Metamodernism, More Conservative than Conservatism

Conservatism may be the most misunderstood of the modern ideolog­ies—and its challenge to political metamodernism is perhaps the most serious one. The cen­tral conservative principle is a resolve to escape the traps of infatua­tions with utopian ideas and puritan ideals—and to settle for “the real world”. The insight that underlies this realization is one of humility: the world is always larger, more complex and more terrifying than our limited intellects and perspectives can imagine. When we want to change things around, it’s usually only because we haven’t really under­stood how they work in the first place. And so our dreamed visions and “creative ideas” usually end up wrecking what works in the first place, and then we have to painfully try to reconstruct what has been lost. Sometimes that can take an incredibly long time. Think of the sunk costs of the Soviet experiment.

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. 

Conservatism reacts against the hubris of intellectuals. As soon as mo­d­ern society was showing its first glimmers and it became apparent that the human world was about to drastically change, “smart” but unwise people from privi­leged strata of soc­iety took upon themselves to use their intellects to try to shape the direction of this development. This was, and remains to this day, an act of vanity: you flatter yourself, you grow self-righteous, you put your­self above your place in the larger world, above your place in history, your place as a member of your peo­ple and their accumulated wisdoms—and this leads you to try to force your neatly arra­nged ideas and ideals upon the rich­ness and complexity of the world. And your mental con­struct never fits, and you always end up getting angry at the world. The stark raving revol­ution­aries take over and things get vio­lent. Crazy experiments abound. Decay follows.

The primordial and archetypal such dangerously utopian thinker is, again, Rousseau. While highly intelligent and idealistic, he was unbalan­ced as a person, an irres­pon­sible father and impossible friend—unable to live up to his own ideals of engaged parenting as out­lined in his 1762 work Émile—and he was hope­lessly roman­tically attach­ed to unachievable uto­pian goals. Rouss­eau, a perpetual child who would never grow up and died bitterly defending his ruined reputation with far-fetched justificati­ons, is the origin­ator of such dreamy and dangerous ideas as “Man is born free, and every­where he is in chains” and “We will force you to be free!”[i]

How telling, then, that Rousseau was the spiritual father of the hard­core Jacobins of the French Revolution—the ones who led the Reign of Terror and guillotined folks left and right as the Revolution began to eat its own child­ren. Maximilien Robespierre, the young Jacobin lawyer who rose to power and eventually had the king decapitated—and even coined the motto of the French Republic, “liberté, égalité, fraternité”—worship­ped Rousseau like a god:

“Rousseau is the one man who, through the loftiness of his soul and the grandeur of his character, showed himself worthy of the role of teacher of mankind.”[ii]

Fanaticism—just like Lenin would later declare himself to be “in love with Marx” and honor the memory of Robespierre with a monument in Saint Petersburg.

It was after the excesses and madness of the French Revol­ution that con­­servative thinking took hold in earnest. The pendulum swung and for a few generations the leading minds of France, Germany and England dev­eloped the foundations of modern conservatism. You have Burke’s re­pu­dia­tion of the French Revolution, the German Romanticism’s rejec­tion of the cold and ahistorical intellect of the French Enlightenment project, and Joseph de Maistre’s poignant retort to Rousseau’s ideal of men born free but being everywhere in chains: “To say that sheep are born carnivor­ous, but everywhere eat grass, would be just as reason­able”.[iii]

Conservative thinkers knew that modernity was encroaching upon society: They did not deny the power of science and technology and the profoundly new territory that humanity was entering. They held that modern society had to grow and evolve organically, and that the role of the intellect was not to force itself upon the world, but to refine the human spirit on an individual level by self-reflection and hard work—even beyond the intellectual re­alm: linking to the spiritual, the myst­ical and the aesthetic. People aren’t natur­ally be­nign, as Rousseau and Robes­pierre had postulated, and society does not always opp­ress them—it often protects, fosters and supports them. People are relatively brutish and simple, and they must refine their souls to be any good—and society’s role is more often to hold us in place so we don’t commit crimes or work against one another. And society can offer a source of cultural refinement—through history, art and Bildung.

To different extents, the conservative thinkers also defended God and the Christian faith against the onslaught of cold scientific rationality. Hum­ans need God to know their place in the larger scheme of things. So what could be worse than throwing all of that rich timbre of human expe­rience and culture overboard in exchange for a dreamt-up plan for a new society!

The point isn’t, then, to try to go back to the Middle Ages,[iv] but simply to defend traditions, sacred values, national ethnic bonds, hierarchical relations and institutions from unrealistic and irresponsible attempts to efface them. The funda­men­tal conservative prin­ciple is to be responsi­ble and prudent; it is to avoid what I have called “game denial”.

Conservatism and counter-revolution have surfaced as a political, aes­the­tic and intellectual force time and again since early modernity. During the period 1815–48, the Austrian statesman Prince Metternich, a major influence in Austria and in Europe generally, devoted his energies to erec­t­ing an antirevolutionary chain of international alliances throughout Eur­ope. After the turn of the 19th century you had Oswald Spengler’s som­ber ruminations on the fall of Western civilization. In its latest incar­nation you have thinkers such as the Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson and the US literary scholar Camille Paglia who call themselves classical liberal and libertarian respect­iv­ely, but who, structurally speak­ing, quite clearly repro­duce the conservative creed. They work to challenge leftwing academic postur­ing and to demask the exces­ses of univer­sity campus radicalism and the youth’s blind faith in neo-Marx­ism and inter­sectional femin­ism. Their message appeals mostly to white young men, just as ear­lier forms of conser­vatism. And just as before, the young men are encour­aged to cult­ivate their masculinities and inner lives. Peterson and Paglia seem to be lead­ing an ongoing counter-revolution in its own right—albeit in a cult­ural and not military sense.

