheap commercials and shaving. But if that’s where we’re at, so be it.

“If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues.”

Okay, let’s go through this, but then let’s be done with it and be on to something at least vaguely dignified. If we are going for mass extinction, let’s not do it because we got distracted by our junior high issues. Let’s go down with a *little* more dignity, shall we? Finest hour, anyone? How’s that for manhood.

The Video that Shook the World of Men

By now, my readers will know the story: the razor brand Gillette (not really a good-guy company by “politically correct” standards, charging women more for equal products, etc., owned by Swiss giant Procter & Gamble) released a video with a “progressive man” message, commenting on the #metoo movement. The ad also depicts some not-very-masculine boys and adolescents as protagonists. The ad was made by some left-leaning women in marketing. Here’s the video:

This video has been viewed and felt as highly offensive by many men and some (chiefly conservative) women. At the moment is has a million dislikes on YouTube (vs .6 million likes). A boycott was issued, folks filmed themselves throwing away Gillette products. News pundits exploded. YouTuber commentators exploded – among them Ben Shapiro and Joe Rogan (or the latter rather laughed at the issue and said it was “disturbing”). There are many more. This is what I hear them saying:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.
* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.
* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.
* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.
* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

So first thing’s first. What do I feel when I watch it?

Nothing really. Neutral. Slight positive because it lifts some issues such as bullying and sexual harassment. Slight disgust at capitalist opportunism disguised as idealism. Thinking I’ve seen all of the situations in the ad and do recognize that most men in most situations do indeed not stand up and call folks out. Still it all comes out a bit silly, as commercials generally do.

“To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks.”

To the offended party: I think you’re all wrong, folks. And I think that your reaction says more about yourselves than about the commercial. I think you are exact equivalents of the non-constructive, bitter, bitchy kinds of feminists and anti-racists whose toes are always perpetually stepped upon by one wrong word, some naked skin, one commercial or another.

I’m calling you out, guys: you’re being over-sensitive. You’re taking part in a silly hysteria.

Over-Sensitive Machos vs. Science

Let’s look at the points of critique:

* The commercial is anti-male (misandrist), depicting all men as bad and masculinity as inherently negative.

Actually, no. It says men can be both good and bad, and that being good sometimes requires you to question yourself and to stand up against the behavior of other men. That’s the vision offered of a positive masculinity.

The fact that so many men interpret the video as an offense on all masculinity, rather reveals that they are being touchy and misunderstanding things.

* The commercial is patronizing to men by explaining to us how we should be.

Actually, yes. But so are all the other commercials telling us to be top-athlete studs and that we should shave and have thick jaws. So people basing their critique on this criterion cannot be genuine, unless they have also criticized and been offended by the former Gillette commercials.

* The commercial is preaching obvious and boring things.

Yes. And still, that’s how norms work. That’s sociology 101. You repeat obvious things and link them to desirable traits. Joe Rogan says that’s not how society works, and he is exactly wrong, as can and has been demonstrated in empirical science. Quote:

“We posited that media images of men influence the gender role attitudes that men express soon after exposure to the images. A total of 212 men (87% European American, 7% Asian or Asian American, 3% African American, and 3% other) viewed magazine advertisements containing images of men that varied in terms of how traditionally masculine vs. androgynous they were and whether the models were the same age or much older than the viewers. Men who had initially been less traditional espoused more traditional attitudes than any other group after exposure to traditionally masculine models, although they continued to endorse relatively nontraditional views after exposure to androgynous models. These findings suggest that nontraditional men’s gender role attitudes may be rather unstable and susceptible to momentary influences such as those found in advertising.”

And no, it’s not obvious to the world population. Quote from UN report:

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner (not including sexual harassment) at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Evidence shows that women who have experienced physical or sexual intimate partner violence report higher rates of depression, having an abortion and acquiring HIV, compared to women who have not.

And yes, changed attitudes can actually and truly reduce violence against women (as well as other violence, bullying and sexual harassment).  WHO-reports have been written about it (see p. 8).

