Politics of Theory: Transparent, Democratic, Conscious Brainwashing

Of the six new forms of politics (the former being Democratization, Gemeinschaft, Existential, Emancipation and Empirical politics) the Politics of Theory is the strangest, the most radical and the most complex. It, more than any of the previously discussed ones, builds upon the successful implement­a­tion of the other five. If you don’t have all the other ones in place, this one can and will flip out in every conceivable manner. And yet, in a way, it constitutes the very essen­ce of meta­modern politics. It is the most dangerous of all of my ideas. Time for dangerous dreams, on the edge of madness, at the cross­roads of fact and fiction.

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. 

Culture into Our Own Hands

The basic idea of Politics of Theory (or “of Narrative”) is to monitor, steer and regulate the fundamental “theory of everything” that people subscribe to; our shared narrative or worldview. Straight talk: It’s the politics of massive population brainwashing.

I realize how this sounds. But hold on just a second.

All societies more or less brainwash their citizens into a certain story (or set of competing stories) about reality, society, humanity and life. We are all socialized into a certain identity, ideo­logy and ontology—ideas about our “self” and our place in the un­i­verse, about what’s right and wrong, and about what’s really real in the first place. We imbue the cul­tural code of our society; we are bathed in it, fed with it, marinated in it, drowned in it. Every person who speaks a language and is above a certain cognitive stage of dev­elop­ment will have some kind of answers to the fun­damental quest­ions of life, and most of these originate from their social context. It’s in the air we breathe.

The modern conception of a historical development towards higher le­v­els of individual autonomy in thinking (they used to tell people to believe in Jesus, but now we’re free to believe what we want) is manifestly wrong. Or, at least, it is “true but partial”. The mod­ern project and its reach for freedom is undergirded by a corres­ponding growth of intimate mechanisms of control, mechanisms through which minds, bodies and behaviors are controlled and coordinated to an unpre­cedented degree. The most obvious of these mechanisms is schoo­ling: “Society” takes all kids at age six and indoctrinates them for twelve years. If that isn’t brain­wash­ing of an astronomical magnitude, I don’t know what is: millions of people, shaped, trained, drilled, molded, taught, disci­plined, controlled.

No matter how much we may tell ourselves that our educational system is “liberal” and only brings out “what wants to flourish within each per­son”, it is obvious that such socialization must always be structured some­how, meaning, it must build on certain premises and ideals. And that in turn molds our bodies and minds. School in present-day cap­italist digiti­zed democracies isn’t the same as school in 20th century comm­unist Po­land or Franco’s Spain.

So the question, then, is not “should we have massive and extensive brain­washing of millions?”—we already do, and we probably must: Mo­d­ern soc­iety relies upon an educational system, and all societies rely upon shared narra­tives and intricate coordination of people’s perspectives and streams-of-action.

Rather, the question is, “should this underlying theory of everything be brought under contin­uous, ex­plicit, democratic scrutiny, or should it re­main beyond our reach in terms of democratic governance”?

You see—what initially may seem as the libertarian, “liberal” or demo­cratic good-guy response: “we should let everyone make up their own minds!” is actually the authoritarian response. Listen to yourself:

“NAY! Millions of people should be brainwashed and no discussion or com­mon discourse should be held about what that entails, or why! All of us should be taught what is thought of as common sense and no comprehen­sive demo­cratic dis­cussion should be held about it! This is freedom!”

Freedom of thought? Doesn’t sound like it to me. Sounds like oppres­sion, like authoritarianism.

No. The freedom-loving response, and the only res­pon­sible response, is to say that we will make the massive brainwashing of everyone visible rather than invis­ible, explicit rather than implicit, trans­parent rather than opaque, thought-through and well-argued rather than cust­om­ary and habitual, sub­ject to public scrutiny rather than to quiet con­sent, in the hands of the many rather than the few.

The initial negative response most people have to the idea of a Politics of Theory is that of “the liberal innocent”. The liberal innocent is the mindset that thinks you can just take any one position within the normal Left-Right spectrum, live a “normal life” and that you will be the good guy, and that there is no blood on your hands for all the good suggestions you ignore or for all the critical discussions you suffocate. But, of course, there are no such positions of innocence. If your complacency kills, you are guilty as charged: This is either “game denial” or “game acceptance” as you have blocked real and possible “game change”.

Or, as we have said earlier in the present volume, these defenders of free­dom turn out to be the “false defenders of democracy”.

The fact is that the massive brainwashing is already happening. People are brain­washed, for instance, to think of animals as less worth than hum­ans and that they can be tortured for the most trivial of human con­cerns. What the “liberal” response implies, then, is a preclusion of fur­ther discus­s­ion of the most important thing of all: the social construc­tion of reality and everyday life. That, my suspicious friend, is anything but inno­cent. Seri­ously—who’s the Stalinist here?

So, yes, I am saying we should use political means to brainwash the population. And yes, I do recognize this is a dangerous idea. But the point is we’re already doing it. All I am saying is that we should add a demo­cratic discussion about it and call it for what it is. Is that more or less im­prudent than the current system? Is it more or less democratic? More or less fana­tic?

Should the massive, ongoing brainwashing be brought under demo­cratic control or not? The main difference, the deepest difference, between modern and metamodern society lies in the answer to this question.

Modern society and its project of enlightenment and progress uses sci­ence and economic grow­th to reshape nature in accordance with the inner projections of the human mind—but it does not see its own culture and fundamental world­view as subject to change. It doesn’t recognize that not only does our knowledge of the world evolve, but so does our perspective of our knowledge of the world. Our own thinking and our viewing of the world are believed to simply rest in the background; they are a constant, as “man” pro­gresses thr­ough the universe over the millennia!

The postmodern critique of the modern world revealed that the under­lying patterns of thought and ideas governing the lives of people can be quest­ioned, analyzed, deconstructed, unveiled. It led intellectuals to ques­tion the universality of the modern project in its entirety.

Metamodern society takes that fundamental code, our very own per­spec­tives, into its own hands, and shapes it, just as it shapes nature; metamodernism is the historical point when society becomes conscious of itself.

So if modern “man” boldly rode out to conquer outer space, metamod­ern soc­iety takes into account that the very concept of “man” and its under­lying presupp­ositions will only last for a while and is already being replaced by other ideas of the fundamental protagonist in the universe: self-org­aniz­a­tion and conscious­ness, categories beyond any anthropocen­tric and hum­­anistic bia­ses. And then it—“it” being the metamodern mind as a pattern of hum­an agency—works to reshape not only outer space, but the very per­spective, the very maps from which that reorg­anizing is to occur. It is the conquest, if you will, of inner space.

Just as our maps of the uni­verse, our scientific maps, are always limited in scope, reli­ability and applicability, so are our maps of meaning, our dis­courses, our narratives, our mythologies, our language structures, our “im­aginaries” and “imagined communities”, our cognitive schema—our soc­ial construction of reality. And, given different circumstances, some maps are better than others, and our maps must be reshaped to fit what­ever conditions life throws at us, as (in)dividual persons, as states, as an emerging global civilization.

To the modern mind, nature is the object, the “great it” and culture is the subject, the “great me” who acts upon a silent cosmos. To the meta­modern mind, culture and nature are both part of the object, whereas the subject is the transpersonal developmental process itself. Just as na­ture must be governed, regulated and controlled for mod­ern civiliza­tion to exist, so must culture itself be governed, regul­ated and con­trolled for a metamodern soc­iety to emerge and be sustained.

“Metamodern society” is defined as a society where the modern ail­ments—eco­logical unsustainability, excess inequality and alienation—are extin­gui­sh­ed, for all practical purposes; a relative utopia. If we want to achieve relative utopia, we’re going to have to consciously and deliberately develop culture itself.

A Serpent Biting Its Own Tail

Society’s cultural development and narr­a­tives about reality set the frame­works, goals and limitations for the actual applicat­ions of the natural sci­ences and technology. Our perspective of reality shapes how we use the forces of nature.

Today we can create all sorts of bizarre little mutants by means of gene­tic man­ipulation (there are, for inst­ance, frogs with eyes on the back of their head created by re­searchers at Tuft’s University, and the nerves of the frog’s third eye lead to the part of the brain that registers hearing). And we can, soon enough, trans­form the global ecosystems and human biology itself, including the brain and hence the inner worlds of expe­rience. We will be able to create new life and new conscious experience: extremely high and low inner states. If anything goes wrong, we can all but literally create hell.

We’re talking about transformations of sentient life itself—a notion popularized by the physicist and AI theoretician Max Tegmark as “life 3.0”. This life can not only reproduce itself (life 1.0), nor just change its culture (life 2.0) but can change its own hardware, its own physical pro­perties (life 3.0).

But according to which ideals should such transformations take place? Within which frameworks, according to which goals, with which constra­ints? The answers to all of these questions dep­end on our culture. And who decides how to develop culture?

Simply put: Who gets to brainwash who, and on what grounds?

The transformation of nature is accelerated and deepened in our time; and since nature is transformed by the logics of culture, we must begin to think of how culture itself can be transformed—before it irrevoc­ably tran­s­forms nature into something un­desirable, such as unimaginable amounts of suffering that would make the Second World War seem like a walk in the park. Point being: More advanced tech­nology requires more advanced narratives; in some sense, “better” narr­atives.

Yes, some worldviews and narratives are likely to be “better” than oth­ers, given certain technological/historical circumstances, and thus it is of ut­most concern that the “best” narratives come to the fore and take hold.

But here’s the para­dox: We can of course only evaluate what might be a “good” narra­tive from inside of the confines of whatever narrative we already subscribe to! In one narrative the greatest good for the greatest number is the goal, in another it is to get people to wake up to the truth of Jesus being our savior and the son of God, literally speaking (lest they go to hell for eternity, which is serious business after all), and so on. Each of them will have us transform nature and culture in different direc­tions, according to diff­erent premises.

Yet, again, how do we know which one of all the possible worldviews we should pick, given that they them­selves can only be eval­uated as seen from inside of another world­view? We don’t, after all, have access to “the eyes of God”, and so we can’t see all the worldviews “from the out­side”. We’re stuck, seemingly.

Or are we?

When our culture begins to create institutions of Politics of Theory, it takes a view of itself that is necessarily culturally and historically situated; culture considers how to develop itself. Culture becomes both object and subject, both the change-maker and the clay in the potter’s hands. A potter made of clay (as the first man by God in the biblical Genesis), who in turn makes another potter of clay. A fractal of infinite depth. And when we begin to recreate life itself by means of bio-engineering, this takes on a whole new dimension: cul­ture recreat­ing nature, recreating conscious­ness, recreating culture, recre­ating nat­ure, and so on… We are diss­olving the boundary bet­ween nature and culture and diving into the depths of development.

There is no clear beginning or end to the relationship of cul­ture to culture/nature itself: It is like a serpent in a ring, biting its own tail, an ancient symbol also called the “the ouroboros” (sometimes it’s a dra­gon biting its tail). The Klein bottle is another image that comes to mind (the mathematical image of a “bottle containing itself” first presen­ted in 1882 by Felix Klein). Or, if you like another image less im­bued with occult or mathematical symbol­ism: a dog chasing its own tail.

So if we try to have a discussion about which culture is better and which worldview should be taught at schools and be upheld in everyday life, we will necessarily be like the serpent biting its own tail. Nevertheless, we have to do it, because if we fail to develop our culture and worldviews in deliberate and intelligent ways, we won’t optimize the people’s world­views, and the world can and will be governed from frameworks and nar­ratives that will prove to be incompa­tible with our new-won powers over nature and ourselves.

Where, then, does this leave us? Does it leave us saying that all that can be done is that all members of society will have to fight it out by arguing that their worldview is the best, and then we’ll just have to hope the best player wins in a Darwinian struggle between memes? Not quite.

If Politics of Theory entails taking the development of our culture and shared narratives into our own hands, it makes a whole lot of difference how the dog chases its own tail. Is it stumbling about cluelessly or is it an elegant, self-conscious and playful swirl of a dance? We should create institutions that improve the possibilities of dif­ferent world­views to meet and argue about the proper balance between them.

Under the best possible settings and circumstances there is an increa­sed likelihood that the more complex, universal, nuanced and (in a deep sense of the word) secularized worldviews and value-systems eventually will win out. The “more advanced” worldviews are likely to win because they tend to beat the simpler ones on their own terms. But again—that is only true over a large number of repeated itera­tions, under the proper circumstances of free and fair exchanges, mini­mally distorted by power games, rhetoric, social domin­an­ce hierarchies and so forth.[i]

Under the current historical conditions, we have democratic instituti­ons; rights and liberties that enshrine a somewhat free and fair “market of ideas”, even if distortions and manipulations necessarily occur. What we don’t have is a proper set of institutions with the explicit goal of monito­ring and steering the worldviews of the population. Politics of Theory would offer just that: an institutional framework for our stories about the world to come together, and for the best narrative—or meta-narrative with a set of sub-narratives—to be explored, developed and spread.

The difference between this way of thinking and the major brainwash­ing programs set in motion by the authoritarian communists of the 20th century is that the latter never created a framework that could let through other ideas than their own. They already thought they knew “what’s right” and simply pro­ceeded to the brain­washing part.

What I am suggesting is different: The brain­washing should be demo­crat­ically up for grabs by all contenders, and all political actors will need to specify which worldview they would like to spread and why—which means all worldviews become subject to greater self-scrut­iny.

What you get then is not that one monolithic idea someone read in this or that book gets shoved down everyone’s throat, but a richer “diffract­ion” of many different perspectives. You know, diffra­ction is when sound­waves cross one another and create new patterns. We should get the best possible cultural pattern-of-patterns, and make cer­tain it is spread in a fair and transparent manner.

That’s what Politics of Theory is about; it wants your brain.

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]. For readers versed in social theory, you likely recognize this as an echo of Fou­cault and Habermas. Foucault points out that we can only ever judge anything from within the confines of our own value-system and worldview, and concludes that the best we can do is to deconstruct our dominant worldview, but Habermas coun­ters that people on average and over time will tend to converge around at least some issues if the communication functions very well, and says that there is a kind of developmental potential in communication itself. Or simply put: If all we can do is chase our own cultural tail (Foucault), at least we can do so smoothly and elegantly and soon the dog will swirl up through the air and rise to new heights (Hab­er­mas).

What Most of Us Get Wrong about Meditation and Society

We are imagining a future in which we as a society find ways of mon­i­toring the development of a number of key issues that pertain to the inner growth and existential wellbeing of all members of society—then offer­ing support to all citizens during key transitional periods of their lives in acc­ordance with their needs and longings. This will lead to significantly less social and economic fallout of peo­ple’s periods of crisis, and it will seriously boost the number of highly func­tional and men­tally healthy people. In a similar vein Existential Politics should work to develop the medi­tation skills and the level of introspection and meta-cognition in society at large, as well as raising the average inner “subjective state” experien­ced by people in everyday life.

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 basically, it should be a long-term goal to train everybody in con­templation, self-observation and meditation, starting from early child­hood when our brains are especially malleable. If we transform not only the content of people’s minds and the nature of our human relations, but the very base structure by which our minds function, we transform soci­ety.

Meditation and society. There are two different ways to think about this, one of them wrong and the other correct and productive. As so often is the case with these things, almost all observers and practitioners think about it in the wrong way.

Let’s start with the incorrect, stupid way of thinking about this. It goes something like this: “Because meditation is good for you and has a bunch of benefits, people should do more of it, and if we get everyone to do lots of it, then all things will be much better.”

