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A Metarevolutionary Manifesto: Serialized (Part 1 of 50)

[This is Part 1 of a series of posts which serialize my book, A Metarevolutionary Manifesto.]


Value and Action are lovers, and this is a book about their relationship.

In what follows, we will explore how crises, as opposed to mere problems, are catastrophic disruptions to the continuity of life. And, in these contexts, the right action at the right time is revolutionary. Revolution, as we understand it, is an irreversible choice at the life-or-death fork between possible actions. A crisis is a nonlinear disruption of great magnitude; and this makes a revolution a nonlinear disruption to the disruption. Where a crisis is imagined as a projectile flying towards a body, a revolution is an object with equal or greater force sent out to meet and deflect it.

Thus, any number of revolutionary manifestos could be written. At the time of writing, we are faced with crises involving our governments, economic systems, educational institutions, emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, and our relationship with energy and the environment—to name but a few. Indeed, revolutionary manifestos can and should be written to address these things. This is a book for people who want to write those books—or even read them. This is a book for people who care, but feel that impulse draining from them with each impact from an endless barrage of crises.

This metarevolutionary manifesto is about moments of transformation being applied to the underlying conditions of all transformation. Instead of applying the usual revolutionary approach, which chooses one crisis out of many with a certain arbitrariness, the present goal is to address all crises and revolutions at once. A metarevolution is simultaneously between and beyond them all. 

Likewise, there are things you can learn by studying a fish, and other things you can only learn by studying the ecosystem in which it exists. We are taking both views at once, but leaning to the latter view—of the proverbial water of these fish, and their biosphere and even their cosmos—in the hopes that it serves as a foundation for all those focused on fish. These are complementary—and so this book is indeed about you, and for you, for your home, your crisis, your revolution. You are not wrong for passionately engaging with a crisis close to your heart. The metarevolutionary approach is simply an appeal to place revolutionary action within a more comprehensive context, in the same way one could either focus on a single person or a city of people.

In recognition of what some have started to call a metacrisis, there is a growing need for a higher-order revolutionary framework—one which isomorphically matches the growing complexity of our interconnected crises. This book proposes that we must first be metarevolutionaries before we can be effective in the revolutionary domain, much less the political and social domains of our daily lives. So let us turn revolution upon itself and radically transform the underlying conditions of radical transformation. We will take on our metacrisis with a metarevolution, and also demonstrate metarevolutionary principles which will be applicable to any future metacrisis. 

This will take us on the following path during the first half of this book, which focuses on our metacrisis: (1) Meaning - the first section approaches certain aspects of our metacrisis (and metacrises in general) by way of an inquiry into meaning, and what a crisis in that domain entails. We will encounter subjects like ontology and ethics which form an integral part of any worldview, and all action taken within that world; (2) Complexity - the second section deals with the principles of physics, complexity science, and thermodynamics as they relate to our metacrisis, and hints at how these same principles may be of use in a metarevolution. We will discover the profound significance of everyday things such as action and information; (3) Games - in this concluding section of the first half, we will explore a specific kind of complex system called a game, which is more broad and more important than its name might suggest. Important metarevolutionary principles are uncovered when we turn our attention from action to interaction.

In the second half, the focus is metarevolution, in principle and practice. This will take us through the following subjects: (1) Centers of Action - having discussed, in the first half, our meaning crisis and some of the crucial characteristics of complex systems, we can begin to respond to the challenges these domains present to us. In short, we must perpetually work to discover and actualize meaning, and do so in such a way which takes us, simultaneously, on a path of personal individuation and cultural complexification; (2) Transformation - here we see our meaning crisis from the “other side”, or in other words, how the processes which lead towards meaninglessness may be reversed in order to put us on a path back towards meaning. In particular, this becomes the culmination of the core ideas pertaining to metarevolution: A (revolutionary) method of overcoming our meaning crisis is put forward, and this solution is simultaneously demonstrative of more general (metarevolutionary) principles. As a result, this book becomes about overcoming any crisis or metacrisis you may confront; (3) Coda: Love - this is, after all, about the love between Value and Action. This relationship permeates the silent spaces of this book. In this brief synthesis, all of the subjects in this book are united in love.