The enemy is always simplistic and collectivist radicalism. As such, con­servative thinkers view themselves as opposed to “ideol­ogy”. The con­serva­tive mind holds that they stick to a sober view of reality, where­as radicals and progressives have sold out reason in hope of playing an into­xicatingly heroic role, or in covert hopes of advancing in the social hierar­chies. On a deep level, the conservative feels that ideologies provide an excuse for such behavior, a kind of simple filter through which the ideo­logue can view the world in black-and-white terms—thus avoid­ing to ever see his own limitations and the greed of his soul, because he is always on the “pure” and “good” side. The conservative tells us:

“Your ideology is a sickness, a big lie, an excuse for your in­ability and un­will­ing­ness to deal with your own inner weaknesses. And that is, ultimately, why the French Revolution turned sour, as did the Bolsh­evik one, as will all future ones. You say you are good, but you lie. If you really cared about what’s good, you would bother to first find out, without a priori, what is true—including truths that happen to hurt—and then you would do your hard inner home­work and deal with the less rosy and more terrifying reality of existence.”

This conservative trail of thought of course also poses a challenge to poli­tical metamodernism. And the challenge should be taken seriously, by all means. How can we justify the Nordic ideology? Is it just another attempt at a seductive, blinding ideology that would make Chairman Mao proud?

As with the other modern ideologies, you can either beat conservatism by dismantling its core suppositions, or by taking it to its own limits and turn it against itself. And again, we need to do the latter. But just to point out some ways to disprove conservatism “from the outside” we can men­tion that:

  • conservatism cannot itself escape the charges of being an ideology,
  • conservative thinkers have all been beaten down by history as they opp­o­sed abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, labor rights, the rule of sci­en­tific method over religion, the separa­tion of state and religion, the in­­­depen­dence of colonies, the equality between sexes, and so on, i.e. they have sided with the losing institutions, and all been proven terribly wrong in the long run, and
  • you can always tear down their philosophical foundations, such as the belief in the individual, in free will, or in reason, all of which are manifestly false and provably so.

In short, it’s apparent that conservatives are usually right in the short run but wrong in the long run, and we can always point that out. But that would be cheating. It wouldn’t reach the conservatives on their own terms. Here’s the point of attack: The conservative wants to be pru­dent and to respect tradition and let society grow organically without effac­ing nat­ural hierarchies that have been est­ablished between com­petent and less competent members of society.

We can ask the conservative: Which scenario is most respectful of peo­ple’s relations and traditions—one in which you have an active and delib­erate Gemeinschaft Politics, or one in which such a thing is lacking? With a Ge­mein­schaft Politics you have the means to look at cultural, ethnic and national values and relations and to defend them or develop their inter­relations. Without it you don’t. So a good con­servative must accept that Gemein­schaft Politics can be useful—in fact, many unknowingly already advocate embry­onic forms of this kind of politics, as discussed in chapter 11.

How about Empirical Politics? Which society will be most prone to crazy dreamt-up and disembodied ideologies—one that continuously finds ways of optimizing checks against bullshit, or one that doesn’t? Em­pirical Polit­ics is perfectly in line with the conservative ideals of making well-informed decisions and demanding proof that something is likely to work before carrying it out.

And if you want to be prudent and respect the narratives and traditions that have grown through history, which alternative treats such folk narra­tives with the greatest care and respect; one that has a Politics of Theory to continuously see if culture has gone off the rails and become destructive, or one that has no such mechanism? Having a Politics of Theory is—toge­ther with Empirical Politics—like buying an insurance.

The classical conserva­tive wants to refuse to buy the insurance in an accelerating time that is changing very quickly and in which crazy ideo­l­ogies are popp­ing up again. The prudent thing to do—indeed, the resp­onsible and con­servative thing to do—is to buy the damned insurance and make sure you pay its premium. The same can be said about Demo­cra­ti­zation Politics: Again, it’s like buying an insurance.

And when it comes to the conservative concern for the soul, or the loss of connection to it in our fast-paced fast-food society, what could be more important than Existen­tial Politics? Would you like to go on not having inner development as a poli­tical topic, with good data to look at and dis­cuss? Not to mention Emanci­pation Politics—how will you defend indivi­dual rights without an institu­tional framework to do so? Wouldn’t it be reckless and irrespon­sible—which is what every conservative claims not to be—to reject such politics?

And then there’s the whole issue of the value of elites that have done hard inner work to earn their place and who lead with a gentle hand and a long-term perspective. Political metamodernism has a developmental psy­ch­ology to back it up and can help identify and gather such elites and make sure they can wield and maintain power. Can classical conservatism do that? Do the conservatives have any better strategies for how the edu­cated and com­petent elites of society should organize themselves to avoid an un­informed mob rule from taking over? Recent populist developments sugg­est they don’t.

And you want to not have a partial, ideological perspective, but to re­late to the slow and organic development of the whole? How exactly can you do that without seeing that the other ideological positions are also a part of that whole—without the metamodern principle of transpartisa­nism and the meta­­modern method of co-development? How can you lead and represent the whole when you always splice off about half of the population and their worldviews? You cannot let society grow organically without the holistic multi-perspectivalism of metamodernism. Or rather, you can, but you won’t be overviewing and leading that growth.

As you can see, good monsieur, your conservatism is only a cheap fanfare for political metamodernism. The modern form of conservatism is imm­ature, childish, irresponsible and imprudent compared to the Nor­­dic ideo­logy.

The Nordic ideology is, simply, more conservative than conservatism.

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]. Note that I’m paraphrasing here. What I am referring to is, more precisely, Book 1, Section 7 of the Social Contract. “This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his coun­try, secures him against all personal dependence.”