There is some truth to this statement—indeed, if one advanced society has every­one above age nine meditating for 20 minutes per day and ano­ther society doesn’t, all things equal, the first is likely to be somewhat bet­ter off in terms of how people feel and behave—but that really is just a piss in the Mississippi, and there are no guarantees. The pro­blem is that we’re view­ing meditation as:

  1. a specific, delineated activity,
  2. as a binary question of either-or,
  3. as a static “thing” that can be “added”, and
  4. as some­thing to instrumentally do for the sake of other benefits.

With this kind of thinking, meditation so often becomes an unexami­ned prop taken to have semi-magical properties, or it is scor­ned as a cheap trick, or subjected to a one-time evaluation trial and then either rejected wholesale or used in other, unrelated contexts.

The reason people think this way about meditation is of course that they have limited knowledge of and/or experience with it, or that there is some kind of seduction to the idea of this black box fix-it-all. But while under­standable and forgivable, this way of thinking about meditation simply is not what can and will transform society.

The second and correct way of viewing meditation-in-society becomes apparent once you zoom in on the phenomenon—experientially, analy­tically and scientifically. Meditation turns out not to be a convenient black box or a nifty add-on, but a whole continent.

Think about it, how huge isn’t your inner landscape? It truly is a vast con­tinent. When we talk about meditation and the inner work of consci­ou­sly examining and affect­ing these inner landscapes—are we looking at certain techniques for con­cen­tration, or inner familiarization with which emoti­ons arise and how, or direct inquiries into what consciousness itself is, or tech­niques to calm or quiet the mind, or techniques to increase the subt­lety and sharp­ness of our perceptions of sensations throughout the body, or the practice of not reacting negatively to unpleasant sensations but only res­ponding with equanimity, or the per­ception and work with subtle inner experienced flows through our guts, or the deliberate efforts to shift to alter­nate mental states, or the contemp­lation of deep mysteries or koans, or star­ing at white walls, or walking or moving our bodies very mindfully, or look­ing very mindfully at a certain ob­ject of beauty until all thoughts fade away, or meticulously studying one’s thought structures and their phenomen­ological underpinnings, or cult­ivating certain attitu­des or emo­tions like loving-kind­ness and com­passion, or contemplating our greatest fears to try to get over our aver­sions towards them, or con­tem­plating our most eager desires to try to tran­scend our att­ach­­ments, or trying to remind ourselves of some pro­found truths to guide us, or are we just sitting down with no expect­ation, or doing some­thing else that has to do with wordless relations beyond any and all “tech­niques”, or the liste­ning to a sooth­ing sound, or the visualization of a peaceful place, or a radical dive into the very moment of Now, or the subtle exploration of the topology of the inner horizon—i.e. how our inner lands­cape is shaped as space—or using self-suggestion and mantras, or lying down and exploring the edges of sleep and being awake and the possibilities of “lucid dream­ing” (when we dream but we know it), or actively using our breath as a mood regulator, or trying to purify our minds from old mental toxins by means of processes of identifying with the things we don’t like and see that they were really parts of ourselves all along…

You see where I’m going. Each of these forms of meditation and count­less others I didn’t mention are, in turn, not singular “things”; each of them is a rich process with trapdoors and potentials. Each of them can take a life­time to learn and ex­plore. Simply: Since the inner world is vast, when awareness and attention are brought to operate upon consciousness itself, there are thousands or millions of actions that can be taken, milli­ons of mental events that can occur.

Add to this that each of these forms of meditation can be 1) taught and explained in different ways, 2) practiced for different lengths of time and at different times of the day with different intervals, 3) practiced in very diffe­rent social cont­exts and situations, 4) used for different age groups or other forms of calibrations, 5) used or learned in any sequence or combi­nation of different techniques, 6) studied empirically and evaluated and spread in accor­d­ance with best practices, 7) evaluated by different criteria of success or fail­ure, such as preventing mental illness, reducing stress, in­creasing subjective state or successfully integrating traumatic experiences, and 8) interacting with any number of psychological, neurological or psy­chiatric variables, inclu­ding possible risks and adverse effects.

All things said and done, it should be understood that “meditation and society” is not a straightforward relationship. It is a rich field which holds many subtle but profound possibilities of societal trans­formation.

A good comparison can be made to other basic skills, namely reading, writing and arithmetic. If you teach a kid to read and write, it doesn’t nec­essarily make them much smarter, and it doesn’t in itself guarantee a good life. It all depends, of course, on what this person will be reading and writing. If they read Nazi propaganda and poorly spelled snuff porn all day, only breaking off to write hate emails to members of their local min­ority population, they would perhaps have been better off without lit­eracy after all.

The point is that literacy is a whole world, a whole continent. It’s not this “one thing” that can be “implemented” and should or should not be done 20 minutes per day.

And yet, literacy is fundamental to our society. To metamodern soci­ety, meditation—contemplation, introspection, phenomenological ex­plo­­ra­­tion—is that fundamental. The human mind is running haywire and diving right into a global super-nano-robotics-AI-bio-digitized eco­nomy galore, and you want to leave our minds unchecked, unexamined and without pro­per tools for self-scrutiny and self-knowledge? That, my friend, would be as crazy as trying to run a modern society without lite­racy and arith­me­tic. Meditation is that fundamental. It’s self-observation and self-reflection, a higher layer of self-organ­i­zation.

If we had told a peasant in the 1700s that their children should stop wor­king the fields to go learn something called “chemistry” and “phy­sics” by looking at letters and numbers, this would indeed have seemed very abstr­act and as a waste of time. To the modern mind, investments in dev­eloping the inner world necessar­ily appear wasteful and frivolous in a correspond­ing man­ner. Not only is the modern mind focused on outward progress and achie­vement, but its very sense of reality is built around intersubjective verifi­cation. Hence, turning inwards to what cannot be seen and shown in the inter­sub­jective realm appears as a way of turning away from reality itself.

There are some promising beginnings in the work of secular Buddhists such as Robert Wright and Sam Harris, just as there is plenty of research, neuro­logical and other, in prominent scientists such as Richard Davidson, Tania Singer, Olga Klimecki, Daniel Siegel and others who would deserve men­­tion­ing—many of whom work with experienced meditators and do indeed con­firm they have un­usually happy and healthy brains (and even vagus nerves, how about that). Long story short, meditation is a real thing.

One obstacle to getting anywhere in terms of meditation-in-society is that it deals with a hypercomplex entity: the brain, or our nervous system as a whole with interacting physiological systems. As such it is difficult to generalize knowledge about it: I may experience bliss and healing doing one type of meditation, but you might find the same exercise boring or even harmful. (Whatever theories, models or metaphors we can glean about the nature of meditation and inner experience, these must, for the foreseeable future, remain pale “shadows on the wall”, recognized facets of surface phenomena, as compared to the actual intricacies of what is actu­ally going on.)

Too often people will have a very good experience with one technique and then try to evangelize it to the world; “oh, if only everyone did exactly this one thing, in this particular sequence!”[i] But in reality, patterns of inner growth and experience are very hard to generalize, even to our­selves over time. We are so, so far away from an exact predictive science in this field, even if there are certainly compelling research results. And the same goes for psychology, really. All psychological theories and tradi­tions are in fact pale shadows of the complexity and depth of the actual mind.

This, of course, leaves plenty of room for Existential Politics to pool con­siderable resources into learning how the inner landscapes of humans can be developed, and which practices can be taught and how, when, where etc. Research, implementation, professional roles, countering ad­verse effects of training, ethics… We need a real, in­stitutional platform for the adminis­tration of long-term inner develop­ment. We require an on­going process in society to take meditation as ser­iously as reading and writing.

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]. That’s by the way what has happ­ened to pretty much all of the traditional religious paths.

Empirical Politics: Why We Need A Peer-reviewed Society

Our work, as metamodern philosophers and scientists, is to rewrite the very fabric of what is real, as our participatory perspectives ex­press higher truths, as they mirror more profound insights—and land us in a vast landscape of reflections, gazing deeper into the abyss.

Science is the process of building upon what we know, which ultimat­ely always tears down the previously known. It is a dance of conscious­ness, always delving into a deeper mystery. We don’t live in a universe where “science” tells us “the truth”. We live in a universe where the truth always lies beyond us as we plunge into its mystery.

This part of the story is relatively straightforward—and yet it is far from. On the one hand, the aim of Empirical Politics is something that is already an accepted norm in pretty much all societies—simply that poli­cies, regulations and practices can and should be based upon the best available information and empirically tested knowledge. For instance, if patients are granted the right to get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for depression, it is in the interest of most everyone involved that CBT can be shown to work to reduce depression. Nobody would argue with that.

On the other hand—and this is where things get interesting—defining what is “good science” and what level of empirical foundations can reas­onably be expected within each field of decision-making, and how such empirical support should be cultivated, is difficult. It is, one could say, a whole science in its own right.

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. 

Not Obvious, Not Naive

And that’s exactly why we need Empirical Politics; we require an on­going, deliberate and explicitly planned process for making society more scienti­fically driven and empirically tested.

If making society as em­pirically solid as possible was an easy or obvious thing, we could “just do it” and be done. But since it is such a highly ab­stract and difficult thing, we need a wide-reaching process through which differ­ent paths to val­idity, reliability, consequentiality and truth­fulness are suggested and tested ag­ainst each other.

We need to perpetually answer and re-answer questions about practi­ces in society. This points us towards more reliable empirical results.

For example, which kind of didactics should be used for which kids in school when they learn to read? Given that we can agree on some basic aims (high infor­m­a­tion reten­tion, concentration, good reading speed, good aware­ness of one’s own reading style, etc.)—it’s an empirical quest­ion. How should we use pol­icing and social work to reduce crime rates? Empirical question. What level of social welfare optimizes security with­out being financially unten­able? Empirical question. How do we improve the quality of demo­cratic delib­eration and the average political engage­ment of citizens? Empirical question. How do we reduce the level of false infor­mation and increase people’s ability to critically evaluate sour­ces of infor­mation (as well as one’s own beliefs and presuppositions)? Em­pirical que­stion.

You get the idea. The core issue of Empirical Politics is how to optimi­ze the process of getting the best possible empirical knowledge and to get all parts of society to commit to using that knowledge. And that, my sus­picious friend, is far from a no-brainer.

The societal value of empirical science and knowledge cannot be over­stated. Even if we get a deeper form of demo­cracy, people will still need to base their shared decisions upon as sound evidence as possible. The whole point of having a better decision-making process is to come closer to a shared truth; so in the last instance you will still be dep­endent on evalu­ations, cost-benefit analyses, facts, second opinions, addi­tional tests and so forth. What does “an opinion” help, or someone’s “feel­ings” for that matter, if the facts speak against it? Should we treat people with vaccines? Are GMOs dangerous? Are the Jews conspiring ag­ainst our race? Does im­pri­sonment of convicted criminals help; if so, whom, how and under what circumstances? Whatever feelings or gut react­ions we may have to­wards these issues, it is in our common interest that the most valid and reliable data are pro­duced, presented and rigorously (but not conclusi­vely) inter­preted for us.

Precisely because a completely science-driven politics can only ever be a naive fantasy, we must continuously bombard the entirety of politics and bureaucracy with new and critical empirical evidence. “Ideol­ogical posi­tions” in the bad sense of the word (holding on to simple, pre­con­ceived supp­os­itions about complex issues, where our ideas about em­piri­cal truth follow our values rather than the other way around) are often due not only to our cognitive biases, but also simply to lack­ing em­pirical data and a rigorous discussion of all relevant in­for­mation. As em­pirical knowledge grows, and the demands to cast one’s arguments in ver­ified facts increase, the inner pressure to adopt ready-made template ideol­ogies decreases. It should be pointed out that, at some level, most atro­cities have relied upon false assumptions about factual affairs: the Jews weren’t actually conspiring against Germa­ny, and no soc­ialist utopia emer­ged if you just whacked the kulak farmers hard enough by forcing them to collectivization, and you couldn’t actually resha­pe hum­an nature at will by brainwashing folks. These were false ass­ump­tions about fac­tual matters.

If you look at the great theorists of science, from the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, to Steven Jay Gould’s witty histories, to Thomas Kuhn’s and Karl Popper’s philosophies, to Richard Feynman’s ingenious commen­tary, to Steven Pinker’s book Enlightenment Now, to all the critical voices from the sociology of knowledge and ethnographic stud­ies of science as a social practice—at the very least all of these agree that sci­ence isn’t stra­ight­for­ward, that it must be upheld, maintained, defended and re­newed. Achie­ving a scientific society isn’t easy.

In advanced late modern countries, politics is already to some extent data- and science-driven. When national politicians are ask­ed what they are going to do about this or that complex problem, a common reply is that they are going to pay a bunch of university professors to initiate an invest­igation into the matter and come up with sugg­est­ions. Then the par­liamen­tarians, sooner or later, usually follow through on these suggesti­ons, often in broad consen­sus from left to right. Like­wise, more and more of decision-making is dele­gated to meritocrat­ically selected but unelected ex­perts, consultants and technocrats. In a way, then, such soc­ieties are al­ready slipping into an early form of Empirical Politics—often, however, partly at the expen­se of demo­cratic legitimacy and transparency. As the systems of governance are tasked with tackling greater complexity and more issues that require technical detail, they tend to slide towards tech­no­cracy.

Empirical Politics is the process through which the long and tricky path to a scientifically sound society is discovered and traveled. It should be obvious, after all, that today’s society is still largely unscientific: Massive institutional practices are kept alive without a shred of evidence for them being the best alternative, most peo­ple are relatively poor at sci­entific reas­on­ing and critical thinking, and the poli­tics of the major parties are largely based upon loose “opinions”. Most of life goes unex­amined (Socrates turns in his grave) and the unexamined life gets away with it—most fatefully, per­haps, the criminal justice system. Given the very power­ful tech­nological forces that are about to be unleashed upon the world, the fail­ure to seriously up­grade the level of sci­entificness in society is danger­ous, bordering on sui­cidal.

Yet, societies of today are, in a variety of ways, “more scientific” than those of a century ago. Still we should make certain that it is an explicit and prior­itized goal to make tomorrow’s society yet more scientific than today’s. Do we know that this kind of schooling is the best in terms of sec­uring long-term human happiness? Do we know that this prison time for this crime is appropriate and leads to the most desirable consequen­ces? The truth is that most of the time we simply don’t know and we’re pretty much guessing as we go along.

Empirical Politics may sound drier and less exciting than the Politics of Democratiza­tion, Gemeinschaft, Existence and Emancipation. But what is any radical transformation of governance worth without a solid relation­ship to the truth? What is freedom without an intimate connection to the falsifiable search for truth? What is the inner growth of the popula­tion, if it cannot be shown to exist? In fact, I could argue that Empirical Pol­itics is the most radical of all that have hitherto been mentioned—the politics, if you will, of truth itself.

What could be a wilder ride than to align society with the verifiable regu­larities of the cosmos? After all, scientific discovery always surprises us in so many and so earthshattering ways. If madness is civiliza­tion’s sha­dow, our only hope for sanity may lie in increasing our ability to cross­check and fals­ify the proposi­tions of one another. It’s not obvious and it’s not naive.

Higher Levels of Truth?

