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This post contains some unfinished pieces of writing that were at one point intended for my upcoming book. I deciding to remove this part of my book, but share it with you here. It was never totally finished, but I hope you will still find the ideas useful.

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash


In the game of understanding, information is the playing field. Like the planet’s environmental crisis, this informational environment seems to be approaching a dangerous point-of-no-return.

Our ability to understand the world, and ultimately form meaningful goals, rests on how effective we are as stewards of our sensemaking commons. We all depend on it, and yet we have built a system that incentivizes disinformation, polarization, and addictive algorithms. The systems we have come to enjoy and rely on as digital meeting grounds are stealing our attention, and therefore eroding our deepest values.

“This inquiry into ‘the very structure of attention’ is one of the defining issues of our time, not least because the demands of advertising and social media on our attention are considerable. In a distracted world that is inundated with information but increasingly hard to understand, we need to reclaim our capacity to make sense of our experience.” - Jonathan Rowson

News organizations, social media companies, and video/streaming platforms like YouTube are part of the “attention economy”—this means they are serving up your attention as their product, not serving you as their customer. Their profits depend not on the quality of the information they provide you, but how much of your attention they can capture and monetize. This is a crisis affecting all others, because our time is among our most precious gifts, and is necessary for moral action and the co-creation of a good society.

“For any company whose business model is advertising, or engagement-based advertising, meaning they care about the amount of time someone spends on the product, they make more money the more time people spend.” - Tristan Harris

And so begins what he calls “the race to the bottom of the brainstem”. Rivalrous games drive Earth towards catastrophic climate change and biodiversity collapse, and the same processes can lead to our brains becoming the battlefield of the “attention merchants”: Who can get you most addicted to the slot machines of social media? Who has the most powerful algorithms for processing your data and finding the perfect button in your brain to push? Who can win the game of the linear attention economy, tapping dry your mental resources before a competitor does? This dynamic we’ve created in our information spaces is fueling our meaning crisis. If attention towards beauty, as the visible aspect of the Good, is necessary for the creation of meaning and values within society, then on the flip side it is clear that if we spend our “daily bread” of attention on whatever makes corporations rich, we will stray farther and farther from the Good.

“If one app or news site or friend gets your attention, that means something or someone else loses it. It comes out of our sleep, our time with family or our reflective time with ourselves.” - Tristan Harris

If you go to see an accountant or a doctor or certain other professionals, you enter a fiduciary relationship. This means that person has more knowledge and control than you do, and you are the one who will be most affected by their actions. They have some version of a “duty of care”—for doctors it’s the Hippocratic Oath. Part of their professional responsibility is to act in your best interest, even if they could potentially get away with personally benefitting from the asymmetrical relationship. This is a crucial, but absent, piece of our information channels. We need to mutually support freedom, which means caring about the dynamics of systems which can change the flow of attention.

“The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely.” - Tristan Harris

Metarevolution is oriented towards free minds—understood as minds which mutually support each other’s wholeness. Our shared attention to the Good can create conditions of minimal distraction, and therefore proportionally greater realization of our full potential. Failure to act on the attentional aspect of our sensemaking crisis means living in a world which limits its ongoing moral development—those actions which make us, and society as a whole, more perfect versions of ourselves.

The Seven

“Knowledge and habit once acquired, become as firmly rooted in our ourselves as a railway embankment in the earth.” - Joseph Schumpeter

It is tempting to use catchall terms like “fake news”—but the simplification comes at the expense of depth and nuance. The organization First Draft identifies seven types of mis- and disinformation, a much more useful sensemaking map.

Both of these are forms of inaccurate information. The distinction is that disinformation is shared with malicious intent, by someone who knows that it’s false. Misinformation is also false, but shared by someone who thinks it’s true. Or, in the case of something like satire or parody, we see that intent and interpretation do not always align, and contextually can either serve its intended humorous/expository purpose or damage our collective sensemaking through misinterpretation. Anti-sensemaking war-machines make use of all of the seven types of mis- and disinformation, but the most powerful lies use kernels of truth to storm the shores of your mind. And in confronting the metacrisis, and specifically the sensemaking crisis, we can’t afford to ignore the weaponization of information.