[ii]. Robespierre quoted from chapter 4 in: Hicks, S. R. C., 2004/2011. Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. China: Ock­ham’s Razor Pub­lishing.

[iii]. Or actually, I’m playing along with a popular textbook simplification here. In reality this quote is from an 1899 book by Émile Faguet (Politiques et moralistes du dix-neuvième siècle), who creatively paraphrased the conservative philosopher de Maistre with the formulation: “Dire: les moutons sont nés carnivores, et partout ils mangent de l’herbe, serait aussi juste.” (p. 41).

[iv]. Even if some early conservatives, like the young Novalis, did indeed long for a united, Catholic, theocratic Europe.

Metamodernism, More Liberal than Liberalism

I will lump together classical liberalism, libertarianism and neo-liberal­ism under one banner, much like with the many strands of socialism above. For the sake of convenience I’ll talk about “liberalism”, even if this in an American context tends to just mean “left-leaning” which of course isn’t what I mean here.

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 the fundamental goal of liberalism is to maximize the freedom of the individual. It is hard enough for each of us to figure out how we should lead our lives and what is good for us and our kids—let alone know what might be good for others. Hence, it is unwise to put too much of your life into my hands and vice versa. This means that the realm of the public and the political should not unnecessarily infringe upon the private sphere and the voluntary exchanges on the market. Rather, government should be stretched only so far that it guarantees our protection from one another and ensure that we don’t breach our freely entered agreements: As long as you don’t do anything that directly limits or harms me, you should be free to do it.

There is, to a considerable extent, a trade-off between how much should be decided upon politically and how much each of us can decide for our­selves. For instance, if you have high taxes, the political system controls a large share of human activity, and with lower taxes more of that decision power lands in the hands of individuals. Generally speaking, individuals will be more empowered in the latter case, and this fosters responsibility, innovation, hard work, independent thinking and econo­mic growth, which in turn increases individual freedom. Such freedom should also have as few legal restrictions as possible; you need very good arguments if you want to use the monopoly of violence to threaten people to comply with some rule.

What do you say, will that do as a general idea of liberalism? From John Locke and John Stuart Mill, to Hayek, to Ayn Rand, to Milton Fried­man, to Robert Nozick (before he changed his mind) and Reaganomics—the above posi­tion would be shared by all of them.

The easiest way to defeat liberalism is by attacking its core supposition: the individual. The moment we are shown that it is a surface phenome­non and that the real unit of analysis is the dividual or the transindividual, and that freedom must ultimately be defined in transpersonal terms, we can see that liberalism must be subjected to metamodernism: Ultimately, you can never be free unless the people around you develop well, because their development affects not only your choices in every moment of your life, but even the degrees of freedom by which you can think, feel, and be in the world. We co-emerge, and freedom is a social category that func­tions through different emotional regimes.

Libertarians gather around the hacker and startup comm­unities of Silicon Valley and the East Coast of the US—they don’t set up shop in Somalia or Afghanistan, where there is indeed no state power to limit “individual freedom”. It’s just you and the desert (and a few warlords). A dynamic market ultimately rests upon a strong monopoly of violence that provides enough stability for freedom to prosper. Security is a service, and the state is an efficient provider of just that. As Max Weber noted so long ago, states and markets develop together.

But that, of course, is cheating. Libertarians and classical liberals won’t give up their belief in the individual anytime soon, so in order to beat them on their own terms you must show them that the maximization of indivi­dual liberty cannot be done without political metamodernism. And that’s perfectly doable, too.

The weakest spot is, unsurprisingly perhaps, the role of the state. As much suspicion as liberalism harbors against the state, it ultimately always depends upon it. Not only must there be a state to guarantee the safety of individuals against the violence or oppression of one another, it must also warrant legally binding agreements and protect property rights. No capi­tal­ist market is possible without at least some minimum state action. And if such a state does exist it will always have to make priorities, which will always limit at least some freedoms of some individuals.

So there is a state, if only a minimal one. How to make sure it is truly liberal and non-oppress­ive? If the govern­ance of such a state does not in­clude an active and deliberate Emancipation Politics, there will be fewer ways for the oppressed and dis­favored parties to resist. This in turn would re­quire a Democrat­ization Poli­tics to make certain that the form of gover­nance is something that is entered into voluntarily in the first place. And from there on, you will require all the other four forms of politics because they all depend upon each other. Empirical Politics is necessary to ensure that the minimized governmental action actually does max­imize human freedom. That too, in part, is an empirical question.

What, then, about anarcho-capitalism, one might ask? In this extreme version of liberalism you want to get rid of the state altogether and even have a market solution for buying and selling security services such as policing and courts. Let’s take it from the anarcho-capitalist perspective then: no state, basta! Anarcho-capitalists are not un­comm­on around hac­k­er comm­unities, Sili­con Valley and the tech industries, so it is a rele­vant ques­tion. And with cryptocurrencies and blockchain techno­logies on the rise, we may be seeing increas­ingly serious attempts at anarcho-capitalist projects.

Here’s the thing. Even if you had no state and security was up for sale, the best security solutions would still be those that provide people with a “listening society” so that peo­ple feel heard, seen and represented. The best security is still preventive security. This would in turn require a dev­elop­ment of all the six forms of politics (Democrat­ization, Gemeinschaft, Existential, Emancipation, Empirical and Theory). In market terms, this service would be more competitive.

Imagine you’re a “client-citizen” of the kind envisioned by anarcho-capitalists: You have blockchain money and you shop around for the best state services. In one such state service, the metamodern one, you can affect the mode of govern­ance, people are nudged to treat you better and you get a framework that helps you find profound meaning in life, and the fellow citizens will be much more peaceful and socially intelligent, and it’s all empirically proven to work. The other providers lack such services and end up using your volun­tarily paid money much more ineffi­ciently. Which one are you going to pick? You go with the metamodern one. If there is such a thing as your “natural rights”, these will come to a fuller expression in a meta­modern soc­iety.

