★ Black Hole Sun: Leadership within Social Futurism
The following is an adapted and expanded version of my introduction to “Social Futurism and the Zero State” (AKA ‘The Black Book’), exclusive to Transhumanity.net:
I am a fervent proponent of Social Futurism. I coined that term to reflect a reality I see in the world, where accelerating technological innovation meets a positive societal vision, specifically in the desire to promote Positive Social Change Through Technology. This book – Social Futurism and the Zero State (AKA “The Black Book”) – offers key insights into my view on how to approach such a mission, and various related matters.
There are many ways a person could promote a Social Futurist future, and mine is to support and develop two related organizations: The Social Futurist Party (SFP), and the Zero State (ZS). The SFP is a new, international political network focussed on developing links between Social Futurist organizations for the purposes of Positive Social Change Through Technology. ZS is a community and movement which works toward the same ends via different – complementary – means, through the medium of the arts, social events, informal networking, and Alternate Reality Gaming. Both organizations have a strong Transhumanist and Singularitarian tone.
I would like to very briefly describe my approach to leadership and activity in these two organizations, to set the tone, going forward. The first part below concerns the nature of leadership in both organizations, while the second part focuses on my own application of that approach within ZS, specifically.
Leadership within Social Futurism
Different people have different ideas of what leadership is, and how it works best. Those ideas can be further complicated by the motivating power of money: In a world where most organizations are based on motivating people with money, required to stay alive or at least healthy in a Capitalist world, motivation and organizational coherence can be hard to sustain when you’re not offering money, when your goal is not simply material profit in the most base sense. Perhaps the greatest motivational difficulty stems from that dangerous gift we call the internet: The internet is a place where everyone has an opinion that comes at no real cost, and where they are obliged to do nothing real. That attitude is a death-knell for activist and membership organizations, which need people who are willing to do something to back up their opinions.
So how do we move forward? How can we approach leadership for activists in this climate? The answer is to work in small, consistent, networked groups, and to lead by example. Find a small group of people you ‘click’ with, work out what concerns and passions you share as a group, and then work on a project together. Simple as that. Keep your group connected with others, encourage overlap, and the network will grow by word of mouth.
Don’t tell other people what they should or shouldn’t do, what they can or cannot do, unless their actions run counter to the explicit principles shared by the entire network. Instead, focus on doing what you can. If you can work effectively alone and want to, then good for you, but most people work best in a small team. Different teams favour different leadership styles. Find one that works for you. The only way to fail is to be inactive, because then you are letting yourself down, letting your team down, letting the entire network down, and yes, even letting the world down. If everyone does their part within a small team, and the teams hang together in an organic, self-modifying network, then the emergent effects have the potential to be world-changing as successful ideas and technologies ripple across the network, time and again.
Black Hole Sun: My Sphere of Responsibility within ZS
As I’ve noted extensively elsewhere, the Zero State (ZS) trades in metafiction, which is to say that although its goals and consequences are perfectly real, some of its members choose to treat its core narratives as a kind of game (specifically an ‘Alternate Reality Game’ or ARG), which encourages engagement combined with a certain suspension of disbelief which helps get things done. In line with that approach, regardless of whether they all view ZS as a game, our core members all have assigned roles that collectively underpin our “Mythos”, or narrative. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful role names within ZS, names of occupations, animals, mythological creatures and so on, each giving some hint as to its function.
My own role is “The Teacher”, because my role or function is to activate the other roles, to teach, and to ‘wake people up’. My role has a particular relationship with our central symbolism of a ‘Blackstar’, which represents a Technological Singularity and ultra-rapid, ultra-radical techno-societal change. In that role, I have two broad functions. The first is to communicate key ideas to our membership, so that we may work our way forward with a common understanding. The second is to interact directly with the network via my own small group of contacts in as efficient a manner as possible, through the medium of small gatherings we call “Sessions”.
My point here is that a leader leads by example, by doing what must be done, and in doing so offering an example which others can follow. The most effective leader should very rarely have to tell someone else what to do. The best leaders are the exact opposite of much internet culture, where people all want to express their personal opinions while taking no personal responsibility for action. Social Futurist leaders must be ready to take the initiative, to take action in ways that demonstrate their views. Our network is designed to naturally coordinate and amplify such efforts, so by leading yourself and your small group, then you will inspire and assist not only that group, but the groups it is connected to, and the groups they are connected to in turn.
