Align Empowering Humanity

Compose Conscious, Connected, & Integrative Systems

Over the past thir­ty years, con­sumer lifestyle has grad­u­al­ly become over­sized and unsus­tain­able. In the next thir­ty years, pop­u­lar lifestyle will be less about ego and more aligned with nature’s cycles to estab­lish bal­anced ecosystems.

“Anoth­er world is not only pos­si­ble, she is on her way. On a qui­et day, I can hear her breath­ing.” — Arund­hati Roy

Com­mon every­day items, that quick­ly come in and out of our lives, can be realigned with more last­ing prin­ci­ples. In many ways, some of the sim­plest changes are also the most wide­ly effec­tive. The ques­tion of “paper” or “plas­tic” for gro­cery bags is bet­ter replaced by the ques­tion of do you need to bring anoth­er bag into cir­cu­la­tion at all, or can you sim­ply reuse one? Same goes for straws. Paper has replaced plas­tic, but that still accounts for a lot of straws going to waste. Why are straws so impor­tant any­way? Many of the nov­el­ties of mod­ern life have become unnec­es­sary con­ve­niences. In order to cre­ate more inte­gra­tive sys­tems of engage­ment, we can begin to make more con­scious efforts to bet­ter use the abun­dance of resources we already have at hand.

“The Gar­den­er”, Suzanne Treister

The idea of a closed loop of goods has been around for some time. One exam­ple of main­stream sus­tain­abil­i­ty that doesn’t require a huge shift in per­spec­tive is Patagonia’s Worn Wear. With this pro­gram for keep­ing per­fect­ly-wear­able used cloth­ing in rota­tion, the cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­er is help­ing out the envi­ron­ment by stretch­ing out the life­cy­cle of prod­ucts that would nor­mal­ly be turned to trash soon­er. As the com­pa­ny rea­sons on their web­site, “the best thing we can do for the plan­et is get more use out of stuff we already own, cut­ting down on consumption.”

“The more you know, the less you need.” — Yvon Chouinard

The world doesn’t real­ly need any more sneak­ers. There’s actu­al­ly enough of every­thing, if only the bal­ance of dis­tri­b­u­tion can reach greater align­ment between sup­ply and demand. As pub­lic dis­cus­sion focus­es more and more around the top­ic of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, humans will increas­ing­ly find ways to redis­trib­ute and con­serve resources to bet­ter inte­grate them­selves with­in the nat­ur­al world.

Tex­tile spin­ner, ca. 1910

In anoth­er effort to dimin­ish our col­lec­tive trash, a recent joint ven­ture between Ital­ian health­care group Angeli­ni, and Proc­ter & Gam­ble, the world’s largest dia­per sup­pli­er, set out to inves­ti­gate what to do with the end prod­uct of a $4 bil­lion-a-year dia­per mar­ket. These con­glom­er­ates have begun a poten­tial­ly piv­otal, new pro­gram that looks to recy­cle absorbent hygiene prod­ucts like dia­pers, incon­ti­nence pads, and fem­i­nine hygiene prod­ucts, with a plan to roll out in ten cities by 2030. For 2035–2050+, the company’s vision of prod­ucts and pack­ag­ing con­sists of 100% renew­able or recy­cled mate­ri­als. The prod­ucts being devel­oped from these recy­cled mate­ri­als range from school desks to play­grounds to bot­tle tops. In addi­tion, recy­cled cel­lu­lose can be turned into fab­ric or paper, while super-absorbent poly­mer has poten­tial appli­ca­tions in gar­den­ing, or cre­at­ing flood bar­ri­ers.20

The more that com­pa­nies and indi­vid­u­als pri­or­i­tize reusing, recy­cling, and repur­pos­ing objects, the more that poten­tial appli­ca­tions will evolve. The most sig­nif­i­cant change we have in mind is recy­cling and rein­vent­ing mate­ri­als that are already in exis­tence and trans­form­ing them into imag­i­na­tive new forms. We believe that pur­su­ing this approach will lead to a larg­er, sus­tain­able tra­di­tion of more con­scious, con­nect­ed, and inte­gra­tive systems.

Eye Test Chart, George May­er­le, 1907
Align Empowering Humanity

Realign Points of Reference & Units of Measurement

Let go of our deter­mined fix­a­tion on mechan­i­cal time and oth­er rigid­ly self-ref­er­en­tial sys­tems detached from nature’s cycles. Let go of IQ. Let go of bias and prej­u­diced expectations.