The only way to stop people from voluntarily choosing the meta­modern solutions would be to stop free competition by some kind of threat of viol­ence or monopoly. The only thing that can stop liberalism from being eaten alive by metamodernism is authoritarianism.

In the “market of ideas” (as proposed by the liberal thinker J. S. Mill), political metamodernism lands on top of liberalism in all of its forms. Just as the telephone and internet beat the telegraph. If you’re not a meta­moder­nist, you’re just a bad liberal, because metamodern­ism is more libe­ral than liberalism—even in the stringent forms of libertarianism and anarcho-cap­italism.

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.

Metamodernism, More Egalitarian than Socialism

The fundamental goal of all authentic strands of socialism is to attain sha­r­ed (and fairly distributed) ownership of “the means of production”. This can and should lead to democratic control over said means of pro­duction. But this state of affairs is not quite the goal-in-and-of-itself; it is merely a means to achieving a higher socialist goal: a classless society that is fair, equitable, and in which everybody has what they need for a secure and dignified existence. The goal is to enact politics with soli­darity in order to bring forth a society that is equitable, the structures of which make possi­ble wide and deep solid­arity between all people, which in turn emanci­pates the human soul.

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. 

The idea of socialism took root in the wake of capitalist industriali­zation, although the word originated as a derogatory term already in the mid-1700s as Catholic theologians criticized the legal philosophies of Grotius and Puf­endorf who had the insolence to think that law should be based upon the relationships between people rather than divine revela­tion. Such “social­ists” wanted a societal order defined by human rela­tions.[i] And modern socialism echoes some of that original meaning: Socialists want the econ­omy—and thus everyday life—not to be ruled by any blind, mechan­ical system, but by the relations between sensing and thinking human beings brought into benign relation with one another.

There are, naturally, more forms of socialist thought and practice than we could possibly deal with in this context—from Proudhon to Marx, to Bernstein’s democratic reformism, to Rosa Luxemburg, to Western hum­an­ist Marxism and Freudo-Marxism and their “New Left” and so on. But it is safe to say that anything falling outside of the above delineated bou­n­dary (in regard to the means of production and equality) is not “social­ism” in any meaningful sense of the word. By going to the root shared by all social­ists, we can compare socialism as a general category to the Nordic ideology.

The socialist goal is an equitable society, not merely in terms of opport­unity, but also of outcome. Because so much of society is always and for­ever bound up with the situated social relations between people, it is una­void­able to also seek to level out the outcomes in terms of income and wealth—other­wise the privileges tend to stack up over time: wealthy fami­ly dynas­ties, economic classes, cartels and monopolies, corporations that flee from social responsi­bility and taxation, and so on. So if you don’t care about out­come, you will end up reproducing inequality of opportunity as well. And only if people are reasonably equal can they resist exploitation, and only if they resist being exploited can they be free and fully human.

And right there is the killing point, my dear comrade. If you have the goal to create a fair and equal society, you must also support equalities of outcome to some extent.

Can you get equality of outcome without a developed Gemeinschaft Politics? No, because there will be so much social, emotional and phy­sio­logical in­equality left, and these will reproduce new forms of inequa­lity. The “classless” society in an economic sense is a very superficial utopia: Most of the inti­mate and hurtful inequality remains, and the stakes cannot be fair by any means. Inequality is economic, social, physio­logical, emo­tional, ecological and informational—and all of these are intercon­nec­ted. Only metamodern politics can address inequality at that level of com­plex­ity. Without it, you will never get a classless society.

And even if “everybody” would own the means of production together and manage them democratically, this process would always be limited by what­ever form democracy takes. If the mode of governance is not itself a process of incremental and self-critical development, you will always be stuck with the power relations inherent to that particular system. So with­out Democratization Politics, you cannot actually have soc­ialism in any real sense.

Both Gemeinschaft and Democratization Politics require the other four new forms of politics (Existential, Emancipation, Empirical and Theory) to function. Thus, you simply cannot call yourself a socialist unless you also accept political metamodernism. All said and done, the Nordic ideology is more egalitarian than socialism.

Where does this leave the Left in its existing modern and postmodern forms? If political metamodernism charges ahead and becomes the stan­dard bearer of a more embodied and deeper equality—connecting specifi­cally to the emerging postindustrial and digitized economy—what pur­pose does the residual old Left have to play?

To understand this we may look at the role of Christian­ity during the 19th century. There can be little doubt that the fundamental “game chan­ge” shifts of this period were made possible by the emergence of a distinc­tly modern society: abolition of slavery, protests against rapacious exploi­tation in the colonies, the expan­sion of suffrage, the early forms of wel­fare. But—and this is a big but—radical born-again Christian­ity played a pivotal role in the mobilization of social move­ments and moral demands during this period. Hence, you can see how the morally driven “utopian” movements of the former metameme (postfaust­ianism) finally managed to reach the “low hanging fruit” that came into reach by the maturation of the next metameme—in this case modern soc­iety. The born-again Christ­ians and Pentecostals were hardly the “most enlightened” or “most mod­ern” citizens of their time; but they emphasized relatively simple and spe­cifically moral and collective demands that had now finally become rea­listic and achiev­able. They weren’t fans of Darwin, and still they had this progressive role to play in history.

