A Manifesto In Support of Social Futurism
Author: Mark Nuzzolilo
This manifesto is as much of an expression of my personal belief, as it is an assertion of what we are really about as a cultural movement. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and thinking about my involvement with the Social Futurism movement, and Zero State. It’s important to distinguish the Zero State from back then, to the Zero State that exists now in 2017. I was indeed involved in the early days. Back then, Zero State was shrouded in tiers of secrecy, much like the Bavarian Illuminati of the 1700s. Just as with the Illuminati, this secrecy was motivated by fear of the tyrannies of the Elite. It didn’t take long before I’d had enough of that, as we weren’t accomplishing much except to paint targets on ourselves. I am not shy in saying that it felt like we were a bunch of fools, as smart as we thought we were. Many members presumably had similar realizations, and eventually the group broke apart. The latter Zero State of today has a surprising amount of plans in the open. All as a game, of course. So I’ve been scratching my head for a while, trying to understand the purpose of it all. There has to be a strong motivation, to attempt something like this, a second time, after such an utter, embarrassing failure. So as a starting point, I decided to look into the history of secret societies, and try to gain at least some minimal understanding of a pattern on how they fail.
From a paper published in 18851:
It has been frequently demonstrated that societies, in life as well as in colleges, are often a source of much evil, if secrecy be one of the things which are strenuously insisted upon. A spirit of bravado and lawlessness is likely to pervade a number of men bound to sink or swim together, a spirit which men as individuals never feel.
This sounds familiar, and hits the nail on the head regarding my fears about the ZS of 2011. These failures have been experienced time after time in history, and we have evidence of this in a writing that was published nearly 150 years ago. If your society operates in secret, then your people will be psychologically motivated to err toward more nefarious means, due to feeling less constrained by ethical or legal boundaries. This adds more legitimacy to the idea that operating in secret is grounds for suspicion, and therefore grounds for government surveillance or worse.
But simply making a switch of policy, towards one of openness, doesn’t explain anything. It doesn’t give me the full story, and there was surprisingly little guidance when I tried to ask members about this. People were often tight-lipped, except for one person, whom I had a great discussion with about the subject. I don’t think the reluctance to chat about the subject had anything to do with secrecy for secrecy’s sake. Rather, I eventually realized that the cultural values of this new Social Futurism movement are very different from what I was used to. There is a special kind of motivation that results when you have a very strong personal belief toward that which you are involved with. Such beliefs are not set in stone, and there are many paths toward adopting a belief that is close enough to be compatible with a unified group goal.
As people, we are used to the cultural idea that we need to find the right place for us that fits our own set of needs or values. I want to challenge that idea. Your values, your beliefs, are not shackles which bind you to something. Rather, they can be honed, like a skill, to motivate you to a goal or a purpose. This is impractical, sometimes impossible to do when we live in a society that would laugh at such a proposition.
It is the culture that is the limiting factor, not our perceived lack of ability to do so. No matter who we are, we all have had our beliefs changed over time due to events. This is not random, and therefore it is something that we can control. Some may think, due to our cultural beliefs, that this amounts to mind control. I can assure you that a more accurate comparison would be with the training discipline of Martial Artists. Social Futurism has a high standard of ethics. We have no intentions of progressing backward.
This is a good place for me to shift focus, back to my own personal thought processes while I was trying very diligently to understand why Zero State was back in business, and what was being done differently this time. Most importantly: whether it would be viable. To be honest, I was considering not staying in this new Zero State, as it did not seem rational. Things seemed like they were in disarray, and even the website was hard to navigate. But Amon, The Teacher, and one of the founders of Zero State, is not one to underestimate. He has plenty of willpower, experience, and knowledge. He is hardly an irrational person, so I needed to challenge my own assumption. So what was I missing?