So what does it mean for society to be “more truthful” or “more scienti­fic”? Here’s what it doesn’t mean: It doesn’t mean that there is one catego­ry of “serious, academic, scientific, rational, empirical, logical and rigor­ous” in­qu­iry and another of “weak, emotionally driven, woo-woo, sloppy” cate­gory, and that the first should displace the second in the highest de­gree poss­ible. In the minds of a lot of stupid people, the first category is good, strong and respectable, while the second is despic­able and feeble. And “I” am of course, always and forever, on the first side, because I have the guts to stand up straight and sober and see society for what it damn well is! And those others are delusional and cowardly. Yeah! If only every­one were like me, all would be scientific!

What is wrong with that supposition? In The Listening Society we discussed the different systems of symbolic code (Modern, Postmodern and Metamodern), the fundamental feature of modern science is inter­sub­jectivity, meaning that science progresses by the act of people verifying or falsifying the findings of one another. Is there an elephant in the room or not; or a rhinoceros, as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein once discu­ssed in a Cambridge office? Do you see it too? By what method can we reasonably find out? How sure can we be? And have we asked the right question to begin with? All of these quest­ions each offer a step at which others can come in and burst our bubb­les and perhaps convince the audi­ence that we are wrong—even showing ourselves that we are mistaken.

The level of “scientificness”, then, is not about people thinking more like yourself. How would we know exactly who is that super-scientific and crit­ically minded respectable person that we all believe ourselves to be? I mean, I know that you are, but how do you convince all those other buckos of that obvious fact? They all seem to believe—preposterously and arrogantly—that they are the scientific and empirical ones! But without a God as ultim­ate umpire, the only claim for universality and truth can come through hav­ing the most power. And if it turns out that Stalin has the most power, his truth will reign—and we will all be reading his Dialectical and Historical Materialism and clap until our hands swell.

No, the level of scientificness of society can only be measured by the density and complexity of the meshwork of intersubjective verification and falsi­fication. Fundamentally, that’s what it means: the degree to which we—collectively as a society consisting of a network of people referring back and forth to one another—manage to check, double-check and triple-check the information, suppositions, methods, claims and ideas of one an­other, and the quality, efficiency and systemic optimization of said checks. A peer-reviewed society? Yes, why not—given that the peer-review system itself is criticized and upgraded.

I have already argued that freedom is a collective good, as are the high­er reach­es of human freedom—well, so is truth. Truth is not due to your intelligence or the honesty of your beauti­ful soul. It depends on how hard and often and fairly and efficiently and rig­orously you are check­ed for bullshit and mistakes, and how often and well those that check you in turn are checked themselves, and how often the check­ers of the checkers are checked—and so on. The finer and more opti­m­ized and har­monic this resonance of inter­subjective verification and/or falsification is throu­gh­­out society, the closer society is to the truth.

Is our present society close to the truth? To get an idea, we can take a look at the field of science itself. There are about 50 million pub­lished “sci­entific” studies at the time of writing, with about 2 million being add­ed every year. On average, only 40% of these seem to produce rep­licable results (and that varies across fields; social psychology is dismally low). And if you look at how many of these research findings are “trian­gulated” (mean­ing that you can see the same finding by use of another, indepen­dent method, as to avoid any biases due to your way of meas­uring), you under­stand that much of science amounts to rather faulty towers. Critical social science and hum­anities are even worse off. Of all papers published in the humanities, in peer-reviewed journals, only about 20% are ever cited. The rest just pile up. Many are only ever read once or twice; whole careers go on like that.[i]

We seem to have reached a systemic limit in terms of sheer “know­ledge prod­uction”. As an emerging global society we need to start think­ing about how to corroborate and solidify knowledge, how to make it tra­vel across discip­lines and social settings so that it lands in the right place, how to invent new applications and combinations of knowledge—how to in­crease the quality of knowledge in a general sense. Most likely, this would involve lowering the (relative) number of pure researchers and in­creasing the auxiliary professional functions.

The fact that science and truth are shaky is a serious matter. The great­est terrors and the darkest nights of history are born from jammed infor­m­ation feedback syst­ems, when glaring truths are systematically supp­ress­ed and ignored. Com­munism, fascism, the animal slavery of today—these evils are, funda­men­tally, direct consequences of unchecked hypoth­eses, of terrible trans­figur­ations of the processes of truth-seeking, of intersubjecti­vity vio­lated.

From an informational perspective, the very reason democracy works (somewhat) is the same reason science works in the first place: It allows for ideas and claims to be intersubjectively scrutinized and check­ed. The developmental direction, in terms of attractors and “relative uto­pia”, could not be clearer than in this case: The society of the future, meta­modern soc­iety, must be a society closer to the approachable but always unattainable truth.

Yes, we live in a universe of multiplicity, a universe of perspective. Yes, there is a multiplicity even of truth itself. Yes, actualities and facts are always but thin slices of a greater pie of potentialities that make up reality in the absolute. And yes, our truths are always relative, dependent upon lan­g­uage games, and we can never speak to the word of God, to an ulti­mate point of reference.

But that doesn’t leave us in darkness. On the contrary, the radical in­sight that all truths are constructed, relative and multifaceted leads us towards a more profound relatedness to the collective seeking of truth: The ability of a society to manage, evaluate and coordinate the greatest possi­ble number of injunctions into the truth is a measure of how truth­ful that society is.

Some societies are more empirical than others. Which ones? It’s an em­pirical question. How do we find out? It’s an analytical question. How do we organize a process of finding out how to be more empirical? It’s a poli­tical question.

An Appalling State of Affairs

Just how unscientific are we, really?

Com­par­ed to an imagined future van­tage point, we can be seen as liv­ing in medieval times in which people think irrationally and superstiti­ously, in which we know too little about most anything. We take all sorts of ad hoc decisions with huge con­sequences and most of our activities are never seriously scrut­inized. The idea is to change that situation, gradually but forcefully. And this process of “truthing” society relies not upon doing what this or that “des­ig­nated smart person” thinks, but by increasing the overall capacity of soc­iety for inter­subjective verification.

Think about it. Each of us are very limited in scope, time, attention, patience and capability, so in almost everything we “know”, we must rely upon the expertise of others. In any and all matters where such expertise does not exist, is scantily clad, or where enough people dispute it, we’re simply left guessing. And still we manage to believe ourselves while we’re making all these horrendously unqualified guesses!

It is often held that supporters of the populist Right are “fact resistant” when it comes to climate change, while they in turn say that the Left den­ies obvious facts about links between e.g. criminality and immigration from the Middle East into Europe. What has happened in these cases is that the civil sphere has been fractured: Different segments of the popula­tion with diff­erent sets of values (and interests) refer to different “authori­ties and ex­perts” who reinforce certain worldviews and preconceived no­tions. Let’s face it—you and I do believe in climate change, but it’s not because we can figure it out ourselves, but because we believe in people who are seen as auth­orities by other people we respect and trust. In the world of the populist Right, another set of people are trusted and cross-referenced, so they can feel safe that they’re right about their worldview. Science outside of the research itself is fundamentally a reference system, and if enough distrust polarizes civil society at large, it will frac­ture what­ever can be seen as “scientific consensus” as well. That’s what’s going on.

But the appalling unscientificness of e.g. Trump voters is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of us aren’t doing much better. In fact, the differen­ces are marginal if you look at the big picture. Take these (simpli­fied) 2013 forecasts published in Science: If we are to globally make the cli­mate goal of keeping the temperature below a 2°C increase (which is still possi­bly catastrophic, as we’ll have more carbon in the atmosphere than for millions of years), we need to re­duce our carbon emissions by something to the tune of 25 billion tons per year before 2060 (as compared to the “bus­iness as usual” scenario). Now imagine this. Re­ducing with one (!) bil­lion tons would require either doub­ling the world’s nuclear power output, or expanding our wind power output by 50 times (some two million new mills), or expanding solar pow­er by a factor of 700, or using a sixth of all globally available arable land to grow biofuels to replace fossil fuels… And if we do all four (linearly increa­sing the output over the period 2013-2060), we are still only done with a small fraction of the overall necessary carbon red­uction; four out of the nec­ess­ary 25 billion tons reduced. And as things stand today, carbon emiss­ions are still grow­ing according to the “business as usual” scenario.[ii]

Most people aren’t responding to this, to the sheer quantitative immen­sity of the task and its rising stakes. They don’t care, they don’t under­stand, they don’t inform themselves because they’re not incentivized to; they don’t pol­itically support serious decisive action and they don’t adjust their life­styles. Many people I talk to really don’t worry about it. Travel by flight is boom­ing glob­ally, as is meat consumption. None of the political parties, inclu­ding the Greens, are advan­cing anywhere near the necessary meas­ures. The media talk about trivialities such as making “conscious choices” and not throwing away good food. This amounts to just another splash of piss in the Mississ­ippi.

That, my suspicious friend, is cata­stro­phically unscientific behav­ior—and it’s not a few hillbillies on the red hills of Georgia. It’s the establish­ment; most people you will meet. It is an indication, if any­thing, that we live in an un­scientific society—leading lives far, far removed from empiri­cal science. It is, frankly, an appalling state of affairs.

And yet, science itself doesn’t point us towards appealing to human ration­ality as the best means for transitioning to sustainability. Within dis­cip­lines such as environmental psychology and behavioral economics, it is becoming abundantly clear that emotional and personal development evolves our values, habits and goals in terms of sustainability. Consequ­ently, science itself seems to point us beyond “rationality”, and towards a meta-­rationality that includes our emotions, relations and narratives. A scien­tific society would not only change our minds, but also our hearts.[iii]

Breathe it in. We are far, far, far away from a truly scientific society. We are medieval.

The Ten-Fold Path to Enlightenment (2.0)

So much for the Enlightenment and its modern project. In short, we must “truth” society. It must be properly truthed. It needs a good and thorough truthing. I give you… the ten-fold path to enlightenment! Enlightenment 2.0, that is.

As with so many other things this is not a bin­ary matter, a matter of either-or, but a developmental matter, a matter of soci­ety advancing to higher stages of empiricism and critical self-scru­tiny. The radicality of this process lies not so much in the general idea that polices should be “evi­dence-based”, but in the thrust to make it an ongoing politi­cal pro­ject to make society more scientific in a wide and pervasive sense.

Here and there, proto versions of Empirical Politics are cropping up. In 2018, the French president Emmanuel Macron annou­nced that his coun­­­try will combat “fake news”. This, of course, begs the quest­ion about who knows the truth, and who gets to say what’s fake, and how fake it has to be? His taken path is much too linear, much too naive and bound to pro­duce self-contradictions and censorship, perhaps in the hands of less libe­ral pow­ers. Clearly, he does not see that truth­­ing society is a long-term non-linear process. You can’t just “press the truth button”. Like I said, Em­pirical Pol­itics is not obvious, not even to the prodigies of progressive Euro­pean pol­itics. And in cases like Macron’s, it does get naive.

What, then, are the major areas of Empirical Politics? What exactly would our Ministry of Empirical Politics—or maybe just the Ministry of Sci­ence or something similar (Orwell’s 1984 had a “Ministry of Truth”)—be up to? I’d like to mention ten categories of things to do. We won’t dis­cuss them in detail because expanding them is itself part of the political process, and because there’s ten of them. The ten-fold path.

Numero uno: The Ministry of Empirical Politics would evaluate, sur­vey, rate and publicize the degree of evidence-based practice in all areas of pub­lic sector work and civil service. This would include every­thing from edu­cation to healthcare to social work to policing and forensic practices to envir­­on­mental protection to all of the other forms of politics that we have mentioned thus far. What can be shown to function in a replicable man­ner, and what cannot? How can big data be accumulated and analyzed in each of these cases? In which areas are we driving in the dark? Together with people on all levels of society, the ministry should also be charged with mak­ing plans for how to improve the empirical rigid­ity of what is going on. Step by step, all public activities should become more know­ledge-driven and well-infor­med—meaning they should be intersubjecti­vely scrutinized, again and aga­in.

Number two: Empirical Politics would aim to improve the quality, rel­evance and reliability of science, throughout all branches. It is an uncon­tro­versial fact that univer­sities and other institutions generally function far from optimally. Society as a whole has a lot of science out there, and this entity, viewed as a massive entirety of enough frontiers to explode any human brain, can of course be more or less efficient, well-coordinated and in line with human needs and goals. It’s not just a question of how much funding science gets; it’s a question of what level of quality science—this most crucial of society’s projects—has. There is a lot of low-quality res­earch that is just too sloppily made, made for show, never re­prod­uced or double-checked, and simply never read by anyone. And there is so much stuff which needs to be done but never is, “because we don’t have the res­ources”. Science and research of course require a good amount of auto­nomy to function: Naturally, we want evidence-based policy, not poli­cy-based evidence! But even that is a question of Empirical Politics: If we want a society informed by the best possible knowledge, how do we make certain that such knowledge is produced autonomously and reliably?

Number three: a cultivation and development of the critical meta-dis­cussion about science and its role in society. Basically, if we are to have a society where things are always evaluated against the benchmarks set by scientific inquiry, we should better make certain that science as a whole and our “politics of science” are properly critiqued from as many and sys­te­matic angles as poss­ible. This is where activities such as the philosophy of science, the soc­io­logy of knowledge (and of science, and of philosophy), applied cognitive science and the discipline that is sometimes called “soci­al episte­mology” (pioneered by Steven Fuller) are granted plenty of res­our­ces and a central role in society. This concerns such things as seeing which trends and norms are dominating within the scien­ces—and why—and how this spills over into society at large; or how politics and econo­mic interests may be undermining the autonomy and validity of science; or how certain sciences unduly get more resources and attention than others; or how certain research programs may be built on shaky pre­mises in the first place; or how certain ethical codes are not being observ­ed… You get the picture. There’s really no limit to how deep you can go on this one. Under the umbrella of all projects we think of as “sciences” (and huma­nities) there is just so much crazy and unfair and irrational tunnel vision stuff going on that we must make certain there is a proper crit­ical discuss­ion about science-in-society. Science is not a straightforward affair, some­thing “obvi­ous” that you can “just do” and then “get know­ledge”. It never was and never will be. New questions always arise: what is worth knowing, why, and how highly should it be prioritized, and by what processes should we decide, and how should the research be organized… Tough questions.

Bruno Latour, the philosopher and anthropo­lo­gist who wrote Labora­tory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts in 1979 (with Steve Woolgar) pion­eered the practice of studying the everyday life of scientists and their research tools and environments; today Latour’s tradition is called “Actor-Network Th­eo­ry”: scientists whose specialty is to study scientists. People like to joke—some­times scorn­fully—that then there are scientists who write about scientists who study scientists, and scientists who write about scientists-scientists-scientists, and so on. But yes, that’s pretty much the direction society must take: a peer-reviewed society. It’s no joke. Society must be sci­entific, and science itself, viewed soberly as a part of society, must also be under con­stant critical siege from a rich multiplicity of inter­secting per­spec­tives. Science isn’t too sacred to be scrutinized: It becomes sacred thr­ough scrutiny. An intell­igent Empirical Politics would fund and cultivate such a process of the sociology of know­ledge throughout society.