That is the future role of socialism and the Left more generally in an increasingly metamodern world-system: being a source of popular moral mobil­ization within metamodern society. A lot of the things postmod­ern intellectuals and social movements may have wanted to achieve—animal rights, levelling-out international terms-of-trade, protecting the un­emplo­yed from marginali­zation and stigma—can become much more feasible in a society that is taking steps towards metamodern institu­tions, not least because it will make the average value meme and norm sys­tems develop more rapidly. We may perhaps not be looking at a “social­ism in the 21st century” as many like to imagine (i.e. viewing the Left as the key force in organizing and governing society in the period ahead of us), because it will be outcompeted by political metamodernism. And it will be torn by the populist Right and new versions of conservatism from the other side, and it has no present-day real-world governments to point at as positive examples. But just as Christianity was dealt its fatal blows dur­ing the 19th century and still managed to be morally transform­ative, so can the Left be a stepping stone for moral transformations in the 21st cen­tury.

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 can read about this history in: Honneth, A., 2015/2017. The Idea of Social­ism: Towards a Renewal. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

What Must Be Done: An Open Conspiracy to Take over The World

Okay, so now we’re really closing in on the point: You have six new forms of politics (Democratization, Gemeinschaft, Existential, Emancipation, Empirical and Theory), and these function, over the long-term, together or not at all, and they reinforce each other and they are already emerging in society. But who then makes it happen, and how? If you’ve been a good reader, you already know the answer to this question. Then again, everyone might need a reminder from time to time, and there are still a few blanks to fill in.

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. 

You have two main agents in this world-saving drama: 1. the meta­mod­ern aristocracy and 2. the process-oriented party, both des­cribed in The Listening Society. The metamodern aristocracy is the trans­national networks of people who understand and embody the Meta­modern value meme (and the symbol-stage Metamodern G). They also happen to have the time, energy and resources available to commit them­selves more or less fulltime to working for a more conscious society. They play a key role in affecting the arts, academia, media, global institutions, political dis­cour­ses and in­dustries in a metamodern direction—whether or not they expli­cit­ly think of them­­selves as “metamodernists” in my terms.

You can spot metamodern aristocrats among some leading people and some less noticeable “garden gnomes” (folks who stay in the back­ground and quietly lift a great and complex burden, largely unbekn­own­st to most) within the process-oriented parties that are begin­ning to crop up in the Nordic coun­tries.[i] The metamodern aristocracy has a relatively clear under­stand­ing of the develop­mental map and the attr­a­ct­ors ahead of us. They combine high cognitive complexity with inner depth and are rela­tively psycholo­gically and physically functional and heal­thy. But such peo­ple remain rare. It’s simply unlikely for them to emerge in great numbers in any given society.

Metamodern aristocrats play key roles and plant the seeds. But most of political metamodernism must be brought into being by wider move­ments. Such movements don’t necessarily have to be very large in terms of numbers of participants, but they have to be strong enough to be able to mean­ing­fully participate in the political arena.

And that’s where the process-oriented political party comes in; its role is to be a vehicle for infecting the whole political spectrum with the meta­modern virus. The process-oriented party gathers wider ranges of people from the triple-H population (hipsters, hackers and hippies) and what I have called “the yoga bourgeoisie”, and it acts to slowly but surely spread metamodern structures throughout the political system.

Here’s how it works.

The process-oriented party pries its way into the conventional spec­trum somehow; this can happen in any number of ways: by taking over key pos­itions within centrist or center-right or center-left parties; by taking the initiative within green movements, for example The Alternative in Denmark; by riding on a wave of radical new­comers such as the pirates (as in the Pirate Party in places like Germany, Ice­land, Sweden or the Czech Republic) or fem­inists—or simply by forming its own party struc­ture when the time is ready (the only example I know of being a small thing called “The Initia­tive” in Sweden). It is more difficult to imagine this thing happening from the basis of a classical Left party, a hardliner liber­tarian party, or a nation­alist anti-immigration party. Somehow, the proc­ess-oriented party must be able to draw upon an accumulation of cultural capital (innovation, creati­vity, abi­lity to manage relationships and draw attention, command over status symbols and so forth) and hence the inte­rests and worldviews of the triple-H populations and what is some­times called “the creative class”. You need to be able to build upon the dominant ideology of Green Social Liberalism and work your way to­wards some version of a Green Social Liberalism 2.0.

We have some basic elements of process-oriented politics in France’s En Marche under Emmanuel Macron, Italy’s Five Star Movement and Spain’s Pode­mos—but they all lack a clearly meta­modern political foundation (such as an underlying theory as presen­ted in Nordic Ideology) and none of them act within the space of a sufficiently high value meme popula­tion. Hence, they can only be premonitions of the metamod­ern pro­cess-oriented party and its emergence as a transnational network at the center of the emerging glo­bal polity.

So first, the process-oriented party pries its way into politics wherever it can. From there on, it begins to transform public democratic discourse by taking the moral and rhetorical high-ground in terms of how to treat others’ arguments, how they stick to rules of relative transparency and how they commit to ideals of co-development. As we saw in The Listening Society, co-dev­elop­ment means you take a transpersonal, dialectical, and devel­op­mental view on politics: If you get the best possible processes for debate, dialogue and deliberation, you get the best possible politics, even as peo­ple have conflicting interests and values. It also engages more peo­ple more deeply by more systematically trying out ways for setting up meetings, idea workshops, feedback processes, deliberations and all the rest of it—hence building a versatile platform for citizen engagement.

It is hard work to get co-development right, but if you do this as your top priority, you eventually hit a nerve in every functional late-modern democratic society and the process-orien­ted party gains a central position.

The process-oriented party focuses primarily on the political process and on keeping very high standards of behavior. That doesn’t win mass votes and quick landslide elections, but it makes it become the most trus­ted and respected of all parties—or, seen differently, the least hated by all other positions on the spectrum. It does not maximize quantitative suc­cess (num­ber of votes), but becomes part and parcel of the most cen­tral nodes of society—respected by public actors, industries and civil society.

