My

credenda

noun.

Who am I?

Introduction

Why a manifesto?

Humans possess this kind of extraordinary flexibility to thrive. We are the dominant force in almost every biosphere on the planet. We create communities and cultures that outlast catastrophe to span thousands of years. And we are each maps of the scars that brought us to where we are. Human stories invariably speak to our capacity to endure the changing fortunes of time.

Yet there is no doubt that much is wrong with the world. Our maps of scars only grow with time’s passing. Our communities and cultures may flourish, but many feel increasingly alone. And the catastrophes are more frequently created by us. There is an old story that is told to explain why.

This story tells of a people who, despite their best efforts, are deeply flawed: prideful, jealous, greedy, destructive. Think of Pandora’s fateful curiosity; the Buddists’ concept of Taṇhā; the ever-present stain of biblical sin. Consider the selfishness of the baby boomers; the entitlement of the millenials; or the nihlism of the new generations. In all cases it would seem that we are fated to take more than we deserve.

This story is laced into our allegories of the many and the few, the in-group and the out-group, the weak and the strong. Caesar’s slaughter of the Gauls; Hobbes’ war of all against all; today’s reflections on the myriad relationships between the oppressed and the oppressors. And no modern story is complete without lamenting the state of the capitalist system: the opulence of the rich, the misery of the poor, and our ceaseless yearning to join the caste of the unjust, laying waste to our forests, our oceans, and our fellow travellers to that end. Our nature is one of survival and competition and thus, for all our strength in coming together, we are destined to be alone; at war.

These narratives trend toward indictment. They condemn us to failure while simultaneously condemning us for failing. For our weaknesses, we are doomed to walk this perpetual cycle, “the halt, the lame, half-made creatures that we are”.

But there is another narrative.

William James called us “half awake. Our fires are damped, our rafts are checked… the human individual lives usually far within his limits”. It is this peculiar deadening that is the true source of our trouble. You see, in many things, humans are no more special than any other creature. Our incredible flexibility is borne of one thing: of all the animals, we have the greatest capacity for nurture. We thrive because we adapt, and we adapt because we have the ability to come together and share ideas. But there is little in the world this capacity of ours has produced that encourages us to do so.

Today, our culture slots us increasingly into narrow bands of opportunity, even as our ability to communicate and explore ideas grows. We spend our formative years in a primary education system that systematically fails to develop our potential. We go on to invest time and debt into tertiary institutions that are increasingly ill-suited to the needs of the world-at-large. The successful outcome of this process leads us to occupations that require only the tiniest sliver of our capacities, but, as technology intrudes into every quiet space, the maximum amount of our attention. What little attention remains is routinely directed towards the economy of shame, outrage, yearning, and terror that floods our media streams and away from any form of real connection or meaningful pursuit. And all along this hectic path we find our friends, our families, and our mentors have been pushed to the margins.

We are assigned roles that we never signed up for, surrounded by people who don’t understand us, encouraged to engage with issues that don’t concern us, and left no choice but to vote for leaders who misrepresent us. We are made automata, built to serve the needs of a system we never agreed to contribute to and unable to reach out or grow because we were never granted the tools.

But we, more than any other creature, have the capacity to step outside these bounds that have been laid down around us. Not alone and at war, but together, on the heels of those who came before and in the arms of those around us. This is, after all, the defining quality of the human condition.

So, we must rise from our lethargy, and embrace our capacity to nurture ideas and in doing so, nurture each other. We must uncheck our rafts, stoke our fires, and cultivate the domains of our capacities that have lain dormant. We each pay a price to live with ourselves on the terms that we will. When those terms are spelled out clearly, that price doesn’t have to be so costly. This project is about waking up.

Some notes before we start

There are many ways to measure a well-lived life. Wealth. Status. Fame. Power. Productivity. Yet, typically, each of these is corrupted by a comparison to the other. Power is measured against the deferral of others. Status against recognition. Productivity against demand. Wealth against our models of what defines the wealthy. We might, of course, consider other metrics; ones which target states of being, like happiness, for example. But happiness, like any state of being, is necessarily fleeting. To seek to hold these states constant is an ill-fated affair; highlighting only their absence.