The Blackstar (★) symbol for the idea of a revolutionizing Technological Singularity, used within both ZS and the SFP, is an allusion to a Black Hole, or Gravitational Singularity. It is merely a point of focus in and of itself, the culmination of a natural process, but it inevitably transforms everything within its reach. Leadership within Social Futurism, be it within a political party or gaming community or any other organization, is a matter of embodying that Blackstar ideal. To be a Social Futurist leader is to be minimal, while transforming and energizing everything within your reach. Each of us is thus a Blackstar, and together we impart that very nature to Social Futurism itself.
Additional note: A warning from the past
The current incarnation of the Zero State (ZS) is a kind of renaissance or ‘second wave’, sometimes styled ‘ZS2.0’. The original ZS was initially conceived at a conference in 12010, then officially formed with the publication of our Principles on 1st May 12011. That original organization already contained the seed of everything that we are now, but we did not yet have the term “Social Futurism” (which I coined to summarize our ideas a little later), and the idea that ZS might be interpreted as an Alternate Reality Game existed only in the back of our thoughts, discussed by a small minority of our members.
Although ZS never ceased to exist altogether, there was definitely a fallow period from perhaps 12014-12016, in which most formal activity ceased, with various ZS projects developing lives of their own and our chat groups filling up with people who wanted to talk but do nothing, and who didn’t even understand the nature of the group they had joined. This period coincided with my establishment of the Transhumanist Party in the UK (and elsewhere across Europe; my direct participation in that organization ending as a result of both personal commitments and my disappointment at a disturbingly mediocre, bureaucratic, “don’t rock the boat” attitude in Transhumanist Party groups which struck me as ill-fitting for any Transhumanist organization).
One might naturally wonder why ‘ZS1.0’ stalled (I hesitate to use the word ‘failed’, as its failure was not, and was never likely to be permanent), aside from the Transhumanist Party side-track. Some have said that they didn’t like the apparent proliferation of ‘secret’ or private ZS sub-groups, but I am strongly of the opinion that this is a misunderstanding of what was really happening at the time. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
Firstly, there were never any “secret” ZS groups. What there was, was a combination of groups who wanted to get on with their projects without being distracted by unhelpful, opinionated “passengers”, and other ZSers whose interest in cryptocurrencies and other cryptographic technologies led them to migrate their discussions to obscure platforms such as RetroShare rather than mainstream websites like Facebook. There was naturally some overlap between these two groups, the first of whom developed a kind of motto in the phrase “No Passengers!” (meaning that all members must contribute in some way), and the second which found it hard to attract and keep participants because of frequent, irritating software glitches and internecine spats fuelled by a minority of ZSers who cared more about Libertarianism than ZS itself (my own resultant and rather stern view on such matters can be read here).
The biggest problem by far, however, was the one I already described at the beginning of this article, with the majority of ZS1.0 members wanting to loudly express opinions, and tear down the views and work of others, without actually doing anything concrete to help themselves. This pervasive, corrosive attitude manifested in a range of ways, from rants about Anarcho-Capitalism to bemoaning an imagined lack of transparency from the project groups who really just wanted to get on with their own thing. In short, I eventually came to the conclusion that although decentralized direct-democratic networks are very important (as our Principles explicitly stress), democratic opinion on the individual level cannot be allowed to simply shout down (and shut down) the minority of members ready and willing to do the work which keeps the entire endeavour alive.
In summary, my experience with that earlier incarnation of the Zero State led directly to the model of Social Futurist leadership articulated above. Every Social Futurist is a Blackstar, who should work toward concrete ends, in small groups, in accord with our shared and unifying Principles. Your opinions only matter insofar as you can demonstrate some kind of concrete value to your group, and thus to the network, and Social Futurists should take a dim view of those who spend all their time criticizing the efforts of others while doing nothing themselves to help move things forward. In that way we will all survive and thrive, together, as a single great Social Futurist network.