The party branches out, working within these different categories. It gets to the center of the network of power and it keeps up very high stan­dards of behavioral conduct, having solidarity with the perspectives of others.

“The center of the network of power”, aye? What does that mean? It doesn’t mean that political metamodernism takes a “centrist” position. It means, because it has solidarity will all other perspectives and the people who embody them, and their partial truths—and because it works delib­erately to co-develop transpartially with all of them, and because it att­racts higher average cognitive stage folks who are more able to do so—politi­cal metamodernism has the shortest average distance to all other posi­ti­ons. It is closer to socialism than the conservatives, closer to conser­va­tism than the ecologists, closer to ecologism than the libertarians, closer to liberalism than the social democrats, and even closer to the political frin­ges than the center and vice versa. It is not the most popular of posi­tions, but it is the least hated. It is thus, in a sense, the opposite of cheap-scoring populism—and yet it can approach and deal with popu­lism more easily than does con­ventional centrism and liberalism. Populism sounds exciting but is boring in terms of its potentials. Co-developmental politics sounds boring, even goes out of its way to look harmless, but it is truly radi­cal and trans­formative.

So the question is not to have one strong relation or alliance. It is to have many weak ties, and to compete by having the most such weak ties. In network terms, you thereby reach the highest centrality; you are more conn­ected than all the other positions. And as you have co-developmen­tal ties and processes with all other positions, you also gain higher “gravity”, i.e. you pull them a little more than they pull you, not least because you always have more contacts to draw upon.

The centrality and gravity of power is most concentrated to “bridges” in the network. And as metamodernism is itself often an expression of reinte­gra­tions of the three spheres of life that modernity differentiated—the pro­fessional, the poli­tical and the personal—this also means that the people it attracts are more likely to have contacts across various econo­mic, politi­cal and cult­ural spheres of life. This also facilitates the concen­tration of power into the hands of political metamodernism.

Who would vote for such a party? In the Appendix in Nordic Ideology under the section titled “Too Dumb for Complex Societies?” you can read how IQ scores tend to line up neatly along the axis of the value memes repre­sented by the political parties. If a co-developmental party shows up, the same pattern will show: You will get the smartest and highest stage con­stituency, and you will integrate them in a more multidimensional man­ner, meaning that your metamodern movement gains a disproportiona­tely lar­ge degree of agency in politics, media, public discourse, indu­stries, aca­de­mia and civil society.

And it can and will attract people with higher cultural capital, which is itself taking an increasingly dominant position within society and the eco­nomy. You get the triple-H population and creative class on your side, combined with the higher stage populations.

Ideally, such a process-oriented party should be able to balance the “lib­eral” minds with the “conservative” ones in terms of what people are attrac­ted to. As you may know, it has been shown and widely dis­cussed during the last ten years or so, that people’s personalities are at least partly genetically deter­mined. Personality types have different biolo­gical blue­prints, gearing the levels of sensitivity to negative emotions, the degree of em­pathy, one’s orderliness and so forth. And these different blueprints turn out to be strong predictors of people being leftwing “liberals” or rightwing “conservatives”. Liberal minds tend to really dislike unfairness and restr­aints to personal freedom and creativity, whereas conservative minds tend to really dislike dis­order, crime, cheating and loafing, waste­fulness, and so forth. Liberal is high openness on the Big Five personality scale, and cons­ervative is high conscientiousness. This has been said by more people the last ten years than I could name, per­haps most famously by Jonathan Haidt.

So even if you can see a good ten points of average IQ difference be­tween the UK Greens and nationalists,[ii] for example, this doesn’t mean that being more conser­vative in terms of personality is in itself correlated with being less intelli­gent; in fact, there have been many studies to suggest there is no signif­icant difference. The essential thing to do is to marry the high stage conser­vatives to the high stage liberals. This isn’t so easy to do, as the “triple-H populations” from where you draw the members and who­se interests you represent often have very liberal minds, which skews the recruitment and alienates the conservative types. But orderliness and creativity fit toge­ther; they need each other—especially in metamodern politics. If you get this mix right, you will have a very powerful potion.

What do you do with that power? You introduce “stealable” ideas, and do so by “show it, don’t tell it”. You start advancing the six new forms of politics, one by one. First, you say you want to revitalize democracy (as En Marche, Five Stars, Podemos, Pirates and others have already been doing, only without much of a theory behind it or a larger perspective), showing everyone that Demo­cratization Politics is a thing. As this is a powerful and competitive idea in late modern societies with semi-bank­rupted poli­tical party syst­ems, others will follow suit. Some of the Green, centrist and leftwing par­ties will steal your ideas and find their own twist on them, which is fine. Then you go on to Gemeinschaft Politics—and others will try to steal it, such as social demo­crats, center-right conservatives or even nat­ionalists who seek to revive obsolete forms of social inte­gra­tion. Once the other parties have stolen this idea and compete about having the best Gemein­schaft Politics, the process will have taken hold in society… at which point you introduce Existential Politics, only to see it stolen by Christian demo­crats or equi­valents, mak­ing it their hall­mark.

Then Emancipation Politics, and liber­tarians rejoice at their new-found weapons. Then Empirical Politics, and serious governing parties take after. And then you introduce Politics of Theory, and you assert your own pos­ition at the center of society’s deliber­ation about its own fundamental ass­umptions about itself and reality, forcing all other parties to deepen their discussions about what they really believe and why, and deepening their deliberation with the process-oriented party.

Other parties will steal not only your policies, but also your co-devel­op­mental party struct­ures, and hence their political culture will shift and coll­ec­tive intelligence of governance will increase across the board.