Our most com­mon units of measurement—time, mon­ey, and intel­li­gence —are all in need of revi­sion. The way that time is arranged and manip­u­lat­ed is most­ly in the inter­ests of eco­nom­ic fac­tors. Mon­ey is made up by humans and dis­con­nect­ed from any prin­ci­ple of nature. Glob­al mar­kets are based on feel­ings, pre­dic­tions, and an ever-chang­ing flux of infor­ma­tion. Is con­fi­dence in a debt-based mar­ket real­ly our best option for deter­min­ing wealth? Many impor­tant parts of life can­not be cal­cu­lat­ed and sched­uled. The most sig­nif­i­cant moments in life often hap­pen serendip­i­tous­ly. And, as has been said many times, the best things in life are free. So why are we still mea­sur­ing val­ue in mon­e­tary terms?

Researchers at MIT have pro­posed a redesign of Gross Domes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) called GDP‑B (the B is for ben­e­fit) to include con­sid­er­a­tion of val­ue made by free dig­i­tal goods and ser­vices. As pro­fes­sor Erik Bryn­jolf­s­son explains, upgrad­ing GDP pro­vides a “real­is­tic idea of what cre­ates val­ue in soci­ety and what doesn’t. A lot of dig­i­tal goods we’ll find are cre­at­ing a ton of val­ue…” The pro­fes­sor goes on to say, “It’s not that pro­duc­tion and spend­ing aren’t impor­tant, but they aren’t every­thing. To mea­sure the econ­o­my you need a dash­board with dif­fer­ent met­rics. What we’re mea­sur­ing are the ben­e­fits you get even when you spend noth­ing on the good.”21

“BIY (Believe it Your­self)” kit, by
Cos­mog­ra­phy Man­u­script, 12th century

It’s said that time is mon­ey. This adage cer­tain­ly holds true with­in our cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem. But where do we look for a more secure sense of mea­sure­ment in the absence of cen­tral­ized eco­nom­ic author­i­ties? How long will big banks con­tin­ue to con­trol the flow of mon­ey? Blockchain showed the pos­si­bil­i­ty for cryp­to-cur­ren­cies to trans­form mon­e­tary exchange. The promise of blockchain’s incor­rupt­ibil­i­ty unfor­tu­nate­ly cracked.22 In set­ting up soci­ety for a fair­er future, it feels wise to pre­pare for the inevitabil­i­ty of an eco­nom­ic sys­tem aligned with prin­ci­ples of shar­ing, nur­tur­ing, and impermanence.

The way we mea­sure our intel­li­gence is anoth­er part of soci­ety wor­thy of revi­sion. Over the last decades, IQ has been used to val­i­date racist, sex­ist, and oth­er­wise biased clas­si­fi­ca­tions. A recent study by sci­en­tists dis­proved IQ as a mea­sure of intel­li­gence.23 They showed that intel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ty occurs along three dis­tinc­tive nerve cir­cuits in the brain guid­ing inter­ac­tions between short-term mem­o­ry, rea­son­ing, and ver­bal agili­ty. In oth­er words, there’s no sin­gu­lar indi­ca­tor like IQ that can real­ly account for a person’s intel­lec­tu­al abil­i­ty across var­i­ous cat­e­gories. Our self-iden­ti­ties do not need to be con­fined into sin­gu­lar assess­ments. Intel­li­gence is real­ly a mat­ter of one’s abil­i­ty to inter­act with oth­ers in the world with grace, care, and effectiveness.

In his book, The Mis­mea­sure of Man, pale­on­tol­o­gist Stephen Jay Gould showed how intel­li­gence is not based on genet­ic inher­i­tance. In tak­ing stock of fair­er mea­sure­ments by which to assess how envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions impact indi­vid­u­als, Gould gave focus to the idea of rel­a­tive fre­quen­cy. This con­cept describes how mean­ing in people’s lives increas­es the more that a par­tic­u­lar action or exchange takes place. For exam­ple, think about how the more that peo­ple smile at one anoth­er in pass­ing, the more pal­pa­bly uplift­ing the net effect of those fleet­ing inter­ac­tions between strangers becomes. You can feel the dif­fer­ent ener­gy that exists in a room when peo­ple are being kind to one anoth­er and how, con­verse­ly, dif­fer­ent that ener­gy is when peo­ple are angry at each oth­er. Gould wrote about the high rel­a­tive fre­quen­cy of human decen­cy he noticed between peo­ple in NYC in the weeks after 9/11.24 With great humil­i­ty, Gould remarked in his book, Won­der­ful Life, an inspir­ing thought about humanity:

“Homo sapi­ens, I fear, is a ‘thing so small’ in a vast uni­verse, a wild­ly improb­a­ble evo­lu­tion­ary event well with­in the realm of con­tin­gency. Make of such a con­clu­sion what you will. Some find it depress­ing; I have always regard­ed it as exhil­a­rat­ing, and a source of both free­dom and con­se­quent moral respon­si­bil­i­ty.” — Stephen Jay Gould

As Gould men­tions, the chance at life that we all receive can be incred­i­bly moti­vat­ing. We are here for the pur­pose of liv­ing. While the inter­pre­ta­tions of what it means to live are vir­tu­al­ly end­less, rela­tion­ships that show respect for life will always con­tribute to an over­all sense of mean­ing­ful participation.