We live in a time of too-many-crises-to-count. They are all swirling in shared waters—blurring the edges between them. Because of this, there will be many varieties of crises and revolutions which are not specifically addressed in this book. But therein lies the metarevolutionary mindset: We are addressing all of these areas at once. Some readers may find it callous that some specific crisis was not addressed directly. Yet, please believe, all such crises (and their resolutions) are the subject of this book. This manifesto is not meant to devalue the things you care about by leaving them out, but to empower you with brand new tools and perspectives by approaching what you care about from new perspectives. The shift in perspective, namely, involves the movement from crisis to metacrisis, and from revolution to metarevolution.

This book, in addressing Value itself as light-source, and Action as the diverse garden growing in its embrace, is about the deepest underlying conditions of all change in our world. 

Chapter 1


“Where is the way to the way?”

- Lao Tzu

Which crisis deserves a lifetime of attention and action? An impassioned manifesto could be written about any one of these crises which threaten our health, happiness, and whole existence. This manifesto is different. In light of the great number of crises we face, and the development of global (political, economic, and social) systems which, among other things, form bridges between all people and all problems, a one-at-a-time approach no longer makes sense. Today, crises interact at high-speed and twist together like strands of an intricate spiderweb. We are faced with systems of crises in which it is hard to tell where one stops and another begins. That is what we call a “metacrisis”. A metacrisis is a complex system whose elements are crises, and exhibits, as a unified whole, its own unique behaviors and properties beyond those found in its elemental crises.

In addressing our metacrisis, rather than individual crises or even a “set” of crises, we are acknowledging that many crises are interacting like the diverse organisms of an ecosystem. These interactions generate new systemic properties—which is to say that a metacrisis makes its own crises, and has features and patterns not seen at the level of individual crises. This implies that we must pay attention to this between-space of crises if we wish to resolve any individual crisis. That is the first meaning of a metarevolution: Action oriented towards the interaction of crises, and the unique properties of the complex system called a metacrisis. The first step in addressing a metacrisis is meeting it at its own level of complexity, rather than the level we are used to, which would simply be the revolutionary mode of action. 

Now, perhaps we should clarify what is revolutionary in order to further understand what is metarevolutionary. First, this is a political manifesto. Politics means embodying and enacting a philosophy or worldview—a movement from comprehending what is to deciding what ought to be. 

Schlitz, Vieten & Miller: “A worldview combines beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, values, and ideas to form a comprehensive model of reality. Worldviews also encompass formulations and interpretations of past, present, and future. In our worldviews, we construct complex conceptual frameworks to organize our beliefs about who we are and about the world we live in.”

The political, roughly characterized, is linear and simple—the progressive updating of worldviews. This is not a political manifesto in that it addresses the state of our world at the legislative or institutional level of detail. But we are considering these individual trees even as our goal is to step back and view the forest as a whole. We are including but transcending the political.

For similar reasons, this is a revolutionary manifesto. Complex systems of all kinds have a characteristic pattern of nonlinear changes. Ecological systems, for example, experience linear changes and “steady states” or periods of relative calm, which are punctuated by nonlinear “phase transitions” or “metasystem transitions”. Here we can contrast the usual tempo of biological evolution with the “intelligence explosion” which led to our human civilization; or the gradual development of a child with the psychological transformation which occurs in an adult due to a mystical experience or a traumatic event. The revolutionary is to the political as the nonlinear is to the linear, and the discontinuous is to the continuous. 

Klaus Mainzer: “Local changes in the ecological, economic, or political system can cause a global crisis. Linear thinking and the belief that the whole is only the sum of its parts are evidently obsolete.”

Thus, as an aside (but an important one), revolution does not mean violence. Here, it simply refers to those moments of rapid change which transform the garden of complex systems composing our actuality. 

