A General System of Category Exchange

There is a nascent intellectual renaissance happening on the internet. Underneath the vapidity of the culture wars, the new forms of media- the podcasting format, video interviews, livestreams, crowdfunding, are fomenting a catalytic exchange of ideas that is rapidly hurtling towards cultural renewal, and maybe cultural collapse as well.

In the contemporary situation, we are faced with two seemingly opposed tendencies. On the one hand there is a kind of underground, emergent collective psychedelia self-organizing on the internet. People feel this but they don’t quite know how to articulate it yet. Every philosopher, artist, and cultural creator is empowered to share their vision, and these visions are rapidly catalyzing to greater and greater social forms. On the other hand, there is a legacy, institutional, liberal-techno-capitalist machinery. The market keeps incentivizing technology and biopharma even though people want genuinely creative answers to the systemic coordination problems. And liberal republican institutions keep slogging through situations of increasingly inept, incompatible vocabularies. These tendencies seem at odds with each other.

The cultural creators on the internet are doing the valuable, empowering social activity, yet they are not rewarded commensurately in the market. It seems to me that cultural creators are radically underpriced in the current economy. The reason is the fragmentation of collective sense-making between journalists, artists, philosophers, scientists. Not that these shouldn’t be separate, specialized roles, but they are more interrelated and interwoven than previously thought, and the cultural creators who are able to embody a kind of synthesis between many specialized roles will outperform.

Everyone who is coming to terms with their own and the collective awakening of consciousness, wants to see a healthy social dynamic emerge from the toxic political atmosphere and the decaying legitimacy of the legacy institutions. What prevents such a coordinated movement of activity seems to be an attachment to legacy institutions. It is in no one’s benefit for there to be a general collapse of the system. And at the same time, we don’t yet see an adequate replacement structure which would feel safe enough to jump to if we abandon the old forms of coordination. And so we are at a place where the emergent collective psychedelia of the internet must discover a way to seed growth within the legacy institutions. They seem fundamentally opposed to one another, the kind of contrarian creatives and the legacy power brokers. Yet they must somehow get along.

At least among a strong minority of internet creators, the political dialogue is moving from the superficial ideological level to the embodied, structural-philosophic level. That means that people are not just cheaply signaling their affiliations. They are aligning their motivations in an attempt to affect and change collective intelligence. What is emerging is a new social brain and distributed formation of collective intelligence.

The metabolism of the contemporary techno-capitalist social brain is the system of prices. Prices determine the distribution of resources in society. But this price metabolism is a specific subset of a more generalized, interconnected value coordination. We primarily exchange value through categories. Monetary exchange is downstream from category exchange. We first exchange categories through dialogue and conversation, and then through the results of these, we determine how we will allocate our scarce monetary resources. This applies on Wall St. as much as it does for the average person.

What is attempting to emerge is a platform for efficient, interconnected category exchange that will allocate resources more sustainably and efficiently. There is an inefficiency in the global financial market because a lot of people are deeply concerned about systemic, global coordination problems, but no one seems to have a market solution that systematically addresses all of these problems at once. We keep going about it with specialized, piecemeal band-aid solutions that have no enduring value. The market dynamics inevitably will move to incentivize enduring, sustainable sources of value. The culture wars attempt to deal with systemic problems through tawk and tawk and more tawk. But these problems will eventually get addressed by a market mechanism. The best solution will address systemic coordination problems all at once, meaning it will be a unified conceptual framework for social consciousness that will also be profitable in the legacy system. This suggests to me that radical cultural creators, people who design systems of embodied category exchange, are deeply underpriced in the current market.

Distributed language games are fundamentally different from post-modern meandering IYI (intellectual yet idiot) discussions, because they have an embodied teleology. They tend towards cognitive attractors that sort categories towards their natural, symmetric state, allowing people to access the information they most need in that moment. The materialist, physicalist, secular paradigm has a huge blindspot biasing it against self organizing dynamics of information and synchronous, harmonized, meaningful simultaneity of experience. This suggests that in the long run, organizations that are able to play the Game of embodied, self organizing social information, should be able to capture sizable market share from technology and eventually from government. These will become aspects of a more general kind of value exchange.

This new platform is not a social media platform, or a piece of technological infrastructure. It is the intangible, spiritual infrastructure of an interdependent society. It is a shared, unconscious, axiomatic structure deep within the collective psyche. It is well understood how changes in prices in one part of the economy can radiate outward and affect other parts. Yet this structural interdependence is embedded inside of the structural interdependence of category exchange. The moment to moment dialogue is a vast evolving network of interlinked category relations. There is an individual significance of category relations- my personal associations between categories. And there is a collective significance of category relations- the collective intelligence, distributed sense-making apparatus. The collective has an asymmetric effect on the individual. Collective significance has a large effect on how individuals use categories, whereas individuals have a small effect on collective significance of categories.We learn to speak by using categories in the way that other people use them. It is only by coming into a kind of individual sovereignty that we can start to assert our own individual usage as a kind of pushback against collective significance, asserting our own unique view.

The contemporary situation is defined by the shrinking distinction between the individual and collective levels of significance. Individuals speak more and more for the group. We are modern individuals who constantly think about how the group sees us. We are rapidly converging towards a kind of unified panopticonsciousness. We constantly reflect on our place within the group dynamics. The group is a cognitive avatar that we are always negotiating with, it is an aspect of our self. Whenever we negotiate relations between categories, we are negotiating individual and collective significance simultaneously. The changes in category relations rapidly propagate through the whole system and affect the collective significance at every moment. Working out our own personal associations and relations between categories leads to broader social resolution, it clarifies and coheres the collective significance.