Number four: We should increase the number of networked contacts and exchanges between the scientific fields—there’s that magic word inter­disciplinarity (or crossdisciplinarity)—as well as between the sciences and the industries, both private companies, social entrepreneurs, the pub­lic sec­tor and other agents. You may recognize this line of thinking in eco­n­omic geography, where people study things like innovation clusters, triple-helix models (the synergy of university, business and city admini­stration) and incubators for high-tech industries. The point is that if an economy spec­ializes within some branches of science in the global know­ledge economy, say solar power or nanotech, it should also try to create pathways to putting this knowledge into the right contexts and uses. Science is one thing, scien­ce-in-society is another; it’s the rich ecosystem that feeds upon the juices of discovery and in turn creates fertile soil for further research. Not only should science be improved upon and opti­mized, so should science-in-society. These knowledge ecosystems should be improved upon, and that requires smart Empirical Politics.

Number five: increasing the average ability for critical thinking and logi­cal reasoning in the general population. There are, natur­ally, many ways of doing this. One way is standardized tests in schools that include techni­ques of “fooling” the minds of students, so that they must be con­fronted with how they bought into an illusion, an apparent surface pheno­menon or a case of downright trickery. Creative projects that cultivate the public’s logical and critical thinking could be funded, e.g. by means of prize con­tests and so forth. Coaches in logic and critical thinking could be educated and be em­ployed as teachers or advisors within many fields. If more peo­ple iden­tify as crit­ically minded and “logical”, this will make such norms more pervas­ive—and hence quackery and false inferences will be more difficult to get away with within all fields of society. Not only should more peop­le be more apt at busting bullshit arguments—this being a skill we generally lack to a truly deplorable degree—but more of us should cultiva­te a deeper search for truth. This includes increased inner self-awareness; that we are trained, for in­stance, to catch our own minds making false im­plicit infer­ences (“this person is bad at playing the violin, so he’s probably a shallow person” and all other sorts of things we make false assumptions about).

It has been shown that it is not enough to inform people of our own biases; we must be actively trained to catch ourselves before such biases curtail our reasoning. Our fundamental rel­atedness to reality as a myst­ery is one of the forms of inner personal depth that we discussed in Book One; and by finding ways to awaken this spark within more of us, we can bring into being a more pro­foundly truthful society.

Let’s speed up.

Number six: the founding of crosschecking media institutes. When Pre­sident Macron wants to combat disinformation and fake news, he is not entirely off mark. But the way to increase the reliability of the media and the general discourse long-term is through cross-referenced re­views of the qua­lity of reporting and journalism. Media outlets, journalists and writers should be checked for factuality, reasoning and presentation and be given rates and rankings. Low quality journalism should not receive public supp­ort. Again: a peer-reviewed society. How to do this in a depoli­ticized, fair and “objective” manner is a question of Empirical Politics. May the best suggestions win.

Number seven: the support of a co-developmental political culture. We don’t want the sneakiest and most loudmouthed to rule us and gain power; we want the best possible common truths and solutions to emerge through the rich processes of competition, understanding and deliberati­on. So we need our political culture and debate to take on more civil and respectful forms. There is a tendency in all of us to admire the dashing, the confident, the winners of exchanges of clever retorts. But in an advan­ced and complex society, such competitions are little more than a signal inter­ference in the information-processing that makes up society’s self-organi­za­tion. We need to find ways to develop beyond it, to develop poli­tical culture itself; from snide remarks and sly competition, to earnest co-dev­elop­ment. I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m say­ing do it or die trying.

Number eight: We could support the development of popular culture in an empirically correct direction. Whereas the arts must always remain free, it should be noted that blockbuster movies and popular outlets play a crucial role in forming people’s background understanding of reality. If physics and history are presented with glaring faults in movies and books, this certainly affects the overall level of realism that can be expected from the public. Efforts could be made to support the proli­feration of more fac­tually correct stories. If people are soaked in prepos­terous movies 24/7, should we be so shocked that many don’t react when leading politicians deny climate change?

Nine: the development of the precision and reliability of everyday lan­guage. Since so much of our lived and shared reality is mediated through language, many of our political problems, conflicts and misunderstand­ings stem from linguistic imprecisions and the vagueness of words. It could be a long-term project to make language more coherent, exhaustive and pre­cise. It’s one of those things that’s almost impossible to measure, but the impact of which must undeniably be vast.

Ten. Phew. This one links back to Existential Politics: support of the “ontological security” of the population. Ontological security is a term coi­n­ed by the sociologist Anthony Giddens, and usually refers to “the sense of order and continuity in regard to an individual’s experience”. The point here is that our commitment to truth and our abili­ty to challenge our own opinions and conceptions depend upon how safe we all fundamentally feel in the universe. By strengthening this sense of sec­urity, we serve truth-in-society at its most essential level.

Ten things, my suspicious friend. Feel free to add more, or to exchange this list for a better one. But the issue remains: We need to find ways to be better at sticking to empirically sound assessments of reality.

Ice-cream does not make mach­inery work better, not even computers, I am not Napoleon, vaccines don’t cause autism, climate change is not a hoax. If we’re wrong about these things and if we make the wrong predic­tions, we pay an enormous price. It’s that fundamental. All things tend to work poorly with­out good predictive models of reality. And yet we are always at some distance from knowing any number of very relevant, life-changing truths.

But you’re getting the drift, aren’t you? The point is that if you do these ten things in a smart and organized manner, and you coordinate all of them with each other, and you love them long-time, you will wake up one morning to a more truthful society. And I hope I’ve shown you that this isn’t an “obvious” thing that “we’re already doing”. It isn’t and we’re not.

We really need to kill off all the excuses our lazy minds can come up with for not being scientific and committed to truth. I am not proposing scien­tism or crude reductionism; I’m talk­ing about finding the best pos­sible explanations and solutions and using them in all parts of society. There isn’t a place in the world, not even within the arts, psychedelic trips or spirit­uality, where the truth has no relevance.

In metamodern society, “truth is God” (Gandhi said it). The point is not to obsess about “hard, rational empiricism!” with those strict eye­brows of a narrow-minded modernist, or to reduce the richness of life and exist­ence to hard, crunchy data and chew it like a jawbreaker until the end of days. To the conventional moder­nist mind, truth is binary: To them, there is “the real world” and then there’s the cheap copout fluff of weaker and dumber spirits. This stance is sometimes called “scientism”, some­times “naive real­ism”.

That’s not what metamodern Empiri­cal Poli­tics is about. The point is to gradually increase society’s capacity for info­rm­ation processing and event prediction by developing our collective capacity for intersubject­ive cross­­check­­ing. This must happen at all levels of society.

Although we must all bow before the dazzling elegance of science, it doesn’t offer us a safe “ground of reality”, just a strange space that tun­nels in all directions. Yet, in this magnificent and frightening hall of mir­rors we must still latch on to the best models of reality, and we must still res­pect the authority of science, but only if it can be questioned by yet more universal authorities of science creation.

Empirical Politics is the cult­iv­a­tion of our shared commit­ment to an honest exploration of the mysteries of reality. Imagine waking up in a world truly committed to science on a new and higher level.

And what a wonderful world that would be.

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]. Alvesson, M., Gabriel, Y., Paulsen, R., 2017. Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say. Croydon, UK: Oxford University Press.

[ii]. Davis, S. J., Cao, L., Caldeira, K., Hoffert, M., 2013. Rethinking Wedges. Envir­onmental Research Letters, vol. 8(1).

Also, see this 2004 forecasts for reference—things have gotten way worse since then: Pacala, S., Socolow, R., 2004. Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies. Science, vol. 305(5686), pp. 968-72.

[iii]. Menzel, S., 2013. Are Emotions to Blame? – The Impact of Non-Analytical Decision Making and Implications for Fostering Sustainability. Ecological Economics, vol. 96, pp. 71-79.

What Is Emancipation Politics?

The first three forms of politics—Democratization, Gemeinschaft and Exist­en­tial—serve to spur subtle but pervasive transformations of society and every­day life, until we reach a higher equilibrium of human well­being, as we achieve a listening society. As I argued in the first part of this book, this follows a long-term historical trend of increa­sing inti­macy of con­trol: larger and larger parts of our minds, behaviors and bodies are co­ordinated in more complex and deliberate ways.

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. 

Emancipation politics, the politics of defen­ding (in)dividual rights and increa­sing the degrees of free­dom, seeks to counteract the new forms of oppression that can and will occur as the intimacy of control increases.

There is an intrinsic connection between any “hol­istic” view of society and the “totalitarian” im­pulses of many move­ments, the two words mirr­oring one another. If we want a society whose different parts harmon­ize and create coherence rather than nasty para­doxes and contradictions that wreck people’s lives (and civilization itself), we must deal with the inherent risks of relating to society in a more holi­stic man­ner.

Emancipation Politics must be animated by the longing for “another kind of freedom”, for the highest reaches of freedom. It must want more for all of us than the rather superficial and unevenly distributed freedom in today’s liberal societies: to climb the spectrum of judgment, to tran­scend the emotional regimes, to go beyond the hidden negative emotions that control us.

It is insufficient to simply denounce all holism and deeper integration as totalitarian and cast our­selves as defenders of freedom, pitched against “those control freaks”. As soon as people get what they want and enjoy freedom, new things emerge and thus complexity increases; and as complexity increases, there is a re­newed need to coordinate behaviors and organize things—and that’s con­t­rol, whoever or whatever system may instantiate and exercise it.

Higher freedom is paradoxically married to greater and more intricate forms of con­trol. If you throw out all complex coordination of behaviors, you don’t get absolute freedom, but simply fragmentation and alienation; things pain­fully fall­ing apart.

That being said, society must counter its processes of governance and integration with corresponding and principled defenses of the singular per­son, her uniqueness, her lived experience, her rights. In modern liberal democracies, this is guaranteed by the rule of law and independent courts—in theo­ry, powerful citizens can­not tram­ple even the meekest beggar because her rights will be prot­ec­ted by the courts. In theory.

New Sources of Oppression

But can the “legal rights” of the modern division of powers really protect us against the subtler forms of oppression that can and will arise from the new forms of politics as the intimacy of control increases? Here are some exam­ples of such subtler forms of oppression:

  • You go through school as a child and the staff use all kinds of psychological tests and diagnostics to see your likely developmental trajectory, and many of them think of you as a future criminal, which quietly but noticeably affects their treatment of you negatively. Adults talk behind your back and you are surveilled and judged beforehand, resulting in a vague but pervasive sense of having been violated and betrayed. This sense follows you throughout life.
  • You partake in a culture where people generally value deep authenticity of emotional bonds, mutual openness about vulnerability and spiritual goals in life—but you can’t quite “feel it”. Whenever people share deep emotions or talk about their spiritual or meditative experiences, which happens a bit all over the place, you feel pressured to do likewise, but it often leaves you with a sense of numbness, and you notice that people seem to disapprove of you whenever you honestly say you’re not quite feeling all that stuff they’re talking about. You then end up embellishing the truth just to fit in, which in turn leaves you with an icky feeling that follows you throughout life.
  • You are part of a society in which self-governance and participation is highly valued and you are pressured to partake in any number of panels, ballots and committees, even if you don’t enjoy it or think it’s very mean­ingful. Deep down, you know you’re wasting your time and not making a difference, but at least the people around you seem content. A part of you whispers that you should break free from all of these tokens of res­ponsibility and cultivate your own unique skills and projects, but these inner doubts are squashed under the weight of peer pressure to be a good democratic citizen. A subtle sense of disempowerment takes hold and follows you throughout life.
  • You go to work but your ideas and values are somewhat different than those of the people around you, including some of the nice and well-meaning leaders. It’s just that you know you have other ideas and talents that would take a longer time to explain and would require others to listen to you. But they control the money and decision-making, so you go for years and years and never quite act on your deeper intuitions and intentions.

You get the point. I’m sure we can come up with a multitude of nasty scenarios that are more or less plausible and could affect different parts of the population in different aspects of their lives. The common denomina­tor would be that people are somehow subtly oppressed, in the sense they are being held back, pressured into things, feel suffocated and manipula­ted, or just aren’t treated in a dignified manner. It is impor­tant to under­stand that such oppression is not only a theoretical future risk, but some­thing that goes on in all contemporary societies. We’re just not very used to thinking of these things in terms of oppress­ion, but we will become more acquainted with them as the intimacy of control increa­ses. With more intricate forms of social self-organization come new sources of opp­ression.

Except for such subtle and indirect forms of oppression, we are of course likely to see renewed oppression in obvious and gross forms as the means for state surveillance and manipulation increase with abundant surveillance came­ras, advanced AI systems for facial recognition, online activity monito­ring, DNA tracking, new forms of censorship, you name it. In crimi­nology, Gresham Sykes and David Matza famously formulated the “neu­tralization and drift” theory of delinquency and crime, in 1957. Basically, they argued that people be­come crimi­nal offenders by inventing a large number of excuses or “neut­ral­izations” for their behaviors and that they “drift” into increasingly crim­inal behaviors and criminal social envir­on­ments. With today’s explosive develop­ment of technological means for surveillance and manipu­lation, it is not difficult to see pathways towards criminal and oppressive governance that go via “neutralizations”, trivia­lizing breaches of per­sonal integrity and “drifting” towards full-fledged oppre­ssion of dissenting opinions, prac­tices and ideas.

New subtle oppressions derived from a new layer of “metamodern” politics and new forms of gross oppression pertaining to the technological properties of the information age—these are two categories of human mi­sery that make necessary a corresponding level of emancipatory strugg­les.

The idea of Emancipation Politics is to create a permanent framework for society’s ongoing debate and dialogue about freedom and oppression: If new forms of oppression emerge, in whatever subtle or obvious guise, there should be a forum for bringing this to the public eye and a frame­work within which new solutions and responses can be discussed and devised.

Rights Reloaded

There is a profound connection between emancipation at this abstract and subtle level and the ongoing negotiation of negative human rights in society—and corresponding responsibilities (because your rights are ine­vit­ably my responsibilities and vice versa).

“Negative” human rights (or negative freedoms) in­clude such things as not being arbitrarily imprisoned, freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of religion, profession, trade, etc. These freedoms or neg­ative rights were relatively straightforward when applied to the powers of early modern states: don’t tell people what to bel­ieve in terms of religion, don’t threaten them, don’t throw them in jail and torture them, don’t crack down on the press, and so forth. And as we have seen, from there on—from the establishment of the mod­ern state—the complicated and difficult quest­ions in established democracies have to do more with delineating sound social rights or positive freedoms: should someone have the right not to starve, even if they don’t work, or right to education, right to have a job? Modern politics of Left and Right have lar­gely been about finding a reasonable and sustain­able level of social rights, whereas only extremists and totalitarians have ser­iously sought to infringe upon the negative rights.

As we begin to understand the new political landscapes of the global­ized, digitized and postindustrial era, the discussion of negative rights is reborn, if you will, on a new and higher level of abstraction. We can all agree that we, as citizens, should be free from threats of violence on behalf of the state if we speak out against some perceived injustice. But what about the vague but real threat of Islamist extremist terrorists, or the right not to have our “free will” manipulated by technocrats and special inte­rests, or the right not to be brought into social situations in which we are “out-depthed” and feel utterly confused and horrified as a result, or the right not to be subtly held back by narrow-minded definitions of the societal system, or the right to not have our attention span invaded by a thousand addictive smart­phone apps and commercials?

This is where a renewed and revitalized discussion of rights is in order. And not only should there be such a discussion in the civil sphere, but there must also be a strengthened institutional framework to define and/or contest claims for such rights. There must be clearly defined are­nas in which we can defend such rights, try to under­stand which bounda­ries are being trespassed in what ways—where we can design counter­measures that will either hold people and authorities, companies and em­ployers directly re­sponsible, or (more likely and more often) remedy the harm that has been done, while preventing further harm from occurring.