And now we may understand the second meaning of metarevolution, which is its “beyondness” in relation to this revolutionary (nonlinear) pattern which are epoch-defining moments of change. It involves a “step up” in complexity—the parallel of the shift from crisis to metacrisis. All complex systems experience “political” change as in the steady beat of a drum, and “revolutionary” change as in the crescendo of a symphony. Thus, if systems, like political systems, are defined by these kinds of change, then a system-of-systems (as in the nested political institutions which span from town to state to planet) also has its own pattern of punctuated equilibrium. 

A metarevolution is action which includes and transcends individual threads of revolutionary action; metarevolution is action directed between and beyond the complex system of crises known as metacrisis; metarevolution is complex heroism. The hero is the mythological revolutionary—they are equivalent, but operational in different domains. The hero or revolutionary does not have to be human or an individual, only an agent. So either of these can also describe agentic unities such as businesses, cities, or planets.

Valentin Turchin: “An agent is the carrier of will, the entity that chooses between possible actions.”

A society is revolutionary/heroic when it is capable of perpetuating itself by responding to crises with effective action. Heroism, or revolution, is any agent’s timely rejection of disintegration. It is the only choice which leads to further life when faced with a crisis. 

Reinhart Koselleck: “For the Greeks the term ‘crisis’ had relatively clearly demarcated meanings in the spheres of law, medicine, and theology. The concept imposed choices between stark alternatives—right or wrong, salvation or damnation, life or death… Conceptualized as chronic, ‘crisis’ can also indicate a state of greater or lesser permanence, as in a longer or shorter transition towards something better or worse or towards something altogether different. ‘Crisis’ can announce a recurring event, as in economics, or become an existential term of analysis, as in psychology and theology… At all times the concept is applied to life-deciding alternatives meant to answer questions about what is just or unjust, what contributes to salvation or damnation, what furthers health or brings death.”

Right action at the right time is heroic and revolutionary—both confront crises and transform them into moments of positive change.

A metacrisis, then, is a complex system of crises. An ecosystem is to an animal what a metacrisis is to a crisis. “Meta” conveys a dual meaning of “between” and “beyond”. Later sections of the book will go deeper into the concepts of “systems” and “complexity” in their full meanings. But for now it is important to know that metacrisis and metarevolution together form a worldview which takes into account the chaotic, nonlinear dynamics that exist in all complex systems, and especially this one which includes the whole Earth and beyond. 

H.T. Odum & Elisabeth Odum: “The word ‘system’ refers to anything that functions as a whole by the interaction of organized parts.”

Edgar Morin: “[But] what is complexity?”

Yaneer Bar-Yam: “[Truly,] one of the hardest things to explain is why complex systems are actually different from simple systems.”

Edgar Morin: “At first glance, [complexity] is a quantitative phenomenon, the extreme quantity of interactions…between a very large number of units. In fact, any (living) self-organizing system, even the simplest, combines a very large number of units, in the order of billions, whether molecules in a cell, or cells in an organism (more than 10 billion cells in the human brain, more than 30 billion for the organism). But complexity is not only quantities of units and interactions that defy our possibilities of calculation; it also is made up of uncertainty, indetermination, and random phenomena. Complexity is, in a sense, always about chance.”

Francis Heylighen: “[And I believe there is an] ‘objective’ core in the different concepts of complexity. Let us go back to the original Latin word ‘complexus’, which signifies ‘entwined’, ‘twisted together’. This may be interpreted in the following way: in order to have a complex you need to have two or more components, which are joined in such a way that it is difficult to separate them.”

Thus, the complexes or “wholes” studied by the science of complex systems may be contrasted with complicated-but-not-complex “heaps” of parts.

Ervin Laszlo: “The decisive difference is that wholes are not a simple sum of their parts, and heaps are.”