The collective significance does evolve over time, categories are subject to slippage and the usage of categories is what is more fundamentally being debated in the culture wars. This is important because categories are not just abstract, disconnected entities, they are embodied. They relate to fundamental, adaptive, physical reflexes and responses. This is why individuals who are sovereign and can deeply structure relations between categories at the level of collective significance are radically undervalued in our society. They have the key to solving fake news, peer review, etc., a whole host of systemic coordination problems, all at once, through a kind of unified conceptual framework. The platform for category exchange will determine the integrity and the timbre of the negotiations which take place within that platform. This platform is convergent set of unspoken, widely shared axiomatic structures, also referred to as the Game, or the Metagame.

We are attempting to converge on a kind of unified collective motivation in which categories can be efficiently exchanged and thereby efficiently self organize socio-physical constraints on behavior such that individual motivations are mutually harmonized in synchronous omni-win, mutual gain dynamics. Relations between embodied categories affect how we move through space. They are a kind of socio-physical constraint on our behavior, and thus they also influence what we consider important, meaningful, worthwhile. If you wonder about whether categories are embodied, just consider the tradeoffs and the importance of prioritizing under conditions of information overload, and you realize that categories impose strict socio-physical constraints. The way that we associate categories affects our decision calculus, what we feel, how we relate to each other. The rearrangement of category relations can heal traumas, correct negative behavioral patterns, fix relationships.

There are a variety of common sense vocabularies to deal with the contemporary situation. The efficient exchange, transposition, and rearrangement of category relations within those vocabularies is the way that all parties can mutually benefit from each other’s insights to coordinate at a deeper structural level.

There is a selfish motivation in category exchange, which is the motivation for collective coherence. The environment is more manageable if the relation between internal and external reality are more tightly coupled. If internal thoughts are reflected in external reality faster, then we get what we want faster. We are selfishly motivated to achieve symbiosis with the natural ecology of the planet. This is why capital resources will inevitably shift towards embodied category exchange and away from tech, finance, and government. Tech, finance, and government will all become specialized aspects of embodied category exchange.

Social interactions have a selfish teleology, they are always tending towards a kind of broader social resolution. There are particular cognitive attractors that we converge on to bring about this social resolution. The social resolution is about resolving the asymmetry between the collective and the individual. The individual is always motivated to become the voice of the collective. He is always motivated to resolve the social tensions into social coherence, so that he can get what he wants faster. But this individual selfishness ultimately allows everyone to get what they want faster, by being more immersed in a synchronous, harmonized social form.

This is why the market will eventually shift towards embodied category exchange and distributed language games. There is currently an irrational bias towards secular, materialist, physicalist ways of relating to the world that do not incorporate a kind of responsive, emergent, embodied physicality. They do not allow for a dynamics of embodiment.

Faced with the contemporary situation of toxic, fragile political institutions, the emergent collective psychedelia of the internet is tending towards an anti fragile, enduring compatibility, rewarding creators who are insightful through crowdfunding. Ideas cooperate and compete to endure as stable forms. Only the most enduring ideas are the foundation for a stable society. There is a growing social momentum to externalize a lot of the psychedelic social wisdom that is being generated on the internet into coherent social forms.

You never hear the criticism that the culture wars are superficial. The divides seem to be so deeply rooted in different philosophical ways of seeing the world, to the point that they seem like alternate realities. But the culture wars are shallow! They are based on a naive kind of Enlightenment subject-object dichotomy and dualism. They are based in a dogmatic materialism, a kind of secular Gnosticism, in which subjects are competing with the hostile external world in a zero sum game. It is exactly the same evolutionary game we’ve been playing since we were hunter gatherers. Only the external world is no longer as hostile, there is no longer a zero sum game. The culture wars are based on the spiritually naive belief that there is an external enemy. Any spiritually inclined individual knows that the true enemy is within and any external expression of that tendency must be dealt with internally first.

The current systemic crises cannot be addressed at the level of the culture wars. The systemic social problems must be addressed at the level of their root causes, and that is why the cultural dialogue is deepening. We subvert the culture wars by moving to the interlinked structural level, the level of embodied category exchange.

The categories that we debate fundamentally affect our shared socio-physical constraints, the social conventions which organize our collective behavior and motivation. Every conversation and expression vitally affects feedback responses of the physical environment and the interplay of fundamental themes that is shaping the wider narrative. What is emerging from the chaos is the relation between one’s physical capacity to move through space in certain ways and the individual-collective significance of category relations. There is a new social brain that is being scaffolded on top of the techno-capitalist infrastructure. This is a transitional structure that moves towards omni-win, mutual gain dynamics.

Collective coherence can seem like an unattainable goal in the current situation. There is an unprecedented number of different perspectives competing for attention, and there is the momentum of decaying legacy machinery with its legacy platform, the culture wars. All of this can make the contemporary situation seem like nihilism or relativism is the best adaptive strategy. But there is a grand harmony seething beneath the surface, the field of lucid, synchronous, harmonized complexity and simultaneity. This is not a technological innovation, it is the resurgence of a primal atavism, embedded in the logic of insight.


The follow up to this article is Foundations of Ecological Renaissance.


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