There was a very tacit undertone to a lot of public messages, but not for secrecy reasons. By nature, communications are expensive. Conversations are expensive. Explaining things takes time, and therefore a mutual understanding can be costly. Technology companies, especially in Silicon Valley, have been compensating for this by constraining hiring decisions to include a “culture fit”, which is a form of memetic engineering. I knew that Zero State could only be competitive by being at the cutting edge of these techniques, and our Alternate Reality Game Wiki made some mentions of this, conceptually. This gave me a good enough rough idea on how the goals would be accomplished. Definitely more viable than endless bickering over minutiae of ideas, over RetroShare!
So I was intrigued. But we’re quite far into this writing, and I’m sure many of you started reading this because you wanted to understand why we exist. The idea of a cultural revolution, which I touched on above, is not that reason. It is a core component, but it is not the end all, be all. Culture change, for culture change’s sake, is a meaningless effort. You know this. I know this.
We are here because our lives, and life as we know it, are all at risk. Did I get your full attention back? If not, perhaps it’s time to take a quick break, close your conversations, your Instant Messenger windows, and your other browser tabs. If you’re reading this from a mobile device, get to a quiet area. This is an important message. It’s not one that you need to necessarily agree with, but if you’re interested enough to read this far, it’s probably in your best interest to be fully engaged for the rest of what I’m about to tell you.
We are here because our lives, and life as we know it, are all at risk. Did I get your full attention back? If not, perhaps it’s time to take a quick break, close your conversations, your Instant Messenger windows, and your other browser tabs.
We’re aware of the fact that technology can bring about many negative aspects. One such thing is the concept of disruption. This is an important point: technology advances have disrupted many power structures so far. We often understand this in the form of corporations coming and going; businesses failing because they can’t “get with the times”. Let’s remember though, that Twitter was partly to blame for the Arab Spring: where governments were overthrown and replaced with new governments, often just as tyrannical as the old. As technology undergoes more radical changes, we will in turn also see more radical shifts in the dynamics of power. Eventually, those who effectively run the world today will have their power and influence threatened by these shifts. This is not about technology being good or bad, but about the reality of the world we live in, and the level of cooperation we will need to engage in, in order to survive it.
Bitcoin is now at $100 billion in market cap (Update: $130 billion during editing of the final draft of this writing). Among all total cryptocurrencies and tokens, that market cap is close to $200 billion. This is a rapidly increasing risk, threatening to undermine the economic structures of power that we take for granted today. If Bitcoin doesn’t do it, something else probably will, and relatively soon. Many see that as a good thing, but we must not underestimate the damage that could happen, even assuming it is short-term. Entire countries could be decimated, and millions could die. Wars could break out, not unlike the Napoleonic Wars, which were motivated by economic reasons.
Perhaps I underestimate the ability of society, and perhaps the nature of the universe itself, to self-correct and stabilize. But is it possible to overcorrect? Absolutely so. Each escalation in a conflict between two opponents can be considered a form of this, whether the parties are individuals, or governments. According to a report by the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, ideological change is cited as the most common cause for conflict2. Rapid, fast ideological changes among populations are not without reason. But it is the powerful, emotional, and tragic events which are the catalyst for such changes. The Iraq War might not have been approved by US Congress, had the public not had the terrible events of the 9/11 attacks still fresh in their minds. The war was a total disaster for the United States, resulting in a worldwide ideological shift toward Anti-Americanism, and trillions of dollars in financial costs.
Reactive measures are a type of global phenomenon, not limited to just politics. Consumer product markets are another example. Cellular phones, with all of the utility they provide, also come with many issues which the reader is no doubt aware of. Texting while driving, causing fatal accidents. Addiction to certain apps is another example. New technologies could be provided via the market to treat such ailments, or the government could prohibit and police bad behaviors or misuse of technologies. Either way, society reacts. An overreaction is more likely to take place if it is the government that is the source of the reaction, but overreactions can happen all the same.