Fortunately, these other oriented metrics aren’t far off the mark. They hold at their core a thread: a motivation borne of the human capacity for nurture. We habitually look to others to cultivate our limits, because this is our defining quality. But this impulse is then misdirected. Shaped by a system that values us, not as individuals or as communities, but rather for how well we engage in the system. We are handed credenda to live by from a world that does not have our best interests at heart.

So, instead, we must put forward our own credenda. A value system devoted to our defining quality, rather than one which hijacks it for its own ends. A system which opens ourselves to the full range of the human experience, rather than one which limits our experience to better serve it. A system which encourages us to cultivate our limits, rather than deaden them. A system which wakes us up. Here’s mine.

There are two important aspects of any good credenda. On one hand, we must start with a focus, something to guide us: our cynosure. But, for such focus to be maintained, we must also build the architecture to support us in the effort.

On Cynosure

To me, our cynosure should include three things. Of course, betterment is most obvious. We should seek to better ourselves, and our position in the world. Less obvious is the gratification that should follow. Positive states and pleasure are a function of our self-renewal, and no effort at betterment can be complete without them. But perhaps most importantly, we should seek connection. Meaning is derived not from the doing of things, but from the doing of things for something greater than ourselves. Loved ones, gods, people, or the planet, filtering our betterment and gratification through our connection to something more makes the whole thing come together.

On architecture

There can be no growth without something upon which to grow, and so we must build and maintain an architecture: those instruments both within and outside ourselves that enable us to sustain our cynosure. To me, we can collect what’s important around six organising principles that provide just such a foundation; three within, and three without.

Within us we must maintain: our somatic architecture, our mind and body, the most basic of our tools; our thought architecture, ideas and beliefs laid down by others that we can adopt to smooth our own path; and our spiritual architecture, our tools for connecting to the meaning in the world around us.

Without, there should be: our digital architecture, our digital personhood which is as much an entity as our physical one; our collective architecture, the people with whom we share in our successes; and our wealth architecture, the basic means of life.

Of course, such things will not be exclusive, and the edges between them will blur, but as organising principles, they provide a framework to support us in our efforts.

Cynosure

On Betterment

The search for a righteous, fulfilling, and moral way of being, is a concept that has preoccupied every major philosophic and spiritual tradition. According to the greats, this way of being is the path to eudaemonia—wellbeing of the highest order. In the east we might know it as dharma, and in the west as the Greek arete or ‘virtue’. These concepts have filtered their way through civilisations uncounted and all coalesce on a core of achievement and excellence, but within the boundaries of morality.

Any fact about morality is at its core an attempt to make an almost utilitarian judgement about the wellbeing of those involved. Such a thing can only be explored in the context of the mind in the loosest sense—the capacity to feel, think, and act. Thus, any journey towards betterment must consider these things.

So, let’s consider them.

On Gratification

All major traditions of wellbeing tell us that we should also be guided toward eudaimonia by something like the Hindu kama or Maslow’s hierarchy toward self-actualization. The autopoietic drive towards those positive states and pleasure which are the function of our self-renewal, but also that which drives us towards creativity and expression. Our cravings for gratification can often be maladaptive and, as captured in the Buddhist taṇhā, lead to suffering. Yet, by balancing surrender and constraint, gratification remains at the core of eudaemonia, and no true betterment can occur without celebrating the fruits of our successes.

So, let’s celebrate them.

On Connection

Despite the trope of the ‘competent man’, no man is competent alone. It’s not possible. There is no ‘self’ without the distinction of the ‘other’. There is no competence without a measure against which to judge it. We take people as our measure and our guide. This is the defining quality of the human animal. Not our ability to imagine, or abstract, or articulate the content of our minds. It is our capacity for nurture that truly makes us what we are. Our betterment is only meaningful in its reflection in the lives of others. Our gratification is most satisfying when it can be shared. Without connection, we are reduced to lesser creatures—merely sating the appetite of the body. And yet, we continue to take heedless steps toward excellence or hedonism and with each step we move further from those who would make those things matter.

So, let’s make them matter.

Inner Architecture

On our somatic architecture

We are necessarily capacity-limited by the tools we are afforded, and the most basic of these is our body. As Juvenal, mens sana in corpore sano: we should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.

There is no doubt that both mental and physical resilience are necessary for wellbeing, but these remain moving targets for academics, specialists, and individuals.

There are, however, some basic principles we can apply. Perhaps each of us may struggle to reach the pinnacle of health, but there is no reason so many of us should be struggling at the bottom.