Hence, empirical science is firmly on the side of the Gillette ad and on the opposite side of the sea of whining men. Currently at 22 million views, if you do the math, this commercial has been watched by the “world-soul” roughly one full human life-time, including sleep. And it will no doubt be watched many more lifetimes. Given the predictive suggestions of science, it may well be the case that it has already saved a truckload of girls from getting harassed, battered or raped.

* It’s not the place of a shaving company to carry forward norms of society.

Okay, so this one is a bit more serious. Should commercials tell us what to do and whom to be in the first place? Perhaps not. But if I have to choose between ones saying we should be sensitive and brave (as this one) and being athletic studs (most others), I prefer this one.

“I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’).”

* The commercial tells it wrong, men don’t speak for women; rather it’s the other way around.

This was pointed out by Ben Shapiro, based on anecdotal experience and by other observers as well. Again, science says the opposite with very strong and consistent figures.

Anyway, touché guys. I expect some angry reactions now and some ad hominems (pomo, low-stage, daddy issues, soy-boy, disembodied, keep ‘em comin’). Which is also what happens when you go after hysterical non-productive feminism. Can’t you see that you, self-proclaimed masculists, are the mirror image of the latter? Come on boys, prove me right.

Postfeminism /// Neomasculism

What would then be a productive, healthy, masculine reaction?

Frankly – to just not care about a stupid commercial. To be man enough to work to save the world. Shaved or not.

The pathology revealed by what can only be described as the disproportionate and inappropriate public response to this ad is not, however, as most feminists will claim, misogyny. No, it runs much deeper than that.

We need a wide large-scale project of personal development on the behalf of boys and men, in order to get into step with the new economy, the new woman – and new gender identities – arriving on the world stage. What we are seeing, I believe, is an expression of how powerless men feel in this strange new wonderland. And when we feel powerless, we get stingy and over-sensitive. This pathology runs right through – and marks – the current men’s movement. Unfortunately. It’s simply not a good grade for them. We need a much better men’s movement than that. That, if anything, is what the Gillette debacle has revealed.

I am only comfortable with a postfeminist position *if* it successfully transcends and includes feminism – in particular the undeniable and empirical aspects of inequality and relations between the genders. Otherwise it isn’t real postfeminism. The proof that the folks offended by the ad weren’t true postfeminists? None of them bothered to check if the world actually *does* work according to the assumptions of this ad. Which it does. More proof? Their message is indistinguishable from that of the classical conservatives. How much is this post-anything? And how much is it simply social conservatism? Nothing wrong with it, but that’s what it is.

“I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism.”

I want us to move towards a “neomasculist” position, one that *is* tough and manly but is still friends with feminism. One that doesn’t get “offended” at every corner, isn’t over-sensitive. One that lifts itself, by virtue of character and understanding, above the trench wars of the gender issues and identity politics at large. One that lands in a paradigm of emotional and sexual development.

This issue is addressed in my upcoming book, Nordic Ideology. Feminism and masculism need one another. They are two sides of the same equation. And several commentators have pointed out, including the philosopher Slavoj Žižek and the online media channel Rebel Wisdom (edit: link was provided by commentator) that if there is “toxic masculinity”, it cannot be *all* 10 000 years of traditional masculinity, and there should logically be such a thing as “toxic femininity”. I agree. And I’m not that fond of the term, toxic masculinity, because it makes it sound like being macho would always be a bad thing.

I’m not siding with the male-bashing here: just asking more of the men’s reactions. This wasn’t real male-bashing and these reactions aren’t appropriate. And more of the men’s movement in general. If folks want me to do it, I will even take a break from other activities and write a short book on a new (metamodern) view of gender and sexuality: Postfeminism /// Neomasculism would be the working title.

I realize that I tease a bit in this article. But I think, frankly, that these affronted men should be able to take it. If you are furious right now, please do stop and think of why. Be honest. Feel your body. I can only make you mad if I hit your insecurities. What makes you tick so? The answer is in there. That’s a teacher better than any shaving commercial.

Hey, I’m treating you like men by telling it straight. Straight talk is not condescending if it’s true and productive. And frustrations aren’t always bad. Neither are conflicts. I say, such a neomasculist approach is indeed the best a man can get.

So, affronted party of un-Gillette-shaved machos – what have you got? 

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here.