Every hype cycle in technology can be arguably traced to an overreaction to a perceived problem that the technology solves. Huge amounts of money and time are wasted on this inefficient process of getting in on the hype train, when a new promising technology emerges. Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are a perfect example. They provide, in theory, a sort of utopian way to build a company, with funding, without the burden of the elites of society profiting on your hard work. Many companies are moving to this new model, to capitalize on the hype while they can. Many more are even using it to con people out of money, due to the possibility of evading regulations on securities trading. A lot of unsuspecting people will lose a fortune on these deals, because of this inevitable overreaction.
But what if things turn out a bit differently, and some promising technologies emerge from the blockchain, making it all worth it? One thing is for sure, it will have to make such a huge impact on the status quo, that those in power are not going to react kindly. The global elite have a large stake in the banking system, that is being undermined by these technologies (See Michael Church’s essay on the American social hierarchy for some insight3). The utopian vision of such projects is that centralized corporations and governments will lose their grip on power and authority. They will not become irrelevant, but they will no longer be seen as invincible. That vision could face significant challenges, as they are not going to give up their standing passively.
If such a conflict were to escalate, we may see drastic measures taken, up to and including strict prohibition and war. Or perhaps they may pre-emptively strike. Even when operating within the law, the elite may very well find equally legal ways to ruin you. Or they may themselves have an actual secret society to find illegal ways to do so!
Ultimately though, we cannot and should not make specific predictions on the future, except to say that we cannot predict it. We can say with some certainty that our civilization is more volatile, more unstable, and more uncertain than it was in the past. It continues to grow more uncertain. More evidence of this is available thanks to the efforts of Nick Bostrom, a philosopher and so-called “AI Doomsayer”4. My take on things is that there is so much chaos and change happening in the world right now that another player in the game might go unnoticed. Those in power already have their hands tied, so to speak.
Therefore, it is my opinion, from a game-theoretical perspective, that there are many in the “high society” of power who would have quite similar beliefs about the ever-increasing volatility of our society. Elon Musk is a notable example, though he and others have made the mistake of putting too much emphasis on a single specific risk (namely, hostile artificial intelligence).
My belief, which I hope you will consider opening up to, is that it is not AI that we should worry about, but rather all risks, especially the unknowns. For better or worse, technology is rapidly disrupting and re-shaping the pillars that hold society together. We do not know what will happen, and we must assume that technology equates to volatility. This was perhaps infamously preached by the Unabomber Manifesto5, a thesis spanning dozens of pages. However, his reaction to this idea was to injure, maim, and kill people (particularly scientists) with homemade bombs. I should not have to remind everyone of how despicable this is, and that someone of his intelligence should have had the means to find other ways to get his message out.
The solution to these risks, advocated by me and many other Transhumanists including some in our own group, is rather ironic. It is not to end technology, or to culturally change ourselves in a way that will cause us to not desire such technologies. That is a naive approach, and destined to fail. Rather, I believe that our collective intelligence is tied to our ability to manage our collective volatility. The technical definition of collective intelligence is a matter of debate, but for simplicity’s sake we can assume that it generally will make this problem more manageable. AI is one way to increase this collective intelligence. Another means is to increase our own brain capacity through transhumanist technologies such as the theorized exocortex. Our society is heading toward more adoption of technology, and that is not going to change, but rather happen more rapidly over time. The vast majority of technologies are not designed to increase our collective intelligence, and are therefore going to cause an increase in volatility. Having more brain processing power, we can as individuals seek to optimize our chances at survival, and perhaps even come to a philosophical consensus as to where the direction of our society should go from that point on.
Given these assumptions and this viewpoint, it is my sincerest favor to ask of you, that you truly open yourself to the idea that our best chances of survival require us to be effective in our mission as Social Futurists: “To ensure that technology should be developed and used for the benefit of our communities and societies.” You may not necessarily have the same beliefs that I have, but Social Futurism is about more than just AI. It is about collaboration, unity, and strength. A core value, perhaps the most important one, can be summed up as “CLARITY AND STRENGTH IN UNITY”. We aim to achieve this level of unity through innovative and radical means, with a touch of inspiration from history, even though we did not get it right the first time around.
