#68: Seeds of the World Tree: Programs of Revolutionary Biology and Evolutionary Politics
(08/22/2023) Fight Like An Animal has generated an incredible audience consisting of rigorous thinkers who possess deep empathy. These traits, which are too rarely combined in political movements and institutions, mean that we have the potential to collaborate on truly novel, worthwhile projects. Thus is born, friends, the World Tree Center for Evolutionary Politics and Global Survival. World Tree applies the central logic and worldview of the podcast to six strategic initiatives, comprising institutions of both research and parallel governance. Find out about the Embodied Political Cognition Collective and its new podcast/video series Metanoia: How Worldviews Change, collecting narratives of transformations of temperament and corresponding belief systems. Hear about what appears likely to be Arnold's first formal contribution to the scientific literature, the beginning of an attempt to generate the revolutionary process described in so many Scientific Militant fiction episodes. And learn, as well, friends, about four other programs of revolutionary biology and evolutionary politics whose indomitability of spirit, scope of ambition, and elegance of conception could not possible be relegated to the confines of mere episode description.
The World Tree Center is a set of parallel institutions for ecological governance and a think tank dedicated to searching for paths to survival for life on earth.
Embodied Political Cognition Collective
Nothing remains to be said about the ecological crisis other than that individuals are massively variable in their responsiveness to it. It is abundantly clear to even a casual observer that the widely divergent worldviews present in contemporary populations reflect underlying temperaments, but temperament is rarely addressed as an intrinsic dimension of politics. A wealth of research exists on the many variables which correlate with political perspectives, but very little on how transformations of worldviews occur. The EPCC will attempt to produce a systemic understanding of how people undergo the transformation in their embodied states of being necessary to comprehend and respond to our converging crises.
This will be an iterative process, consisting of three phases. First is a period of literature review, broad hypothesis formation, and narrative collection. Some narratives will be presented on a new podcast, beginning the work initially outlined on Fight Like An Animal. We will collect descriptions of people's journey to an ecologically responsive worldview from a wide range of initial starting points as well as discuss and attempt to theoretically integrate what we are hearing. Second is a period of explicit hypothesis formation, research design, and further data collection. Third will be a period in which we attempt to apply protocols we have developed in the course of our research, for instance in group processes, guided meditations, gatherings, and whatever else emerges from our work. Work from all these phases will continue concurrently, informing and refining one another.
Group Dynamics Initiative
A broad segment of humanity is acutely aware of our profound peril, but political engagement in ecological collapse is confined to a much narrower, psychologically distinct subset of these individuals. This has become arguably the most fundamental barrier to meaningful political engagement—people stay home because they (correctly) anticipate a meaningless spiral of internal critique and decisions which reflect specialized worldviews far more than they do strategic reasoning. The Group Dynamics Initiative will attempt to overcome this barrier by constructing prompts for group engagement that are far more psychologically selective, and likely to generate legitimate cohesion, than the exceptionally broad frames (e.g. “fighting climate change”) whereby groups are typically constituted.
We will begin by assessing the value of the podcasts Fight Like An Animal and its transformative narratives spinoff as psychological filters engaging a distinct segment of the population. These podcasts, in addition to extant relationships, will be used to recruit people into the World Tree Center. The hypothesis is that the listenership is motivated by empathy but also tough-minded, willing to engage with biological explanations of human behavior and interact with technical subjects. We will also apply an application process, involving a number of extant psychometrics as well as some that are unique to World Tree. Therefore, we will refine our assumptions as we go, collecting data about what kinds of people turn out to get along in what ways and to fill what kinds of roles.
This group will also begin to psychographically and otherwise segment various populations and develop targeted messaging about other World Tree initiatives. For instance, with respect to the Regional Survival Strategies initiative, we might ask “How can we make an appeal to participation in this project framed in terms of the Jeffersonian, yeoman farmer conception of American democracy?” In broad terms, we will attempt to deconstruct the narratives that unite distinct segments of the population, formulate hypotheses about these sub-populations' psychologies and their fundamental frames of reference, and target messaging to those psychologies and within those frames. As we gain momentum, we may also provide consultations with other groups.
It has become a climate cliché to say that every disaster movie starts with a scientist being ignored, but it is also worth noting that what happens next is that the scientist proceeds to do something other than continue talking to the people who aren't listening. This project will focus on initiating a process of interdisciplinary scientific deliberation on the relationship between the ecological crisis, political power, and science itself.