In short…

  1. as society’s complexity increases,
  2. this also creates pressures to increase the reach and density of governance,
  3. and this creates new sources of oppression (both the increased complexity of society at large and the new layers of governance),
  4. and this creates an increased need to expand negative human rights and freedoms, i.e. the right not to be subjected to a host of new oppressions,
  5. and as these new negative rights must be of a subtler and more abstract nature, they will be harder to define, defend and make sound and socially sustainable,
  6. which thus makes necessary an ongoing political process through which information is gathered, rights and obligations are perpetually discussed and tested, and new institutions are created in order to defend people against new forms of oppression.

And that process (point 6), is Emancipation Politics.

It’s not a binary “thing” that you can do to “guarantee freedom”. Peop­le aren’t either free, or not. As we have noted, freedom is a scale, both at the level of the single person and for society as a whole—and it develops together with order and equality. Even new (in)dividuation will eventually lead to new forms of oppression.

And since society’s dev­elopment is full of paradoxes and contradic­tions, it is unavoidable that efforts to improve the human condition can and will create new forms of oppression. The point is that this emergence of new oppression should be preempted in the best possible manner and be made visible and a subject of public debate and political agency.

That’s what would be going on at the Ministry of Emancipation: All forms of oppression that people experience in their lives would be gath­ered as data and analyzed. There would be public discussions about the inter­pretation of these data, and there would be an ongoing debate about what can be done to defend people, according to what rights. Human rights will no longer be enshrined and taken as religious absolutes, but be recognized for the social constructions and social deals they really are. What rights do you have, and whose obligation is it to uphold these rights, under what cir­cumstances? This will become an ongoing and central dis­cussion in meta­modern society.

Just as a key difference between modern and metamodern society is that in the former, the system of governance is a given, and in the latter, it is an ongoing developmental process, so it is with human rights and civil liberties—in modern societies these are seen as nat­urally given and immu­table background variables, in the latter they are seen as a productive field of expansion, development and critical re­straint. This is human rights re­loaded.

In today’s society we are already slipping into this redefinition of rights within many areas: culture wars, identity politics, issues of migration, ex­pensive health­care (do we have the right to medications that cost milli­ons, if these save lives?), nud­ging, environmental impact, basic in­come, free speech and false infor­mation; all of these seep into every part of politics and the media—who has what rights, who is oppressed and in what ways, and who has what oblig­ations. But as things stand today, there are only weak and haphazard inst­itutional frameworks for dealing prod­ucti­vely and syste­matically with these issues, which results in a host of pathologies: liberal polit­ici­ans pur­suing un­tenable expansions of peo­ple’s “rights”, single court deci­sions getti­ng too much power over major societal issues, people being att­racted to extremist positions on both ends of the political spec­trum.

Our societies need a “human rights 2.0”, an ongoing updating of which rights apply in which contexts, and an ongoing cultivation of frameworks which counter any new forms of oppression that may arise as society pro­gresses into a metamodern stage. Consider this: You have the “great stretching out” of value memes, i.e. more people encountering one ano­ther across all of the different value memes than ever before, under the increased ability to monitor and control one another, not only technologi­cally but also psychologically. Do you really think that a static set of given “individual rights” can and will protect everyone from oppression in all of its forms and guises? That would be a terribly naive belief.

As we create a new layer of dividual rights or transpersonal rights, these will need to be less static than the human rights of e.g. the UN Declaration: “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms”, etc. They will be less formulated as rules and more a “meta-rights”, and they will need to be more case sensitive. I will leave examples aside at this point, but I hope to discuss the matter in future Hanzi books.[i]

The cultivation of such Emancipa­tion Politics—and the gathering and coordination of eman­cipatory and libertarian forces of society—is a nec­essary counter­weight to the integrative forces of the other forms of poli­tics. Gemeinschaft Politics, Existential Politics—just imagine how wrong these things can go. And yet, necessary they are.

For metamodern society to materialize, it must ultimately always prio­ritize higher freedom and creativity over equality. But such a priority can never be a concluded affair. The ghost of totalitarianism can and will show its face again and again in the coming period, in increa­singly subtle and seductive guises, within ourselves and in the cracks of our reas­on­ing.

It may be tempting to claim that we, as humanity, will find freedom beyond the political realm. But even in such utopias, if they were credible, people would still need to coordinate their actions on a large scale, and to do so successfully would require inescapably subtle forms of self-organi­za­tion: co­ordinating deeper and deeper parts of our psyches.

The answer, then, is not to avoid deeper integration of human agency and further dev­elopment of the intimacy of control, but to put the strug­gle for deep emancipation—a principled defense of dividual rights—at the heart of this development. Failure to do so can and will set us on a drifting course towards totalitarianism.

Integration and (in)dividuation are in a perpetual dance. Emancipation Politics can never by itself create higher (in)dividuation. You can’t “do poli­tics” on someone and make them advance to a higher stage of perso­nal development. Such processes of development must always belong to the person or group themselves who find new ways of acting, thinking or feeling indepen­dently. As such, (in)dividuation can only occur spontane­ously at so many local and unique sites, at specific historical micro-events. Micro-revolu­tions—acts or insights that reassert autonomy—happ­en in people’s lives much like fall­ing stars appear in the night sky. Such things cannot be con­trolled or governed.

But Emancipa­tion Politics can stop the systemic suff­ocation of such instances of (in)­div­id­­ua­tion. If people are failing to find their inner voi­ces of conscience or to devel­op their unique talents because they are being pressured or manipulated or made invisible or syst­ematically ignored—this can be made visible for the public and measures can be taken to coun­ter­act the forces of oppression.

La Résistance, Direct and Indirect

We have mentioned that Emancipation Politics can, in practice, take two distinct forms in terms of measures taken: direct and indirect defenses of freedom. Let us examine what Emancipation Politics can look like more generally and these two forms of defense specifically.

The Ministry of Emancipation should monitor trends of experienced opp­ression in society, publicize its data for public discussion, gather ex­pertise about the possible sources of such opp­ression and organize fora in which different competing interpretations can be put forward.

Such monitoring can take three different forms: 1) quantitative data gathered through surveys, web analysis of big data and the like, 2) quali­tative data gathered through ethnographies and undercover participatory studies, analyses of current discourses in society and so forth, and—most importantly 3) people’s own filed complaints. This last instance would be made possible by a new public framework of civil service, which has the obligation to listen to complaints and try to see if their experienced oppre­ss­ion can be resolved. So: measure, define, publicize, discuss, remeasure, com­pare trends over time, discuss reasonable solutions, remeasure…

Some­where in that seemingly tedious process, awaits higher freedom, ready to bloom—more so than on top of any barr­icades I can think of.

Questions that must be answered on a yearly basis are such as:

  • What unhealthy and unwanted dependencies do people feel control their lives?
  • In what contexts are people afraid to speak their honest opinions, and for what reasons?
  • In what contexts are people being held back from legitimate initiatives and through what means does such holding back take place?
  • What levels of personal (in)dividual freedom do different groups of the population have, if we use the 1-9 scale suggested in chapter 5 of this book?
  • What hooks and points of leverage do people have upon one another and how do these things play out in their lives?
  • In what contexts are people being limited by bureaucracy and red tape?
  • In what contexts have single persons or small groups been rolled over by collective or stronger group interests?
  • In what contexts do people show obvious unwillingness to take personal responsibility, and what are the mechanisms causing such learned help­lessness?
  • What uses of authority can and should be questioned within policing, criminal care, healthcare, psychiatry, education and social work?
  • In what contexts are people being manipulated and treated as means to an end?
  • In what contexts do people feel pressured by civil society and family relations, and what are the consequences?

As a society, we should have institutions, arenas and fora for collective­ly thinking about freedom and oppression in society—and for implement­ing solutions to reduce oppression and increase the degrees of freedom. That requires the development of a language for speaking about these matters and a strong basis of knowledge and expertise about the sources of opp­ression. That’s what Emancipation Politics would aim to provide: an im­proved collective awareness of freedom and oppression throughout society, a richer shared self-understanding.

The direct defenses of freedom would have to do with citizens’ legal rights and things that can be treated by courts. If someone steals our information, subjects us to unjustifiable surveillance, or excises undue medical authority, or limits our speech through forms of censorship, or actively threatens us to adopt social or political views lest we lose our un­related job, or if someone unfairly has manipulated the stream of infor­m­ation that reaches you; such matters—at least some of them—should be able to be treated by courts or similar (e.g. a hospital might have its own system for receiving and dealing with complaints).

If the “new layer of negative rights” is defined too sloppily or widely, this will quickly devolve into a society bogged down with ridiculous amo­unts of legal cases, as everyone will feel oppressed by everyone else. The main issue here must remain that people should have at least some lines of def­ense against the growing powers of states and corpor­ations as these gain ever greater access to technology. But to begin with, we must instit­ute Emancipation Politics so that a discussion can be held about what such new rights should entail in the first place. Again, we’re talking about a developmental process, not a set destination.

The indirect defenses of freedom are all other measures that are taken to support citizens and hinder oppression: regulations, supportive servi­ces, scr­app­ing regulations, changing governmental practices, trying to str­e­ng­then weaker groups, increasing the monitoring of those who have power over others, increasing transparency and accountability, limiting the powers of authorities—and so on.

Any suggestion motivated by an attempt to hinder some kind of opp­ression that has been identified in society—governmental or not—and which does not specifically bestow people with rights they can then use in order to take others to courts or file direct complaints to be rectified, is an indirect form of Emancipation Politics. Sometimes emancipation can be as simple as lowering a tax rate or removing a regulation—but it often won’t be that simple and will require elaborate plans.

It is not easy to know beforehand how all of these policies and practices should look like and work because it is all so contextual and must build upon gathered data, expertise and public dialo­gues. But we can know that without a serious and ongoing such process, many new oppres­sions will sneak in and wreak havoc as society develops, and many oppor­tunities for empowering and emancipating peo­ple will be missed. If we’re serious about raising the average level of (in)dividual and collective free­dom bey­ond what has been known to modern societies, we must make emancipa­tion a central concern to metamodern politics.

Four Dimensions of Oppression

Lastly, I would like to offer a simple map of four categories of oppression within which new emancipations will be necessary in the future. Being oppressed can mean quite different things, and the different forms of opp­ression should be treated and prevented in different ways—the four dim­ensions, if you will, of Emancipation Politics.

The first category has to do with being oppressed by external state and/or market structures, and this is perhaps how we conventionally think of oppression. If someone hinders you from expressing your opini­ons, spies on you, forces you to say words you don’t believe in, or unfairly drives you into poverty and degradation by ruin­ing your means of in­come, all of these things are diff­erent forms of direct oppression by the system or the collective, of you as a single person. You are being violated or suffocated by the formal systems of society. In such cases, negative rights should be there and be defined clearly en­ough so that you can fight back against your oppressors. But not only can the singular person be oppressed by the system—the system itself can also be oppressed, when it is hindered from functioning according to its key principles of univer­sality.

So we need to look beyond the old narrative of innocent individuals stuck in a big nasty system; that’s not necessarily the case. Many forms of systemic oppression stem from the fact that the system is hindered in its func­tioning. A lack of good accounting and the disorder it causes also creates leeway for many unfair power relations to emerge, and hence for opp­ression to show up in unexpected guises.

The second category has to do with the limits of everyday life inter­actions, the cultural forms of oppression. For instance, if you are of a dis­dained minority group and people habitually ignore or downplay your perspectives, opinions and interests, this is also a form of oppression. Or if you are of a lower effective value meme than most of society and you are pressu­red to take on a straightjacket of morality requiring an inner depth and cogn­itive complexity that you simply lack, this feels like oppression. You try to be a good person, but even if you try your best, people keep attack­ing and degrading you for being shallow and evil, and you never quite see it coming. In such cases, you are being culturally oppressed. Of course, higher value memes can be oppressed by lower ones as well, like when the Nazis went after “degenerate art” or when today’s speciesist society pena­lize people who don’t think we should torture two-year-old toddlers to death (vegans being against factory farming).

Cultural oppression includes such things as language structures: Words have connotations (consider “a fat nigger” or “a cheap slut” and a lot of unflattering things about our culture come to the fore). Language can also be too poorly developed; we may lack the words, expressions and social rituals to express certain commonly held experiences or feelings. As I have men­tioned, there are empty rituals as well as unritualized emotions. In these cases, culture itself is oppressed. Here, much of the emancipatory potential may lie in the arts and other forms of experimental cultural expression. And some may lie in critical resistance to the discourse (as proposed by e.g. Chantal Mouffe and Erne­sto Laclau).

The third category of oppression has to do with other people and their behav­iors more directly standing in your way. On the crudest level, this means things like someone forcing you to live at their apartment and have sex with them, but there are any number of oppressive relations that come in diff­erent levels of directness and severity.

Ideally “your freedom should end where mine begins”, but—as I have argued earlier—in actual social reality, people and their everyday lives are always layered in social relations: parents have power over their kids, larger family groups over sin­gle persons, bosses over em­ployees, tea­ch­ers over pup­ils, bossy and manipulative peers over peers. Your free­dom doesn’t start at my outer border, but at the center of my heart. You try to express a new interest or idea, but you’re pushed aside, ridicu­led, threat­ened or silenced. You try to affirm your autonomy, but people use what­ever lever­age they have over you to put you in your place. You try to start a business, but your competition sabotages your efforts. All of these are direct, inter­personal forms of oppression. They cannot be view­ed as origi­na­ting from the system, or from culture at large (even if they do of course interact with these cat­egories), but simply from the behaviors of others—from spec­ific bullies in all their forms and guises. A society full of bullies and oppress­ors is, natur­ally, less free than one in which we don’t play such roles in the lives of one another. An Emancipation Politics worth its name should work to reduce the prevalence and severity of such bullying and oppression thr­oughout all of society.

The fourth and last category of oppression has to do with our own inner oppression of our­­selves. In the last instance, freedom is always dependent upon us having sufficient skills and faculties to act freely and make use of what resources we have for the benefit of ourselves and others. For instance, if we cannot recognize what emotions and deeper motives arise within our­selves, we will be slaves to motives that lie beyond our conscious aware­ness—often being stuff such as greed, envy, power hunger, or an unreaso­nable sense of insec­urity. And others will have grea­ter leeway to manipu­late our perceived needs, wants and motives to serve interests that we may not even be aware of.

Or on an even more basic level: If our minds spin and we can find no inner peace, we cannot be happy and feel free even if we have all the riches in the world at our disposal. And when people have trampled our wills and pride many times over, eventually we will stop ourselves from acting upon our higher impulses and deeper wishes; we internalize the oppres­sion of others and begin to oppress ourselves. This last category links us right back to Existential Politics: Obviously, there is an intrinsic connect­ion between our relationship to existence and the deeper freedom in our lives.[ii]

Political metamodernism holds within itself the best means to defeat the other strands of political metamodernism. Be the power—fight the power! Both and. Let the struggle for higher freedom commence, and may we defeat the demons of oppression that a deeper and more intimate poli­tics un­avoid­ably brings to life.

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]. You have some initial systematizations of what such meta-rights or “meta-norms” might look like in: Görtz, D. P., Commons, M. L., 2015. The stage-value model: Implications for the changing standards of care. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, vol. 42–43, pp 135–143.