Given these assumptions and this viewpoint, it is my sincerest favor to ask of you, that you truly open yourself to the idea that our best chances of survival require us to be effective in our mission as Social Futurists: “To ensure that technology should be developed and used for the benefit of our communities and societies.”
My belief is that unity is a priority, and therefore I have focused my efforts toward this goal. Others can do their part in other ways. It’s not about what you think you can or can’t do, but rather that if you genuinely believe in the vision, you’ll find a surprising amount of ways to make a positive impact. That’s part of the appeal of Social Futurism – We’re not a think tank, nor are we looking to issue edicts from an ivory tower, at the behest of the societal elite. Together, we work at the grassroots level, collectively having many concurrent projects, while individually being highly valuable to a single project. Many of these projects will fail, but you cannot innovate without setbacks. It is a feature, not a defect, that we embrace the possibility of such failures. We don’t stake our survival on the success of any one idea or project, even that of this very manifesto. We aim to give a radically new meaning to our own lives, and the lives of others, eventually reaching a large enough scale to be considered a cultural revolution. But that is only a means to an end. This new mindset allows us to maintain our individual drives, and freedoms, while also doing what is right for the collective society, and (hopefully) with feelings of fulfillment! But that is all up to each of us, because it is what you make of it.
How will others see us? We can only be effective by being prepared for this. We need to have a clear understanding of what society is, or rather what it will likely be, when our movement’s presence is most critical. We need to be trusted by society to fulfill these goals. We cannot be seen as those who are creating such volatility, but rather as those who can help ensure mankind’s successful navigation through this critical point in history. We are proactively laying the foundations for the infrastructure of the future. We cannot expect the elite to guide society into that future, even if they hired those who are qualified to do it. But we can only succeed if we are seen by them as allies, and not instigators. How to best ensure that, in my opinion, is our most immediate challenge. The ideas I presented above are merely a starting a point into that direction.
There is a strong call for getting the word out about the movement, but there is IMHO too much misinformation and ambiguity on what that movement is. I’ve taken matters into my own hands by providing a vision, even if it is my own. You can choose to follow the vision, but please, do not consider me as someone to be followed. I am not your leader, I am merely a guy with an idea, and the motivation to express it. You must follow your own path. If I had to be told what to do, or think, in order to understand my own motivations, then that would be a self-defeating cultural purpose. So, please understand that this particular version of what I just explained, need not be adopted by you, for you to be a Social Futurist. That is a feature, and not a defect. It is a means to be fully independent as an individual, yet fully unified toward the goals of Social Futurism. Zero State and Social Futurism is by design, a distributed society. While each project is expendable, it is also critically important. A failure of a project does not mean the end of the project, just as the failure of Zero State several years past, did not mean the end of Zero State. This is also itself somewhat of a cultural difference from the norm. If a project succeeds or fails, the execution and not the idea is what’s mostly responsible. Why is it then, that in society, such a failure is not easily remedied? Major corporations can fire a CEO if things start to go bad, and the company can turn around. This famously happened with Microsoft’s removal of Steve Ballmer. But it is costly, and risky. This is another facet of efficiency that we should optimize, in order to provide extreme value with our efforts.
Aside from The Principles, we do not prescribe a philosophy to follow. Zero State has a structure of 12 Houses, and each house having five teams, headed by a core member. Each level of division may adopt their own process as they see fit, as long as they comply with The Principles. This manifesto, which you read now, may be disregarded, and may not feel appropriate for every single member. It is difficult, after all, to articulate and absorb the concept of a cultural revolution, as it involves deviating from many things that we take for granted as normal.