Alexan­der Gra­ham Bell in Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Mag­a­zine,
June 1903
Align Empowering Humanity

Reassess How We Think of Tech

Be mind­ful of how we speak to objects as much as one anoth­er. How we work togeth­er, share space, and even devel­op iden­ti­ty is increas­ing­ly influ­enced by how we inter­act with mechan­i­cal technologies.

“The dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion began when stored-pro­gram com­put­ers broke the dis­tinc­tion between num­bers that mean things and num­bers that do things. Num­bers that do things now rule the world. But who rules over the machines?” — George Dyson

“The new sys­tem lis­tens to you, observes you, under­stands you, and gives you what it knows you want.” — Adam Curtis

In their best ver­sions, tech­nolo­gies help humans become more empow­ered. In their worst ver­sions, tech­nolo­gies are coer­cive, addic­tive, and oppres­sive. Our rela­tion­ships with the machines we make are shaped by how we intend to incor­po­rate those machines and tech­no­log­i­cal abilities

“Things Come Apart”, Todd McLellan


into our lives. If the impe­tus is con­trol, then pow­er becomes abused. If the impe­tus is co-cre­ation, then we can make any­thing we imagine.

The dig­i­tal abil­i­ty to tran­scend bor­ders and lim­i­ta­tions makes tech an ide­al force for change. Yet, the pop­u­lar notion of tech­nol­o­gy as a dis­rup­tive force needs to be realigned as a cre­ative force for good. So don’t yell at your dig­i­tal assis­tant. Don’t yell at any assis­tant. If you want some­thing, ask for it nice­ly. Offer grat­i­tude in return. Con­tribute to a cul­ture of kind­ness. We can think of the machines we involve in our lives as exten­sions of our­selves, and act accordingly.

When it comes to the role of tech­nol­o­gy in our lives, we have to con­tin­u­al­ly ask our­selves: Is the tech­nol­o­gy we’re using help­ful or harm­ful? The more we come to rely on our phones to be our cam­eras, gro­cery deliv­ery ser­vice, remote home ther­mostats, match­mak­ers, or sleep mon­i­tors, the more our atten­tion is absorbed by these devices and the more we become exposed to the poten­tial for influ­ence and exploitation.

We are not well served by tech­nol­o­gy becom­ing a syn­thet­ic replace­ment for nat­ur­al sys­tems like com­mu­ni­ty. We have become painful­ly aware these last few years of how tech­nol­o­gy can exac­er­bate alien­ation and how that can lead to social net­works becom­ing hotbeds for extrem­ism.25 Rad­i­cal­iza­tion notwith­stand­ing, since the incep­tion of smart phones, thir­teen years of hyper engage­ment has led to a pub­lic health cri­sis of screen-based addic­tion. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of young adults raised with phones in their faces since birth is also the gen­er­a­tion fea­tur­ing the most pro­nounced rates of anx­i­ety and burnout. The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of teens expe­ri­enc­ing addic­tion to the dopamine kick of phone activ­i­ty, has been com­pared to teenagers in the 1960s who suf­fered a pub­lic health cri­sis of smok­ing-relat­ed addic­tions and ill­ness­es.26 We must ensure that if chil­dren are going to receive rec­om­men­da­tions for what they should have or uti­lize, that those prod­ucts and ser­vices are help­ful and healthy.

Tech­nol­o­gy is a tool, but when it con­trols us, then we become the tools. As users of tech­nol­o­gy, we must have agency to choose when and where we decide to use the tools of our trades. We need to not have the con­di­tions of involve­ment dic­tat­ed by the com­pa­nies which cre­ate those tech­nolo­gies and prof­it from our use.

A new set of stan­dards must evolve in which tech­nol­o­gy is not encour­aged to cre­ate co-depen­den­cy for its adopters. The tech­nolo­gies we incor­po­rate in our lives must ascribe to bet­ter eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. As we con­nect more of our every­day objects to each oth­er and the Inter­net, we need to ensure that the flow of infor­ma­tion stream­ing between us, the objects, and envi­ron­ment is in the best inter­ests of human­i­ty and the plan­et, and not the inter­ests of one com­pa­ny or anoth­er. We believe that learn­ing to bet­ter use cer­tain tech­nolo­gies, like our phones, actu­al­ly means using those tech­nolo­gies with more con­scious intention.