In sum, our focus should be on functional fitness—mind and body. A baseline of understanding and a baseline of resilience in the face of the changing fortunes of time.

Less obviously, perhaps, this fitness necessitates ‘trials’ of one form of another—a development through perspective. Without an understanding of the facets of the world we live in—the physical, emotional, and social challenges they pose—we can never quite be prepared to seize opportunities when they come. Instead we are merely poised to survive the challenges as they arise. The question that leaves us, of course, is how we might cultivate these trials artificially—in the absence of the high stakes these trials pose to us when we encounter them in the world.

So, we ask and we answer.

On our spiritual architecture

If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy….

The path toward betterment is at its core a question of our place in the world: how to improve ourselves and those around us by our contributions to the world. In times past and today, this journey has most often been intrinsically bound up in godliness. For many, only through spiritual maturity—an enduring connection with the sacred and the truth therein—might we discover growth, success, and gratification. In the more secular worlds of today, we turn instead to the comforts of philosophy and the scientific method for the same guidance.

In the secular world, we consider morality most often through the lens of consequentialism. Do the least harm and the most good. Under that lens, we have come to believe that morality can be quantified. We interpret questions of morality in terms of the biological capacity for wellbeing. To a stone one would act differently than to a tree, than to a dog, than to a child, than to an adult and so on. In such a conception, one could theoretically imagine a secular, objective morality based on a science of the mind—a given subject’s capacity for perception, and thus capacity for states of wellbeing.

Unfortunately, in a similar way to any deterministic claim about mind and behaviour, while this may be true, for all intents and purposes it is eventually unhelpful. The systems of this world are too complex for our tools to measure. And thus, whether secular or spiritual, to determine the path to virtue is inevitably a journey of faith.

But all faith lies on this fundamental core—whether through the guidance of the god(s) or through an understanding of some objective moral landscape—we seek to find our place within the systems within systems of this world.

The Rarámuri believe that each moving body part has a unique soul, from the joints of the fingers to the ‘heart’ and the ‘head’. These souls, or ariwi, must be cared for lest they become sick and the body begins to fail. Similar ideas pervade many health traditions. Today we would call these things organs, or cast our net wider perhaps and include other systems like the microflora of our bodies.

But the notion of these things as souls with agendas of their own highlights something important. At some level, we can and do view the body as an aggregate of disparate parts and each has a role to play that might help or hinder the role of the others.

This aggregate quality is reflected both within us and without. As our bodies are comprised of many souls, so too is the world comprised of many bodies. Any line of thinking that follows this path eventually notes that while we are us at the level we perceive the world, we are many different things at many different levels of perception.

Thus, we find ourselves in the territory of any mystical spiritual tradition—the pervasive notion that we are part of some unifying ‘oneness’. We are a part of both everything and nothing.

This finding should guide our search for morality. Thinking at scales bigger and smaller than ourselves provides perspective in our efforts to participate in the world. Whether we do this in a secular fashion or a spiritual fashion, we should hold close the faith that we can discover more.

Let’s discover more.

On our thought architecture

Humans are animals first. Our obsession with the ‘special’ character of the human psyche disguises this fact. At our core, we are creatures like any other–responding adaptively to the environment around us. We see this in our habits, our routines, and our rituals. Automatic patterns of behaviour that gracefully handle the predictable shapes of everyday life. Less obvious is how these automatic patterns are reflected in our minds. Rituals of behaviour are preceded by rituals of thought.

The word ideology is drenched with dark meaning. And yet, on close inspection, we find that we are, each of us, saturated with them. Beliefs and philosophies grounded in experiences that correspond only to those thin slices of the world we have experienced.

This fact is made more potent still when we consider our most fundamentally human characteristic—our capacity to share ideas. We don’t simply create our own ideologies from our interactions with the world, but we adopt those that have been thrust upon us by the societies we are embedded in and the culture that we share.

In more cases than we might care to admit, we are full of ideologies that have been produced for us, not designed by us. These are, of course, protective—graceful solutions to an impossibly complex world. Yet, ideologies are dangerous left unexamined.

Unfortunately, the information we might use to examine these these things is necessarily filtered. Not always by intent, but rather by the pressures attendant upon producing the information in the first place. Narratives which centre on an economy of shame, outrage, yearning, and terror have come to dominate, and narratives of growth have become increasingly superficial.