[ii]. As you may have noticed, we just went through the “four fields of development” (system, culture, behavior and psychology) from Appendix B but zoomed in on how oppression works. Emancipation Politics is a matter that works across all four fields. Don’t enter the information age without it. And then climb towards higher freedom; emancipate us from the regimes of emotional control.

Can You Handle the Truth about the Truth?

Just as the value of money can be deflated[i] in the material eco­nomy, so can the honest search for truth in the public domain of ideas and morals. The truth, or the signaled truth-seek­ing of people, can be viewed as increasingly hollow and cheap when their claims aren’t matched by ac­tual be­haviors and sacrifices made. In a society where people use ideal­istic claims and truth-seeking to boost their own identities, idealism always appears to reek of hypocrisy.

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 we don’t deal with our deeper existential issues and our underlying fear of death, we tend to invest more emotions in, and cling more eagerly to, our “ego”; our sense of being a separate and right­eous “self”. Because a lot of our ego identity is built on having the right opin­ions, being on the right side of moral struggles and being righteous, we thus have profound inner stakes set against any proposition that could seriously challenge our moral or poli­tical standpoints.

It has been shown by students of the psychology of death that even a subtle reminder of our mortality can make us more selective and prone to confirmation biases and less receptive to informa­tion which would disprove the positions we currently iden­tify with.[ii] In other words: Our underlying fear of death makes us clasp to our ego, which in turn makes us resistant to truth and to honest conversations about central topics.

I should mention that there are empirical findings suggesting that peo­ple who devel­op higher “emotional complexity” (a personality measure closely rela­ted to higher stages of self-develop­ment) tend to have much lesser anx­ieties in relation to death and aging.[iii] This suggests we can sup­port inner peace by supporting personal develop­ment, and that this in turn supports truth in society—or rather, its truth­fulness.

Hence, the inner insecurities we all bear with us deflate the per­cei­ved value of truth-seeking on a massive scale. Given that society is be­com­ing more complex and people are re­quired to have more coor­di­nated, ab­stract and correct opinions about more matters than ever, this is nothing short of catastrophic for the self-organization of society. The discourse becomes poisoned as we are all limited by our own identifi­cations and hopes.

Of course, we can’t just “get rid of the ego” and be done with it. Every­body needs to have a sense of self and maintain a reasonably positive self-image to feel okay as they go about their day. But we are staring at a very crucial correlation here, one that is possibly instrumental to the very sur­vival of our civilization. It goes something like this:

  • The average underlying fear of death in society is proportional to the identification with the ego.
  • The identification with the ego is propor­tional to our tendency to identify with certain moral and political conclusions, which curtails any attempts to challenge these notions.
  • Forms of inner work that let us deal with the fear of death and help us to disidentify with the ego, such as serious meditation prac­tice, will—on average, over time and as a collective—help us maintain a more funct­ional and sane discourse in which people more honestly seek to know the truth.[iv]

Can you see it, dear reader? It’s the deflation of truth.

Can you see how cheap the truth has be­come since we all pre­fer being right over being wrong (and enjoy proving others wrong, never giving them space to save face) just a little too much? Can you see how this is lin­ked to an underlying insecurity we all share? Can you see that this defla­tion of the truth is a deeply transpersonal phenomenon (mean­ing that it resides both deep inside each of us and in our relations), as any conver­sation you will ever be in can and will have its very para­meters set by the willingness of all parties involved to entertain the pos­sibility that they’re wrong about something? Can you see how “the ego” has hijacked truth-seek­ing in all aspects of politics and society, even within yourself?

Again, the point isn’t to “transcend the ego” so that we “can all see the truth”. That would be silly. The point is that society—and its members—can be more or less emotionally and existentially mature, more or less in­vested in identities, political or otherwise.

This hijacking of our strivings, this massive devaluation of all the most precious gems of existence, does not stop at the search for truth. Take any other of the central human endeavors: mo­ral struggle, the creation and exp­ression of beauty, spiritual attainment, the cultivation of love—all of these are hijacked in a corresponding manner. You see a bunch of kids struggling against injustice, and you just know deep down and instinct­ively that their moral outrage is likely to be more about self-inflating iden­tity-seeking than about genuine moral concerns; their less-than-exempla­ry behaviors, intell­ectual inconsistencies and eagerness to accept simple and judgmental ideas all belie that morality is being remote-controlled by the ego and its struggle to place itself at the center of the universe and above others. Beauty be­co­mes pretentious “artsy art” or the impulse to possess and display the beaut­iful as something indicative of our own splendor. Spiritual seeking becomes a smokescreen for the dis­play of the superiority of our pure soul—a claim that conveniently enough cannot be disproven and takes no effort on our behalf. Even love becomes reduced to a grim game of ex­change and power rela­tions.

And what a loss all of this is; what a ubiquitous tragedy! The deflation of truth and of all the greatest values in life.

The cynics of the world are proven right again and again: don’t trust idealism to save the environment and moral conviction in the face of in­justi­ce (it’s “virtue signaling”), don’t believe the sensitive heart of the artist (it’s all posturing), don’t believe the people who claim that spiritual goals are more important than worldly ones (it’s just a strategy to score points without making an effort), and don’t even live for love. All of it always turns out to be a lie, at least in part. And as things stand, the cynics, for all their crudeness and stupidity, often turn out to be right.

But the point is that—even as these things are indeed often based on lies, even if they are conceited and steeped in falsehood—they are still the great­est values of existence: the true, the good and the beautiful. Due to our coll­ective existential immaturity, however, we perpetuate a situati­on in which peo­ple’s strivings for these noble ends cannot be trusted. This exist­ential imm­atur­ity is not an eternal or necessary quality, how­ever; it is some­thing that can and must be challenged and outgrown. And it’s not binary; thr­ough contemplative practice, self-knowledge and self-accep­tan­ce we can reduce the grip that ego identification has on all of us. It’s a scale— and to­gether we can climb the scale towards higher collec­tive freed­om.

That’s the ultimate goal of Existential Politics: to see that ego identifica­tion can be rolled back, that the fear of death can be eased at the deepest level. Thus the genuine striving for the good, the true and the beauti­ful can be unleashed in our lives and beyond—to see that truth and idea­lism can be sought with the metamodern rebel wisdom we have called infor­med naivety.

Many can handle the truth, but how many of us can handle the truth about the truth?

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 technical term for which is, ironically, inflation.

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

[iii]. Bodner, E., et al, 2015. Anxieties about Aging and Death and Psychological Distress: The Protective Role of Emotional Complexity. Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 83, pp. 91-96.

[iv]. And yet, the issue is not that straightforward. It has even been shown that practices of yoga and meditation can have the reverse effect—i.e. an increased identification with the ego, simply because people feel self-important for having taken part in these practices. This should not lead us to despair, however; it merely suggests that, again, there are many layers to these kinds of practices and that the mind is really good at turning things around for purposes of ego-boosting. See:

Gebauer, J. E., et al, 2018. Mind-Body Practices and the Self: Yoga and Meditation Do Not Quiet the Ego but Instead Boost Self-Enhancement. Psychological Science, vol. 29, 8, pp. 1299-1308.

Madness and Civilization

There have been many versions and nuances of the idea that there may in fact be an in­timate relationship between madness and civilization; that civ­ilization itself is bound to growing exi­sten­tial challenges and an escala­ting inner chaos: Marx’s alienation; Durkheim’s anomie; Weber’s iron cage and disenchantment; Fr­eud’s idea that civilization forces us to lock up sexual and aggr­essive urges, which leads us to lives of per­petual neurosis and dis­content; Fro­mm’s idea that technological pro­gress makes the sane soc­iety increa­singly difficult to achi­e­ve, which results in an escape from free­dom; Foucault’s idea that “madness” is itself an inven­tion of the mod­ern mind, the purpose of which is to sweep its own dark side under the rug (hence his 1964 book title Mad­ness and Civili­zation); Habermas’ fragmen­tation of life and coloni­zat­ion of the life­world by the “system”; Deleuze and Guatt­ari’s deterritorial­iz­ation; Sennett’s cor­rosion of charac­ter—and many 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. 

In recent years it has become abun­dantly clear that there is a rising problem of mental health issues among adole­scents and young adults in the most advanced econom­ies of the world—even as crime and alcohol use generally have de­creased. We become civilized and we subtly go batshit crazy.

Of course, there are many aspects of this intimate connection be­tween madness and civilization. I would suggest that the role of Existential Poli­tics is to grapple this complex relationship, not only as a matter of “psych­iatric care” and “mental health”, but as a fundamental issue involving all of us—so as to curb the lingering madness of everyday life itself. And what a daun­ting task that is.

We’re not look­ing only at the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but at the entirety of a mostly subsumed mountain of ice. Our relatively innocent little neuroses, our innocuous inner grueling, our bitter silent compari­sons with the for­tunes of others—all of these realities are continuous not only with the pre­valence of serious psychiatric illness and cases of social drud­gery, but also with the games of everyday life and the workings of the economy and politics.

What is it that puts more and more of us, and increasingly often, face to face with madness? On a more general level of analysis, I would argue, it is not so much “civilization” or “modernity”, as the classics suggest, nor “the post­mod­ern condition” or a variety thereof, as the analysts of today assert. Rather, it is the staggering increase of complexity itself. As society becomes so much more complex, so quickly, it simply becomes more diff­icult for the mind to reach a some­what stable “local maximum” or “equili­bri­um”. It’s just more difficult to know who I am, what’s right and wrong, and what’s really real in the first place. Even as we are richer and more secure than earlier generations, there are also countless social and psy­ch­ological adapt­ations that have to be made, and the problems we do have are less tangible and direct. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re not built for this kind of complexity. The rewards are too great, the im­mediate gratifications too readily avail­able, the threats too nebulous, the world and its horizons too vast. The mysterious relationship between mad­ness and civiliza­tion has a name: increasing com­plexity. Late at night we wake up and face the creep­ing horror: that life itself as we know it is a social con­struction, one that ultimately cannot be real, only a fragment on top of an infinite abyss.

And handling greater complexity in the world requires not only new ideas; it requires a kind of spiritual development of the average person. It should hence be a societal goal to develop not only higher subjective states in each of us, but also to help more of us dev­elop and integrate greater inner depths, and—if possible—to develop our abil­ity to think more abs­tract thoughts, to cognitively grasp and relate to more complex realities. This can be described in the following graph:

Graph: Effective value meme versus psychological health. High value meme people often have less stable mental health and functionality, as they are more often in “far from equilibrium states”.

The graph may need some further explanation. It is a summary of the develop­mental traits of a general population, with higher value meme (the inter­section of cognitive complexity, code, state and depth) on the vertical axis and “better psychological health” on the horizontal axis. “Psycholo­gical health” can here be understood not only as the absence of psych­iatric diag­noses and mental illness but also one’s general wellbeing and the fresh­ness and integrity of one’s mind overall. If you like, you can imagine one axis as one’s “stage” and the other as an agglomerate of how well you have man­aged to pass through the Eriksonian life phases you have thus far been through (did your mother treat you kindly, did you make friends as a six-year-old, did you form an identity as a teenager and so forth).

As you can see, in this admittedly sche­matic graph, many or most chil­dren have low effective value meme but relatively “good” psychological health. Of cour­se, children also have mental health problems, but at least infants have less of them and young children have much lower rates than e.g. young adults. In childhood, there’s often that directness or freshness of experience that in some primary sense is “healthy”.

Be­tween the two grey lines on the graph you find most adults. The great­est number of people develop to “con­ventional adulthood”, which means some loss in mental health as com­pared to the aliveness and sim­plicity of childhood, but the achievement of an average value meme and stage of dev­elopment (e.g. the Modern value meme). A minority have their dev­elopment stun­ted and remain at low value memes while their men­tal health det­eriorates—and that’s where you find many or most dys­func­tional and criminal people. Up until the development of conven­tional sta­ges, people’s value memes seem to largely follow the psycho­logical health and func­tionality of a person: it’s just difficult to become a reason­able per­son who internalizes the norms of society if you feel too bitter, confused or miser­able and your social relations and habits are a mess.

High value meme is to some extent also tied to mental imbalance and dysfunctionality. A minority of adults develop to higher value memes (e.g. Post­modern and Metamodern) but must thereby also face greater inner obst­acles. Many of those who develop exceptionally high com­plexity and great depth have minds oscillating in “far from equilibrium states”. I don’t have the data to prove it, but just by looking around my own circle and the people who respond to metamodernism, there is a striking pat­tern: very high intel­ligence, Mensa-level is standard, very high preva­lence of ADD and ADHD, some autism (especially among the most gifted), dys­lexia, very high pre­valence of depression, some people who have very extreme pers­on­alities if not necessarily diagnosable, high preva­lence of strong spiritual exper­i­ences, high prevalence of psychedelic expe­riences, high prevalence of psychotic break­downs and so forth. In my own family, there is schizop­hrenia, epil­epsy, depression, anxiety and chronic pain due to nerve diseases just as there are highly intelli­gent and creative people. And among post-conventional thinkers you find lots of gay people and folks with non-binary gender identities and polyamorous lifestyles, how­ever that fits in.

You get the point, right? There seems to be a patt­ern here: exceptio­nally high value meme seems to correlate with a lower level of mental health and stability, and in some sense “unusual minds” or atypical neuro­log­ical structures. If you look at the bio­graphies of spirit­ual mas­ters, like Jiddu Krishna­murti and Eckhart Tolle, a similar pattern appears. Before their “awaken­ings” to recurring higher states, these people went through ex­tre­me inner turmoil—the edge of madness.

As my friend Nick Duffell has argued in his studies of British elite board­ing schools, each society and subgroup have their own “psy­cho­history”, a collection of social conditions that affect the psychological deve­lop­ment and personalities of the group.[1] In sociology, similar argu­ments have been made, not least in the study of generations (from Karl Mannheim and on­wards) and “cultural trauma” (Jeffrey C. Alexander).[2]

Different demographics seem to have specific psychohistories, and the generative conditions for people’s life-shaping events can be affected. There appear to be social and gen­etic factors that cause the high value meme folks to also have greater mental vulnerability. I don’t pretend to understand the in­tricacies of this relation­ship, but I do believe the rela­tion­ship is factual. The “most civil­ized” people, in a sense, tend to be sligh­tly bonkers.

If this is correct, the conclusion should be clear: We need a society that helps more of us to marry high effective value meme to inner peace and stability, to mental health. In some few select people, you have the marr­iage of exceptional development with childlike purity of experience, mind and emotions. This, of course, is what society can and should strive to support, knowing fully well this is a tricky ride: A more complex civiliza­tion re­quires higher effective value memes, which seem to require greater inner obstacles to be surmounted, which is married to a greater propen­sity for losing grip on reality.

The only hope for civilization is found, thus, on the brink of madness. Think about it: informed naivety, magical realism, the crossroads between fact and fiction, the transpersonal perspective, the hall of mirrors, sincere irony—doesn’t it all reflect the madness of a psychotic episode? When we open up reality to be co-created in a transpersonal space, is this not an act of enlightened madness?

What kind of person can dive into madness and come out a deeper and more complex thinker? The kind of person we need. The metamodern mind, ideally speaking. Applied Existential Politics should support the spon­taneous em­er­­gence of high­­er subjective states and greater existen­tial depths in the population as well as a greater psychological robust­ness.