Complex systems, as unities-of-multiplicities, must then be treated as entities unto themselves, and this understanding is a significant factor in our metacrisis. A metacrisis is itself a complex system, not a “heap” of individual crises. With a complex system, revolutionary change is insufficient and overly narrow. It is (sometimes) a well-meaning attempt to make the world better—to solve a crisis close to home. Whereas revolutionaries confront a single problem in a linear fashion, metarevolutionaries face the challenge presented by the complex system of crises called a metacrisis, which is chaotic and nonlinear.

This book, for obvious reasons, can’t be about every crisis and every revolution. Instead, it builds the metacrisis-metarevolution framework. In the case of our metacrisis, you could say this book looks between and beyond the complex system of crises in order to find the problems which cause the most problems. 

Jonathan Rowson: “The simplest view of the metacrisis then, is that it’s about whatever underlying crisis is driving a multitude of crises.”

This book generally shares this view, while focusing on a view of metacrisis as a diverse, dynamic world of problems, opportunities, potentials, choices, value, meaning, and the totality of life. And this understanding of our actuality implies the need for a metarevolution, which is composed of actions oriented towards transforming value-in-action—the most fundamental element of experience. 

This view should be useful to readers who wonder why certain things are left out of this book. The answer is that you are probably right that there is some kind of crisis which is important, and causes a “multitude of crises”, and yet is not thoroughly addressed here. If you see a crisis worthy of revolutionary change, understanding our metacrisis and becoming metarevolutionary will make you more effective in confronting the great challenges of our era.

In going between and beyond crises and revolutions, metarevolutionaries have no objectified Other. Metarevolution is the way of compassion and wholeness. The scapegoating, cleaving tendency of the traditional revolution is an eternal pull, and navigating that risk requires a complex-system-informed worldview—where people are an “I” and a “We” simultaneously, and there is no one and no thing we can harm without harming ourselves. If we truly wish for a better world, our actions must be mutually coherent, or else we are likely to fix one thing while breaking another. This is the only sense in which revolution is inherently violent—containing the violence of fragmentation and externalization, the violence of absolutizing the part at the expense of the whole.

Edgar Morin: “A simplified, linear vision has every chance to be mutilating.”

We become metarevolutionary to minimize the externalities of our actions—to take only those actions which are good from every perspective, and not just our own. This is because the kind of change which externalizes its costs dooms us to betray our own values, however good our intentions.

Our metacrisis is the totality of challenges which present us with life-or-death choices. And a metacrisis, at any time, must be met by a metarevolution: The only kind of action which renews and beautifies and perfects life at the moments of greatest need. 

Through the first half of this book, we will get a better understanding of our metacrisis by way of one specific crisis which shall act as an Ariadnean thread. The chosen crisis relates to Value and meaning (or value-in-action). And, while other crises could have been similarly instructive, a focus on our meaning crisis in non-arbitrary. Crises within a metacrisis, as we will see, can be deep or shallow in relation to the whole system. As such, part of the metarevolutionary orientation is the desire to address the deepest-possible crisis at any given moment—because the deeper the crisis, the more it touches every other crisis. A shallow crisis is still urgent, but has less relationality to the metacrisis as a coherent whole; i.e., it is not, compared to other crises, one which acts as fuel for others, and its resolution will have a smaller effect on the metacrisis in which it is contained. 

We take Value and Action to be the most fundamental features of reality; whereas meaning is contextual value, and Action is what embodies and transforms meaning. So a meaning crisis is the result of the process of value-in-action moving in the wrong direction. And, similarly, if Value and Action are the most fundamental features of everything, metarevolutionary change which addresses our meaning crisis has the deepest implications for our metacrisis.

Thus, our meaning crisis has been chosen as the prototypical crisis-which-generates-crises, and is therefore a domain in which the magnitude of change resulting from our efforts will be far larger than comparable effort exerted in the resolution of other areas of our metacrisis. At the same time, a metarevolutionary resolution to our meaning crisis will be demonstrated in the second half of the book—being metarevolutionary precisely because of its simultaneous applicability to the entirety of a metacrisis and any single crisis within it.


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