Even the scholastic enterprise has gone a bit funny. The pursuit of truth, but only for those who can read the articles. Terminology that isolates us from expression. Facts for the sake of facts, without understanding. A thousand proliferating disciplines, showering us with knowledge split into a million isolated fragments until “we know more and more about less and less”.

Ideologies should be an architecture of thought—a set of beliefs we can trust to at least point our errors in the right direction. Heuristics, or frames, through which we make some of the chaos into meaning while accepting that in doing so, we are choosing to make some meaning into chaos. But, at least the credenda we adopt are in this way, the credenda we have chosen.

So let’s do that. Let’s choose our ideologies.

Outer Architecture

On our digital architecture

Our digital lives are as much an entity as our physical lives. We each manage an online ‘person’, who has interactions with other online ‘people’ and services, much as we would in the physical world.

These digital lives have become much more than just an interface to our physical selves. We do the majority of our socialising online, often with people we only know online. Most of our possessions are online, in the form of photos and documents and conversation histories. We watch movies online and listen to music online. Many of us conduct our entire workday online: students, office workers, researchers, managers. Our physical lives are simply fit in around the margins. And yet, we don’t treat these digital selves of ours very well. In fact, we don’t really treat them as anything at all. This is a problem.

So, we’re going to give our digital person the attention it deserves, and build it a digital house. A digital architecture in fact. We’ll take back control of our digital presence from the companies that own us, learn to manage the digital threats that face us, and most importantly learn to keep safe our digital possessions in the face of an uncertain and rapidly changed digital world.

In pulling together these threads, we create a secure digital home for our digital self.

Let’s begin.

On our collective architecture

A well structured collective, to me, is one aspect of any good architecture: the tools which support a value system, if you believe what I believe.

It’s no secret that we are lonelier than ever. We are fond of talking about the perils of modern society, but of these threats the collapse of our communal impulses and our increasing isolation is the one that often concerns us most. It would be conspiratorial to suggest that this was by intent, but it is certainly by design. As a society, we continue to choose directions that draw us away from each other.

Communities require a persistent environment, such that people can develop shared experiences and discover shared interests. These things are vectors for connections based upon shared beliefs, and on this basis community emerges.

Communities also require obligation. The kind of commitment to one another that cannot be broken by time, or the changing circumstances of life. Our communities must become more to us than the kind of fair-weather family that characterises our modern connections, and more like the deep blood ties many of us feel toward our siblings, parents, or children. These kinds of connections are those that have no particular relationship with how much we might like someone or how they behave in the short term, but exist anyway, above it all.

Finally, communities require culture. Shared values and ideals that create identity and go beyond the individual, but are also close enough to our hearts that we can connect with them.

Creating such communities is no easy feat to be sure. The increasing urbanisation, globalisation, and digitisation of modern life fractures these communal foundations, even as our ability to connect across time and space grows. By turning these new tools to our advantage, and rekindling those older skills that have faded we can once again choose directions that draw us together.

So, let’s choose them.

On our wealth architecture

Of course, as sufficient as we become in mind, body, and spirit to confront the changing fortunes of time, it’s no secret that we must also seek those instruments outside ourselves that enable the satisfaction and growth of our communities. Securing food, shelter, and safety. Securing resources to underpin growth. As the Hindu Artha, we must seek out the means of life.

Yet, one feature of any developing civilisation is the increasing specialisation of the population, and the deferral of many tasks to the state or to other agents. Outside of our areas of expertise, and the income our work in that domain brings, we find ourselves increasingly dependent on others to provide these resources. In becoming specialised, in many ways, we become helpless.

Specialisation is for insects. Specialisation leaves us vulnerable. And specialisation leaves us not only less capable of securing resources beyond value of our contribution in our specialisation, it also leaves us less capable of making connections with those outside our speciality.

The creation of a wealth architecture, therefore, should be a process of expanding our horizons beyond the narrow band we have learned to inhabit. It should be a process of developing a ‘from-zero’ mindset—developing a knowledge of systems that allows us to generate resources from zero. From the basic, like food, hygiene, and healthcare, to the complex, like the generation of income.

And, though there is much to say for a depth of knowledge, there is also much to be said for a broad knowledge of the basics. An understanding of the minimum viable conditions, resources, and knowledge required to succeed across the lifespan.

So, let’s succeed.

These are my ideologies.
Now it's time to choose yours.

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