This process of scientific deliberation would be dedicated to examining thresholds for declaring the strategy of issuing warnings to policy makers to have decisively failed, and the options for asserting a different political system, capable of responsiveness. It would attempt to engender a scientific case for revolution. Because another scientific consensus statement that says “Scientists say the crisis is going to be really, really bad” won't get any attention, but one that says “Scientists say that political revolution is necessary to avoid global collapse” will. This process would examine how scientists could offer an alternative to extant forms of power as crisis intensifies and people search for institutions which exhibit competence.
Of course, for a cohort of scientists to identify one another who could meaningfully pursue any of these objectives, they would have to do so other than by some broad criterion such as shared endorsement of the disembodied abstractions by which the scientific process is typically defined. In other words, they would have to examine the psychological corollaries of their own beliefs about the ecological crisis and the power structure's unresponsiveness to it, and those of divergent scientific theories. To that end, this would be a process of engaging with the psychological differences between scientists, applying the methods whereby scientists study the psychology of belief systems in others onto themselves. To that end, the first step in this project has been taken with the submission of a scientific paper identifying four broad domains of stalled scientific progress—the ecological crisis being one of them—where investigating the underlying psychology is likely to generate interesting results.
Regional Survival Strategies and Ecological Governance
Because no existing resource planning, for any polity at any scale, comprises a comprehensive and ecologically plausible plan for meeting basic human needs, this project would generate such plans. These would also provide a natural basis for collective decision making structures, which could emerge at any time, but seem particularly likely in time of crisis, e.g. when food shortages begin as a result of concurrent crop failures in multiple major food-producing regions of the world. These efforts would be based on existing resource planning documents, and would begin with an inventory of needs of and potential consumption based on a hierarchy of ascending resource availability. At a lowest tier would be, for instance, food, energy production sufficient to keep some medical and other vital equipment running, and other materials and processes necessary to literally facilitate survival. These plans would be spatially explicit, and provide a basis for political interventions, allowing us to offer an alternative, in conjunction with other World Tree initiatives, to extant structures—something that is particularly likely to be sought by considerable numbers during crisis.
Coevolution and GHG Flux
It is likely that GHG flux out of the atmosphere needs to be hastened in order for most complex life to survive. A large number of promising means of achieving this hastening exist, but they are being utterly neglected by investors and governments in favor of projects which show very little substantial promise, such as facilities devoted to mechanical Direct Air Capture of CO2. This project would research promising approaches, generate media about them to dissuade people from the notion that “geoengineering” is a monolithic category that can simply be disregarded, and with sufficient resources, begin to do research and demonstration projects for some methods that seem particularly likely to be impactful. The initial subset of approaches we would investigate are genetic engineering and ecological manipulations related to methanotrophic bacteria, enhanced weathering, increased photosynthetic efficiency, desalination and transport of water to low-vegetation terrestrial landscapes to generate significant new biomass, ocean fertilization both through direct seeding and through assisted upwelling in regions where nutrients are currently sequestered on the ocean floor, and enhanced weathering. This project would also generally attempt to participate in synthetic biology's role in transforming human ecology to a post-resource extraction regime, and play a role in directing sociopolitical outcomes from the profound egalitarian potential of generating decentralized, non-monopolizable abundance.
Mythmaking and Unmaking
The stories upon which past efforts at revolutionary transformation were based have largely run their course. This is for a variety of reasons. One is history: the stories we once told about what was possible, and how to attain it, are associated with real-world efforts at remaking society. The efforts that succeeded at attaining power perpetuated nightmares and the efforts that didn't perpetuate nightmares failed to attain power. The other is the fundamental plausibility of the underlying narratives: for instance, the insistence that human nature does not exist, so inextricably associated with so many visions of social possibility, is simply not tenable.
But more than that, revolutionary movements have never been solely, or even primarily, a response to rational argumentation about the moral validity of a worldview and the strategic utility of a program of action. Revolutionary movements have, like fundamental human endeavors in general, been predicated on mythologies. It is extremely revealing that in much contemporary language “myth” simply means any story, regardless of its nature, that isn't true. We use this term to indicate a story which elicits a higher form of selfhood. The content of the specific narrative may or may not have happened, but the fundamental realities it describes, and the state of being one must attain in order to respond to those realities, is very real.
Mythmaking and Unmaking is a storytelling project. We are dedicated to conceiving of narratives that are responsive to the unique realities we inhabit now, navigating the landscape of widely divergent worldviews to communicate on terms that are actually meaningful to different populations, and indicating ways of being in this world that both meet fundamental psychological needs and imply a politics of survival.