The acceleration of the developing world-system is a dizzying ride. As new and increasingly phantasmagoric and bizarre and sub­tle and compli­cated and mind-blowing phenomena press themselves upon us, life be­com­es a rollercoaster of greater heights—even touching the stars—and deeper valleys as nightmares crawl through the television screens and enter our living rooms. Not to mention social media and smart­phones hi­jacking our limited attention spans. Subtler and more multidi­men­­sional games are played for higher spiritual stakes. More of us try to surf the waves of this madness, in the service of higher ideals. Those of us who try psyche­delic drugs less often do so in the context of Dionysian “partying” and more often as serious Apoll­onian “soul-sear­ch­ing”.

Something lurks at the back of our minds. And we wake up at night. And the ground shakes and our heads spin and the skies crack open. Utter and profound confusion. Even a scent of madness; but also an opportuni­ty to change our socially constructed universe, to shift our maps of mean­ing.

The question is not—as Fromm and many other humanist Marx­ists believed—how to create “a sane society” once and for all. That’s just not going to happen. Because madness is civilization’s shadow. And now as we’re crashing into a whole new level of civilizational complexity, we’ll get a whole new level of crazy to go with it. Hey, I told you it’s a tragic uni­verse.

The question is, rather, how to create a society where a suffi­cient num­ber of us dev­elop the resilience to hold on during this crazy ride. That’s why we need an ongoing process that supports the development of higher states and the succ­essful integration of greater inner depths. This process serves to cult­ivate an awakened public.

Messieurs dames—let’s give a warm welcoming hand for Existential Pol­itics.

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.

[1]. Duffell, N., 2014. Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion – A Psychohistory. London: Low Arrow Press.

[2]. Alexander, J., C., 2003. “On the Social Construction of Moral Universals: The ‘Holocaust’ from War Crime to Trauma Drama”, in The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 27–84.

Secular Monasteries for an Awakened Public

“I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner
For a heart of gold.
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
For a heart of gold
And I’m getting old.”[i]

—Neil Young

It is as though civilization itself is getting too old. And with age foll­ows either decay, dementia and despair—or wisdom and self-knowledge. Can then modernity, the present world-system, begin to know itself? This would be the *meta*-modern mission: to create a deeply self-reflective modernity; a modernity operating not only upon nature and the environ­ment, but one that reexamines its own perspective, its own choi­ces—if you will—its own soul. Modernity did peer into the soul of individual human beings, under the auspices of psychiatry. But it never developed a full process for look­ing into its own existential foundations and to treat the maladies of civili­zation. Modern society has, as Foucault famously argued, been profoundly mar­ked by “the birth of the clinic”. Metamodern society and its existential civ­ilization must usher in “the rebirth of the monastery”, echoing and care­fully re­cycling some of the finest aspects of medieval society.

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. 

In The Listening Society I wrote that “Everybody should get a year off once in a lifetime to go look for new purpose in life and make tough life decisions under professional care and support—in a kind of secular monastery.” The pur­pose of metamodern monasteries would be to offer all citizens nec­essary periods of seclusion (and/or community) and con­cen­trated ho­ning of inner skills, such as heal­ing from trauma, mak­ing large life decis­ions or transitions, learning new life philo­sophies, pract­icing meditation and tak­ing care of the body, forgiving people who hurt us, sorting out ethical dil­emmas, and other transformational practices.

It would make sense to create a great network of secular monasteries, properly equipped with teachers, coaches, therapists, libraries, gardens, gyms and simple accommodation. People would be trained in one or more wisdom traditions, be supported in making nec­ess­ary changes of habits, face their traumas and so on. Instead of an authoritative priest­hood like in traditional religions, the main agent would be a professional group of “exist­ential social workers”, trained to deal with people’s diffe­rent life crises and to act as advisors. They should be highly skilled in one or more mind­fulness and meditation techniques, in turn scrutinized by scien­tific studies.

An important aspect of such a neo-monastic societal infrastructure would be to include different kinds of bodywork and “subtle body pract­ices”, refining the skills of dealing with direct bodily experiences and sen­sations and developing the general wellness of our bodies. Such develop­ment is not only of great value for its own sake, but also a necessary tool for strengthening our overall body-mind systems so we can handle the difficulties inherent to life’s crises and the stage transitions of per­sonal dev­elopment.

So we’re looking at a major project of the listening society, one that is indeed comparable to the construction of the welfare state. You need new facilities, new infrastructure, new groups of professionals, new educatio­nal and career paths (which can generate quite a few new and very cool jobs by the way), and new institutions to govern, evaluate and devel­op the whole endeavor. It’s going to take decades to build and/or culti­vate, and yet it will produce few tangible, manifest things. But it will pro­duce a more listening society, and an existentially mature civilization. Millions of people will untie subtle knots in their inner worlds and manage their lives more com­passionately and skillfully. If the listening society is to fulfill its pro­mise—a society where everyone is genuinely seen and heard—it must rest upon a foun­dation of inwards listening.

All of these services should be backed up on a collective level so that people are guaranteed a year off from work and be guaranteed a basic live­lihood during the per­iod. Hope­fully, it could be possible even for parents of children to attend such periods of seclusion, just switching their day-time work for monastic life.

“What’s the point of all this? And, again, can we afford it? Should we really be sucking our thumbs and navel-gazing when there are so many issues to attend and so much suffering in the world?”

Still not following, modernist mind? Sigh.

The point is that it is only by seriously helping people to get what they really need and want from life—by supp­orting serious adult devel­op­ment, development of the mind and the per­sonality as a whole—that we can raise the level of behavi­oral functioning through­out soc­iety and the level of mental health through­out all social groups. It is in this man­ner we can raise the average “eff­ective value meme” of the popul­ation above the modern stage.

And, just to remind you of the stakes: With­out a deep and lasting chan­ge towards higher effective value meme, we’re pretty much all going to die in a horrible car crash as we enter this age of super-tech­nologies without a corresponding shift of psychological and cultural devel­op­ment.

So it’s not that we can’t afford to do it, it’s that we can’t afford not to. “Can’t afford” a medicine that will save your life from an aggressive dis­ease? Well, then, too bad, you’ll just have to suffer and die.

Existential Politics isn’t navel-gazing. Things are only navel-gazing if they are not conducive to growth and social change. If something does prevent oceans of human suffering, improves lives in so many ways, and saves soc­iety from collapse because it spurs human growth into deeper mat­urity—then it’s not navel-gazing.

As things stand today, many of those who belong to the social groups I have called the Yoga Bourgeoisie, the Triple-H Population (Hacker, Hippies and Hipsters) and the Inte­gralists already find ways of getting support for growth during trans­itional periods: they go to workshops and retreats, do shadow-work (busting your own bullshit with a therapist) and whatnot.

But there are several pro­blems with this privatized and individualized app­roach of present-day spiritual seeking. One thing is that it’s only really available to these privileged seg­ments of the population. So it’s miss­ing where it’s needed the most. Another problem is that the norms of soc­iety aren’t really up to speed: Most people think it’s a waste of time, too idle and boring. Society as a whole should make sure more people see the pro­found value of prolonged, serious inner work. And a third pro­blem is that there is no concerted effort on society’s behalf to guarantee the quality, reliability and safety of such practices, which enables all kinds of swindlers and quacks to prey upon the Astrology Precariat. Making this a priority of Existential Politics would work to remedy many of these issues.

A neo-monastic institution, offering its support to the wider popula­tion, should of course also be linked to activities such as crim­inal reh­ab­­ilitation, psychiatry, social work, palliative care (of the termin­ally ill), the development of more customized and meaningful funeral cere­mon­ies—and of course to education, where the opp­ort­unities for psy­ch­ological and existential support should not only be a back­ground struc­ture as it is to­day, but a central and prioritized feature of life in schools and univer­sities. Not to mention healthcare more generally; most present-day healthcare systems are bogged down with people seeking medical attention when they in fact have social, emotional and existential problems—as any gene­ral practitioner can attest to. So often will people come in with a headache or stomachache but soon start crying about their life problems.

It should be a societal goal that 18-year-olds enter adult life with a sen­se of inner responsibility and self-love, which sadly is far from the case in today’s educational system. As argued in The Listening Society, all children can and should be offered thera­peutic talks with a trusted adult professi­onal throughout their years in school. How many life courses could that change; and how pro­foundly? Very many, and quite profoundly indeed—seeing as you get a cumul­ative, collective effect as the children and youth interact with one another.

If we are to turn the tide of spiritual poverty and alienation inherent to modern life, we must begin to nourish the souls of millions. Only then can we develop a metamodern society, a society that takes its own develop­ment—interior and exterior—into its own hands. If there is one thing that char­acterizes the emerging meta-ideology I call the Nordic ideo­logy, it is this: a systematic and deliberate nourishing of the human soul through­out the life course; a clarion call for adult development.

How to get there is far from obvious, but without an explicitly formula­ted and manifested Existential Politics, and without pro­per societal proce­sses to address these concerns, we are unlike­ly to achieve any such goals.

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]. Neil Young’s Heart of Gold, 1971.

Hanzi’s Private Notes: The 5 Metamemes Before Metamodernism

The following is work-in-progress and based on a few loose notes from Hanzi Freinacht’s work on his upcoming book ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’. This is the third book in Hanzi’s metamodern guides series. It takes on a developmental approach to world history and does so through the lens of six overarching developmentally derived patterns that Hanzi refers to as “metamemes”.

Thanks to our monthly donators Hanzi can buy time to work on the book, so if you have a couple of bucks to spare each month, we would be very grateful if you could donate to Hanzi: https://donorbox.org/metamoderna.

1) The Animistic Metameme:

  • Self: Body-self, that you are your body, no differentiated conception of soul, no differentiated role identity, family and profession are one, rituals that define life stages, sex is ritualized and some cultures are permissive, no conception of individual. Note. This is not an “African” theme, but has to do with metamemes, ancestral worship, spirits.
  • Ideology: Name for insiders synonymous with humans, totem (animals and nature given social and symbolic significance—we are the bear, etc.) and taboo (incest, but also touching the shaman’s tools, charged with mana etc.), ethics towards natural world, no formalized ethics about “society”.
  • Ontology: Spirit world, animism, anthropomorphization/non-differentiation, enchantization, magic, short narratives about the world, no coordination of different paragraphs (paragraph-length creation myths etc. corresponding to MHC stage 8 Primary), no differentiation of semiotics and nature (Levi-Strauss accounts of ethnomedicine: find example in Levi-Strauss: signifier and signified undifferentiated). This also explains belief in spirits: speaking something and being something is the same.
  • The universal: Not only this world, but also the spirit realm.


2) The Faustian Metameme:

  • Self: The self is part of a larger idea-world, related to gods and a generalized society. The self must find its destiny, i.e. which place the self has in the hierarchy. Actions reveal destiny, striving towards power in society and heroism, or finding gods to serve. Human self not same as nature. Part of larger clan, imagined community, but can ascend above normality. Sexuality procreation defined in relation to a wider clan structure. No longer spirits and ancestors, but death realm, Valhalla etc.
  • Ideology: The power and interests of the clan is the ethical basis: honor identity, to keep an abstracted identity of power visible to a larger group. To survive, you need to appease (or intimidate and control) other people rather than nature (humanized environment), hence gods over spirits. Spirits kept as residual, demoted to ghosts and trolls (superstition). Progressive: eye for an eye.
  • Ontology: MHC stage 9 Concrete; this means that you have stories or narratives of gods, monsters and heroes—and that these stories connect many paragraphs and coordinate themes: the earliest paragraphs of the Bible don’t do this, later on they do. When it comes to Homer, you have an epic, but there are no abstract principles spelled out. Humans can defy the gods. Life is a social struggle: slavery, rulership, clans, family feuds. Afterlife: in Norse Paganism, i.e. no consequential death realm.
  • The universal: Not just spirits, but more powerful gods tied to rulers, conquerors and differentiated social roles (god of war, of fertility, wine etc.).


3) The Postfaustian Metameme:

  • Self: The immortal soul is a prototypical form of the individual. Gilgamesh is a good example of transition from Faustian to Postfaustian: He becomes a hero but must submit to the gods and ultimately gains immortality through his relation to an abstracted society. The soul is a formalized theory. The soul has an ethical essence.
  • Ideology: Serve the ultimate truth, defeat the inner demons, purify the soul, purify the souls of others, convert heathens and destroy heretics, create a fair and ordered society ruled by eternal truth. Power is not okay without truth/God on your side. Turn the other cheek. Intentions, not power or results, matter. The social order is sanctified by an eternal truth, but may be overthrown if not in line with universality.
  • Ontology: This world is second to the eternal world of God or spirit. It should be ordered in relation to the eternal world. Humanity is imperfect but can approach the perfect or Absolute. Our connection to the universal goes not via the body, but by the abstracted soul and its ethical essence. The ultimate existence of God is the abstraction upon which all mythology rests—hence you can study theology, reason about it: What is the abstraction (MHC stage 10 Abstract) behind the (MHC stage 9 Concrete) narratives? How can general insights be gleaned about the nature of God, nirvana, etc.
  • The universal: Not just powerful gods, but the ultimate truth about life and existence, an ultimate god above all gods (transcend and include explicitly in Buddhism, and implicitly in Christianity). Foreign powergods demoted to demons, consider Satan, critique of the faustian deal, no longer Kosher to pray for power (black magic, burrrrrrn). From heroism to sainthood. Not in Valhalla anymore, Toto! Jews, old Testament deal with God, is proto-post: The god still chooses one people. Zoroastrism: Satan and God equals.


4) The Modern Metameme:

  • Self: The individual has the right to move within the social order in this life. Free will, civil liberties, endowed with “reason”. Slippery slope that includes non-privileged group, but still anthropocentric. Rationality found in humans, hence humanity is the center. Descartes behind the curtain. God in the closet. Covenant with “god” through surrender but reason, i.e. with universal truth.
  • Ideology: Death to all myths. No kings, but democracy. Humans are citizens—an extremely powerful idea, used by all dictatorships, even Hitler. Satisfaction of all human needs by use of scientific perspective on the material world, creation of economic growth, fair distribution of spoils among equal and deserving citizens. To greatest possible extent, use science to organize society. Meritocracy, sports, life is a game—you need to know the rules and win. The best individual is whoever knows the truth the best.
  • Ontology: The universe consists of its material constituents and the space between them. They present an absolute truth and people can know this truth by reason and science, but that depends on intersubjective verification.
  • The universal: Intersubjective verification, a.k.a. objective truth. But it is an illusion, just like God. Only a question of degree.


5) The Postmodern Metameme:

  • Self: The individual can question the categories of modern society and is defined in opposition to these, how she becomes a unique individual, how she is different, an irregularity, an exception. No longer humanity in creative opposition to nature, but rather, in creative opposition to culture. You cannot be an individual unless you somehow oppose society—Fromm and others have written about how people are “robots” or “automatons”. Authenticity, Walter Benjamin argues that there is an authenticity in art, one that is not thought to be found in mainstream modern society. You have the same notion in Heidegger’s “das Man”.
  • Ideology: Modern society has gone terribly wrong. Grandes histoires are totalitarian. Emphasize multiplicity, detail, nuance, exception, resistance, critique. Cultural relativism, to avoid the oppression of minority cultures. Try to include the excluded. Fight power structures. There is something real and authentic beyond the structures of modern society. All sentient beings in all times must ultimately be included and their interests taken into account. Light pomos don’t necessarily share all of this, but they share in postmaterialism, relativism, solidarity with all sentients, environmentalism, praise of authenticity (primarily of emotions) and the striving to being inclusive.
  • Ontology: Symbols, structure and culture are, for all practical purposes, the ultimate reality—beyond that, we really don’t know. Even phenomenology is steeped in symbolic meaning-making. The universe is social and interactive. All knowledge is contextual. Even natural science is just another perspective and is based upon scientific communities, cultures, practices. We cannot access an ultimate reality.
  • The universal: Perspectivalism, only a perspective can verify (or falsify, Popper’s proto-pomo), intersubjectivity is always context dependent and always uses shared perspective.