You will then have introduced all the six processes into the political spectrum as a whole, and from there on, the six forces will be com­peting with each other and the process-oriented party will be at the center of this dialectical development, at the heart of the master pattern. The meta­modern political program will have infected all of society with its political virus; it’s a benevolent hostile take-over. And the listening soc­iety grows slowly from these forces pushing against one another: We will find a thou­sand new empirically sound and affordable ways of advancing peo­ple’s inner development, their relations and empowerment as citi­zens.

That is what must be done.

More Sinister Plots

Once all of these processes are in place, we are on our way to cultivating a listening society; this society will be much more efficient at spurring (in)­div­idual development and increasing collective intelligence, and hence it will be highly competitive in the world economy. It will have an easier time attracting some of the highest value meme populations, gathering more cul­tural and economic capital than other regions. Because that’s what all of these processes do; they improve people’s lives and their rela­tions in pro­found and far-reaching ways.

To make metamodern politics happen, you don’t have to ask nicely. You just have to outcompete the crude politics of modern society, on its own terms. Hence, other regions of the world will need to compete by trying to copy some of the processes—and this em­bodied know-how of metamodern society will in itself become an impor­tant ex­port.

These processes naturally require decades to play out and properly affect and saturate society. Hence only people who will be able to work for deca­des long projects will be truly motivated to seriously partake in the develop­ment. The modern welfare state took a good 80 years to build, cultivate and refine. The listening society might take just as long.

According to the late adult development psycho­logist and org­aniza­tional theorist Elliot Jacques, people have different “time spans of dis­cretion”, i.e. the longest timeframe for a task they can undertake indep­en­dently, without supervision. High stage folks tend to have longer inner time horizons, at least if we believe Jacques. So we will see a lot of high-stage folks involved in the process-oriented party, and the recruit­ment base will grow as society be­comes better at generating conditions for such people to emerge. And from there on you have a new society, one that is able to resolve what today’s society cannot, and voilàrelative utopia. And yes, that does include a world “saved” and oceans of human and ani­mal suff­ering and degradation being prevented and a few ecstatic dances and prances at the highest reaches of human freedom.

You see it? There’s an attractor point here; a bunch of interrelated pro­cesses that potentially reinforce and resonate with each other in a new way, a way that is different from modern society. And yet they are highly competitive—not in the short run, but in the long run.

In the introduction to The Listening Society I half-joked that the metamodern aristocracy must “take over the world”? Now you see it; now you see our sinister plot. So it’s true—just in a very abstracted and “infor­med naivety” kind of way.

The good news is it doesn’t even require you to do anything evil. All you do is act very politely and be super-nice to your political “opponents” and co-develop the political realm. Learn from them, listen, really try their arguments out and work on getting a more solid grounding for your own. If you fail to act transpartially and co-developmentally, you wreck the plan. You can even be entirely transparent about the whole “hostile take-over” plan!

In some ways all of this is more than a little byzantine and Leninist: the elaborate plot of a small vanguard, and so on. But on the other hand it is entirely non-violent, requires no coups, no lies, no deceptions, no hypo­crisy, no mani­pulation, no low blows in debates. It requires highly ethical and impeccable behavior, and honesty about one’s own will to (trans­personal) power. That’s all.

Why do you get to be part of this? I suppose some of the answer lies in the fact that you actually chewed your way through some twenty odd chapters on pretty dense theory—and theory means “seeing”. Now you see where we’re going, or at least where I believe we are. If you can coor­dinate this stuff with your own life, I guess you’re part of the journey—in a big or small way.

So now you have a map and a plan to travel it. For certain, this is a sket­chy plan that only works in countries relatively similar to the Nordic ones, and you will need to adjust and change the plan as you go along—co-dev­elop it, that is.

But it certainly is better than no plan at all, don’t you think? And you hav­en’t heard such a plan anywhere else, have you? That’s the meta­modern mindset for you: informed naivety, putting a proto-synth­esis out and taking it from there. A sound plan, or a minimally un-sound plan—or perhaps even a sinister plot—that needs to be revised, is better than no plan at all. Take the plan, use it, and revise it.

That is, ultimately, what must be done.

Simmering Micro Movements

In late modern societies you can actually see all of the six new forms of poli­tics cropping up already in different miniscule shapes and forms, like little fungi in the forest. If you know where to look, you can spot them.

Because each of the new forms of politics is an attractor point, they are also low-hanging fruits; i.e. people are likely to come up with ideas that point in these directions and start projects here and there. Hence you get a const­ant simmering as these micro movements come and go at an accele­rating pace.

The reason the micro movements can only ever remain small but pro­mising projects at the fringes of society is that they are all based on only one of the six forms of politics. They all lack a metamodern political theory to back them up, and they all work without ze Master Pattern. In other words, they are all left to play according to the rules and limitations set by the surrounding modern society. They don’t have a plan and a roadmap so as to hack their way past these limitations, and hence they cannot gain real power, even if some of them have good ideas.

A minority of the micro movements do, admittedly, have a hold of two of the new forms of politics, but that is still quite insuffi­cient. What the micro movements can do, how­ever, and which is exceedingly impor­tant, is to more generally prepare the ground for political meta­moder­nism to emerge. When they do their projects that never really take off, at least they gather invaluable experience for their participants, and at least they spread some early versions of metamodern ideas. They don’t simmer in vain; they simmer with potential for a new society. They are a set of complex forces that can be harnessed and coordin­ated by the activists of political meta­mod­­ernism.

Let’s give some descriptions and examples of such micro movements. If you’ve been in and around grassroots activism and political or civil society startups, you will have noticed them around—perhaps you will even have joined or started one of them. Once you see the pattern, you will be able to spot them and see how they fit into the larger master pattern.