The inter­ac­tions we have with tech­nolo­gies that enable and empow­er us will con­tin­ue to help us move toward a future of greater abil­i­ty. Along the way, we must con­tin­u­al­ly remem­ber that the val­ues we hold will con­tin­ue to guide the way we inter­act and the expe­ri­ences we have.

Align Empowering Humanity

Dismantle Borders

Ongo­ing cli­mate crises con­tin­ue to reaf­firm how out of align­ment we are with nature. A mix of human activ­i­ties is mak­ing our habi­tats inhospitable.

As coast­lines van­ish, where will the 10% of the glob­al pop­u­la­tion who live in these areas go?27 And how will we accom­mo­date inten­si­fy­ing waves of displacement?

On a col­lec­tive lev­el, we need to pre­pare with empa­thy and prac­ti­cal­i­ty for a new wave of mass migra­tion by putting appro­pri­ate sys­tems in place to help envi­ron­men­tal refugees before this cri­sis hits fever pitch. An uptick in envi­ron­men­tal refugees is all but guar­an­teed with­in the com­ing years, even if we begin to rein in our emis­sions. This does not need to be a human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis, however.

The Sykes-Picot Agree­ment map of 1916, in which rep­re­sen­ta­tives of France and the UK agreed upon how to carve up the Mid­dle East upon defeat of the Ottoman Empire

We need to change the pat­tern of how coun­tries con­tin­ue to fail to install sys­tems to aid the cur­rent flow of refugees from human­i­tar­i­an crises of war and geno­cide. The com­mon refrain that makes receiv­ing those in need so dif­fi­cult has to do with secur­ing bor­ders. In this sense, the prob­lem has to do with plac­ing a pri­or­i­ty on bor­ders to begin with. The log­i­cal response to this con­flict would sug­gest we de-empha­size the impor­tance of bor­ders in order to empha­size the impor­tance of human­i­ty in need.

Com­mon decen­cy would sug­gest that those flee­ing from vio­lence would be treat­ed with humane­ness and fair­ness. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, these indi­vid­u­als are often crim­i­nal­ized rather than cared for, and deemed a threat to sta­bil­i­ty. Migrant “deten­tion cen­ters” are real­ly not so dis­tinct from con­cen­tra­tion camps. In con­trast, the open doors of sanc­tu­ary cities aim to soft­en this harsh and unwel­com­ing cul­tur­al cli­mate. They vary, but sanc­tu­ary cities tend to prac­tice some form of dis­sent against immi­gra­tion enforce­ment, aim­ing to shel­ter peo­ple from the most puni­tive prac­tices. This cur­rent polit­i­cal moment of anti-migrant sen­ti­ment and xeno­pho­bia must be fought through­out the pub­lic sphere. We must defend, sup­port, and care for human life, and replace fear of the oth­er with love.

Nation­al bor­ders are under­go­ing a con­tra­dic­to­ry shift. Although hard­ened by nation­al­ism, con­cep­tu­al­ly they have been made more per­me­able. Infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion now flows freely and instan­ta­neous­ly with­out any con­sid­er­a­tion for coun­try borders.

Map depict­ing Cal­i­for­nia as an island, Joan Vincke­boons, ca. 1650

This is espe­cial­ly true amongst the younger gen­er­a­tion. Their iden­ti­ties are shaped by dig­i­tal inter­ac­tions as much as their phys­i­cal sur­round­ings. Many bor­ders are large­ly arbi­trary, drawn up long ago by colo­nial con­querors who had no regard for the social ties that con­nect­ed the native inhab­i­tants togeth­er. The enforce­ment of nation­al bor­ders is entire­ly incom­pat­i­ble with a humane response to both cur­rent and future flows of people.

A rede­f­i­n­i­tion of bor­ders can pos­i­tive­ly con­tribute to de-esca­lat­ing hos­til­i­ties. Bor­ders can be eased to allow for com­mon sense and decen­cy. The way that kids who live on the Mex­i­can side of the nation­al bor­der but go to school in Texas, New Mex­i­co, or Ari­zona, have to wait hours in immi­gra­tion line breath­ing the fumes from idling engines just to get home after class is an out­rage to basic lev­els of respect.

In mak­ing maps to demar­cate owned ter­ri­to­ry, humans end­ed up empha­siz­ing the lines drawn between one anoth­er, while the def­i­n­i­tion of bor­ders has his­tor­i­cal­ly shift­ed through force and pow­er. Yet, nature doesn’t adhere to these bor­ders. A wild­fire rips across state lines, and floods erode the dis­tinc­tion between dis­tricts. We should look at bor­ders as more of nat­ur­al bound­aries and less as rigid and fal­li­ble, human-made lim­its. Hope­ful­ly, that acknowl­edge­ment can help serve to decrease fear and place the pow­er of com­pas­sion at our bor­ders, and every­where in between.

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