So, what are the self, ideology, ontology and the universal of the Metamodern Metameme? Hanzi’s take on the subject will be revealed in his upcoming book The 6 Hidden Patterns of History. In the meantime, if you’re a member, you can make you proposal, or read others’ contributions, on Metamoderna’s forum here: https://forum.metamoderna.org/. The forum thread is called “Cocreative competition: Who can come up with the best continuation of Hanzi’s theory on metamemes”.

If you’re not a member, you can apply for a membership by sending an email with a presentation of yourself and why you’d like to become a member to emil@metamoderna.org.

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.

We Must Reintroduce the Via Contemplativa

Existential Politics should organize investments into new support struct­ures for personal growth. I would like to suggest that we reintroduce—on a wide, socie­tal level—the medieval notion of the via contemplativa, the contempla­tive life path. The term vita contemplativa (vita, with a “t”) is more comm­only used —most famously in Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition from 1958—and means “the contemplative life”. But here I’d like to stay with discus­sing the contemplative path and how it could be made part and parcel of day-to-day society and politics. The issue is not that society needs us to become monks and nuns, but that more of us are supported through the inner journeys of life.

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. 

First of all, let’s not get carried away by nostalgia. I am not claiming medieval times were “better” than modern times, or that everyone walked around being super-spiritual back then, concerning themselves with high-minded things like life’s inner journey all the time. And I am not claiming every­thing from early modernity—the Renaissance and its via activa (or vita activa) which broke off with the medieval scholastic and monastic tradition—and onwards repre­sents a mistake.[i]

As you probably know from my books and other writings, Hanzi Frei­nacht is a dev­elopmentalist. I don’t think present society has “fallen from grace”, from any primordial state of innocence, wisdom or bliss—but that modern soc­iety directly follows from the principles of traditional soc­iety: Once people have agreed to the idea that one highest principle of truth should guide society (“God” or any other highest prin­ciple in trad­itional or what I call “post­faustian” societies), sooner or later people will also ha­ve to agree that this abso­lute truth must be subject to open inquiry and to inter­subjective veri­fica­tion—which is the essence of modernity. Modern life is born from the dialectics inherent to post­faust­ian society. Develop­ment sometimes runs into dead ends, tying knots on itself, like in Nazi Germany. But it would be a mistake to think that mod­ernity itself is such a dead end.

And yet, it would be conceited to believe nothing could ever be lear­ned from earlier stages of society, from the rich varieties of historical exper­ience. Even if modernity is an “attractor point” towards which postfaust­ian society ultimately points, that there is always a price to be paid for development; there are always “beau­ties lost”.

The via contemplativa may be such a beauty lost. The medieval system was basic­ally de­signed to produce good monks (and, to a lesser extent, nuns). To be a learn­ed person was to be versed in biblical studies, theo­logy, phil­osophy, con­templative practice and prayer, and some practical skills per­taining to mon­astic life, such as being a good scribe. Theoretical subjects were highly estee­med. In the medieval scholastic system, people entered education and were taught the first three liberal arts, trivium (grammar, logic and rhet­oric), then advancing to the four “higher” liberal arts, quad­rivium (arith­metic, geometry, music and astronomy). Only after versing oneself in these seven arts could one partake in lectures on philo­sophy and theo­logy. This created an impressive pan-European network of Latin-speaking scholars who could converse about the nature of God and reality.

As the intellectual mission of the late Middle Ages was all about trying to find the highest principle of truth and align society with it, its educati­onal system aimed to produce people who could refine their hearts and minds so as to find God and to serve Him. In short: The system of learn­ing and teaching prepared people for the via con­templativa.

The Renai­ssance—the period of cultural blossoming that heralded mo­dernity—changed the me­di­eval edu­cat­ional system around considerably. Casting an eye on the proto-modern societies of high antiquity (Hellenic and Rom­an), and building on vital Islamic influences, the few thousand peo­ple who made the Renai­ssance happen re­designed edu­cation to better fit a via activa. It pre­pared people for be­com­ing politicians, merch­ants, mil­itary leaders and—to some extent—artists and engineers.[ii] Rhet­orics, politics and history be­came important, and trivium was seen as much more “trivial” (from which we have derived the word “trivial”). Since that time, as mod­ernity has pro­gressed and disclosed its radically trans­form­ative pow­ers, accelera­ting over the centuries, greater portions of the popu­lation have been edu­cat­ed for longer periods of time, and more of us have been offered a via activa as citizens, entrepreneurs, scientists and so forth.

Religion, reflection, self-knowledge and contemplation have—even if they still exist—undeni­ably taken a back seat in modern society as a who­le. Via contemplativa is thought of as something exceptional, some­thing for the few rather than the many. Sky­scrapers have dwarfed the once do­minant cathedrals in their taller sha­dows. Skiing resorts, exotic safaris and wet summer fuck­fests on Ibiza have replaced pil­gri­mages and periods of mon­astic seclusion. People such as myself, who like spending time alone walking in the Alps for no other reason than to contemplate existence, are often seen as ecce­ntric, dis­connected or even frivolous.

During the emergence of modern­ity, this “life-affirming” attitude may very well have made sense: With so much to do, so much to be achieved, and yet no major risks of systemic and civi­lizational collapse on the hori­zon, it may be a good thing that people primarily focus on creating world­ly things. Useful things. And then you may just as well savor the hedonic, Dionysian richness of what modern life has to offer while you’re at it. After all, what good is staring at a wall (to come to terms with the blissful but terrifying mean­inglessness of Emptiness) when you could be out there making sure more kids get polio vaccine, or take part in any other of the seemingly infinite growth potentials of the modern world?

We are, however, now reaching a point in history where our very sur­vival depends upon our collective inner development. In today’s late mod­ern society, in which the pot­entials of our tech­no­logies are so incompre­hensively vast, the con­sump­tion of one single human so stagger­ingly im­pactful, the con­sequen­ces of our actions so global, the possibility of ecolo­gical collapse so present, the acc­eleration of our chan­ging life con­ditions so dizzying—we may need to reintroduce the via con­tem­pla­tiva, an updat­ed and recyc­led version of monastic practices. On a very serious, collecti­ve—yet deeply personal—level we may have to stop and think.

And breathe. And reflect.

Consider. Reconsider. Doubt.

Rest. Concentrate. Heal. Suffer. Digest. Grow.


We may have to take the issue of life as a contemplative path very seri­ously, meaning that we, as a society, should be prepared to expend con­siderable time and economic resources on inner growth.

Inner growth. Being with oneself. Introspection. These act­ivities may come off as less manifest, tangible or visible than “going to work”, “play­ing foot­ball” or “winning”. But they are verbs nonethe­less: breathe, reflect and so on—they are actions, flows, processes and events. The inner jour­ney is some­thing that really happens, something that counts for some­thing, a difference that makes a difference. Tectonic shifts of our lives may occur, shifts of our perspect­ives, of our beings, aspirations, motives and life-goals. Such inner shifts of the heart reverberate across the larger patt­erns of our life-spans, and thus they affect the world in a thousand subtle ways.

This way of thinking is not only counterintuitive to the modern mind. It is downright offensive:

“Should people spend more time in idle solitu­de? But what about the growth of the economy! What about climate chan­ge, an issue that requires action, now! What about all the social pro­blems! And you want people to meditate and contemplate in the stillness of their minds? And how could we afford such a thing!”

But it is a simple fact—despite the pervading sense that we are bu­sier than ever—that many or most of our daily activities and life goals are quite poor­­ly thought-out, rather shallow, and often quite unneces­sary. We pur­sue shall­ow life goals, because we get stuck on relati­vely sim­ple and basic inner needs that still “have us by the balls”.[iii] The goals of our actions are themselves “ineffective” (transrationally speaking), our motivations and drives hardly con­ducive to sustainable human flourish­ing, development, love and last­ing happi­ness. And in these days of expo­nentially growing human power, the failure to pursue deeply worthwhile goals in as many people’s lives as poss­ible, can and will be nothing short of catastrophic. And the only way to get many more of us to develop much more global and worth­while goals is to support our genuine inner development. Global scale calamities are likely to follow pretty soon, un­less we start looking inwards.

In other words, it may be a very sound investment—in terms of “the eco­nomy of happiness”—to put much, much more of society’s time, ef­f­ort, resources and attention to people’s inner worlds, to the existen­tial journey of each of us.

Take a moment to consider this: All that really “is” and all that we genuinely care about revolves around the conscious, inner experience of humans—and ani­mals for that matter. What is a theme park without the ability to have fun? What is ice cream without the ability to enjoy? What is music with­out the bewon­dered list­ener? What, indeed, are family and friendship without love? What is even truth and enlightenment without the pro­found recog­nition of the observing mind?

The vast inner landscapes of subjective experience are not a fringe issue, not a small detail.

They are everything.

They are all that we will ever have. Inner experience is all that society ultimately produces and all it ultimately relies upon. It’s what all of it ulti­mately is about.

What madness, then, to build a civilization that does not work actively and seriously with the development of inner experience! Whatever else we change or build or create or develop, it all has zero value without the eye, the mind, the heart and the soul of the observer, of the experiencer, of the participating co-creator. We’re always-already here, cast into being, meet­ing the universe half-way.

Nothing explains more about what humanity creates than her inner­­most relatedness to existence. Will we create prisons, conflicts and collap­se, or will we manage to respond productively to the great challen­ges ahead of us—a struggle reborn as play?

Contemporary commentators like to point out that this is an exist­ential quest­ion: “Will we fall on our own sword, or rise to the challenge?” What they generally fail to mention, however, is that this exist­ential quest­ion itself depends upon how the inner path of each human being is supp­orted and scaff­olded—or thwarted and undermined—by the struct­ures of soci­ety. They fail to see the political and transpersonal nature of the exist­ential questions, and they fail to offer bids for a renewed via contem­pla­tiva.

A metamodern politics would need to reintegrate key aspects of all the former value memes, which means that even some aspects of post­faustian society and its traditional religions should be re-examined and judiciously reinvented. We may need to co-create a more existential civi­lization, one that values inner growth and earnest spiritual exploration considerably higher than today’s late modern society.

Life Crisis and Development

How, then, could a via contemplativa be properly reintroduced in a meta­modern context, in the context of an advanced welfare system we call the “listening society”?

One way to go about this is to endow all citizens with the “right” or “posi­tive freedom” to, once or twice in a lifetime, take a longer time off from work (or whatever they’re doing)—for half a year, maybe a year—in order to go through a supported period of prac­tice, learn­ing, contempla­tion and self-scrutiny.

It is safe to assume there is much to be won, in a myriad of non-linear ways, if a large part of the pop­ulation successfully and productively mana­ges to deal with one or more of the different “crises” that pertain to a nor­mal life course: the existential crisis of early adulthood (which has been growing in recent years), the major stress breakdowns many of us suffer during our professionally active years, or the crises of death, ill­ness and ber­ea­vement that all of us must face to­wards the end of our lives.[iv]

Add to this the fact that people can have all sorts of other crises that don’t pertain directly to one of the Eriksonian life phase tran­sitions: there are family crises, fail­ures in life, crises due to unemployment and other struc­tural shifts in society. Then add the fact that we coll­ectively respond to crises at a societal level in more or less composed and productive (ver­sus reactive and destructive) manners. Each of all these mentioned instan­ces of crisis can either lead to tragic collapse, painful stagnation, or to higher stages of dev­elopment and flou­r­ish­ing.

We all have such turning points in our lives, and our ability to manage them largely determine our adult personal develop­ment, which in turn collectively determines how our lead­ers govern socie­ty and how society collectively responds to challenges.

As things currently stand, most of us respond only so-so to the crises that inevitably show up in our lives. And then we walk on, wounded, hurt, numbed and stunted in our growth as adult human beings. And that sha­pes all of our lives, the lives of those around us, our children, and society at large.

The word “crisis”—as so many like to point out these days—is both a mom­ent of great difficulty and an opportunity for “purification”, for re­solv­ing long-standing issues or tensions, or for transitioning to new stages of development. In scientific terms, crisis only ever shows up in “complex systems”, never in non-complex ones; so you have an “economic crisis” or an “identity crisis”, but never a “crisis of the car engine”. Etymologi­cally, the word goes back to the ancient Greek word for “decision”. The crisis is the moment of decision. It’s when the shit hits the fan—and the whole thing either collapses or pays the painful price to reorganize and grow.

When it comes to existential issues such as handling the deep crises of life, it is common to think in terms of moral purity and innate character. Some people, we like to tell ourselves, are the ones who really have the courage and heart to muddle through, the composure and self-con­trol to see clearly in stormy weather, the faith in our… blah, blah, blah. And then we like to assume that we are those people and people we don’t parti­cularly like or who don’t share our values are weaker and less wo­rthy at the innermost level. We must recognize this line of reason­ing for what it is—namely moralism: i.e. the judgmental and self-congratula­tory bullshit of our habitual minds.

Truly metamodern Existential Politics departs from a very diffe­rent start­ing point: Whether or not a person pulls through during a mo­ment of crisis is not a matter of God-given moral character, but simply a question of behavioral psychology and the extent to which she has the nec­essary resources available.

So the issue becomes, not to judge or congratulate, but to soberly and effectively strengthen those inner resour­ces and societal support structu­res available through­out the popula­tion.

Just as a society will have a certain GDP growth over a period of years, and just as every society repro­duces its murder and suicide rates with frightening precision from year to year—so must every society have a spe­c­ific number of shattered dreams, a number of broken hearts, a percen­tage of lifetime spent in subtle self-doubt, a number of crises suc­cess­fully passed (or not), a num­ber of psychological stage transitions that occur harmon­i­ously or in wren­ching agony. Is it unreasonable to ask how each of these num­bers can be studied and improved upon?

That’s Existential Politics: reducing the number of shattered minds and broken souls while increasing the number of inner phoenixes rising.

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]. Such nostalg­ic arguments have been made by “integral tradition­alists”, such as Frithjof Schuon and Réné Gué­non, and they are not entirely without merit. They point out that, in the med­ieval period, the Church was at the center of society, and the greatest crystall­ization of human activity was cathed­ral build­ing: a spi­ritual endeav­or. God was at the pinn­acle of everything, and reli­gion was an important and unavoid­able aspect of everyone’s life; the church and temple spires tower­ing at the highest points of all settle­ments for centu­ries.

[ii]. Of course, artists at this point in time were still not out on the “free market”, first producing their art and then finding the highest bidder, or turning to a “general audience” with their personal expression. That happened only at the end of the 1700s with Mozart’s revolt against the court-based structure of art benefactors, as discussed in Norbert Elias’ book Mozart: Sociological Portrait of a Genius. But still, the Renaissance did produce a class of people who were supported by rich people and who had considerable artistic freedom, Leonardo da Vinci perhaps being the emblematic example.

[iii]. Excuse the male-centric expression, “by the balls”, and feel free to invent a gender neutral one.

[iv]. At least until human enhancement reaches a point where the biological process of aging can be reversed, but that’s another story.