A report from the Legatum Institute, in a section on the Venezuelan government, reads:

“Similar to the model of Al Jazeera or RT (Russia Today), TeleSUR claims to create ‘independent’ coverage and, along with Venezuelan English-language news websites, attempts to whitewash regime abuses and failures. TeleSUR focuses on exaggerated coverage of negative events elsewhere, such as racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, or unemployment in Spain, and sets up false comparisons, such as equating Venezuelan supermarket queues and queues for the ‘Black Friday’ shopping holiday in the US.”

And further, on the Turkish government:

“Instead of facing up to the criticisms of the government, Erdoan and his supporters went on the front foot; the relentlessly persistent and repetitive disinformation campaign about the Gezi protests was impressive both for the sheer variety of the allegations and for the number of supporting media outlets… AKP members and their friendly media elements revealed the ‘real reasons’ behind the protests. Their conspiracy theories included the usual suspects: traitors, coup-plotters, the CIA, MOSSAD, MI6, Europeans who envied Turkey’s economic success, foreign forces in collaboration with terrorist organisations, the ‘interest rate lobby’, and – not surprisingly – the Jewish lobby… In a fake interview, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour ‘confessed’ to starting the protests ‘for money’.”

Quoting the Legatum report again, we see how powerful these tools are, even beyond the spread or suppression of certain ideas:

“21st-century autocrats can use propaganda not to ‘re-engineer human souls’ but to reinforce their ‘performance legitimacy’, using the media to project ‘a perceived competence at securing prosperity and defending the nation against external threat’…A sufficient amount of propaganda can serve to demonstrate a regime’s strength in maintaining social control and political order, thus deterring citizens from challenging the government, even if the content of the propaganda itself does not induce pro-government attitudes or values. This can explain why authoritarian governments are willing to spend an enormous amount of resources on propaganda activities, the content of which often does not persuade the intended recipients.”

Therefore, embedded in our metacrisis, we find a crisis of information weaponization. And it disproportionately benefits the continuation of authoritarian regimes, and allows externalization of the costs of information pollution to the entire rest of the world.

Chambers and Bubbles

“He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.” - Hunter S. Thompson

You have probably encountered the term “echo chamber” and heard someone telling someone else they are “living in a bubble”. You may hear these used interchangeably, but the difference is important, and the characteristics of each are hinted at by their names – you can pop a bubble, or get stuck in a chamber.

If you find yourself in an “epistemic bubble”, you will not be exposed to opposing views of the world. Everyone seems to agree with you in your bubble. Isn’t that nice? Through omission of other voices, your worldview is strengthened, because you continually encounter beliefs that seem to confirm what you already thought.

However, as noted, it is not hard to pierce a bubble. A single conversation with someone outside the bubble can be enough to shatter your glass palace of beliefs. Think of it like an immune system. It becomes stronger only when it has the opportunity to fight off diseases and learn their weaknesses. If you live in a sterile bubble, your over-stabilized system grows more vulnerable to volatility.

This is the point of relative strength for echo chambers. Here, opposing voices are like vaccines. The residents of the chamber inoculate newcomers with doses of opposing voices, and seek to discredit dissidents ahead of time. In this way, the chamber is not as easily breached as the bubble. Those who are stuck there end up welcoming oppositional visitors. They have been training for this day. Their immune systems are ready to fend off attacks. Your facts will be met with antibodies.

If you feel that “the other side” is unreachable and that facts seem to bounce right off them, this part of the sensemaking map can help you understand why. You came armed with sharp spears of truth, and congratulate yourself on a fine choice of bubble-piercing weapon, but when you reach the fortified walls of the echo chamber you realize your mistake.


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