Social Futurism, to us as individuals, is ultimately what we make of it. However, we understand the power of an organization that has unified core values, and we encourage innovation in this area. This manifesto is but a starting point, and hopefully will help you understand the movement and inspire you to delve further into what it is we do. You won’t find every discussion to be rational, or inspiring, or exciting. But every day, I have been impressed with what I have seen from other members. And I firmly believe that such things are not a result of some sort of special talent, but rather are inspired by motivation.
For those of us who are already committed, it is important to remember that we must prioritize the communication of the vision, as much so as the vision itself. So we must continuously, ourselves, understand and refine our models of this vision, as there is little else that can motivate us to stay aligned.
If the above four words do not seem realistic, or if it does not seem like an accurate view of what this is about, then we have failed to properly understand and communicate this vision to each other. The full specifics of the future, and everything I just wrote about, is not set in stone. It is as volatile as the future itself. It may change in direction, scope, or understanding. However, “JOIN US AND LIVE” will never cease to be the most blunt and short description of why I, and many others, believe in Social Futurism.
And yes, this is a responsibility. But it is of course not intended to be a life or death commitment at the individual level. If it were, it would be too much burden to ask of the number of people that we are looking for in order to succeed. It would be unrealistic and unattainable. But make no mistake: every single member is important, whether you know it or not. And every new member you bring in is equally important as you. Just remember, “JOIN US AND LIVE” must make sense, both to you and to them. Never forget that point. It is the absolute essence of who we are as members. It is not what literally motivates us, but it is a starting point for the discussion of the reasons. All such reasons must support the ethos embodied in those four words. You must make it a priority to understand it, if you have not already done so. The soul searching I mentioned at the beginning of this text, involved my efforts to understand and make sense of it.
If you disagree with this core tenet, but still have a driving force that aligns you to the Social Futurist movement, then that is okay. What I just described is but one path to staying motivated. You are especially encouraged to find your own, regardless if you choose to share it.
Not everyone, including some who will read this message, will agree with these points. But if you do agree, then will you join me and commit to venturing further into the rabbit hole? Gaining a further understanding of our own culture, how we want to develop ourselves, and our teams, is a perpetual process. You may not think of yourself as a creative thinker, but the global elites in society have a vested interest in having only as many creative thinkers in the world, as they can have influence over. Our culture of mass media and entertainment does a great job of ensuring that. Unlike the global elite, Social Futurism has a vested interest in making sure that you are as much a creative thinker as your fullest potential allows. You are almost always more capable than you think you are.
For us to succeed as a cultural revolution, we (yes, including you) must be able to convince others to be open to change. This may mean getting them involved with a project that is affiliated with us. That may mean showing them this manifesto (although it may not be a great candidate for a first read, due to its length and intensity). Regardless, at some point, you are going to have to feel strongly enough about Social Futurism in order to be motivated enough to get others involved. That is the only way! But don’t let it feel too daunting: It need only start with the four words, “JOIN US AND LIVE”, and every explanation from there is only necessary as much as your abilities permit. It takes quite a lot of communication to explain why such a movement is life or death. And if you have read this far, you’re likely to be interested enough to be open to the idea.
On the other hand, if you don’t agree with the critical importance of this message, or the Social Futurism movement itself, I encourage you to please speak up and tell me (or the person who referred you to this page) why you think otherwise.
This is not something that we can do once, as a sort of initiation, and then forget about it. We must perpetually learn from each other’s and our own interpretations and misinterpretations, so that we can more accurately and efficiently understand and describe what it is we do, and why we do it.
I realize that this can sound, in a sort of way, religious. I can assure you that it is not my intent. I’ve seen what such powerful short messages can do to align communities and organizations. Some corporate cultures, for example, are similarly designed at a memetic level, to foster creativity and enhanced productivity. I wish I could say that this is a similar trick of the mind, for no other reason than to get you to be more motivated to donate your time to Zero State and Social Futurism, for arbitrary reasons. However, the situation really is as dire as I say, and this movement is more genuine than we will ever know.
A big thank you to David Thompson and Amon Twyman for the proofreading and editing help.