Democratization Politics has been recognized as a potential by all of those little political parties and civil society groups who seek to radicalize democratic governance. Wikipedia counts 38 of them worldwide at the time of writing; Sweden has three. You will notice all the direct democracy parties, often with creative ideas about how power could be more equally distrib­ut­ed; far from all of them support the idea of a crude direct demo­cracy. The­re are also a bunch of innovative IT companies working to strengthen demo­cracy by means of online communication, as I mention­ed earlier, and there are people working very eagerly with methods for demo­cratizing org­aniza­tions.

Gemeinschaft Politics is prevalent among the many volunteering-based groups of civil society—and some professionals within public social work —who work to create “meeting places”, “melting pots” for the cultur­al inte­gration of immigrants, dialogue clubs for common issues, fora for dealing with cultural traumas, and so forth. These groups understand you can work with Gemeinschaft itself, with community itself, and that you can rep­air it, upgrade it, create new social settings and do relational maintenance. In terms of political parties, you have the Swedish Feminist Party, which deals specifically and primarily with issues of identity poli­tics, and hence with finding ways to develop everyday relations between people.

Existential Politics in rudimentary forms exists within a lot of spiritual circles, even with spirit­ual political parties such as Die Violetten in Germ­any (started 2001, some 700 members), Enhet (“Unity”) in Sweden, Inte­grale Politik in Switzerland, Partij voor Mens en Spirit (Party for Human and Spirit) in the Nether­lands. You have these little gatherings in other countries as well. They emphasize the importance of spiritual and inner development, but do so of course without the larger metamodern frame­work. They also tend to be linked to peace movements. Millenarianism, magical think­­ing and what I in Book One called “the magic residual” are rampant here—and I mean rampant. And game denial reaches extreme levels. These groups generally attract what I have called “light pomos”, people high on depth and state but low on complexity and code. So know that this force exists, but don’t get too cozy with these folks; they tend to be nice guys in the not so flatte­ring sense. Besid­es these New Age inspired groups, you have movements like Synth­eism, and to some extent the Burning Man Festival community, which seek to explore and co-create new forms of spirituality and existen­tial develop­ment. Also, you see civil sphere movements here and there for philosophy and/or meditation in schools, which is promising.

Emancipation Politics, or an early form thereof, exists within the pirate parties, as these specific­ally guard the rights and integrity of (in)dividuals vis-à-vis governments and big corporations. They fight against excessive sur­­­veillance, creepy control and for personal informational security. You are probably familiar with the axis of political thinking dominant among hack­ers and Silicon Valley people: libertarianism, anarcho-capi­talism and trans­humanism. All of these share a libertarian ethos and are in some way on to what could be called Emancipation Politics in the meta­modern sen­se.

Empirical Politics shows up among all those science and “evi­dence ba­sed politics” parties. You have one of them in the UK (established in 2010 by quantum physicist and science writer Michael Brooks), one in Austra­lia, there have been beginnings of such parties in Sweden, there is a Partei der Vernuft (“Party of Reason”) in Germany from 2009—and I am certain there are more of them around. On a more promising note, with­in the legal profession and academia you have the strand called “therapeutic jurisprud­ence” seeking to find empirical support for desirable outco­mes for the legal justice system, which is also arguably a kind of Empirical Poli­tics.

The only thing we have to struggle a bit to find as a micro movement is Politics of Theory—and this shouldn’t surprise us as it is the most abstract and least intuitive of the six new forms. (It was also the one I thought of last. If it weren’t for semiotics I would have missed it.) And yet, it is the most distinctly metamodern form of poli­tics. You can find it in net­works and think tanks which have as their explicit goal to change the meta-narrative of society. Except for my own work at Metamoderna, I can think of two such con­texts: the Ekskäret Foundation in Sweden (they have a private island where they gather people to talk about the future of socie­ty) and Perspectiva in the UK (they, especially the UK chess Grand Master Jon­athan Rowson, write about spiri­tuality and personal devel­opment con­nected to e.g. climate crisis). Both of these are associated with the Swedish entrepre­neur and author Tomas Björkman.

Anyway, now hopefully you can see these micro movements cropping up across society—with increasing frequency as they are all responses to attractor points ahead of us. I am sure you can add more examples. For inst­ance, basic income movements tend to have significant overlaps with some of these, as does the Dutch animal rights party, Partij voor de Dieren. And then there are a bunch of interesting Green movements who have some common themes with these dimensions.

The micro movements show up with the greatest regularity, and in high­er quality versions, around “progressive” countries such as the Nordic ones. And they do so in tandem with the shifting political landscapes of such societies where the receding classes and parties of modernity leave room for new and more deliberative and co-developmental politics to emerge. This is part of the structural emergence of the Nordic ideology.

The secret here is, of course, not to get stuck in the partial narratives of any of these micro move­ments—quite a few of them are steeped with gla­rin­g­ly incompetent folks on the fringes, so don’t gorge on the mush­rooms. Rather, the secret is to be able to see them from the bird’s eye view offered by the master pattern. When you go ahead to intro­duce political meta­mod­ern­ism, others will try to reduce your project to one of the six dimen­sions and some will try to pin the failures of any of the micro move­ments onto you. Don’t let them distract you.

This, my dearest comrade, is non-linear politics. We’re not going from A to B in a straight line; we’re playing the field of potential to let things emerge. The task is to draw upon these micro movements and find ways to chan­nel them and coordinate them—to play strate­gically to align all these forces with the em­er­­gence of a meta­modern society.

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

[i]. The idea of garden gnomes I owe to the Swedish sociologist and organizational consultant Thomas Jordan who introduced the term hus­tomtar in a 2006 report in Swedish. I am not aware of any publications in larger languages on the topic.

[ii]. See Appendix B in ‘Nordic Ideology’.

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.